Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 1, 2011

The anti-anti-Qaddafi left

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 8:19 pm

Part one of a series of articles on Libya

First of all, I want to do a little bit of a Maoist self-criticism and admit that I was wrong in predicting that there would be no imperialist intervention in Libya. Clearly, a Nostradamus I am not.

My mistake, looking back in retrospect, was assuming that there was no need to invade since there was no driving economic need. Unlike Venezuela, Libya had long ago thrown its doors open to imperialist penetration. This led me to believe that imperialism would not intervene. Now there are some who insist that this is an oil war just as was the case in Iraq (leaving aside the question of how little control/ownership the USA exercises there now.) For example, Noam Chomsky told Stephen Shalom and Michael Albert in a recent ZNet interview:

Libya is rich in oil, and though the US and UK have often given quite remarkable support to its cruel dictator, right to the present, he is not reliable.  They would much prefer a more obedient client.  Furthermore, the vast territory of Libya is mostly unexplored, and oil specialists believe it may have rich untapped resources, which a more dependable government might open to Western exploitation.

Chomsky, who has always had a remarkable gift for finding material in the bourgeois press to support his arguments, somehow did not bother to find evidence about Western anxiety over Qaddafi who by the above description appears to be another Chavez, or worse.

Searching for “Libya” and “American oil companies” in Lexis-Nexis between the dates 2004 and 2010 presented an entirely different picture from that drawn by Chomsky. One off the top states:

Is Libya the new Iraq? When Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, an influential energy industry newsletter, posed that question recently in a comparison of investment opportunities in both countries, the answer was clear.

A vanguard of American lawyers, bankers and consultants, many of them based in Houston, has traveled to Tripoli in recent weeks to evaluate Libyan opportunities. Many of these visitors are focused on expectations that Libya plans to offer as many as 11 new oil exploration blocks this month to foreign companies, in the first opening of the nation’s oil fields available to Americans since the early 1980’s.

The risks of entering Libya now are relatively low, in terms of politics and getting to the oil,” said Stephen Davis, co-head of the Middle East and North Africa section of Vinson & Elkins, a Houston law firm that is handling much of its Libya business through a new office in Dubai. ”There’s really nothing quite like it, since the terrain is already familiar to many American companies.”

The New York Times, July 20, 2004

I would think that a lawyer from Houston would know what he is talking about, right?

If you began studying events in Libya from March 1 onwards, you would get the impression that the armed opposition to Qaddafi was a wholly owned subsidiary of American imperialism, like the Nicaraguan contras or the gusanos who were defeated at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. Without a no-fly-zone, we are led to believe, these enemies of progress would have gotten nowhere.

But if you are willing to look at news reports from day one, the pattern was clear. By late February, without any air support and without any CIA training, the ragtag volunteer army from the East had Tripoli in its sights:

The popular uprising against Moammar Kadafi expanded into an oil-rich area of western Libya long considered one of his strongholds, leaving the long-time leader increasingly isolated and in danger of encirclement as he fights for survival.

Calm was returning to a stretch of eastern Libya that has been seized by the opposition. Residents were restoring basic services in the country’s second-largest city, Benghazi, and setting up informal governing structures.

“The uprising is over. Eastern Libya has all fallen from Kadafi’s power,” said Ashraf Sadaga, who helps oversee a mosque in the coastal city of Derna.

At a rally there, one young man held up a sign addressing Kadafi: “The people have dug your grave,” it said.

But reports painted a grim picture of western Libya. Terrified residents of the capital, Tripoli, said pro-government militias rampaged through some residential areas, firing automatic weapons from pickup trucks and Land Cruisers.

The fall of Misurata, Libya’s third-largest city, which is a little more than 100 miles east of Tripoli, as well as a smaller town in the far west meant that the rebellion inspired by revolts in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt now spans nearly the length of the country.

Crowds fought loyalists in Sabratha, about 40 miles west of Tripoli.

The opposition also claimed control of Zuwarah, about 30 miles from the border with Tunisia in the west, after local army units sided with the protesters and police fled.

Kadafi’s traditional backing from powerful tribal leaders also is starting to unravel, analysts said, marking a potential turning point. Key among them is the Warfallah tribe, one of Libya’s largest, which is based south of Tripoli. Leaders announced that they were joining the movement to oust him.

Los Angeles Times, February 24, 2011

Now, as we know, all is fair in love and war. Qaddafi, whose troops fought side-by-side with Idi Amin’s in Uganda, was not one to be trifled with. After having stockpiled billions of dollars in advanced weaponry from the West, why would he lack the good sense not to use them? Who cares if he lacked a wide base of support in the country? After all, as the longest reigning non-monarch on the planet, he had to fight to preserve his legacy—whatever it was.

Part of the problem is that this was never going to be a fair fight. Additionally, the lack of political freedom in Libya prevented the kind of trade union and civic associations to take root in Egypt and that would play such a key role in toppling Mubarak, Egypt’s Qaddafi. Giving the lack of a cohesive political leadership and the lack of a strategy, the revolutionary struggle against Qaddafi would ultimately have to founder. Today’s Los Angeles Times is brutally frank about the character of the movement that is now on the run and likely to be liquidated before long:

For many rebel fighters, the absence of competent military leadership and a tendency to flee at the first shot have contributed to sagging morale. Despite perfunctory V-for-victory signs and cries of “Allahu akbar!” (God is great), the eager volunteers acknowledge that they are in for a long, uphill fight.

“Kadafi is too strong for us, with too many heavy weapons. What can we do except fall back to protect ourselves?” said Salah Chaiky, 41, a businessman, who said he fired his assault rifle while fleeing Port Brega even though he was too far away to possibly hit the enemy.

For some on the left, the defeat of people like Salah Chaiky is apparently something to be celebrated either implicitly or explicitly. In today’s Counterpunch, Alexander Cockburn reminds his readers that Qaddafi, if not exactly a socialist, was generous to his people—one supposes in accordance with traditions of noblesse oblige that reign in feudal societies: “In four decades, Libyans have gone from being among the most wretched in Africa, to considerable elevation in terms of social amenities.” Of course, having never shown the slightest interest in political freedom except when his own ox was being gored, one can understand why Cockburn can shrug off the fact that torture was so widespread in Libya that even the Great Leader’s son was forced to admit:

A foundation run by Libyan leader Moamer Qadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam catalogued an array of cases of torture, wrongful imprisonment and other abuses in a report for 2009 published on Thursday. The Qadhafi Foundation’s report also sharply criticized the continuing domination of the print and broadcast media by the state. The few non-state media are all controlled by a publishing company run by the younger Qadhafi. The report recorded “several flagrant violations” of human rights in Libya during the year, including “cases of torture and ill-treatment” as well as a number of “blatant and premeditated breaches of the law.” The report, distributed to the press, condemned “all forms of torture” and called for the lifting of the “immunity granted by laws of exception to employees of various state agencies. “It also called for a full liberalization of the media in Libya.

Right Vision News, December 13, 2009

But no matter. As long as there is “considerable elevation in terms of social amenities”, who would want to complain about some malcontent having his testicles attached to an electric generator. And why blame Libya for taking part in “extraordinary renditions”? After all, there was a need to defeat terrorism, as the stalwart Marxists at wsws.org would remind us:

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), considered a branch of Al Qaeda, mounted a major challenge to the Gaddafi regime in the 1990s. The destabilizing impact of that challenge was a major factor in the decision of the Gaddafi regime to abandon its traditional anti-imperialist rhetoric and seek an accommodation with Europe and the United States. As recently as 2007, the Libyan government, according to reports, was bracing for terrorist attacks.

I must admit that this came as quite a surprise to me. I thought that the neoliberal policies were a function of the same powerful market forces that were taking place everywhere in the world. I never would have suspected that it was al-Qaida that drove Qaddafi to cut deals with Western oil companies so generous that a Houston lawyer would advise his clients that there were no risks in Libya. Imagine that.

We also learn from Vijay Prashad on Counterpunch that the CIA was pulling the strings in Libya even before protests began in Tunisa, months before the Benghazi uprising. (The anti-anti-Qaddafi left seems to have a difficult time figuring out whether the outside agitators making life hell in Libya came from Langley, Virginia or Osama bin-Laden’s cave.) Prashad writes:

In December 23, 2010, before the Tunisian uprising, Boukhris, Charrani and Mansouri went to Paris to meet with Qaddafi’s old aide-de-camp, Nuri Mesmari, who had defected to the Concorde-Lafayette hotel. Mesmari was singing to the DGSE and Sarkozy about the weaknesses in the Libyan state. His man in Benghazi was Colonel Abdallah Gehani of the air defense corps. But Gehani would not be the chosen military leader. The CIA already had its man in mind. He would soon be in place.

Fascinating stuff. If I wrote a screenplay based on this, I’d think about casting George Clooney as the CIA agent. He’s an old hand at this.

Meanwhile, we learn from Prashad that the revolution was doomed from the start because Libya is basically two countries, even though some commentators describe the populations of Tripoli and Benghazi as an admixture of ethnic groups from East and West: “That east-west divide smothered any attempt by the working-class in the western cities to rise to their full potential.”

Silly me. I thought the smothering came from other quarters:

TRIPOLI, Libya — A state of terror has seized two working-class neighborhoods here that just a week ago exploded in revolt, with residents reporting constant surveillance, searches of cars and even cellphones by militiamen with Kalashnikovs at block-by-block checkpoints and a rash of disappearances of those involved in last week’s protest.

As rebel fighters in the country’s east celebrated their defeat of a raid on Wednesday by hundreds of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s loyalists in the strategic oil town of Brega, many people in Tripoli said they had lost hope that peaceful protests might push the Libyan leader from power the way street demonstrations had toppled the strongmen in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia.

The climate of fear suggests just how effectively the government’s ruthless application of force in Tripoli has locked down the city and suppressed simmering rage, even as the rebels have held control of the eastern half of the country and a string of smaller western cities surrounding the capital.

”I think the people know that if they make any protest now they will be killed, so all the people in Tripoli are waiting for someone to help them,” one resident said. ”It is easy to kill anybody here. I have seen it with my own eyes.”

Several people in the two neighborhoods, Feshloom and Tajura, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of Colonel Qaddafi’s secret police, said militias loyal to the colonel were using photos taken at last week’s protest to track down the men involved. ”They know that there are people who have energy and who are willing to die, so they pick them up,” another resident said.

New York Times, March 4 2011

Of course, there is always the possibility that the bourgeois press is simply making things up about repression in Tripoli. Now if we can only get Saif Qaddafi to admit that he was writing propaganda when he said there was widespread torture in Libya.

So what does all this amount to? Basically, the anti-anti-Qaddafi left is straining to fit Libya into a pattern that should be familiar to us by now. The Benghazi fighters are like the Nicaraguan contras or the Kurdish rebels who are, as MRZine put it, “traitors” to their country. It doesn’t matter that the self-appointed (and that is really what they are) “leaders” of the resistance consulted nobody in the ranks when they set upon the course of working with imperialism.

The lack of military coordination, as described in the LA Times above, should give you an accurate sense of the utter disorganization of the movement politically. When the Kurds fought against Saddam Hussein, they had a strong and cohesive organization that had years of experience both in the field and in mass struggle.

For all practical purposes, the revolution against Qaddafi began just one month ago and its flaws are a function of its raw and infant state rather than the counter-revolutionary instincts of the participants. Indeed, to make an amalgam between the Benghazi street and the wheeler-dealers on the phone with Langley, Virginia is an absolute slander. Here is the real Benghazi street:

On Feb. 17, the scheduled “Day of Rage,” soldiers and the police opened fire with machine guns on unarmed crowds. Soon, photographs circulated of bodies torn in half by high-caliber weapons. Unarmed young men climbed into bulldozers and drove them in suicidal attempts to breach the high green-and-white walls of the Katiba, the last stronghold of Qaddafi’s authority left in the city, a vast compound that dominates Benghazi’s downtown like a medieval fort. The death toll shot up, and the initial core of politically active protesters like Saih and his fellow lawyers soon grew to encompass a broad swath of Benghazi’s roughly 800,000 people.

One of them was Mahdi Ziu. His home was about 200 yards from the Katiba, and he saw a young man shot to death right outside his front door. Ziu was anything but an agitator: he worked as a middle manager at the Arabian Gulf Oil Company. He was a paunchy man, sedentary and diabetic, with thinning hair and glasses and a resigned expression. He liked to read and surf the Internet, his daughter and brother told me. He had a soft heart and often cried when watching television dramas with his wife and daughter on the living-room couch. He disliked politics and tended toward moderation in all things: he would walk away when he heard religious extremists fulminating about right and wrong at the local mosque. But after three days of brutal killing in his hometown, something snapped. “He kept saying, ‘Jihad, jihad, this is the time for us all to go out and fight,’ ” his 21-year-old daughter, Zuhour, told me. Zuhour seemed to alternate between awe and horror as she quietly narrated her father’s death (his wife was sequestered, in accordance with Muslim mourning custom). She sat on a couch in the living room, a slim, pretty girl in a head scarf with her hands folded uneasily in front of her. The neighbor’s baby whined in the next room, and a photograph of her father’s face sat on the table nearby. “If you heard this man,” Zuhour continued, “you would know he was ready for something.” No one else in the family had taken part in the protests; Mahdi’s brother told me, a little regretfully, that he had been too frightened.

By Sunday, Feb. 20, protesters in Benghazi had armed themselves and were focusing all their efforts on storming the Katiba. Every day, soldiers inside the barracks were firing down on the funeral processions that used the long boulevard from the courthouse to the city’s main cemetery, killing more people and generating more funerals, more anger.

On Sunday morning, with the sound of gunfire in the background, Ziu slipped a last will and testament under the door of a friend. He then returned to his apartment and asked the neighbors to help him load a number of full gas canisters into his black Kia sedan, parked just outside the house. They asked why, and he told them the canisters were leaking; he needed to get them fixed. His brother, Salem Ziu, told me that he thinks Mahdi used a small patch of TNT, the kind Libyans use to kill fish, as a detonator. No one really knows.

What is certain is that about 1:30 p.m., Ziu drove his car until it was facing the Katiba’s main gate, near the police station where the first protests began five days earlier. The area in front of him was clear, a killing zone abandoned by all but the most reckless. Rebels fired from the shelter of rooftops and doorways, and snipers at the Katiba fired occasional shots down on the figures darting in the streets. Ziu put his foot down on the accelerator. The guards opened fire, but too late. The speeding car struck the gate and exploded, sending up a fireball that was captured on a cellphone video by a protester a few hundred yards away. The blast blew a hole in the wall, killing a number of guards and sending the rest retreating into the Katiba. Within hours, it would fall to the protesters.

The remains of Ziu’s charred and crumpled car now lie by the open gate of the Katiba. Above and around it are tributes to him in looping spray-painted letters: “Mahdi the Hero.” “Mahdi, who liberated the Katiba.”

NY Times Sunday Magazine, April 3, 2011

Yes, Mahdi is a hero even if people like Alexander Cockburn and Vijay Prashad would have us piss on his grave.

(In my next post, I will comment on Juan Cole and Gilbert Achcar)


  1. Good stuff. I read Cockburn’s article this morning (my Friday habit) and was underwhelmed. I’m still not committed to the NFZ and, of course, question the West’s motives. But the Quaddafi rehabilitation has to stop.

    BTW, sometimes it’s hard to tell with Cockburn, but today did he walk back an assertion he made two weeks ago about the Al Queda presence in the Libyan uprising?

    Comment by Rojo — April 1, 2011 @ 10:16 pm

  2. Also, don’t the mixed messages coming from the Administration give conspiricists pause. If this is part of a Grand Game, Uncle Sam seems to be holding the Libyan pawn above the board unsure where to put it.

    Comment by Rojo — April 1, 2011 @ 10:58 pm

  3. My two comments over at Lenin’s Tomb may be appropriate here:

    [My best guess is that the Libyan air campaign is part of a larger strategy by the US, the EU and Saudi Arabia (with Israel in the background) to hijack the revolutionary movements in North Africa and the Middle East. Hence, the coalescence of media coverage about the airstrikes in Libya, massive protests in Syria (with the US refusing to rule out ‘humanitarian’ intervention here, if Assad got too violent) and continued musings about the prospect of larger protests in Iran (with Bahrain transformed into a situation where the protests were manipulated by the Iranians, and, thus, counterreveolutionary, as described by an EU advisor recently).

    In other words, it is the Cheney/Blair clean out the stables approach post-9/11, where first Cheney, and then Blair, if one can believe his remarks in recent book, thought that 9/11 was a good opportunity to get rid of all of the anti-Zionist, anti-US regimes in these regions. So, now, Obama has adopted this policy under the guise of supporting revolutionary change and the need to protect civilian populations. Libya just happened to be a convenient means for advancing these objectives, which is consistent with the ignorance of the proponents of the NATO intervention. Interestingly, the US military, if the testimony of Gates and Mullen before Congress is any indication, remains the most apprehensive among US policymakers, as it retains a pragmatism about the perils of such a policy and the Zionist extremism that it intensifies.

    In any event, it looks clownish, and an appropriate cinematic vehicle for Peter Sellars, a odd, paradoxical mixture of “The Mouse That Roared” and “Dr. Strangelove”.]


    [yes, redbedhead, I understand, but the perils of destablization associated with the the Cheney/Blair response to 9/11 have been recognized from the inception, and erupted during the runup to the invasion of Iraq, with pragmatists like Scowcroft in opposition

    I don’t think it is coincidence that the current “revolutionary” targets from a US perspective are among those identified post-9/11 by the people around Cheney

    Your remarks point towards a fissure in US policy towards North Africa and the Middle East, with balance of power pragmatists, like Scowcroft, on one side, and those who believe that the historic obstructions to complete US/Israeli/Saudi control can be swept away

    Of course, such a fissure can result in confused policy decisions and implementation, as well as indecisiveness, as we now see on display in Libya, and as we initially encountered in regard to Tunisia and Egypt

    It is a fissure that is not readily reduced to US ideological characterizations, such as liberal/conservative/progressive, or Democrat/Republican, as proponents of each perspective can be found amongst all of them, but the liberal proponents of “humanitarian intervention” are uniquely susceptible to finding themselves in the old Cheney/Blair camp]

    Comment by Richard Estes — April 2, 2011 @ 1:59 am

  4. That’s always been the problem with CounterPunch in general and Cockburn in particular: they’re reformed CPers with a Stalinist view of the state. What’s always missing from their articles is any sense of a Trotskyist analysis of the class character of a given state. Clearly not a soul amongst the anti-anti Ghadaffi has ever read “Revolution Betrayed”.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 2, 2011 @ 4:37 am

  5. “Additionally, the lack of political freedom in Libya prevented the kind of trade union and civic associations to take root in Egypt and that would play such a key role in toppling Mubarak, Egypt’s Qaddafi.” Beautiful contradition here: Egypt’s workers enjoyed “political freedom” that Libya’s did not, but then Mubarak is equated with Qaddafi, i.e. Egyptian suffered under the same political unfreedom as Libyans. So which is it? You can’t have it both ways, Louis. An Egyptian friend of mine here in Montreal explained that Mubarak’s henchmen would sit and take notes on professors’ lectures at the universities, making sure they didn’t say anything even mildly subversive. Police tortured, abused and killed ordinary citizens with total impunity under the Emergency Law, and strikes were harshly repressed. Hooray for political freedom in Mubarak’s Egypt!

    Indeed, Prashad’s suggestion that it was east-west and tribal divisions that prevented the Libyan uprising from attaining the level of popular unity that obtained in Egypt or Tunisia certainly seems more plausible any (non-existent) differences in levels of political freedom.

    The cheapshot at Prashad, claiming he makes “an amalgam between the Benghazi street and the wheeler-dealers on the phone with Langley, Virginia”, is really insulting to your readers. His article is quite clear, and anyone who reads his piece can see that nowhere does he make such a claim:

    “The upsurge from below enthused the lower orders of Qaddafi’s army in the east. They defected to the Benghazi rebels. Popular councils emerged in the cities and towns of the east. The east had sent a disproportionate number of its young to fight in Iraq […] in part because they could not effectively protest against Qaddafi.”

    “… They faced the advance of Qaddafi’s forces toward Benghazi. It was in this context, with the uprising now firmly usurped by a neo-liberal political leadership and a CIA-backed military leadership, that talk of a no-fly zone emerged (Resolution 1973 went through the Council on March 19, and the bombing began immediately).”

    “… People like Mahmoud Jibril and Khalifa Heftir will be more accountable to their patrons in Paris and Washington than to the people of Libya, whose blood is being spilled on both sides for an outcome that is unlikely to benefit them.”


    Though you shabbily accuse Prashad of tarring the whole movement as one of US-backed “traitors”, his point is actually the same as yours, namely that “the self-appointed (and that is really what they are) ‘leaders’ of the resistance consulted nobody in the ranks when they set upon the course of working with imperialism,” and that that bodes ill for the popular sectors of the uprising.

    Why bother stirring up pointless controversies on the Left? Why not try the tougher but politically more important challenge of articulating a clear position on the NATO bombing of Libya?

    Comment by Nik Barry-Shaw — April 2, 2011 @ 5:35 am

  6. Finally, a breath of fresh air. The Libyan revolution and subsequent U.S. intervention have exposed just how politically the left is.

    On the one hand, you have the Gaddafi partisans who exaggerate his “anti-imperialism” and totally ignore his racist anti-black immigrant policy, expulsion of Palestinians, hiring an Israeli company with Netanyahu’s permission to get himself mercenaries, etc. (not to mention torture, but ignoring that has been standard fare for them since most of them are Stalinists), who can’t figure out why in the world workers and young people in Libya would revolt when their dictator has spent more per capita on “helping the people” than any other murderous thieving dictator on the continent (as if people could feed their kids on statistics and comparitives). They see the CIA’s hand behind every protest in Libya, Syria, and Iran and it seems like they make up the bulk of the anti-intervention camp.

    Then on the other hand you have the pro-intervention camp which is mostly liberals (Achcar’s position on this question is basically identical to theirs) who at least have the virtue of seeing that there is a REVOLUTION taking place in Libya, unlike the Gaddafites.

    There are too few who support the revolution but oppose the intervention, so this was heartening to read. I’ve also been disappointed with some of the responses I’ve read from our side in this debate which focused on the fact that the U.S. is doing the opposite in Bahrain and Yemen. Pointing out hypocrisy in U.S. foreign policy is easy; providing a solid case against intervention in Libya grounded in the reality on the ground there is far more difficult given the weaknesses in the revolutionary camp that you pointed out that were born of sheer necessity. Nik Barry-Shaw doesn’t seem to understand that in Egypt, workers and students were able to create semi-underground protest organizations, political parties, and independent unions since the beginning of the second Intifada, putting them in a much better position to win than their Libyan counterparts.

    So what if you didn’t predict that XYZ would happen? The important thing is that once the intervention took place, you were able to correctly assess it and put forward a “line.” Based on what Gates and others were saying, I didn’t think the U.S. would step in either. It seems Obama and others in the ruling class overrode the military because they saw a golden opportunity to clawbacklost ground in the region after a series of uninterrupted defeats beginning with the fall of Ben Ali. This is their way of imposing control over the revolutionary process shaking the region, of ensuring that the rebels remain dependent on Washington’s good graces and therefore politically compliant in a partitioned/post-Gaddafi Libya. That’s Washington’s game plan and it’s a shame to see people like Achcar go along with it.

    I look forward to your next post on the topic. Kudos for this.

    Comment by Binh — April 2, 2011 @ 7:04 am

  7. The Libyan revolution and subsequent U.S. intervention have exposed just how politically the left is.
    I’m in suspense. I’m sure there’s supposed to be another word after “politically” but can’t work out what it is.

    Comment by skidmarx — April 2, 2011 @ 9:15 am

  8. I’m not a believer in the ability of intelligence agencies to control events with clockwork precision.
    What they do is ferret around existing grievances.
    Undoubtedly there was a popular element to the initial Libyan uprising, which was influenced by the events in Egypt and Tunisia.

    Unfortunately, the case of Mahdi Ziu doesn’t elucidate much about the politics of the revolt.
    Ultimately these are expressed, not in the desperate act of one individual, but through its political leadership.
    In assessing these politics, it’s foolish to ignore the backgrounds and political history of some of the leading figures in the TNC.
    Those of Mahmoud Jibril and Khalifa Hifter are by now public knowledge.

    It’s also undeniable that there’s been a change of position by the Opposition with regard to the issue of NATO intervention.
    At the start of the revolt there were banners displayed in Benghazi opposing it.
    The British SAS team that landed nearby were given a polite, but firm send off

    This position changed as soon as Benghazi was threatened, which has to raise questions about the role of the TNC leadership.

    Comment by prianikoff — April 2, 2011 @ 9:23 am

  9. Good piece.

    There was no way that the European powers were going to allow Gadaffi to sack Benghazi making it politically impossible for them to realise the lucrative oil deals struck with him and on which the ink is still wet. In addition, Gadaffi was creating refugees who were heading towards Europe and they couldn’t have that either.

    Obama was reluctant having defeated Bush’s unilateralism and undone a lot of the damage with America’s Russian and Chinese allies. It was absolutely right for the revolutionaries to take advantage of the situation to defend their city and push Gadaffi back. Here in the UK the StWC stalinised leadership opposed the ostensibly humanitarian operation and began to blackguard the revolutionaries as a whole calling them Al Qaida, Contras, Mujahedin, and so on. No doubt these elements are involved and even prominent along with ex-Gadaffi regimers but the task of socialists is to promote the proletarian over the petty bourgeois not to trash the revolution.

    The Stalinists called for negotiations from the beginning. In other words western intervention not for humanitarian reasons but to prop up Gadaffi against the revolution. It looks like they are getting what they wanted as the US pulls back and the Europeans open negotiations with the Gadaffi regime or parts of it. This leaves the wide-eyed pro-imperialists who really do believe imperialism is capable of civilising projects based on humanitarian instincts as opposed to being thoroughly self-serving and partial looking a bit stupid as their heroes are now around the table with Gadaffi’s sons stitching up the people of Tripoli. Having prevented the massacre they can still do business with the old regime.

    That is how it looks at the moment and of course things can change quickly.

    The task for revolutionaries was to stick with the revolution despite the imperialist intervention and encourage the workers and democratic masses of Tripoli to jugulate Gadaffi and reunify Libya under a revolutionary democratic regime with their Benghazian brothers and sisters. At the same time they would warn about the dangers of the mission to save civilians turning into either a mission for regime change or negotiations with Gadaffi and/or partition of the country.

    We should always remember that Blair started by `saving’ Muslims and ended killing over a million.

    Comment by David Ellis — April 2, 2011 @ 11:08 am

  10. Hooray for political freedom in Mubarak’s Egypt!

    Thanks for the correction. I overstated this. All I would say is that despite repression in Egypt, there was a more advanced political and trade union movement relative to Libya.

    In terms of Vijay Prashad, I admire much of his writing but he does err on the side of authoritarianism. I have seen him defend the “primitive accumulation” taking place in West Bengal under the CP of India on Marxmail.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 2, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

  11. Unfortunately, the case of Mahdi Ziu doesn’t elucidate much about the politics of the revolt.

    That is the whole point. This lower-level administrator took his life without any kind of prior political involvement. The revolutionaries were not like, for example, Otpor in Serbia–a student movement that had a long-standing desire to transform their country along the lines of Eastern Europe. You have in effect a total disconnect between the self-appointed leaders and the masses in the street. Cockburn, MRZine and Prashad try to draw a dotted line between them. I think that is despicable.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 2, 2011 @ 2:00 pm

  12. It’s a good point. There’s definitely “no dotted line between them.” It goes to show how quickly sedentary, apoltical couch potatos can rise up to individual acts of political martyrdom, something we Americans can derive hope from. On the other hand it illustrates the need for an organized mass based party to channel such potent energies lest they get squandered into individual acts of Narodniki terror.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 2, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

  13. I’m bemused by David Ellis’ belief that the US-EU warfare in Libya was partly meant to stop refugees from going to Europe. In fact the warriors couldn’t care less. Other people would pick up the pieces and turn them to profit. If anything the intervention has increased the flow of people. I’ve just been to Manduria at the tip of Italy. The migrants who landed on the island of Lampedusa have been dumped there in thousands. They simply walk out of the squalid camps that have been set up and live in the countryside. I asked a local contractor of day labor how this affected his business. He rubbed his hands. A local field worker is paid 50 Euros a day, but he could get these people for ten Euros. His associate, another petty criminal, said. “Less than ten. They’ll take what you give them. And they’re younger and stronger than our local men.”

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 2, 2011 @ 6:03 pm

  14. skidmarx, the missing word was weak. Thanks for catching that. Hopefully you didn’t have a heart attack waiting for me.

    Comment by Binh — April 2, 2011 @ 9:30 pm

  15. Prashad was pretty sane on Libya a few days before that article:

    Comment by Jenny — April 2, 2011 @ 9:32 pm

  16. Two comments: First, I cannot take seriously any argument that relies on quotes from the NYT as evidence. Second, calling someone on the left who disagrees with you a Stalinist in order to discredit their argument is nothing more than an ad hominem attack.

    It seems to me that the most we can say about Libya right now, with any certainty, is that there is an imperialist project in play, and it must be resisted by the left. The application of weapons of massive (if not mass) destruction against the cities of Libya is an act of state terror and clearly led to the deaths of civilians (unless of course we believe the assertions of the war technophiles in the Pentagon).

    I am confused about the reaction you have to people on the left who denounce the imperialist war against Libya. It doesn’t make sense to me.

    Comment by ReasonInRevolt — April 3, 2011 @ 4:11 am

  17. http://www.veteranstoday.com/2011/03/28/libyas-blood-for-oil-the-vampire-war/

    By Susan Lindauer, former U.S. Asset who covered Libya at the United Nations from 1995 to 2003

    “Who are we kidding? The United States, Britain and NATO don’t care about bombing civilians to contain rebellion. Their militaries bomb civilians every day without mercy. They have destroyed most of the community infrastructure of Iraq and Afghanistan before turning their sights on Libya. So what’s really going on here?”

    Lindauer’s article skirts the borders of conspiracy theory territory but much of it is verifiable. She also quotes Chossudovsky. Nevertheless it opens up some other possibilities about why the US might not have been entirely enthusiastic about Gaddafi.

    Comment by Ben Courtice — April 3, 2011 @ 6:38 am

  18. At least she’s kind of right about the Lockerbie trial:

    Comment by Jenny — April 3, 2011 @ 6:49 am

  19. Well Reaon how do you approach the situation?

    Oppose the intervention and hope Gadaffi can brutally put down the revolt in Benghazi? No doubt a noose into which the far right are desperately hoping the left will willingly place its neck.

    Call for negotiations, the partition of libya and the propping up of Gadaffi by NATO?

    Or argue for the revolutionists to take advantage of the situation to defend their cities, push back Gadaffi and urge the people of Tripoli to topple Gadaffi and reunify Libya under a democratic independent revolutionary popular regime?

    Personally I don’t think it is necessary to oppose a mission that claims to be humanitarian or wrong for the revolution to take advantage of it whilst at the same time giving it no political support but warning that imperialism ultimately acts in its own interests only not out of general humanitarian impulses and preparing action against mission creep (negotiations, regime change).

    The stalinists and even worse the stalinised Trotskyist sects are now open opponents of the Arab Revolution and are using the imperialist intervention in Libya to create hostility to the revolution in Syria mainly by ignoring it.

    #12 Peter, I’m bemused by your bemusement.

    Comment by David Ellis — April 3, 2011 @ 6:57 am

  20. @11 “You have in effect a total disconnect between the self-appointed leaders and the masses in the street.”

    In which case it all comes down to organisation.
    The masses in the street will not be able to overcome the plans of the smooth talkers in the leadership without one.

    Events in the field are conspiring to show that spontaneous assaults against better disciplined forces just don’t work.
    But rather than a Trotsky appearing to organise them into an army, it’s CIA advisers bearing Egyptian Guns.

    A victory for the TNC on this basis could mean that the “anti-imperalist masses” in Tripoli could move to the left of the anti-Gaddafi opposition. Especially if any NATO member states (like Turkey) put in ground troops to police a cease-fire.
    This possibility can’t be left out of the equation.

    The analogy might be closer to Poland, where a political stalemate and Martial Law allowed Solidarnosc to be derailed.
    The mistake was not to challenge its leadership much earlier.

    Comment by prianikoff — April 3, 2011 @ 11:15 am

  21. I think we are in danger of being swept along by revolutionary fervour. The whole affair in the West has become Libya. The other revolts don’t really appear on the radar anymore. If Syria explodes this will also move up the news agenda. I think Richard Estes has a point, this is about opportunism, cleaning the historic cupboard. Getting rid of anti Zionist anti US foes. Whatever you say about Gaddafi, he was detested by the ruling class in the West. Of course oil plays a major role, it always unerpins all the other poliical problems. The Middle East isn’t an hotspot for no reason you know!

    As for a position I expect the left to be outright anti imperialists and developing an independent proletarian position. The fact that the left are just pathetic gossipers on the margins of events tells us much. A whole new strategic way of thinking and organising needs to be advanced. One which can have more quality information about the competing forces in these revolutions. One that can muster resources to actually affect the situation.

    I was positive about Egypt and still am. Libya howvere makes me pause for thought, if Gaddafi is so unpopular why his he still in power, why haven’t people become confident to overthrow him? I don’t but the state terror argument, I think he does have popularity. The West intervened based on opportunism but also to control events. They have intervened against Gaddafi but also against the rebels, in the sense that the rebels will have to dance to imperialist tunes. I think this history is similar to Afghanistan, where the West helped bring about Islamic fundamentalism. Here is a cheeky suggestion – in 20 years time the pro imperialist left will be making case to topple the Islamic regime in Libya and calling us anti imperialists clerical fascist supporters for opposing it!!

    Comment by Steve — April 3, 2011 @ 11:24 am

  22. #19. David Ellis. Who exactly are these “stalinised Trotskyist sects [that] are now open opponents of the Arab Revolution”? I’ve been searching high & low for these unicorns to no avail. Please provide links.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 3, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

  23. I cannot take seriously any argument that relies on quotes from the NYT as evidence.

    If the NYT printed that the sky is blue, you wouldn’t admit that that is the truth? The source of information is important but not decisive.

    Comment by Binh — April 4, 2011 @ 3:46 am

  24. Well that would depend on whether the sky were actually blue or not (grey is more frequent in my neighborhood). That being said, I have somewhat more ability to trust the NYT to publish less biased perspectives on the weather versus international politics.

    Of course, hysterical weather disaster reporting is a perennial favorite of American journalism, so perhaps I should not overstate my faith in their reporting on this subject either.

    Comment by ReasonInRevolt — April 4, 2011 @ 11:47 am

  25. “They faced the advance of Qaddafi’s forces toward Benghazi. It was in this context, with the uprising now firmly usurped by a neo-liberal political leadership and a CIA-backed military leadership..”

    How does Prashad know how “firmly usurped” the Libyan revolution is? He doesn’t know because nobody on the outside really knows. All we know is that this “leadership” is a bunch of obvious opportunists, many of them former Gadhaffi regime players, who have moved into the political vacuum of a spontaneous revolution.

    A characteristic of the anti-anti-Gadhaffi crowd is their insistence on the division of Libya between East and West. That is ironic as this dovetails well with what I suspect is imperialism’s aim: to divide the country. Who is the useful idiot now?

    The fundamental problem of many comments on Libya is that they don’t begin from the standpoint of the pan-Arab revolutions. Please turn off CNN.

    The anti-anti-Gadhaffists of course consciously *refuse* to do so.

    Comment by Matt — April 5, 2011 @ 3:50 am

  26. @David Ellis: I absolutely agree, this is the nub of the problem within the left, which has scattered all over the compass in re Libya. Too many of them don’t – or openly refuse – to start from and take the standpoint of the Arab revolutionary masses. It’s is really very strange. When they are not fascinated with the awesome powers and God-like foresight of imperialism, they are absorbed in the spy-vs-spy skulduggery of personalities. It is a watershed moment, brought on by the Arab Revolutions.

    “The stalinists and even worse the stalinised Trotskyist sects are now open opponents of the Arab Revolution and are using the imperialist intervention in Libya to create hostility to the revolution in Syria mainly by ignoring it.”

    Comment by Matt — April 5, 2011 @ 4:13 am

  27. “and are using the imperialist intervention in Libya to create hostility to the revolution in Syria mainly by ignoring it.”

    Actually a quick correction here: they are NOT ignoring Syria and Libya precisely in order to oppose the mass uprisings in those countries AND befind this to obscure and ignore the uprisings in Bahrain, Yemen(!), and Egypt as well as the emergent movements in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and – get this – US occupied Iraq(!)

    There is a word for this, it begins with “count..” and ends with “..volutionary”.

    Comment by Matt — April 5, 2011 @ 4:26 am

  28. “Yes, Mahdi is a hero even if people like Alexander Cockburn and Vijay Prashad would have us piss on his grave.”

    Following that logic, Mr. Proyect in his support (for revolutionary reasons of course) of intervention by the imperialists, would rather have us pissing on the graves of civilians in Tripoli and other areas killed by the bombs of US/Nato warships.

    Comment by Black Billy Sunday — April 6, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

  29. When people accuse me of supporting imperialist intervention, it reminds me of how tough Trotskyists must have had it in the 1930s when they backed the overthrow of Stalin. Thank goodness, people like “Black Billy Sunday” represent nothing on the left today.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 6, 2011 @ 4:17 pm

  30. You can’t have it both ways you’re either against this intervention or you’re not.

    And the suggestion that somehow going after anti-interventionists leftists on a blog puts you in the company of Trotskyists in the 1930s bravely standing up against the Stalinists, well that’s just a stretch. As well as the fuzzy inference that somehow the Libyan rebels and Qadhafi is this moment’s Left Opposition and Stalin.

    And by the way, “Black Billy Sunday” was an itinerant preacher and Blues singer in the 1920-’30s. I’m a fan but the only real thing I have in common with him is as you point out -I represent nothing on the left today.

    Comment by Black Billy Sunday — April 6, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

  31. You can’t have it both ways you’re either against this intervention or you’re not.

    So exactly where did I say I was for it, or were you reading my mind? In fact, my piece on Juan Cole and Gilbert Achcar makes it quite clear that I am opposed to it. Or maybe the fact that I support the rebels means that I am for intervention? I guess that means that because I supported Russian dissidents in the 1960s I supported American imperialism. Is that the way your mind works?

    Comment by louisproyect — April 6, 2011 @ 5:19 pm

  32. […] the fence. I had singled Prashad out for criticism in an article I wrote back in April 2011 titled The anti-anti-Qaddafi left  and expected him to sell the Syrian opposition short even though in retrospect I must confess that […]

    Pingback by Hamid Dabashi, Vijay Prashad, Syria, and the left « Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — March 5, 2012 @ 6:43 pm

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