|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
I’m Not the Only One
By George Galloway
Published by Allen Lane, 2004, £10
JIM HORTON reviews I’m Not the Only One, the book by the expelled anti-war Labour MP, George Galloway, which offers an interesting insight into one of the founder members of Respect and the politics that have shaped it.
GEORGE GALLOWAY’S BOOK presents a seething indictment of the war and continuing occupation of Iraq, and he is scathing towards all those New Labour MPs who sheepishly voted for the conflict. But his criticisms are not restricted to Iraq. Galloway rightly condemns New Labour’s attacks on trade unionists, especially the despicable assault on the fire-fighters, and the government’s policies on pensions, tuition fees and the privatisation of public services. He scorns New Labour’s big business links and the cultural politics of spin, and mocks Blair’s prostration at the feet of Bush.
Galloway reminds us of the ambitious target Respect set itself at its founding convention: "The bringing down of the Blair clique and the severing of the special relationship with George Bush". (p161) Respect’s first electoral outing was in the European parliamentary and London mayoral and assembly elections. The call went out to raise a million pounds for a million votes. In an interview with The Observer he quantified Respect’s expectations: "We could win four seats, or even five. But I suppose the most likely outcome is that I win and a few of the others come close". (April 25)
In the event, no Respect candidate, including Galloway, came close to winning a European seat. And while in some areas the vote for Respect was creditable, it reflected a general rejection of the major establishment parties and in particular a deep hatred towards Blair, especially over Iraq, rather than an endorsement of Respect’s vague political programme.
What role Respect can play in the process towards a viable mass working class left alternative will depend on a number of factors, including how its programme develops, whether it can break out of the undemocratic straitjacket imposed on it by the largest group in Respect, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), and what political initiatives come from within the trade union movement. Respect’s lack of a class approach and its departure from even the minimal socialist policies of the now defunct Socialist Alliance, evidenced both in Galloway’s book and Respect’s recent election material, suggest it is a poor substitute for a new mass workers party being formed from the trade unions, anti-war activists, radical young people and community campaigners.
Galloway says Respect was born out of the anti-war movement. He explains that the Stop the War Coalition (STWC), in which the Socialist Party participated, "followed a strategy of uniting the widest possible cross-section of the British public" against the war. (p151) While this was correct, the Socialist Party argued that the key task of socialists in the STWC was to put forward a strategy based on the crucial role of the working class: both in terms of building for strike action against war and creating a political alternative in the form of new mass workers’ party.
The leaders of the STWC did not pursue this strategy, instead placing more emphasis on broadening the appeal of the STWC to the Liberal Democrats and malcontent Labour MPs than seriously developing workers’ action or posing a political alternative to Blair. Outlining the limitations of the ‘politics of protest’, Galloway says in his book that "marchers walked straight into the brick wall of the powerlessness, the disenfranchisement, of the mass of the British people locked out of the mainstream political system". (p153) But Galloway’s aim is transfer the broad base of the anti-war movement to the new politically amorphous Respect, which has meant jettisoning even the minimal socialist programme of the Socialist Alliance. To date, though, the Greens and Liberal Democrats have been the main beneficiaries from opposition to Blair’s warmongering.
In the London assembly elections Respect polled well in Muslim areas, but not on the basis of a class appeal to working-class Muslims. Rather, Galloway and the SWP made an opportunist appeal to their religion, describing Respect in one leaflet as ‘the party for Muslims’. But this makes no distinction between poor, working-class Muslims and the 5,400 Muslim millionaires in Britain who are hostile to the interests of working-class Muslims and the ideas of socialism.
Socialists support the right of everyone to practice any religion or none free from discrimination and persecution and oppose the scapegoating of Muslims in the so-called war against terror. We will defend the Muslim community and all minority groups against attacks. However, we seek to unite all workers, regardless of religion, on a class basis in a new mass party of the working class. While not intentional, Galloway’s approach is potentially dangerous and can sow division amongst workers and reinforce racist ideas at a time when Blair is pushing faith schools and when the BNP and UKIP are using the issue of asylum to pursue their own racist agendas.
Galloway also attempts to counter the media battering he has received over his controversial meetings with Iraq’s now deposed leader Saddam Hussein. He makes the point that the Anglo-American axis now holding Saddam captive once regarded Saddam as a highly profitable client and useful ally at a time when Galloway and others were demonstrating against Saddam’s crimes.
Galloway’s pro-war opponents latched onto his seeming praise of Saddam in 1996 when he declared: ‘Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability’. This comment also caused consternation amongst anti-war activists, who may not be satisfied with his protestation that ‘your’ referred not to the singular (Saddam), but the plural (Iraqi people) or his claim that his emotions ran away from him after recently arriving in sanction-devastated Iraq from the horrors of the Palestinian occupied territories. Although, to be fair to Galloway, he accepts that the phrase he used was a bad mistake which inadvertently gave ammunition to his enemies (pp 106-108).
Galloway’s mistakes, however, reflect a deeper political weakness on his part, both in terms of programme and also how to build a mass movement for change.
Not moving beyond capitalism
GALLOWAY HAS AT various times described himself as a socialist, but in his book there is hardly a scintilla of a socialist programme. While expressing sympathy for the oppressed masses and solidarity for workers in struggle, his lack of class approach results in his looking to dubious allies to not only liberate the Iraqi people but the whole of humanity from Bush and Blair’s new world order. While correctly demanding the withdrawal of imperialist troops from Iraq, for example, he proposes Iraqis look to the Arab League for help rather than calling for the building of workers’ organisations to cut across ethnic divisions and appeal to the international working class to aid them in their struggle. The Arab League represent the corrupt Arab elite who are responsible for the desperate poverty that blights the whole Middle East and are despised by the masses for their toadyism towards imperialism.
The idea that one section of the ruling class can be more progressive than another section is deeply rooted in Galloway’s political outlook. During the 1980s Iran-Iraq war Galloway "supported Iran, as did Syria, the Arab country to which I was then closest". (p41) His support for Iran went beyond the war issue: "In the absence of a powerful socialist or secular opposition in Iran, my perspective led me to support the Islamic revolution of Khomeini as a people’s movement that promised the end to an oppressive dictatorship". (p40)
Galloway is wrong to describe the heroic mass movement of 1978-79 that toppled the US-backed Shah as an Islamic revolution. It was a workers’ revolution that drew the oppressed masses behind it. Workers went beyond democratic demands and began seizing and running the workplaces of those capitalists who had fled Iran with the Shah, forcing the clerical leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, who had come to the head of the movement, to nationalise large sectors of industry and the banks. But in the absence of a genuine revolutionary party Khomeini was able to use Islam to carry out a vicious counter-revolution against the workers’ movement. This was possible because the main workers’ party, the Tudeh Party, failed to build a politically independent movement of the workers against capitalism. Instead, it had the same false perspective as Galloway, namely looking to ‘progressive’ bourgeois elements to oppose the Shah, and offered Khomeini a ‘popular united front’ against the monarchy. Khomeini made use of the Tudeh before finally crushing them, along with thousands of workers.
The example of Iran is instructive and while undoubtedly Galloway does not support the oppressive regime of the Mullahs – although this is not clear from his book – he has not shaken off the cross-class approach that can have similarly disastrous results today, especially in Iraq. In the Observer interview Galloway says: "I want Mossadeqs and Nassers to rule the Arab world. Simple as that". Mohammed Mossadeq, the Iranian president overthrown in a CIA-backed coup in 1953, and Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president who nationalised the Suez canal in 1956, were bourgeois nationalists who, in contrast to the reactionary Khomeini, attempted to play a progressive role. But their failure to break with capitalism contributed to the growth in right-wing political Islam in the Middle East.
Because Galloway fails to pose a socialist alternative he also ends up sowing illusions in the idea that capitalist institutions can be reformed. He calls for a "democratised United Nations" (p21), with the UN Security Council being compelled to enforce all resolutions, not just those that favour the most powerful nations. This is to be achieved by the ‘other super-power’ of public opinion. Galloway argues that the European Union "must escape its dependency upon the US" if "it is to command the respect and affection of the peoples of Europe", with a different model to the US being based on a "Peoples Europe" of "democracy, fairness and justice" (p23).
But in a world based on the market economy which impoverishes millions of people, it is not possible to reform capitalist governments and institutions, such as the UN and EU, whose polices inevitably defend the profit-hungry interests of the multi-national corporations. If the ‘other super-power of public opinion’ is to bring about real changes it needs to be mobilised and organised around a fighting programme for a socialist alternative.
Instead, Galloway advocates a "British Democratic Revolution" (pp 26-27), claiming this is the only way Britain will be "able to fully hold its head up in the world". It is true that New Labour has been conducting a continuing assault on our civil liberties, but it is absurd to seek to limit our movement to a ‘Democratic Revolution’ in the way Galloway suggests. Of course, socialists fight for every democratic right and against the erosion of our civil liberties, but the term ‘Democratic Revolution’ has a distinct meaning for Marxists that Galloway must be aware of. It refers to the bourgeois revolutions that swept away the old feudal system and ushered in capitalism.
At its best capitalist democracy has always been truncated for the masses with the capitalists prepared to turn to totalitarian rule whenever their system is threatened. But it does not follow that the struggle today should be limited to democratising capitalism. The very fact that our civil liberties are now under attack shows such rights can not be sustained under this system.
It is true that across the globe not all countries enjoy even the limited democratic rights that have been achieved in the advanced capitalist countries through the struggles of working people, but under degenerate capitalism today genuine democracy in all countries can only be achieved by taking the world’s resources out of the hands of the un-elected owners of big business and implementing democratic socialist planning to meet people’s needs.
What does the ‘British Democratic Revolution’ mean in practice? Incredibly, Galloway says: "We need half as many MPs as we have, being paid twice as much" (p24). At a time of deep cynicism towards career politicians seen to be on the make, Galloway not merely rejects elected representatives only accepting the average wage of a skilled worker, he wants MPs to become even more remote from the lives of the workers they purport to represent. This is in contrast to Dave Nellist, Terry Fields and Pat Wall – three Marxist Labour MPs in the 1980s who supported the Militant Tendency (predecessor to the Socialist Party) – and Joe Higgins, currently a Socialist Party MP in Ireland, who all took the average wage of a skilled worker.
Galloway adds that "Respect will fight for traditional British values of tolerance, freedom, democracy, equality; for respect for other people’s colour, religion, language, way of life, rights and responsibilities" (p175), vaguely adding that this "can only be done by proceeding on the basis of respect". (p176) But all these ‘traditional values’ have been fought for by the workers’ movement against the ‘traditional values’ of bigotry, repression and racism of the British ruling class. The ‘respect’ Galloway strives for can only be achieved by mobilising a mass movement against capitalism and for socialism. But nowhere in his book is this spelt out by Galloway.
‘Not as left as you think’
THE BOOK RAISES many issues which deserve genuine debate within the workers’ movement, but unfortunately Galloway makes unnecessary snide criticisms of those socialists who have led mass movements against capitalism. In doing so he at once reveals his true political character and limitations.
Galloway cites the Liverpool city councillors who, from 1983-87, mobilised thousands in a major battle with the Thatcher government for more resources for the city, and accuses them of being "ultra-left", pursuing "gesture politics", and "not averse to kamikaze acts, such as refusing to set a municipal rate, or otherwise breaking the law". Galloway then refers to the "Militant group of Trotskyist entrists working parasitically within the Labour Party", and mocks "the starry-eyed, far-out, far-left fantasies of the fanatics" (pp135-137).
It was the Militant (forerunner of Socialist Party) which led the magnificent Liverpool city council battle against Thatcher, which resulted in real gains for Liverpool’s workers. We also led the mass movement against the poll tax, which saw the defeat of that hated tax and contributed to the downfall of Thatcher. The Socialist Party has a proud history of fighting for every reform that can benefit working people under capitalism, but we also explain that fundamental change can be achieved only by a mass movement fighting for socialism.
Militant supporters posed a real threat, not just to the interests of the ruling class, but also the Labour right and were therefore barred from organising inside the Labour Party and eventually expelled from it – unlike the reformist left Labour Coordinating Committee, to which Galloway belonged for a while in the early 1980s.
Galloway can nostalgically reminisce about his early days in the Labour Party when at 21 he was "a full-time political activist, foregoing salary and prospects for the world-wide socialist victory"; boasting that he had "several times been elected to the Scottish committee of the Labour Party youth wing (its only non-Trotskyite member)"; and when he joined the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign, joining in the chants for his hero ‘Ho! Ho! Ho Chi Minh!’ (p29).
But in the mass battles of the 1980s, both against Thatcher and the right within the Labour Party, Galloway revealed the limitations of his radicalism. In relation to the local authority battle against Thatcher he argued "for a posture of militant opposition but stopping short of political suicide in order to live to fight another day". (p136) Liverpool was eventually defeated precisely because other left leaders refused to go beyond ‘militant posturing’, leaving Liverpool and Lambeth councillors isolated against the combined onslaught of Thatcher and the right-wing labour and trade union leaders. As a result local services were cut back and thousands of local authority jobs lost across Britain.
Galloway joined Tony Benn’s campaign for deputy leader of the Labour Party in 1981 seeking to "tack Benn’s campaign to the right" against the "ultra-Bennite extremists" (p134). In 1994 he asked Robin Cook to stand for the party leadership. After the death of John Smith Galloway joined the campaign team of John Prescott, with the excuse that "he was the best on offer" (p139).
Galloway stayed in the Labour Party when it became openly a pro-big business party of capitalism. It has been the war issue in particular that has given Galloway his recent radical credentials. In the end, he tells us, he could not remain in a party that was committing crimes against Iraq. The Socialist Party argued before the invasion of Iraq that the two million strong London demonstration against the war on February 15 last year provided an opportunity for Galloway, along with the left trade union leaders, to take the initiative to set up a new mass party of the working class. We raised this with Galloway in personal discussions. Yet he hesitated, eventually allowing expulsion to decide his fate. A year later, when the anti-war movement has passed its peak, Galloway admits he "should have resigned when the majority of my parliamentary colleagues voted for the invasion of Iraq" (p102).
In spite of his anti-imperialist radicalism, Galloway holds onto moderately left politics that do not seriously challenge capitalism. Recently, he has declared that he is not as left-wing as people think he is. This is evident from the programme of Respect outlined in a chapter of his book. Most demands are uncontroversial, but limited to reforms within capitalism. In essence Galloway wants to return to the old Labour position of a ‘mixed economy’.
Galloway opposes privatisation of public services and calls for renationalisation of the railways and tube, but nowhere does he call for public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy in order to implement a democratic socialist plan. Instead, he merely states that an "essential tenet of social democracy is that there are some things too important to the country, the nation, the society, to be left to the free market". In an understatement he adds: "The public good and the interests of private wealthy people are not always synonymous, indeed they often clash and lie in opposite directions. Social Democracy’s historic mission is to fight the corner of those left trailing in the queue for the good things in life". (p167)
Galloway announces that New Labour has abandoned this mission and cannot be reclaimed. The programme he advocates points to Respect taking on this mantel, although Galloway has also on occasion made some comments that suggest Respect could be used to shift the Labour Party back to social democracy.
George Galloway is a fervent anti-war, anti-big business activist. His first-hand experiences of the disastrous consequences of rapacious capitalism in the Middle-East fuel the passion eloquently expressed in his book. Unfortunately, Galloway and others in Respect, in their desperation for electoral gains and lacking confidence that workers can be won over to socialism, fail to advance a programme that can seriously challenge capitalism and all its attendant horrors of war, poverty and environmental destruction.
Galloway describes Respect as "the first ‘post-modern’ name for an electoral political movement". But it is less an acronym for Resistance, Equality, Socialism, Peace, the Environment, Community, and Trade unionism, and more a vague term that attempts to mask a politically weak programme.