Splits in left wing organisations are ugly, messy affairs. From a distance it can look like nothing more than a confused jumble of claims and counterclaims – a “pointless argument” about egos or trivial details.
The stereotype of organisations splitting out of sheer pettiness is common. Yet behind such splits there is always something political at stake – a left-right division below the surface that explains the crisis breaking out at an organisational level.
In 1903 the Russian Mensheviks broke with the Bolsheviks, seemingly over the wording of a constitution and personal antagonism with Lenin. In reality the split centred on the Mensheviks’ retreat from the necessity of revolution.
The split in Respect is no different from this historical pattern. On the left are those who hold fast to the original vision of Respect as a radical grassroots political project with appeal across the working class. This side includes Socialist Worker and its supporters.
On the right are those who would subordinate or blunt the radical elements of Respect and confine it to being an electoral machine that supports a few big names in a few localities. This side includes George Galloway and his followers.
This underlying left-right political split does not necessarily express itself clearly on the surface. It is possible for individuals to be caught out on the “wrong side” of an argument. Political views are never static and individuals can always be pulled one way or another.
The presence of people with a track record on the left among those now resorting to red-baiting is not unusual. Labour Party leaders have long made sure they used left wing figures in their chorus when they launched attacks on left wing groups within the party.
In fact the left forms the majority in Respect and is anything but isolated. One reason why Galloway has precipitated the split in Respect by locking the national office and calling a rival rally to the national conference is that his camp has lost the argument on the ground.
In Sheffield, Tower Hamlets, Preston and many other areas across the country, Respect supporters from Muslim backgrounds have defied the stereotypes and backed the left in this dispute rather than their so-called “community leaders”.
That is why Respect will be pressing ahead with its national conference of elected delegates on Saturday 17 November. All those who believe that politics is ultimately about principles, not personalities, should join us there.
Gordon Brown’s “vision” for Britain seems set to be a dull rehash of the established pro-war, pro-neoliberal New Labour agenda.
The headline measure is a renewed attempt to increase the time “terror” suspects can be detained without charge. It was presaged by headlines highlighting claims made by the head of MI5 that there are 4,000 jihadi terror suspects in Britain.
This is a continuation of New Labour’s sustained attack on civil liberties.
As Brown became Labour leader there was much spin that he would release receipts from council house sales to allow councils to build homes. That has not happened.
On a wider level spending on health and education is being reduced, but Brown has guaranteed money for waging war.
It all underlines the urgent need for a radical challenge to New Labour.