Victim of Labour’s gallows: will George break with social democracy?
With his expulsion from the Labour Party, Galloway has been handed a golden opportunity to finally break with the contemptible force in British politics that is social democracy. He now must choose between continuing along the dead-end road of reformism and opportunism or taking the revolutionary path.
On 23 October 2003 a Labour Party tribunal found Glasgow Kelvin MP George Galloway guilty of the first four of the following five charges which were deemed to have brought the party into disrepute and was consequently expelled from the Labour Party:
” inciting Arabs to fight British troops
” inciting British troops to defy orders
” inciting Plymouth voters to reject Labour MPs,
” threatening to stand against Labour
” backing an anti-war candidate in Preston.
Outside the tribunal, Galloway responded by saying that it was a “travesty of justice”, describing the proceedings as a “politically-motivated kangaroo court. The verdict was written in advance”. He said the tribunal was more appropriate to the regime of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad than to modern day Britain (rather a sad attempt at distancing himself from Saddam’s regime in order to generate public support, but with the totally incorrect implication that we should for some reason expect this imperialist government to be more progressive or democratic than that of the Ba’ath regime that legitimately stood up for the rights of the Iraqi people against the sea of imperialist plunderers).
The decision sparked immediate outrage from the so-called Labour left, with Tony Benn prophesying that the decision was going to “damage the Labour Party very badly … What hope is there for the Labour party if the public think that when you join you just become a private in Mr Blair’s army and have to obey orders or be thrown out of the party?”. Alice Mahon denounced the decision as “an attack on free speech” and John McDonnell, chair of the socialist campaign group of Labour MPs, fretted that “[w]e will be seen as flouting our tradition of democratic debate.” (see ‘Galloway to stand against Labour after expulsion in row over Iraq’, Marie Woolf, The Independent, 24 October 2003). London convenor of Unison Geoff Martin correctly noted that the decision would “drive more people away from the Labour Party and will make it more difficult to maintain the link between the party and trade unions.” Well may they worry, as the decision does not bode well for their wild dreams of “reclaiming the Labour Party” for the working class.
We can’t help but ask ourselves – why on earth did Labour get rid of Galloway, one of their strongest cards? The Labour Party has always relied on its so-called left wing – the Benns, Corbyns, Galloways, McDonnells etc – to maintain a certain level of socialist attractiveness, effectively to bamboozle the workers into thinking that it was a party which had their class interests at heart and could at the very least be ‘reclaimed’ if it has strayed to the right somewhat. So why give up George?
Galloway is adamant that he was expelled due to his anti-war stance, saying: “It is clear now that Mr Blair intends to go after Glenda Jackson and Bob Marshall-Andrews QC. His response to the mistake of war is to attack those who stood against the war and root them out of British politics”. With all due respect, George, it seems rather unlikely to us that the likes of Glenda Jackson are next on the Blair hit list. It’s quite obvious that Galloway is being singled out and made an example of.
It can only be that George Galloway simply went too far – he overstepped the boundaries of what is considered acceptable for a left-Labour MP to say. The fact is that he did meet on several occasions with Saddam; he did (rightly) call on British troops to defy illegal orders; he did (rightly) ask what the hell the Arab states were doing not defending Iraq; he has been an open supporter of the Iraqi intifada and all the methods employed by it.
In a wider context, with the ‘New Labour’ project, the Labour Party have given up all pretence of being socialist. For the Blairites, desperate to prove their pro-imperialist credentials to their masters in big business, the outspoken Galloway must have been quite an embarrassment. An occasional Benn-style call for ineffectual protest politics at a rally of SWP-types – that is perfectly acceptable and generally pretty useful in terms of confusing the working class movement as to the way forward. But calling on the British troops to disobey orders? Actively supporting the Iraqi resistance? Telling people to vote against pro-war Labour candidates? Popular or not, that simply is not on. And if getting rid of Galloway means losing a few members and potential members? Well, there’s always the Socialist Alliance or some such social democratic body to pick up the pieces and practise ‘left Labour’ politics from the outside. As Mark Steel, comedian and Socialist Alliance supporter said in a recent article in The Independent about Galloway’s expulsion: “I think anyone with a bit of spark is better off outside the Labour Party altogether, as trying to transform it into a radical campaigning socialist party is as futile as joining the RAC in order to turn it into a radical campaigning socialist breakdown service.” It seems the bourgeoisie is relatively happy for lefties to be in a “radical campaigning socialist party”, so long as they are kept a safe distance away from us militant types who are serious about building a revolutionary (that is, aiming towards revolution) working class political party.
Where now for Galloway – revolutionary Marxism or social democracy?
Galloway was in the Labour Party for 36 years. He did not leave it as a result of the war in Yugoslavia, the war in Afghanistan, the threat of using state force against the FBU strikers, … He did not even leave of his own volition over the war in Iraq! Could an honest person fail to see that Labour was, through and through, a party of imperialism and not of the working class? We leave the reader to answer that question for him or herself. However, it would be obstreperous not to recognise that Galloway’s consistent and considerable support for the Iraqi, Palestinian and Irish people in their struggle against imperialism has placed him far higher in the esteem of the working class and oppressed people internationally than his friends in the ‘Labour Left’ such as Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn and Mark Seddon and even the leadership of the SWP and such ‘extreme left’ organisations. Furthermore he demonstrated that he did at least have a certain amount of political honour – even if only in terms of bourgeois politics – by refusing to withdraw his controversial comments (which apology would almost certainly have been enough for all to be forgiven and forgotten). “I can’t apologise for something I didn’t do and I can’t demoralise the very significant number of supporters the stop-the-war movement has in this country by appearing to save my own political skin to bow the knee to a Prime Minister who should be bowing the knee to us” (cited in the The Scotsman, 20 October, 2003). Good though this stance is, it is still a long way short of genuine working class politics, organisation and class struggle rather than class conciliation. It is to be hoped that at long last he will be able to take such a step. Should this be the case we would suggest he start by meeting with the comrades in the Socialist Labour Party, who came to an understanding many years ago that it was time to make a full and thorough break with social democracy and that the key to the progress of the movement for socialism was to set up a genuine working class political party.
However this plainly is not George’s intent.
Very quickly after his expulsion, Galloway announced that he would not be joining any other political party and would remain independent. He then swiftly allied himself with the new ‘Peace and Justice’ electoral alliance that includes George Mombiot and Salma Yaqoob (chair of the Birmingham Stop the War Coalition) and is clearly supported by SWP who seem to have lost heart in their Socialist Alliance project. While a full programme has not yet been compiled, it will, judging from the draft election manifesto of Monbiot and Yaqoob, be very little more than romantic liberalism. Writing in The Guardian on 30 October, George said: “I will now seek to challenge New Labour at the polls. In the European elections next June, I will be part of a list – in a proportional representation contest – which will seek to unify the red, green, anti-war, Muslim and other social constituencies radicalised by the war, in a referendum on Tony Blair.
“We will not be a political party, but a coalition around which we hope many will rally – some perhaps only for the day, merely lending us their votes – to show the true colours of the British people. Who knows, maybe the results will be cathartic within the Labour party itself, and help to spark the long-heralded – and much to be hoped for – “reclaiming” of the party by those with Labour’s best interests and traditions at heart, notably the trade unions, who must play a central role. In the elections to the Greater London Authority, we plan to support that other Labour exile, Ken Livingstone, for mayor and run a full slate of candidates ourselves. There may be other electoral firefights – in my own Glasgow constituency or in other byelections.” (‘ Why I will stand against New Labour’)
Furthermore, Galloway’s continued insistence on using the word “blunder” in relation to the Labour government’s participation in the Iraq war shows how limited is his analysis and how poorly he understands the very nature of imperialism and of this imperialist Labour Party which has, whether George likes it or not, always been a faithful servant of British imperialism. The war was not a blunder – it was a necessary and inevitable policy for imperialists who are absolutely desperate for control of what little remains of the world’s oil supplies. To refer to Blair’s “blunder of extraordinary magnitude” implies that this or that individual in government had an actual choice as to whether to go to war with Iraq. But to make such an implication is to ignore the objective conditions of imperialism and give the impression that if only nicer people were put in charge of this bourgeois state and party then they would be able to stop these wars taking place. It suffices to remind the reader that every single Labour government, from the first to the latest, has been involved in imperialist warfare and the pursuit of imperialist superprofits to the maximum extent. Let’s not forget that even the ‘great socialist’ Clement Attlee sent thousands of troops to support the invasion of Korea in the early 1950s, not to mention his role in the suppression of the national liberation movement in the far east and the establishment of the warmongering Nato alliance.
Further clues as to Galloway’s true political colours can be gleaned from his article in the Morning Star of 1 November 2003, ‘It’ll take nothing less than a revolution’. He describes himself as being on “a collision course with a state where monarchical power, cloaked in parliamentary democracy, has simply been transferred to a Prime Minister whose monomaniacal vision of global intervention, whose willingness to make sacrifices of other parents’ sons is carried our unquestioningly by a loyal state without moral compass”. Again, Galloway ignores the economic relations of capitalism and suggests that all the world’s evils boil down to individual personalities and the lack of “moral compass”. After stating that the most pressing task in front of us is the completion of the unfinished English revolution (!), he goes on to say that “exploitation will always exist and needs community action to correct it through active redistribution of power”. Thus his ‘socialism’ boils down to the utopian socialism of yesteryear that became redundant when scientific socialism, introduced by Marx and Engels, appeared on the scene (see Engels Socialism: Utopian and Scientific for a full discussion). Forget the seizing of the means of production, distribution and exchange; forget working class rule – let’s have a ‘nice’ version of capitalism where community organisations make sure no-one suffers too much and no-one makes more than their fair share of profit. George is basically asking for a capitalist economic system but with a state that protects the interests of the masses. He may as well ask the sun to stop shining. The most basic grounding in economics would inform George that capitalists cannot and will not voluntarily limit their profits. The very nature of capitalism is to constantly expand or be driven out of business. The capitalist state must reflect those economic interests of capitalism – protection of private property, suppression of working class interests. If the workers are able to capture state power (by creating “their own society through collective action from below” as George envisages), why on earth would they not simply do away with all exploitation and introduce socialist production relations?
‘Real’ Labour values?
Galloway talks of standing against New Labour on a platform of “real Labour values”, decrying the “real traitors” who “recklessly abandoned our European heartland and Labour’s natural friends like Gerhard Schröder, Nelson Mandela and Jimmy Carter [make what sense of it you will!] and subordinated our interests to an extreme rightwing faction of a foreign power; George Bush’s USA” (‘My views are those of millions’, April 7, 2003, Guardian)
Those who have been Lalkar readers for some time will be familiar with the murky history of the Labour Party and the reality of its existence and philosophy. It has always been popular to talk of the Labour party as a ‘party of the working class’ owing to its primarily working class membership (although even this does not hold true today). However, as Lenin highlighted as far back as 1920 (back in the heyday of Labour ‘socialism’ when even Labour leadership talked of working class representation and before the Labour witch-hunt against the communists), working class composition is not by any means proof of being a working class party: “…for the most part the Labour Party consists of workers, but it does not logically follow from this that every workers’ party which consists of workers is at the same time a ‘political workers’ party'; that depends upon who leads it, upon the content of its activities and its political tactics. Only the latter determines whether it is really a political proletarian party. From this point of view, which is the only correct point of view, the Labour Party is not a political workers’ party but a thoroughly bourgeois party, because, although it consists of workers, it is led by reactionaries, and the worst reactionaries at that, who lead it in the spirit of the bourgeoisie and with the aid of the British Noskes and Scheidemanns, they systematically deceive the workers.”
By 1929 the Communist Party of Great Britain (nothing to do with the somewhat peculiar and fanatically anti-Leninist Trotskyite group that has since hijacked that name) were able to state in no uncertain terms that “It is now no longer possible for the Communist Party or the trade unions to bring pressure to bear on the Labour Party from within. It is a completely disciplined capitalist party”.
‘Real’ Labour values, ‘Old’ Labour values, mean nothing but social democracy – a nicer, more respectable, more ‘moderate’, less overtly objectionable version of imperialism, one that keeps a layer of the working class at home in nice suits and good coffee whilst holding a gun to the workers and oppressed people of the world so that they continue providing the cotton, the coffee, the oil and other vital commodities at knock-down rates. Anyone calling themselves a socialist or a communist has a responsibility to break – fully and finally – with ‘real’ Labour values and adopt a clear program of ‘values’ relating to the struggle of the labouring classes against capitalism and for socialism.
“The only Marxist line in the world labour movement is to explain to the masses the inevitability and necessity of breaking with opportunism, to educate them for revolution by waging a merciless struggle against opportunism, to utilise the experiences of the war for the purpose of exposing all the vileness of national liberal labour politics, and not of concealing it” (Lenin, Imperialism and the Split in Socialism, 1916)
As long as George he continues to engage in ego politics and opportunism, as long as he dabbles in liberalism and bourgeois socialism, as long as he refuses to finally turn his back on social democracy, he will continue to be an impediment to the building of a real working class party and movement.