A statement about Libya has appeared on the website of Unite, declaring itself simply to be a “Unite statement” without any indication of what committee of the union it was endorsed by. It seems to have been presented to the national executive as a ready-made “take it or leave it” statement. Its line is “end the intervention now!”.
Amongst other spurious reasons, the statement cites the opposition of China and Russia as reasons for straightforwardly campaigning against the intervention — as if the position of these gangster-capitalist, totalitarian states was any kind of benchmark for the trade union movement.
The statement says that the union “holds no brief for Colonel Gaddafi [sic]” and that it “supports the movements for democracy and freedom now developing across the Arab world”, but that's as close as it gets to actually supporting the Libyan rebellion or acknowledging that there is any dynamic at work here other than the western intervention.
Could it be that, rather than reflecting a cavalier lack of concern for the fate of the Libyan rebellion amongst the membership of Britain's biggest union, the statement is more a reflection of the politics of Andrew Murray — Stop the War's head-honcho, Unite's national communications and press officer and former employee of Stalinist state news agency Novosti?
Murray is a straight-down-the-line Stalinist Cold Warrior; now that his beloved Eastern Bloc is no more, he has replaced it in his world schema with an abstract “anti-imperialism”, which Qaddafi presumably represents on some level. Whatever they think about the situation, Unite members should ask why their union is putting out seemingly unilateral statements on major international issues.
To be fair to Murray, though, he is an out-and-out Stalinist who has never pretended to be otherwise. The politics in Unite’s statement are consistent with his tradition. More galling is the recent article from Alex Callinicos, one of Britain's most prominent “Trotskyist” “intellectuals” (it’s hard to decide to which word Callinicos has less claim).
Structured as a reply to Gilbert Achcar (who, while frequently politically muddleheaded himself, has a far greater claim to both terms and whose position on Libya is closer to that argued by this paper), Callinicos explains that socialists simply have no choice but to oppose the intervention because the people carrying it out are imperialists and a lot of the people who support it are right-wingers. And that’s that.
He does not deal with the substantive argument of revolutionaries like Achcar and many others on the left — that, whatever the motives and intentions of the imperialists, the intervention had the concrete effect of preventing the massacre of the anti-Qaddafi rebellion, an outcome that outweighs other concerns in this situation.
Callinicos does approach this argument in his final paragraph, but it is with the most breathtaking callousness. “There is the final argument,” Callinicos says, “that intervention prevented a massacre in Benghazi.” Is this argument correct? No says, Callinicos: “the sad fact is that massacres are a chronic feature of capitalism”, and “the revolutionary left is, alas, too weak to stop them.”
Words fail us. He might as well say “brutal exploitation is a chronic feature of capitalism, the revolutionary left is too weak to stop it, so what's the point in going on strike?” These words by Trotsky could have been written for Professor Callinicos: “An individual, a group, a party, or a class that ‘objectively’ picks its nose while it watches men drunk with blood massacring defenceless people is condemned by history to rot and become worm-eaten while it is still alive.”
Fortunately not everyone on the international left is quite as bad as this. The debate has been much more open and rational than previous debate on imperialism and voices like Achcar’s have added a dose of sanity. The American Marxist Richard Greeman, now based in France, has also provided a thoughtful contribution.
“The alternative to this intervention”, Greeman writes, would have been a bloody massacre of the democratic forces by a horrific dictatorship — one that the same imperialists supported with money and arms up until yesterday. I also recognise that the Libyan democratic forces have asked for this intervention — while excluding any Iraq-style on-the-ground NATO invasion.
“So — like many of my Arab friends here in France — I am not signing on to the petty-bourgeois left’s one-sided ‘stop the bombing’ campaign, which distorts reality in favour of ‘anti-imperialist’ ideology and objectively supports the maniacal Qaddafi’s murderous campaign against his own people […]
“During most of my life-time the ‘left’ and much of the peace movement supported totalitarian Communist regimes and parties as ‘anti-imperialist’, and now it is objectively supporting that great ‘anti-imperialist’ Qaddafi! When will some people learn that the enemies of our enemies are not necessarily our friends?
“It is all too easy to soothe the liberal conscience by being against — for example against the US government, which I agree is always motivated by power and greed. Much more complicated to say what you’re for and to develop links of solidarity with people in struggle, like the women and workers’ movements US-occupied Afghanistan and Iraq as well as in the newly vibrant Arab world. Radical posturing may feel good, but what is needed is ongoing solidarity with people in struggle — the long haul — which is not so easy. For those who wish to join the popular resistance, I recommend becoming part of US Labour Against the War which gives direct support to the struggle for labour and women’s rights in the Middle East.”
• The full article can be read at bit.ly/hdeNa9