Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 30, 2011

Those independent militias

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 12:47 pm

The Economist

The rebellion’s leaders

Good intentions, fragile legitimacy

The new Libya is in the hands of a largely self-selected bunch of civilians and fighters who have done pretty well so far. What comes next is a lot hazier

Aug 27th 2011 | Benghazi | from the print edition

Those independent militias

The NTC may be less able to restrain its fighters once the threat from Colonel Qaddafi is removed. Much of the rebel manpower is grouped into 40-plus privately organised, privately funded militias known as katibas (brigades). Each katiba is usually drawn from one town, commanded by a respected local military veteran or, in some cases, by the businessman who financed it. They drive privately owned pickups or jeeps with mounted anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns, captured from government arsenals or supplied by foreign benefactors. Members are enthusiastic but usually have only cursory training and very little sense of military discipline, often commuting to the front from their homes. Katiba leaders say that they meet the NTC’s more formalised military wing in an operations room to plan battles, but decisions appear to be arrived at by consensus rather than through any military chain of command.

Relations between the NTC and the katibas were brought to crisis point by the assassination on July 28th of Abdel Fatah Younis, a defecting general who became the NTC’s top military commander and may have wanted to bring the militias under centralised control. The circumstances surrounding the killing have yet to be explained. NTC judges had issued an arrest warrant for General Younis on suspicion that he had made unauthorised contact with Colonel Qaddafi, but the killers themselves are reported to have been rogue katiba fighters with a personal vendetta against the one-time Qaddafi loyalist.

They may have been members of the Abu Ubeidah Ibn al-Jarrah brigade, said to be a force of former political prisoners, some of them radical Islamists. After Younis’s death, the brigade was reportedly dissolved, and the NTC has turned him into a martyr, standing for proper military discipline. Posters of the confident, neatly uniformed general smilingly greet motorists on several of Benghazi’s main streets.

In the aftermath of Younis’s assassination, katiba members swear that they answer to the orders of the NTC. “We all have the same goal. We all want to end this,” says Muftah Barrati, a senior official at the camp of one of Benghazi’s largest katibas, the 17 February Martyrs Brigade. “When this is complete, we all will return to our jobs.” He himself was a financial manager for the computer company of Mustafa Sigizli, a businessman who helped set up the brigade. Rebels, with no former jobs to return to, may be given the option of joining a national army.

However, it would be a rare rebel force that did not derive some sense of entitlement from the sacrifices made during a hard-fought war, and the katibas still brush off requests by NTC officials to place themselves under the authority of a unified command. Based on the barrages of celebratory gunfire in Benghazi that erupt nightly to mark weddings, funerals or good news from the front, katiba members enjoy owning automatic weapons and would be reluctant to give them up.

Council members say that they know they would have more authority were they an elected body. They have thus opted for a fairly swift transitional period. The fall of Tripoli, when it is fully established, will set off an eight-month countdown to provisional elections. Some say this timetable is too short for a country with no experience of even single-party politics, let alone of genuine democracy. A group of protesters holding a sit-in outside NTC headquarters last week said that they suspected senior council leaders of having cut a deal with a handful of Libyan political groups, such as the Muslim Brothers and the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, a long-established exile group. The experienced groups, complained the protesters, had an unfair advantage in knowing how to campaign and win votes.


  1. You need to fucking get real yourself. This blog has not apologized for rebel racism but it has tried to put it into historical context:


    Comment by louisproyect — August 30, 2011 @ 3:24 pm

  2. Kaspar and others who one-sidedly decry the racism of the Libyan rebels seem to forget that the American revolution was led by slaveowners and racists who got help from monarchist France and hired Hessian mercs. It was still a democratic revolution and still a step forward in both cases.

    Comment by Binh — August 30, 2011 @ 7:23 pm

  3. “It was still a democratic revolution and still a step forward in both cases.”

    Yeah, yeah, tell that to the Native Americans, the Africans, the Chinese etc. etc.

    God forbid Libya already descended into a vicious, racist falange before NATO and the usual fuckers showed up to make it a good old regime change. It’s just “putting down a few pockets of pro-Qaddafi resistance” like you put it in the previous post, right? With rope, knives and cameraphones.

    And no – I’m not “anti-anti-Qadaffi” either. But I suppose people believe what they want to believe.

    Comment by W.Kasper — August 30, 2011 @ 7:48 pm

  4. Responding to Binh @3:

    The American settler-colonial war of independence from England was not a step forward for either the enslaved Africans or for the indigenous North Americans. It was, in fact, a step towards the further oppression of the first group and the accelerated genocide of the second. In other words, it was NOT a revolution of the oppressed but a counter-revolution of the oppressors. It was, in fact, one of those rare situations where it was correct for members of the oppressed to ally with the colonial power against the local ‘anti-colonial’ oppressors. It could, in fact, be stretched to be used as a historical analogy in support of their position by the anti-anti-NATO left, if they would dare to offend the patriotic sensibilities of the United Snakes population.

    Comment by Aaron Aarons — August 30, 2011 @ 7:51 pm

  5. The American settler-colonial war of independence from England was not a step forward for either the enslaved Africans or for the indigenous North Americans.

    That’s true, but it was a step forward for just about everybody else. More to the point, it was in keeping with Marx’s understanding of the revolutionary capacity of the bourgeoisie as described in the Communist Manifesto. We have to understand that in a dialectical sense. The bourgeois revolution in Britain brought untold suffering to the Irish. For those looking for a pure revolution, there’s always the Spartacist League. Maybe if Aaron got a proper haircut, they’d readmit him.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 30, 2011 @ 8:09 pm

  6. Kaspar, so you think slaves and other oppressed groups like Native Americans would’ve been better off with British oppressors on top of their oppressors here in America?

    Comment by Binh — August 30, 2011 @ 8:12 pm

  7. P.S. Kasper, the words you are attributing to me in post #4 are not mine, they are Clay Claiborne’s. Get your facts straight before you run your mouth.

    Comment by Binh — August 30, 2011 @ 8:14 pm

  8. Aarons brayed:

    “In other words, it was NOT a revolution of the oppressed but a counter-revolution of the oppressors.”

    So oppressors can never be oppressed themselves? What happens when you get a “Mexican standoff” of oppressors? Do you just find the one that’s oppressed by all of them and give that group your unconditional love or something?

    Comment by Todd — August 31, 2011 @ 12:24 am

  9. Wow! This debate is on a very high level, for someone in kindergarten. LP’s idea of historical context is to blame Gaddafi for racism in Libya. The American revolution was progressive for its time because it enshrined the right of a people to self determination regardless of that people’s flaws. The NATO intervention in the Libyan civil war violates that right no matter what excuse LP and his helpers come up with. LP has become a press agent for the cabal that pushed Gaddafi out. How does he perform that function? LP dutifully prints news releases that the TNC will respect the rights of Black Africans. He even claimed to oppose Gaddafi because he worked hand in glove with the Italians to keep Blacks out of Europe. LP, now that your buddies are in power by how much will Black migration to Europe increase? It won’t? Now that “the good guys” have won can you get in touch with them and ask them for a copy of their program for a “democratic Libya” giving all citizens the right to vote and organize without political or clerical oversight. When will the TNC convoke a constituent assembly to implement what you and your friends claim is a democratic revolution? My personal opinion was that what we saw the last five months was a struggle for power between different cliques and their clientele with NATO favoring the most compliant cliques.

    Comment by lextheimpaler — August 31, 2011 @ 1:36 am

  10. My personal opinion was that what we saw the last five months was a struggle for power between different cliques and their clientele with NATO favoring the most compliant cliques.

    What a fucking idiot. I post articles about Misrata rebels refusing to take orders from the TNC and it goes in one ear and out the other. I think the anti-anti-Qaddafi left attracts the stupidest people.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 31, 2011 @ 1:48 am

  11. We’ll see soon enough how independent these independent militias will continue to be. To NATO, they’ve served their function in what
    NATO hopes is overthrowing the Libyan government. The construction of a new regime will require stable and compliant organs of state repression. Such independent militias will have to be housebroken in relatively short order. That’s why there’s no reason to imagine the NATO forces leaving Libya anytime in the foreseeable future. They’ve not left Afghanistan or Iraq, and they’re not going anywhere now that they’re starting to settle down in Libya.

    Turkey’s foreign minister says NATO will continue its military operations in Libya until security is fully restored. The vow comes as fighting rages in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and as world leaders press Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to step down.

    Comment by Walter Lippmann — August 31, 2011 @ 3:48 am

  12. “When will the TNC convoke a constituent assembly to implement what you and your friends claim is a democratic revolution? ”

    Read the press. The fear of imperialist stink-tankers is that the Libyans will want to move too fast to elections.

    Comment by Matt — August 31, 2011 @ 3:59 am

  13. LP, why don’t you help your pals write a document like the declaration of independence? Here’s the template modify as appropriate:
    The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America

    When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

    He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

    He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

    He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

    He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

    He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

    He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

    He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

    He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

    He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

    He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

    He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

    He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

    He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

    For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

    For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

    For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

    For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

    For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

    For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

    For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

    For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

    For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

    He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

    He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

    He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy of the head of a civilized nation.

    He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

    He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

    In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

    Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence.They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

    We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levey war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

    Comment by lextheimpaler — August 31, 2011 @ 5:02 am

  14. Lex, you obviously don’t read much of what LP posts here and you ignore the fact that a network of underground cells in Tripoli played a key role in launching the uprising at the opportune moment: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904875404576530700997174360.html

    Some of the leaders and organizers of these cells were high up in Qaddafi’s regime. Some, like this guy who was high up in the secret police(!) joined the movement *back in March/Feb.* long before the outcome was clear at great personal risk to themselves and their families. These weren’t cliques, these were the organizations created by the people of Tripoli to continue the struggle once Qaddafi’s machine guns forced them underground.

    Comment by Binh — August 31, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

  15. Yes, Binh, people make choices and take gambles. Those who gambled that an alliance with NATO would pan out for them are happy today, but how long will they be happy? Some may well have just wanted to become top dogs to replace Kadafi. Is that something leftists should enthuse over?

    Female Trafficking Soars in Iraq
    By Rebecca Murray, IPS

    Prostitution and sex trafficking are epidemic in Iraq, where the violence of military occupation and sectarian strife have smashed national institutions, impoverished the population and torn apart families and neighbourhoods. Over 100,000 civilians have been killed and an estimated 4.4 million Iraqis displaced since 2003.


    Comment by Walter Lippmann — August 31, 2011 @ 4:33 pm

  16. Binh, the article from the Economist LP reproduced above begins thus: ” The NTC may be less able to restrain its fighters once the threat from Colonel Qaddafi is removed. Much of the rebel manpower is grouped into 40-plus privately organised, privately funded militias known as katibas (brigades). Each katiba is usually drawn from one town, commanded by a respected local military veteran or, in some cases, by the businessman who financed it.” The last sentence of this quote buttresses my claim that we are dealing with local cliques and not a national struggle for self determination. Heroism and self sacrifice are traits common to all kinds of human beings from fiends to saints they don’t say anything about the cause these characteristics are employed for. I don’t credit any of the claims that this was a genuine bourgeois revolution somehow hijacked by bad people. I don’t buy the Gaddafi as arch villain LP is pushing with your help either. The Gaddafi consensus broke down after forty plus years, some very important people got it into their heads that they could make a go of it on their own. People rioted, no doubt inspired by Egypt and Tunisia, the cliques and their clientele made their play for power. NATO stuck its nose in Libyan affairs under Right to Protect (R2P), which some wit at Asia Times on line renamed more aptly Right to Plunder. The interesting question will be how the imperialist powers will use these cliques to compete with each other while robbing all the Libyans. I’ve read your input to this debate and was struck by the fact that you compared the rebels getting arms from NATO with the Vietnamese getting arms from the USA and Britain during world war 2. For your analogy to make sense Gaddafi would have to be the head of a foreign army occupying Libya. As far as anyone knows Gaddafi and his clique are Libyans.

    Comment by lextheimpaler — August 31, 2011 @ 8:56 pm

  17. […] lesser extent, the TNC will have to utilize the DDR tactics with the various independent militias (around 40) who may not want to disarm. This is particularly important as some have participated in revenge […]

    Pingback by Jihadists in Libya « بنسبة لنا — September 1, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

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