Martin and Jason, the question raised by Clive’s editorial and Sean’s latest piece is this: how do we react when a revolution that we support calls upon us to come to their assistance, to express solidarity, in a way that we find as a rule to be politically repugnant?
The Libyan resistance has requested a no fly zone, but is adamant in its opposition to Western armies on the ground. Arab activists are in rough agreement, however skeptical of American and Western intentions, that if Qaddafi survives it could mean the death of the Arab revolutionary moment. This is part of the wider identification across the unified Arab political space which has palpably emerged among young activists and mass publics. Read the blogs, review the Arab community presses. Take a look at the composition of anti-war demonstrators. What is remarkable is precisely the lack of an Arab presence. And not only in New York, or Seattle or Paris. Where are the anti-war demonstrators in Tunis and Cairo? Are things so different in London? Arab democracy has spoken, but have we heard them?
Are we now obliged to hold our collective noses and refuse to call a halt to an operation that may save the resistance or are we duty bound above all else to deny the West yet another opportunity to project its power? Are you interested in the revolution succeeding—and that’s a long shot at best, or prefer it go down as a noble failure, if there is no other way to save it? What takes precedence? There is no honorable way of squirming out of this.
You cannot confront this situation by reciting an anti-imperialist political catechism. Or worse, retreat into a fantasy world of your own making as a good part of the left---the ISO in the US, the SWP, and its splinters in Britain-- is doing. The West, they argue, is plotting to make dependents of these freedom fighters—to rob them of revolutionary agency--- precisely by bombing Qaddafy’s air force out of the sky. That, according to these revolutionary geniuses, is enough to make the West, not merely a danger, but the actual main, overriding, overwhelming threat to the revolution. This is the politics of a parallel universe. For whether they are willing to face it or not, these comrades have made their decision---better a noble failure than an imperially compromised success.
Martin, this is not a question of formulating an alternative foreign policy. You are changing the subject. You are being asked by the Libyan democracy to extend your solidarity to a political path that they have chosen. You have a right to refuse it; you have a right to argue that the health of the working class is better served by their defeat, if the alternative is an imperial intervention not immediately and implacably enjoined. I don’t think that’s your perspective, but if it is then say it.
And Jason, it seems to me that your interventions, while all honorable and admirable, amount at bottom to your desire to reside on another planet, where the present constellation of political forces are far more favorable to revolution than they are here. The point is that your objections are –and I hesitate to characterize it so bluntly---a dodge. You are trying to conjure a third alternative that does not exist and cannot exist in the time frame in which the actual Libyan revolution is playing out. So, I repeat my question: solidarity or anti-imperialism?