Western intervention in Libya – and the rest of the Arab world – aims to subvert popular power and the Arab revolution, argues Eddie Ford
Almost inevitably, given the chronically weak state of the working class movement, imperialism has intervened militarily in Libya. Dutifully, both the United Nations and the Arab League, that thieves’ kitchens of despots and dictators, sanctioned the action – even if it seems more like a coalition of the unwilling, or damned, than the willing. And, of course, the House of Commons on March 21 voted overwhelmingly in favour of the latest military adventure, by 557 to 13.
So, under the guise of setting up a no-fly zone to “protect” civilians in Benghazi and elsewhere, the UK, France and the United States – with a few stragglers like Qatar to provide Arab ‘legitimacy’ – have effectively declared war on the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. Maybe even on him personally, United Nations resolution 1973 or not – US-made Tomahawk cruise missiles exploded in his Tripoli compound, but magically failed, presumably, to inflict any ‘collateral damage’ on those unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity. Perhaps Tripoli civilians need less ‘protecting’ than Benghazi ones.
Coalition forces appear to be expanding the scope of their operations almost by the hour – launching new air strikes against Gaddafi’s troops outside the (currently) insurgent-held western city of Misrata. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton claims that people “close” to Gaddafi were in touch with other countries asking for advice on “exile options”.
Naturally, in order to justify the attacks, we have being bombarded with crap about “genocide”, “crimes against humanity”, “human shields”, etc – the propaganda war to accompany the real hot war. Mere cant. It cannot be denied that the Gaddafi regime is a foul dictatorship which has violently oppressed the Libyan people for decades and which thoroughly deserves to be overthrown – with communists being amongst the first to welcome the armed uprising against its tyranny. However, such hyperbolic language is being deployed in an attempt to fool us into believing that Libya – unlike other, pro-western, Middle East dictatorships – is a special case and that this ‘humanitarian’ or liberal imperialism will somehow be beneficial to the long-term interests of the Libyan masses. In reply, communists argue that the Libyan intervention will no more bring liberation or democracy to its people than the imperialist overthrow of Saddam Hussein – a former client regime of the west – relieved the suffering of the Iraqi masses. Instead, the brutal imperialist invasion and occupation of Iraq just brought about new horrors and suffering – leaving the country traumatised and dismembered.
Therefore, from that perspective – an internationalist and democratic one – the Stop the War Coalition is to be commended for having staged a protest opposite Downing Street on March 20 against the air assault on Libya. Indeed, not to have done so would have made a mockery of its name. Addressing the 100 or so demonstrators, both Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway noted that the date marked the eve of the eighth anniversary of Operation Shock and Awe that led to the Iraq invasion and condemned the obvious hypocrisy of the western powers. Where was the no-fly zone over Gaza when it was being blitzkrieged by Israel or, for that matter, the one over Bahrain – which has seen “invited” forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates murderously repress the pro-democracy activists trying to emulate the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions?
But, of course, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are friends, and strategic assets, of the west – so it is an entirely different story. Furthermore, compounding the hypocrisy, the UAE is lending military support – to some degree or another – to the imperialist campaign against Gaddafi (it being reported by Reuters that the Greek airbase at Souda, Crete, received a request from the UAE to stand by for the refuelling of 12 Dassault Mirage 2000s and 12 F-16 Fighting Falcons en route to Sicily). Given that the UAE military is busily involved in the suppression of democracy, both at home and in Bahrain, it is utterly absurd – if not near madness – to believe that the very same military can help to bring social advance and progress to Libya.
True, it does have to be said, the STWC demonstration was small and, yes, we in the CPGB are critical of the politics often peddled by its leadership under John Rees (national officer and leader of Counterfire) and Andrew Murray (chair and Communist Party of Britain member) – least of which is its unprincipled exclusion of Hands Off the People of Iran to please the Tehran regime. But it was entirely correct to call the March 20 demonstration. Along with the STWC comrades and others on the left, we say: imperialism out of Libya; down with Gaddafi. Clearly, western intervention in Libya – and the rest of the Arab world – aims to subvert the Arab revolution.
But there are some on the left, totally misguidedly, who have come out in support of the imperialist ‘no-fly zones’ – a misnomer in the sense that we are talking about active and aggressive attacks on Gaddafi’s tanks, armoured cars, mortar and infantry positions, and so on, not just the taking out of air defence systems (situated more by military necessity than cynical political calculation in densely populated urban areas). To see the ‘pro-war’ left at its most degenerate, and downright stupid, you would be hard-pressed to do much better than the social-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – which in the past implied that imperialism had a progressive role to play in Iraq by creating a democratic “breathing space” for the working class.
Hence the AWL categorised the March 20 STWC protest as a “pro-Gaddafi demo” and castigated the Socialist Workers Party for its supposedly “oxymoronic line” slogan, “No to intervention in Libya! Victory to the Arab revolutions!” AWL functionary Sacha Ismail also mocked a Counterfire activist for waving a placard calling for “regime change here” (what a terrible demand for a Marxist to raise), asininely remarking: “… as if that solves the problem of what socialists should say about Libya” – before further rebuking another Counterfire member for “leading the chanting” of “Hands off Libya!”
Well, the AWL may have put the moron back into oxymoronic, but such philistine comments only serve to indicate that it has abandoned even the ABC of Marxism – which precisely, as the SWP and Counterfire comrades suggest, consists principally of fighting for “regime change” at home: that is, making revolution. The fact that the AWL finds this so hilarious just about says it all. But then again, as an organisation the AWL specialises in slippery and dishonest polemics – steeped as it is in a sectarian culture so assiduously promulgated by its fading patriarch, Sean Matgamna – in a feeble bid to disguise its instinctive first-campism (ie, pro-imperialism). For example, we have Matgamna’s infamous 2008 “discussion article”, where he rhetorically asked, “if the Israeli air force attempts to stop Iran developing the capacity to wipe it out with a nuclear bomb, in the name of what alternative would we condemn Israel?” Given that the article stressed the right of Israel to self-defence, the implication was quite clear: a pre-emptive Israeli strike on “clerical fascist” Iran would be justifiable.
In this vein, the AWL is up to its old sophist tricks again. Hence, though we are advised by Clive Bradley to hold “no illusions” in the west, we are also informed that to oppose imperialist intervention means “abandoning” the anti-Gaddafi rebels, given that the workers’ movement internationally “does not have a military force of our own to come to the aid of Benghazi”. Therefore, Bradley asserts, there cannot be an “issue of principle” that should make socialists “demonstrate against the one thing which might prevent untold slaughter” and avoid a “crushing defeat for the wave of revolutions” – namely, imperialist military might. Or, in other words, “Yes to Libya” and “not no to the USA”. It is not “our job to try to stop the implementation of a no-fly zone”, since, according to the AWL, the one operated against Saddam Hussein from April 1991 “provided some protection for the Kurds”.
The pro-imperialist logic is plain to see. By the same token, those who opposed the Iraq war in 2003 were guilty of striving to keep Saddam Hussein in power and thus abandoning the people of Iraq to their fate. Similarly, not sending the task force steaming down to the south Atlantic in 1982 – refusing to intervene – would have meant deserting the Falkland Islanders in their hour of need, leaving them to the tender mercies of the Argentinean military junta. Or, just as plausibly, surely it would have been the case that by not declaring war on Germany in 1914 the British government would have ‘betrayed’ or abandoned the plucky Belgian people – or the noble Poles in 1939? For the befuddled AWL, any sort of class analysis seems quite alien – replaced by a liberalistic, and shrilly moralistic, support for the ‘underdog’ at any given moment (which more often than not neatly dovetails with the imperialist agenda).
Of course, the AWL are not the only ones on the left who come in favour of imperialist no-fly zones – although at least most have the decency to arrive at such a conclusion more reluctantly. Thus comrade Dave Osler, a member of the Labour Party/Labour Representation Committee and a former Trotskyist, writes that you “would need to be a liberal of a spectacularly gullible kind” to seriously “maintain that the American ruling class and those other ruling classes invest serious amounts of blood and treasure in the promotion of democracy for democracy’s sake”. Yet, having said that, he goes on to argue: “… once in a while there is a more or less accidental coincidence between what the US wants to see happen in a country and the interests of working people that live there” – Libya being one of those times, he feels. Therefore he is compelled, though he does not find these “words particularly comforting to write”, to “support the no-fly zone”, but “with no illusions”.
As for comrade Andrew Coates (a self-confessed Pabloite), he states – correctly – that “the left has to begin from the premise of support for the Libyan people’s resistance to the Gaddafi tyranny” and that the uprising “takes place within the context of pan-regional Arab democratic revolutions”, being “directed against a bureaucratic capitalist tyranny with close links to international capital”. But like comrade Osler he thinks that the imperialist intervention just so happens to “correspond to the particular needs of the Libyan population under imminent threat of repression by the Gaddafi state machine” – leading him to the conclusion that “blanket opposition” to no-fly zones, etc is “morally bankrupt” and the STWC’s March 20 protest “against the help offered to the Libyan people” is “repellent”. Rather, “in the absence of any other means of international support”, comrade Coates gives “qualified support” to UN resolution 1973, which sanctioned the attacks.
Naturally, communists can understand – and sympathise with – the sentiments underpinning these arguments. Yes, the Benghazi insurgents are massively outgunned by the despicable Gaddafi regime, which responded to the initial pro-democracy demonstrations in the only way it knew – by brute repression and ruthless violence, leaving many dead and injured. Of course, communists agree that those leftists who urge support for the ‘anti-imperialist’ Gaddafi are contemptible – such as the Workers Revolutionary Party with its wretched slogan of “Victory to Gaddafi!”, not to mention the highly practical “Bring down the Cameron-Clegg coalition with a general strike and go forward to a workers’ government and socialism!”
Or the Stalinite Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), which exhorts “support for the Libyan government in its fight to crush attempts to take control of Libyan oil out of the hands of the Libyan people”.
However, for all that, by making such arguments comrades Osler and Coates – and others like them – are sailing into dangerous waters: they run the risk of constituting themselves as the leftwing conscience of liberal/humanitarian imperialism. The fact that, as the comrades like to emphasise in support of their position, some sections of the Benghazi provisional government (or Commune, as some have idiotically called it) have welcomed the imposition of a no-fly zone is no measure as to the progressive nature or efficacy of such a move – likewise, a large number of the Irish catholic-nationalist population in 1969 initially welcomed the British military intervention – but within a short space of time they had taken up Molotov cocktails and arms against the same imperialist ‘liberators’.
No, the imperialist intervention into Libya is more akin to pouring water on the flames than re-igniting the spark of revolution, acting to divert the anti-Gaddafi uprising – and the entire revolutionary movement across the Arab world – into safe, containable channels Indeed, if anything, the introduction of no-fly zones, etc runs the real risk of galvanising a measure of patriotic or ‘anti-imperialist’ support behind the regime – which as a consequence may mean that Gaddafi can cling on to power longer and at some future point inflict harsher reprisals against those opposed to his rule.
Unlike scabs such as the WRP, communists wholeheartedly backed the revolutionary democratic upsurge – the revolution – in Libya against the rotten regime, just as we did in the entire Arab world. We want to see all these regimes swept away by popular power, with the working class securing hegemony over the demonstrations, protests and uprisings.
But we envisage this happening as part of a pan-Arab movement, striving for the unification of the Arab people after centuries of Balkanisation, not by repeated imperialist interventions designed to reconfigure western control over the region – using a new generation of elected, ‘democratic’ clients, as opposed to the old-fashioned despots.
- The Guardian March 23.
- Solidarity June 24 2008.
- The News Line March 21.
- March 11 statement – Proletarian Online (www.cpgb-ml.org/index.php?secName=statements&subName=display&statementId=39).