I did promise Brother S I wouldn't be blogging on the Socialist Workers' Party for a while as comment and speculation has ripped through leftblogland like wildfire. But there's certainly a case for AVPS adding its two pennies worth now the camps have formally announced their intention to separate. November 17th will see two Respect conferences going ahead - the 'official' Respect conference for the SWP and its one or two hangers-on, and 'Respect Renewal' gathering for practically everyone else.
A lot of comment has understandably fixated on the minutiae of meetings and emails, but it's also heartening to note a lot of comrades contributing to the discussion are trying to draw the necessary lessons by examining the split's roots in the politics of Respect. Well, at least that's what one side of the split is trying to do.
This certainly isn't the case with the SWP. I'm gobsmacked how the SWP leadership appears oblivious to how it's gotten itself into this situation. There is absolutely no self-reflection or awareness of its role in polarising nearly everyone in Respect against it, and it is shameless in its repetition of criticisms made of Respect from the outset, which it earlier would have denounced as Islamophobic. It whinges about Respect's trajectory away from basic socialist positions, and yet does not acknowledge the role played by the SWP leadership in systematically voting them down. And as for its recent discovery that Galloway has not been accountable to Respect, has the SWP been living under a rock? Who bares primary responsibility for letting this state of affairs persist for so long?
On all these matters there is nothing but silence. The leadership knows everything but learns nothing. Farcically, this looks set to continue. For example, the SWP's chief demand is "let the members decide" at Respect's conference, while brazenly stacking conference with delegates from its organisation. Can it not understand how some would find this sort of behaviour deeply alienating? And what will this rather sad event amount to? Something akin to a revivalist meeting with the SWP and a few fellow travellers congratulating each other about "winning" Respect and driving away the "opportunist" and "communalist" elements is most likely. You can almost see it now. In the months ahead, to save face, the SWP's Respect will be heavily pushed and probably a big effort will be made at next year's local and London elections. But in the long term, an organisation representing no one but the SWP has no future. It may be a useful bargaining chip if the SWP enters into negotiations with other left forces, but as a straight front it will not, and cannot be allowed to have any independent life.
As for the SWP itself, it has come out of this faction fight badly bruised. It's reputation lies in tatters, it's absurd Respect petition has made it a laughing stock, and most damaging it has lost a layer of experienced activists. But the SWP is not facing an imminent demise. It has proven to be an extremely durable organisation, despite the 180 degree turns and outright volte-faces it has imposed on itself over the years. Plus the SWP continues to occupy a certain niche on the far left, ensuring a steady stream of activists to replace those who have dropped out. Without a doubt, the SWP will remain a sizeable presence for many years to come.
So much for the SWP, what of the Renewing Respect grouping? It may lack a large pool of disciplined activists, but I think it has far more potential than the SWP's vehicle. Judging by the steady stream of documents on Socialist Unity, it is significant that a broad consensus has emerged around the lessons of the Respect experience and working with the SWP. In an earlier post, I speculated it was united only in opposition to Rees et al. But it seems the struggle has impressed upon everyone the need for unity on a basis stronger than lowest-common-denominator politics and a laissez-faire attitude to elected representative's behaviour. How the new formation will be able to make Galloway and the Tower Hamlets councillors accountable remains to be seen, but if they are overcome positively, this could give Renewing Respect the kind of legs among the wider left that Respect mk I lacked.
The direction of this project will be decided on November 17th, and I think there is every reason for optimism that a step toward a new, viable left formation will be made. I sincerely hope that the Socialist Party sends a team along to offer our comradely regards, and that this is reciprocated at our Socialism 2007 event, just down the road.