Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

With friends like these…

Johann Hari explains why the latest vehicle for George Galloway’s ego fails to win his Respect

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What you want – baby, George Galloway’s got it. What you need – you know the Socialist Workers’ party’s got it. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me, bring on the MAB.

That’s the Muslim Association of Britain to the uninitiated. Yes, this is the rallying tune for – in their words – ‘the new leftwing force in British politics that will destroy and over-take the bosses’ Labour party!’ Welcome to the world of the Respect Coalition, which – at this year’s general election – will be yelling about how they are ‘the real voice of socialism and internationalism’ in a constituency near you.

So who is the Respect Coalition? There are, it is true, some individuals within the organisation who are simply decent, disillusioned leftwingers, who felt they could not support a party that invaded Iraq – from the film-maker Ken Loach to the novelist China Melville. But they are a small part of an organisation that – far from doing what it says on the tin, being the leftwing alternative to Labour – is in fact crammed full of supporters of some of the worst and most reactionary tyrannies on earth.

The most obvious place to start is with Gorgeous George, the Respect Coalition’s most famous face and their candidate to unseat one of parliament’s only black women, Oona King, at the looming general election. We all know the facts about Galloway: that he saluted Saddam Hussein’s ‘courage, strength and indefatigability’ to the dictator’s face, just after Saddam had killed more Muslims in one week than Ariel Sharon and the entire Israeli occupation have in 38 years. He says he would describe himself as ‘a Stalinist’ (Stalin’s death toll: 30 million) if that didn’t ‘make a rod for my own back’, and he has even described the day the Soviet Union fell as ‘the worst day of my life.’

Galloway – the brave leftwinger – does not believe that democracy is suitable for developing countries. He lauds Fidel Castro – who has ruled Cuba without a single democratic election for 46 years and driven a quarter of the island’s population into exile – as ‘a great hero’ and ‘not a dictator, not at all.’ When the military staged an anti-democratic coup in Pakistan in 1999, Galloway wrote in his weekly column for the Tory newspaper the Mail on Sunday: ‘In poor third-world countries like Pakistan, politics is too important to be left to petty squabbling politicians. Pakistan is always on the brink of breaking apart into its widely disparate components. Only the armed forces can really be counted on to hold such a country together… Democracy is a means, not an end in itself.’

In line with this Stalinist belief in iron-fisted military rule, Galloway has even described Saddam’s genocide of the Kurds as ‘a civil war’ that ‘involved massive violence on both sides’ – language that only hardline Ba’athists would ever use. Nor is Galloway leftwing when it comes to domestic policy. He opposes abortion, which he describes as ‘immoral’, supports capital punishment, and says he could not live on less than £150,000 a year.

Hmmm. So where is the progressive part of the Respect Coalition? Perhaps it is their candidate for the recent Leicester South by-election, the former Express journalist, Yvonne Ridley. When it comes to the Taliban – the most psychopathically misogynist, homophobic and racist regime in my lifetime – Ridley knew where she stood. She said of the young men who went to join the jihadist dictatorship:

‘One thing that struck me about these brothers was how principled they were… going on jihad for ideals almost forgotten in a selfish world corrupted by greed and power. The driving force that led them into battle in the mountains and caves of Tora Bora was no different to that which propelled 2,800 men and women from the United States to fight in the Spanish Civil War in 1936.’

These ‘brothers’ would have thrown acid in Ridley’s face if she had dared, as a woman, to show it in public.

And then there’s the MAB. Dr Azzam Tamimi, their chief spokesman and a man who makes Norman Tebbit look like a pinko leftist. He says that Arab women ‘ask for’ domestic violence and believes thieves should be punished by cutting off their hands. The MAB website depicts Sayyid Qutb – one of the intellectual inspirations for the fascist al-Qaida movement – as a hero. It says that he died smiling, ‘showing his conviction of the beautiful life to come in paradise – a life he definitely and rightfully deserved’. Qutb believed in the execution of gay people and the imprisoning of all women in their own homes.

This has produced a strange policy twist for Respect: the coalition opposes the government’s plans for placing a handful of Islamic fundamentalists under house arrest – as I do – but some of their members seem to support the far greater crime of house arrest for all women, all the time.

It gets worse. As the journalist Anthony Browne has explained, Qutb said the Jews were being punished for their ‘unprecedented abominations’, but ‘then the Jews again returned to evildoing and consequently Allah sent against them others of His servants, until the modern period. Then Allah sent Hitler to rule over them.’ This is the hero for a leftwing alternative to Labour? A man to the right of the BNP?

There must be somebody leftwing in this ‘leftwing alternative to Labour’, surely? Well, there’s the Socialist Workers’ party, who do some valuable work defending asylum seekers and organising campaigns to undermine the BNP. But they have not expressed even a sliver of condemnation for the far-right views of their new-found friends and allies. Indeed, they slander anybody who does as ‘Islamophobic’. Nor is the SWP in any sense a democratic organisation. They aim to create a society modelled on Lenin’s Soviet Union – a bloodthirsty dictatorship that slaughtered democrats and liberals. They claim the Soviet Union only went awry with Stalin, and that Lenin provided a ‘model for the world’.

Yet their hero, Lenin, set up Russia’s secret police and ordered countless executions and massacres. He argued that ‘the foundation of socialism calls for absolute and strict unity of will… How can strict unity of will be ensured? By thousands subordinating their will to the will of one’. As the academic Neil Harding has written, ‘Leninism would have found its Stalin sooner or later.’ Nor is their hero and guiding light, Leon Trotsky, a democrat. He advocated ‘one-man management’ of Russia and damned ‘leftwing communists’ for ‘turn[ing] democratic principles into a fetish. They put the right of the workers to elect their own representatives above the party, thus challenging the party’s right to affirm its own dictatorship… We must bear in mind the historical mission of our party. The party is forced to maintain its dictatorship, without stopping for these vacillations, nor even the momentary falterings of the working class.’

The Respect Coalition might dupe some decent leftwing people, but Labour activists should not be mistaken: this is a party of the totalitarian right. The only sensible response comes from the coalition’s diva, Aretha Franklin, in the song they have plagiarised:‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T/ Find out what it means to me/ Oh, sock it to ’em, sock it to ’em, sock it to ’em…’

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Johann Hari

writes weekly for the New Statesman

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