Swearing his oath of allegiance to King Charles III and his heirs and successors ... that while calling for an abolition referendum

Right questions, wrong answers

George Galloway launched his Workers Party of Britain manifesto before the assembled media. It is characterised by an eclectic mix of World War II nostalgia, radical populism and ‘socialism in one country’ Stalinism, says Carla Roberts

Say what you will about George Galloway, but there is no denying that the man has the gift of the gab. I burst out laughing a number of times while watching the press launch of the election manifesto of his Workers Party of Britain on June 19.1

He revelled in showing zero respect for the slightly snooty representatives of the assembled bourgeois press. For example, a woman from The Daily Telegraph asked him (clipped accent and all) if it was not “inappropriate” for the Workers Party to “talk about a possible end of the monarchy at a time when the King and the Princess of Wales are so gravely ill with cancer”. You could literally see Galloway counting his lucky stars, before he replied with full vigour:

How quaint. How very quaint. The Telegraph does not give a toss about the millions of people who suffer from cancer and don’t get the one-to-one care that those two get. There is nothing personal about this. We oppose the unelected monarchy, because it is deeply undemocratic. It’s an absurdity that the first born of whoever happens to be monarch automatically becomes the head of state. Only an infantilised people accept that and think that’s a good idea.

So far, so excellent. Unlike the many Trotskyist groups out there who tell us that fighting for the abolition of the monarchy and other such democratic questions has “no mileage”, the Workers Party does at least take up this important question.

When it comes to mass opinion, the manifesto shows, as Jack Conrad has put it, that “Galloway and the Workers Party are certainly more attuned to the lived experiences of working class people than the Socialist Workers Party or the Socialist Party and its electoral front, Tusc [Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition]”.2

The manifesto does indeed go way beyond the ‘save the NHS’ platitudes advanced by much of the left and tackles some of the more controversial issues faced by the working class - including immigration, London’s Ulez, climate change, the police, soldiers’ rights, football club ownership and even K-Pop. They deserve some credit for that. However, when it comes to the detailed answers to those questions, the WPB almost always tacks right - nationalist or ‘populist’.

The origins of the WPB as a pro-Stalinist organisation are easy to spot. It was, after all, the family of Harpal Brar (who set up the Stalin Society) which helped Galloway to found the organisation in 2019. Daughter Joti acted as vice-leader for a number of years. They only departed last year under a bit of a cloud, and briefly state in an “editor’s note” on their website: “… the WPB has failed in its stated aim of becoming a truly broad movement within which communists could work openly, transforming itself into a left social democratic vehicle for bourgeois parliamentarism and anti-communism”.3

But politically, Galloway and the Brars still have much in common, including their hatred of identity politics and ‘wokery’, their love for the Soviet Union (in his autobiography I’m not the only one, Galloway described the collapse of the USSR as “the worst day of my life”) and their shared illusion that there could (or should) be a national road to socialism.

The phrase “one nation”, appears six times in the WPB manifesto - reminiscent of the kind of ‘socialism’ seen during World War II. It wants to end the “war between workers and managers” and “one of our aims is to help workers become managers” - not in order to overthrow capitalism and learn how to run things in a socialist society, but to manage capitalist enterprises, because we are ‘all in it together’: “We are one class, but also one nation”. Pretty much everybody in Britain seems to be in that “one class”, apart perhaps from greedy shareholders - and the Labour Party (more on that below).

He wants to make “Britain great again”, Galloway said at the press conference, with thinly-veiled reference to Donald Trump. He railed against the “subservience to the EU and now the US”, and how “the Tories have made us the 51st state of America”. Racism too is the fault of the US, apparently, because it “was imported by American troops in the Second World War”. Nothing to do with the ‘great’ British empire and the need to justify slavery.

Instead of trading with the US and EU, the manifesto is arguing for “friendly relations with the Brics” and presumably ‘prime minister Galloway’ would trade with the theocracy in Iran, Vladimir Putin and MBS in Saudi Arabia (who is seen as a key Arab ally of, yes, the US).

In that spirit of “global Britain”, the WPB also wants to “ban foreign ownership of the means of communication” - perhaps by looking for British companies to reinvent local versions of Zoom, Google and Meta? Of course not. This ridiculous point underlines the futility of a national socialism in a globalised world.

Even on the question of Palestine, the WPB programme turns out to be rather less convincing than expected. It advances the conventional ‘one-state solution’, but coupled with the “call for a single state in which all those born in Palestine-Israel can live in peace with equal rights”. So, some young Jewish people who were born in Israel can stay, but not their parents, born in Russia or Germany? Or are second-generation Jews to be excluded, too? Are they supposed to return to the country of their birth? This is clearly not a democratic solution at all - there is no plan to win over the Israeli Hebrew population. Which means this ‘solution’ could only be enforced by some kind of war waged against Israel. That is not a socialist answer.


Back to the monarchy: The WPB manifesto states that there should be “a referendum” on the future of the monarchy. In his press conference, Galloway said that there are many different alternatives, “including a directly or indirectly elected head of state. I really would have liked to see Princess Anne as head of state or president, I have met her.” So, presumably, his preferred referendum question would have been: ‘Would you like to see King Charles replaced with his sister as head of state?’ Dear God.

The WPB also wants to keep hold of the House of Lords, but “exclude professional politicians who have made a career in the Commons, and we will introduce more regional, trades union and technical expert voices able to scrutinise legislation swiftly and knowledgeably”. So this second chamber with appointed ‘experts’ would be able to stop legislation introduced by the democratically elected representatives in the House of Commons. Who would appoint these people? And how could they be gotten rid of? No, such ‘reforms’ would do nothing to minimise the democratic deficit in today’s Britain - quite the opposite. Marxists call for the abolition of the House of Lords, all second chambers and any other ‘checks and balances’ designed to thwart the will of the majority of the population.

There is a lot of talk in the manifesto about referendums and ‘consultations’ on this or that question. Sounds democratic, but is it really? For example, the WPB wants “a net-zero referendum as soon as possible to create a national debate on who profits from these targets and on what terms” and adds: “We oppose Ulez initiatives because of the costs they impose on working households and small businesses.”

That is all quite true, of course, but we detect a distinct ‘denialism’, when it comes to climate catastrophe:

Climate change is constantly taking place. It has done so for thousands of years. We follow the science when it is clear, but we understand just how much science can be socially constructed in a society dominated by the interests of profit and not people.

Scientists are very clear on the issue. Unless there are serious, radical changes to how production is organised - internationally - the planet is destined to heat up to the point where human habitation becomes impossible. The climate catastrophe certainly cannot be ‘solved’ with a binary yes/no referendum - especially not a national one. As with any referendum, the phrasing of the question(s) would hugely influence the outcome - we can guess which way it would go if the WPB had any say on that.

That is why communists are for representative democracy - in parliament, workers’ councils or similar bodies, where delegates can discuss issues properly, in front of the working class, and trash out the details of possible compensation and how our targets could be reached. By contrast, referenda are deeply undemocratic.

Another democratic question in the manifesto - the commitment to “free speech” - also has the devil in the detail: “We will undertake a review of all legislation and regulation to define only what is strictly harmful speech (intimidation and bullying rather than robust opinion).” Considering that in 2001 Galloway famously voted in favour of the ‘religious hatred offences’ in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill4, it is clear that this is not a commitment to genuine free speech.

In parts, it also rather smacks of the Daily Mail’s anti-woke campaign to stop protestors from interrupting rightwing and transphobic speakers: “We will make it a criminal offence to deny a political organisation or individual a platform.” While Marxists in general argue against no-platforming, calling on the state to stop such protests really is a non-starter.

Main enemy

The section on the Labour Party and the trade unions is perhaps the most bizarre one: “We do not hide our belief that the greatest block to working class aspirations is not the Conservative Party, but the Labour party itself.” Not capitalism, not wage slavery - no, the Labour Party is now the biggest enemy of the working class.

This has more than a touch of Stalin’s third-period about it. There is no understanding that, with the continued link with the trade unions, the Labour Party might still be a bourgeois’ workers party. No, Labour is now a fully “integrated part of the imperialist state machinery”. Well, yes, but that has been the case since 1916 when Labour’s Arthur Henderson joined the war cabinet. What’s changed since then? Perhaps, it was George Galloway getting expelled? Brarite finger prints are all over the formulation.

The WPB wants the unions to disaffiliate from Labour and says that it is “first in line to back lawful strike action”. Hold on, what’s that? Lawful strike action? What about the deeply ‘unlawful’ aspects of the Great Miners’ Strike in 1984-85? What about the Pentonville Five, who were imprisoned in July 1972 for refusing to obey a court order to stop picketing? Even the Trades Union Congress could not stand by and called a general strike in support of them. They were released after just a week inside. Socialists should surely argue for more unlawful strikes - for example, crucial strikes in solidarity with other sectors, which would have a much better chance of actually being successful than most of today’s timid and short-term strikes.

In general, the manifesto is characterised by attempts to focus on the redistribution of wealth - which Marx, of course, famously argued against - instead calling for the need to fight to overcome capitalism and wage slavery itself. Galloway believes in the tired, social democratic illusion of trickle-down economics, which purport to lift working class people out of poverty. Rather than overcoming capitalism, this form of Keynesianism ultimately relies on capital - either in its current private form or the nationalised version preferred by the Workers Party.

But, you see, it goes hand in hand with calls for more “workers’ control”, so that’s good, right? Wrong. The manifesto does not want the kind of democratic control (briefly) exercised by the Russian working class after the 1917 revolution. No, it wants to emulate the example of today’s Germany: “Germany has a version of workers’ control where workers sit on the board of big firms, have voting rights and compose half of the supervisory boards of large companies.”

It is laughable to call the system of the Betriebsräte a form of workers’ control. Those delegates might have to be consulted about this or that issue, but have almost no real power. It is chiefly a way to keep the workforce in line. There have been numerous scandals when Betriebsräte have been bought off by management - most famously at Volkswagen and Siemens, where they were caught not just getting bribes, but going on paid holidays with the bosses (and the ‘managers’) - including a few joint visits to luxury brothels.5

In a similar vein, the manifesto calls for “working class representation throughout the governance of the Bank of England”. Again, this is purely consultative and thereby an utterly pointless demand. The Bank of England should not be “independent” of the government, as pushed through by Gordon Brown - it should be fully and democratically controlled.

Yes, the WPB wants Britain to withdraw from Nato - but keep the army fully intact. Instead of US weapons, the army should use British-made ones! The programme does not even entertain the idea of the possibility of a workers’ militia - a bog-standard demand put forward by the affiliates of the Second International (including the Labour Party in its 1900 manifesto).

Nuclear button

True, when it comes to nuclear weapons the WPB calls for “disarmament”. However this is “multilateral disarmament”. Every permanent UN security council state is signed up to that. And at the height of the CND movement rightwing Labour leaders would counterpose ‘multilateral nuclear disarmament” (sensible) to the (crazy) call for ‘unilateral nuclear disarmament’ coming from the likes of Michael Foot, Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn. So, it is good to know that the WPB is taking its cue from rightwing Labour on this issue and that, presumably, prime minister George Galloway would be prepared to press the nuclear button.

On the question of the future of the police too, the WPB manifesto displays some serious rightwing illusions: “Our approach will remain centred absolutely on Peel’s principles of policing, as codified by Charles Reith in 1948.” Sir Robert Peel, that is - father of the ‘modern’ Metropolitan Police, which was set up in the early 19th century, principally to make the fight against the rising threat from the organised working class more efficient. No wonder the Chartists opposed them. The WPB manifesto, however, thinks the police is “tasked with protecting the poor and the vulnerable, and they deserve our support if they prove they do indeed deserve it”.

The British state needs a strong police force, you see, because, yes, crime is caused by “deprivation”, but not “everyone is capable of redemption. Most people are with the right change of conditions, but we have to face the fact that society has a proportion of antisocial sociopaths within it and that sociopaths create networks of organised crime”.

Presumably “redemption” in prison would not work for these “sociopaths” either, so best to throw away the key, right? Who would be making this type of judgement, we wonder?

The WPB wants to focus on “increased police capacity in high-crime areas and increased funding and capacity for … targeting increased crime” - but does not even mention that it is the seriously misguided ‘war on drugs’ that leads to many of today’s crimes. Legalise drugs and the majority of crime and gang warfare would simply disappear. But the WPB offers populism and, worse, an entirely irrational way to look at crime. More police on the streets will not lead to less crime.

Mass migration

We have previously looked at the WPB’s opposition to mass migration, but it is worth mentioning again - mainly because George Galloway is so keen to talk about the issue that he was even asked at his press conference if he wants to “steal votes mainly from Nigel Farage and Reform and is that why you mention him so often?”

He did indeed mention Farage a number of times, stating, for example:

I am with Farage to this extent: Why do we have to bring in so many from the Philippines or Nigeria to work in the health and care sector? Why can’t our own people do it? Because they earn more at Aldi. We are not in favour of mass migration. We are a workers’ party and the arrival of a large reserve army of labour is not in the interest of the working class.

The WPB is correct in stating that it is the working of capitalism, IMF structural adjustment programmes, imperialist intervention, etc, that create the conditions which lead to millions of people leaving their homes. There is indeed a tendency for migration to depress wages and many working class people are worried by that - fuelled by a hysteric, rightwing press. Slogans like the SWP’s famous ‘Refugees are welcome here’ are as pointless as they are wrong. Clearly, in many places, refugees are not welcome.

The problem is that Galloway’s answers here are also entirely negative. Yes, we would join him in calling for an end to sanctions and war. But that still leaves us with the current reality, in the here and now, of millions of people around the globe taking the decision to flee poverty, hunger and war - a situation that will get worse with catastrophic climate change.

The WPB answer is deeply reactionary: it wants to “get a grip on numbers” by undertaking a “major diversion of resources towards domestic defence and security structures”, an “investment in border security, including heightened sea-going and coastal patrols” and “discouraging economic migrants except in areas of demonstrable labour shortage”.

Or, as Galloway put it at the press conference, “Yesterday, 822 people in small boats were stopped in the channel. However, there were no ships from the Royal Navy around: they were threatening other people rather than defending our own country!”

Surely, for socialists the key answer does not lie in higher fences and more ships and border controls - but in the organisation of the working class internationally. Why indeed should health and care workers earn so little, often being worked to the bone? How about some serious (probably unlawful!) strike action to force through better working conditions and wages? How about organising the working class across borders to stop wages being undercut by workers from and in different countries?

And indeed, at an election hustings organised by Why Marx?, Chris Williamson, one of the three deputy leaders of the WPB, found it difficult to defend the WPB programme on migration6 - or indeed, Galloway’s famous tweet condemning the hundreds of Scottish activists who in 2011 stopped the deportation of two asylum-seekers in Glasgow. “I was very proud to support that action”, he said. As an aside, credit to Chris Williamson for showing up at the hustings - we hear that Tusc and Collective did not even bother to send the organisers a reply, while half a dozen other ‘independents’ claimed they were “too busy”. More likely, they did not want to be associated with the organisers or, worse, did not fancy being asked some critical questions.

It is perhaps only a matter of time before the WPB goes the way of Respect and implodes due to its own inherent contradictions. In the July 4 general election, it makes sense to vote for some WPB candidates, like Chris Williamson, especially if there is no more principled candidate standing locally. Socialists should certainly vote for George Galloway in Rochdale - keeping him in parliament, despite the reactionary views of the WPB, would again be a victory for the Palestine solidarity movement.

  1. www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJO29wQzjfc.↩︎

  2. Online Communist Forum of June 23 2024: www.youtube.com/watch?v=bw3XmPt6YjM.↩︎

  3. thecommunists.org/2020/04/23/tv/project-corbyn-has-failed-what-next.↩︎

  4. www.publicwhip.org.uk/mp.php?mpn=George_Galloway.↩︎

  5. www.diepresse.com/111422/deutschland-hat-auch-siemens-seinen-betriebsrat-geschmiert.↩︎

  6. www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hT9JQRipeM.↩︎