Galloway's expulsion: possibilities and pitfalls

The expulsion of left MP George Galloway from the Labour Party has provided the left with another asset which could help towards the organisation of a credible alternative to New Labour and Blairism.

As shown by the ‘British politics at the crossroads’ rally at Friends House in London on October 29, the expulsion of left MP George Galloway from the Labour Party has provided the left with another asset which could help towards the organisation of a credible alternative to New Labour and Blairism. Attended by an audience of nearly 500, the meeting  also heard Ken Loach, Linda Smith, John Rees, Bob Crow, George Monbiot and Salma Yaqoob.

Most of the speeches were predictable. No new initiative was announced. No campaign launched. Perhaps significantly comrade Rees - speaking on behalf of the Socialist Alliance - did not deign to mention it even once.

Comrade Galloway himself came with a mixed message. Yes, he would stand anywhere - the London assembly elections were mentioned - but he appears unwilling to trigger a by-election in his own Glasgow Kelvin constituency. He does not want to risk the Labour membership of those in the party who back him. So he talks of standing elsewhere. What this basically means it that his expulsion has not led him to the position where he is willing to burn all his bridges. Like Ken Livingstone he perhaps envisages the possibility of returning to the fold at some point in the future.

Galloway’s removal on October 23 was, of course, the predictable result of the Blair government’s vulnerability after being caught lying over its participation in Bush’s invasion of Iraq. However feeble the attempt to find a scapegoat to divert attention from the government’s crimes, however insulting to the intelligence of every individual who mobilised against the US-led war, this particular witch-hunt serves a serious purpose for imperialism. It is the attempt to draw a line around bourgeois patriotism, to signal the limits beyond which criticism of imperialism’s wars must not go.

Galloway was singled out because his opposition to the war went beyond what is normally expected of the tame Labour left: above all because he called on British troops to refuse to fight in what he considered to be an illegal war under ‘international law’.

He also was quoted as saying that the only armed forces that were fighting legally in the 2003 war/invasion were the Iraqi troops under the command of Saddam Hussein. Publicly he lamented the failure of other Arab governments to stand up for Iraq - this was interpreted by the Blairites to mean that he was calling for Arab armies to take the field against the Bush-Blair coalition forces.

Irrespective of the illusions that this kind of stance entails in the possibility of an ‘international law’ under capitalism that is not the tool of imperialism, these statements and demands, objectively, meant putting considerations of a (bourgeois) form of internationalism above the perceived interests of his own state. Opposing a war is one thing. Calling for the defeat of one’s ‘own’ government’s troops in wartime is quite another. Hence the screams of ‘treason’ from the reptile press.

Comrade Galloway’s expulsion actually offers him his greatest political opportunity, given the fact that he, more than anyone, became the best known public figure representing the unprecedented mass movement that erupted against the war in February and March. But his reluctance is understandable - the Socialist Alliance is virtually moribund and the something ‘broader’ touted by George Monbiot and Salma Yaqoob - the ‘peace and justice’ initiative - is well meaning but amorphous and uncertain.

Galloway could play an important role in bringing together an all-Britain opposition to the Blairites, something the SA of England and Wales signally failed to do. He has publicly ruled out joining the Scottish Socialist Party, citing that  organisation’s nationalist position on separation as his main reason. Obviously at the moment he is involved in discussions with a range of political forces. Thankfully the Green Party has wasted no time in distancing itself, even before any official announcement was made, with a somewhat hysterical, overtly red-baiting statement denouncing the strongly rumoured alliance involving Galloway as “a front for the loony-left Socialist Workers Party” (October 26).

There has meanwhile been a lot of speculation - the Glasgow Herald reports that Galloway is planning to run as part of a slate in London based around the Stop the War Coalition for the European elections next year (October 27). As yet, there has been no confirmation of any of this from the Galloway camp; his spokesperson in the House of Commons would only tell me that many possibilities were being explored and that nothing had been definitely ruled in or out.

The draft programme of the Monbiot-Yaqoob initiative, in which Galloway could if he wished be a key player, is undoubtedly inferior to the SA’s 2001 manifesto People before profit, formulated when it was at its peak, it is something much more diffuse. Democratic and pro-working class demands are diluted with a mixture of greenism and overtly social democratic platitudes about creating a society based on ‘social justice’; illusory twaddle about encouraging “ethical” and socially responsible “enterprise” (ie, a benign capitalism) and other such nonsense.

The Monbiot-Yaqoob draft programme is a classic hodgepodge, but it is also something that communists and revolutionary socialists need to engage with, albeit critically. It is still quite feasible that this could be the basis of something that could give a positive political expression to the mass anti-war movement, whose evident political potential has so far only been expressed (as a complete travesty) by the treacherous Liberal Democrats.

Given his background in the Labour left, his presence in a new left formation could pull it, assuming it ever gets up and running, in the direction of a real orientation to the labour movement. It is quite feasible that such a bloc could also include various trade union leaders - Mark Serwotka and Bob Crow being the most likely members of the ‘awkward squad’ to endorse any such initiative that looks serious.

An alliance that had Galloway and such union figures at the head of its labour movement component would tend to mark it out as a working class formation of some sort. The real problem with such an entity would be the same that has plagued the SA: is it going to be something temporary and therefore unstable, with no independent life of its own - the latest ‘united front of a special kind’ at the insistence of the SWP - or will it be something that sets itself the aim of becoming a new working class party? If it does not do the latter, then, no matter how far it evolves towards adopting formally correct positions, it will fail. Just as the SA under the leadership of the SWP has failed.

It was a matter of basic principle to defend Galloway against the Blairite witch-hunt, as well as the foul stories in the press branding him an Iraq agent in the pay of Saddam. At one level Comrade Galloway shows commendable passion in his defence of the rights of Arab and muslim peoples against imperialist and Israeli atrocities.

However, the kind of third-worldist politics that led him to make his much quoted speech in addressing the Iraqi dictator as “sir” and praising his “indefatigability” do not inspire confidence in a principled commitment to democratic norms. His well known and indeed honestly admitted reluctance to commit himself to abide by the principle of elected representatives taking only the average pay of a skilled worker could represent a possible pitfall, though of course not one unique to him.

The apparent press briefing that Galloway is to be at the head of a left slate to fight the European elections next year, prior to any democratic process having taken place, should also ring alarm bells. A real danger for any putative working class party that may come out of the current ferment would be the emergence of another Scargill-type figure that would seek to dominate it by bureaucratic means as part of a project of personal political aggrandisement. It may be of course that this proves to be an unfounded suspicion, but it would be as well for those likely to get involved in such a project to be on their guard. Any kind of repeat of the Scargill/SLP experience would produce yet another shambles.

Any new working class party in this country needs leaders who can address the masses in a manner that is inspiring and in a language that can be readily understood. Galloway has evidently great gifts in this regard, as do the likes of Tommy Sheridan and, in years gone by, Arthur Scargill. It also needs, however, a democratic internal regime and the means by which a genuinely socialist programme can gain purchase and sink roots in those same masses.

Without both of these things, without the emergence of a real party project that can attract such leaders, without overcoming the sect fetishism and anti-party phobia that characterised the Socialist Alliance project over the past period of accelerating SWP misleadership, we will be doomed to another cycle of failure.

The current developments may offer yet again a chance to break out of that - they are something that should be engaged with urgently and critically by all those concerned to positively resolve the crisis of working class politics in this country, and indeed internationally.