“The last exploit of the Fenians in Clerkenwell was a very stupid thing. The London masses, who have shown great sympathy for Ireland, will be made wild by it and driven into the arms of the government party. One cannot expect the London proletariat to allow themselves to be blown up in honour of the Fenian emissaries. There is always a kind of fatality about such a secret, melodramatic sort of conspiracy.” — Karl Marx, writing to Frederick Engels, December 1867.
“The stupid affair in Clerkenwell was obviously the work of a few specialised fanatics; it is the misfortune of all conspiracies that they lead to such stupidities, because 'after all, something must happen, after all something must be done'. In particular, there has been a lot of bluster in America about this blowing up and arson business, and then a few asses come and instigate such nonsense. Moreover, these cannibals are generally the greatest cowards… and then the idea of liberating Ireland by setting a London tailor's shop on fire!” — Engels’ reply
I ask you to consider two aspects of your party’s current activities: the fact that the biggest single financial contributor to “Respect” Dr Naseem, is a prominent member of a religious-sectarian party, and George Galloway’s latest reactionary rhapsodisings on Arab TV
Documents on the Electoral Commission’s website show that the biggest single financial benefactor of “Respect”, the broad political party run and controlled by the SWP, is Dr Mohammed Naseem of Birmingham. Naseem has given Respect £15,457. He was a Respect candidate in a Birmingham constituency in the recent General Election. He is also the chair of Birmingham Central Mosque and a leader of the “Islamic Party of Britain”.
“Fine,” you may say: “take political money from wherever you can get it!” That is undoubtedly the attitude of the SWP”s leaders. In this case you “get it” from a prominent member of a religious-sectarian political organisation whose website
- Advocates the killing by the state of those who make “displays of homosexual lewdness”;
- Tells the world that the slaughter of Londoners going to work on the underground and the number 30 bus was not the work of islamists but of Jews, specifically of the Israeli secret service, Mossad.
- Solidarises with the medievalist Taliban regime in Afghanistan — which forced city-dwelling Afghan women back to the conditions of the dark ages. (So of course did Socialist Worker, which in October 2001 tried to “explain away the Taliban’s oppression of women with the story that it was for their protection.)
“Fine,” you may say again: “Dr Naseem is an ally, not a member of the SWP. The SWP has no responsibility for him beyond what he says and does in the name of Respect.” That is not true.
A political party does have responsibility for the broad character of those with whom it enters into alliance.
It would be proper to ally with Dr Naseem, and people even further to the right, for the physical defence of the Muslim communities from racist and fascist attack. That is not what the SWP has done.
You have created a structured, seemingly stable, long-term alliance with people such as Naseem and individuals from the leadership of the Muslim Association of Britain.
To find parallels for what the SWP is doing with Respect, you have to go back to the degenerating Communist International, which formed a joint party with nationalists in the Chinese Koumintang. That episode ended in the mass slaughter of communist workers, in 1927.
The SWP is probably safe from such a prospect! But the workers of Iraq, victims of the Baathist and Sunni supremacist “resistance”, which the SWP uncritically supports, experience something like it every day of their lives.
Here let me say something in passing. Confronted with the astonishing collapse of the SWP into vicarious political Islamism, I experience a sense of unreality, of the uncanny, of nightmarishness.
It is very strange to find myself arguing with people who call themselves socialists, and even Marxists, about why they should not ally with, or parrot the politics of, those whose politics, social opinions, activities and aspirations define them as extreme reactionaries — in fact, as clerical fascists!
I have the weird sense that the old elements of socialist and progressive politics have been separated, shuffled, mixed with something else and rearranged to produce strange, yet also strangely familiar, mutations. Take gay rights.
Back as far as the 19th century socialists argued that homosexuality, being a natural part of the human condition, should be entirely free of stigma and of legal prohibitions and penalties. In the more recent liberal decades in Britain we have defended them from police harassment and from brutish assault in the streets by bigots and disturbed people.
Such policies and attitudes aren’t even especially socialist, but part of what socialists, in our role as consistent democrats, take over from the old progressive bourgeois democrats. And yet I — in August 2005! — find myself here arguing with socialists against forming close and long-term alliances with people who think the state should kill lesbian, gay and bisexual people!
If you think about it you will see how very, very odd is the situation created by the SWP’s turn to political Islam.
And Galloway! Champion of Iraq’s long-term fascistic dictator, Saddam Hussein, close personal friend of his Deputy, Tariq Azis, he is now one of the best known “lefts”, and as the public face and leader of Respect, the main mouthpiece of the left. But Galloway is not now in any meaningful sense any sort of leftist. If he is any sort of “anti-imperialist”, then he is a reactionary anti-imperialist, supporting the worse against the bad, as for a decade before the 2003 war he had suppoorted and acted as propagandist for Saddam.
In generic terms, Galloway is on the far right of the political spectrum. His obscene mixture of demagogy, his lack of political scruple, his long-time bourgeois,— and feudalist! — Arab political allies, his — admitted — financial links with reactionary regimes in the Muslim world, brand him not as a man of the left but as close political kin to the old, authoritarian, right, working in that tradition, as a politician who is politically closer to the fascist than to the socialist tradition. That needs to be said plainly.
The leaders of the SWP think they are “using” Galloway. They control the political machine and the core activists of Respect. But, politically, Galloway is using them. He really is, politically, the leader of Respect. It is his voice, tones, politics, obsessions, romantic Arabism, associations in the Arab world with such as Saddam Hussein which define the politics of Respect.
His main organisational alliance is with the SWP, but his political alliances are with the fascistic Ba’athists of Iraq, with Sunni supremacists, with political Islamists, with Gulf sheiks, Saudi largesse-distributors — he has admitted taking money from Saudi Arabia —and with God knows who else in bourgeois Arab and Islamic politics.
Socialists differ with Galloway and the SWP not in finding people like Blair and Bush odious, but in his and their discovery that people like Saddam and the “resistance” in Iraq are better.
Consider Galloway’s latest adventures in the Middle East.
His recent performance on Syrian TV has been siezed on by such papers as the Sun to smear the left with the Galloway brush. Apparently speaking to Arabs at large, he is quoted as telling them: “Two of your beautiful daughters are in the hands of foreigners — Jerusalem and Baghdad. The foreigners are doing to your daughters as they will. The daughters are crying for help and the Arab world is silent. And some of them are collaborating with the rape of these two Arab daughters.”
This, even allowing for Galloway’s habitually overripe and rancid rhetorical style, is the language and concerns of no sort of leftist — neither of the liberal left nor the class-struggle Marxist left.
It expresses the point of view of an (adoptive) Arab-Islamic chauvinism. It makes itself indistinguishable from Arab — and Islamic — revanchism against the modern world and the yearning in many segments of Muslim — society for a world in which Islam rules.
He plainly preaches an Arab war on Israel to rescue the “beautiful Arab daughter”, Jerusalem.
Galloway, who is himself no longer a poor man, and whose business prospects in the Arab world will certainly not suffer because of his present activities, is quoted as saying on Al Jazeera TV, “We believe in the prophets. [Bush] believes in the profits — and how to get a piece of them… That’s his God… George Bush worships money. That’s his God, Mammon.”
Who amongst Galloway’s left-wing allies in Respect dares to argue — as distinct from silently taking it for granted, as they do — that such putrid nonsense has any proper place among socialists, consistent democrats or those who are, like Solidarity, first and foremost labour movement people, interested above all else in the welfare of the labour movement.
The SWP is silent — eloquently silent — while continuing to walk in Galloway’s political shadow and letting him speak for them.
Galloway’s politics is incompatible with socialism and also with the interests of what there is of an Arab labour movement.
Least of all there, where the working class movement will only develop to the extent that it surmounts, defeats and destroys the influence of the priests and of Islam over Arab and Muslim workers, can Galloway be considered as other than a reactionary and an enemy of the working class.
But nobody who had been paying attention needed to wait for Galloway’s recent performance on Arab TV to know what, politically, Galloway is.
It is eleven years since BBC TV cameras recorded him standing before the blood-drenched fascistic dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and telling him to his face how “indefatigable”, “courageous” and altogether wonderful he was.
At that point honest, politically serious people on the left should have severed all ties with Galloway and shunned him. Nothing like that happened. The opposite happened! Galloway is now the licensed mouthpiece of the the SWP!
It is perfectly possible to oppose the US-British war with Iraq — as Solidarity did — and to campaign now for the immediate withdrawal of US and British and other occupying armies from Iraq, and still be an honest left winger.
Possible, without ceasing to be a working class socialist, even to argue — though any such argument would be malignantly spurious and foolish — that the new Iraqi labour movement, which does not call for the immediate withdrawal of US and British troops, should be politically condemned as “collaborators”.
To hold that in Britain now the main concern of socialists for Iraq should be not work to help the new labour movement there, but a campaign for the immediate withdrawal of British and US troops from Iraq. That approach in our view would mark its proponent as an addle-headed sectarian in the grip of the “anti-imperialism of the idiots”. But there are a lot of those, who do not on that score thereby cease to be leftists. (They give the left a bad name among thinking workers, but that is another matter.)
One can hold — as Solidarity does — that those erstwhile leftists who gave positive political backing to Blair and Bush and their Iraqi political clients, including the Iraqi Communist Party, are half-hatched toytown neo-cons — irresponsible nitwits playing at world statesmanship and parlour war games who have, and to ridiculous degree, lost the political plot.
It is possible to hold grievously wrong positions, and still not cease to be, in general, a leftist.
It is because of his attitude on all these issues and others and because of his associations, as above, that Galloway must be classified as a man of the right, not the left.
Be clear what I am and am not saying. That the members and leaders of the SWP think of themselves as socialists, and want to promote the socialist cause, I do not dispute. But they have reached such a stage of political corruption and decay, they have embraced so much for so long that is anathema to socialism, and such is now now their alliance with political Islam and Galloway, that they no longer, in much that they do and say, stand in the rartional, Marxist, working-class socialist tradition – or anywhere near it.
I urge you to stand back and take a cold look at what the SWP is becoming.
Yours, Sean Matgamna