Communists oppose western meddling in Libya, writes Eddie Ford. Rather it is the masses themselves who must overthrow the Gaddafi regime
Isolated and beleaguered, the Gaddafi regime is fighting for its very life – effectively reduced, as things stand now, to a rump which controls Tripoli and not much else (with protests sporadically breaking out in the capital’s southern suburbs).
Libyan ambassadors and diplomats abroad are deserting their boss in increasing numbers, like rats leaving a sinking ship. Of course, for the most part, their sudden fealty to democratic values is pure hypocrisy – they were loyal servants of the Libyan regime right up until the 11th hour, when they finally realised that the writing was on the wall for Gaddafi and therefore that it might be more expeditious to find employment elsewhere. As for the Libyan masses, they remained unbowed despite the terror launched against them – steadfast in their total rejection of the regime, not just colonel Muammar Gaddafi himself. The latter has vowed to “turn Libya red with fire” if necessary in order to stay in power. More likely that he has signed his own death warrant.
Hence the eastern half of the country, apart from this or that pocket, has been almost completely freed from Gaddafi’s tyrannical rule. Benghazi, the country’s second city and now widely referred to as ‘free Benghazi’, has become the de facto capital of Libya – until Tripoli falls, that is. A provisional government (or national council) has been declared, though, of course, given the rapidly moving confusion of events – the fog of revolution – it is not entirely clear who or what it is composed of, or its exact political configuration. However, one thing that does seem all but certain is that we are not dealing with an Islamist authority of any stripe here.
In other words, a living repudiation of the scaremongering lies promoted by the regime – and some of its wretched apologists in the west and elsewhere – to the effect that the forcible overthrow of Gaddafi would represent a victory for the Islamists or even al Qa’eda. To this end on February 21 we had Saif al-Islam Muammar Al-Gaddafi, the tyrant’s odious son, ranting on state TV that the country would be split asunder into “15 Islamic fundamentalist emirates” if the regime was toppled – when he was not spluttering on about how he would “eradicate” all anti-government protestors (amusingly enough, for those who appreciate dark humour, Saif al-Islam received his PhD from the London School of Economics in 2008 for a dissertation entitled, ‘The role of civil society in the democratisation of global governance institutions: from “soft power” to collective decision making?’). In fact, all the evidence to date indicates that Islamist involvement in the Libyan uprising has been minimal.
In the words of Fathi Terbil, the ‘human rights’ lawyer whose arrest on February 15 sparked off the mass protests and who now sits on the new revolutionary council in Benghazi, “this is just the first stage of the uprising”, which aims for the “destruction of the regime”, But, he cautioned, “we haven’t completed it yet”. In order to defend the gains of the revolution – and to claim the prize of Tripoli – the revolution must not halt, but instead act with ruthless aggression against the regime: attack is so often the best form of defence. Even now, with the regime visibly disintegrating, there is still the danger that Gaddafi could regroup his forces and regain the initiative. Even if such a reimposition of control was only temporary, any prolongation of the regime can only mean more death and suffering for the Libyan masses – as the Gaddafi dictatorship has shown itself more than willing to inflict cruel and wanton violence when cornered.
But, having said that, the balance of forces is weighted against the Gaddafi regime. By all accounts, Gaddafi is now largely reliant on his elite armed forces and mercenaries to prop him up. Mercenaries are all very well and good, but their ‘loyalty’ quickly evaporates when the going gets tough and it looks like their paymaster is on the losing side. In which case, they just make a run for it – especially when, as in Libya, they are a rag-bag of desperadoes recruited from every corner of sub-Sahara Africa, not to mention eastern Europe, Russia, South Africa, etc. And Gaddafi’s elite units, like the air force, might turn out to be just as disloyal as well, when asked to fire upon their own brothers and sisters – quite literally. Of course, we have already seen mutinying amongst such elements – with two senior Mirage F1 fighter pilots defecting to Malta; and the crew of a Sukhoi-22 who refused to bomb Benghazi.
Desperately, the regime is trying to break out of its Tripoli box – with very little success so far. On February 28 Gaddafi’s Khamis Brigade – led by his youngest son of the same name and purportedly the best equipped army unit in Libya – tried to reclaim the strategic town of Zawiyah, 19 miles from the capital. Ominously for the regime, the brigade was beaten back by revolutionary forces using seized military equipment (albeit mostly semi-decrepit), including tanks, armoured personnel carriers and pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns. The fighters themselves were armed with a mixture of hand-guns, assault rifles, shotguns and improvised weaponry. Perhaps even more inauspiciously for the regime, stories are circulating that there was a “breakdown” of military discipline amongst the Khamis Brigade – even a “split”. One rebel told the Associated Press that the Khamis Brigade was defeated “because our spirits are high” and “their spirits are zero”.
Revolutionary forces are now attempting to organise a liberation army that can march on Tripoli itself, though there is no way of knowing at the moment as to how advanced these plans are – or to what degree we are witnessing the birth of a serious or viable military-political force that can finally dislodge Gaddafi. But some sort of military committee appears to have been formed, which includes defecting senior officers from the regime, and it is roughly estimated that this nascent revolutionary army consists of at least 5,000 volunteers – most of whom are being trained in Benghazi (receiving a crash course in basic military concepts and manoeuvres). We can only expect their numbers to swell over the next days and weeks.
Meanwhile, both the United States and UK governments have openly declared that Gaddafi is “delusional” and “has to go” – something that communists find hard to disagree with. However, there is the danger that imperialism might intervene in an effort to devise an outcome more to its liking. Like finding a hand-picked successor to Gaddafi – a favoured client who it hopes will do its bidding. Or perhaps by claiming that intervention is necessary in order to avert “genocide” – the charge that some have absurdly, and self-interestedly, directed against Gaddafi. The dictator sitting in Tripoli wants to eliminate, whether physically or not, all those who oppose his regime – not carry out the extermination of any particular ethnic/racial group or peoples.
Whatever the justification employed, the western threat is real. David Cameron belligerently told MPs that Britain did not “in any way rule out the use of military assets” and suggested that the British government might arm anti-Gaddafi forces. Cameron now appears to have backtracked from this stance, after the Obama administration publicly distanced itself from such notions. However, it would be foolish in the extreme to dismiss the prospect of imperialist intervention in Libya – especially if the US starts to fear that the quickly unfolding events in that country pose a definite risk of revolutionary contagion. Then the US tone could change rapidly, from its opposition to “outside intervention by any external force” – as Hillary Clinton put it – to precisely the opposite: military or other measures to restore ‘order’ and ‘stability’ to Libya, and the Arab world as a whole.
Needless to say, communists utterly oppose any imperialist intervention in Libya – no-fly zones, sanctions, ‘targeted’ assassinations, coups d’etat, etc. We want the Libyan masses to deal with Gaddafi themselves, which, of course, they are perfectly capable of doing. A Libyan revolution carried out from below would be a tremendous step forward – providing further inspiration, and revolutionary impetus, to the masses on the streets of Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, etc.
The democratic and revolutionary struggles in these countries are interweaving with, and feeding off, each other in a dynamic way. The Arab masses are increasingly calling for total regime change, not just for the removal of this or that president or monarch – as evidenced so clearly in Bahrain, where a movement for reforms within the existing monarchist system quickly turned into a mass force demanding the overthrow of that entire regime. The same is happening in Tunisia as we speak. Hence on February 25 some 100,000 or more protestors, in the largest demonstration since the ousting of Ben Ali, gathered in the capital demanding the resignation of the interim government. And the masses got a scalp, with the resignation two days later of Mohammed Ghannouchi – the prime minister and self-proclaimed acting president, not to mention former close ally of Ben Ali.
As the Gaddafi regime faces its violent demise, it is no exaggeration to say that we are in a period of the Arab awakening. The lynchpin, of course, is Egypt, which was briefly at the centre of the pan-Arabist movement – then under the leadership of bourgeois and petty bourgeois nationalists rather than the necessary working class hegemony – until the ‘road map’ with Israel transformed Egypt into a key imperialist ally under the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Therefore the real question is, who is going to lead the Arab revolution? That task can only fall to the working class and its organisations.
Finally, we in the CPGB denounce those who – to some measure or another – have come out in support of the ‘anti-imperialist’ Muammar Gaddafi, even if they might voice mealy-mouthed criticisms of his regime. Daniel Ortega, former hero of the Sandinista revolution, has openly admitted that he telephoned Gaddafi in order to offer his “solidarity”, describing the Libyan tyrant as a man “waging a great battle” to defend the unity of his nation. Ditto Hugo Chávez, who posted a message on Twitter proclaiming: “Long live Libya and its independence! Gaddafi faces a civil war!” He has also repeated the simplistic allegation, albeit dressed up as a paraphrasing of Gaddafi, that the US has been orchestrating the mass movement because it is “after the Libyan oil, just like they were after the Iraqi oil”; it has “gone mad” for oil. Conspiratorial crap, parroted, of course, in The News Line, the Workers Revolutionary Party’s paper (“‘They want to steal Libya’s oil,’ says Chávez”), when it is not urging the masses in Tripoli to “defend their city against Nato”, side by side with Gaddafi’s forces.
By contrast, those who have not prostituted themselves before nationalist tyrants insist on working class independence – no to the dictators, no to imperialist intervention. For an Arab revolution led by the working class.
- The Guardian March 1.
- The Washington Post February 22.
- The News Line March 2.
- Ibid February 28.