Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Respect has split: set back or new opportunity?

The split in Respect - The Unity Coalition has been well documente elsewhere. I've no intention of going over the details here. (See http://www.socialistunity.com/ for the major documents of the split).

The fact is there are now two Respects. Respect-SWP, which is exactly that, the SWP, and maybe a hand full of their friends, and Respect Renewal, which is George Galloway - the sole MP, Salma Yacoob, most of the Tower Hamlets Cllrs, Linda Smith, Ken Loach and virtually all the independents.

The SWP's control freakery was a barrier to Respect developing. Key sections of the socialist and labour movement, as well as numerous individuals with negative past experiences of the

SWP, were clearly put off from joining it. Others joined and then left it again fairly quickly when the SWP acted to silence critical voices or were too domineering. As the largest component by far within Respect the SWP had a responsibility to tread carefully, to act in an ultra-inclusive and democratic fashion, and in doing so to prove their doubters and critics wrong. They failed to do this in quite some style.

So what next?

The Respect-SWP is not going to attract anyone to it. It is not a coalition in any way, just an SWP electoral front.

Respect Renewal (RR) on the other hand does appear to be looking outwards towards new forces. They also stand by the idea of building a pluralistic and democratic party.

One problem RR faces is that it is very small, maybe 800 members when the dust settles and the organisations are fully seperated. The SWP did provide most of the activists, especially so outside of Birmingham and East London. So RR will need to attract new members, and new organised forces, if it is to develop branches and activists across the country.

Another problem is the question of accountability, and specifically, George Galloway. He is a controvercial figure on the left to say the least. True, he is a fine speaker. And true again, he was the most outspoken critic of the war on Iraq.

However, there are some issues where most of the left and George Galloway clearly do not agree. This would not be such a problem if Galloway was democratically fully accountable to the organisation. His comments to the press, in parliament, his actions, income, business dealings etc. should be inline with the organisation's democratic decisions and appropriate for a socialist MP. He is such a dominant figure that this may not be easy. How would he respond to any attempt to make him fully accountable?

Democratic accountability would also need to be applied to the Respect Cllrs. Would they attend local branch meetings? Would they adhere the collective democratic decisions reached at? Would they act inline with national policies and decisions?

These questions are unknowns. The fact that Respect has not seemingly been able to hold its representatives fully accountable in the past does make sections of the left, the trade union movement and individual activists warry of joining it. If RR can quickly prove that it will operate in a different way to the past, and that the elected representatives will be fully accountable, then maybe these doubts can be overcome and more forces can be attracted on board.

There are also political issues that need to be resolved. It's absolutely crucial that RR turns away from opportunism. It must appeal to all sections of the working class, whatever race, sex, religion or nationaloty, on a class basis. There can be no hint of appealing to people on a religious, ethnic of national basis.

Of course, defence of religious and ethnic minorities from attack, defence of civil liberties and opposition to racism must be key policies and areas to campaign on. But this is entirely different to deliberately highlighting the religious beliefs or ethnicity of a particular candidate. Likewise, the support of religious leaders or scholars should not be sought after in an attempt to deliver more votes.

RR must be clearly a party for the working class, the oppressed, and for socialism. It's public material needs to contain far more class content and, at the very least, to mention what socialism is and why we struggle for the creation of a democratic socialist society.

If RR can overcome these problems, if it takes an outward looking and welcoming approach, then it could potentially grow, attract new forces on board, and play an important role in the creation of a new mass party of the working class and for socialism.

As a first step RR should open discussions with other forces including the RMT, FBU, PCS, CNWP, SP, CPB, Bob Wareing MP, LRC, AGS and others. RR should also invite these organisations to send visitors to their conference on November 17th.