Don't Rain On Our Parade
Cameron Richards, CPGB
An all-Wales meeting of Respect took
place in Cardiff on a miserable, rainy day on Sunday October 3. The
purpose of the meeting was to discuss policy on the national and
language questions in Wales, as well as to elect delegates to the
forthcoming Respect Conference in London.
With John Rees billed to speak (he failed to turn up) and a mountain of
food supplied, one might have expected numbers in excess of the fifty or
so who attended Respect meetings in the run up to the June 10 elections.
In the event less than twenty members bothered to come to the meeting.
Whether this was because there is discontent with the Respect project in
Wales or simply because SWP members have bought into their leaders' line
that meetings are now boring it is difficult to say - there were
certainly no reports that a rival faction was holding a barbeque on this
atrocious day in October.
Yet what was clear that the SWP organisers of the event were clearly
embarrassed at the low turn out. Indeed, not even one of the four
Respect candidates who stood in Wales for the European elections could
make it to the meeting. Clearly, all is not well for Respect in this
part of the world.
SWP members (who made up about half the meeting) did attempt to explain
away the low attendance by either claiming that it was not built for
properly or by simply dismissing the 'ghetto of Wales'. In the end all
they could do was talk of the great events in East London or even in
Hartlepool (?) and hope that Wales would soon follow.
Of course this
didn't cause the chair of the meeting, Martin Chapman of the SWP, to
adopt anything less than his normal sectarian and less than comradely
demeanour. When prior to the meeting CPGB members presented him with
the motions we had brought on democracy, open borders and democracy, we
were curtly told that these should be presented to our Respect branches
and that he wouldn't even allow us to challenge his ruling.
Fair enough, one might think. Except that branches of Respect are
virtually non - existent across Wales and there is isn't a cat in hell's
chance of any meeting before the deadline date for motions to the
Respect conference. Only when a non -SWPer politely informed our Martin
that it was standard labour movement practice to be allowed to challenge
orders, did he relent.
Predictably, our challenge to the standing orders failed, but this did
not prevent comrade Martin from continually flout democratic practice in
order to achieve one thing - to prevent CPGB members having minority
rights of representation. In slate elections for a Welsh Steering
Committee, he ruled that we couldn't put an alternate slate by simply
the name of CPGB comrade Bob Davies to the existing one.
apparently because we didn't have the support of others on that slate -
even though many on it were not even at the meeting. So in true SWP
fashion, only one slate was put to the meeting.
Things became funnier still when electing delegates for the national
conference. This time voting was by first past the post for the ten
delegate places. Not surprisingly, Martin announced that eleven
nominations had been received, including that of the CPGB's Ethan Grech.
It doesn't take a genius to work out who didn't get elected.
One could accept this as expressing the democratic wishes of the meeting
perhaps. But when we meekly asked if Ethan could, therefore, be reserve
delegate in case one of ten dropped out, all hell broke loose. One SWP
hack bleated out that the vote showed that Respect doesn't want a CPGBer
to attend conference, so there would be no reserve. At least, one
couldn't fault his honesty.
On a slightly more positive note, there was a little more consensus on
the motions on Wales. Though not much it has to be said. Only SWP
obstinacy prevented the compositing of SWP and CPGB motions on the Welsh
language, despite the SWP mover of the motion expressing his wish for
this to happen.
On the national question, the SWP correctly put forward a motion calling
for the right of Wales to self-determination, but without explaining how
this was to be exercised or without stating what they think the precise
nature of the relationship between Wales and the rest of Britain ought
to be. Comically, they counterposed to the CPGB's ant-nationalist and
anti-unionist call for a federal republic of Wales, England and Wales,
their own (though not stated in the motion) vision of a socialist
But before one gets excited about a 'socialist republic' becoming part
of Respect programme, we should recognise that this 'ultra-leftism' is
only put on display because the SWP has nothing to say concrete about
the national question in the here and now - demanding a republic now
remains too much for them to accept. This was immediately apparent when
they opposed the CPGB's principled call for a Welsh Parliament with full
determine its relationship of the rest of Britain.
Instead the SWP put forward a mealy-mouthed motion supporting Wales
getting the same powers as New Labour's Scottish Parliament. Unwilling
to come out fully against the cancer of Welsh nationalism,
paradoxically, the SWP ends up using its influence in Respect to spout
unionism. It is unable to see that there is an alternative to both.
For this writer, schooled in the debacle of the puny Welsh Socialist
Alliance, one couldn't help feeling as one participated in this meeting,
that the WSA was a behemoth compared to Respect Wales. Whatever
successes Respect has in certain parts of England, unless Respect in
Wales can become an inclusive and democratic entity, then it will remain
on the furthest fringes of politics.