Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 29, 2011

Insights on Libya from Mike Ely

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 12:12 am

(Mike Ely blogs at the Kasama Project, an attempt to break with sectarianism by comrades from the Maoist tradition.)


August 27, 2011 at 4:17 pm

J.M. [This is Jay Moore, who Mike is going to reply to] writes:

“As far as I’m concerned the default Marxist position (of any sort of revolutionary Marxism that I can think of) is to oppose imperialism (and its agents). It is incumbent upon those, like Proyect, who think differently, to demonstrate it for us.”

Mike Ely:

In fact there is no “default Marxist position” on such matters — or any matters of practical politics. And describing your own personal position as a “default” serves to avoid the needed demonstration that you declare others need to make.

This view of marxism is itself one of the controversies in our discussions here — since arguments can’t (imho) be based on simply assuming or declaring some pre-existing “default,” then (on that basis) avoiding analysis, then denouncing those who disagree on the basis of violating the default.

Communism is a movement against class society and the oppression it creates. How that is fought (and against whom) at different moments and in different places — is a subject of analysis and line struggle.

To give an example:

In the course of China’s complex revolutionary process, Mao Zedong frequently spoke of three mountains on the backs of China’s people: imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism.

At different points in the revolutionary struggle, different “mountains” were the central focus of the popular struggle.

For example in the early base areas (in remote feudal regions), the main focus of the revolution was the class struggle for agrarian revolution (i.e. against feudalism), while waging armed struggle against the attacking armies of warlords and the GMD (i.e. local feudals and the national bureaucrat capitalists).

With the invasion of China by Japan, the situation changed. Mao viewed the contradiction as having objectively shifted to the one between China’s people and Japanese imperialism. Modifications were made in the policies of agrarian revolution (i.e. land seizures were stopped, rents were controlled, etc.), alliances were proposed and made with those bureaucrat capitalists opposed to the Japanese invaders. And, there was even an alliance (of sorts) with the imperialist war block fighting Japan in the Pacifiic (so that the Yenan forces of the communists accepted arms and war material from the U.S. imperialists etc.)

With the victory over Japan, the focus shifted to a new civil war with the GMD (again: bureaucrat capital) who were backed to the hilt by U.S. imperialism. And after the defeat of the GMD, the Chinese army had yet another war to fight agains the U.S. directly in Korea (with its diverse UN allies).

Finally, after the countrywide seizure of power in society was secured (through literally two decades of complex warfare and class struggle) the Communist Party of China led the world-historic agrarian revolution of the early-fifties, breaking the back of feudalism in China.

In the end, all three mountains were removed.

But such a complex process could not have been waged ( a ) with a Marxism that assumed itself to have some “default,” and ( b ) by an analysis that assumed (apriori? based on what?) that the contradictions in China, in the Third World and in the world as a whole were fixed, permanent, and easily deducible.

* * * * * * * * *

On the question of Libya….

There is an insistence that the only question here is whether to support or oppose U.S. imperialism. And then (by a sleight of hand) the measure of opposition to U.S. imperialism is presented as support for the Gaddafi regime.

If you don’t support the Gaddafi regime, you must support U.S. imperialism. If you oppose U.S. imperialism, you must support the Gaddafi regime.

This is mechanical in the extreme, and consists of a sequence of blurred over assumptions that flatten reality to a binary two-dimensions.

We live in the heartland of U.S. imperialism. We have a responsibility to expose and oppose the actions of “our” imperialists. We cannot build a movement worth spit if we don’t do that — militantly, consistently, creatively.

But there is no reason that this requires prettifying the bureaucrat capitalist regimes of the third world that they are (at various times) bullying — or denying the right (and need) of the people in these countries to overthrow these local oppressors as the opportunity emerges.

* * * * * * * *

There is another matter that I want to bring up:

It is implied in various parts of this dicussion that “anti-imperialism” is the view that specific imperialist powers is always and everywhere the “principal contradiction.” I think this too is reductionist.

Imperialism is a world system (not simply a set of powers). Certainly the U.S. military is a major and highly visible pillar of world imperialism. But the governments of major resources producers were themselves part of that world system — integral to its operations, and exploiters in their own right.

Opposing imperialism as a world system involves (of necessity) more than simply opposing the imperialist armies of great powers — it involves critiquing and overthrowing the relations between dominated countries and that world system. And that domination is embedded in the existence and operations of major bureaucrat capitalist forces in those countries as well.

Some people have trouble imagining that Gaddafi can be emmeshed in imperialism (as a mid-level player) if a) he is known to haggle over oil prices and b) he is targeted by the U.S. Why?

The whole OPEC thing is not anti-imperialist — it is a bargaining over price (by oil producer cartels) fully within the confines of capitalism and imperialism.

And the U.S. has often targeted (and killed) leaders of various third world states (Diem of Vietnam, Noriega of Panama, Saddam Hussein of iraq) without them having the slightest claim to anti-imperialism or progressive politics. That is, in fact, business as usual in the empire (and any empire).

In other words, U.S. targeting is hardly proof of any progressive content. And being targeted by the U.S. or fighting its forces doesn’t make you “objectively” anti-imperialist — it doesn’t change your class nature.

Also in this discussion, it is sometimes claimed that because some oil revenues were used for education or other social services that this documents some progressive (and again, anti-imperialist, and even socialist?) nature to the libyan government. However all oil producers use their massive funds to buy some social stability (is saudi arabia “progressive” because it pays for education and medical care? Was Saddam?) On the contrary, this is actual part of the mechanism of bureaucrat capitalism (and the difference between such bureaucrat capitalism and the kind of imposed government called ‘puppets’).

In some cases, leftist mind sets are back in the 1950s — where very crude “puppets” were imposed in the first days after colonialism. (Diem is an example). And if the subsequent third world governments nationalize industry, and demand higher prices, and use some of those funds for political stability — there are some socialists in the world who see their highest aspirations being realized. To me this reveals the nature of vision of socialism — in the form Mao called “goulash communism,” where political power, liberation and social transformation are forgotten, and “socialism” becomes little more than a package of bennies (handed out by an oppressive, capitalist state).

* * * * * * *


There is nothing anti-imperialist about the Gaddafi regime. Its ruling family were mid-level players fully within the world imperialist system, on a fully capitalist basis — using classic mechanism of oil regimes.

I am not saying that all capitalist forces are the same, or that all capitalist governments are the same, or all capitalist politicians are the same (we are not trying our own reductionism). But I am arguing that inventing a socialist, popular, or anti-imperialist nature for this state (or for Iran, or for Saddam’s Iraq) is to be deeply mistaken. (And it is in fact a historical residue of the era of Bresnev politics — where the imperialist Soviet state itself decreed various potential allies among the worlds bureaucrat capitalist regimes to be progressive, non-capitalist etc. This is not a spontaneous confusion, but a long historical line struggle over fundamental questions of class analysis and revolutionary strategy.)

I think that the main thing to do around the recent Libyan war was to loudly oppose the U.S./NATO attacks. These interventions were the major obstacle to the hopes of Libya’s people, and meant that (ultimately) the uprisings of against a government became instruments of continuing imperialist domination. And that is, in fact, an anti-imperialist position (while prettifying Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein is not understanding imperialism or opposing major forms of that system).

WE are anti-imperialist in these sense (and to the extent) that we oppose imperialism (as a world system). And we (revolutionaries within the U.S.) oppose and expose U.S. imperialism (in particular) with a self-conscious consistency and tenacity — both because of our position and because of our analysis of its role in the world.


August 27, 2011

Qaddafi’s Overthrow: a “Blow to the Arab Spring”?

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 9:30 pm

By Pham Binh

Not since the European revolutions of 1848 have revolutions spread with such speed and force. The Arab Spring brought more change to the Middle East and North Africa in less than a year than occurred there over several decades. Brutal dictators who seemed invincible were toppled in a matter of weeks in Tunisia and Egypt, protracted civil wars erupted in Yemen, Syria, and Libya, and the monarchy in Bahrain managed to survive only thanks to the political and material support it received from the Saudi monarchy and the U.S. government.

Muammar Qaddafi has joined the ranks of ousted dictators Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but not in the same way. In the case of Libya, the U.S. government and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies became intimately involved in toppling his tyrannical regime after some hesitation.

Some on the left who initially supported the Libyan rebellion argued that the involvement of the U.S. and NATO in Qaddafi’s ouster makes them the real winners in Libya, not the Libyan people. In doing so, they have come perilously close to the positions of groups like the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) who were “skeptical of, if not downright hostile to, the popular challenge to the Qaddafi regime that began with mass protests” as the International Socialist Review put it.

A recent editorial in the U.S. Socialist Worker newspaper described Qaddafi’s downfall in the context of NATO’s military intervention as a “blow to the Arab Spring” and argued that: “[t]he new government that will come to power in Libya won’t answer to the people of Libya and their desire for democracy and justice. It will answer to imperialism – and that is a blow to the Arab Spring, which this year showed the world the hope of an alternative to oppression, violence and tyranny.”

These truisms apply equally to the post-Mubarak government in Egypt, which is a military dictatorship that uses force against protestors, outlaws strikes, continues its cozy relationship with Israel, and receives billions of dollars in U.S. military and economic aid. Clearly, the military junta running Egypt “answers to imperialism” and not the people, nor does it care about their desire for democracy and justice (in fact, it fears that desire). As with Libya, the U.S. became intimately involved in trying to get Mubarak out of office, albeit in a different form.

Even if Mubarak had stepped down under U.S. pressure instead of pressure from striking workers, no one would conclude that his overthrow was a “blow” to the Arab Spring.

Socialist Worker’s line of reasoning involves two errors: one is a failure to understand the Arab Spring and the other is a flawed view of the revolutionary process in the context of a world dominated by imperial powers like the U.S., China, Russia, Germany, Britain, France, and other nations.

The Arab Spring is a dynamic process of mobilization from below, counter mobilization from above, and political radicalization on a mass scale. This process is driven by material conditions, namely, the tremendous gap in wealth between the elites of the Arab and North African states and their populations on the one hand and the autocratic, repressive measures these states use to keep their populations in line on the other. It is not primarily a process driven by opposition to U.S. imperialism. This is why the uprisings did not stop at the borders of Libya, Syria, or Iran whose regimes were not friendly to the U.S. government but were just as economically polarized, brutal, and corrupt as their pro-U.S. neighbors.

The main loser of the Arab Spring process has been the U.S. government for the simple reason that there were far more pro- U.S. regimes in North Africa and the Middle East than anti-U.S. regimes. The U.S. lost close allies in Egypt and Tunisia, is opposed to the “wrong side” winning the civil war in Yemen, would welcome the end of Assad regime in Syria, and managed to turn the Libyan revolution to its advantage, but not exclusively so. As Richard Seymour who writes the Lenin’s Tomb blog noted: “[t]he government that now follows will be less oppressive and more democratic than the one it ousted.”

In other words, toppling Qaddafi was a step forward for Libya’s workers, students, and oppressed groups like the Berbers. They now have more space to organize unions, political associations, and struggles for what they need than they did under the decrepit Qaddafi dictatorship. This is a good thing and it should be celebrated, Socialist Worker’s admonitions notwithstanding.

If it wasn’t for the ongoing revolt, Qaddafi would still be in power today. NATO’s military might prevented the Libyan revolution’s physical destruction at Bengazi, played a decisive role in paving the way for its ultimate triumph in Tripoli, and corrupted the “normal” Arab Spring dynamic of mobilization, counter mobilization, and mass radicalization. That the U.S. government would manipulate and try to control a struggle against an adversary is unsurprising. What is surprising is socialists disowning a struggle because the U.S. moved to shape it or because the struggle’s leaders made political choices we find abhorrent.

The combination of a democratic revolution and imperialist intervention in conjunction with that revolution against their common enemy caused tremendous confusion on the left internationally: Marxist academic Gilbert Achcar initially supported U.S. military attacks on Libya; PSL denounced the rebellion and supported Qaddafi’s repression; Socialist Worker supported the rebellion prior to the intervention of NATO. Needless to say, this brief survey does not cover the range or nuances of positions expressed by various left currents, but it does show concretely how living revolutions pose new and challenging questions for us that make textbook responses inadequate at best.

The involvement of the U.S. military in Qaddafi’s ouster is both a symptom and a cause of tremendous problems for the Arab Spring process generally and for the people of Libya specifically. In Egypt, the military stood squarely behind Mubarak until general strikes by workers erupted in every industry and every town; this has not been repeated elsewhere. In Libya, the rebel leadership’s failure to mobilize the masses, particularly the workers involved with oil production and distribution in oil fields and at ports and sea terminals, meant that the struggle against Qaddafi was not a social struggle but a military one where he had the advantage, provided that outside powers did not step in. They did. He lost.

The question now is will Syria’s revolutionaries call for U.S. military intervention as their counterparts in Libya did instead of relying on mobilizing the social power of the working class as was done in Egypt? Will the U.S. exploit the difficulties of Syria’s revolutionaries to turn their democratic revolution into a win for itself, bolstering its domination of the oil-rich Middle East? Now that Qaddafi is gone, will the Libyan people force their new rulers to give them a greater share of the country’s tremendous oil wealth and democratic rights? How will they react to the integration of their country into the world capitalist system’s global race to the bottom for workers, a race that is rapidly hollowing out what is left of the American dream?

How these questions are answered by the tens of millions awakened by the Arab Spring remains to be seen. We in the West need to do what we can to keep the hands of our rulers off of other people’s revolutions, which means taking a stand against imperialist intervention even when it is disguised as aid to a beleaguered rebellion (John Reed was absolutely right when he said Uncle Sam never gives something for nothing). We also have to realistically appraise the mistakes and successes of the Arab Spring instead of disowning them totally when imperialist powers try to use them for their own advantage, something that is inevitable in an increasingly multipolar world.

Above all, the best thing we can is focus on organizing our own workers, students, and oppressed people to win whatever small gains we can. The accumulation of concrete victories, however small, is the only thing that can lead to our own desperately needed spring.

Pham Binh’s articles have been published by Asia Times Online, Znet, Counterpunch, and International Socialist Review. His other writings can be found at http://www.planetanarchy.net

August 26, 2011

Release of prisoners at Abu Salim

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 1:54 pm

This was the prison where 1200 men were killed in 1996 during an Attica-type revolt. On February 15th 2011 the lawyer for the families of the dead men was arrested. Two days later Benghazi rose up. The rest is history.

August 25, 2011

Love is a many-splendored thing

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 1:07 pm

In the ruins of Gadhafi’s lair, rebels find album filled with photos of his ‘darling’ Condoleezza Rice

David R Arnott writes

The ransacking of Moammar Gadhafi’s compound is turning up some bizarre loot. Following on from the Libyan leader’s eccentric fashion accessories and his daughter’s golden mermaid couch, the latest discovery is a photo album filled with page after page of pictures of Condoleezza Rice.

Ammar Abd Rabbo / Abaca

Rebels examine a photo album of former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which was found in Moammar Gadhafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli, Libya, on August 24.

The former U.S. Secretary of State paid a visit to Tripoli in 2008 during a brief interlude that saw Gadhafi begin to be welcomed back into the international fold. As Jason Ukman of the Washington Post wrote on Wednesday, “it was only three short years ago that Rice shared a late-night dinner with Gaddafi to break the Ramadan fast, three short years ago that the United States and Libya were celebrating what was to be a new chapter in their relations.”

In a 2007 interview with al-Jazeera television, Gadhafi spoke of Rice in glowing terms. “I support my darling black African woman,” he said. “I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders … Leezza, Leezza, Leezza. … I love her very much. I admire her and I’m proud of her because she’s a black woman of African origin.”

Mahmud Turkia / AFP-Getty Images, file

Moammar Gadhafi poses with Condoleezza Rice prior to a meeting in Tripoli on September 5, 2008. Rice’s was the first such visit in more than half a century, marking a new chapter in Washington’s reconciliation with the former enemy state.

AP photographer Sergey Ponomarev was with the rebels as they flicked through the album in the Bab al-Aziziya complex on Wednesday. “There were lots of rebels celebrating their victory,” Ponomarev said. “It was still unsafe – loyalists were shelling the compound from time to time – but rebels were celebrating the seizure of the Gadhafi compound. They believe the victory is in their hands. Some of them even brought their children to the scene.”

Sergey Ponomarev / AP

Rebel fighters look through a photo album they found inside Moammar Gadhafi’s compound on August 24.

See more pictures in our slideshows:

Conflict in Libya

Moammar Gadhafi through the years

August 24, 2011

Wikileaks cable on McCain-Lieberman meeting with Qaddafi

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 7:13 pm




DE RUEHTRO #0677/01 2311536


P R 191536Z AUG 09
















E.O. 12958: DECL:  8/19/2019




REF: A. TRIPOLI 662; B. TRIPOLI 674; C. STATE 43049; D. TRIPOLI 648 TRIPOLI 00000677 001.2 OF 002 CLASSIFIED BY: Joan Polaschik, Charge d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy Tripoli, Department of State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)

1.(C) CODEL McCain discussed security, counterterrorism, and civil-nuclear cooperation during August 14 meetings with Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi and his son, National Security Advisor Muatassim al-Qadhafi, stressing the need for Libya to fulfill its WMD-related commitments and to approve a Section 505 end-user agreement in order to move forward on bilateral military and civil-nuclear engagement. While Muatassim al-Qadhafi reiterated long-standing Libyan requests for security assurances from the United States and emphasized Libya’s interest in the purchase of U.S. lethal and non-lethal military equipment, Muammar al-Qadhafi was notably silent on these subjects. The elder Qadhafi made a point of expressing his satisfaction with the improved U.S relationship and his hope that the relationship would continue to flourish. CODEL McCain’s discussion of the Megrahi case was reported ref A. End summary.


2.(SBU) CODEL McCain (R-Az), including Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Senator Susan Collins (R-SC) and Senate Armed Services Committee Staffer Richard Fontaine held back-to-back meetings August 14 with Libyan National Security Advisor Muatassim al-Qadhafi and Libyan leader Muammar Al-Qadhafi. Libyan officials NSC Director Dr. Hend Siala, MFA Department of Americas Secretary Ahmed Fituri and MFA Office of Americas Director Mohamed Matari also attended the meetings, as did Charge and Pol/Econ Chief (notetaker).


3.(C) Characterizing the overall pace of the bilateral relationship as excellent, CODEL McCain opened its August 14 meeting with National Security Advisor Muatassim al-Qadhafi by noting the drastic change that the relationship had undergone over the last five years. “We never would have guessed ten years ago that we would be sitting in Tripoli, being welcomed by a son of Muammar al-Qadhafi,” remarked Senator Lieberman. He stated that the situation demonstrated that change is possible and expressed appreciation that Libya had kept its promises to give up its WMD program and renounce terrorism. Lieberman called Libya an important ally in the war on terrorism, noting that common enemies sometimes make better friends. The Senators recognized Libya’s cooperation on counterterrorism and conveyed that it was in the interest of both countries to make the relationship stronger. They encouraged Libya to sign the Highly Enriched Uranium transfer agreement by August 15 in order to fulfill its obligation to transfer its nuclear spent fuel to Russia for treatment and disposal. [Note: The Libyan Government subsequently informed us of its intent to sign the agreement on August 17 and has begun taking good-faith steps to do so (ref B). End note.]

4.(C) Muatassim welcomed the high-level visit, describing it as a good sign for the relationship – a relationship that Libya wants to develop. He explained to the Senators the recent requests that the National Security Council had made to procure defense equipment. He stated that there were three categories of requests: one which was approved by the USG, another which awaited congressional approval, and a third which waited USG agreement. He reiterated the refrain he conveyed to Secretary Clinton during his April visit (ref C) — Libya has not been adequately rewarded for its decision to give up WMD and needed some sort of security assurance from the United States. He emphasized the need for Libya to purchase U.S. non-lethal equipment in order to enhance its defense posture. Muatassim requested the “highest level of help possible” to obtain military supplies, including mobile hospitals and uniforms. He also requested assistance with upgrading Libya’s equipment, including helicopters. “We can get [equipment] from Russia or China, but we want to get it from you as a symbol of faith from the United States,” he said. He described the security threats that Libya could possibly face as a result of its geography – “There are 60 million Algerians to the West, 80 million Egyptians to the East, we have Europe in front of us, and we face Sub-Saharan Africa with its problems to the South.” Muatassim stressed that Libya wanted security assurances from the United States as a sign that the United States was still committed to Libya. He pledged to work with the MFA on approval of the Section 505 end user agreement, as well as the signing of the nuclear spent fuel (highly enriched uranium-low enriched uranium) transfer agreement.

5.(C) Senator McCain assured Muatassim that the United States wanted to provide Libya with the equipment it needs for its TRIPOLI 00000677 002.2 OF 002 security. He stated that he understood Libya’s requests regarding the rehabilitation of its eight C130s (ref D) and pledged to see what he could do to move things forward in Congress. He encouraged Muatassim to keep in mind the long-term perspective of bilateral security engagement and to remember that small obstacles will emerge from time to time that can be overcome. He described the bilateral military relationship as strong and pointed to Libyan officer training at U.S. Command, Staff, and War colleges as some of the best programs for Libyan military participation.


6.(C) Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi, who joined the group in the same tent in which Muatassim had met the CODEL, likewise highlighted the strength of the U.S.-Libya relationship. Qadhafi commented that friendship was better for the people of both countries and expressed his desire to see the relationship flourish. He thanked the Senators for their visit and described America as a race rather than a nationality, explaining that many Libyans are dual citizens because they were born in the United States. Senators McCain and Graham conveyed the U.S. interest in continuing the progress of the bilateral relationship and pledged to try to resolve the C130 issue with Congress and Defense Secretary Gates. The Senators expressed appreciation for Libya’s counterterrorism cooperation in the region. They urged Libya to fulfill the remainder of its WMD commitments. Senator Graham reiterated the need for improved U.S. Embassy security and urged Qadhafi to approve the site for a New Embassy Compound (NEC) as a way to fortify the relationship. Qadhafi remained quiet throughout the discussion and did not respond specifically to any of the issues with the exception of Megrahi (ref A). He indicated that the National Security Council would be charged with addressing the security-related issues. COMMENT

7.(C) CODEL McCain’s meetings with Muammar and Muatassim al-Qadhafi were positive, highlighting the progress that has been made in the bilateral relationship. The meetings also reiterated Libya’s desire for enhanced security cooperation, increased assistance in the procurement of defense equipment, and resolution to the C130s issue. Although Muatassim al-Qadhafi repeated Libya’s familiar complaint that it has not received enough recognition and support in exchange for its decision to abandon its WMD programs, Muammar al-Qadhafi was notably silent on this issue. Qadhafi’s silence on these issues may have been part of his reaction to the CODEL’s discussion of the pending release of convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi (ref A), an issue that reportedly is of great personal concern to Qadhafi.


8.(C) Senior Libyan officials confided that the CODEL’s meeting with Qadhafi took place so late in the evening (nearly 11 pm) because the Leader had been fasting and usually takes a nap after breaking his fast. The Libyan officials told us that Qadhafi often fasts on Mondays and Thursdays and is doing so now, in the run up to the holy month of Ramadan. Qadhafi appeared as if he had been roused from a deep slumber for the meeting. He showed up with rumpled hair and puffy eyes, and was casually dressed in a short-sleeved shirt patterned with the continent of Africa, wrinkled pants and slip-on shoes. In spite of his appearance, Qadhafi was lucid and engaged throughout the meeting. Muatassim al-Qadhafi, on the other hand, revealed his lack of strategic depth throughout the meeting, referring to “the 52 countries of America — or is that Africa?” and asking MFA officials to clarlify Libya’s role in the upcoming UN General Assembly.

9.(C) Muatassim conducted his meeting in English, while his father used an interpreter for his meeting. The elder Qadhafi appeared to understand some of the CODEL’s English-language remarks and offered a few comments in English.

10.(U) CODEL McCain did not have the opportunity to clear this message prior to departure. POLASCHIK


John Reed’s reputation remains intact

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 7:06 pm

From Counterpunch’s Franklin Lamb:

August 24:

The inside of the hotel is sweltering having had no A/C for more than 48 hours. Wanting some fresh air, I prop open a door to the former Japanese Sushi Bar on the outside patio, but Miss Lorraine, the hotel manager, scolds me. “You bloody American”, she seethed at me yesterday. “First your bloody government brings NATO to bomb us to pieces and now you fill my hotel with birds! Damn all of you!”

It’s true that Lorraine sometimes gets a little upset when a bomb goes off and some of the birds from the hotel garden fly into the hotel’s two level grand lobby complete with lots of plants and palm trees where the poor frightened birds seek safety. They seem to like it inside our hotel.

Concerning the outdoor hotel garden, for some reason the garden lights are always on (last night the only ones in all of north Tripoli that I could see) and the garden fountains continue pumping which of course uses up quite valuable generator fuel oil. Lorraine laments: “As you know Mr. Lamb, the staff has abandoned me and I don’t know where the switch is—I would be ever so grateful if you could find it. I think it’s out there in the garden somewhere, and turn it off. Really I would!”  Well, I did find the switch, turned off the fountains and the garden lights and Lorraine suddenly likes me again. Would that all women were so easy to please.

Yesterday one of the few staff people around here offered me the leaders framed picture (way too big to transport!) and a green flag that had been removed from outside the hotel’s main entrance. Miss Lorraine became distressed because she thought if I was caught with a green flag I could be in trouble. So as not to cause her more stress I declined with the knowledge that I already have a few packed away as gifts for friends.

The green flags and the gold frame picture of Gaddafi that were removed two nights ago suddenly returned overnight. There had been a heated discussion by remaining senior hotel management staff— numbering two it appears– about the wisdom of removing them. For now they are back where they were.

 * * * *

August 22:

Yesterday morning, as I embarked on a bike tour of Tripoli, there were signs that something incongruous was happening. Security guards, normally about 20 outside the hotel were nowhere to be seen. Also, no staff came to work.  Ismail and the IT guy slept at the hotel—and the British lady “Miss Lorraine” who is in charge of hotel Hospitality lives at the hotel and was understandably and visibly upset.

As I left the hotel close to 7:30 a.m. by bicycle yesterday morning I was surprised to see one woman standing alone on the street in front of the hotel. I more surprised when she lite up with a broad smile as chimed “Hello Mr. Lamb!”

She is Marianne, who works with Lorraine somewhere in the bowels of this claimed “7 Star Hotel” I had spoken with her on the phone but we never met personally.  When I asked her why she was standing in the empty street,  she replied, “I need to find a ride to the port!”  That seemed odd, given what is happening here, so I asked her why.  “My two week vacation starts today and I need to get a boat to Malta”.  I was shocked, “Sweetheart, please, for sure there is no boat to Malta now and it’s dangerous for you to go to the Port.”  “But, my boyfriend is waiting for me in Malta” she wailed.  “Ok, but if you find a ride call my room and I will pay half and come with you to the Port”. Marianne agreed. I never saw her again.

There has been no sign of Colonel Gaddafi. A strange calm has spread over Tripoli.

A telling quote

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 4:57 pm

Rebel leaders acknowledged Tuesday that their forces in Tripoli are not under any unified command. Some are simply Tripoli residents who have taken up guns, and have little or no military experience. And rebels from the western mountains fight in independent brigades from each town or tribe, spraying its name — “Zintan” or “Nalut” — as they go.

This is from the lead article in the NYT today. What I think those in the anti-anti-Qaddafi left should begin considering is the possibility that their model of a transmission belt between Langley, Virginia, the TNC in Benghazi, and the men who spray paint “Zintan” or “Nalut” on the walls of Tripoli might be deeply flawed.

Birds of a feather

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 2:07 pm

The Libyan Revolution and the Opium of the Intellectuals

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 12:54 pm

(Got this on my Columbia email out of the blue and damned glad that I did. Garcia was a physicist at Livermore Labs who has debunked 9/11 on Counterpunch and written as well about other matters there requiring a knowledge of science. After reading this article, you will understand why he didn’t bother submitting it to Counterpunch. Or maybe he did and it went into the vertical file.)

The Libyan Revolution and the Opium of the Intellectuals

Manuel Garcia, Jr.
22 August 2011

“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” — Malcolm X

The Libyan revolution is victorious. The Libyan people are having their days of jubilation. Yet, the hard work and conflicts of the “post war” period are starting even now. No doubt, there will be some negative events and rough spots in Libyan society as it arranges itself in its “Second Republic.” And, no doubt there will be some friction with some foreign constituencies and their public voices (i.e., the blabocrats). I think Juan Cole summarizes this point in Libyan history (and Libya’s relations with Europe and the U.S.) very well in his column of August 22, cited below. I am happy for Libya today; this was what I hoped for when I wrote my own articles (in February and March of 2011, but I couldn’t get them accepted for internet publication till April and May, and then only grudgingly).

Like any other person, I am sometimes right and often wrong in my estimations of situations, especially political situations. This time I was right. I rarely make such a statement (it can rub the wrong way, to no advantage), but I choose to make it in this case because I received a lot of guff (illogical and/or insulting) over of my estimation about the Libyan situation, in early 2011. Some “left wing” “activists” even booted me out of their (virtual) networks, for blasphemy basically.

The experience forced me to think more carefully about my political writing: was it doing anybody any good?, why bother? I’ve learned what to say — and what not to say — in order for my articles to have a good chance of being published: every publisher promotes a “party line.” This is why there are 126 million blogs on the internet, and even in science thousands of publications in any single field of research. Too many simple-minded leftists simply don’t think, they parrot received orthodoxy, or worse yet babble conspiracy fantasies. There seems to be very little taste or courage for actual discussion and debate. I always tried to think out my written arguments, present them as clearly as possible (and with some effort to engage, even entertain), and to be open to discussion and criticism by authors writing articles in response, or readers conveying e-mail comments. But, I find this is a lot of wasted effort, when faced with omniscient or closed-minded audiences.

So, I have retreated to a more relaxed life of just not writing. I already know what I think, I don’t need to write to find that out. And I don’t really feel like fitting in tightly into a party line, just to be published in the blabocracy. Those commentators who are capable of looking back on past “bad guesses” of theirs, and being forthright about their misjudgments, win my respect and faith in their future judgements, because they show themselves capable of learning (of thinking) — of adjusting their ideas to fit new facts. I am not swayed by those who hold a fixed ideology, which they try to bend reality around, but by those of unswerving principles, which motivate their efforts to inform and improve society, and who acknowledge facts instead of combatting them.

As I mentioned in my articles on Libya, the first priority was gaining the political freedom of the Libyan people, and preventing them from being massacred by their vengeful dictator. The blunt and inelegant instrument of a NATO intervention was the only means at hand capable of preventing a detestable outcome; capable of saving the lives of people who did not deserve to die. Whether or not the European and American governments, and corporations, were gaining economic and political advantages (the “humanitarian intervention” complex of modern left orthodoxy, for example this article only recently, http://www.counterpunch.org/bricmont08162011.html) were unimportant considerations in comparison. Now that Libya is entering its liberated postwar period of political reconstruction, these consideration can be addressed, and by those who would be most affected by them, the Libyans themselves. It is so sad that so many leftists are so wrapped up in their politicized heads that they could obsess about “saving Libya from its Western saviors” to the complete disregard of the life-and-death struggle for political freedom by the Libyan people, the defeat of dictatorship. These political theorists must be relieved that the Syrian government has been untrammeled by Western interference in its rejection of its people’s rejection.

What I learned from all my readings of Carl G. Jung was that no configuration of ideas, however well thought out, however politically correct or historically necessary, should ever be taken as an abstraction that overrides the living and breathing reality of any individual. I and the other are one in humanity, I want for him (or her) what I would want were I in his place. After these basics are met, then we can refine our preferences for each other’s politics and national societies. When one is a member of the comfortable classes in the developed nations, basically a spoiled brat in comparison to the world average, it can be easy to forget this most basic connection — and obligation — to the rest of humanity. I am a member of a comfortable class in the United States, not one of the highly comfortable classes, but better than most, and I know it. I have always known it, and I realized it first most vividly when, as a child of 8, I was confronted by poverty in Cuba during the last year of the Batista regime. I do not pretend to be “a man of the people,” but I never forget that “the people” exist, that many work excruciatingly hard for meager rewards, and too many are vulnerable to cruel forces and circumstances.

During this quiet time in my amateur writing career, I have been reading books by very keen political-philosophical and artistic-literary intellectuals. I have found Raymond Aron, a French liberal anti-communist intellectual, and J. P. Sartre’s sharpest critic, to be very educational about concepts such as “the left,” “the proletariate,” “revolt,” and “the revolution.” Aron was one of the great thinkers of the postwar (post WW2) European scene, he was a social democrat, that is to say in favor of the social programs that flourished in postwar Europe (both east and west) from after 1945 till the 1980s, when they began to decline (Thatcherism); and against the obviously undemocratic regimes of eastern Europe and their imperial overseer, the USSR; this opposition to the lack of popular political freedom being labelled “anti-communism” at that time. Aron was a prolific writer and journalist, two works I am finding rich in political-sociological insights are “Politics and History” (a 1978 collection of essays) and his famous 1955 polemic “The Opium of the Intellectuals.” I quoted from this latter book in my last and best article on Libya. Aron’s place in the history of political thought is nicely described in Tony Judt’s majestic book “Postwar,” a history of Europe (and the idea of Europe) from 1945 to essentially the end of the 20th century. After reading Judt’s history (including the stories of the fall of communism in eastern Europe) it is much easier to see why Aron, a French Jew who was a young socialist and sociology scholar in Germany in the 1930s, thought as he did about politics.

Because Aron was critical of the western European intellectuals who claimed a preference for Moscow over “Atlanticism” (American involvement in Europe), critical of the lack of political freedom in the communist bloc (“behind the iron curtain”), and critical of destructive (unstructured, undirected revolts) “revolutionary” mass movements (e.g., France 1968), he was often cast as a “conservative,” which he was not. He had seen undisciplined destructive mass movements spinning out of control in Germany in the 1930s, and he feared for any possible repetition of the prior catastrophe after 1945, such as in 1968. He advocated real (versus show) and inclusive (versus racist or oligarchic) parliamentary democratic political structures that allowed its society to progress steadily through its desired (consensus) evolution: “In politics, the choice is never between good and evil, but between the preferable and the detestable.”

Aron’s work, translated to English (perhaps by him as he was a polyglot), is being reprinted by the press of Rutgers University (the university of the state of New Jersey). Unfortunately, from my perspective, the Aron publications are being fronted by right-wing editors and intellectuals, who are drawn to Aron’s erudite high academic style of exposition, and his withering logical positivist criticisms of “communism” (Stalinism and 1950s Eastern Bloc communism) and the strident communisant (“fellow traveller”) stance of French anti-Atlanticists, whose most prominent representative was Jean Paul Sartre. I say unfortunate because prospective American readers might imagine that Aron is some earlier avatar of the current “neo-con” brand of American “conservatism” (the corporatist neo-liberalism of today’s America). Aron was a classical socially conscious liberal, I think of his socialist inclinations as being “mature” rather than “childish.” He preferred to give society political and economic freedom (hence, traditional capitalism would occur, a typical bourgeoisie would exist), but to regulate the economics democratically, and implement socialized programs to ameliorate inequities (i.e., for health, education). He feared violent political radicalism, both because of its many consequent personal tragedies, and because it could take decades for a society to return to a reasonable state of peace and prosperity.

I recommend anyone interested in politics read Aron, but skip the forwards, introductions, and afterwards by the modern American “conservatives,” or read them only after first reading Aron’s text, so you are instructed by Aron’s insight in deconstructing the agenda of these commentators, rather than being primed by them to interpret Aron as they might wish. Where Aron exposes a weakness in the left canon, as you understood it, take it as an opportunity to refine your political views and make them more realistic — more effective. Our aim should be to gain clearer insight, not to defend a received doctrine against inconvenient facts. I am sure Aron’s aim was not to “destroy the left” (which can be that of the commentators now encrusted onto his books in English), but to improve people’s understanding of their society so they can improve it consensually through their shared democratic institutions.

So today for the Libyans: liberation and joy, a dictator is overthrown; for us comfortable spoiled brats of the world: live and learn, an chance to recast our political ideas more humanely and realistically.

Manuel Garcia, Jr., a resident of Planet Earth, too old to be productive, but still learning.

Here is Juan Cole’s commentary for August 22, 2011 on the Libyan Revolution, from his web site,


August 23, 2011

Opposing imperialist military expansionism

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 9:04 pm


Despite the unfinished character of the Libyan Revolution, it is clear that the days of Muammar Qaddafi are numbered. How has this news been received in the rest of the world? There is a lot of hope for Libya as an independent country, yet one friendly with neighbors and new allies. Even those lukewarm about the NATO intervention are now accepting reality. But the new Libya itself is eager to dispel any illusion that it might like a Western military base on its soil.

The Arab League says that it will take up the matter of giving the Transitional National Council Libya’s seat in the organization at its next meeting. The Arab League kicked off the outside intervention by asking the UN Security Council for a resolution authorizing other countries to protect Libya’s protest movement.

Abdel Moneim al-Huweini, the TNC delegate from Libya to the Arab League in Cairo reaffirmed Libya’s commitment to the League, saying,

“Libya is an Arab and Islamic nation before NATO and after NATO . . . the Libyans revolted from the 1970s against Western bases and there will be no non-Libyan bases.” He said the revolutionary government is grateful to NATO for minimizing the death toll in Libya through its air strikes [on attacking Qaddafi forces].

(Huweini was referring to the US Wheelus Air Force base in post- WW II Libya, which the Qaddafi government closed in 1970).


September 28, 2009, AFRICOM press release:

Sep 28, 2009 — A delegation of three senior Libyan military officers visited U.S. Africa Command headquarters as part of an orientation program to explain the command’s mission, Sept. 21-24, 2009, as the two countries continue to build their military relationship.

The officers held meetings with senior staff members to discuss the command’s programs and activities, met General William E. ward and his two deputies, and traveled to Ramstein Air Base to meet Major General Ron Ladnier, the U.S. Air Force Africa commander, and his staff.

The command hosts African military delegations frequently, but “certainly with regard to Libya, it is quite historic,” said Kenneth Fidler, Africa Command Public Affairs Office, which hosted the Libyan team.

Two of the officers in the delegation write for the official magazine of the Libyan armed forces, called Al-Musallh. Colonel Mohamed Algale is the chief editor, and Colonel Abdelgane Mohamed is the space and aviation editor. The third member of the party, Colonel Mustafa Washahi, represented the Libyan Ministry of Defense.

The officers also toured AFN-Europe studios in Mannheim, Germany, and met with editors of the European Stars and Stripes in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

“They (Africa Command officials) clarified everything,” Abdelgane said in an interview with AFN-Europe. “And they are making our mission easier … to rise up the level of understanding between the militaries … and to move for further cooperation to the benefit of both countries.”

In January 2009, Libya and the United States signed a defense cooperation memorandum of understanding, which provides the framework for a military-to-military relationship and cooperation on programs of mutual interest.

After the signing of the MOU, a forum called the Council of Colonels met for the fourth time since 2007. These meetings set the tone for Libya-U.S. military relations and is the primary venue for discussing potential security cooperation opportunities, such as ship visits and information exchange programs.

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