Gaddafi, the War on Libya and the Left

August 1, 2011 4:21 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Libya is currently in a state of civil war: Muammar Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya for forty-two years, controls the west of the country whilst the east is controlled by the National Transitional Council, also referred to as the ‘rebels’. NATO, led by the two most aggressive Western imperialist nations, America and Britain, supports the ‘rebels’. Gaddafi’s aggressive suppression of the rebellion and a strong anti-imperialist sentiment has seemingly given cause for a degree of support of the Libyan leader among certain Leftist circles. While most major Left tendencies are actually opposed to the Gaddafi regime, it is apparent that certain pockets of the Left have found support for the Libyan leader.

Libya’s civil war was at first seemingly part of a wider ‘Arab Spring’ which saw the disposition of the Egyptian and Tunisian dictators, Mubarak and Ben Ali respectively, and sowed the seeds of dissent across the whole Arab world. Bahrain, Syria, Algeria, Yemen, Jordan, Iran, and other Arab countries have seen differing levels of popular uprising against tyrannical leaders. Egypt saw violent repression by the Mubarak’s police forces and his ‘supporters’, yet the 18-day revolution which overthrew Mubarak saw not even a mention of intervention from either the West or NATO. However, when an internal conflict in the oil rich nation of Libya sparked up, Western nations felt the need to move in, protect their assets, and assert their influence over of the rebel forces that had sprung up. But why has this caused certain sections of the Left to support Gaddafi as an opponent of Western Imperialism? In the past, Libya had been sanctioned for its policy of attempting nuclear proliferation, as well as building up an arsenal of other illegal weapons, and was classed as a rogue state for its involvement with tyrants and ‘terrorist’ groups around the world. In recent years, Gaddafi had terminated his country’s nuclear weapons program, signed deals with current Italian President Silvio Berlusconi in return for a large investment in his country’s oil reserves, and begun a process of forging closer relations with the West whom he had shunned for decades.

One could argue that certain Western nations, frustrated by an unstable relationship with Libya, seized on an opportunity to utilise an apparently ‘popular’ movement to overthrow Gaddafi by tying in the revolt to the historical narrative referred to as the ‘Arab Spring’, thus removing an obstacle to Western control of the Libyan oil fields. Although this is a very cynical view of the West, it is not difficult to see similarities between Iraq and Libya. Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi have both had very volatile love/hate relationships with the West, both ruled oil rich nations and both have been long-serving leaders of their respective nations. Iraq and Libya have both seen Western intervention built upon a farcical narrative (the former under the ‘War of Terror’, the latter in support of the ‘Arab Spring’) to depose their leaders.

Whilst military intervention in Libya has caused civilian casualties and is arguably being driven by the greed of Western Capitalism and Imperialism, this does not make Gaddafi the archetypal anti-imperialist hero. Yet this seems to be very the conclusion reached by certain members of the Left, not to mention prominent figures including Nelson Mandela, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and others of differing Left persuasions who have all shown a degree of support for Gaddafi. Those on the Left, who support him, do so, on the basis that Gaddafi is a ‘Socialist’ revolutionary who overthrew the Libyan monarchy. Gaddafi’s ‘Socialism’, however, is not the next step to a Communist society; Gaddafi’s ‘Socialism’ is more representative of the type of ‘Nationalist Socialism’ espoused by Stalin and Tito than anything imagined by Marx, Lenin or Trotsky. Gaddafi’s dogma is clearly set out in his little Green Book (reminiscent of Mao’s little Red Book) which applies Nationalism and ‘Socialism’ to Libya in varying degrees. Gaddafi’s lack of Socialist credentials can be found in other numerous ways. In order that Socialists take a truly critical stance of Gaddafi’s leadership, they must understand the failings of the man as a ‘revolutionary’ who is supposedly supporting a regime of Socialism. Having built a cult of personality around himself, analogous to Stalin and Mao, he has remained the unquestionable leader of Libya for the past forty two years, both as its ceremonial leader as well as having taken the position of Colonel within the military. These positions are incontestable as is the case with the ‘revolutionary sector’ of the government. Gaddafi’s control of the state media and censorship sits more on par with that of Berlusconi of Italy than anything reflecting a truly Communist society. Added to this, Gaddafi’s lack of Internationalism (a belief which is in stark opposition to his ardent Libyan nationalism), is something that strikes against the common grain of Marxist thought. Whilst Gaddafi is keen to promote ‘Pan-Africanism’, this is in relative terms similar to the constraints applied to the ‘Bolivarian’ movement set by Chavez in Latin America, which does not reflect a truly Internationalist element that true Marxists would conceive, but is more entailing of aid work and bilateral trade agreements.

Colonel Gaddafi is not the ardent Socialist he likes to promote himself as being. Although a radical of sorts, having shown strong support for many radical and militant groups who are strongly opposed to Western Imperialism, Colonialism and Capitalism, he has also supported many regimes who have not only massacred their own civilian populations, but who have, in extreme cases, have committed genocide: the two most prominent being the regimes of Idi Amin and Slobodan MiloÅ¡ević. Such support of highly repressive regimes highlights key reasons why Marxists and the Left in general should carefully contemplate whom it is they are supporting, especially considering recent reports of Gaddafi “promoting” rape as a weapon to demoralise the rebels along with the extremely barbaric measures he has been prepared to employ to quell dissent.

Colonel Gaddafi has a long history. The recent civil conflict should be analysed in view of Libyan history and in terms of a Marxist analysis of class antagonisms. Ostensibly, the Eastern ‘revolution’ within which CIA agents are operating at a grassroots level alongside NATO intervention in support of the Eastern rebels, may cause you to question the legitimacy of the claims against Gaddafi. Yet much like Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi seems to have committed the majority of his crimes over a period of two decades preceding the invasion. His rocky relationship with the West has seen numerous cooperative dealings (especially such oil investments as those he agreed with Berlusconi and Blair) by a man who nationalised the entire oil industry in Libya when first seizing power. So we have to consider what certain elements of the Left see in Gaddafi that leads them to blindly support such a man? One simple theory may be that they follow the common adage: ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’. A slightly better theory examines the class analysis of oppressed nations, recognising previous arguments put across by Trotsky on the topic of national antagonisms. However it seems in reality that neither theory will suffice. While the former simplifies the arrangements of either side, Trotsky’s analysis is also on a rather base level. Had he been asked today about his position on Libya, he would have just as likely stated that he supports neither NATO or Gaddafi, as one is an arm of the Imperialist powers while the other promotes a type of Socialism incompatible with general Marxist theory in much the same way that Stalinism did.

So in essence, the true Left should steer clear of supporting a leader like Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. A third more palpable view should be adopted: the recognition of the rights of the Libyan people. Movements such as ‘Hands off the People of Iran’ recognise that Western intervention has a terrible effect on a nation’s population but also recognise that the current dictatorial leader offers a poor alternative. It is time the Left looked at Gaddafi through critical eyes as well as opposing the terrible bombing raids by NATO forces.


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This post was written by Ben Maisky

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