Mar 30, 2011
The following article is translated from one appearing in Lutte de Classe [Class Struggle] #135, April 2011, the journal published by Lutte Ouvière [Workers’ Struggle], the revolutionary workers organization active in France.
Three months after the beginning of the wave of revolt that hit the Arab world, beginning in Tunisia, the Western imperialist powers engaged in a military intervention under the cover of NATO. Supposedly this was to help the Libyan people free themselves from the dictatorship of Colonel Qaddafi, but its true aim is first and foremost to safeguard imperialism’s current and future interests in the whole region.
Last January when the demonstrations against the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia intensified, the imperialist leaders – in particular of the U.S. – were content to discreetly advise the dictator to step down. The leaders of the Tunisian army were also advised not to involve themselves too much in the repression, which was carried out mainly by the police forces. Thus, after Ben Ali’s departure, the heads of the army could assert that the army had remained at the service of the people, and lean on this credit to become the true arbiters of the “democratic transition,” due to take the place of the fallen regime.
In taking their distance early from a discredited dictator, the U.S. leaders appeared to be in favor of a broader democracy in Tunisia, which was outrageously hypocritical – the U.S. had supported Ben Ali almost to the very end. What was at stake for them was to safeguard the essential – that is, the possibility for Western companies to go on doing business in the country with their interests protected by a friendly regime. The U.S. acted a little earlier than the French leaders, who were too much in the habit of collaborating closely with their “friend” Ben Ali, to understand early enough that it was time to withdraw support.
Essentially, the same maneuver took place in Egypt, when demonstrations started to grow against the Mubarak regime. Even more openly than in the case of Tunisia, U.S. leaders let the dictator know that it would be desirable he step down in the name of the general interest. There, too, the army was careful not to be too involved in the repression carried out by the regime. This allowed the army to emerge from the crisis with the reputation as “the army of the people” that had refused to support the dictatorship. Although the chiefs of the army and of the secret services have been among the main cogs of the dictatorship for decades, they could now try to appear as the architects of a democratic transition. And they enjoy a certain credit – at least in the eyes of part of the population. As for their protectors and advisors – the U.S., but also the other imperialist powers like France, which this time had understood the maneuver – they could present themselves as supporters of the Arab peoples’ struggle for freedom. Thus, at least for the time being, Western leaders avoided having imperialism’s interests jeopardized, along with the dictatorship that had protected them for more than 30 years.
However, things turned out to be more complex when the demonstrations reached Libya, a country which also lives under a dictatorship. Although Colonel Qaddafi had presented himself as an advocate of Arab nationalism against the domination of the imperialist powers, he has long since succeeded in becoming one of their best partners in a particularly cynical collaboration. Qaddafi has not been reluctant to do imperialism’s dirty work: for example, arresting people who wanted to emigrate to Europe from its coasts and sending them to die in camps or somewhere in the desert. In return, the Sarkozies or Berlusconies openly displayed their friendship with Qaddafi.
Having learned the lessons of Tunisia and Egypt, the imperialist leaders took their distance from Qaddafi’s dictatorship as soon as the demonstrations against it began, in particular when the revolts resulted in the regime losing control of the eastern part of Libya, the “Cyrenaica” around the city of Benghazi. The imperialist powers advised Qaddafi to step down in order to allow a democratization of Libya. They were all the more eager to do it since the regime at first seemed doomed to collapse rapidly from within, losing control over one city after another.
The Libyan dictator was not so easily convinced as had been his Egyptian and Tunisian colleagues. The imperialist leaders did not have the same means of pressure over him as over Ben Ali or Mubarak, nor even the same direct relationship with the Libyan military apparatus as with those of Tunisia and Egypt – which is not very surprising, given the history of the Libyan regime. Thus we saw Qaddafi’s regime violently repress demonstrations where he could, and engage in a military reconquest of the regions that had escaped his grip.
Faced with this situation, the attitude of the imperialist powers was first to cautiously observe the evolution of the situation, at the same time expressing their official reproach of Qaddafi. Sarkozy, in the name of French imperialism, grabbed the opportunity to distinguish himself, bring the first to recognize the Transitional National Council representing the Libyan insurgents, giving them his support and calling on the other powers to intervene in order to help the insurgents overthrow Qaddafi.
However, the rebels, after first advancing, lost ground in front of Qaddafi’s troops. Only at the last moment, when the dictator’s troops were about to retake Benghazi, did the imperialist powers agree to vote in the NATO Security Council to implement a no-fly zone over Libya and to intervene militarily against Qaddafi’s troops.
The official reason put forward, in particular by Obama, was that the Libyan dictator should not be allowed to go on shooting at his own people, which had deprived him of any legitimacy. At the very same moment, Saudi Arabian troops were intervening in Bahrain to help the local dictator suppress the ongoing rebellion there, without imperialist leaders issuing the slightest protest. Not to mention all the situations where imperialist leaders let or directly helped a friendly regime to crush its own people or a neighboring people – the list is endless.
However, in the Libyan case, the imperialist powers were caught in their own game. After having proclaimed that they were in favor of a democratic transition in the whole of the Arab world, after having asserted that they understood and shared the aspirations of the Arab peoples to freedom and democracy, to let Qaddafi’s armies crush the insurgency in Benghazi would have shown that all those speeches were hot air. Running to the rescue of the insurgents would give some credit to the democratic speeches of the imperialist leaders, and at the same time cover the fact that they were endorsing the repression in Bahrain and in Yemen, not to mention supporting Israel despite its obstinate refusal to recognize the rights of the Palestinians. When a journalist asked him why there was a difference of attitude about the different countries, the French former foreign minster, Bernard Kouchner, quietly and cynically answered: “We cannot intervene everywhere!”
No, and imperialism always chooses the places where it wants to intervene. In the case of Libya, not only did the imperialists leaders want to portray themselves in favor of “freedom,” they also wanted to protect their access to Libyan oil with a Libyan government that would be more flexible than Qaddafi’s has been.
Obviously, no one can predict what will come out of these military operations. But it looks as if the NATO leadership, now in control of these operations after a lot of polemics among the allies, wishes neither a total victory of the insurgents nor their complete repression by Qaddafi’s army. Although they declared that Qaddafi must step down, the Western leaders specified that they did not want to provide direct military aid to the insurgents. We also learned that CIA agents have been sent to Libya to study the situation directly – and apparently also to check directly who these insurgents are, and on which people they can really rely.
In effect this war situation between two factions competing to rule Libya allows the imperialist leaders to grant their help to the insurgents only when they promise to be reliable, and at the same time to put pressure on Qaddafi’s camp for him to step down. Of course, negotiations still take place behind the scenes.
For the imperialist leaders, first of all the U.S., which took the political lead of the operation, the best solution would undoubtedly be a compromise between the two camps with a government recycling various former Qaddafi ministers, plus some of those who have set up the Transitional National Council in Benghazi, and some others who broke with the Libyan dictator at various stages of the conflict. The most difficult part is obviously to convince Qaddafi to step down, even if he is given a luxurious place to live out the rest of his life. This situation could obviously drag on, and result in a long-lasting division of the country between the Cyrenaica region held by the insurgents, over which the imperialist leaders would have strengthened their control, and the region around Tripoli, left in the hands of Qaddafi and his partisans.
In either case, the imperialist powers would strengthen their control and at the same time present their intervention as favorable to democracy and freedom of the people.
The problem is not only Libya. Libya gives them the opportunity to make a show of force toward the entire Arab world.
There is no need to underline the well-known strategic importance of the whole region for imperialism, a region in which its political, economic and military interests are closely entangled. The plundering of the region at the economic level, to the benefit of the Western trusts, results in the dire poverty of these peoples in the face of an unbelievable accumulation of wealth, leaving the region pregnant with the possibility of social explosion. The fact that it has been cut into rival states, over-armed and ruled by repressive regimes supported by imperialism, creates explosive situations everywhere and sources of further conflict. The imperialist leaders are quite conscious that the region is a powder keg in which explosions should be avoided, but where, if necessary, Western armies will intervene.
In this sense, the Western armed intervention in Libya is not only a well-calculated pressure on Qaddafi’s regime; it is also a show of force toward the entire Arab world. It is aimed at warning governments, political leaders, and populations that, no matter what, imperialism is going to remain in charge of the political evolution. Using the cover of looking for a democratic evolution – which will rapidly prove to be a mere facade – imperialism is focused on how to safeguard the interests of European, American and other big capitalist corporations in the region.
This military intervention is in no way a defense of the rights of the peoples and of the aspirations for which the peoples of the Arab countries are struggling. The defense of the Libyan insurgents against Qaddafi’s repression is only a pretext, which is now being revealed as such. We must recall that all previous imperialist interventions were hidden behind such pretexts, such as the establishment of democracy in Iraq or such as the struggle against Taliban fundamentalism and freedom for women in Afghanistan. In both cases, the imperialist intervention resulted in a drastic aggravation of the situation of the population, and it is no accident. Imperialism relied on the most reactionary forces, on various religious and military clans, and on small warlords. It will be the same in Libya, even if the imperialist intervention today is still trying to find its way with the help of CIA agents and selective airstrikes.
Of course, it is understandable that for the young Libyan insurgents, the news of Western intervention against Qaddafi’s forces was a relief. But the relief was short-lived, due to the way the military operation developed. And the more time goes by, the more the fraction of the Libyan population that had expectations might realize that imperialist support is not free. It goes with a growing control by the Western powers over the camps of the insurgents, through the reinstatement of the former Qaddafi dignitaries recycled as “democrats,” and eventually through fractions of the army that have broken with Qaddafi’s regime in Cyrenaica. This fraction of the army has been cautious up until now not to be involved in the fights, but they could prove very useful to set up a state apparatus and an authority in Cyrenaica.
In the wave of revolts that hit the Arab countries, the only true hope is that it allows a part of the working class of these countries to become conscious of their own interests to fight for their class goals and at the same time for a social transformation in favor of all the exploited. This struggle unavoidably confronts the interests of the privileged classes, the state apparatuses that support them, and the imperialist interests to which they are all linked.
Conscious worker activists who fight for true social revolution in the Arab countries cannot wish for or support the political or military intervention by the imperialist powers, nor consider their intervention as helpful. Workers who are conscious, the revolutionary militants of the imperialist countries, cannot support the military intervention of their own countries in any way. Whatever the democratic or humanitarian pretext behind which this intervention is hidden, it can only, in the short or in the long run, strengthen the privileged layers, the various military clans, and the reactionary forces against which the workers and the popular masses of the Arab countries have begun to rise. Finally, this intervention prepares for a worsening of the exploitation and oppression of the Arab masses.
Proletarian revolutionary militants want Qaddafi to fall, as they want an end to every reactionary regime in the region, from that of Saudi Arabia to that of Israel. We must oppose everything that strengthens these regimes. We must oppose everything that strengthens the imperialist presence in the region. Thus we oppose the Western intervention in Libya.