The conference of the Galloway/SWP coalition Respect (30-31 October, in London) voted down a motion to “declare that Respect is a secular organisation”. The motion, drafted by the longstanding and well-respected anti-racist activist Dave Landau, was very moderately worded.
However, Socialist Worker editor Chris Bambery declared that it was “Islamophobic”.
The motion’s only specific expression of hostility to a particular religion was its call for disestablishment of the Church of England. But Bambery said that in 30-odd years of activity he had never before seen a motion to a left organisation asking it to declare itself secular. Why now? The motion must be motivated by concern about Respect’s orientation to Muslims. Therefore it was Islamophobic!
The motion was voted down heavily. The SWP had worked the election of conference delegates so that Dave Landau was not a delegate and could not speak to his motion.
Tom Rubens moved it instead; but many other critical motions fell because none of the motion’s supporters had got in as a delegate.
The SWP had worked things so that, for example, not a single member of the CPGB (Weekly Worker), got to be a delegate and gain the right to speak at the conference.
280 delegates attended the conference, representing a notional membership for Respect of 2,800, and there were 48 observers.
AWL members distributed a leaflet and sold papers at the start of the conference, and participated in a fringe meeting called on the Saturday evening by the Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform.
On our observation at the conference door, Respect’s claim to attract anti-war youth and Muslims remains untrue. The delegates were mostly older. It looked as if the SWP had made some effort to promote “safe" non-SWPers as delegates, while rigidly excluding the more critical and outspoken.
A motion on Iraq from the Respect Executive was passed, without the chair even asking to see votes against or abstentions. It gave full support to the Islamist militias in Iraq like the Mahdi Army, declaring that “the resistance in Iraq… is composed of elements which are Islamic, nationalist and socialist. It is a national liberation movement… The
Iraqi resistance deserves the support of the international anti-war movement”.
It also bought into the Islamist claim that the USA’s wars are “against Muslims” — rather than motivated by capitalist interests — with a declaration that “Islamophobia is central to the ideology of war in this era”.
Shamefully, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka lent his support by speaking at the conference. Since speaking at the Respect launch conference in January, Serwotka had noticeably abstained from any public support for the venture, and it could have been hoped that he had reverted to his socialist roots.