We owe George Galloway what the Trotskyists in 1940 owed and paid to Mosley's Blackshirts

Submitted by martin on 16 May, 2003 - 9:36 Author: Sean Matgamna
George Galloway and Saddam Hussein

"An injury to one is an injury to all" - and therefore socialists who opposed the recent Iraq war of the USA and UK should back George Galloway?

It was put like that by Nick Wrack, the mover of a resolution committing the Socialist Alliance to support Galloway which the Alliance conference passed by a big majority on Saturday 10 May, against the opposition of supporters of Solidarity.

The impulse to take such a stand is in itself healthy. So is the impulse not to "desert" Galloway. But serious politics is not just a matter of instinct.

We, who have been at war with Galloway for a decade, who in January 1994 called on his local Labour Party to throw him out, are aware of a different and no less valid instinct - instinctive recoil from something foul and putrid, from identification with George Galloway, the flatterer of Saddam Hussein and a long-time friend and, so a Labour minister put it in the Commons recently, mouthpiece to his regime.

And recoil from identification of our opposition to the war with the opposition to the war of someone who is - even if he didn't get a penny from Saddam Hussein - indelibly tainted by his association with the quasi-fascist Ba'thist murderers of Iraqi and Kurdish working people.

Reason must filter instinct. When the billionaire press started howling against Galloway seven weeks ago, for calling on British soldiers not to obey "illegal" orders, we endorsed and repeated his words (Solidarity 3/27).

But we did not endorse Galloway. Nor - apart from insisting that he is entitled to due process in the Labour Party and outside it - do we "defend" him as we would unreservedly defend such honourable anti-war MPs as Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Alan Simpson, or such organisations as the Socialist Workers' Party, if they came under similar attack.

Galloway is in a class of his own. That the Socialist Alliance undertook the "defence" of Galloway - and entirely uncritical defence at that - is the measure of the political sickness of the pseudo-left in Britain.

One way of disentangling the issues raised by the Galloway affair is to go back in time 63 years to May 1940, eight months into the Second World War.

We are in the East End of London, which is highly politicised and a hotbed of opposition to the war. For six years previously, Stalinists, Independent Labour Party people and Oswald Mosley's fascists have slugged it out in the East End.

Street fights between the fascists, socialists, and Stalinists have been routine. This is where the famous "battle of Cable Street" took place in 1936. The labour movement - following the lead of the ILP, not, as later legend would have it, of the Communist Party (CP) - defeated the police and stopped the fascists marching into the Jewish area.

For years fascists have competed with "Communists" and socialists for the allegiance of the non-Jewish working class. The fascists say they too are socialists - "national-socialists". They blame "the Jews" for the faults of British capitalist society, and insist that Nazi Germany is the real overseas "socialist homeland" to which British workers should look. The USSR, to which the CP looks, is, they insist, not socialist but "state capitalist". (There was an article in their publication Action to that effect).

The fascists have built a strong base in the non-Jewish working class of the East End, but the ILP and the CP are strong there too, and not only among Jewish workers.

Now, by May 1940, the political relations in the East End have changed radically. The long-time enemies have a common opposition to the war.

The ILP opposes the war, mostly for pacifist reasons. Its leaders, John Maxton and John McGovern, have in September 1938 welcomed the Munich Agreement in which Britain and France handed Czechoslovakia over to Hitler, to buy what turned out to be exactly a year of peace.

The CP has spent years before September 1939 advocating war with Germany, but now it also opposes the war. Why? In August 1939 Hitler and Stalin have signed a pact that lined the USSR up with Germany as a supplier of raw materials for its war and as a junior partner in pillage and conquest. In September 1939 Russia and Germany jointly invaded Poland, dividing it between themselves.

The Hitler-Stalin pact was the signal for the start of World War Two; and now the long-time "anti-Nazis" of the Communist Party are making propaganda on behalf of Germany. "Hitler wants peace", they insist. The "imperialist aggressors" are Britain and France, not Germany. Poland, the immediate cause of war in September 1939? Poland no longer exists...

Making satire redundant, the CP press has published an interview which an enterprising CP member managed to get with a captured, shot down and wounded, German bomber pilot, under the headline: "Yes, Germany wants peace, says airman"!

They passionately invoke all the Marxist arguments against British imperialism - in the service of propaganda on behalf of German fascist imperialism. German propaganda does something similar. At the outbreak of war, Robert Ley, the head of the Hitlerite pseudo-trade-union Labour Front, appealed to the workers of the world to support Germany, which represented industry and progress...

The socialists who support Britain and France use the same anti-imperialist arguments against Germany. Trotsky observes that both sides tell the truth - about the other side.

And the fascists of Oswald Mosley, the long-time bitter enemy of the CP and ILP? They too are against the war, and for peace with Germany, on Germany's (and Russia's) proposed terms.

The British Union of Fascists, which has enough support to have attracted 15,000 people to an indoor meeting to hear Mosley on the eve of the war, and the CP, now campaign on almost identical lines. Nonetheless, as a historian of the Mosleyites will write, they "coldly ignore" each other.

The ILP is identical in its immediate politics, though it remains critical of Germany and Russia as well as of the British ruling class.

The numerically very small groups of Trotskyists also oppose the war. They oppose British, French and German imperialism, and stand for what Trotsky called the "third camp" - the camp of the working class and oppressed peoples.

The most important of them, organised in the Workers' International League, will evolve an approach known as the "proletarian military policy". They advocate the defeat of fascism but preach no confidence in the British ruling class to do it, and advocate such things as officers' schools controlled by the trade unions the better to prosecute the war against fascism. These proposals make them radically different from the Stalinists between 1939 and June 1941 (when the Nazi invasion of the USSR will pitch the CP into the ranks of British chauvinism).

They advocate not "peace" but socialist revolution and the prosecution of an effective war against fascism.

By 1944, when the Trotskyists will be leading strikes in the engineering industry, the Stalinists will be denouncing them as "Nazi agents" - as they had denounced them before the war, from 1936 onwards - but in fact nobody who is not a Stalinist liar, or a political idiot who rejects anything less than uncritical adherence to the dominant government policy, can accuse them of being pro-Axis.

This 22 month period of the Stalin-Hitler pact, and the political hybrids, mutations and freaks produced by the obscene coupling of the two dictators - which anticipate such phenomena as the post-Stalinist "red-brown" cross-breeding of the 1990s in Russia - is a largely forgotten period of history. Almost everyone concerned later had an interest in burying it. But it may shed some light on the disintegration, the increasingly all-pervasive moral, political and intellectual collapse, of the left today.

Preparing to sign the Grerman-Russian pact, Stalin replaced Maxim Litvinov, whose Jewish background now made him unsuitable as foreign minister, by Molotov, who made a speech saying that the choice between communism and fascism was only "a matter of taste". In Mexico the Stalinists started agitating against "Jew-Trotskyists". In Manchuria, one of the leaders of a Russian "white" émigré fascist organisation started to argue with his friends that Stalin was in fact their ideal fascist leader and, as good Russian nationalists, they should henceforth support him.

In Europe, some socialists and communists began to look afresh at fascism. Wasn't it now the ally of the USSR? In the British CP's magazine Labour Monthly, Rajani Palme Dutt elatedly speculated about the implications of Hitler's "capitulation" to the USSR.

One of the leading Irish Stalinist-Republicans of the 1930s, Frank Ryan, who was a prominent opponent of the Irish Blueshirt fascists, was captured fighting against the fascists in Spain, and for a while was at risk of being shot by them, was so disoriented by the Hitler-Stalin pact that he wound up in Germany - where he died peacefully in 1944 - helping the Nazis.

German communists imprisoned in Russia were put on a train, taken to the border, and handed over to the Nazis. When they told the truth about conditions in Russia to other German communists whom they met in German concentration camps, they could not get themselves believed. According to the memoirs of one of the communists deported from Russia, Margarethe Buber-Neumann, widow of Heinz Neumann, a German CP leader whom Stalin had shot, there was one exception. The leader of the communists in Ravensbruck let herself be convinced. Then she committed suicide.

Especially after May-June 1940, when Germany conquered Western Europe and united it under the Nazi jackboot, some former leftists began to argue that Nazi Germany was playing a progressive role. Their reasoning was very like that which led some Trotskyists and ex-Trotskyists, notably Isaac Deutscher, to see the expansion of Russian Stalinism in the 1940s as progressive. Bruno Rizzi, who is well known today because he was used by Trotsky in 1939 as a convenient foil in discussing the class nature of the USSR, advocated communist-fascist rapprochement on the grounds that both were agencies for "collectivist" historical progress.

A strange unfamiliar political world, and one that lasted less than two years.

So by May 1940, in London's East End, and in the UK as a whole, the fascists too now play a "progressive" role as convinced opponents of the war. Or so it might have been argued if the anti-war left of that time had had stomachs as strong as those of their descendants today.

Then in May 1940 comes the catastrophe. The Nazi armies sweep across Europe: an invasion of Britain may be next. The Tory "national" government gives way to a coalition involving the Labour Party. Before the war the CP had called for a Tory-Labour-Liberal "Popular Front" government led by Churchill, and that will again be its policy in 1945. Now what they want is a government that will make peace, on Hitler's terms.

On 22 May the government rushes through legislation, Defence Regulation 16B, to allow unlimited imprisonment without trial. A revising tribunal is set up, but the Home Secretary can choose to ignore its advice.

Immediately, the government strikes at "the anti-war forces". The anti-war British Union of Fascists is banned, its press suppressed. Over 2000 people are arrested. Between 800 and 1200 members of the British Union, including Oswald Mosley, will be interned, some of them all through the war.

Those interned include a Tory MP, Captain A M H Ramsey, the chair of a non-fascist anti-semitic, pro-German organisation called the Right Club. Another prominent man, Admiral Domvile, head of the pro-German organisation The Link, and a one-time chief of British Naval Intelligence, will be interned a few weeks later. Domvile is known as a friend of Heinrich Himmler and other top lieutenants of Hitler.

Ramsey and Domvile are interned because no cause for a lawful prosecution can be found. Even when they sift through the files at Mosleyite headquarters, the police find nothing incriminating. Experts today reckon that if Mosley had had German money, then it had stopped three or four years earlier.

The Mosleyites do not call for defeat of Britain and the victory of Germany, but for "a negotiated peace". Mosley has publicly told his supporters that they "should obey their orders and in particular obey the rules of their service", "do nothing to injure our country or to help any other power".

There is no doubt that Ramsey, Domvile, and the fascists are victims of severely illiberal measures, used because they opposed the war and might prove treacherous in a German invasion.

How do the left and anti-war forces respond? Do they defend these "opponents of the war"? No, they do not!

It is understood, even by the Stalinists, that the Mosleyites are in a class of their own. Their being at odds with the British ruling class did not make them allies of the left, even when they said more or less the same things about the war.

Though they oppose Regulation 16B and defend civil rights, none of the "left" opponents of the war, from the Trotskyists through to the anarchists, the pacifist ILPers and the Stalinists, "defend" Captain Ramsey or Admiral Domvile.

Shouldn't the left-wingers of 1940 have sunk their differences with the Hitler-lovers and mounted a common campaign against war and for bourgeois-democratic civil liberties?

Why didn't they? After all, isn't war an all-defining issue, overshadowing all others? Weren't they all against the common enemy, the British ruling class and its imperialist war? Weren't they all for the defence of the USSR, Hitler's junior partner?

Indeed, in some European countries the CPs did draw close to the fascist invaders. (In France, on the eve of the German invasion of Russia, the CP was negotiating with the occupation authorities in Paris for the right to publish a legal Stalinist newspaper).

The difference between now and then is that all the left groupings then had a clear idea of what they were positively for, and they thought that ruled out alliances with people who were diametrically the opposite of what they were for.

Even the CP had too much horse-sense to pretend that the pro-Hitlerites could be regarded as on the same side as the left, just because they were against the British ruling class.

The Mosleyite gangs had tried to break up the labour movement, whereas George Galloway has been its life-long member? They called themselves fascist. George Galloway calls himself a socialist?

Think about it. Step back from the names, and ask what was behind them. Why were the fascists, anti-war or whatever, still considered irreconcilable enemies? Because they stood for the annihilation of the labour movement, the suppression of civil rights, and an uncontrolled dictatorship of themselves on behalf of the ruling class. The pre-war differentiation was still valid.

That is what made the working-class movement see the fascists as their mortal enemies - and why the Trotskyists saw those who made propaganda for Hitler in Britain (both the British Union and the CP) as irredeemably tainted.

The freakish thing in our situation is that Galloway, who has for a decade been publicly linked with a regime which smashed the Iraqi labour movement and kept the Iraqi working class under its heel for 40 years; who feels no shame in boasting of his friendship with Saddam Hussein's deputy Tariq Aziz (whose German equivalent was Rudolf Hess or Hermann Goering); who openly admits that his political activities were financed, if not by Saddam Hussein, then by the Saudis and the Emirates; who admits publishing a newspaper (East) with funds supplied by Pakistani governments - the freakish thing is that this man has been allowed to go on presenting himself as a socialist and a partisan of the working class in Britain. Differentiation between the Ba'thist stooge and the pro-working-class left did not take place, and is now blurred even further.

We argued as long ago as January 1994 that Galloway should be thrown out by his local Labour Party. The current political and moral collapse of the would-be revolutionary left, and sections of the reformist parliamentary left has been prepared for over a decade by their radically unprincipled indulgence of Tariq Aziz's friend George Galloway.

This attitude to Galloway implied an attitude to his fascistic friends in Iraq. Any argument to justify this on the grounds that, unlike Germany in World War Two, Iraq is too small to pose a threat to Britain, implies that we take one attitude to the fascistic butchers of the working class in smaller states which are only regional imperialist powers, and another in a bigger power such as Hitler's Germany. That the injuries done to the working class in Iraq are less important than those done in Hitler's Germany. It is a betrayal of working-class internationalism.

Can our hostility to our own ruling class, and antagonism to their occupation of Iraq, lessen to any extent our hostility to a regime that smashed the Iraqi workers' movement? That attitude would be the mirror-image of the idea that we should side with the USA and UK in the hope that they will install a democratic regime in Iraq. Both are wrong. International socialists combine opposition to imperialism, and advocacy of self-determination for the peoples of Iraq and any other occupied country, with opposition to fascistic regimes everywhere, those which fight "our own" government among the others.

When the fascist BNP, which opposed the recent war, looked like they would turn up on an anti-war demonstration, the Stop The War Coalition sent out a circular suggesting that they should be driven away. Like the left and the fascists in 1940. Except up on the anti-war platform was George Galloway, the equivalent of Captain Ramsey or Admiral Domvile!

But isn't Galloway the equivalent of the 1940 Stalinists? And so shouldn't our attitude to him be that of the 1940s Trotskyists to the CPers? Even that would be radically different from the dominant left attitude today. But no. The 1940 Stalinists had a rank and file of working-class fighters, miseducated but socialist-minded. Galloway is just an individual politician, considered "left-wing" only because he was anti-war.

The Iraq war has revealed a left in which all the moral, political and intellectual standards necessary to a socialist movement - a socialist movement which is not merely a mechanical opposition to our own rulers, but has its own positive programme, and which means business - have collapsed. Here "left" and "right" have lost much of their meaning. Left and right are melded into each other. The friend and associate of the butchers of the Iraqi working class and of the Kurds can find acceptance in our movement as a left-winger; the apologist, paid or unpaid, of one of the reactionary sides in the war can find acceptance as an anti-imperialist on the other.

"An injury to one is an injury to all". This core idea of solidarity is the beginning of socialist wisdom. Its primary importance in this situation is that we accept that an injury to the Iraqi working class is an injury to us all.

The idea that this central responsibility of socialists to our class is overshadowed by a duty to solidarise with George Galloway, the friend and apologist of those who for four decades kept our class and its movement in Iraq under the iron tombstone of Ba'thist rule - and that was the dominant idea when the issue was discussed at the Socialist Alliance conference - shows how low our movement has sunk.

While defending his right to "due process", we owe George Galloway the same solidarity as the Trotskyists in 1940 owed and paid to Mosley's interned Blackshirts or to Captain Ramsey MP! That is, we owe him nothing but hostility and contempt.

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