Split in Respect deepens crisis of revisionism
Yet another attempt to fashion a “mass” party to the left of Labour appears to have ended in tragi-comic farce, with the formal split of Respect into two groups, a rump under the total control of the Trotskyite Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP); and “Respect Renewal”, set up by George Galloway MP and a disparate group of allies, including some smaller Trotskyite groups, some prominent expelled members of the SWP itself, including some of their leading trades unionists, and sections of the Muslim community, particularly in East London and Birmingham. Both groups held their separate conferences in London on November 17th 2007.
Respect was formed out of the anti-war movement and following the expulsion of George Galloway from the Labour Party, consequent upon his courageous opposition to the Iraq War, an opposition which was qualitatively more militant and anti-imperialist than the sanctimonious and piously pacifist and defeatist hand wringing of his erstwhile colleagues on the Labour “left”, such as Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, who were predictably left in peace by Tony Blair, the better to discharge their anointed task of attempting to keep potentially militant workers tied to Labour’s imperialist war chariot.
Respect was in essence an alliance with three components at its core – George Galloway, essentially a left Labourite, although with a far greater grasp of international affairs than it is customary to find in such circles and hence a positive attitude to the socialist countries and to national liberation movements, especially, but not exclusively, in the Middle East; representatives of the Muslim community pushed in the direction of anti-imperialism by Bush and Blair’s warmongering; and the SWP, a particularly opportunist Trotskyite outfit that has nourished the most bitter and visceral hatred for all socialist countries from its very inception and throughout its history.
From the start, therefore, the whole basis for Respect was inherently unstable, but for a time it held together. As was observed on more than one occasion, Galloway needed foot soldiers at election time and the SWP needed a figurehead to boost its profile and enable it to punch above its weight in the anti-war movement.
However, such a loveless marriage was always bound to end in divorce. The beginning of the end was heralded by a paper penned by Galloway on August 23rd 2007, which began by comparing the by election result in the Shadwell ward of the east London constituency, which Galloway spectacularly won in the 2005 general election by defeating New Labour stooge Oona King, where Respect retained its council seat, with that for the parliamentary seat of Ealing Southall in west London, where the Respect candidate polled a humiliating 1.6 per cent of the vote, despite there being no other left candidate, and down from the 2.6 per cent polled by the same candidate (standing on that occasion under a different guise) in the 2001 general election, where there was also a candidate from the Socialist Labour Party (SLP), who secured a further two per cent. As Galloway put it:
“The Shadwell by-election victory has stunned the New Labour establishment, turned the tide in Tower Hamlets and opened up the real possibility of winning two parliamentary seats in East London which, together with the potential gain in Birmingham, would make us the most successful left-wing party in British history.
“Ealing Southall, on the other hand, just a few weeks before, marked the lowest point in Respect’s three-year history. The failure to harvest even the vote we had secured in just one ward of the constituency in the local elections 12 months earlier was a sharp reminder that what goes up can come down and should shatter any complacency about the London elections next May.
“It is clear to everyone, if we are honest, that Respect is not punching its weight in British politics and has not fulfilled its potential either in terms of votes consistently gained, members recruited or fighting funds raised.
“The primary reasons for this are not objective circumstances, but internal problems of our own making.”
Galloway then proceeded to enumerate the “internal problems”, citing, among other things:
· A decline in membership.
· A lack of activity, with whole areas of the country moribund.
· A financial crisis which, in particular, left the organisation unable to fight a general election that it was then widely believed Gordon Brown was about to call.
· Incorrect priorities, for example Galloway was strongly critical of the decision to pour resources into the annual “Gay Pride” march whilst totally ignoring a major Asian community festival in east London and giving only minimal attention to the London Latin America Festival.
· The marginalisation of some of the organisation’s most high profile members, in particular Birmingham activist Salma Yaqoub.
· Lack of transparency in staff appointments.
Despite the fact that Galloway addressed himself more to organisational than overtly political matters, and that he was careful not to mention, let alone attack, any organisation by name, the SWP leadership took Galloway’s paper as nothing short of a declaration of war. And, as Galloway is no fool, that is doubtless what he both intended and anticipated.
Shooting back, the SWP Central Committee declared:
“Respect was conceived as a pluralistic coalition and therefore has always been based on compromises among its main constituent parts. The SWP has made plenty of compromises and is ready to make more in the future. But we fear that what is being demanded of us now would amount to the subordination of the socialist left within Respect and would therefore drastically undermine Respect’s nature as a genuine coalition.
“Respect was thrown out of balance from the start by the failure of other leading figures on the Labour left to take the kind of principled stand that George did and break with New Labour. This made Respect disproportionately dependent on the excellent support it won from Muslims, as became particularly clear in last year’s London elections. It is the effort of the SWP, in response to this weakness, to widen and diversify Respect’s working-class support that George and his allies have been attacking.”
From here, the SWP tries to paint a picture of the dispute as one where they stand for “socialism” (by which they in fact mean continued efforts to accommodate themselves to the left wing of the labour aristocracy) and Galloway for reactionary communalism:
“In Tower Hamlets it was important Respect had councillors elected from the Muslim community – representatives of the most oppressed community in Britain – but it would have been good to have returned other candidates too, who reflected the totality of the working class in the East End.
“In Birmingham in the seven target seats in May’s local elections, those with the greatest chance of achieving election, the candidates selected were all men from the Pakistani community. Helen Salmon was voted out of being the candidate for Moseley & Kings Heath ward.
“A retreat into a party whose elected representatives are overwhelmingly male and Muslim would be to retreat into the caricature of us drawn by our opponents. It would be also unacceptable not just for socialists but for so many who come from the trade unions, from Labour backgrounds and from the anti-war, women’s and so many other movements.”
What this sleight of hand ignores is that the disputes over candidate selection to which it refers were essentially over whether to select members or non-members of the SWP. Moreover, in Galloway’s document, practically the only political proposal advanced essentially reflects the same Labourite orientation as that espoused by the SWP:
“Approaching [John] McDonnell [MP] to organise an open meeting in Parliament; seeking a joint conference with the RMT [rail workers’ trade union led by Bob Crow], CPB [the revisionist Communist Party of Britain], Labour left and others; and organising a people’s march to London as an agitational vehicle for rallying forces and struggles against the Brown government.”
Of course, had such a plan come to fruition, it could not but have weakened the SWP’s grip on the organisation and hence given Galloway a greater freedom of manoeuvre.
Following this first exchange of documents, relations between the two camps soon broke down completely, with the usual light entertainment that accompanies such affairs, as supporters of Galloway locked SWP leaders out of Respect’s offices, whilst the SWP seized control of the website. Somewhat more seriously, both sides traded accusations of physical threats and assault.
The development and subsequent split in Respect is not the concern of that organisation and its various components alone. It holds ramifications and lessons for the whole working class movement. In this regard, it is important to remind ourselves as to how Marxist-Leninists view such phenomena and to contrast this with the approach of certain parties in this country purporting to be communist.
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels write as follows:
“They [the communists] have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.
“They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.”
Further, Marx and Engels make clear that the proletariat does not eschew alliances with non-proletarian parties as well, writing:
“In France, the Communists ally with the Social-Democrats against the conservative and radical bourgeoisie, reserving, however, the right to take up a critical position in regard to phases and illusions traditionally handed down from the great Revolution.
“In Switzerland, they support the Radicals, without losing sight of the fact that this party consists of antagonistic elements, partly of Democratic Socialists, in the French sense, partly of radical bourgeois.
“In Poland, they support the party that insists on an agrarian revolution as the prime condition for national emancipation, that party which fomented the insurrection of Cracow in 1846.”
Marxist-Leninists, therefore, do not begin from a position of hostility to the likes of George Galloway, Arthur Scargill or Bob Crow when the latter seek to take political and organisational steps to demarcate themselves from social democracy and its main political expression in Britain, the imperialist Labour Party, and to construct an organised alternative.
Indeed, communists in Britain actively joined Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party (SLP) and worked tirelessly and sincerely to build it, organisationally and ideologically, until such time as they were arbitrarily and bureaucratically expelled by Scargill, who proved that he would rather destroy his own party than make honest efforts to rise above his chronic labourism, syndicalism and Christian pacifism.
Hence, as stated, Marxist-Leninists do not criticise Galloway, Scargill, or anybody else when they attempt to break from social democracy. Where we do criticise them is when they fail to thoroughly effect such a break, as only by so doing can they truly place themselves on the same side of the barricades as the working and oppressed people of the whole world.
The same cannot be said, however, for the chronic and incurable revisionists of the New Communist Party (NCP), whose slavish, yet totally unrequited, love for the Labour Party is driving them inexorably towards their political grave.
In the November 16th 2007 edition of their paper the New Worker, the NCP devotes its editorial to the events in Respect, stating in the second paragraph:
“The reasons for the split are of little concern to communists.”
Leaving aside the somewhat obvious question as to why the NCP should then devote the whole of its editorial column to a matter of such apparently little concern, it is well known that no corner of the political spectrum was too obscure as not to attract the careful attention of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin in their day, and their writings are positively replete with their dissections of all trends in the working class movement, in particular. More specifically, if the few remaining members of the NCP could somehow manage to stir themselves to get off their backsides occasionally and actually engage with the mass movement, to which they profess such verbal attachment, they would know that, for better or worse, it has been the alliance between Galloway and the SWP that has largely provided the leadership core of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC), notwithstanding all its weaknesses, especially its pandering to the left wing of social democracy, the never-ceasing attempts to cater to the interests of the labour aristocracy, and its inability to carry to logical conclusion its opposition to the war – all of which we have criticised in the past. However, apart from a token effort on the main national marches, the presence of the NCP at StWC activities is about as likely as a snowstorm in the Sahara.
In fact, what happens in Respect is of great “concern” to the NCP, as this miserable apology for a communist party has set itself the task of keeping the working class movement tied to the imperialist Labour Party. Let these revisionist dolts speak for themselves:
“The alternative to Labour in Parliament is not fringe groups but the massed ranks of the Tories and Liberal Democrats who, given half a chance, would launch a massive attack on the working class if they returned to power.”
We can but presume that, in the considered view of the NCP, the Labour governments of Blair and Brown have not been launching a “massive attack” on the working class!
Faced with the uphill, not to say impossible, task of attempting to reconcile its communist pretensions with its squalid and servile support for the Labour Party, the NCP concocts a mechanical, not to say absurd, “theory”, whereby the proletariat apparently needs two parties, a social democratic one to fight for reforms and a communist one to fight for revolution! Explain the revisionist cretins of the NCP:
“The NCP’s support for Labour is based on the principle of strengthening the power of the organised working class. Reforms are best carried out by reformist parties and that is what the Labour Party is and will always be as long as it retains the link with the union movement.”
Leaving aside the fact that the Labour Party (unlike, for example, Respect) is not a reformist party, but a viciously reactionary party whose hands are dripping with the blood of over two million Iraqis and Afghans today, and of Irish, Malays, Greeks, Koreans, and countless others throughout the blood soaked history of “Labour” governments, this wooden, mechanical, not to say idiotic “theory” turns the very ABC of communism and communist organisation on its head. To quote again from Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto:
“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.
“The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement…
“The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.” (Our emphasis – LALKAR)
Nothing could be clearer – nor could it be further from the painful intellectual contortions in which the NCP is forced to indulge out of its determination to defend the indefensible.
Unfortunately, we have not yet heard the worst. Continues the NCP’s editorial:
“The Labour Party is not the enemy of the working class nor is it a barrier to communist advance.”
One could surely be forgiven for not knowing where to start in replying to such brazen, such shamefaced, revisionism and such out and out class treachery. Fortunately, help is to hand in no less a form than the New Worker itself! With the wit and wisdom of its thoughts on Respect to be found on page 2, it only takes the kind of minimal physical effort that even an NCP cadre might be able to muster once in a while to turn back to the front page, where you can find the headline, “Brown leads on the road to fascism”!
Dear, long suffering readers, we promise you that we are not making this up! So, ladies and gentlemen of the NCP, we would like to ask, as the working class needs to know:
· Is fascism a reform beneficial to working class interests or is it not?
· Does the introduction of fascism make you an enemy of the working class or not?
· Does fascism represent a barrier to communist advance or not?
Truly, the NCP’s tortured logic brings to mind the sage observation of William Shakespeare that: “Those whom the gods seek to destroy they first make mad.”
The NCP’s comments on Respect did however serve the purpose of initiating a debate in the letters page of the New Worker, which commenced with a letter from Comrade Dermot Hudson that made a number of correct points. Responding to Hudson, one NCP apologist, Edwin Bentley, referred to the “supremely eloquent but limitless opportunism of George Galloway”. Whilst we would query neither Galloway’s eloquence nor his opportunism, one cannot but contrast this description with the fawning sycophancy that the NCP, with monotonous regularity, reserves for such charlatans as John McDonnell, Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, who all take great care to keep their strictly limited opposition to imperialism within the safest of bounds and whose main political task is actually to try to retain the support of the working class and progressive people for the imperialist and warmongering Labour Party. Indeed, it is in marked contrast to the fawning attitude that the NCP once displayed towards Galloway himself, just so long as he remained inside their precious Labour Party.
No, for the revisionists of the NCP, the problem with Galloway’s opportunism is not that it is limitless, but precisely that it, unlike theirs, has been shown to have its limits.
In contrast to the NCP, their fellow revisionists in the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) do at least appear to retain a certain grip on reality. Andrew Murray, a prominent CPB member, who, as Chair of the StWC has worked closely with both sides of the now split Respect, recognised that the matter was of some real concern to communists, even if, writing in the Morning Star of November 19th 2007, all he could manage was a somewhat vacuous plea for unity:
“The big lesson from the last few years is that we can only advance in unity…
“It is important that everybody involved on all sides of the dispute in Respect says that the present controversies should not affect the anti-war movement.”
As if they could fail to do so!
In fact, the split in Respect can but hasten the looming split in the CPB itself. At the time of Respect’s foundation, a group in the CPB leadership, headed by General Secretary Robert Griffiths and Morning Star editor John Haylett, advocated that their party drop its long standing and unthinking support for the Labour Party and throw in its lot with Respect. However, at a Special Congress, they were narrowly defeated by a Labour loyalist faction (whose antipathy to Galloway was exacerbated by their support for the traitors of the pro-occupation “Iraqi Communist Party”) around International Secretary John Foster. For his part, it was always an open secret that Galloway would have been happier to partner with the CPB than the SWP, and this is a matter now being revisited by both parties following the split in Respect.
It is against this background that Griffiths is once again gingerly lifting his head above the parapet.
In his article, ‘Shades of Nuremberg’, published in the Morning Star on 24 September 2007, to coincide with the opening of Labour Party Conference, the CPB General Secretary wrote:
“Nevertheless, a large section of the working class has stayed loyal to Labour. The Communist Party has long recognised this reality, working in alliance with others on the left to improve Labour’s policies rather than try to replace it as the mass party of the labour movement.
“But the ‘tectonic plates’ have been shifting in ways which the trade union movement and the left can not ignore…
“We can no longer ignore the elephant in the room, which is that the Labour Party is in the grip of new Labour.
“Some unions have already disaffiliated and more may regrettably follow as their members have enough of attacks on their jobs, pensions and living standards.
“Individual membership has more than halved – from 407,000 in 1997 to 182,000 today – and millions of former Labour voters have deserted the Labour Party at the ballot box.
“The trade unions and the people of Britain need a mass party of labour. If, as in the US, we all agreed that we do not have one, we would be united in trying to create one. Opting out of the struggle to reclaim or re-establish a mass political party of the labour movement offers no solution.
“From this Labour Party conference, every trade union, whether affiliated or not, and every socialist organisation has a responsibility to outline its proposals for reclaiming or re-establishing Britain’s mass party of labour.”
This is hardly radical stuff, but even to raise the questions in such a tentative and half-hearted way shows greater political insight than can be mustered by the blockheads of the NCP, who would still have us believe that Labour remains a mass party, supported by the majority of the working class, and financed not by dubious millionaires and billionaires, but by the workers’ pennies, happily contributed through the trades unions’ political levies.
More significantly, by openly questioning the most sacred political dogma of the half century old revisionist British Road to Socialism, that Labour is somehow the “mass party of the British working class”, articles such as that by Griffiths cited above will serve to open a Pandora’s box of political discussion and debate that may well see the CPB crumble like a house of cards, built as it is on such shoddy political foundations.
In the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (CPGB-ML), this country now has a genuine and serious communist party. Comrades in the CPB and elsewhere who really want to break with revisionism and fight for communism should read the CPGB-ML’s literature, seek out its comrades for discussion, and actively consider applying to join its ranks.