- Created: Wednesday, 20 May 2009 15:02
- Written by Jim Craven
FRFI 176 December 2003 / January 2004
George Galloway has been an outspoken critic of many aspects of Labour government policy, in particular, the war on Iraq. In October he was expelled from the Labour Party for allegedly threatening to stand against Labour, inciting British troops to defy orders, inciting Arabs to fight British troops and for backing an anti-war candidate in a local election. Galloway denied all the charges and condemned his hearing as a travesty.
Within a week of his expulsion, George Galloway was spearheading a new movement in alliance with sections of the British left. Galloway said he: ‘seeks to unify red, green, anti-war, Muslims and other social constituencies radicalised by the war (on Iraq) in a referendum on Tony Blair’. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) sponsored a series of meetings around the country to launch the new coalition under the portentous title ‘British Politics at the Crossroads’. Can this new movement be, as Paul Foot of the SWP claimed, ‘a springboard for a new united left that can intervene effectively at every level’ and what should be the priorities for a socialist working class movement that genuinely opposes Labour?
George Galloway has been a long-term supporter of socialist Cuba and of the Palestinian people’s struggle against Zionist occupation. At times, Galloway has shown he understands that at the root of all these issues is the role of imperialism, that is, the necessity for the major capitalist countries to control ever-greater sections of the world’s resources and markets and their willingness to destroy anyone who stands in their way. He recently stated, ‘I did support the Soviet Union and I think the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life. If there was a Soviet Union today, we should not be having this conversation about plunging into a new war in the Middle East, and the US would not be rampaging around the globe’. Implicit in this statement is the idea that only a movement built on opposition to imperialism itself has any chance of preventing further wars such as that on Iraq.
In such a context, issues like Cuba and Palestine have to be central, for these are key areas of resistance to imperialism’s global drive for power. A new movement built on these principles would have been a real step forward. Yet, in launching the new coalition, Galloway made no mention of Cuba or Palestine. Instead, he chose to ally himself with the SWP, a group that has consistently attacked Cuba in the most vicious terms and has attached scant importance to the Palestinian Intifada.
Election not action
So, what does the new movement aim to achieve? Salma Yaqoob, chair of Birmingham Stop the War and a prime mover of the new coalition, claims that it, ‘combines the grassroots focus and activism of social movements with an electoral strategy’. It appears, however, that electioneering will be the main activity. In particular, the coalition has its eyes on the European and Greater London Authority elections next June where they hope to win seats through the proportional representation system. Regaining a public platform by winning a seat in the European Parliament will be one of Galloway’s main objectives. Film-maker Ken Loach, another speaker at the inaugural meeting, spelt this out when he said, ‘If we fail to develop and move into electoral politics then we campaign, organise, support people in disputes and, come the next election, we hand them over to the Lib. Dems’. George Monbiot, the environmental campaigner, said, ‘The challenge on the left is to balance loyalty to our beliefs with an effective political force’. Which suggests he is willing to put principle aside in order to maximise electoral success.
The only on-the-streets activity proposed at the inaugural meetings was support for the anti-Bush demonstration in London, which had already been organised by many of the same people initiating the new coalition – SWP/Stop the War. But, as with previous demonstrations they had organised, the anti-Bush demonstration failed to focus on the underlying politics of what US and British imperialism is trying to achieve, and that it is not just Bush and Blair who need to be opposed but the system they represent.
New movement or old Labour
Opinion within the new coalition appears confused as to its precise attitude to the Labour Party. George Galloway has said: ‘Maybe the (election) results will be cathartic within the Labour Party itself, and help to spark the long-heralded – and much to be hoped for – “reclaiming” of the party’. On another occasion he described the idea of reclaiming Labour as ‘not promising’. The SWP sees the coalition as a, ‘chance for a powerful socialist challenge’ and ‘a campaigning electoral alternative to New Labour’. George Monbiot merely wants ‘something to make Blair frightened’.
What is clear is that no-one in the coalition calls for the destruction of the Labour Party and all it represents. In place of a thorough analysis and rejection of the Labour Party as a whole, the coalition refers to the Labour Party having been ‘hijacked’ by a ‘clique’ and an ‘inversion’ of ‘true Labour values’. Monbiot even talks of: ‘The Labour Party that we used to turn to when we wanted to see some opposition to imperial wars of aggression, erosion of labour standards, creeping privatisation of public services and persecution of asylum seekers’. So, which Labour Party would that be? The one that sent British troops into Ireland and tortured Republican prisoners? The one that scabbed on the miners, or the one that has supported every anti-immigration act since the 1960s?
A reactionary movement for the privileged
What can we make of all this? Essentially, the new movement is an attempt to rebuild a coalition between sections of the middle class and the better-off section of the working class – the labour aristocracy. This has been the traditional base of Labour Party support. Increasingly, many of them see their privileges being threatened as, with the deepening economic crisis of capitalism, Labour gives priority to the needs of the imperialist ruling class. They either want to bring pressure on the Labour Party to revert to policies more sympathetic to their needs or to build an electoral alternative. In either case the coalition is not trying to build anything new. It is another attempt to recreate some magic formula of the Labour left.
As recently as July 2003, George Galloway was speaking at the launch of another such movement, the ‘Save Our Party’ conference, organised by the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs. Such ‘new movements’ have huge launches and big conferences but they are a charade. There is no democracy; no questioning, no open debate, no opportunity for alternative voices to be heard. The same political forces, the SWP and the Labour left, put themselves at the head and they go nowhere. Any spark of lively opposition to capitalism and imperialism is snuffed out, as happened to the anti-capitalist movement when the SWP’s ‘Globalise Resistance’ took over.
At present the forces for a new coalition of the middle class and privileged working class are weak. The backbone of the old ‘Labour Movement’, the trade unions, have almost totally capitulated to collaboration with the ruling class. Galloway and the other organisers of the new movement stress the rise of the new breed of militant trade union leaders, the so-called ‘awkward squad’. But they are proving to be no more awkward than their predecessors (see ‘All Mouth and No Trousers’ FRFI 174).
The coalition organisers also hope to capitalise on the massive middle class opposition to the war on Iraq. But they failed to do that at the time of the invasion and much of that anger has dissipated now that the middle class realises the war is not leading to any catastrophic destruction of its lifestyle. No other left Labour MP has resigned in protest at Galloway’s expulsion or spoken in support of the new coalition. Galloway said the coalition plans ‘to support that other labour exile, Ken Livingstone’. But Livingstone has increasingly moved towards compromise with Blair and is more likely to be back in the Labour Party before long. As for the Green Party, they have totally rejected the coalition as an SWP front; essentially an extension of the Socialist Alliance.
Building a revolutionary movement
The time will come when a new coalition of the middle class and labour aristocracy will be necessary. That time will be when the deepening crisis of capitalism prevents a Labour government maintaining their privileges at an acceptable minimum level. However, such a coalition will not be a working-class movement for socialism. On the contrary, it will play the role that middle-class, social democratic movements have always played. It will undermine any genuine workers’ movement that arises as the crisis of capitalism deepens. The likes of the SWP and left Labour will play a crucial role in sustaining capitalism rather than destroying it.
The task of socialists is not to aid such a coalition but to build a revolutionary working class movement. At its heart must be opposition to imperialism and its racist ideology. It must take up the cause of all those fighting imperialism throughout the world, whether in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America or Africa. It must defend socialist Cuba. It must defend all those seeking asylum from the ravages of imperialism, whether for political or economic reasons. It must defend the interests of the genuine working class in Britain, not the privileged elite. It must be a democratic movement; a movement of action on the streets that uses elections tactically as a platform for ideas not as an end in itself. Above all, a revolutionary working-class movement will need to understand that the Labour Party is, and always has been, a party of capitalism and imperialism that has consistently betrayed the working class. It must break completely from the Labour Party and the politics it represents rather than build a new movement in its image.
At present the prospects of building an anti-imperialist movement in Britain seem very distant. But things will change. The resistance and victory of those fighting for freedom in the oppressed countries will limit the options for imperialism. The crisis will be felt more and more within the imperialist countries themselves. As the crisis of capitalism deepens more and more of the working class will be thrust deeper into poverty and faced with the prospect of total degradation or fighting back. More and more workers will lose the privileges they have come to expect. More and more of the middle class will be thrust down into the working class and will have to decide whether to pin their hopes on a capitalist revival or whether to help build a new society. Until that time comes, it is the task of socialists to dispel all illusions about ‘a return to true Labour values’ and build the foundations of an anti-imperialist revolutionary working-class movement in Britain.