It is a misunderstanding created by circumstances that I am interested only in Middle Eastern affairs – notably, the struggle for self determination of the Palestinian people and against the horrific effects of sanctions and war on the Iraqi people during Saddam’s vile dictatorship.
I have been, of course, passionately engaged in these issues but my interest in opposing all forms of imperialism – including the fashionable neo-liberal version of Mr Blair – arises from a deep patriotism about my own islands.
Empire resulted in the cruelty and oppression of millions outside these islands but it also helped to sustain the power of a ruling elite whose basic greed and sometimes malice, where it was not mere indifference and incompetence, oppressed its own people first before it turned its gaze on peoples of different hue and faith.
Caring about the Middle East is merely a reflection of my deep sense of moral responsibility as a Briton for the dabblings in the region by irresponsible, greedy and incompetent officials over many years.
We have opposing us, a surprisingly small national elite that hangs on to power generation after generation by capturing every popular movement of resistance and turning it into a junior club member. In the Middle Ages, Wat Tyler’s head was struck off by the King. Today, he would be put in charge of some regulatory Quango.
It is to the credit of Labour that it took nearly a hundred years for its body and soul to be captured so that it could start to expel radicals such as myself, but it is a process that started with the National Government of Ramsey Macdonald and has concluded with that of Tony Blair.
This is the same elite network that once turned its back on Irish Home Rule and thereby split these islands into two, that almost bankrupted the nation to keep high the financial profits of empire-builders and that, when empire proved untenable, sold us, the people, out to a former colony as its aircraft carrier.
These rulers of ours would have been on a plane out of the country or deep in bunkers when the rest of us fried as America’s forward base if there had been a misjudgement in the sixty year war on communism. We owe them nothing.
We, in turn, have been complicit in the deaths of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands or millions, of Asians and Africans since 1945 and we have heard not a word of protest from our ruling family, our media proprietors and the profit-takers in the City.
Harold Wilson did his best and kept us out of Vietnam whereas Tony Blair reflected on thirty years of slow absorption into North American culture, society and economics and responded with his slavish political obeisance to the White House.
The public is unaware, because it is convenient to some that they should not be aware, that I was condemning Saddam Hussein when he was backed by the anti-communist West in his homicidal war against Iran and using chemical weapons supplied by our Allies.
I met Saddam Hussein twice, the same number of times that Donald Rumsfeld met him.
The difference is that Rumsfeld met him to sell his regime guns and gas and to give them the maps necessary to target them while I met him to try and avert suffering sanctions and war.
If I have said words which taken out of context have upset some people, I refuse to forget that context.
If I appeared to flatter a dictator, I was not. My praise was for the courage, strength and indefatigability of the Iraqi people not their dictator – qualities which have had to be demonstrated all too often in the near decade since I made those remarks I could not oust this Dictator so my first duty was to help his people where I could.
Let’s not forget that the real crimes of Saddam Hussein against his people were largely committed during a period when he was a client and ally of the west; and when I was protesting against him. Most of the suffering of Iraqis in the last decade and more has been inflicted by the White House and Number Ten Downing Street.
So what do I believe in?
Well, first of all, I believe that sovereignty lies in the people and that the English Revolution of 1688 lies unfinished.
Second, that the State should be the servant of the people, transparent and accountable.
Third, that the Defence of the Realm should mean Defence of the People of these islands and not defence of the State or the promotion of special interests in hock to foreign powers.
A strong defence force should not be expended on foreign adventures. No British son should die on foreign shores unless the threat is direct and material to these islands or, as a volunteer, he has signed up to humanitarian action under international law.
These three beliefs alone have placed me on a collision course with a State where monarchical power, cloaked in Parliamentary democracy, has simply been transferred to a Prime Minister whose monomaniacal vision of global intervention, whose cavalier attitude to international law and whose willingness to make sacrifices of other parent’s sons is carried out unquestioningly by a loyal State without moral compass.
Politics today can be boiled down to this issue of the morality and legitimacy of the State.
These beliefs, now shared by many others, have been crystallised by a major grassroots peace movement that covered all shades of opinion on social and economic matters within one grand coalition of dissent.
It was a movement of anger at the pride and arrogance of the State and of the elite behind it, an anger that grew with the contempt shown for its views by Government, with the treatment of Dr David Kelly and with the sleazy contempt for the facts over WMD.
This movement expresses the best of Britain – it is tolerant of difference, it is co-operative, it is enterprising, it is internationalist.
The so-called war on terrorism is indicative of the elite’s strategy of creating tension between communities but not in an obvious way. It is to the credit of the Government that it has not and almost certainly will not use the sort of cheap anti-Muslim populism that is common in Europe.
Instead, it seeks to impose authoritarian and deeply suspect laws to control dissent, freedom of movement and the right to free expression – the war is against the thinking political community, whether Muslim, socialist, libertarian, patriotic, radical or liberal.
These controls on liberty which have been put in place in a time of economic plenty can be used to disturbing effect in a time of economic scarcity.
But let me be clear about this, I condemn terrorism as an instrument of policy.
But with this caveat that, for me, terrorism is the use of force, violence and subversion against civilians and political activists by whoever is wielding the weaponry. State terrorism, including illegal war, puts the terrorism of such organised ideological criminals as al-Qaida into context, as two sides of the same evil coin.
I will not condemn the just war of populations of occupied territories when they resist, in any way that they can, uninvited invaders on to their sovereign soil – the moral rights of the Sioux, the heroes of Warsaw and the Russian Partisan were and are inviolate in this respect. It is a right we have not had to invoke on our own soil for some considerable time.
Arrogant war leader
Arguments about bringing progress to benighted savages did not wash in the nineteenth century and they do not wash now.
I am motivated by two other important beliefs not always accentuated because those who joined me in this antiwar, anti-occupation movement against an arrogant War Leader need not have shared my Leftist ideology. However, these two beliefs will always guide my political action:
* that working people create their own society through collective action from below; and
* that exploitation of labour will always exist and needs community action to correct it through active redistribution of wealth and power.
This was at the root of my throwing in my lot with the Labour Party more than thirty years ago and of my distress at its departure from those ideals. I have fought a losing battle to stay a democratic socialist inside Labour and it is on record that it expelled me and I did not leave it.
But I am not going to hang around outside Labour’s door waiting to be let in. History will not wait. Times have changed. Bevan and Foot were expelled in serious debates on policy which they could fight again another day.
I was expelled as a result of a manoeuvre by a faction that had captured the Party in a coup and then fixed the rules so that serious policy debate was impossible unless personal permission came from the Wolf’s Lair. I now see that traditional British socialism is not dead but is in danger, being poisoned by stealth.
My socialism is the same socialism that inherited the radical democratic triumphs of the nineteenth century and, working alongside the great Liberal politicians of the turn of the last century, created the welfare state and a national economic infrastructure that was intended to be in the service of the people.
My socialism is not that of ” bloody revolutionists ” or foreign ideological importations. It is rooted in this land and in its traditions of liberty, dissent, co-operativism and trades union action and it is open to every freeborn British person , every faith, all men and women on equal terms.
Politics is about schools, hospitals, roads and jobs as well as about grand theories of democracy, rights, foreign affairs and free trade.
In the drive for the latter on a global stage, New Labour has lost its bearings on national service provision and has turned a vigorous tradition of national democracy into a pale pink ersatz global version for the consumption of foreign elites. In short, we are in danger of losing our freedoms and rights to help foreign elites join an increasingly exclusive international club.
This is not good enough.
The national politicisation of the anti-war movement is now a necessary next stage in our own bloodless war of national liberation. The reality of the movement means that what we create must operate at two levels.
The first level requires steps towards a mass unifying movement of grassroots radicals to hobble the State, bring it under popular control and complete an unfinished radical democratic revolution. This level will unite Muslims, Christians and Jews, socialists, liberal and conservatives, men, women and the disadvantaged of all types in one movement of democratic liberation.
This is the movement launched in the Quaker’s Friends House in London’s Euston Road on October 29th 2003 and which will fight New Labour in the European elections and the elections to the Greater London Assembly next June.
The second tier is where the battle for ideas and souls will take place in a People’s Britain.
In that battle, I will remain what I have always been – a radical democratic socialist in the Labour tradition – but until power is decentralised and returned to the people, I will work with anyone who shares those first tier values because we need nothing less than a revolution in our national political life.
GEORGE GALLOWAY MP