Spartacist Canada No. 169
Under Humanitarian Guise
Imperialists Escalate War on Libya
The following article is adapted from Workers Vanguard (Nos. 977 and 979, 1 and 29 April), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.
Since March 19, NATO forces have pounded Libya, carrying out some 7,000 bombing missions in their drive to topple the regime of bourgeois strongman Muammar el-Qaddafi. Tripoli, the capital city, is now being subjected to heavy bombardment as the NATO imperialists target buildings and infrastructure, including government offices in residential areas. On May 20, NATO bombed the harbours of Tripoli, as well as Khoms and Surt (Sirte), sinking eight ships.
In mid-April, Britain, France and Italy—North Africa’s former colonial rulers—dispatched military officers to Benghazi to shore up the opposition forces that have acted as the imperialists’ ground troops and whip them into shape. These forces were joined by military “advisors” from tiny oil-rich Qatar, an important U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf. The Obama administration, which claims to have ruled out “boots on the ground” in Libya, on April 22 ordered additional firepower into the skies in the form of remotely piloted Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles.
The Canadian government has contributed seven CF-18 fighter-bombers to the assault force, which have flown hundreds of bombing raids. The commander of the NATO military operation is a Canadian, Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard. Parliament endorsed the war on Libya unanimously, including the social-democratic New Democratic Party. Now “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” and ever true to the interests of Canadian imperialism, the New Democrats have made clear that when the initial Canadian mandate expires on June 16 they are prepared to support its extension.
The murderous purpose of the imperialists’ “humanitarian” mission was highlighted on April 30 when NATO bombed the house of Qaddafi’s son, killing him and three grandchildren. This was NATO’s third attempt to assassinate Qaddafi in just over a week. On April 25, at least two large bombs destroyed a building in central Tripoli containing a library frequented by Qaddafi and another where he had recently hosted an African Union delegation. Just before that, missiles struck his personal compound, recalling the 1986 U.S. bombing of Libya, during which his infant daughter was killed in a similar assassination attempt.
The continued escalation of the war against Libya further exposes the lies spread by the imperialists and their media mouthpieces to justify the bombing campaign. Presented as a short-term action to establish a “no-fly zone” and “protect civilians”—the terms of the United Nations Security Council resolution giving cover to the terror bombing—the intervention is a drive by the imperialists to impose their diktat on this oil-rich country. From the outset, NATO was bombing Libyan government forces and, soon afterward, such Qaddafi strongholds as his hometown of Surt. The only civilians at risk there were those near exploding NATO ordnance.
Since the Obama administration handed off control of military operations to NATO in late March, U.S. warplanes have continued to fly hundreds of sorties along with their British, French and Canadian partners. Drone attacks have hit Misurata (now under rebel control) as well as Tripoli. In Pakistan, where the White House has leaned heavily on CIA-directed drone aircraft to launch missile attacks against Taliban fighters, more than 1,500 people, overwhelmingly civilians, have been slaughtered by Predators since August 2008. A recent such strike on April 22 claimed 25 lives, among them at least five children.
Before the imperialist attack on Libya, the country was being torn apart by a low-level civil war between the Qaddafi government, which had been playing ball with the imperialists, and an imperialist-backed opposition. In the fight between these two bourgeois forces the proletariat had no side. But once the U.S.-led bombing began, the civil war became subordinated to imperialist military intervention. As we emphasized in an International Communist League statement of March 20 (see facing page), in this bloody imperialist war, the workers of the world have a side: military defense of semicolonial Libya against imperialism and the opposition forces, which are acting on the imperialists’ behalf.
For Marxists, military defense of Libya against the imperialists does not imply the slightest political support to Qaddafi’s bloody capitalist rule. It is necessary to oppose every military occupation and attack waged by the imperialists to further their domination of the planet. Every setback they suffer weakens the class enemy of the world proletariat and assists the struggles of working people and the oppressed. It is the proletariat in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere in North Africa and the Near East that has the potential social power and class interest to lead all of the impoverished and oppressed in socialist revolution against all the murderous regimes of the region. Revolutionary workers parties must be built that will link the fight for socialist federations of North Africa and the Near East to the struggle for proletarian revolution in the imperialist centres.
Imperialist Terror and Intrigue
A Libyan government spokesman denounced the April 25 attack on Tripoli as “an act of terrorism, an act worthy of mafia gangs not governments.” The imperialist gangsters made clear early on that their intent was to oust Qaddafi one way or another. A joint letter issued on April 15 by Barack Obama, British prime minister David Cameron and French president Nicolas Sarkozy declared that any outcome short of Qaddafi’s removal would be an “unconscionable betrayal.” Every offer of a cease-fire from Qaddafi has been met with flat rejection. As if to hammer home this point, the April 25 bombing attack laid waste to the building where South Africa’s Jacob Zuma and two other African presidents held talks with Qaddafi earlier in April to try to work out a peace deal!
For all their overwhelming military might, the imperialist powers are between a rock and a hard place when dealing with Libya, particularly as the U.S., Britain, Canada and other NATO powers are mired in the Afghanistan occupation, not to mention the nearly decade-long U.S. occupation of Iraq. The Libyan opposition forces are a motley crew with no unified command, and the Western powers themselves are far from united on where to take this, reflecting their divergent interests.
Germany abstained on the March UN Security Council vote and withdrew its ships from the NATO mission enforcing the arms embargo on Libya. More recently, it volunteered troops for a proposed 1,000-strong combat force approved by the European Union (EU) on April 1 whose mission, if called upon by the UN, would ostensibly be for “humanitarian assistance” for the western port city of Misurata. What the imperialists have done in Misurata—besides helping lay waste to it—is to make a show of ferrying several thousand migrant workers out of the besieged city to Benghazi. But such concern for the desperate plight of North African refugees dries up the moment they make it to the shores of Europe, where a renewed border clampdown is under way. The ICL says: Down with racist “Fortress Europe”! No deportations! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants!
As Britain, France and Italy were rushing military officers to Benghazi, the Financial Times (22 April) reported that a senior British Ministry of Defense official dismissed the possibility of ground forces under EU command being placed in Libya. Paris, which has been flexing its military muscle in Ivory Coast and elsewhere in Africa, continues to voice support for the EU plan. In the London Guardian (19 April), Simon Tisdall plainly laid out the situation:
“Britain is now publicly doing what it expressly said it would not do when the no-fly intervention began: putting boots on the ground in Libya. France is taking similar action…. Escalation is in the air—and on the ground. The EU is discussing what it says is an approved ‘concept of operations’ for sending European troops to Libya to protect refugees and humanitarian relief efforts. Nato strike aircraft, unsuited to killing alleyway snipers, are instead widening their target range to include Gaddafi’s communication lines and his home town of Sirte. And off the record, nobody bothers to deny that British and other special forces are already operating in theatre.”
The British Independent (20 April) described the British advisers as “a team hand-picked for their track records in their specialist fields,” including “one of the most battle-hardened commanders in the British Army, with extensive experience of combat in Afghanistan.” However they are dressed up, these trained killers clearly are no advance team for the Red Cross—and neither are their French or Italian counterparts. One historical example of the havoc caused by such agents is the mid 1960s civil war in Yemen, the southern part of which had a longstanding British presence. Between 1963 and 1967, a contingent of no more than 50 British mercenaries, mostly veteran officers, trained royalist forces and planned ambushes in the course of a civil war fought against Yemeni republicans backed by the Egyptian army of Gamal Abdel Nasser. In this period, over 20,000 of Nasser’s troops were killed, as against 5,000 on the other side.
As Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin taught, imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, marked by the concentration, domination and export of finance capital. In their insatiable drive for profit, the imperialist bourgeoisies exploit the world’s backward countries for raw materials, cheap labour and new markets. At the dawn of the modern imperialist epoch in the late 19th century, this exploitation was accomplished largely through direct colonial occupation and territorial annexation. Today, almost every last Third World country has won formal independence but remains subordinated to the imperialist powers, with the exception of the deformed workers states of China, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam and Laos.
The peoples of Libya are no strangers to the ravages of imperialism. The Turko-Italian war of 1911, in which thousands of Arabs were butchered, was a conflict over the possession of what would become Libya. That conflict in turn set off a 20-year resistance struggle against the Italian imperialists, who dropped poison gas on civilians and imprisoned more than 100,000 in concentration camps. After World War II, during which both Axis and Allied forces wreaked havoc on the country and its people, the imperialists patched together the state of Libya, replacing Italian rule with a British-imposed monarchy. That monarchy was in turn deposed in 1969 by the Free Officers’ Movement that installed Qaddafi in power.
Imperialism’s Social-Democratic Drummer Boys
Defense 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. They have done this in the name of the so-called “Libyan revolution.” But these Libyan “revolutionaries” appealed to the imperialists to impose a “no-fly zone,” launch air strikes or otherwise intervene militarily in their country!
The French New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) early on pledged its “total support to the insurgents.” Over Libya, this social-democratic group—established two years ago by the French section of the fake-Trotskyist United Secretariat (USec)—achieved convergence with French president Sarkozy, who welcomed key anti-Qaddafi leaders in the Elysée Palace on March 10 and declared the opposition National Council to be Libya’s legitimate government. The day after the UN Security Council voted to authorize the “use of force in Libya,” the NPA chimed in with a March 18 statement declaring that “the Libyan people…should be given the means to defend themselves and the weapons they need to throw out the dictator.” The NPA endorsed the call for a rally held the next day in support of the imperialists’ stooges in Libya, which took place as the bombing started.
While the NPA statement muttered that “military intervention is not the solution,” Gilbert Achcar, a London-based leftist who associates himself with the USec and the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP), had no such reservations. Echoing the imperialists’ lying pretext of “protecting civilians” from the vengeance of Qaddafi’s forces, Achcar declared in a 19 March ZNet article that “no one can reasonably oppose” the UN resolution authorizing the air attacks. In a March 25 statement, Achcar responded to the “storm of discussions” provoked by this pro-imperialist dreck by upholding his craven apology for the U.S.-led bombardment.
In Britain, Conservative prime minister David Cameron, an early proponent of attacking Libya, was backed by Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. And behind Labour stand Britain’s house-trained reformists, the SWP, who counselled: “Instead of bombing Libya, Western governments could hand all the assets they have seized from Gaddafi’s regime to the revolutionary forces” (Socialist Worker [Britain], 22 March). In other words, the imperialist gangsters who have ripped off the assets of a sovereign country should hand them over to their flunkeys.
The SWP’s estranged American cousins in the International Socialist Organization (ISO), which initially embraced the CIA-funded National Salvation Front with open arms, now claims to have discovered that some pretty reactionary forces are in the leadership of the anti-Qaddafi opposition. The ISO spares a few words, on paper, to express opposition to the bombing. But that does not prevent it from continuing to embrace the opposition forces, no matter what atrocities the imperialists carry out on their behalf. At a March 20 forum in New York City, ISO honcho Ahmed Shawki declared: “Today, the West is bombing Libya as its way of getting a foothold back into the Middle East. But we should have no truck whatsoever to do with the Libyan regime or a defense of it, and join all of those involved in the Middle East people getting rid of its dictators.”
In Canada, the International Socialists (I.S.), affiliated to the British SWP, also hailed Qaddafi’s imperialist-backed opponents while claiming to oppose the bombing. The utter hypocrisy of this stance was exposed at a March 19 demonstration in Toronto called by the I.S.’s creation, the Toronto Arab Solidarity Campaign, where the I.S. stood shoulder to shoulder with people carrying huge French and Canadian flags and chanting “Kill Qaddafi!” A Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste comrade reported: “Once we saw the vile character of the demo, we increased the size of our team: not to be part of it, but to make our opposition to this pro-imperialist carnival clearer and give it more impact. We stood to the side, with placards and chants, declaring ‘Imperialists Hands Off Libya’.”
The destruction of the Soviet 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 counterrevolutionary forces, from Polish Solidarność to Boris Yeltsin’s Russian “democrats.” Having discarded even the pretense of advocating proletarian socialism, the reformists increasingly and all the more openly march under the banner of bourgeois “democracy.” The USec, among others, promoted imperialist military intervention against Serbia in 1995 under the guise of providing humanitarian aid for workers in Bosnia. Four years later, the same characters were calling for a European imperialist expeditionary force in Kosovo.
It is noteworthy that a March 22 “Joint Statement” by various Communist Parties around the world—including the Greek KKE, the Canadian and Portuguese CP and the Indian CPI and CPI (Marxist)—condemns the imperialist intervention against Libya and does not support the pro-imperialist opposition (which it simply avoids mentioning). However, the statement fails to call for military defense of neocolonial Libya, pushing instead a pacifistic appeal for “the peoples” to demand an end to the imperialist intervention.
The U.S. Workers World Party (WWP) and Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) voice similar opposition to the attack on Libya, mainly driven by their longstanding political support for bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces in Third World countries that make a pretense of being “anti-imperialist.” The ANSWER coalition, founded by the WWP and now controlled by the PSL, recently staged a series of demonstrations calling to “stop the bombing of Libya” and raising the reformist-pacifist demand that the imperialist rulers spend money on jobs and education, not war. This is the timeworn formula the WWP, PSL and others have used to build class-collaborationist “antiwar movements” that unite “the people” behind a supposedly more benign wing of the blood-soaked, profit-bloated capitalist ruling class.
Lastly, mention should be made of David North’s Socialist Equality Party (SEP), best known as the “World Socialist Web Site,” whose propaganda today appears rather critical of Qaddafi and states opposition to imperialist military intervention. We urge any readers who take the SEP’s “Marxism” for good coin to take a closer look at these political bandits, who comprise a special category in the annals of renegades from Trotskyism.
The SEP self-servingly disappears its history as participants in the squalid pro-Qaddafi machinations carried out by the dominant party in its “International Committee of the Fourth International” (IC), the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) in Britain led by one Gerry Healy. After years of hailing the mythical “Arab Revolution,” Healy’s IC openly championed blood-drenched bourgeois regimes like Qaddafi’s in its paper News Line. The mercenary nature of this is a matter of public record. By their own later admission, Healy’s IC received at least well over £1 million from a variety of Near East sheiks and bonapartist butchers over a period of years beginning in the mid 1970s, including over £500,000 from Libya (see “Northite Blood Money,” Workers Vanguard No. 523, 29 March 1991). And this was really for services rendered. In “Healyites, Messengers of Qaddafi” (WV No. 158, 20 May 1977), we noted of Qaddafi’s Libya, “where communists are to be jailed and butchered and their books burned, ostensible leftists would have to do some pretty peculiar things to survive—and News Line has made it clear the WRP would be more than willing to do them.” The Healyites went on to hail the murder of Iraqi Communist Party members by Saddam Hussein in 1979.
As we wrote in “Healyism Implodes” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 36-37, Winter 1985-86): “Once you discard the struggle for the building of Leninist parties to lead the working class in the liberation of mankind, and take off in search of get-rich-quick schemes, you will end up in a despicable place—if not a Healy, perhaps the more ordinary kind of scoundrel voting war credits for his own ruling class.”
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. The current worldwide 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 the one blazed by the workers revolution of October 1917 led by Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party. The International Communist League is dedicated to building workers parties of the Bolshevik type that can infuse the proletariat with an understanding of its historic task of overturning the imperialist order and reorganizing society worldwide on an egalitarian socialist basis.