When RESPECT was founded as a ‘unity coalition’ in 2004, it always seemed like tempting fate. The British left has long been better at factional infighting than togetherness, and the record of the ill-fated Socialist Alliance – one of RESPECT’s immediate precursors – didn’t bode well.
A few years ago, Mike Marqusee wrote an excellent analysis on ‘democracy and the left’ that has more than a familiar ring today. It is worth reading in full, but here’s an excerpt that touches, in passing, on some of the issues that have come back to haunt RESPECT:
In the end, the SWP is imbued with an authoritarian ethic – most recently confirmed by their readiness to dub as “divisive” or “disruptive” anyone who voices political preferences contrary to theirs. We’ve seen this in the Socialist Alliance, where they have dumped dissenters from national officer positions and crudely packed a meeting in Birmingham in order to force out one of the few genuinely independent (and respected) trade union activists the SA could boast. We’ve also seen it in the Stop the War Coalition where decisions are taken by the SWP leadership and foist on the STWC with barely a semblance of democratic consultation, where SWP members appear on platforms as “STWC” spokespersons, though they have no links to any STWC structures, where the priorities of the SWP leadership (at the moment, campaigning for George Galloway), take precedence over the priorities of the wider movement (surely, at the moment, stepping up the pressure on Blair regarding the absent WMD and building a long-term campaign against the occupation of Iraq) - and where anyone who wanted a slightly greater emphasis on direct action, or a broader approach to the choice of speakers on the big demonstrations, or didn’t totally buy into the crude construction of “the Muslims” as a homogenous (manipulable) entity was effectively excluded. And in both the SA and the STWC, on the rare occasions when initiatives not under the direct control of the SWP emerged from democratic discussion, they were either ignored or undermined by the SWP.