Did the Emperor Caligula appoint his beloved horse a memher of the Senate of Rome? The very well-known story that he did sounds unlikely, apocryphal.
But it may be true. The horse's name is known: Incitatus. Caligula expressed not only his strange infatuation with a horse, but also his great contempt for the Senate and its members. The corrupt, demoralised, and terrified Roman senators did not dare protest.
And then? Did the equine senator sit in the Senate? Did he vote? Did he get up on his hind legs, waving his front legs for oratorical effect, and neigh and whinny?
If he whinnied his horse-sense at the senators, did the horse make more or less sense than his sponsor, Caligula?
Did he raise his hind leg and piss on the closest and most fawning of the senators? Alas, we do not know.
Those who recorded the bare facts were too ashamed of what was happening to Roman public life to tell us.
Caligula, of course, was mad. Mad as a power-crazed Roman Emperor. The Socialist Workers' Party leaders are not mad. But they seem to have lost their political wits. On Sunday 25 January they anointed George Galloway MP, one-time tankie Stalinist and for the last decade an apologist for Saddam Hussein, as the public leader, main public face, and leading candidate in June's Euro-election of the "Respect" coalition which the SWP controls.
We know of nothing in the two thousand years separating us from Caligula that compares so horrendously well with what the SWP has just done.
The allegations against Galloway by the Daily Telegraph await a hearing in the libel courts. Galloway can choose whether to push for an early hearing, or let the case lie dormant for a long time, inhibiting comment. But, for judging Galloway politically, it does not matter whether the Telegraph's story is true or false. Leave that aside.
Many of those at the founding conference of "Respect" had themselves seen film of Galloway standing in front of the Iraqi Hitler ten years ago, praising the "strength, courage, and indefatigability" of the butcher of the Iraqi labour movement and of Iraqi Kurds.
Galloway has admitted that he took money from the Saudis and the Emirates, and from a Jordanian capitalist who had close links with Iraq. He says that he needs £150,000 a year to "function" politically, and says "needs must" is reason enough for taking money from "semi-feudal monarchies".
What are the SWP leaders doing, promoting a man who had Galloway's political relationship to Saddam Hussein's regime and has admitted to taking money from the Saudis and the Emirates?
He has been expelled from the Labour Party "for opposing the war"? No, he hasn't. Many MPs opposed the war. Some of them, Jeremy Corbyn for example, have long and honourable records as honest left-wing opponents of Blair and Blairism. They have not been expelled or threatened with expulsion.
Why did Blair pick on Galloway? The Blairites serve the British ruling class. Their objection to Galloway is that he openly served a different bourgeoisie - that of Iraq.
Nor does Galloway's claim to be a man of the left have any credibility. He never had any "left wing" credentials except those of a long-time tankie Stalinist - an enthusiast for such things as Russia's bloody war in the 1980s to incorporate Afghanistan as a colony of its Stalinist empire. He has spent the last ten years as a prop for the Ba'thist regime that slaughtered his one-time Iraqi comrades of the Iraqi Communist Party. He is a dishonest and dishonourable man.
What was Galloway's motive for the role he played over ten years? Not money, but a psychological need to grovel at the feet of "strong, courageous, indefatigable" dictators, be they Stalinist or Ba'th-fascistic? Politically, it does not matter. What is a man who boasts that he was the house-guest of Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's long-time deputy, doing at the head of "Respect", which claims to be a left-wing alternative to Blair's Labour Party?
The Iraqi trade union movement is coming alive again after four decades of suppression by the Ba'thists. That is the best news out of the Middle East for many a long day. We owe the Iraqi working class and the reviving Iraqi labour movement our unstinting support, help, and solidarity.
What will honest Iraqi trade unionists and socialists say when they see those who would claim to be their equivalents in Britain hobnobbing with Galloway? What will they say to the news that much of the English "far left" will spend from now to June campaigning to win George Galloway a seat in the European Parliament?
They will think we have lost our wits!
They will ask themselves what the SWP's willingness to hold hands with Galloway indicates about the politics of that organisation. It is a question that members of the SWP should ask their all-too-powerful leaders.
What happened at the founding conference of "Respect" was more like a senate of horses appointing Caligula emperor than Caligula making a senator of his horse. All the same, it is utterly bizarre.
We who publish this paper were never uncritical admirers of what is now fondly called "the IS tradition". In our eyes, the tradition of the organisation that was once the International Socialists, and has now degenerated into the SWP, was always riddled with incoherence and instability.
But at least the founders of that "IS tradition" tried to serve independent working-class politics. They would have shared our joy at the revival of the Iraqi labour movement which the first Ba'thist coup of February 1963 crushed. They would have shared our scorn and contempt for Saddam's associate George Galloway.
We repeat: what is George Galloway doing at the head of "Respect"? SWP members should insist that their leaders answer this question. If they can't get satisfactory answers out of them, they should draw their own conclusions.
There was once a Russian-German socialist, Alexander Helphand, who used the pseudonym Parvus. He was a close friend of Leon Trotsky's. He helped to work out the earliest version of the theory of permanent revolution.
When the St Petersburg Soviet and its chair, Leon Trotsky, were arrested in December 1905, Parvus was elected chair of the rump Soviet that tried to continue in illegality.
In World War One, Helphand backed German imperialism. He became fantastically rich by dealing in armaments.
After the October Revolution in 1917, Helphand offered to work for the Bolsheviks. They were very hard pressed. His connections in the armaments industries would have been invaluable to them. But they refused to have anything to do with Helphand.
Lenin and Helphand's one-time friend Trotsky replied to his offer: "One must have clean hands".
Galloway does not have clean hands. Neither do those who are acting as his political bag-carriers in his effort to win a seat in the European Parliament.