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Navigating towards unity

Thoughts on John's Pre-predictions

Matthew Caygill




John Nicholson is very brave to make even an anti-prediction about these elections. The crisis in mainstream politics looks like producing a scenario with three big losers and gains for the margin. It looks like a lot of those gains will go to varieties of the right, but maybe the left as well. Respect has been pretty much under the radar of  mainstream commentators, but who knows what surprises there might be.

However it is still worthwhile to start the necessary discussion about the way forward for the left, so I do want to make some comments on John's piece.

Firstly John is absolutely right to start with the anti-war movement. We should continue to defend and support the Stop the War Coalition and the major components of its politics, especially the idea of building as broad movement as possible and most especially the opening up to Muslim political groupings. STW has been one of the most important, impressive and inspirational achievements of the left in this country. The decision to keep the movement going despite the quick ˜victory" but US and UK forces was absolutely correct. We have to keep on echoing Tariq Ali's editorial on the ANL back in 1978 and say 'hats off to the SWP' for their crucial role in this. This is the essential and irrefutable answer to those who say that the SWP is a sectarian irrelevance and a united left can built without them or by ignoring them.

At the same time genuine discussion about the strategy and tactics of the antiwar movement (note the broadening out here, the movement has been even broader than STW) has been a bit lacking. Debate has been caught between the triumphalism of George Galloway and the SWP ('we almost stopped the war'),  reminding me of Tony Cliff's story about the fly on the plough-horse's head getting to the end of the furrow and saying 'we did that', and on the other side, the bizarre sectarian negativism exemplified by the AWL.
 
Parts of the great movement against the Vietnam War in the 1960s could have been criticised for having too much focus on the next big demo, but this was the approach of the SWP and STW in 2002-3. Of course the demos were important and magnificent, but others things needed to be done and a lot of people in the movement were (and still are) pissed off at what was seen as an unduly negative attitude, with all sorts of allegations about 'elitism' and even attempts to undermine direct action. We also need to be clearer about how close to stopping British participation, or even stopping the war outright we were. Quoting what Tony Blair told his children is no longer enough.

The issue about the relationship between STW and the Socialist Alliance is complicated by a number of factors/ There would have been problems with components of the SA, the structure of which gave them much more voice than actual numbers on ground would allow. To name names: Martin Thomas of the AWL basically saying he wanted to be on the STW executive to criticize it for being generally wrong, leading up to his appearance on 'Newsnight' just before Feb 15th to denounce STW!

Of course STW overtook the SA and marginalised it, the pressure for this to happen would in all cases have been huge, but I would focus on the SWP concept of the SA as a "united front of a special kind" for electoral purposes was really at the heart of problem, because that excluded the SA as body that might form coalitions with others for joint purpose. Instead the SWP was put forward as the body that could do that.

The idea of attempting to build a wider political coalition or movement from the anti-war movement was and is still a very good idea. There have been problems. I never think hype helps and the SWP finds it hard to  prioritise anything without hyping it, but perhaps I'm wrong. We increasingly say 'there are two million people on the street' as though it is in the present tense. Certainly the anti-Bush demo in November was a huge and maybe surprising  boost, but the March demo with its up to 100,000 people reflects more accurately the real numbers willing to come on the streets in 2004 (still good by comparison to demonstrations before 2001, of course, but also look at the relatively small anti-occupation demo in May (8000 people is the largest estimate and yes I know many activists were busy with RESPECT or UNITE and it was short notice, but the difference in scale is still important and revealing).

I don't think the RESPECT answer was the wrong one - it is certainly better than the "Peace and Justice" initiative looked like being last summer. There were always going to be problems (on both sides about) working with Greens. We should be very impressed about the links RESPECT has built up with sections of the Muslim community, despite any limitations. In Yorkshire and Humberside Anas Altikriti is very impressive, committed to both anti-imperialism and a language of social justice. The crude attempts to paint him and the MAB as representing a  simple reactionary politics should be rejected. We should defend this alliance on the basic united front grounds that it helps isolate and maybe even undermine extreme Islamism and is in any case the start of a process of building links with communities that are among the worst victims of racism.

The results are imminent. There are those who will look ay any result and see it as brilliant, and those who are committed in advance to the idea that it is all a criminal, moral and political disaster. Either view is unlikely to be convincing, the main thing must be to navigate our way towards a united left capable of making an even better intervention in the General Elections that are making their certain way towards us.

 

June 2004

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A pre-prediction on the election
John Nicholson

For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism