George Galloway.and the Making of a Pseudo-Socialist Hero

Submitted by on 22 May, 2004 - 12:00 Author: Sean Matgamna

by George Galloway. Allen Lane, £10

"By their heroes ye shall know them… for in the individuals whom they exalt and glorify and hold up to the youth as example, every class and every movement unfailingly reveals its standards of worth, its morality, its very soul. Thus, the communist workers of Germany glorified the name of the courageous and incorruptible Liebknecht who sacrificed his life in battle for a great cause. The degenerate Nazis countered with the dedication of their official hymn to Horst Wessel, the pimp who was killed in a brawl."
James P Cannon, 1952

By their heroes ye shall know them... George Galloway MP has now been elevated to the pantheon of Great Socialist Heroes by the British left, as this book, which carries a series of immoderate "product endorsements" on the front and back covers, testifies.

Tony Benn assures us that George Galloway is "one of the finest socialists, internationalists and democrats of his generation".

Remember that, reader, next time you feel tempted by the facts to think of George Galloway as a vicarious Arab or Iraqi nationalist, and a tainted, long-time supporter of the murderously undemocratic, indeed, fascistic, Saddamite regime in Iraq, and - self-admitted - recipient of money to fund his political activities from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates*.

Ken Loach, the film director, tells us that Galloway's "voice is one of the most important in British politics. He has exposed for all to see, the rotten core of today's Labour Party".

Little George did it all: he did not accommodate to the Blairites for a decade, until the imminent war on Iraq forced the man long known as "the MP for Baghdad Central" to break cover.

And just in case you are inclined to think the man denounced in the House of Commons last year by the junior minister Ben Bradshaw as a British "mouthpiece" for Saddam Hussein, may therefore - at least morally - share some of the blood-guilt of one of the most murderous regimes on the planet, journalist John Pilger tells you that Galloway is: "Brave, powerful and eloquent… George Galloway's work has saved countless lives, especially in Iraq... I salute him."

The name of Galloway's most important sponsor, the SWP, does not appear among the endorsements, or anywhere in the book. The names of the SWP's Lindsey German and John Rees - "the most important 'power couple' on the British left since Nye Bevan and Jennie Lee" - do, but only as people "influential in organising the [anti-war] coalition".

That may be because the biggest "Trotskyist" organisation in Britain has now as the culmination of their romace adopted Galloway's name as their own! Their electoral front, Respect, is known on the ballot paper as "Respect - The Unity Coalition (George Galloway)". That at least has the merit of telling it how it is.

He still faces investigation by the Charity Commission. Allegations that he was in Saddam Hussein's pay have been presented to a US Congress investigative committee. He faces a libel case next November with the Daily Telegraph.

As far as the pseudo-left can do it, the unrepentant Stalinite, Saddamite and number one Gallowayite, has been washed clean.

Who is George Galloway? A Dundee proletarian whose maternal grandparents were Irish immigrants, he seems to have been educated mainly in the labour movement. What he did before he became a full-time politician is not at all clear.

He claims to have worked in a jute mill and - in the book - also to have been some sort of wine-waiter (serving the Queen, no less).

He says he joined the Labour Party 36 years before his expulsion, at the age of 13 or 14.

Galloway's early history is hidden behind mythology. In his political views he early on became a Stalinist, an uncritical admirer of the USSR and its "communist" ruling class.

Amongst Stalinists, he was a "tankie", one of those who thought the British Communist Party majority had betrayed "the socialist camp" by condemning the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. (Their opponents said they believed in a "Russian tanks road to socialism": thus "tankies".)

His political views were fixed early on, but his early organisational affiliations remain obscure.

There was nothing unusual in Labour Party people having Stalinist politics of all shades and stamps - and Stalinist connections.

Arthur Scargill, who moved from membership of the CP/Young Communist League to the Labour Party, with no change of politics, was a prominent example. There were many, many others.

At different times, they controlled certain local Labour Parties - East Salford, for example.

Some of these Labour Party Stalinists were freelance. But there was also a Stalinist "entryist" paper, Straight Left, in the 1980s.

And Galloway? He presents himself in the mid 1970s as naively expecting "the revolution" soon. So? So he joined… the Labour Party, in the era of Wilson and Callaghan…

From his youth he was pulled as by a magnet towards the local municipal power-levers of the Dundee Labour Party and Dundee council, while simultaneously attracted to the even more powerful "comrades" who held power in the Stalinist states.

This ardent young "revolutionary" attached himself at an early age to "power". He was a paid Labour Party organiser, in his day to day political life, but simultaneously he was a "revolutionary" who admired the well-fed ruling "revolutionaries" in control of the USSR and elsewhere.

Politically, Galloway seems to have combined a romantic third world "revolutionism" in which a none-too-clearly defined "oppressed" fought for liberty against a none-too-clearly-defined set of oppressors, with an early-blooming tendency to worship power, and, oddly, in someone who must initially have had something of the socialist about him, wealth and its trappings.

He admired the leaders and tribunes of the oppressed, including Stalinists in power, who obeyed the Biblical injunction: "Thou should not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn".

In the 1970s, after the US military and political collapse in Indo-China, Stalinism expanded into new areas of the world - even into Africa (Ethiopia, etc). It would expand, with Galloway's ardent support, by way of first a Stalinist coup and then a Russian invasion, into Afghanistan. Galloway thought he was joining the winning side, the favoured of history.

In fact, it was the deceptively vigorous dying kick of Russia's Stalinist empire, but their admirer, wee George, up in Dundee, couldn't know that as he enviously watched the victorious Stalinist revolutionaries and "liberators" of their people climb into power.

Such a mix - romantic attachment to the "oppressed" and to "freedom struggles", combined with "revolutionary" power worship and aspiration to the position the Stalinist rulers held in society - may, rationally, seem oxymoronic and even schizoid. Even so, it was for decades a very common mix in and around the Stalinist movements.

Its glaring contradictions were softened by blurring Marxist concepts of class rule and class liberation into populist-Stalinist notions of "people's liberation", "national liberation" and "people's revolution". And by emptying such notions as democracy of all real meaning and content.

I knew Young Communist League members who gloried in the trappings of the Stalinist states. I even knew a Stalinist - not a YCLer, but a man of 30 or more - who loved showing you photos of himself dressed in the uniform of a Polish policeman.

Arthur Scargill, the most important of the Labour Party Stalinists, had no real difficulty combining a genuine neo-syndicalist militancy and the ambition to overthrow capitalism by working-class direct action, with enjoyment of the perks of a top trade union bureaucrat, like chauffeur-driven limousines.

Not for them the old cry of socialists like, for example, James Connolly - "a full, free, happy life for all, or for none!" Not for Galloway, anyway.

He presents himself as if he lived on the equivalent of a political desert island up in Dundee, but in fact Galloway was part of a shoal of 1970s and 80s young Scottish Labour Party tankies. They were an organised faction in the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS), then controlled by Militant (now the Socialist Party). Many of them were unashamed careerists.

They called themselves "Clause Four" and named one of their efforts against the dominant Militant group "Operation Icepick", thereby identifying themselves with the assassins of Leon Trotsky. There was nothing subtle about them…

At the time of the upsurge of the left in the Labour Party around Tony Benn in the early 1980s, Galloway was a member of the soft left Labour Coordinating Committee (LCC), and of its politically distinct Scottish wing, which was both especially right wing and especially Stalinist.

This group backed the left and Benn for a year or so and then veered sharply to the right, forming part of the soft-left/Labour-right coalition around party leader Neil Kinnock. They prepared the way for the eventual Blairite coup.

Other than on foreign policy issues, where he was a Stalinist, and therefore could pass as a left-wing opponent of our own ruling class, George Galloway never had any "left" credentials better than those he won as a member of that soft, treacherous and, ultimately, very stupid, Kinnock-supporting "left".

Galloway soon moved on to be the well-paid General Secretary of War on Want. He left that job under a cloud, but was cleared of financial irregularities by an inquiry.

Galloway became an MP in 1987. He did nothing to resist the Blairite coup. He pursued his "Arab" interests, becoming more and more identified with the Saddam Hussein regime.

For Galloway to become a wholehearted supporter of the Ba'th regime, as he did, implied an extraordinary emotional lurch - from hostility to the butchers of his comrades of the Iraqi Communist Party to abject support for them.

For a fact, he did it. Why he did it is the subject of understandable speculation.

He steadily became more prosperous. If he had hopes of government office under the 1997 New Labour government, he was disappointed

He had, considering his known Iraqi link, a remarkably smooth relationship with the government. In the book he says that Jack Straw the Foreign Secretary recently approached him to act as go-between in private negotiations with Saddam Hussein's regime. (Straw says Galloway approached him.)

Two things led to George Galloway's break with the Labour Party. His link with Iraq and his siding with it in the war placed him in very sharp contradiction with the British state.

Unlike other left MPs who opposed the Iraq war, Galloway opposed it not as a pacifist or socialist but as a long-time friend of the Saddamite regime. But that was only part of why he let things go to a break.

His Parliamentary seat is being abolished by boundary changes, and he was unlikely to get another from the Blairites.

That, together with his allegiance to Iraq's government, is why, having lived smoothly with the Blairites for so long, he did not make his peace with them, going through the motions of apologising, or whatever, for his less than ringing advice that British soldiers should not obey "illegal" orders.

He might thereby have saved his membership of the Labour Party; but he would still have been out of Parliament at the next general election.

Galloway decided to be a "martyr".

Where no other Labour opponent of the war was disciplined by the Labour Party, Galloway colluded in taking things to a break - and began his dizzy ascent to the pantheon of the pseudo-left.

But something else was needed to raise him to his present heights. The state of the SWP.

Though it used to back the Labour Party in general elections, this group had eschewed electoral activity since it burned its fingers on it in the mid 1970s.

One of its long-time arguments against the Labour Party and socialists who worked in it was that Labour's electoralism and parliamentarianism inevitably moved it to the right - in pursuit of votes.

Events forced the SWP to join the Socialist Alliance and to put up candidates in the general election.

They did it very badly and they got bad results.

As in the story of the anarchist who had believed that politics was a foul, dirty, unprincipled business, and when he turned politician was himself exceptionally dirty, foul and unprincipled, so with the SWP and elections.

Accustomed to raising (and dropping) slogans they think will help them recruit - "build the party" - they now do what they think will "work" to pursue votes.

Longer term goals, like using elections to preach socialism, don't exist for them - or, rather, their only long-term goal, substituting for Marxist politics, is to "build the party".

So they have put together "Respect" on the basis of very tame and moderate slogans, with George Galloway at its head.

They think that Galloway is the key to winning the votes of Muslims who would not vote for socialist candidates.

"Socialism" for these people is not political practice or political propaganda, but a mere brand name.

George Galloway hopes to win a seat in the European parliament.

This book is part of that election campaign. It is a demagogue's book and not a socialist book. George Galloway hides in it rather than revealing himself in its pages.

Link: Factsheet on George Galloway
Score: 2/10
Reviewer: John O'Mahony