Workers Hammer No. 216
Imperialists overthrow Qaddafi regime
Social democrats cheer Libyan rebels—flunkeys for NATO
The fall of Tripoli on 21 August marked the overthrow of the bonapartist bourgeois regime of Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi at the hands of the imperialist powers. Spearheaded by Britain and France and backed by the US, in March the world’s most powerful imperialist countries unleashed a massive military onslaught. The assault on Libya carried out by NATO was authorised by a United Nations Security Council resolution that claimed the operation aimed to “protect civilians”. NATO subjected Tripoli and other areas of Libya to unrelenting aerial bombardment while “special forces” carried out covert operations on the ground. According to a NATO statement, between 31 March and 31 August, the imperialist alliance carried out a “total of 21,090 sorties, including 7,920 strike sorties”. These deadly bombing raids did not stop with the fall of Tripoli — NATO planes continue to pound areas held by forces loyal to Qaddafi including Sirte and Bani Walid. Several attempts by the imperialists to assassinate Qaddafi have so far failed but an intensive manhunt for him continues.
The imperialist bombardment posed pointblank the need for defence of Libya. In a statement we issued at the start of the bombing, the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) called on workers around the world to take a stand for military defence of Libya against the imperialist powers, without giving any political support to Qaddafi’s capitalist regime. We noted that the imperialist intervention, which had the blessings of the sheikhs, kings and military bonapartists of the Arab League, would slaughter countless innocent people.
Prior to the imperialist attack, the conflict in Libya took the form of a civil war, overlain by tribal and regional divisions, between Qaddafi’s Tripoli-centred government and the imperialist-backed opposition forces concentrated in the east, a conflict in which Marxists had no side. But with the NATO bombing, the civil war became subordinated to imperialist military intervention. Our statement (published in Workers Hammer no 214, Spring 2011) urged: “Every step taken by the workers of the imperialist countries to halt the depredations and military adventures of their rulers is a step towards their own liberation from capitalist exploitation, impoverishment and oppression. Defend Libya against imperialist attack! US Fifth Fleet and all imperialist military bases and troops out of North Africa and the Near East!”
Prime minister David Cameron greeted the overthrow of Qaddafi by praising the “rebels”, declaring that “free Libyan forces” are now in control in the country and that it is “now up to Libyans to shape their future”. News media endlessly retailed the image of the anti-Qaddafi “rebels” celebrating in the streets of Tripoli and elsewhere. But without NATO, the “rebels” could not have defeated Qaddafi’s army. The real value of the “rebels” to the imperialists was in providing a “humanitarian” and “democratic” cover for naked subjugation of a neocolonial country. Now these flunkeys are setting up a puppet government in Tripoli led by the Transitional National Council, which is opening up Libya’s resources, especially its enormous reserves of oil and gas, to the imperialist vultures.
Defence of Libya against imperialist bombardment should be elementary, not only for proletarian opponents of capitalist rule but for anyone opposed to the strongest capitalist powers imposing their will on weaker countries through overwhelming military might. Not so for the bulk of the “socialist” left internationally, which served to line up workers and youth behind the imperialist murderers by championing the Libyan “rebels”.
The British reformists take their cue from the Labour Party, which stood foursquare behind Cameron on the bombing of Libya. As shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander put it: “Labour has steadfastly supported the military action to protect the Libyan people” (Independent, 4 September). Following suit, the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) maintained its long track record of support to “democratic” British imperialism. In addition to a 23 March statement titled: “Why we should not denounce intervention in Libya”, the AWL published foam-flecked articles denouncing the Socialist Party, British section of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) for their stated opposition to the NATO intervention. But while these social-democratic organisations offered pro-forma opposition to the bombing, mobilisations against it were pathetically small because as cheerleaders for the Libyan “rebels” these leftists lined up with their “own” capitalist ruling classes and welcomed the overthrow of Qaddafi.
The Socialist Party proclaimed the downfall of the regime “a victory for the Libyan people”, but added a disclaimer that it was “also a success for imperialism” (socialistparty.org, 26 August). The SWP favoured imperialist intervention in Libya, but would have preferred an alternative to bombing. In March they advocated: “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). On this the reformists got what they wanted: in March the British imperialist gangsters seized a huge haul of Libyan dinars, the assets of a sovereign country. On 31 August the Royal Air Force flew 280 million dinars (£140 million) to the imperialist puppets in Libya, as a first instalment of the cash they had looted.
On the eve of the overthrow of Qaddafi, the SWP proclaimed: “Good riddance Gaddafi, but don’t trust the West” (Socialist Worker, 20 August) while the article underneath said: “The end of Gaddafi’s regime is a cause for celebration”, while absurdly moaning that the imperialist powers “hijacked the Libyan revolt”. Some hijack: the “rebels” were willing tools of the imperialists. They pleaded for military intervention and fed lurid tales to a pliant Western press of atrocities by Qaddafi’s forces, including mass rapes of women, for which no evidence has been found. During the bombing of Libya, the so-called Libyan “revolutionaries” colluded with NATO, acting as spotters on the ground, calling in air strikes and pinpointing targets.
Bitter fruits of Libyan “revolution”
The anti-Qaddafi forces were whipped into shape by British and other imperialist “special” forces, the type of shadowy operatives who carry out hideous torture and massacres in Iraq and Afghanistan. An article in the Telegraph (28 August) positively crowed that, months before the attack on Tripoli, groups of young males secretly travelled to Benghazi “to learn the art of insurgent warfare from an international force of covert units composed of the British SAS and MI6 and troops from the French, Qatar and United Arab Emirates special forces”. The British imperialists “covertly supplied 1,000 sets of body armour, advanced telecommunications equipment and night vision goggles”; while “hundreds of weapons, tons of ammunition and communications equipment were smuggled into Tripoli and hidden in secret arms dumps”. On their return to Tripoli, the article claimed, the undercover agents convinced an officer in Qaddafi’s army, Mohammed Eshkal, to open the gates of Tripoli to the imperialists.
For Marxists, the question of extending military support in civil wars and other conflicts is determined by whether the victory of one side or the other would further the cause of the working class and the oppressed. We refused any support to the anti-Qaddafi forces, which we described as a cabal of pro-imperialist “democrats”, CIA stooges, monarchists and Islamists. Today there is a mounting body of evidence showing their reactionary character. “This is a bad time to be a black man in Libya,” reported Alex Thompson on Channel 4 News on 28 August, and the bourgeois press is awash with stories of racist atrocities against black African immigrants. Under Qaddafi there were an estimated one million undocumented immigrant workers in Libya, which has a population of six million and a workforce of 1.7 million. Immigrants were subject to racist discrimination and attacks, including anti-immigrant riots in 2000. Today dark-skinned males are being indiscriminately targeted by “rebel” forces as “pro-Qaddafi mercenaries”, which can mean summary execution. Writing in the Independent, Kim Sengupta described the bodies of 30 black men lying decomposing on the ground, noting that many of them “had their hands tied behind their back, either with plastic handcuffs or ropes”. Sengupta continued that “the mounting number of deaths of men from sub-Saharan Africa at the hands of the rebels — lynchings in many cases — raises disturbing questions about the opposition administration, the Transitional National Council” (Independent, 27 August).
Among Libya’s “revolutionaries”, murderous tribal and other divisions are evident. In July their commander-in-chief, General Abdah Fattah Younes, and two of his aides were murdered, by rival “rebel” factions by all accounts. The Obeidi tribe, of which Younes was a member, blames the Islamists for his death. Ali Senussi, a leader of the tribe, told reporters that if the rebel government does not bring those responsible to justice, “the Obeidis are promising this will not go unpunished” (Christian Science Monitor, 25 August). Many rebel commanders are former Libyan army officers; Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, a former commander and veteran of Qaddafi’s war against Chad, is also a CIA stooge.
The current rebel military commander in Tripoli, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, founder of the now defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, has caused a furore in Britain by complaining that MI6 provided intelligence on him to the Qaddafi regime as a result of which he was imprisoned and tortured. During this time the British secret service worked with the CIA and with Qaddafi’s forces in the “extraordinary rendition” of prisoners. At the behest of MI6, Belhaj was kidnapped in 2004 in Bangkok and handed over to the CIA. From there he was flown to Tripoli where he was interrogated, including by British forces, and tortured. Now that Belhaj is in cahoots with the imperialists, he has made assurances that the fact he was imprisoned and tortured in the past “will not stop the new Libya having orderly relations with the United States and Britain” (guardian.co.uk, 4 September).
Workers Power: once more unto the breach
Among the most avid supporters of the “rebels” on the Labourite left, Workers Power admits that “a major part of the rebel leadership was willing to hand over larger parts of the economy to imperialist multinationals”, while sections “with Islamic roots plan to include elements of Sharia into the legal system”. But never mind that: “It would be ridiculous to give up on the Libyan revolution because of the crimes of its leadership or the manoeuvres of the imperialists in Washington, London or Paris”. For Workers Power, the imperialist-backed “rebels” provide an opening for “a struggle for consistent democracy and internationalism” (“Should socialists support the Libyan revolution?” 22 August).
Workers Power’s blatant pro-imperialism seemingly caused some dissent within its membership and led to the expulsion of Chris Newcombe. In a public statement dated 28 August he declared that he is forming a faction in opposition to the Workers Power leadership. Opposing support to the “rebels”, Newcombe asks:
“given that the rebel TNC has totally aligned itself with the imperialist aggressors, what possible basis is there for revolutionaries among the rebel forces to strike even a military front with its leadership and forces loyal to it? Should they not, rather, immediately turn their guns on these pro-imperialist traitors?”
Newcombe adds that anyone reading articles on Libya by Workers Power’s League for a Fifth International (L5I) may “ask themselves whether the League has in fact reversed the polarity of its programme, rejecting the AIUF [anti-imperialist united front] in favor of a pro-imperialist united front” (WP-L5I Left Opposition internet posting, 28 August).
Workers Power has a record of marching in lockstep with imperialism. In 1995, under the guise of providing humanitarian aid for workers in Bosnia, Workers Power refused to defend the Bosnian Serbs against imperialist bombing. Four years later, during the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia, led by then Labour prime minister Tony Blair and Democratic US president Bill Clinton, this arch Labourite organisation joined in the imperialists’ war cry over “poor little Kosovo”, supporting the Kosovo Liberation Army which was a stalking horse for the imperialist attack on Serbia. Despite a veneer of opposition to the bombing, Workers Power marched alongside the Alliance for Workers Liberty in a 10 April 1999 rally in London dominated by NATO and Albanian flags and placards screaming, “NATO Good Luck” and “NATO Now or Never”.
Capitalist counterrevolution in the former Soviet Union, an enormous defeat for the working masses of the entire world, emboldened the imperialists to aggressively assert their might over weaker countries through an increasing number of bombings, wars and occupations, exemplified by the slaughter of Afghans and Iraqis in which US and British imperialism have taken a leading role. 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”.
In Third World countries, the pseudo-Trotskyists invoke the “anti-imperialist united front” as a cover for supporting bourgeois regimes. This includes support to the reactionary “Islamic Revolution” of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran in 1979. In the Arab world, both Stalinists and pseudo-Trotskyists hailed the so-called “Arab revolution” represented in the 1950s by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt and in the 1970s by Qaddafi in Libya. Support to Arab nationalism has led to the bloody defeat of workers movements throughout the Near East, not least in Egypt, where Nasser rewarded the Communists for their support by imprisoning, torturing and killing them.
The bourgeois nationalist regimes of Nasser and Qaddafi inevitably failed to address the felt needs of the masses. To the “anti-imperialist united front”, we counterpose the Trotskyist programme of permanent revolution, which holds that in the neocolonial countries, the proletariat must lead all the oppressed masses in a struggle for socialist revolution against their “own” bourgeoisie, as part of an internationalist strategy for proletarian revolution in the imperialist countries.
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. During the 1986 US bombing of Tripoli under US president Ronald Reagan our comrades of the Spartacist League/US sent a team to Tripoli to express our solidarity with the neocolonial victims of imperialism. The same year we wrote:
“For the ‘crime’ of defying American imperialism and for being a military client of the Soviet Union, Libya’s Qaddafi was chosen by Reagan early on to take the rap for all the world’s terrorist incidents. For over five years the U.S. has conducted a vendetta against this small desert country with a population of under 4 million.”
— Workers Vanguard, no 411, 12 September 1986
In fact, when Qaddafi first came to power in the 1970s, he was fanatically anti-Communist and anti-Soviet. But with US imperialism targeting Libya — and him personally for destruction — he became increasingly reliant on Soviet arms to defend his country. The destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state in 1991-92 removed what had been the main impediment to imperialist depredations around the world. Following the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, Qaddafi renounced Libya’s nuclear weapons programme and welcomed imperialist inspectors to verify this. In 2004, then Labour prime minister Tony Blair brokered a rapprochement with Qaddafi and over the last decade his regime closely collaborated with Washington and London in the “war on terror”, while policing the Mediterranean to help the imperialists to keep African immigrants out of Europe.
Myth of the “Arab revolution”
On Qaddafi’s downfall, the SWP hoped that his removal might yet invigorate the “Arab revolution” and warned: “Don’t let west hijack Arab Spring” (Socialist Worker, 27 August). An “Arab revolution” by definition cannot be a class revolution of the workers in the Arab countries against their bourgeois rulers. It flies in the face of the need for the political independence of the proletariat from all bourgeois forces and is an obstacle to the working class developing basic class consciousness.
A fundamental difference between the events in Libya and the popular upsurges in Tunisia and Egypt is that in the latter two countries there is a powerful, concentrated working class. The proletariat is the only force that has the potential social power and class interest to lead all of the impoverished and oppressed in socialist revolution to overthrow all the murderous regimes of the region. But to achieve this task, the working class must emerge as a revolutionary force under its own class banner. The task of genuine Marxists is to combat illusions in an “Arab revolution” (Mark II) and all manifestations of nationalism, which in Egypt leads to the masses placing their trust in the army. It is also vital to dispel illusions in “democratic” imperialism, which will be used by the capitalist rulers to derail struggles against dictatorship. The NATO bombing of Libya, as well as the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, is a reminder that “democracy” is only a mask to conceal the true nature of imperialism which has an inherent drive to subjugate the neocolonial countries.
What’s needed are revolutionary workers parties to lead the proletariat in a struggle for socialist revolution against the military bonapartists, the religious fundamentalists and all bourgeois political forces, opening the road to the emancipation of women and the liberation of all the oppressed and exploited.
As our comrades in the Spartacist League/US wrote (Workers Vanguard no 976, 18 March):
“The Libyan proletariat has clearly been devastated in the current conflict, as migrant workers — a major component of the working class in that country — have fled the chaos, armed violence and racist attacks en masse. 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.”
The article “Social democrats cheer Libyan ‘rebels’ — flunkeys for NATO” (Workers Hammer no 216, Autumn 2011) wrongly stated that Libyan strongman Muammar el-Qaddafi came to power in the 1970s. Qaddafi actually came to power in 1969. The article also described a team that visited Tripoli in 1986 to express solidarity with the victims of the US bombing as being sent by the Spartacist League/US. In fact, this was a delegation from the international Spartacist tendency, forerunner of the International Communist League. (From WH No. 217, Winter 2011-2012.)