Australasian Spartacist No. 213
Social-Imperialist Left Back NATO's Libyan Opposition
Imperialists Escalate War on Libya
The following article, first distributed as a 10 May leaflet titled “Defend Libya Against Imperialist Attack!”, is based on an article from Workers Vanguard No. 977 (1 April), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.
MAY 1: For more than a month, U.S., British and French imperialist forces have pounded the semicolonial country of Libya with a brutal air bombardment and sea-based missile attacks. From the beginning, the federal Labor government, supported by the Liberal/National Coalition and the bourgeois Greens, has given its full backing to the imperialist attack on Libya, with foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, in the vanguard of those that pushed for a “no-fly zone.”
Barack Obama and his French and British allies self-righteously proclaim that their military intervention into Libya is for the purpose of “protecting civilians” from the bourgeois strongman Muammar Gaddafi’s regime—the cover provided by a resolution of the United Nations Security Council. But the value that the imperialists place on Libya has mainly to do with its enormous reserves of high-grade oil and natural gas. The imperialist powers did not get where they are by protecting civilians, but by slaughtering those standing in the way of their quest for profit and world domination—and by providing money, arms and “advisers” for their colonial and neocolonial lackeys. With obscene hypocrisy the imperialists castigate Gaddafi for deploying the military against civilians challenging his rule. Of course, there are no such crocodile tears for those civilians, including women and children, now being butchered by NATO bombs, nor for the hundreds of civilians who are routinely slaughtered in the ongoing imperialist occupations and bombardments in Iraq, Afghanistan and western Pakistan. All imperialist military, bases out of North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia now!
In attacking the military defences of Gaddafi’s bourgeois regime, the imperialist coalition has sought to clear the way for the Libyan opposition—a motley bunch that includes monarchists, tribal leaders, Islamists, CIA assets, defecting military officers and former regime officials—to advance toward territory held by Gaddafi. With the bombing campaign failing to bring about the toppling of the Gaddafi regime by this pro-imperialist cabal, in mid-April Britain, France and Italy in swift succession dispatched military officers to shore up the opposition forces and help whip them into shape. For its part, the U.S. has offered more than $25 million in equipment and, on 22 April, announced they would be launching remotely piloted Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles against ground targets in Libya. This on top of the arms already funneled through the Egyptian military.
As noted in the 20 March International Communist League statement “Defend Libya Against Imperialist Attack!” (distributed here by the Spartacist League of Australia), what had essentially been a civil war between Gaddafi’s Tripoli-centred bourgeois regime and an imperialist-backed opposition based in the east of the country—a conflict in which the proletariat had no side—became subordinated to imperialist military intervention with the start of the bombing on 19 March. In the present conflict, the workers of the world have a side: military defence of semicolonial Libya against imperialism and the opposition forces, which are acting on the imperialists’ behalf. As leader of the Russian Revolution, V. I. Lenin, explained in Socialism and War (1915): “If tomorrow, Morocco were to declare war on France, or India on Britain, or Persia or China on Russia, and so on, these would be ‘just,’ and ‘defensive’ wars, irrespective of who would be the first to attack; any socialist would wish the oppressed, dependent and unequal states victory against the oppressor, slave-holding and predatory ‘Great’ Powers.”
As Marxists, we have always politically opposed Gaddafi’s regime, a capitalist dictatorship that has brutally suppressed anyone suspected of opposing his rule. At the same time, we have consistently defended Libya against imperialist attacks, as in the 1986 U.S. bombing under Ronald Reagan. For the U.S. and Australian Cold Warriors, chief among Gaddafi’s “crimes” at the time was that he was a military client of the Soviet Union. With their current attack on Libya, the imperialists are jettisoning the rapprochement they reached with Gaddafi over the last decade, when his regime closely collaborated with Washington in the reactionary “global war on terror” and helped police the Mediterranean to keep African migrants out of Europe.
For its part, the Libyan opposition is angling to gain control of the country’s oil and natural gas wealth. Rebel forces have rounded up, tortured and killed anyone suspected of being a Gaddafi supporter, especially black Africans alleged to be his mercenaries. Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch reports that fleeing Africans have been pushed off ships sent by European governments to evacuate their nationals (“The Battle for Libya,” New York Review of Books, 7 April). In this, the opposition takes its cue, and then some, from the oppression of African migrants under Gaddafi. As for the “humanitarian” imperialists, European governments are ramping up efforts to prevent refugees from making it to their countries. The International Communist League says: Down with racist “Fortress Europe”! No deportations! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants!
Even before the bombing began, our comrades in the U.S. noted in “Imperialists Hands Off Libya!” (Workers Vanguard No. 976, 18 March) that the proletariat in Libya had been devastated as a result of the civil war, with migrant workers fleeing the violence and racist attacks. The article continued:
“The future of the Libyan masses will be decided by working-class struggle that extends beyond the national terrain to include the proletariats of Algeria, Tunisia and, especially, Egypt. That requires the forging of revolutionary working-class parties as part of a genuine Trotskyist Fourth International, which would link the fight for socialist federations of North Africa and of the Near East to the struggle for proletarian revolution in the imperialist centers.”
Imperialism’s Social-Democratic Drummer Boys
Defence of Libya against imperialist bombardment should be elementary, not only for proletarian opponents of capitalist rule but for anyone repulsed by capitalist powers imposing their diktat on Third World countries through overwhelming military might. Yet the bulk of the “socialist” left internationally has worked to line up workers and youth behind the imperialist murderers by championing the opposition that is acting as their ground troops.
Treachery well describes the role of a whole gamut of reformist groups in this country. Despite a pacifist veneer of opposition to the NATO bombing, from the beginning groups such as the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), Socialist Alliance (SA), Socialist Alternative (SAlt) and Solidarity rushed to back the pro-imperialist Libyan rebels in the name of the so-called “Libyan revolution.” But what kind of “revolutionaries” appeal to the imperialists to impose a “no-fly zone,” launch air strikes or otherwise intervene militarily in their country, as opposition leaders have done?
Most gushing in support of the reactionary Libyan opposition have been the Cliffite groups Solidarity and SAlt. An 11 March screed, “Libya and the left,” by SAlt cadre Corey Oakley proves yet again that the anti-communist SAlt leaders are never so comfortable as when they sit squarely in the imperialist camp. Writing of the so-called “Libyan Revolution,” Oakley lectures, “While a clear majority of left wing organisations and groups voiced support for the Libyan uprising, a number either explicitly backed Gaddafi or surreptitiously undermined the revolution and attempted to depict it as a reactionary movement in alliance with US imperialism.”
Contrary to Oakley’s delusion, there has never been any doubt that from the beginning this rag-tag band included such reactionary pro-imperialist elements as the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, founded in the early 1980s with funds from the CIA and Saudi royal family. The former Gaddafi loyalists in the leadership of the opposition forces in Benghazi include the former “justice” minister, his former interior minister and head of the special forces. Among the unsavoury bedfellows of SAlt’s “revolutionaries” is U.S. Republican senator John McCain. McCain, who called for imperialist military intervention in Libya in February, described the rebels as his “heroes” before greeting them in Benghazi in late April.
Backing “the heroes” of U.S. and Australian imperialism is hardly new for SAlt cadre. Throughout the 1980s, as then-members of the Cliffite International Socialist Organisation, SAlt and Solidarity cadre sided with the woman-hating, CIA-funded mujahedin cutthroats against the liberating forces of the Soviet Red Army in Afghanistan and championed the anti-semitic, anti-abortion and reactionary Solidarność—the chosen instrument of the Vatican, Wall Street and Western social democracy for capitalist counterrevolution in Poland. They cheered the Yeltsin/Bush capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union in 1991-92, which ushered in mass unemployment, starvation and nationalist fratricide.
The destruction of the Soviet bureaucratically degenerated workers state in 1991-92 emboldened the imperialists, centrally the U.S., to carry out a series of bombings, wars and occupations against weaker countries. Capitalist counterrevolution in the former Soviet Union removed what had been the main impediment to imperialist depredations, today exemplified by the slaughter of Afghans and Iraqis by U.S.-led occupation forces. The social-democratic “left” helped pave the way for these atrocities by hailing the capitalist counterrevolutionary forces.
Stop the Bombing, Pass the Ammunition
If SAlt has been the most brazen in its support to John McCain’s “heroic” Libyan opposition, it has by no means been alone in soft-soaping these pro-NATO reactionaries. In an 18 March statement Socialist Alliance (SA) brags that it “helped organised actions in solidarity with this uprising” and chides the blood-drenched imperialist powers for not acting fast enough: “If these powerful governments were serious in helping the Libyan people’s uprisings, they would have found ways a lot earlier to enable the freedom fighters to obtain the anti-aircraft and other weapon [sic] that would have helped them fight off the warplanes, helicopters and tanks of the pro-Gaddafi forces.” These social imperialists go on to advise the capitalist rulers on more effective tactics, declaring: “We support a campaign of international isolation of the Gaddafi regime, through the breaking of diplomatic ties with the Gaddafi regime and recognition of the rebel Interim Transitional National Council, and financial sanctions on leaders of the Gaddafi regime and its assets. We also support immediate international aid (including military supplies without conditions) to the Libyan uprising.”
Taking a slightly different but no less treacherous tack is the Stalinist Communist Party of Australia (CPA). In the 9 March issue of The Guardian, the CPA argues “While supporting the democratic demands of the Libyan people, the Communist Party of Australia opposes imperialist interference in Libya.” But those who read to the end of this statement will find that the CPA’s “opposition” to “interference” amounts to “support for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s proposal to send a mission, including former US President Jimmy Carter, to mediate in Libya and seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict”! Under the guise of “human rights,” it was the Carter administration in the late 1970s that launched U.S. imperialism’s anti-Soviet “Cold War II” offensive.
It came as no surprise to us Trotskyists that both SA and the CPA endorsed a 3 April Sydney protest, “Libya, End the foreign military intervention,” appealing to the Australian imperialists to adopt a policy of “diplomacy, negotiations and international pressure, not war.” These reformists promote the liberal lie that imperialism is a policy that can be changed if enough pressure is exerted on the blood-soaked and profit-bloated capitalist ruling class. Opposed to a proletarian revolutionary and internationalist perspective and rejecting the need to rouse the working class in principled opposition to all imperialist depredations, these groups act to obscure that the oppressed have a side, in defence of Libya and for the defeat of the imperialists and their Libyan foot soldiers.
Having discarded even the pretence of advocating proletarian socialism, the reformist opponents of revolutionary Marxism increasingly and all the more openly march under the banner of “human rights” imperialism and bourgeois “democracy.” This was demonstrated in 1999 when virtually every ostensibly socialist group in Australia leapt into hailing, attending and in some cases leading the chauvinist “troops in” rallies for the Australian military occupation of East Timor. Soon after, with the 2003 imperialist bombardment of Iraq, they refused to take a side in military defence of that neocolonial country as bombs were being rained on Baghdad. Instead, showing touching faith in the capitalist rulers, they worked overtime to build popular-frontist “anti-war” coalitions with “peace lovers” from all classes to appeal to the bourgeoisie to “stop the war.” A key demand of these coalitions at the time, and repeated ad nauseam since, was to “bring the troops home.” This dovetails with the ALP and bourgeois Greens, who push for a more aggressive role for the Australian imperialist military in the Asia-Pacific region. In contrast Marxists demand: Not one person, not one cent for the Australian imperialist military! Australian troops/cops get out of East Timor, the Pacific, Afghanistan and the Middle East!
“Trotskyist Platform”: Fawning Conciliator of Social-Imperialist Left
One outfit that now postures as a defender of Libya is the misnamed Trotskyist Platform (TP) led by P. Balasubramaniam, a renegade from the International Communist League, i.e., genuine Trotskyism (see “‘Trotskyist Platform’: Opportunism in Action” Australasian Spartacist No. 192, Spring 2005). TP initiated a 27 March “Emergency Rally to Oppose all U.S. and Australian Government Intervention in the Middle East! NATO War Criminals—Hands Off Libya!” that was also endorsed by the Iranian People’s Fadaee Guerillas and the RSP. Not once in the rally call and eleven lengthy demands, posted on the internet some four days after the imperialist bombing began, did the opportunist TP make the elementary Marxist call for the military defence of neocolonial Libya against imperialism! Far from being an oversight, such an omission was a conscious conciliation of those liberal reformist forces TP seeks to manoeuvre amongst, such as the RSP and other elements around the “Stop the War” coalition.
With its RSP bloc partners supporting the Libyan rebels, TP, unprincipled to the core, disappeared not only military defence of Libya from the rally demands but also any statement opposing the pro-imperialist opposition. Instead, the demands covered for the Libyan opposition by fatuously demanding: “Stop imperialist ‘support’ for opposition groups too—Don’t let them co-opt these movements” and “Stop the imperialist exploiters from meddling in the Middle East—Give a chance for anti-government rebellions there to develop in a pro-working class, anti-imperialist and pro-women’s rights direction.” These demands imbibe in and promote the fairytale, pushed by reformists the world over, that the Libyan opposition were initially some sort of “revolutionary” movement that subsequently got hijacked. A similar fantasy is promoted by reformists to justify their support to the Iranian mullahs’ ascension to power in 1979.
To be sure, at its rally TP had one small sign in defence of Libya and has since produced an “expanded and edited” version of the TP speech at the rally, calling for the defence of the Libyan forces under attack by imperialism. Reprinted in a leaflet, “Support Libya Against the NATO Imperialists!”, the speech is preceded by a lengthy introduction that fails to mention the working class once, let alone a class-struggle perspective. TP crows that its call for the rally compelled broader left forces into action, citing the 3 April Sydney protest. That this demonstration “promotes other [non-military] forms of intervention by the capitalist powers” is simply characterised as a “weakness in the rally call.”
TP politely counsels the social-imperialist left: “One of the reasons there is confusion [!] here over the NATO intervention in Libya is the political impact of the Australian left’s campaign to support the intervention of Australian troops into East Timor in 1999.” With such withering criticisms of these reformists, it is no surprise that the 27 March rally was a non-aggression pact between TP and its bloc partners. RSP honcho, John Percy, was able to drone on about his supposed opposition to the bombing of Libya unchallenged. This is the same John Percy who in 1999, as a leading cadre of the Democratic Socialist Party, helped organise, lead and celebrate marches calling for Australian troops to occupy East Timor—actions that the RSP proudly upholds today! Underscoring the RSP’s tepid opposition to the NATO attack, it has published nothing in response to a grotesque statement of support to the imperialist bombing by Iggy Kim and Marce Cameron, two longtime cadre who reportedly recently left the RSP.
Rejecting the struggle to build a revolutionary Trotskyist party, TP’s rally served as a centrist obstacle to mobilising the proletariat for military defence of neocolonial Libya. TP exists as a left adviser to the social-chauvinist reformists, who in turn seek to pressure the capitalist rulers to adopt a more humane imperialist policy. Highlighting that the reformists’ proclaimed opposition to the imperialist attack on Libya is a cover for support to imperialism’s agents on the ground was a 27 March Melbourne rally on North Africa built by Australia Asia Worker Links. When a Libyan speaker grotesquely thanked the imperialists for their bombing campaign, our supporters were alone in denouncing the speaker. Shouting “Defend Libya against imperialist attack!” and making clear our opposition to the UN, a den of imperialist thieves, their lackeys and victims, we left the rally in disgust.
In contrast to the reformist opponents of Marxism, we in the International Communist League look to the lessons of the Russian Revolution. Led by Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party, in October 1917 the working class was able to overthrow the capitalist system and establish a workers state. This occurred precisely because the Bolsheviks built a revolutionary internationalist party that was rooted in the working class and stood implacably opposed to their “own” Russian imperialism amid the patriotic fury and carnage of World War I, breaking with the social-chauvinists of the Second International. The Bolsheviks fought to extend the revolution internationally, understanding that without the destruction of capitalism on a global scale there could be no possibility of ending imperialist war.
Imperialist wars, occupations and terror-bombing campaigns are inherent to the system of capitalism in its decay. The quest for cheap labour, raw materials and exclusive markets that compels the imperialist rulers to wage military adventures abroad is accompanied by incessant attacks on the wages and conditions of workers on the home front. Globally, the current capitalist economic crisis has brought massive unemployment accompanied by wage slashing, elimination of social services and a full-bore assault on trade unions. The only way out is through a fight for proletarian revolutions against the decaying capitalist order. This requires building revolutionary workers parties like Lenin’s Bolsheviks—in the U.S., Europe, Japan, Australia, North Africa and around the world.