Workers Hammer No. 214
War against Qaddafi's Libya: imperialist terror and lies
The following article is adapted from Workers Vanguard no 977, 1 April 2011.
MARCH 31 — For two weeks, US, British and French imperialist forces have pounded the semicolonial country of Libya with a brutal air bombardment and sea-based missile attacks. In attacking the military defences of bourgeois strongman Muammar el-Qaddafi’s regime, the imperialist coalition is attempting 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 towards territory held by Qaddafi.
Barack Obama and his French and British allies self-righteously proclaim that their military intervention into this oil-rich country is for the purpose of “protecting civilians” — the cover provided by a resolution of the United Nations Security Council. The US military, parroted by its agents in the bourgeois press, routinely lies that the “precision” strikes have singed nary a hair on the head of a civilian. Just three days into the air war, Libyan villagers were shot by US Marines retrieving a pilot whose jet crashed outside Benghazi. The civilian toll is sure to mount with the continuation of operations, now under NATO command.
From very early on, Conservative prime minister David Cameron advocated a no-fly zone over Libya. On 21 March, parliament overwhelmingly voted to support the military attack on Libya outlined in the UN resolution. Intoning that military action against Qaddafi was needed to “avert a bloody massacre”, Cameron was backed foursquare by the Labour Party leadership under Ed Miliband who described the bombing of Libya as “a just cause”, saying of the Qaddafi regime: “We have seen guns being used on unarmed demonstrators. We have watched warplanes and artillery being used against civilian population centres”. Miliband is upholding the blood-soaked mantle of Tony Blair who was second to none in supporting US imperialism in the bombing of Serbia in 1999, the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and again of Iraq in 2003.
As noted in the International Communist League statement printed on page one, what had essentially been a civil war between Qaddafi’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 revolutionary leader VI 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, slaveholding and predatory ‘Great’ Powers.”
Imperialist brigands, media hacks
Just as the capitalist press retailed George W Bush and Tony Blair’s lies about Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction”, the capitalist press is demonstrating again over Libya that truth is the first casualty of war. Lurid tales — none verified — of a mass slaughter of Libyan civilians in the east were wielded as the casus belli. The New York Times editors who retail the line that the Western attack is about defending helpless people were the ones who did Washington’s bidding by knowingly suppressing the fact that Raymond Davis, the man arrested in Pakistan earlier this year for killing two men, was working for the CIA.
An official of the North Korean bureaucratically deformed workers state made the utterly rational statement that Libya’s dismantling of its nuclear weapons programme had made it vulnerable to military intervention by the West (New York Times, 24 March). Thanks to that intervention, which began eight years to the day after the US-led “shock and awe” assault on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the rebels have recaptured much of the territory they had earlier lost to the Libyan government. Nevertheless, as we go to press, Qaddafi’s forces have repulsed the rebels’ attack on his hometown of Surt.
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. While those protesting the oppressive US- and British-backed regimes in Bahrain and Yemen are gunned down and dispossessed Palestinians face a renewed wave of Zionist state terror, Cameron and Obama cry crocodile tears for the Libyan rebels, whom they are now considering arming.
Richard Falk, a UN spokesman, pointed out that the Libyan uprising was “more in the nature of a traditional insurrection against the established order than a popular revolution inspired by democratic values” (Al Jazeera, 23 March). He added that threats of intervention only arose when “the domestic tide turned in favour of Tripoli, which means that intervention was called upon to overcome the apparent growing likelihood that Gaddafi would reestablish order in his favour”.
As Marxists, we have always politically opposed Qaddafi’s capitalist regime, a 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 US bombing under Ronald Reagan. At that time, Qaddafi’s daughter was killed in an attack on the family compound that was clearly meant to assassinate him. For the US Cold Warriors, chief among Qaddafi’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 Qaddafi over the last decade, when his regime closely collaborated with Washington in the “global war on terror” and helped police the Mediterranean to keep African immigrants out of Europe.
For its part, the Libyan opposition is angling to gain control of the country’s substantial oil and natural gas wealth. Rebel forces have been rounding up, torturing and killing anyone suspected of being a Qaddafi 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 Qaddafi. As for the “humanitarian” imperialists, European governments are ramping up efforts to prevent refugees from making it to their countries.
Even before the bombing began, we 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 “human rights” canard
Many commentators hark back to the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia, carried out under the pretext of protecting the Albanian Kosovars from “genocide”, which terrorised and slaughtered Serbians, destroying a hospital, power grids and other infrastructure. The bombing of Serbia was a signal act of the New Labour government of Tony Blair that was elected in 1997. Internationally led by Democratic US president Bill Clinton, the bombing of Serbia exemplified the imperialists’ ruse of carrying out their mass terror with a veneer of “human rights”.
The notion of “humanitarian” military interventions by the imperialist powers, which became discredited by the bloody occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, is now being refurbished over Libya. Liberal deputy prime minister Nick Clegg was gung-ho for the attack on Libya which he described as “liberal interventionism”. On the left, the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) expresses the social-imperialist line of support for the bombing in a leaflet declaiming that: “To oppose — that is, demonstrate against, and make a serious effort to prevent — the limited military action against Qaddafi, is to tell the rebels in Benghazi ‘you’re on your own’”. Describing the imperialist bombing as “the one thing that might prevent untold slaughter” the AWL statement is a “humanitarian” cover for imperialist subjugation of neo-colonial Libya.
With British and US forces already stretched thin by their murderous occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, bourgeois critics of the Cameron coalition government are voicing concern over getting involved in another endless quagmire. Britain’s military chief of the defence staff, General Sir David Richards, has publicly disagreed with Cameron over whether or not the UN resolution allows for Qaddafi’s removal. However, the simple fact is that what the imperialist powers are up to is mass terror under the UN banner.
The value that the imperialists place on Libya has mainly to do with its enormous reserves of high-grade oil and natural gas. For example, Italy, Libya’s former colonial slave master, depends on Libyan oil for a quarter of its petroleum needs. Calculating its own interests, German imperialism under Christian Democratic chancellor Angela Merkel abstained on the UN Security Council’s war resolution, prompting Joschka Fischer, leader of the bourgeois Green Party, to declare: “Germany has lost its credibility in the United Nations and the Middle East.” Nevertheless, Germany, along with other European Union members, has called for an embargo on all oil from Libya. For Libya, a country that imports 75 per cent of its food and pays for it with oil revenues, this could mean mass starvation. Meanwhile, the US has made very clear that there will be no such sanctions against the opposition, which, soon after taking oil production and shipping facilities in and around the town of Brega, announced that they were open for business.
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. They have done this in the name of the so-called “Libyan revolution”. But what kind of “revolutionary” appeals to the imperialists to impose a “no-fly zone”, launch air strikes or otherwise intervene militarily in their country, as opposition leaders did?
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 10 March and declared the opposition National Council to be Libya’s legitimate government. The day after the UN Security Council voted to authorise the “use of force in Libya”, the NPA chimed in with an 18 March 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 authorising the air attacks.
Britain’s David Cameron was backed by Labour behind which stands the 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, 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 line of “No to intervention in Libya!” but “Victory to Arab revolutions!” is laughable given that the imperialists are intervening on the side of the SWP’s Libyan “revolutionaries”. Socialist Worker has carried deluded articles describing rebel-held Benghazi as though soviets might have sprung up there — gushing about “revolutionary councils” which “offer the possibility of deepening the revolution” (Socialist Worker, 5 March). Socialist Worker website published a 20 March statement by the Revolutionary Socialists (RS) of Egypt the day after the UN approved the bombing, which says: “The Security Council has chosen military intervention as its first step, without even preceding it by attempts to provide humanitarian aid or weapons to the rebels.” The imperialist powers in Washington and London are publicly discussing arming the rebels, and both US and British undercover troops are operating in Libya. The RS statement expresses the political bankruptcy of reformism — a touching faith in the imperialist ruling classes as a force for humanitarianism.
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 20 March 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, where Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper has contributed half a dozen fighter-bombers to the imperialist assault force, the International Socialists (IS), 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 19 March demonstration in Toronto called by the IS’s creation, the Toronto Arab Solidarity Campaign, where the IS stood shoulder to shoulder with people carrying huge French and Canadian flags and chanting “Kill Qaddafi!” A Trotskyist League of Canada 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 US, 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 US-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 pretence 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 the Serbs 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 22 March “Joint Statement” by various Communist Parties around the world — including the Greek KKE, the Portuguese CP and the Indian CPI and CPI(M) — 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 defence of neocolonial Libya, pushing instead a pacifistic appeal for “the peoples” to demand an end to the imperialist intervention.
The US 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 pretence 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.
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 through a fight for proletarian revolutions against the decaying capitalist order. This requires building revolutionary workers parties like Lenin’s Bolsheviks — in the US, Europe, North Africa and around the world.