He may still be admired by sections of the left, writes Eddie Ford. But we would wholeheartedly welcome the fall of Gaddafi in what is the first armed uprising in the Arab revolution
Long oppressed by imperialism and corrupt local rulers, the Arab people are now demanding their freedom. Following the sweeping away of Tunisia’s Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, a democratic upsurge, including mass protests and popular uprisings, has swept the Middle East and North Africa. In Libya we are seeing the dying days (quite possibly literally) of the vicious, tyrannical, 41-year-old regime of colonel Muammar Gaddafi. As I write, Libya’s second and third cities, Benghazi and Misurata, are in the hands of the local population, who are forming committees to take over the distribution of supplies and blocking airport runways to prevent the regime’s planes from landing.
Before that, the focus had shifted to Bahrain. Inspired by the mass revolt in Egypt, at least 100,000 people – some 8% of the entire population – took to the streets of Manama, the capital, to voice their opposition to the autocratic king, Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa, a favoured client of US imperialism and Saudi Arabia. However, some media agencies claim that the February 22 pro-democracy rally actually consisted of more than 280,000, since the march extended up to 3 kilometres long – if true, a staggering turnout for a state whose entire population numbers little more than a million. Turning Pearl Square into their own Tahrir Square, now the symbol of freedom everywhere, the protestors initially demanded sweeping democratic reforms – especially greater rights and equality for the Shia majority, who account for about 70% of Bahrain’s 525,000 native-born population, but have had to endure decades of apartheid-like discrimination (indeed, the regime even imports Sunnis from South Asia, the Baluch tribal areas and Syria in an attempt to artificially boost Sunni numbers).
As for Egypt itself, the ruling military council may have taken over the reins of power from Mubarak, thus saving the regime – however, the army has been unable to stem the revolutionary tide, let alone launch a counterrevolution. Quite the opposite, in fact. The regime has been massively weakened, whilst in turn, and crucially, the masses have been emboldened – their mood is one of confidence. Hence the protests have not only continued, but increased in numbers and militancy. So we had the huge victory celebration on February 18, at which the masses affirmed the new democratic agenda – their agenda, not that of the regime or the US/UK, which still dreams of a ‘stable’, post-Mubarak Egypt, which continues to serve the wider interest of imperialism (like continued adherence to the 1979 ‘peace treaty’ with Israel, cooperation in the ‘war against terror’, etc).
Then we had another huge demonstration on February 22, which effectively became a protest against the military-initiated government reshuffle of the same day. Needless to say, most of the ‘new’ cabinet members had served loyally under Mubarak – with the key ministries of defence, interior, finance and justice remaining totally unchanged. Mubarakism lives.
Furious at the continuation of the old order, the protestors – just like their Tunisian brothers and sisters – have called for the resignation of the entire ‘interim’ government and the speedy transfer of power to a civilian administration. Quite correctly from a tactical point of view, anti-government activists have concentrated their fire on the former Mubarak placemen, as a battering ram against the regime as a whole. And, of course, all this comes on top of the huge rash of strikes, which has seen workers from every conceivable sector taking action – steel and textile, oil, banking, health, tourism, Cairo Museum, etc (even some police officers). Sometimes the strikers have used the existing official unions, capturing them from the Mubarak-loyal bureaucracy, and sometimes they have used new trade unions. Faced with a weakened government, the workers have been winning concessions – therefore only further increasing their confidence in a virtuous circle. Yes, the working class in Egypt is on the move.
Just as encouragingly, or at least for communists, some youth leaders have opposed the call for elections in the immediate or near future. Quite correct (unlike the Socialist Party in England and Wales, etc, etc). We say this not because we are hostile to elections in principle – far from it. Rather, for the straightforward reason that, given the decades-long working class repression, and the absence of any active tradition or culture of democracy, any such elections would by definition be rigged in favour of powerful elites (not that communists have any objections in principle to participating in rigged elections: look at the outstanding record of the Bolsheviks in the tsarist duma). That is, any elections held now would be decisively skewed in favour of those with money, those with intimate connections and contacts with elements of the old regime and, most of all, those with ties to the United States: which, of course, is forging new links with assorted ‘opposition’ figures in preparation for elections and beyond, hoping for an “orderly transition”.
Therefore it is tactically right to oppose the holding of elections at this point – the working class needs the time and space to grow organisationally and politically – which as a necessity requires freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom to form self-defence units, popular militia, etc. This way, by developing its own organisations – not to mention a strategy and programme for emancipation – the workers in Egypt can become a class for itself, independent of the liberals, Nasserites, Islamists, nationalists, etc.
In Libya, the masses have exploded into life – and revolution – against colonel Muammar Gaddafi and his ‘Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya’, the latter word being a neologism first coined by Gaddafi in his screwball, three-volume The green book (1975) and literally meaning ‘state of the masses’. Well, as we can see daily on our TV and computer screens, the Libyan masses have risen up almost as one against the state and the ‘Guide of the First of September Great Revolution’ or ‘Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution’ – to repeat just two of Gaddafi’s official honorifics.
With events unfolding at lightning speed, changing by the hour, in Libya we are presented with a near textbook or classic revolutionary situation – where the masses refuse to be ruled in the old way, and the rulers are unable rule in the old way. Determined to overthrow Gaddafi’s cruel dictatorship, which has kept itself in power through terror and intimidation – like the regular showing of public executions on television – the masses initially revolted in Benghazi, Libya’s second city. Inevitably, though Benghazi is separated from Tripoli by hundreds of miles, the revolutionary uprising has yet to spread to the capital. When Tripoli falls, the Gaddafi regime is dead.
Equally as determined to hang onto power by any means necessary, the regime has unleashed a barbaric salvo of violence against the masses. Heavy machine fire, explosives and missiles have been fired into the protesting crowds – with government snipers firing from rooftops. Even aircraft and helicopters have been deployed against arms dumps. Bands of brutal mercenaries roam the streets like death squads, randomly opening fire on protestors – by all accounts some of these gangsters are from Russia and eastern Europe, as well as sub-Saharan Africa, and are purportedly paid huge amounts. The hospitals have filled up with victims of Gaddafi’s terror and when the count is finally done the death toll will be in the thousands.
These are all the crazed tactics of a dying regime. Benghazi, and the eastern half of the country as a whole, has been liberated from state control – as even Gaddafi has admitted (although, of course, he does not phrase it in quite that way). It almost goes without saying that virtually all the tribal elders have deserted the regime – they know which side their bread is buttered. The police have been driven off the streets of many Libyan cities and towns, their premises ransacked for weaponry and other potentially useful material for the revolution. More and more sections of the army are refusing to obey orders and are turning against the regime, exemplified by the two fighter pilots who absconded to Malta rather than fire upon their own people. Indeed, those remaining segments of the military which remain loyal to Gaddafi – for now – have attacked army units which have passed over the side of the people, or at least are perceived to have done so. Ambassadors and diplomats abroad are queuing to denounce their former boss.
Communists – genuine communists, that is – will not weep for Gaddafi and his henchmen, whatever their eventual fate. Good riddance to bad rubbish, frankly. But nor will we forget that his foul regime was courted by all manner of political tendencies – the apologists including sections of ‘official communism’ such as the New Communist Party, Arthur Sacrgill’s Socialist Labour Party and, perhaps most infamously, by the Trotskyist Workers Revolutionary Party (which was well rewarded with cash and other subsidies worth at least £500,000).
The wretched WRP professed fealty on countless occasions to the Libyan Jamahiriya – eg, writing about its “support of the Libyan masses under their leader, Muammar Gaddafi”. That line continues to this day. Hence, the WRP condemns the democratic uprising in Libya. It is led by opportunists who pose “as out-and-out revolutionaries”; that, or contradictorily, it is characterised as “rightwing”, “reactionary” and sponsored by a US-UK imperialism bent on getting hold of the country’s substantial oil reserves. However, albeit at the 11th hour, we hear criticism of Gaddafi. Apparently he was ill-advised not to identify himself with the mass movements in Tunisia and Egypt. Despite that “major mistake” the WRP urges the “Libyan masses and youth to take their stand alongside colonel Gaddafi to defend the gains of the Libyan revolution”. By way of advice the organisation laughably suggests a “national discussion” in Libya designed to see in the “introduction of workers’ control and management of the Libyan economy and society”.
Ironically enough, but quite logically, Gaddafi was also cultivated by far-right and fascist organisations and individuals, attracted to his “third international theory” or “third universal theory” – predicated on an imaginary, and ultimately nightmarish, alternative to both capitalism and communism. At one stage such fascistic courtiers consisted of Nick Griffin and his then sidekick, Patrick Harrington – a former leading member of the National Front and now swishing in such obscure organisations as Third Way (UK) and Solidarity – The Union of British Workers. So the WRP found itself in good company then.
What we are witnessing now is profound and deep discontent in the Arab world, which has its own revolutionary momentum and logic. Self-evidently, there are two burning questions – class and the national question. Yes, there is an unresolved Arab national question. Egyptians identify with Tunisians, Libyans identify with Egyptians, Yemenis with Jordanians, etc. And that is because they are part of the same people, balkanised by history and imperialism. Hence this is a very real question, the Arab masses having seen the royals and sheiks of the region bought off by the imperialists with kingdoms (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, etc). Who will carry out this historic mission task? For communists it can only be the working class – there is no other social-economic force which can do so – and communists are obliged to take the lead in fighting for pan-Arab unity.
We in the CPGB have no hesitation in calling for the overthrow of all the region’s reactionary regime, ‘anti-imperialist’ or not, and for revolution. But proletarian rule is not on the immediate agenda. Therefore our strategy is for pan-Arab revolution, which can be usefully informed by the Marx-Engels approach to Germany in 1848-51- ie, that of the revolution in permanence. A perspective somewhat different from Lenin’s call for “uninterrupted revolution” in Russia. By 1905, and definitely by 1917, the working class had a distinct and realistic possibility of coming to power in alliance with the peasantry. In the shape of the RDSLP it had a mass workers’ party, with a clear strategy and global vision.
Obviously, this is just not the case anywhere in the Arab world. Hence the working class should avoid premature bids for power, shun all offers of government posts and instead form itself into a party of extreme opposition which guides the process of revolution and democracy ever onwards to the point when it can carry out its full minimum programme.
- The Guardian February 22.
- News Line editorial, April 9 1983.