some notes on libya and imperialist intervention today

8 07 2011

Joe Thorne spent a week in Western Libya during June.

The following is a series of disconnected notes responding to the questions which I am most often asked about my visit, which was an observer of, but not at all a participant in, events.  As a communist returning from a civil war – one which is, in some sense, a revolution, but ultimately no more than a bourgeois one – the most frequent question I’ve been asked is: is there any visible class or political division within the rebel camp?  The blunt answer to this, at least in the West, is: no.

A rebel flag is held aloft at a funeral in Nalut, Western Libya

The economic base

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which is operating this scheme has no way of checking anyone’s balance, so is keeping a running total of what has been ‘withdrawn’.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 may be different in the East, where a much lower proportion of Libyans have fled, but in the West there is obviously no material basis for class struggle – in a real sense, Gaddafi is the main threat.  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.

Tribalism and politics

In The Commune previously, we had published research which suggested that the civil war might have taken on a tribal dimension.  That is, rather than being based on liberal democratic politics, it was based on sectarian competition for resources and power.  Without having access to senior rebel figures, I can only comment on the popular sentiment, which in the West is markedly and avowedly anti-sectarian.  Rebels from Tripoli are fighting in the West along with the local Amazigh (Berber) rebels.  Repeatedly, wherever rebels were from, rebels emphasised their solidarity with each other, their desire for a united Libya, and how the rebellion had brought them even closer together.  It was emphasised several times that Gaddafi used to encourage tribalism, setting Amazigh against Arab, and against the other tribes.  So there is a reaction to that.

It is also worth being aware that the Libyan diaspora, including in the UK (and particularly in Manchester, the major centre for that community have heavily mobilised to support the rebellion.  That means money and it means people with medical skills returning to help.  Apparently a large proportion of the pick-up trucks used as the main military vehicle in the West were bought second hand in the UK (where they are very cheap), and brought through Tunisia somehow.  It also means people going over to fight.  What long-term ramifications this will have, if any, I don’t know – but it is interesting to consider the impact having participated, albeit at some remove, in a civil war will have on the diaspora in the West.

Politically, there are differing ideologies which motivate rebels.  Some (typically older) have the idea that “God gives every tyrant a certain number of chances, but if he wastes them, then god will depose him”.  There is a passage from the Koran which says something like this.  Others (more, in my perception) want a western-style liberal democracy – no small number 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 perspective there: 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.

NATO and intervention

This section should be read as rough notes, and a contribution to a debate, not a finished perspective.

Whilst I was there, rebels tended to be highly critical of NATO.   Their view was that NATO was not doing enough to help them.  Indeed, as it has been pointed out elsewhere, NATO seems not to be especially interested in helping the rebels beat Gaddafi in the field, and more in bombing bunkers in Tripoli.  It is possible that this is a product of a strategic orientation toward provoking a coup from within the Gaddafi regime, to remove the dictator and his family, but to allow the remainder to compromise with the rebel armies, and usher in a new regime based on similar interest blocs as the old one.

Within The Commune, most of those who have participated in our internal debate (see here for a few extracts) tend to say, straightforwardly, that if we were able we ought to try to stop the ongoing NATO intervention.  I find this position more difficult than most people, simply because it seems possible that the material affect of stopping the intervention may be simply for the rebellion to be crushed, autocracy to be restored, and alot of people with basic democratic aspirations to get killed.

(A caveat for the debate: this was certainly true when the intervention began, but currently it is debatable how far it is the case, since NATO isn’t putting tremendous amounts of effort into attacking Gaddafi’s tanks and heavy weapons – but since I’m not a military analyst, I don’t want to try and estimate exactly how important it is at the moment for ensuring the basic survival of the rebellion.)

In the past, communists have been for the victory of bourgeois-democratic revolutions (of which the rebellion in Libya is an example), and participated in them, constituting an independent pole as much as possible.  So although, in general, we don’t take sides between bourgeois factions, when one of those factions is seeking to establish ‘democratic’ space against the background of complete totalitarianism, I don’t think we’re neutral about that, and our general perspective would probably be something like ‘fight against the old regime, but maintain independence from the new bourgeoisie’.  I think most of us probably accept that in general, and in Libya, that would mean fighting against Gadaffi.

This obviously poses a problem when imperialism’s intervention in some way supports such a revolution.  Now, I don’t want to exaggerate how far this is the case.  As indicated above, it’s doubtful that NATO is trying to straightforwardly help the rebels, and certainly not ‘democracy’ as a principle.  They’d be happy with a dictator, or a highly corrupt, oligarchic system, democratic only in formality, who would secure their influence.  This may well be what happens.  I also don’t want to exaggerate the extent to which this is an important phenomenon in the world system.  Contra the arguments of the AWL (who think it to have been true in the Kosovo war, the fighting between Hamas and Fatah in Palestine, and the occupation of Iraq, for example), I don’t think this has ever been the case before in the current period.  In Kosovo where the AWL, as it were, got their way (insofar as there was no successful movement against war), thousands of innocent Kosovans were killed as a result.  The same is true in Iraq.

I also don’t want to place too much faith in the Libyan rebels, or rather their leadership.  It is quite possible that a new dictatorship will emerge from within the rebellion, as it has before – in the case of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, for example, who used alot of democratic and socialist rhetoric during the anti-colonial struggle in Rhodesia, and was the object of ‘critical solidarity’ from sections of the left.  However, I also don’t want to say that automatically any non-revolutionary democratic struggle in the current period will turn to despotic reaction.  (I think Trotsky had a view something like this.)  This amounts to defeatism, unless we think that communist revolution is on the cards immediately, in the way a democratic rebellion obviously is.  Surely Libyans have a right to try.

However, those caveats aside, I disagree with those comrades who believe that our general opposition to imperialism necessarily amounts to specific attempts to stop it doing everything, at all times, with absolutely no regard for the consequences.  It seems to me that there needs to be a balance between our analysis of the overarching character of imperialism, and an analysis of the particular things it does.  It surely can’t be the case that we’re totally indifferent to whatever happens as a result of our actions.

I have heard several arguments against this.  One is that imperialism always poses (at least in the current period) everything it does in terms of an immediate humanitarian crisis (or other crisis posing a grave risk to civilians) to which it must respond.  Consequently, to fall into the trap of accepting that the consequences of intervention either happening or not happening are the metric by which the question is judged, it is said, to play imperialism’s game – to accept the moral paradigm.  According to this view, imperialism constantly expresses itself through a series of particular choices, of which each, or at least the most important, may seem individually ‘humanitarian’, but the total effect of the systemic dynamic over time is totally malign.

But this isn’t true.  It has been both possible and necessary to oppose imperialism’s particular plans over the past several decades on grounds of what they have actually proposed to do, and the actual consequences which would flow from that.  Of course, they postured over Kosovo, Iraq, and they posture still over Palestine.  But it is perfectly possible to see through such postures and expose them on the ground of materialist analysis of what is actually going on.  If it is possible to do that in the case of Libya, somebody should do it.  If people don’t care what happens as a consequence of things they do, they should say so outright: and we can have the conversation on that basis.  Reacting to things solely in terms of the ideas they represent on a general level is purest idealism.

Another important line of debate over this question goes as follows.  If it’s the case that we have to take some responsibility for the predictable consequences of our actions (as I imply), what about strikes for economic objectives which would hurt the war effort?  This is hardly an issue for the NATO campaign in Libya, but during World War II, it was very important: and the Communist Party of Great Britain opposed workers striking, on the grounds that it would hinder the war effort, which was by then being carried out in alliance with the USSR.

However, I think we can agree that just because we would oppose one thing to stop a war, it doesn’t mean we should stop another.  We could support strikes such as those mentioned during WWII, yet think it would be reactionary to go around chopping down electricity pylons, or damaging railway tracks as acts of general sabotage.  The point is that mass strikes potentially express the sort of class dynamic that can, in the long run, exceed its apparent limits, and point the way to a movement beyond the choices which bourgeois politics provides to us.  Such dynamics are the whole basis of what we are trying to achieve politically.  But what if a mass anti-war movement was willing and able to begin invading NATO air force bases in Italy today?  Perhaps then, again, the mass class dynamic would be important enough to over-ride the specific consequences, in Libya, of the movement’s success as such.  But, then again, that is only a ‘perhaps’: merely by being large and against a particular government policy, movements are not necessarily communistic – if their basic demand is for something reactionary.

So: I don’t know what conclusion to draw on this question.  Most members of the group are confidently anti-intervention – yet no one has produced a comprehensive articulation of this position.

The need for an analysis of contemporary imperialism

Colonialism, anti-colonialism, world-war, and dual-imperialist cold war are no longer the defining paradigms of the interstate system in the way in which they were throughout most of the 20th Century.  We are now in a period of quasi-permanent asymmetric war, post-colonial ‘anti-imperialist’ militias (often with ‘Islamist’ or, less importantly, pseudo-socialist ideologies), and ‘humanitarian intervention’ by the UN or NATO as the ideological paradigm for the West’s military adventures abroad.  The significance of these features, and their real, material operation, in Libya and elsewhere, needs to be better analysed.

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24 responses

8 07 2011
Boffy

A very thoughtful piece of analysis and reporting. However, I think its necessary to draw a distinction between the support NATO is providing for trhe rebels in the West, and those in the East as I have suggested here. Its not true, actually that NATO has not been supporting the rebels. A couple of months ago it was reported on foreign TV that the rebels in the East had been provided with some of the latest weaponry, including heat seeking rockets, and France last week said openly that it had been air dropping weapons to rebels.

As I’ve said in the link above, the reason for the the different attitude of Imperialism to those in the East and those in the West, is that the Imperialists were having negotiations with the Eastern rebel leaders, including those who were formerly part of Gaddafi’s regime, for several months BEFORE the Benghazi rebllion broke out. The rebels in the West are more of an unknown quantity for them. And although, the western rebels may be anti-sectarian, the reality is that once the central authority goes it is quite likely that the eastern rebels will seek with the help of Imperialism to exert its power, and their will be a reaction to that. EU Imperialism is already aware of that danger, which is why it has already drawn up plans to introduce a Protectorate i.e. to put boots on the ground to ensure stability, once Gaddafi has gone.

But, this brings me to what I think is a crucial question for a Historical Materialist in analysing the conditions in Libya, and determining what is possible. That is what are the actual material conditions existing in Libya, which make Bouregois Democracy possible? Libya is not Egypt or even Tunisia. You have set out the conditions in the West, but outside Tripoli and Benghazi that picture could be reproduced. Libya is a country which is still effectively pre-Capitalist in terms of its relations of production. The vast majority of the country’s wealth comes in the form of oil revenues i.e. it is a rent based economy. Even there it is highly dependent upon foreign labour within that main industry. Pretty much all other economic activity in the country is dependent upon the revenues created in the Oil industry.

These are the kinds of conditions that create the kind of social relations that lead to some kind of feudal regime, or else at best some kind of modernising Bonapartism. They are not the material conditions that can sustain Bourgeois Democracy. In fact, as you hint at in your piece what we have seen time and again under similar conditions is at best the imposition of some kind of faux bourgeois democracy that only hides the real Bonapartist nature of the regime. I think Trotsky’s example of a war between a fascist Brazil and Britain is pretty appropriate under those conditions.

That is no reason to be defeatist, but it is all the more reason to be hostile to the intervention of Imperialism, and wary of the potential new Bonaparte. It is an argument for focussing even more intently on developing an independent workers movement in Libya, and attempting to build links between it, and workers in the rest of MENA.

On the general opposing Imperialism question, I think the argument takes place in an atmosphere that is highly abstract. It takes place as though those arguing it were in the same position as the Communist International in the 1920′s or 30′s, rather than being insignifcant sects. The truth is that it is quite possible for Communists to argue a principled position of opposition to Imperialist intervention, and for a workers solution, because they are not able to stop Imperialism. But, if we WERE, then we would also be in a position to offer real active, effective support to workers in Libya and elsewhere ourselves, so the question of having to rely on Imperialism to provide that support would disappear!!! Its what happens when you fail to think dialectically. That is one of the legacies of the Third Camp, and the philosophical school of Burnham which Trotsky warned against.

8 07 2011
David

Hi, a few points.

1. I think you miss/fail to address the point on the tribalism Issue, which is that the existence/perception of tribalism has hardened Gaddafi’s own support base. Sectarianism is in the eye of the beholder – e.g. in N Ireland both sides are ‘avowedly’ anti-sectarian. I think we discussed this, e.g. in Mark Ellingsen’s piece you link to, a few weeks back.

I would also be interested in your views on the black population, who despite their huge number seem very absent from the conflict and reporting on it.

2. Typically we would refuse to support one capitalist force against another, including e.g. not backing Democrats vs Republicans, Britain versus Germany, even the Spanish Republic against Franco. These are all very different examples, and different degrees to which you fight one side more than the other. But they fit into the same conceptual framework, always pointing to class dynamics and not the alternatives offered by bourgeois politics.

In this sense, do you support the rebels? There may not be apparent class struggle but there certainly is a class dynamic in the rebel camp: it is not some general, classless struggle of ‘the people’ for ‘democracy’ but one which will establish a certain elite in power to rule in a certain way.

3.

“According to this view, imperialism constantly expresses itself through a series of particular choices, of which each, or at least the most important, may seem individually ‘humanitarian’, but the total effect of the systemic dynamic over time is totally malign. But this isn’t true. It has been both possible and necessary to oppose imperialism’s particular plans over the past several decades on grounds of what they have actually proposed to do, and the actual consequences which would flow from that.”

This doesn’t make sense. The fact that some of the particular expressions of liberal humanitarianism are also easy to expose as disastrous, does not refute the argument that liberal humanitarians make appeals to urgency and that this is used to obfuscate their historic/long-term role.

In many such interventions the outcome is contradictory. The US really did create parliamentary democratic structures in Iraq, Belgium survived World War I, Kosovo is free from Serbia, the Falkland Islanders are free of the Argentine dictatorship, etc. etc.. But how can you abstract these ‘upsides’ from the negatives, not just wasted human life but also the ongoing effort to project UK, US etc. state power across the world.

Sometimes people make easily-refuted gloomy predictions as to the likely consequences of western imperialist actions. But I think people who claim there will be no democracy in Libya post-war are wrong. It would be difficult for them not to do it, much as in Iraq. Rather,the question is how can you possibly weigh up the pros and cons. How many lives is the right to vote in an election worth? The Iraq war and occupation killed far more than Saddam would have if left in power over these last eight years: but what about given another ten or twenty years?

I think opposition to your own government, opposition to the logic it uses to justify its imperialism, really is the point. If we cannot actually influence the events all we can do is draw out the necessary political lessons and critique, such as to educate people to oppose British imperialism. Saying that is not in itself communistic seems to be a bit of an ‘ultimatumist’ attitude…

4.

Because, when you say “what if a mass anti-war movement was willing and able to begin invading NATO air force bases in Italy today? Perhaps then, again, the mass class dynamic would be important enough to over-ride the specific consequences, in Libya, of the movement’s success as such.”

I think yes, of course that would be great!

The strikes in e.g. Britain during WWII were extremely ‘political’ since they cut through every ruling-class line about pulling together against the Hun and much-repeated arguments about how they were betraying front line troops. In Stalinist eyes the question was: how many soldiers, or Poles, or Jews’ lives, was British workers’ right to strike worth? In these terms you can only choose to oppose the strike.

But nonetheless I would maintain that those who chose to defend the principles of class organisation, of democracy, of anti-imperialism, were right to act as they did in spite of the immediate consequences. You can’t just suspend the class struggle for a bit until our rulers have made the world safe for us again, as all the social-democrats said in both world wars.

Much as the fallout of the Libya war will long survive Gaddafi and the TNC, if it succeeds in reviving liberal humanitarianism, so too will an intransigent communist policy of anti-imperialism survive the specifics of this conflict. The AWL line: we are anti-imperialists, just not when there’s a war on, totally refuses to respect the need to defend an independent class perspective even when conditions are apparently hopeless.

The point I had made about cutting down phone lines in WWII is that it has no class or mass character. But even for an anti-Nazi in Germany during WWII it would have been an odd thing to do.

8 07 2011
Daniel Harvey

“If people don’t care what happens as a consequence of things they do, they should say so outright: and we can have the conversation on that basis. Reacting to things solely in terms of the ideas they represent on a general level is purest idealism.”

The real problem with the so called “realist” position that you have adopted is that it is precisely only “realism” inside the coordinates laid out within bourgeois led imperialism. Any revolutionary force, of necessity, appears from outside those coordinates, outside the choices which are presented as “realistic”. It is your literal mindedness which has let you down here – that we must swallow whole the alternatives given to us, without any attempt to carve out our own. Yes I absolutely reject imperialism, and want to utterly destroy it as a force capable of doing anything. It is only in the absence, the complete absence, of that power that a real revolutionary movement can achieve anything. That is not idealism, that is the only realistic road to communism.

9 07 2011
c0mmunard

Boffy – I think you’re misinterpreting some of the evidence in your blog posts. For example, the fact that Red Cross ships go between Benghazi and Tripoli is just an expression of the fact that people are prepared to take great risks to be with their family.

Could you post some links for the things about Western powers being “invited in” to establish a “protectorate”, and meetings with Benghazi rebels prior to the rebellion?

David –

1. Come off it, in Northern Ireland both sides are not avowedly anti-sectarian. For a large part of the last 50 years there has been a definite policy of seeking numerical, political and economic superiority by each side.

Sectarianism is not just in the eye of the beholder, it’s a material dynamic. If there is a perception of sectarianism which has been fostered by Gaddafi, falsely, in order to shore up support, there’s no reason to pander to that. It’s simply a specific expression of the general fact that the ruling class will always try to manipulate sections of the population to their agenda. I’m also not aware of any evidence having been produced that there is such a perception. Are you? I’m happy to believe there is some such perception, but it’d be good to be able to talk concretely…

This said, I think that, as Boffy suggests, it is more than possible that after the rebellion alot of tribal dynamics will re-awaken – but they’re aren’t what’s driving things now.

I saw black people participating in the fighting and other aspects of the rebellion, including in senior roles, although they tended still to be somewhat North African in appearance. I think the issue was never ‘black people’ as such, but migrant workers: against whom their were undoubtedly racist attacks at points.

In general, though, I’m not sure why you’re making these points. After all, your position is that you aren’t bothered, politically, what actually happens. There could be no rebel sectarianism, and the black people could be slaughtered on mass if Gaddafi wins – but that wouldn’t change your approach, would it, since it would be a concession to mere events?

2. I don’t support the rebel political formations, but I believe that if I was in Libya I would be involved in the rebellion in some capacity whilst trying to develop some sort of independent critical pole… what do you reckon? Sit it out? Could be right, we’ll see…

3.

“This doesn’t make sense. The fact that some of the particular expressions of liberal humanitarianism are also easy to expose as disastrous, does not refute the argument that liberal humanitarians make appeals to urgency and that this is used to obfuscate their historic/long-term role.”

It does make sense. Because it’s obvious that they make such appeals, but the mere act of such appeals is not decisive if they can be exposed, because that makes it possible to react to actuality, not rhetoric. If the long term historic role is dependent on the putting into effect of the disastrous expressions you mention (which presumably amount to an owverwhelming majority), then stopping the disastrous ones would be sufficient

In many such interventions the outcome is contradictory. The US really did create parliamentary democratic structures in Iraq, Belgium survived World War I, Kosovo is free from Serbia, the Falkland Islanders are free of the Argentine dictatorship, etc. etc.. But how can you abstract these ‘upsides’ from the negatives, not just wasted human life but also the ongoing effort to project UK, US etc. state power across the world.

I think in those cases it’s really obvious that any up-sides are outweighed by the negatives… However, I think this is an important point:

Sometimes people make easily-refuted gloomy predictions as to the likely consequences of western imperialist actions. But I think people who claim there will be no democracy in Libya post-war are wrong. It would be difficult for them not to do it, much as in Iraq. Rather,the question is how can you possibly weigh up the pros and cons. How many lives is the right to vote in an election worth? The Iraq war and occupation killed far more than Saddam would have if left in power over these last eight years: but what about given another ten or twenty years?

… and it’s also an argument I’ve used myself before, so I’ll have to think about it again. After all, whatever metric you use to evaluate things, it’s necessarily going to be different at different times – better at points A, E and F, but not B, C, D and G… not to mention the question, as you say, of how to weigh up such a number of live against qualitative gains in “working class power” or “democracy” and so on. I think there are some cases where it’s just overwhelmingly obvious: such as the examples you gave above, WWI, Kosovo, Iraq. But it doesn’t follow that it’s always going to be obvious… one answer to your final question is well, maybe you can’t, but then don’t say anything on the level of tactics at all, if you can’t make such a judgement. Just denounce both sides, document their barbarity, urge no faith in either, and leave it at that.

4.

The strikes in e.g. Britain during WWII were extremely ‘political’ since they cut through every ruling-class line about pulling together against the Hun and much-repeated arguments about how they were betraying front line troops. In Stalinist eyes the question was: how many soldiers, or Poles, or Jews’ lives, was British workers’ right to strike worth? In these terms you can only choose to oppose the strike. But nonetheless I would maintain that those who chose to defend the principles of class organisation, of democracy, of anti-imperialism, were right to act as they did in spite of the immediate consequences.

I’ll think about this. How far were the strikes explicitly anti-war? How far did participants express anti-war sentiments as individuals, and how far did they see themselves as having a fundamental conflict with their ruling class, rather than a momentary dispute?

You can’t just suspend the class struggle for a bit until our rulers have made the world safe for us again, as all the social-democrats said in both world wars.

Surely not raising a particular slogan is not suspending the class struggle? It is just deprioritising one particular front of the class struggle in relation to others

However, finally, liberal humanitarianism doesn’t need reviving. It never died, or even looked unhealthy. The ability to sustain a long-term occupation in the Middle East and Asia? Now, that does look unhealthy – but that’s a different thing.

Dan – well, true, I am somewhat literal minded. I agree we need to carve out our own alternatives and not rely forever on the choices we are given. So I’m not sure what I’m saying conflicts with that, but if it does, then that is a problem.

9 07 2011
davidbroder

On N Ireland – “avowedly” i.e. They claim to advance general non-sectarian goals but in fact are sectarian, which is my point.

Similarly my point that what matters with sectarianism is if people perceive it to exist, does not at all exclude it being a real and concrete thing

Will reply to rest later.

9 07 2011
Daniel Harvey

“Dan – well, true, I am somewhat literal minded. I agree we need to carve out our own alternatives and not rely forever on the choices we are given. So I’m not sure what I’m saying conflicts with that, but if it does, then that is a problem.”

It certainly is a problem. If we’ve learnt anything then it has to be that there is no future point when ‘the time will be right’ or when the ‘class situation will ripen’. People tolerate life under the heel forever so long as they keep shutting out the possibility of rebellion. We have to act as though the revolution is always happening in the present, and that we’re all always living through the revolution ourselves. That means not just tacking on building new possibilities on our ‘to-do’ list as some sort of problematic afterthought – it means doing it now, and not doing it is the same as giving up on revolutionary politics completely. This doesn’t condemn your Libya activities, so long as you are trying to develop that possibility in some fashion. I think exposing NATO’s hypocrisy is part of this, but you either support this institution in principle or you don’t. Additionally, you don’t offer qualified support to some imperialism, but not others, as though imperialism is not a global unified system, rather what you seem to think it is, a series of disconnected acts. You can’t do a deal with the devil and come out on top.

9 07 2011
Boffy

Communard,

The point is that the Benghazi residents who left Tripoli did so with Gaddafi assisting the Red Cross in bringing that about! This does not seem to tally with the idea that Gaddafi was about to massacre Benghazians willy-nilly. Moreover, the Channel 4 report says that neither Amnesty nor Human Rights Watch have been able to find any evidence of the kind of atrocities that both the rebels and the Imperialists have claimed as the basis of the intervention. True they have no evidence to the contrary, but that is hardly the same.

The stories about the arming of the rebels, the connections between the rebels and the Imperialists before the rebellion, and about the proposal to set up a protectorate have been carried on Euronews, France24 and RT. I will have to dig out those stories, and will post when I have.

David,

I agree with most of what you have said. However, I’d qualify on the point about the establishment of democracy. The stance I take is that as Lenin said following Engels, the bouregoisie, particularly the Big Bouregoisie, see bourgeois demcoracy as the best political shell for Capitalism, but by that they mean Capitalism proper i.e. industrialised Capitalism. That is so for the reasons Engels set out about the needs of that Big Capital, in his later Forewords to “The Condition of the Working Class”. It is the arguments I have set out in relation to the development of Fordism and Welfarism by that same Big Capital. In other words they have a tendency to favour bourgeois demcoracy, but not for any moral or otehr reason, buter merely because for indsutrial Capital, it is the best regime to ensure long-term stability, the pacification of the workers, and accumulation of Capital via Relative Surplus Value in an intensive regime of Capital Accumulation to use the French Marxist terminology.

But, that does not apply to conditions where we are talking about pre-industrial forms of Capital, or pre-Capitalist modes of production. In Libya Oil accounts for 25% of GDP, pretty much all of export income, and pretty much all of Government revenue. The rest of what could be classified as an industrial sector is largely dependent on the oil sector, or Government, apart from some that is foreign owned. I do not see a large middle class, or domestic bougeoisie, or a large working-class, which as Engels points out is required for bourgeois demcoracy, because nowhere has the middle class been able to establish its political rule without the support of the workers.

So, I do not as a matter of principle say that Imperialism will not establish bouregois democracy, a number of examples can be provided where it has, or where it has assisted domestic bourgeoisies in its formation. That is likely to be its perspective in Egypt. But, Libya is not Egypt. Its necessary to eamine the concrete reality to determine what is possible, and likely.

Even in Iraq, its difficult to describe what exists as Bouregois democracy, and there too when even the set up that currently exists looked unlikely, Imperialism was looking at installing a new strongman as an alternative. Even in the most favourable conditions where established industrialed economies existed – Germany and Japan post WWII – the introduction of bouregois democracy was done under extremely controlled conditions. In both cases huge occupying armies were in place. In germany, formner Nazis were brought back into the state and political elite, whilst the berufsverbot placed sever limitations on Communists. In Japan, the communist party, which was strong in workplaces was taken on and defeated, setting the conditions for 60 years of effective one party LDP rule.

Capital does not attempt to introduce bouregois democracy for any ideological or moral reasons, but purely to facilitate Capital Accumulation. Where the Mode of production, or material conditions do not favour it, it has no qualms about looking to a Feudal Monarch as in Saudi, a Bonapartist such as Mubarak, a military junta, or some kind of Colonial or neo-colonial regime.

9 07 2011
David

Not in any particular order….

1. To address the N Ireland point again: even before you went to Libya you said the rebels did not advance tribalist slogans/politics, I said of course they wouldn’t, even if there is a tribalist dynamic. They would hardly call themselves tribalists, would they? I think we would need more information from Tripoli before we could really pass judgement, although I’d also like to read any specific retort to Mark E’s piece.

2. Only some striking workers in WWII Britain would have been devotedly anti-war or anti-imperialist, and strikes were often over short-term or parochial workplace concerns. Often people were distrustful of the British ruling class in a funny kind of way, conspiracy theories, many millions of people listening to Lord Haw-Haw’s pro-German radio etc. It is quite well known that people booed the King and Queen and Winston Churchill at various ill-judged public appearances in the east end of London.

But the point with the strikes is that they had to defend their right to strike against a massive onslaught of nationalist, ‘we’re all in it together’ propaganda. As far as I can tell (and Britain is not my area of focus/research) a lot of them were motivated by a sentiment something like “we’re meant to be fighting for democracy, so where’s the democracy here?”. I don’t think that’s a narrow or sectional focus or that they were wrong to do so, it preserved a certain political consciousness and class confidence.

Remember, of course, most people in most countries in WWI supported their own government at first, but as it went on, the war seemed hopeless and conditions worsened, they turned against it. This was also a major worry for the competing governments in WWII, exploding most notably in Italy. Of course, in UK conflicts today where the other side has no chance of attacking the UK itself, this is not quite the same force.

3. I agree with Daniel.

The problem with what you’re saying, c0mmunard/Joe is that following your schema it would essentially be impossible to oppose any British imperialist action for want of us being able to provide some immediate, better alternative. Therefore you will invariably get caught up in knots trying to guess if over a certain period of time this or that alternative – over which we have no control or influence – is better. Over five, ten, twenty, etc. years, maybe the Iraq war would prove to have been ‘worth it’?…

I don’t think it’s idealist to say that. Ideas are themselves a material force and raising appropriate slogans and analysis can change people’s thinking, and thus the political situation we face. The AWL say, ‘we give no credit to NATO but are not against what they are doing’ – but in fact all the arguments they use to justify this position do in fact give credit to NATO by painting up Gaddafi’s crimes and stressing how great the rebels are. Since we have no guns to ship to Benghazi (still less Tripoli) the way we explain what is going on is effectively our only means of ‘giving support’ or ‘opposing’ either side.

Saying ‘NATO aren’t really helping the rebels’ to me sounds like an argument for them to intervene more rather than promoting distrust in NATO. It’s like when people called Blair a hypocrite – you invaded oil-rich Iraq, why not equally tyrannical Zimbabwe? He answered this directly in his autobiography: oh, I’d have loved to have invaded Zimbabwe.

Of course, some might furthermore say that opposing the intervention/calling for it to stop is essentially taking sides, i.e. with Gaddafi. I don’t accept that, it is no more true to say that than that opposing the Iraq war was pro-Saddam – indeed, a successful anti-war movement would have left him in power, but also would have struck a tremendous blow against ‘our’ imperialism.

Indeed, the idea that by opposing intervention you would take responsibility for the consequences of Gaddafi’s victory (even if you don’t intend to) has an obvious extension. Why not equally say that by not doing more to call for and bring about further NATO intervention, you are effectively taking responsibility for the consequences of that: i.e. that your negligence could let Gaddafi win?… Or that by not doing all you can to get out a Labour vote you are letting the Tories in, etc. etc.

So for this very reason I also don’t accept the charge that my position is that we ought to stand aloof from events. My question is, what can we do in Britain to advance communist politics. For me that is first and foremost about opposing our own ruling class. You might say that is a cosy default position, a ‘safe bet’, but actually thoroughgoing opposition to British imperialism/liberal humanitarianism is exactly the kind of position which the left is incredibly inconstant in sticking to.

Again, where you write

““According to this view, imperialism constantly expresses itself through a series of particular choices, of which each, or at least the most important, may seem individually ‘humanitarian’, but the total effect of the systemic dynamic over time is totally malign. But this isn’t true. It has been both possible and necessary to oppose imperialism’s particular plans over the past several decades on grounds of what they have actually proposed to do, and the actual consequences which would flow from that.”

…. the words “this isn’t true” don’t make sense, because what you write next doesn’t at all refute what goes before. The fact that some humanitarian adventures are more boldly disastrous than others does not refute the argument I make, that bourgeois politicians always excuse their individual imperialist projects on the basis that there is some urgent crisis which they just must leap to resolve. I think you underplay the force of this argument, and the way in which such ideas are able to create support for wars.

9 07 2011
Boffy

I haven’t found the more explicit TV pieces on the Western plans for Libya post Gaddafi, but this from Sky news, gives some of the flavour.

9 07 2011
Boffy

There is quite a good background piece by Peter Boyle here, and in it he quotes a wikileaks disclosure from the CIA in 2009, saying, Jabril was,

“a serious interlocutor who ‘gets’ the US perspective”.

10 07 2011
c0mmunard

1. Re Northern Ireland, the difference is between claiming one thing to the media, and consciously seeking to achieve another in private; and, on the other hand, there being no evidence, either on the subjective or objective levels, of the sort of tribalism you’re talking about, whether in Tripoli or elsewhere. Here’s a report from Tripoli which suggests substantial support for rebels:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/06/tripoli-night-battles-rebels-shootings

Find me one that cuts the other way, then we’ll have something to talk about. It’s conceivable that tribalism could be a material dynamic because of the perception of it. But what’s the story here? Libya has had tribal dynamics so can never have any sort of democracy? Half the people have to wait for the others to become non tribalist? They should just accept that they’re a ‘tribal’ society, and give up? Unless there’s some affirmatively tribal aspect to the rebellion, I don’t see what there is to object to.

As I say, I also don’t think it’s that relevant to the discussion, since you don’t really care about the question. Even if you were totally confident that there was no substantial tribal dynamic, it wouldn’t change your position one bit.

3.

following your schema it would essentially be impossible to oppose any British imperialist action for want of us being able to provide some immediate, better alternative.

Only in the limited sense in which “don’t do it” is an alternative…

some might furthermore say that opposing the intervention/calling for it to stop is essentially taking sides, i.e. with Gaddafi. I don’t accept that

Me neither, and you’ll note that I’ve said nothing of the kind.

it is no more true to say that than that opposing the Iraq war was pro-Saddam – indeed, a successful anti-war movement would have left him in power, but also would have struck a tremendous blow against ‘our’ imperialism.

Although you don’t actually say it referring to the Iraq war is at interesting case study. Insofar as clearly the country is ‘more democratic’ now and there is ‘more space for the working class to organise’. So, by the AWL’s lights, although they did oppose (right?) the Iraq war, it’s not clear why, and simply on the basis of this logic it’s not clear that it’d be possible to do so… hmmm… the obvious difference here in Libya though is that there’s not so much on the down side, unless we think a military occupation beyond the bombing campaign to be likely. However, not clear that is a sufficient difference.

Indeed, the idea that by opposing intervention you would take responsibility for the consequences of Gaddafi’s victory (even if you don’t intend to) has an obvious extension. Why not equally say that by not doing more to call for and bring about further NATO intervention, you are effectively taking responsibility for the consequences of that: i.e. that your negligence could let Gaddafi win?… Or that by not doing all you can to get out a Labour vote you are letting the Tories in, etc. etc.

I don’t think responsibility works that mechanically. There’s a greater responsibility concomitant upon positively acting than not acting, although the latter certainly can generate responsibility… it also depends on the degree of difference. Labour and Tories, bad, but meh. It’s a bit different when there are vastly higher stakes.

Saying ‘NATO aren’t really helping the rebels’ to me sounds like an argument for them to intervene more rather than promoting distrust in NATO.

What do you think their plan is, and what do you think they are doing to achieve it, exactly? I see the problems with saying that, but I also want to be able to explain what is actually happening.

Final para – does make sense because I’m arguing that the question of whether there’s an excuse is not the important issue, it’s what’s actually happening.

Anyway – I’ve got some things to think about there. Questions for you -

– do you think communists in Libya ought to somehow join in with the rebel movement, or the fighting? Or should they just sit it out? Why – is it specific to Libya, or has the era of communist participation in ‘democratic revolutions’ passed for some reason?

– you’ve suggested previously that you’d be in favour of a strong grassroots anti-imperialist movement here, which was able to, directly aiding the rebels, for example by sending arms. Can you confirm this?

EDIT: interesting SWP article: http://isreview.org/issues/77/feat-libya&left.shtml

10 07 2011
davidbroder

“As I say, I also don’t think it’s that relevant to the discussion, since you don’t really care about the question. Even if you were totally confident that there was no substantial tribal dynamic, it wouldn’t change your position one bit.”

The tribalism point is one of just a series of ways of exposing the way in which the TNC are a bourgeois formation, I suppose in that sense there are plenty of other quite sufficient other ways to show that.

“Although you don’t actually say it referring to the Iraq war is at interesting case study. Insofar as clearly the country is ‘more democratic’ now and there is ‘more space for the working class to organise’. So, by the AWL’s lights, although they did oppose (right?) the Iraq war, it’s not clear why, and simply on the basis of this logic it’s not clear that it’d be possible to do so… hmmm…”

I can’t really imagine any conditions in which I would not oppose a NATO or western intervention in any country. I’m not particularly interested in questions of philosophy but for me that is more or less a fixed question of principle. The thing we are most able to affect, and which is most important to drawing a sharp political line against the state, is to oppose our ‘own’ government’s exertion of state power abroad.

“some might furthermore say that opposing the intervention/calling for it to stop is essentially taking sides, i.e. with Gaddafi. I don’t accept that…

Me neither, and you’ll note that I’ve said nothing of the kind.”

1. It is part of the general exposition of the argument, and a lot of people do indeed say this. You write in the initial piece that it is a draft report, no fixed conclusions etc. so in response I am trying to outline some terms of debate.
2. Am I right in thinking you assert that it is irresponsible to oppose the intervention because this would favour Gaddafi’s victory? The ISJ article you link to basically says victory to the rebels, no western intervention… I would be interested as to whether you think this is a tenable proposition.
3. Within your framework, do you think it would have been wrong to call for ‘NATO out’ earlier in the conflict, when Gaddafi threatened to crush Benghazi, but OK now given that this is today much less likely? You say NATO isn’t really helping the rebels, so what precise concern do you have about them stopping? If NATO is mainly interested in shaping the outcome of post-Gaddafi Libya, it seems reasonable to want them to stop, particularly if they do not provide any specific useful service to the rebels.

“- do you think communists in Libya ought to somehow join in with the rebel movement, or the fighting? Or should they just sit it out? Why – is it specific to Libya, or has the era of communist participation in ‘democratic revolutions’ passed for some reason?”

I would be in favour of them ‘shooting in the same direction’ as the TNC against Gaddafi. An independent class position does not require you to immediately declare open warfare against all sides.But their intervention would depend on any number of tactical concerns. I don’t know what the TNC attitude would be to independent communist formations or e.g. people who said they didn’t want ex-Gaddafi officials in the TNC. Equally I don’t remember saying an anti-war movement should ship arms to the rebels, it would depend entirely on who they were.

Moreover, I don’t think in any ‘democratic revolution’ communists would merely participate. They would also try to deepen and go beyond the limits of ‘democratic revolution’.

I know that’s obvious and you’ll agree, but it is an important issue to pose. In many struggles such as that of the ANC in South Africa, the fight against Pinochet in Chile, the French Resistance, Spanish Civil War etc. the people who said it was only a question of the (bourgeois) democratic revolution were Stalinists. In the Spanish Civil War example this led to open counter-revolution, and the creation of a new bourgeoisie in S Africa.

The obvious reply from you is – there is no class dynamic in Libya but there was in those. But if that is true then I’m not sure exactly what about the civil war in Libya is worthy of our focus. Surely a class dynamic is at least possible, maybe even if not in the TNC vs. Gaddafi fighting itself. I mean, what proportion of the population is actively engaged in the conflict? If there were a faction fight between more and less ‘liberal’ wings of e.g. the Qatar ruling clique, we wouldn’t support some kind of palace coup, even if one side was clearly subjectively less bad.

“the question of whether there’s an excuse is not the important issue, it’s what’s actually happening.”

But the point is that the ‘excuse’, or rather, official ideology of liberal humanitarianism, is a tool for building support for wars, which has a very material consequence on what actually happens. Arguing against those ideas can also therefore have an impact on events…

10 07 2011
Boffy

David,

Pretty much agree with all your points here. In principle, as I’ve written on my blog, our attitude has to be “tactical flexibility”, making a tactical alliance with at least sections of the rebels to oppose Gaddafi, and similarly making alliances with pro-Gaddafi forces to oppose Imperialism, as well as trying to build onks with worekrs/urban poor in Tripoli. But, in practice the viability of that depends on the concrete condiiotns on the ground at any particular time. In reality the smallness of the forces of revolutionary socialism internationally and in Libya, make it a hypothetic question. But, if we want to change that position we have to argue Communist politics, not the “practical politics” of merely what is possible at the given time. It is indeed, a repetition of the argument you, I and others made about building a movement in Iraq, rather than taking a defeatist attitude that nothing could be done other than rely on the Imperialists to fight our battles.

Joe,

Surely the question of tribalism is important when you are considering whether bouregois demcoracy is possible. Iraq is demonstrating that agin, as indeed are the continuing bouts of violence in NI. The reality as any political sociologist knows is that every bourgeois democracy has to contend with a series of cross – cutting cleavages, and the extent to which these pose a problem for that democracy largely depend upon their severity. Vertical cleavages such as race, gender etc. pose less of a problem in a developed, affluent society, because in such societies horizontal cleavages of class and status predominate.

But, the truth is that in most long established bouregois democracies other vertical cleavages were resolved by a dominant group achieving a historic victory over other groups. The numerous wars in Britain between contending Kings and Kingdoms, prior to the establishment of the Nation State are an example of that, as is the victory of the Franks over the numerous nationalities that make up the French nation state. Rarely do such differences resolve themselves peacefully in such situations. Where the victory of one dominant group does not occur, it is usally only because some Bonaparte imposes a “National Will” over all contending forces. Cromwell carried out that function, but we can see numerous examples of it in the Middle East, and Africa, and to some extent in Asia. Its not an accident that people like Tito, Gaddafi, Nasser, Saddam and others arose, and their power was not solely based on rising above classes, but rising above other competing social groups – indeed in many of these societies class conflict was not sufficiently developed to allow the State to rise above classes.

On the rebels in Tripoli, and BBC reporting, having watched many of these reports, they have never shown any of these actual outbreaks. We are told about mysterious gunfire at night, which I would ahve thought was quite likely given such a heavily armed city. The impression I have of some of the interviews done with the “rebels” in the City is that they could quite easily be western Special Forces groups attempting to stir up rebellion, or give the impression of its existence. Given the pressure being applied, the five week waits for petrol, and so on, you would really have expected that if there really was sizeable opposition it would have manifested itself by now. After all how do you reconcile its absence with the continuing mass mobilisations in Syria, in the face of massive military firepower being used against the people?

I have no doubt that there IS opposition to Gaddafi within Tripoli, but given that also many people in Tripoli are themselves dependent for their existence on the Libyan State, and therefore, Gaddafi, both as State employees, and as beneficiaries of quite high levels of social support fiannced from oil revenues. However, as Trotsky pointed out in relation to the calls by the Stalinists for western intervention against Hitler, the most natural response would be for the people to rally around even a hated leader, against an even more hated foreign interference.

11 07 2011
Martyn

Thanks Joe

thats a really useful report and tallies to a great extent with my understanding of the issues

11 07 2011
Sacha Ismail

I think Joe’s comments about Kosova miss the point.

Yes, the intervention was used by Milosevic as a cover to step up his drive against the Kosovars. This is a point the AWL made repeatedly at the time, and it is an additional reason why we did not and could not call for NATO intervention. But

a) While it may have led to hundreds more deaths, it doesn’t follow that the final outcome was worse for the Kosovars;

b) Once the bombing had started, it didn’t follow that stopping it would lead to an easing off of the anti-Kosovar drive. On the contrary, it could only have meant Milosevic conclusively finishing the job. (And staying in power, rather than being overthrown a year later.) Therefore “Stop the bombing” did not follow. That’s why once the bombing had started we quickly shifted our position. (Cf the US presence in Iraq steadily made things worse; but it doesn’t follow that US withdrawal would at every point have made things better.)

11 07 2011
Boffy

Did the bombing in Serbia, and intervention of Imperialism in Kosovo on the side of the Kosovan Albanians make things better for the Kosovan Serbs who were subsequently murdered, and ethnically cleansed from Kosovo? Has it done anything to assist in building working-class solidarity between Serbs and Albanians? Has it increased or decreased the idea that Communists believe in of building independent working-class solutions to problems, or has it strengthened the idea that the working-class is incapable of providing such solutions, of building such international links, and instead has to rely on the bouregosiie and its state to provide those solutions?

Trotsky opposed the USSR’s invasion of Poland precisely because, although the end result – sweeping away of the old exploiting classes – was progressive, the means of achieving it was not. It weakened he said the idea that workers have to provide their own solutions and free themselves, and strengthened the idea propounded by the Stalinists that such goals could be achieved by military/bureaucratic means. It is precisely for that reason that in analysing our attitude to such events we cannot simply take a superfical subjectivist view that the bourgeoisie are achieving the goals we ourselves have set. The immediate limited event is not our goal, and our real goal cannot be separated from the means used to achieve it. Our real goal is Socialism, which can only be achieved by a self-acting, independent working-class, and anything that undermines the building of that independent, self-acting working class, by instead relying on the forces of the bouregoisie, or of bureaucratic/military power is contrary to our real goal, and should be opposed.

11 07 2011
Boffy

Suppose their is a very bitter industrial dispute. The workers are suffering at the hands of a vicious, anti-union boss. It looks as though they will all be sacked. The TUC intervenes, and proposes taking the dispute to ACAS. Marxists oppose such a solution, arguing that workers even in such a desperate situation should rely on their own strength, and seek to mobilise the support and solidarity of other workers.

Would the fact, of the dispute being taken to ACAS, and a limitation of the bosses plans to sack all the workers change our position? Would we argue that we should shut up and not oppose the move, because of the temporary respite that it provided? A Marxist would not, a trade union bureaucrat, or reformist clearly would because they have illusions in the State, and are focussed only on the immediate issue, not on the question of building up an independent, working class capable of fighting its own battles evnif that means suffering numerous, painful defeats along the way.

11 07 2011
Martyn

Thats almost like a Callinicos ‘massacres happen’ shrug shoulders, sip tea, look away kind of approach. The working class of Misrata can’t be self-acting and independent if its dead

12 07 2011
c0mmunard

This is complicated: I spent all yesterday talking about Libya and the intervention with Libyans and others with an interest in the region.

I think Sacha’s comments about Kosovo and Iraq are a good starting point for staking out some of the virtues of David’s approach, which will also explain why I said what I did about Kosovo in the first place..

Sacha says that, although the bombing induced it, “it didn’t follow that stopping it would lead to an easing off of the anti-Kosovar drive.” (Was AWL firmly anti-war before it began btw? It’s not clear from the AWL ‘dossier’ on the question.) Similarly, about the Iraq war, he says “the US presence in Iraq steadily made things worse; but it doesn’t follow that US withdrawal would at every point have made things better”.

Now, this sort of analysis as a guide to action is unusable, since it isolates every moment to itself, and fails to see it as part of a wider dynamic. For Sacha, effectively, the correct position before the 1999 NATO campaign would have been something like “let’s stop the bombing… until it actually starts.” It’s a totally untenable position to take. How could you possibly mobilise or agitate on that basis?

Similarly in respect of Iraq, what’s the logic of this: “Troops out now” on Tuesday and Thursday, but not Wednesday? “No to occupying Iraq, until Iraq has been occupied”? This can’t work. There needs to be some overarching sense of what the intervention is, and why it is happening. So to this extent, I think David’s attitude has something to offer. I still feel uncomfortable with the lack of regard for the concrete specifics, but it does seem to be true that something of the general dynamic needs to be weighed up alongside that. (I also think AWL massively misunderstood the real dynamics in both Iraq and Kosovo, but something for another time…)

I will draw these problems out more in an article for the next issue of our paper.

Thats almost like a Callinicos ‘massacres happen’ shrug shoulders, sip tea, look away kind of approach. The working class of Misrata can’t be self-acting and independent if its dead

One problem is Martyn, so far at least 15,000 people have been killed, around half since the start of the bombing. Around 3,000 people are being killed a month at the moment. Terrible question to ask, but how long will it have to go on before the deaths resulting from the rebellion immediately being crushed would have been fewer? Another couple of months perhaps? I think by the end the difference will be pretty marginal.

The highest estimates would see the death toll around 3-4 times that, by the way: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/27/libya-death-toll-could-be_n_854582.html

The working class of Misrata has mostly fled, and wouldn’t be there if Gaddafi took the town. Likewise for most places. Like in Syria, there’d be a massive refugee crisis.

There’s other problems – one of which is that if the NATO powers wanted to save lives they could do it anywhere, not least in the current famine in Africa. It’s problematic to just accept their decision about where to intervene, and how as the basis for political agitation, rather than seeing it as something that can be challenged actively. Similarly, particularly now (when the end of NATO bombing won’t lead to the rebellion being crushed immediately) why not say “stop the bombing, arm the rebels”?

… and, for good measure, apparently some way further to the East of where I was, there is now some evidence of rebel tribalism in action: http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/10/reporters-notebook-reading-the-rebels-in-western-libya-pt-i/

Also to be featured in the article: what the Libyan diaspora in Manchester (the largest in the world) thinks of the SWP, and more analysis of what NATO is up to in Libya. . . Watch this space ;)

12 07 2011
Boffy

No, its not saying “Massacres happen so look the other way”. It is saying, be realistic, at the moment the forces of the revolutionary Left are too small to do anything about it – unless of course, you are volunteering to organise an International Brigade and go to fight, which of course, if you are that motivated you can always do. On that basis, what we can do, what we should do is to argue Communistic politics, and put forward what a Communist solution WOULD be if we were in a position to affect events. That is NOT to advise workers to put their faith in the bourgeoisie.

The reality is as Lenin and Trotsky put it, the interests of the part can never be palced higher than the interests of the whole, and like it or not, the interests of the workers of Misrata cannot be palced higher than the interests of the working class globally. The interests of the world working-class are not served by failing to oppose the actions of Imperialism in asserting its right to intervene where and wherever it chooses.

Finally, I’d point to Engels comments to Kautsky in relation to Socialist Colonial policy.

“India will perhaps, indeed very probably, make a revolution, and as a proletariat in process of self-emancipation cannot conduct any colonial wars, it would have to be allowed to run its course; it would not pass off without all sorts of destruction, of course, but that: sort of thing is inseparable from all revolutions. The same might also take place elsewhere, e.g. in Algeria and Egypt, and would certainly be the best thing for us. We shall have enough to do at home.”

So Engels thought that a victorious working class would have enough to do at home without trying to solve the problems of the rest of the world. Yet, today, comrades who belong to tiny sects of a few dozen people, themselves just an infinitessimal fraction even of the forces of the revolutionaries of 80 years ago, want to act not as serious revolutionaries, but as bleeding heart Liberals, or socialist Mother Teresa’s. Our job is to offer the working class a Marxist programme as the only real solution to their problems, not tea, sympathy and sticking plasters to cure a cancer.

12 07 2011
Boffy

Joe,

You said,

“Now, this sort of analysis as a guide to action is unusable, since it isolates every moment to itself, and fails to see it as part of a wider dynamic.”

That is absolutely correct. But it is not an accident that this is the case. It goes to the heart of the Philosophical basis of Third Campism as set out by Trotsky in his demolition of Burnham. That is that Third Campism rejects Marxism in favour of bourgeois formalism. It does not see history as a dialectical process, but merely as a series of discrete events – what in dialectics would be called moments – each of which is to be related to in its own terms, and, therefore, not in terms of something subordinate to the end goal, but as a goal in its own right. This means that each event is then seen not in historical terms as merely a moment within this process, but is approached in a subjectivist manner, the goal being reduced to a moral issue which in turn is decided according to the moral code of those involved. This is why the SWP can use this Third Camp method, and according to their Moral Code come to support the “anti-imperialist” clerical-fascists (because they fit their subjective view of what is morally good), whereas the AWL use that method and arrive at the conclusion of supporting the “democratic-imperialists” (because they fit their picture of what is morally good, whereas the clerical-fascists are morally bad).

This philosophical approach leaves no room for the idea that there are solutions outside those immediately practical, and which by raising them, change the circumstances, by building a movement, and thereby make those other solutions practically possible too – if not immediately in this particualr moment, then in other moments to come. By focussing on each moment as a discrete event, rather than as part of a process, the idea of “practical politics” becomes inevitable. But, practical politics on this basis means arguing contradictory positions at different moments, even when the basic facts of these moments are identical, but with different players. So the AWL thought an Imperialist intervention to stop Milosevic’s attacks on the Kosovan Albanians would be good, but opposed the Russian intervention to stop the Georgian massacre of South Ossetians. They argued that the Imperialists could not leave Iraq, because it would lead to the victory of the clerical-fascists/Civil War and so on, and yet, in the full knowledge that that would be the case too, argued for the Soviet Union to leave Afghanistan.

The reason, not any Marxist analysis, but mererly a Kantian moral Imperative – Milosevic (dictator) bad, Imperialism (democratic) good. Putin (Authoritarian) bad, Saakashvilli (friend of democratic Imperialism) good. It is thoroughly Opportunist in nature, and like Stalinism which operated on this same kind of basis, it is then forced to make continual zig-zags from moment to moment, event to event, performing logical acrobatics to justify the change of position, or else simply pretending no change has occurred – a laughable example of that was the AWL’s position on the labour party, writing loads of articles about the LP being a “stinking corpse”, and then some months later when a change of position came, writing articles wondering why some of their younger comrades had the mistaken view that the Labour Party was dead!!!

And, like Stalinism, if you are going to operate on that basis, then you are inevitably led to introduce a more authoritarian regime internally, and to adopt an agressive, bullying attitude to external criticism.

12 07 2011
c0mmunard

Although I’ve found David and Daniel’s comments largely inaccessible, perhaps the best way to put it is like this.

The best reason for opposing gulf war one was Kosovo, the best reason for opposing Kosovo was Afghanistan, and the best reason for opposing afghanistan was was gulf war two. So perhaps the best reason for opposing NATO in Libya is whichever intervention comes next… for me, this isn’t so much about any transcendent ideological battle, as the fact that if we can stop one, we can stop them all.

I’m gonna think more on that.

20 07 2011
Sacha Ismail

Arthur,

Where do I, or where does the AWL, argue that NATO’s intervention in Serbia/Kosova provided a long-term democratic, let alone working-class, solution to the conflicts in the Balkans? In fact we argued quite the opposite:

“One fact of life is that both the left and the revolutionary international socialists are, for now, a very weak force; so, politically, is the working class. That is why the demoralised and confused “Marxist” “anti-imperialists” look to even a Milosevic to “give NATO a bloody nose”. And why their socialist mirror image, the depoliticised, military-technology armchair generals of the shamefaced “Victory to NATO” camp wound up agitating for ground troops in Kosova.

“If NATO puts in ground troops, or bombs, or whatever, it will do it for ruling class reasons, not ours. It will carry out not our political programme, but theirs. The idea that it can be otherwise is fantastic wishful thinking. The idea that socialists should abandon their own political independence for a fantasy, a mere dream of influencing the ruling class to act against their own nature in accordance with ours. The “victory to NATO” socialists are, in the circumstances, less repulsive than the “victory to Milosevic” “Trots”. Both, however, are but the two poles of the decomposition of international socialist politics into the chaotic confusion uncovered in this war.

“The job of consistent socialists, political pioneers of a renewed mass working class socialist movement is not to cover for Milosevic and demonise NATO, or play the same role the other way round. It is here and now to make propaganda for independent working class politics and to engage in the class struggle. In conflicts like that of the Balkans, our responsibility is to tell the truth, advocate consistent democracy – a democratic Balkan Federation, organised in a network of self-determining, ethnic-national entities. This is an essential part of the programme that will help unite historically the working class across the national-ethnic boundaries and teach them how to drain the blood-filled rivers of hatred, contempt and ethno-centricity that murderously divides.

“We are never nationalists. But socialists are always champions of the nationally oppressed. We advocate their right to self-determination, up to independence. This does not imply acceptance of pre-ordained stages – first solve the national questions and then the social questions. A consistently democratic programme on the national question is part of the working class socialist programme. It is the only way the working class – accepting and advocating a democratic framework within which the peoples can live together – can unite. It is the only basis, translated into state structures, on which a socialist society can be organised. That is one lesson of the breakdown of Yugoslavia.

“In this war, Workers’ Liberty has represented independent working class – socialist – politics against both the morally and politically disgraceful proponents of an anti-imperialism of idiots, the “Victory to Milosevic” element, and against those who though the role of socialists is to support and advise Blair and NATO.”

But I don’t see how you can deny – any of you – that if once it had started the bombing had suddenly stopped, the Serbian regime would have just got on with it and finished the job. And wouldn’t that have been much worse than what in fact happened?

Yes, Workers’ Liberty did say “Stop the bombing” after it began and then we quickly changed our position following an NC discussion. That seems perfectly rational to me – just as you could oppose the invasion of Iraq, and go on to generically oppose the occupation regime, but still think “troops out now” would have made things worse, not better (this, it seems to me, is further from “critical support” than the position we take on Libya, which is not still not critical support).

(When the AWL changed its position after the Kosova intervention started, did we think we’d been wrong in hindsight? I don’t know, I wasn’t involved at the time. I’ll find out.)

24 07 2011
Boffy

Reply To Sacha On Kosova

Sacha,

I don’t think I ever said anything about whether the AWL thought that the intervention would bring lasting bourgeois democracy in Kosova! The point was about whether Communists should have opposed the Imperialist intervention, and continued to do so. The basis of determining that for Communists has to be based not on the immediate situation, but on the long term interests of the working-class, and as Lenin points out that means not this specific working-class, which forms only a small part, but of the whole world working-class. As Lenin strongly argues, it is never acceptable to subordinate the interests of the whole to that of the part, especially only a small part.

The fact is that the AWL did not occupy a position of equally opposing Imperialism and Milosevic. They argued that if Imperialism stopped Milosevic’s aggression that would be “good”, and on that basis, as they do in Libya, argued on what basis could it be opposed. I will have to look out the pamphlet that was written about this, where in fact, I think it was Sean, but it could have been Martin, who wrote that the position, which is the one I would have adopted, of arguing for independent working-class intervention was not tenable, because no such independent working-class forces exist. That, of course, is the position that was adopted in Iraq, and is being adopted in Libya. It is a purely Opportunistic, and Formalistic approach, which as I have said above flows necessarily from the Formalistic Philosophical basis of Third Campism established by Burnham. It does not see history as a process, but as a series of discrete events, each of which is to be dealt with in its own rights via “practical politics”, and so it fails to see the connection between the end goal of Socialism, and the need to move towards it by developing the revolutionary force that will bring it about, and how that is achieved within the context of these individual events. The “Movement” – whatever movement that might be at the time – needed to achieve the immediate goal becomes everything, and the goal nothing, or at least only something to be discussed abstractly in theoretical magazines or at Summer schools, a Maximum Programme, relegated to the position of a mere totem, that is completely separated from the day to day activities and their solutions set out in the Minimum Programme. The only connection is through the ritual incantation every so often of “Transitional Demands”, which Trotsky himself pointed out only have relevance for achieving that function in the context of a revolutionary situation. So we have your ridiculous calls now for a “Workers Government”, which under current conditions could only ever be a right-wing, reformist Miliband Government. We have your reactionary demand that in response to Murdochgate, such a Government, still within the context of a Capitalist State, should nationalise the press, which could only be a sure road to the establishment of the basis of a totalitarian regime. The last person who pursued the idea of a State run newspaper in Britain was Winston Churchill, during the General Strike. That is the company you are now keeping.

Why do you argue that? Because as in Libya, as in Iraq, as In Kosova, you have lost faith in the working-class being able to provide the solutions you see as being desirable, which is now defined not in terms of what facilitates the development of the working-class, but in terms of what you deem to be “morally good”, which seems to be limited to the idea that for the foreseeable future the best that can be hoped for is the advancement of bourgeois democracy. Before deciding on your current reactionary demand for a State controlled press in Britain, you came out with a position that was similar to the kind of syndicalism that the IS in the 1960′s and 1970′s adopted of basically leaving control of the Capitalist press to Trade Union militancy. But, clearly even you must have recognised the impossibility of that. So you have joined your fellow Left reformists in the Socialist Party, in falling back on your stock response of reliance on the Capitalist State to provide workers with a solution. How you can even describe this as Third Campism, God only knows.

The question of whether Imperialism stopping the bombing in Serbia would have made things better or worse, in terms of what Milosevic might have done is irrelevant. It is essentially no different to the question of whether starting the bombing in the first place would have made things better, by preventing it. In both cases the solution for Communists should have been to oppose both Imperialism and Milosevic, and to argue for an independent working-class solution. Indeed, they should have been arguing for that for a long time before, during all that time when the Kosovan Albanians, through the KLA, were dividing Serbian and Albanian workers in Kosova, through their terrorist attacks on those workers and peasants, and which ultimately provided the basis for Milosevic’s intervention. But, I’m not aware that the AWL were doing that either were you?

In fact, it is difficult to see how you could, because as you say, your position is that you promote the bourgeois democratic demand for “national self determination”, which Lenin most certainly did not do, and argued against doing!!! It is one thing to defend the right of nations to self-determination, it is quite another for Communists to advocate it. Can we expect on that basis that you will then be joining the nationalists in Scotland in “advocating their right to self-determination, up to independence”? But, of course, this is far from the programme of Marx or of Lenin. Both argued that the continuation of small states was reactionary. Lenin argued that only in the most extreme cases was the establishment of a new bourgeois state permissible as a solution, and so on. Both argued that the Communist Programme centred around the idea of defending Minority Rights, and fighting for bourgeois democratic freedoms, yes, including considerable regional autonomy, but doing so on the basis of building the closest possible working-class unity across cultures, nationalities etc., which is why Lenin, for example, opposed the idea of “Cultural National Autonomy”. But, your position on all these cases has been the opposite, your first response is to raise the demands of bourgeois democracy, not of workers unity, and working-class struggle. In Kosova, Tibet, and elsewhere, your programme has been not that of Communism, but of Radical Liberalism.

Changing your position on Kosova after the bombing started, is essentially no different, though in the opposite direction, to the decision of the Thornettites to change their position to supporting Galtieri after the fighting started in the Falklands. In reality in both cases nothing material had changed.

But, let us compare that position with your position in relation to say the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan. Was it likely, given everything we know about the nature of the Mujaheddin at the time, of the support being provided through Pakistan to them by the US etc. that if the USSR ceased its occupation, that those progressive developments that had been achieved in relation to women’s rights and so on, would be overturned, and that a terrible reaction would set in? Absolutely, given the nature of Afghanistan as essentially a medieval country, even compared to say Iraq, which is relatively developed, we knew that would be the inevitable consequence. So, bad as the Occupation was, would ending it have been better or worse, using your moralistic basis of calculation? Clearly it would have been worse, on that basis. Yet, the AWL’s predecessor’s correctly argued for the USSR to withdraw despite that.

Or take a more recent example. When Saakashvilli unleashed his genocidal attacks on the people of South Ossetia, did the fact of Russia’s intervention there, bring those terrible attacks to a halt? Would it on your basis of argument then have been rational to call for them to stop, so that Georgia’s murderous tanks, and air strikes could continue to slaughter the people of South Ossetia? No, it would not, and yet the AWL did do so, arguing for opposition to both Georgia and Russia.

The point is that you make judgements based not on class analysis, based not on the long-term interests of the global working-class, but on a moralistic basis determined with your overriding view that the best that can be achieved at the moment is the spread of bourgeois democracy, and given the weakness of the working-class, the only force capable of doing that is “Democratic Imperialism”. Its on that basis that you decide to support, whichever side in a conflict you think is the lesser-evil, the more bourgeois-democratic, or more closely tied to “Democratic-Imperialism”, which is why you gloss over the reactionary nature of the rebels in Libya, why you bigged up the democratic credentials of Sistani in Iraq, and so on. In fact, your position is pretty identical to that of Miliukov that was being criticised by Trotsky in that statement you are so keen to frequently misquote. You choose, which atrocities you think are worthy of opposing, and those you think are worthy of keeping quiet about – for example, I’ve seen little in your coverage about the use of depleted Uranium munitions by Imperialism in Libya, or its 10,000 bombing runs that are destroying the infrastructure of the economy. To quote, Trotsky more fully,

““An individual, a group, a party, or a class that ‘objectively’ picks its nose while it watches men drunk with blood massacring defenceless people is condemned by history to rot and become worm-eaten while it is still alive”.

“On the other hand, a party or the class that rises up against every abominable action wherever it has occurred, as vigorously and unhesitatingly as a living organism reacts to protect its eyes when they are threatened with external injury – such a party or class is sound of heart. Protest against the outrages in the Balkans cleanses the social atmosphere in our own country, heightens the level of moral awareness among our own people… Therefore an uncompromising protest against atrocities serves not only the purpose of moral self-defence on the personal and party level but also the purpose of politically safeguarding the people against adventurism concealed under the flag of ‘liberation’.”




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