by Stan Crooke
“Over the past three years, the SSP has been supportive of George Galloway in his battles with Blair and the New Labour hierarchy over the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq… Despite our disagreements, the SSP supported George’s moves to form a broad, leftwing, anti-war party in England after his expulsion from New Labour in 2003,” explained an article in Scottish Socialist Voice (paper of the SSP – Scottish Socialist Party) in December 2004.
When Galloway was elected to Parliament in 2005 the Voice hailed his victory: “George Galloway’s stunning victory in Bethnal Green and Bow… was the biggest electoral victory for the left in England in quite some time.”
This straightforward equation of “victory for Galloway” with “victory for the left” was followed by “an article collated from coverage in Socialist Resistance”, which promised that a “combination of electoral activity and mass campaigning will help Respect grow to replace Labour as the party of the working class.”
But even when the SSP and the Voice was applauding Galloway and Respect, it also criticised them, with increasing intensity, for seeking to interfere in the internal affairs of the SSP, and in Scotland in general.
The 2004 Voice article referred to the SSP’s “differences with George” on various issues such as independence for Scotland, abortion, and a worker’s wage for a workers’ MP. The SSP’s support for Respect was “based on a clear recognition that there is already a united socialist party in Scotland.”
In its statement issued the same month the SSP “angrily condemned George Galloway for coming to the aid of New Labour with a threat to split the left vote in Scotland”, after Galloway had suggested that Tommy Sheridan might stand as a Respect candidate in the 2007 Holyrood elections.
“Unfortunately,” the statement continued, “it appears that George is prepared to cynically exploit the short term difficulties faced by the SSP to further his own parliamentary ambitions.”
2005 saw an exchange of letters in the pages of the Voice, as Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) members – who, at that time, were still members of the SSP – sought to counterpose Respect’s results in the General Election to the alleged failings of the SSP. Other SSP members wrote in to the Voice to challenge the SWP’s glorification of Respect.
By June 2006, when Galloway publicly rallied to Sheridan’s defence in the SSP faction fight, the SSP’s message for Galloway was that he should butt out of the SSP and Scottish affairs.
The current issue of the Voice is even more critical of Galloway. Now he is defined as “the voluble MP” who is “well known for his bitter hostility for independence”, and who has proposed that Respect set up a “North British task force” to consider organising in Scotland.
“This latest London initiative”, the findings of which “will no doubt be shared with those North British subjects studied when the time is right”, was opposed by “less colonially-minded comrades” in Respect. The latter argued that such an initiative could add to divisions on the Scottish left, and also divide the English left.
(The “less colonially minded comrades” in question were supporters of Socialist Resistance – who support Respect in England and Wales and the SSP in Scotland, although in Scotland itself their members are split between the SSP and the SWP-Sheridan “Solidarity” bloc.)
At first sight, such an approach might appear to make sense.
Assist and support Respect in England. Welcome the electoral successes of Galloway and Respect in 2005 and 2006. But, at the same time, point out some of the political differences between the SSP and Galloway/Respect, and the limitations of Respect. Become more sharply critical of Galloway as he prepares the ground for Respect to extend itself to Scotland.
In fact, this approach never made any sense, and makes even less sense now.
Galloway was — and is — not someone whose politics differed from those of the SSP merely on this or that particular issue. Whatever criticisms one might have of the SSP’s policies, Galloway stands for a completely different kind of politics.
Galloway is the man who congratulated Saddam Hussein for his courage, strength and indefatigability, who has said that Syria is “lucky” to have Bashar al-Assad as its president, and who has described Pakistani military dictator General Musharraf as “an upright sort” who should be “given a chance to put Pakistan’s house in order.”
Galloway is a Stalinist who has described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the saddest day” of his life. And so on and so on and so on...
Any socialist who “assists and supports” any political initiative by Galloway has lost their political bearings. The idea that electoral success for “George” could ever, under any circumstances, amount to an “electoral victory for the left” can be surpassed for sheer absurdity only by the claim that Respect could become the party of the working class.
The extension of Respect to Scotland is condemned in the pages of the Voice as something which would reinforce divisions on the Scottish left. But the very creation of Respect in England destroyed such left unity as existed in England (and Wales) at that time (in the Socialist Alliance) in order to form a bloc with the Islamists of the Muslim Association of Britain (although the latter are technically not an affiliate of Respect).
Respect is not something which has been “broad” until it began to turn its attention to Scotland. From the outset, Respect was a product of the SWP’s political calculations, controlled by the SWP, and uncritical of its public figurehead (Galloway).
If Respect extends to Scotland and disrupts the left here, then this will be only because Respect has been a narrow and divisive force from the outset — including at the very time when the SSP was proud to “assist and support” its development, and was applauding its electoral successes.
Respect is not good for England but bad for Scotland. It’s bad — full stop.