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Respect Renewal -- The SWP response

The covering letter Alex Callinicos has sent out to the SWP’s overseas friends, the International Socialist Tendency, summarises the SWP’s outlook on the Respect split. A more detailed argument is available from the SWP here.

From: Alex Callinicos
To: [IST parties]
Sent: Monday, November 05, 2007 10:00 PM
Subject: The Split in Respect

Dear comrades,

You may have been following, with some bemusement the crisis, that has developed, suddenly and brutally, within Respect, and that has now led to George Galloway and his allies to break away and launch their own ‘Respect Renewal Conference’. This is a tragic development and we in the Socialist Workers Party feel we owe the international left some explanation.

The attached document offers is an attempt to provide such an explanation. It was endorsed overwhelmingly by a Party Council (national delegate meeting of the SWP) that took place yesterday. But events have moved on since the document was originally drafted. In particular, a series of attempts were made in the past week by the Galloway faction to declare that the SWP had left Respect and, when this failed, to prevent the National Conference of Respect (scheduled for 17-18 November) from taking place. It was only after the latter ploy was rejected by Respect branch meetings around the country that the Galloway faction used to cover of darkness physically to seize the Respect National Office and to call its own conference. The simple reason why these outrageous tactics were used is that the Galloway faction believes that it will be a minority at the properly constituted Respect conference.

Factional struggles are often complicated and confusing processes but we insist that the division in Respect is a political one between left and right. Since the end of August Galloway has been seeking to force the SWP, the most powerful organized force on the radical left in Britain, into a subordinate position within Respect. This reflected our resistance to his attempt to transform Respect from a pluralistic and democratic coalition into a top-down alliance of notables focused exclusively on winning Muslim votes. It is true that Galloway has won the support of a handful of SWP members and of some well-known figures on the left, such as the film director Ken Loach, but this does not alter the dynamic of the struggle that has developed in recent months. The reasons why these comrades have sided with Galloway is diverse, but they are badly mistaken politically.

The dominant forces in the breakaway will be Galloway, Salma Yaqoob, and the Muslim notables connected to them.

There is no doubt that the crisis in Respect is a major reverse for the process of left realignment in Britain. Nevertheless, the SWP remains strongly committed to this process, both in Britain and on an international scale. We look forward to working with you in future.

In comradeship,

Alex Callinicos

  • A critique of Callincos letter is available here

1 Com:

Larry (SUN Blog) | November 07, 2007

Callinicos’s letter to the IST clarifies some important things for me:

He says: 1) there has been a ‘crisis, that has developed, suddenly and brutally, within Respect’ and 2) ‘There is no doubt that the crisis in Respect is a major reverse for the process of left realignment in Britain. Nevertheless, the SWP remains strongly committed to this process, both in Britain and on an international scale’.

This confirms to me that the SWP CC has indeed therefore committed huge tactical blunders in the past two months, leading to the loss of their only MP and all their major Trades Union and Muslim community allies.

Callinocos’s admission that the crisis has ‘developed, suddenly and brutally’ shows that the denunciations made elsewhere by the CC of Galloway moving to the right etc are nonsense. He has not changed recently – he is still the maverick celebrity anti-imperialist Catholic Stalinist (etc) he always was, for both good and ill.

Respect undoubtedly had problems. The political radicalisation creating a left of labour space in the UK had unfolded unevenly. It was most intense amongst the Muslim working class and petty-bourgeoisie, because this radicalisation had been catalysed primarily by the war. This lead to the chance of an electoral breakthrough first in Muslim areas. But class polarisation had not fully developed within these communities, leading to sections of the Muslim community enlisted to Respect en-bloc, and lead by petty-bourgeois radical elements who are now the majority of its councillors.

At its best, the SWP usually admits to problems like these, but says that they are not the main problem of the moment, but should be corrected later. Thus they may have been right to make tactical compromises to launch Respect, but could later alter course, with a slight change of tack.

But this has not happened. Instead of changing tack, they have thrown their toys out of the pram – had a massive binge and lost all their important and hard one allies. They have not had a nuanced hand on the tiller, but have in effect sunk the whole project.

However, the only way they could have avoided this was to have made more compromises after the August Galloway letter. They would have had to change both themselves and Respect to continue and expand the project. Respect would have had to become a proper party with its own culture, rather than a ‘United Front of a Special Kind’. And the SWP would have had to have become a current within it. The SWP would no longer be able to lead Respect via its bureaucratic ‘Full-Timer’ apparatus, but instead more through political arguments and leadership.

But the SWP could not afford to make this change, for obvious reasons. Perhaps it had not fully understood the implications of the turn to building broad parties as a long term counter-hegemonic project. Instead it clung to the main elements of its old routine and regime that had sustained it at least since the ‘downturn’ perspective of the 1980’s. This internal regime of command and control may work for its own members signed up to its particular view of ‘democratic centralism’. But it would not work with the wider forces that Respect was intended to involve.

Thus when it came to the Galloway letter they were initially torn in two directions. One towards compromise and the changes outlined above, with Rees seconding the Thornett motion to the NC. Yet another respone soon took over. This was to treat the Galloway letter as a declaration of war, and to mobilise their members in an all out battle to dominate conference. Once this latter strategy was embarked upon, all was lost for Respect. The SWP could not win hegemony through the brute force of its numerical superiority. So inevitably, all its major allies would split, now leaving it in a conference all on its own.

The SWP CC could only really justify itself to its members if it said that it was abandoning the process of left realignment and of building broad anti-neoliberal formations. It could point to the inevitable contradictions of this strategy that could destroy the revolutionary ‘party’, and argue it can only continue as an a fully autonomous unit but building ‘normal’ united fronts. But instead, here Callinicos says: “the SWP remains strongly committed to this process, both in Britain and on an international scale”. So they have just committed the most enormous blunder in pursuing this process. Draw you own conclusions.

Comment by Larry R — 6 November, 2007 @ 2:27 pm

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