Workers Vanguard No. 976
18 March 2011
Imperialists Hands Off Libya!
MARCH 15—The opposition in Libya to the decades-long rule of bourgeois strongman Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi appears to have taken the form, for now, of a low-intensity civil war, heavily overlaid by tribal and regional divisions, between the Tripoli-centered government and imperialist-backed opposition forces concentrated in the country’s eastern areas. Leadership of the anti-Qaddafi opposition includes Islamists, tribal leaders, former generals of Qaddafi’s army and former officials of his blood-soaked regime. Much of Libya’s diplomatic corps has defected to the opposition. Marxists presently have no side in this conflict, which is essentially a struggle to decide who will control the country’s immense oil and gas wealth while lording it over the exploited and oppressed masses.
The world proletariat does have a side, however, in opposing any intervention into Libya by the imperialists, who are backing the anti-Qaddafi forces. In the U.S., those beating the drums for imposing a “no-fly zone” over Libya span the gamut from Republican John McCain to Democrats Bill Clinton and John Kerry. If implemented, that would mean a direct military assault against Libya’s air force and air defenses. Washington has positioned a pair of amphibious assault vessels off the Libyan coast, reportedly to be joined by the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, while the United Nations Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Libya and tens of billions in Libyan assets held in foreign banks have been frozen. As Marxist opponents of the capitalist-imperialist order, we oppose all imperialist sanctions against the Qaddafi regime. In the event of imperialist attack against neocolonial Libya, the proletariat internationally must stand for the military defense of that country while giving no political support to Qaddafi’s capitalist regime.
Particularly given the turmoil in North Africa and the Near East, the imperialists are somewhat between a rock and a hard place when dealing with Libya under Qaddafi, whose forces have been turning back the rebels. While insisting that “all options are on the table,” the Obama administration has shied away from being drawn into a possible quagmire in Libya when U.S. imperialism’s military forces are already stretched thin by their murderous occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy has officially declared the opposition National Council, based in the eastern city of Benghazi, to be Libya’s “legitimate” government. The Arab League joined the Near East’s erstwhile colonial masters, Great Britain and France, in calling for imposing a “no-fly zone” over Libya. Britain’s cause was not exactly helped by Tory prime minister David Cameron’s Monty Python moment, when a Special Air Service mission to contact the Libyan opposition ended in debacle, with the rebels detaining the delegation and promptly dispatching it from the country. At a meeting of the G8 in Paris today, German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle put cold water on talk of a “no-fly zone,” declaring that Germany did not want to “get sucked into a war in north Africa” (London Guardian, 15 March).
Just as the New York Times retailed the Bush administrations’ lies of Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction” in the lead-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion, the bourgeois media quickly took on the role of press agents for the anti-Qaddafi opposition, making “facts” fit the imperialists’ agenda. Gruesome stories put out by the opposition about Qaddafi’s fighter jets deliberately bombing civilians were widely reported as fact. Virtually unreported was the March 2 admission by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that “we’ve seen no confirmation whatsoever” of those accounts. Meanwhile, the media has delicately refrained from going into the sordid pasts of the former Qaddafi loyalists in the leadership of the opposition forces in Benghazi. That rogue’s gallery includes Qaddafi’s former “justice” minister, as well as his former interior minister and head of the special forces. Of four former generals who have gone over to the opposition, two had been at Qaddafi’s side since he took power 42 years ago!
There is no doubt that Qaddafi is a butcher of his “own” citizens. This is also the case with the many kings, sheiks and colonels who have benefited from U.S. military aid. After America’s puppet regime in Iraq killed at least 29 people demonstrating for jobs and services on February 25, a U.S. military spokesman lauded the Iraqi forces’ “response” to the protest as “professional and restrained.” The military intervention by U.S.-backed Saudi Arabia in support of the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain demonstrates that, in the eyes of the U.S. imperialists, Bahrain’s Shi’ite majority is less than human, with no rights they are bound to respect. In recent years, the Libyan government has actively collaborated in the imperialists’ “war on terror” and introduced neoliberal privatization schemes. The imperialists are now shedding crocodile tears about the death toll in Libya only because they have not always enjoyed such civil relations with Qaddafi’s regime.
Not least of the crimes of the Qaddafi regime has been its racist treatment of black African migrant workers, who are subjected to arbitrary arrest and deportation—and at times outright pogromist attacks—while being used as scapegoats for unemployment and other ills. Currently, workers from sub-Saharan Africa are being set upon by both pro- and anti-Qaddafi forces, the latter of which often accuse them of being mercenaries for the regime. Over 100 black African migrants are feared dead and thousands are in hiding or seeking to flee the country.
As revolutionary Marxists, we have always staunchly opposed Qaddafi’s brutal rule while standing for military defense of Libya against imperialist attack. In March 1986, the international Spartacist tendency (precursor to the International Communist League) sent a journalistic team to Tripoli as U.S. warships and planes were attacking Libyan forces in and around the Gulf of Sidra. Our purpose, as we wrote in a telegram to the Libyan government, was to express our support for the “just cause of Libyan independence and territorial integrity.” Within days of our delegation’s visit, President Ronald Reagan launched bombing raids on Tripoli and Benghazi, killing scores of civilians. One of the victims was Qaddafi’s infant daughter, who was killed when his compound was targeted. For the Cold Warriors of the Reagan administration, a primary “crime” of the Qaddafi regime was that it was a military client of the Soviet Union.
Our team reported from Tripoli: “The memory of bloody imperialist rampage and spoliation is burned into the Libyan masses” (see “Under Reagan’s Guns in Libya: Report from Tripoli,” WV No. 401, 11 April 1986). Our reporters made the point that the Turko-Italian war of 1911, in which thousands of Arabs were butchered, was a barbaric conflict over the possession of what would become Libya. For the first time in a war, airplanes were used against a population whose most advanced form of military transport was camels. It was, as Lenin called it, “a perfected, civilised bloodbath, the massacre of Arabs with the help of the ‘latest’ weapons” (“The End of the Italo-Turkish War,” 28 September 1912). That conflict set off a 20-year resistance struggle, centered in the east, against the Italian imperialists. Italian forces dropped poison gas bombs on civilians and imprisoned more than 100,000 in concentration camps, where up to 70,000 people—nearly half the population of Cyrenaica
—died of disease and starvation.
During World War II, both Axis and Allied troops ravaged the country and its people. Following the war, the imperialists created an independent Libya by joining together three distinct regions: Cyrenaica in the east, Tripolitania in the west and Fezzan in the south. Italian rule was replaced with a British-imposed monarchy. It is the flag of that pre-Qaddafi regime that is prominently displayed today by opposition forces.
Those imperialist-backed forces have the willing and avid support of the reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO), which at the outset of the conflict embraced the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, an outfit founded in the early 1980s with start-up capital supplied by the CIA and the Saudi royal family. Presenting Qaddafi as someone with whom the imperialists feel “they can do business,” the ISO ludicrously lauded the National Front as “less likely to be so pliable” (Socialist Worker, 24 February). Day after day, representatives of opposition forces parleyed with U.S. and European officials and issued pleas for the imperialists to impose a “no-fly zone,” launch air strikes, arm the rebels or otherwise intervene militarily in Libya. Utterly exposed, the ISO tried to backtrack, declaring in Socialist Worker (9 March): “The CIA-backed National Front for the Salvation of Libya is an unsurprising advocate of U.S. action.”
Equally unsurprising is the fact that the ISO lined up with the imperialists against Qaddafi’s bourgeois regime. From supporting the CIA-backed, woman-hating, anti-Soviet mujahedin forces in Afghanistan and cheering the destruction of the USSR to lending its voice to the imperialist chorus against the deformed workers states of China and North Korea, the ISO, born of social-democratic anti-Communism, has always been squarely in the camp of “democratic” imperialism.
Writing in Socialist Worker (28 February), Todd Chretien derides the Workers World Party (WWP) and Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) for refusing “to take a stand with the Libyan people against a dictator.” While opposing imperialist intervention in Libya, the WWP and PSL are mainly driven by their longstanding political support for any and all forces in Third World countries that make a pretense of being “anti-imperialist.” This has included everyone from bourgeois-nationalist rulers like Qaddafi and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez—who along with Cuba’s Fidel Castro is supporting Qaddafi in the current conflict—to reactionary Islamists like Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and Hamas in Gaza.
Workers World (12 March) goes so far as to praise “Libya’s record on human rights,” citing a section of a January 4 UN report that summarized the testimony of the Libyan delegation! The PSL, for its part, is disappointed in how yesterday’s “anti-imperialist” Qaddafi has turned out. Liberation (24 February) refuses to characterize his bonapartist regime as capitalist, complaining only that the government “included bourgeois forces” that were strengthened “over time.”
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. Healy’s embrace of Qaddafi coincided with the reappearance of a Healyite daily paper, News Line, in England in May 1976, two months after his previous daily, Workers Press, had folded. 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): “It has been perfectly clear for some time that the Healy/Banda organization has been a captive creature of despotic ‘Third World’ capitalist regimes which have the blood of the workers and peasants on their hands.” This was a logical application of the WRP’s adulation for “anti-imperialist” Arab rulers combined with its vicious anti-Sovietism. The Spartacist article noted: “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.”
For our part, we struggle for the political independence of the proletariat from all bourgeois forces. 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 that has emerged as an active force. However, the workers organizations are subordinated to one or another bourgeois political force. Marxists must fight for the proletariat, the only class with the social power to overthrow the bourgeoisie, to come to the fore to lead all the oppressed in a revolutionary assault on the capitalist system.
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.