Galloway - brightest star
George Galloway's stunning performance in Washington has catapulted him onto the international political stage. It will open up some possibilities - but, writes Tina Becker, create new problems for both Respect and the SWP
May 17 2005 - this date was a vitally important turning point in the political life of George Galloway. The way he hammered those two ill-prepared senators will certainly be remembered - and cherished - by anti-war activists and socialists the world over. Even the bourgeois media internationally was - in general - in awe before this ordinary looking man from Dundee, who did not once look at his notes or turn to his assistant for background information. Galloway knew he was right and his heartfelt passion more than made up for the couple of small slips (like accusing senator Levin of being pro-war, when in fact he had voted against the invasion). George Galloway: political projects and a few Havana cigars Galloway's powerful, 47-minute appearance has not only earned him global respect: it is also likely to throw up the possibility of a substantial increase in his current annual income of around £140,000: he has been offered a US speaking tour of the Ivy League colleges (including Harvard, Princeton and Yale), for which he would charge around £5,000 an appearance. According to The Scotsman: "He would earn as much as he was accused of making in dodgy oil deals after just 30 appearances on the lucrative college lecture circuit." A spokesperson for Galloway confirmed the offer, adding: 'If it happens, he will do a series of paid-for lectures, but he also will do free ones'" (The Scotsman May 23). Undoubtedly 90% of any extra earning will be ploughed into Galloway's political and publishing projects - the other 10% will perhaps go on Havana cigars and Saville Row suits. Galloway himself, of course, sought to make his speech a historic moment by spiking it with references to infamous trials and witch-hunts conducted against socialists. "I am determined, now that I am here, to be not the accused, but the accuser," Galloway announced as he stood outside the Capitol - a reminder of the deservedly famous defence speech that Scottish socialist John Maclean delivered when he was charged with sedition in 1918: "I am not here, then, as the accused: I am here as the accuser of capitalism, dripping with blood from head to foot." Most easily recognisable was Galloway's much-quoted denial: "Mr chairman, I am not now, nor have I ever been, an oil trader, and neither has anyone been on my behalf" - paraphrasing the "Are you, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?" McCarthyite question which was supposed to nail communists and their sympathisers in the United States during the 1950s. Just like them, Galloway was condemned before he was even heard by the commission. As the dozy senator Carl M Levin reminded him, "After all, you are here to clear your name." Guilty until proved innocent. A new Bonaparte Galloway has more than successfully turned the tables on his accusers and has overnight become an internationally recognised political figure. His name is now instantly known both at home and abroad - but what about Respect? In Britain, the word 'respect' is mostly associated either with the phrase used by an Ali G-type youth or with the latest government spin to put more police on the streets ("We need to bring back a proper sense of respect in our schools and villages" - Tony Blair). While most people in Britain might now have heard of Galloway, only a small percentage will be aware that he has been elected as Respect. Clearly Respect's internal dynamic will now change - the scales will tip even more in favour of Galloway. And that is quite something: after all, the Socialist Workers Party has by default given the Respect figurehead carte blanche on pretty much everything. Not only did the SWP use its absolute majority at the October 2004 Respect conference to vote down principled motion after principled motion when they were not to George's liking (or that of the largely phantom 'muslim activist' wing of Respect). Since then, it has studiously avoided naming Galloway whenever he has aired his reactionary catholic, little Britain views: be it his famous interview with The Independent on Sunday when he declared his opposition to a woman's right to choose an abortion; his appearance on Question time where he spoke out against euthanasia; or his despicable article in the Morning Star, in which he expounded upon his version of 'controlled immigration' and a "points system". Socialist Worker polemics are with shadows and disembodied opponents. There is no question now that a mere 47 minutes have pushed the SWP down a notch or two when it comes to relative political weight in Respect. It is now definitely Galloway's show - at his Westminster office, he apparently received over 3,000 emails in the first 24 hours after his Washington appearance (The Scotsman May 23). Sure, he still needs the SWP to do the day-to-day work of the organisation - like delivering leaflets or going on the knocker. But Galloway will be the one who decides Respect's policy and steers the ship. He is the one who will be invited to do TV interviews, lecture tours and media stunts - less so John Rees and Lindsey German. Simultaneously the chances of Respect developing into a democratic organisation have been dealt a further, possibly fatal, blow by Galloway's newfound celebrity status. We could soon be witnessing the emergence of a Bonapartist organisation. Of course, Galloway is not a would-be labour dictator along the crude, hamfisted and crazy lines of Arthur Scargill. But he has no interest whatsoever in seeing the transformation of Respect into a democratic and accountable organisation. For example, while he might not have been the one to demand the exclusion of CPGB comrades from Respect's 2004 conference, he certainly did not speak out against the SWP's gerrymandering. In any democratic workers' party worthy of the name MPs would represent the organisation - not themselves as individuals. They would be expected to adhere to the broad political line set by the organisation collectively. They would be accountable to the membership, who could vote to recall them at any moment. That will not happen in Respect. We should not forget that Galloway holds no official position apart from being on the party's national committee. There is no way that even this committee can effectively dictate the policies he puts forward in the name of Respect. In short, Galloway is in effect unaccountable. The SWP-heavy Respect national committee will certainly not want to clash with its brightest media star. SWP difficulties But even for the SWP this new situation carries many problems and contradictions. Of course, John Rees is as uninterested in making Respect a democratic organisation as Galloway - but he is certainly keen to increase the purchase of his own sect within the organisation. By striving to make Respect a "mass membership party", he hopes to create a sea in which the SWP can swim and grow fat. Apart from the CPGB, no other serious rival organisation has joined Respect. The SWP sees itself as the power behind the parliamentary bench on which sits and speaks George Galloway. But so far the masses have not yet been seduced. At local Respect meetings, it is still pretty much the same old faces that show up, although that may change in the aftermath of Galloway's Washington performance. It would be very surprising if Respect did not benefit at all - at least temporarily. However, though a popular front like Respect might start to make some headlines and run some decent campaigns, as a weapon to effectively challenge (let alone overthrow) capitalism, it is intrinsically impotent. And some SWP members seem to be all too aware of this fact. Compare Alex Callinicos's description of Respect as an "alliance of secular socialists and muslim activists" (Socialist Worker November 20 2004) or that of Chris Harman - "simply an electoral coalition like Respect" (Socialist Review May 2005) - with John Rees's gushing pronouncements on the need for "a mass membership party". The differences might at the moment only exist on the level of emphasis, but any success for Respect will surely deepen fault lines. John Rees might think that at some stage Respect can be transformed into a socialist organisation or, if that does not work, simply discarded at a later point. Whatever strategy he is following, it is very likely going to end in disaster. You cannot possibly achieve a given aim (in this case still formally socialism) by adopting any possible method under the sun. Different means develop different logics and are bound to divert the original aims. Respect is a popular front - an alliance in which the working class component consciously limits itself to achieving what its rightwing partner will tolerate. In Respect's case, this revolutionary component subordinates itself to both Galloway and islamic organisations such as the Muslim Association of Britain and Birmingham Central Mosque, who have been persuaded to accept seats on its executive, where they undoubtedly exert a grossly disproportionate influence. A popular front is not going to produce a political force that is capable - or willing - to seriously challenge, let alone try to overthrow, capitalism. Surely the disastrous experience of the 'official' CPs during the 1930s should have taught today's socialists at least that. Harman in the middle Interestingly, it is the SWP's Chris Harman (until recently editor of Socialist Worker) Delphically highlighted this particular period when he commented on the 2002 French presidential elections. He argued quite rightly that much of the left in France was wrong to call for a vote for Jacques Chirac in order to defeat Jean-Marie le Pen and remarked that the French left had gone through "very much a rerun of the arguments over the popular front between revolutionaries, Communist Party supporters and social democrats back in the 1930s". After giving a number of examples where popular fronts across Europe led to the rise of the far right and the defeat of working class organisations, he concluded that boycotting the election would have been the right tactic: "That did not have to mean cutting yourself off from the mass of demonstrators who believed the Chirac vote could stop Le Pen. But it did mean saying to them, 'We don't agree, but let's act together over the things we do agree on - taking to the streets and exposing what Le Pen really stands for'" (Socialist Review June 2002). Exactly the right position: march together, but strike separately - and don't call the devil an angel. In fact, socialists have a duty to expose the devil as exactly that, otherwise they too become guilty of leading the working class into a dead end. A month ago, again in an article for Socialist Review, Harman argued against Rifondazione Comunista's decision to join Romano Prodi's proposed government coalition after the 2006 parliamentary elections. He explains the development of what he calls the "chain reaction", which is set into motion by the "left reformists" subordinating themselves to rightwing forces: "The left reformists, Antonio Gramsci said, looked for support to the right reformists, the right reformists looked to the supposedly progressive wing of the bourgeoisie and this wing of the bourgeoisie looked to the main section of the bourgeoisie who, in turn, were prepared if necessary to use fascist methods to defend their class position." He concludes: "Revolutionaries do not have to turn their backs on those who believe in reform. The easiest way to win a political argument with someone is to pursue it patiently while struggling alongside them for aims you both agree on. People have to use the powerful indictment of capitalist barbarity made by left leaders like Bertinotti (or Tony Benn in Britain) to prove the futility of their reformist methods. So the old debate retains all its relevance" (Socialist Review April 2005). It clearly does: his comrades in the SWP certainly make no attempt to "win a political argument" with either George Galloway or Respect's phantom muslim wing or to tell them, "We don't agree" - at least openly. In fact, the SWP has subordinated its own programme to the most rightwing elements in this 'alliance'. Comrade Harman penned an article in the latest issue of Socialist Review in which he argues for a "Bolshevik Party" that should be "active within the Respect coalition, as within every other front of resistance" - but that Respect by itself was not capable of mounting "a serious challenge to ruling class power" (Socialist Review May 2005). Whether the comrade is consciously aware of it or not, the thrust of his recent articles quite clearly challenge the current, possibly liquid-ationist, trajectory of his organisation. Another example, in which he could be viewed as criticising a different aspect of his organisation, is a feature article from 2004, in which the comrade elaborates on the question of fascism - concretely, in the context of the BJP in India. He notes that its rise "led all sorts of people to look to similarities to both the rise of fascism in Europe in the years between the two world wars and to the revival of fascists parties in countries like France, Belgium, Italy and Austria today. But the word 'fascism' is often used in a very loose way that does not provide any serious analysis. People often use it simply as a sort of swear word." He goes on to warn that it "is necessary to delineate clearly what the phenomenon is if we are not to fall into confusion and if we are to learn to fight it using effective methods" (Socialist Review October 2004). One organisation that has appeared extremely 'confused' as to what exactly constitutes fascism is of course his own. The SWP-led Anti-Nazi League was always quick to denounce people as "fascists", be it the Austrian demagogue, Jörg Haider, France's Le Pen or the murdered Dutchman Pim Fortuyn. Sounds like the dim-witted use of the phrase as a "swear word" to me. Chris Harman, on the other hand, proposes a serious examination of the origins of fascism, which "is not just a set of reactionary racist, communalist or national chauvinist prejudices. Most mainstream capitalist political parties dabble in these in order gain votes". Fascism, by contrast, "differs from these in that it aims to foment such prejudices so as to establish total political and social domination, in the process obliterating all independent organisation of workers, peasants and other oppressed groups". He goes on to locate fascism's base in the petty bourgeoisie, which suffers from the endemic crisis of capitalism, feels in competition with ethnic or religious minorities and develops "a hatred of working class organisations". "If fascism can build a mass base among these [petty bourgeois] layers, then it can exert an influence among sections of the working class - especially those who do not have traditions of independent class organisations, like those in small workplaces, the long-term unemployed - and among wider layers of the poor" (www.istendency.net October 5 2004). A thoughtful, if not entirely accurate and precise, definition. It is hard to imagine that the comrade is happy with the sub-moronic drivel his comrades dish out on the subject and perhaps this article was meant as a thinly-disguised criticism. We can speculate about comrade Harman's motives for penning such critical articles and take a good guess at what they mean. However, we can only guess - as a typical bureaucratic centralist sect, the SWP has no culture of open debate. The many political shifts and turns of its leadership cannot be effectively questioned - let alone democratically overturned. We should therefore not be surprised that comrade Harman appears to choose his language so very carefully. The SWP has been in the throes of a programmatic crisis for years. But its latest turn to a popular front party will hugely increase the internal pressures and tensions. The Weekly Worker will do its utmost to turn up the heat on the comrades. Why? Not because of narrow sectarianism or because we hope that more disgruntled SWP members will join our ranks. No, because the curiously misnamed 'unity coalition', Respect, is acting as a barrier to the kind of working class Marxist party that we so desperately need. We will do our utmost to help resolve the programmatic crisis of the left in a positive way - nobody would benefit if the SWP simply shattered into a thousand demoralised individual pieces.