Category Archives: Broad Parties

Respect Conference – A Shift to the Right

A comment on the recent national conference of the Respect Party by Ian Donovan.

This year’s conference of Respect saw the organisation formally change its name from the original ‘Respect – the Unity Coalition’ to the simpler ‘Respect Party’. Unfortunately, it also signalled a significant political shift away from any attempt to unite the working-class left into a broad party. Instead, Respect now stands committed to a political strategy that involves alliances with forces whose commitment to the working class and any meaningful struggle against neo-liberalism is at best questionable.

Respect now sees the Green Party, and the semi-Blairite soft-left in Labour around Jon Cruddas and his Compass group as its allies, not left wing trade unions, or Socialists and Communists outside Labour. Respect’s leaders exhibit public hostility to labour movement initiatives like the ‘No2EU’ platform that was put together by the leadership of the RMT rail union and three socialist organisations for the European elections.

They display even more hostility to the fact that a broader, more overtly socialist, coalition is being put together to fight a significant number of seats in the General Election. Indeed, the logic of this is to also see the remaining hard left in Labour, such as it is, as similarly inimical to the alliances that Galloway, Salma Yaqoob and others want to put together, similarly ‘dogmatic’ and old-fashioned in their view of the working class.

Which Galloway for one now considers to have been ‘unmade’ – a reference to the title of E. P. Thompson’s famous work ‘The Making of the English Working Class’. Thus he writes off the British working class as a force for social change, and furiously denounces those in Respect who disagree.

The shift to the right was capped when George Galloway, replying to those in Respect that wanted to actively participate in building the new broad left coalition being initiated by The Socialist Party, The Communist Party of Britain, the RMT leadership and some prominent union leaders and militant trade unionists, badly stated that he was utterly opposed to any such alliances. Because ‘Communists and Trotskyists’ are an ‘electoral liability’ and a barrier to gaining the votes of many of those people that Respect need to win the elections they have set themselves, according to GG.

Unfortunately, though not surprisingly given that he is Respect’s best-known public figure and sole MP, his views won out in the most crucial vote at the conference, as the conference voted not to hear a resolution that called for positive co-operation with the new coalition.

Though a number of the resolutions actually passed talk in an hypothetical manner about the possibility of co-operation with such a coalition were it to be formed, now that that the coalition has publicly announced its formation the real effect of the vote against the supportive resolution means a public political snub to those involved in the new initiative.

Galloway’s remarks about not involving Respect with ‘Communists and Trotskyists’ is a repudiation of the original vision of Respect. Because Respect, when it was founded in 2004, was an electoral bloc between George Galloway, a Labour MP expelled for his outspoken and meaningful opposition to the Iraq war, the Socialist Workers Party (the largest Trotskyist organisation in Britain) and a whole layer of other people, including Muslim activists who had no problem uniting with Trotskyists.

In fact, much effort was spent by George Galloway and others in the original Respect coalition trying to persuade the Communist Party of Britain to join Respect. This effort failed at the time because the faction within the CPB that is completely committed to a strategy of ‘reclaiming’ the Labour Party was then strong enough to stop the CPB doing so. Things have improved on that front since then, but now George Galloway doesn’t want them anyway. This is a complete about face on left unity, and a major rightward shift.

Galloway, Salma Yaqoob and others among the leadership of Respect justify this refusal to co-operate with the new coalition by pointing to their struggle to preserve the Respect name after the split with the sectarian, bureaucratic leadership of the Socialist Workers Party two years ago. But this is an example of misusing past exploits and victories to justify current misdeeds.

It is rather obvious that if Respect were prepared to take the bull by the horns, to engage positively with the forces comprising the new coalition, then the publicity and momentum this would generate would more than make up for any compromise that might have to be reached about the unified coalition name, how it’s component parts might describe themselves, etc.

The issue of the Respect name is a red herring in this debate – Galloway let the cat out of the bag when he said that Communists and Trotskyists were an electoral liability and that he was opposed point blank to such alliances irrespective of the practicalities.

Underlying this turn to the right is the looming General Election. Respect was set up to offer an alternative to Labour at the electoral level, as part of a project to try to defeat the ‘triangulation’ strategy of New Labour, the arrogant assumption that no matter how much Labour moved to the right, how much it attacked the working class, how much it adopted openly capitalist and anti-union, free market policies usually associated with the Tories, the working class and other oppressed layers had nowhere else to go. The whole point of Respect was to break that down, to offer the working class ‘somewhere else’.

Now this has been abandoned also. The call has gone out from George Galloway to vote for New Labour in the overwhelming majority of seats in the country, save where there is a ‘credible’ left wing candidate – one who has a chance of winning outright in most cases. By this, he means the three Respect candidates – in areas of large Muslim population – and a couple of others including the odd Green candidate, and Dave Nellist in Coventry who as a former Labour/Militant MP is difficult to portray as lacking ‘credibility’.

In this, Galloway is using Dave Nellist in particular as a fig leaf for a rotten policy of support for New Labour in virtually all cases. Dave Nellist is likely to stand as a candidate of the new coalition, but Galloway makes it clear that he considers the coalition not ‘credible’ and is for votes to New Labour against it generally.

Galloway is not completely consistent about this; he has a tendency to see politics as about personalities, and not ideas or the collective action of party memberships, and this foible leads him to do things that sit uneasily with his main political thrust – like campaigning for Tommy Sheridan – who lost his deposit and was beaten by the BNP –  in the recent Glasgow North East by-election.

But these are incidental foibles – the main political line is clear – Galloway has now embraced lesser evil-ism in this coming General Election. This despite the fact that there is no real difference of policy on the things that count between New Labour and the Conservatives. On the question of cuts in public spending to pay for bailing out the banks, for instance, both main parties (and the Lib Dems as well) have made it quite clear that there will be a programme of savage cuts after the election. Both parties are firmly committed to the imperialist war in Afghanistan, to maintaining anti-union laws, and to numerous other common reactionary policies.

If anything, Labour is so slavish, and its reactionary and authoritarian instincts so pronounced, that it has allowed the Tories to posture to its left on some issues, notably civil liberties and ID cards. Campaigning to re-elect this government, as well as being a vain endeavour most likely, amounts to, no matter what those doing it may say, an endorsement of, or at the very least, a willingness to overlook, its rotten record and an abandonment of the desperate need for an alternative.

The argument that Labour is still some kind of workers party, that merely by dint of its origins a century ago as a party founded by the trade unions, that is used by some of the more theoretically-minded socialists today who justify refusing to write off Labour completely, is not the decisive issue here.

I consider this position mistaken today – I think that the bourgeois element in New Labour has been strengthened to the point that it has become a cross-class party, not a workers party with merely a pro-capitalist labour bureaucracy at the head of it. Nevertheless this position is not hegemonic on the socialist left and many good socialists do not currently draw that conclusion.

It would be perfectly possible for Respect to back a more general left-wing challenge to Labour, to participate an a joint campaign (even if informal and only appearing in election literature, not on the ballot paper) with the ‘son of No2EU’ coalition and still advocate votes to Labour where no left candidate was able to stand.

But this slavish line of Galloway and others in Respect is not merely a tactical reflection of a belief that there is still some working class element or potential left in Labour. Taken together with the denunciation of ‘communists and Trotskyists’ as a liability, this can only be seen as part of an attempt to ingratiate Respect, and Galloway in particular, hoping to gain some political benefit, perhaps like Ken Livingstone in securing re-admission to Labour at some point.

In a future article, I will try to go into more depth about some of the reasons for this rightward drift, and some of the problems, prefiguring this development, that have emerged in Respect since the split with the SWP. One thing’s for sure. This is a most unwelcome development, a real blow to those who seek to build a broad socialist alternative to New Labour that can develop roots in the working class and re-arm our class with its own independent political expression.

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Resolution on Left Unity

Below is the text of an emergency resolution on the new left coalition launched last weekend submitted to the Respect national conference.

The Conference Arrangements Commitee ruled it out of order as not constituting an emergency. This was contested and a vote taken. The decision of the conference was to uphold the ruling of the CAC and the resolution was not disscussed.

Below also is the text of a letter distributed to conference delegates in support of the motion.

Emergency Resolution on Left Unity

Conference notes the formation of a new left-wing coalition to stand candidates at the general election, which was announced at the RMT union’s conference on the crisis of working-class representation on Saturday 7 November 2009.

Conference notes that at this stage the coalition involves the Socialist Party, the Alliance for Green Socialism and the Communist Party of Britain and has the backing, in a personal capacity, of RMT general secretary Bob Crow and Prison Officers Association general secretary Brian Caton, and has called on everyone who wants a socialist, working-class and trade union alternative presented at the general election to get involved in the coalition.

Conference welcomes the formation of the coalition. It ensures that there will be more left candidates in the general election and contributes to the much needed challenge from the left to the right-wing policies of privatisation, cuts and unemployment supported by New Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.

Conference instructs the incoming National Committee and National Officers to write to the coalition organisers to seek joint work to promote support for left-wing candidates at the general election.

Conference encourages Respect members and supporters to support coalition candidates at the general election and to work together with coalition supporters where possible to build united action around left-wing policies.

Letter addressed to conference delegates

Dear Comrades, Sisters and Brothers

Many of you may have heard about the new coalition that was announced last week by former MP Dave Nellist at the RMT conference on working class representation.

The coalition has the backing of Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT, Brian Caton of the Prison Officers Association, national officers of the PCS civil servants’ union, and members of the national executives of the CWU, Unison, FBU and USDAW trade unions (all in a personal capacity).

It also has the backing of the Socialist Party, Communist Party of Britain and the Alliance for Green Socialism.

The coalition intends to stand against current and former cabinet ministers who have pushed through anti-working class policies. It has appealed for all those who want a working class, socialist and trade union alternative to be put forward in the election to get involved.

Labour has followed the agenda of big business for twelve years. It has pushed through reforms which have weakened the working class in this country. The few progressive policies it has implemented have nearly all failed to meet their targets.

Confronted by the recession it has chosen to maintain its neo-liberal course. If it wins the election it plans massive public spending cuts.

If a Tory government is elected things may be even worse. But if the Tories win the blame will lie entirely with Brown and his party. They had the perfect opportunity to turn away from Blair’s rotten policies. They did not take it.

From 1997 to 2005 Labour lost 3 million votes. It is set to lose more. The fact is that millions of working class people can no longer bring themselves to vote for Labour. They need a socialist alternative to vote for. We need to offer it to them.

Successful left wing campaigns across the country can only strengthen us in facing the struggles that are bound to come after the election.

We want to see left wing MPs elected, but Respect will only be standing in a handful of seats out of 650.

We ask Respect members to support candidates of the new coalition wherever they stand and to become involved in their campaigns.

A real alternative is desperately needed. The left standing together will be stronger.

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Why we need a new workers’ party

For some time now there has been a page on this blog entitled Why We Need a New Workers’ Party. It hasn’t had much on it though.

This is partly because no one has got round to writing it. It is also because the project for a new party is a work in progress. It has taken time for the left to start to clarify its thinking on this subject.

But time is pressing, and so is the urgency of the question as Labour heads for electoral meltdown and the ruling class prepares a massive wave of attacks on the working class. The Labour Party is unlikely to be any use whatsoever in resisting them.

So here are some thought on the subject. To read them click here.

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An interesting letter in the Morning Star

An interesting letter in today’s Morning Star:

Kevin Halpin’s letter (M Star October 26) must be treated with respect.

But it only repeats the old mantra that there is no alternative to a Labour government – except a Conservative one – and that we, the left, must use the unions that finance the Labour Party to change its policies.

The string of sickening right-wing, US-subservient steps this Labour government has taken over its 12 years in office proves that, unfortunately, there seems to be no way that it will change its ways – nor that the unions can or will force it to do so.

If lessons are to be learned, there are countries from which we can learn. An excellent example is Germany.

There the left within its Labour Party equivalent – the SPD – decided boldly to break away and join up with the remains of the PDS, a successor to the governing party in the east, to form Die Linke left party.

In September, Die Linke won nearly 12 per cent of the vote in elections and it is advancing rapidly.

The basis for a new left party in Britain exists. Several prominent unions are no longer attached to Labour and they are waiting for the appropriate moment to set one up or maybe join one that is set up.

There can be no doubt that other unions would follow, together with some of the more sensible left fragments.

The aim of such a left party would be to help produce a left government. Once the left party was of a reasonable size, it could apply to join the Labour Party because it would obviously be better to work within than outside.

But, of course, such an offer would be turned down.

In that event, the new left party could press ahead to establish itself as the only socialist party of consequence in the country.

At the age of 91, as a former trade union official and a member of the old Communist Party of Great Britain for over 50 years, history has taught me (a) that boldness is best and (b) that the British people are yearning for a new and better life that only socialism can bring and that only a socialist party can offer them.

Hyman Frankel
London SW4

As it appears on the Morning Star website.

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Bob Crow speaks at the RMT conference on Working Class Representation

Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT (Rail, Marine and Transportation Workers Union) speaks at the conference on working class politcal representation held in London on 9th November.

Part 1

Part 2

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New coalition of the left is go

Nov 7 conf leaflet.qxd

Click picture to download leaflet

Here is the official launch leaflet for the new coalition to fight the general election.

There will probably be more news on the coalition at tomorrow’s conference on working class representation organsied by the RMT at the Camden Centre.

To download the leaflet as a PDF, click here.

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A left challenge in the General Election

It is hardly a secret that for the last few months talks have been going on regarding a united left wing challenge in the forthcoming general election. Involved have been the backers of the No2EU slate put up to fight the Euro elections, namely Bob Crow and the RMT, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party of Britain.

On the other hand not much has been said about the talks publicly… until now.

An statement by the Socialist Party’s Executive Committee has now posted on their website on precisly this subject.

Clearly the project is not yet the finished article, but it is to be welcomed.

Many have lamented the failure of the left to create an elctorally viable force during the last decade.

And the lack of a left alternative is now more obvious than ever. As the Labour Party’s base amongst ordinary working class people disintegrates the gainers have been a revivied Tory Party and even more worryingly the BNP.

This move to the right cannot be stopped by Labour, it is what started it. Labour politicians seem to be ever more determined to out Tory the Tories on everything from immigration to drugs.

In the economic sphere their rediscovery of “Social Democracy” is an illusion conjured up by those desperate that a Tory governement is just around the corner. It doesn’t stand up to any serious analysis.

The Labour Party is no longer a form of progressive anything in government. It has become merely “the human face of neo-liberalism”. As a party based in the working class, it is a dying force.

Here at the Junius Blog we maintain that what is needed is a new party of the working class based on the politics of socialism. This is the only way that not only can the increasingly reactionary path being taken by all the main parties can be opposed. It is also the key way that all those who still believe in class politcs can be brought together to support the coming struggles in defence of public services and workers’ living standards.

Electoral politics won’t be the way to stop the coming assault by the ruling class, only struggle can do that, but millions of people do still believe in the “democratic process”. Either we can stand in the election and use it as way to bring together all those who want a fairer society, or we can abandon them to the “lesser evil” of voting Labour.

There have been many false starts in the left’s attempts at esatblishing a credible electoral force over the last few years. This was entirely predictable given the the way that thirty years of neo-liberalsim have rolled the left back. It was also going to be a rocky ride breaking people away from the party that has had an almost totoal monoply on working class representaion for nearly a hundred years.

But that is no reason to give up. The new proposed alliance might not live up to expectations, or it mght be a great success. Which it is depends on whether we throw ourselves into building it or just sit and wait for something more to our particular liking magically appears.

To read the statement on the Socialist Party’s website, click here

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