Sunday, 9 December 2007

"Intellectually and politically immodest": The IST "co-ordination" responds to Socialist Worker - New Zealand

7 December 2007 Dear Comrades, We are circulating several messages that have been sent by groups affiliated to the IS Tendency to the SWP (Britain) concerning the crisis in Respect. One of these is the second statement on the subject from the central committee of Socialist Worker-New Zealand. The first was sent to the SWP with the request that it be circulated, not only to the IST Tendency, but to all members of the SWP. The second went further, addressing itself also to delegates at the Respect conference but also to participants in the breakaway ‘Respect Renewal’ rally. We wish to express very strong reservations about the intervention of the New Zealand comrades in the crisis in Respect: We think that the comrades are wrong in the methods that they have used. Not only do their statements reflect a basic lack of solidarity with the SWP when it was facing a determined attempt to crush or split it, but they are completely wanting in intellectual and political modesty. On what basis do their claim the right to offer detailed tactical advice about a complex and fast-moving crisis on the other side of the world? Fundamental to the IS tradition as it was first developed by Tony Cliff is an emphasis on remaining firmly grounded in one’s own immediate reality and a disdain for the orthodox Trotskyist propensity to issue grandiose global statements. The comrades justify their interventions on the grounds that they are engaging in important debates, but it seems to us that they are falling into a sectarian conception of debate, in which exchanges in the blogosphore [sic] substitute for serious discussion grounded in common practice. We also believe that the comrades are wrong on the political substance of the crisis. Their first statement endorses the attacks on the SWP made by the Galloway faction inside Respect, criticizes the expulsion of three SWP members for their role in organizing this faction, accuses the SWP leadership of seeking to dominate Respect and engaging in ‘factionalist brinkmanship’, and endorses the efforts by Galloway and his allies to prevent the Respect conference from taking place – efforts that, when unsuccessful, were followed by this group’s splitting Respect. While we shall not repeat the comrades’ error of engaging in detailed tactical judgements at long distance, we believe they have failed to understand that basic dynamics of the crisis, which was a struggle between left and right, driven in the first instance by the insistence of Galloway and his faction to give priority to electoral considerations – and hence the consolidation of alliances with Muslim notables – over the project of Respect as a broad and pluralistic coalition of the radical left, and, more basically, by this group’s pessimism about the prospects of building such a coalition in the mainstream of the British working-class movement. This crisis does not in any way invalidate the perspective of building broad formations of the radical left in Britain or anywhere else, but it does underline the importance of revolutionary socialists continuing to maintain and build their organizations within these broader formations. We urge comrades in New Zealand seriously consider to the points we are raising regarding their method of operation as it is not only corrosive of relations of solidarity within the Tendency; more importantly this method cannot hope to produce greater clarity on questions that are so obviously complex and whose implications are so enormous. In comradeship, The Coordination of the International Socialist Tendency

1 comment:

Clive Searle said...

Dear Comrades,

It is hardly surprising that you have been rebuked by the IST coordination for your intervention in the Respect crisis debate. It is clear to many of us over here that you have a clearer understanding of the issues involved than the Central Committee of the SWP in Britain.

You are criticised for not showing the appropriate level of 'solidarity' with the SWP when there were attempts to 'split' and 'crush' that organisation. That indeed would be a serious accusation were it not for the obvious fact that there was no attempt by anyone at the start of this dispute to 'split' the SWP. That the SWP CC claims this owes more to paranoia than to Marxism. Indeed it is the actions of the SWP leadership itself that has lead to divisions within that organisation, including the resignation of members.

As to the claim that there were attempts to 'crush' the SWP, it would be laughable if the consequences had not been so serious. The decision of the SWP to 'go nuclear' when George Galloway sent his rather mildly critical letter in August is the sole cause of the split in Respect. Marxists should require a little more evidence for claims of plots to 'crush' an organisation than simple assertions. Yet the SWP CC and their loyal followers have yet to provide a single shred of evidence for their spurious witch-hunt claims - which have now been elevated to an attempt to 'crush' the SWP.

A few critical emails and letters do not make a witch-hunt... they certainly would not be able to crush an organisation like the SWP. Or does the SWP CC believe that their political position is so weak that they can be swept away by a few people who disagree with them. Had the SWP CC taken their own advice and put an "emphasis on remaining firmly grounded in one’s own immediate reality" we might not now be in this position.

As for their criticism that you have fallen for a "sectarian conception of debate, in which exchanges in the blogosphere substitute for serious discussion grounded in common practice." it should be noted that much of the information that has appeared on Blogs such as www.socialistunity.com has been far more grounded in reality that the nonsense emanating from Socialist Worker (GB) or the SWP website. Nowhere has the SWP published all the documents, from all sides in the dispute. If 'serious discussion' was the aim surely they would have done so.

The IST coordination criticises you for failing "to understand that basic dynamics of the crisis, which was a struggle between left and right, driven in the first instance by the insistence of Galloway and his faction to give priority to electoral considerations – and hence the consolidation of alliances with Muslim notables – over the project of Respect as a broad and pluralistic coalition of the radical left, and, more basically, by this group’s pessimism about the prospects of building such a coalition in the mainstream of the British working-class movement."

Of course you could be forgiven for falling to grasp this as once again it is simply nonsense. There was no left-right battle in Respect but an argument about the priority given to building that coalition, and how it should be done. At the root was the SWP's bankrupt "united front of a special kind" formulation which saw Respect as just one more 'united front' among many for their members to intervene in. It resulted in Respect being switched on and off between elections and therefore not fulfilling its potential.

Far from those involved in the 'renewal' conference having a "pessimism about the prospects of building such a [radical left] coalition" we were far more enthusiastic about its prospects that the SWP. We were frustrated at Respect not punching its weight and felt we needed changes to go forward. This was never about watering down Respect politics and the implication that this was the case is simply one more lie to add to the numerous others spread by the SWP CC.

Finally, there is a worrying sign that the SWP are falling into the trap that consumed the 'Islamophobic left' at the formation of Respect when they begin to question "the consolidation of alliances with Muslim notables". The sub-text here is that Muslims, 'notable' or otherwise, are not going to be as radical as the traditional left. It is a slippery slope to Islamophobia and the SWP should beware of where such comments lead.

Solidarity between organisations which share common ideas is important but serious criticism of past and potential mistakes should never be seen as "corrosive". What really is corrosive is an organisation that is so convinced of its own infallibility that it is prepared to lie and dissemble in its attempts to justify its crazy behaviour over the last few months. If the IST wants to accept wholesale the SWP version of events over Respect than it will have taken a not insignificant step away from Marxist practice and towards to the irrelevance of sectarianism.

Yours in peace and solidarity,
Clive Searle
Respect, Manchester