Over 250 people attended a national council of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) held on Saturday to discuss the crisis engulfing Respect and the way forward for the left in Britain.
Martin Smith, the SWP’s national secretary, opened the discussion by outlining the underlying political factors behind the dispute in Respect.
It is an argument over future direction, he said—whether Respect should stay true to its original vision as a radical left wing party with appeal across the working class, or whether it should restrict itself to patronage politics aimed at electing a few big names.
He added that there is a clear attempt from George Galloway’s followers to drive the SWP out of Respect and prevent this year’s annual conference from taking place in two weeks’ time. He noted that Galloway’s followers have recently locked Respect’s staff out of the national office and changed the locks on the building.
Martin ended by noting the success of the recent Stop the War demonstration outside parliament, the ferment within unions such as the CWU, and the widespread popular dismay at Gordon Brown. The thirst for a left alternative to Labour has not gone away, he said.
John Molyneux from Portsmouth, speaking in the discussion that followed, said events had proved wrong those who believed that Galloway’s initial letter to the Respect national committee was merely about organisational issues rather than being the first shot in a wider war on the left in Respect.
“There’s clearly a fundamental attack going on,” said John. “I feel like I’ve been watching a coup take place in Respect. Nothing we have done has forced Linda Smith [Respect’s chair] to send out emails unilaterally abolishing our conference.”
He added that the division in Respect was a political one that was fundamentally about class, pitting those who viewed Respect as a working class project against those who looked for support to “community leaders”—a euphemism for businessmen.
Margot from south London noted how Respect and Stop the War activists from the Muslim community in Wandsworth and Merton had rallied to the defence of the SWP against the witch hunt launched by Galloway’s followers.
It was untrue that Muslims would all automatically support Galloway, she added, noting that many had turned to Respect precisely because it represented a break with the narrow community-focused politics served up by mainstream parties.
James Eaden from Chesterfield argued that a radical working class based approach to Respect had led to activists winning a council seat in Bolsover and initiating a number of local campaigns against post office closures and city academies off the back of this victory.
John Rose from north London pointed to the larger political picture. “Hundreds of thousands of people are realising how appalling Brown really is with a mounting sense of horror,” he said, citing the Saudi royal family visit and the decision to back the police over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.
The meeting ended with branch delegates and national council members voting overwhelmingly to back a statement from the party’s leadership setting out the record on the SWP’s role in Respect. The statement was passed by 157 votes to two, with three abstentions.
The statement endorsed by Saturday’s national council meeting can be read here: » The record: the Socialist Workers Party and Respect