Don't write off Respect
23 June 2005
I disagree with the JM Thorn article on RESPECT and I wonder if this is the Socialist Democracy line on RESPECT or a personal opinion.
JM Thorn seems to write off RESPECT and hasn't a good word for it. Obviously he is right to criticise Galloway's comments on a number of issues and there are some problems with profiling RESPECT as Old Labour. Also he has correct criticisms of RESPECT for its failure to take a stand on issues like abortion. In addition there is no doubt Galloway and the SWP have downplayed such issues in order to not upset some Muslims.
However this is only part of the story. The election told us that those organisations outside RESPECT (like the SP, that has a similar one sided view of RESPECT as Thorn) failed miserably to build on the anti-war movement. Although they may not have agreed with the Liberal Democrats or MAB on anti-war platforms and had a different approach to the movement than the SWP, they appeared less useful to the working class than RESPECT at the ballot box. The main criticism of the SWP in the anti-war movement is not who they invited on their platforms (although they deserve criticism for this), it is the failure of the SWP to recognise the need of building the SA or RESPECT through the anti-war movement until late in the day. However it was right of the SWP to try to form an electoral alternative with Galloway and sections of the Muslim community. It is a real step forward for the left that this happened and it has paid off.
RESPECT should not be judged just by election results (although Thorn underestimates how good they were), more interesting is how it is developing into a party. Comrades should speak to Liam in Tower Hamlets.
The dynamic of events since the election is leading elements of the coalition to recognise the coalition needs to transform itself into a party. This is a direction the ISG wants to see RESPECT go in. As this develops we would hope leaders become more accountable and RESPECT adopts clearer policies of a socialist nature (so it will be more difficult for some groups to stick out dodgy leaflets on faith schools or the hijab). In addition, the SWP seems to have changed its tune on RESPECT and are putting more effort into it. Up to now it has not been seen as a permanent feature of the landscape by most of their comrades. However Rees has been trying to get it over to his comrades that they should regard it as a permanent feature.
Changes in the SWP are on the whole to be welcomed - they have moved away (with the RESPECT project) from a politics of themselves alone - that have made it difficult for the British left for years. Obviously we need to recognise many of their comrades are still as sectarian as ever (the most sectarian elements of the SWP to the rest of the left are also the most critical of RESPECT) and the organisation as a whole is still opportunistic. This means they are not the best defenders of socialist positions within RESPECT. However I would rather have the SWP making mistakes in RESPECT than the party keeping its 'revolutionary' credentials at the expense of working with anyone else. Like with Scottish Militant Labour, the turn has its own dynamic.
Thorn's argument is an old one and it is an argument for purist politics. Just because one works in a wider formation, does not mean one should lose one's revolutionary politics. Nevertheless one must recognise the dangers of accommodating one's politics to the conservative elements in a formation like RESPECT.
With regard to the Trade Unions, the formation of RESPECT will allow TUs to break from Labour - up to now there has been no other option for TUs to have a political relationship with. The reason why PCS has been slow to develop a relationship with RESPECT is partly due to the SP dragging its heels on sorting out a political fund for the Union. At PCS Conference 200 delegates attended the RESPECT meeting so it shows it can develop in the Trade Unions. I imagine you will see RESPECT's profile change considerably in the next year as it widens its base through recruiting in such areas. However I think the ISG recognises we need to sharpen RESPECT's positions to enable the organisation to make greater inroads in such areas.
George T ( a personal view from an ISG member)