The Respect coalition was set up in January 2004 by the Socialist Workers’ Party, using George Galloway MP, expelled by the Labour Party in October 2003, as a front person.
Galloway had never been particularly left-wing in the Labour Party; he was discredited among socialists by his past close links with the Saddam regime in Iraq, the Saudi monarchy, the United Arab Emirates, and Pakistani governments; and he had taken no-one with him when expelled from Labour.
But the SWP had puffed him as a “leading figure” on the big demonstrations in 2002-3 against the US/UK invasion of Iraq, and hoped by hitching up with him to draw votes, and maybe new activists, from Muslim and other youth angry with Blair and Bush.
To clear the way for Respect, the SWP trashed the Socialist Alliance, an unprecedently broad coalition of socialist groups which in the 2001 general election had made a start, though a very flawed one, at building up a socialist electoral alternative to New Labour.
Four years on, Respect is in trouble. Its nominal membership, two thousand, is only one fifth of what the SWP claimed for its own numbers in the 1990s.
Galloway won re-election on the Respect ticket in Bethnal Green (part of Tower Hamlets), but is no more a socialist voice in Parliament than when he was on the Labour ticket. Generally, Respect has had poor votes except where it can trade on presenting Galloway and its other candidates as “fighters for Muslims”. Meanwhile, the SWP's profile as a distinctly socialist organisation has drastically declined.
Now Galloway — backed by a few others, several of them ex-SWP or formerly close to the SWP — has chosen to denounce details of the SWP’s running of Respect, in a letter which he must have known would become public. At a Respect National Council on 22 September the SWP conceded some detailed changes proposed by Galloway, but the two camps are still bitterly at odds.
Has Galloway seen another career option, and decided that a public shrugging-off of the SWP will help him in it? Or does he think that by cowing the SWP he can encourage the residue of British Stalinism, the rump Communist Party of Britain, to enter Respect and give him more congenial allies there?
We do not know. Either way, in our view, the only gain out of this will be if some of the many good-hearted socialists in the SWP ask questions about how they got into this mess, and look for a way out towards an independent working-class stance.