Respect, SWP, and the shambles

Respect renewal conference

Respect, the primary Left party in Britain has fractured. Socialist Workers Party organized a coup and jacked the party apparatus. So, the non-SWP members of Respect, including Member of Parliament George Galloway, will be holding a Respect Renewal conference on Nov 17 to form a new party. SWP will also have a conference, no doubt to determine how to repair their now-damaged reputation and what to do with the husk of a party apparatus they now control.

My sympathies are with Respect Renewal. But former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, who will speak at the Respect conference, absolutely nails it.

Shambles on the Left

The far left in this country seems wonderfully self-destructive. Watching the Scottish Socialist Party, which had actually been electorally successful, tear itself apart over accusations that Tommy Sheridan had indulged in some of my hobbies, was morbidly fascinating. Why Respect think they have enough mass to split is beyond me. It’s the People’s Front of Judea all over again.

Peculiarly, the tensions between socialist politics and some of the more conservative views of Islam, which made Respect a strange alliance, do not seem to be what split it. I don’t really know what did cause the trouble. Power struggles between individuals are all I can discern.

It’s almost comical. Those who fancy themselves hardcore Marxist revolutionaries can’t even hold together and unite a party of a few thousand members yet they make bold claims about wanting to smash capitalism.

The reason I care is that this all impacts on the Stop the War movement. I have moaned before that it is very unfortunate that a movement whose aims are supported by a majority of the British population, is organisationally dominated by those from a tiny minority perspective. The reason is, of course, that they are prepared to put in the work and know how to do the organising – the process is not sinister, but the failure of the Stop the War Coalition to turn mass support into a mass movement may yet prove to be a historical disaster.

A major problem here is conflicting interests. Does the Marxist vanguard party (SWP) want to stop the war by building a broad coalition or does it use the mass organization (STW) to recruit and gain influence? If the latter, then they will drive out groups with differing views and only allow into leadership those who follow their party line – and that is not a mass movement at all. Nor will it end the war.

STW itself seems to be splintering over Iran. There is apparently a division over whether it is legitimate to criticise the Iranian government, while opposing any attack on Iran… The tendency to whitewash anyone who opposes Bush – be it Ahmadinejad, Putin, Chavez or whoever – is one of the specimes of flabby thinking which prevents the anti-war case from being put with the force it deserves.

This is the same problem. Ideological purity. We must support anyone who stands against the imperialists. But solidarity shouldn’t be unquestioning, and I doubt Marxist theory, which is where the idea came from, meant it that way. More to the point, being so lunkheaded can drive away those you want to attract. Assuming you want them, and aren’t just trying to be Lefter-Than-Thou, that is.

But we must not give up on the anti-war movement – as time ticks on with the Republicans still on the back foot approaching the Presidential election, an attack on Iran becomes every day more likely. American electoral politics, not Iran’s nuclear power programme or international relations, will be the key factor.

What we need is a truly broad-based and inclusive coalition for those opposed to the wars. And we need it now.