Stitch-up and Blair's crisis

The trial: how New Labour purged George Galloway Bookmarks pamphlet 2003, pp60, £1

The expulsion of George Galloway, MP for Glasgow Kelvin, from the Labour Party is an event unprecedented in the history of Labour since the cold war witch-hunt of the early 1950s.

Even at the height of the Kinnock witch-hunt of the late 1980s and early 1990s, expulsions were of individuals who were deemed, accurately or not, to be loyal to organisations other than the Labour Party. Thus Dave Nellist and Terry Fields were, in formal terms, expelled not for their views per se, but rather for their support for the Militant Tendency, the Trotskyist entrist faction that was the precursor of today’s Socialist Party.

In Galloway’s case, on the other hand, there is no such pretence of divided loyalty - what is involved is a purge of a prominent oppositional MP, one of the key figures of the biggest anti-war movement in British history, purely for his expressed opinions on the war. What remains of Labour’s pretence to be a democratic party, already tarnished by the purge of Militant under Kinnock, has thus been dealt another major blow by this expulsion. The Labour leadership can and must be made to pay a heavy political price for this anti-democratic attack on the whole anti-war movement, which of course includes many ordinary Labour supporters and voters, as well as broad sections, probably the majority, of the trade union movement.

As we have noted in the Weekly Worker in the past, Galloway’s opposition to the Iraq war went further than the run of the mill opposition that one generally expects from the left wing of Labourism to such imperialist military adventures. Galloway’s politics contain a mixture of left Labourism and a variant of Stalinist reformism that identifies with third world struggles in an often uncritical way, and leads to political compromises with some reactionary third world regimes that Marxists find politically unacceptable.

His well publicised remarks that appeared to praise the ‘courage’ and ‘indefatigability’ of Saddam Hussein’s regime are a case in point - though, to be fair, Galloway maintains that he was actually praising the Iraqi people for their resistance to imperialism’s genocidal sanctions and war that blighted their lives for an entire decade, prior to the outright invasion of Iraq by imperialism.

His campaigning activities against Iraqi sanctions, as well as for Kashmir independence, which involved fundraising by soliciting money from various reactionary bourgeois regimes in the muslim/Arab world, are also highly controversial: Galloway has made no secret of these activities, which Marxists regard as outside the bounds of revolutionary principle. But then Galloway does not claim to be a revolutionary Marxist.

However, what can be said of these events as a totality is that that, unlike the mainstream of left reformism, Galloway’s version has at least partially transcended the classic reformist fetish of unconditional loyalty to one’s ‘own’ nation-state, which has led social democratic politicians to act as agents for the bourgeoisie in two world wars and countless smaller ones, shepherding the workers to slaughter each other in the interests of the profits and prestige of their ‘own’ ruling class.

Thus Galloway’s pronouncements on the Iraq war, declaring it illegal (which is, of course, quite likely true under bourgeois ‘international law’), and calling on British troops to refuse to obey illegal orders (by definition orders to fight in an illegal war must be illegal), as well as other statements he made regretting that various Arab governments were helping the US and British imperialists to wage this war, which amounted to a form of defeatism in regard to his ‘own’ country. It was not revolutionary defeatism, which seeks to utilise defeats of imperialism to make revolution, but it was a sharply expressed form of bourgeois defeatism.

This was too much for the Blairite leadership of the Labour Party to tolerate - yet the problem was that Galloway had broken no Labour Party rules, nor had he broken any actual law that anyone could put their finger on. The gutter press accused Galloway of ‘treason’ for his views, accusations that incorporated typically mendacious distortions and outright lies about what Galloway had actually said on various occasions. But because Galloway had not contravened any rule or law, and indeed had made trenchant and difficult-to-dispute accusations of illegal conduct by the government itself, the means by which the Blairites contrived to expel him are transparently mendacious and almost certainly amount to an unlawful abuse of the Labour Party’s own rules - a corrupt show trial, in other words.

Relevant sections of the proceedings and transcripts of this show trial have now been published in a Bookmarks pamphlet, The trial: how New Labour purged George Galloway, which is now evidently selling like hot cakes to labour movement and anti-war audiences around the country. The contents are political dynamite, and probably legal dynamite as well - Galloway is challenging his expulsion in court and, given the blatant falsification ably exposed by his barrister, Nicholas De Marco, he may well win.

The material in the pamphlet is quite straightforward. Interspersed throughout are extracts from the testimony of witnesses Galloway was able to call in his defence, which included Michael Foot, the former Labour Party leader; Tony Benn; Mark Seddon (NEC member and Tribune editor); and TGWU general secretary Tony Woodley. The Blairites called one witness: Chris Lennie, the deputy general secretary of the party. It is the transcripts of the cross-examination of the latter that reveal the most about the fundamental mendacity of the Blairites’ case against Galloway.

The charges formulated were under the catch-all of allegedly bringing the Labour Party into disrepute - ie, in the words of the indictment, of “Engaging in conduct which is prejudicial or in an act which is grossly detrimental to the Labour Party …” Allegedly Galloway is supposed to have “incite[d] Arabs to fight British troops” in an interview on Abu Dhabi TV; “incite[d] British troops to disobey orders”; incited voters to vote against two Labour MPs in Plymouth “at the next general election” (a charge so preposterous and unsubstantiated that even the national constitutional commission kangaroo court had to throw it out); threatened to fight in Glasgow as an independent candidate if undemo-cratically excluded from the selection process: “ie, against a duly endorsed Labour candidate”; and finally “supporting” Michael Lavalette, the Socialist Alliance councillor in Preston who won a council seat in May’s council elections.

The most notable example of falsification is, of course, over the dubious legality of the war. The Labour leadership is so vulnerable on this question that it cannot simply admit the truth about what Galloway actually said: that he called for British troops to disobey illegal orders, not orders in general, as the charges allege. The exchanges on this question were rather comical, as the Blairites tried to slide over the question of legality. Here is De Marco questioning Chris Lennie:

Q: In fact what you were doing was you were straining to create an inventor charge by omitting the context in which Mr Galloway’s remarks were made, weren’t you?

A: I’ve not tried to omit anything. The whole [bundle of documents] is there in its entirety. What I’ve tried to do is to take from that the remarks made which are aimed at inciting British soldiers to disobey their orders.

Q: Disobey illegal orders - yes?

A: Well, the quote is “illegal orders”.

Q: Yes. So the charge - lets have a look at the charge for a moment: charge 2. The charge - particulars: “Inciting British troops to disobey orders … That’s actually wrong, isn’t it?

A: Not in my judgement.

Q: Mr Galloway was not inciting people to disobey orders. You say yourself his comments are only in relation to illegal orders, aren’t they? … Do you think your charge would sound a bit different if you said that Mr Galloway was trying to encourage British troops to disobey illegal orders? Do you think that would sound different?

A: I don’t think it’s relevant …

Q: Do you think British troops should obey illegal orders?

A: I think British troops should obey their orders.

Q: Even if they’re illegal?

A: Well, the issue here isn’t about illegal or legal orders. The issue is about George’s conduct in seeking to get British soldiers not to do what they’re told by their superiors.

Q: Mr Lennie, perhaps you could answer the question. Do you think British troops should obey illegal orders?

And so on and so forth. Lennie continued to squirm, and repeatedly failed to acknowledge the essential point … that Galloway had merely called on troops to disobey illegal orders. Even in bourgeois terms, this is unchallengeable … as De Marco pointed out later in his cross examination of Lennie: “I have to put it to you, Mr Lennie, that your position is the position that the war criminals of the Hitler regime argued in their defence at Nuremberg, isn’t it?”

In fact, as Galloway’s counsel noted subsequently in this session, Galloway had concretely commented on three British soldiers who had been sent home from Iraq for expressing ‘concerns’ about the supposed legality of the war. The government did not punish these men - it feared that to do so would put the legality of the war into a courtroom context that could lead to the major political embarrassment of some kind of decision that the orders, and hence the war, were illegal.

This is only the most notable example of threadbare sophistry on behalf of the Labour Party’s representatives during the proceedings. Equally bizarre was the insistence of the Blairites on using a transcript of Galloway’s interview on Abu Dhabi TV that they admitted had been translated from English to Arabic and back again, and had not been checked against the original in any way, in order to accuse Galloway of calling on Arabs to “fight British troops”. Galloway denied point blank that this was an accurate representation of his words. Indeed, even the raw, repeatedly translated passage cited by the prosecution did not bear this out either.

It was read out by Nicholas De Marco thus: “Even if it’s not realistic to ask a non-Iraqi army to come to defend Iraq, we see Arab regimes pumping oil into countries … [words indistinct]. Today 51 Iraqi civilians were killed in Baghdad by missiles fired from another Arab country … [words indistinct]. We wonder when the Arab leaders will wake up.” As his counsel brought out during the proceedings, “the most reasonable interpretation of the whole paragraph [was] that Mr Galloway was saying that Arab governments ought not to be supporting the war effort.” But of course, the decision having been decided in advance by the Blairite faction from which the national constitutional commission panel was drawn, such elementary points were ignored.

Similar nonsense went on regarding the other charges, including Galloway’s statement that if he was a victim of undemocratic fraud or rigging of the selection process he would consider standing as an independent. The fact that this in itself was considered grounds for expulsion was bizarre from the standpoint of elementary democracy, but of course only too typical of New Labour - they hardly bother even to hide the fraud of which the Labour leadership is the initiator all over the country in parliamentary selections - shortlists of one person, the arbitrary exclusion of even remotely leftwing candidates from consideration by the membership, etc. Merely to say that, if hypothetically such a fraud were to happen, a sitting MP would consider defying the fraudsters and standing independently is now a reason to expel them, it seems. Then there is the even more bizarre business of Michael Lavalette. Even to congratulate a successful candidate from a socialist organisation after the election is over is now an expellable offence in the Labour Party.

The mechanics of this are pretty stark in terms of underlining the crisis of Blairism that has emerged over the Iraq war. What is of course also important to the left is the role of George Galloway in terms of the future of attempts to build an open working class alternative to New Labour - his legal challenge to Blair’s show trial sits somewhat uneasily with the ‘broad’, non-party, loose, coalition-type body that he is attempting to set up with the Socialist Workers Party, George Monbiot, Salma Yaqoob and others.

In other words, it is open to the suspicion that Galloway is more interested in forcing his way back into the Labour Party (perhaps in a bloc with Ken Livingstone, who appears to be on the verge of humiliating Blair by forcing his own reinstatement) than in building a public alternative to Labour. Needless to say, such a likely possibility means that the SWP’s bloc with Galloway for the construction of this new unity coalition is a very slender reed indeed to stave off any potential crisis caused by the SWP’s steering the SA onto the rocks. The SWP, whose history reveals a mixture of auto-Labourism and organisational sectarianism toward the Labour left, would be left high and dry, should the logic of Galloway’s trajectory lead by a roundabout route to a renewed struggle within the Labour Party.

For communists all these possible situations call for flexibility of tactics, combined with firm principles. For the SWP, for all the hopes the current ‘project’ is raising, this whole situation could be a real Pandora’s box.