Article from the November 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI
Under attack from Bush and Blair
Can George Galloway build an alternative?
By Ciaran Mulholland
RESPECT MP George Galloway drew large crowds when he toured Ireland in early November. The success of his tour was due to the very effective way he has tapped into the prevailing anti-war mood. He stands out amongst the grey suits of Westminster and makes mincemeat of the pro-war arguments of Blair and his cohorts. Precisely because he stands out, he was expelled by New Labour and is constantly hounded by the press.
Whilst Galloway is admired by many workers and young people for the stand he has taken on the war, they also look askance at some of his political positions. The Socialist Party too has problems with some of his politics. He is, in his own words, "not as left wing as you think".
In one of his books he describes the struggle of Liverpool City Council, led by the forerunners of the Socialist Party, in the mid-eighties as "ultra-left." Galloway treats the argument that workers representatives should live on a worker's wage with disdain: "As I told Tommy Sheridan once, I couldn't live on three workers' wages." (Scotsman, 19 May 2003)
His comments on Saddam Hussein are well known "...Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability. And I want you to know that we are with you until victory, until victory, until Jerusalem." (The Times, 20 January 1994)
Unfortunately this is not an isolated comment. When a military coup installed General Musharraf in power in Pakistan, Galloway's view was clear. "In poor third world countries like Pakistan politics is too important to be left to petty squabbling politicians. General Musharraf seems an upright sort to me and should be given a chance to put Pakistan's house in order before managing to return to normal politics." (Mail on Sunday, 17 July 1999)
Galloway's views are very far away from ours in many ways. All of this does not mean that the Socialist Party is not prepared to work with Galloway however. At the height of the antiwar movement the Socialist Party in England and Wales met with Galloway and expressed its preparedness to launch with him and other left organisations a left party, so long as it was genuinely broad based, open and democratic.
Instead Galloway and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) launched "Respect". The basis of this party is too narrow, appealing in the main to some Muslims-one specific leaflet aimed at Muslims described Respect as "the party for Muslims".
The Socialist Party did not immediately write off Respect but waited, to see what this formation's political character was and, crucially, what kind of structures would be set up. Respect has certainly had some good election results but is very unlikely, because of its political approach and its structures, to make a significant breakthrough amongst broader layers of the working class.
The Socialist Party in England and Wales has argued the case for a new mass workers' party for more than ten years. The Socialist Labour Party, set up by Arthur Scargill and the Socialist Alliance - which the Socialist Party originally helped to set up but which was later run into the sand by the undemocratic approach of the SWP-both turned out to be false starts on the road to new mass party. It appears increasingly likely that Respect will turn out to be another false start.
The recent success of the Left Party in Germany in winning 8.8% of the vote and 54 parliamentary seats in the general election illustrates what is possible. In Britain today a large minority of working class and young people do not vote. They do not see Labour as their party but see no alternative at this time.
False starts leave a negative legacy. Despite this, a determined and coordinated lead could bear fruit. The RMT union has called a conference in London on 21 January 2005 to discuss the crisis in working class political representation. All RMT branches and regional councils have been asked to send delegates. Other unions have been invited to attend, but it appears this is an invitation to union head offices rather than local branches.
This conference could be an important stepping stone in the direction of a new mass party but, as organised, falls short of what is required. A successful conference must involve the widest layers of those who are genuinely interested in taking the debate forward and must discuss the programme and character of a future mass party. In the view of the Socialist Party a new party must have a federal structure in order to involve the widest possible layers.
The Socialist Party in England and Wales intends to explore, alongside trade unionists, environmentalists, young people, community activists and prominent political leaders (including George Galloway), the idea of calling a consultative conference on the issue of a new mass party. At this stage the aim is to encourage and stimulate serious debate. A headlong rush towards proclaiming a new party will not further our ultimate aims.