The Battle for Libya

The imposition of a no fly zone over Libya, backed primarily by France, Britain and the United States, and the invasion of Bahrain by Saudi Armed forces, mark a new stage in the tumultuous revolutionary events in the Arab world. The joyous revolutionary victories secured by mass protests on the streets and squares of Egypt and Tunisia have given way to bloody and ferocious conflict drawing in national and international military forces.

In the past the Imperialist powers were happy to see dictators in power throughout the region, provided they appeared to serve the economic, political, military and strategic interests of European and US capitalist states. It was European powers that colonised, plundered and divided the peoples of the region; leaving a legacy of artificial lines from which nations were carved out of the sand.

After the Second World War the United States wove a complex web of intrigues in the region. This involved the staunch defence of its local allies through massive financial and military aid, but each adventure produced poisonous fruit.

In Saudi Arabia, the US supports the rule of a feudal theocracy composed of 7000 members of a Royal Family enriched by oil. This oil is used to back US economic policies throughout the world. This intimate Saudi-US relationship was behind the battle to expel Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the 1980s, at that time they created the basis of Bin Laden’s network which later attacked the USA. This in turn led to the continuing war in Afghanistan.

In Iran, the west supported the Shah’s dictatorship until it was overthrown by revolution in 1979. This spawned the creation of the Islamic Republic, a theocratic reaction combining modern technologies of power, medieval barbarism and anti-western rhetoric.

In Iraq, US policy supported Saddam Hussein for decades, in the war against Iran and in the ferocious repression of the Iraqi people. Untold millions suffered due to this US policy and then due to two US led wars in which Saddam was recast as a ‘madman’.

Since 1948, Israel was backed by western powers despite the systematic abuse and repression of the rights of the Palestinian peoples. More recently the United States and European governments backed the Egyptian and Tunisian dictators to the hilt until their final hours.

Colonel Gaddafi was an untouchable pariah until a few years ago. He led an officer’s coup in 1969 and proclaimed a path independent of Moscow or Washington during the Cold War. He engaged in all manner of peculiar zigzags in international and domestic policy much to the ire of the Western powers. He supported various rebellions and terrorist groups around the world, and created a peculiar eclectic fusion of socialistic and Islamic ideas, compiled in the ‘Green Book’.

In economic policy he nationalised oil and banking, this provided the material basis of the regime. Libya became a planned economy based on fossil fuels. This flow of wealth from the ground into public coffers enabled living standards to rise rapidly. To this day housing, education and healthcare are free and basic foodstuffs are subsidized. But power is also based on arbitrary and dictatorial methods developed by the entourage and police apparatus of Gaddafi’s bureaucratic state, camouflaged in the garb of ‘rule by peoples’ committees’.

There is barely any private capitalism in Libya, foreign investment and privatisation are marginal to the core economy. However, such deals provided Gaddafi, his family, and some officials, with a means to plunder resources from lucrative contracts and kickbacks.

Bureaucratic corruption and the kleptocratic tendencies of the ruling family, helped to generate protests when the winds of revolution blew in from Tunisia and Egypt.

The first wave of unrest in Benghazi immediately suspended the local regime in mid-air and insurrections seemed to sweep away state power in several cities. Initially, Gaddafi appeared utterly confused and lost, a reminder of the haunting video images of the fall of Ceausescu in Romania in December 1989. Ceausescu looked bewildered when the people turned on him and his apparatus of repression. So too Gaddafi appeared lost and ‘mad’.

In Tripoli, the regime held onto power due to the passive acquiescence of significant layers of the masses. This is not simply due to fear of the powerful and repressive state. It stems also from extraordinary economic growth in recent years[1], and the continuing dominance of state ownership and control of the economy that guaranteed this.

The uprising in Benghazi has characteristics similar to post-Ceausescu Romania in 1990. The collapse of the state and the seizure of control over everyday life by committees and militias mean this resembles a political revolution; but likewise it may open the path to a social counter-revolution, the battles will decide.

In the explosion of discussion and debate that accompanies revolutionary upheavals, the progressive tendencies will seek to defend and extend social gains developed under public ownership, democratize administration and control, and further internationalise the Arab revolutions, breaking down the barriers between the peoples of the region.

The imperialist powers also see an opportunity following the collapse of state power in Benghazi. They began their machinations starting with a veritable cacophony of attacks on the “madman” Gaddafi.  Many of these same spokes-persons for democracy were only yesterday making lucrative deals with Gaddafi and praising his ‘moves to the market’, his statesmanship, his wisdom etc. Naturally, Gaddafi felt personally affronted and betrayed by this, where is the “honour among thieves?”

When Tunisians and Egyptians were being shot just a few days ago, western leaders acted as if paralysed into a deafening silence. They condemned violence and killings in the abstract, laying no blame on Ben Ali, or Mubarak, and calling for peace. Likewise when the Saudis’ invaded Bahrain a few days ago, in order to crush the protests there, western leaders were as one, in their silence.

However when Gaddafi’s state uses violence, a flurry of diplomatic, political and military forces flocked together bellowing for war, in the name of liberty, justice and universal rights!

This sudden unity of purpose by France, Britain and the United States, is nothing but a cynical use of the internal conflict in Libya to regain western prestige in the Arab world, and acquire control over oil and gas supplies. The people of the whole region face a cruel and perilous battle for peace, freedom and plenty in the struggle for genuine democratic control over politics, economics and society.

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