Car Crash on the Left

red-pepper.jpgThe latest issue of Red Pepper includes the following interesting summary of recent events in Respect, by Alex Nunns.

‘A spectacular car crash’ is how George Galloway MP describes the split in the Respect coalition. An initiative that can boast more electoral success in England than any other left group outside Labour since the Communist Party in its heyday, has torn itself apart less than four years after its inception. The row exploded in late August when Galloway penned a letter critical of the Socialist Workers Party – by far the biggest group within Respect. In response, according to one member of Respect’s national council, the SWP leadership decided to ‘go nuclear’.

A brief period of compromise quickly gave way to escalation on both sides, ending in a complete breakdown. The balance of forces made for a fairly even split on the national council, and soon there were two groups claiming to be the legitimate Respect. In one corner stood the SWP and Respect national secretary John Rees (also of the SWP’s central committee), presiding over the apparatus. In the other was Galloway, Salma Yaqoob, Ken Loach and nearly all the non-SWP members of the national council. The SWP described it as a left-right split, saying that Galloway and his allies had moved right, chasing Muslim votes for the expected snap election, and had then attacked and witch-hunted the left. The other side dismissed this as fantasy, instead slamming the SWP leadership for its control freakery.

Genesis of the row

The genesis of the row lay in the manner of Respect’s formation. The coalition was hastily pulled together after the Iraq war to give electoral expression to the anti-war movement. The aim was to reach out to a wide constituency – peace activists, Muslims, socialists, disaffected Labour supporters and trade unionists. But due to a tight electoral timetable, some felt that the new formation came as a fait accompli that failed to capitalise on the breadth of the movement. Others from the Socialist Alliance, the previous electoral initiative which the SWP dumped in favour of Respect, saw the new coalition as opportunist and bound to fail.

There was also concern about an organisation based on an alliance between the SWP and a controversial charismatic figure. Galloway, one of the best orators in the country, has been central to Respect’s success. But he is regarded even by supporters as a maverick. For its part, the SWP has a habit of building spokespeople up, seemingly always to knock them down again. And sure enough, where once it defended him, the SWP can now be heard attacking Galloway over Big Brother and his earnings.

Whatever George Galloway is, he is not a control freak, and he has come to agree that the coalition was not broad enough at the outset. ‘The roots of this problem definitely are in the fact that not enough groups, trends, parties or individual personalities came into Respect,’ he told Red Pepper. ‘Therefore the perception was created that it was an organisation dominated by the SWP, who have form, or dominated by me, or, later, dominated by Muslims.’ In particular, Galloway and others regret that the Communist Party of Britain voted against joining, which they believe would have acted as a counter-balance to the SWP and influenced developments on the Labour left and in the unions – an area where Respect has not forged the alliances it had hoped.

Successes

Yet despite these factors Respect did well. At its high point it could boast 16 councillors, 12 of whom made up the official opposition on Tower Hamlets council. In Birmingham, Salma Yaqoob was elected with 49 per cent of the vote; in Preston, councillor Michael Lavalette increased his vote as a Respect candidate after initially being elected for the Socialist Alliance in 2003. And famously Galloway was elected MP for Bethnal Green and Bow. More than this, in Muslim areas Respect gave a political voice to some of the most disadvantaged and alienated people in society, bringing them into democratic politics and acting, in Galloway’s words, as ‘the antidote to fundamentalism’.

According to John Rees, these achievements brought an electoral pressure that ultimately led to the split. The SWP leadership does not accept that its conduct was the issue. ‘With success came problems,’ he says. ‘When we started we had to hunt around for people to stand as candidates. Now tens of people come forward for nomination in Tower Hamlets and Birmingham. Some of these people are there because they’ve been frustrated elsewhere, and not because they agree with the principles.’ ‘The key question is how do you respond to that electoral pressure?’ says Rees. ‘Do you select people who are community leaders no matter what, or do you say we want electoral success but not at any price?’

Communalism

This logic led to the most incendiary accusation levelled in the row: communalism, a word that in Respect circles is equivalent to saying poppadom on Big Brother. In March the SWP used the term in an internal publication, saying that in Birmingham ‘serious elements of Respect are pulled by communalist forces’. (Like all the key documents throughout the crisis, it found its way on to the internet. Blogs have been the battlefield in this war, making democratic centralism infinitely more problematic and forever changing the way left political groups fall apart.)

A later SWP release explained: ‘Promising favours to people who posed as the “community leaders” of particular ethnic or religious groupings if they would use their influence to deliver votes … is what is known as … “communal” politics’. In Birmingham, because Respect had in February this year selected seven Pakistani men to stand in its target seats, it was ‘doing what our opponents had always accused us falsely of doing – acting as a cross-class party whose horizons were limited to representing just one “community”’. These events ‘could seem to confirm’ to others that Respect was a ‘communalist party’.

Salma Yaqoob, at whom these accusations were especially directed, rebutted them fiercely, saying she is the figure most closely associated with addressing ‘communal’ tensions between African-Caribbean and Asian communities in Birmingham. She believes the criticism stems from frustration at the low number of SWP members elected as councillors.

‘They should be working hard to build in weaker areas, like they have in Preston and Bristol,’ she says of the SWP. ‘But the leadership want to put their candidates into ‘safe seats’. To me it’s like leeching behaviour. When Muslims are their vote fodder, we’re the community. When they don’t get their way, we’re the communalists.’

The underlying factor is the uneven development of Respect across the country, and the tension between a predominantly socialist and SWP-influenced national organisation and a localised, not exclusively socialist support base largely centred in Muslim community groups. Partly this is down to the strategy of targeting areas with the best chance of success – a necessary response to the British electoral system. As John Rees says, ‘Under first past the post you have to do it to make a breakthrough and establish yourself as a serious player’.

The result was great success in east London, Birmingham and Preston, where a significant proportion of the voters are Muslim, as well as Bolsover, where there are no Muslims, but nothing in many other areas. Some Respect branches are moribund, while Tower Hamlets is huge, with around 570 members, entitling it to around a quarter of the delegates at the coalition’s annual conference.

Tower Hamlets

This has made the borough the centre of the strife. First, the selection of conference delegates was contested in a series of highly charged meetings, then four SWP-sympathising councillors resigned the whip, prompting the other side to declare that the SWP had split Respect.

The row centred around Abjol Miah, the leader of Respect’s Tower Hamlets councillors and close to Galloway, and councillor Oliur Rahman from the SWP camp, who led the breakaway group. Miah, tipped as a parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow when Galloway moves to neighbouring Poplar at the next election, believes the SWP was reacting to a loss of control.

‘They never forecast that the community would outgrow them in Tower Hamlets,’ he says. ‘To start with they had a majority in meetings of eight people, but now we have 570 members of which they are about 30. They can’t bully people. If anything the SWP were being communalist in the way they acted. When it was an advantage for them to use so-called Muslim “businessmen” they did. It was like a chess game for them. Now it’s not going their way they have a problem with it.’

According to one former leading SWP member, the turning point was May 2006, when John Rees stood for Tower Hamlets council but came 200 votes short of winning a seat. All 12 elected councillors were Bangladeshi. The SWP leadership started to fall out of love with Respect, believing it was increasingly controlled by ‘reformist’ forces and that the SWP was not getting its fair share of the spoils or growing its own membership. Nevertheless, according to the source, the leadership continued to compromise for the sake of getting SWP central committee member Lindsay German elected to the Greater London Assembly in 2008.

Even John Rees believes he made errors. ‘The mistake I made was not to raise the situation in Tower Hamlets nationally, because I didn’t want to make a local issue into a national argument. We [the SWP] gave away too much ground in Tower Hamlets and were too soft with George. But that’s the real world … We should have raised the issue of the accountability of our elected representatives after the 2006 local elections.’

Personal or political?

It can seem like the split in Respect is entirely down to organisational issues and personality clashes, and nothing to do with policy. But both sides in the dispute insist it is political. For Yaqoob, ‘the way the SWP works has become a point of principle, because that’s not how to build a pluralistic coalition. People can’t believe they are the sole repositories of the truth. We were trying to replicate the experience of the anti-war movement, where the SWP were good – to give credit and support to the broad movement without taking over.’

Galloway echoes this vision. ‘There are people who agree with us on quite a significant number of things, who definitely don’t describe themselves as radical left. However, if we’re to have a meaningful force, you have to have them on board. So it has to be pluralist, democratic, mutually respectful, and no one section or force can be allowed to dominate it. Now I thought the SWP agreed with that, but if you will the end you have to will the means.’

For Rees it is political in a different way. ‘In an electoral organisation it’s very important who gets selected,’ he says. ‘If you have candidates who rarely turn up on demos and don’t articulate policy effectively then the candidates become an issue as to whether the policies come off the paper. And the lack of a strong socialist spine allows us to be picked off – one of the Tower Hamlets councillors defected to Labour.’

Galloway wholly disagrees. ‘You cannot have a Leninist group micro-managing a Respect branch of 570 people,’ he says. ‘What does it matter if Mr A or Mrs B is the branch secretary of Respect? If you decide that not only do you prefer Mr A, you’re going to whip all your members along to a meeting and try to exclude other people on bureaucratic grounds, you will be suspected, in this case correctly, of control freakery for the sake of it. This is impossible.

‘In my concept these organisational issues first of all are not that important, and secondly if decisions are not made by negotiation it’s the beginning of the end if you start packing the meetings to decide them on a hands-up for dumpling basis. That’s fatal.’

Front organisation?

A further criticism of the way the SWP has operated is that it has treated Respect as something to be taken out of the drawer at election time, without allowing it to have an independent life. This allegation is made about Manchester, where there are two Respect branches, North and South.

The North branch has a core of members who have left the SWP, such as Clive Searle from Respect’s national council and his brother Richard. It has regular meetings and produces a 12-page newspaper. The South branch is largely made up of SWP members and, according to Richard Searle, did not meet for six months: ‘The difference is that SWP members see the SWP as their main thing whereas in North Manchester people are simply Respect members.’

Clive Searle believes the SWP has come to see Respect as the competition. ‘For the previous 10 years there’d been nothing in the space between the SWP and New Labour. But now they’ve created something that is becoming a route out of the SWP. They’ve lost a lot of people.’

In the SWP’s defence, John Rees points out that its members are highly active in a plethora of campaigns from council housing to the NHS, and can’t do everything. But he denies that SWP-dominated Respect branches are less active. ‘In branches where the SWP is influential there is lots of activity, like in Preston and Bristol. It’s got nothing to do with differential numbers of SWP members.’

Indeed, Preston is a success story, an example of the SWP at its best. There councillor Michael Lavalette has helped build just the kind of open movement that Respect was supposed to be, involving ex-Labour elements and Muslim community activists.

‘The aim is to work with as broad an alliance as possible,’ Lavalette says. ‘I have meetings with some left Labour councillors; we have a newsletter that goes out to local unions; we’ve been central to Preston Keep Our NHS Public; we’re carrying on with the anti-war movement. This is about new ways of working.’

On the ground Lavalette has put in the effort. ‘The first thing I did was have surgeries – no other councillors were doing that. At first no one came so I took it out to where people were meeting – the church, the mosque, the temple, trade union meetings, community events. I started to gather casework’. As a result his vote shot up in 2007.

The Preston coalition, in which the SWP is a minority, has run so smoothly that when the national crisis exploded Lavalette was ‘completely disorientated – it came out of the blue. I decided to try to find my own way through as best I could. In Preston we are united. We hope that long term we can get back to being a coalition.’

Critics point to an apparent discrepancy between the SWP on the ground and the central committee in London. Even Galloway and Yaqoob laud the work of local SWP activists. But Lavalette does not renounce his party’s leadership. He says that Unite Against Fascism and Stop the War have shown that the sectarian stereotype is out of date. And he has signed the SWP appeals and epistles that have defined the party’s position in the crisis.

John Rees’s analysis is revealing as to the thinking of the SWP leadership and its relationship with the coalition: ‘In Preston Michael Lavalette and Val Wise, who is ex-Labour not SWP, have shaped the project and others have come into that structure and it has worked very well. In Tower Hamlets it hasn’t been shaped in a way that enables the left to participate meaningfully.’

Left-right split?

The presentation of the crisis as a left-right split has been the SWP’s key line. In October an ‘Appeal against the witch hunt’ was launched, which claimed ‘there is a campaign of vilification of the left in Respect that can only result in Respect’s destruction as a serious left wing force’. John Lister, a member of Respect’s national council from the International Socialist Group, is scathing. ‘One hundred per cent bollocks,’ he says. ‘There is no left-right split. How could anyone believe that Alan Thornett and Ken Loach are engaged in a socialist witch-hunt?’

For Lister the tactics smack of desperation. ‘It’s hard to imagine how the SWP leadership could have played it worse. They’ll come out with no credibility having lost members. They’ll be faced with 20 years of oblivion and rebuilding. I never thought they would smash up something they’ve put so much into. That takes a special talent.’

Lister, Galloway and co now believe that the SWP is embarked on a scorched earth policy to ensure that no viable competitor is left behind. Rees denies that. But the sudden death of Respect is a real possibility. As Richard Searle says, ‘It could end up like the Scottish Socialist Party, and you don’t hear anything from Scotland.’

The SWP will carry on in the original organisation. But without the strongholds of Tower Hamlets and Birmingham and national figures like Galloway and Yaqoob, not to mention a distinct lack of coalition partners, it is difficult to see it going far. Meanwhile, the other side hopes to attract sections of the left that were initially put off by the SWP – trade unions, greens, communists – to their pluralist vision. But the fact remains that with the SWP gone they will have lost at least half the membership and a good number of key activists.

Ultimately there were two visions at the heart of Respect. The SWP saw it as a ‘united front of a special kind’, a catchy term for an electoral alliance that came second to the party’s interests, while the others regarded it as something more permanent and the primary focus of their activity.

But on one point they are agreed – there is still a yawning gap to the left of Labour. With the split in Respect, the British left has once again shown a particular skill in failing to fill it.

‘The roots of this problem are in the fact that not enough groups, trends, parties or individual personalities came into Respect’ George Galloway, Respect MP

‘The key question is do you select people who are community leaders no matter what, or do you say we want electoral success but not at any price?’ John Rees, Respect national secretary

‘To me it’s like leeching behaviour. When Muslims are their vote fodder, we’re the community. When they don’t get their way, we’re the communalists’ Salma Yaqoob, Birmingham Respect councillor

‘I was completely disorientated – it came out of the blue. In Preston we are united. We hope that long term we can get back to being a coalition’ Michael Lavalette, Preston Respect councillor

77 comments on “Car Crash on the Left

  1. Joseph Kisolo on said:

    “Ultimately there were two visions at the heart of Respect. The SWP saw it as a ‘united front of a special kind’, a catchy term for an electoral alliance that came second to the party’s interests, while the others regarded it as something more permanent and the primary focus of their activity.”

    It seems to me that this is the key to the whole thing.

    I can understand why people say that ‘the SWP is sectarian’ and the ‘SWP doesn’t want to work with others’ as at times this seems to be a natural reading of the facts. However, it is incorrect.

    The SWP leadership and its grassroots membership, did make a very successful turn towards pushing out. We (or as I should now say ‘they’) helped build the biggest anti-war demo’ ever on Feb 15th, felt the rising anti-cappitalist mood and saw the potencial for a new left force.

    Hear the theory of the united front worked brilliantly, other then a few ranggels about how to treat the left-isolationists who tryed to keep the new coalitions narrow and pure (prehaps there was some rough treatment), the SWP mannaged to help build very successful mass coalitions around broad progressive goals (stopping the war, defending council housing etc.).

    However, the revolutionary party didn’t grow. The main theoricical explantion I’ve herd is lack of industrail upturn=lack in straigt forward socialist concoiusnes, I think it has more to do with the lasting damage of ‘socialism from above’s control of the socilaist brand, whatever; the fact is that the revolutionary party could not be THE place of radical activists.

    So the SWP theorises the idea of the united front of a special kind as a way of remaining revolutionaries but being able to work with others in a broad lefty group to take the movement forward. The force behind this should be recognised as trying to reject sectrainism and build a new broad approch.

    This way of working finds its expression in Respect (not sure about GR – what was that about?), and leads to many SWP comrades throwing themselves into building for Respect. The problem is that this theory demands that the revolutionary party is still the key motor for policial change(i.e. deciding tactics), it sees Respect as a convient cog. Hence the SWP continuies to meet more often then Respect, SWP placards continue to swamp Respect placards on demo’s, comrades give vastly more of their finacial resorces to SWP then Respect, SWP comrades feel they must descide their stance on micro-issues in pre-meeting cucuses before hearing the arguments/discusion of the other respect members etc. etc.

    Thus the SWP is not motivated by sectrainism but its vangardist notion of united frount of special kind means that because Respect is a political party not a united front , the SWP’s behavour controlling and holds the Respect project back.

  2. Try a thought experiment here.

    Most supporters of the Stop the War Coalition think it is a succesful United Front

    Ultra-left opponents of the Stop the War Coalition think it is a failure and a Popular Front.

    What if both are half right: the Stop the War Coalition is a succesful Popular Front?

    Interetsingly if you talk to the CPB, they think the STWC is a popular front but are too polite to say.

    Then, look back at the success of the British labour movement in stopping Mosley’s fascists, and the success of the campaign for a second front during the war, and note that these were popular fronts.

    Have another thought, all the examples of the United Front described by Trotsky (Germany, Spain, etc) were never tested in action.

  3. One thing that has become clear to me in the course of the debate (including the less public intra-swp one) is that if the swp had gone down the more ‘liquidationist’ road that the isg are now following, then i think it would have torn itself apart. A significant chunk of the rank and file membership have reacted to the ‘car crash’ by saying, in effect ‘about bloody time too’ and are totally unconvinced of the broad electoralist strategy. The theory of the ‘united front of a special type’ amongst other things, is an attempt to keep everyone on board, when in fact there are were very wide perceptions about how important/justifiable the whole Respect project was. A sobering thought for one who was of the respectophile tendency.

  4. Andy, the second front in WW2 would have happened if everyone,or no-one, the whole working class or whoever called for it. It was a military necessity to defeat hitler, and a political necessity to stop Stalin reaching the Atlantic (which would have happened when, Jan 1946?) The fact that the CP was calling for it by pop front methods is an interesting side show to the main dynamic.
    As for the idea that Moseley was stopped because there was a popular front in opposition i reckon that could be very very strongly contested.

    And surely the fact that there were no united fronts in germany and Spain is a negative demonstration of the usefulness of the theory, as they were both catastrophic defeats. Spain is a good demonstration of the catastrophic failure of the popular front,unless you are going to start buying into the Stalinist whitewashes of the leadership of ‘republican’ spain. Go read Felix Morrow.

  5. This is one of the fairest articles on long term causes of the split in Respect I have seen – well done Red Pepper. Readers might also read Martin Smith’s article in the new Socialist Review on the crisis – see http://www.socialistreview.org.uk

    Andy – if the StWC was a ‘popular front’ then it would have never defended Palestine so much (potentially offputting to some) and would have gone out of its way to promote anti-war Tories and Lib Dems as key speakers. It has instead promoted Trade Union leaders and left Labour MPs while not being sectarian and rejecting support from wider constituencies when offered.

    ‘Have another thought, all the examples of the United Front described by Trotsky (Germany, Spain, etc) were never tested in action.’

    But where did the United Front come from? Not from Trotsky’s head. It was the practical method which flows from the old working class idea about unity being strength – but being about unity in action. Bolsheviks like Trotsky merely generalised from the class, calling Trade Unions ‘United Fronts’, Soviets ‘United Fronts’ etc etc – indeed the Soviets blocking of Kornilov’s coup in 1917 was one of the finest examples of the United Front in action – making an alliance with Kerensky the social democrat in order to stop a quasi fascist coup.

  6. if the swp had gone down the more ‘liquidationist’ road that the isg are now following, then i think it would have torn itself apart.

    I don’t think ‘liquidationist’ is quite the right word – as demonstrated by the fact that there’s still an ISG for us to talk about – but basically I think this is right. In fact I’d go further, and say that after Galloway’s August letter there was a real possibility of splits opening up within the SWP which would have torn the organisation apart. In this sense, the CC’s reaction has been understandable and justifiable. (I still think it’s been appallingly counter-productive, for RESPECT and ultimately for the SWP itself.)

    As for the idea that Moseley was stopped because there was a popular front in opposition i reckon that could be very very strongly contested.

    Yes. I’d give more credit to Rothermere pulling the plug on funding and the government passing the Public Order Act – both of which can be seen as responses to the achievements of militant anti-fascism.

  7. Moun

    I will leave #4 for another day.

    You comment #3 is very interesting though and I largely agree with it. The United Front of a Special Type was indeed a deliberately vague, undertheorised concept, designed to keep everyone happy in the SWP.

    More particularly the problem for the SWP in the Socialist Allaince was that the pressure on them to wither commit to it or get out was even stronger. In Swindon we did in fact make a “Scottish turn” and effectivley liquidate ourselves ot operate as just a SWP ginger group within the Socialist Alliance, and the paradox was that our paper sales and influence went up considerably, and we were prasied by the centre for it. That was our interpretation of the United Front of a Special Type, and it was only later that i realsied that other people interpretted it utterlely differently.

    My analysis is that the shift from the SA to Respect was largely to do with SWP internal dynamics, becasue resepct was a broadening and potential deepening of the left regroupment porject that some of us were committed to, but it was simulatanneoulsy changing the balance of that work to bring it more under the SWP’s control. Thus everyone in the SWp could be happy for a while, until the chickens of internal contradiction returned to roost.

    You are probably correct that the majority of the current SWP membership are “totally unconvinced of the broad electoralist strategy. “, although for the last several years the SWP has been slowly haemmoraging members dropping out of the SWP but remianing active in the SA and Respect, so by definition that has also shifted the balance in the SWP.

    This suggests to me that those of us predicting the turn of the SWP away from the perspective of broad parties are correct, and we already see this beginning to be theorised.

    It also mean that we will go on and build Respect without you, although that will be a loss.

  8. Snowball: “Andy – if the StWC was a ‘popular front’ then it would have never defended Palestine so much (potentially offputting to some) and would have gone out of its way to promote anti-war Tories and Lib Dems as key speakers. It has instead promoted Trade Union leaders and left Labour MPs while not being sectarian and rejecting support from wider constituencies when offered. “

    You are arguing against the caricature of the Popular front from trotskite writings, not with the reality. I have no idea why you tink promotig palestine is somehow incompatible with a popular front – the main left organisation in palestine is after all the PFLP!!!

    BUt this is a perfect description of how a Popular front works: “It has instead promoted Trade Union leaders and left Labour MPs while not being sectarian and rejecting support from wider constituencies when offered.”

  9. Eddie Truman on said:

    “the success of the campaign for a second front during the war”
    Eh ??
    Are you serious Andy ?

  10. Yes – this was an important victory for the left.

    The government were opposed to a second front becasue they wanted to prioritise war in the colonies, and in the Mediterranean, which was to consolidate the Empire.

    They would have been happy for the Red Army to bear the brunt of the fighting against the Nazis.

    there was a huge left campign for a second front, including the spectacular by-elections victories of socialists in the Common Wealth party, the Forces parliamnet in Cairo, etc. Worth resding Angus Calder’s “The peoples War” for background, and Kisch “The days of the good soldiers” specifically on the role of the CP in this.

    Winnng a commitment to the second front was a victory for the left, as it prioristised the war against facsism over the war in the East, and also took some pressure off the USSR.

    Also military defence of the colonies after the war became politically impossible becasue of the politicisation of the army during the campaign for Beveridge and the Second Front. This was a major shift in national consciousness in defining britishness in terms of egalitarianism rather then Empire Loyalism

  11. Re post 10, the govt may have opposed the opening of an early second front eg 42, 43, but there was no way to avoid a second front, without handing Europe over to Stalin. ( do your onwm thought experiment, what would the effect of NO second front have been?)
    And the govt did indeed ignore the demand for an early second front, they staged the Normandy landings when it suited them and the US military.
    The ‘huge campaign’ was a side show imo.

  12. No Muon

    The politicisation of the army was a factor in their considerations, as was the devloping understanding that there needed to be popular support for the war.

    it is an easy thought experiment, had there been no second Front the Nazis would have held out longer, and the losses for the Red Arny and the USSR would have been heavier. Hundreds of thousands more Jews woudl have been killed.

    There was never any prospect of the Red Army sweeping much further West than Berlin. Once berlin fell there would have been peace, and those countries still under nazi occupation would have transitionsed to allied control, as happened to a number of the colonies where the japanese or Vichy French were still in uncontested power at VE or VJ day.

  13. Andy, stw is not a popular front as it is not characterised by revolutionaries watering down their demands or slogans in favour of bourgeois demands.

    ironically, the organisation that loves to claim stw is a popular front, namely the sp, has for years pushed just that kind of a strategy – see their slogan as being ‘against war and terrorism’. the swp and the other leading members of stw have always resisted these demands in order to build an organisation that is clearly anti-imperialist – again this is evidenced by the repudiation of hopi, whose demands are overtly popular frontist.

  14. Re post 12 I think this is, to quote John Lister, ‘bollocks’ but its peripheral to the main (present day) arguments so i suggest it’s left at that.

  15. “Keith”

    If you make up your own definition of a popular front, and then demonstrate to your own satisfation that it doesn’t meet it, then that is a circular argument. What you are doing is accepting Trotsky’s reductio ad absurdum argument of whre a Popular Froint leads, with the actuality. Have you read both sides of the argument?

    I would refer you, for example, to GDH Cole’s book “The Popular Front”, the idea is to mobilise without precondition all those who can be won to specific demands, in a given particular context. In this endeavour the labour movement should be hegemonic, and should in so doing seek to weaken the ideological and political homogeneity of the boss class and its hangers on.

    there is absolutly no reson why there should not be an anti-imperialst Popular Front, this would involce working to find some common ground with liberal patriotic opinion that was opposed to imperialism, and seeking to make their opposition more consistent.

  16. ‘the idea is to mobilise without precondition all those who can be won to specific demands, in a given particular context’
    That ain’t what happened in France and Spain under the popular front govts. In both cases working class movements were demobilised and demnds were dropped – in the case of Spain a clearly revolutionary wc movement.

  17. Ger Francis on said:

    Moun raises an important point, in his post 3.

    Much as some of us might have liked the SWP to take a ‘liquidationist’ approach, it certainly would not have happened without major internal upheaval and possibly a split (although personally I doubt it). Hence the ‘united front of a special type’ formula to allow a half-way house. And while the SWP leadership in the early days operated with a great sensitivity about not wanting to be overbearing, it soon came up against a problem. In order to construct an electoralist coalition capable of challenging and beating New Labour on their own terrain, it requires an enormous amount of consistent, nitty gritty work. Electoral politics is the most demanding because it is the most hotly contested. Our competitors are armed with decades of experience, name recognition, big financial backers, the media etc. All we have got is the power of our ideas.

    The demands for SWP activists in all of this are even greater because while they are told they can engage in a number of arenas simultaneously, which can all mutually complement and feed into each other (STW into Respect into SWP etc ), the challenge of how SWP members actually execute this task without just running between pillar and post are very real. That challenge is compounded by the baggage of past practices weighing on the brains of the living. Most SWP members were most at ease with a certain routine of activity which by and large had not changed much for decades. Engagement with STW and Respect demanded turning that routine on its head. Unfortunately, with hindsight, the United Front of a special type formula, while representing a step forward, did not represent a big enough step forward. So most SWP members were unable to do the kind of consistent, grass roots work from which organic electoral campaigns emerge, and from which SWP members could have best placed themselves as potential candidates. The method of work set for SWP members by their leadership undermined their chances of seeing any real fruits for their labours, and reinforced the hands of those inside the SWP really more at ease with a propagandist perspective than seriously engaging in politics of mass character. The retreat back into a perspective which foregrounds building the SWP first and foremost, which organises around a platform inside Respect that characterises the most anti-imperialist MP in the country as ‘right-wing’ seeking to witch-hunt and subordinate socialist currents, will only guarantee the SWP staying entrenched in a far left ghetto. It wastes the opportunity to build a broader radical left electoralist alliance from the anti-war movement. Whatever people’s opinions about RR’s future, the SWP’s ability to revive its original perspective around Respect in a different and vibrant form, is doomed.

  18. Ian Donovan on said:

    “I would refer you, for example, to GDH Cole’s book “The Popular Front”, the idea is to mobilise without precondition all those who can be won to specific demands, in a given particular context. In this endeavour the labour movement should be hegemonic, and should in so doing seek to weaken the ideological and political homogeneity of the boss class and its hangers on.”

    That doesn’t sound like a popular front to me. That sounds like a united front under a different name.

    A popular front is a stratgic alliance, usually a joint government or a bloc with imminent governmental ambitions, of the parties of the working class, and the more liberal bourgeois parties, which in the name of a struggle against fascism or some other form of bourgeois reaction, guarantees in advance to preserve the rule of capital and private property in the means of production against attacks on these by the working class. In preserving capitalist order, it’s aim is to protect the ruling class from defeat. The working class parties attempt to persuade the ruling class through collaboration with its parties that there is no need to resort to fascism and the like to discipline the working class, as the left is able to persuade the workers to ‘be reasonable’ and prevent them from attacking capital. It therefore should go without saying that really a popular front can only come into existence when the working class is already politically crystallised as an independent class, and is in a position to fight for power. It is a treacherous attack on the class indpendence of the working masses carried out by its own leaders.

    There is no way the Stop the War Coalition comes anywhere near that definition, or for that matter Respect (which the CPGB laughably refer to as a popular front). STW is a joint mobilising umbrella for a variety of different currents, some working class, some not, to try to stop a particular series of imperialist wars, the means employed and available being open-ended. It works on the basis of agreement of the lowest common denominator of the forces involved in it in the absence of a class-conscious working class movement. It does not seek to supress such a movement or prevent it coming into existence, indeed the leftist forces within it generally look for ways to revive the working class movement as a potential force for anti-war activity, though this has proved difficult in many ways. If the working class movement were to revive politically in this manner, it would give a different tilt and emphasis to united fronts like STW, but there is no reason to believe that it is in the remit or purpose of such blocs to head off independent working class activity.

    As for Respect, it is simpler still – an attempt to crystallise a new, working class left party out of an antiwar radicalisation intitially centred on, but not at all limited to, an important section of the Muslim immigrant-derived population that both has been most targetted by imperialist reaction in a period of predatory war and rendered open to cooperation with, and indeed being drawn politically towards, the socialist and anti-imperialist left.

    Neither of these formations have much in common with popular fronts.

  19. oh dear on said:

    Popular Front…No United Front…No Popular Front…

    AAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Can you hear yourselves???

  20. the digger on said:

    What is the political character of Respect. I see it it as a left reformist (not an insult but a virtue) organisation, built on key principles of opposition to imperialism and war, opposition to neoliberalism and privatisation. for civil liberties and a more equal society.

    To the degree that a few members have left the SWP for Respect, I believe they are rejecting revolutionary socialism for left reformism.

    I don’t accept that the SWP has rejected broad parties for revolutionary purism, as the SWP, leadership or membership, are not slow in arguing their views internally and externally. As revolutionaries who wanted to build a left reformist organisatin they have been careful to find common ground. However the SWP has found where they seek to put different strategy, tactics,or candidates in Tower Hamlets or South Birmingham this has provoked hostility from others in the coalition. If it is a genuine coalition the SWP has rights to!

    I believe at root these differences have been based on the pressure of electoralism and different concepts on the comprises you should or should not make to win elections.

    I don’t accept that SWP members are too torn by other comittments, like StW or trade union activity to match the average activity of Respect members. The only pressure points are election periods, when you suddenly have to match Labour or Liberal members who are relatively inactive most of the time but go into 24/7 mode at elections.

    I well understand the frustration of those whose sole or main activity is Respect may feel to the SWP, though I think to refer to SWP members as leeches and such like says more about them than the SWP.

  21. Ger Francis on said:

    ‘To the degree that a few members have left the SWP for Respect, I believe they are rejecting revolutionary socialism for left reformism.’

    This is too simplistic. For a start, all the central ex-SWP members on the RR side were expelled, they did not leave. And those that did leave, like Jerry Hicks, would have been expelled. But even if we were not expelled, you could still have a position that the sectarian degeneration inside the SWP was such that the best place for Marxists was to organize elsewhere. The SWP are not the sole custodians of the revolutionary Marxist tradition. (I know. Heresy. Expel me again).

    I agree with Digger there are tensions over pressures of electoral politics. That is to be expected. The question for the SWP is, did these pressures warrant attempting to drive GG out, splitting the TH group, and alienating the SWP from its key non-SWP allies? I suspect that if the clock could be rolled back to GG’s meeting with the SWP in response to his letter, most SWP members would now prefer that their leadership played that one differently.

  22. Ian Donovan on said:

    So if left reformism is “not an insult but a virtue”, then what would be wrong in someone abandoning revolutionary politics for left reformism?

    This is desperate stuff, a self-serving theses to give the SWP leadership a rationale for their sectarian turn. The politics of Respect are open ended, not definitively reformist or revolutionary – the balance of forces between those two trends can only be decided (outside the framework of a sect) by a living engagement and re-politicisation of the working class movement. The more engaged revolutionary Marxists are with that process, the greater the influence of Marxism will be on the future of the working class movement.

    Of course, the theses that anyone who chooses Respect over the SWP as it is now thereby ‘abandons’ revolution in favour of reformism assumes that only the SWP and its current bureaucratically deformed leadership can possibly embody revolutionary politics in any shape or form. That’s no more impressive when it comes from the SWP than when it comes from much smaller and shriller groupings.

  23. And outseide if an actual revolutionary period, what does it even mean to be a revolutionary?

    Let is try to build a mass party that pushes the limits to the point where the majority of the populatioon starts to beleive we need and can acheive social transformation, and only then does the issue becomes relevant.

  24. Alex Nichols on said:

    The question really should be, what does it mean to be a socialist nowadays?

    Which is one of the main reason that I continue to have problems with both wings of RESPECT.

    It would be far better to be in a socialist tendecy within a reformist mass party, than to be a member of a rrrRevolutionary sect, which are two a penny and mostly tiny propaganda groups which have no influence on real events.

    The fact is though, that while RESPECT (SWP) and (R) may aspire to be mass parties, they are not.

    They have one MP, a few local councillors and the fading memory of a historically important anti-war demonstration behind them.

    So unless they actually grow significantly in the coming period, in a weird sort of way, the SWP’s wrecking operation makes sense.

    Because, why should a small sect build another small party with even less defined politics, involve its members in wearing two hats a week and undercut the rationale for its own paper and press?

    That’s a real conundrum.

    Of course GG/SY and the ex-SWP ft’ers may be right and be able to build RESPECT(R) into something more sizeable, by being open to mass movements that the SWP tend to trample on.

    But as yet, that’s a promise and not an actuality.

    RESPECT(R) also continues to have ill-defined politics and quite a few issues over the accountability of its leadership.

    Meanwhile, I think both sides have taken their eye of the ball regarding the question of political funding.

    It’s fairly clear that behind the conspiracy hooh-hah over this story, the way it’s panning out is that the Tories are demanding a further attack on union funding of the Labour party and Brown is jumping like a puppet to their tune.

    People who think that Labour has been utterly transformed into a bourgeois party should of course be taking no notice of this question.

    But in fact both the SWP (by gathering signatures of Labour MP’s in various campaigns) and RESPECT(R) by tentatively backing Livingstone for Mayor, don’t actually follow this argument to its logical conclusion.

    I tend to think that it was similar disregard for taking up issues in the Labour Party (which doesn’t have to be via CLP’s) that explains the failure of the massive StWC demo to translate into a broader political breakthrough.

  25. Andy (#24) said: And outseide if an actual revolutionary period, what does it even mean to be a revolutionary?

    When I joined the SWP years ago, the classic answer I received several times to that very question was based on Cliff:

    The point is that workers will never be without a leadership. That can be a union bureaucracy leadership, a reformist leadership, or a revolutionary leadership. Everybody has political ideas in their beads, and in the absence of revolutionary ideas, they will be reformist ones.

    In the cold world of the downturn the industrial militant cannot survive, cannot keep his or her spirit unless they are inspired by socialist ideas and are part of a community of militants. Pure industrial militancy will lead to either total resignation and apathy, or total co-option into the trade union bureaucracy.

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1983/06/prolog.htm

    Here, I was told, was one place where the reformist/revolutionary divide regularly came out in practice. Reformist socialism was the political expression of the bureacracy, revolutionary socialism the political expression of rank-and-file union militants.

    But as we’ve been discussing recently, the SWP certainly hasn’t made that distinction very clear in its recent practice. So much for that classic answer to the question.

  26. “Even John Rees believes he made errors. ‘The mistake I made was not to raise the situation in Tower Hamlets nationally, because I didn’t want to make a local issue into a national argument. We [the SWP] gave away too much ground in Tower Hamlets and were too soft with George. But that’s the real world … We should have raised the issue of the accountability of our elected representatives after the 2006 local elections.’”

    If you want to see some comments on accountability, “opportunism” etc. in Respect, you might find it useful to look back 10 weeks and watch Alan Thornett’s assessment of the state of affairs in Respect on 12th September:

    http://www.socialistresistance.net/

  27. Andy the campaign for a Second Front FAILED. britain and the USA opened a Second front when they were able t d s militarily and NOT under the pressure of the Stalinist led campaign for a Second Front. Had they been stupid enough to succumb to the campaign they would have been easily defeated by the magnificent German armed forces based in the west. After all they didn’t exactly have an easy run of it when they did land in Normandy as my Father often reminded me.

  28. Turning to the United Front Andy would seem to be suggesting that the tactc was born out of the head of Leon Trotsky. In fact the tactic had been used succesfully by the Bolsheviks in 1917. It was further developed by the Karl Levi led VKPD, to considerable success, as can be learnt from a reading of Pierre Broue’s book The German Revolution or a study a various issues of Revolutionary History journal which has covered the development of the United Front tactic in Germany in detail.

  29. In post 5 Snowball refers to Kerensky as a social democrat. Is Snowball unaware that the ‘social democrats’ in the Russia of 1917 were the Bolsheviks?

  30. As for Andy’s claim the the STWC was a ‘successful’ Ppular Front could I point out that the STWC FAILED to prevent the war and has had minimal impact since that initial falure. Or is your defintion of ‘success’ different to my own?

  31. the digger on said:

    It is an old adage that revolutionaries are the best fighters for reforms. The collapse of Labour into complete acceptance of neo-liberalism threatens eradication of some of the key reforms of the post war period, the NHS, Council Housing and comprehensive education. (read Livingstones position on housing, it excludes council housing alltogether).

    The fact that revolutionaries and reformists came together in Respect to defend reforms for working people, support trade unions, oppose the war, was a step forward to rebuilding the left.

    That does not mean that that historical diviion between reformists and revolutionaries is no longer relevant, even in immediatate strategic or tactical questions. Hence the much criticised “united front of a special kind” where revolutionaries mainain their own organisation, even whist working closely in a left reformist organisation. Though they might argue against this concept, I note the ISG and Socialist Action have not disbanded their organisations.

  32. garagelanduk on said:

    In post #2 Andy suggests that the United Front stopped Mosley.

    I have just read a book “Blackshirts in Devon” by Todd Gray (I think he is a liberal historian). The book describes the early organisation of the Blackshirts in Plymouth from 1933 onwards. The Blackshirts took off very quickly and were able to attract 100s to outdoor meetings fairly quickly. The repsonse of the anti-fascist opposition was fascinating. During 1934 the fascists were met with a militant and frequently brutal opposition. I laughed my head off reading discriptions of how the fascists would end up being escorted by the police to the Plymouth police station for their own safety! In one encounter there is a description of how one of the leading Plymouth fascists was hospitalised for the third time in as many months. The fascist public meetings were disrupted to the point they end up in open fist fights and furniture used as weapons. Within a year or two a mass fascist movement was basically wiped off the map – the branch collapsed and support had evaporated.

    The book doesn’t spell out who these anti-fascists were. I presume they were members of the CP, ILP and the Labour Party – there are references to trade unionists mobilising against the fascists in Plymouth. What is clear from reading about events in Devon is that there was a militant united front that was highly succesful. The anti-fascists didn’t defeat the blackshirts by hiding their class politics and appealing to likes of the local Bishop or asking people to sign petitions – it was from a physical struggle.

    Of course the Popular Front turn of the CP didn’t come officially until 1935. So maybe the Plymouth events reflected a more militant period from CPers. Also of course it should be remembered that the ILP was a large Left group outside of the Labour Party that was commmitted to physical confrontation with the fascists. The role of the ILP in building for, and being partisans of, the 1936 battle of Cable Street has been largely written out of history by stalinists.

    So the Blackshirts faced a concerted, militant and largely united working class opposition between 1934-1936. It was this opposition that prevented the blackshirts from making a breakthrough. It was this movement which also turned the wider public against the balckshirts, that made working class people understand that it was the most dire enemy.

    The Popular Front in the late 30s – succeeded in what exactly? In taming the opposition to the fascists? In persuading socialists to run around urging people to vote Liberal to keep the fascists out. To do nothing that might upset respectable opinion. The Popular Front disarmed the working class politically – the class with the most to lose from fascism. As others have said the Popular Front was a disaster in Spain that led to the victory of fascism.

  33. Digger: “I note the ISG and Socialist Action have not disbanded their organisations.”

    Indeed – becasue neither subscribe to the “United Front of a Special Kind”. You epint porves that it was possible for the SWP to cmmit to working within a broader party formation without following the example of DScottich Militant Labour and effectivey dissolving themselves into the broader party.

  34. Graageleand: “As others have said the Popular Front was a disaster in Spain that led to the victory of fascism”

    This is bad history isn’t it. You don’t know what woudl have happened in Spain had Trostky’s advice been followed ebacseu litterly only 20 or so people leistened to him. Both the CP and the pOUM supported the Popular front.

    The are only two undeniable facts:
    i) military victory by Franco brought in fascism
    ii) Madrid would have been lost must earlier if it had not been for Russian tanks and planes, and the Russian pilots who flew them

  35. garagelanduk on said:

    Andy, you could say the same for Germany. Hitler may still have acheived power if the United Front tactic had been followed – but the prospects for defeating fascism would have been better. Of course the military victory of Franco ensured the vitory of fascism – but there is more to a civil war than just the balance of military hardware. There are also huge social forces at play – a potentially revolutionary working class which had already dispossessed the bourgeoisie in large areas of the country – the Popular Front instead of harnessing that revolutionary power, turned against it.

    If I remember rightly George Orwell described each plane that flew over as a propaganda victory to the Communists – on the other hand he describes how the revolution was crushed by the stalinists as the price for the Popular Front. The POUM paid dearly for their support for the Popular Front – their members ended up being rounded up and many like their leader, Andres Nin, were executed. But did restoring full power to the bourgoisie strengthen or weaken the struggle against fascism? A key component here is that the Popular Front was in part a diplomatic move by Stalin to persuade the imperialist countries that he would not threaten their interests and that they could trust him as an ally in future war with Nazi Germany. The butchering of revolutionaries in Spain was part of this as well as part of the Stalin’s domestic agenda with the Show Trials – it is impossible to separate the Popular Front from this historic context. Of course today there is no Soviet Union with its military might – Popular Frontism can deliver no planes today!

  36. ‘The are only two undeniable facts:
    i) military victory by Franco brought in fascism
    ii) Madrid would have been lost must earlier if it had not been for Russian tanks and planes, and the Russian pilots who flew them’

    Well blow me. 3 years of civil war and there are just two undeniable facts? How did that happen?

  37. Joseph Kisolo on said:

    On a different note;

    I think that the redpepper magazine, while not clearly not attached to any particular movement/current, generally represents a certain section of lefties who have come out of involvement in organised left-wing groups with deep scars on their backs.

    These types tend to be very cynical about party organisation and mostly would rather just be involved as individuals in campaigns/movements.

    Though not involved in explicitly socialist parties these people tend to be involved in loads of stuff and (not having had to intellectually discipline themselves for the daily organisational march to socialism) they tend to have ideas on area’s in need to socialist analysis. They are exactly the sort of people we need to win to a new left-party.

    The problem is how to overcome their scepticism etc.?

    I believe that Hillary Wainwright (RP editor) has said @ the renewal rally, in conversation with Mancunians Respecties, that Red pepper would be interested in co-sponsoring an event about how we take the left forward. Anyone got any more info on this?

  38. Spanish comunist on said:

    Excuses for my horrible english. I have been always surprised by your huge worry about history. It seems like the theory and the history can substitute the politics, what the left must do here and now, specially with the people from a trot background, though sometimes also the called leninists. Most of the people that called themselves trots used the word stalinist to everybody from the traditional comunist parties. For many of us this is an insult, and the truth I can´t see why your parties are more democratica than the comunist ones, specially if I believe what this site shows about the SWP. We can have political diferences but not from what happened seventy years ago. It´s time to grow up.

  39. Spanish comunist on said:

    About history it´s good to read different things, not all of your comrades. The fascist didn´t win Spanish war because the Popular Front was a disaster. Simply the fascist had more and better weapons and supplies all the time. The republic only had the irregular help of USSR.
    The Popular Front was a logic response. The tragedy was that the obsessions of many put things bad. The Komintern trot witchhunt finished in the Catalunya problems of May named a “fascist putch”, as the resistance of CNT and POUM to central authority and the priority of war work play badly. They wanted to expropiate the small farmers instead of looking for their support. The choice between war and revolution was wrong, if you didn´t win the war you have got nothing, and the PCE strategy in that point was correct.
    P.D I don´t like using the word “trot”, but I don´t know how to explain without it.

  40. garagelanduk on said:

    Spanish communist – your english is pretty good! We need theretical understanding of issues in order to have a coherent approach to the problems today. That means learning from day to day activity but it also means studying and learning from the wealth of literature and history about our movement. For me the issue of United Front” versus “Popular Front” goes to the core of many issues of today. There are many on the Left who advocate that socialists should hide their politics away for fear of putting off potential allies – this being in single issue campaigns or far more importantly in the task of building a new party of the Left. Should a party to the Left of New Labour be explicitly socialist or not? That is the key question. I say that we need a new workers party that is explicitly socialist. I also think such a party requires internal democracy and as such the Leninist model is absolutely useless. There is a lesson from the antics of the SWP – their bureacratic centralism has no future and is an obstacle to building anything other than a very delusional sect. The working class needs political expression in an explicitly socialist party. The struggle for socialism will never advance until this question has been resolved.

    So the question is whether Respect Renewal people can engage with forces to their Left to build a *socialist* party or whether they will remain stuck with the Left populism that they inherited from the SWP.

    PS. I’m a member of no party. All the current socialist organisations in Britain are shit!

  41. Garageland

    With aplologies to those who think the debate about 70 years ago is esoteric, i rasie it becaue there is a belief among the left groups in Britain that they inherit some historical authority from their adherence to Trotsky.

    We can say without fear of contradiction, that Trotsky’s ideas about Spain were intelligent commentrary, but never left the printed page to be put to the test of history. BUt if you want reassurance on this, note that Ken Loach, director of the revisionist “land and Freedom” is on the NC of Respect Renewal.

    The question garageland makes is a very astute one. “So the question is whether Respect Renewal people can engage with forces to their Left to build a *socialist* party or whether they will remain stuck with the Left populism that they inherited from the SWP.”

    I think there is a tight-rope to walk here. Respect needs to convince the actually existsing socialist actobsts, many of whom are to the left of the RR project, that it provides a welcoming and productive arena of work for them. While at the same time RR needs to try to fill the space vacated by the Labour party as social democracy.

    I see the task as this. To create a party that is open and welcoming to the class struggle left, and that provides no obstacle to the class struggle left winning policy and leadership positions, but is also open to people who agree with policies to the left of New labour but have not yet been won to class struggle.

  42. I think there is a tight-rope to walk here. Respect needs to convince the actually existsing socialist actobsts

    ‘acrobats’?

    No argument with the substantive point. What we need is a coherent SD party which is comfortable with its socialist minority – something not unlike the SSP, really, although in England it’ll probably have to start a couple of notches to the right.

  43. Josoph Kisolo wrote “I think that the redpepper magazine, while not clearly not attached to any particular movement/current, generally represents a certain section of lefties who have come out of involvement in organised left-wing groups with deep scars on their backs.” he went on to write “The problem is how to overcome their scepticism etc.?”

    Frankly the readers of Red Pepper are best ignored. If there are any elements around that dismal magazine that could be won to a decent socialist prject then they will join without special efforts being made to recruit them. On condition that the socialist project appears to be powerful with real roots in society and that means that any socialist project worthy of the name must reject the flaccid populism of Respect.

  44. Mark P on said:

    Phil and Joseph raise two crucial pints.

    Joseph, in terms of needing to consider the Respect fallout in tyhe wider context of ambitions and values for a Plural Left. The Respect fallout involved what 700 people? Hardly momentous! But what’s important is the debate it fostered about models for a broad, left-of-Labour Party, and the fundamental rejection by Respect Renewal of the SWP control culture template for political organisation. It is this political rejection which forms the basis for the kind of Left party we want if its not one run by the SWP.

    Phil (did you get my email?) raise a key, related point. Such a broad left-of-labour party will be primarily social-democratic in content. Not because social-democracy is the sum of most of our political ambitions, but because Labour has now moved so far to the right social-democracy is now effectively the political alternative to Labour. Formulated like this the broad left-of-labour parrty will clearly have within it socialisrt, revoilutionary socialist, Trotskyist currents, including mant SWP members and sympathisers, but they will have the good sense to understand that the priority is a dual one – fostering these currents whilst retaining the breadth of a Left-of-Labour Party. Not an easy, but nevertheless a vital, task.

  45. Joseph Kisolo on said:

    “Frankly the readers of Red Pepper are best ignored. If there are any elements around that dismal magazine that could be won to a decent socialist prject then they will join without special efforts being made to recruit them.”

    Hmm … stopping elitist talk such as this would seem to me a good way to start building trust with the non-aligned left (Cliff called them NANA’s, I remember it stands for some thing mildly amusing but can’t remember what).

    My point wasn’t so much about the readers of Redppepper in particular but rather about the kind of person represented by their editorial stance/readership etc. i.e NANA’s in general.

    I don’t think it is true that we can just say, as Mike implies, that if we build it they will come and I disagree that this kind of person isn’t worth looking specifically to recruit. There are 10’s of thousands of people who have at some point been involved in organised socialist groups but are now deeply suspicious of them.

    Mark is correct to say that “what’s important is the debate it fostered about models for a broad, left-of-Labour Party” and I think that we need to be clear that we should try to hold this debate not just among ourself (whatever currents we each represent) but also push out to involve others. I honestly believe that the Nana’s are an important constituency that we need to reach and that because of experiences many of them have had we need to think carefully about how we do this.

  46. Joseph Kisolo on said:

    … that’s why I think initiatives such as the conference on the way forward for the left held with redpepper, would be positive.

  47. JOseph

    I think you are correct here. There are in fact two serious constituencies of activists that need to be positively engaged with.

    i) those who we might loosly put in the camp of the Chesterfield/Red Pepper type left.
    ii) the disapora of sociialist activists who have lragely come out of the revolutionary left groups

    Although at first it might seem unlikely that we can win both groups, I think the common denominator they both have is dissillusionment with the undemocratic and dogmatic nature of most of the current left.

    What we need to do is find ways of joint work that will allow trust to be built up over the long haul

  48. NANA’s = Non-Aligned Non-Activists.

    More to the point the SWP predicated its involvement with both the Socialist Alliance and Respect the populist coalition on the idea that there was a substantial constituency of former Labour Lefts looking for a political home. They were wrng as the comrades quitting Labour for the most part were demoralised and intent on quitting active politics.

    In the same way there is no sbstantial layer of frmer emebers of the left groups loking for a more tolerant plural left of Labour party as a new political home. Most former members of left groups have become absirbed into normal life and are not looking for a renewed political commitment. If anything there is a substantial element of such former comrades who are deeply cynical as regards the possibility of building a new socialist party and who would act as a reactionary right looking tendency within any new formation deeply demoralising those young healthy elements who might be won to an openly working class project.

  49. Kevin Murphy on said:

    Joseph 49: “start building trust with the non-aligned left (Cliff called them NANA’s, I remember it stands for some thing mildly amusing but can’t remember what).”

    Actually it was Paul Foot who came up with the term NANA’s which stands for the “National Association of Non-Aligned Sectarians” i.e. those ‘independent’ sectarians who make a virtue out of NOT belonging to a socialist group. What has been missing from the SWP bashing on this blog is an analysis of the astounding collapse of the rest of the left, including the NANA’s.

  50. Kevin: “What has been missing from the SWP bashing on this blog is an analysis of the astounding collapse of the rest of the left, including the NANA’s.”

    It would be more accurate to say, what is characteristic of this blog is it takes as its starting point the astounding collapse of the left, and has from the get go sought to analyse and address that. For example read through the commentary on this blog of the McDonnell leadership campaign.

    Of course kevin only cares to read the stuff about the SWP

  51. Ger Francis on said:

    Most of the international left retreated due to the twin hammers of post ‘89 collapse and the forward march of neo-liberalism. What is exciting now is the re-emergence of a new left, most notably in Latin America, against a backdrop of neo-liberal retreat and anti-imperialist defiance. In Britain a new, and much smaller space, has emerged for left realignment, most notably out of opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The SWP, because of their role inside the anti-war movement, should have been best placed to shape and influence this development. They have now blown that chance. I find it impossible to see how they can revive it.

  52. Mark P on said:

    I believe Kevin MUrphy has misquoted Foot by adding ‘sectarian’ to the acronym, ‘NANA’ which I thought was National Association of Non-Alligned Activists’.

    But whatever his attitude is truly astonishing. So its ‘sectarian’ not to join the SWP, the Socialist Party or one of the dwindling myriad of other far Left groups. Not a sinle one of those number moree than a couple of thousand and are to all intents and purpises entirely marginal to the daily lives of the population. And the same, it has to be said, for both Respects.

    A fair-minded starting point, with a smidgin of humility and self-reflection, might account for the smallness and marginality of these groups, especially when compared to just about every other European country.

    And that starting point of failure to attract, repelling far more than are recruited would have to address the 200,000 who have left the Labour Party in the last decade, the hundreds of thousands who identify with a broad set of left issues, ideas and ideals, and if 2 million marched against the war in 2003 the 99.8% who chose never to join Respect.

    Certainly some are demoralised, disillusioned, decided wartching the TV is more interesting than a poorly-attended branch meeting. Have you ever stopped to consider why?

    We can blame the people, or we can be self-critical and examine our structures, the ways we organise, our culture and methods of projecting our ideas. Kevin seems to be suggesting that nothing is wrong with the Left and its just all these ‘sectarians’ who have chosen not to join the SWP who are the problem! Well theres one ‘ell of a lot of them, just who are you calling sectarian?

    For me the crucial test for any Left group is its ability to face up to its failure to be attractive to the vast bulk of people who consider themselves ‘Left’ and to do something about this. But the tendency towards conservatism runs deep in the self-appointed ‘revolutionary’ Left. Ploughing on regardless, well thats what I would call sectarian.

  53. Alex Nichols on said:

    #42 Spanish Communist “The fascist didn´t win Spanish war because the Popular Front was a disaster. Simply the fascist had more and better weapons and supplies all the time.”

    The fascists (or their equivalent) *ALWAYS* have better weapons and supplies than the left. So, on that basis, any left wing attempt to smash a right-wing coup d’etat against a democratically elected left wing government is doomed from the start, unless some well armed benefactor can be found as an ally.

    Sorry, it doesn’t work like that.
    The technical questions of armaments and supplies are secondary to the question of political leadership and winning mass support amongst the working class, sections of the middle class and the army rank and file.

    Where did the Francoist revolt start?
    In Morocco.

    What was the Popular Front’s policy on Morrocan independence?
    It failed to call for it.

    So why would Francos Moroccan shock troops be able to distinguish between one side and another?
    Much the same can be said regarding the failure to nationalise land and distribute it to poor peasants, or organise voluntary collectivisation.

    Anyway, if this is all too much ancient history, why not look at Chile in 1973, where much the same thing happened all over again?

    “Fool me once….”

  54. Kevin:

    “Actually it was Paul Foot who came up with the term NANA’s which stands for the “National Association of Non-Aligned Sectarians” i.e. those ‘independent’ sectarians who make a virtue out of NOT belonging to a socialist group. What has been missing from the SWP bashing on this blog is an analysis of the astounding collapse of the rest of the left, including the NANA’s.”

    And what has been missing from all sides is an analysis of why the left has done little other than screw-up for 150 years, and why us SWP-ers have even less to be complacent about.

    I was at Marxism 2007 for a day, and it was less than half the size it was 17 years ago when I was last there. The fund-raiser we had in early 2007 badly failed to make its target (after limping along for several months; I can’t recall when or if that has happened before), hence we have had to have another this autumn, which is also stalling badly, despite comrades trying to talk it up (where have we seen *that* before?).

    Now we can keep our heads neatly tucked away in a cosy sand dune, and hope that things will turn around, but if past and/or current practice is any guide, we will simply screw-up for another 150 years (that is, if the planet lasts that long).

    And if the last few weeks are any guide, even this will fall on deaf ears.

    http://homepage.ntlworld.com/rosa.l/page%20010_01.htm

  55. The SWP have also denied being the cause of the spell of bad weather we are having here in South West France.
    Seriously though, it is naive to believe it’s about a letter by Galloway and a response by the SWP leadership. The only reason I could see that Galloway would propose important changes a few weeks before the conference, rather than through the conference procedure, is that he thought he could not win the argument at conference.

    Now the split has happened, which group has the forces on the ground, knocking on doors, building demos etc? I have my own idea, but this should become clear to almost everyone in a very few months time.

  56. Joseph Kisolo on said:

    Rosa are you in the SWP? If so do u realise you are breaking party discipline with your negative posts. Your not supposed to publically raise disagreements, ur supposed to keep it to local SWP meetings and national meetings (if ur local SWP group see’s fit to elect you to one).

    Apparently, a time when things are up in the air, the left is trying to grow and people have different idea’s to thrash out is exactly the sort of time when party discipline has to be at its highest, or that’s what I was told b4 I left a couple of mnth ago. Confusingly I was also under the impression that party discipline had to be at its strongest in times of ‘downturn’ were the need to keep the part together and logicically pure is paramount.

    The argument about dialectics seems to be one thing (I don’t think ur right but u got some interesting points that need to addressed) but as far as I can see the tactic of privileging the tightly organised ‘revolutionary’ party over the broad left party seems like it could fit equally with a dialectical understanding of the world as a non-dialectical and vice versa.

  57. No, I am not in the SWP, but I used to be. I agree with their politics 100%, and will re-join one day, *if they will have me back*. 😮

    And, in my essays, I do not put our long-term lack of success solely down to dialectics. In fact, I propose a more nuanced and multi-causal theory.

    But the idea that our core theory (dialectics) has *nothing* to do with our abysmal record is, quite frankly, ludicrous.

    If the truth of a theory is tested in practice, practice has delivered a rather clear verdict.

    Now, my work is far too long to be read with ease. Moreover, it has been published long before I wanted it to be, but one or two comrades persuaded me to put it on the web, even if it is only half finished. I will be extending it and developing it over the next ten years, and will produce a printed version at the end.

    It is deliberately provocative, since, if I am right, what I propose will amount to the biggest change in Marxist philosophy for 160 years.

    Of course, if I am wrong, I hope I will at least have made a few comrades re-think the basics.

    That is, if I can get them to extract their heads from the sand.

    Little sign of that so far…

  58. Joseph Kisolo on said:

    My point wasn’t that the notion of dialectics has nothing to do with our political practice, but rather that the pressing political problems that we face now i.e. the nature of the current project to build a new mass left-wing force cannot be decided by concentrating on the ‘problems’ with dialectics.

    To reiterate, I think that the question of the priority of the revolutionary party could be answered in many different ways by people on either side of the ‘dialectic debate’. Note, that there ‘dialectical thinkers’ on both sides of the Respect debate.

    What do you think your critic of dialectics teaches us about how we should build the new left project?

  59. Joseph:

    “My point wasn’t that the notion of dialectics has nothing to do with our political practice, but rather that the pressing political problems that we face now i.e. the nature of the current project to build a new mass left-wing force cannot be decided by concentrating on the ‘problems’ with dialectics.”

    Forgive me if It sounded as if thought you had said this; I was just making a general point.

    “What do you think your critic of dialectics teaches us about how we should build the new left project?”

    It’s totally screwed unless the working class wakes up.

    So, what I think about the way forward is irrelevant.

    But they learnt not to trust us several generations ago, so even if they do wake up, they ain’t going to be looking to us for a ‘lead’, unless we re-think things from the ground floor up.

    No sign of that.

    Barbarism here we come…

  60. Kevin Murphy on said:

    Mike 56:
    “I believe Kevin MUrphy has misquoted Foot by adding ’sectarian’ to the acronym, ‘NANA’ which I thought was National Association of Non-Alligned Activists’.

    But whatever his attitude is truly astonishing. So its ’sectarian’ not to join the SWP”

    Mike, that would be NANAA not NANAS. I’m pretty sure that the S was for sectarians but that is based on my recollection from some 22 years ago.

    Not sure who are arguing with here Mike. I never argued that it’s sectarian to not join the SWP but refered to those “independent sectarians who make a virtue out of NOT belonging to a socialist group.” My recollection on that is much better because it’s on the blog.

    Ger 55: “Most of the international left retreated due to the twin hammers of post ‘89 collapse and the forward march of neo-liberalism…In Britain a new, and much smaller space, has emerged for left realignment, most notably out of opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

    True, and the SWP’s Respect initiative was aimed at relating to the million-plus on the streets. That this radicalisation was not as deep and sustained as hoped for is the context of the Respect crisis.

  61. Kevin: “That this radicalisation was not as deep and sustained as hoped for is the context of the Respect crisis.”

    But doesn’t that give you some cause to step back and consider that those of us pointing out to you at the time that the radicalisation was not as deep or sustainable as you thought it was might have been right?

  62. garagelanduk on said:

    Kevin wrote: “I never argued that it’s sectarian to not join the SWP but refered to those “independent sectarians who make a virtue out of NOT belonging to a socialist group.” My recollection on that is much better because it’s on the blog.”

    I suppose I could be one of those being reffered to here (even if I’m not the person you had in mind). However – since I left the Labour Party in 1989 I have advocated the need for a new workers party. I joined the Socialist Labour Party in 1995 (which turned out to be a complete disaster) and the Socialist Alliance with great enthusiasm. Something that struck me about the Socialist Alliance down here in Exeter was that when it was first formed it attracted numerous people who had long dropped out of socialist politics – I think for them at last there was something worth while getting involved in. Sadly – as the SA stalled, for essentially the same reasons that Respect split – these people mostly dropped out again.

    On the Socialist Alliance discussion e-mail list I repeatedly argued that what was needed was a new workers party. I pointed out, this being over 5 years ago, that if we failed to move the Socialist Alliance in the direction of a new party, linking up with the RMT and FBU and other left leaning unions – the result would be a disintegration and fragmentation of the Left. Instead of us having one mass revolutionary party – supposedly what the SWP etc want – we would have a dwindled Left with smaller and more isolated and fragmented sects competing over the drindling crumbs.

    The last 10 years with the most reactionary Labour government in office have been a unique opportunity to create a new party – this task will be so much more difficult when the Tories return to power. I opposed the formation of Respect precisely because it was a move away from forming such a party – instead what was on offer was an SWP front with watered down non-socialist politics – a move away from forming a party.

    What is the balance sheet of the last 10 years? Is the Left as a whole stronger? Are the various sects bigger (SWP, SP etc etc) and stronger? Does the working class have any kind of organisation it can identify with as being its own? (Tiny groups like the SWP don’t even figure as a blip on the radar). Are the prospects for socialism better or worse? Outside activist circles – the Left is an irrelevance.

    Or put another way round – what are the prospects for groups who have the pretence of being a “revolutionary party”. Do they thrive or suffer when the Left as a whole is dwindling and disintegrating?

    If the Left can’t create one main socialist party to the Left of Labour in current conditions then we have nothing worth while to offer the working class and humanity – and they will treat us with at best contempt but more likely indifference.

    In another 10 years? Kevin – where do you see the left as a whole and the SWP in particular? Personally, I think it likely that the SWP will become even more like a cult with a greatly reduced membership – its greatest success being to using its dominat position to prevent the development of a class struggle party of the Left.

  63. NANAS – Non-Aligned Non-Active Socialists. Foot’s argument wasn’t that if you were not in the SWP then you were a sectarian but that, as a rule of thumb, those socialists who were not part of any socialist organisation become less and less active overtime.

    There’s a large element of truth in this – but perhaps also as significant is what type of activity socialists are involved in. A little bit of well thought out activity is surely better than lots of pointless sectarianism.

  64. Joseph Kisolo on said:

    What are u on about Rosa?

    Are u still on about ‘dialectics’, you still haven’t told us how your rejection of dialectics helps us deal with the problem of how to build a new left project, so I’m not sure how the posts above have anything to do with head in sand over dialectics.

    If your saying that people have there heads in sand over something else in particular please be a bit more clear what u are on about.

  65. Joseph:

    “Are u still on about ‘dialectics’, you still haven’t told us how your rejection of dialectics helps us deal with the problem of how to build a new left project, so I’m not sure how the posts above have anything to do with head in sand over dialectics.”

    Looks like all that sand is affecting your ability to read, Jo.

    I posted this earlier; perhaps you missed it:

    ‘Jo: “What do you think your critic of dialectics teaches us about how we should build the new left project?”

    It’s totally screwed unless the working class wakes up.

    So, what I think about the way forward is irrelevant.

    But they learnt not to trust us several generations ago, so even if they do wake up, they ain’t going to be looking to us for a ‘lead’, unless we re-think things from the ground floor up.

    No sign of that.

    Barbarism here we come…’

    No mention of dialectics, there, did you notice? Just a resignation to our fate — unless we give up that diet rich in silicates.

    “If your saying that people have there heads in sand over something else in particular please be a bit more clear what u are on about.”

    Not just here, but right across the left.

    We refuse to look at the class origins of our ideas, our sectarian and infantile attitude to one another (evidenced at the site, for example), and our substitutionist approach to workers.

    [In fact, comrades refuse *even to consider* whether there might be a materialist reason for our long-term failure, and reach for all manner of particular, and idealist causes.]

    You can find all that (and more) in here:

    http://homepage.ntlworld.com/rosa.l/page%2009_02.htm

    I set my site up to save me posting 65000 word essays on blogs like this. 🙂

  66. Joseph Kisolo on said:

    I’ve read some of the stuff on your site, all very interesting though still not sure what you think is the way forward.

    You say of the new left project that “It’s totally screwed unless the working class wakes up” – not sure how us abandoning dialectics will make the ‘working class wake up’, can’t imagine my mum saying ‘ohh wow now you’ve abandoned dialectics I really am up for joining in a broad party with you’.

    If the mistakes of the left, visa via the faliour to build a mass radical left party are down to dialectics then just give us a simple pointer in to the direction of why this is, anything will do even a just a hint.

    Also what do you think a post-dialectics left will look like, i.e. what practical organisational differences will arise though giving up dialectics?

  67. Joseph:

    “You say of the new left project that “It’s totally screwed unless the working class wakes up” – not sure how us abandoning dialectics will make the ‘working class wake up’, can’t imagine my mum saying ‘ohh wow now you’ve abandoned dialectics I really am up for joining in a broad party with you’.”

    As I argue at length in Essay Nine Parts One and Two, since dialecticians cling on to this this ‘theory’ of theirs for non-rational reasons (connected with the consolation it gives them for failure (pointed out in Lenin’s ‘Materialism and Empirio-criticism’ — but he failed to apply this to himself), and because it tells them that appearances contradict reality, hence, even though it might seem that Dialectical Marxism is a failure, it is really a success), then, as with religious belief, dialectics will only be eradicated if and when the working class eliminates its causes (all of which are spelt-out in detail in those Essays, so I won’t repeat them here).

    Petty-bourgeois dialecticians will thus need a strong and confident working class to provide the material counter-weight to their idealism. Workers will have to save these mystics from themselves.

    In general, you cannot argue people out of belief in god, and nor can you argue comrades out of belief in their source of consolation: dialectics. As you can see even here, dialecticians respond irrationally when their pet ‘theory’ is attacked.

    Piles more of that sort of stuff here:

    http://homepage.ntlworld.com/rosa.l/RevLeft.htm

    “If the mistakes of the left, visa via the failure to build a mass radical left party are down to dialectics then just give us a simple pointer in to the direction of why this is, anything will do even a just a hint.”

    Look if you do not want to read my essays, that’s Ok. But I said that that is why I set my site up, so if you want answers, you know where to go.

    This is a highly complex issue, and one or two paragraph long, snappy replies will only distort my thesis.

    “Also what do you think a post-dialectics left will look like, i.e. what practical organisational differences will arise though giving up dialectics?”

    I do not think we will ever have one (for reasons I outlined above).

    My personal opinion is that we humans are screwed.

    But, one keeps on hoping and trying.

    More than that, my crystal ball will not tell me.

  68. It’s a “car crash”, yes: and from which the “left” should extract itself. But *not* a car crash “of the left”: the SWP appears to have clamboured out: they now have to ask themselves what, exactly, they were doing in an alliance with a bunch of Islamists, Stalinists,anti-semites and other far-right figures under the unsavoury leadership of Galloway, in the first place?

  69. Grim Death:

    “But *not* a car crash “of the left”: the SWP appears to have clamboured out: they now have to ask themselves what, exactly, they were doing in an alliance with a bunch of Islamists, Stalinists,anti-semites and other far-right figures under the unsavoury leadership of Galloway, in the first place?”

    Beats the AWfuL attempt your tiny sect has made to act as a left cover for imperialist aggression, though — wouldn’t you agree, Grim?

  70. Grr Francis wrote (post 55) “Most of the international left retreated due to the twin hammers of post ‘89 collapse and the forward march of neo-liberalism.”

    Which is total nonsense. What happened after the collapse of the state capitalist states in 89 was simply a deepening of the retreat of organised labour and of its revolutionay left wing in particular. I refer Grr to the SWP’s analysis of the downturn and Harmans analysis of the crisis of the revolutionary left in an early number of the ISJ(NS) for some detail on these related phenomena.

    How curious and how telling that Grr no longer seems to adhere to the ideas he learnt, assuming he did learn them, in the SWP. Coming soon the Grr Francis story from renegacy to revisionism. LOL.

  71. I see Laurel and Hardy have staggered over here from the Hairy Place.

    I wonder what these two jokers have to say about the sleaze in New Labour?

    Or, indeed, about the rather minor and insignificant crime Blair and Brown committed: killing tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians?

    Does anyone here think these numpties are going to chase those two mass murderes with the same sort of obsessive zeal?

    Do bears **** in the Vatican?