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The crisis in Respect: where now for socialists?

By Dave Dudley, Leninist Vanguard (personal capacity)

Regular readers of my column will be aware of the counsel often given to Respect that neither accommodation with the Zionist SWP nor the parliamentary road to socialism were berths or paths worth taking occupancy of.  Finally, the rouble has dropped among George Galloway and other pavement pounding paper-sellers in Tower Hamlets, that their project has reached the end of its natural life, having lost more deposits than an Icelandic savings scheme.  Whilst Leninist Vanguard, despite the odd ‘New Times’ deviation among cadres over the years, remains committed to the revolutionary struggle, we cannot but regret the demise of the Respect masthead and designation on the ballot paper, in the most fraternal spirit of genuine comradely admiration.

What follows is what I hope will be construed as a reasoned critique of National Secretary Clive Searle’s open letter to Respect comrades, which was unfortunately posted on the internet where New Labour/Con-Dem imperialists can inspect and gloat at will.

Electoral politics is a tough game and there is no hiding from results. The reality of our results on May 5th was that we had a very disappointing night.

Indeed there is no hiding from results, such is the peril of electoralism and the seduction by capitalism of revolutionary socialists into the charade of liberal democracy.  Is Comrade Searle naive enough to believe that even a modest showing of Respect representatives could have led to the necessary conditions required to bring down capitalism and install a socialist state?

It appears clear now, with the exception of Tower Hamlets with its peculiar local circumstances, that the electoral space that we have sought to occupy in recent years has been closing since the final few weeks of the 2010 General Election campaign. As voters were faced with a stark choice between Labour and Tory governments most working people – many of whom had spent the previous few years disillusioned with Blair and then Brown – returned to the Labour fold. With the ConDems in power, and viciously cutting essential public services, that process has continued – and is likely to accelerate as the cuts begin to bite.

A steady analysis from Comrade Searle there, albeit devoid of any class-based perspective, in spite of the customary mention of ‘working people’, which could have been lifted straight from a New Labour press release circa 2005.

In Respect, we may have hoped to have picked up disillusioned Lib-Dem voters in some areas – but the reality is that for a number for reasons we didn’t. In most places our votes were declining or very small indeed – despite having hardworking and respect candidates and positive campaigns getting a good response on the doorstep. Sadly those positive responses did not translate into votes. It may be tempting to think that had we worked harder or campaigning in a different way the outcomes may have been different but the reality is that respect was swimming against the over-whelming current of a national trend which we are simply too small to overcome at the present time.

Once again, it is telling that Comrade Searle’s electoral bottom line is predicated on mopping up the votes of ‘disillusioned’ Lib Dems, rather than the unionised proletariat.  Proof were it needed that Respect was for all intents and purposes a vehicle for adventurist academics and civil servants, based around a shoddy Monbiotic notion that Guardian readers = votes.

In Birmingham Sparkbrook the mass return to Labour was enough to swamp even the excellent vote of our well-respected and excellent local councillor Mohammed Ishtiaq. With 3,413 votes he was only 100 short of the total that saw him elected in 2007 but that was not enough to prevent Labour taking the council seat.

It’s almost as if Comrade Searle is creaming his pants at the prospect of a ‘mass return to Labour’ here.  Labour or Lib Dem, which is it to be, Clive?

Even in Glasgow where George Galloway received lots of promising signals we were unable to cross the 5% threshold and get into the Parliament. It was nice to beat the LibDems in the city but beating the LibDems is no longer a significant achievement these days (the LibDem collapse being was one of the very positive outcomes of election night.)

Seemingly Galloway’s candidature was, in spite of his rousing media appearances and the closest the left comes to a household name, about as popular in Glasgow as Gerry Adams circling Ibrox in the Popemobile.  Either way, at least they’ve now come down against the Lib Dems in this part of the communique, having virtually rebranded themselves yellow birds earlier on.

At the National Council number of different proposals were made for the future – which I don’t intend to refer to here – but the various proposers will flesh out and put them in writing as part of a national debate to be carried on the website, on this email list and in the pages of the next edition of Respect Quarterly (which we expect to send out in mid-June having extended the deadline for articles). What the NC members present did all agree on was that we didn’t want to risk losing the coherent body of anti-imperialist, anti-racist, pro-investment ideas that have become associated with Respect. We also agreed that carrying on as if nothing has changed was not an option.

If the status quo is not an option then where does this leave Respect? For all intents and purposes, a dead duck not even able to adhere to party disciplined editorial deadlines.  Or as Comrade Searle would have socialists believe, something akin to an IRA old comrades’ association.

Leninist Vanguard will organise a public meeting in due course (upstairs at the Lucas Arms) on ‘The crisis in Respect: where now for socialists?’ (a collection will be taken to cover the cost of the room and for NUJ members pool fares apply)

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