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.


  1. (1) The SSP didn’t split over Tommy Sheridan’s penchant for the same sexual proclivities as Murray(I assume that Murray means the use of prostitutes?). The split was engendered by Tommy Sheridan’s desire to get fellow party members to lie in jury court for him to the contrary and when they refused, he split from the party. For background read Pam Currie’s article here .
    (2) There are nonetheless real political issues underscoring the divide/split in Respect and Murray does them no service in his off hand misrepresentation of them. It seems to be about democracy and accountability — and Respect moving forward from being just an ab hoc electoral coalition to becoming a party in its own right. It’s not a left/right divide in the way both Murray and the SWP pitch it. “Marxist Revolutionaries” actually do hold together parties of many thousand members and Marxist Revolutionaries are active is advancing to the Respect Renewal just as Marxist Revolutionaries are engaged in the German Die Linke and many other projects of this kind, including here in Australia.
    (3) But to then psalm sing about “Lefter-Than-Thou” and “ideological purity” misses the point. It’s a tactical not an ideological question. A tactical question the US left hasn’t as yet confronted with a viable project that we can complain about as failing for one reason or another.(A fact that chat rooms like Marxmail ignore). Respect –whatever may be its problems and complications — is way way ahead of anything on offer in the USA in terms of left regroupment.

    In point of fact, Bob, Murray does not “nail it” at all and it is superficial in the extreme to assume that his ‘analysis’ is the most cogent. A more considered review of the politics at stake can be had here – A Very Public Sociologist . I recommend that source rather than Murray’s….

  2. “We must support anyone who stands against the imperialists.”

    We’ve seen proof of this approach in recent discussions here on Polizeros. But it isn’t an error limited to the left. Witness the American attitude that Israel can do no wrong. And American silence (until last week) as Pakistan’s dictator Musharraf trampled the constitution. He’s our ALLY, after all. Even now, with the Pakistan consitution susopended and the Aupreme Court forcibly replaced, the odds of the U.S. punishing Musharraf with aid cuts or loss of support are pretty slim. Because we must support anyone who stands with us against our enemies.

    I see this as a pragmatic approach– get all the support you can to fight for what you want, even of the other supporters don’t seek what you want. But even as a pragmatic New Englander, such tactics make me queasy. If we sacrifice our principles for the sake of victory, what we really seek is power rather than change.

  3. Whatever the cause, it’s disastrous.

    Sectarian divisions are a part of it. I saw this happen when I was active in the Green Party, and it’s happening in the antiwar movement in the US now. Ideological and tactical differences prevent major groups from working together and forming a broad-based coalition, which by definition means the groups don’t have to agree on everything.

    I would also say that ideology can drive tactics, sometimes to the detriment of the tactics.

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