With the media frenzy over tuition fees and the Hutton report, you can be forgiven for not noticing the launch in the same week of a new British political party called simply RESPECT.
The launching of RESPECT, also known as the Unity Coalition, was the brainchild of a layer of people disillusioned with Blair who wanted to form a left alternative to New Labour. The new party, if you can call it a party, has the backing of the Muslim Association of Britain, the Socialist Alliance, Socialist Workers Party and the Stop the War Coalition. It also has the support of film director Ken Loach, author and Guardian columnist George Monbiot and expelled Labour MP George Galloway.
It hopes to become registered with the Electoral Commission prior to standing candidates for the European parliament and Greater London Authority (GLA) on 10 June. Apparently, George Galloway, MP for Glasgow Hillhead, is intending to become the prospective MEP for London.
“There’s a big demographic and geographic spread”, said George Galloway. “Our constituency is basically growing out of the anti-war movement. The people who marched in the great demonstrations came up against the limits of the politics of protest. No matter how many millions marched, MPs voted for the war nonetheless. I think among the millions there’s a big feeling we need to somehow break this democratic dysfunction that exists in this country, where the people think one thing, want one thing and the politicians do another.”
While George Galloway, who courageously opposed the Blair/Bush war in Iraq, wants to fight Blairism, he is misguidedly barking up the wrong tree in imaging he can accomplish this by setting up a new “rainbow coalition” party. No doubt he is sincere, but the road to a very hot place is paved with sincerity.
Since his expulsion from the Labour Party, Galloway has bounced in a number of different directions, from the need to fight within the Labour Party to this new electoral adventure. Desperate to cobble something together, he has jumped into bed with the sectarian Socialist Workers Party and its front organisations. The SWP leadership originally put their hopes in the Socialist Alliance as the way forward for revolutionary politics, even taking it over, but as we predicted, the SA failed to make any electoral advance whatsoever.
The SWP, not to offend its newly found liberal allies, has been determined to keep the Stop the War Coalition within the confines of pacifism. Now it wants to inject this opportunism into the parliamentary field, eager to embrace anybody to the left of Blair!
Above all, both Galloway and the SWP are falling over themselves to cement strong relations with the religious Muslim community, in the form of the Muslim Association of Britain. Under the Stop the War banner, the SWP leaders provide platforms for Muslim fundamentalists, and set aside time during demonstrations for prayers, desperate to keep these religious bedfellows on board. The fanatical chanting of “God is great” has been led from nearly every platform of the Stop the War Coalition, to the approval of the SWP representatives.
In Birmingham, the SWP were directly involved in the removal of local anti-war activists from their elected positions and their substitution by Muslim figures, such as Salma Yaqood, who became chair of the Birmingham Stop the War Coalition. They stopped at nothing to build closer ties with Muslim clerics, even shamefully giving into the demands of the Mosque, that the sexes should be kept separate in meetings. This was all part of their plan to bring the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) on board and ensure their support for their new electoral adventure. Salma Yaqood is almost certain to stand for RESPECT as a MEP for the West Midlands seat, where she will be guaranteed support from MAB.
While the anti-war movement would welcome the participation of religious people, including Muslims, in its ranks, it should not pander to their religious beliefs. If people want to pray, that is their personal business and should be free to do so. But these religious activities should not be part of official demonstrations or promoted from the platform of the Stop the War Coalition. However, to adopt such a secular stance would offend the hierarchy of MAB, something the SWP leaders are not prepared to tolerate.
In the meantime, these pseudo-Marxists attempted to cover their bare backside on this issue by scandalously using the examples, completely ripped out of context, of the Communist International’s dealings with the Muslim peoples of the east! This is part of the SWP’s so-called anti-imperialist bloc: together with the Islamists against imperialism. “We must certainly learn from the early Comintern that you can be on the same side as a certain movement (or even state)”, states Chris Harman, “in so far as it fights imperialism, while at the same time you strive to overthrow its leadership and disagree with its politics, its strategy and its tactics.”
It was this type of pseudo-radicalism that led this group to back the Afghan counter-revolutionary “freedom fighters” (the Mujahadeen) during the 1980s in their CIA-backed fight with the progressive regime in Kabul. It is mixing up the banner of revolution with the banner of counter-revolution. Here the SWP identified the Russians as the “imperialists” and welcomed the victory of the Islamic fundamentalist counter-revolution. This led to a devastating civil war and the victory of the reactionary Taliban, which threw Afghan masses back into the dark ages.
“But the taking of Kabul by the Taliban”, states Chris Harman in his pamphlet ‘Prophet and the Proletariat’, “was not the first, or even the worst, horror to beset the people of Afghanistan. For two decades a succession of rival political forces, secular and religious, pro-Russian and pro-US, modernist and traditionalist, have wreaked havoc on the country and its people…
“For Afghanistan is a case study in what happens when a very poor country is dragged into the maelstrom of inter-imperialist rivalry.” This, however, did not prevent the SWP from supporting the “religious, pro-US, traditionalist” Islamic fundamentalist forces of counter-revolution against the Afghan regime. The SWP supported the Mujahadeen in what they falsely described as the Soviet Union’s Vietnam.
The imperialists whole-heartedly backed the counter-revolutionary Mujahadeen. As Brzezinsky, US secretary of State in the late 1980s explained: “What is more important from the point of view of history? The Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire? A few stirred up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”
Harman attempts to justify the SWP’s line: “many of the individuals attracted to radical versions of Islamism can be influenced by socialists – provided socialists combine complete political independence from all forms of Islamism with a willingness to seize opportunities to draw individual Islamists into genuinely radical forms of struggle alongside them.”
“On some issues we will find ourselves on the same side as the Islamists against imperialism and the state. This was true, for instance, in many countries during the second Gulf War”, states Harman, and continues “With the Islamists sometimes, with the state never”!
John Rees, a SWP national organiser and leader of the Stop the War Coalition, stated of RESPECT: “It’s basically going to be an alliance of a very large number of anti-war activists, quite large sections of the Muslim community and the socialist left, the vast majority of it outside the Labour Party in England and Wales, who are coming together to try and establish a political alternative to New Labour.”
Rees’ concerns to keep the new initiative broad-based were unfounded as the programme adopted was extremely broad indeed. Socialist policies were deliberately rejected for fear of alienating the voters! These “revolutionaries”, so full of verbal radicalism, are prepared to abandon their ideas and programme to accommodate their liberal friends. The word RESPECT apparently stands for Respecting Equality, Socialism, Peace, the Environment, Community and Trade Unionism. Apparently, it represents a programme broad enough to encompass the hierarchy of the Muslim Association of Britain, keen to maintain a certain “radical” image.
Lindsey German, another leading SWP member, backed up her comrade: “To those who ask, why is it not more socialist, I say: because it is built on the anti-war movement, and because there are large Muslim communities, and we want to reach out to them as well as the traditional left.”
This abject opportunism clearly reveals the SWP’s abandonment of “unpopular” socialist policies. Their “revolutionary” policies it seems are only suitable for the drawing room or student debating club. In reality, they have no confidence in their ideas or the working class. They have accepted the viewpoint of Labour’s rightwing that “socialism loses votes” and “puts off the voters”. They therefore rush to embrace demands that are acceptable to all – hoping that people will not be to put off to vote for them.
In so doing, these “revolutionaries” are busy promoting illusions that the problems of the working class can be solved within the framework of capitalism. This is fundamentally false. Only a socialist programme can answer the problems of the working class, which are rooted in the capitalist system.
RESPECT has decided not to stand any candidates in Scotland as the new broad alliance dose not want to compete with the Scottish Socialist Party. SSP leader Tommy Sheridan, who was at the RESPECT launch meeting, supports the new initiative, saying it was “probably the most significant development on the left in England for a very long time.” The only thing is that he said the same thing about the launch of the doomed Socialist Alliance some years ago. “I think they have looked at our model and decided they have to try and bring the left together in as broad and unsectarian a fashion as possible”, said Sheridan. “There have been a lot of false starts up to now that have led to acrimony and infighting. This is the closest they have got to a coalition of the left…”
Tommy’s party has become so “broad and unsectarian” that he has sought to broaden his appeal by embracing Scottish nationalism and has looked to Norway and Denmark as models to emulate. The attempt to broaden the appeal of the SSP has embroiled it in opportunist politics, which, sooner or later will end in tears.
All the attempts to build a new alternative to the Labour Party, as history has shown, will come to nothing. Various attempts, of an ultra-left or opportunist variety (they are head and tail of the same coin), all ended in shipwreck. The different sectarian groups on the fringes of the labour movement have been attempting to build the revolutionary alternative to Labour for decades and achieved nothing. That is why, having burned their fingers, they jump from ultra-leftism to opportunism and back again. Why should this venture be any different? It will not.
Despite the fact that it has a shallow programme that does not go beyond the framework of capitalism will not save it. On the contrary, forces are already gathering within the trade unions to take back the Labour Party for the working class. In the coming period, the edifice of Blairism will come crashing down. The Labour Party will take a sharp turn to the left as in the 1970s (after decades of rightwing domination) as the unions press for working class policies. All the sects, including RESPECT, will be left with their mouths open.
The only thing these ladies and gentlemen can see is the surface of events. They are incapable of seeing the subterranean processes at work in the bowels of society. They are empirics, that cannot see further than their own nose. They are the worshippers of the accomplished fact. That is why they are constantly looking for a short cut to success, when none exists. They are never able to learn from history, and simply repeat all its mistakes.
The method of Marxism, dialectical materialism, is a closed book to these people. Marxism for them is at best a dogma, and not a weapon to understand the processes at work. They are incapable of thinking dialectically and fail to understand the real movement of the working class in Britain or elsewhere. The whole of history has shown that the working class, which has painfully built up its organisations over generations, and will not abandon them lightly. When the mass of workers move in a political direction, they will move through their traditional organisations, the trade unions and the Labour Party.
While initiatives like RESPECT can pick up a few disgruntled votes here and there, they will never attain a mass base or be able to break the hold of the Labour Party, or Blairism, from the outside. They are whistling in the wind. Only by organising a struggle, with the rest of the trade union movement, within the mass organisations of the working class, can Blairism be defeated and the Tory carpetbaggers driven out. All other routes are doomed to fail.