The Guardian turns on Galloway
By Rhodri Evans
The journalist George Monbiot, initiator with the Muslim activist Salma Yaqoob of talks that led to the recently-launched "Respect" coalition, has resigned from it.
In a letter to "Respect" organisers on 13 February, he wrote that the failure of the coalition to cut an electoral deal with the Greens "puts me in an impossible position. I cannot continue to belong to a party which stands against the Greens in the European elections..."
Monbiot had already made it public that he was unhappy. A supplement of the Oxford Times had reported:
"George Galloway is the self-appointed figurehead of the party, but this is something that worries George Monbiot.'I don't believe we necessarily need a figurehead, and if we do have one, I don't think it should be Galloway because [of] the things people associate him with', he said pointedly."
On 17 February, in an even heavier blow to the hopes of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the main organisers of "Respect", the Guardian turned against Galloway.
"Money illicitly siphoned from the UN oil-for-food programme by Saddam Hussein was used to finance anti-sanctions campaigns run by British politicians", claimed the Guardian, citing documents from Iraq's oil ministry.
Instead of selling oil directly to the oil companies, Saddam's regime would, so the Guardian reports, sell it to favoured friends. Those friends would then sell on to the oil companies at a higher price, collecting a tidy profit for nothing more than a transfer of paperwork.
According to the Guardian:
"The copy of the contract documents [for a British-based Arab businessman, Burhan Chalabi] says, in a handwritten addition of unknown date, that the Chalabi deal was 'for the benefit of Mr George Galloway'. Mr Galloway confirmed to us that Mr Chalabi had made 'relatively modest' donations to his political campaigns, but nothing to him personally. 'I have not received a cent of personal benefit', Mr Galloway said".
For the Jordanian-based businessman Fawwaz Zureikat "each contract appears to have the words 'Mr Galloway' or 'for the benefit of Mr George Galloway', either in Arabic typing or added in handwriting.
"Mr Zureikat was quoted by the AFP news agency in Jordan this week accepting that he had done these deals. Mr Galloway confirms that Mr Zureikat donated some £400,000 to the coffers of his pressure group, the Mariam Appeal".
It is not clear from the Guardian what the relation is between the Iraqi documents they cite, and documents which the Baghdad daily Al-Mada published on 25 January, said to come from Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organisation. The Al-Mada documents also suggested that money had come to politicians from Saddam's regime via deals which allowed chosen businessmen and others to siphon off profits from Iraq's oil exports. Although reports of the Al-Mada documents in the British press referred only to French politicians alleged to have benefited, Al-Mada itself also cited British names. A partial English translation of the Al-Mada report is available here.
George Galloway replied to the Guardian on 18 February. "It is hard to see what is dishonourable... about Arab nationalist businessmen donating some of the profits they made from legitimate UN-controlled business with Iraq to anti-sanctions campaigns".
Although suggesting that the documents "may have been faked or doctored", he did not deny that political campaigns controlled by him had received large sums from Zureikat, or that Zureikat was favoured by the Saddam regime.
According to the Guardian, "Mr Galloway... accepts that he knew his supporters had links with Saddam's regime, and regarded that as an inevitable price to pay". The gist of it is that he accepts he got money, but says it was all used for the political campaigns, and none of it for his personal spending.
In other words, Galloway ran his pro-Iraq political campaigning - which was his main political activity - for many years on funds coming indirectly at least from Saddam's regime. He had knowledge that would readily tell him where the funds originated.
He did that while boosting the regime. He told the New Worker in 1998, for example: "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..."
Monbiot is right. No decent left-wing movement can have Galloway as figurehead "because of the things people associate him with".
Galloway can be excused only if you think Saddam's regime was "progressive". In fact it crushed the once-strong Iraqi labour movement with a thoroughness equalled by Stalinism and Nazism only in their most extreme paroxysms.
The SWP, militant "Guardian readers with placards", set up Galloway as their electoral figurehead in the hope of rounding up a larger band of well-meaning Guardian readers, anti-war but vague about Saddam and ignorant of the Iraqi left and labour movement. At one time the project looked promising.
When the Labour Party expelled Galloway last October, the Guardian wrote of the "ritual purge of a prominent Labour MP for speaking out against the US-British invasion of Iraq", as if there was nothing more to it, as if it had not occurred to them to ask why Blair was expelling Galloway and not some of the honourable anti-war MPs much more troublesome to him on other issues, like Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell.
Some weeks ago we attacked the Guardian for contributing to the political and intellectual atmosphere in which Galloway has managed to get himself accepted as a bona fide anti-war campaigner. We showed how the opportunist leaders of the SWP had hesitated to back Galloway until after the Guardian seemingly gave him a clean bill of health.
For the SWP leaders the Guardian's reversion to serious journalism on Galloway creates a problem. What will they do now? What do they think now that the liberal bourgeois newspaper has given them a much-needed lesson in political perceptiveness and political honesty?
Whatever may be the truth about this or that specific charge - the allegations of the Daily Telegraph, for example - George Galloway stands before the labour movement as a man who had already admitted (Independent, 24 April 2003) that his political operations were being funded by various Arab and Islamic states - Saudi Arabia, the Emirates - at the same time as he was behaving politically exactly as a paid agent of those people would be expected to behave.
Now, if only by what he does not contest in the Guardian's claims, he admits that he had money for his operations, at least indirectly, from the Iraqi state, which for a certainty was prepared to give lavishly for the kind of political services which George Galloway did in fact give them.
For these reasons Galloway has no place in a British left that aspires to be honest in its opposition to war, and honourable in its alliances. That has become clear even to the habitually soggy liberals of the Guardian, though it hasn't yet become clear to people such as Tony Benn and those on the parliamentary Left who have done their bit to "sell" Galloway to the anti-war left.
Which part of it do the SWP leaders not understand? Is it the concept of honest working-class socialist politics that they don't understand? Or is it that they can't understand that there is a different between socialist, working-class opposition to the war in Iraq - yes, even their own one-sided and unbalanced, objectively pro-Iraqi-imperialist, opposition - and being an apologist dependent on Saddam's funds?