“I soon had occasion to become convinced, by experience, that the old bourgeois functionaries sometimes have a broader viewpoint and a more profound sense of dignity than Messrs. ‘Socialist’ Ministers.”
Leon Trotsky, after his expulsion from Norway by the country’s Labour government in 1937.
Maybe we should call it the “swallowing camels and choking on gnats” syndrome.
Max Hastings summed it up nicely in the Guardian: Tony Blair has survived as prime minister despite lying his head off about the war in Iraq; if he had been “caught” with a prostitute, of either sex, he’d have had to resign.
We live in a topsy-turvy world. Consider the condemnation and derision in the press of George Galloway's antics in the Big Brother House.
What had little George been doing? He’d set up a Christian-style shrine to a photo of the indefatigably strong and courageous Saddam Hussein, and prayed to it on his knees five times a day, in front of the TV cameras and the watching millions? Tried to do a bit of airwaves commerce by offering his services in Parliament to the highest bidder?
No, George Galloway, long the mouthpiece in Britain for the quasi-fascist Ba’thist regime in Iraq, outraged the press (and, it seems, discomfited the SWP) by pretending to be a cat, crawling and lapping milk out of the hands of the actress Rula Lenska.
George loves being on his knees. He started crawling at a very early age, and has never managed to break himself of the habit. He flops down on all fours on the slightest excuse. He probably did it for Saddam Hussein immediately after the fawning speech about his “strength” and “indefatigability”.
He should confine such things to encounters between consenting adults in private? Why should he start now? He may be a political and moral cretin, but he is not, in everyday terms, a fool: on some level he must have wanted the BBC to record that grovelling speech at Saddam’s feet. He is an exhibitionist as well as a compulsive crawler!
Yet what he did was only a harmless bit of clowning, and, maybe, flirting.
The rich press, has never dared do a proper political “job” on him. Now, those who failed properly to expose Galloway as a modern equivalent of Major Ramsey, the Tory MP interned at the start of World War Two for his associations with the Hitler regime, savage him for being a TV clown!
The SWP, not embarrassed by Galloway’s close association with Saddam Hussein, is embarrassed by his Big Brother clowning.
It is a measure of the moral numbness of the “left” — the political and spiritual collapse that has swept through a pseudo-left devastated by disillusionment and lost hopes.
Though the pseudo-left no longer knows what it is for, other than an increasingly vague socialism, it knows what it is against. So, like what Marx and Engels called the “reactionary socialists”, who recoiled not from class society as such but from bourgeois industrial society, seeking to reconstruct an idealised, half-imaginary past, the pseudo-left recoils now and seeks any seeming “ally”, not against capitalism and imperialism in general (for they ally with some of the worst capitalists, or, like Saddam Hussein, butcher of Shiites, Kurds, and Iranians, imperialists) but against their “own” capitalism and imperialism.
It is a half-healthy instinct, perverted. But they are “reactionary anti-imperialists”. They operate with only half, the negative half of the socialist — and anti-imperialist —programme.
The pseudo-left has destroyed all the old Marxist left's standards of judgement in its search for some, any, militant opposition to capitalism and imperialism.
And the disillusionment and perplexity of the old left affects more than the presently-active “left”. Large numbers of people all through capitalist society, in the media for example, are one-time leftists. They know what is wrong with our society — the society they serve on a day-to-day basis, and not only in the most humble capacities either.
They are sceptical of what they – often as Stalinists, Maoists, or Mandelite “relativist” Trotskyists — see as bourgeois values. They were trained politically to make indulgent excuses for Third World and "progressive" Stalinist and other rauthoritarian regimes, in a sort of cultural relativism that was often implicitly racist, or at least “imperialist”-minded (Stalinism is not for here, but all right for the Russians, the Chinese, etc.)
The idea of a drive against Galloway for truth is as alien to most “left” bourgeois journalists (with the odd exception like Nick Cohen in the Observer) as to the active left’s “reactionary anti-imperialists”. What truth? Whose truth? In the name of what?
Such attitudes pervade the media, especially of course the left and liberal media. And so we have the grotesque absurdity of Galloway being treated gently for his politics and political associations, and savaged for a little bit of clowning on Big Brother.
One of the big tasks of serious Marxists is to drive out political and moral relativism from the labour movement and the left; to campaign for truth; to insist that the real left is not only a negative opposition, a movement with only half a programme.but the advocates of a positive programme of democratic working-class socialism. It chooses its associates and allies, and those whom it backs, critically or otherwise, not negatively, by what they are against, but positively, by what they are for.
As Trotsky put it: “Revolutionary ardour in the struggle for socialism is inseparable from intellectual ardour in the struggle for truth”.
Solidarity Jan 2006