What now for the left?

Submitted by Anon on 19 November, 2007 - 9:47

Former Socialist Alliance activists give their views:

Pete McLaren was the secretary of the Socialist Alliance before the heavy involvement of the SWP in 2001-3, and is now secretary of the continuing Socialist Alliance group:

Respect was never going to succeed. In the original Socialist Alliance, back in 2002-3, when it was first mooted that the SWP was in discussion with people from the mosques, George Galloway and so on, we said that it was such an unlikely alliance that it would never succeed - too many divergent interests.

Personally I agree with getting as broad an alliance as possible, but not at the expense of socialist principles, which is what Respect was.

Still, I think the split is a setback for the left, and I'd like to put that on record. I don't know what side I'd be on if I were inside the row. It's too confused.

But it shows the need for a mass-based new federal organisation which doesn't worry too much about differences from the past.

What now? I expect the rump of Respect will continue as Respect without any political support outside the non-SWP, non-socialist element of Respect. As for the SWP - well, it's a very interesting question what they will do.

They've pissed off almost everybody else on the left. Some of us, myself included, will try to build bridges, but it won't be easy.

The split reminds me very much of what happened in the Socialist Alliance. What the Galloway side are suggesting has happened in terms of SWP malpractice is just like what happened in the Socialist Alliance in 2001-4. There are parallels.

I still think the SWP are basically on our side - I think the members of the SWP are socialists - but I feel stretched in saying that.

None of this surprises me. The SWP does seem to take popular fronts and then, if they can't control them, they get rid of them.

Mike Davies is secretary of the Alliance for Green Socialism, a body that was involved in the Socialist Alliance:

When Respect was first set up, it was an unholy alliance between the opportunist SWP and some fairly nasty elements like the Muslim Association of Britain, leavened by a few decent people. The question is not what went wrong, but how long it was going to take for it to fall apart in the way it has.

I feel sympathy for the small number of decent people who went along in the hope that something might come of Respect.

What will the two groups do now? They'll diverge in acrimony. they'll fight a bit. I would guess that the SWP will revert to being the SWP until it creates a new front, and the Muslim contingent will keep the Respect name, but that's a guess.

Lessons? For those involved in Respect: if you're going to engage in politics, you need to have political principles rather than sheer opportunism. For the rest of the left: steer well clear of the SWP. I don't think I need to say steer clear of the MAB.

Declan O'Neill was treasurer of the Socialist Alliance:

I have not been a member of Respect since the 2004 conference, when the complete betrayal of any democratic socialist perspective by the Respect leadership became apparent. It was not so much the policies adopted, bad as they were, as the clear message that dissent would not be tolerated, and that no challenge to the back-room deals which had led to Respect’s formation would be allowed.

It may have taken Alan Thornett and others a few years longer to recognise this reality. It is perhaps a bit late for them to say (2 November): “We need a new organisation as soon as possible which will start to address these issues and create the condition to unite with those from the Labour left, the trade union left and the activists of ecological and climate change campaigns which can present a political alternative to the betrayals of New Labour”.

I only hope that the Left will learn some lessons from the current debacle, but to be honest I am not very optimistic.

Clive Heemskerk was the leading representative of the Socialist Party within the Socialist Alliance in 2001:

For any new broad formation to be successful it is crucial it has an open, welcoming and federal approach. Federalism was adopted by the early Labour Party, enabling it to bring together many different organisations and trends, preserving the rights of all to organise and argue for their particular points of view. Unfortunately, Respect, despite calling itself a coalition, has a centralised structure which bears no resemblance to a coalition or federation.

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