Here are 4 items relating to the current situation in Bahrain and Libya
- SSP Conference motion, 3 April 2011
- Article by Moshe Machover – The long road of the Arab revolution
- Article by John McAnulty (Socialist Democracy – Ireland) the test of Libya
- Article by Pepe Escobar – Exposed the US-Saudi Libya deal
Motion proposed by the SSP Executive Committee (before the UK intervention in Libya)
The Scottish Socialist Party stands fully behind the struggles taking place. We fully support the demands to create a new Arab world on the principles of democracy, secularism, civil rights and in particular the rights of women.
We support the demands for social and economic policies which promote equality and social justice and for the elections of governments which challenge imperialist ambitions in the region and which demonstrate active solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Amendment initiated by RCN members and proposed by Glasgow North East SSP branch
1 – Conference notes its enthusiastic support for the wave of mass protests sweeping through the Arab world, as people fill the streets demanding the end to entrenched dictatorships and the defence of democratic rights. So far, these protests have led to the toppling of Mubarek in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia. We look forward to more victories for the democratic insurgents throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Toppling dictators can only provide the first step in the creation of a genuinely democratic and just society. The SSP stands in solidarity with the progressive democratic forces in the Arab World as they organise to secularise these societies, advance the rights of the working class as it endeavours to form viable trades unions and narrow the vast differentials in income and wealth, and press demands that undermine the autocratic patriarchy that oppresses women and distorts gender relations for all.
2 – The occupation of Bahrain by troops from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States is an ominous development. Unable to suppress popular demands for greater democracy, the Bahraini elite, totally corrupt and discredited, has turned to the theocratic rulers of Saudi Arabia, with its sizeable military forces equipped by the US and UK. The SSP calls for the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from Bahrain. We demand that the British government stop selling arms to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and any other government which has contributed troops to the occupation. We join with the people on the streets of Bahrain demanding the overthrow of the monarchy and its replacement by a democratic government responsible to all of the people.
3 – The SSP opposes the military intervention in Libya of the US, Britain and France in Libya, and will actively participate in wider coalitions that demand an immediate halt to the air strikes, while opposing the extension of military operations to the use of ground troops. Western imperialist powers have no interest in promoting democracy in Libya, or anywhere in the Arab world. Their sole goal is to obtain greater control over Libya’s oil resources.
At the same time, the SSP supports he struggle of the Libyan people to topple the Gadaffi regime. The Libyan government was an entrenched, brutal dictatorship and a corrupt one also. In these essential characteristics, it differed little from many other autocratic regimes in the region, which have become the target of popular insurgencies. Our opposition to military intervention in any form by the Western powers in no way implies support for the Tripoli regime.
Passed overwhelmingly by the SSP Annual Conference in Dunfermline on 3.4.11
The Long Road Of The Arab Revolution
by Moshé Machover, a long-standing international socialist now exiled from Israel
Libya: Saving the revolution killed the revolution
It is very difficult to talk in a coherent way about a process which is unfolding and where things are changing all the time. What I would like to do is to initiate a discussion and explore some ideas about where the revolution is going, and what we should expect in both the short term and longer term.
But, given the contention on the left, I think we should start with Libya. There is a lot of confusion, and I think that this is partly for understandable reasons. I am not referring here to the ‘confusion’ of those who effectively cheer the imperialist intervention. Groups like the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty are in my opinion simply social-imperialists.
I am actually talking about socialists – people I regard as comrades, such as Gilbert Achcar, who is not a social-imperialist and is very critical of western intervention and of this ‘coalition of the willing’ (and partly unwilling!) that is being sent to ‘protect’ the Libyan revolution.
There is a genuine problem, and it would be unfortunate to appear callous and uncaring about the fate of those in Benghazi who were penned in and faced the terrible prospect of being massacred. Given the despair they are in, I would not actually be too critical of them for calling on the so-called ‘international community’ for help.
We have to be clear that the ‘international community’ is itself an ideological construct, a term used in order to conflate the US-led global hierarchy of states on the one hand and global public opinion on the other. There is world public opinion – civil society – which has real humanitarian concerns, and then there is the so-called ‘international community’, which is the nom de guerre of the US and its followers.
Why did they go for Libya and not other places? For me there are three main reasons. Firstly, there is the question of oil. Do not underestimate this factor. Of course, the quantity of oil Libya offers is next to nothing in comparison to Saudi Arabia, but it is its quality which makes them interested in it. It is just about the best oil you can find, particularly for aircraft fuel.
Secondly, they have been asked to intervene this time around, which is crucial in providing them with an ideological and political cover: nobody asked them in Egypt or in Yemen; nobody even asked them in Bahrain.
Thirdly, although Gaddafi’s Libya ceased to be a ‘rogue state’ from around 2003, there is some truth in the claim that, from the standpoint of the imperialists, Gaddafi is still a rogue. Why? Well he is obviously a little bit crazy and very unreliable for them. So, although he is ‘our friend’ now (or was until very recently!), he was never somebody who could be fully trusted, as he is unstable in every possible manner – including mentally. How anybody can take him seriously after hearing him speak is simply beyond me.
The Saudis are also cautiously in favour of intervention in Libya because they do not like Gaddafi either. They remember all his leanings towards Islamic Maoism, the Little green book and his own conception of jamahiriya (people’s power). The Saudi regime is very traditionalist and as such they find all of this stuff very unsettling. Gaddafi has created his own ideology – even his own version of Islam! This has also been a factor in ensuring that he has very few allies in the Arab world more generally.
Anyway, I would like to comment on Achcar’s remarks about Libya. Whilst he is wrong to lend support to the intervention, he has a few sensible things to say on the situation and I would recommend reading him.
But he omits some important things. It is my view that the Libyan revolution is already defeated. From the moment the Interim Transitional National Council felt it had to invite this intervention it became clear that it was unable to overthrow the regime. As Marx observed a long time ago, revolution is needed not only to overthrow the powers that be, but also to transform the people who are making it – the process of revolution is a transformative one which gives the masses confidence in their ability to change things and to be masters of their own fate. Once you call on other forces to intervene, all this is lost, and in this sense it is a defeat.
The second remark which I think I would add to Achcar’s analysis is this. It may well be that inviting these forces into Libya is the lesser evil, compared to being slaughtered. But it is still an evil. Sometimes one must accept and put up with the lesser evil, but one must never demand it. The people who are not only demanding, but cheering the intervention are renegades to the revolutionary idea. If it is a lesser evil but it comes to pass anyway, then you have to protest against it, you have to denounce it.
I have made the analogy before, but imagine that there is a group of people surrounded by the Ku Klux Klan and are about to be slaughtered. They then invite protection from the Mafia. The Mafia will, of course, give you protection – but will then install a protection racket if it can. The Mafia that is the so-called ‘international community’ is not even sure if it can institute this protection racket anyway; but it will do its damnedest.
Moreover, the no-fly (now no-drive?) zone is dangerous not only in its immediate effect on the outcome in Libya. It also sets a worrying precedent. Once you give these forces the legitimation to act as the global policeman, then next time they will use it as they please – not for the lesser evil, but the greater one. Giving such forces legitimacy is in the worst interests of revolution both in the Arab world and beyond – it is in the best interests of counter-revolution, because that is how they are going to use it. It is not simply this situation on its own, in isolation, but what it implies for the future as well.
Also, when our rulers make war it is very bad for us – this is a point made by Marx. Think back to Thatcher and the Falklands war – her government was set to lose the general election.
I think the reason why there was less opposition to Libya than Iraq was because the latter was obviously going to be a land invasion. A ‘no-fly zone’ appears to be a much safer, less risky version of war, which is more like a computer game than anything else, so it is more popular – especially if you can justify it on ‘humanitarian’ grounds – without the risk of getting bogged down in a long and drawn-out war.
Not only is the left divided in its reaction, but so too are the imperialists. In each of the countries where people are free to express divergent opinions you see some maintaining that this move is not a good idea and that one can never know how it will end. It is certainly going to be a messy situation.
Whilst I have claimed that this moment marks the defeat of the Libyan revolution, I have not said that it is the defeat of the Arab revolution. I certainly hope it is not! This is just one sector of it, but it is not accidental that this defeat happened in a country like Libya. The reasons are quite clear.
Libya is one of the largest countries in Africa, most of which is desert. But it has a very small population of around six or seven million people, most of whom are divided along tribal lines. This is important. Compare it, for example, to Iran. Both are oil-producing countries that receive a large revenue from oil. This has led some to characterise Iran as a kind of ‘rentier state’ that does not depend too much on tax revenues from its own people. This allows it to provide handouts and sweeteners. Yet its population is around 11 times that of Libya, so even with the inflow of royalties from oil it cannot bribe that many people. As we know, the economic situation in Iran is dire.
This is different in Libya, where the revenue (or some of it) is spread out amongst far fewer people and thus leads to phenomena like low unemployment, etc. Indeed, the fact that Gaddafi made peace with the imperialist order back in 2003-04 (who will forget that handshake with our very own Tony Blair?) actually increased his ability to use this enormous wealth, even after siphoning off much of it for himself and his family. After all, he is a kleptocrat – just like his colleagues, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia, etc. We should also mention the Saudi royal family, who do not even have to steal to get their wealth because there formally the oil is actually theirs – there is no distinction between the public purse and the private purse of the king. (In Britain this identity was abolished in medieval times.)
But even after deducting all of this kleptocratic rent, there is enough left over for Gaddafi to bribe enough of the population, to hire mercenaries and so on and thus try to prevent what happened in Egypt and Tunisia. Libya’s social structure is also less developed, less advanced than in those neighbouring countries. I think you can also notice this in the composition of the opposition – it is much more dominated by people who were tribally opposed to Gaddafi’s regime, and there is a much higher proportion of Islamists than in both Tunisia and Egypt.
It would be foolish to predict how exactly things will pan in out in Libya. There might be a situation where it is divided between east and west and there is a civil war of attrition lasting for some time. Or it could end one way or the other. But, to the extent that there was a popular uprising, I think the people have lost ownership of this process and thus the revolution is defeated.
Other hot spots
This is not so in other parts of the Arab world. There are still very positive dynamics in Syria, for example. Syria is the second most important Arab country after Egypt. If Egypt had, by virtue of its large population, been the leader of the Arab people up to the time when it made peace with the US and Israel, then Syria is now the claimant to this role.
In fact, I recently looked back at theses I had co-written in the mid-1970s, and what we said back then was that the Syrian Ba’ath was making a bid for the leadership of the Arab world. Iraq, the other large Arab country, has never managed to stake a claim on this role. Saddam Hussein had a project to do so, but for various reasons he did not achieve this.
Events in Japan and Britain have squeezed the reporting of Yemen, but things are going forward there too. And very few people mention Bahrain, which is in a catastrophic situation. What some feared would happen in Libya is happening right now. There the regime – aided by forces it invited from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states – has actually invaded the hospitals. So if you are wounded on a demonstration and taken to hospital you are likely to be killed. We are seeing a massacre of unimaginable cruelty.
Bahrain is the source of the pearls of Arabia. Now these forces have demolished the symbolic pearl in Pearl Square, where enormous demonstrations took place. This is a huge insult to the people who occupied the square – some still risk their lives demonstrating there. Here there are signs of the revolutionary process receding, whilst Yemen and Syria are still going forward. This is no coincidence: it can be traced back to social structure.
Yemen is the product of a forced union of the north and south – two areas with a vastly different social composition. North Yemen is tribal and very backward in its economic and social development. South Yemen is mostly made up of the former British colony of Aden. Politically it was also very developed. For a time there was a self-styled socialist republic here, which was then overthrown by an internal coup and external forces from other countries and from North Yemen. This localised would-be socialism had some very democratic ideas. In the heyday of socialist revolution in South Yemen it said and did a lot of things which went beyond Stalinism. There was a real struggle which took place there between Stalin-style communists and real communists. Of course, they were very limited as to what they could achieve and in the end they were defeated. But in terms of its political development, South Yemen was probably the most advanced country in the Arab world.
Whilst it is now merged with the very different North Yemen, we can still see this influence of working class struggle and organisation today: we see a radical intelligentsia and the heritage of a well-organised workers’ movement making its mark on the events unfolding there.
There were only a few countries in which there was a sizeable working class movement in the Arab world beyond South Yemen. The largest Communist Party, which was highly Stalinised, was in Iraq. But when the monarchy was overthrown in 1958 it was the only party to emerge intact from the underground. The coup to remove the monarchy was a military one, but on the civilian political scene the Communist Party almost had a monopoly. Of course, this was wasted because of its policies and so on. I am old enough to remember when Anastas Mikoyan came to ‘advise’ the Iraqi Communist Party following the fall of the monarchy in 1958-59. He actually told them not to rock the boat and to maintain the Soviet policy of ‘peaceful co-existence’ with the west – a revolutionary policy in Iraq would have undermined this and was thus to be avoided. This marked the beginning of the decline of the CP, and what remains now is really shameful. It is not even an anti-imperialist force, let alone a force for socialism.
The third country where there was a strong movement, albeit a Stalinist one, was Syria. Syria had a fairly sizeable Communist Party led by the Kurd, Khalid Bakdash. It is a very mixed country with quite a lot of Christians, Jews, Armenians and all sorts. Again because of its Stalinist policies the CP declined. But, once again, traditions have been retained which survive to this day.
Those like me who had been in a Stalinist Communist Party will perhaps understand what I am trying to describe. These parties were tools of Stalinist foreign policy. Nevertheless, they organised the working class and a lot of their members were true, genuine working class militants who learned a little bit of Marxism (of course, in a rather doctored version). But they were called on to read some of the classical writings and this did leave something behind, in spite of all the betrayals and so on. Wherever there were powerful CPs there is a tradition which lives on today. This is not true of Iraq, but that is partly because of other factors, such as the complete destruction of the country following the invasion. So there is a sense in which these organisations have left behind them a heritage which is still worthwhile.
Qatar is a genuine exception in all of this. It is a very rich place and its ruling family is playing a very clever game. There have been calls for demonstrations there too, but very few people have turned up. There is opposition, of course, as there is everywhere. But for the time being business is business – and part of the business of the Qatari ruling family is Al-Jazeera! They are actually profiting from the Arab revolution and – for the moment at least – they do not feel threatened by it. Whether they will succumb to it or not remains to be seen.
As for Al-Jazeera itself, it is interesting to look at how in many ways it presages Arab unity. It is not a coincidence that what symbolises Arab unity is one of the most modern forms of communication. It is Arab unity in the form suited to the 21st century. It has Arab workers from all over the region.
It originally started as an offshoot of the BBC World Service, but the BBC turned out to be too conservative and restrictive, too bound up with American and British interests in the region. Al-Jazeera actually broadcasts much of what the Arab masses want. Let us not overstate this: the station is hardly the voice of Arab communism! Nonetheless, it is run by secular democrats whose coverage is not based on sound bites like the BBC World Service. On Al-Jazeera they actually have discussions, where people are allowed to develop their positions – not just those who support the Arab revolution, but also Israeli politicians and American conservatives, for example. This is very educational, making it in my opinion the most informative news service in the world (especially now that the BBC World Service is being cut).
It would be foolish to prophesy. Things are still unfolding and numerous options are presenting themselves. But it would also be foolish to expect too much. I think it is unlikely that we will see even a progressive kind of bourgeois democratic regime emerge, or some kind of social democratic arrangement. These things do not come about with just one push. This revolutionary movement is only the first of a whole historical process, which is only in its infancy.
History is important. In 1848 there were revolutions throughout most of Europe, which on the face of things did not succeed: they did not actually overthrow all the reactionary regimes. Nevertheless, it did not come to nothing. It left a certain tradition and a certain heritage which was then taken forward in the next step.
Look at what happened in Portugal in 1974-75. The revolution took on a very left-wing and radical direction, but a lot of it was reversed. What we have in Portugal now is not that much different to what exists in many other European states. However, if you speak to people who took part in this revolution then you will notice that it lives on in their consciousness – it matters when you have experienced the overthrow of a dictatorial regime and lived through a period of people’s power, etc. It forms the basis of the next step.
So even the most realistically optimistic scenario is not for all the old regimes to be overthrown and replaced by liberal, social democratic administrations. It will probably be far short of this. But the longer-term effects will be more profound. The world has changed already in many ways. First of all, from the point of view of the US-led imperialist order the Middle East is no longer something you can regard as a safe zone. The whole policy of the US in the region – the most strategically important in the world due to oil and the Suez Canal – was based on the fact that, whilst US policy-makers were very clearly aware of the discontent of the masses, they believed in the ability of the rulers to keep it under control and repress it.
There was actually a non-conservative project to introduce the imperialist version of democracy to the Middle East. The neocons (not George Bush, by the way, who simply provided patronage for the whole project) realised that the Saudi Arabian situation was no longer sustainable and were thinking very far ahead. They knew that there would eventually be some sort of revolt or uprising there, and thus came to the conclusion that it would be better for them to instigate and control the impending transformation. This is certainly true. The whole project foundered because the first stage failed so miserably – Iraq proved not to be the beginning of a smooth transition to western democracy but a very bloody mess. The whole thing became discredited.
Conspiracy theory fans like the remnants of the Workers Revolutionary Party, who tend to uphold Gaddafi as some sort of ‘anti-imperialist’, actually infer from this that what is going on must be the product of neocon plans. But this is completely wrong. They were hatched precisely in order to pre-empt what is actually taking place – ie, instead of something driven by the initiative of the people, something they could instigate and manipulate themselves.
Indeed, this revolutionary wave was not without previous tremors – even in Libya. In 1995, for example, there was a local uprising in Benghazi – no coincidence, of course. It was drowned in blood. But there have been uprisings in every one of these countries – protests that the regimes were able to suppress. But that period is now over. Nothing is the same. This is also reflected in US lack of confidence in relation to the unfolding events. They are no longer sure if they can keep this region under control. With the exception of Syria, all of the countries gripped by revolution are allies of the United States and, at least implicitly, of Israel.
Although in the Egyptian and Tunisian protests you did not see many slogans such as ‘Down with the United States’ or ‘Down with Israel’, this was because the protests were dealing with the immediate task at hand – ie, overthrowing the regime. If you actually watch journalists talking to ordinary people, as Al-Jazeera did, then it becomes clear that they were not simply protesting about unemployment or the corruption of the various regimes, but about the fact that those like Mubarak are lackeys of imperialism, and the shameful conditions of the peace treaty with Israel imposed on them.
When you hear interviews with Syrians though, they assert that one thing they do not mind about the regime is the fact that it is opposed to the US and does not toe the Israeli line. It is hated because of repression and the state of the economy, but not for foreign policy. It is important to observe what people are saying, rather than just what is on their placards.
I would like also to point out that we are witnessing an all-Arab revolution. The Weekly Worker has been quite correct on this. Whilst I would rather call it an all-Arab revolution than a pan-Arab revolution, as the Weekly Worker does, this is simply a matter of terminology.
I am slightly puzzled by the fact that many from the Trotskyist tradition refuse to accept the idea of an Arab revolution. One good example of this is Stuart King of Permanent Revolution. Whenever I have spoken on Arab unity and he has been present he has raised a number of rather odd objections. On the one hand, he says, the Arab world is far too disparate and there are many national minorities (the Kurds, the Israelis and so on) and further nationalities which he invents, such as the Maronites (a religious denomination).
On the other hand, he then questions why we should be opting for Arab unity: why not opt for regional unity, which would include Turkey and Iran? Of course, in the long run we will have a united socialist world. But the affinity between England and Scotland, for example, is not the same as the affinity between England and Japan. You would not expect unification to proceed at the same rate everywhere. In the long run – and this will take many generations – the world will, of course, be one and there will be no national frontiers. But this cannot happen all at once. To bring in Iran, with a different history, language and some record of estrangement from and conflict with the Arab world, strikes me as rather strange. Further, it is ridiculous to bring in Turkey, which was the imperial master of the Arab world, as a partner on the same level as – let us say – Hadhramaut and Oman.
Given that the Arab revolution is an idea associated with Michel Raptis (Pablo), perhaps this hostility to Arab unity can be traced back to an old Trotskyist sectarian quarrel which has outlived its meaningfulness. To me it makes no difference whether the idea came from Pablo. He may have got one hundred and one other things wrong, but he was right on this question. He knew the Arab world very well and this idea was enthusiastically picked up. I got it from a comrade of mine, who was my main mentor on Middle Eastern matters. I am referring to the Palestinian Arab Marxist, Jabra Nicola, who died in London in 1974. He was a Trotskyist. I was and am not. But I learnt a lot from him.
Anyway, quite clearly the revolutionary contagion in the Arab world is far more direct and immediate than, for example, the spreading of revolutionary sentiment across eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Arab world is more like a single nation divided into sub-nationalities. If you want a rough analogy, then I would say it is like Italy, where there is the Italian nation, but within it there are the Sicilians, Tuscans, etc, who are akin to sub-nationalities. In fact, in the period of World War I, when there was the promise of uniting the Arab world, explicit comparisons were made with Italy. Many were arguing that the Arab world should be treated like Italy under Garibaldi and so on. The British actually mobilised support against Turkey using this very promise of Arab unity. Of course, this was later betrayed.
Even if you compare the Arab region with the Spanish-speaking part of Latin America, the historical and linguistic ties are much closer in the former. Indeed, many of the Latin American countries are historically not mainly Spanish – they have their own indigenous histories and cultures. Not so in the Arab world.
Today, one of the modern attributes of a nation is that it is a people who get their news from the same television station! In this respect, all the Arab world is one nation. Do not underestimate this! The rulers know this very well. Indeed, some of them have even blamed Al-Jazeera for the revolution, which is, of course, exaggerated. But it reveals a truth.
It matters a lot when people watch the same programmes and can communicate with each other in the same language – something which is increasingly done online, of course. And again, whilst we may not have seen placards addressing the question of Arab unity (beyond, for example, ‘Solidarity with Tunisia’ in Egypt and so on), when you actually talk to activists and hear them being interviewed then you notice a big change. The desire for and drive towards Arab unity was very much alive from the 1950s onwards, especially around the time of the Suez war. It lasted right through to the 1970s, but then it declined. And if you spoke to Arab comrades in the 1980s and 1990s then they would say that Arab unity was a lost cause, it was not going to happen, there was too much divergence, etc. But now if you speak to them it is clear that the idea is back on the agenda.
It is not simply the same language, culture and history which is important. It is also an economic need. This should be a very important consideration, especially for Marxists. Currently divided up into one big state, a few medium-sized states and then a lot of mini-states, the Arab world as it actually is does not make sense economically. The distribution of the population and natural resources is very skewed and uneven. The riches of Libya and Saudi Arabia, for example, could finance the extensive development which is needed in a country like Egypt. A country like Syria has a lot of fertile land which is underused. The dispersal of all these human and natural resources means that it makes no sense to keep them apart. The first step could be something along the lines of the European Union – first and foremost an economic union – but without the reactionary agenda.
Unfortunately it would seem that the Arab bourgeoisie is incapable of actually leading this transformation. Achieving such a union requires the mobilisation of the working class, and indeed the leadership of the working class. The bourgeoisie has tried to do this – and not just the Egyptian and Syrian bourgeoisie. Even Gaddafi had a Mickey Mouse project for Arab unification.
I think that a ‘Bismarck scenario’ is unlikely in the Arab revolution. Uniting Germany in ‘blood and iron’ was made possible by the particular role which Prussia played in relation to the other German states. It was a highly militarised state – one of the biggest military powers in Europe. On the other hand, the other German states were smaller and much weaker militarily. In terms of the Arab world today, it is not simply that a Bismarck does not exist, but that there is no Arab Prussia. Egypt is by far the largest country in the Arab world. But I think that the scenario of Egypt invading Syria and so on is a remote one. Saladin, for example, did invade and unify a large part of the Arab world, but that was in the 12th century, not the 21st. I do not think it is realistic now.
The bourgeoisie, of course, could achieve Arab unity by its own means, but I think this is unlikely. Recent historical experience suggests why. The United Arab Republic, for example, was initiated by the Syrian bourgeoisie, not Nasser and the Egyptian bourgeoisie. They thought it would protect their interests and that it would be better to work together with others of their class interest in the Arab world. But, when it actually came about, the Syrian bourgeoisie was not so keen because it found it was being competitively undermined by the much larger and more powerful Egyptian bourgeoisie. They found it was too bad for business.
This is a dilemma for the various national capitals, which base themselves on snatching a bigger part of the market and so on. It looks very unlikely that the bourgeoisie will transcend its immediate interests in order to unite the Arab nation. To do this you need a class which is not held back by competitive, immediate material interests, but can think in a more international sense: ie, the working class.
Of course, that would require the working class to organise, and for this a whole historical period will be required. That is why I am saying that in the short term we should not expect too much. We need a period in which the working class can actually organise and create its own political leadership, which can then start a new revolution aimed at uniting the Arab world.
For the interview, see www.zcommunications.org/libyan-developments-by-gilbert-achcar
See F Halliday Arabia without Sultans London 1974.
originally published in Weekly Worker, no. 859
The Test Of Libya
by John McAnulty – Socialist Democracy (Ireland), 3 April 2011
The revolutionary upsurges in North Africa and the Middle East should be serving as a revitalising jolt for revolutionary socialists elsewhere. After decades of isolation, finally they are able to contribute fully: to offer the tools of Marxist analysis, to offer the examples and lessons from earlier historical upsurges, to build solidarity from a working class perspective.In many cases this is what has happened. However, as in the case of circulatory diseases, the return of blood flow may simply confirm that the affected area is dead and allow the processes of gangrene and decay to set in. Such has been the case with Gilbert Achcar, a well-known academic with a long history of involvement with the Fourth International. Achcar, under the pressure of revolutionary upsurge, has completed a journey from revolutionary socialism to liberal commentator with a declaration of support for imperialist war in Lybia.
The resolution is amazingly confused. But given the urgency of preventing the massacre that would have inevitably resulted from an assault on Benghazi by Gaddafi’s forces, and the absence of any alternative means of achieving the protection goal, no one can reasonably oppose it….. You can’t in the name of anti-imperialist principles oppose an action that will prevent the massacre of civilians. In the same way, even though we know well the nature and double standards of cops in the bourgeois state, you can’t in the name of anti-capitalist principles blame anybody for calling them when someone is on the point of being raped and there is no alternative way of stopping the rapists.
Achcar denounces dogmatism, a growing habit in the socialist movement by those who, after years of endorsing an amorphous anti-capitalism, find themselves uncomfortable when Marxist theory is applied to real events.
Yet his whole position is one of bombastic and pompous dogmatism. He asserts a scenario about Libya that, unless we bow down to his supreme authority as academic commentator, he cannot possibly know. Not only that, he asserts as gospel that future developments can only take one path without imperialist intervention and that there is no alternative to supporting this intervention.
However it would be a mistake to debate Achcar on these grounds. He does not know fully what is happening in Libya and neither do I. What we have to stamp upon is a deeper arrogance – an arrogance that sees the language of Marxism as something posed within exaggerated quotation marks – proof of the writer’s erudition and knowledge of the mystic texts, to be discarded immediately once we encounter the real world. When we examine Achcar’s text we find that Marxism is absent. What we are dealing with is a humanitarian argument, full of all the illusions of the bog-standard liberal shaking their head over the Sunday newspapers.
What is the alternative to humanitarian concern? For Marxists all struggles are the struggles of contesting classes. The imperialist powers, representing the highest stage of capitalism, have interests that are antithetical to those of the working class. The working class may not appear as an organized force, but that does not mean that it has no interests that will not be advanced or suppressed by the outcome of specific struggles. Finally Marxism tells us that struggles have a broader context. The interests of the workers are not restricted to a national stage, but have a regional and global dimension. So solidarity is not a way of applauding each other’s struggle at a distance, but a way of recognising that the workers in Europe, the US and around the world are involved in a common struggle against capitalism and imperialism and the task of solidarity is to bring our common interests to the fore. The significance of the cruise missile socialists is not that they are standing back from the struggle in Libya, but in rejecting the common struggle, they are standing back from struggle full stop. They then become subject to moralism produced by the whims and pressures of bourgeois public opinion which is often formed by the imperialists themselves. This is the significance of Achcar’s failure. We are involved in a common struggle and he has moved to the other side, not in some far away country but in fighting the capitalist state in which he lives.
So what is the context of the struggle in Libya? The context is the wave of revolution sweeping across the region. This revolution is the spontaneous uprising of young people demanding democracy and also seeking social change that will deliver jobs and a decent life. Immediately these revolts are objectively anti-imperialist. The structures they are struggling against: The monarchies, the dictatorships, the Israeli state, the countries directly occupied – all these are sponsored by Imperialism and together constitute a mechanism of imperialist rule.
What is the response of the various regimes? They seek to directly suppress the revolts. Where necessary they offer minimal concessions also with the aim of demobilising the resistance. This strategy is also the strategy of imperialism. Where possible, force is used to crush the resistance, as it was in Bahrain with the direct involvement of the US in planning the counteroffensive and in Iraq where US occupation troops are still present. Where concessions have to be made elements of the regime are sacrificed rather than the regime itself. Attempts are made to shape the emerging opposition so that minimal changes are required.
The imperialists are struggling because for years they have argued that the only alternative to their client regimes is Islamic fundamentalism, yet the opposition that emerges is secular and democratic. The regimes have one overarching advantage. After decades of repression there are few democratic and working class movements in existence. The revolutionary forces urgently need time to develop programme and organization. That is the starting point for solidarity. Not to weep salt tears or to shout encouragement, but to pass on what we have learnt – that the class interests of capitalism within their movements will lead to their betrayal and defeat, that objective anti-imperialism must move on to become a conscious struggle, that that conscious struggle can only be based on the working class and that the only political basis for such a movement is socialism.
So, starting from the standpoint of class struggle we are able to take a general perspective on imperialist strategy in relation to the revolutionary upsurges. It is general, it lacks detail but it does give a framework for analysis and action.
So why the military intervention in Libya? Well there are a number of factors we can be sure of. One is that Libya produces oil and that the battles have ebbed and flowed around a massive oil production centre. Secondly the calls to arms have been led by France and the British, the countries who have in the recent past had the strongest ties with the Libyan regime. One analysis that has been offered was that these powers doubted Gaddafi’s ability to restore order and believed that either the overthrow of Gaddafi or partition was the best way to protect their investment.
It has been argued that the US is a reluctant participant in the Libyan adventure. The evidence does not support this. Obama deliberated, but he authorized covert operations in Libya at an early stage and when he did act, used overwhelming force and constructed a UN resolution that offered carte blanche to the imperialist powers.
The reason given for intervention by US defence chief Robert Gates was that continued unrest would destabilise Morocco and Tunisia. Having been caught on the back foot by the upsurge, the US was constructing a regional strategy. Being able to add military intervention to the mix greatly strengthens their hand.
There is one other element of importance. That is that French agents, alongside British and US covert forces, were in Benghazi from an early stage, that they were in contact with members of the Transitional Interim National Council, including people who had recently been members of the Gaddafi regime and that they very quickly recognized that elements of the council would be willing collaborators with imperialism. The military intervention against Gaddafi followed on the heels of this. It does suggest very strongly that imperialist powers received an offer they couldn’t refuse in terms of guarantees of imperialist interests in Libya.
When you put this alongside a constant drive to pull defectors from the regime, imperialist strategy in Libya looks remarkably like everywhere else in the region. Where you have to, sacrifice the dictator, then fight like hell to preserve the regime or install a close copy. What are the effects of imperialist intervention? Right away a mass uprising becomes a civil war. Gaddafi gains renewed legitimacy as the defender of the nation against imperialist invasion. Doubters in his own ranks are now traitors. Those in the uprising correspondingly loose political authority and the pace of events moves away from politics and mass action to the military decisions of the imperialist powers.
Within the opposition camp power moves away from the masses and becomes concentrated with those who hold the ear of the imperialists. The European powers meet in London to decide the future of Libya, for all the world like a colonial conference from past times lording it over Africa.
Marxists have a special role to play within the revolutions and in solidarity with them. We stand unconditionally for the democratic rights of the Arab and North African masses. We stand firmly against imperialist intervention, without making the mistake of endorsing Gaddafi or states such as Syria as in some way anti-imperialist. We argue specifically for the self-organization of the working class and for a socialist solution in the understanding that a democratic capitalist society is not a possible outcome to the present struggles in a period when capitalism no longer supports even the limited democratic structures and freedoms of the past.
The revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa will constitute a defining moment in the revolutionary history of this century. The struggles they have initiated will continue for many years and will help define the politics and organization of the working class movement across the world.
For all these reasons it is essential that revolutionaries repudiate Achcar, the cruise missile socialists who stand with him, and organizations such as those in Denmark, Germany and Portugal who have voted to support imperialist intervention.
We must unite, both politically and organizationally, in defence of revolution, in opposition to imperialist intervention and in solidarity with the workers. A valuable start has been made by commentators such as Alex Callinicos and Pham Binh.In his defence Achcar argues that he would be the first to demonstrate for UN intervention and a no-fly zone if there was a further attack on Gaza. He will stand alone. Our task as Marxists is to explain that UN intervention is imperialist military adventure and that no-fly zones are simply a passport to war without boundaries or restraint. Our task is to overthrow imperialism, to defend the Arab workers by attacking it in its heartland, not to weave stupefying fairy tales about its ability to civilize or pacify.
originally published on:- Socialist Democracy
Exposed: The US-Saudi Libya Deal
by Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, April 2, 2011
You invade Bahrain. We take out Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. This, in short, is the essence of a deal struck between the Barack Obama administration and the House of Saud. Two diplomatic sources at the United Nations independently confirmed that Washington, via Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, gave the go-ahead for Saudi Arabia to invade Bahrain and crush the pro-democracy movement in their neighbor in exchange for a
yes vote by the Arab League for a no-fly zone over Libya – the main rationale that led to United Nations Security Council resolution 1973.
The revelation came from two different diplomats, a European and a member of the BRIC group, and was made separately to a US scholar and Asia Times Online. According to diplomatic protocol, their names cannot be disclosed. One of the diplomats said,
This is the reason why we could not support resolution 1973. We were arguing that Libya, Bahrain and Yemen were similar cases, and calling for a fact-finding mission. We maintain our official position that the resolution is not clear, and may be interpreted in a belligerent manner.
As Asia Times Online has reported, a full Arab League endorsement of a no-fly zone is a myth. Of the 22 full members, only 11 were present at the voting. Six of them were Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, the US-supported club of Gulf kingdoms/sheikhdoms, of which Saudi Arabia is the top dog. Syria and Algeria were against it. Saudi Arabia only had to
seduce three other members to get the vote.
Translation: only nine out of 22 members of the Arab League voted for the no-fly zone. The vote was essentially a House of Saud-led operation, with Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa keen to polish his CV with Washington with an eye to become the next Egyptian President.
Thus, in the beginning, there was the great 2011 Arab revolt. Then, inexorably, came the US-Saudi counter-revolution. Profiteers rejoice Humanitarian imperialists will spin en masse this is a “conspiracy”, as they have been spinning the bombing of Libya prevented a hypothetical massacre in Benghazi. They will be defending the House of Saud – saying it acted to squash Iranian subversion in the Gulf; obviously R2P – “responsibility to protect” does not apply to people in Bahrain. They will be heavily promoting post-Gaddafi Libya as a new – oily- human rights Mecca, complete with US intelligence assets, black ops, special forces and dodgy contractors.
Whatever they say won’t alter the facts on the ground -the graphic results of the US-Saudi dirty dancing. Asia Times Online has already reported on who profits from the foreign intervention in Libya (see There’s no business like war business, March 30). Players include the Pentagon (via Africom), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Saudi Arabia, the Arab League’s Moussa, and Qatar. Add to the list the al-Khalifa dynasty in Bahrain, assorted weapons contractors, and the usual neo-liberal suspects eager to privatize everything in sight in the new Libya – even the water. And we’re not even talking about the Western vultures hovering over the Libyan oil and gas industry.
Exposed, above all, is the astonishing hypocrisy of the Obama administration, selling a crass geopolitical coup involving northern Africa and the Persian Gulf as a humanitarian operation. As for the fact of another US war on a Muslim nation, that’s just a
kinetic military action.
There’s been wide speculation in both the US and across the Middle East that considering the military stalemate- and short of the
coalition of the willing bombing the Gaddafi family to oblivion – Washington, London and Paris might settle for the control of eastern Libya; a northern African version of an oil-rich Gulf Emirate. Gaddafi would be left with a starving North Korea-style Tripolitania. But considering the latest high-value defections from the regime, plus the desired endgame (
Gaddafi must go, in President Obama’s own words), Washington, London, Paris and Riyadh won’t settle for nothing but the whole kebab. Including a strategic base for both Africom and NATO.
Round up the unusual suspects One of the side effects of the dirty US-Saudi deal is that the White House is doing all it can to make sure the Bahrain drama is buried by US media. BBC America news anchor Katty Kayat least had the decency to stress,
they would like that one [Bahrain] to go away because there’s no real upside for them in supporting the rebellion by the Shi’ites.
For his part the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, showed up on al-Jazeera and said that action was needed because the Libyan people were attacked by Gaddafi. The otherwise excellent al-Jazeera journalists could have politely asked the emir whether he would send his Mirages to protect the people of Palestine from Israel, or his neighbors in Bahrain from Saudi Arabia.
The al-Khalifa dynasty in Bahrain is essentially a bunch of Sunni settlers who took over 230 years ago. For a great deal of the 20th century they were obliging slaves of the British empire. Modern Bahrain does not live under the specter of a push from Iran; that’s an al-Khalifa (and House of Saud) myth. Bahrainis, historically, have always rejected being part of a sort of Shi’ite nation led by Iran. The protests come a long way, and are part of a true national movement – way beyond sectarianism. No wonder the slogan in the iconic Pearl roundabout – smashed by the fearful al-Khalifa police state – was
neither Sunni nor Shi’ite; Bahraini.
What the protesters wanted was essentially a constitutional monarchy; a legitimate parliament; free and fair elections; and no more corruption. What they got instead was
bullet-friendly Bahrain replacing
business-friendly Bahrain, and an invasion sponsored by the House of Saud. And the repression goes on – invisible to US corporate media. Tweeters scream that everybody and his neighbor are being arrested. According to Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, over 400 people are either missing or in custody, some of them
arrested at checkpoints controlled by thugs brought in from other Arab and Asian countries – they wear black masks in the streets. Even blogger MahmoodAl Yousif was arrested at 3 am, leading to fears that the same will happen to any Bahraini who has blogged, tweeted, or posted Facebook messages in favor of reform.
Globocop is on a roll Odyssey Dawn is now over. Enter Unified Protector – led by Canadian Charles Bouchard. Translation: the Pentagon (as in Africom) transfers the
kinetic military action to itself (as in NATO, which is nothing but the Pentagon ruling over Europe). Africom and NATO are now one.
The NATO show will include air and cruise missile strikes; a naval blockade of Libya; and shady, unspecified ground operations to help the
rebels. Hardcore helicopter gunship raids a la AfPak – with attached
collateral damage – should be expected. A curious development is already visible. NATO is deliberately allowing Gaddafi forces to advance along the Mediterranean coast and repel the “rebels”. There have been no surgical air strikes for quite a while.
The objective is possibly to extract political and economic concessions from the defector and Libyan exile-infested Interim National Council (INC) – a dodgy cast of characters including former Justice minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil, US-educated former secretary of planning Mahmoud Jibril, and former Virginia resident, new
military commander and CIA asset Khalifa Hifter. The laudable, indigenous February 17 Youth movement -which was in the forefront of the Benghazi uprising -has been completely side-lined.
This is NATO‘s first African war, as Afghanistan is NATO‘s first Central/South Asian war. Now firmly configured as the UN‘s weaponized arm, Globocop NATO is on a roll implementing its
strategic concept approved at the Lisbon summit last November (see Welcome to NATOstan, Asia Times Online, November 20, 2010).
Gaddafi’s Libya must be taken out so the Mediterranean- the mare nostrum of ancient Rome – becomes a NATO lake. Libya is the only nation in northern Africa not subordinated to Africom or Centcom or any one of the myriad NATO “partnerships”. The other non-NATO-related African nations are Eritrea, Sawahiri Arab Democratic Republic, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Moreover, two members of NATO‘s
Istanbul Cooperation Initiative – Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – are now fighting alongside Africom/NATO for the first time. Translation: NATO and Persian Gulf partners are fighting a war in Africa. Europe? That’s too provincial. Globocop is the way to go.
According to the Obama administration’s own official doublespeak, dictators who are eligible for “US outreach” – such as in Bahrain and Yemen – may relax, and get away with virtually anything. As for those eligible for “regime alteration”, from Africa to the Middle East and Asia, watch out. Globocop NATO is coming to get you. With or without dirty deals.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (NimbleBooks, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at:-