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Open letter from Socialist Worker New Zealand

Crisis in Respect stimulates comradely discussion - A letter to all members of the SWP (Britain)

Wednesday 31 October 2007, by Daphne Lawless

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Your comrades in the International Socialist Tendency in Socialist Worker - New Zealand, have watched what appears to be the unfolding disengagement of the Socialist Workers Party (Britain) from RESPECT - the Unity Coalition with gradually mounting concern, anxiety and frustration.

Dear comrades,

SW-NZ’s perspective since 2002 has been that building new broad forces to the left of the social liberal (formerly social democratic) parties is an essential step towards the rebirth of a serious anti-capitalist worker’s movement. The work carried out by the SWP and its allies to build a broad coalition of the left which could compete with Blairite/Brownite New Labour on equal terms has been an inspiration to us, and, we believe, to all serious socialists throughout the world.

In the last two months, to our distress, all the good work that has been carried out in England and Wales seems on the verge of going down the tubes. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the specific organizational proposals put to the Respect National Council by George Galloway MP in August, an outright civil war has broken out between the SWP leadership and other forces in Respect. This, as far as we can see, could - and should - have been avoided.

It seems to us that your party’s leadership has decided to draw “battle lines” between itself and the rest of Respect - a stance, we believe, guaranteed to destroy the trust and working relationships on which any broad political coalition stands. Of particular concern to us is the expulsion of three respected cadre from the SWP - Kevin Ovenden, Rob Hoveman and Nick Wrack - for refusing to cut working relationships with those seen as being opposed to the SWP. To draw hard lines against other forces within a united front (even of a “special type”) and to expel members who refuse to accept those hard lines is behaviour you would usually see from a sectarian organization, not a party of serious socialists looking to build a new left alternative. It is perhaps in this context that Galloway’s reported comments about “Leninists” should be understood, rather than as an attempt to exclude revolutionary politics from Respect.

What distresses us particularly is that the above mentioned comrades were expelled after submitting what seem to us to be thoughtful and critical contributions to your pre-conference Internal Bulletin. If these three comrades are not being victimized for raising a political alternative to the line of the Central Committee, it certainly gives the appearance of such victimization - or even, to use a word which has become common currency recently, witch-hunting.

The opening contribution of the SWP CC to the Internal Bulletin makes a couple of points which seem to us to be particularly problematic in this context. Firstly, the CC state that:

“The critics of the SWP’s position have organised themselves under the slogan “firm in principles, flexible in tactics”. But separating principles and tactics in this way is completely un-Marxist. Tactics derive from principles. Indeed the only way that principles can become effective is if they are embodied in day-to-day tactics.”

It seems to us an uncontroversial statement that tactics must be based on much more than principles - a lesson which Lenin himself explained clearly in his famous “Left-Wing” Communism. Revolutionary tactics must be based on the objective realities of the time - the level of class consciousness, the balance of forces in society at any given moment, the resources and cadre available to a revolutionary organization. To derive tactics from principles is not the metho