Most leftists throughout the world have condemned the NATO intervention in Libya in support of the anti-Gaddafi rebels. In doing so these “anti-imperialists” have gone out of their way to try to whitewash the Gaddafi regime while at the same time smearing those Libyans who have risen against it. Instead of a considered analysis of the situation with respect to Libya we have an unreflective, knee-jerk reaction whereby anything the imperialists do is automatically condemned as are those who might benefit from such actions.
Given the factual evidence, there can be no doubt that the Gaddafi regime is an extremely oppressive one which crushes any opposition, however mild, using very brutal methods. Desperate attempts, such as those of the Workers Revolutionary Party, to make out that it is some sort of “green socialism” are simply ludicrous. The Gaddafi regime might more correctly be described as a form of fascism.
It is clear that the uprising in Libya has been inspired by the wave of revolts across the Arab world against oppressive regimes as in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. The revolt in Libya has not been stirred up by Al-Quaeda, as claimed by Gaddafi, and neither is it the work of the CIA as claimed by many leftists. It is clearly a spontaneous, popular rebellion, with many different sections of Libyan society participating. Just as in the cases of the other Arab countries it is quite clear that progressive people should support the rebels. So why don’t they?
THE ROLE OF NATO IMPERIALISM
The NATO decision to carry out air attacks on Gaddafi’s forces and in support of the rebels is the reason that the leftists are cool towards or outright condemn the rebels. They assume that because the imperialists are intervening to assist the anti-Gaddafi forces it automatically follows that the rebels are nothing but tools of imperialism. The leftists point out that in the case of Bahrain where there has been violent repression of opponents of the reactionary regime the imperialists have, with a few mild strictures, continued to support the old regime. Somehow this is supposed to show that the rebellion in Libya is a reactionary, pro-imperialist one.
Right from the start of the uprisings in Arab countries the imperialist powers, especially America and Britain, have been maneuvering for position. Politicians such as Barack Obama and David Cameron have been expressing sympathy for the rebels while at the same time urging restraint in their handling by the existing regimes. Shortly after the initial demonstrations in Egypt Cameron set off on a tour of the Middle East accompanied by a party of arms salesmen. The aim of the imperialists is either to help prop up the existing pro-Western regimes or if these have to go then try to replace them with new ruling groups with a pro-Western imperialist orientation. Yes, in so far as they may help opposition groups this is done with the aim of making them client regimes of Western imperialism. The imperialists are not motivated by humanitarian concerns.
In the case of Libya during the last twenty years the imperialist powers, especially Britain, have put a lot of time and effort in neutralizing and rehabilitating the Gaddafi regime into the “international community”. One reason for this approach to handling Gaddafi was to discourage him from giving any further aid to anti-imperialist movements such as Sinn Fein/IRA. Another more important reason was to make sure that Libyan oil and gas reserves would be bought by and distributed by Western oil companies rather than those of other countries such as China. This policy was largely successful and the imperialists displayed little concern for political oppression in Libya. So why have the imperialists turned against Gaddafi?
One reason is that Gaddafi has always been a volatile character who might suddenly enter into new alliances. He could not be relied upon as could some of the other Arab regimes such as in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. More important is the unrestrained violence with which Gaddafi set out to crush the demonstrators. While a certain amount of restraint towards the demonstrators has been shown by the other Arab regimes it was obvious from the start of the uprising that Gaddafi would simply kill his opponents if he could get away with it. If the imperialists were to have stood by while this happened, making only verbal condemnations, then their credibility as friends of progressive change in the Arab world would have been brought into serious question. Their maneuvering to form friendly links with opposition groups in the Arab countries who might form future governments would have been undermined.
This is why NATO reluctantly decided upon a certain amount of military intervention in support of the Libyan rebels. One thing is for sure and that is that without the NATO bombing of Gaddafi’s military forces the opposition would quickly have been crushed. Also the imperialists have been quick to form links with the rebels and accord them a certain amount of political recognition. Clearly the NATO powers are trying to make sure that any post-Gaddafi regime is favourably disposed towards the West.
The imperialists know from their experience with Serbia and Kosovo in 1999 that aerial attacks alone are not likely to be sufficient to destroy the military capacity to fight of a regime with loyal, trained armed forces. When NATO belatedly intervened on behalf of the Kosovar Albanians, who were being driven from their homeland by Serbian armed forces, over two months of bombing in Serbia and Kosovo were not sufficient to destroy the Milosovic regime’s offensive. It was only when NATO reluctantly sent ground forces into Kosovo that the Serbian fascists cut and ran and the Kosovar Albanians were able to return home.
The imperialists are very unlikely to send ground forces into Libya in support of the opposition. Already they are overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan. More important is that if NATO ground forces intervened then the popular opposition in the Arab countries probably would see this as an imperialist occupation the same as in the case of Iraq. Imperialist hopes of forming friendly relations with any future Arab ruling groups would be dashed. Indeed, some of the old regimes might try to regain some credibility by denouncing such a NATO intervention as imperialist. So while NATO may increase its aid to the Libyan opposition, even surreptitiously supplying some arms, it almost certainly will not intervene on the ground. Now, it seems, the imperialist governments and their allies are trying to broker some sort of ceasefire and negotiation between Gaddafi and his opponents.
THE LIBYAN OPPOSITION
What of the Libyan opposition? Clearly they are a disparate and disorganized entity. Forty-two years of repression by the Gaddafi regime means that there are little in the way of coherent, organized opposition groups active within Libya. But the rebels are brave and enthusiastic. They have taken up the armed struggle against the oppressive Gaddafi regime, something that the oppositions in the other Arab countries have not yet done. True, opportunistic defectors from Gaddafi’s regime have gone over to the rebels, probably to try to secure their own futures. No doubt many of these defectors would be happy to form a new regime which is a client of Western imperialism. But this sort of confusion is normal in revolutionary situations. Revolution is a messy business.
At present the principal contradiction with respect to Libya is that between the Gaddafi regime and the Libyan people. So far the Gaddafi regime has been the principal aspect in this contradiction because Gaddafi has been able to repulse the advance of the popular uprising. The contradiction between imperialism and the Libyan people is a secondary one at this stage. This could change if in the future a new regime emerges which is a client state of Western imperialism. The character of any new regime remains to be seen and cannot be predicted with certainty at present.
Some leftists condemn the Libyan opposition because they have willingly accepted military assistance from NATO. These critics see any association with imperialist forces as proof that the rebels are no good. This sort of position is not one based upon a Marxist dialectical analysis of the objective conditions in this situation. Rather it is a subjective, moralistic stance simply based upon a sentiment of general hostility towards imperialism. It overlooks the fact that there are occasions when my enemy’s enemy can be my friend. The aims of NATO and the Libyan opposition are different but both have a common interest in bringing down the Gaddafi regime. It would be absurd for the Libyan rebels to demand that NATO ceases its air attacks on Gaddafi’s forces. Without this outside support the opposition forces would have been thoroughly defeated.
Some critics of the Libyan opposition say that they should have practiced self-reliance by rejecting any sort of help from outside the country, especially from imperialist governments. From this viewpoint it would have to be held that Lenin acted incorrectly in 1917 when he accepted the help of the German High Command to travel from Switzerland to Russia on board a sealed train. The German imperialists wanted to help the Bolshevik leaders return to Russia because if they could ferment revolution then this would undermine the Russian war effort against German forces on the Eastern Front. Lenin and his comrades were fully aware of the Germans’ motives but they calculated that it was essential for them to get back to Russia if the revolution was to be further developed. The success of the October Revolution and the eventual reclamation of territories seized by the German Army vindicated the Bolsheviks accepting “help” from imperialists. When Marxist revolutionaries consider their relations with other forces in any situation the primary consideration should not be the moral and political outlooks of other elements but what course of action with respect to them is likely to serve the interests of the masses. This means that on occasion tactical alliances have to be entered into with some very reactionary elements. Politics is a dirty business.
When in 1999 the Kosovar Albanians rebelled against generations of oppression by the Serbian state and NATO finally, after years of hesitation, moved against the Slobodan Milosovic regime most leftists sided with the Serbian regime and condemned the Albanian people, who were being driven from their homeland, as dupes of imperialism. Subsequent events have shown this view to be false. NATO did not want Kosovo to become an independent state and did what it could to prevent this happening. However despite NATO opposition Kosovo has managed to become an independent state with international recognition. NATO attacked the Milosovic regime not primarily to help the Kosovar Albanians but to make it clear that they were not going to let this puffed up satrap cock a snoot at the imperialist powers. However the objective outcome of the situation was one which served the interests of the Albanian people and indeed those of the Serbian people by getting rid of the Milosovic regime.
The correct position for progressive people to adopt with respect to the present Libyan situation is one of support for the struggle of the rebels against the Gaddafi regime. The error made by most leftists in supporting Milosovic in 1999 should not be repeated. We should be aware that the opposition could be subverted into a tool of Western imperialism but it would be wrong to condemn it in advance of any such development. Anti-imperialism, like charity, should begin at home. Instead of condemning the brave Libyan rebels, leftists in the NATO countries would do well to pay more attention to effectively opposing the war of terror being waged by NATO forces from their own countries against the Afghani people.
DOWN WITH GADDAFI! SUPPORT THE LIBYAN REVOLT!