Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 18, 2011

The Battle of Misurata

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 4:31 pm

Piecing together the narrative of the anti-anti-Qaddafi left, we would be led to believe that the eastern portion of the country that they often refer to as Cyrenaica is a tribal redoubt that was never fully assimilated into the socialist society Qaddafi had been building in the name of Jamahiriya. Like Scrooge’s visitations that were attributed to “an undigested bit of beef”, the unruly Easterners were always a wild card in the ambitious move toward a New Society, kind of like the Miskito Indians in Nicaragua who were also backed by the CIA. Not only did blood rather than class define these Eastern tribes, they were also anxious to restore the monarchy as evidenced by the proliferation of flags from the pre-Qaddafi era. Unlike their “good” brothers in Egypt and Tunisia, these were the “evil” twins that had been exposed to black kryptonite or something.

This narrative begins to collapse, however, if you look at the media coverage of the Libyan revolution prior to NATO’s intervention. While it might be convenient for some to brush this under the rug, the fact is that although the revolt started in the eastern part of the country, it had spread throughout the country one week after it began in February. It was not NATO no-fly zones that were responsible for toppling Qaddafi’s rule, but popular support for an end to his family dynasty that was far more monarchical than any flag. On February 24th, the Independent reported:

FORCES LOYAL to the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi were fighting last night to consolidate control over what appeared to be the rapidly diminishing parts of the country not yet overrun by protesters in rebellion against his 42-year rule.

Colonel Gaddafi’s weakening grip on power came as a number of countries, including Britain, launched missions to rescue citizens stranded in Libya.

Opponents of the regime said they had taken the town of Misurata, outside the eastern area of the country already under rebel control, as the Libyan leader appeared increasingly confined to his redoubt in the capital. An audio statement reportedly posted on the internet by armed forces officers in Misurata proclaimed “our total support” for the protesters.

Here’s a map of Libya just to put things in perspective:

As you can see, Misurata is 130 miles east of Tripoli but far west of Benghazi. So somehow Misurata and other cities—except for Tripoli—fell victim to some kind of hysteria that had transformed everybody into monarchical tribalists anxious to collude with the CIA.

Of course the question is how Tripoli remained immune from this disease. Clearly the charisma of Qaddafi—the “Bolivar of Libya”—would explain this, or would it? Now of course nobody can possibly believe anything that the NY Times prints and we are fortunate to have such scrupulous publications like MRZine and Counterpunch aggregating just the information we need to make an intelligent decision about world events, but perhaps there is something else going on besides popular support for Libyan “socialism”. The March 4 NY Times reported:

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.”

Ah, the filthy bourgeois press. Everybody knows that nothing like this could possibly be happening in Libya, even if somehow the liberal establishment in the West seduced Saif Qaddafi into making a speech to the Libyan National Youth Conference in 2006 stating: “We have no free press. There is no press in Libya at all. We deceive ourselves when we say that we have press. Does Libya have people’s authority and a direct democracy really? … All of you know that the democratic system that we dreamed of does not exist in the realm of reality.”

As everybody knows by now, the rebels made a mistake by employing a purely military strategy. With Qaddafi’s overwhelming advantage, it was only a matter of time before raw power began to drive the rebels out of the cities they had won to their cause.

In Misurata, Qaddafi deployed helicopters on March 1 in order to blow up the local radio station that had been taken over by the revolutionaries but they drove the helicopters off with small arms fire.

The Los Angeles Times, which has not been particularly kind to the rebels, reported on March 7th:

Attacks by tanks, guns and helicopters on Zawiya and Misurata continued to kill scores of civilians, but witnesses widely reported that the cities were retained by rebels at the end of the day.

In Misurata, one of Libya’s most significant economic engines, Salah Abdel Aziz said that “they got nothing from us.”

“They brought tanks inside the city and found themselves trapped,” the 60-year-old architect said. “All you need is light guns and Molotov cocktails to defeat them. People jumped inside the tanks and killed the people inside with knives.”

To this day, Misurata is still a liberated zone. The people under attack from tanks and heavy guns (and very possibly cluster bombs) continue to resist. The New York Times reported yesterday on why the people of Misurata have remained unconquered to this point. Again, accepting the possibility that all this is a filthy capitalist lie, I think that the more persuasive conclusion is that Qaddafi is having a hard time defeating a united people who will never be defeated in the long run:

In eastern Libya, the Forces of Free Libya, as the rebels call themselves, have been woefully unprepared for warfare along the highways and open desert, where the pro-Qaddafi’s forces have advantages in organization, training, numbers and firepower.

But on the streets of Misurata, the Qaddafi forces’ upper hand has been at least partly negated by advantages realized by local men fighting in the neighborhoods where they have lived their lives.

Where Tripoli Street runs through the neighborhood of Beera, for example, the men have hidden themselves in concrete buildings against the shelling and formed a defense-in-depth, with knots of fighters in the street’s storefronts supported by others many blocks back.

The rebels move back and forth on familiar streets, disappearing quickly into buildings and reappearing in courtyards, possessing an intimate knowledge of their own terrain.

They have so few weapons that many men on the front at any given moment are unarmed, and share weapons in shifts or stand ready to take up the rifle of a comrade who falls. Their ammunition supply is short enough that fighters in the second and third ranks often carry a single magazine, so that those in the storefronts might have enough.

But they have shown signs of organization and adaptability that have given them an unexpected endurance.

Rebels here have a modicum of communication equipment. One local commander, a former professional soccer player whose troops said had no previous military experience but became a leader because he was respected, weaved through the streets in a sedan with a pair of two-way radios and two antennas.

War can be a ruthless teacher, and in Misurata the rebels have also learned something that the rebels of eastern Libya mostly have not: that dirt is their friend.

Throughout the neighborhoods, rebels have piled up sand to block roadways and to force the Qaddafi forces’ armored vehicles to slow down or change course.

The rebels have also parked lines of dump trucks heavy with sand at exposed intersections, to impede the movement of pro-Qaddafi armored patrols and to provide cover from snipers.

“One of our guys thought of this idea,” said Abdul Hamid, a fighter who said he was 64. “Qaddafi guys were coming in here, so we started doing this with sand. It stops the tanks.”

As he spoke, in a doorway, long bursts of gunfire snapped by. A few mortar rounds landed a few buildings away. Then a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into a wall about 50 yards away. It exploded, and shrapnel fell to the street. He seemed not to care.

“That’s music,” Mr. Hamid said. “Our music.”

45 Comments »

  1. Louis, I’d like you to add to your analysis the following dimension. We know a lot from the media about the dark side of the Gaddafi regime– the thousand or so machine gunned in prison, torture, hangings etc. etc. But do you think that you or others have asked why the regime actually retains significant popularity? (The absence of pro-Gaddafi crowds in the rebel cities is no better an indicator than the absence of anti-G crowds in Tripoli: the fear of standing against a dominant consensus works both ways). Here’s something to think about: when the Gaddafi regime came into power in 1969, infant mortality — perhaps the most important of all health indicators in Libya — was almost 100 for every 1000 live births. Less than a decade later it was half that. Libya’s health indicators, which were worse than its neighbours before 1969, are now better than those of Algeria (which also has oil), Egypt, Morocco, and almost all of sub-saharan africa, and even briefly better than Turkey. Libyans had a life expectancy of just about 50 when MG came to power, then now have a life expectancy of almost 75: the regime added 25 years to the lives of the average citizen. This is not to defend the repression of the MG’s state, nor to argue for its survival, but simply to note that the NATO-patronised rebels who are likely in the long run to win in Libya will probably usher in a neo-liberal regime which with its privatized water, health care, and end to food subsidies will mean that many many more Libyans will die of hunger and unnecessary premature death than ever died from Gadaffi’s repression.

    Comment by Amicus — April 18, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

  2. You can replace USSR for Libya and Stalin for Qaddafi and you end up with the same reasoning as the CP’s.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 18, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

  3. and maybe the CP was right
    See Stuckler, David, Lawrence King and Martin McKee. 2009. “Mass Privatisation and the Post- Communist Mortality Crisis: A Cross-National Analysis.” The Lancet 373(9661):399–407.

    Comment by Amicus — April 18, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

  4. The CP was right? Don’t you understand that it was the CP itself that undermined socialism in the Soviet Union?

    Comment by louisproyect — April 18, 2011 @ 6:10 pm

  5. Yes, the CPSU in its many permutations has a lot to answer for. All the same, sometimes a deformed/degenerate/state capitalist developmental dicatatorship may be better than the alternatives. I am troubled by the idealism on the part of much of the left that assumes that any kind of government is possible anytime anywhere. I thought you’d appreciate the irony that your friend Mr Abdul Hamid, now age 64, would probably be dead, rather than vigorously fighting, were it not for what the Gaddafi regime achieved. None of this is to say that that MG’s regime does not deserve to be driven from power by a popular revolt, but merely to season some reasonable pessimism into the arguments of the left supporters of regime change.

    Comment by Amicus — April 18, 2011 @ 6:56 pm

  6. “to season some reasonable pessimism” – Amicus is at least honest, unlike the others. I prefer “reasonable optimism”.

    But what I am troubled by is the the profound conservatism and fear of revolution of apologists for policies originating with the old Stalin Comintern, who as a result can’t see a revolution when it is happening right under their noses, or if they do see it, recoil in terror. It is the reality of revolution of the oppressed and exploited masses, and that alone – not “left idealism” – that make, not “any” government, but a government that moves against the counterrevolutionary trend of ever more capitalism and collaboration with imperialism possible. Is it really “unbridled optimism” to expect to reverse the present reactionary course of world events? We are not even talking about the socialist revolution here, although realistically that is what it will take to reverse that course.

    If that is too much to ask for then, Amicus, you’ve given up.

    That revolution is also in reaction to the neo-liberal turn of the Ghadaffi clan as has been well documented here. It certainly is in Egypt. What does it matter if the masses made material gains under Gadaffy or Stalin in the past (said for the sake of argument as the reality is more complex), if as a result of their counterrevolutionary policies, their political successors just turn around and sell it down the river to capitalism and imperialism, as Gadhaffi & Sons were in the process of doing?

    The plain fact is that we now live in an era where a *strategic defense* based on the gains of the previous era primarily defined by the event of the Russian Revolution of 1917 – one that came to an end in 1989 – is no longer possible – no longer a realistic strategy – because most of those gains have been reversed or overturned at various levels, with only a few bits and pieces such as Cuba left. And that is looking to head down the tubes sooner than later.

    Even in the privileged imperialist countries such as the USA the mass gains of that past era such as Social Security and Medicare are now on the very edge of demolition. And what you could say about Gadhaffi and Stalin you could also have said about the US Democratic Party – the US working class and African Americans made real material advances between the New Deal and the 1970’s, without anyone having any illusions in a “socialist” or “anti-imperialist” DP. Indeed it was said by the very same followers of the same Comintern, the CPUSA, and thus the “reasonably pessimistic” Left have supported the Democrats ever since, and who – like the WWP/PSL/MRzine folks – show every sign of following the old regime to its grave.

    The remains of the gains of the past must be defended, but the *strategy* must be to *rebuild* the revolutionary mass movement and within it the revolutionary proletarian movement. There is no other alternative. The remnants of the past are a secondary matter now. That is why, when a real revolutionary upsurge of the masses makes its appearance, as it obviously has in the Arab world, we have no alternative but to UNCONDITIONALLY support it, despite all of its limitations.

    That’s the attitude to take – internationalist realpolitik and revolutionary morality I call it – and not one of “pessimism”, however “reasonable”, but one which honestly strikes me as weirdly out of place and inappropriate in an increasingly desperate world situation where only “reasonable optimism” that looks forward to the possibilities of the future rather than clinging to the remains of the past has a chance in hell to succeed.

    Comment by Matt — April 18, 2011 @ 9:04 pm

  7. Matt I challenge you to show me any evidence whatsoever that the rebels in Libya have any coherent programme, let alone a progressive one which “moves against the counterrevolutionary trend of ever more capitalism and collaboration with imperialism”. The Egyptian situation is very different, there we can identify the underground left and spontaneous self-organisation of progressive groups and in particular trade unions. For Libya I prefer to wait and see, but my instincts tell me that a political campaign sponsored to this degree by Sarkozy, Cameron, and some of the Clintonites is not going anywhere I want to go, and that the leadership working with NATO will be at NATO’s mercy after the war, where it is not already ideologically aligned to it. There is a reason that that you cannot find a single political leader in Latin America or Africa nor indeed — barring the client states of Araby like Qatar and Bahrain and Saudi Arabia — any enthusiasm for this intervention.

    Comment by Amicus — April 18, 2011 @ 9:30 pm

  8. The thing that must be kept in mind is that since Qaddafi ruled in the name of socialism, it is not surprising that the revolutionary movement tends to shirk that label–as far as we can tell. This is basically a spontaneous mass movement that has not had the chance to develop a program and an *authentic* leadership. If it has no other aim than to topple a brutal dynasty, then I would give it critical support.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 18, 2011 @ 9:44 pm

  9. What became the Contras in Nicaragua also grew out of “a spontaneous mass movement” in elements of the Nicaraguan people who had regional or local reasons to oppose the Sandinistas (Miskito indians, the Bluefields community etc.). UNITA in Angola and RENAMO in Mozambique were also legitimate representatives of sections of their national opinion. Underlying many nation states are frozen civil wars, in which groups at the margins exist in a mutually hostile and uneasy relationship with the power of the centre. This underlying crisis, particularly endemic in post-colonial states, exists to be exploited today as in the past.

    What is being established now in Libya, with some left cheerleading, is a critical set of precedents for 21st century Imperialism: (1) excite and manipulate some sectional or regional interest (and however national the opposition to Gaddafi, the hard nucleus of opposition is, you will admit Louis, the East); (2) quickly ‘recognize” the sectional group as the legitimate government (as with the Germans and Croatia c. 1990, and France and the Benghazi crew in 2011; (3) accuse the central government which tries to restore control over its own territory or actual or potential mass murder or human rights abuses, on the basis of which the great power(s) agree to arm and maybe even fight for the civil war beligerents; (4) place your client regime in control of the state, or dismember the nation state into more easily controlled and exploited units.

    Comment by Amicus — April 18, 2011 @ 10:04 pm

  10. Amicus, the Sandinistas had a totally different understanding of the Atlantic Coast rebellion than you do. They blame themselves for causing it and worked from the beginning to reconcile with the rebels.

    http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/indian/miskitos.htm

    Comment by louisproyect — April 18, 2011 @ 10:21 pm

  11. Excellent observations here by Amicus, and i don’t see anything in them to suggest he misunderstood the nature of the Miskito rebellion in Nicaragua. The point here is that the character of the sectional or regional interest that imperialism lends its support to is irrelevant (as far as the imperialists are concerned). The West’s overwhelming economic and material resources will always guarantee the successful cooptation of any sectional group they support. To see the toppling of the Gaddafi regime as the sine qua non of any and all progress in Libya is a fundamentalist attitude and mirrors the logic of the ‘Left’ supporters of the invasion of Iraq. Under changing conditions, many tyrannies have eased over time and given way to more democratic and progressive governments as the old guard dies off. I can’t see how NATO bombs could accomplish anything of the sort. Instead of political liberalization, NATO’s intervention will only bequeath bitterness, increased polarisation of the country, and a weak and dependent “failed state” riven by insurgencies. Are material conditions no longer of *any* concern on a Marxist forum such as this?

    Comment by david montoute — April 18, 2011 @ 11:21 pm

  12. The point here is that the character of the sectional or regional interest that imperialism lends its support to is irrelevant (as far as the imperialists are concerned).

    What you regard as a “sectional” or “regional” interest is what I would regard as a revolt against despotic rule. When the Australian imperialists intervened in East Timor, that did not affect my support for those fighting for national independence.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 18, 2011 @ 11:34 pm

  13. Thou shalt not revolt against oppression without a clear program (written in English), or thalt shalt face the wrath of purists, historical revisionists, and unreconstructed Stalinists!

    Comment by Binh — April 18, 2011 @ 11:49 pm

  14. @ Binh.I’m neither a purist nor a Stalinist. As i already said, the issue isn’t the character or politics of the rebellion, but the larger forces at play which will determine its direction and ultimately, its fruits. @Louis, i don’t claim it’s *only* regional, but if Gaddafi is as universally unpopular as the rebels say, then i’m somewhat confused as to why they’re not having more success against him. I’m thinking about other revolutionary movements, such as El Salvador’s FMLN or Nepal’s Maoists and wondering how long it would have taken them to seize power if they’d had NATO as their air force. You do not rule for 40 years on repression alone (it takes pacts, patronage and alliances too) and neither do ruthlessness and despotism automatically preclude popularity. Think: Peron, Nasser, or even Fujimori. Does pointing this out make me a Gaddafi apologist or an “anti-anti”?

    Comment by david montoute — April 19, 2011 @ 12:24 am

  15. I don’t want to even think about Amacus’s view of the Iranian Revolution.

    but if Gaddafi is as universally unpopular as the rebels say, then i’m somewhat confused as to why they’re not having more success against him.

    I will concede Gaddafi didn’t rule by terror alone.

    I think the rebels moving away from the tactics of Egyptians, is their problem. Imperialists aren’t in Libya, to strengthen the Arab Revolution. At the same time, contrary to the extreme right and left, who think the US is omnipotent, and have great plans for the world, don’t have a clue, how to disengage, or even know what they want to do.

    Louis: Save your Libya posts for a book.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — April 19, 2011 @ 4:44 am

  16. It’s fairly simple, so far as I can see. The uprising against the Gadaffi government had positive and negative overtones. However, it was captured by international imperialism, which obviously emphasises the negative and deletes the positive. Therefore, if you are opposed to international imperialism, you must perforce now incline to Gadaffi.

    If, however, you insist that Gadaffi is so evil that supporting international imperialism is the lesser evil, fair enough. It would be advisable, of course, not to rely upon the propaganda of international imperialism to sustain that argument.

    Unfortunately, a great number of leftists uncritically jumped on the anti-Gadaffi bandwagon when it began rolling and refused to jump off when it was taken in tow by an imperialist armoured vehicle. Some, no doubt, have done so on ignoble grounds, but most, I submit, have done so simply because they are incapable of acknowledging making a mistake.

    Comment by hismastersvoice — April 19, 2011 @ 7:11 am

  17. @Louis, I think your view of the Libyan rebels is based on a romantic projection onto them of a national liberation struggle. This is a civil war, in which a majority and a minority idea of the nation are in contest, in which general Libyan public unhappiness with the MG regime is in syncretic association with powerful regional separatist sympathy, and in which foreign powers have actively promoted events (France had people on the ground meddling while the Egyptian revolution was still in motion).

    @Binh, I am none of revisionist, stalinist, or purist. But I am also not an overexcitable romantic, who looks at every crowd and says excitedly “ah! the people!”. It is striking — and the contrast between the Libyan revolt and the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions is clear here — that there has been no programme other than the liberal manifesto issued in London and probably written by a PR team. In Egypt we saw pamphlets, banners, songs, chants, and visible opposition ideas, often in contention.

    @Renegade eye, the Iranian revolution (I’m presuming you mean in 1979, and you have no fantasy that there is one today) was extraordinarily ideologically articulate, with a rich world of newspapers, cassette tapes, and the most extraordinary experimentation with mixing islam, marxism, liberal ideas. But you are right that the US in particular does not quite know what it wants or how to get it. However, we are looking a general western programme for maintaining by what ever means Europe’s special place in the world, and that’s being prosecuted with force.

    There is a reason why– as I was saying earlier — that there is no support in Latin America, Africa, or almost all of Asia for this intervention. While a bunch of European and United States leftists are swept up in a kind of voyeuristic excitement, we see a dangerous attack on the principle of national sovereignty. That may not matter to you all, as you dream your dreams of revolution, but the nation state has been and will be the framework in which people get clean water, food, education, health care, housing. By those measures the Libyan state has been extraordinarily successful and progressive, Libya has been the best place to be born poor in the African continent — compare to Nigeria, where with much more oil, we have seen life expectancy DECREASE since independence, so that today it is still below 50, about where Libya was when MG came into power.

    I repeat, since none of you have yet engaged with the facts, that when the Gaddafi regime came into power in 1969, infant mortality — perhaps the most important of all health indicators in Libya — was almost 100 for every 1000 live births. Less than a decade later it was half that. Libya’s health indicators, which were worse than its neighbours before 1969, are now better than those of Algeria (which also has oil), Egypt, Morocco, and almost all of sub-saharan africa, and even briefly better than Turkey. Libyans had a life expectancy of just about 50 when MG came to power, then now have a life expectancy of almost 75: the regime added 25 years to the lives of the average citizen.

    This is not to defend the repression of the MG’s state, but to ask us to think with a bit more measure and complexity about the situation

    Comment by Amicus — April 19, 2011 @ 8:37 am

  18. Alexander Cockburn’s piece which provoked Louis’s response contains much of value. If you haven’t read it its here: http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/103666

    I hope you’ve all see also today’s piece in the Independent which shows that the Iraq invasion was, er, about the oil (at least in part)
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/secret-memos-expose-link-between-oil-firms-and-invasion-of-iraq-2269610.html
    Anybody who thinks that the French push for NATO backup for the Benghazi crew isn’t about TotalElfFina’s potential future share in Libya’s oil reserves really deserves a slap in the head

    Comment by Amicus — April 19, 2011 @ 11:47 am

  19. Amicus, the improvements in HDI have been enjoyed by every oil-producing country in the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia that ranks just around the same level as Libya. However, there is massive discontent in every such country mainly because people object to repression. The reason you come across as a Stalinist is because you are using the same logic for Libya that people once used in defending Brezhnev. As you have stated above, you have no problem with this. You cite a 64 year old man who is alive because of Qaddafi’s welfare state but you have forgotten apparently that Marx and Engels first involvement with politics was with the revolution of 1848 that many people liken the Arab revolt to. Clearly you discount the importance of democracy even though Marx and Engels did not.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 19, 2011 @ 1:10 pm

  20. “Revolutionaries, abstain from supporting a revolt against the dictator until that revolt has provided us with a clear programme!”Isn’t the task of revolutionists to be in the trenches or to be making contact with the rebels to assist them in any way we can to help them get rid of the dictator and remain independent of the imperialists?

    Comment by damien — April 19, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

  21. @Louis, not exactly true: Libya started at a lower level (Kuwait already had a life expectancy in the mid 60s in 1969, UAE was not much lower, Saudi in the low 50s) and went to a higher level. Comparison with Algeria and Nigeria are to my mind more significant. It is also slightly slack for you to bring Brezhnev into this, the key point of Stuckler, David, Lawrence King and Martin McKee. 2009. “Mass Privatisation and the Post- Communist Mortality Crisis: A Cross-National Analysis.” The Lancet 373(9661):399–407 is that the vast majority of Russians were better off under the USSR. That’s just a fact. Call me a factist if you like, I’ll accept that over the kind of political intoxication which those on my side so often prefer. And the logic and relevance of your invocation of Marx and Engels completely misses me, unless you think that it is our job to read the politics of the past onto present crises, something which Marx did a little bit to warn us of in the 18th Brumaire (written of course after all the dust and hysteria and delusions of 1848 had expired). You talk loosely about ‘democracy’ where, to the best of my knowledge, there is no news of any democratic process at work in the Libyan rebellion, or any democratic agenda, just an anti-government insurgency.

    @Damien, people in the imperialist powers should not think that because they consider themselves to be “revolutionaries” that, with only the scarcest knowledge of the real conditions on the ground, it is legitimate for them to pick a side in other peoples’ civil wars. If the insurrectos have a right to win, they will do it with their own means, and without your help, as it is they already have a range of extremely wealthy and powerful countries funding them, arming them, training them, and bombing for them.

    Comment by Amicus — April 19, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

  22. Amicus, Libya pales in comparison to the USSR which went from a largely disease-ridden and hungry peasant population to a modern society. But the point you still don’t get, especially since you keep bringing up how “good” the Russians had it, is that people don’t want to live in a police state. I think that I have made this point often enough at this point and will probably leave it like this. I find it tiresome when debates go around in circles.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 19, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

  23. So let us be clear, Louis, I’m presuming you thought the Iraq War was illegal and immoral, how then about this one given that UN security council resolution 1973, “does not authorise member states to support the rebels, to defend armed groups, or to oust Gaddafi. Nor does it authorise an Iraq-style ground invasion or military occupation”? Is it really more important for you to have some petty disagreement with Cockburn or to oppose an imperialist precedent which will haunt the 21st century? Have you spent as much time on your bully pulpit here denouncing the intervention as you have doing PR for the Libyan rebels?
    I’m puzzled

    Comment by Amicus — April 19, 2011 @ 6:32 pm

  24. Amicus, you need to look at the Real News Network coverage because everything you claim is “missing” from Libya’s revolution that was present in Egypt and Tunisia is right there if you look for it. Regardless, since when does the presense or absence of a program determine whether a revolution against an oppressive dictatorship should be supported or not? What was the program of Spartacus and his slave revolt? Anyone know? Oh well, I guess we can’t support it now.

    Comment by Binh — April 19, 2011 @ 7:45 pm

  25. @Amicus. My thoughts exactly. There are far bigger priorities than castigating the “anti-anti-Gaddafi Left”, which group — a heterogenous lot if ever there was one — is simply trying to counter the Empire’s simplistic propaganda with a more a complete look at the Libyan scenario. How about a few words on the ten thousand dead, the physical ruination of yet another Muslim nation, and how to stop the internationalization and militarization of local conflicts?

    @Binh. “What was the program of Spartacus and his slave revolt?” It certainly wasn’t a call for Rome to be invaded and occupied by some rival empire. If it had been, the man would have been forgotten. The “unconditional support” for anyone who rising up against a tyranny (as offered by Matt above) taken to its logical conclusion, would have us waving the flag for the likes of Sendero Luminoso or the Khmer Rouge. Let’s clear the sentimental cobwebs from our brains and recognize that people are people, and that there’s no reason to expect a sudden end to repression and injustice as soon as Gaddafi goes. This recent footage from Misrata should make that clear (not for the faint-hearted): http://uruknet.info/?p=m76906&fb=1

    Comment by david montoute — April 19, 2011 @ 8:39 pm

  26. This recent footage from Misrata should make that clear (not for the faint-hearted): http://uruknet.info/?p=m76906&fb=1

    Nor for the skeptical.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 19, 2011 @ 8:43 pm

  27. Louis, the footage shows the rebels hanging and mutilating a prisoner. What is there to be skeptical about?

    Comment by david montoute — April 19, 2011 @ 9:24 pm

  28. Instability is Stability

    What many on the left don’t seem to get is the Empire wants instability. A loyal strongman is nice–if living under such as regime can be called “stable”–but short of that a state of perceptual civil war is apparently just fine. Look at just about the entire continent of Africa–comprised of conflict-riddled “countries” the Europeans (and de facto the US) are perfectly happy to work with.* Rather than the “overthrow of a monarchy” the role of the rebellion so far as it falls in the hands of NATO is–if history is any guide–making an expectational country by African standards (with respect to objective indicators such as healthiness, infant morality, rates of starvation, access to clean water, odds of being gunned down by militants and so) a typical one.

    *Excepting the odd miscreant faction that has to be put down from time to time as in Darfur.

    Comment by Peter Ward — April 19, 2011 @ 11:41 pm

  29. David – if you have a link to Spartacus’ program, I’d like to read it for myself before we get into what it was or wasn’t. And please, no more Pol Pot red herrings. I prefer to keep my politics and my comedy separate.

    Comment by Binh — April 20, 2011 @ 5:59 am

  30. Binh you are vending the rankest of red herrings — Spartacus! What an absurd reference. I presume you think we should be in solidarity with his revolt, right? Sorry comrade, but Spartacus for me is part of ancient history, and I neither support him nor the Romans. It is telling that you think that History requires a kind of cheerleading from us, in which we pick a side and argue for it.

    Re: the Libyan rebels, we have been watching the Libyan revolt for months now, we know almost nothing about its programme, all we know about it is that it is anti-government and that it has been promoted and armed by the West and the most reactionary regimes in the Arab world, and that its victory will in all likelihood be accompanied by NATO military bases on Libyan soil, the privatization of the Libyan national oil company (hitherto western oil companies have only operated in joint ventures under license) etc. Sometimes one has to stand back, and recognise this does not concern you, you do not have a real interest and are not exposed to any risk in terms of the possible outcomes, and you just should STFU. The most progressive outcome of this matter will the be the eventual humiliation of France, Britain, and NATO in yet another strategic defeat, but the Libyan people will pay a terrible price in a long low intensity civil war, a destroyed infrastructure, and land and water polluted by depleted uranium and other munitions.

    Comment by Amicus — April 20, 2011 @ 11:24 am

  31. Yes, everyone who doesn’t agree with Amicus and Gaddafi should just STFU! It’s right to rebel! Just not in Libya.

    Comment by Binh — April 20, 2011 @ 4:26 pm

  32. Hi folks,
    In all videos from tubes I never seen wounded Kadaffi soldier ? Very strange they report
    that all are mercenary. He, he..
    Anyway it is CIA action, all participant from National Congress comes from NY, why nobody say that
    special unit “Thunderbird” under general Jabril is responsible for it.
    Main plan is to control gas oil and block air army base, rebels are very well organized and armed
    in Al Zaviah and Misuratah because they transport army over ships. They have tanks but whole
    time I look on picture from hospitals and rebels help and help NATO for air strikes.
    Anyway from Bengazy side you can see in lot tubes parts of Al Qaida involved in those action
    and a lot web sites support Al Qaida and their fighters in Libya.
    NATO is organization prepared to war if anybody prepare attack of any state in NATO alliance.

    Now how is possible that war is started and only alliance involved in war accepted that National
    Congress in Bengazy. Regime in Tripoly should not be changed in accordance with UN resolution.

    Why nobody never write opinion what is target on that road, Misurata..Sirta, Ras Lanuf, Brega
    Aydabia. Under that road go tubes with crystal water.
    It is war for gold, oil and water. The diameter of tubes is 4 meters, it was Kadaffi project
    for Libya people.

    Now the picture and text about children comes every minutes, doctor said … doctor said,
    I do not believed in any of those reports, who know so many numbers of doctors and all those doctors must have satellite phones (in Libya ??). It is funny.

    Comment by backy — April 20, 2011 @ 4:46 pm

  33. “rebels are very well organized”

    Amazing the things you see on the Internet…

    Comment by louisproyect — April 20, 2011 @ 4:53 pm

  34. Anyway does anybody know any democratic country in Arab world , tell me , some kings, prince
    and all another are under army, no democracy in any country.

    If I sow picture from road and rebels with one leg and crutch which go to 300 km far Trippoly and
    whole time said Freedom and Allah Akbar, everybody know what is it.

    Freedom for islam republic and we have already one, Iran.

    Comment by backy — April 20, 2011 @ 4:56 pm

  35. Amicus said:

    “It is telling that you think that History requires a kind of cheerleading from us”

    You have heard of such historical beasts as capitalism, democracy, autocracy, etc., right? Aside from other aspects of progressive activity, are you arguing that these things are all alike, so there’s no point to “cheering” (or doing anything else) for one or the other?

    (And Lenin posted a thorough response to the same question by Peter here:

    http://leninology.blogspot.com/2011/04/creep.html

    Comment by Todd — April 20, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

  36. Anyway I do not see in this report privilege from Libya people,
    free electrical current, free doctors whole life without any fee, free schools and faculty
    banks with credit without any rates of interest, you can buy any world car
    with factory price, after wedding you get for free flat from Libya gouverment.

    Nobody have not that freedom nor US nor NATO they must dreaming about it.

    US want that Libya have something similar as congress but please note that Libya is tribes country.

    The tribes lives in Afganistan, Somalia, Jemen, Syria so US do not understand that it is tribes
    with bloody revenge.
    Every part of tribe must produce a lot sons, every son is one more gun in tribe.

    Comment by backy — April 20, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

  37. The world would be a better place today if the often-popular uprisings for ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ in the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe in 1989-1991 had been crushed. And I generally took that position at the time, not just in hindsight.

    Comment by Aaron Aarons — April 21, 2011 @ 8:13 am

  38. The world would be a better place today if the often-popular uprisings for ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ in the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe in 1989-1991 had been crushed. And I generally took that position at the time, not just in hindsight.

    That certainly would have enhanced the image of socialism worldwide.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 21, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

  39. Aaron: The dead workers and students of Tiananmen Square salute you for your brave stand! China surely is a better place thanks to the actions of the Chinese CP who didn’t balk like the Russians did, yes?

    Comment by Binh — April 21, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

  40. Based on what I knew at the time, I opposed the repression at Tienanmen and critically supported the attempted coup against the capitalist restorationists in 1991. The failure of that coup, largely due to the fact that it was a coup and not a broad working-class mobilization against the restorationists, led, inter alia, to about 10,000,000 excess deaths in the former USSR in the following decade. It’s interesting, BTW, that the fake left had so little to say (and bourgeois democrats even less) about Yeltsin’s bloody coup in 1993 that directly killed about 1,000 people and ushered in the ‘shock therapy’ that largely caused the afore-mentioned 10,000,000 deaths.

    Comment by Aaron Aarons — April 22, 2011 @ 1:32 am

  41. We pray for a free libya politically,economically and socially.I mean we pray for freedom of faith also parallel to political freedom

    Comment by gtemba — April 22, 2011 @ 9:03 am

  42. There’s something utterly cynical about this insistence on the level of life quality in Libya, of course; as others have noted above, it’s what used to be said of the USSR and the former Eastern Bloc countries. (What’s more, it’s an argument I will sometimes use myself, but never implying things there used to be otherwise “good.” Just to point out the obvious, that many there are now worse off materially even than they used to be. And so have been left in the cold by the “West” over the course of their supposed “liberation.”)

    1) It’s a truism to say that “the left” has a tendency to be more sensitive to some people’s liberation struggles or efforts that suit a certain pattern and agenda, less so to others. I used to hang out with friends in the former GDR, in the years leading up to and immediately following the fall of the Wall. They were part of what you might call the punk/underground/countercultural scene there (yes, not widely known perhaps to many, there existed such a thing, and quite lively if otherwise of necessity pretty well-hidden too. The subject has been well-documented since, I know for instance Amsterdam’s book shop Het Fort van Sjakoo http://www.sjakoo.nl/ stocks a number of interesting titles on it, many of them of course in German.) While largely goofy and innocent, the way punk rockers and assorted counterculturalists worldwide perhaps will tend to be — or perhaps precisely because of it –, it is hard to fathom just how precarious their position was. The constant threat to your existence, to your physical freedom and integrity, precisely because of not doing anything much at all. Other than having a bit of fun, perhaps, and yes, of course being somewhat “against the system.” Feeling the breath of the omnipresent Stasi always in your neck — whilst never knowing for sure who might be working for them, of course. Moreover, the overwhelming sense of this life never leading anywhere; of things never being about to change. There was always someone who knew some horrifying stories of people landing up in jail (my own girlfriend at the time, East German herself, had a few to tell); people were aware of the more political resistance (e.g. that centered around East Berlin’s Gethsemane Church) and sympathized, though I’m not aware of many who were directly involved; they were just different scenes, the way you have in the West. (There was some natural overlap, so that some of these bands might sometimes play in these churches, and such.)

    I guess what I’m saying is that perhaps, and with all due sense for perspective, maybe whether we live to age fifty or sixty-five is immaterial even compared to having at least the notion of a modicum of being one’s own agent; of autonomy, of freedom of expression, of thought (of movement, certainly! Etc.)* In the here-and-now, if you will. Yes, these people had guaranteed affordable housing, health care, public transport, more or less a guaranteed job even (and no matter how otherwise daft and mind-numbing, utterly pointless even. Being a slacker was certainly made into an art form by no few of these friends of mine, and the very system seemed to lend itself well to it. If, of course, you found yourself lucky enough not to be some factory worker or so. And the situation in the countryside, by-the-by, being far less rosy than in the cities, in terms of just the basest of life necessities. Yes, there was hunger, and there was poverty. And even in a city like Berlin, that stereotype of having the choice between rows and rows of the same jam in the supermarkets was very real. In the countryside however even those rows tended to be lacking, save for people lining up outside, that was all very true.) But were they happy? No, they were not. And how could one be, under the circumstances.

    * Of course, we may argue and debate to what extent such agency or autonomy in our own, Western, lives has any real substance, or is rather illusory. I’d say that in light of life in the former GDR or Poland etc. and what I imagine to be Libya today, such considerations are largely abstractions. Entertaining coffee-table talk for those who don’t have to immediately fear for their lives, or shall we say their physical and mental integrity, and little more.

    2) During the very fall of the wall, I had the misfortune to witness what was by-and-large the reception of these people by their counterparts in West Berlin — let’s say roughly the autonomist/squatter’s/indeed punk and countercultural scene there. The politically active, and radical leftist moreover, yes sir, ma’am. Now that these folks could finally and suddenly cross over the border — ah, just imagine that however short-lived elation, the up till just a day before seemingly impossible! You really would have needed to be there to sense the feeling in the air. That feeling, no matter how brief and obviously doomed, that all was out in the open.

    But no, by and large again, these people were treated by what should have really been their Western autonomist comrades as a bit silly, daft, naive, politically unaware (strange, isn’t it, having just emerged from four decades of utter repression, of being deprived of information, of being literally kept down) — as stupid “Ossies” (easterlings, a half-jesting, half-disparaging term. In earnest, the reverse term of “Wessie,” or westerling, has become equally current.)

    Hailing from that Western scene myself, I found it all pretty disgusting and embarassing. The overwhelming feeling one got was people were just uncomfortable with these folks who didn’t quite fit into the current discourse. That more shameful of course, since this their eastern mirror image had been taking place right next door for all that time, with just a wall inbetween indeed. Now that they showed up, people just didn’t know what to do with it, it seemed. Something of a painful echo perhaps of the way mainstream society was soon to go “oh, well, that’s all well and good, but we don’t want all these fortune-seekers coming in here.”

    3) I’m not sure if I got my point across just now. Maybe take it by means of illustration, you can do with it what you will. I’ve been meaning to write a piece entitled “The Arab Spring and the Left’s Impotence,” but not really being much of a writer, I’m not getting around to it. “The Arab Spring and the Left’s Utter Moral Failure” is meanwhile starting to look like a more befitting title. Tho’ I guess soon there won’t be any point left in writing it anyway. Inasmuch as we’re being overtaken by events as we speak.

    A feeling meanwhile and with regards to the current situation I’ve been getting is what we witness (if we hadn’t already) is the utter failure of this idea of some “internet liberation” — all info accessible to all, and all at the click of a button, & each a journalist (or analyst, or whatever) unto their own.

    But once again, you see this backfiring, to a point of sheer information overload, with all that info being seemingly “equal,” even though obviously it isn’t. There’s this disturbing tendency on the left, that’s becoming clearer by the day if not the minute, to veer over into all-encompassing conspiracy thinking — and the web clearly isn’t helping it. Sure, now every Joe, Jill & Jane can pass judgement on this or that situation — but what good is that judgement, what is it based on.

    (What is surely telling is how suddenly supposed leftists may dig up proof of the Libyan rebels being CIA or Al-Qaida or what have you from such luminaries of the free press as the UK’s Daily Telegraph and whatnot. Right, guys, so since when did we take those to be credible sources, never to be subjected to some careful scrutiny?)

    What we seem to be in dire need of is some reputable sources, preferably those on the ground, preferably those of some recognized standing even among their adversaries — but I’ve so far largely found myself looking with a candle in the dark.

    4) Finally, it seems to me that the whole socialist project, and including its many derivatives — if I must and if anything, I’d consider myself an anarchist, perhaps more by nature than as a matter of ideology — has become (and if again it hadn’t been clear yet) more of a burden than a useful tool, or model. And one that we need to get rid of, in order to build up something new.

    What that will be, I can’t be sure of. Moreover, it has become such a burden that I don’t hold my hopes up of this disappearing any time soon. That is to say that for probably, say, a century or two to come, any liberational effort will always seek to find expression in those terms. Or we will seek to make it so.

    But those terms clearly scarcely apply to what is happening, say, in North Africa and the Middle East now. We need to invent a whole new language. (Moreover and has been pointed out above, but my feeling is it ought to be said much more often and much louder, people seem to completely overlook how the likes of Gaddafi have been using and abusing socialist rhetoric for decades now. You wouldn’t seriously expect his subjects — as, indeed, Eastern Europeans before them — when they rise up to express themselves in those terms, now would you?)

    As has been noted, at least by lending the rebels in various countries our unconditional support now, maybe the participants will stand a chance of being alive to sort out the details as they arise. And who knows, maybe instead of giving them directions, we may learn something from them.

    (Ah, and then as for this strange and silly notion that “If people don’t support Gaddafi, how come they haven’t overthrown him yet?,” I simply have no words for it. What fictional Hollywood or otherwise utterly autistic or isolationist world do we live in that leads us to believe this is the way things work? Sure, folks, all it takes for you is to be against something for it to go away of its own accord.)

    Comment by whatever — April 22, 2011 @ 4:38 pm

  43. Aaron wrote @37: “The world would be a better place today if the often-popular uprisings for ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ in the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe in 1989-1991 had been crushed. And I generally took that position at the time, not just in hindsight.”

    Louis responded @38: “That certainly would have enhanced the image of socialism worldwide.”

    Leaving sarcasm aside (something that Louis has a hard time doing), socialism might today, had the counter-revolution been crushed, still be a specter haunting the world’s bourgeoise and their petit-bourgeois democratic hangers-on, rather than something they can dismiss contemptuously while they plunder the planet. I would regard the former image of socialism as preferable to the latter.

    Comment by Aaron Aarons — April 24, 2011 @ 6:20 am

  44. @42’whatever’:

    The constant threat to your existence, to your physical freedom and integrity, precisely because of not doing anything much at all.

    Sounds like a good description of the experience of Black, Chicano, and Native American males in the United Snakes of AmeriKKKa. And the situation of undocumented migrant workers in the U.S. and Europe is several times worse, but not as bad as that of the hundreds of millions of people who would be going to bed hungry every night, if only they had a bed.

    […] people seem to completely overlook how the likes of Gaddafi have been using and abusing socialist rhetoric for decades now. You wouldn’t seriously expect his subjects — as, indeed, Eastern Europeans before them — when they rise up to express themselves in those terms, now would you?

    And haven’t the ruling classes of the capitalist countries been using and abusing the rhetoric of “freedom” and “democracy” for well over a century? Why are people who rise up in those countries often expressing themselves in those terms?

    BTW, any assertions about what you, an anonymous entity, experienced, witnessed or were told are worthless as evidence of anything.

    Comment by Aaron Aarons — April 24, 2011 @ 7:11 am

  45. I guess someone like Aaron might be interested to read the following, “The last prisoner,” http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-loushnikova/last-prisoner .

    That would however be assuming they had no access to such information before. Which would be wrong.

    (I also guess we should be assuming I reckoned the above to be an invitation to further discussion. Which would be wrong.

    I could spot a point or two that are open to contestation however. Who knows, who knows indeed…)

    Comment by whatever — April 29, 2011 @ 7:03 am


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