Any Respect Left?
Despite the split, members of the Respect party are furthering socialism around the country. What can we learn from them?
The gap to the left of Labour grows ever wider, but once again the left has failed even to lay down even a solid foundation stone towards filling it. Witness the implosion of Respect, with two rival meetings this Saturday.
Can anything be learned for the future or is this simply a moment of despair?
Personally, I didn't invest energy in Respect, beyond cheering
But it's not all bad. There are positive lessons as well as negative ones, especially if one looks beyond
When Michael Lavalette became a councillor, initially for the Socialist Alliance and then Respect, in an inner city ward of
Here are two experiments in creating a new politics, giving discontent a political voice at a time when critical opinion otherwise gets drowned in an apolitical miasma of consultations, partnerships, targets and overstressed voluntary organisations, bogged down in bidding for funds to meet basic social needs.
The point of drawing attention to these is not to create a warm feeling in a cold climate, nor to polish the tarnished image of Respect(s): similar examples could be drawn from the work of Socialist party councillors in
The point for me about such local experiments is that they are effective because they are answer questions that we ("we" being a wide spectrum of independent and open-minded pluralist socialists) must face if we are to effectively develop an organised political force. (And here I am leaving aside for the moment the urgent need for a proportional electoral system.)
First, what is the point of a political party? As we answer this we should bear in mind two important features of the present situation. On the one hand, there is the serious crisis of the institutions of representative democracy. Any political party of the left that is not in control of its own identity and aware of its independence from these institutions can become controlled by them - a factor in the Respect debacle.
On the other hand, in this age of social movements and networks, a political party has no monopoly over the process of social change. A party of the left must have its fulcrum in the movements and networks that have been built up in the past decades outside political institutions, but must at the same time promote the demands and needs of these struggles within and against these institutions, seeking all the time to open them up and redistribute power outwards. This is how Lavalette and Yaqoob are interpreting the role of Respect, building it as a federal coalition without seeking to corral it into one organisation.
So the second question is how do we build a political party that is modest in its role, rooted in society and social conflicts, not imprisoned in the institutions, plural and open in its culture, democratic in its internal structures and participatory in its recognition of the capacity and knowledge of all? The brevity required by the art of blogging requires me to leave this as an open question (see the forthcoming Red Pepper for an extended analysis of the Respect story, by Alex Nunns). But a test of whether either of the remnants of Respect who meet tomorrow are capable of learning from their process of self-destruction will be whether such principles are explicitly agreed.