Respect MP George Galloway, backed by the SWP, is a counter-example of how a lone Socialist MP should behave.
George Galloway is a corrupt and corrupting man. Not corrupt in the sense in which a good capitalist would understand – grubbing for money in brown envelopes, a wide boy with an eye for the main chance when the price is right. His success in the libel courts, which only understand the pecuniary corruption which is such a threat to capitalists’ profits, underlines this. His corruption is one of a sort more familiar to the workers’ movement: a man giddy on success and status born from his ability to be at the centre of things.
The US Senate enquiry – in which he displayed his prolixity with sufficient robustness and deftness as to be able to have scored a victory by speaking truth to power and rebutting their slanderous lies – proved the point despite all his bluster. The outcome of their enquiry was not that he had trousered cash corruptly obtained from the Oil For Food Programme set up by the UN under the Iraq sanctions regime – no matter how much they wanted that to be the outcome and the press trumpeted that likely outcome. The truth was subtler than that. It revealed how Galloway’s Mariam Appeal had been funded chiefly by a man called Fawaz Zuriekat – who was in all likelihood (according to the Senate investigation) a recipient of such theft.
Whether Galloway knew this or not is irrelevant. As he rightly notes, the rest of the cash came from a handful of Saudi princes and potentates; but therein lies the real truth of his corruption. Everything he is now is based on the success and prominence the Mariam Appeal won for him – it made his reputation as an opponent of the siege and attack on Iraq; but that appeal was funded by powerful capitalists with vested anti-working class interests in the Middle East and beyond.
The effect of this can be clearly seen in his parliamentary behaviour. At the best of time a notoriously lax MP (he famously managed to miss a key vote on the terrorism act that the Government only won by one vote); however, when he does raise questions they almost always relate to Israel and the government’s behaviour towards it. His primary purpose is to be a cheerleader for the ruling class in the Arab world against the ruling class in Britain and America – presumably in the name of some sort of anti-imperialism, a doctrine long used by capitalists in relatively weak countries to try and pursue their ends.
The indication of his worthlessness was on 8 May when he secured an adjournment debate. This is an opportunity open under parliamentary procedure for all MPs to be able to make speeches and have a reply from a government Minister on the subject of their choosing, lasting about 40 minutes all told. The MP, who maintains that the fall of the Soviet Union was the saddest day of his life and whose biographies still refer to him as a socialist, chose to spend his nearly two thousand words in a fifteen-minute speech not on attacking capitalism, revealing its brutalities and its failure.
Instead, true to his egomaniacal form, he chose to discuss press regulation and call upon the government to make “thorough caps on media ownership, especially ownership by foreign billionaires whose loyalty is certainly not to this country.” He dwelt extensively on how beset and abused he himself was by the media, as a basis for this call for a reform. This, apparently, is the tribune of the working class, the voice of the oppressed majority – a so-called socialist in parliament.
What a Socialist could do
As the Socialist Standard has demonstrated for over a hundred years, two thousand words is plenty to incisively damn capitalism and point the way towards socialism. The condition of the working class is such that it would be easy to find detailed cases and generally observable trends that need and deserve the light of day – ignored by the mainstream parties in their open support of capitalism. The endless sophistries from their own mouths are meat enough for socialist attack.
Galloway, however, is a living confirmation of the Socialist Party’s case of avoiding leadership and leaders in our movement. The SWP and its Respect front are tied to this man and his spurious reputation.
Obviously, he is not the first. The Communist Party had MPs in Parliament – even the trotskyist Militant Tendency managed to claim some MPs as their own in the 1980’s. Usually, they were part of a minority of one, unable to make any real effect on the proceedings of Parliament.
The Socialist Party, though, maintains its intention to send delegates to parliament. Not as leaders, but as servants of the cause – with a specific job to do. The very minimum we could expect of a small number of socialist MPs is that they use the resources of parliament to uncover as much detail and information as they can about what is happening under capitalism to the working class. The machinery of government collects vast reams of data in the course of its daily business, but data is worthless unless it is put into context and turned into information.
They could add to this by using the weapon of the parliamentary question, to try and force the government to give up more information and to ensure that it has an incentive to collect the relevant data in order to be able to answer such questions. This would have the added advantage of giving the opportunity of getting our agenda onto the television and other media.
Whilst the votes of a small handful of MPs may not matter overall, their voices also would carry weight – and socialists in parliament would be able to put the case for socialism alongside defending the interests of the working class in their day to day struggle – such as during any major strikes or the like. This would allow us to expose the sitting MPs of the capitalist parties and assist workers in rallying to the cause of their class – a platform from which to speak to the whole world.
Moreover, we would use whatever votes we would have while a minority to vote in the interests of the working class. This would not be something for the still small conscience of our delegates but a matter for our movement to decide and instruct them upon – a means of being grit in the parliamentary machine as well as one of demonstrating our greater democratic legitimacy. The growth of the socialist movement is the advance of the working class movement. Until such time as the movement is able to take control of the whole of society, we will push for our common interests. Not with some plan of making capitalism work for us, or with a set of reforms in mind but as a mill stone round the neck of capital.
The case for socialism rests on the understanding of the workers. The working class’s support is needed for the ongoing existence of capitalism. Once we understand our real interest and begin to consciously organise to get it no leader or deceiver is going to be able to deflect us from our course, and the days of the likes of Galloway will be numbered. Until then the workers get the leaders and representatives they choose and deserve. The job of socialists here and now if to promote the case for using our party as a weapon in the class struggle. We don’t need to be in parliament to demonstrate how worthless Galloway and his followers are to the workers’ movement.
Going to Parliament is not the act of good boys but of rebels fighting canny.