Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 25, 2011

Barry Sheppard: Libya, imperialism, and ALBA

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 7:45 pm

(Barry Sheppard was a leader of the Socialist Workers Party from the early 1960s until 1998.)

Libya, imperialism, and ALBA

By Barry Sheppard

I am posting this on different lists which have a small amount of overlap. Views on the U.S. military attack on Libya on both lists express a similar range. While I will differ with some of those views, I do not want to get into personal polemics, and will not mention names.

The struggle in Libya cannot be analyzed except in the context of world and especially U.S. imperialism, as I am sure all will agree. But its also cannot be analyzed in terms of Libya itself in conjunction with the role of imperialism there.

What is the context in which Libya must be placed? Or to put the question another way, could the civil war in Libya and the U.S. military assault have happened four months ago? Of course not. Neither were even remote possibilities in anyone’s mind four months ago.

The context is the great Arab uprising which has taken the world and all of us by surprise. The fundamental thrust of this uprising of millions has unfolded from country to country against military dictators and monarchies. The immediate demands everywhere revolve around democracy and an end to arbitrary police rule with its imprisonment, torture and murder. Every one of the Arab countries whose rulers the rebellion is directed against were backed by imperialism, with the partial exception of Syria. In the case of Syria, however, the regime’s relations with imperialism have been cozy enough that it accepted prisoners under “special rendition,” and dutifully tortured them. So even Syria is part of the special relations these countries have with imperialism.

Libya under Gaddafy beginning in the 1990s became part and parcel of this system of imperialist domination. Whatever his anti-imperialism amounted to in his past is just that – the past. He made his deals with European and U.S. imperialism at first through oil and gas, and then sealed the arrangement in 2004 with political cement.

The unfolding of the Arab revolution is thus objectively and increasingly subjectively anti-imperialist. Washington’s system of domination in North Africa and the Mideast has been shaken. Israel’s role in this system has likewise been weakened. The Israeli ruling class feels itself becoming isolated by the rebellion, and its spokespeople are squealing in alarm. Israel is reacting by renewing attacks on Gaza and further settlements in the West Bank, driving to consolidate its rule from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.

Revolutionary socialists must give unconditional support to the Arab uprising. Its immediate goals in all these countries can be summed up as (bourgeois) democracy, and are one hundred percent progressive. Its domestic enemies are for the most part agents of imperialism, and where not directly so, are complicit with it. We support them for this reason also.

By “unconditional” support I mean support not conditioned by our evaluation of the leaders of the rebellions or whether or not we have political agreement with them. That goes for Libya, too. I disagree with comrades who seem to condition their support of the Libyan rebels on more knowledge of what their program is. We must be for the victory of the rebellion in Libya, period.

In all of these rebellions, those fighting to overthrow the dictatorial regimes include different classes and sections of classes. The self-immolation of a Tunisian young man which was the spark for the conflagration reflected the situation of a whole layer of the uprisings – educated young people unable to find employment in the conditions of imperialist exploitation and crony capitalism in the context of the most severe economic crisis of capitalism since the Second World War. This layer is part of the working class. Impoverished peasants driven off their land by imperialist penetration and capitalist development, forced into the cities to look for casual work, are another layer. Peasants remaining on the land suffering increasing hardship are another.

Workers who have been denied their rights to organize to fight for better wages and conditions are another. Artists and intellectuals chaffing under ideological control have joined. Other sectors have come over to the rebellion, including parts of the bourgeoisie who resent crony capitalism and crass corruption that restricts their own development. Parts of the state apparatuses and militaries of the old regimes are jumping ship.

Economic exploitation and massive poverty are clearly motivating forces behind the rebellions. These affect the great majority of the rebellious masses. Their demands will increasingly come to the fore, to the extent that bourgeois democracy is won on the ground. We can expect that to the extent that the rebellions are successful, there will be a growing differentiation between the classes and sections of the classes, which will be expressed in different political formations. Probably we will see Islamist parties. Petty bourgeois revolutionary parties. Parties reflecting the interests of the military and the old regime. Bourgeois democratic parties. And, we can hope, workers’ parties. The interests of the different classes will probably find incomplete and muddled expressions at first.

The degree of capitalist development is different in each of these countries, and has been distorted by imperialism. Thus the objective strengths of the different classes are different from country to country. In Egypt the employed working class has been fighting for some time now, organizing under the dictatorship. It seems to have played a more decisive role there than elsewhere. We should learn more about the class structure in each country. Egypt may come to the fore as the leader because of the weight of its workers.

As this political differentiation develops, we will be able to see which parties and programs we support or partially support in the class struggle. We will also see which political forces we oppose. But right now to demand programmatic clarity of the rebellions to determine our degree of support to them is premature (the conditions have not yet matured) and is in fact reactionary as it plays into the hands of the dictatorships and monarchies.

The battle has been joined between the millions of the Arab masses versus the current regimes. The outcome of this battle, whether victorious everywhere, in most of these countries, in some, or defeated outright will determine whether or not, or to what extent, the struggle will enter a higher phase. The stakes are high, and we should throw our efforts into winning this battle which has already been joined in bloody conflict as our immediate task. Bourgeois democracy has not yet been consolidated anywhere, and that is the first objective.

Part of this immediate task is to oppose imperialism, which is seeking to re-impose as much control as it can in the face of the uprising. Its methods of doing so include the spectrum of supporting repression of the masses on over to trying to coopt them. More exactly, imperialism’s tactics are a combination of both and are being used simultaneously.

In this regard it is useful to go back a few months to the beginning of the uprising. When it began in Tunisia, European and U.S. imperialisms were alarmed, and sought to preserve the President and his regime. France, with close ties to the regime, paid a big political price as the uprising grew.

When it spread to Egypt, a key country for the U.S., the reaction was steadfast support of Mubarak. Secretary of State Clinton lauded the “stability” of his regime. As the rebellion grew, Mubarak attempted extreme violence to quell it, attacking with his political police, a huge apparatus. Hundreds were killed. Washington watched and waited, hoping this would succeed. When it did not, Obama sent his personal envoy to meet with Mubarak, who returned and said on all the TV networks that the U.S. must back Mubarak at all costs. Obama held steadfast, rejecting calls for Mubarak’s ouster. Encouraged, Mubarak went on TV to state he would stay in power, although he wouldn’t run again in the rigged elections. The masses responded with deep anger, and the next day threatened wider attacks on symbols of the regime. Defense Secretary Gates had been in close touch throughout with the regime’s top generals, who that day forced Mubarak out and set up themselves as an interim government with the full backing of the U.S.

Why didn’t the Egyptian generals resort to using the army to crush the masses? Of course, they would have paid a big political price to do so, as would have Washington. But I suspect that an important reason was that the Egyptian army is a conscript army, and the U.S. and Egyptian generals feared it would split if it were used to attack the people. We had already seen many reports of fraternization between the conscript soldiers and the demonstrators. The young soldiers had many ties to the population from which they came, and had always thought they would go back to civilian life among the people.

Throughout the Egyptian events the White House emphasized, even as it began to give lip service to democracy, that the “transition” must be “orderly” and be guided from the top. This remains Washington’s position regarding Egypt today. Indeed, it is Washington’s position everywhere the rebellion is moving forward.

In Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and the Emirates the U.S. continues to give full backing to the monarchies, including their use of repression. Of course it backs repression by its puppet regime in Iraq against mass demonstrations there, which are in fact against the U.S. occupation.

The situation in Libya is different than Egypt. Gaddafy has repressive forces loyal to him outside the army, which he has deliberately kept weak over his years of rule. He was able to muster loyal forces to attack the revolution, which had made important initial gains. He was able to crush the demonstrations first in Tripoli, and then to move against cities to the east which had fallen to the rebels. Washington and Europe stood by and watched as Gaddafy was able to use his overwhelming superiority in fire-power to close in on the seat of the uprising, Benghazi. It was only then that the U.S. and the European powers decided to attack.

All the imperialist powers of the West have been scrambling to try to retain as much control of the region as they can, and have internal debates about what tactics to use. This can explain part of the delay in opening the war against Libya. But we should also note the objective result of Gaddafy’s counter-revolutionary offensive — the infliction of great damage on the uprising, which is in imperialism’s interests.

Gaddafy’s attack on the rebellion emboldened others to follow suit. The regimes in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain began massive crackdowns, with tacit support from the U.S. In Bahrain Defense Secretary Gates met with the king’s men and a few days later forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates invaded to back up a vicious attack on the people, and the White House pointedly refused to condemn either the invasion or the crackdown.

By choosing the moment before Benghazi’s fall to attack, imperialism was able to cloak its military assault with a “humanitarian” veneer. It was compelled to go beyond the “no-fly zone” rhetoric and destroy Gaddafy’s considerable armor and artillery surrounding Benghazi. If it had not done so, it would have lost all political cover for its assault. This was met with considerable relief by the rebels, of course, who had faced outright defeat. We can hope they will be able to utilize this breathing space to obtain arms. They have the right to do so from whatever source, including from the imperialists, to strengthen their hand against the regime but also in the coming struggle in which imperialism will try to impose its will as much as it can on Libya as part of its overall strategy in the region.

Imperialist war against Libya has begun. War sets in motion forces that no side foresees. Right now the U.S. commanders are adamant that they are not backing a renewed offensive by the rebels, and nor will they provide air cover for such an offensive. But this may change if the vagaries of war go in that direction, even if that appears unlikely at present. Even then, imperialism will utilize such support to force its will on the rebellion as much as it can.

As the imperialist bombardment of Gaddafy’s ground forces around Benghazi demonstrated, “no-fly” will not be sufficient to defeat the dictator militarily. His forces continue to fight on in other cities without his air force. Even aerial bombing and massive bombardment might not be sufficient. Military experience demonstrates that boots on the ground will probably be necessary. (Let’s dispense with the clap-trap about “defending civilians.” If massive bombing and bombardment of cities under Gaddafy’s control commences, there will be massive civilian casualties – of course these will be swept under the rug as “collateral damage.”)

It is unrealistic to assume that the present situation will continue for long. That is, that the Libyan air force will be kept grounded and the regime will continue to win back territory with the exception of Benghazi. The view of some that the imperialist attack can be so contained, and that at least Benghazi has been spared, is naïve, however well intentioned.

Once war has been launched, imperialism is forced to see it through, whatever the costs, or face greater setbacks, as we saw in Vietnam.

We could speculate on possible outcomes of the war. The country could be divided. The imperialists may conquer the whole country. Gaddafy could be killed or driven out by his own people and then imperialism will force a “negotiated” settlement toward an “orderly transition” whereby the imperialists retain as much influence as they can. This later possibility seems to be the option Clinton likes today, but that could change before I send this out.

Whatever the outcome, imperialist aims are to contain the Arab rebellion including in Libya within imperialist control as far as this is possible. We must be opposed to the imperialist war without any qualifications. It is aimed at weakening the Arab revolt.

What about the position taken by Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) countries? It should be noted that in general, except in the case of Libya, they have taken the side of the Arab masses. But they have done so in a lukewarm, not very enthusiastic, way. They should have been in the forefront of world opinion in vocal support of the uprising against the imperialist puppet and imperialist-complicit regimes. As a pole of anti-imperialism in Latin America it was in their interests to do so. This failure of emphasis is serious and makes it more difficult for international anti-imperialist forces to defend them.

Concerning Libya, the ALBA countries have fared worse. They have warned against the danger of the imperialist war against Libya, and to this extent we are on the same side. But on the question of the Libyan rebellion and Gaddafy we are not on the same side. Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua has come out openly in defense of Gaddafy’s regime. This counter-revolutionary stance undercuts his presidency in Nicaragua and opens him and Nicaragua to imperialist charges (false to be sure) that his regime is like Gaddafy’s.

Fidel Castro issued a statement shortly before the imperialist war started that contained a thoughtful review of Gaddafy’s career from his leading the overthrow of the imperialist-imposed king (like Nassar did in Egypt), initial steps taken to improve the lot of the Libyan people, his anti-communism, on up to his making peace with imperialism. One could add to this review, but Castro’s error concerns his position on the present rebellion. Castro deplored the killing of innocents and the violence, but left the impression that “both sides” were to blame in blatant contradiction to the facts. He called for “peace” and “negotiations” between the revolution and Gaddafy’s regime. The rebels, if defeated, may be forced into such negotiations as part of their surrender, but that is a different story, one imperialism may adopt. Hugo Chavez had basically the same line. This position boils down to telling the rebels to give up, and maintain the current regime with some reforms. By doing so, Castro and Chavez have placed themselves against the sentiments of the Arab masses, undercut any positive role they might have played in helping push forward the interests of the workers and exploited as the class struggle deepens in the Arab countries, and made it easier for imperialism to attack them and the process of the Bolivarian revolution. Already, CNN has posted pictures of Chavez hugging Gaddafy.

I leave aside Bolivia, Ecuador and the Caribbean countries in ALBA, because I haven’t seen what their positions are.

In my opinion, the error of Ortega and to a lesser extent Castro and Chavez lies in their not being able to make a distinction between state to state relations and political support. Libya has made generous trade and other economic relations with the ALBA countries. The ALBA countries were correct to make such agreements, which strengthened them against imperialist domination. But translating these positive economic relations into political support or quasi-political support against a people’s revolution is wrong and self-defeating.

It is obvious that I completely disagree with those on these lists who support Ortega, Castro or Chavez on this question. I also disagree with those who have given partial credence to these erroneous positions, and equivocate to one degree or another on support to the Libyan rebellion as a result.

One point that Chavez raises is that the U.S. or European imperialists want to “steal” Libya’s oil. This confusion is reflected in statements by others who oppose the imperialist invasion while supporting the rebellion. Steal the oil from whom? British Petroleum, Exxon-Mobile, the Italian oil and gas cartel and similar outfits who Gaddafy has made solid agreements with? Who have been pumping Libyan oil and gas for over a decade? Gaddafy even has a gas pipeline going directly under the Mediterranean to Italy. To be sure, they have been giving the Gaddafy family and other crony capitalists tens of billions as their cut, but they have been quite happy with the arrangement. They are not invading to de-nationalize Libyan oil by overthrowing Gaddafy. He has proven to them that he is willing to accept them as partners in any new oil or gas fields.   There is a danger to imperialist interests if the rebellion wins. The triumphant masses may want to do what Venezuela did, renegotiate the terms with the imperialists and use the oil and gas proceeds to better themselves, something capitalists everywhere hate as they do all social expenditures not in their direct interests.

These errors of the ALBA countries must not let us lower our guard in defending them against imperialism.

In defense of the Great Arab Uprising!

No to all forms of imperialist intervention!

Fight the imperialist war!


  1. Granted, Qaddafi seemed to have only paid lip service to struggles back in the 80s too:

    Comment by Jenny — March 25, 2011 @ 11:31 pm

  2. Really insightful analysis. Color me surprised.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — March 26, 2011 @ 5:32 am

  3. Very heartening to read! My own area of Urban and regional research could do with a much more class-gender-based analysis that recognizes international power relationships. Its been marginalized by vague references to “globalization”.

    Comment by jimsresearchnotes — March 26, 2011 @ 7:20 am

  4. Maybe “the Great Arab Uprising” isn’t the most useful or exact cri de guerre. As the piece points out, motivations behind the various protests are very diverse. If you get on the phone to Dara in Syria this morning, you won’t find many people asking for ‘regime change’. They simply don’t want to be shot dead when they demonstrate for more media freedom and suchlike. Most will tell you they want (continued) stability. In other words, they are as cozy with the status quo (arrangements with Israel) as Assad Junior. As far as Chavez’ reputation being tarnished by CNN’s photos of him in Gadaffi’s arms, no worry. The rais has hugged most of the world’s big names. Smiling Tony Blair got a warrior’s kiss,and Italy is afloat with photos of him in bed with lovable Berlusconi.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — March 26, 2011 @ 10:13 am

  5. ALBA aligned countries1 have actually won power, rather than just writing or bloviating. You’ve got some Leftist academics going around calling Chavez a clown when Venezuela might be the only developing country in the world to meet the UN Millenium Development poverty reduction goals. Real action speaks much louder, and therefore those leaders should be listened to a little more while not be followed mindlessly; but, anyone can sit on their armchair and pontificate without consequence.

    Comment by purple — March 26, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

  6. Here’s another perspective well worth considering:


    Comment by meltr — March 26, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

  7. This looks like a dress rehearsal for a possible invasion of Iran. The US and its so-called allies are testing the waters. How would the world react to another war??

    Comment by Mazdak — March 26, 2011 @ 11:29 pm

  8. It would now be problematic, to say the least. But I noticed that there was a lot of talk about Iran getting a nuclear capability able to threaten Israel within a year. At the same time, negotiations with Hamas were started, due to finish around the same time. I think the scenario was that Obama would increasingly pressure Iran to terminate its nuclear program and then when the Hamas negotiations broke down and Iran refused to back down this would give Israel the green light to attack and destroy the Iranian capabilities.

    This plan was undermined by (1) the rise of the US Tea Party, forcing Obama to cut back on welfare while keeping the tax subsidies for the super-rich, (2) the failure of the Afghan strategy (one last heave) leading to only increased US commitment there (3) the attack on Gaza, its blockade, the Ship-to-Gaza commando raid with deaths and on international waters (which made Turkey furious) and, of course, (4) now the Libyan adventure and the entire Middle East in turmoil. (5) Throw in the dollar being in free-fall, US debt climbing beyond control and I can’t see a war with Iran being started now, even if this had been the original plan.

    Comment by jimsresearchnotes — March 27, 2011 @ 7:10 am

  9. If non-military nuclear facilities reach a certain point in Iran then talk about an attack on Iran may become moot. Has anyone heard of Japan? The reactor there was non-military too, but the disaster caused by the quake has threatened to be a major health hazard. If a non-military reactor in Iran were blown apart by US bombs the resulting radioactive clouds would be as much of a danger to Israel as any military destruction. That’s a big reason why bombing of Iran (as opposed to sanctions) seems less and less likely.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — March 27, 2011 @ 12:39 pm

  10. It’s less likely too because Israel’s borders are not what they were a few months ago. If the impact of the various uprisings in Arab states shouldn’t be exaggerated, it’s nevertheless important. With no more Mubarak and a weakened Assad to police the borders, who is going to keep that ‘Arab street’ we keep hearing about from putting an end to what the West calls ‘stability’? The Shia are also at long last showing their demographic muscle in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen, as they already had done in Lebanon Their reaction to an attack on Shiite Iran would be explosive. It’s true that the Israeli government is showing more and more signs of desperation. But attacking Iran could be suicidal. Better for Netanyahu to wait while the West tries to get on top of the various uprisings. He should be happy with this morning’s NYTimes headline: “Airstrikes Clear Way for Libyan Rebels’ First Major Advance.” In other words,
    it’s now even admitted by the august organ that Western forces have taken charge of this particular ‘rebellion’

    Comment by Peter Byrne — March 27, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

  11. Ugh I just read Juan Cole’s simpering statement of support for NATO, the UN and US Imperialism.


    What a vile series of rationalizations.

    Comment by ish — March 27, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

  12. Yes, Cole who is often right is terribly wrong here. He blurs the issue with irrelevancies that belong in an undergraduate dorm talkfest: progressives, the left, pacifism, and, my God, the Prague Spring! He speaks of the “massacre” that he foresaw as if it actually happened, a genuine historical event. He puts forth the “Transitional Government Council in Benghazi” as a solid alternative government in waiting, whereas we know it’s only a work in progress of the Western powers. All the word-spinning in his piece simply shows he’s afraid to answer the only question that matters: Yes or no, does he want a proxy US-EU regime installed in Libya?

    Comment by Peter Byrne — March 27, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

  13. “In defense of the Great Arab Uprising!

    No to all forms of imperialist intervention!”

    “We must be opposed to the imperialist war without any qualifications. It is aimed at weakening the Arab revolt.”

    The above is Shepard’s condensed argument. Forgive me, but I’m underwhelmed. He makes two blanket pronouncements that nobody on the left will disgree with then reconciles a tricky issue with a tidy calculation before diverting course (for some reason) to ALBA.

    The Western intervention may blunt the Arab Uprisings but Shepard needs to expand on that, if he’s going to persuade me. I’m certainly not seeing any evidence that this true. Since the NFZ, the Libyan rebels have regrouped, the conflict in Yemen and Bahrain has intensified and has now spread to Syria and Jordan.

    Frankly, the whole piece feels like an academic sidestep.


    Comment by Rojo — March 27, 2011 @ 6:29 pm

  14. tl;dr. Actually, I stopped reading after this bullshit:

    “Libya under Gaddafy beginning in the 1990s became part and parcel of this system of imperialist domination. Whatever his anti-imperialism amounted to in his past is just that – the past. He made his deals with European and U.S. imperialism at first through oil and gas, and then sealed the arrangement in 2004 with political cement.”

    I could dash off a few paragraphs about why this does not make sense, but much more than any words I could put together, the fact that the US is bombing Libya with Obama saying Qadaffi must be overthrown, whereas no such thing happened in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia etc., shows that Capital disagrees with Sheppard’s position that Qadaffi is not a threat and is part-and-parcel part of the system of imperialism.

    Comment by Jimmy Higgins — March 27, 2011 @ 7:17 pm

  15. “the fact that the US is bombing Libya with Obama saying Qadaffi must be overthrown, whereas no such thing happened in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia etc., shows that Capital disagrees with Sheppard’s position that Qadaffi is not a threat and is part-and-parcel part of the system of imperialism.”

    Maybe but…there are degrees of enmeshment in the imperialist system. Certainly Quaddafi hasn’t been enmeshed like the Gulf States. But that doesn’t mean he’s part of some largely imaginary “other side”.

    And perhaps the NFZ is cover for the US’s not-so-tacit approval for the GCC’s intervention in Bahrain. After all, or us lefties are debating us actions in Libya instead of heaping much deserved scorn on the Obama Admin’s suppression of the regional uprising elswhere.

    There may be other reasons as well. The Shiite block in the Gulf scares the bejesus out of the West; Sarkozy, with a 20% approval rating, cheerleaded the intervention, potentially usurping “American leadership” (imagine the GOP talking points on being out-manly’ed by the French); and I supposed there is the possibility that Obama Administration didn’t want a Benghazi bloodbath on it’s hands. I don’t know. But I do know that conclusions shouldn’t be reached so easily.

    Comment by Rojo — March 27, 2011 @ 9:50 pm

  16. Let’s not make this more complicated than it is. The Imperialists saw an opportunity to intervene and intervene they did. Now that they have, they are hoping that whatever emerges will be even more accomadating to their energy needs than the Colonel himself.

    Comment by dave r — March 27, 2011 @ 10:07 pm

  17. “the possibility that Obama Administration didn’t want a Benghazi bloodbath on its hands”

    Since when is a US administration afraid of a bloodbath that can be attributed to a third party? In any case the threat of a bloodbath was fabricated from Gadaffi’s reckless rhetoric to furnish the usual noble excuse to intervene, starting with 160 Cruise missiles which apparently don’t draw blood.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — March 28, 2011 @ 12:53 am

  18. Ok, that was the least-likely cause, no wonder you seized on it. But they’re afraid if they can be called “weak”.

    Comment by Rojo — March 28, 2011 @ 5:31 am

  19. According to this article, Qaddafi is a reliable ally of the imperialists, the imperialists already have great control over Libyan oil, the imperialists are threatened by the revolutions in the Middle East, and are seeking to stop them. But in Libya, and according to this article, the imperialists are actually arming the alleged revolutionary forces in Libya against their own pro-imperialist dictator! The imperialists are aiding the very popular revolutions they are trying to crush! This Sheppard article is really quite stupid.

    I won’t defend what Ortega has said about Qaddafi, but what Sheppard asserts Castro and Chavez have said is a gross distortion. Granma.cu has Reflections of Fidel Castro dealing with Libya, and Correo de Orinoco has articles on the work of Chavez and the ALBA countries to try to end the civil war in Libya.

    Comment by Stan Smith — March 28, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

  20. The administration won’t mind being called weak on Syria. There actually was a bloodbath there in 1982 when Assad Senior killed an estimated 20,000. It worked, and he held power till he died in 2000. His son’s clique still stands shakily on an ethnic minority, and could well resort to bloodshed to keep power. There’s at least as great a threat as there was in Benghazi. But Assad studied in London and learned to button his lip. You won’t hear him calling up the apocalypse Gadaffi-style. Washington, though, is already saying it won’t be involved. Why not? 1) Syria has no oil and 2) The US and Israel prefer to have Assad in power. He’s actually in agreement with the Jewish State on the current ‘stability’, the status quo. It’s only to placate Syrian public opinion, which is overwhelmingly hostile to Tel Aviv, that he throws an occasional anti-Israeli fit for the media. Of course, as in the case of Mubarak and of Ben Ali, if it looks as though Assad can’t be propped up, the West will step in to control whoever replaces him. Syria may be poor in resources, but it’s strategically crucial for Israel.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — March 28, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

  21. Castro has not been as bad about Qaddafi as Chavez. The idea of calling Qaddafi the “Bolivar of Libya” in light of his expelling all the Palestinians from his country is frankly disgusting.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 28, 2011 @ 3:01 pm

  22. Sheppard writes:

    “There is a danger to imperialist interests if the rebellion wins. The triumphant masses may want to do what Venezuela did, renegotiate the terms with the imperialists and use the oil and gas proceeds to better themselves, something capitalists everywhere hate as they do all social expenditures not in their direct interests.”

    But Libya under Qaddafi has, AFAIK, been using a major portion of its oil and gas proceeds to better the lives of the Libyan people. From what I’ve read about the rebels, a substantial section of them — a section likely to be supported by the imperialists — may well want “to better themselves” in relation to and at the expense of Black Libyans and Black migrant workers, both groups having been under attack already by supporters of the rebellion.
    Shepard also writes:

    Bourgeois democracy has not yet been consolidated anywhere, and that is the first objective.

    For people like Sheppard, bourgeois democracy apparently is the first objective. That’s why they supported Solidarnocs and other counter-revolutionary organizations in Eastern Europe. Anti-capitalist revolutionaries, however, know that bourgeois democracy is the preferred form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and, while they support working-class and peasant struggles for democratic rights, certainly don’t support demands for democratic rights for supporters of capitalism or imperialism.

    Comment by Aaron Aarons — March 28, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

  23. But Libya under Qaddafi has, AFAIK, been using a major portion of its oil and gas proceeds to better the lives of the Libyan people.

    That’s also true of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Saddam’s Iraq as well, but people have this apparently irrational desire to live in freedom–something that cannot be reduced to the number of calories you take in each day, etc.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 28, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

  24. To harp on about Syria, the contradiction in the NYTimes this morning sums up the US position. Secretary of State Clinton assures us that Assad is not like Gadaffi, because Assad is “a reformer”. On another page a report from Syria says the reformer has had 61 people shot dead. Clinton also said with a straight face that the vital national interests of Britain and France were at stake in Libya. It would be fun to hear her explain how. She added that the same might not be true of her country, but that the US had vital interests “in the region”. Well, I think we’ve noticed that over the last 20 years.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — March 28, 2011 @ 5:58 pm

  25. Since when imperialism acts rationally? Ratcheting up the Vietnam conflict wasn’t ‘rational’ either, but Johnson did it, as did Nixon. Of course an attack on Iran may or may not happen in the short term but the Libya model is the right one for Iran. Demonize the regime, set up a special tribunal for human rights abuses in the UN (these abuses don’t happen anywhere but in Iran), champion a repressed minority (the Kurds are just dying to play their role again), give them the green light to intensify insurgency, then interfere for humanitarian reason and presto you got a foot hold that you would not give up for the next 100 years. There is no shortage of opposition in Iran and abroad who are more than willing to play with the Americans, they are dime a dozen in the halls of Congress. Note how in the middle of all this mayhem US and Israel have stuck to their talking points and try to drag Iran into everything. It’s Iran that is behind Bahrain and even agitated in Egypt in the early stages before Obama-Clinton Junta decided to adopt the Egyptian revolution as their own. I have no love lost for the gangsters in Tehran but US intervention has done NOTHING but sow disaster in this region. Do not be fooled by the media manipulation about impending doom in Libya. Anyone recall all that talk about Saddam setting Iraq’s oil fields on fire?? The people of the middle-east will take care of their petty dictators and don’t need cruise missiles to support them. This is also a test of how the so-called world opinion would react to another bloody adventurer in the middle-east, and from what we’ve seen the ‘world opinion’ seems to have accepted the Empire’s self-serving militarism.

    Comment by Mazdak — March 28, 2011 @ 6:08 pm

  26. True, much of, say, Israeli policy of the last few years has been desperate, i.e., not rational. But there are limits to what can be undertaken even irrationally. Does the US have the means for a war with Iran? Public opinion now seems set against military adventures, not out of principle but because of the cost in dollars and general inconvenience, like soldiers dying. It’s interesting that over the weekend two imperial stalwarts spoke out strongly. John Bolton said Gadaffi should be assassinated and Senator Lieberman said that, after Libya, Syria should be the next humanitarian and Cruise missile target. What this means, I should think, is that Iran is on the back burner and the need to get control of the various uprisings is up front.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — March 28, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

  27. Since when these guys give a hoot about public opinion? And frankly, how does this public opinion matter exactly? It’s a two party system in the US so what can the public do when they both behave exactly the same?? Everyone but their aunt Martha knows that the US policy in the ME is hypocritical, that the Saudis can do what they wish and Zionist thugs like Lieberman can now start barking about taking out this and that. A cocked gun will eventually go off, and that’s what the US imperial war machine is in the ME. I’m not saying the US will put ground troops in Iran; they will do the same that they’re doing now in Libya. Get the Kurds and possibly MEK do their native fighting for them and they come in trying to “protect the peope”. Set up no-fly zone and then the events will unfold. Iran is not Libya; it’s not even Syria but a “success story” in Libya will embolden US imperialism and its allies. I have family in Iran, that’s why I am more than just an observer.

    Comment by Mazdak — March 28, 2011 @ 9:43 pm

  28. “But Libya under Qaddafi has, AFAIK, been using a major portion of its oil and gas proceeds to better the lives of the Libyan people.”

    I was going to point out the same as Louis with regard to Saudi Arabia, the most reactionary regime on the planet. Indeed it is a general characteristic of “oil rentier regimes” that the oil lands be state owned – in the case of Saudi Arabia, that means effectively the property of the House of Saud – and this is preferred by imperialism where it cannot occupy the oil country directly (as in Iraq), as this makes possible a partial redistribution of the rent revenue to the masses, as we’ve seen so clearly demonstrated in the face of the Arab uprisings, because imperialism desires regime stability in the oil lands above all, regardless of the historic character of the regime. So the above is no sure certification of the “progressive” character of the regime.

    As for bourgeois democracy, it has manifestly NOT been the “preferred” political form of the social dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in the Arab world. Can you say “Israel and Saudi Arabia”? As I’ve said many times already, even a revolution limited to “full” bourgeois democracy in the Arab world would be a disaster for US imperialist hegemony over the imperialist world as a whole, and therefore for imperialism as a whole, which would be thrown into a disorder not seen since before WW2, as there is no state strong enough to replace the US. That’s because bourgeois democracy in general also means the bourgeois democratic demand of independence from imperialist domination – something not scoffed at by our bourgeois democratic-loving Marcyoids when it is in connection with Venezuela or Cuba – and in the Arab world in particular it means an END to Israel, and END to the House of Saud, upon which ruins will rise a Pan-Arab federation of states. Yes, there is nothing inherently “socialist” in anti-imperialism, the nation-state system is bourgeois to the core. And that vulnerability, BTW, is why the US has taken a back seat in the Libyan intervention, and why it will not even consider an intervention in Syria, despite the existence of its Iraqi bases and Mediterranean access. So when you put the abstraction “bourgeois democracy” in real concrete historical terms, what working class revolutionary wouldn’t whole-heartedly support that result – one that could only be accomplished by the Arab working class, in fact – while never forgetting for a moment that within that limit such a formation could never be more than another BRIC sub-imperial power?

    Needless to say, the unintended caricatures of the “real leaders” of the ALBA countries, and their counter-position to “armchair academics”, would merely be more of the ridiculous stock in trade of our Marcyoids, if it weren’t for the appalling implications of a knuckle-dragging anti-intellectualism, as if those of us who learned our socialism, marxism and revolutionary politics on the street were only capable of a clever turn of phrase or of an original thought by going to college!

    Comment by Matt Russo — March 28, 2011 @ 10:08 pm


    Comment by henry — September 1, 2011 @ 11:06 pm

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