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Respect: a tale of two conferences

by Dave Riley

On Saturday last there were two "Respect" conferences in London.

Galloway speaking at RR

But the more interesting report comes from Macuaid (Socialist Resistance member/leader) who writes
"Cheers greet demise of Socialist Resistance

Socialist Resistance has decided to cease production of its monthly paper. (We'll work out later what we'll do for a public profile). The massive financial, technical and personnel resources will instead be redirected towards producing a monthly Respect paper. John Lister broke the tightly guarded secret to conference and was slightly bewildered to have his contribution interrupted by applause and cheering rather than the customary silence or heckling. The first issue will be ready for the climate change demonstration in December. The new publication will be radically different from the well designed but uninspiring, apolitical tabloids that Respect has traditionally produced. It will have analysis, discussion and give branches something to organise around."
However, elsewhere in London -- (SWP) Respect had its conference:
"The scoop is that Respect isn't going away. I can tell you this with
a level of confidence and optimism today that I couldn't have yesterday. There were two events billed as Respect events today. One was the national conference, with 350 elected delegates and observers, resolutions and motions to be voted on. It would have contained more people, but 90 people had to be turned away since Westminster University was unable to provide an overflow room. I was there as a press person to observe and report, and did not participate in the votes. I will provide a run-down of the votes for you, but all passed resolutions will soon be available on the Respect website. The other was a rally held at Bishopsgate, without elected delegates, to which invitations were widely sent. I am told the latter had a decent turnout, 200-300 people mainly from Tower Hamlets, which is one of George Galloway's few strongholds."

John Rees at SWP Respect

So the game's afoot....

One point that wasn't addressed was the question of who was at the (SWP) Respect conference. Given that the other side insisted a stack was being orchestrated that would be the clincher I'd expect in regard to numbers. That's neither here nor there really except in form of an ethical divide, but if the Respect conference was a numbers game then that leaves the SWP with
very little to work with later on. The problem being that -- rightly or wrongly -- the means used to protect Respect from the 'right' or 'communalism.' or the splitters -- doesn't empower the exercise with a dynamic to sustain itself.

Similarly if Respect Renewal is a room full of Galloway loyalists and sycophants or 'communalists' or 'rightwingers' it won't be going anywhere politically very quickly either .

But what seems to be the case is that 'the rest of the far left' is no where to be seen --aside from Socialist Resistance they aren't players at all as much as I can judge.

I didn't reference this but the post here and especially the comments that follow it are very interesting re what happens next --at least when they stay on that topic.

It's a commentary by UK political satirist Mark Steel and in effect marks off not only the whole Respect divide but some disquiet among the SWP membership -- an understandably loyal membership as you'd expect-- as a consequence of the Respect fallout. You also need to note that perhaps only one third of SWP members had actually joined Respect.

While the war of words may persist ad infinitum-- this comment by Ger Francis is possibly brutally accurate:
The `relief' from the SWP that they managed to round up 350 up their members and hangers on to their conference speaks volumes as to the limits of their political ambition. This is a party that has been around in one form or another for 50 years or so, whose conference has been matched for size by a group of people who have coleased into a political bloc in the last 5 weeks or so. But when it comes to who has the social base in this, when it comes to who do the voting public associate with Respect, there is no contest. Not only that, as George's radio show has gone from 80,000 to over 750,000 listeners in an 18 month period, it is very clear where the potential for renewing Respect lies. Let the SWP go off and build their version of Respect in the manner they see fit and let the electorate decide which version they respect more. I have no doubt about the outcome.
For the SWP POV:

And finally, to mark off our inquest , Andy Newman offers a summation:
There are moments in politics when the walls melt, and the mental compartments we have put ourselves in disappear, and there are simply people, talking to each other and exchanging ideas with mutual respect....

Of course the events within one political party cannot compare to great events in the class struggle, but nevertheless there was a slightly festival atmosphere at yesterday’s Respect Renewal conference.

We should recognise that the split in Respect was a defeat, in the same way that all divorces are a defeat of the hope of the original marriage. Many SWP members contributed fantastic work and political inspiration in both the Socialist Alliance and in its successor organisation, Respect. We look forward that in the coming months we will be working again with our friends and comrades in the SWP, in the Stop the War Coalition, in the campaigns against the BNP, in solidarity with trade union struggle, and in defence of council housing.

But the participation of the SWP in Respect came at too high a price. The United Front of a Special type meant that the SWP had a privileged leadership position within Respect. The current crisis started because after three years an organisation that had won a member of parliament and twenty councillors, had fewer members than when it started,(just 2000), had no money in the bank, and had no candidates selected for what looked like an imminent general election. This was the potential disaster that the SWP’s “leadership” had led Respect to.