George Galloway on populism, racism and anti-Semitism
Chris Hedges discusses with former UK Member of Parliament George Galloway the state of politics in the UK and US, racism, and Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
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CH: Welcome to On Contact. Today, we discuss the rise of right-wing populism and how to resist with former Member of Parliament, George Galloway.
GG: There's no doubt at all that if you fill the atmosphere with hatred of the Muslims as an other to further your foreign policy abroad, well, you're going to get blowback at home.
CH: There are few politicians in Great Britain who are attacked by the courtiers and the press and the mandarins in power more ferociously than former Member of Parliament, an icon of the left, George Galloway. They routinely shower him with insults and accusations. This is because there are also few politicians willing to, as ferociously, name and condemn the crimes and injustices carried out by the American and British governments. He has, for many years, unequivocally stood up to defend the human rights of Palestinians, thundered against the Israeli war crimes, and demanded justice, leading him to be attacked as an anti-Semite. He has long opposed the sanctions and endless wars in the Middle East, seen him attacked as a defender of terrorists. And he has steadfastly raised his voice on behalf of those the American and British governments persecute unjustly including Julian Assange, the publisher of WikiLeaks. The economist once called Galloway a hate figure for the British establishment, which given who constitutes the establishment is the highest of compliments. Joining me in the London studio is George Galloway.
GG: Thank you. It's an honor to be with you.
CH: An honest politician. I don't know how you made it, what, 30 years in Parliament, was it? Almost?
GG: Yeah, almost 30 years.
CH: Almost 30.
GG: Yeah. Yeah.
CH: Let's begin with this strange political moment, the rise of figures like Trump, Boris Johnson, a very Trump-like figure, perhaps a smarter version of Trump. How did we get here? I mean, you going back from the start of your political career spoke out on behalf of the working class, how it was being attacked through neoliberalism which corrupted the Labour Party in the same way that it did the Democratic Party in the United States. Follow the process. What happened?
GG: Well, ontology is important to both of us, so we need to define what is right wing and what is populist. You see, some of the appeal of certainly Trump, certainly Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party in Britain, is their very non-right-wingness.
CH: Right, that's true.
GG: Their apparent standing up for the little man, standing up for the worker against big business, against the bankers and the establishment. Trump played that card very well in the Rust Belt states in the United States. Nigel Farage played it very cunningly in similar places, in the Brexit referendum here in Britain. So, the support that they garnered thereby was not in fact right-wing but left-wing. It was an anti-capitalist critique, a critique of the kind of finance capital model that has beggared millions of people and whole areas of your country and mine. And when they say populist, I often wonder if they really mean popular. I mean, I am attacked as a left-wing populist. Well, what does that actually mean? My politics have not changed. Perhaps this is a condemnation of me. Not a single inch from my teenage years, I stand in exactly the same place. It's everyone else that moved all around me. And insofar as the kind of politics and approach and style that I'm employing are popular, that's what drives the prevailing orthodoxy crazy. Dr. Johnson, the great English man of letters, said that the grimmest dictatorship of them all was the dictatorship of the prevailing orthodoxy. I stand up against that from my political standpoint, so does Farage, so to an extent does Trump. Now we come to the ontology of what you call the resistance. Forgive me but the pussy hats and the achingly liberal resistance to Donald Trump leaves me entirely cold because I know that they would not be out there protesting worse crimes that the Clinton crime family, the crooner Obama were and did commit. It's the vulgarness, the brashness, the ugliness of Trump that they oppose. But Trump is just American imperialism without the lipstick.
CH: Right. Right.
GG: Hillary would've had the lipstick but the crimes would've been the same, arguably, actually much worse.
CH: And yet, you know, I think you would agree that a figure like Trump or Boris Johnson are con artists. They're using the issues that you spent your political career actually fighting for...
GG: Certainly Boris Johnson. I don't think--beyond the mop of blonde hair and the rancid morals, I don't think there's that much to compare between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, because Boris Johnson is unequivocally, unequivocally a character of the one percent. He was educated at Eton and Oxford. He has spent his whole life in the milieu of the ultra-rich Tory toffs, the posh. I don't know if these words translate to the United States but I'm talking the upper class, the real upper class. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is to some extent an outsider and that he was fabulously rich, though six times bankrupt, and perhaps not as rich as he claims, has some identification with those on the outside. Con artist, definitely, but not the same kind of con artist as Boris Johnson. I summarize my position, I know it's not yours, I was not happy that Donald Trump became the President of the United States but I was very happy that Hillary Clinton did not.
CH: Well, I loathe the Clintons as deeply as you do who really liked Tony Blair, betrayed their own base.
GG: Yes, exactly so. Exactly so.
CH: And Obama as well was quite conscious of what he was doing, unlike George W. Bush.
GG: I do think that Trump is failing the people that he conned, whereas Boris Johnson won't even really try to con them. He will not pretend to the British working class that he's in it for them. Not really.
CH: But why? I mean, why are these--you have figures, yourself, Jeremy Corbyn. We have Bernie Sanders who's not Corbyn but he's kind of the best we can get, given the system we're in. What is the attraction of these figures like Johnson and Trump who just turbocharged the looting and pillage by the one percent and the consolidation of power by a global oligarchic elite?
GG: Well, they win power by correctly identifying real material objective realities amongst the mass of the people. Trump said to the people in the so-called Rust Belt, it's the Clintons and NAFTA and super-nationalism and the finance capital model that these people represent that have done this to you, and that was a correct identification, a correct analysis. The fact that he's a creature of the same swamp, and far from draining it, is filling it, only comes later. The--but the existence of these grievances is what the left ought to have been doing. Now, I've got to tell you, the British Labour movement, not just in Parliament behind me, but in the broader movement, even in the trade unions in the political parties of the left, bought into neoliberalism. The failure of the Labour government of the 1970s, the rise of Reaganomics, Thatcher Reaganomics, so knocked the stuffing out of the left that they began to follow the line of if you can't beat them, join them.
CH: I just have to interrupt. My favorite line from Thatcher, who I loathe, is my greatest creation was Tony Blair.
GG: Yeah. New Labour was her greatest creation. And the left went along with that. Then the collapse of the Soviet Union caused a further oceanic loss of confidence. So instead of consistently standing up for working-class interests against corporate capitalism, against globalized capitalism, standing up for the people of your own country, they liquidated their previous existence. And the working people quite correctly actually thought, well, you're no longer for me. You're no longer part of me, with me. And that's a correct identification. Jeremy Corbyn has rowed back from that, back into more familiar waters, but insufficiently and insufficiently well and hampered massively by the Blairite rump. It's not really a rump, it's a ramp actually because it's quite a lot of MPs whose main purpose is to sabotage him. I know these are not things that can compare across the Atlantic all that easily but that's what's happened here, and if the working class are abandoned by the Social Democrats, well of course, people to the right of them, populist figures, can move in and steal some of their former clothes.
CH: And how do we build a political movement that effectively stymies the rise of these very frightening, kind of, alt-right entities and these political figures? We're not doing a very good job of it in the United States.
GG: Not that good here either. First, we have to correctly critique that which is wrong or about the approach of the alt-right populists, and that is to say not critique that which is right about what they're saying but to say it better and more convincingly. To say to the workers in the Rust Belts in both our countries, we stand for you and we're going to fight for you and everything that is in your interest, we will support, and everything that's against your interest, we will oppose. Whoever else is saying the same thing, you can believe us because we are a part of you. We are your party. We are the people that represent you on a daily basis. And secondly, to develop an iconography, a vocabulary that can appeal to people. I've got to tell you, if you're waving the flag of the EU, you will leave the working class in the North and the South, West and South Wales, and so on. You'll leave them absolutely cold. The people of this country identify with this country. And so do you have to? If you sneer at patriotism, if you sneer at the people who actually works and all love their country, well, you know, John Lennon once said that if you say you want a revolution, well, don't go waving pictures of Chairman Mao.
CH: Right, right.
GG: Well, he was right about that. Chairman Mao leaves them cold here on the streets of England. You have to find an iconography, a vocabulary that fits. You know the most impressive figure if--of my political lifetime, most viewers will know until I say it, perhaps remember him. George Marchais was the leader of the Communist Party of France. He talked of socialism in the colors of France. He talked of France keeping its nuclear weapons but pointing them both ways. He was a figure of the French working class, and it's no accident that as an individual, he was the most popular political figure in France, left or right.
CH: When we come back, we're--I wanna talk a little bit about the rise of xenophobia, Islamophobia. Is this, do you think, one of the driving forces behind support for Brexit?
GG: Should I answer now?
CH: Yeah. And then we'll come back and talk about the...
GG: There is no doubt at all that if you fill the atmosphere with hatred of the Muslims as an other to further your foreign policy abroad, well, you're going to get blowback at home. If you tell everyone that one new Hitler after another from Nasser through Arafat, Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, I've probably forgotten a few Hitlers on the Nile, Euphrates, in between. If you fill people with the atmosphere with that kind of mentality, then how do you expect some people not to blame Abdul who owns the news agent or the 7-Eleven on the corner? It's inevitable. We predicted it and it's come to pass.
CH: And we'll talk about that when we come back. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with George Galloway. Welcome back to On Contact, we continue our conversation with George Galloway. So before the break, we were talking about, and I think you correctly pointed out that this demonization of Muslims of the other by the empire, you know, the British being the junior partner in the empire, had an effect at home, and this has given rise to this xenophobia, this Islamophobia, the resurgence of kind of white nationalism. Is this an effective mechanism in the hands of figures like Trump and Boris Johnson to essentially divide the country and disempower the left socialist such as yourself?
GG: Well, look, there is racism in Britain, of course how could it be otherwise? We were the senior partner in empire for a very long time and you can't have an empire without notions of racial superiority. How else can you justify occupying and ruling other people and their countries? If not because, well, you're the father figure holding their hand until they're able to govern themselves. So, there is racism in Britain, but if you think Britain is racist, you've never lived in France.
CH: Well, that's true.
GG: There is racism but it's not as bad in Britain as is elsewhere in the European Union. Similarly, there are reasons for--real material reasons for racial antagonism on the part of the majority here. For example, the British government moved a group of Islamist fanatics to Manchester who were known as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.
GG: The clue was in the name. And that Libyan Islamic Fighting Group were cosseted there by the British state for the day that they could be sent back to fight in Libya and so they were. And one of their sons blew up a lot of our children in the Manchester Arena not all that long ago at an Ariana Grande pop concert. It's legitimate to hate the people who did that, it's not racist to hate the people who mobbed their people on this very bridge, cut their throats, drove cars into them. That's not racist to hate that. If you claim it is, you're actually helping the racists. So, the existence of an element of Islamist fanaticism on the edges of the Muslim community here in Britain or anywhere in the world should be attacked as ruthlessly by the left as it is for opportunistic reasons by the right. This is a mistake that the left has made. I always say to people, never confuse me with a liberal. I'm not a liberal. I'm actually quite illiberal in many regards. I'm a socialist, not a liberal, that's a different thing. So, never get caught seeming to support extremism amongst sections of the community, be as ruthless as regular--if I was the mayor of London, I'd be hunting down Al-Qaeda, I'd be out there in an hi-viz vest with the police in the mornings raiding their houses. Whereas quite often, the so called "left" looks like they care more about the criminal than the victim, care more about the human rights of the terrorist than the victim of the terrorist, so we have to be much smarter about these things.
CH: I just want to interject, I spent seven years in the Middle East and, you know, I actually interviewed members of Al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, all these other groups. And these figures did not come out of religious households, they came out of petty crime, sometimes more than petty crime, drug addiction, and they...
GG: It's true here also.
CH: Yeah. They didn't come from a religious...
GG: Sri Lanka is the first time that one of these mass suicide, mass murders has come from families that were actually religious and were not petty criminals. So, that's undoubtedly true. But that's not to say they don't exist. They exist, they are a siren on the rocks seeking to lure young Muslims onto those rocks of extremism and a cult of death. And we have to call that out and we have to struggle against it. It can't only be solved by military, by police, by legal action, but that's necessary but not sufficient...
CH: Well, you look at--you look at...
CH: I don't know Britain that well but you look at the banlieues outside of Paris.
CH: [INDISTINCT] and where these people live, there's no job, they live in appalling conditions, the racism, as you pointed out, in France runs very deep to the point where they are even segregated from most French people. They're not considered--oh, they may have lived in France since they were two, they're not considered to be French by the French, they go back to Tunisia, they're not considered Tunisian. There's a loss of identity, a loss of work, and these are the contributing factors which gets back to the reconfiguration of these economies by neoliberalism which cast aside not just immigrants but huge sections of the working class and the working poor as kind of human refuse.
GG: Exactly. I've just been writing actually from my website about the series, the BBC series, The Looming Tower. We contributed to the rise of this fanaticism in three ways. The one you have just mentioned and the second is by endlessly supporting, by all means, corrupt dictators, medieval kingdoms, leaving the people of these Muslim countries bereft of any other path out of their misery, and thirdly, by directly assisting Al-Qaeda and ISIS in Iraq, in Syria, in Libya.
CH: Yeah. Yeah. Funding, let's be clear.
GG: Funding, giving weapons, providing propaganda and other material for these very--on the principle that my enemy's enemy is my friend. So, if an Islamist fanatic is blowing themselves up in the Caucasus or in Chechnya, that's fine, we'll help him, we'll talk about his human rights. But if he's running over the bridge here in London cutting people's throats, we'll describe him in quite different terms. And so thrice we have assisted the development of this fanaticism.
CH: I want to ask about Israel. You've been a target of the Israel lobby as have I. And those of us who stand up for Palestinian rights are immediately attacked as anti-Semites. And the press kind of unfailingly acts as an echo chamber for that, amplifying those attacks. Does Israel have the kind of lock on the political class here than it does in the United States? Where is this coming from in Britain?
GG: Well, it doesn't but it has a bigger lock than I imagine that it would, and the last four years of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership Liberal Party.
CH: But he's been tired with this.
GG: Sure. And the success with which they have done that, the skill with which they have done that shows me that they do have a bigger lock than I thought that they did. Not even Israel has a bigger--not even in Israel does the Zionist movement have a bigger lock than it does in the United States. So nothing compares to that. But it does, and it's a trick, I know it's a trick because an Israeli Cabinet minister Shulamit Aloni giving me dinner in her house in Tel Aviv, literally told me that it was, it's a trick she said, we always do it. And they do it obviously because it works. If someone stands up for Palestinian rights, the first, the default position is to call them an anti-Semite. The fact that someone like me with my politics and the basis of my politics so heavily Jewish from Marx through Trotsky, through Chomsky, through, you know, half the Bolshevik Party's Central Committee were Jewish. It was, according to the right wing, a Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy, that's what I was involved, and the idea that I can be described as an anti-Semite is patently absurd [INDISTINCT] Jeremy Corbyn who comes out of the same stable as me more or less. So, I like to think it doesn't work but obviously to some extent it does. My own wife who's a person of color, an Indonesian woman was abused in the street the other day as the--as the wife of an anti-Semite, as the wife of a racist. It's absurd but effective but less effective I think than before, on the principle that if you call everybody an anti-Semite then eventually nobody is an anti-Semite. The boy who cried wolf is a parable of note for a reason.
CH: Well, the poison is that, you know, the real anti-Semites, the Christian right in the United States who's become an ally, a political ally of Israel, you know, it's the equation of anti-Semitism with the State of Israel, that's what's so dangerous and one of the biggest racists in the Middle East is named Bibi Netanyahu. What do you...
GG: And there's worse than him waiting in the wings.
CH: And there is, Avigdor Lieberman and others. So, but let's talk about where we're going because we may be going in a very frightening direction if things don't go right. What are those forces out there that frighten you and what does the left have to do? How do we have to wake up to make sure those forces, we don't end up like Hungary with Viktor Orban?
GG: Well, I'll be--I'll be honest with you, I'm not as pessimistic as you. I have faith in the people, I always have. I can only really speak for my own people here. We hate fascism, we stood alone against fascism. Anyone who presents in the form of fascism will be rejected here. There's not a single fascist councilor in Britain, there's not a single fascist MP in Britain, there never will be. Fascists are counted in the hundreds, not in the millions, like they are in many European countries. They're in almost every parliament in Europe. They're in many governments in Europe but they never will be here. So, I'm not that pessimistic, I believe that in the chaos of the British political scene at the moment, it's perfectly possible that the Labour Party could be the next government, and maybe soon. Parliament is in complete chaos over the Brexit issue. I predicted that it would be.
CH: Yeah, you did.
GG: It was one of the reasons why I supported Brexit but not of course the main reason but one of them. Out of that chaos may welcome a Jeremy Corbyn-led government. And as someone who's known Corbyn well for 40 years, I can hardly believe I'm saying those words.
CH: That's great. Okay, we have to end there. Let's hope--let's hope that happens. Thank you, George. That was George Galloway, former British MP. Thanks, George.