In a recent episode of his weekly radio programme – broadcast from Dubai, where he was holidaying in the “One and Only Royal Mirage Hotel” – Galloway explained his dilemma.
“Somebody said to me in the hotel breakfast room this morning, here in Dubai: ‘Well, your friend’s getting a hard time in Libya.’ I asked him just exactly what he meant by that. And it seems that he’d confused his Arab dictators. Either that or he’d confused me with Tony Blair, who is of course Gaddafi’s new best friend.” (1)
Galloway tells the same anecdote on the “Respect” website:
“Last week at a breakfast in Dubai, an Englishman munching his halal sausages said: ‘Your mate’s getting a hard time in Libya isn’t he?’ – though YouTube is groaning with films of me denouncing Gaddafi over many years. Of course, he could have been getting his Arab dictators mixed up, or – worse – confusing me with Tony Blair.” (2)
It’s easy to understand why Galloway is so justifiably worked up about this kind of thing.
Given the price of a suite in Dubai’s “One and Only Royal Mirage Hotel”, you shouldn’t have to put up with having your breakfast soured by an Englishman who can’t tell one dictator from another.
This person should have known that when Galloway uttered the immortal words, “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability and I want you to know that we are with you, until victory, until Jerusalem,” it was at a meeting with Saddam Hussein, not Muammar Gaddafi.
He should have known that when Galloway wrote that a military commander who had seized power in his country in an army coup “seems an upright sort to me and should be given a chance,” he was referring to Pakistan’s General Musharraf, not Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi.
He should have known that when Galloway joked with a dictator’s son about Cuban cigars, weight loss and hair loss, and promised him, “we’re with you, till the end,” he was socialising with Uday Hussein, not Saif Gaddafi.
He should have known that when Galloway praised a Middle East dictatorship as “the last Arab country, the fortress of the remaining dignity of the Arabs,” praised its ruler as “the last Arab ruler,” and told the victims of the dictatorship that they were “a free people,” he was speaking of Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, not Gaddafi’s Libya. (3)
He should have known that when Galloway referred to a country in the grip of a reactionary dictatorship for the past three decades as a country which “has only been a democracy for thirty years but (which) has come a long way in that thirty years,” he was referring to the Iran of the mullahs, not to Gaddafi’s Libya.
He should have known that when the London School of Economics accepted a donation from the Gaddafi Foundation, this was a bad thing and justifies Galloway’s recent quip about the “Libyan School of Economics”, but when the same Gaddafi Foundation made a donation of a hundred lorries to Galloway’s last “Viva Palestine” convoy, this was something to be welcomed. (4)
Above all else, he should have known the two simple criteria which are to be applied in deciding whether or not a dictator should be described as a “mate” of George Galloway: ‘anti-imperialist struggle’ and ‘achievements’.
The criterion of ‘anti-imperialist struggle’ is easiest understood by contrasting what Galloway has had to say about Gaddafi (not his “mate”) with what he has had to say about Al-Assad (a man of “dignity”).
According to Galloway, speaking in 2008, Gaddafi was “just another Arab dictator” because he had abandoned the ‘anti-imperialist struggle’:
“Gaddafi has betrayed everything and everybody. He turned away from the justified struggle of the Arab people against Zionist occupation and against imperialist domination of the region. He has lost any respect which any struggling people had for him. …”
“I think this is all a tragedy. Gaddafi was always strange, but in the past he took an Arab stance, even if it was more in words than in deeds. But now he is just like all the rest. … He was terrified of American power. But he should have waited because the uprising in Iraq has broken the American power.”
“Gaddafi surrendered to America when he saw Saddam fall but before the Iraqi people rose. If he had waited just one year he would have seen that in every street of Iraq the Arab resistance is defeating the occupation. He lost confidence and faith in the Arabs long ago.” (5)
By contrast, according to Galloway in 2005, Syria was “lucky to have Bashar Al-Assad as her president” because that dictator had kept Syria on the straight-and-narrow of ‘anti-imperialist struggle’:
“Syria will not betray the Palestinian resistance, she will not betray the Lebanese resistance, Hizbullah, she will not sign a shameful surrender-peace with General Sharon, and … Syria will not allow her country to be used as a military base for America to crush the resistance in Iraq." (6)
Earlier this month Galloway returned to the same argument: “The government of Syria for a long time has pursued a policy of Arabness. Of Arab nationalism, of Arab dignity, of support for the Palestinian cause, material support, material support for the resistance, rejection for the foreign occupation of Iraq. And a refusal to bow before the foreign powers.” (7)
Thus, Gaddafi, having ditched ‘anti-imperialism’, is “just another Arab dictator”, whereas Al-Assad, having remained loyal to ‘anti-imperialism’, is “the last Arab ruler”.
The second criterion for deciding who might be a ‘good’ dictator is the more nebulous one of ‘achievements’. This is easiest understood by contrasting what Galloway has said about Saddam Hussein with what he has said about Gaddafi.
In his semi-autobiographical work “I’m Not the Only One”, Galloway wrote: “"Just as Stalin industrialized the Soviet Union, so on a different scale Saddam plotted Iraq’s own Great Leap Forward. … He is likely to have been the leader in history who came closest to creating a truly Iraqi national identity, and he developed Iraq and the living, health, social and education standards of his own people."
Gaddafi, on the other hand, can boast of no such achievements:
“Where did the money (from the sale of oil) go? Well, of course, much of it was stolen by the Gaddafi family and clique around him. Corruption was absolutely rampant and endemic. Other parts of the fortune were spent on harebrained schemes and divvied up and handed round various other dictators.” (8)
Interviewed earlier this month by the “Arabian Business” magazine, Galloway made the same distinctions between Saddam’s alleged achievements and Gaddafi’s lack of them:
“Gaddafi has no achievements, Saddam had many. Both have destroyed their regimes by their mistakes. But Saddam at least had achievements to his name, which Gaddafi can’t begin to match. …This money (from the sale of Libyan oil) has been at best wasted, and, at worst, stolen. I think it is a mixture of waste and theft. …”
“But Saddam nationalised the Iraqi oil. He spent so much money educating Iraqis that at one time they had more PhDs than all the other Arab countries put together. The public realm in Iraq showed signs of the country’s wealth, and the personal wealth of Iraqis in the seventies was extraordinarily high. … He (Saddam) is in a different league to Gaddafi, a different league altogether.” (9)
So, to put it in terms so simple that even Galloway's breakfast companion could understand: some dictators are ‘anti-imperialist’ and can also boast of ‘achievements’, while others have sold out and have no achievements to their credit.
This is, of course, complete nonsense. And not only is it nonsense. It is a morally abhorrent exercise in nonsense which owes everything to Stalinism and nothing to socialism (or even anti-imperialism, in any meaningful sense of the word).
Gaddafi never “betrayed” anyone or anything. Nor is there anything “tragic” about him. From the outset he was a dictator who established a personality cult which rivalled that of Stalin and presided over a state in which political dissent, freedom of expression and working-class self-organisation were outlawed.
Over time, following the collapse of his Stalinist allies in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Gaddafi adopted a less anti-Western foreign policy. But this did not mark his fall from some previous sublime state of anti-imperialist grace.
He was not abandoning “the justified struggle of the Arab people” – because the only struggle he had ever been interested in was the one to preserve his own rule. He did not lose “confidence and faith” in the Arabs – because he had only ever had confidence and faith in his own autocratic rule.
The idea of an ‘anti-imperialism’ of the ‘good’ dictators – those who did not “turn away” from the struggle against “Zionist occupation and imperialist domination” – makes even less sense.
There was nothing ‘anti-imperialist’ about Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980, its campaign of genocide against its Kurdish minority following the war against Iran, or its invasion of Kuwait in 1990. These were the actions of a sub-imperialist power, i.e. one seeking to establish regional domination.
Similarly, Syria’s support for Hizbullah and the “Palestinian resistance” has nothing to do with ‘anti-imperialist struggle’ and everything to do with Syria’s own regional ambitions.
Galloway’s second criterion – his attempts to contrast Saddam’s “achievements” with Gaddafi’s lack of achievement – is equally absurd.
Like Gaddafi, Saddam plundered the country’s wealth (where does Galloway think the money came from to pay for all his palaces?), squandered it on “harebrained schemes” (such as the invasions of Iran and Kuwait), and also allowed some of it to be used to finance the political activities of apologists for his dictatorial rule.
And corruption was arguably even worse in Saddam’s Iraq than it ever was in Libya. But given the circles in which Galloway moved during his frequent trips to Saddam’s Iraq, he could hardly be expected to have noticed that.
There is, however, a political method in Galloway’s madness. And that method is Stalinism.
Apologists for the now defunct Soviet Union argued that there was no repression in the country. Or, if there was repression, then it was a necessary evil arising from the threat of imperialist aggression.
In addition, whatever the Soviet Union’s democratic deficit, they argued, the regime was nonetheless a ‘progressive’ one in that it was carrying out a programme of economic nationalisation and modernisation.
Galloway adopts a similar approach to the supposedly ‘good’ Middle East dictators: they might not be democratic, but at least they pursue an anti-imperialist struggle. And they might not be egalitarian, but at least they are building a modern economy.
Gaddafi, on the other hand, given his failure to do either, is “just another Arab dictator”.
But this distinction between the Saddam/Al-Assad variety of dictator and the Gaddafi variety is an entirely spurious one. Outside of a residual Stalinist mindset, it makes no sense at all. And from a socialist perspective it is simply repugnant.
(In fact, in terms of bloodshed, slaughter, war and genocide it could easily be argued that Gaddafi’s own record, notwithstanding his own achievements in these matters, is pretty modest compared with that of Saddam.)
On reflection, therefore, maybe the breakfasting Englishman should not be taken to task for his comments. Can he really be blamed for mixing up his Arab dictators? At the end of the day, they really are pretty much all the same – including the ‘anti-imperialist’ ones.