Friday, 30 March 2012

Gorgeous George

A lot of people are celebrating today, because George Galloway was re-elected to Parliament, trouncing Labour (who previously held the seat) and the Tories. Look, they say, it shows that there's an electorate who'll vote for a proper socialist way to the left of Labour.

They're talking utter shit.

I'm a hardline socialist way to the left of Labour. I'm also - thanks to a lifetime of bad choices - an expert on socialist political and cultural history. I know a charlatan when I see one. George Galloway is not a socialist. He's a man steeped in the history and rhetorical devices of socialism. He can preach with the best of them. But he's not a socialist. He's an opportunist who has been elected yet again through the simple method of playing identity politics. His totally legitimate - and often magnificent - opposition to the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has meshed with his propensity to cuddle up to every dictator who opposed the west - despite most of these dictators previously being western puppets. He's manufactured a victory by telling Muslim voters that their religious identity and ethnic origin is the most important thing about them. This isn't progressive: it's racism. He has nothing to say about them as citizens, as proletarians, as Bradfordians.

In George's world, the Tiananmen Massacre never happened.

Here's his embarrassing speech to Saddam Hussein:

I share many of George's opinions. I understand the socialist world which spawned him. But his political strategy is one of divisiveness and conspiracism. He understands that alienated young people - particular those from ethnic minorities who are disproportionately unemployed and harassed by the police and the media - are ready to grasp simplistic solutions and interpretations of their predicaments. He doesn't encourage them to forge alliances: he fosters sectarianism and encourages a siege-politics in which groups are formed for the purposes of capturing the state for private interests. There's no vision here, simply plunder.

Galloway's Respect party was founded as a vehicle for himself alone, in tandem with the Socialist Workers Party (not socialists, not workers), a groupuscule which never stands for election itself, preferring to influence politics behind the scenes: their argument is that parliamentary democracy is a sham, but their own methods are devious and unaccountable.

Galloway is a demagogue: his love of the tanning salon and unspeakable dictators is reminiscent of Tony Blair. They share a conviction that ideology and boring politics is for the little people - Galloway voted in 7% of the divisions last time he was in parliament. While he's making grandiose speeches about Afghanistan or Palestine, who'll be chasing the CSA or the Benefits Agency for his constituents? Because that's what most MPs spend their time working on.

Demagoguery is not socialism. Stalinism was a cult of personality. So was the Workers' Revolutionary Party, led by Gerry Healy, who turned out to be a rapist who used violence to control his tiny sect. So was New Labour ('trust me, guys' is not a political platform). Galloway's part of a tradition which requires total obedience rather than critical support. When Healy was exposed as a rapist, his followers denied, then excused it. When Respect fell apart the first time, the factions splintered in true Monty Python style. Respect is a vehicle, not a party, and its sole purpose is to allow George Galloway and his clique to harness the most reactionary instincts of the oppressed for the purpose of sustaining Galloway's symbolic presence.

There's a view amongst macho politicians on the left - of whom Galloway is an example - that only big groups matter. With George, it's Islamic communities whom he sees as a natural constituency. Labour took their votes for granted, which led to corruption and injustice, as well as fragmented communities. The war ended that, and shifty Tories and splitters moved in.  I use 'Islamic' very deliberately. In the old days, immigrant communities were treated by proper socialists as fellow-workers whose essential interests were the same as other workers: fair treatment at work, equality, good housing, education, health and welfare. Religious identity wasn't a concern: many immigrants, like many natives, had some belief but weren't necessarily observant. Others were, but it was a private activity. Religion wasn't the defining characteristic of immigrant groups, just as it isn't of white native ones. But gradually, that changed, and it brought about a darker vision of the public sphere.

When identity politics and war became enmeshed, some very dubious decisions were made. Well-meaning politicians, concerned by the plight of immigrant and minority communities, handed representational power to religious leaders and business groups which fostered an identity rooted in religious practice. Pretty soon, everyone believed that 'Muslim' = strictly observant, then 'fundamentalist'. The idea that Muslims could be religious slackers who shared our interests in social justice, or the minimum wage or nuclear disarmament, disappeared. We treated Muslims as religious zealots and many young Muslims embraced it as the only stable identity available. Dubious 'community leaders' encouraged this - leading to the burning of The Islamic Verses, to segregation and to people like George Galloway and David Cameron fuelling mutual suspicion and reductive concepts of identity.

It's like assuming that Ian Paisley's fascist apocalyptic cult and a Catholic priest's child-abusing habits define Christianity in Northern Ireland, and then treating them as legitimate representatives of those communities. (Which is what's happened).

What's lost is the continuum of Islam (and other religions) as a practice, from Wahhabi to Sufism, from essential to cultural, from observant to casual. Galloway's identification with Islam has led him to encourage and applaud some disgusting bigots. Misogynists, homophobes, anti-semites (for the record: Israel is a vicious state guilty of multiple war crimes - but not because it's a Jewish state): they all appear next to Galloway as 'true' representatives of an oppressed faith. Eventually, these things become self-fulfilling prophecies, and we're left living in ghettos of mutual hatred. But George will be on Question Time, and that's what matters.

True socialists know that socialism isn't' embodied in one person. My political hero, Lewis Jones, refused to join a standing ovation for Stalin - in Moscow at the height of the Purges - because he didn't believe in the Great Man theory of politics. Harry Pollitt and Dennis Skinner are socialists: they're boring, hard-working people who believe that the force of their arguments will prevail, not the deployment of fake tan and fine phrases.

This country needs a socialist party - yesterday's Question Time, in which a Labour shadow cabinet minister joined the anti-union lynch-mob without even considering whether the tanker-drivers' strike (over health and safety) might be justified. George Galloway is not the future of socialism. He speaks well, he's sometimes right, and it's fun hearing him humiliate Tories and pathetic New Labour stooges, but George isn't The Great Liberator: he's a fame addict.


Steve Sarson said...

Excellent post.

Alex said...

So, given that there is no real Socialist party in the UK, what would you have liked to see happen in Bradford?

And is it the duty of all "hardline socialists to the left of Labour" to shout down anything resembling a left-ward turn in this country unless it's the right one?

The Plashing Vole said...

I'm not sure there's no real Socialist party in this country. There are several - the tragedy is that we on the left have been far too ready to split, bicker and play games rather than get organised.

In an ideal world, I'd like to have seen a green Communist or proper socialist Labour candidate elected in Bradford.

My point is this: I don't think Galloway's election is a leftward turn. Lots of his voters think or believe it is. I'd like to believe this too. But I think he's adopted the use of fiery socialist rhetoric to expound very reactionary politics: based on racial and religious identity and division. He's as keen on personal charismatic power as Blair and plenty on the right. He's an intelligent man who once had great potential, but I think he's replaced vision with tactical cynicism.

Alex said...

Well I suppose if I were to have a point I'd say I agree with everything you say, especially the last paragraph of your last reply, but the man has been elected having adopted a fiery socialist rhetoric. And conservative muslims weren't the only people who voted for him.

Look around us. Wolverhampton is a city clearly on the receiving end of all the bile and destruction the Tories are trying to wreak on this country and we still have poor white people trying to blame immigrants or the unemployed for their ills. Some of them will still consider voting Tory. It's about time there was some bloody socialist rhetoric coming from successful candidates.

I don't doubt any of the criticisms you offer of Galloway, nor his capacity to squander well-wishings from the working class he now represents, but I'm consistently amazed by how aggressive leftist commentators are in attacking people like him, like it's some kind of cleansing.

I place it up there with Milliband being elected leader thanks to the backing of unions and using his first interview to dismiss the importance of said unions.

There's clear potential for a sea-change, a mandate for some kind of left-ward turn finally being articulated through a political system designed to prevent such a thing and people (not necessarily yourself) who might otherwise be crying out for such a thing instead seem to want to run a mile.

The Plashing Vole said...

HI again Alex. I think we strongly agree on the kind of politics we want to return to this country. I just have huge reservations about Galloway. I read yesterday about his deeply-sectarian campaign publicity - essentially hinting very strongly that he is a Muslim - and his victory statement, which took in Iran and Palestine yet didn't discuss Bradford.

My basic position is that fighting an election based on religious identity is rightwing: it reduces people to that one position and separates us.

I agree with Galloway on Palestine and to some extent on Iran, but real politics on the ground requires work to change the lives of the inhabitants of Bradford West. Labour has utterly failed to do this: but whipping up voters on issues entirely outside the realm of a backbench MP isn't real politics either.

I sorry to say that I don't think this landslide vote for Galloway was a serious turn to the left. The clearest evidence for this is Respect's showing in the last Bradford South election, in which Respect took 3.3% of the vote. If the voters were really hardline Trotskyists 2 years ago, Respect would have taken the seat, or at least done better. The difference, I think, is Galloway and his astonishing rhetorical skills.

Alex said...

Fair enough. A couple of years ago my best friend and I took advantage of all the church groups organising trips to Edinburgh for the Make Poverty History soiree to get cheap travel for a weekend in the city. While we were there we ran into Galloway doing a bit of rhetoric on Iraq etc. It was my first encounter with him and to my 17 year old mind he was clearly a bit of a twat.