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Proletarian issue 42 (June 2011)
The true face of ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Libya
The blatant and repeated attempts to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi and his entire extended family are blowing ever more holes in the story that imperialism’s mass bombing campaign is aimed at ‘protecting civilian lives’.
Staggered by the strength of revolt seeded in Tunisia and Egypt and spreading ever wider, imperialism has seized the opportunity to try to profit from the situation, by choosing the occasion to unleash the force in anti-imperialist countries of dissident elements it has been cultivating for years, hoping that they might get support by posing as ‘another popular revolt’. This might well have seemed like a cheap and easy way to rob the Libyan people of their oil and their revolution, compensating imperialism to some degree for the unravelling of the West’s network of comprador stooges across the Arab world.

However, despite the incomparably superior firepower possessed by imperialism, and despite the disgusting willingness of social democracy to be duped into supporting the Benghazi contras, the Libyan revolution has been proving more durable than its enemies had hoped – and many of its friends had feared.

Fidel Castro has the measure of the situation: “I am really amazed at the resistance posed by Libya. The belligerent organisation now depends on Gaddafi. If he resists and does not yield to their demands, he will enter history as one of the great figures of the Arab nations.

Imperialism wades deeper into blood

In an article posted on Global Research, Rick Rozoff drew an instructive parallel with the air war carried out against Yugoslavia.

Noting that “having exhausted all identified military targets in three days, 1,000 US and Nato aircraft flew 38,000 combat missions over a nation of barely 100,000 square kilometres ... for another 75 days”, he concluded that “What was ruining the country was an unremitting, merciless aerial onslaught not only, and not so much, against Yugoslav federal and Serbian military targets in the province of Kosovo as against civilian infrastructure – and civilians themselves – throughout the nation ... Most everything became a so-called target of opportunity ... Bridges over the Danube River, civilian convoys, factories, power stations, water treatment plants, oil refineries, broadcasting facilities.

Drawing the parallel, Rozoff noted that “The US and Britain launched over 110 cruise missiles into Libya on the first day ... In the first twelve days at least 160 Tomahawk and other missiles were fired against government military and civilian targets and hundreds of air missions were flown over the nation ... Since Nato assumed command of the war on 31 March, almost 5,000 sorties, 2,000 of them (in Nato parlance) strike sorties, have been carried out. Having weeks earlier destroyed scores of military and so-called dual-use assets, including non-military targets like trucks, sport-utility vehicles and cars, and sites – storage facilities and broadcasting and telecommunications centers – Nato has been moving in for the kill in the Libyan capital. ” (‘Libya: Nato transitions to terror bombing phase of war’, 3 May 2011)

Frustrated at the failure of the rebels to make or hold any advances without the massive intervention of western air power, coupled with the unexpected resilience and high morale of the forces loyal to the revolution, Nato has resorted to murderous reprisals against the civilian population of the country and the infrastructure essential to its survival: harbours, airstrips, fuel depots, roads, bridges – even a heart clinic.

And, fearful of the consequences of putting ‘boots on the ground’ in another oppressive and unwinnable war, the indiscriminate murder of scores of civilians as ‘collateral damage’ has been supplemented by one botched assassination attempt after another on Gaddafi himself, in the process murdering his youngest son Saif al-Arab, three of his infant grandchildren (aged just two years, 15 months and five months) and several neighbours.

The degeneracy of this unbridled state terror, in which, as Castro remarked “the Nazi-fascist role is being played by Nato with its thousands of bombing missions by the most modern aircraft ever known by the world”, is a sure token of the desperation of a class of exploiters for which time is running out. The ‘thousand-year Reich’ lasted a dozen years; London, Washington and Tel Aviv should not assume that their reign of terror is substantially more durable.

The West’s failed stooges

Imperialism is finding it increasingly difficult to secure viable stooges and proxies to give local colour and spurious legitimacy to its international bullying. British military ‘advisors’ trying to prop up the nest of vipers rejoicing in the name of the ‘National Transitional Council’ are in despair over what one BBC report describes as “the chaos of militias, local brigades and official military structures that together make up the force fighting Colonel Muammar Gaddafi”, all involved in vicious feuding over who is to be top dog. (‘Who’s in charge? Sorting out Libya’s rebel armies’ by Andrew Harding, 10 May 2011)

To the West’s dismay, the rebels seem more concerned with dividing the anticipated spoils of war than they are in winning it, leaving their sponsors to get bogged down in yet another unwinnable war against a better-motivated home population resisting foreign oppression.

Nor does it make the West’s public relations effort any easier that a significant player in the rebellion, the anti-Gaddafi Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), despite having been armed and funded by Britain and the US since its foundation in the early 1990s, was officially identified by the British Home Office in 2005 as a banned terror organisation, membership of which should attract a 10-year spell in jail. We wait to hear with bated breath what progress British advisors in Benghazi are making in apprehending these declared terrorists.

Imperialism: the asylum-seeker’s friend?

Having imposed this cruel civil war upon the Libyan nation, adding many thousands more refugees to the countless number of migrants uprooted by the revolutionary turmoil sweeping the Middle East and beyond, imperialism now cynically portrays the humanitarian nightmare it has unleashed as the personal responsibility of Gaddafi.

In particular, the heart-rending coverage given to the plight of migrant workers in rebel-held Misrata, lured to this war zone by undeliverable promises of sanctuary, contrasts strangely indeed with the habitual media blackout on such routine and ‘un-newsworthy’ human tragedies that unfold daily throughout the world.

The Libyan government, whilst happy to cooperate with the UN over the feeding and evacuation of migrants, has made it clear that safe passage can only be guaranteed from areas where the government’s writ runs. However the West’s true concern is not with the fate of migrants caught in the crossfire, but with using the refugees as a pawn in the propaganda war against Gaddafi, in the desperate effort to maintain Misrata as the rebellion’s key surviving foothold in the west of the country.

The West’s real attitude towards such asylum-seekers became clear when the Council of Europe was compelled to order an inquiry into why 61 migrants from Libya were one by one allowed to die of thirst and hunger after their boat ran out of fuel, despite drifting for days through an area frequented by military and ‘aid’ vessels, not one of which offered assistance. (‘Libyan migrants’ boat deaths to be investigated by Council of Europe’ by Jack Shenker, Guardian, 9 May 2011)

The president of the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly, Mevlüt Çavusoglu, said that the failure of military units (including a helicopter and an aircraft carrier) to offer assistance marked “a dark day” for Europe. This pronouncement sparked a storm of mutual recrimination, with Nato sniffing that their vessels were “fully aware of their responsibilities with regard to international maritime law regarding safety of life at sea” and pointing the finger instead at a French aircraft carrier called the Charles De Gaulle, which was technically not under Nato command at that precise moment. France issued a suitably scalded riposte denying everything.

The Guardian further reported that “news emerged of another migrant boat which sank last Friday, according to the UN’s refugee agency. Up to 600 were on board the overcrowded vessel as it fled the Libyan capital, Tripoli. According to testimony collected by UNHCR workers in Lampedusa, migrants on the second boat setting sail from Tripoli attempted to disembark when they saw the first boat sink, but were prevented from doing so by armed men.”

Such inhuman contempt for the welfare of asylum-seekers, combined with no less suspicion and hatred for all capitalist rivals, is no aberration, but accords with both the international and the domestic practice of imperialism everywhere.

Splits in the imperialist camp

For further proof of this, look at the edifying row which broke out recently between Italy, France, Germany and Austria over who should take responsibility for the refugee flow to Europe triggered by events in the Middle East.

According to the Telegraph, Italy’s response was to issue refugees with European residence permits and pack them onto trains for France. France in turn detained them illegally and sent them back to Italy. Germany threatened to tear up the Schengen agreement and reintroduce border controls if the Italians did not ‘fulfil their duties’, ie, get rid of the asylum seekers or absorb them within Italy.

It was left to Austria’s interior minister to add a final touch of nobility to the debate, exclaiming “Letting these people in would only pave the way for crime, and as minister in charge of security I cannot accept that.” (‘Germany threatens to reintroduce border checks in row over Tunisian refugees’ by Bruno Waterfield, Telegraph, 11 April 2011)

Real trade-war contradictions underlie these hissing catfights. As a former colonial power in Libya with significant interests in her oil and gas, Italy has been a reluctant participant in Nato’s war, worried that French imperialism might seize the occasion to do a side-deal with the rebels over mineral rights. And the EU as a whole is vying with Washington over who should be the prime beneficiary of this armed robbery against tiny Libya, judging by their swift move to pocket the country’s Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWF) – $32bn of Libya’s money in US banks and €45bn ($63.5bn) in EU banks were ‘frozen’ (ie, pocketed) before the start of the invasion.

Stealing Libya’s oil wealth for America

Libya’s known oil reserves are the biggest in Africa (60bn barrels) and cost very little to extract. She also possesses 1,500 cubic metres of natural gas. This vast mineral wealth, which since 1969 has paid for the very schools, hospitals and roads now being pulverised by Nato drones, has also since 2006 channelled revenues into Libya’s Sovereign Wealth Funds.

The body charged with the management of those funds has overseen investment throughout Africa and elsewhere, to the advantage of independent development. For example, money from Libyan funds helped launch Africa’s own telecommunications satellite, so African nations no longer have to pay through the nose for access to European and American satellites.

The theft of Libya’s wealth has been two-pronged. On one side, the assets of Libya’s nationalised oil company have been frozen by imperialism, clearing the way for the Benghazi stooges to invent a new oil company on its behalf. On the other side, Libya’s sovereign funds have been hijacked directly by Washington and Brussels, apparently, in some cases, with the complicity of the officials responsible for oversight of these funds.

According to an article posted on Global Research, “US and European ruling circles focused on these funds, so that before carrying out a military attack on Libya to get their hands on its energy wealth, they took over the Libyan sovereign wealth funds. Facilitating this operation is the representative of the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), Mohamed Layas himself: as revealed in a cable published by WikiLeaks. On 20 January Layas informed the US ambassador in Tripoli that the LIA had deposited $32bn in US banks. Five weeks later, on 28 February, the US Treasury ‘froze’ these accounts. According to official statements, this is ‘the largest sum ever blocked in the United States’, which Washington held ‘in trust for the future of Libya’.” (‘Financial heist of the century: confiscating Libya’s sovereign wealth funds (SWF)’ by Manlio Dinucci, 29 April 2010)

Stop the War still getting it wrong

The sickest joke to come out of Stop the War’s reactionary stance on Libya has been the accusation that members of StW who stand in solidarity with the Gaddafi-led Libyan revolution are a divisive influence within the anti-war movement and should pipe down at public meetings, reserving their distasteful minority opinions for under-the-counter retail (or preferably shut up all together).

Yet what has truly divided and weakened the anti-war movement, indexed by the dwindling of national anti-war demonstrations from millions to hundreds, has been the perennial reluctance of the leadership to consistently call for victory to the Afghan and Iraqi resistance, a stance that has finally degenerated into John Rees’s open support for the imperialist-backed Benghazi rebellion.

Rees and co have since scrambled back to a stance that they hope will rescue their ‘progressive’ reputations (basically ‘stop bombing Libya, you’ll only make it harder to get rid of Gaddafi’) – a clumsy and hypocritical manoeuvre which will fool few and inspire none.

It is this misleadership, and StW’s resulting failure to give an anti-imperialist lead as capitalist crisis breeds fresh wars, that is fatally undermining and weakening the anti-war movement.

We in the CPGB-ML are constantly told that our anti-imperialist stance risks alienating some supporters of StW’s (somewhat narrow) broad front. It is not impossible that some overly sensitive petty-bourgeois liberals might find the atmosphere uncongenial in an (as yet hypothetical) anti-war movement that had learned to outgrow its social-democratic prejudices – no matter how many times it was spelt out to such individuals that their presence within the broad movement remained welcome.

But right now, we need to understand why the ‘broad’ front in reality remains so very narrow; how it is that the mass of working people do not actively embrace the cause of peace and withdraw their cooperation with imperialism’s wars. What is it about StW’s approach that so severely limits its scope?

Mobilising against the war on the basis of anti-imperialism

The fact is that, so long as those leading the anti-war movement refuse to give solidarity to the forces that are resisting imperialist aggression on the ground, they will be keeping British workers divided from their real allies in the fight against monopoly capitalism and its wars, hindering them in the indivisible struggle for socialism and peace.

As Karl Marx wrote, no nation that enslaves another can itself be free. The failure to give consistent and wholehearted support to those defending Libya’s sovereignty with arms in hand can only weaken and divide the anti-war movement.

It is not the CPGB-ML and fellow internationalists who pose a threat to the unity and progress of the anti-war movement, but the rotten Trotskyite and revisionist politics that infect the upper echelons of StW and wash back into its branches, rendering the movement vulnerable to being shoved off course by every new wave of imperialist propaganda.

Whilst we have never taken a sectarian approach in our work with StW, cultivating good personal relations with fellow coalitionists from all backgrounds, we cannot shirk the responsibility of identifying the destructive and divisive influence of those political agendas behind which some remain trapped.

Particularly damaging is the Trotskyite combination of deep historical pessimism (‘the Soviet Union was a disaster; the working class has nowhere taken and held power and gone on to build socialism’) with the most light-minded optimism over the probability of finding some ‘progressive’ needle in the stinking reactionary Benghazi haystack, some (as yet undocumented) perfect Trotskyite strand within the (very well-documented) hotch-potch of monarchists, veteran opponents of the revolution, paid assassins and mercenaries.

Whilst one might think that their own historical pessimism should instil in them a degree of caution, the reverse turns out to be the case. In fact, the phony optimism is about as healthy as the hectic flush on the face of a fever patient, and serves one purpose alone: to make it easier to abdicate political responsibility.

Why endure the unpopularity of standing by the Gaddafi revolution when you can have your cake and eat it, standing shoulder to shoulder with the BBC cheering on the rebels, whilst simultaneously posturing as ‘anti-imperialists’?

With the same glad heart, the same gentry lined up with Thatcher to cheer on Solidarnosc (or ‘progressive elements’ supposedly lurking within that anti-communist lynch mob) against the Polish workers’ state, helping prepare the ground for the subsequent liquidation of socialism.

‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’ was their mantra then, ‘Neither Gaddafi nor Nato’ is their mantra now. Will we wake next week or next month to ‘Neither Damascus nor Nato’, ‘Neither Tehran nor Nato’, ‘Neither Caracas nor Nato’ or ‘Neither Pyongyang nor Nato’? What about ‘Neither Beijing nor Nato’?

We in the CPGB-ML stand ready to assist in this endeavour.

Long live Gaddafi and the resistance of the Libyan people!

> Hands off Lybia - Statement 11 May 2011

> Stop the War s dirty role in the criminal war against Libya - Leaflet 11 May 2011

> Libya: The latest victim of imperialist predatory war - Lalkar May 2011
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