Monday, October 08, 2007

With due disrespect

WHEN veteran former Communist Party leader Gordon McLennan told George Galloway MP that he had joined his Respect party, George replied "Good, because we are going to need everyone we can get!" That was a few years ago, when Respect was recruiting rapidly, relations between its different elements appeare all sweetness and light, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

So was George anticipating trouble ahead, and planning for the day when like Peter the Great he would have to put down his hitherto loyal streltsi, from the Socialist Workers Party? There were clues. There was George in the Mail on Sunday cheekily inviting fun-lovin' MSP Tommy Sheridan to join him, and take no notice of the "Trotskyite apparatchniks" of the Scottish Socialist Party(SSP).

It raised eyebrows, but little else, considering that Respect, like the Socialist Alliance before it, was supposed to be keeping off the SSP's pitch, and that the Socialist Workers Party is popularly supposed to be Trotskyist. (The SWP and what used to be Militant then hastened to jump on Sheridan's breakaway, only to find him failing to get returned to the Scottish parliament).

There was Galloway wrongfooting his minders by deciding to appear in Channel Four's 'Big Brother' house, without consulting anyone in Respect. The SWP having previously condemned the programme had difficulty defending this, while some hard-line Stalinists more used to defending every twist and turn as they served personality cults took the opportunity to step forward and show loyalty.

Then there was Galloway displaying his own Stalinist credentials for the US journal Counterpunch (editor Alexander Cockburn, son of Claude) with an attack on George Orwell and film-maker Ken Loach over Spain. Loach has been one of Galloway's staunchest defenders, as well as an ally if not a member of the SWP.

Besides, it is not as if this would be the first time a leader with a party built around him has decided to show who is boss by divesting himself of a left-wing faction on which he had previously relied. Arthur Scargill, rated much more seriously as a working class leader than Georgeous Georgie, used first one then another group's support to dispose of those he distrusted, not leaving much of his Socialist Labour Party standing in the process. Scargill had nothing like the Muslim small businessmen and local councillors whom Galloway can fall back on for the time being (some local councillors who claim to represent particular "communities" are notoriously fickle in their affiliations, as Labour in parts of London and other cities has found out, and Respect may be about to discover).

But Galloway's line of attack on the SWP (though he avoided naming them) has led to the suspicion that another left-wing group may be vying for position by helping him out. He seems to have been putting his helpers "in their place" rather than going for a purge. The row has made the East London Advertiser and the BBC, which interviewed Mark Fischer of the Communist Party of Great Britain after their Weekly Worker published George Galloway's document.

For those unfamiliar with the recent British Left, I should explain that this is not the late party of which Gordon McLennan was once general secretary, but a small group which moves in an out of alliances picking up internal documents and gossip, so that its paper has been called the News of the World of the Left.
Good at showing where other groups have gone wrong, it has defended its leader's two pennuth on TV with an editorial on "free speech". Aw, come on fellas, it was good fun!

A brief SWP document countering criticism appeared on the Socialist Unity site back in August, with comments
With the Respect annual conference due to take place next month, the SWP has reportedly produced an Information Pack for its members, containing the kind of charges against which it has always defended the MP from criticism. Weekly Worker sneers that it still trying to keep the issues private. 'Not in front of the children', in Weekly Worker, Thursday, September 27:

The CPGB itself is urging people to support two resolutions for Respect conference calling for "compromise" (a word the SWP has also been using - times must be bad); but in the same issue of Weekly Worker, Peter Manson
predicted Respect's imminent demise, and by way of further encouragement Weekly Worker has carried a cover story by him saying Respect "must be counted among the living dead".
For further items on Respect, including what the SWP are saying, see:

Leaving the maggots then to crawl in and do their work, what can we say about this unedifying spectacle of the incorrigible SWP leadership in pursuit of the unspeakable Gorgeous Georgie, or the insufferably opportunist left grouplets vying to take its place? Alan Thornett, who was used to sell the "broader coalition" that emerged as Respect to doubting Socialist Alliance branches, has been joined by John Lister to endorse some of Galloway's complaints and talk about the future of Respect. The CPGB, which ran with the hare and the hounds trying to keep its place among Socialist opponents of Respect while joining it, has gone so far as to scapegoat John Rees, the SWP Central Committee member who is National Secretary of Respect, as though all would be well if the SWP dumped him to please George Galloway.

Among those of us who did not agree with Respect in the first place, responses have varied between undisguised joy, I-told-you-so, it- serves- the- SWP right (or at least its leadership), and sadness that the good name of Trotskyism as well as the dedication of some genuine and hard-working socialist militants has been so abused and misled up the garden path.

There has been comment in Mick Hall's blog Organised Rage blog. as well as Dave's Part.
A writer who did her best to raise the Socialist Alliance's game in its heyday blogs with first-hand knowledge of the SWP leadership (including Rees) and its methods and genuine feeling about the damage they have done to the socialist cause, in Madam Miaow says ...

For my part, I can't forgive the SWP leaders for their deliberate running down of the Socialist Alliance after they took control of it, though they were not alone to blame. In my experience, the branch rarely met between election campaigns, so could not develop a life of its own (any new members were siphoned off to SWP meetings or ignored). Neither the SWP or other factions wanted a Socialist Alliance paper which would rival their own, and suggest the Alliance was serious about becoming a Party. The Socialist Alliance was rendered virtually invisible at the huge Stop the War demonstrations, kept off the platform while George Galloway was given top spot. And then the SWP hacks came to the last Alliance meetings lamenting with crocodile tears that "we are not winning the young".

The Socialist Alliance was not even taken into a broader movement (the "unpopular front" as some dubbed Respect, it was liquidated mercilessly, so that the SWP could get closer to George, defending the leader from any criticism on the left, and opposing anything that might upset his reactionary Muslim allies (such as support for secular or progressive forces among Muslims here or in the Middle East). To what end?

In my area, where to their credit Socialist Workers Party members have been in the forefront of campaigns on issues like health cuts concerning the working class, it has been sad to see them no longer with a Socialist Alliance, but marching under the banner of Respect. Here and elsewhere, some of the successes claimed for Respect could have been made under a Socialist banner, and so much the better. If comrades like these are cast out by Respect, I wonder where they will go.


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