Home > General Politics > The Uprising in Libya and the Left

The Uprising in Libya and the Left

Gaddafi has always been something of a challenge for socialists. While it was his charisma and strong rhetoric that suited those keenly supportive of Pan-Arabism and socialism in the seventies, later it would be his malleability and weakness that allowed the West to turn a blind eye to him, or even conduct deals with him in the supposed interest of both parties.

A British source once said of Gaddafi: “We thought he was a bit left-wing, but not too bad, and that we could deal with him.”

In 1950s Libya, King Idriss failed to tip his hat to the winds of change sweeping the Arab world. While the sound of Pan-Arabism played out, Libya was still at the behest of the US and UK, that was until 1 September 1969, when Idriss was receiving medical treatment in Turkey, that a successful coup plot installed into office a group Libyan army officers led by Gaddafi, overthrowing the Monarchy and pre-empting Idris’ abdication.

42 years later and Gaddafi is still leader of the country, and is himself now irresponsive to the winds of change sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, like the leader before him. But moreover, Gaddafi’s defensive is set to be far more heavy-handed than most of the regions, to the extent that he may face a war criminal indictment over the way in which he has responded to protests.

He has been explicit: “when I [order use of force] everything will burn […] I’ll die here as a martyr”.

Gaddafi’s socialist supporters

His authoritarian dictatorship of the last forty years should spell out everything the left needs to know that support for him is misguided, but in spite of the fact he has incited a major civil war against protesters left wing leaders in Latin America have been positively supportive.

Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez enjoys good relations with Gaddafi, awarding the dictator the Orden del Libertador Simón Bolívar – something usually reserved for people offering outstanding services to the country. Recently he sent a tweet from his official twitter account saying: “Long live Libya and its independence! Kadhafi faces a civil war!”

Fidel Castro, too, has stated publicly that: “NATO is planning to take over Libya and its oil”, while President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua said he has phoned Libyan Gaddafi to express his solidarity.

Is Gaddafi socialist or a lackey of imperialism?

Chavez’ uncritical support for Gaddafi has once again caused embarrassment for the Venezuelan leader’s UK supporters. The closest tie is between Chavez and the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), who in 2009 made efforts to distance themselves from the support he gave to Ahmadinejad during the latter’s reelection. Alan Woods, one of the leading members of the Tendency, has written a piece for the IMT website condemning the use of force by Gaddafi, while explaining that rather than being a socialist he is actually responsible for “privatizations [which] encouraged foreign companies to open up shops in Benghazi and Tripoli”. He goes on to say: “As recently as last November The Economist published a glowing report about Libya, which it compared with Dubai.”

Andy Newman at Socialist Unity has noted that events taking place in the Middle East in 2003 made it wholly undesirable for regimes to present themselves as avowedly anti-American and Gaddafi’s Libya was one case in point. Gadaffi has always described himself as anti-imperialist, however he has never posed too much of a threat to the US (that is until the Lockerbie bombing – context and debates of which are too long to discuss in any detail here).

Even in spite of the well-documented meetings between Gadaffi, Berlusconi, Blair and others, the former should not be looked at primarily as a lackey of imperialism. However nor can he be viewed as a socialist. His ideology is not based upon the concerns of the people (which explains the large contingent rising up against him in Benghazi and other places) but upon a Nationalism that seeks to safeguard a ruling elite through whatever means possible. It’s durability is questionable; when Benghazi was lost Gaddafi ordered naval ships to attack it, however reports suggest there was major deliberation by the crew on what to do. As Woods, mentioned above, suggests, this shows early signs of a military in doubt over their leader.

The violent force planning to be used by Gaddafi is proof – if any more were needed – that he is in trouble. His regime is weakening, marred by resignations; he is flogging a dead horse. But if his last ditch attempt to flatten dissent works, some serious discussion needs to take place over what the rest of the world watching those scenes can do about it.

Conclusion

Unlike the South American leftist leaders, I don’t think Washington as a whole will be rubbing their hands together hoping for another war. If anything, Gadaffi himself by waging civil war and threatening to blow up oil terminals is rubbing the US up the wrong way. There is no doubt of his seriousness when he evokes crimes to humanity. Many hard right Neo-conservatives and left-leaning Liberals in the US senate have agreed that sanctions are the appropriate use of power for now, but they are not a long-term solution, and can often have undesirable effects to the people they are meant to help.

A no fly zone is only an option if there’s a foreign military presence in the country anyway, and an all-out military intervention like the one in Iraq ought to be avoided at all costs. This leaves options slim on the ground for the UN, whose only other option is to do nothing.

Debates on arms sales are tricky; of course small countries have the right to be armed against neighbouring oppressive nations, but the sort of monitoring which David Cameron spoke of recently on countries like Libya arming themselves against dissenters is pure fantasy, nor is it in the profit-driven interests of arms dealers anyway.

The Libyan situation poses many difficult questions, but let’s be clear: Gadaffi’s anti-imperialism doesn’t necessarily make him a friend of the left (this is what confuses Chavez et al); his desire to kill people on a large scale will force us all to think long and hard about the possible use of interventions – which may include forces and nations dubbed imperialist.

Activists have said: “We don’t need foreign forces to oust Gaddafi“. Let’s hope they’re correct.

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  1. darrellgoodliffe
    February 26, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    I really don’t understand why a no-fly zone is contingent on foreign forces being in the country in question.

    Your right at the end though, the left can’t be glib about this question and a knee-jerk no to intervention is the wrong response I feel. Problem is Gaddaffi, not to put too fine a point on it, has obviously lost his capability to operate on a rational level. He is clearly clinically ill.

    Frankly, I think he will lose but will do everything he can to take as many people as he can with him. And that puts the left in something of a tricky position. This may mean that the last statement while being empirically true doesn’t mean that an awful lot of lives wont be lost in the process.

    • February 27, 2011 at 11:16 am

      On the operation of a no fly zone, it needs to be enforced by whoever presses for one, in case it is broken. If it is broken the military have to intervene. It is usually enough of a warning sign, and if history or what Andy Newman said, which I’ve quoted in the OP, is anything to go by, Gaddafi will give in. But in reality, the no fly zone is really just a stepped up containment strategy with the overt message step out of line and we’ll wage war. Depending on who you believe, the reason Cameron hasn’t supported a no fly zone is either because we still have Brits in Libya, or that the military is no longer adequately equipped for that sort of thing.

      Agreed, and as vogue as it is to do down “imperialist” countries, I’m sure that it is no-one’s interest that Gaddafi takes down as many as he can, and that all countries and the UN try everything possible to avoid conflict – hence the passing of resolution 1970.

      • February 27, 2011 at 3:09 pm

        Carl Packman :
        On the operation of a no fly zone, it needs to be enforced by whoever presses for one, in case it is broken. If it is broken the military have to intervene. It is usually enough of a warning sign, and if history or what Andy Newman said, which I’ve quoted in the OP, is anything to go by, Gaddafi will give in. But in reality, the no fly zone is really just a stepped up containment strategy with the overt message step out of line and we’ll wage war. Depending on who you believe, the reason Cameron hasn’t supported a no fly zone is either because we still have Brits in Libya, or that the military is no longer adequately equipped for that sort of thing.
        Agreed, and as vogue as it is to do down “imperialist” countries, I’m sure that it is no-one’s interest that Gaddafi takes down as many as he can, and that all countries and the UN try everything possible to avoid conflict – hence the passing of resolution 1970.

        Thanks for the reply. I see the reasoning but my reply is that the only intervention necessitated is the actual shooting down of the offending aircraft which would require either a nearby base in a friendly country or a nearby carrier neither of which have to be in Libya.

        I agree. Whether we like it or not ‘imperialist’ governments can take progressive and supportable action in the same way a capitalist government can do the same. They do so within the framework, constraints and context of an oppressive social system but that doesn’t mean everything they do is a priori wrong and to be dammed.

  2. nande
    February 26, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    I think your left – right definitions are simplistic. Authoritarianism is a characteristic of the right-wing mind, also demonstrated by Chavez.

    See “Conservatives Without Conscience” by John Dean. “John Dean relies heavily on the work of a social psychologist, Dr. Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba, who has done much work on the theory of authoritarianism. According to Dean, Altemeyer’s work in this area has been officially recognized, and he is considered an expert in the field. “

    • February 27, 2011 at 11:18 am

      I think the opinion that left wingers cannot hold authoritarian ideas or assert dictatorial power is rather simplistic, much like if one were to say conservatism and compassion are distinct.

  3. Robert
    February 26, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Was he left, right is he left right, the problem you have one Tyrant taking over from another, royal families that rule through power based on the military.

    These people are not left or right all they are in real life just thugs who rule by the gun, I suspect people like Cameron Blair , enjoy being associated with winners and of course when you do have Oil is not bad, once it goes wrong of course and the people rise up the army runs, people will tell you they are tyrants.

    • February 27, 2011 at 11:20 am

      In a way that’s what I’ve said. Gaddafi is no pro-imperialist nor socialist, he is an authoritarian nationalist who is looking out for the interest of his ruling elite – or thugs by the gun as you put it.

  4. Robert
    February 27, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    I see labour is again shouting about going in with the army Barber is mouthing off about intervention. The people have to do this even if the Oil wells go up, something I suspect the UK and America would not want with inflation going up due to the price of Oil.

    The people of Libya have to do this themselves to show them freedom is worth fighting for. I see Barber is telling us it’s Kosova again but thats rubbish, leave them fight this out once it’s over tell them we will help if they need it, otherwise leave it alone.

  5. mubiru
    February 27, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    I am real happy to see the father of African dictators being dragged like a mere peasant and i think this Libyan dictator should go together with all his sons, (i mean all the other dictators of Africa).

  6. February 27, 2011 at 9:34 pm
  7. February 27, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Carl Packman wrote “I don’t think Washington as a whole will be rubbing their hands together hoping for another war. If anything, Gadaffi himself by waging civil war and threatening to blow up oil terminals is rubbing the US up the wrong way.”

    They won’t put US troops in on the ground – they’d be more than happy to bomb and missile with their airforce and fleets though – and they want rid of Gaddafi now it looks possible to get rid of him. US oil firms were already unhappy with him because, while he gave them new oil contracts from 2004, he soon started demanding a higher share of oil profits and talking about nationalisation as a possibility (one of the main reasons for the 2002 US backed coup attempt against Chavez and the main reason for the CIA-MI6 backed coup against Mossadeq in Iran – unlike Gaddafi both were democratically elected and neither was having unarmed protesters shot in large numbers)

    Carl Packman wrote “Gadaffi’s anti-imperialism doesn’t necessarily make him a friend of the left (this is what confuses Chavez et al)”

    I don’t think Chavez is confused here. He realises that he needs allies to survive against the constant attempts by the world’s only remaining superpower to overthrow him (e.g the 2002 coup attempt, US recognition of the last Honduran elections despite the election campaign including a coup against the fairly elected President and the arrest, torture and killing of his supporters during the election campaign).

    You can argue it’s immoral to ally yourself with people who ordering the killing of large numbers of unarmed civilians – and i’d agree with you there – but in that case every British and American government is as bad as Gaddafi in that respect – they just target ambulances and civilians in places like Fallujah in Iraq or Afghanistan, rather than in their own country.

    Darrell Goodlife wrote “Whether we like it or not ‘imperialist’ governments can take progressive and supportable action in the same way a capitalist government can do the same. They do so within the framework, constraints and context of an oppressive social system but that doesn’t mean everything they do is a priori wrong and to be dammed.”

    They can and sometimes do in terms of foriegn and humanitarian aid and domestic social and welfare policies, but they pretty much never do in their foriegn policy.
    Iraq and Afghanistan have been bloodbaths in which the Coalition/NATO forces have deliberately killed and tortured civilians ; and fired indiscriminately on towns and cities causing heavy civilians casulties (including with cluster munitions, modern versions of napalm, Depleted Uranium and white phosphorus ) and trained “El Salvador Option” Iraqi death squads (police commandoes and “counter-terrorism” units) to rape, torture and murder with the same methods Saddam’s ones did (indeed some of them are former members of Saddam’s Mubkhabarat secret police – US backed former Iraqi PM Iyad Allawi being one too)

    The protesters say they don’t want foreign military intervention – and Gaddafi knows this which is why he asked Libyans in his televised speech whether they wanted to be occupied like Afghanistan or Iraq. Foreign jets over Tripoli would be a gift to Gaddafi in terms of support among undecided Libyans – and – as in Iraq – even Libyans who oppose Gaddafi will not all support a foreign military presence in their country, still less it killing lots of Libyans (which it would pretty soon)

    Even the defectors like former Libyan Justice Minister Abdel Jalil are saying they don’t want foreign military intervention (albeit he’s a massive liar – Libya’s curveball, who says Gaddafi has WMDs and is willing to use them, that Gaddafi and Megrahi were behind Lockerbie (despite masses of evidence that his trial was a political sham) and that Gaddafi deliberately infected 400 children with HIV etc)

    The No-fly zone in Northern Iraq initially saved some lives, but later it and the southern No-fly zone were used for constant air strikes, massively ramped up during Desert Fox in 1998 and in the run up to the 2003 invasion – killing many civilians along with soldiers.

  8. Robert
    February 28, 2011 at 9:50 am

    But who is going to get to all the documents held in the Libyan palace all locked in a safe, it may well show how money has gone to gaddiffi to buy arms from the USA or UK, it may even show how much Blair really said to gaddifi about the Lockerbie bombings, of course our troops have to go in, in fact we are just hearing they are already in Libya.

    never mind perhaps gaddifi will burn all the evidence

  9. February 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    There is a wider picture of corruption and nefarious dealing going on here. The Guardian reported on this 2 years ago http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/sep/04/gaddafi-berlusconi-business

    My own satirical take on it is here
    https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=17Fc6Ss6QTSSp81f9ceKQhDedvr-oZU4c-TB5fxblS7U

    Enjoy

  1. March 3, 2011 at 3:44 pm
  2. October 7, 2012 at 7:01 pm

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