Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 29, 2011

Misrata rebels defy “anti-imperialist” analysis

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 2:14 pm

Misrata rebels defy Libya’s new regime

City refuses to accept appointment by National Transitional Council of former Gaddafi ally as Tripoli security chief

Misratans protest

Misratans protest against the National Transition Council decision. The placard reads: ‘Whoever helped kill Libyans will never lead us, even with one word.’
Photograph: Irina Kalashnikova

The first cracks in Libya‘s rebel coalition have opened, with protests erupting in Misrata against the reported decision of the National Transitional Council (NTC) to appoint a former Gaddafi henchman as security boss of Tripoli.

Media reports said the NTC prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, is poised to appoint Albarrani Shkal, a former army general, as the capital’s head of security.

Protests erupted in the early hours of the morning in Misrata’s Martyr’s Square, with about 500 protesters shouting that the “blood of the martyrs” would be betrayed by the appointment.

Misrata’s ruling council lodged a formal protest with the NTC, saying that if the appointment were confirmed Misratan rebel units deployed on security duties in Tripoli would refuse to follow NTC orders.

Misratans blame Shkal for commanding units that battered their way into this city in the spring, terrorising and murdering civilians.

NTC sources say Shkal, formerly a key confidant of Muammar Gaddafi, turned rebel informer in May, passing valuable information back to the rebel capital, Benghazi.

But Misratans believe that prior to that, he was operations officer for the 32nd brigade, whose overall commander is Gaddafi’s son Khamis.

The brigade took the leading role in a siege that saw tanks and artillery bombard residential areas of the city, murdering several hundred civilians.

Shouting above anti-Jabril chanting and volleys of gunfire being fired into the air, one protester, Mohammed Zubia, said many people were shocked by the news. He said: “Mr Jabril says he wants to include all people who worked for Gaddafi but how can we accept that? We need new blood.”

Mr Jabril, whose NTC executive installed itself in Tripoli over the weekend, says he wants to build an “inclusive” administration. He appears to have the tacit support of London, with the defence secretary, Liam Fox, telling al-Jazeera it was important the NTC avoided excluding members of the former regime.

London is believed to be keen to avoid a rerun of Iraq, where a de-Baathification programme saw the ruling administration removed and chaos follow the US-led invasion in 2003.

But Misratans say allowing Gaddafi regime officials to take key security jobs is not the answer.

“I can’t see any justication for [it] whatsoever,” said Hassan al-Amin, who returned to the town after 28 years’ exile spent in the UK. “We have a big force in Tripoli. They are not going to follow orders from a war criminal.”

The president of Misrata’s council, Sheikh Khalifa Zuwawi, said Misratan rebel troops controlling many strategic points across Tripoli may refuse to obey NTC orders.

“I think all the Libyan thwar [revolutionary fighters] will not obey his [Shkal’s] orders, not just those from Misrata,” Zuwawi told the Guardian. “Shkal is with Gaddafi. Not long ago he was using troops to shell people in Misrata. Mahmoud Jibril cannot do it just by himself: it is against the people.”

Behind the protests is a wider grudge between Misratans and the NTC, which many accuse of representing Benghazi rather than Libyans as a whole. Misrata’s military council continues to refuse to follow orders from NTC army commanders, and some rebels complain that Misrata’s units and those from the Nafua mountains, to the west, have not been recognised as having been the key to the fall of Tripoli.

“We won’t follow his [Shkal’s] orders, no,” said Walid Tenasil, a Misratan fighter returning to garrison duty in Tripoli. “Our message to the NTC is: just remember the blood. That is it.”

Misrata’s protests pose a potential security problem for the NTC because it has come to rely on Misratan rebel units holding strategic points in the capital.


  1. More proof that Richard Seymour is correct that Libya today is not indeed ruled by its people!

    Comment by Binh — August 29, 2011 @ 2:24 pm

  2. Stage 1 of the imposition of the Iraqi model on Libya

    Comment by Richard Estes — August 29, 2011 @ 4:18 pm

  3. Richard, could you flesh this out a bit? Is the TNC supposed to be the equivalent of the Shia-dominated government that Sunnis revolted against? I think there is a danger of looking at Libya in terms of historical analogy. Some, for example, see the rebels as a KLA type formation. It is better to see them for themselves rather than pigeon-holing them into something from the historical past. The tendency to see a transmission belt from Langley to Benghazi to the men at the bottom who took their lives in their hands fighting against Qaddafi–even if they were getting support from NATO–is flawed. Deeply flawed.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 29, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

  4. I was thinking of Fallujah, where the US relied upon an ex-Baathist general in an attempt to restore order, but my memory was faulty, as this took place a year or so after the occupation began, and the reliance upon ex-Baathists surrounding Allawi, after an initial purge of them, did not take place until around late 2004 or early 2005. Perhaps, I should drink some coffee in the morning before I write something. As you know, I have never stated that there is a “transmission belt” as you describe (never being a Gaddafi supporter), but there is good reason to suspect (see the passage about Jabril and Fox, above) that the farther one gets from the local level, the closer one gets to links between NATO and the new regime’s leadership, and that important decisions are influenced by these links. As Fox’s quote indicates, Iraq is in the mind of NATO leaders, but in a much different way than I originally suggested. The conflict between the TNC and Misrata suggests a fissure amongst those in the new regime (hard to call them “rebels” anymore) who want to restructure society from the bottom up (as it appears those in Misrata do) and those who want to do so from the top down (the TNC and NATO, even if the TNC is not necessarily a handmaiden of NATO). Remarks by foreign policy establishment figures indicate that the US and Europe appear to have a paradoxical motivation, to impose a centralized authority to facilitate the needs of capital, while avoiding the emergence of a strong leadership figure that can challenge them. It is in that paradox, I think, that the left and the people of Libya have a chance of escaping the fate that NATO has planned for them. For me, as someone with limited knowledge about Libya, I wonder about the extent to which alternative forms of social organization survived the repression of Gaddafi, as these sorts of indigenous kinds of collective organization could play a major role in resisting the imposition of “the Gaddafi apparatus without Gaddafi”. Consistent with I have said about the situation in Iran in recent years (sometimes on your blog, if I remember correctly), it is essential to attempt to undertake a sociological perspective to the extent that we can do so, and avoid reductionist analytical methods.

    Comment by Richard Estes — August 29, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

  5. Richard Estes, how does NATO figure into this conflict? Did they want Shkal in this position? If not or if there is no evidence to that effect, the analogy should be dropped. Libya is not under occupation by NATO. Suggestions to the contrary are not based in reality. This is a democratic revolution from below. The state that is being born will have a good chunk of it left over from the Qaddafi era, but they just freed 16,000 prisoners! Probably the secret police will be scrapped while the police force, military, and civil service bureaucracy will be retained. To characterize this as “Qaddafism without Qaddafi” might be formally correct but also highly misleading in this case.

    Comment by Binh — August 29, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

    Washington: The Libya Model of “Regime Change” Could Apply to other Nations

    August 29, 2011

    Photo of Libyan Rebel. If Washington´s approach under George Bush was labeled an “occupation”, under Obama this new strategy is considered “national liberation.”

    South Journal—The controversial US strategy in Libya for a “change of regime” will form the basis of the Obama administration´s preferred model for any future military intervention in other nations, said deputy national security advisor for communications, Ben Rhodes in an interview with Foreign Policy.

    According to Rhodes, the new US strategy is more effective and less costly. If Washington´s approach under George Bush was labeled an “occupation”, under Obama this new strategy is considered “national liberation.”

    Rhodes mentioned two principles in this approach: “The first is that we believe that it’s far more legitimate and effective for regime change to be pursued by an indigenous political movement than by the United States or foreign powers.” “Secondly, we put an emphasis on burden sharing, so that the U.S. wasn’t bearing the brunt of the burden and so that you had not just international support for the effort, but also meaningful international contributions.”

    Rhode´s statements found the answer of those who oppose this strategy, since they question the positive effect of the intervention in Libya for not having met its objectives. For instance, although the protection of the civil population was a main objective, NATO forces supported the rebels so actively that many civilians were killed by the air strikes.


    Venezuela, Cuba and other countries with the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA) must be alert because the United States and its allies could try to impose in those nations the same model for a “change of regime” they are currently implementing in Libya.

    The statement was made by German historian and journalist Ingo Niebel in his recent work: “Lessons from the Libyan War for Venezuela, Cuba and the ALBA.”

    Niebel, who also wrote the book “Venezuela is not for Sale,” said that despite prevailing confusion in Libya, “we can already make some conclusions that must be thoroughly considered because they could be crucial for the survival of Venezuela, Cuba and the ALBA countries.”

    The writer said that in the event of the defeat of Gaddafi, Northern imperialist powers like the United States, Britain, France and Germany could feel encouraged to export this model of “change of regime” to other countries.


    Comment by Walter Lippmann — August 29, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

  7. Walter, the best protection for a country trying to ward off an imperialist attack is to give its citizens something worth fighting for, to organize them, and to arm them. Cuba used such measures to its advantage in the Bay of Pigs invasion. Qaddafi gave them torture, neoliberal job cuts that won praise from the IMF just before the February 2011 uprising, and a family dynasty like something out of the 11th century. Why people like you, MRZine, Counterpinch et al try to turn Libya into some kind of people’s democracy is only something a psychiatrist can explain, I’m afraid.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 29, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

  8. “To characterize this as “Qaddafism without Qaddafi” might be formally correct but also highly misleading in this case.”

    From my reading of the posted article, Misrata’s ruling council believes otherwise.

    Comment by Richard Estes — August 29, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

  9. LOUIS PROYECT writes:
    “Why people like you, MRZine, Counterpinch et al try to turn Libya into some kind of people’s democracy is only something a psychiatrist can explain, I’m afraid.”
    WALTER responds:

    It’s unlikely that those who are happy today in Libya are concerned much about “anti-imperialist” analysis since they know better than most that they couldn’t have got this far without massive NATO intervention in their country.

    I’m not afraid. What there is here is a political difference of opinion over whether or not imperialist-aided regime change in Third World countries is something one should look favorably upon or not. The Libyan rebels obviously could not have gotten as far as they have had they not had British boots on the ground and THOUSANDS of NATO bombing sorties to “assist” their project. The Libyan government was a bourgeois nationalist regime, nothing more. Its overthrow by NATO won’t help anyone except the arms merchants and the oil companies.

    Those Libyans who are today happy that the Libyan government has been overthrown will not be so happy tomorrow, if they can’t get food, water and electricity. Iraq and Afghanistan are the most likely futures for Libya if the NATO-backed rebels can consolidate their administration. We have seen this kind of movie before, after all.

    The psychology of other people in such discussions doesn’t interest me. There is a political difference involved.

    This is from Russia Today:

    Comment by Walter Lippmann — August 29, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

  10. It is, of course, good to see cracks in the NATO-led alliance in Libya and one can only hope that those cracks widen and deepen. But isn’t it possible that some of those who resist “Qaddafism without Qaddafi” might want something worse than ‘Qaddafism’?

    And I’m waiting for signs that some of the anti-Qaddafi forces in Libya, and hopefully not just Islamists, are telling NATO to leave.

    Comment by Aaron Aarons — August 29, 2011 @ 6:34 pm

  11. Walter: Those Libyans who are today happy that the Libyan government has been overthrown will not be so happy tomorrow, if they can’t get food, water and electricity. Iraq and Afghanistan are the most likely futures for Libya if the NATO-backed rebels can consolidate their administration.

    People should understand that Walter would be hostile to the rebels whether or not they got aid from NATO. He has never run into a “socialist” or “nationalist” 3rd world dictatorship that he didn’t cream in his pants over, even finding the Myanmar generals not so bad. In the 1930s, this mindset at least had a kind of plausibility since Stalin was the head of a government that was committed to socialism, even in a bastardized form. Nowadays the Walter Lippmann’s of the world will settle for a lot less apparently.

    Most people who left the SWP in the early 80s retained something of their anti-authoritarian training that distinguished Trotskyism from other currents on the left. How sad that in this one particular example we have someone who became seduced by Stalinism.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 29, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

  12. Facts are stubborn things. When you can find a Third World government whose overthrow was not materially aided by Washington, please do let the world know. Let’s take Grenada, for example. They were aided by the notion which the Coard faction held that they had the only correct program for the country, and that they had the right to tell its principal leader how to run it. When he wouldn’t agree, they killed him. I’ve no idea if Bernard Coard and his colleagues were aided or manipulated by Washington, but Coard’s success meant Washington was given the green light to invade and occupy the country. Today, Afghanistan and Iraq are occupied by US troops.

    Today, NATO troops are on the ground. Their role was indispensable to what they have accomplished so far. Afghanistan and Iraq are models for the most likely future of Libya, now that Washington, Paris and London have achieved their first and most pressing objective. This doesn’t make the government of Libya under Kadafi good. But national sovereignty in the third world is a principle worth defending.

    When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

    Comment by Walter Lippmann — August 29, 2011 @ 7:33 pm

  13. Walter, just about everybody on the left is opposed to NATO intervention except for outliers like Gilbert Achcar. This is not what our differences are about. If you were simply for non-intervention, then I doubt that you and I would be locked in enmity. Instead it is about your crypto-Stalinism, your tendency to burnish the reputation of people like Mugabe, the Myanmar generals, Ahmadinejad, al-Assad, the Chinese government, ad nauseam. Your problem is that you are too slippery for your own good. As someone who has been exposed to your trash for the better part of a decade, I can spot it right away. The only interesting question for me in a way is psychological. What could have ever made you into such an authoritarian personality? Ironically, perhaps your love of Cuba has convinced you that when Castro erred in this direction, it was not because of the pressure he was under as the leader of an embattled socialist country. Perhaps you became convinced somewhere along the line that it was a good thing for Russian tanks to crush the Czech movement for democracy. At any rate, this puzzle has about as much interest for me as Aaron’s bizarre shoulder-length hair so I will leave it at that.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 29, 2011 @ 7:43 pm

  14. Richard, the fact that there is even a contentious debate about who to appoint proves that Libya is not simply a case of “Qaddafism without Qaddafi.” Again, do you know what NATO’s position on this guy’s appointment is?

    This conflict is going to be repeated since so many officials deserted the old regime and joined the rebellion at one point or another. I think it’s a bit historically unprecedented for top figures in the secret police in a dictatorship to work with rebels for months before the outcome was clear at great risk to themselves and their families as Mahmoud Ben Jumaa did. Some of them were plain old bandwagon opportunists, but others were opportunists in the sense that they grasped at what they perceived to be the last, best, and only chance to free Libya of its vile dictator.

    Comment by Binh — August 29, 2011 @ 7:58 pm

  15. Fidel Castro was not enthusiastic about the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia.
    Joseph Hansen explained Fidel’s position quite well at the time:

    Czechoslovakia evolved in to capitalism, then divided into two capitalist countries.
    Here’s what Fidel told Ignacio Ramonet just a few years ago (2006). Fidel turned
    out to be correct in his assessment that the Czechs were moving to capitalism as
    history has subsequently demonstrated. It took awhile, but it did eventually take
    that route.

    Do you regret, for instance, having approved the entrance of the Warsaw Pact’s tanks in Prague in August, 1968 that so much surprised those who admired the Cuban Revolution?

    Look, I can tell you that in our opinion –and history has proved us right– Czechoslovakia was moving toward a situation of counterrevolution, toward capitalism and the arms of imperialism. And we were against all the liberal economic reforms taking place there and in other socialist countries. Those reforms tended to increasingly strengthen market relations within the socialist society: profits, benefits, lucrative deals, material motivation, all the things that encouraged individualism and selfishness. So we understood the unpleasant need of sending troops to Czechoslovakia and never condemned the socialist countries where that decision was made.

    Now, at the same time we were saying that those socialist countries had to be consistent and commit themselves to adopt the same attitude if a socialist country was threatened elsewhere in the world. On the other hand, we thought the first thing they said in Czechoslovakia was undisputable: to improve socialism. The protests about ruling methods, bureaucratic policies, and divorcing the masses were unquestionably correct. But from just slogans they moved to a truly reactionary policy. And in bitterness and pain we had to approve that military intervention.

    Comment by Walter Lippmann — August 29, 2011 @ 8:51 pm

  16. So, Lippmann, do you agree with this? “But from just slogans they moved to a truly reactionary policy.”

    Comment by louisproyect — August 29, 2011 @ 8:55 pm

  17. That is Fidel’s opinion. I’m not required, nor do I desire, to defend every position which he or the Cuban government takes. My mission, as I’ve chosen to accept it, is to try to understand why and what the Cubans do. As this quotation indicates, Fidel wasn’t enthusiastic about it. He stated unambiguously that it violated Czech national sovereignty. That’s why he felt “bitterness and pain”, not enthusiasm. In doing so, his “endorsement”, as he explained it, was one which could not and was not reproduced inside of Czechoslovakia or the Soviet Union.

    As for the personal stuff, I don’t return bilge with bilge.

    Comment by Walter Lippmann — August 29, 2011 @ 9:07 pm

  18. So why do you think that Fidel Castro found a “truly reactionary policy” in 1968? Doesn’t that statement bother you? In my judgement, it does not. Frankly, you were not even aware that you were embarrassing yourself by posting such bullshit. That is what happens when you channel Stalinist politics for the better part of a decade. It takes over.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 29, 2011 @ 10:11 pm

  19. Without the extension of the socialist revolution to new and decisive territory, every country that has had a socialist revolution is, in a sense, evolving towards capitalism. Including Cuba. There saving grace is that they have a fairly decent Marxist leadership. From an economic and political standpoint, however, the dynamics of what happened in 1968 in Czechoslovakia — in the midst of the a worldwide, revolutionary upsurge that they were apart of — was completely different than the spent exhaustion twenty-five years later.

    Comment by dave r — August 29, 2011 @ 11:57 pm

  20. Louis, you misplaced the quotes in the title. They belong around the word analysis, not anti-imperialist

    Comment by Binh — August 30, 2011 @ 1:20 am

  21. When we were in the Socialist Workers Party, it was necessary, indeed, it was required, to have and to defend historical positions on everything under the sun. One of the things I most appreciate about not being a member of such formations is that I’m not obliged to have positions on everything which has ever happened, especially many decades ago.

    Neither what Joseph Hansen wrote nor what Fidel Castro wrote was “bullshit”, not a particularly clear political characterization in any event. They explained things as they saw them.

    Comment by Walter Lippmann — August 30, 2011 @ 12:43 pm

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