By Colin Foster
At the Respect fringe meeting at the European Social Forum (Saturday 16 October), George Galloway set out to define for Respect “the traditions in which we stand... the flag we seek to carry”.
Starting with Wat Tyler and John Ball and going up to Antonio Gramsci, his references were distant enough to be shared by almost any left-winger. But already he had noticeably omitted Lenin, Trotsky, and any reference to the Russian Revolution.
Gramsci was jailed in 1926, and would die before he could re-enter public political activity. Galloway’s references for the last 78 years were of a different sort.
The International Brigades (organised by the Stalinist parties worldwide for the Spanish Civil War). The French Resistance. The Yugoslav Partisans. Patrice Lumumba (first president of what is now Zaire). Che Guevara. And the intifada.
Galloway is trying to claim Respect for the “Third Worldist” politics of his own youth in the 1970s — the politics which saw social change coming by way of guerrilla wars in poorer countries, led by or allied with Stalinists, gradually closing in on the imperialist centres — but with a difference. With the Communist Parties now mostly defunct, the role of anti-imperialist revolutionary is filled by political Islamism.
His speech concluded with a packed Friends’ Meeting House giving him a standing ovation as he declared that Fallujah will be “a new Stalingrad” and predicted the US ambassador to Iraq will scramble out of the country in a helicopter in the same way as his equivalent did in Vietnam when the Stalinists took Saigon in 1975.
Part of Galloway’s concern must be to create a political base for himself in Respect so that if a sharp issue should arise on which the SWP wants to revert to Trotskyism and clash with Galloway, then he can ensure that they cannot do it without damage.
So far, however, the SWP is giving him a free run. The speech from John Rees of the SWP, who is Respect’s national secretary, lugubriously insisted on Respect being “a new party” “emerging from the anti-war movement” (and so with its traditions and its flag as yet undefined) — as if both the SWP and Galloway have not been around for decades.
Suzanne Kim spoke about the Wahlalternative, the proto-party launched by officials from Germany’s metalworkers’ union in revolt against the Social Democratic government’s welfare cuts.
Some of the other speeches could be taken as coded criticism, but so heavily coded as to be obscure to most of the audience.
Olivier Besancenot of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire talked about the need to define a positive programme (not just oppose the status quo): “our flag is red”. He closed on the need for “the hard apprenticeship to revolutionary patience, to patient impatience” — combining urgency in action with tenacity in not letting short-term advantage distract from long-term goals. That could have been taken as a rebuke to Respect’s shameless vote-grubbing, but I doubt many heard it that way.
Gennaro Migliore of Rifondazione comunista denounced the “cruel terrorists” who had beheaded Ken Bigley, but his comment passed without reaction from the hall. Tommy Sheridan of the Scottish Socialist Party also spoke, and Galloway announced that he is quitting Scottish politics and will stand in a London constituency in the next general election.