what is NATO doing in libya?

Joe Thorne looks at the evidence, and draws some conclusions

The calamity of a people is beneficial to others 

Libyan Proverb [1]

The NATO powers are not intervening in Syria or Bahrain, where pro-democracy movements are also subject to brutal suppression.  They did not intervene in Gaza during Cast Lead, or in Tamil Eelam during the offensive which wiped out thousands of Tamils.  While millions of dollars are spent on cruise missiles and aerial bombing, UNICEF, the same powers in their guise as protectors of children, say they are worried that because of insufficient resources to deal with famine “65,000 children in Kenya alone are at acute risk of dying.”  Indeed, “Britain trained and equipped some of the Libyan special forces who inflicted such horrors on cities like Misrata. Western states continue to train Saudi forces, and this may well have much the same effect.”

We don’t need to labour the point: the NATO powers are not ‘humanitarians’, their motives are not ‘humanitarian’, and what they do has nothing to do with the defence of human life.  Could it be the case that their malign motives are a given, but the objective outcome of their policy may nonetheless be welcome?  It was not the case in Kosovo or Iraq.  The point of reminding ourselves of NATO’s hypocrisy is not just that they are hypocrites: it is to understand how the specific, very much non-humanitarian, objectives of the NATO powers will play out in their actual policy in the coming weeks, months, and years.

There are two important contexts which explain the NATO powers’ decision to intervene in Libya, but not Syria or Bahrain: oil, and the Arab Spring.  With respect to oil, prior to the rebellion, Libya supplied around 2% of global oil, the 13th largest exporter worldwide.  That doesn’t sound impressive, but its reserves are slightly more important, being the ninth largest in the world (the largest in Africa), and particularly high quality.  Although relatively small, the knock-on price impact of a disruption of Libya’s supply could be significant – but then again, it is not clear that intervention against Gaddafi was obviously the best way to prevent that.  The most active NATO powers are not those (like Ireland, Italy, Austria and Switzerland) most dependent on Libyan oil.  Oil, therefore, is an important issue, but not an overwhelming one.

With respect to the Arab Spring, the dynamics are twofold.  First, US imperialism is intervening in between Egypt and Tunisia to shape the direction of events, in a manner conducive to US interests.  Both rebellions contain dynamics potentially harmful to US interests, including sympathy with Palestinians and opposition to neoliberal economic arrangements.  Egypt is particularly important to the US, such that it has consistently been the second largest recipient of foreign aid for the last forty years or so, just behind Israel. Second, the US are involved in a reciprocal arrangement with Saudi Arabia to suppress the democratic uprising in Bahrain.  Journalist Pepe Escobar, writing for the Asia Times, put it like this:

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. [2]

This said, neither side likely needed much encouragement.  The US has an important naval base in Bahrain which it will want to protect.  Saudi Arabia, which has a long standing relationship with the al-Khalifa dynasty in Bahrain, has not forgotten that Gaddafi tried to assassinate then-Crown Prince Abdullah in 2003.  In this sense, it is not that NATO is hypocritical for doing nothing about Bahrain, it is that the repression in Bahrain is itself the flipside of the intervention in Libya. [3]

What does NATO want to achieve in Libya?  They are not being particularly coy about it.  A senior British diplomat told Sky News that they were planning to rebuild the “nation’s economy and society”:

Preparations for maintaining law and order, resuming oil production and the potential deployment of UN peacekeepers as ceasefire monitors have all been drafted during talks over the last month, which have also discussed how officials currently tied to Gaddafi’s regime could be integrated into an interim administration.

The potential deployment of UN peacekeepers?  That should ring alarm bells: such a provision was apparently ruled out in the UN resolution which mandated the intervention.    And, if the NATO powers are determined to get rid of Gaddafi wholesale, surely there would be no ceasefire to be monitored.  So what are they talking about?

UN peacekeepers are not the only way international armed forces could maintain a presence on the ground – the other possibility is a US base in Libya.  In early July, there was an interesting indication that ground was being prepared for this possibility in advance.  The idea, mooted by Mustafa Abdel Jalil – Gaddafi’s former justice minister and head of the Transitional National Council – was that Gaddafi would be allowed to stay in Libya, albeit not at full liberty.  “If he desires to stay in Libya,” Jalil suggested, “we will determine the place and it will be under international supervision. And there will be international supervision of all his movements”.  Gaddafi would be “under guard in a military barracks”.  In as many words: there would be a UN or NATO force on the ground in Libya after the civil war.  In fact, the particular proposal appears to have been dropped for several reasons, including in the ICC warrant for Gadaffi’s arrest, and mass outcry against the idea in Benghazi.  But it is still plausible that the US sees a new military base in Libya (to replace the one they lost when Gaddafi came to power) as one desirable outcome of the intervention process.  Such a base would come under the aegis of AFRICOM (the African Command of the US military), which has apparently had some trouble finding hosts for its bases on the continent. [4]

So it looks as though either UN peacekeepers or a foreign military base may be on NATO’s agenda.  What sort of role could such a force play?  As far as the role of UN peacekeepers goes, it is worth turning a cursory eye to Haiti, where the blue helmets are keeping order.  As we reported in the last issue of The Commune, the sort of order they are keeping is one where candidates not conducive to imperial interests are excluded from presidential elections.  Just as Haiti is mainly policed by UN troops from Latin American countries, it is possible that Turkey would be enlisted to provide Muslim troops for Libya, just as it does in Afghanistan.

But what NATO wants, NATO does not necessarily get.  It looks like they want boots on the ground, ideally a military base, and a regime leavened with ex-Gaddafi-regime thugs.  Such an arrangement would provide a bulwark against further mass radicalism in the region and facilitate the imposition of a neo-liberal regime conducive to Western interests, oil companies in particular.  However, it is far from assured that it will be possible.  UN resolution 1973, which authorises the intervention, “exclud[es] a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”.  Other parts of the resolution have been summarily broken however: NATO is secretly permitting rebel flights to carry troops between East and West (which violates the No Fly Zone), and France (at least) has been supplying weapons directly to rebels (which violates the arms embargo).  Evidently, they can break the terms of their own resolution, as well as the domestic laws of their own countries, if they want to.

A more major problem is the rebel Libyans themselves.  Contrary to the perceptions of many Western leftists, Libyans are not stupid.  They are well aware that NATO has its own interests.  Whenever Libyans are asked what they think that NATO wants, and what that will mean, their answers tend to be a mix of “even if they take all the oil, it’ll still have been worth it for us”, and “we won’t let them”.  They see the protests which took place against the proposal to allow Gaddafi to stay in Libya a harbinger of the resistance which will greet any attempt to implant foreign troops on Libyan soil.  However, such a development is very far from guaranteed, especially if the war drags on, and some sort of compromise looks like the quickest route to peace.

How is NATO’s long-term strategy playing out at the moment?  More or less, in the form of the managed advance of the rebels at such a slow pace it is becoming commonplace to refer to it as a stalemate.  The Guardian reports from near Misrata reflect those from round the country: “rebel forces face a difficult task without sufficient firepower to make a decisive breakthrough, lacking tanks and artillery, and with Nato apparently unwilling to use its jets and attack helicopters in co-ordinated air support roles.”  It’s much the same in the West. “Nato could turn this situation upside down in one day,” says a rebel commander. “It hits one tank a day and goes home. I don’t know why it does that.”  “Maybe Nato has a plan,” says a rebel Colonel. “But that plan is strange.”  Another: “Nato isn’t helping . . . the revolutionaries have lost confidence in Nato, it’s clear that they are serving their own interests.”  This is not an individual experience: on the ground, it’s clear to rebels on every front that NATO is not helping them to win as quickly as it could do.  In fact, it is letting things drag out. [5]

Why is it doing so?  How does this relate to its objectives for post-Gadaffi Libya?  How would such a strategy tend to increase the chances of a UN force, foreign-military base, pro-Western policies and “officials currently tied to Gaddafi’s regime . . . integrated into an interim administration”?  One obvious answer would be that if the rebels win too quickly they will have fewer needs to make concessions to the NATO powers along the way, less need to compromise with remaining Gaddafi-regime officials, and that there will be no ceasefire to be policed.  But once ordinary Libyan rebels have been worn down by months of fighting, they may be more willing to make concessions on the future of their country.  In this scenario, a post-conflict neo-liberal regime stacked with former Gaddafi apparatchiks (who NATO presumably believes to be guarantors of strong – if not liberal – rule and stability) is not incidental to the current NATO strategy; it is a crucial object of it. [6]

The nature of such analysis is that it is somewhat speculative.  We cannot know exactly what the intentions of the different NATO powers are.  We cannot know how able ordinary Libyans will be to resist their predations.  We cannot know if Gaddafi will hang on for many months, or if his armies will run out of petrol and fall by the end of August.  We will see, in the coming months, how far developments reflect the above hypotheses.  What we can say, beyond reasonable doubt, is that NATO’s plans for Libya have nothing to do with humanitarianism, and nothing to do with the interests of the Libyan working class: their interests are their own, and their strategy, at every stage, will reflect that.

The following are three separate, short essays on the situation in Libya

The Transitional National Council and Libya after Gaddafi

Muammar Gaddafi will go, very likely by the end of the year, perhaps by the end of the summer.  What will happen then?  Even if there is an outright victory by the rebel forces under the Transitional National Council, the resultant administration will hardly be revolutionary.  No complete list of its members is available, apparently for security reasons.  Those we do know about are a combination of defectors from Gaddafi (typically somewhat reform-minded, but conservative, and sympathetic to the “US perspective”), and those involved in the original uprising, including a number of Benghazi based lawyers.

Politically, there are differing ideologies which motivate rebels.  Some (typically older) have the idea that they are on a holy mission to remove a tyrant who has squandered the chances God has given him.  Others (more, in my perception) want a western-style liberal democracy –and several have spent time abroad, including in the UK.  Obviously they know that our society isn’t perfect, but basic freedom of assembly, of language, to read and discuss at will, to vote, etc. – all these things are enough of a motivation.  So there’s two different perspectives at work: a positively democratic one, which I think is probably the stronger, but also a more conservative one which sees the rebels as God’s agents in providing a check to tyranny – more like a typical ancien regime peasant’s view of an anti-monarchical insurrection.

There is very little evidence emerging from the ground that tribalism is a major motivating factor in the rebellion at present, although there are some exceptional cases.  However, there is every possibility that tribal politics will return after the civil war is over.  As Nicolas Pelham warns:

The carve-up of spoils has yet to begin. In the past, the strongman dominated; but with a more consensual politics each faction will demand its share. Oil workers will likely form unions, the army will want its reward for switching sides, and the tribes seek royalties for using their land for drilling and piping oil. They all want a greater proportion of the wealth that Qaddafi hitherto kept for himself and his allies. If any of the constituencies is dissatisfied, a central authority is likely to be too weak to prevent them from resorting to force to further their claims. Thanks, after all, to their looted caches of weapons.

The Libyan diaspora, NATO, and the left

The more conscious and radical elements amongst the Libyan rebels (the few who are neither ideologically sympathetic to NATO’s plans, nor naive enough not to understand them) decided to dance with the devil.[7]  They have gambled the future of Libya, and perhaps the future of the regional working class, on the outcome of this dance.  They want nothing more radical than liberal democracy, and are willing to die in their thousands to get it.  And, really, with their backs against the wall, who could blame them for trying?  Whether they will end up thinking the deal worthwhile – like the many Iraqis who initially welcomed the US invasion – is another question altogether.

What do Libyans think about the attitude adopted by the left to the NATO intervention?  A former convenor of Stop the War in Manchester, home to the largest Libyan diaspora community of any city in the world (around 10,000), now refuses to attend Stop the War demonstrations.

They now treat me as if I’m a neocon.  The trouble is that they aren’t capable of having a debate.  We don’t ask them to accept the bombing, but the problem is that they say nothing about Gaddafi.  They have Gaddafi supporters waving green flags on demos.  I can’t go on them now.

Another Libyan told me that the Stop the War figures have claimed that they have no choice other than to let any individual come on the demo who wishes to.  He correctly pointed out to them that this was total nonsense.  Apparently other Stop the War people are rolling out the usual line: it’s necessary to “keep it broad” – quasi-fascists no exception!  So let’s take this as a starting point: absolute political separation from the Gaddafists, and open political condemnation of Gaddafi is necessary in principle, and failure to uphold this principle has been divisive in practice – it’s no good asking Libyans to “keep it broad” by marching alongside supporters of the tyrant who has, in many cases, driven them into exile.

A similar dynamic, albeit worse, is apparently at work in the US, where the ANSWER coalition is heavily propagandising on behalf of Gaddafi.  As one (pro-intervention) Libyan American put it “There is a difference between being against intervention and standing with a murderer. I can respect if you are anti-intervention, but what I cannot respect is that you spread Qaddafi’s lies, saying he is for the Libyan people. He is not for the Libyan people!”

The economic base of the rebellion

Within Western Libya, the every-day economy is not currently organised in a capitalist way (although by no means a communist one either).   Around 80% of the population have fled to refugee camps in Tunisia, and there are hardly any commercial businesses operating – perhaps a small shop selling cigarettes here and there.  All food is provided by international aid organisations or imported centrally by the rebels, and distributed for free.  Basics, such as petrol, are allocated centrally by the military council.  Hardly anyone works for money now: all those who have stayed are staying to fight, tend to the injured, do media or humanitarian work, or simply – as in the case of many older people – to stay in solidarity with those who are doing those things.

I can’t give a complete overview over how, more generally, the rebel economy is working.  My understanding is something like as follows.  The National Transitional Council has created its own bank, a high-street or commercial bank rather than a central bank.  Libyans who are still economically active (including, apparently, many who are living by selling capital goods such as farm animals in Tunisia) are depositing the proceeds in this bank, which is then lending this money to support the rebellion, on the basis that it will be repaid once it has won.

Meanwhile, within Western Libya, the old Libyan high-street banks are closed, except one branch which is open once a week and from which people can withdraw limited amounts of money on production of proof of identity.  The bank which is operating this scheme has no way of checking anyone’s balance, so is keeping a running total of what has been ‘withdrawn’.  When the banking system resurrects itself, this sum will be subtracted from people’s prior balance, and if there is a deficit they will apparently have to make it up.

Things are different in the East, where a much lower proportion of Libyans have fled.   Apparently life in Benghazi functions on a more or less normal basis.  In the West there is obviously no material basis for class struggle – in a real sense, Gaddafi is the main threat – and in the East it is likely that there is no subjective base for it at present.  In the West, however wealthy they were before, everyone eats the same food now.  It’s a war economy.  The same is not necessarily true of the diaspora in Tunisia.  Some drive nice cars, others are staying in refugee camps.  However, I am not aware of any conflict that has followed from this.

[1] Transliteration of the Arabic: Masaa-yeb qoumin indah qoumin fawaa-ido.  From Ahmed Ashiurakis (1978:53) Libyan Proverbs

[2] Escobar is hardly an objective analyst, invective being his genre of choice, but the outline conforms sufficiently well to the alignment of basic interests in the region at the moment to make it plausible that he hasn’t lied about his sources.

[3] If all this sounds vague, consider that the US obviously felt it worthwhile intervening to secure a friendly government in Haiti, despite the fact that there is even less to be said for the strategic importance of that country than Libya.

[4] “So far, AFRICOM’s push to establish itself hasn’t gone smoothly. American efforts to find a place on the continent for an AFRICOM headquarters have all ran afoul of the anti-colonial sensibilities of African governments, forcing the command to remain in Stuttgart, Germany. The very same dynamic continues to derail ongoing efforts to establish FOLs in North, South, and West Africa.”  (2009)  See here for more recent articles on Africom and Libya: Global Research; Common Dreams

[5] It is not plausible that NATO’s objective is to prevent the loss of life, nor that it is constrained by the wording of the UN resolution, for reasons described elsewhere in the article.  The remaining explanation is that the US military is over-stretched at present, and there are budgetary and logistical reasons for not flying more sorties, which in turn impact on domestic politics.  But obviously the US could afford to commit more resources if it really wanted to.  So this explanation cannot be true if we assume that the US has a serious interest in Libya.  In this connection, it is worth pointing out that it took the Western powers almost 5 months to the day from the first outbreak of the rebellion to recognise the Transitional National Council.  In the past – for example, following the coup against Hugo Chavez – the US has found itself able to grant recognition to a new administration overnight.  International recognition has brought access to much-needed funds.  So it’s legitimate to ask – what purpose does the delay serve?

[6] For a while there was speculation on the left that the NATO strategy was to divide Libya in two.  It has been clear for a long time that this is not on the cards, and it’s clear why: such a situation would be conducive to long-term instability, the opposite of what the NATO powers want.

[7] ‘Naive’ may seem a harsh term here.  In conversation, diaspora Libyans tend to be far more radical: more anti-NATO, more anti- the ex-Gaddafi apparatchiks than most Libyans in Libya. They have been exposed to a political culture which has encouraged cynicism about power, and critical reflection on the honesty of even those politicians operating under a liberal democratic framework.

7 thoughts on “what is NATO doing in libya?

  1. Very interesting take on the matter. I specially liked the section on “the Libyan diaspora, NATO and the Left”. I think that the Left is divided anyhow: there is a Neo-Stalinist sector that usually describe themselves euphemistically as “anti-imperialist” which are “the left” mentioned here but if you read Troskyist or Anarchist outlets, nobody really has the guts to support Gadafi or Assad (a very similar case, which may also end in imperialist intervention).

    A critical issue here was the take of respected Latin-American leaders like Castro and Ortega (who in truth belong more to the 1980s than today) and, following their lead, Hugo Chávez. Instead the opinion of the (relatively important) Communist Party of Tunisia, for example, favorable to the rebels but opposed to NATO’s intervention has been silenced and ignored in a clear case of Eurocentrism (creole American Eurocentrism but Eurocentrism anyhow).

    Another important issue is the take of the African Union and the racist massacres committed by some sectors of the rebels under the pretext that Gadafi had militias made up of Black African mercenaries. This has really delegitimized the rebels, very specially on the eyes of Black media, like Black Agenda Report.

    In general the rebels seem to have some support inside Libya, they have some legitimacy and the military take of Gaddafi’s regime on them has not helped to keep the matter civil at all. But they also have some serious issues: with leaders who were Gaddafists just a few days ago and the issue of racist massacres… all that even before NATO intervened. On the other hand Gaddafi (like Assad in Syria or Saleh in Yemen) seems to have some popular support, unlike Mubarak or Ben Ali or even the Khalifa dynasty of Bahrain (in spite of the occupation the revolt continues there).

    I think that NATO will intervene in Syria (but not in Bahrain, for that there is a Saudi Arabia). The only thing that can prevent a NATO intervention in Syria is a Russian/Chinese veto.


  2. Great piece. I feel you underplay the importance of oil and natural gas here. All though they only produce 2% of the worlds oil they are a major provider to Europe. This is even more important when the proposed oil pipeline to Italy is taken into consideration. All oil and natural gas pipelines currently run through Russia so having a non-Russian friendly pipeline is very important to the energy security of Europe (Gazprom was entering a deal with ENI to build the pipeline). Also, in January 2009 Gaddafi attempted to nationalize all oil and directly distribute it’s wealth to the people. The implementation was deferred by the popular assemblies (and former Libyan offices turned prominent rebel leaders Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi and Ali Al-Mahmoudi and Farhat Omar Bin Guida)

    The trible element is very important in the Fezzan area and some what in Tripolitania. In Fezzan the tribes are more in favor of Gaddafi then opposed. Same is true in Tripolitania with the exception of the Berber region in the Western Mountains. They are an oppressed nationalitly and have risen up to free themselves. It’s important to note that the rebels in the East are still racist against them and, in my opinion, are using their oppressed state against them. After the dust settles I don’t think the Libyan Republic will be any less (maybe more by the accounts of what they did to the guest workers) oppressive to the Berbers as the Jamahiriya was/is.

    I’m also not sure where the information under the “The economic base of the rebellion” came from. I have not come across this before. From my understanding 80% of the population has not fled Eastern Libya.

    Aside from these there is an important question to ask: Was/is the Jamahiriya more progressive then the neoliberalism that is to come? Sure it wasn’t communism but we’re not Eruocentric enough to believe that socialism must follow a dogmatic path. Was Che or Marti not worthy of praise. Is socialism with Chinese characteristics or Arab socialism not something to be protect as self determination.

    I have wadded through the propaganda from mass media and have found Gaddafi and the Jamahiriya to have many, many flaws. But, just like pre-invasion Iraq under Saddam Hussein, the people where much better off before hand. Let us learn the lessons of the Iraq communists party and find an alternative to imperialism as an improvement of material conditions.


  3. Maju:
    The Communist Party of Tunisia as well as the PFLP signed a document stating that:

    In Libya, various imperialist forces wanted to preempt developments that could harm their interests. Invoking a so-called threat of genocidal massacres, NATO powers, France, Great Britain and the United States made sure the Security Council passed Resolution 1973. This resolution violates the UN Charter, which proclaims respect for sovereignty and national integrity, and the search for peaceful solutions to armed conflicts. Opposed to this, Resolution 1973 allows NATO and its allies to conduct a war to reconquer Libya as a springboard to bring the whole region under its control.
    We demand the immediate cessation of the military aggression against Libya. We support any initiative for the peaceful settlement of the conflict in Libya, without interference by foreign powers and responding to the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people.



  4. MLTT – the 80% figure only pertains to the West, i.e. to the rebel-held area of the Nafusa mountains – I’ve checked and I think the place of the sentence makes that fairly clear. Do you have any evidence for the idea that rebels in the East are racist against Berbers? I’ve heard reports that crude anti-black racism is fairly widespread, but nothing about Amazigh.

    Berbers have expressed some concerns that they will still not have their language/culture respected post-Gaddafi, but these seem to have faded recently, perhaps due to the right noises being made by the TNC.

    On oil, it is possible that the above article under estimates it as an issue. If you read the Global Research article I link to, it reads:

    Oil industry analysts predict that by the year 2015, the United States will be getting 25 percent of its imported oil from African sources. The biggest oil producers in Africa are Libya, with 47 billion barrels in proved reserves (and maybe lots more yet undiscovered), Nigeria (37.5 billion barrels), Angola (13.5 billion barrels), Algeria (13.4 billion barrels) and the Sudan (6.8 billion barrels). Smaller African countries, including Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, have large-scale oil production proportional to their size. Writing in 2008, Antonia Juhasz posits an oil politics motive for the creation of AFRICOM. “The concern is that, as it has in Iraq, a larger US military presence in Africa will strain the overburdened military while increasing internal hostilities, regional instability and anger at the United States,” he said, adding, “The ultimate objective of the two efforts is the same: securing big oil’s access to the region’s oil.”

    In general, I think your post (http://moreleftthanthou.wordpress.com/2011/06/11/on-the-libyan-conflict/) has lots of interestinginformation , but I think you’re sailing to close to Gaddafi’s wind. Scepticism about the rebels is fine and necessary. But I do think it’s nonetheless more than a sectarian civil war. Any Libyans with democratic aspirations will be fighting on the rebel side.

    I strongly disagree with your implication here:

    Was/is the Jamahiriya more progressive then the neoliberalism that is to come? Sure it wasn’t communism but we’re not Eruocentric enough to believe that socialism must follow a dogmatic path. Was Che or Marti not worthy of praise. Is socialism with Chinese characteristics or Arab socialism not something to be protect as self determination.

    I don’t think ‘progressive’ really means anything. I don’t think Che is worthy of praise. And it is possible to oppose intervention in the Middle East, or China, without positively defending “socialism with Chinese characteristics” (i.e. a form of authoritarian capitalism) or “Arab socialism” (what Arab socialism, exactly?). Opposing intervention does not imply supporting every (or any) despot who mentions anti-imperialism and socialism every so often.

    I don’t think socialism “must follow a dogmatic path” (who does?), but I also don’t believe that socialism can happen in just any way: whatever way it happens, it must be as an expression of the self-activity of the proletariat. Therefore, East or West, it cannot be introduced by capitalist states.


  5. c0mmunard:

    The sentence on 80% was clear in understanding but I just have not heard this figure before. It wasn’t sighted in the story and I haven’t found through google searches.

    As for the anti-Berber sentiment from the rebels: I came across some stories about that the rebels fighting along side the Berbers are uncomfortable with the Berber language being used to name towns and how they’re not sure what’s going to happen after this is done. There was also a small firefight over the Western Mountains being called by it’s Berber name Tamazight. I can’t find these articles now, there’s so much news coming out that this stuff gets buried. Although a lot of anti-Berber sentiment came from the West it was also expressed in the East pre-uprising.

    I do want to take issue with what you said about democracy. Are familiar with the Jamahiriya and it’s assemblies? If not I’d recommend reading the green book. It is different, and I don’t fully understand it, but it seems democratic to me. From what I can tell Libya is/was run very similar to Cuba (and somewhat what they’re trying to do in parts of Venezuela). I’m not sure what kind of democracy you’re advocating for. Would bourgeois democracy be better then Jamahiriya? Again, you criticize my angle without showing that Jamahiriya is worse then what neo-liberalism/bourgeois democracy/NTC/NATO would put in.

    You are very correct in identifying the dichotomization of the argument (the desired outcome of the Chomsky/Herman propaganda model). I may seem pro Gaddafi but that’s only relative. I admit that my negative feelings towards the rebels, NATO, and everything that they’re trying to set up there has skewed my opinions. When the material conditions dictate a side, whose would you choose? Was Iraq and it’s people better under Saddam? Should he have left power and someone like the Iraqi Communist Party taken over? Sure, but advocating for the US invasion, just like the Libyan and Yugoslavian bombings, can only have regressive outcomes.

    Again, great post. I went through some older posts and I’ll definitely following the RSS. Are the contributors to this blog part of SWP or some other IST group?


  6. Hi again, cheers for your comments. None of us are part of the SWP, it’s a small organisation in its own right – although not all are by members.

    The 80% figure is direct from a local source, who made that estimate.

    About the Berber stuff, just to clear up a misunderstanding – Tamazight is not the name for the mountains, it’s the name of the language spoken by the Imazighen (Berbers), singular Amazigh (Berber). I’m pretty sure the mountains are called Nafusa in both languages. As I say, I’d like to see any actual references to the things you’re talking about – I know what you’re saying about news being hard to find, but it’s hard to make anything of it without seeing the original reports.

    I do want to take issue with what you said about democracy. Are familiar with the Jamahiriya and it’s assemblies? If not I’d recommend reading the green book. It is different, and I don’t fully understand it, but it seems democratic to me. From what I can tell Libya is/was run very similar to Cuba (and somewhat what they’re trying to do in parts of Venezuela). I’m not sure what kind of democracy you’re advocating for. Would bourgeois democracy be better then Jamahiriya? Again, you criticize my angle without showing that Jamahiriya is worse then what neo-liberalism/bourgeois democracy/NTC/NATO would put in.

    I don’t know alot about Cuba, but I believe it not to be democratic. I think there is a level of local democracy, but none on the national stage. I can imagine the same is true of Libya under the ‘Jamahiriya’. There was certainly no effective democracy on the national level, and I don’t even think there was very much locally. I don’t think the Green Book has much to do with the reality of how things worked. The real power is held by the ‘revolutionary sector’:

    The “revolutionary sector” comprises Revolutionary Leader Gaddafi, the Revolutionary Committees and the remaining members of the 12-person Revolutionary Command Council, which was established in 1969. The historical revolutionary leadership is not elected and cannot be voted out of office; they are in power by virtue of their involvement in the revolution.


    There was no freedom of the press, right to organise a union or strike, and al media was state run. It was not even possible to organise a reading group on a text of your choice without permission. Basically, it was – and insofar as it exists still – is a police state.

    It’s not possible to show that it is worse than what will happen next, because it hasn’t happened yet. But the status quo ante was indefensible, and it was legitimate for people to try and replace it. It is well possible that the effort may end in failure. But they had a right to try.

    When the material conditions dictate a side, whose would you choose? Was Iraq and it’s people better under Saddam? Should he have left power and someone like the Iraqi Communist Party taken over? Sure, but advocating for the US invasion, just like the Libyan and Yugoslavian bombings, can only have regressive outcomes.

    I don’t think that the material conditions could ever dictate a side – I don’t even really know what that means. I think some people in some ways were probably better off under Saddam, and some people in some ways are probably better off now. I have little faith that the Iraqi CP would have been very much better. Given that the record of CPs in power has been universally terrible. Like I said above, opposing the invasion doesn’t imply defending Gaddafi, and opposing Gaddafi doesn’t imply defending the invasion. Our basic starting point is opposition to both sides.

    I would say, however, that if there were organised communists on the ground at the moment, they would be joining the fight against Gaddafi, and seeking to assert as much independence as they could, which realistically might not be much.


  7. You’re 100% about my bit in the Berbers (except that Arabs call them the Western Mountains). I wish I could find those articles.

    I think that you do not fully understand Jamahiriya and the situation of the Libyan people before the unrest. The example I gave earlier about the Popular Assemblies blocking Qaddafi’s plan to nationalize all oil shows just how powerful they are. Actually, wikileaks cables show IOC (International Oil Companies) and diplomats saying “particularly powerful General People’s Committee”. The problem of this argument is that I seem a Qaddafi supporter. This is very relative though. I support Qaddafi over NATO just as I supported Saddam over the US.

    I agree with you that communists would fight Qaddafi, just like the Iraqi CP welcomed the US invasion. They where all but wiped out and more brutally repressed once the US was in charge. And the only people better off are the war profiteers (diffidently not the >1million dead and wounded).

    We can’t know for sure what will happen but we do know that anything NATO touches is poisoned. Same goes for anyone who accepts their help (NTC). The middle ground of opposing both sides in this conflict is not material. There is no material third party that can win out over NTC/NATO and the government. Well, maybe Senussi Islam will open a new front and a pan-Berber separatist movement will be founded, but I don’t think that’s what you mean by supporting. The material reality is grime. By material I mean the reality happening as opposed to idealism, utopianism, and general transference. The material reality might be the whole “stuck between a rock and a hard” thing (as it usually is) but we need to pick a “less hard” rock, if that makes sense.

    For me, imperialism is the primary contradiction. If Libya goes the way of Saudi Arabia there’s little hope of a meaningful revolution.


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