Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Internal democracy in Respect

The SWP tolerates the International Socialist Group's participation in Respect largely because it suits them to have another (house trained) Trotskyist current on board. That way, they can present Respect as including organised socialists beyond their own ranks. Oh, and as a side benefit, they score a few brownie points with the Ligue Comuniste Revolutionaire as well.

What the ISG get out of it, I'm not sure. I write these words as a former member, of course. I remember the arguments I had with my ormer comrades when I signed up for the Socialist Labour Party in 1996.

By that juncture, it was already clear where Blairism was heading. But leading ISGers insisted that it was a mistake for socialists to 'turn their backs on the Labour Party' and join an organisation of a few thousand members that revolved around a charismatic Stalinist.

Since then, we have been treated to a 180 degree backflip, on theoretical grounds that don't really stack up. Ten years ago, the ISG stressed that Labour remains a bourgeois workers' party. At that time, even I accepted that assessment as accurate, although obviously I did not believe that deep entry work was the only possible conclusion.

Labour still is a bourgeois workers' party. In terms of ISG theory, nothing essential has changed. But not even small organisations are immune from political reality, and they have now accepted that there is little that socialist organisations can meaningful do inside the Blair machine.

Rather than work for a democratic multitendency socialist organisation, the ISG took the short cut of signing up with Galloway and Rees. However, it is clearly not happy with the project, as this article just posted on their website underlines. It paints a more vivid picture of this formation's internal life than any outsider ever could. I reproduce it with a few comments of my own:

Open Up The Structures of Respect

Alan Thornett

An important test, for a broad organisation of the radical left like Respect [If Respect was a broad organisation, this entire polemic would not have been necessary], is that its elected bodies have credibility in the eyes of the members and genuine political independence from its component organisations - even when there is a component organisation as large as the SWP inside Respect. [Translation: the SWP are running the show. But Alan doesn't have the balls to say it straight]

Today Respect only partially meets this test. ['Only partially meets this test'? You were a loss to the diplomatic service, Thornett] The elected committees at national level play very little role at the life of the majority of branches and the wider membership. Many branches are unaware that the committees are meeting or of the decisions they take, other than when they are told that something needs to be done. [Astonishing statement. Even the most Blairite Constituency Labour Parties are at least aware that their committees meet.]

This is shown by the lack of feedback from branches or interaction between the branches and the committees. It is not possible to build a viable national organisation without a healthy relationship and interaction between the leadership bodies, the branches and the members.

The electoral tactics Respect is forced into by the first-past-the-post system means putting huge national resources into the most promising constituencies. This inevitably means that the level of resources going into branches is extremely uneven. Only active leadership bodies that relate to all the branches and give them ongoing support can compensate for this.

Currently Respect has a National Council (NC) of 48, which meets about 6 times a year, and an Executive (EC) of 18, which tries to meet every two weeks. The NC is attended by between 20 and 35 attend depending on events. The EC is very poorly attended, oftenno more than 5 or 6 people. [So Galloway, Rees and German alone can constitute a guaranteed majority?] There is rarely anyone there from outside of London. [So much for any claims to be a national organisation in any meaningful sense.]

Respect Party Platform is promoting constitutional amendments for the Respect conference in October which would establish a delegate based National Council and introduce a Single Transferable Vote system (STV) for the election of the executive from conference.

A delegate body would be far more open to the branches and the members of Respect and is likely to play a far greater role in its internal life. It would require branches to be aware of the meetings, discuss the agenda, elect delegates who would report back as a matter of course.

The other problem with the existing structures is the continuing controversy over the slate system of election at conference. I have not had a problem with the slate system myself but it is widely perceived, by independent activists within Respect as the outgoing leadership reproducing itself. [That might just be because that is exactly what it is.] It doesn't have to work that way in my opinion. [An admission that that is how it does work in practice, and perhaps that others have the opinion that that is how it should work?]

But the fact is that independents feel helpless in the face of it and unable to properly participate in the election process. A new system of election by STV would send out the message that Respect is prepared to listen to the concerns of the independent activists in the organisation and create the best conditions for recruiting new members and ensuring that they feel that they can influence the development of Respect. [Alan, you know as well as anybody else on the far left that the SWP are control freaks and would never permit genuine internal democracy in any of their front organisations. It's not in their political DNA.]

That is why the Respect conference should support these amendments.To see the proposed amendments go to Draft Conference Resolutions. If you get this resolution or a similar one through your Respect branch [Pretty unlikely, given the inbuild SWP majorities] please let know.

The ISG should either accept that it was a major mistake to get mixed up with Respect in the first place, and exit as quickly as possible with as much of their dignity as they can salvage, or simply take up the SWP on the offer it made to swallow them up a few years back.


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