Respect, the coalition which has won greater electoral success than any left alternative for decades, is facing a deep crisis. It is a political crisis about the direction of the left in Britain which requires an urgent response.
Socialist Worker has never been one of those papers obsessed with the manoeuvres of left groups. But the present division in Respect is so important it demands comment.
We also have to speak out because Socialist Worker has been approached by two major news programmes who say they are going to broadcast allegations against the SWP over this affair.
Respect began as a radical product of the anti-war movement. Its name stood for Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environment, Community and Trade unionism. It was clearly a left project and achieved success as such.
We proudly situated Socialist Worker as the paper which carried the reports about Respect, organised supporters to push it forwards and celebrated its victories.
As part of this, Socialist Worker defended George Galloway against right wing attacks, even when it was unpopular. We researched and investigated to provide evidence of how material was forged against him over allegations of receiving oil gifts from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Socialist Worker supporters campaigned tirelessly to get Galloway elected in Bethnal Green & Bow in 2005.
When the vast bulk of the media tore into Galloway during his appearance in Celebrity Big Brother, Socialist Worker did not join in, and pointed to his record as an anti-war campaigner.
Now, in a concerted push which should appal those who want to see a radical alternative to Labour, Galloway has begun to attack the core of the left in Respect. He has decided that the political vision which has sustained the project no longer fits.
He denounces members of the SWP as unthinking “Leninists” who listen to nobody but their shadowy and unaccountable leadership – a classic right wing stereotype of revolutionaries. Inside Respect a campaign has been launched against the SWP in an attempt to drive us out.
In Tower Hamlets in east London two extremely unpleasant meetings have laid bare the methods at the heart of the present disputes.
At a Respect members’ meeting there was an attempt to derail a constitutionally supplied list of delegates for the Respect annual conference.
At a subsequent Tower Hamlets Respect committee meeting – after an initially calm beginning by other speakers – Galloway launched an assault on the SWP.
Elsewhere Galloway has announced that he does not want to speak at Respect meetings where SWP members are present, even though they are active members of Respect.
Such tactics are not about honest debate inside a coalition.
The SWP is not going to be driven out of Respect. We played an important part in creating Respect and have done as much as anyone to make the project work. We are also going to continue to stand up for Respect as a coalition that defends all working class people and tries to meet the urgent need for a left alternative to Labour.
We urge everyone to support our position that we need to defend Respect as a project that has socialism as a central part, that will not make endless concessions in order to win votes, and that stands up for democracy.