any hope for libya?

Joe Thorne writes on NATO’s role in post-Gaddafi Libya, and whether its ‘humanitarian intervention’ is really cause to re-think anti-imperialism 

Less than a month before the fall of Tripoli, the BBC suggested that rather than a rebel victory, “what may emerge is a complicated deal struck between rebels and erstwhile Gaddafi loyalists to get the Libyan leader out of the picture and open up the way for a national transitional government.”

no tears for Gaddafi, no cheers for NATO

Indeed, I argued in the last issue of The Commune that this was precisely NATO’s strategy.  They saw such a compromise as the best means to ensure the political stability they want.  It would allow the NATO powers, as the brokers of any compromise, to play king-maker, and perhaps facilitate acceptance of foreign troops on Libyan soil, as ‘peace-keepers. But this was far from certain: the rebels were neither  NATO pawns nor idiots, and many would oppose such impositions.

In the event, Gaddafi’s army collapsed quicker than most had predicted.  The stalemate which had prevailed since late March was broken on 29th July, when rebel fighters in the West took five small villages in the plain below the Nafusa mountains.  This opened the way for the push to the coast and the taking of Zawiyah on 19th August, and the severing of the coastal artery supplying Tripoli with petrol and food.  Thus followed a collapse of morale in the loyalist army.

The end, then, was not so much the “grubbier” compromise that the Western powers were hoping for, but a far more straightforward rebel victory.  In consequence, the Libyan rebels are in a much stronger position to define the form of a new Libya than they otherwise would have been, and than NATO hoped they would be.  In consequence it seems, for example, that a Western base is off the agenda and there are signs that some rebel elements are resisting the imposition of ex-Gaddafi loyalists.

Re-evaluating interventionism?

The intervention in Libya has moved some on the left to suggest that unswerving opposition to Western intervention is evidently untenable.  They have suggested that, while we ought not to ‘support’ the NATO intervention, neither ought we to oppose it – that is, it would have been wrong to try and stop it happening.

This position has been adopted by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), a Trotskyist grouping, which has adopted this position a number of times over the past few years, including in relation to the occupation of Iraq, the bombing of Serbia, and the hypothetical possibility of Israel bombing Iran.

But this time, it isn’t just the usual suspects who are raising questions: prominent Lebanese Marxist Gilbert Achcar and the Irish Workers’ Solidarity Movement (WSM)  have also raised similar concerns.  They say that the evidently liberal-democratic consequences of the NATO intervention, the fact that it quite probably averted the mass-killing of thousands of rebels, and the fact that the rebels themselves asked for the intervention were enough to mean that it should not be opposed.  To do so, they say, would be in effect to favour despotism and massacre, and to fail in solidarity with the Libyan masses.

It is not possible, here and now, to give a full critique of this position.  However, it is possible to say that the foundations on which it is based are incomplete and potentially misleading.

This is because it only evaluates the consequences of the intervention within a limited area – Libya – and within a limited timescale – the present, more or less.  If we evaluate the consequences of the intervention, or preventing it, on a global systemic scale, far greater questions are raised.  There are at least two reasons for this.

The first is stated well enough by AWL themselves, looking at the brutality of the US occupation of Iraq: “Why did this happen? By 2003 the US administration was drunk on military swagger after its triumph in the Cold War and the easy US victories, or apparent victories, in Kuwait (1991), Bosnia (1995), Kosova (1999), and Afghanistan (2001). It was intoxicated with the idea of reshaping the world on US-friendly, world-market-friendly lines by “short and sharp” blasts of US firepower.

The number of dead in each listed case increases from a few thousand in the Balkans to the hundreds of thousands in Iraq (2003).  If the Libyan intervention proves to be a similar intoxicant,  its malign global consequences will far outweigh its local democratic ones.

A second important reason to evaluate the intervention in global terms is that a successful anti-intervention movement – i.e. one which actually tried to stop the bombing – would pose a very serious challenge to our own state.  There has never been a successful anti-war movement anywhere, ever which was not also a revolution.  Even assuming this trend was broken, the likely-profound consequences of successful working-class action against must be taken into account.

These general considerations are not necessarily enough to decide the question in every case.  But they do show that the local consequences of intervention must be weighed against the global consequences.   They do show that the question is far more complicated than the matter of whether Libya is now more democratic and free than it was in January, and what would have happened in Benghazi and Misrata had Gaddafi’s advance continued unchecked.  The shockwaves of those airstrikes in the Libyan desert may well reverberate for decades, and in every corner of the earth.

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3 thoughts on “any hope for libya?

  1. I agree, in part. I think the AWL are right to point to the consequences of those who only speak in terms of an opposition to “Imperialism”. The consequences of that here would be, in reality then to side with Gaddafi, even if you were to write articles saying how vile his regime was, and so on. The same was true over the question of “Troops Out of Iraq”.

    We are not just opposed to Imperialism, but also to the Gaddafi regime in Libya, to the clerical-fascists in Iraq – and, and this is where the AWL have a problem in Libya, we should have been opposed to the clerical-fascists and otehr reactionaries within the “rebels” in Libya – and we have a duty to propose means of adressing that too. In Iraq, it meant making clear that “Troops Out” was a mobilisng demand for the Iraqi workers to organise themselves to be able to achive that result, not simply a call for support for the clerical-fascist insurgents. In Libya, it means demands for the Libyan workers to build their own independent organisation, based on opposition to ALL the ir enemies, even if that involved adopting felxible tactics in relation to etmporary alliances with some of them, depending upon who posed the bigger threat in the particular instance.

    The fact that we now know that the leader of the actual rebel forces on the ground, the people who exercise real political power, as opposed to the front men politicians of the TNC, is a jihadist from the Libyan islamic Fighting Group, who were almost certainly the people responsible for assassinating Younes, shows what was known all along, that the actual fighters were dominated by Political Islamists. As Mao said, “power stems from the barrel of a gun”. Its interesting that the TNC dare not move to Tripoli yet, and that they are pleading with the rebels fighters to return to their villages. As in Iran in 1979, the political vaccum is being filled by the clercial-fascists. The idea that Libyan masses should wait two years for elections is absurd. In 1905, and other revolutions, popular aqssemblies arose spontaneously within days and weeks. The fact that we have not seen such developments again says something to me about the nature of what we have seen as being more of an organised, top down Civil War, rather than a Popular Revolution from below.

    The nature of Libya is that there is no substantial Capitalist Class, and yet the TNC politicans are bouregois politicians. It reminds me of Trotsky’s analysis of such politicians during the Spanish Civil War. They are a shadow that represent no social base. The main social forces in Libya are petit-bourgeois, and in every such case the consequence is that the political regime that arises is some form of Bonapartism, including its fascist, or clerical-fascist variant. That is why I think the most likely consequecne is going to be that those politicans have to make up for their own alck of a social base, by relying on the power of Imperialism, by bringing in by one means or another Imperialist boots on the ground. If not, then the clerical-fascists will assume pwoer as they did in Iran.

    The other lesson for the left to learn is that, its clear that the jihadists were able to bring in considerable numbers of fighters from around the globe, not least from Britain. The jihadists appear able to mobilise many of their young men around the globe to go for training, and to be mobilised to wherever they are required to fight for their ideology. The Left has not only lost that ability, but seems even to reject the idea of even trying to restore that kind of internationalism within its ranks. In fact, if we do want to not only organise marches against Imperialism and so on, but to put forward the idea of a truly independent working-class solution its something we need to be addressing pretty quickly.


  2. yes the bourgeois elements of the TNC are dependent on imperialism and thats why the dominant leadership faction around Jabril invited NATO intervention. Jabril and other ex gaddafi forces had already been working closly with Britain and the USA, MI6 and the CIA. They feared a development of or victory of the initial revolt from below as much as defeat at the hands of the Gaddafi forces.

    Again yes the top down civil war character of the struggle represents western imperialist control or takeover of the initial revolt. The power of chinese nationalism might have grown out of the barrel of a gun but workers power grows out of mass participation in the political process. The fighters have been taken out of their communities and put under military discipline in a military struggle led by special forces and western intellgence officers.

    Imperialism can take a number of political forms depending on the historical context. Democratic counter revolution is still counter revolution or the stuffing out of revolution from below. we cannot critically support imperialism not only because of the international consequences, but any by products of imperialist intervention which might benefit revolts temporarily will be outweighed in the medium and longterm even in an area like Libya.

    Historically populations have supported intervention by imperialism only to regret it later. Ireland 1969 for example. But communists have a responsiblity to see beyond the immediate or short term consequences. Opposing imperialism does not mean supporting gadaffi. That would mean there is no choice for working class independence. Abstaining in the face of popular support for imperilialism particularly in the western capitalist heartlands is a moral and political failure.

    It entails critical support for imperialism and the logic of that is popular front politics.

    Imperialism has poured hug sums of money into Libya and the TNC leadership in an attempt to reconstruct what exists of gaddafis state apparatus and reshape an imperialist friendly new regime. The transitional regime represents a defeat for the initial impetus of the revolt from below. libya is awash with guns,but do any rebel military forces have the politics to resist the imperialist imposed or imperialst dominated regime. There is little sign in Libya of any socialist or working class opposition to the imperialist solution.


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