This is article one in the four part series as originally published in 2003. For an edited version of all four articles click here
Because of our attitude to George Galloway MP, supporters of Solidarity and Workers' Liberty find themselves especially unpopular just now with certain sections of the pseudo-left.
At the recent Socialist Alliance AGM we scotched SWP plans to have Saddam Hussein's blustering admirer George Galloway come to the gathering, to speak to us and receive a standing ovation. We let it be known that when he spoke we would stage a demonstration in solidarity with the Ba'th regime's working class victims and against Saddam's British admirer Galloway.
Some Solidarity and Workers' Liberty supporters had given Galloway a hard time at a meeting in Lewisham a few days before the AGM. Galloway and the SWP thought it better that Galloway keep away from the Socialist Alliance AGM. He never turned up.
If it had come to a free vote at that AGM, then we would have been expelled. (But, in fact, most votes there were under the baton of the SWP leaders and subject to their calculations.)
The hostility which our stand on Galloway has aroused reminds me of the heresy hunt organised against some of us, who were then publishing the weekly paper Socialist Organiser, by the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) and its friends in the labour movement, exactly 20 years ago.
The circumstances then were very similar. The issues in dispute were pretty much the same as those raised now by the Galloway affair: the connection of certain ostensibly socialist "anti-Zionist" groups and individuals in the British left with anti-working class Arab Governments, and how others should regard those who have such links.
The large-scale campaign launched by the WRP and its Ayatollah, the late Gerry Healy, was an incident within a broader attempt by the WRP and its friends, such as Ken Livingstone, to force our paper, Socialist Organiser out of publication.
In 1981, the actress Vanessa Redgrave, acting on behalf of the WRP, of which she was the best-known member, had sued John Bloxam and myself for libel over things I had written about the WRP in Socialist Organiser and John had repeated in a circular letter to supporters of the Socialist Organiser Alliance.
The WRP embroiled us in expensive and potentially ruinous legal processes for four and a half years. If we hadn't found a friendly solicitor who helped John and myself do the legal work cheaply - John did most of it - we would have been bankrupted and Socialist Organiser forced to cease publication.
The parallels with the Galloway case are strikingly strong. In both cases we find ourselves denounced and shunned for refusing to retract things said by the bourgeois media which we ourselves had been saying for years!
In the Galloway affair, it is almost a decade since we first raised the cry that Galloway should be driven out of the labour movement. In January 1994, BBC cameras had recorded an "audience" which the fascistic Iraqi dictator had given to the Labour MP. The representative of the British left stood before the mass murderer of Iraqis and Kurds and praised him to his face for his "strength", "courage", etc.* We called on Galloway's local Labour Party to throw him out.
(As far as I know, nobody on the left except Socialist Organiser denounced Galloway, though Socialist Worker implied that he was as bad as the Tories who had sold weapons to Saddam. Missing the important point, as always, they focused on denouncing the Tories for hypocrisy )
We did not speculate about his motives. In large part this was because of the libel laws, but, fundamentally it was because, politically, his exact motives did not matter.
What mattered was the politics of a pseudo-left Labour MP championing, defending and fawning on the head of a regime that was grinding the working class, the Kurds and others in the Iraqi state under the iron heel of a dictatorship as totalitarian as Hitler's regime was.
Whether he had the political relations he incontrovertibly did have with the Iraqi dictators because he was in the pay of the Iraqi government or because he is a moral and political idiot, made no difference to the politics of the thing: a Labour MP who did what Galloway was doing for the Iraq regime should not be allowed to remain part of the labour movement.
Galloway has been forced to admit that his political activity around issues of Middle East politics was "funded" by the Saudis, the Emirates and a Palestinian businessman with close connections to Iraq, and that he published a newspaper, East, with funds from Pakistani Governments. He only denies having had money from Iraq. But no explanation has been offered as to why an MP who was admittedly on the take could avoid taking from his Iraqi friends, who were certainly in the business of giving money to buy political services.
Whether or not Galloway took Iraqi as well as Saudi, Emirate and Pakistani gold, the things he does now admit to should brand him politically , even for those who have so far been blind to the politics of his Middle East connections and activities, as someone with whom honest and principled socialists and trade unionists have nothing at all in common.
Even when we say something like what Galloway says, as on the recent Gulf war, honest socialists and George Galloway belong to different species.
The admission that he took money from Arab and Islamic governments is surely vindication, above and beyond the political issues, which have been clear for many years, of the attitude we took and urged others to take to Galloway ten years ago.
In effect, we find ourselves being denounced for continuing to say what we said a decade ago because on 22 April the Daily Telegraph published documents which appear to show that the reason why the socialist George Galloway loved Saddam Hussein and his quasi-fascist regime was because he was being highly paid for his services.
He is, we are told, being "witch-hunted" by the bourgeois press, "victimised" because of his opposition to the recent war on Iraq.
The duty of "solidarity" with Galloway against the bourgeois press, we are told, supersedes and overrides everything else. No it doesn't! Solidarity with the Iraqi working class and with the Kurdish and others of its victims against the quasi-fascist Ba'th regime and against its paid and unpaid admirers in Britain - that is the first priority of socialists.
If the first pillar of socialist wisdom is the understanding that "the main enemy is at home", the second is an understanding that the bourgeois enemy at home is not the only enemy - and the third, the understanding that sometimes the enemy abroad is worse than the enemy at home. The last is the most difficult to grasp by people engaged in day-to-day conflict with that enemy.
The WRP-fomented heresy hunt in 1983 shows the effect on the collective sanity of the British left and pseudo-left when it tries to operate on the basis of belief that there is nothing on earth worse than our own, at that time Thatcher-Tory, rulers.
For years before 1983, Socialist Organiser had been saying that an ostensibly Trotskyist organisation, the Workers Revolutionary Party, was kept afloat by Libyan and other Arab Government (including Iraqi) money. You couldn't read their press and not know that.
They fawned on Arab dictators, publishing a glossy pamphlet about Iraq and Saddam which could have been issued by the Iraqi Embassy in London. Their paper, Newsline, carried reports on Libya and its ruler, Gaddaffi modelled on the stuff which the Communist Party Daily Worker once published about Stalinist Russia.
They raged against "The Zionists". They identified and denounced "Zionists", that is Jews in prominent positions in British business and other institutions, for example, in the BBC. They singled out for special abuse prominent Jewish Tories and Jewish Labour right wingers. These were "The Zionists". "Zionists" were at the heart of the "imperialist" "conspiracies" all over the world. "Zionists" fomented anti-Arab feeling everywhere.
Socialist Organiser was part of a "Zionist" plot against the WRP and the British labour movement. We were "anti-Arab racists".
They published a raving - in fact Hitlerite - editorial in Newsline asserting that there was a Zionist conspiracy stretching through, and linking, the Tory government, the editorial board of Socialist Organiser and Ronald Reagan's White House!
In 1981, they had sued John Bloxam and myself for libel when I compared them in Socialist Organiser to the Moonie sect and the Scientologists, and reported - part of it based on my own adolescent experience of them - that they used systematic emotional, political and physical violence against vulnerable young people. It was a pretty obvious attempt to "smash" SO and thus clear a competitor out of the way of the paper, Labour Herald, which they had just started in tandem with Ken Livingstone, Leader of the Greater London Council and others.
In response to the libel writs, we launched a political campaign in the labour movement, calling for a Labour Movement Inquiry into the funds of the WRP and into our dispute with them.
As part of that campaign I repeated again and again in SO that there was "circumstantial evidence" that they were in receipt of funds from one or more Arab Governments. Repeatedly, I challenged them to sue me on that. They never did. If they had we would have been entitled under the legal "discovery" rules to examine their accounts It was a tacit admission of guilt.
We were not isolated. We had, for example the support of Tony Benn. And a lot of people in the labour movement had had experience of the WRP .
When in April 1983 the BBC, in a low-audience early Sunday evening programme, repeated a mild version of the "Libyan gold" allegations, I wrote a short review in Socialist Organiser saying that the BBC had told some of the truth about the WRP. I protested against unsubstantiated statements in the programme that "the ethnic press" was, like the WRP, financed by Libya.
The WRP responded to the programme and my review of it with a campaign throughout the labour movement against the "witch-hunting" by the BBC and Socialist Organiser. They who were using the libel laws against a labour movement paper now launched a political campaign in the labour movement against the BBC and Socialist Organiser! It was a typically vigorous campaign.
A sizeable number of trade union branches and trades councils were persuaded to pass resolutions condemning "the BBC and Socialist Organiser", sometimes adding the name of the present writer to the list of those being denounced and condemned.
Frequently the resolutions demanded that Socialist Organiser or myself, or both, "retract" our "slanders" and discharge our working-class duty to stand by those being attacked by the bourgeois state by way of the BBC programme.
The WRP's daily paper, Newsline, devoted a page or most of a page every day for 50 (fifty) issues over nine weeks, to printing (solicited) letters and formal statements from people holding office in the labour movement and well-known theatrical personages denouncing us, as well as publishing feature articles, editorials and a large pamphlet to tell the labour movement what dishonest, unprincipled scoundrels, "Zionists" and agents-provocateur for the bourgeois state we were. They urged that we - and myself by name and photograph - be shut up. They deliberately tried to whip up a lynch-mob atmosphere against us.
Meetings were held to denounce us all over the country at which local shop stewards and convenors, secretaries of trades councils, and occasionally a Labour councillor, and one Labour MP, appeared on the platform.
For example, the meeting held at the Conway Hall in London featured the leader of the then Greater London Council and the leader of a famous "left-wing" borough council amongst a large number of well-known platform speakers.
Meetings held in Scotland featured the Labour MP Ron Brown, a sincere political idiot since thrown out by the Blairites, who believed that Libya and Russia and possibly - I can't remember - Iraq were socialist states.
In that business 20 years ago,we were spectacularly vindicated - and comparatively soon. A couple of years later, in late 1985, the Workers Revolutionary Party imploded. They expelled the aged Gerry Healy, charging the 72-year old with the serial rape of members, and other such things. The two initial factions splintered into a dozen pieces, all flying in different political directions. (One of them still publishes a daily Newsline, which was financed by Iraq up until the regime fell ) Its warring fractions fell over each other in the rush to spill its secrets, including the secrets of its lavish supply of funds.
One of its "historic leaders", the academic Cliff Slaughter, denounced the WRP's leadership, of which he himself had been a part for 25 years, as "fascists" for their amoral attitude to politics, and their deeds. We, who had regarded them as no longer part of the labour movement, had not gone that far; but you could see his point.
The Galloway-SWP business spurred me to go and look at a file of Newsline, where that heresy hunt is luridly recorded. As I've said, it has much to teach socialists faced now with the moral, political and intellectual collapse of the pseudo-left, of which their attitude to Galloway is a putrid example.
I will expand on the bare bones of the story above in the next Solidarity.