Nose tap: those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

Short memory syndrome

SWP members are being told they cannot possibly ‘call for a vote’ for George Galloway, but, as Carla Roberts reminds us, it was a very different story when they operated together in Respect

By the time you read this article, you will know if George Galloway has won the Rochdale by-election or not. We hope he has. We have many political disagreements with the man, but there is no doubt that, especially in the midst of Israel’s genocidal campaign in Gaza, which is supported by all mainstream parties, he would set the Commons and wider politics alight.

We can easily imagine how he will eloquently savage Sunak and Starmer, denouncing arms sales to Israel, while exposing the open and covert support for the racist Zionist government of Benjamin Netanyahu. No doubt he would also call out the treacherous cowardice of the so-called Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, which continues to display its utter uselessness. Most of these Corbynites stay well clear of the mass protests over Gaza - if they do attend and speak from the platform, they make sure to say nothing that goes beyond platitudes, so that their precious careers are protected.

Galloway, on the other hand, would use parliament not to curry favour with this or that lobby group - making sneaky deals in murky backrooms or sucking up to the Zionists - but as a political platform to call out mass murder committed with the help of British weapons and diplomatic backing.

He would use parliament in the manner of Karl Liebknecht, for example, who in 1914 stood up as the only member of the Social Democratic Party and the German Reichstag to vote against war credits. Independent Irish MEPs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace are doing similarly excellent work in the European parliament, not to make this or that rotten compromise, but to speak out against all sorts of injustices - be it the onslaught against the Palestinians or the efforts by US and UK to prolong the war in Ukraine.

The Sunday Times - in a bit of wishful writing - explained a short while ago that “the Rochdale by-election will be won on bread and butter, not Gaza”. That is the result of some very important focus groups, you see, extensively quoted in the long article - only at the end of which it informs the reader that these oh-so-neutral groups have actually been put together by one Luke Tryl, “a former Tory advisor who conducted the focus groups for the campaign group, More in Common”. Top-notch journalism.

The Observer also tried to put people off from voting for Galloway, but at least reports slightly more honestly that he is “the bookies’ favourite”, calling the vote “the most radioactive by-election in living memory”. Yes, while the entire establishment cries crocodile tears over the pending assault on Rafah, George Galloway - for all his sins - has been a principled, long-standing and outspoken supporter of the Palestinians for many decades.

On this issue, he certainly reflects the mood of the population better than any of the mainstream politicians: 66% want a ceasefire - and no, not of the “sustainable” variety, as proposed by that clever man Sir Keir (which really is the call for the nonsensical two-state ‘solution’). They mean that Israel should “stop military action” - not in the future, but now. Only 24% find that Israel’s continued assault is “justified” (down from 29% in November); 45% know that it is not.1


Not surprising then that almost the entire left supports Galloway. Almost. We can safely ignore the pro-Zionist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. More interesting is the Socialist Workers Party, which, for reasons which have much more to do with personal animosity than political principle, laments that “Galloway is not the answer for Rochdale” and that “we need a better expression of Palestinian liberation than George Galloway’s party”, which is why “we can’t call for a vote” for him.2

The article in Socialist Worker criticises, quite rightly, the “rotten politics of the Workers Party of Britain”, which are anti-trans and anti-refugees, “spurning many battles that are part of the working class fight, such as oppression and environmental collapse”. True. But they could and should have added Galloway’s opposition to a woman’s right to choose an abortion and the Workers Party’s miserable nationalist outlook. Plus, despite the departure from the WPB of the ultra-Stalinist CPGB-ML (run by the Brar family), the organisation’s website still sets out to “defend the positive historical legacy of the Soviet Union” and the “achievements of the USSR, China, Cuba, etc”.3

That is not an oversight: George Galloway’s left Labourite, nationalist politics always went hand-in-hand with a profound admiration of the Soviet Union, Cuba, etc. In his autobiography, I’m not the only one (2004), he describes the end of the Soviet Union as the “worst day of my life”.

Former SWP top, Ian Birchall, writing in last week’s Weekly Worker “as a former Galloway supporter”, claims to be “saddened to see his political degeneration” (Letters, February 22).4 That is an interesting point of view - and one difficult to substantiate. As far as we can see, George Galloway has been peddling the same sort of politics for decades. In reality, it seems that it is our comrades in and around the SWP who are trying to rewrite history and in particular their own troubled relationship with the fiery Glaswegian.

The SWP was a lot less moralistic only a few short years ago. In fact, in Respect, a short-lived popular frontist party, the SWP, the Muslim Association of Britain and Galloway were fused together … and as such the SWP and its foot soldiers loyally voted down the political principles they now pretend to hold so dear.

Abortion rights were deliberately omitted from Respect’s 2005 general election manifesto after George Galloway insisted to the SWP’s then leader, John Rees, that it would cost Muslim votes. Ditto gay rights. When the CPGB and a few others in Respect (precious few, we should say) protested loudly and repeatedly, Lindsey German made what must be her most infamous speech ever: supporting gay rights should not be treated as a “shibboleth”.5

SWP members also voted down a CPGB motion on republicanism, because it would “put off royalists”;6 they voted against open borders7 and at the 2004 Respect conference voted down a naive motion calling for the nationalisation of “British-based multinationals” and a CPGB motion defining socialism as the rule of the working class.8

And then, rather predictably, Galloway and his one-time lieutenant (and Respect national secretary), John Rees, fell out in a rather spectacular and entertaining fashion. Suddenly, all the “lies” of the Weekly Worker - the only paper reporting openly about the shenanigans behind the scenes - turned out to be true after all …


Whoever has met George Galloway knows, of course, that the man is accountable only to … George Galloway. He basically did what he wanted, siding with the businessman’s wing of Respect in Tower Hamlets and Birmingham and always had his eye on appealing to the Muslim and Bengali population in order to get (re)elected to parliament. He ignored clauses in Respect’s tame programme not to his liking and set his own priorities - disregarding, for example, Lindsey German’s hopeless efforts to get elected to the Greater London Assembly, while siding with local Asian candidates against those from the SWP standing for this or that position.

To top it all off, he famously moved into the Big brother house - for a load of cash, but without discussing it with Rees or the SWP. The memory of Galloway pretending to be a cat, seductively drinking imaginary milk out of Rula Lenska’s hands, still sends shivers down my spine (and not the good sort!).

Galloway and his allies (which included Nick Wrack, Ken Loach and Salma Yaqoob), on the other hand, accused the SWP of trying to assert “bureaucratic control” - which is, of course, true as well. When Rees orchestrated a split in Respect in November 2007, Galloway and his supporters founded Respect Renewal.9 Both ‘organisations’ died very undignified and entirely deserved deaths soon afterwards.

Even though John Rees and Lindsey German were hived off from the SWP a couple of years later for their role in Respect10 (and went on to form the SWP-lite group, Counterfire), Galloway clearly still hates the SWP with a passion.

Not that you read any of this in Socialist Worker - oh no! The stupid working class would not understand anyway, so the SWP just pretends that it has suddenly developed really strong political principles, which can never be broken (until, of course they dump them in the next ‘united front’ they jump into, where they have to ditch those precious principles in order to attract this or that passing movement).

Perhaps the SWP head honchos hope that the organisation’s revolving door means many of their current membership do not even know about this sorry chapter of sucking up to Galloway and ‘the Muslim vote’. Most of the older loyalists have probably been through enough political U-turns to simply accept this latest piece of sectarian nonsense like sheep.

In any case, our attitude to electoral politics are based on tactical considerations. After all, surely it depends on the political questions of the day; the local electorate; the state of the organised working class; the candidates on the ballot paper, etc.

In the current situation, where the desperate situation in Gaza is on every TV screen and in every newspaper, surely calling for a vote for Galloway, who has all his publicity done in the colours of the Palestine flag, is a no-brainer. He probably will not be re-elected at the next general election, but in the next few months, he could certainly upend ‘politics as normal’ and send a huge message of solidarity to the Palestinian people.

  1. yougov.co.uk/politics/articles/48675-british-attitudes-to-the-israel-gaza-conflict-february-2024-update.↩︎

  2. socialistworker.co.uk/what-we-think/galloway-is-not-the-answer-for-rochdale.↩︎

  3. ‘Thou shalt not criticise Israel’ Weekly Worker February 15: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1478/thou-shalt-not-criticise-israel.↩︎

  4. weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1479/letters.↩︎

  5. See ‘Rees lays it on the line’ Weekly Worker July 9 2003: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/488/marxism-2003-rees-lays-it-on-the-line.↩︎

  6. ‘Take inspiration from Cromwell’ Weekly Worker May 4 2023: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1441/take-inspiration-from-cromwell.↩︎

  7. ‘No respect for principles’ Weekly Worker February 19 2004: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/516/no-respect-for-principles.↩︎

  8. ‘The modern Janus’ Weekly Worker November 17 2005: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/601/the-modern-janus.↩︎

  9. ‘Renewal of populism’ Weekly Worker November 22 2007: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/698/renewal-of-populism.↩︎

  10. ‘Left Platform throws in the towel’ Weekly Worker February 18 2010: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/805/left-platform-throws-in-the-towel.↩︎