The debate in the student movement over the Assange affair and rape apology has taken a surreal turn with George Galloway suing the National Union of Students.
The controversy has focused around a motion to the 26 September meeting of NUS National Executive, at which 13 women members moved a motion condemning apologies for non-consensual sex and saying NUS should not “offer” or “share” a platform with those who make such apologies — including Tony Benn and George Galloway, because of their comments in the Assange debate.
Pretty much the entire right and centre of the committee (and the broader movement) rallied to the motion, as did much of the left, including independents in the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.
We do not currently have any members on NUS National Executive, but we have tried to use the controversy to educate ourselves and those around us about the issues raised. Following a lot of discussion, Workers’ Liberty Students made clear that we disagreed with the “not sharing platforms” bit but were in solidarity with the motion’s basic spirit.
The Stalinist sect Socialist Action, who have some foothold in the bureaucracy of NUS, naturally felt differently, since their basic stance is uncritical support for anyone in conflict with the US. They proposed a set of amendments which, while they criticised Galloway’s comments, overwhelmed the original in “anti-imperialist” rhetoric and praise for these anti-war “leaders”. They also strongly implied that the proposers of the motion were attempting to undermine NUS’s “No Platform” policy — despite the fact that the motion did not refer to No Platform as such, in the sense that this is used for fascists.
The SWP, whose recent coverage on Assange has in fact been pretty good, unfortunately but predictably decided to follow their allies in Socialist Action. Unsurprisingly, the motion was passed and the amendments defeated overwhelmingly, but only after some extremely vitriolic and unpleasant debate, in the real world and on the internet.
Now Socialist Action’s ally Galloway is suing NUS for defamation. This is not a surprise to us, since over the years we have become familiar with his litigiousness and use of the law to silence opponents.
Hopefully the student left will draw some lasting political conclusions about Galloway, the “socialists” who defend him, and the politics they represent.
• For AWL Students’ statement on the controversy, by Kate Harris and Esther Townsend, see here.