Libya: Who’s Side Are We On?

Richard Greeman

A critique of the narrow forms of anti-imperialism that have emerged on some parts of the Left in the face of US and NATO intervention in Libya and a call for solidarity with the people of Libya and the wider Arab world. – Editors

As a lifelong Marxist and non-violent revolutionary, I do not of course ‘support’ the US-NATO hypocritical intervention in Libya — as if these war-mongering imperialist governments wanted or needed my support!

But I do recognize that the alternative to this intervention would have been a bloody massacre of the democratic forces by a horrific dictatorship – one that the same imperialists supported with money and arms up until yesterday. I also recognize that the Libyan democratic forces have asked for this intervention — while excluding any Iraq-style on-the-ground NATO invasion. So – like many of my Arab friends here in France — I am not signing on to the petty-bourgeois Left’s one-sided ‘stop the bombing’ campaign, which distorts reality in favor of ‘anti-imperialist’ ideology and objectively supports the maniacal Qaddafi’s murderous campaign against his own people.

Too Far Left to See Reality

Equally unreal is the Left’s call for an unenforceable “bi-lateral cease-fire” (which  Qadaffi already claims to be observing!) and an unenforceable bilateral “arms embargo” (which like the Spanish Civil War embargo of 1936 would only affect the forces of democracy, leaving the dictatorship free to employ foreign mercenaries). As one Moroccan militant put it: “Some people are so far left they can no longer see reality.”

For many months the Left appeared to have been mostly sleeping as French and US forces continued to occupy Afghanistan, to murder civilians indiscriminately, and to impose in Kabul a reactionary puppet Sharia regime of murderous, corrupt, drug-dealing, anti-woman warlords who are just as bad as the Taliban, with whom NATO is negotiating in the name of “democracy” and “women’s’ rights.”  Now suddenly the anti-war movement has risen from its slumbers to storm the heavens in support the ‘sovereignty’ of  Qaddafi’s murderous tyranny.

Since when did the ‘sovereignty’ of so-called nations carved out of Africa by colonialists drawing lines on maps in London or Paris become a sacred issue for the Left? Aren’t we supposed to be for ‘self-determination’? Sovereignty rights, like ‘states’ rights’ in the racist U.S., is most often invoked by dictators as a defense against ‘outside interference’ by human rights groups. To be sure, there is a serious danger that Western military support for the Libyan rebels may morph into yet another neo-imperialist redistribution of the spoils of war, with France and the U.S. pushing aside Italy, the former colonial power, to whom  Qaddafi granted the biggest oil and gas concessions. So what else is new?

Massive Non-Violent Resistance

What is new in the rolling Arab revolts of the past two months (as well as in the mass demonstrations and labor strikes in Iran that preceded them) is the successful use of Non-Violent Resistance, another aspect generally ignored by the Left. What the Arab masses have taught us is that massive non-violent resistance – demonstrations, sit-ins, mass occupations, strikes – can bring violent dictatorships to their knees. To be effective, of course, non-violent revolt needs to be massive. Up until now, dictatorships – by controlling the mass media, banning meetings, and persecuting dissidents – have been largely successful in isolating their subjects and preventing people power to reach a ‘critical mass.’ Today, the 21st Century connectivity of interactive Internet sites, cell-phones and social media – widely available everywhere on the planet — have changed that equation in favor of mass democratic movements of the oppressed.

This lesson has been largely ignored by the Left, which remains fixated on losing strategies like armed resistance and guerrilla warfare, which over and over again have proven counterproductive. On the other hand, the new tactic spread instantly to the grass-roots labor movement in Wisconsin, which consciously took its inspiration from Tahrir Square — and received support from the Egyptian Teachers’ Union! (I love the irony of A-rabs teaching us Amurricans democracy!) What these movements showed is that non-violent resistance encourages positive democratic and socialist values. In Egypt we saw women and men, young and old, workers and professionals, secularists, Christians and Moslems spontaneously joined in mutual respect and solidarity, while street crime fell as the police vanished and neighborhoods organized and picked up the trash. Indeed, an admirable prefiguration of true democracy (including respect for women) was established for two weeks among the thousands in Tahrir Square (and among the occupiers of the Wisconsin State Capitol as well).

Was massive non-violence possible in Libya? Could it have succeeded in overthrowing  Qaddafi as it did Egypt’s longtime dictator Mubarak and his power-hungry sons? We can never know; but what we do know is that the armed defenders of the popular movement are no match for  Qaddafi’s U.S.-supplied armor, elite units and mercenaries and that a brutal civil war and a lethal foreign intervention have resulted. However, a perhaps more useful comparison would be with the democratic movement in Yemen, which like Libya, remains a traditionally warlike society — one where armed factional conflict is endemic. Yet what is remarkable about Yemen is that the mass movement, like that of Egypt, has remained non-violent in the face of government-sponsored armed aggression. Indeed, the tribal warriors who have joined the movement have apparently left their weapons at home, with the result that the movement has remained unified and keeps growing, whereas Libya will remain mired in bloody civil war for the foreseeable future with a real danger of dismemberment. In Syria too, where in 1982 the Baathist dictator Hafez al-Assad (father of the current dictator) massacred 10 to 25,000 men women and children at Hama during the 1982 Islamist uprising, the demonstrators have remained non-violent.

Abstract Posturing or Concrete Solidarity?

Returning to the ‘No Bombing in Libya’ campaign, I certainly agree that the U.S.-France led intervention is hypocritical. However, it also strikes me as hypocritical that left organizations that remained relatively quiet during the inspiring, non-violent, labor, youth and women’s’ demonstrations in Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and now Syria — have suddenly and loudly jumped on this ‘anti-US-imperialism’ bandwagon during a highly ambiguous open-ended situation in Libya. To me it was shocking that here in France, with over 10% Arab population and a heavy colonialist past, there were so few solidarity demonstrations with such low turnout. Nor have I seen much criticism on the Left of the self-proclaimed socialist Chavez, who courts Iranian President Ahmadinejad and has long supported the monstrous Qaddafi to the hilt.

During most of my life-time the ‘Left’ and much of the peace movement supported totalitarian Communist regimes and parties as ‘anti-imperialist’, and now it is objectively supporting that great ‘anti-imperialist’ Qaddafi! When will some people learn that the enemies of our enemies are not necessarily our friends? It is all too easy to soothe the liberal conscience by being AGAINST — for example against the US government, which I agree is always motivated by power and greed. Much more complicated to say what you’re FOR and to develop links of solidarity with people in struggle, like the women and workers’ movements US-occupied Afghanistan and Iraq as well as in the newly vibrant Arab world.

Radical posturing may feel good, but what is needed is ongoing solidarity with people in struggle — the long haul — which is not so easy. For those who wish to join the popular resistance, I recommend becoming part of U.S. Labor Against the War which gives direct support to the struggle for labor and women’s rights in the Middle East.


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