The Freudian politics of George Galloway and the Workers Party

Last week, the Workers Party of Britain launched their manifesto for the upcoming elections. George Galloway persisted with his uncompromising criticism of Labour and Conservatives as forming a homogenous mass of failed policy, and during his speech recycled his now famous phrase that Labour and Conservatives are ‘two cheeks of the same backside’.

With Keir Starmer’s ‘centrist Labour’, as it has come to be considered, embodying a certain failure of the UK left to organise itself against in the face of a growing reactionary trend sweeping Europe, this statement is perhaps at its most poignant for many dissatisfied voters.

During his speech, Galloway used an unexpected reference to Freud, stating that according to “Freud’s narcissism of the small differences, they have to raise their voices about the small differences that exist between them” — implying that the greatest political ‘difference’ to be recognised in the apparent conflict between Starmer and Sunak is that there are no meaningful differences between the parties. Galloway points out an interesting fact in Freudian psychoanalysis: the inverted identity of difference. It is indeed the case, as Freud deduced, that opposed contents and ideas, whether in slips of the tongue, artistic productions, neurotic symptoms, or culture on the whole, are often founded upon an original identity.

The use of Freud as a metaphor for political change is important, as it has recurred at several times in the history of politics. Whilst Freud himself had no great political or ideological convictions, the last hundred years (from the Frankfurt School to contemporary political theory) have showed that there is an intimate relation between psychoanalysis and politics.

Galloway’s statement on Labour and the Tories signifies a potentially important shift. He dismisses them both as discrepancies in an otherwise identical political orientation, and does so with a reference to Freudian theory. He opposes himself, in other words, to a late-stage globalist discourse which homogenises its oppositions, placing himself, as theorists have done for decades, on the side of a strong (proto-Freudian) opposition.

Yet the question is whether any serious opposition is possible from the Workers Party of Britain, or whether they will be subsumed by their mounting controversy, regarding for example allegations of antisemitism. Freud was an undoubtedly original thinker, and he represented a rupture in the history of ideas: the introduction of the unconscious, to the great displeasure of both scientists and philosophers. At the same time, Freud was a malleable contrarian. He was radically new enough to be adaptable to multiple schools of thought, serving as a justification for both left-wing and right-wing thought.

Freud’s ‘big difference’ from the psychologists and philosophers that preceded him was, strangely, easily assimilated into those positions which he so heavily fought against. If George Galloway claims, with the Workers Party, to be opening up to the ‘big differences’ which need to be addressed, and which Sunak and Starmer remain silent on, this begs the question of what the ‘big’ differences are.

The threats of nuclear disaster and an expanding war with Russia, and the threat of an apocalyptic climate catastrophe — these are perhaps the ‘big differences’, the points of focus, which require a serious re-appraisal of political priorities and discourse. Yet it is on these ‘big differences’ that the Workers Party seems to fall short. It is on these grounds that Galloway’s politics should, if he is to be faithful to the meaning of his party as a serious left-wing opposition, stick to the big differences; he should engage with the question of managing the great political antagonisms of the 21st century: the rise of right-wing populism, the threat of military dictatorships around the world, and the question of crises conditioned by an expansive, globalised political economy.

His use of Freud may suggest a serious intention to this question of differences, and yet the threat persists that, precisely like Freud, Galloway will be reabsorbed into the discourse of ‘small differences’ to which he so vehemently opposed. is the UK’s leading digital-only political website. Subscribe to our daily newsletter for all the latest election news and analysis.