I intend to
resign myself. It is not just the issues you highlight. I could have
argued for comrades to stay in Respect if there was any possibility of
acting within the organisation to alter its policies and practice.
However, the efficient way the SWP packed the "delegate conference" to
minimise opposition on the Left, and the decision to vote down the
motions on platforms, indicate to me that opposition from other
socialists will not be tolerated. ( I believe the SWP has a different
position on platforms in the SSP, but of course they are the minority
Perhaps worst of all, as you say, were the disgraceful and dishonest
personal attacks on comrades taking opposite positions to the SWP.
Bambery was probably the worst, but he was ably supported by German,
Rees and, I regret to say, Michael Lavalette.
I wasn't at the conference, but I thought beforehand that it would set
the tone and politics for Respect in the period up to the general
election. I'm glad I wasn't at the conference because I guess it would
have annoyed and distressed me as much as the comrades who left Respect
as a result.
However, Respect remains the single national (well, English to be
precise) left electoral challenge and because of that I'm still willing
to give it some leeway.
One of the
problems we face is that the SWP are masters of phoney and unnecessary
polarization and I don't want to get polarised into being
anti-SWP/anti-Respect just because they would rather have enemies they
don't have to listen to rather than people who support many of the same
objectives, but are also critical of aspects of rhetoric and tactics.
I also have to
disagree that Respect is going nowhere - it still has its boots on,
because the SWP are putting effort into it and some important
independent and other political forces still think there is good to come
out of it.
But this brings me to a wider point which is about the labelling of
people who disagree - even on a tactical level - as 'sectarians' who can
thus be ignored, demonised, excluded, etc. Not only ourselves, but also
the ISG have found ourselves tarred with the same brush, and the problem
is in the political method that the SWP have adopted in dealing with
political dissent and disagreement. Deconstructing methods always good -
and I'm pleased that more comrades understand the term 'amalgam' when it
comes to these particular methods. But it needs to be married to praise
for what is good about SWP, including its overall role in the anti-war
movement, and I think just sending members out to sell SW on the streets
and workplaces regularly is a good thing.
I'm still in favour of Respect, although in practice I recoil from the
hype, lack of democracy, etc. It is in short too much like the SWP, or
too much the sort of dream so-called united front creature of the SWP,
in which they are the only organised body, always get their
way, everyone thinks they are wonderful and looks up to them and are
well on route to joining.
We face the
problem of the SWP. Can we work with them? I think we have to? Can we go
round them? Can we work without them? In small and limited ways of
course, but still ways that should be encouraged. Which brings me back
to the Respect question. Respect remains the central electoral force for
the left in the period up to the general election, so I think it is
still worth bothering with, building, hoping for its success, etc.
I am resigning from Respect (though standing at the mike for the last
time moving the alternative slate it almost felt like we had been
expelled already!). Politically I do think Respect has now set out
clearly that it is not a socialist party and for good measure it has
removed almost all possibility of challenging this direction from
within. These were precisely the reasons that I left Labour, after
Clause 4 was removed; and although these lines remain in Respect's
constitution, as a reason for not supporting Labour, the fact is that,
as Lindsey German made clear, "Respect is not a socialist party.
Socialists have failed. We have to reach out ...."
Organisationally, in terms of Respect being about unity, I can only
reiterate what the succession of SWP / Respect leading figures said
about us, in turn, when opposing the motions they did not like: first,
on Saturday evening: "deliberately divisive" (Lindsey German on the
abortion rights resolution) then, from Sunday lunchtime onwards:
"divisive and dishonest" (Michael Lavalette, on the workers wage)
"cynical" (Sait Atgul, on abortion etc) "deceptive" (Salma Yaqoob -
smashing the resolution on self organisation of women, black people,
etc) "undemocratic" (Chris Bambery - speaking against even the rights of
20 members to move resolutions that was in the constitution he was
proposing!) "against the stop the war coalition" (Lindsey German, waving
a leaflet - I still don't know whose).
And, of course,
that our small amendment to the slate were people who were "unfit" to be
in the leadership (John Rees). I believe that it is not a method of
seeking unity to dismiss people with genuine (and honest) views in this
And if they
want to talk about dishonesty and deception, let them start listing the
revisions of their official slate (between nomination, website and
conference), the pretend delegates elected in Manchester, the absence of
executive committee minutes and decisions, the series of gossip and
innuendo directed at "us" around the whole two days of the
German's threat/challenge - go off and found your own organisation - was
sadly only outdone by the widespread applause that greeted it - a sort
of whipping up of mass hysteria, almost baying for our blood by the end
of the final session. "Unity"? - against the "enemy within"? But we were
never "the enemy".
All of which
contrasted totally with the conference's initial approval of Mark
Serwotka contribution on the first morning- when he called for respect
to be inclusive, tolerant of debate, pluralist, democratic, and
But just on one
point, it is not simple enough to say the SWP packed the meeting. they
have not taken all their own members with them into respect, by any
means. nor were they the only people there. what was more depressing was
their use of the platform and the organisation to dominate
(unnecessarily) and squash any perceived dissent, and the deference with
which most (the huge majority) of the audience (I will use this word
because it was so unparticipative) greeted the instructions from the
front. this left the dissenters very clearly identified - socialist
unity, socialist resistance, (including ken loach on one or two votes),
Leeds, and a few others (for different and varying reasons, say on
abortion or secularism or just because the platform was so damn rude to
them) - and "we" were clearly no better than the CPGB or the AWL (names
not used, but constantly implied, through the use of terms such as
"divisive" and "dishonest"). The social attitudes of a lot of the hall
was conservative - in favour of anti social behaviour orders in a debate
titled "youth and crime". it might as well have been called "Liverpudlians
much debate at all, not just because of one mover and one opposer, and
not just because of remitting. the fact is that people moved formally,
didn't put in speakers slips (I surely only got to speak on the first
morning because no-one at all had put anything in), and didn't want to
participate. the "audience" (because that is what it was) sat, didn't so
much listen as just empathise with the tone, and then clapped -
increasingly hysterically - at anything from the platform leadership.
I don't think
respect can be regarded as the central electoral force on the left even
in England, when it is going to fight so few seats - has it even started
the process of selecting candidates yet? though there is a good argument
here for us organizing discussion meetings in our own areas ("which way
for the left to vote at the next election?"??) and asking for people
from all possible contesting organisations to share views (on who to
vote for and where to fight and so on), so as to raise the prospect of
socialist unity in practice trying to negotiate / achieve one left(ish)
candidate per seat.
I don't agree with John here. Respect remains the main electoral
challenge - its weakness is paralleled by the even greater weakness of
the rest of us. Is any group planning to stand more, or with hope for
greater success? I keep asking: what are the alternatives?
Even where it isn't standing
it will clearly be mobilising people to work in areas where there are
candidates. In Leeds this will be similar to the 2001 election when only
one SA candidate was standing and comrades from other constituencies
worked in Leeds Central.
As it hasn't publicly said
which seats it will be running in it can't really select candidates - of
course there is the issue of re-inventing the wheel as a continuing SA
might have been a better position, but that is to ignore history since
I discussed the prospects for Respect with two SWP members at the
weekend. (These are my friends who were interested in the conference as
neither had attended) One has taken my lead and will not do any further
work for Respect and will criticise it within the party. The other one
was less ready to hear the bad news and still defended the project. He
admitted that Respect is not a socialist organisation, and therefore
'socialist' motions were blocked. I couldn't get out of him
why the SWP are doing
I can only
assume they believe they can build it/ attract members without and
despite the rest of the left?? Will continue this debate with friendly
individuals I know...
Have had loads
of support from others on the left post-resignation, including AWL and
Workers Power comrades which has been nice. But I think much of this is
based on anti-SWP sectarianism. Had interesting talk with AGS members
too, general feeling was sadness that Respect is lost cause. And a bit
of 'I told you so'
I think some people are now saying "how can anyone on the left remain in
Respect? What's the point?" Ok - as is clear by now several people have
resigned from Respect, some of us have not. I think there is an
important need to debate this, but I "respect" the decision of people
Let me quote
the example of Bath, where for historical reasons there was no Soc
Alliance, but did this year launch a Respect branch, the leading figure
being the well respected independent John Bamfylde. In Bath, Respect
fills the gap that the SA did in some other towns, and unites most of
the non-aligned left along with the (small) SWP. If you were in Bath it
would be worth participating in Respect.
where a few people joined Respect who were not previously attracted to
the SA. These independents are in Respect and because I am in Respect I
have persuaded them to join the Soc Alliance as well (which is much
bigger and more active than respect). Whether it is worth me renewing my
membership for 2005 I haven't decided.
Manchester where Socialist Unity managed to split the SWP vote half for
and half against our motion to conference on left unity; the ISG managed
to similarly split the SWP vote in Islington over the issue of self
organisation. In both cases we forced Respect members to have a real
debate about what is the way forward to build a broad socialist party,
and both motions went to conference. The SWP is not a monolith and there
are still many good socialists in the SWP. Where possible we should work
with the SWP and encourage the good aspects of the organisation and
challenge the bad aspects.
Like it or not,
the project many of us desire to create a party broadly on the SSP model
cannot be built by ignoring the SWP. It is difficult but we need to find
ways of engaging with them at rank and file level, and where appropriate
at leadership level, to encourage the SWP to change course. Naturally
this is very difficult because the SWP as an organisation have decided
that anyone who has even tactical disagreements with them is a
sectarian, but I cannot see any alternative. Nor is it hopeless, as many
individual SWP members are unhappy about this sectarianism (and unhappy
about Respect come to that)
That means we
have to both support Respect in the general election, as well as
supporting all other socialist candidates.
I can understand the arguments of those who decide that the correct
thing to do is to stay within Respect. For the future I imagine, and
hope, that the SUN network will include both those who wish to stay as
members and those who think the whole project is bound to fail, or has
already done so. If we have a function I believe it is to provide a
link and area of co-operation for socialists inside and outside the
unity coalition. In particular, we need to have an orientation towards
the many socialists who worked with the SA, but will have nothing to do
My own position, though, has changed - largely because of what I
experienced at conference.
Having been persuaded that the correct thing to do was to join Respect
at least until its conference, I now believe that there is no valid
reason for continuing my membership. This is only partly because of the
decisions taken at conference - on not committing our elected reps to
vote for a woman's right to choose, on not allowing separate
organisation for oppressed groups, on open borders, on a workers wage,
on the right to form platforms etc. I accept there are valid arguments
for and against on (most of) the issues, though I would love to hear the
SWP's arguments for supporting many of these positions within the SSP,
indeed demanding the right to a platform as a condition of joining, but
arguing against in England.
The crucial questions for me are linked:
Is it possible to operate within Respect with a realistic hope of moving
it in the direction of an open, democratic, socialist organisation?
Is Respect prepared to co-operate with other groups on the Left who are
unwilling to join the "unity coalition"?
Is it possible for socialists to act as an organised platform within
Respect to argue for democratic and socialist politics?
I am afraid that the answer to all these is no - and I don't accept the
argument that "this is the only show in town", therefore we must join.
It is not that things I believe in strongly were defeated - that's
democracy, but the way dissent was treated at conference. Opponents
were denounced as "divisive" and "dishonest", were explicitly told to
"go away and found their own organisation", no right of reply was given
to the most appalling attacks. The atmosphere was awful; some of the
worst attacks were cheered to the rafters, including the disgraceful
slur that those on the alternate slate were "unfit for leadership".
I hope this changes, and I wish those comrades well who continue to work
within Respect to push it in the direction of an open and pluralist
situation in London does seem different from the rest of the country.
There is a very upbeat description of Respect in Tower Hamlets by Glynn
Robbins, for example, that we have reproduced on our web page. Glynn
describes Respect in Tower hamlets as a very vibrant and inclusive
Another London comrade
referred to the impact that Respect has had in the Muslim communities -
notably in Tower Hamlets but also among the Kurds for example in Hackney
which seems very positive - and presents an alternative to the Islamist
currents such as Hizbut Tahrir who reject all work with non-Muslims even
around the war ( and have lost influence as a result). Perhaps this is
not a sufficient basis for Respect as a national force as we have
discussed at length in the past but it is an important shift without
recent precedent for the left in Britain.
Because Respect still
does have these strengths it retains support from some significant
non-SWP figures ( Loach, Serwotka, Mike Rosen) with the potential to
build on that. I think Mark Serwotka's recent interview in Red Pepper is
however a warning, where he says he has an open mind about Respect, and
some misgivings about its attitude of "you are either with us or against
On the other hand I have
spoken to other comrades who are committed to Respect but feel unable to
influence its direction, there are few meetings where politics are
discussed. As one of them put it he didn't feel like just going to
barbeques, particularly as anyone perceived as oppositionist might end
up on the spit! This lack of political meetings was reflected in the
Respect timetables published in one of the SWP pre-conference Internal
Bulletins, where there were a whole series of Respect events listed in
Leeds, Manchester and London, but no meetings listed where ordinary
Respect members could influence events or policy. The decisions seems to
be taken elsewhere.
I think the question
for a good number of us is are we going to be a paper member of RESPECT
where there is no activity and constructive role we can play or not
bother being a member. It's difficult to be enthusiastic about either
The Swindon comrades would
have to a use lot of time and effort creating a RESPECT branch - who's
sole function is to be a political expression of the anti-war movement
*at the ballot box* and then find they are unable to stand because of
RESPECT's understandable national policy of limiting the number of seats
it stands in - but they are already committed to standing a Socialist
Alliance candidate. It makes little sense. It could only make sense
where there were others who wanted to do this - RESPECT is meaningful
only if it pulls in more people to the movement and progressive politics
- if it can't do that in your town what is it for?
There are other comrades,
for example in Manchester who face a different problem - where some
sectarian elements of the SWP are insufferable and it would be an
extraordinarily unpleasant experience being a member of Respect. A
totally different question and one I am glad I do not have to face.
I think our Leeds comrades
probably come somewhere in between.
Comrades in Cambridge, are
in the fortunate position that Respect meets regularly and seems to be
'staffed' by some rather pleasant young folk and so it would definitely
make sense there.
For comrades in London there
exists a hot house version of the project which will have both the ups
of the stronghold areas with significant sections of parts of London
being respect voters / supporters. But its centralised aspect and
SWP-centric outlook are likewise intensified.
Out here in windy Lowestoft
we have the opposite problem - it's respect put in the fridge - there
are people who may like it but aren't going to do anything about it. Of
9 SWP members only 3 are members - but all would argue for voting
RESPECT (I think) - in these circumstances its easy to be a member of
RESPECT without it entailing any real effort or unpleasantness. Which is
This may seem like
materialism gone to extremes but I think respect is one of the most
location specific political organisations I've ever seen (including the
SWP) by a long chalk. I think a key question here though (to be taken in
conjunction with these incredibly localised factors) is that once the
elections are underway and particularly when they are over and the post
mortem begins what will put us in the most influential position to argue
for a broad pluralist socialist party, and a collaborative
anti-sectarian method for the left?
It is interesting
that after the Respect conference some members of the ISG went for a
drink with us and commiserated and were thoroughly supportive. they will
probably stay in respect as they see the SWP as the largest block around
(slightly different to the only show in town) and they will wait to see
what happens next (e.g. after the next election). They supported our
motions and moved one of them. they (including ken loach) voted for us
(and even for some CPGB motions).
But some other members of
the ISG have apparently sought to be on the inside track - and were able
to be so because the SWP leadership debated with them their attitude to
motions and so on. This may have helped to improve the SWP motion on
abortion (adding the "mistakenly" uncomposited last line on right to
choose, for example). However, the price they were prepared to pay was
to denounce us (especially me and my role on the exec - simultaneously
both "absent" and "destructive"). Their (limited) success depended on
the degree to which they distanced themselves from us. Undoubtedly this
is similar to their (dreadful) position at the January 2004 launch
conference, where they moved their own (quite good) no borders motion
and then remitted it to the exec (which never considered remitted
motions). And quite different to our approach (nominating Alan Thornett,
for example, in January, when he wasn't on the list. and continuing to
ask for exec minutes, after Alan had stopped.)
Now either (or both
of) these strategies may be legitimate, strategically, (even if they
vary in honesty and sectarian outlook) but they aren't compatible (So is
the future of ISG therefore an issue in itself?)
The other observation I
would make is that for at least three weeks after the Respect conference
there was no mention of Respect at all in the SWP's internal Party Notes
mailing. Is Respect another organisation that will only be given any
life during elections?
Some supporters of
the ISG and Socialist Resistance (SR) seem to recognise that there is
considerable regional variation in Respect, that there is no objective
process compelling to it to develop in the direction we would like to
see, and that there is not easy way of working with the SWP in Respect.
But if these comrades continue to advocate Respect becoming a party it
would precipitate SR out of the cosy snug with the SWP into the role of
Clearly not everyone buys
the idea that Respect is on the road to becoming a party. The
contribution by Francois Sabado in International Viewpoint was very
interesting where he agrees with the need for a broad party, but warns
that the task is to patiently construct the conditions for such a party,
rather than prematurely proclaim a new force, as he puts it: "on the
cheap". On the other hand I think some members of the ISG believe that
the SWP are serious about transforming Respect into a broad, pluralist
party. I think this is self deception.
I remain convinced
that there are tactical reasons for working in Respect - where it
exists, and where it is possible - I also withdraw my earlier remark
that it is "going nowhere", I was shortening a historical process, and
over-emphasising only one possible outcome. It is not going in the
direction we want, but it has not yet run its course.
Murray Smith posed the
question very clearly, does the SWP see Respect as leading to a broad
socialist party, or was it set up as an alternative (and obstacle) to
that project. At a national level I think they have resolved that
question, that not only do they see Respect as an alternative they have
ensured both with the structure and culture of Respect that the
situation cannot be changed, or even questioned.