The SWP-Respect conference at Westminster University on 17 November was essentially an SWP event — extra observers were turned away “for lack of space”. One observer from the CPGB who did get in told us that around 400 people attended and practically no direct discussion actually about the split in Respect took place! The leadership essentially put on a show of business as usual, with bland motions amounting to a rally.
The following text is from the leaflet we distributed to the conference.
The SWP and those close to it have now broken with George Galloway. The recent SWP national meeting declared itself against the “opportunist electoral politics [which] began to dominate Respect... For such people their model of politics was that increasingly used by the Labour Party in ethnically and religiously mixed inner city areas — promising favours to people who posed as the 'community leaders’ of particular ethnic or religious groupings if they would use their influence to deliver votes.
“This is what is known as Tammany Hall politics in US cities, or ‘vote bloc’ or ‘communal’ politics when practiced by all the pro-capitalist parties in the Indian subcontinent. It is something the left has always tried to resist. We seek people’s support because they want to fight against oppression and for a better world, not because they stand for one group...”
That is good. Or, at least, it will be good if the Respect remainder turns back to the left, and builds the broad coalitions which surely are desirable with other socialists rather than with the businessman element in the old Respect and with George Galloway.
The Socialist Green Unity Coalition has operated since the old Socialist Alliance was trashed, bringing together the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, the Socialist Party, and the Alliance for Green Socialism, and running more candidates in the 2005 general election than Respect did.
The Labour Representation Committee, at its conference... [see separate report], is discussing motions which state that it can no longer be “business as usual” in the Labour Party. “As currently constituted the Labour Party is no longer a vehicle for promoting progressive or socialist ideas”. The LRC, another motion states, should “start to work as a broader Workers’ Representation Committee... appeal to all socialists and trade unionists to join [the] project”.
The RMT London Transport Regional Council recently voted for the RMT to initiate an independent working-class slate, on broad workingclass policies, for the London mayor/ GLA elections — though, unfortunately, the RMT Executive decided that there wasn't enough momentum to do it.
Those are the forces a respect-worthy Respect should turn to.
Condemn “opportunist electoral politics” and “communal politics”? Good! But then some accounting and self-criticism are called for.
The “opportunist electoral politics” and “communal politics” are not things which crept into the old Respect recently and unexpectedly.
“Some Tribune of the People!”, the recent SWP national meeting’s resolution said about Galloway. “He achieved the dubious record of being the fifth highest earning MP, after Hague, Blunkett, Widdecombe and Boris Johnson, with £300,000 a year”.
Galloway had already told the Scotsman newspaper, in a sneering comment on the Scottish Socialist Party’s campaigning slogan for workers’ representatives on a workers’ wage, that he “couldn’t live on three workers’ wages” and “need[ed] £150,000 a year to function properly as a leading figure in a part of the British political system” (Scotsman, 19 May 2003).
And when asked to summarise his politics briefly in an interview with the Independent on Sunday (5 April 2004), Galloway replied: “Socialist. Although I'm not as left wing as you think...” He hadn’t been asked about abortion rights, but chose to make that the one specific issue he mentioned when asked for a general summary of his views.
“I’m strongly against abortion. I believe life begins at conception, and therefore unborn babies have rights. I think abortion is immoral”. He claimed to have unshakable “faith in God”.
The sudden switch from Gorgeous George to Godly Galloway quickly brought a press release from the Muslim Association of Britain:
“These comments [on abortion], as well as his statements on faith and God in the same interview, will surely be welcomed by British Muslims who see Respect as a real alternative.”
In 2004, Respect circulated a leaflet in London boosting Galloway as a “fighter for Muslims”. It described Respect as “The Party for Muslims”, and claims that “George Galloway has been recognised by the Muslim world for his 30 years of struggle for the people of Palestine, Iraq and Pakistan. Married to a Palestinian doctor, he has deep religious principles [and is] teetotal.”
Way down in the small print the leaflet mentioned “low-cost public housing” and so on, but its basic pitch was that Galloway and Respect spoke for Muslims as Muslims. “Tony Blair wants to see George Galloway silenced. We, as Muslims, want to see him continue to speak out for us”.
It was grotesquely hypocritical even in its own terms. Take Galloway's “struggle for the people of Pakistan”, for example.
In the Mail on Sunday (17 October 1999), Galloway supported the military coup that installed the present government there. “In poor third world countries like Pakistan, politics is too important to be left to petty squabbling politicians... Only the armed forces can really be counted on to hold such a country together. General Musharraf seems an upright sort to me and he should be given a chance to put Pakistan's house in order. Democracy is a means, not an end in itself”.
In the mid 1990s, Galloway ran a newspaper called East which was financed by previous Pakistani governments in order to promote their politics on Kashmir among British Asians. (See the article by Saeed Shah, a former journalist on East, in The Independent, 23 April 2003)...
As well as being hypocritical, the leaflet's appeal was sectarian, divisive, and calculated to tie Muslim workers and youth to their imams and community notables rather than uniting them with other workers and youth, Hindu, Christian, or atheist.
It was no less reactionary than appealing to Catholics to vote as Catholics for a candidate claiming to “speak out for Catholics”, or Protestants to vote as Protestants for “a fighter for Protestants”...