By Martin Thomas
On Sunday 6 November we got a small down-payment towards the debate on Libya between AWL and the Socialist Party which we have been demanding, and the SP has been evading, since SP leader Peter Taaffe put his pen to work on the first of two long (and inaccurate!) polemics against us on the subject, back in April.
Click here for the written exchanges.
At a session on Libya at the SP's annual weekend event, on 5-6 November, Mark Osborn and I intervened from the floor, for AWL.
Bear in mind that the SP's annual weekend event is not like AWL's. Sessions are almost never set up as debates, and guest speakers of any sort are rare. Almost all sessions are long lectures from members of the SP leadership, followed by a few questions.
Lectures are sometimes very valuable, but only if they give listeners facts and ideas they hadn't come across before. That is rarely the case with SP speakers, and wasn't the case with Niall Mulholland, the speaker on Libya.
Peter Taaffe was at the weekend event, and not speaking in another session at the time, but chose not to come to the session. Asked, as he arrived at the event, whether SP would debate AWL, he muttered: "We have debated...", and quickly made off.
Mulholland conceded that the overthrow of Qaddafi has created openings for the working class in Libya. He was enthusiastic about the initial anti-Qaddafi protests in Benghazi in February. But he pointedly did not support the actual overthrow.
The overthrow of Qaddafi, he claimed, was much less worthy of support than the overthrow of Ben Ali in Tunisia, or of Mubarak in Egypt.
The new regime in Libya, the National Transitional Council, is bourgeois. (That is true, of course, also of the military-run regimes in Tunisia and Egypt since their dictators fled). Decisively, Mulholland claimed that the NATO bombing of Qaddafi's forces had spoiled the revolution.
We argued it was wrong to fail to take a position independent of the big powers - to be cornered by NATO into saying no whenever they said yes - and so to let your inclination to support the people of Libya be overwhelmed by your anxiety to have an uncomplicated blanket "no" to NATO.
We do not support or endorse the cops when, on occasion, finding themselves between anti-fascists and a more numerous fascist crowd, they turn against the fascists rather than the anti-fascists. But we also do not "call on" the cops to stop fighting the fascists. It was similarly false to "call on" the NATO powers to stop bombing Qaddafi, and to let that "call" overwhelm support for the people of Libya.
Several SPers replied from the floor, and Niall Mulholland from the platform. Their points included:
• The outcome has left imperialism stronger. Imperialism now has a bridgehead in the troubled Middle East. (The Egyptian army, receiving more aid from the USA than any other army in the world except Israel's, is a more reliable "bridgehead" for the USA! We do not yet know which of the European powers vying for influence in Tripoli will come out best. In any case "imperialism" cannot be equated with one rival big power or another. And our criterion should not be what is worst for vaguely-defined "imperialism" in general, but what is best for the working people).
• The bourgeois press said that Qaddafi would have carried through a massacre in Benghazi if NATO had not bombed. That is doubtful; and in any case a massacre followed, with over 30,000 dying between March and the eventual fall of Qaddafi. (Of course it would have been better if Qaddafi had gone quietly. He didn't. So? You submit? Civil wars cost lives. The evidence from Libyans who were in Benghazi at the time, and from Qaddafi's own declarations, was that Qaddafi would have slaughtered great numbers. If somehow the rebellion had survived that bloodletting, and managed to win through without NATO help, the civil war would certainly have been longer and cost even more lives. If 30,000 died, the vast majority were civil-war deaths between the factions in Libya. Even Qaddafi's gang, who would almost certainly exaggerate, blame no more than 2000 on NATO).
• NATO's intervention is in no way analogous to cops clashing with fascists because it is the normal job of the police to deal with thugs, and even a workers' government would have police (of a different sort). (A workers' government would also, if it could, give military aid - again, of a different sort - to revolutions in other countries).
• Counter-revolution has already happened in Libya, with the NATO intervention. (As if the initial rebellion in Benghazi were a pure independent workers' movement. Actually, Qaddafi's dictatorship was such that no workers' movement of any sort existed at the time of the initial rebellion. Only now can an organised workers' movement emerge. It may be overwhelmed, in the end, by the Islamist forces in the NTC - who assuredly are Islamists for some other reason than that NATO wants them to be Islamist! - but the openings now exist).
The SP should respond to our demands for a properly organised debate - speakers from both sides, an agreed chair, and so on.