Libya: intervention, anti-imperialism and leadership

In 2011, the year of revolution it seems, events sweeping the Middle East often move quicker than you can keep up with and so it is in Libya, with the rebels battling to hold on as we speak and the UN debating whether or not to intervene with their ‘no-fly zone.’ So I begin my post on this debate around imperialist intervention with the preface that the events may change quickly and that we may indeed be debating something that has happened in the past, but will remain relevant to future debates and events.

Yesterday, in response to a number of left bloggers (including a brief reference to myself), Guy Rundle wrote two pieces for Crikey on the left’s position on imperialist intervention into Libya. One is behind a paywall which I have the privilege of not being able to read, but I’d like to respond to the more public one.

In Rundle’s post, he argues that the leadership of the revolution (a group of ex-Gaddafi officers) legitimately represent the revolution and that their support for Western intervention should be supported, and if we don’t then the left in the West are a bunch of ‘colonialists.’ The contention seems to be around who is able to make that decision and what that decision is.

But first of all, my position against imperialist intervention is based on principled anti-imperialist and Marxist politics. Regardless of what the contended leaders of the revolution in Libya call for, this will remain to be my position. It is perfectly within the right of people to debate this position and disagree with forces inside of Libya. Rundle seems to make out as if a bunch of bloggers on the Internet have the power to undemocratically enforce our position.

I’m against imperialist intervention on the basis that imperialist forces will never intervene on any humanitarian basis, that they will always intervene in their own interests, in this case to steer the revolution toward their own aims, secure gas and oil reserves and to poison the revolution from spreading. A resulting intervention, like other ‘humanitarian interventions’ in the past may stop the bloodshed initially but will likely result in more bloodshed from their own guns and the installation of a pro-Western dictator that will return the Libyan people back to where they started.

It is incredibly naive to think that the same forces that invaded the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti or numerous other states, can suddenly switch off their own sinister motives. There is a clear history that shows that the role of the US or other Western powers has had an adverse effect on humanitarian disasters and that their stated aims are just a cover for them going in for other means, i.e. political or economic control of a region. And the colour of the helmet changes nothing so it doesn’t matter if it’s under the guise of the US, the UN, NATO or whatever.

When I wrote my initial piece that Rundle’s response mentioned, even the assumed leaders of the revolution were against intervention. This has of course changed and those ex-Gaddafi officers are calling on the UN to institute a no-fly zone. But as others state including in the comments to his article, these leaders cannot be assumed to represent the views of all the Libyan people fighting against Gaddafi.

As with the situation in Egypt, there are opposing class forces involved in the uprising including former members of the regime that have turned on Gaddafi, as well as workers and the poor. These groups have different aims. The middle classes and those at the top may want to quell the ‘instability’ by getting rid of Gaddafi, changing the regime’s image and name and then restore it essential back to the way things were with perhaps some political or civil rights won. But the workers and the lower classes want fundamental change, are demanding economic reform and union rights that will drastically improve their standard of living. Those two positions are at odds and can shape whether or not they support intervention. In Egypt, we are seeing the army and middle classes trying to get people to go home now that Mubarak is gone when workers continue to strike to push the revolution forward.

There is a history of leaders or upper and middle class sections of oppressed nations or groups selling out the majority in order to achieve their ability to control a state of their own, to maintain the class divisions within that group or support reforms that benefit them but no one else. Leaders of the Palestinian authority were shown through The Palestinian Papers to be willing to sell out the cause in order to have control of a tiny Palestinian state whilst most Palestinians remain in poverty and where refugees will have no right of return; Indigenous figures like Noel Pearson are known as sell-outs amongst indigenous people for supporting the intervention. He’s doing pretty well for himself whilst most indigenous people live in dire poverty; Is Rundle then arguing that we should support wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor or any other nation where imperialist powers can find a handful of those at the top to support it because they’ve been bought off?

Finally, I clearly state that I’m against imperialist intervention. That is, intervention from imperialist states such as the US, or Europe or a whole bunch of imperialist states through things like the UN and NATO. It is a whole other question with places like Egypt and Tunisia. As well as the need for strikes in Libya to spread, it is crucial to the survival of not just the revolution in Libya, but in Egypt, Tunisia and all the other revolts in the Arab world that they show solidarity with each other. There is a need for the revolutions to spread, for the armed forces in those countries to turn against their officers and side with the revolution and fight as one united revolutionary force. This can be key to a victorious revolution in Libya, not involvement from imperialist forces that can only act in their own greedy interests.

These questions, about the role of imperialist powers and how to win a revolution against such massive violence from a state are crucial to not just Libya and the rest of the Middle East but future revolutions to come.

6 thoughts on “Libya: intervention, anti-imperialism and leadership

  1. Rundle views the revolution as one unified mass, failing to even comprehend that there is conflict and disagreement amid the forces lined up against Gaddafi. That’s his second mistake.

    His first, and more serious one, is to imagine that imperialist states like those in Europe, the US and Australia could ever act in a pro-revolutionary way. With their interests and influence in the region facing immanent collapse, intervention of ANY kind would be serving their aims of (a) halting the spreading Arab revolt, (b) hainvg some kind of influence over who eventually rules Libya post-Gaddafi, and (c) to rehabilitate imperialist “humanitarian intervention” which was so dramatically undermined in places like Iraq.

    A successful revolution would necessarily involve the spreading of democracy and an unleashing of a class struggle for economic justice within Libya. Both these things are anathema to the imperialist states. To suggest somehow that they would send their military to FURTHER those aims is muddleheaded in the extreme.

    Ironically, Rundle accuses the anti-imperialist left of displaying a “colonial” attitude to the people of Libya. On the contrary, it’s his “but we have to do something” liberalism that casts the Libyans as helpless victims and the enlightened westerners as the subjective agents of change. The whole thing smacks of liberal confusion in fact. Just look at how he conceives of the revolution purely as a military affair, and arrives at the unavoidable conclusion: Gaddafi has more military might, so the rebels have already lost. No conception at all of the class struggle element to all this.

    His distinction between the “request” and the intervention itself is mere sophistry designed to obscure. There were plenty of Iraqis who supported the invasion in 2003. They were wrong. And yes, we can say that without being “colonialist”, despite what Rundle argues.

    • Totally agree.

      Curiously, the most disturbing parts I find in his post is when he says: “Yes, it might be a disaster. It might be counter-productive. But freedom if it means anything is the freedom to fuck up.”

      He does seem to think imperialism could have a kind face but also tries to cover his ass by saying it doesn’t matter, it’s their right to cede all rights to some big imperialist power.

  2. Hey Ben. I have posted the pay-walled one (via crikey e-mail) as a note on my facebook account if you want to check it out.

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