From the archives: Galloway’s boot-licking and kow-towing to “strong”, “courageous”, “indefatigable”, bloody butchers.
Matgamna on Galloway, May 2003:
There is a strong case for dismissing the charges made by the Tory Daily Telegraph and others against George Galloway, of having been a bought and paid-for agent of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq – namely, the character and bias of those baying for the blood of an MP who has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the recent US-British war with Iraq.
The Telegraph has published documents which appear to show that Galloway had been taking at least £375,000 a year from Saddam Hussein’s quasi-fascist Ba’ath regime in Iraq.
He is being investigated by the Charities Commission for his use of moneys collected by the “Mariam Appeal”, which he founded.
The putrid Sun has joined in the outcry against Galloway; the News of the World has unearthed a story involving Galloway in sex and conspicuous consumption in Cuba. And so on.
On principle, no-one should trust those who are in full cry against Galloway.
Galloway’s recent associates in the campaign against Blair’s and Bush’s war have defended him. The editor of Tribune, Mark Seddon, wrote in the Times. Tony Benn has indignantly defended Galloway against the charge that he is corrupt and paid by Saddam Hussein.
Socialist Worker has said: “The pro-war press owners are trying to smear George Galloway MP and, through him, the anti-war movement… Even if every word the Telegraph alleges were true it still would not justify the paper’s headline.”
The Stop The War Coalition “publicly expresses its full support for George Galloway and regards the attacks on him – which he has announced he will challenge in the courts – as a politically-inspired witch-hunt”. Tariq Ali, the grizzled but still determinedly, perennially trendy anti-war campaigner, has appeared on TV to defend Galloway.
Yet if Galloway has been a paid agent of the Iraqi regime, it would make political sense out of something that, otherwise, is incomprehensible. How could Galloway, an old-style Scots tankie Stalinist who still mourns the collapse of the USSR, identify with the Saddam regime which, among other things, has repressed and massacred the Communist Party of Iraq?
In political terms it is a sin against nature for someone with Galloway’s background to hold the Saddam regime in anything other than wholehearted loathing. Galloway started out as a Stalinist critic of Ba’athist Iraq. As he sometimes reminds us, he denounced the massacre of Kurds at Halabja in 1988. To oppose the 1991 or 2003 Gulf wars he need not have made any shift to “softness” towards the Iraqi Hitler in Baghdad.
Yet, for a decade now, Galloway has got himself described in Britain as “the MP for Baghdad Central”, or (by a Government minister last year in the House of Commons) as an “apologist and a mouthpiece” for Ba’athist Iraq.
In January 1994, Galloway appeared before the butcher of Iraqis and Kurds, the initiator of the very bloody eight-year war with Iran, the invader of Kuwait, and, his voice and body-language conveying respect and awe, told him: “Sir we salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability… We are with you. Until victory! Until Jerusalem!”
In 2002 he interviewed Saddam Hussein and came out to tell the world (Mail on Sunday, 11 August 2002) that the “shy” dictator with the “gentle handshake” loves British chocolates. In 1998 he told the New Worker, newspaper of the unrepentantly Stalinist New Communist Party, that: “The politicised people – which are quite widespread; the mass organisations and the Ba’ath Party which is extremely well-organised and deeply rooted now in Iraq… [have] high morale. High levels of motivation and mobilisation. A high spirit of resistance. Certainly an acute consciousness of who the real villains of the piece are…”
The situation was spoiled by “the vicious effect of elements of the Iraqi opposition, who should know better. They’ve so poisoned the well of potential good-will to the Iraqi people in this country…
“We have a situation where sections of the Iraqi Communist Party, for entirely understandable reasons – they’ve been subject to massive repression – have allowed themselves to be put into a pro-imperialist position… The Iraqi Communist Party and CARDRI (Campaign Against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq) have ended up defending imperialism”. (8 August 1998).
Galloway has occasionally said that he is against “dictatorships” like Saddam Hussein’s, but it has been something perfunctory, “for the record”, with no consequences for his championing of Saddam’s Iraq.
If Galloway did all that for money, then something otherwise politically incomprehensible makes good, though disgusting, old-fashioned sense. Otherwise, you have to look for an explanation in terms of a peculiarly twisted psychology. You have to speculate about the shifts an old-style Stalinist has been driven to in order to gratify his taste for boot-licking and kow-towing to “strong”, “courageous”, “indefatigable”, powerful, bloody butchers.
Of course we don’t know whether what the Daily Telegraph says about Galloway is true or not. Galloway has, it seems, now accepted that the documents were found in the Baghdad building: he only denies that what they say is true. He has threatened the Daily Telegraph with a libel suit, though so far – and he has been notoriously quick on the draw with libel suits – only threatened.
For the politics of the affair as they affect the left and the fake left we do not have to wait for a libel court to pronounce. In his public self-defence Galloway has made available facts about his affairs which would shame and embarrass, if they were capable of shame and embarrassment, those who put him up on the platforms of the anti-war movement.
How was the paper East, which Galloway published for a period in the 1990s, financed? By the Pakistani government, for its own political ends, or so several newspapers have reported without Galloway contradicting them.
Were the funds donated to the “Mariam Appeal” – which appealed for funds to provide medical assistance for needy Iraqis like the little girl with leukemia after whom it was named – used to finance Galloway’s globe-trotting? Yes, replies Galloway, most of the funds were used for “political campaigning”, like his trips to Iraq (“maybe 100” of them in 1993-2002, so he told Islamonline.net).
Was the Mariam Appeal used to channel Iraqi-originated money? Galloway has responded by stating that the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and a businessman in Jordan with Iraqi links, provided most of the funds.
Did Galloway, as the Telegraph documents say, meet a junior Iraqi intelligence agent? Why should I do such a thing, responds Galloway, when I had access to the top leaders in Baghdad. He tells us that he spent Christmas Day recently as the guest of Saddam Hussein’s deputy Tariq Aziz. And so on.
Even if there was nothing financially corrupt in Galloway’s relations with the Iraqi regime, even if he was not a venal self-server but only a confused and disoriented Stalinist moron, the story he tells in his defence against the Telegraph’s charges pose a major question for his associates on the left.
What were you doing working with such a man, whose general attitude towards Saddam Hussein’s quasi-fascist Iraqi government you knew perfectly well? Have you forgotten who and what you are in politics – you who call yourselves “Marxists”, “socialists” and “Trotskyists”? Don’t you care? Have you lost your political wits?
Or is it that you think that someone whom junior minister Ben Bradshaw, in the House of Commons, plausibly calls a “mouthpiece” and an “apologist” for the Ba’athist regime is nowadays just one more variety of bona fide left-winger?
For example, who is Tariq Aziz? He has been Saddam’s lieutenant for decades, during which time Saddam Hussein has done far worse things to the peoples of Iraq – in the first place to the Iraqi working class – than Hitler did to Germans, not excluding Jewish Germans, before World War Two. Saddam and Tariq Aziz imposed and maintained a totalitarian regime that systematically deprived the people living under them of all civil rights, uprooted and destroyed the elements of an independent working-class movement, killed hundreds of thousands of Kurds…
Who in Hitler’s entourage would have been the equivalent of Tariq Aziz? Rudolf Hess? Martin Bormann? Josef Goebbels? Hermann Goering? Joachim von Ribbentrop? What would you think of a 1930s socialist – or for that matter a 1930s Liberal or Tory – who would reply to the charge that he had contact with a lowly Nazi agent by boasting that he couldn’t need such contacts because he had been Hess’s, or Bormann’s, or Goebbels’, or Goering’s, or Ribbentrop’s guest over the Christmas of 1938 or 1939? Would you have him on your anti-war platforms?
What would you think if he replied to accusations that he had received money from the Hitler government by saying that his political campaigns had instead been financed by, say, the Japanese government, or Mussolini, or Franco?
We were right to oppose the war. But our opposition should have been – and, so far as we could control it, should have been seen to have been – opposition to our own ruling class on the basis of independent working-class “third camp” rejection of Saddam Hussein no less than of Bush and Blair. “No to war, no to Saddam”.
Put at its weakest, the attitude of those who controlled the anti-war movement has been that it was perfectly all right to associate with the man widely identified as “the MP for Baghdad Central”. They saw nothing wrong in letting the anti-war movement be identified as a pro-Iraq movement, or in making it easy for such as the Daily Telegraph to smear us with George Galloway.
Of course, the same people saw nothing wrong in linking arms with the Islamic fundamentalist organisation, the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), a front for the Muslim Brotherhood.
And it was not just in the anti-war movement. On 10 April the Socialist Alliance trade union committee (members of the SWP and Workers’ Power, and Alan Thornett of the ISG) decided that at trade union conferences this summer the Alliance should focus on getting in on fringe meetings led by Galloway.
There is a mystery in all this – a real and not a rhetorical mystery, that we are at a loss to understand. Why?
Nine years ago (27 January 1994) our predecessor Socialist Organiser carried an editorial entitled “The Old Left Continues To Rot”, in response to two events. One was the crazy suggestion by the black MP, the late Bernie Grant, that black people in Britain should be given money to persuade them to accept voluntary “repatriation”. The other was George Galloway’s appearance before Saddam Hussein – recorded by the BBC – to tell him how admirable he found his “courage”, etc.
Galloway’s performance in the presence of the mass murderer Saddam Hussein seemed to us to be an extreme case of a Stalinoid who had lost even the few political marbles he had had as an admirer of the USSR. We wrote: “Galloway should be thrown out by his local [Labour] party”.
Not quite a decade on, broad swathes of the erstwhile Marxist left have tainted themselves with what was then only the Galloway syndrome.
In the build-up to war, Tony Benn went to Iraq – initially employed by a never-launched TV company in which Galloway was involved – and delivered the sort of innocuous, respectful questions to Saddam Hussein that allowed him to come back to Britain with what was nothing other than a “party political broadcast” for Saddam.
Nobody will be able to accuse Benn of being a hired mouthpiece for Saddam Hussein. We do accuse him of contributing, through political foolishness, to the rot in the left that has progressed astonishingly in the last nine years.
Nine years ago, in political terms, George Galloway was an aberration, a freak. The left did not follow his lead, but tolerated him when it shouldn’t have. We commented: “It is possible for the honest left to get into such a state that nothing creates an impression… Standards collapse. Hopes of anything better go…
“Nobody knows what ‘left’ is any more, so anything goes. Judge not lest ye be judged! Do not react, lest that be ‘witch-hunting’, and lest ye too be witch-hunted….
“With that approach, the regeneration of the left will prove impossible”.
Today the left which then culpably tolerated Galloway is not too far from identifying with him. For example, in response to a protest from Workers’ Liberty against the Socialist Alliance trade union committee’s decision, the committee’s secretary writes: “I completely disagree with your assessment of Galloway’s politics on Iraq. I agree with him considerably more than I agree with your organisation…”
Whatever the jury and judge in an eventual Telegraph libel case may conclude about Galloway’s motivation in championing Saddam’s Iraq, the “left” described here is not bought. It is suicidally confused.
In regard to Iraq, there is an element of inverted chauvinism expressed in the attitude: “This is a Third World country. What else can you expect?” The same attitude finds expression within Britain in a manipulative, superior attitude to the Islamic population here – the view that they can only be approached and mobilised through their own reactionaries, the Muslim Brotherhood. What better can you expect?
We are faced here with a political, moral, and intellectual collapse of the old left, and with the cumulative result that the “left” no longer knows quite what its own identity is. How and why has this happened?
Isn’t it that much of the left, or more accurately the pseudo-left, no longer defines itself positively, in terms of what it is for? No longer measures political organisations, classes and regimes by how they relate to what we ourselves fight for?
Instead, the “left” defines itself negatively, by what it is against. It is against capitalism. Against imperialism. Against America. It is on the side of whomever at any given moment is against them – on the side, even, of those who are worse. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was certainly worse.
Of course socialists could not have had any confidence in, or given support to, the US and Britain. But still less could we give anything like support to the quasi-fascist regime in Baghdad.
Again and again the post-USSR left – the pseudo-left, the fake left – lets itself be pushed by its antagonism to the dominant powers into supporting worse. If going for “the best” can sometimes be the enemy of going for the merely better, here opposition to the bad, to the enemy at home, to the immediate enemy, becomes, again and again, support for the worse overseas!
It happened in the Afghan war of 2001, when in antagonism to the Americans Socialist Worker let itself half-apologise for the Afghan Taliban regime’s treatment of women (6 October 2001).
Most terribly, it happened in 1999 with the Balkans war. Opposition to “imperialism” – to one imperialism – led the fake left to line up with the primitive Serbian imperialism at the point where it was trying to sweep Kosova clean of its Albanian population (90% of Kosovars).
Never mind the unproven charge that George Galloway took money from Saddam Hussein. Socialists, or even half-decent liberals, who do not feel embarrassed by the things George Galloway admits to, who do not feel shame at having had Tariq Aziz’s Christmas house guest on their anti-war platforms – those socialists have lost the plot. To call them socialists without some qualifying adjective like “fake” is now an abuse of language..