WITH the US stepping up sanctions against Iran, Middle East "peace envoy" Tony Blair trying to strike absurd Churchillian airs, Musharaf stamping down on lawyers and other dangerous opponents in Pakistan, and Gordon Brown's weakened government arrogating itself more powers, how is the anti-war Left shaping up?
The Stop the War Coalition (STWC) at its conference at the end of last month backed the leadership's decision to exclude Hands off the People of Iran(HOPI), which has support from left-wing Iranian exiles. Apparently it's not good enough to oppose imperialist threats and aggression against Iran, you must keep your mouth shut about repression in Iran and pretend that President Ahmadinejad is some kind of anti-imperialist progressive.
That's why Iranian comrades who'd marched from Birmingham to London were kept off a Stop the War platform a few years ago. For fear they might confuse us simple peace folk; or more to the point, upset some of the Muslim political groups whom leading factions in Stop the War kept wooing. (These conservative elements aren't all that keen on the Iranian regime either, but they'd back it against left-wing secularists).
Although STWC chair Andrew Murray denied in his letter replying to critics that he supported the Iranian regime, this was clearly the issue. There were horrendous reports before conference of a smear campaign against the left-wing Iranians on campuses, reminiscent of Stalinism in its foulest depths, tagging people as pro-US or supporters of the Shah (in reality some were tortured in the Shah's prisons). We could expect this from Stalinists, though nowadays the Communist Party (of which Murray is a member) is assumed to have learned from its past. But the dominant faction in the Stop the War Coalition, particularly among students, is the Socialist Workers Party which affects to be Trotskyist (and has been attacked as such by its erstwhile ally George Galloway).
Indeed the SWP originated in a break with Trotsky's critical defence of the Soviet Union, adopting the slogan "Neither Washington nor Moscow but international socialism" all through the Cold War. I wouldn't want them to say "Neither Washington nor Tehran" now, but next time they are tempted to attack comrades on the left the way others did in the past they should try listening to themselves. At least the old Stalinists thought they were defending the October Revolution, not sticking up for the ayatollahs.
In any case, the whole game has blown apart. It was the SWP that insisted we wind up the Socialist Alliance to join George Galloway in Respect, and proclaimed that Respect was the party of the anti-war movement. They rejected the call for the new party's MPs to only take a worker's wage (like the Scottish Socialist Party's) as a pre-planned attack on George. Basking in the glow of his performance confronting US senators, they had to watch him spend more time playing the fool in the Big Brother House than fighting for his constituents in the House of Commons. And so on, until...
Last week someone asked me what I thought of the latest shenanigans in Respect. I had to confess that I'd been distracted temporarily by the dramatic developments in Eastenders and Coronation Street. (Well, the actors are more convincing and the characters easier to sympathise with). But today I received an e-mail:
Dear Respect Member/Supporter,
Please find below two documents:(1) Renewing Respect, from Linda Smith and Salma Yaqoob (2) An invitation to the Respect Renewal Conference called by Linda Smith, Salma Yaqoob and 17 other National Council members
Apologies to anyone who gets this email twice!
Well by rights, I shouldn't have got it once, as I have never been a Respect member or supporter. I've defended them now and then when they were attacked from the Right, and slandered. I've also felt sympathy for SWP comrades I knew in the Socialist Alliance who have been working just as hard under the Respect banner, and trying to simulate enthusiasm. That's all.
Anyway, here's what they say:.
"Respect was founded to bring together people from divergent political backgrounds in a common struggle for peace, equality and justice. It is now clear, however, that there is a fundamental and irretrievable breakdown in trust and relations between the SWP leadership and other parts of Respect.
"There can be no confidence in the legitimacy of the forthcoming Respect conference. The entire democratic process in Respect has been corrupted. If the conference goes ahead it will do no more than confirm that the SWP leadership is hijacking Respect for its own factional purposes. We will not be attending it.
"This breakdown in relations has occurred because the SWP leadership arrogantly refuses to countenance any situation in which they are not dominant and do not exercise control. They are determined to put the interests of the SWP above that of Respect.
"The sectarianism and 'control freak' methods of the SWP have led us to a situation where Respect is irretrievably split. The SWP leadership has supported the breakaway of four councillors from the Respect group in Tower Hamlets, who then went into coalition talks with the Liberal Democrats.
"We have no intention of giving up the struggle for a pluralistic, democratic and broad left wing movement. We will therefore be holding a Respect Renewal conference to discuss the future for progressive politics in Britain today. We are confident that this conference will attract a broad range of support from those who are interested in discussing how we can work together in pursuit of common objectives."This renewal conference will take place in London on Saturday 17 November, and we urge as many people as possible to attend it.
"Respect, in its current form, cannot continue. But it is in the interests of all us, including those in the wider left and anti-war movements, that this division is carried out in the most amicable manner possible - one that resolves any legal or organisational questions through negotiation".
Signatories of the call for "renewal" include besides Galloway, Ken Loach, Victoria Brittan, Alan Thornett, Jrry Hicks and Nick Wrack, who was recently expelled by the SWP after accepting a job with Galloway.
Meanwhile apparently John Rees, the SWP member who has been Respect's national secretary, appealed to George Galloway and Linda Smith to let Respect officers and staff back into the organisations headquarters, where the locks were changed on Friday. Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, and incidentally John Rees' partner, was due to stand as Respect's candidate for Mayor of London next year, but this looiks doubtful with the split.
Having seen the way the SWP took over and ran the Socialist Alliance only to scuttle it, people could be forgiven some schadenfreud , even find a ring of truth (and deja vu) in the charges of hijacking and control freakery. The breakaway councillors' move to line up with Lib Dems undermines any notion that the SWP must be seen as the principled Left. On the other hand, considering what I heard about Salma Yaqoob in Stop the War, and saw of Nick Wrack and Alan Thornet's role in the Socialist Alliance, plus what I'm inclined to think of Victoria Brittan and Gorgeous Georgie....I think I'll sit this one out.