By John Bloxam
However weak the opposition, Galloway clearly got a big boost from his performance in front of the two US senators on 17 May.
A follow-up US speaking tour at the end of June is now reported. With a few exceptions he has received praise and a very soft ride indeed politically. But the glaring contradiction between his performance in Washington and his grovelling in Baghdad cannot be swept under the carpet. The self-styled “voice of the dispossessed” in the US Senate stands in sharp contrast to his “Sir, I salute your indefatigability…” to the fascistic dictator Saddam Hussein.
After his 829 vote election victory in Bethnal Green and Bow, defeating the sitting Blairite MP Oona King, Galloway retired to Portugal to reportedly write up the Respect campaign. But what does that campaign tell us about the idea that George Galloway is now the champion of the left in Parliament?
Respect supporters still write letters to the local paper denying they are a “Muslim campaign” or Bengali party. After all, they say, Respect canvassed and got white working-class votes. But if that determines the politics of their campaign, then the Tories, who canvass council estates and get working-class votes, would not be the party they are.
The argument is half-hearted, because on Respect’s own admission they chose the area because of the Muslim vote, and their programme and activity was clearly trimmed accordingly. Hence Galloway’s early claim to be a “fighter for Muslims”; his trip to Bangladesh and courting the Bengali business vote; and his promise to stand down at the next election in favour of a Bengali candidate.
It also doesn’t square with Respect’s other claim, comparing their activity to the anti-fascist struggles in the 1930s East End. Then socialists and others rallied to the defence of the Jewish immigrant community under attack from the fascists; now apparently Respect is doing the same for the Muslim/Bengali immigrant community, under attack from “Islamophobia” etc.
But mobilising for the physical defence of the Bengali community, an obligation for all socialists, is not the same as running a communal election campaign to get George Galloway re-elected to Parliament. It is different, and SWP Respect footsoldiers could learn some useful lessons from the best of the 1930s anti-fascists. The latter understood the distinction between mobilising alongside Jewish organisations and individuals for physical defence against the fascists, and throwing their political lot in with the leaders of the synagogues and with communal prejudices.
Against the charge of communal politics, Respect’s response has been to counter-charge Oona King’s election campaign. They have also denied evidence of anti-semitism. To date they have got off lightly with this approach.
Even if everything they said about New Labour’s election campaign was true – and certainly by the end Oona King was desperately trying to mobilise the white working class vote – that is clearly not an argument, let alone justification, for the campaign Galloway/Respect ran from the beginning.
There were a number of allegations from the King campaign about anti-semitism, including Respect canvassers urging Bengalis not to vote for King because she was Jewish. Oona King cites a case of young people shouting “Jewish bitch, get out of here.” Galloway/Respect claim fabrication, but there was undoubtedly one well-established and reported case during the campaign, the commemoration of the largely Jewish victims of the last German V2 raid on World War 2. Some Bengali youths threw objects and shouted anti-semitic abuse at those commemorating the dead. Respect’s response to this event was a shameful silence.
In similar vein Galloway/Respect argue that Oona King’s Jewish background was not an issue when she was elected in 1997 and 2001, and therefore could not have been an issue in 2005 – or, contradicting themselves, if it was, it was because she had first raised it! People voted against her in this election, they say, not because she was Jewish, but because she was a New Labour “stooge”, a “warmonger”, etc. They could, of course, have combined both motives: the fact of anti-Blairism does not mean that anti-semitism played no role in this election.
There were new elements in 2005, including the existence of Respect itself, running an aggressive, populist communal campaign, and refusing to come out clearly and sharply against anti-semitism.
On the issue of anti-black racism, it is common coin on the left that seeking to ignore its existence, and refusing to come out clearly against it, amounts to complicity. It is a sign of terrible political decay when people who call themselves socialists do not apply the same argument to anti-semitism.
Galloway’s position has now been even further strengthened in Respect, with the SWP ever more in awe and in his political wake. Given Galloway’s politics that can only increase the possibility of some at least getting shaken up by the issues involved.