Libya: no illusions in West but “anti-intervention” opposition is abandoning rebels

Submitted by cathy n on 20 March, 2011 - 9:11

On 17 March, after much procrastination, the United Nations agreed to military action against Libya’s dictator Muammar Qaddafi, whose murderous forces were advancing on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

The Stop the War Coalition immediately issued a statement condemning “a new war”, and “escalating armed intervention in Libya”. Socialist Worker headlined “No to intervention in Libya! Victory to Arab revolutions!” Much other left-wing commentary has focused on opposing intervention.

But the rebel forces in Benghazi greeted the UN decision with jubilation. Benghazi is a city where Qaddafi has, in the past, conducted the mass public execution of oppositionists. They knew what they could expect if Qaddafi triumphed. And it seemed likely that Qaddafi was on the verge of defeating the revolution, or at least inflicting terrible slaughter.

To oppose – that is, demonstrate against, and make a serious effort to prevent – the limited military action against Qaddafi, is to tell the rebels in Benghazi “you’re on your own.”

What socialist would want to send out such a message? Only one not deserving the name.

There is of course no reason to trust the armies of the West, or their Arab allies, to bring democracy to Libya or anywhere else. They are intervening for their own - capitalist, imperialist - reasons, not in the interests of the Libyan people. There is no guarantee that Western intervention will even succeed in its short-term aim of halting Qaddafi’s advance.

The force which is advancing democracy across the Middle East is the mass movement, above all the workers’ movement. In Egypt a new, independent trade union federation has been formed in the midst of a wave of militant strikes.

This is the agency to which socialists look to transform the Middle East.

But neither such workers’ movements nor the labour movement internationally have a military force of our own to come to the aid of Benghazi. We can build our own forms of solidarity with the popular movement in Libya. We can be vigilant against whatever political steps the Western powers take (including, for example, any attempt to rehabilitate Qaddafi, which they may think is the best, most "stable" option).

But what issue of principle should make us demonstrate against the one thing which might prevent untold slaughter, prevent Qaddafi’s immediate bloody victory, and therefore a crushing defeat for the wave of revolutions?

It is not good enough for socialists to point out that Cameron, et al, are no friends of the Libyan people. Indeed they are not. But what do you propose to do, instead, then, to prevent Qaddafi crushing his enemies? Socialists either address this real, life-and-death question or they are irrelevant poseurs.

It’s not good enough to argue that the West has supported dictators in the past and will do so again. Of course it will. But how able the West is to impose its agenda on the Middle East in future depends on the self-confidence of the mass movement. A terrible defeat in Libya might sap that self-confidence much more than a temporary acceptance of Western assistance.

We need to develop a strong solidarity campaign which is independent of Western (or Arab) governments. We need, in particular, to help the new Egyptian workers’ movement to continue to grow and develop, which could have an immense, positive effect on the whole region.

Instead, some socialists have responded to this crisis by putting their hostility to America above the lives of the Libyan rebels.

And this is a shameful disgrace.


Submitted by AWL on Fri, 01/04/2011 - 11:57


The point about anti-African racism and massacres is a serious one, and something we will undoubtedly cover in Solidarity - to expose and denounce it. We have no interest in prettifying the rebels.

There is also a tradition of racism in Qaddafi's regime, for instance in terms of it's war against Chad in the 80s, not to mention its treatment of migrant workers. But leave that side for now.

No revolutionary should deny that some rebels have rounded up and even murdered black African workers on charges of being mercenaries. It may well be that when some Libyan rebels talk about "mercenaries" this is code for "black".

There certainly are proper mercenaries - including, for instance, even people from the Western Sahara liberation movement Polisario, who Gaddafi has funded. But that doesn't mean there is no racism. (There is a lot of casual racism towards Nubian and Sudanese people in Egypt; Sadat was often ridiculed because he was very dark, etc. Whether or not attitudes have changed, Sudanese and Nubians are still very low on the social scale.)

But does this racism define the rebel movement? It's certainly another expression of the low level of the movement politically. As I say, we must be open about this. But how do you know, or on what basis do you claim, that it's a defining feature?

I've been reading about the American civil war and the background to it again recently. Couldn't you make a much stronger case against support the first American revolution and war of independence on the grounds of the revolutionary leaders' attitudes to black people, slavery and native Americans? This is how the Argentine Marxist Daniel Gaido describes the struggle:

"The American revolution was therefore a hundred percent settlers' affair: it was largely waged against the native inhabitants of the country. The other victims of English colonialism - the slaves kidnapped in Africa - also remained largely indifferent or hostile to the settlers' liberation movement, which is not surprising if we remember that Thomas Jefferson owned over 175 slaves when he wrote the Declaration of Independence... during the Revolutionary War it was the British who, for purely opportunistic reasons, granted freedom to runaway slaves reaching their lines and protected the Indian tribes west of the Appalachians from the spread of white settlement - that is from genocide. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, the leader of the left wing of the Revolution, accused the British king George III of having "excited domestic [i.e. slave] insurrections among us," and of having "endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages [sic]..." The Revolution resulted in the establishment of what historians called a Herrenvolk (ruling people or race) democracy, in which immigrants from Europe were turned into "whites" and granted political rights while Indians and slaves were excluded from the category of citizens."

And, therefore, the American revolution was entirely reactionary or insignificant?


Submitted by guenter on Fri, 01/04/2011 - 14:49

sacha, u replied only to 1 of 2 points i made. the other one was, that even conservative politicians and mags in some countries say, that this war does violate the international law/law of nations.
and with the same logic (the logic of AWL) one could have supported the vietnam-war (against an upcoming stalinist dictatorship!) or the interventions in CSSR or hungary. if one says: bomb the dictator away or: stop these counterrevolution- its only a matter of view. i also consider capitalism as a dictatorship . does that mean, that (if there was rev. countries) i wished otzher countries wud bomb "my" country, to free me from the dictatorship of capital? (and who says, capitalism dont kill as much as ghadaffi did? u have thousands of pensioners who die in england, germany or USA in the winter, cause they cant pay the gas anymore. hundreds of poor and jobless does suicide each year, and so on. capitalism kills! concentrate urself on killing capitalism).

btw, it was u, who weeks ago replied me, that an non-fly-zone was not necessaryly the first step to intervention. 2days later, the intervention was there. i was waiting that u come up with to say "sorry, i was wrong". instead u did led clive do the dirty work of explaining full support 4 the intervention, and i didnt see u here sinc then. now u come up with this. iam disapointed from u and iam tired from senseless discussions with those, who seem to support any imperialist action. iam done here.

Submitted by Barry Finger on Fri, 01/04/2011 - 22:57

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?

Submitted by AWL on Sat, 02/04/2011 - 21:20

'Martin', much of this is uncontroversial. Which is why, while I fully agree with Barry's basic position, I wouldn't have put it quite like he does ("solidarity or anti-imperialism") - we are anti-imperialists (which Barry agrees, obviously).

What's not clear from your contribution, however, is whether you are saying "Stop the bombing"/"No intervention" or not. Can your clarify?

The idea that the Egyptian working class was going to intervene in the time frame available to stop Qaddafi crushing Benghazi is fantasy politics.

On the persecution of black workers, see the interview republished here. I'm not saying I trust this totally, or think it represents the whole picture, but it strengthens my point that there is little evidence that such racism defines the rebellion.

Guenter, the point is that war is "the continuation of politics by other means". It is a matter of principle not to give support to a bourgeois force in a war unless it is the leadership of a mass popular movement (eg a national liberation struggle). But whether to sharply denounce and oppose a war depends on its character, ie the politics of which it is a continuation. In Vietnam the US was occupying and slaughtering to deny the Vietnamese people self-determination. In this case they are carrying out a limited military action to prevent Qaddafi crushing the rebels (yes, for their own reasons). Not the same thing! Judge concretely.

Yes, we will continue to concentrate on killing capitalism! But whereas bombing can't liberate the working class from capitalism, it did stop Qaddafi crushing the rebels. Do you really think it would have been better if that hadn't happened?


Submitted by guenter on Sun, 03/04/2011 - 00:25

pls bring ur logic to its logical end and do challenge mr. obama and the NATO to bomb the saudi-dictatorship away and those in quweit, sudan, syria, bahrein, yemen and all the dictators, where the USA or western countries have a good relation with.
thinking AWL-logic to its end, we would create world war III.

You had NO real reply to martin either, and his piece was excellent.
(martin, which group u belong to?)

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