Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Campaigning against the privatisation of children's centres

More than sixty parents, children, trade unionists and supporters held a protest and lobby of councillors outside Haringey Civic Centre in Wood Green last Monday night. They were protesting against the decision of Haringey Council Cabinet to privatise five council-run children's centres in the borough. The decision was nodded through by the Cabinet back in July on the basis that there had been consultation with 'stakeholders'. There had not. Parents are angry that their concerns are not being taken seriously. Liz Santry, councillor for Children & Young People's Services has refused to rule out that staff may lose their jobs or that charges may be introduced for services that are currently free. When charges were introduced for after school clubs they started off at £1; now some are as much as £18.

The protest was addressed by speakers from Unison in Haringey, Haringey NUT and the campaign group Parents Against Privatisation. The mood was positive given that the council cabinet have already back-tracked once from their original position that private companies might be approached. Now they are saying they will only consider 'voluntary organisations'. However, most parents and staff see little difference. They have also conceeded that there has been no meaningful consultation. Now they say they will hold a consultation 'if and when a decision to 'outsource' is made'. Of course as parents rightly point out, by then it will be too late.

Campaigners will meet again soon to plan a lobby of the next council meeting where this issue will be discussed.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

The ABC of anti-imperialism

Reports of the death of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) are very much premature. In my local town we organsed a very successful 'die-in' and there were similar events throughout the country on Saturday and last Thursday on university campuses.

An older Iranian man came up to me as we were setting up and asked why we don't say more about how terrible Ahmedinajad is. This is the same line that was put by the CPGB, the AWL and Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) at the StW Conference a few weeks ago. I explained to him that it was the primary aim of the StWC to prevent any attack on Iran. At a time when the warmongers in America, Britain, France and elsewhere are creating false claims about Iran trying to build nuclear weapons (contrary to the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)) and unfounded and ultra-hypocritical claims about intervention in Iraq, it is the job of anti-war campaigners to highlight the disastrous consequences any attack would have for the people of Iran as well as for the democracy, students' and women's movements there. To get sucked into discussing the rights and wrongs of the Iranian regime would only give ammunition to the warmongers. That is not to be an apologist for the regime. It is the ABC of anti-imperialism.

When an imperialist country is threatening to attack a less powerful country, anti-imperialists everywhere must focus all their energies on preventing the imperialist country from starting a war by aiming all their political firepower on the imperialist country. This is to recognise the difference in their respective capacities to exploit and oppress people around the world. This is particularly true if you happen to be living in either an imperialist country or a nation that supports an imperialist power. To criticise both the imperialist country and the country they are threatening equally is to re-enforce the inbuilt inequality in the situation and thus to favour the imperialist power. It is always in the interests of anti-imperialists to see the imperialist power defeated. Any defeat for any imperialist power is a blow against imperialism in general.

Thus the defeat of the Israeli Army (IDF) by Hezbollah last year should be seen as a victory for anti-imperialism regardless of any criticisms you may have of Hezbollah. Many of us gave Hezbollah unconditional, but not uncritical, support.

Criticism of the Iranian regime is fine, but things do not occur in isolation or in the abstract. Any criticism must be considered in the light of how it will fit in to the current debate on how to resolve the 'Iranian' question.

Respect Annual Conference 2007

The Respect Annual Conference took place on 17 November. Over ninety people on the list of observers were asked not to attend as there were too many people for the hall. I was one of them, although I did manage to get in for a little in the afternoon. Which is why I have not posted about it before. You could do no better than to read the post on Lenin's Tomb:

I have watched the videos of both the Respect Annual Conference and the Respect Renewal rally. Galloway spoke for over half an hour. He started by saying he didn't want to just bash the SWP. Then he spent the rest of his speech doing just that. In between he said how great he, Salma Yaqoob, Linda Smith and Ken Loach are. He seemed to miss the point that parties, like movements are built by activists not just a few 'great' leaders. I guess that explains why he idolises Castro and Chavez. He also criticised those that have characterised the split as 'left-right'. He wilfully misunderstood the concept arguing he is not right-wing. No-one has accused him of being right-wing. You can be on the right of an argument in a left-wing organisation in just the same way as you can be on the left-wing of the Tory Party. Lenin (the real one, not Lenin's Tomb) once described himself as being on the far right of an argument in the international about working with reformists, but no-one would accuse Lenin of being right-wing. (Actually lots of people would accuse Lenin of being right-wing, but no one on the left).

John Rees, Mark Serwotka and others, by contrast, gave a political analysis of the present situation and the way forward and there was considerable discussion of the situation in the unions, the war, Gordon Brown and next year's GLA elections. A new National Council was elected, as was the Chair (Oli Rahman), National Secretary (John Rees) and National Organiser (Elaine Graham-Leigh). There seemed to be a general feeling that we could now move on, that the mood of the conference was more explicitly anti-capitalist than previously and that people felt inspired, re-invigorated after the damage of the last few months and determined to throw everything into next year's GLA elections.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

George Galloway MP - Respect Meeting at Marxism 2007

You only have to watch the first one and a half minutes to see what a dramatic u-turn Galloway has done since July. Incredible.

Respect and Socialist Resistance (SR)

The role of Socialist Resistance in the Respect crisis has been generally overlooked. SR are part of the remnants of the International Socialist Group (ISG) who appear to have been looking for a party to dissolve themselves into. At Respect Conference after Respect Conference they submit a motion calling on Respect to become a party, rather than a coalition, with a newspaper and so on. They have formed a platform within Respect to help them achieve this aim called the Respect Party Platform. This appears to contain little more than SR members and the website is totally moribund (

At every conference they have been totally isolated as they themselves recognise ( They have constantly criticised Galloway, the SWP and everyone else for not seeing the wisdom of their idea.

I have nothing against SR as such. They are far less sectarian than all the parties of the left that remain outside Respect. But let us be clear, their idea would destroy Respect and the delicate balance of forces it encompasses. We would be forced to debate every issue, whether it is relevant to British politics today or not in order to produce a set of policies. The SWP would either have to dissolve itself, which it would obviously not do, or would at least be severely restricted in the way it could operate. This would not benefit Respect in any way. This is why it has been consistently opposed by almost everyone else.

Now however Galloway and SR are the best of friends. This is remarkable given their aims are so different. SR want to make Respect a more clearly socialist party. Galloway wants it to be less explicitly socialist. In Galloway's document from August, he can clearly be seen throwing a few crumbs to SR to get them on his side. Both see the main obstacle to their very different aims as being the SWP and so have united to try to kick them out. This is pure opportunism on the part of both of them. Both clearly think that once the SWP are out of the way they can dominate the rest. So will Respect Renewal split into two more parties with Galloway leading one and SR the other. Its certainly possible. More likely is that Galloway will win out and SR will continue to complain and be ignored.

As I have said before it is the arrogance of these people that apalls me. They talk about this being a split between the SWP and everyone else and site the number of people from the national council on each side. But what about the membership, the activists? It is these people that will decide what kind of organisation Respect will be and whether or not they want to campaign for it. And it seems clear that the majority of Respect activists deplore those that have set up Respect Renewal and will continue to campaign to keep the original vision of Respect as a broad organisation that represents all oppressed communities fighting for peace, justice and equality.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Condemn attacks on Respect councillor

I have just received this message from the Respect office. The fact that the email talks about their 'careers' shows the mindset of these people. They are clearly interested in their own careers and find it hard to believe that other people might put principles first...

Three attackers kicked Councillor Oli Rahman to the ground, inflicting internal bruising and ripping his clothes, in an incident near his home in Tower Hamlets last night (Sunday 11 November). This is the second attack on Oli. In the first incident his front window was shattered in the middle of the night when attackers threw a brick through it. Oli's mother has also been threatened. Last night's attack follows threatening emails sent to both Oli Rahman and fellow Respect National Council member Mehdi Hassan. In a separate incident Mehdi Hassan received the following email threatening both him and Oli Rahman.

-----Original message-----
Date: Sat, 10 Nov 2007 17:16:02 +0000
Subject: (no subject)

medi you and fucking oli are traitors you owe your careers to george, without george you will all be signing on soon and if i see the pair of you im gonna kick the shit out of you both.

These incidents have all been reported to the police. Oli Rahman said: 'I will not be intimidated. I will not be bullied. I will not be threatened. I'm confident that the vast majority of Respect members will support me and condemn these disgusting, cowardly assaults.'

Respect and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)

Lots of people on the left love to hate the SWP. Before I was even active in politics I had this vague idea that it was acceptable to deride them. I didn't know why then and I'm still not entirely sure now.

There is an idea that the SWP try to take over other campaigns such as Stop the War. To think this is to misunderstand the way the SWP operate within the the united front. In a campaign such as Stop the War, it is in everyones interest that we build the strongest opposition to war. Of course the SWP believes its ideas about the correct tactics and strategy for the movement are the best and argues them strongly within the campaign. If they win the arguments it is because they were good arguments and they managed to sway other people.

Another complaint is that SWP members are all uncritical automatons that carry out the demands of an authoritarian leadership. To think this is to misunderstand the concept of democratic centralism. This idea comes from the Bolshevik Party who understood that to combat and undermine a highly organised state a revolutionary party needed a highly organised and disciplined membership to carry out the revolutionary strategy as one. In practice this means that members discuss ideas democratically but once a decision had been made, party discipline requires adherence to the strategy. So before meetings of a campaign where decisions will be taken or people elected, the SWP caucus their members, decide on a position and all stick to it. In many ways this is little more than common sense. It is not about denying members individuality, but recognising that strength comes from unity.

So much of what is said about the SWP is just simply untrue.

It comes as no surprise that the right-wing tell lies and smear the left. This is a tactic that has been very successful in tarnishing the records of people like Arthur Scargill, George Galloway and to a lesser extent Ken Livingstone. There is a simple reason for this. The ruling class are scared of these people because they tell the truth. They expose the corrupt practices of politicians, CEOs of corporations and the contradictions within capitalism. It is perhaps more surprising however when the reformist, bourgeois or capitalist left uses smear tactics and lies about the revolutionary left, but perhaps it shouldn't be. The SWP and the success it has within the left is perhaps as much of a challenge to the reformists, opportunists and sectarians as the left in general is to the right. For this reason alone I believe it is absolutely right to say this is a left-right split.

And so I want to come on to the charge that the SWP has alienated people within Respect and has reduced the membership of Respect to itself and a small layer around it. It may be the case that a large proportion of the Respect membership are also in the SWP. But this is not due to the SWP 'alienating' people. This has more to do with the SWP both managing to recruit large numbers of people in Respect to the SWP and recruiting people directly to the SWP and therefore indirectly to Respect as well. It is true that the Respect membership is not as big as any of us would like but that is largely to do with the failure of Respect to win large sections of the Labour Party and trade unionists into our ranks. It is this challenge we should be focusing on, not finger-pointing and smear tactics. Indeed it is this challenge that many in Respect, including the SWP have been concentrating on and which Galloway and his supporters have been criticising, namely the Organising for Fighting Unions (OFFU) initiative.

It is surely hypocritical of Galloway et. al. to say that the SWP is a shadowy 'Leninist' party (another smear straight out of the right-wingers 'How To Smear the Left' guide book) that is controlling everything and should be blamed for all Respect's failures but it has absolutely nothing to do with any of Respect's successes.

Too many people are taking every grievance they have ever had about the SWP, conflating them with the current issues and writing them up into a spurious critique of how the SWP 'operates' (as if the SWP makes any secret of it). In many ways, the fact that the majority of the blogs and sectarian websites appear to be siding with Galloway against the SWP should give them some encouragement. For to be on the receiving end of smears and lies means you must be doing something right.

Of course what really matters in politics is not what people on the sidelines say, but what people centre stage do. I am sure that in the real world the SWP will have more people on 'its side' (ie not supporting Galloway and Renewal) than most people would imagine. But, the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. In this case, this Saturday's Respect Annual Conference is the pudding; I along with over 300 others at the last count (the most ever at a Respect Annual Conference) will be doing the eating; and the cherry on the top will be an enthusiastic, determined and united Respect focused on the job of getting Lindsey German elected to the GLA next year. I'll let you know if it tastes sweet.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Respect crisis

Well I guess I now have to say what I think about the crisis in Respect.

First of all I do think it is a crisis. The right-wing media and the sectarian left love the fact that this project might be about to collapse. I have to disappoint them and say that although the project is in trouble it is far from collapse.

Many people, including the New Statesman and the AWL, at the launch of Respect said it was an unholy alliance of reactionary muslims and the authoritarian left. The Guardian's Nick Cohen has described it as being like the British Union of Fascists and compared Galloway to Mosley. All of this was ridiculous then, not to say racist, and it still is now. Others say 'we told you it would never work', even if they said no such thing at the time.

Respect developed organically out of the anti-war movement. That movement, which the SWP was central to building, has had the biggest demonstrations Britain has ever seen. It was instrumental in bringing together a wide range of people from trade unionists to students, from Muslims, Christians and Jews to atheists, socialists both revolutionary and reformist as well as Labour Party members, Lib Dems and Greens, peace activists, lawyers and school pupils. The movement was broad, but it was also radical. It had a clear anti-imperialist analysis, which was not automatic but which had to be argued for but it built the biggest possible opposition to the war.

However, it didn't stop the war. So activists started to ask what might have stopped the war. 3 million people on the streets of London on 15 February 2003 instead of 2 million? Or political representation in parliament? In the public as a whole the majority were against war. But in parliament precious few were prepared to stand unequivocally against war. Sure the Lib Dems opposed until it started (?!) and the Greens called for UN troops to be sent in (big deal) but only a handful opposed it all the way. If we could have built an anti-war opposition inside Parliament, maybe we could have split the ruling class and stopped it.

More than this, activists were aware that the massive gulf between the people and parliament, the so-called democratic deficit, existed on many more issues than simply the war. Selling off council housing, privatising the NHS, bringing the market into education, in short neo-liberalism; on all these issues the three major parties essentially agreed. By vacating the left and moving to the centre ground, New Labour were opening up a massive political vacuum which someone needed to fill. This was all the more urgent given that disillusion with mainstream parties (votes cast for the top two parties as a percentage of the voting public was at a historic low since universal sufferage began) was leading to protest votes going to parties of the far right (UKIP and the BNP).

The plan was to harness both the breadth and the radicalism of the anti-war movement to create a party to the left of Labour. Initially this was quite successful. The idea was that it would be a coalition that would contain everyone to the left of Labour including people willing to break from the Labour Party and its programme would be the maximum acceptable to reformists and the minimum acceptable to revolutionaries. It was unfortunate that Bob Crow's RMT was unwilling to join and equally unfortunate that George Monbiot felt the need to leave. This was because of the failure to secure an understanding with the Green Party. Respect offered a joint slate with the Greens in the Euro and GLA elections in 2004 but it was refused. Respect made the deal better and better for the Greens but still they refused. In subsequent elections they have even refused to organise for us not to stand against each other and in at least one or two cases have stood against Respect in places they had no chance of winning seemingly deliberately to wreck our chances (succeeding in one election, gaining something like 80 votes where we missed out on beating Labour by 20 votes or so).

However the new coalition did pull together significant forces from the anti-war movement including George Galloway who had just been expelled from the Labour Party for his principled opposition to the war. Respect was incredibly close to getting both George Galloway elected to the European Parliament and Lindsey German to the GLA in 2004 and subsequently Oliur Rahman was elected as a councillor. This was followed by election successes across Tower Hamlets, Newham, Salma Yaqoob in Birmingham, Michael Lavalette in Preston (originally elected as Socialist Alliance), Ray Holmes in Bolsover and most importantly George Galloway was elected as an MP for Bethanl Green & Bow in 2005. This was the best result for a party to the left of labour since the Communist Party got someone elected to Parliament in 1945.

However success brought its own problems. In Birmingham, where we had previously stood a range of candidates from various communities and both men and women, it was decided to stand an all male, Pakistani list. Members of the SWP objected that this did not represent the community in the area or within Respect, which is what we are about. This did not stop us campaigning just as hard as ever for Respect candidates once they had been chosen. Similarly in Tower Hamlets, some people felt it was more important to get elected than to fight for that original vision of Respect. In some cases an individual would hand in twenty or thirty membership forms at once, all at the concessionary rate with a wad of cash. These 'members' would then turn up, vote for the individual, and then never be seen again. Moreover, one candidate had been elected as a Respect councillor and then New Labour!

Galloway has until recently almost always sided with the SWP in disputes at conferences and praised the party for its organisation and dedication. When Galloway appeared on Big Brother without consulting anyone else in Respect, despite believing it to be a mistake, the SWP defended his actions saying he hasn't bombed anyone or invaded a country, it may have been a mistake but he is still a leading figure in the anti-war movement and we shouldn't break from him. This was clearly the right thing to do. It was John Rees that had to convince Salma Yaqoob that we shouldn't break from Galloway.

That fact that he has 'switched sides' now and supports the opportunists mentioned above has, I believe, got not a little to do with the fact that he believed, as we all did, that a snap general election was just around the corner and Respect would have been caught largely unawares, ie. he would not have been returned as an MP. He wanted a swift change of direction towards electoralism and saw these opportunists as a way of gaining support. Galloway knew that the SWP would not ditch its commitment to the long, slow, difficult process of building a coalition to the left of labour for short-term electoral success without a fight. So he wanted to remove the SWP from the leadership whilst still retaining the footsoldiers (the SWP rank and file) to do the dirty work of pounding the streets, leafletting in all weathers, as SWP members have proved themsleves to be good at. He naively believed he could split the membership of the SWP away from the leadership, retaining the membership, ditching the leadership and leaving him with little or no serious opponents in the fight for control of the party.

Needless to say this has not happened. Once he realised the SWP leadership would not go quietly he upped the ante, forcing the SWP to fight back harder until even though the threat of an election had disappeared the thing had taken on a life of its own and Galloway would clearly not stop until either the SWP leadership or he had left the coalition.

The logic of this led them to Respect Renewal.

The thing that sickens me the most about Respect Renewal is the arrogance of it. Their 'conference' is endorsed by 18 members of Respect National Council. So what? Do they think that just because they have signed a piece of paper we will all come running? Activists joined Respect in the first place because of its principles and because it was a necessity in british politics today not because a few 'famous' or 'important' people said we should. As I understand it branches all around the country have been sending in the names of their delegates and observers to the real Respect Annual Conference and passing motions supporting the conference. Only one branch has voted to cancel conference. And there the vote was passed by 1. And that one person happens to be a member of Socialist Action, Ken Livingstone's secret organsation that infiltrates the Labour Party and who only joined Respect when the crisis began, presumably to help its supposed demise. Most people on the blogosphere are saying that the SWP has been isolated and no-one will come to 'their' conference. I am willing to bet that the official Respect Annual Conference will be much bigger than the Respect Renewal rally.

The fact is, all the reasons for the importance of Respect's existence that I mentioned before are just as valid today if not more so. Just as John McDonnell, the last great hope for the Labour left, dies a death, so new opportunities are opening up to build the left even bigger and better than before. The RMT in London are backing Lindsey German for Mayor and are looking to stand anti-privatisation candidates for the GLA. Bob Wareing, the anti-war MP has been deselected by Labour and is standing as an independent. And the Communist Party of Britain/Morning Star are talking about the need for a new mass left-wing party in Britain.

I sincerely hope this coming weekend will be the end of the divisive split in Respect. I believe after that we can all get on with the business of re-building the left in Britain. Why not join us?

Sunday, 11 November 2007

The launch of left turn

This blog came about as a result of the coincidence of two unrelated events:
1. I got broadband at home
2. The crisis in Respect

I really don't like political blogs. With the exception of Lenin's Tomb they all appear to be written by people who are not really activists at all but who engage in political tittle-tattle and don't really know what they are talking about. This is true almost by definition (if they were activists they would be out educating, agitating or organising. Thus I have done my best as of now to stay away from both blogs and sectarian websites.

In recent weeks, however, in an attempt to find out more about what was going on I resorted to googling 'Respect crisis' on the internet. Up came a whole host of 'reports' on blogs and websites of the sectarian left, mostly the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) and Workers Power but also the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and the Socialist Party (SP). From my own experience and knowledge of Respect I knew that the vast majority of these 'reports' were at best heavily-biased or highly innacurate and at worst downright lies. My instinct in the past has always been to ignore these people as irrelevant. However, in the face of a serious crisis in the left-of-labour project and an almost total traditional media news blackout (except on odd occasions when reporting the apparent demise of the left seems favourable to denying the very existence of a left on the part of the mainstream media) I couldn't help wondering how many people would read these reports, believe them, and not go anywhere near Respect or the SWP (or even the organised left in any form) ever again. A friend of mine who regularly posts on various sites, putting the voice of reason, asked me if I was replying to the blogs. I said 'no, I don't see the point'. Because being one lone voice submerged in a plethora of 'he said...', 'well she said...' seems pretty pointless to me. However, it occured to me later that creating an alternative blog altogether that kept the arguments political and based them on fact might be a better way of countering the other blogs misinformation.

I am an activist and I hope I am better informed than bloggers like Socialist Unity, Liam MacUaid or David Osler (Dave's Part). My blogging may not be as prolific as theirs but I hope it will be more accurate. I also hope it will be an improvement on the many sectarian websites whose members are now rubbing their hands with glee at the supposed imminent demise of a coalition that has been the best chance for the left in Britain for fifty years. For all those people out there trawling the internet who want to find answers to their questions, to get involved and, most importantly, change the world, I hope my humble opinion will be of benefit.