Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 5, 2016

Getting Gaddafi wrong

Filed under: journalism,Libya — louisproyect @ 8:58 pm

Chris Welzenbach

In today’s CounterPunch, there’s the typical fulsome encomium to Gaddafi written by one Chris Welzenbach that you used to see all the time in 2011. The author has been involved in the Chicago theater scene for many years. Maybe his work with actors had the unintended result of yielding an article about Libya that is mostly fictional, including this:

Prior to Gaffafi’s [sic] murder, Libya was a stable country if not a traditional nation-state. According to a report titled “Gaddafi’s Libya Was Africa’s Most Prosperous Democracy” by Garikai Chengu that appeared in the January 12, 2013 edition of Countercurrents.org, “. . .

One of the most troublesome legacies of the “anti-imperialist” worship of Gaddafi and Assad is its utter disregard for scholarly standards. I am not talking about getting articles published in a peer-reviewed journals but simply doing the due-diligence to make sure that a citation is based on scrupulous fact-checking.

In the quote above, the author cites a Countercurrents article that in trying to prove that Libya was a “democracy” includes what looks like an impressive finding from the NY Times:

In 2009, Mr. Gaddafi invited the New York Times to Libya to spend two weeks observing the nation’s direct democracy. Even the New York Times, which was always highly critical of Colonel Gaddafi, conceded that in Libya, the intention was that “everyone is involved in every decision…Tens of thousands of people take part in local committee meetings to discuss issues and vote on everything from foreign treaties to building schools.” The purpose of these committee meetings was to build a broad based national consensus.

Wow! This sounds like Gaddafi was the head of a country that was another Rojava (leaving aside the question of whether the anarchist claims were somewhat overblown).

But if you track down the NY Times article, as the author Chris Welzenbach should have done instead of simply accepting the Countercurrents article at face value, it states:

In Libya, the theory goes, everyone is involved in every decision. People meet in committees and vote on everything from foreign treaties to building schools.

Authoritarian leaders all over the world take steps to create a veneer of democracy. In Egypt, for example, there are elections, though there is never any doubt that the governing party will win.

Libya outdoes almost all of them.

Here, tens of thousands of people take part in meetings to discuss issues that are decided by a small group at the top, with all direction coming from the Brother Leader.

“He makes the decisions,” said a high-ranking diplomat in Tripoli, the capital, who is not being identified to avoid compromising his ability to work here. “He is the only one who knows.”
Reporters from The Times watched as committees around Tripoli discussed Colonel Qaddafi’s plan to abolish the government. After the perfunctory poetic genuflecting to the leader, more than half the speakers said they did not want money, they wanted a functioning government. They were angry and heartbroken that such a resource-rich nation, a member of OPEC, could be performing so poorly.

“We don’t need money,” said Nadia Ali, 35, at one of the forums in Tripoli. “We need roads, we need health care, we need education, we need an economy.”

Maybe I am just a stick in the mud but when you cite an article that includes a dishonest citation, maybe you should stop pretending to be an investigative journalist or even a radical. The author should stick to staging Tennessee Williams and leave the political economy to experts.

23 Comments »

  1. The major point of the article is that Sarkozy brought down Gaddafi to cover his own ass, and that Gaddafi’s plans for an African currency/bank did not find favor with hegemonic financial interests. The article is well worth reading and considering, especially in relation to HRC, whatever the possible exaggerations regarding democratic processes.

    Comment by David Green — October 6, 2016 @ 1:15 am

  2. The entire article was bullshit but I only had time to demonstrate how slipshod it was in citing an article that described Libya as a great democracy based on NY Times reporting that said EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE. In my book, that shows that the author wouldn’t know the truth if it came up to him on the street and bit him on the ass.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 6, 2016 @ 1:30 am

  3. So you cite the jaundiced NYT as the arbiter of the truth about Libya.

    Comment by David Green — October 6, 2016 @ 2:07 am

  4. Qaddafi had a lot of grandiose plans. It’s naive in the extreme to take any of them at face value. Green’s comment is the perfect illustration of putting a minus where the “hegemonic financial interests” (whoever they are) put a plus.

    Of course, Qaddafi’s great friend Tony Blah could not possibly be reckoned among the hegemons. Heaven forfend!

    Comment by Pete Glosser — October 6, 2016 @ 2:17 am

  5. No, David. I am making an entirely different point, namely that you should not cite the NY Times, even indirectly, to bolster the ridiculous claim that Libya was a democracy. If you want to cite a newspaper to that effect, you can cite RT.com.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 6, 2016 @ 2:20 am

  6. France & HRC came, saw, and he died. Doesn’t seem to be much debate about that.

    Comment by David Green — October 6, 2016 @ 2:48 am

  7. “One of the most troublesome legacies of the “anti-imperialist” worship of Gaddafi and Assad is its utter disregard for scholarly standards”

    Proyect is completely psychotic or something. The UK have just published a scholarly report detailing how the ousting of Gaddafi not only resulted in the current horrific refugee crisis but also contributed in no small way to the rise of ISIS.

    I actually called Libya correctly at the time Proyect was cheer leading imperialist skulduggery. I said the imperialist powers were using Islamist elements within the country to topple the government and I said that once the dust had settled they would attempt to then massacre the Islamists who had done their dirty work. the only thing I got wrong was that the dust is taking a longer time to settle than I had imagined. Proyect got everything wrong by the way. The same insane recipe is being used in Syria incidentally and the fact Proyect is making all the same noises tells us his motives are less than pure. Anyone who hasn’t learned that imperialist policy is bringing disaster to that region can only but only be a bag carrier for imperialism. This describes Proyect perfectly.

    Proyect can quote as many so called ‘scholarly’ articles as he likes but nothing changes the fact that imperialist policy has been a total disaster and if you look hard enough even the scholars of imperialism are admitting this! The thing is knowing that their policies result in total disaster doesn’t stop them pursuing the same insane policy. The reason for this should be obvious, US imperialism doesn’t care how many people have to die in the name of US imperialism and almost any price is worth paying in order for US national interests to be furthered, as long as the price is the blood of other nationalities!

    The attempt to turn criticisms of imperialist policy into support for Assad and Gaddafi shows the poverty of Proyect’s reasoning. Proyect is doing nothing but cheer leading for the insane, disastrous and murderous policies of US imperialism.

    I suppose Proyect is still telling us that the US and Russia are all great friends and that in secret the US supports Assad all the way.

    This guy Proyect belongs in a lunatic asylum.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — October 6, 2016 @ 5:46 pm

  8. Provertier, thanks for all the bullshit but you don’t address the subject of my post, namely whether a Counterpunch contributor was right to call Libya a democracy. If you want to discuss this, please hang around otherwise shove it up your ass.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 6, 2016 @ 8:05 pm

  9. So if somebody called Saddam Hussein a democrat, does that mean it proved to be good foreign policy to want to have a bayonet shoved up his ass and a million innocent people killed?

    Comment by David Green — October 6, 2016 @ 9:06 pm

  10. So when did you find me supporting US foreign policy? In fact I have a 250 page FBI file from the 10 years I spent in the SWP. Then I was involved with Central America solidarity for another decade after that. Who and what the fuck are you to imply that I support US foreign policy, you miserable troll? I have the right to call people out for writing bullshit. Libya was not a democracy and NATO had no right to drop a single bomb. In fact I am opposed to aerial bombardment as a principle even when it comes to no fly zones. It doesn’t matter if it is Russian or Syrian or NATO planes dropping the bombs. You scumbags who read RT.com and then bring its talking points here apparently don’t understand that.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 6, 2016 @ 9:24 pm

  11. So why are you talking about this article, rather than HRC’s cackling about killing Gaddafi, and what that implies regarding her future foreign policy choices?

    Comment by David Green — October 6, 2016 @ 10:20 pm

  12. The UK have just published a scholarly report detailing how the ousting of Gaddafi not only resulted in the current horrific refugee crisis but also contributed in no small way to the rise of ISIS.

    Citation please? Which specific “scholars of imperialism” are you referring to? Strange notion of scholarship–not a single actual source identified. This sounds like Donald Trump at three o’clock in the morning. All the (drug-induced or alcoholic?) crowing about how right we were is exactly like Trump.

    Usually this kind of thing is meant to provoke a detailed response, which then furnishes the provocateur with the factual material s[he] is too lazy to collect personally–and on and on it goes.

    Comment by Pete Glosser — October 6, 2016 @ 10:28 pm

  13. Because, you moron, that is obvious. Or maybe you didn’t read my endorsement of Jill Stein that lost me a bunch of friends who agree with me that Gaddafi was walking garbage. What is not so obvious was Gaddafi’s regime. I have written any number of articles debunking the notion that he was an anti-imperialist. Just click on Libya to the right in my list of categories and you will see that my emphasis is on refuting those claims. In the 1930s the Stalinists attacked Leon Trotsky as a supporter of Adolph Hitler because he wrote articles analyzing inequality in the USSR. You apparently have the same kind of bad habits as them.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 6, 2016 @ 10:28 pm

  14. I actually don’t share in those habits, and I faithfully read almost all of your non-movie review posts (and many of those). I appreciate your support for Stein, and I’m indeed preparing 100 yard signs for her as we speak. Whether the article under discussion is accurate regarding the revelations you see fit to ignore, I do not know. But it was revelatory to me; and, if true, would be helpfully revelatory to others. I would only add that because I have no experience in Marxist sectarian politics, although I do have some superficial knowledge of them, I tend not to have those buttons to be pushed. Overall, I take a more Chomskyan approach to all of these sectarian positions. It helps me to stay somewhat sane, and perhaps even level headed.

    Comment by David Green — October 6, 2016 @ 11:44 pm

  15. I see some of the commentators are engaging in the very old rhetorical tactic of bait-and-switch.

    There is only one item of relevance here. Did Chris Welzenbach quote the NYT article accurately?

    The answer is ‘no’.

    And if a commentator has some misplaced loyalty or sympathy to the former Libyan dictator, imagine if the political allegiance and advocacy of the author and the article was completely opposite and ask the same question.

    Did Chris Welzenbach quote the NYT article accurately?

    The answer is still, ‘no’.

    And that, my friends, is how you get over selection bias.

    Comment by Lev Lafayette — October 7, 2016 @ 5:57 am

  16. The question, Lev Lafeyette, is whether the substance of the article is to be dismissed as unrevealing or uninformative to readers who may find it informative and revelatory; whether a criticism of one aspect of the article discredits the whole, or whether it provides an excuse for an ad hominem attack on the “anti-imperialist left.” But at least you add a little bit of methodological tediousness to Louis Proyect’s tantrums.

    Comment by David Green — October 7, 2016 @ 2:14 pm

  17. The issue is not whether imperialism meddled in Libya. It did. It is instead as I keep telling you that Libya was no “democracy”. If you have a problem with that, then let’s hash it out otherwise just move on to something else.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 7, 2016 @ 2:28 pm

  18. “In Libya, the theory goes, everyone is involved in every decision. People meet in committees and vote on everything from foreign treaties to building schools.

    Authoritarian leaders all over the world take steps to create a veneer of democracy. In Egypt, for example, there are elections, though there is never any doubt that the governing party will win.

    Libya outdoes almost all of them.

    Here, tens of thousands of people take part in meetings to discuss issues that are decided by a small group at the top, with all direction coming from the Brother Leader.

    “He makes the decisions,” said a high-ranking diplomat in Tripoli, the capital, who is not being identified to avoid compromising his ability to work here. “He is the only one who knows.””

    There is a serious problem here that gets missed in all the argument over US intervention in Libya. When leftists embrace these kinds of phony participatory democracy, it discredits advocates of real ones. People hear someone describe it, and dismiss it as another fig leaf for dictatorship. People end up supporting less participatory involvement in politics, economics and social life, because greater involvement is associated with legitimizing dictatorships.

    You have to wonder about leftists like Welzenbach who try to persuade people that a country like Gaddafi’s Libya was a participatory democracy, a sort of Occupy writ large. It is such a ludicrous concept that he can’t do anything other than falsely cite the New York Times article for this conclusion. Why is he doing it? Who are the people who constitute his intended audience? It certainly can’t be anyone who knows anything about Libya. And who would ever belief that the New York Times would publish an article objectively describing Libya as a such a democracy? It’s surreal.

    Comment by Richard Estes — October 7, 2016 @ 5:39 pm

  19. If you want a fig leaf producer, don’t look at Welzenbach. He’s just a middleman who bought what someone else was peddling, repackaging it for retail at Counterpunch without first carefully testing the quality of the product himself. Look at his supplier, Garikai Chengu, whose product has appeared regularly at Counterpunch in recent years, and who is the author of the Crosscurrents article which Welzenbach ludicrously mischaracterizes as a “report,” as if Chengu were some kind of investigative journalist. Chengu is many things, but a reporter he most definitely is not. It’s Chengu, don’t forget, who claimed that, under Gaddafi, Libya was “Africa’s most prosperous democracy.” Welzenbach apparently considers that statement reportage; others might classify it differently.

    Here is how Chengu describes himself on his twitter account: “I am African to the cell, furiously so @Harvard grad student. Author, speaker, Ancient African Historian, social entrepreneur and pan-African activist…”. (The fury is in evidence in one of his tweets where he denounces Gandhi as a racist.) His bio at WordPress.com says that he has worked for Goldman Sachs and is the Founder and Chairman of one of Zimbabwe’s “fastest growing indigenous gold companies,” and a participant in projects “designed to directly benefit the people of Zimbabwe.” Articles on Zimbabwe also appear at Countercurrents, among them “Zimbabwe: One of Africa’s Most Democratic Countries,” and “Zimbabwe: A New Economic Model for Africa.” As for African history, Chengu cites supposedly solid research in “Before Columbus: How Africans brought civilization to America” to conclude that Africans appeared in the Americas first and laid the foundations of Amerindian civilization. One commenter at NewZimbabwe, where these articles also appear, has pronounced Chengu a fraud for claiming any relationship to Harvard since, according to him, there is no record of such.

    Comment by Gerry Kachmarski — October 8, 2016 @ 10:42 am

  20. I had completely forgotten about Chengu. Thanks for reminding me.

    https://louisproyect.org/2015/10/21/random-notes-on-anti-imperialism/

    Let’s start with Garikai Chengu’s article that appeared on CounterPunch yesterday, which is a defense of a seemingly indefensible proposition, namely that Gaddafi’s Libya was the most democratic country in Africa. Chengu, a Zimbabwean, has a most interesting profile for an “anti-imperialist”. On his blog he describes himself as a researcher on Africa for Columbia University and Harvard and hopes to utilize “his intellectual and financial capacity” to develop Zimbabwe. One must assume that on the financial plane he will be benefiting from this background: “He has worked for Goldman Sachs and is the Founder and Chairman of Chengu Gold Mining Pvt. Ltd. one of Zimbabwe’s fastest growing indigenous private gold companies.”

    Comment by louisproyect — October 8, 2016 @ 12:28 pm

  21. All of which begs the question as to whether Hillary Clinton is significantly responsible for the destruction (ongoing) of an entire country, and whether she will “finish the job” in Syria following the election.

    Comment by David Green — October 8, 2016 @ 9:25 pm

  22. Don’t worry, David. The American ruling class has no intention of making war on Syria. The Syrian government is doing a quite adequate job of destroying the country and needs no help.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 8, 2016 @ 9:29 pm

  23. louisproyect, your way of answering these comments just makes me less want to believe your arguments than the ones from the other replies. Everyone is being polite except you. I’d sugget you change your tone if you want to be taken seriously

    Comment by Fabien Zork — October 26, 2016 @ 5:11 pm


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