Review: Memoirs of an opportunist

I’m not the only one, George Galloway, £10, Penguin Books 2004, 184pp

George Galloway has played a leading role in the anti-war movement and more recently in the Respect coalition. What strikes one in reading his book are the frequent expressions of shallow opportunism: the legacy of a career spent covering up for Labour. If the reader expects a coherent anti-imperialist statement, he or she will be disappointed.

Of course there are sections which have a certain strength, as when he describes the effect of sanctions on Iraq. Yet he does not mention that many of his current allies such as Tony Benn and CND supported these sanctions in 1990 in the lead up to the first Gulf War. Later he speaks of his admiration for Fidel Castro and the gains of the Cuban Revolution. But for many years he remained a member of the Labour Party which has always been a determined opponent of revolution. And now his principle ally in Respect, the SWP, is virulently hostile to both Cuban socialism and Fidel Castro. On the one hand an alliance with progress, on the other an alliance with reaction.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the book is when Galloway describes his relationship with the Labour Party. Important questions such as why he was a member for so long are left unanswered. We need to remember he was an MP whilst this government introduced the most appalling and racist laws against asylum seekers and the most draconian ‘anti-terror’ laws, whilst it bombed the Balkans and Afghanistan and whilst it maintained the sanctions he deplored against Iraq. Yet he never resigned – he had to be forced out.

Galloway writes about New Labour’s ‘hijacking’ of the party, concluding that ‘people had waited a long time for a Labour government only to find Tony Blair presiding over a grotesque caricature of what the Labour Party stands for’. By contrast he waxes lyrically about the ‘jewel in the crown of the 1945 Attlee government’, the welfare state, but omits to mention that this was paid for by the super-exploitation of the British empire. He regards Attlee’s imperialist Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin as ‘great’ – the same Bevin who used military force to prop up imperialist interests in Greece, Malaya, and Vietnam and played a leading role in founding the NATO imperialist war alliance.

And what of his principal proposal for reform of Parliament?

‘The House of Commons is too big. India with a population of one billion people has a parliament of just 500 members. We need half as many MPs as we have, being paid twice as much and having proper offices and staff.’

Certainly no concession here to the socialist standpoint that a workers’ representative should receive a worker’s average wage!

Having spent a lifetime covering up for Labour he now finds time to cover up for imperialist Europe:

‘Europe must find a role in the world that reflects its burgeoning economic power...It will have to show the people of Europe that we favour a different model from the US – one based on democracy, fairness and justice...The single currency – in principle a good idea – will have to be under the management of elected representatives of Europe... a people’s Europe can help to restore equilibrium in a dangerously unstable, unjust and unsustainable world’

A single currency is a necessary step towards the creation of a European imperialist alliance capable of challenging US hegemony. This is not about restoring equilibrium, it is about the redivision of the world.

Galloway rehashes the old Bennite view that portrays Britain, the second imperialist power in the world today, as little more than colony of the US:

‘We want a special relationship with the people of America. We don’t just want the Lewinsky-type special relationship: one-sided, unequal, illicit, easily dispensed with by the more powerful partner and requiring the weaker partner to be endlessly on her knees...We are an independent European country, not the fifty-first state of the United States of America.’ (emphasis added)

This is petty nationalism of the worst order – who is the ‘we’ supposed to include?

Nor does he mention his fundamentalist anti-abortion views. It is just a further example of his selected reading of both his personal history and that of Labour imperialism. In the final pages of his book, he mentions the Marks & Spencer pickets. Fine – but it is about time he got down to one and helped rebuild a movement on the streets rather than through the ballot box.
Louis Brehony

FRFI 180 August / September 2004