IssueDecember 2007 - January 2008
Feature by Polina Aksamentova, Milan Rai

At the end of August, the Respect Unity Coalition MP, George Galloway, circulated a document to the party leadership, which seems to have precipitated the disintegration of the organisation.

Galloway's paper, entitled It was the best of times, it was the worst of times brought to a head long-simmering tensions within the party.

The document sharply criticised the Respect national office (largely staffed by SWP members) for the party's failure to fulfil its potential “in terms of votes consistently gained, members recruited or fighting funds raised”.

Galloway said Respect staff had not been “tasked with either membership or fundraising responsibilities”. He listed other problems: poor prioritisation, mismanagement, mysterious recruitment procedures and often “high-handed” instructions from the national office.

He also condemned the “custom had led to the “internal exile” of prominent Birmingham Muslim figure Salma Yaqoob.

The MP for Bethnal Green and Bow wrote: “the relations between leading figures in Respect are at an all-time low”.

To remedy these problems, he proposed the setting up of an elections committee, and the appointment of a National Organiser.

This was regarded by the Socialist Workers Party, a component of Respect, as an attack on John Rees, the National Secretary of Respect, who is also a member of the SWP central committee. (According to one account, Galloway and his allies later demanded John Rees's resignation.)

Despite all this, the SWP agreed to appoint a National Organiser, but in October expelled an SWP member for agreeing to take on the position.

Both sides have accused each other of bad faith and undemocratic methods, and there has followed a spiral of recrimination and increasingly public attacks, culminating in the holding of two separate “national party conferences” in London, on the of anathematisation,” which same day - 17 November.

The SWP responds

After a call had been issued for a separate “Respect Renewal” conference on 3 November, the SWP Central Committee responded to Galloway's accusations with their own paper, entitled The Record: The Socialist Workers Party and Respect, which summarises the party's origin, achievements and history with Galloway.

The SWP described Galloway's attack on the party a “sad witch hunt”.

They write: “The aim of these allegations is not simply to destroy opposition to a particular course on which Galloway wants to direct Respect... It is also to besmirch the name of the Socialist Workers Party, thereby damaging our capacity to play a part in any united campaign of the left.”

The Committee goes on to say that although the SWP has often disagreed with Galloway's actions, they have always defended him in the media and stood united behind him until the summer of this year, when Galloway decided that: “there was no future in appealing to workers on just class or anti-war arguments and there had to be a shift towards courting `community leaders'.”

“The Socialist Workers Party was resisting such a turn, and so it had to be attacked”.

The SWP-linked group, which still has independent figures such Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil service workers union, seems to have retained control of the party's website and the name “Respect”.

The Galloway-linked grouping, which contains most of the independent figures such as Ken Loach and Victoria Brittain, controls the national office in London (it changed the locks) and is currently taking the name “Respect Renewal”.

Wider impact

The story of the Respect split is complex and lengthy, but the split itself now seems definite.

What is not clear is what the impact of the split is going to be on the Stop The War Coalition, where many of the same figures make up the leadership of the organisation.