The left and the Guardian

Submitted by martin on 6 November, 2003 - 12:09

The Guardian's coverage of the expulsion of George Galloway from the Labour Party on 22 October was not only pro-Galloway, but notably uncritical. It took Galloway as he chose to present himself - as a left-wing martyr to the anti-war cause.
It only serves to underline one of the great and continuing mysteries in British politics right now: why does the left, in the broadest sense, including liberals like those who produce the Guardian, give almost uncritical support to Galloway?
On the platform with Galloway at the rally at Friends Meeting House, London, on 29 October, to launch a new "popular unity" alliance was RMT secretary Bob Crow. Crow is, our differences with him notwithstanding, a serious and respectworthy working-class political figure. Yet he went up to George Galloway and embraced him!
Galloway was given a standing ovation, not by all, but certainly by a majority of those present.
Galloway made a tired painting-by-numbers conventional "left" speech in his habitual style of creaking, cliché-sodden, would-be high-flown, old-world rhetoric.
The appearance of half a dozen striking postal workers in the hall had triggered a loud and enthusiastic demonstration of support by the whole meeting. Some young people - at a guess, SWPers - started chanting: "The workers, united, will never be defeated".
Galloway, sharing a platform with, among others, George Monbiot, Salma Yaqoob, and the SWPer John Rees, could not let that go. He picked it up and translated it into the language of his own politics: "The people, united, will never be defeated", intoned the man who for ten years was "united", voice to brain, with the fascistic Saddam regime in Iraq.
(The new SWP slogan for its "broad alliance": "People of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your class consciousness"?)
While misquoting it, Galloway expressed the general idea of Camille Desmoulins' statement over 200 years ago: "The great are only great because we are on our knees. Let us arise!"
Evidently this did not summon up in many memories the sight and sound of George Galloway ten years ago figuratively on his knees before Saddam Hussein and praising him in an awestruck voice for his "strength" and "indefatigability".
The people there were not atypical in their uncritical acceptance of Galloway's projection of himself as an honest socialist cut down and expelled by the Blairites for opposing the Iraq war.
Ostensibly the Labour Party expelled George Galloway - alone, of the many Labour MPs who spoke and voted in the House of Commons against the war - because, speaking on an Arab TV station, he had called on British military personnel to disobey orders ("illegal" orders, he said).
Galloway was right to make that appeal. When the Sun, which was probably tipped off by British Intelligence, started a hue and cry against "traitor" Galloway, Solidarity responded by endorsing and repeating his call (in an article by Sean Matgamna).
But of course we did not "endorse" Galloway, or pretend that he was a bona fide socialist opponent of the war, of the same sort as Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Alan Simpson, and other honourable Labour MPs.
Galloway's rhetorical appeal in the same interview to other Arab states to back Saddam Hussein's Iraq - "Where are the Arab armies?" - identified his political standpoint as some species of vicarious Iraqi and pan-Arab nationalism.
His admitted financial dependence on Arab and Islamic regimes - he has publicly acknowledged that he took large sums of money from Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and Pakistan for his political activities - identified Galloway as someone honest political people should keep at a healthy distance.
His financial affairs are being scrutinised by a number of public agencies, including the Charities Commission, which is looking into the finances of the "Mariam Appeal", which was supposedly set up to care for sick Iraqi children, but most of whose funds - he has admitted it - went to fund Galloway's political activities.
Allegations in the Daily Telegraph that Galloway was in the pay of the Iraqi government are due to be tested in the libel courts.
While admitting that he took large sums from other Arab and Islamic governments, Galloway insists he never took a penny from his Iraqi friends. (They, in turn, who spent lavishly to buy political support in other countries, were stingy with Galloway, their best friend in Britain, recognising in him a man motivated in the Iraqi cause by high political idealism).
The astonishing thing is that Galloway's admissions about money have had not the slightest effect on his standing on the left.
His politics as a British mouthpiece for the fascistic regime in Iraq should long ago have induced socialists and serious democrats to shun him. That didn't happen.
His self-identification as the recipient of vast sums of money from some of the most reactionary regimes on earth - Saudi Arabia! - might have been expected to alienate even those whose politics were so vague, perverse or un-self-confident that they did not hold his political links with Iraq against him. No!
Both the socialists and the liberals of the Guardian have rallied to Galloway as a martyr to the anti-war cause.
Despite everything he has had to admit - the money, his friendship with Saddam Hussein's deputy Tariq Aziz - Galloway is able to get away with casting himself in a pseudo-heroic pose, as the "man of principle", the unbiddable and untameable political agitator against the British Establishment.
It is still, for the left including the Guardian, as if he had not conceded that money raised in the name of the Mariam Appeal had been used to finance such things as his trips to the Middle East - over a hundred visits to Iraq since 1994, for example.
As if his political and financial links with Iraq and other regimes did not mark him out as being in a class of his own and had nothing at all to do with the Blairites' decision to treat him differently from all the other anti-war MPs - including those, Corbyn and McDonnell for example, who unlike Galloway have been consistent and outspoken critics of Blair government all the way through.
No, it was that he was only the most outspoken and brave of the one hundred-plus Labour MPs who had opposed the war.
We repeat: the astonishing thing is how widely people accept this blatantly nonsensical account of who and what, George Galloway is.
It is not only - perhaps not even primarily - the "revolutionary" left. That left itself takes its lead on this question from the Guardian.
No! you say. The left sprang to Galloway's defence at the word go. No, it didn't.
When the most recent episode in the Galloway affair broke, with the Daily Telegraph printing documents that seemed to show that Galloway got £375,000 a year from Saddam Hussein, Socialist Worker responded very cautiously.
"Even if every word the Telegraph alleges were true [i.e. it might be] it still would not justify the paper's headline. The paper did not produce a shred of evidence that George Galloway personally [i.e., presumably, for his personal consumption rather than through his political vehicles] ever received a penny from the Iraqi regime. In the past press barons have used lies..." (continue with all-purpose swatting at Maxwell, Murdoch, Black, etc.) (26 April).
Socialist Worker waited to see which way the Guardian and the Guardian-reading left would jump.
It committed itself firmly, uncritically and loudly to Gallloway only two weeks later, after the Guardian showed that it would "defend" Galloway, or anyway not "expose" him.
It is not for nothing that SWP-watchers have described them as "Guardian readers with placards".
The SWPers carry the placards, but much of what they say on them (and probably more now that they have turned popular frontist) consists of what they calculate will be acceptable to what they call their "audience".
In the Galloway affair, the SWP came "on line" in the tracks of the Guardian.
The Guardian is still on line. Like the would-be revolutionary left, the liberal left has suffered a radical and comprehensive collapse of political norms and political morality. The sort of liberals who in another time were "soft" on Stalinism are now soft on political Islam ("Third World countries - what can you expect?"). Trotsky called such liberals a "reptile breed".
But it is the avowed revolutionary Marxist left that concerns us. Trotsky put it well: "Revolutionary ardour in the struggle for socialism is inseparable from intellectual ardour in the struggle for truth". It is true the other way round, as well.

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