user preferences

New Events

North Africa

no event posted in the last week

As Gaddafi falls - Lessons from Libya - imperialism, anti-imperialism & democratic revolution

category north africa | imperialism / war | opinion / analysis author Thursday August 25, 2011 21:29author by Andrew Flood - WSM Report this post to the editors

The sudden end of the Gaddafi regime some 6 months after the start of the Libyan revolt leaves some difficult questions unanswered for the left. Gaddafi’s determination to physically crush the revolt quickly transformed it into a civil war, a civil war that saw considerable imperialist intervention on the rebel side, intervention that was essential to their eventual victory. This and Gaddafi’s historic record led to some on the left taking his side in the civil war while other organisations tried to balance support for the ‘Arab spring’s’ arrival in Libya with opposition to imperialism.


This question of where the balance lies between international solidarity with pro-democracy movements and opposition to imperialism could well rapidly return to the top of the agenda in a very much bigger way as the regime in Syria continues its months long military suppression of the democracy movement there.

(Image from B.R.Q. via Flickr under Creative Commons )

The spread of the Arab democratic revolution to Libya and the subsequent intervention by imperialist airpower against Gaddafi led to a major and heated debate on the revolutionary left on the question of imperialism. The very complexity of the situation in Libya means that as well as the specifics of this war and revolution it provides a useful starting point for a re-examination of what has become traditional anti-imperialism. Libya like Rwanda, Srebrenicia and more rhetorically Palestine has become one of those recent conflicts where many argue for rather than against intervention.

Part of this is down to a standard dogmatic polarization between pro-intervention liberals who think the bombs are being dropped to protect Libyans on the one hand and on the other the nationalists and hard core leninist’s who think Gadaffi's past make him an enemy of imperialism today. Neither pole has much to say of relevance to those who found themselves facing Gaddafi's tanks outside Benghazi at the start of the revolt with little more than AK47's to stop them. But much more reasoned argument for and against intervention has been made by commentators with a strong record like Gilbert Achcar who argued for intervention and Noam Chomsky who argued against.

Sections in this Opinion piece

  • From facts to analysis to positions
  • A deal with imperialism - Lockerbie forgiven
  • It's all about oil
  • Anti-imperialist armed by imperialism
  • Imperialist rivalry
  • China & Russia
  • Fear of an Islamist planet
  • What is the National Transition Council
  • The Islamist presence, a threat or an opportunity?
  • Killing of Abdul Fatah Younis
  • The nature of military support
  • Military realities
  • Irish Republicanism & Gaddafi
  • The rebel need for military support
  • It wasn’t a Humanitarian intervention
  • Getting beyond strawman arguments
  • The limits of leninist anti-imperialism
  • Cold hard realities
  • The future for the Libyan people

From facts to analysis to positions

I want to look at what anarchists can say about the specifics of the Libyan situation and what the Libyan situation tells us about the politics of anti-imperialism today in general. On the specifics of Libya this means starting with looking at what we know of Gaddafi’s actual relationship with the imperialist powers. We also need to ask who the rebels are, what their program is and in what way has their dependency on imperialist air power transformed them. Among other sources I’ve used are the cables from the US embassy in Tripoli which had been released by wikileaks. These are valuable in giving an idea of what US imperialism’s actual relationship was with the regime and what they really thought about the rebellion shorn of the layers of spin embedded in every official utterance from the White House. My other sources are anarchist writings (in one case from within Libya) and the better end of the mainstream media and business press.

Those who have openly proclaimed support for Gaddafi have done so in the language of anti-imperialism. But whatever about his claim to be anti-imperialist back in the 1980's, today Gaddafi is the dictator who it was claimed had turned anti aircraft guns on democracy protesters, killing hundreds in the first days of the revolt against his rule. Footage was posted by Libyans in those early days, and the gruesome sight of bodies that had literally been ripped apart by the high calibre bullets appeared to leave no doubt of such use. As did the charred bodies of solders who had refused to follow such orders and as a result had been executed, hands cable tied behind their backs.

The BBC carried an interview with a orderly at a Libyan hospital mortuary who claimed 6-700 had been killed in Tripoli alone (Source:  ) However a June 24th article by Patrick Cockburn citied an Amnesty International report (which I have yet managed to find online) which instead put the death toll of the initial repression of the protests at around 200 and said anti-aircraft guns had not been used as spent cartridges recovered where protesters had been killed all came from AK-47’s and similar weapons. 

It may well be that it will never become clear what exactly happened during the suppression of the first protests. But regardless of the weapons used or exact numbers killed Gaddafi’s forces did shoot down demonstrators. The fact that section’s of the left were willing to support Gaddafi despite this (and indeed when the higher death tolls went unchallenged) is not a new departure. In the name of anti-imperialism sections of the left have supported other and more brutal dictators in the past.

So at the start of 2011 was there any seriousness to this presentation of Gaddaf as a fighter against imperialism? I would tend to argue no, the so called anti-imperialism was a front for public consumption at home and abroad rather than a reflection of what Libya’s actual relation with the imperialist powers were pre-rebellion.

A deal with imperialism - Lockerbie forgiven

Pre-rebellion Gaddafi had managed to transform himself into the locally respectable protector of the oil corporations, even if for the imperialist powers he still had a shady past. Gaddafi was almost certainly behind the 21 December 1988 bombing of a Boeing 747–121 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie that killed all 243 passengers and 11 people on the ground. The bombing was widely seen as retaliation for the bombing of his compound in April 1986 during which an adopted baby daughter was killed. A couple of Gaddafi's speeches during the early days of the insurrection were filmed in the ruins of the compound, no doubt intended to remind the international audience that he had stood up to and withstood imperialist assaults before.   Near the start of the insurrection on 24 February 2011, in an interview with the Swedish newspaper Expressen, justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil who had just resigned from the regime claimed that Gaddafi personally ordered the Lockerbie bombing.

Despite the fallout of the Lockerbie bombing the scale of the restoration of relations with Gaddafi before the rebellion was such that the British government had as far back as 2009 arranged the release of Abdel Baset who had been convicted for the bombing. Although the US government made a public show of kicking up a stink about the release the reality is that already in October 2008 President Bush had signed an "Executive Order restoring the Libyan government's immunity from terror-related lawsuits and dismissing all of the pending compensation cases in the US." Wikileaks cables make clear that the US embassy in Tripoli was well aware, in advance, of the deal being hatched between Britain and Libya to release Abdel Baset, who one cable acknowledged was "effectively viewed as something of a folks hero in the eyes of the regime and many ordinary Libyans."

It’s all about Oil?

The eagerness to strike a deal with Gaddafi was because Libya has the largest oil reserves in all of Africa and is already the 12th biggest oil exporter in the world. Oil and gas account for 25% of the economy, 97% of exports and 90% of government revenue. As long as Gaddafi’s power was not seriously challenged there was a need to deal with him. Both Britain and the US were willing to overlook the killing of their own citizens so that their energy corporations could obtain a share of the profits ahead of those of Russia or China. Italian and French companies are the other major oil players in Libya. According to the (Libyan) National Oil Company website "More than 50 international oil companies are present in the market." In May 2007 Gaddafi visited then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, during which British Petroleum (BP) signed a $900 million exploration and production agreement with the Libyan National Oil Company.

The size of the Libyan oil reserves have encouraged some rather crude anti-imperialist writings on the intervention that suggest it is simply all about access to oil. But as the facts above suggest the reality is a good deal more complex. Gaddafi had after all already given the major oil companies access to the Libyan oil fields so there was no need for a war to gain access.

In some respects business was easier for the oil companies in Libya under Gaddafi then is some of the other oil rich states. Yet another cable makes it clear that the US embassy regarded Gaddafi as considerably less corrupt then most of the other rules in the region, reporting; “Compared to egregious pillaging of State coffers elsewhere in Africa, or the lavish spending of Gulf Arabs, the Libyans don’t see much to complain about in their leader’s lifestyle, as long as he does a good job of making sure other people get a piece of the pie. And when Libyans do complain, they are removed from access to financial rewards.”

Further at the start of the rebellion when the identity of the rebels was unclear and their program unknown there was a danger the oil corporations might have had access withdrawn or reduced under a new democratic government eager to see a greater share of profits being used for development. The war itself seriously disrupted the flow of oil and saw significant damage to the infrastructure required to export it. But if there was clearly no need for imperialist intervention to get access to the oil the flip side is the crude pro interventionist argument that tries to rule out any discussion of imperialist interest as being oil driven because of this existing access, the situation was a good deal more complex.

The reality is that Gaddafi's historical record meant that Libya under his rule was always going to be seen as potentially unstable. He had raised concerns in the oil industry as recently as January 2009 when he told Georgetown University students that Libya "could nationalize their oil production in view of sharply plummeting petroleum prices." But as was revealed in a wikileaks cable the US embassy in Tripoli calcualted that while "Industry experts in Washington and Libya have not entirely dismissed the possibility that the GOL could nationalize its oil and gas sector.. they do not currently judge it to be a serious threat." The embassy thought that Gaddafi "may in fact be signaling more aggressive efforts by the GOl and NOC to secure greater shares of oil produced under existing contracts." The embassy concluded that "While it is never wise to rule out the possibility of seemingly irrational decisions by the GOL, we are not inclined to believe that nationalization is being seriously considered"

The bulk of Libya's proven oil and gas reserves lie in the Eastern half of the country. So if pre-rebellion the imperialist powers had to deal with Gaddafi because he had access to the oil once the rebellion was underway they increasingly had to deal with the rebels for the same reason. And as we shall see the US in particular had some serious pre-existing concerns with the opposition movement in Eastern Libya.

It would seem we can make two general comments in relation to the role of Oil in the intervention

  1. There was no need for the intervention in order to gain access to the oil, over 50 international oil companies were already present. But intervention well have an impact on what conditions future access happens under, which ever way the situation unfolded.
  2. The imperialist powers do not have identical interests. Had Gaddafi won it is quite possible the western imperialist powers would have been 'punished' by him favoring Russian and Chinese energy companies. The victorious rebels have suggested they will not look favourably on Chinese and Russian companies for the same reason.

The early French support for the rebellion may in part be down to hoping this would see the interests of French companies being promoted over those of other NATO countries, in particular Italy. Indeed in March the Prime Minister of Turkey almost directly accused France of following such motivations when during the row about which NATO countries would have military decision making capabilities he declared “I wish that those who only see oil, gold mines and underground treasures when they look in [Libya's] direction, would see the region through glasses of conscience from now on.”

Likewise the late break Italy made with Gaddafi probably reflects the fact that the Italian oil corporation ENI is the current largest foreign oil company in Libya, and thus has the most to lose by any restructuring of access if the rebels won or Libya was partitioned. The wikileaks cables reveal that the other oil companies were annoyed with ENI for giving too much to the Gaddafi regime so the rebel victory is quite likely to result in losses for ENI because of the identification of ENI with the Gaddafi regime.

Anti-imperialist armed by Imperialism?

Oil is of course only part of the story of Gaddafi’s improving relationships with the imperialist powers prior to the rebellion. Sanctions against Libya were lifted in 2004 allowing arms sales to resume. Both Britain and France suppled the Gaddafi regime with weapons. An EU report released just before the rebellion revealed that Britain had sold "$33 million worth of small arms, ammunition, ordinance, aviation components, armoured and protective equipment and military electronics." The EU as a whole issued licences for the sale of weapons and weapons systems valued at pounds $462 million to Libya in 2009. In 2007 the French company Dassault Aviation was awarded a contract to put Libya's 12 remaining F1 Mirages back into flying condition, these were subsequently used in the attacks against protesters and rebels by the regime although 2 of the 4 repaired were flown to Malta by their pilots when they were ordered to bomb protesters.

US Huey and Chinnok helicopters have also been delivered to Libya via Italy. In fact the first Tomahawk missile strikes seem to have included as targets the very expensive US military command and control facilitates sold to Gaddafi to equip his elite brigades with in the last couple of years before the rebellion. No doubt afterwards the US will be keen to sell the same systems to the new regime! Right at the end of 2008 the US Embassy in Tripoli reported on the keenness of the Gaddafi regime to buy additional US military equipment.

The cable also confirms US embassies opinion as to the shallow nature of Gaddafi's anti-imperialist posture in revealing that "Muammar al-Qadhafi expressed reservations to Muatassim in mid-November about U.S.-Libya military-to-military cooperation that could lead to having large numbers of U.S. advisers and trainers present in Libya. He was keen that U.S. military personnel not be seen in uniform in Libya, a prospect with which he was particularly concerned given that the "evacuation" of U.S. and U.K. military bases (the Wheelus and el-Adem airbases, respectively) in 1970 was viewed as a key accomplishment of the revolution."

Another May 2009 cable describes a meeting between the US Africa Command General and the regime, in it is reported that "Al-Qadhafi expressed a desire for cooperation with U.S. Africa Command in the fields of counter-terrorism and counter-piracy." The US embassy also clearly saw Gaddafi's links with Daniel Ortega and Chavez as symbolic bluster rather than a threat, writing after Ortega's 2009 visit that while "Libya is keen to pursue symbolic alliances with anti-U.S. leaders to balance the perception that it has gone western by finalizing the U.S.-Libya claims compensation agreement" there was no depth to this symbolism.  Indeed in yet another cable in 2009 the embassy reported that Gaddafi had "been pressing for a broad agreement on security, including a commitment to come to Libya's aid if it were attacked" for several months and advised on how to avoid this issue as the US didn't want that level of commitment. 

Although its a minor part of overall support on 11 Sep 2009 'The Telegraph' revealed that members of the SAS were training their Libyan counterparts and that this "will further raise suspicions about exactly what has been agreed behind the scenes between Tripoli and Britain." Given the role of the SAS in ‘shoot to kill’ operations against Irish republicans this should provide food for thought to those who were inclined to support Gaddafi against the rebels.

At the start of the rebellion Amnesty International revealed that the British company NMS International Group Ltd had supplied armored crowd control vehicles "that look identical to ones recently seen patrolling the streets of protest-hit streets in Libya." The imperialist powers had not only supplied him with military equipment prior to the rebellion they had also supplied him with the equipment used to attack protests with 'less lethal' force, as they had with the regimes on either side of Libya in Egypt and Tunisia.

So the arms and training the imperialist powers were supplying to Gaddafi were not simply the equipment to fight battles against his neighboors but also the equipment and training to crush domestic dissent. He certainly had a record in doing so, in 1996 more that 1200 prisoners were massacred as a riot at Abu Salim, which jailed many of Libya’s political prisoners was put down. The day after the riot the prisoners were forced into the courtyards and shot down over a two hour period. It was only after families in Benghazi had kept up protests for two years culminating in a march on the 13th anniversary of 200 that the regime acknowledged to over 900 families that their relatives had indeed been killed and offered compensation.

With the west in 2010 viewing Gaddafi as a friend who could not only be supplied with weapons prior to the rebellion but also the tools to crush protest the claim that he was an enemy of imperialism has to be seriously challenged. Nor were all the imperialist powers all that eager to intervene on the side of the rebellion initially. The uprising began on February 15th yet it was over a month later on the 17th of March before the UN authorized member states to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya . And two more days before the first actual airstrikes took place. That timeline makes no sense if we are to see the rebels as a proxy army for imperialism taking directions from Washington, Paris or elsewhere.

Imperialist rivalry

As is the case elsewhere in North Africa the imperialists are not united on the way forward. Rivalry between French and US imperialism is common across the region and this is expressed in the differing support each offered for the Libyan insurrection. France recognised the Libyan rebel leadership, the National Transitional Council (NTC) as the legitimate government on March 10th only five days after the NTC first made this claim itself. But it took the US over four months to follow the French lead, holding off until July 15th by which time it was clear Gaddafi was very unlikely to win.

France opposed the idea that the intervention should be NATO led. It was French war planes that stopped the fall of Benghazi by bombing Gaddafi’s armour as it reached the outskirts of the city, without that prompt action the question of intervention might have died before it started.

Gaddafi played on such division and those with Russia and China. Only 48 hours before the UN vote he threatened that if attacked he would transfer Libya's energy contracts to companies from Russia, India and China. Paolo Scaroni, chief executive of Italy's Eni SpA, which has the largest Libyan investments of any Western oil company and the closest relationship to the regime told the Wall Street Journal that "Whoever is in power needs to pump oil to get revenues for his people," and while some companies are concerned that "due to the supportive stances of their home governments towards the opposition," they might lose access to Libyan oil but that "At least publicly, the companies have expressed confidence that they will be permitted to return to Libya."

China & Russia

Nearly 36,000 Chinese citizens lived in Libya before the rebellion, they were extracted by China's government which made use of the opportunity to expand its sphere of military operations, they dispatched four military transport planes and a guided-missile frigate, the Xuzhou, to Libya for the extraction. After Lockerbie China never imposed sanctions on the Gaddafi regime and dozens of Chinese companies operate in Libya with trade mainly centering on oil, but there are also wide range of other businesses giving a total $6.6bn in bilateral trade. This includes Chinese rail companies which have signed railway contracts with Libya, including that for a rail line between Tripoli and Sirte for $1.7bn.

Russian companies have contracts in Libya worth billions and the former Russian ambassador ti Libya described the Kremlin’s lack of opposition to the air strikes as "betrayal of Russia's interests.” All in all it would be a major mistake to imagine that all the imperialist powers look at Libya in the same way or have a common plan as to where they would like to see it develop. There are very significant tensions between them.

Rather than seeking the overthrowal of Gaddafi from the start it appears that at least some of the imperialist powers were concerned that the rebel forces would be less under their control than Gaddafi. Gaddafi had been co-operating at a level where they were happy to supply him with arms for almost seven years at the time of the insurrection. The rebel forces on the other hand were a largely unknown force, with the US in particular being very cautious about who they might actually be.

Fear of an Islamist planet

This fear is in part based on a study from the U.S. West Point Military Academy’s ‘Combating Terrorism’ Center on the resistance in Iraq which claims that "Libya contributed far more fighters per capita than any other nationality .. including Saudi Arabia" and that "The vast majority of Libyan fighters .. resided in the country’s Northeast, particularly the coastal cities of Darnah .. and Benghazi." These cities were the center of the anti-Gaddafi rebellion. Andrew Exum, a US counterinsurgency specialist and former Army Ranger noted in a blog posting that “This might explain why those rebels from Libya's eastern provinces are not too excited about U.S. military intervention. It might also give some pause to those in the United States so eager to arm Libya's rebels.”

Similar worries from before the rebellion are found in the US Embassy wikileaks cables, one from 2008 warning that "the inability of eastern Libyans to effectively challenge Qadhafi's regime, together with a concerted ideological campaign by returned Libyan fighters from earlier conflicts, have played important roles in Derna's development as a wellspring of Libyan foreign fighters in Iraq .. One Libyan interlocutor likened young men in Derna to Bruce Willis' character in the action picture "Die Hard", who stubbornly refused to die quietly. For them, resistance against coalition forces in Iraq is an important act of 'jihad' and a last act of defiance against the Qadhafi regime." "Many easterners feared the U.S. would not allow Qadhafi's regime to fall and therefore viewed direct confrontation with the GOL in the near-term as a fool's errand. ..Fighting against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq represented a way for frustrated young radicals to strike a blow against both Qadhafi and against his perceived American backers."

The rebels for their part were not exactly welcoming the imperialist powers with open arms. On the 6th of March an 8 man British mission of 7 SAS and 1 MI6 were arrested by Army units in Benghazi that had joined the rebellion. The Guardian reported that "The mission backfired when rebel leaders in Benghazi objected to foreign interference from governments which had not yet formally recognised them as Libya's legitimate rulers." Far from being a proxy force under the controls of one or the other imperialist powers even in the early days of the rising they looked far more like a grouping trying to influence imperialist policy rather than take direction from it.

What is the National Transition Council

The rebels are grouped together in the body known as the National Transition Council (NTC). The political and international affairs committee of the National Transition Council released a program for the revolt timed to coincide with the London summit at the end of March. It's was first published in English but when it was pointed out this was odd, as few Libyans speak English, the NTC assured that the original was debated in Arabic. In any case its appearance was clearly intended to reassure those in the US who were nervous about what the real intent of the rebels might be.

The program declared the goal to be "building a free and democratic society and ensuring the supremacy of international humanitarian law and human rights declarations." And the economic section which includes "The development of genuine economic partnerships between a strong and productive public sector, a free private sector and a supportive and effective civil society, which overstands corruption and waste" seems certain not to frighten the oil companies. But in case there was any doubt it also proclaimed that “The interests and rights of foreign nationals and companies will be protected.”

The Islamist presence, a threat or an opportunity for the US?

An Economist article sees the Islamist element of the rebellion as being something of a golden opportunity for the west, describing how the Economist reporter found that on the ground in Darna “These jihadis enthusiastically back the NATO-led bombing campaign. “A blessing,” says Sufian bin Qumu, an inmate for six years of a pen in Guantánamo Bay, who drove trucks for Osama bin Laden’s Sudanese haulage company before heading to the Afghan camps. “Excellent,” echoes Abdel Hakim al-Hisadi, a rebel commander who trained in Khost camp, Mr bin Laden’s base in Afghanistan. “It’s changed the way we look at the West. They saved our people and we have to say thanks.”

The New York Times carried a report on a post rebellion visit to Darnah which found "Secular figures here were adamant in endorsing the Islamists’ right to form parties and, at the Sahaba Mosque, slogans were markedly bereft of religious sentiment. “Freedom, dignity and national unity,” read one. A leaflet circulated there pronounced demands almost identical to those uttered in Egypt: a transitional government, a constitution approved by referendum, parliamentary and presidential elections and a democratic state built on pluralism, the peaceful transfer of power, the rule of law and guarantees of human rights and the protection of freedoms."

A report in the Wall Street Journal at the start of April singled out a number of Islamists including once again “Abdel Hakim al-Hasady, an influential Islamic preacher and high-school teacher who spent five years at a training camp in eastern Afghanistan [who] oversees the recruitment, training and deployment of about 300 rebel fighters from Darna”. This time he was quoted as saying "If we hated the Americans 100%, today it is less than 50%. They have started to redeem themselves for their past mistakes by helping us to preserve the blood of our children."

The New York Times also interviewed Shukri Abdel-Hamid, describing him as a cleric who had spent 10 years in prison under Gaddafi and who declared “We want a civil state, pluralism, with freedom enshrined by law,” he said, before echoing a sentiment heard often in Egypt and Tunisia. “Extremism was a reaction to oppression and the violence of the state. Give us freedom and see what happens.”

A cynic here could suggest Abdel-Hamid has a good sense of saying what might reassure western journalists but if Abdel-Hamid represents an Islamist element this appears to be a small minority, mostly confined to the East. More worrying many senior figures are defectors from the Gaddafi regime who only jumped ship once the rebellion was underway.

The first meeting of what became the NTC was chaired by former justice minister Mustafa Abdul Jalil. On 5th March Mustafa was declared the chair of the council. But the bulk appear to be the school teachers, engineers, lawyers and doctors who tend to form the leadership of republican insurrections because of their education and extensive pre existing social contacts. The NTC is completely dominated by defectors from the old ruling class and the middle class, all appear to be male although the TNC has claimed there are a small number of women.

The Libyan working class may have fought for freedom in the streets but does not appear as yet to have a voice. A situation made worse by the fact that an estimated one third of workers in Libya were migrant workers and Gaddafi's use of some migrant workers as mercenaries will make class unity that include migrants all the more difficult.  This builds on the system under the old regime where Independent trade unions were banned, legal strikes were almost impossible to organise and union membership was limited to workers of Libyan nationality.

This aside it is clear the rebels are not a single organisation but instead a rather uneasy coalition.  

Killing of Abdul Fatah Younis

A demonstration of just how uneasy that coalition is was given at the end of July when rebels from one faction killed general Abdul Fatah Younis, the head of the Free Libyan Army. Abdul Fatah Younis had previously been a Major General in Gaddafi’s army and the Minister of the Interior but had defected on 22 February after leading a Gaddafin relief column to Benghazi. The rebels who shot him were said to have shouted that he was responsible for the death of their father. This led on August 9th to the chair of the NTC sacking the entire 14 man cabinet!

The TNC appears to have most support in the East around Benghazi, rebel forces in the south and east are openly critical of the TNC. Even as the rebels reached Tripoli the Independent reported that “rebel fighters in Misrata, who fought so long to defend their city, say privately that they have no intention of obeying orders from the TNC.” 

The nature of military support

In the early days of the rebellion rebel spokespeople emphasized that while they needed the no fly zone to stop Gadaffi attacking them with ground attack planes and helicopters they did not want to see any imperialist troops on the ground in Libya. They also welcomed the use of air strikes against concentrations of Gaddafi's tanks and artillery. The rebel force itself was a poorly armed little more that an almost untrained hootch potch of volunteers using seized arms sprinkled with some army units that have defected. In particular given the huge distances and desert terrain of much of Libya such a force could not hope to advance against a modern army equipped with armor and artillery, one that could strike them down from a considerable distance.

Al Jazeera provided some excellent coverage from the front lines of the very mis matched battles that resulted when the rebels tried to take on Gaddafi’s forced without imperialist air support. But within a day of the air attacks starting the rebels were able to stop retreating and start the process of retaking the towns they had been driven out of - until Gaddafi’s forced adopted and switched from their heavy armour to civilian style vehicles that were hard for airpower to identify to target. The Guardian described how “it has become increasingly apparent that the real issue for the rebels is a lack of discipline, experience and tactics. Even where they have had the advantage, they have been outmanoeuvred in large part because there has been no plan for attack or defence. Instead, the young rebels, full of bravado, charge forward only to turn and flee when they come under fire, often conceding ground.”

It is almost certainly no coincidence that the day the TNC released its US friendly program was the same day that US AC-130 gunships and A10 tankbusters were reported as being deployed for the first time (Tue 29 March). This was also significant because these airplanes are close air support weapons that require close co-operation with the forces on the growing, this suggested that US Special Forces had been deployed for such purposes.

Within a couple of days of this deployment being revealed the New York Times was able to report that American officials had admitted that "small groups of C.I.A. operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks as part of a shadow force of Westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help bleed Colonel Qaddafi’s military" and that "former British officials said that dozens of British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers are working inside Libya. The British operatives have been directing airstrikes by British jets and gathering intelligence about the whereabouts of Libyan government tank columns, artillery pieces and missile installations." This activity according to the same report was also being used for "meeting with rebels to try to fill in gaps in understanding who their leaders are and the allegiances of the groups opposed to Colonel Qaddafi." All the same according to The Economist “Admiral James Stavridis, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, recently told American senators that “flickers” of intelligence suggested the presence of al-Qaeda and Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shia guerrilla group, among Libya’s opposition. But he also said that its leadership appeared to be “responsible men and women.”

The withdrawal of US military forces that began 3 April demonstrated just how unsure the US continued to be about the rebels and the long terms effects of a rebel victory. But Al Jazeera report at that time also revealed that “some accounts describe a growing US presence on the ground. In the east, which is largely free from the regime's control, media reports have said that American and British clandestine intelligence officers are meeting and training rebel fighters.” The air strikes offered the US little opportunity to study and influence the rebels, these training programs allowed both. Journalists reporting from the advance on Tripoli reported on not only the presence of British Special Forces but also other forces.
“The "others" in question are the small groups of former special forces operatives, many with British accents, working for private security firms who have been seen regularly by reporters in the vanguard of the rebels' haphazard journey from Benghazi towards Tripoli. These small detachments of Caucasian males, equipped with sunglasses, 4x4 vehicles and locally acquired weaponry, do not welcome prying eyes, not least because their presence threatened to give credence to the Gaddafi regime's claims that the rebel assault was being directed by Western fifth-columnists.”

Military realities

At an extreme this appearance has resulted in some on the left (including Irish republicans) publicly joining the calls from Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Cuban political leader Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in expressing support for Gaddafi. Fidel really went off the deep end writing that the intervention is worse that the fascist intervention in the Spanish Civil War! "Not even the fascist leaders of Germany and Italy were so blatantly shameless regarding the Spanish Civil War unleashed in 1936, an event that maybe a lot of people have been recalling over these past days. Almost 75 years to the day have passed since then, but nothing that has happened over the last 75 centuries, or even 75 millenniums of human life on our planet can compare."  Of course for Fidel the prospect of a democratic revolt being used as the excuse for US military intervention is terrifying in itself, leaving aside his historical connections with Gaddafi.

Irish Republicanism & Gaddafi

I'm writing from Ireland so as a starting point in understanding why some on the nationalist left have taken this position I'm also going to look at why Gaddafi had a layer of support amongst physical force nationalists in this country. This is not just a question for anarchists in Ireland as elsewhere in the colonial and post colonial world there would be similar attitudes.

When the Libyan insurrection against the Gaddafi regime started most of the Irish republican organisations were silent on it, as were their members on Facebook and similar social media. It was only when the imperialist forces, in particular Britain, started flying bombing missions against the Gaddafi regime that statements started to appear. These tended to focus on the hypocrisy of the imperialist powers and had little to say about the democratic rising against Gaddafi itself. But some of what has been written goes beyond this and takes the side of Gaddafi against the revolution. With the left internationally a number of organisations and high profile leaders like Chavez and Castro were seen to line up behind Gaddafi in his attempts to crush the rebellion.

The NATO intervention meant that Gaddafi was once again able to pose as an anti-imperialist. Once again because he had been a good friend to Irish republicanism in the 1980's, sending at least four ship loads of modern weapons to the Provisional IRA. This included almost all the supplies of the military explosive Semtex that enabled a very much more effective bombing campaign in Britain. Some considered that campaign key to forcing the British state to engage with the Irish ‘Peace Process’. Even those nationalists that later broke from Sinn Fein often retained a loyality of sorts towards Gaddafi. To them the arms he supplied offered a counter strategy to the ‘Peace Process’ based on launching a ‘mini-Tet’ offensive which they hoped would have a similar political effect in Britain as the Tet offensive had in the US.

In an example with particular relevance to the WSM éirígí whom we work alongside in the 1% Network and other struggles as a first reaction to the rebellion republished on 20 March a long rambling speech Fidel Castro which included phrases like "Even Gaddafi’s adversaries assure us that he stood out for his intelligence as a student;" and "the latent Libyan rebellion being promoted by Yankee intelligence." An actual statement from éirígí on March 21st headed 'Attack on Libya – Another War for Oil' managed to avoid even mentioning the democratic revolution in Libya outside of the neutral "éirígí supports the right of the people of Libya to determine their own future without interference from outside powers."

Back in the 90's Gaddafi was also funding groups on the British and Irish left. Gaddafi the anti-imperialist of the 1980's whose house had been blown up one night by American jets with British aid and who had access to both substantial funds and weaponry was for obvious reasons an attractive potential ally. That would be some residual feelings of loyalty towards him is not surprising.

There would be a logic to this position if all we were witnessing in Libya was simply a civil war between two ruling factions. Why take sides in such a fight? But while the situation is complex it is clear what we are seeing is a republican democratic revolution that started with mass street protests and which only later saw the defection of significant sections of the ruling elite. The process was inspired by the democratic revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia but followed a different pattern because when faced with mass protest Gaddafi was willing to do what Mubarak and Ben Ali were or could not.

Unarmed protesters in the streets can and did fight riot police and lightly armed police and mobs with whatever weapons could be improvised in Egypt and Tunisia. Hundreds of them died doing so but they called the bluff of the regimes which fell. Gaddafi was not bluffing and you cannot defeat automatic weapons with numbers alone. Is it really the case that the left should respond to the use of massacre by backing those willing to go that far. In particular given Ireland's recent history, Bloody Sunday in particular, does it make sense to simply maintain silence when faced with a dictator willing to use far worse measures against his own people?

The rebel need for military support

From a military perspective it is almost inevitable that the rebels would welcome air attacks aimed at preventing Gaddafi using the massive military advantage that air power and heavy weapons gives his forces. This is not the 1930's, the last time when you might have believed that a rag tag army without air support could take on a modern one in a war and win. And even in the 30's superior military equipments, training and supplies played a massive role in ensuring Franco's victory over the republicans in Spain. From that perspective it would have been suicidal for the rebels (and the civilian cities they held) not to demand such strikes.

Al Jazeera reported that “Benghazi residents say they're sure the coalition air strikes saved them from a massacre. "People were on edge all day (before the strikes), like not even able to smile, being absolutely sick to our stomachs," said Kadura, the American who returned to Benghazi, where his large extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins lives. "I don't think we would have stood a chance. or weeks prior to the rapid diplomatic push for a resolution at the Security Council, Libyans had been pleading for international help. Their call for foreign air strikes was loud, unqualified and came from a broad swath of society. English teachers, bankers, and Islamists who had supported the insurgency in Iraq all said they would welcome US attacks on Gaddafi's forces." This arises not from a lack of awareness of the role of imperialism but despite it, the the same article Kadura is quoted as saying “I'm not gonna hold the French flag and kiss it because I do know that these countries act in their own interest. But what is the alternative?"

Even the most thoughtful of those taking the conventional Leninist line don't seem to have any answer to what the alternative might have been. Tariq Ali was reduced to wishful thinking, writing "We will now never know how long Gaddafi's crumbling and weakened army would have held together in the face of strong opposition. The reason he lost support within his armed forces was precisely because he ordered them to shoot their own people." Well yes, but that could only go so far, once he had organised the majority of the forces that had remained loyal they were rapidly rolling over rebel controlled cities and when the air strikes arrived heavy armor units had already reached the outskirts of Benghazi.

The nature of modern weaponry is such that even a tiny handful of loyal military personnel can slaughter thousands in minutes. Revolution in the age of the helicopter gunship is no longer a question of huge numbers being able to face down military units. The wishful thinking approach was taken up by the Socialist Workers Party, the SWP slogan that the 'Libyan people can do it on their own' was incorrect to the point of being absurd. With Gaddafi going on TV to call on his followers to "cleanse Libya house by house" of "cockroaches... greasy rats and cats" it would seem to be demanding rather a lot of the rebels that they refuse the military support that prevented us from finding out whether these threats were rhetorical or real.

All of which leaves the western left in a difficult position. We don't want to see future imperialist intervention gain legitimacy because of the needs of the Libyan rebels for air support if they were to have any hope of winning. We know that support for the intervention in Libya will translate into greater public support for intervention in general.

It wasn’t a Humanitarian intervention

The problem is that for a large number of leftist commentators they can’t acknowledge the rebel need for military aid without it seems having to also convince themselves that this means the imperialist motivations were humanitarian. It’s hard to understand the need for them to make such arguments. As we have seen a significant number of rebels interviewed don’t share such illusions and instead emphasise the limits they want placed on imperialist intervention precisely because they understand the imperialist armies have a nasty habit of staying around long after any limited welcome has worn off.

Whatever about the military side of the conflict politically and economically the imperialist intervention is intended not to follow the rebel agenda but that of the imperialist powers. There is no such thing as a free lunch and even if the rebels were publicly keeping up an opposition to further imperialist control in Libya in the period before the imposition of the no-fly zone we quickly saw significant concessions being given.

The imperialist powers will seek to install as compliant a regime as possible, one bargining method they used for a long period was to refuse to supply the rebels with weapons. This put them constantly in the position of being able to decide who wins the struggle by turning on and off air strikes at will and thus putting enormous pressure on the rebel forces to create a ruling council & program that will be acceptable to the west. Those liberals who feel the need to pretend the intervention is actually being made in the interests of the people of Libya (or idiotically that somehow there would be no 'collateral damage’) are as guilty of making as absurd an argument as those on the left who imagined the defeat of Gaddafi's forces as being possible without imperialist military intervention.

Whatever the language of the UN declaration it is impossible to believe that the main interest of the imperialist powers lies with Libyan civilians. Early in the intervention the casual way the imperialist military powers regard such civilians was revealed when during the recovery of two US personnel from a crashed aircraft. Aj Jazeera reported that as the Search and Rescue mission came to pick them up local civilians approached to aid the two downed airmen. “Marines on board the Ospreys sprayed them with gunfire, injuring eight people. Hospital sources told British reporters who arrived on the scene the next day that one man might need his leg amputated.The injured included a young boy who local hospital officials say may lose his leg”. 

As many pointed out there was no western intervention in other Arab states like Bahrain where large numbers of civilian protesters were also being shot down. This made clear there was no absolute principle of protecting civilians. Even Lord Craig the head of the British armed forces during 1991 Gulf war has admitted that because of the different policy towards Bahrain “Once again we will face the accusation that oil-starved colonialists are up to their knavish tricks."

When the Egyptian revolt broke out the US restricted itself to calls for calm for many days, right to the point where it became obvious that a continued refusal of Mubarak to step down was going to lead to major revolt and instability. Just as in South America at that point the US switched from supporting the dictatorship to steering the direction of the democratic struggle away from any fundamental threat to US interests. Thus the last favour the dictator does as he heads off stage is to be seen to be finally pushed on his way by the same White House that up to then backed him.

Getting beyond strawman arguments

It would be wrong to pretend that all those who argued for or against intervention are making shrill arguments. On the anti-intervention side Noam Chomsky, in a well considered interview coming down against supporting the intervention because of the record and intentions of the western powers says; “In the case of intervention by the triumvirate of imperial powers that are currently violating UN 1973 in Libya, the burden is particularly heavy, given their horrifying records. Nonetheless, it would be too strong to hold that it can never be satisfied in principle -- unless, of course, we regard nation-states in their current form as essentially holy. Preventing a likely massacre in Benghazi is no small matter, whatever one thinks of the motives.” He doesn’t think Libya meets that test but he thinks it can be met pointing “In the post-World War II period, there are two cases of resort to force which -- though not qualifying as humanitarian intervention -- might legitimately be supported: India's invasion of East Pakistan in 1971, and Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia in December 1978, in both cases, ending massive atrocities.” It has to be noted here that Chomsky is looking at whether the imperialist intervention is humanitarian rather than whether the rebels should have looked for imperialist military support.

On the pro-side Gilbert Achcar’s ‘Libya: a legitimate and necessary debate from an anti-imperialist perspective’ was a well argued critical look at the case for supporting the air intervention to prevent a massacre even though we know that it not the only reason why the imperialists are intervening.
“Every general rule admits of exceptions. This includes the general rule that UN-authorized military interventions by imperialist powers are purely reactionary ones, and can never achieve a humanitarian or positive purpose. Just for the sake of argument: if we could turn back the wheel of history and go back to the period immediately preceding the Rwandan genocide, would we oppose an UN-authorized Western-led military intervention deployed in order to prevent it? Of course, many would say that the intervention by imperialist/foreign forces risks making a lot of victims. But can anyone in their right mind believe that Western powers would have massacred between half a million and a million human beings in 100 days?”

Achar’s article is weakened though by his idea that public opinion played a significant role in pushing the imperialists into intervening. Amusingly he pushes this the hardest around one of the rhetorical devices that the anti-interventionists are often heard to use, the idea of the US imposing a no-fly zone on Israel. “One can safely bet that the present intervention in Libya will prove most embarrassing for imperialist powers in the future. As those members of the US establishment who opposed their country's intervention rightly warned, the next time Israel's air force bombs one of its neighbours, whether Gaza or Lebanon, people will demand a no-fly zone. I, for one, definitely will.”

The very idea of the US doing such a thing because of public pressure seems so ludicrous that it exposes the weakness of the idea that ‘public opinion’ played a significant role in leading to the decision to intervene. But there are two other substantial pieces of evidence against this concept. Firstly that the massive displays of anti-war public opinion, particularly in Britain, had no visible impact on the decision to invade Iraq. And secondly that opinion polls actually reveal that there were initially only narrow majorities supporting the air strikes in Libya and that in both cases there were more opposed to further military involvement then for it. Quite certainly there was no overwhelming demand for intervention by their military that pressurised the imperialist powers into acting. By the start of April a Quinnipiac University survey “found that 47 per cent of registered voters now disapprove while 41 per cent support” the US intervention.

The limits of Leninist anti-imperialism

The Libyan example in particualr has exposed the limit of conventional Leninist anti-imperialism, the convention that simply looks at such struggles in terms of what is bad for imperialism. This Leninist approach might have made some sense for the first 20 years of its existence (although it often relied on the theoretical slight of hand of insisting that Soviet Russia or China could not be considered imperialist). But any serious look as previous republican insurrections has to acknowledge that very often the revolutionaries used whatever support from imperialist powers that they could obtain.

Right back to the American Revolution it is probable that victory of that revolution was dependent on French intervention and in particular the French fleets imposition of a 'no sail zone' off the American coast that robbed the British forces of the easy mobility they had enjoyed against the American rebels. In the Irish context every republican insurrection looked to other imperialist powers as a counter weight to British imperialism. Before the 20th century this was France, in the twentieth century it was Germany (referred to in the 1916 proclamation as 'our gallant allies in Europe') and in the 1940's it was even Nazi Germany.

Is the decision of the Libyan rebels to demand imperialist air support really qualitatively worse than looking to Hitler for support, as the IRA did in the 1940's? Apart perhaps from Fidel few could seriously answer yes to this question. On the other side of that equation can we really fault those Spanish anarchist exiles who joined the Free French army to fight fascism and to steal weapons to conduct an armed offensive after the war against Franco’s Spain. Their faith contains a strong warning of the problem of such alliances, after the war not only did the Allies leave Franco in power but they handed over lists of who had fought with them and was now suspected of seeking his overthrowal.

What became conventional leftist anti-imperialism really arose to serve the needs of Leninist Russia to shatter as far as possible the power of the other imperialist powers they faced. Within this the struggle for freedom of many republican insurrections were seen as secondary to the needs of the USSR. In republican Spain in the 1930’s this meant suppressing the revolutionary movement, in particular the anarchists, within the republican zone because this was a period where the Soviet Union sought an alliance with some imperial powers against others. At the end of World War Two it meant Moscow ordering the communist partisan units in countries like Greece and Italy that Stalin had signed over to the west at Yalta to suppress the demand for revolution. In Greece this involved the execution of communist cadres that refused these orders. In Yugoslavia the partisans were strong and independent enough to resist these orders and take power under Tito.

Some anarchist perspectives

Soon after the start of the air war there were a number of contributions to the debate on Libya from an anarchist perspective. I’m going to look at three made at the start of the intervention from material in English on

The first is important as it is a translation from the blog of a Libyan anarchist Saoud Salem who on the eve of the intervention argued that “this intervention that will transform Libya into a real hell, even more than now. That intervention will also steal the revolution from the Libyans, a revolution that has cost them thousands of dead women and men so far. An intervention that will also divide the Libyan resistance..To be liberated from Qaddafi just to become slaves to those who armed him and empowered him during all those years of authoritarian violence and repression.”

Saoud Salem’s blog gives their location as being Libya and while there is no indication that this is any more than a single critical voice it still provides a useful antidote to the pro-intervention debate that insists that all anti-Gaddafi Libyan’s were calling for intervention. As importantly it makes clear what the cost of intervention for the Libyan revolution is, a cost as we have seen that is already been paid.

Italy was closely connected with the Gaddafi regime and now provides the airport bases for the intervention. A statement from the FdCA in Italy concludes “What we, as revolutionary activists, are interested in is the potential for revolt and self-organization being expressed by populations whose demands are no longer set by clericalists or fundamentalists, but are instead concentrated on basic rights and the re-distribution of wealth… This is why we support the popular committees and our comrades who, at the cost of their own lives and liberty, fight in the streets and squares of Benghazi, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, throughout the Middle East and North Africa. This is why we are firmly opposed to the war and the military intervention whose inevitable result is devastation and misery in Libya, and to the cruel repression being carried out in other countries in their attempt to normalize the situation there.“

Like the better anti-intervention statements this statement tries to both support the democratic revolution and oppose the imperialist intervention but while this is a strong political position for the reasons outlined above it is a position that is ludicrous from a military point of view. How are we to solve this particular contradiction between the formally correct political position of opposing all intervention and the military reality of a democratic revolution that would have been snuffed out, with perhaps considerable loss of life without such intervention? In his reply to Gilbert Achcar Alex Collinicos of the British SWP essentially just shrugged his shoulders and said ‘shit happens.’ His reply to Achcar concludes “The sad fact is that massacres are a chronic feature of capitalism. The revolutionary left is, alas, too weak to stop them. Until we become stronger, we can at least offer political clarity about what’s at stake.” This at least is considerably more honest then the Irish SWP’s assertion that the Libyian people can win on their own but while its an answer that may go down well in London it wouldn’t sound so convincing when Gaddaffi’s tanks were on the outskirts Benghazi.

A final point worth looking at is the interview on with Nejat Firat Zeyneloglu, a Kurdish libertarian based in Turkey. Nejat made the following observation on the polar debate the old style leninist and liberal left are engaged in. "Defending dictatorships or defending the imperialist intervention against dictators, are basically the same thing; it means to reject or to ignore the will of the masses of the people who fight for their liberty by themselves. I’d like to point out that there is on both arguments, distrust of the people, the masses, and their struggle. For the imperialist countries, naturally, the whole issue is to provide a so-called “stability”, because their interests depend on the “stability”. So, generally, as long as their benefits are protected, they do not care who the dominant power is; fascists, social democrats, conservatives, greens and so on.
Remember that as far as a month ago, Sarkozy, Berlusconi, Erdogan and others were best pals with Gaddaffi. Because all of them have investments in Libya, and as you know, investment is more important than people’s life for capitalism.
The imperialist countries are more worried about the Libyan people rather than Gaddaffi. Therefore, the aim of this war is to establish and to guarantee a new structure in Libya that is for the benefit of the imperialist countries. I think that we must support the struggle of the Libyan people that is based on their own will. We must support all kind of practice of direct democracy and self-management against any kind of oppression or authority. We have to acknowledge that the Libyan people have the right to self-determination, and we have to side with people, not Gaddaffi or the imperialists."

Within this is the seed of a different approach. Which is that while retaining the right to advise and criticise we should start off with a defense of the popular movement and an acceptance that the decision about how to balance political opposition to imperialism with the military need for imperialist intervention is theirs and theirs alone to make. In any case it is not as if the imperialist powers themselves are going to pay attention to what the miniscule groups of anarchists, leninists or other revolutionaries have to say anyway. It makes some sense for Castro or Chazez to come out with grand policy statements on what imperialists should not be allowed to do, Cuba or Venezula at least have a vote at the UN.

Leninist and nationalist parties imagine that one day they will have state power, that they will get to call the shots. So again from that perspective approaching these questions on the basis of imagine state policy has some credibility. For anarchists however we never expect to be in that position so why issue statements as if we were.

Cold hard realities

Historically democratic, anti-colonial and republican movements have always sought external support in order to achieve their goals. Revolutions require money and guns and for the proletarian element within such movements both are likely to be in short supply. This in itself means internally the proletarian element will often be forced into an alliance with the more national democratic end of the business class with one providing the resources and the other the number for a successful rebellion. The historical experience of such alliances is quite negative, whether it is with the domestic business class or a foreign power. Certainly this puts enormous limitations on what can be openly fought for, when the Spanish stalinists argued that the anarchist revolution was liable to reduce the liklihood of France or Britain lifting the arms embargo during the Civil War there was a logic to their argument. But it was one the anarchists rightly rejected for reasons that are outlined elsewhere.

To an extent I think both Chomsky and Achcar have the right argument, even if they disagree over how it applies in the case of Libya. There can not be some sort of absolute principle that insists not one crumb of aid can ever be sought from an imperialist power. Libya was not Iraq in 2003 which saw no popular insurrection or even Afghanistan in 2001 where the US supported ethnic warlords against a common enemy.

If the Leninists were in any way honest they would recognise that in practise if not in theory that was their historical approach. Not only did Lenin accept aid from imperialist Germany during the Russian revolution but it is only by the slight of hand of pretending that the Soviet Union (or China) was not imperialist that Leninists are unable to see the reliance of Cuba, Vietnam, Korea, Nicaragua etc on imperialist aid.

An anarchist approach to these questions needs to have a number of components
1. An absolute political opposition to imperialism itself in either its military or economic forms and a rejection of the concept of humanitarian intervention from above.
2. Defense of democratic republican movements in general
3. Promotion and support for libertarian tendencies & currents within such movements
4. An acceptance that the question of how much military support it is permissable for those in struggle to accept from imperialist powers is not an absolute but rather dependent on the nature of those movements and what they are sacrificing for such support. And at the end of the day while we may advise and critique it is the movements themselves that will make these judgement calls

Such a position may be more complex, less based on ideological rigidity and more based on case by case judgement calls but it also reflects the actual rather than imagined history of the anarchist, the left and both anti-colonial and pro-democracy movements. As in other areas we cannot suspend activity until the perfect movement spontaneously emerges from the depths, rather we have to struggle with the movements that exist. And such a struggle is unlikely to have influence if it is purely an exercise in ideological restatement that if forced to ignore the realities on the ground.

The future for the Libyan people

At this point in time who can predict which way a post Gaddafi Libya will go. Clearly the rebels are not a single body and the TNC’s claim to represent all is already being challenged. Will the neo-liberal direction sketched out in the program released at the time of the London conference hold. Will the new found respect for the US cited by the Islamist’s crumble when US policy returns to business as usual. Will the TNC disintegrate in a fresh civil war? Will the masses succeed in breaking through the limits both these factions would impose and start to develop the organisation to create a Libya that is truly free?  

What we can be certain of seeing is a process under which the new ruling class attempts to put the lid back on working class confidence that will have risen during the rebellion.  They will attempt to limit discussion of what sort of 'Free Libya' was fought for and to limit the right of workers to organise in unions and other class bodies just as we have seen happen in Egypt.  In the short term the challenge will be for the working class to fight for its interests in the New Libya rather than see their interests subsumed in the name of national unity whose only outcome will be the recreation of a Libya safe for the oil corporations.

The imperialists will clearly favour the TNC and the rapid imposition of a ‘business as usual’ stability like that they are imposing in Tunisia and Egypt. In that respect perhaps the greatest real hope is that victory in Libya links the revolts to either side in Tunisia and Egypt and adds new hope to those ongoing revolutions. If all three are to be succesful at some point they will have to deal with hostile imperalist intervention themselves, regardless of the alliances of necessity made in the course of this battle.

WORDS: Andrew Flood

author by Diogenes of Sinopepublication date Fri Aug 26, 2011 02:18Report this post to the editors

The real question is not if imperialism is charitable or if Qhadafi is a popular heroe. The real question is what was a worst case scenario? Qhadafi remaining in power after crushing the rebellion or a triumphant NATO? Bad as Qhadafi may be, he is exclusively a problem for the Libyan people whereas NATO and imperialism are a problem to everyone in the world. A victory in Libya means green lights for similar interventions elsewhere and a boost to the ideology of humanitarian intervention. From that perspective Chomsky was quite right.

Other than that the article is quite contradictory and logically very weak. If the author thinks there is little point in anarchist grupuscles to make statements as if they had any impact, then why does he bother to point out the so called "principles of anarchism on interventionism"? If he thinks the rebels could only welcome military interventionism as a necessity and for that purpose they had to give some political concessions then why state as a principle that anarchists should have an "absolute political opposition to imperialism itself in either its military or economic forms and a rejection of the concept of humanitarian intervention"? At least liberals are honest about the political implications of their ideas, unlike whoever wrote this article.

author by Diogenes of Sinopepublication date Fri Aug 26, 2011 02:33Report this post to the editors

"This is not the 1930's, the last time when you might have believed that a rag tag army without air support could take on a modern one in a war and win". What about Nepal? Obviously the author ignores the difference between a popular war and a conventional war. The experience of modern guerrilla warfare contradicts this simplistic statement. What ultimately defines victory in war is humans, not technology.

author by mazen kamalmaz - libertarian left in syriapublication date Sun Aug 28, 2011 09:53Report this post to the editors

This is not direct criticism of the writing of comrade Flood , it is meant for the wider leftist reactions to Libyan revolution , and Arab revolutions in general . In fact it is almost advocating the same positions or trying to develop them a little further .
Some commentaries started like that , nobody can support Qaddafi , BUT … Others took the other direction , they start like this : nobody can support the NATO intervention , and there comes the BUT again , but for the opposite case . In fact , what is happening in the Arab world is not two players game , there is a third player , and that player is the most important for us . That is the masses itself . And that’s what revolutions all about . To understand it more we have to go back to cold war , even second and first world wars . We saw then even great libertarians like Kropotkin supporting one brutal force against another in a conflict that , not only was totally meaningless to the workers from both camps , but that started the worst slaughter of such enslaved and marginalized people till that time . Even it was more complicated for second world war , there are the bad Nazi and Fascists on one side , and the Stalinist Russia and self-proclaimed "democratic" governments on the other . If this happened when two brutal authoritarian powers fought each other , more could be expected in the more complicated situation in Libya . If the wars in Europe were fought under the banner of patriotism , this war was fought under the banners of freedom or anti-imperialism . But all are similar in that Generals ( even Colonels ) and "great" nationalist "heroes" also are involved . Ruhle , the German left communist ( who almost embraced Anarcho-Syndicalism at that time ) formulated the issue like this : Which side we should support ? I think this is not the right way to put the issue . I think that anarchists and libertarians , and most important , the Libyan and Arab masses themselves , must not support any side in this conflict , I mean neither NATO nor Qaddafi . There could be no BUT in this , the BUT here can mean only one thing : taking the wrong side . During cold war it was either Stalinism ( which equates itself with justice ) or capitalism that equates itself with freedom , we know now that it was not the case . Freedom lost when western capitalist powers won , but justice couldn't win if they lost it . "But" , is there really another , third alternative , to the occupation of Libya by imperialists or its "independence" under the dictatorship of Qaddafi ? Is it true that the masses cannot have independent interests from Imperialist powers and local dictators ? Is it true that the masses have to submit to one of these powers , that they cannot live without being enslaved by one of them , either by local dictators or by imperialist powers , that they were not born to live as free and equal humans ? This is simply our case , the other alternative , we urge the masses to overthrow all their authoritarian oppressors , and we saw the masses doing this , or trying to do this . In other words , we refuse to be stuck between NATO and Qaddafi , we deny that the role of Libyan masses is to "chose" its "leader" , simply , they must govern themselves by themselves .

To go further , I would say that I am not in the favor of the arguments against Qaddafi as false anti-imperialist , let's assume that there are some genuine anti-imperialist who is authoritarian , autocratic or totalitarian , can his anti-imperialism or any other feature , justify that dictatorship ? It is the same old story again , the Inquisition is bad only if you are not catholic , but it is right if you think that they are rightly after those who don't believe in Jesus the way Pope of Rome does . It is not about denouncing killing or torturing , it is about killing the right ones . And then why only Qaddafi or Asaad , what about Bin Laden , or even fascists , are not they genuine "anti-imperialists" ? Is not that a mere revival of Stalinism , in a crude and dogmatic way ?

Another thing about the pessimistic views of the Arab revolutions : No one can anticipate for sure the final outcome of any historical incident , this apply more for revolutions , of course there are signs that can help , but no one , whoever , can tell in advance what is going to happen eventually . Let's only remember here the general enthusiasm that was generated by October revolution , and even revolutions like the Iranian one in 1978 – 1979 , and the disappointment they ended with . Nobody even imagined in the first days of the great French revolution or Russian February revolution that they could go that far , and nobody could imagined in February 1979 that Iranian revolution could end with a theocratic reactionary regime . In revolutions all the forces will pursue their own interests trying their best , and the outcome will be the sum of all those struggles in a tricky way ; and that is exactly what we call for . To fight , to exert our best efforts till the end defending the masses' interests . Of course we are going to criticize all the negative aspects of the current revolutions , but this does not mean to draw pessimistic conclusions from that , or to stop the fight , and consider that the cause of the masses is lost already . It could go that way of course , but surely it will go that direction if we told the masses , like other authoritarians , who want to maintain their slavery , that they cannot win anyhow . To those who want us to submit to dictators like Qaddafi or Asaad , or to take the side of NATO or Islamists , we have only one answer : we will fight all till the last , and ask the masses to fight for a libertarian free and socialist alternative ; you have the right to submit , and even to ask others to do so , but here in the middle east there are revolutions , and that means no voluntary submission to dictatorships or oppressors , that means that these powers have to force us to submit , not the other way . On one writer asked the readers to curb their enthusiasm about the latest news from Libya , I think this is not right ; we , and more than us , the few Arab anarchists , the wide Arab masses , needs your enthusiasm , not for Qaddafi or NATO , but for their own cause …….

author by donato romito - fdcapublication date Thu Sep 01, 2011 23:27Report this post to the editors

it may add that Lybia has been (and probably will be) a great prison in the desert for the many migrants coming from Africa and Asia and directed to Europe, just stopped for months and years in terrible concentration camps; it was one of the big "favour" well paid made by Gadaffi to Italy and Europe along with access to oil and lybian investments in italian and european compagnies and banks, even soccer clubs!! And the NTC is ready to sign good agreements with Italy and UE about blocking migrants' traffic from lybian coasts to italian coasts.
As to military question, Andrew, we could really risk -as anarchists- to be "ludicrous" -as you write- not because we say nothing or very little about the necessity of imperialism's intervention, but because we have no troops, no weapons, no air forces, no gunships, no international brigades, no money to buy and pay all of speak about military question with some recognition
your good article just translated in italian
PS: between 1944-1945 many italian towns were not liberated by allied forces well-armed and with air forces support, but by.... partisan brigades (as you well know in many cases just youngmen with no military experience, a part from some commander as the italian anarchist Emilio Canzi who fought in Spain)

author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Fri Sep 02, 2011 18:03Report this post to the editors

There's a lot to comment here, but I will stick to a few points. I thought the first part of the article to be interesting. The second part, about the intervention, the military question and anarchist position is actually plagued with contradictions, simplistic and I find weak if not subservient to the argument of "humanitarian intervention" (of course, "we" don't think it is humanitarian, but we critically support it anyway). Since we cannot put troops in the struggle and since our position is not influential in any form for the actual development of events, I think that Andrew's principles on anarchism on imperialist intervention are actually irrelevant (if not ludicrous). All we can do is state our political ideas in relation to the forces in play -not because we think they are going to take us into account, but because we are addressing another public, our own local public in our countries and potential comrades over there. From that perspective I do not think a position such as that of the FdCA to be ludicrous as Andrew Flood insists in quite unfair terms, but actually a politically correct position taking into account the real value and possibilities of our statements (which are surely not aimed at influencing top decisions as we all agree).

But obviously the military part of it is the most problematics since, as pointed earlier by another commentator, it brushes aside all of the experience of anticolonial and guerrilla warfare of the second part of the 21st century to the present where no irregular force has air support (save for the LTTE in Sri Lanka, and again very weak). It ignores that, under an enormous air disadvantage, Colombian rebels with all of the "international community" (including the Latin American so called left wing governments) against them have managed, with their own forces on the ground, last year to recover an awful lot of territory lost after Plan Colombia. It ignores the Indochina campaigns, which faced massive and indiscriminate bombings and air raids and yet defeated imperialism at a heavy price (Soviet influence there was in terms of weaponry but it was not decisive and they did not openly intervene as NATO did in Libya now). It ignores the successful military strategy of Nepal and also ignores the ongoing Kurdish armed resistance against four states, imperialism and their local allies. One might say that ignores even the resistance in Afghanistan today!

Obviously, the military element cannot be isolated from other elements -people's support, international mobilisation in your favour and politics. Aircraft is not the decisive element in popular warfare, as already pointed out. The weak element of the Libyan rebels, the sole element why they depended for their victory on foregin intervention was the political weakness of insurgency. Even now there is already an absolute mess in terms of what's going to happen. The secularists and the islamists are already at odds, and there are regional differences and conflicts. Even though they seem to have had hegemonic support in Benghazi, the same does not seem to hold true for other parts of the country, including the capital.

What I find worrying is that Andrew Flood seems to presupose that in the 21st century a popular revolution cannot win without a foreign power's support. Therefore, this means that we can never win, because as he pointed with the example of the Spanish revolution, collectivisation was preventing French and British intervention (in a way, because when all these experiences stopped, they did not intervene because communists and anarchists in power, no matter how disciplined, were anathema. Fascism was preferable to them). I think it is important to read once again Abraham Guillén's authorative book on the matter "El error militar de las izquierdas" (the military mistake of the left) which places unequivocallly the defeat in the political problems of the Republican coalition, which were reflected in a bad military strategy (moving on his thesis that there should have been a combination of regular and irregular warfare, beyond the manichaean view of against or for militarisation). Also, Soviet advisors were a disgrace and lead from one defeat to the next. Therefore, was a foreign powers support in the best interest of the Spanish revolution, whereas it were France, Britain or the USSR?

As I said, Andrew Flood's argument lends credit to humanitarian interventionism from a supposedly critical perspective.

Secondly it pressuposes that what started as a formidable popular rebellion remained always such. It is my understanding that things changed an awful lot on the way to Tripoli and imperialist intervention was instrumental for that. Now the military commander of Tripoli, for instance, is Abdl Hakim Belhaj, an infamous jihadists with links to Al Qaeda. Sharia law has already been imposed in most of the country. So we see a course of events radically different to what has happened in Tunisia or Egypt. This is not to say that Gaddafi should not have been toppled; but as an anarchist, I think means and ends go hand in hand, and the way a dictator is toppled is relevant. No imperialist intervention can bring a progressive future and Libya is no exception to that rule. Indeed, I would take and expand Flood's words on Gaddafi: imperialism would not arm anti-imperialists, but it would also not arm genuine democrats. If imperialism armed at least some sectors of the so called rebels, was after it made sure who would be in control. Not that I am pessimistic, but I hold not false optimism on this issue and I foresee tough times ahead for Libya. And you know, it is easier to deal with tough times when you know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, rather than when there's none.

Last but not least: to defend a dictator like Gaddafi was a disgrace. But to fail to see the implications of an imperialist intervention like this it is as well. Fidel's words cannot be reduced to an ageing dictator with fear of a pro-democracy at home: they spawn from someone who has survived a number of terroritsts attacks and various plots of assassinations sponsored by the CIA. They come from the president of a country who has been almost invaded and where the threat of intervention does exist and it is no tall tale. In Latin America the US do sponsors bloody coups, regime change, fascist dictatorships, etc. My point is that there is also merit to explore the consequences, from the perspective of international relationships, of these interventions. I would recommend on this point a book on the Balkan war called "The Fool's Crusade". Enough said.

author by Andrewpublication date Fri Sep 02, 2011 20:02Report this post to the editors

In think the most important aspect of this sort of debate between comrades is that a great effort is made to honestly reply to what is actually stated rather than either an accidentally or delibretely distorted version that is perhaps easier to argue your own line against. Unfortunately I think Jose's contribution sometimes steps over that line, I would hope accidentally and in doing so misunderstands both the article and its purpose. I will try and correct this and at the same time move the discussion onto the substantial political points.

To deal with the core misprepresentation first, Jose replies to someone who says"(of course, "we" don't think it is humanitarian, but we critically support it anyway)." That is not the argument of the article and nothing like that formulation is used in the article. The first bullet point at the end is surely quite clear in that respect "An absolute political opposition to imperialism itself in either its military or economic forms and a rejection of the concept of humanitarian intervention from above."

Instead the article explores the contradictions that revolve around reducing the Libyan events to the question of 'does any connection exist between NATO & the rebellion'. In describing the article as plagued with contradictions I think Jose makes the error of not seeing that it is the situation that is plagued with contradictions and that the article seeks to discuss these. The goal is to open up a space for debate between comrades around how we can address real world situations that don't fit into easy binary simplifications that theory sometimes describes.

We agree however that "All we can do is state our political ideas in relation to the forces in play -not because we think they are going to take us into account, but because we are addressing another public, our own local public in our countries and potential comrades over there." That is why such a large section of the article exposes both NATO's motivations and the aid they were happy to provide to Gaddafi for the last decade despite their 'historical differences'. The wikileaks cables in particular provided much valuable source material on the real attitude of the US to Gaddafi. It's also why the article ends with warnings about what NATO (and the TNC) will be trying to do now.

The core motivation in writing this piece was to address what we can say about the central contradiction of those who are fighting dictatorship but taking aid from imperialism in doing so. This is not a new argument for Anarkismo, for a long time material published here on Haiti that mentioned Batay Ouvriyé was more or less trolled by posts pointing out they had accepted funding from the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The trolling was so consistent that we ended up creating a special article for that discussion, see

It was this situation that was in my mind when I started because the pro-Gaddafi left were using the rebel reliance on NATO air support in a similar fashion to simply dismiss the rebels as no more than stooges of imperialism. While the article does indeed point out that such aid comes with strings I think what I wrote as a comment in 2006 in reply to that discussion also holds here "It is of course right to ask questions about what strings may be attached to such aid but their taking the money proves nothing unless you believe Lenin was really a German agent because he accepted German gold and transport for the Russian revolution. Or more relevantly that the acceptance of Russia and Libyan aid during the British Miners strike of 1984 somehow made the NUM Russian or Libyan agents. Unions in a difficult position will accept funds from where ever they can - the only real issue is what if any strings are attached to such funds."

Of course the situations are a very long way from being identical but they do illustrate that treating any acceptance of aid as being instant and fatal contamination is not politically useful. It is very hard to come up with any formulation that addresses this question in all circumstances, in terms of opening that discussion I instead suggested "An acceptance that the question of how much military support it is permissable for those in struggle to accept from imperialist powers is not an absolute but rather dependent on the nature of those movements and what they are sacrificing for such support. And at the end of the day while we may advise and critique it is the movements themselves that will make these judgement calls"

In that context a discussion of the rebel movement goes beyond the binary 'have they accepted any aid' onto the more useful ground of examining what transformation have been made as a result of this and what divisions exist around the compromises required by imperialism as the price of that aid. This is the reason I focused in on the program released by the political and international affairs committee of the National Transition Council in advance of the London summit as I thought the contents of that program (along with the fact it was published in English rather than Arabic) exposed rather well what the costs were. I'm following with considerable interest the fissures in the movement that started to become public once military victory started to appear certain. I would hope it is too early to write off the movements in Libya as lesser than those of Egypt or Tunisia because of the deeper (and different) compromises made - indeed what will be of interest now is the extent all three will influence each other and the similar movements elsewhere that are for now held back.

My use of the term 'ludicrous' in relation to the military aspect comes across in retrospect as uncomradely so I apologise for that. I don't particularly want to get bogged down in a discussion about warfare but I think three points are to be made
1. My original piece is guilty of over simplifying the situation in order to avoid making a long article longer, endless pages can be written about military theory. I did however delibretely choose a cut off point in the 1930's to leave open the question of what military alternatives might have existed in Spain.
2. I don't think it is meaningful to compare the possabilties for guerrilla warfare in mountains & jungles with that in relatively flat, vast deserts that lack places to hide from modern tanks & jets. There are more similarites with Iraq but part of the lesson there is that in such terrain you end up being forced to fight in towns & cities. This comes with enormous costs when you face a military prepared to simply massacre civilian populations under the heading of 'collatorial damage' as happened in Fallujah.
3. Even where rebel forces can hold terrain the human cost is enormous and the corrosive effect of the constant cycles of violence destructive for any anti-authoritiarian politics where it drags on over years. It may well be possible to avoid losing such a war in military terms (which is not the same as winning) but the examples cited shows that the costs of doing so are large indeed.

Finally this article was certainly not expected to be some sort of definitive statement of position (indeed it is often an argument against those who would quickly jump to doing just that). In that context I certainly welcome these replies even if I think there is a tendency to avoid addressing the difficult contradictions raised by retreating to simplifications that are not very good descriptions of the specifics of the Libyan situation.

author by José Antonio Gutiérrezpublication date Sun Sep 04, 2011 06:42Report this post to the editors

I earnestly raised my observations because the article is indeed flawed in many respects and has at times a kind of polemical overtone which I don’t find useful in any sense and which I think do no favour in any form to an actual constructive debate over a murky issue (calling ludicrous or absurd the position not only of the FdCA, but also, being derogatory with other comrades who deserve more respect, such as Éirigi, or even the SWP’s position which deserves more respect too, sounds pedantic and non-constructive and I’m glad you acknowledge it).

I think I have a fair enough grasp of the contradictions and difficulties of the Libyan situation to voice an opinion, so please do not pontificate in such a patronising way. I was lucky enough to be in Egypt to get a closer look at events, and have been in touch with many Arab comrades from various persuasions to appreciate as well as you do the difficulties of the context, so try to acknowledge that the opinions of someone who dare disagree with you have some substance to them (My own appreciations are already expressed in another article a joint effort with another Spanish speaking comrade, and on numerous debates within the Latin America left who discredited any attempt as revolt as “stooges of imperialism” or who sided with the “anti-imperialist socialist” Gaddafi) I raise my observations precisely because the issue of intervention is way more complex as portrayed by this article. You acknowledge you had to oversimplify in order for the article not to be even longer. I think that the problem is that you were already long enough, and touched a wide range of issues that deserved a more detailed treatment, so being longer would have been actually a good idea. Alternatively, the piece should have been far less ambitious in terms of its scope (as our own article, in which we just discredited both the pro-imperialist and the pro-Gaddafi argument without going into more details).

Leaving all that aside, my point is that if a situation is contradictory, then our position does not have to be so. Every revolutionary situation is contradictory and that requires even more clarity in terms of principles and certainly communicating ideas. Sure, we will not have the ultimate solutions to the Libyan people, but clarity and purpose in our position means to understand what we should communicate for our own environment. After all, your article is not about Libyans, is about the left in Europe. And from that perspective I found the second part (not the first one) disappointing.

I said there’s a lot of stuff to comment about. I did not want to go into full details, and I don’t want to do that now, so I’ll stick to the main point I find differences with. My main issues of disagreement is your appreciation, which you insist on at different points in different ways, that in the 21st century a revolutionary movement necessarily requires a hand from imperialism in one way or another. This I believe, derives from the absolute primacy you place on “things” (military equipment or the terrain) when it comes to revolutionary struggle. You take one particular case, as Libya, and make some vague generalizations, but your own appreciations on Libya are based, in my opinion, on an inadequate balance of the forces at play. For all your concern about not falling on simplistic or binary models, your approach to “people vs. dictatorship” seems to be as binary as anything else, ignoring the real contradictions within Gaddafi opposition or dealing insufficiently with them. In fact, reality suggests that the situation is far more complex with a whole range of religious, regional and tribal allegiances on play. I think that this is fundamental and cannot be overlooked.

Neither the “people” nor the dictatorship represented homogenous blocks. Not that you said that, but I think that in not fully dealing with this issue leads to wrong statements. Why imperialism intervened, if, as you said, they already had what they wanted, oil? Possibly one thing was trying to stabilise the oil prices, and as you mention inter-imperialist rivalries may have played some role. But there’s more to that. One thing was to support Gaddafi when he ruled uncontested. Yet another was to continue supporting him while he faced a popular opposition on the streets in the middle of the Arab Spring, in a context when literally anything can happen. But most importantly, imperialism could no longer deny that the Gaddafi regime started to show real cracks, obviously, because of the context of unrest. The early defections (unlike Syria, or Bahrain, or Jordan, or Egypt, or Tunisia) show that the regime was already collapsing from within and that some figures were in the wait for the moment when they could make their own appearance in the show.

Why is this important to mention? Because that means that the people’s block was not homogenous either. From the very beginning the opposition camp was plagued with ex-gaddafist opportunists and other dubious elements (such as jihadists) that imperialism promoted to quell whatever genuine libertarian element undoubtedly was (and is) there among those who oppose the dictatorship. What happened in Libya, unlike Tunisia or Egypt, was a mixture of a popular revolt and a coup d’Etat. Imperialism strengthened the putschists elements and that is the real meaning of intervention, that is, to take away from people their freedom and power. In fact, when France recognised the TNC nobody in Libya recognized them, the leadership was completely appointed through foreign support bypassing the popular committees and other initiatives that were formed. A military intervention turned them in the end, ex-gaddafists and westernizing liberals, as the legitimate government without giving a chance to the Libyan people to have found their own natural leadership in that context. Using a label like Rebels, however, obscure this internal contradiction, in the same way that others deliberately try to confuse the people in Tahrir with the transition government of Egypt as if it was all the “revolution”.

According to you is a misrepresentation to say, as I did, that in your article you give a critical support to humanitarian intervention. That may be so, but I did not stretch my argument to give it a spin as you insinuate, but actually I based myself on what you said when you insisted that because of the conditions of modern warfare, the “rebels” needed NATO support. Therefore, NATO support was necessary (at least for someone who sides with the "rebels") and therefore that becomes a critical argument for humanitarian intervention, even though you know of course it will not be humanitarian and that the needs of the Libyan people will come pretty much at the bottom of the imperialist agenda. But if NATO presence is necessary to topple the dictator as you insist, then why not go all the way down the road of this argument and say that intervention was necessary (even if limited, or dosed, etc.)?

Now, I have a different opinion based on my (incomplete) understanding of what has been happening since February as I outlined above: if the “rebels” required imperialist intervention it was precisely because they did not have enough or hegemonic support to win. Probably they did have it in Benghazi, but then again, dissatisfaction with the regime has been running high for a long time in the East of the country. I also think that the putschists elements pushed for a military approach earlier on when there was no need to do it (that’s how I understand Saoud, the Libyan anarchist when he says that the “first mistake was the militarization of the revolution”). This turn of events have not been sufficiently studied or addressed. From that perspective, imperialist intervention was not necessary because a popular revolt cannot win in the current era of “modern warfare” as you say, but because of that complex scenario of an opposition divided between a putsch and a genuine popular revolt, between ex-members disaffected from the regime and a youth that wants something else for their future. Seemingly, not everybody in Libya favoured the turn of events from the protest and therefore the “rebels” lacked the hegemonic strength to beat the regime.

True: a vicious regime can stop a protest no matter how genuine, but if the regime is also isolated, that is very difficult to do. That’s why the regimes of Eastern Europe collapsed as soon as the USSR could not rule with an iron hand anymore. That’s why other regimes (with higher internal legitimacy) survived the collapse of the Soviet Union. That’s why Colombia depends on imperialist intervention, because of their own accord they can’t beat the insurgents. Take US support out and the rascals in Bogotá are gone in a year or so. Gaddafi was on his own and still the rebels could not beat him, and there was no military question at stake. This was no rag tag army as you say. There were sectors of the army, higher ranking officials that joined the insurrection from the outbreak. There were jihadists who had significant experience in guerrilla warfare both in Libya in the ‘90s and elsewhere (including Iraq and Yemen). Again, if they did not make more significant supports when momentum was on their side is because of other factors. And those factors are the doubts they raised on many sectors of Libyan society, the base of support which Gaddafi undoubtedly has, and that complex network of tribal, religious and regional allegiances I already mentioned.

So it is mistaken to speak about this experience as if it was a popular war, when the reality was more complex than that. And for that perspective I reject the claim that, based on the Libyan experience, it can be said that in the “age of the helicopter gunship” an army cannot be defeated by a people on arms. This is a view which oversimplifies the matter, which ignores the experience of guerrilla and popular warfare precisely in the era of the helicopter gunship and above all, it is a variant of technological fetishism where the determinant factors are things (terrain or equipment). Sure, they have a role to play, but they are not determinant as to say:

“I don't think it is meaningful to compare the possabilties (sic) for guerrilla warfare in mountains & jungles with that in relatively flat, vast deserts that lack places to hide from modern tanks & jets”

Not only Iraq is comparable to Libya: also El Salvador comes to mind, where commander Marcial said his famous slogan “our mountains are the people (a guerrilla experience defeated more politically than not militarily), and you have as well urban struggle in Colombia (that rebels fight in the “jungle” is the typical Western media spin on a far more complex conflict). Obviously, you can’t hide from jets and that’s why you do not organise regular large units. You have the experience of Sri Lanka as well, which was eventually defeated a fearful cost (to the shameful silence of most anarchists, that said nothing while 25,000 were massacred in just over two weeks in the worst massacre of recent times), while the Sri Lankan regime had full backing of both China and the US, apart from the UK and other lesser empires, and because of their inability (anchored in objective reasons as well) to build a substantial base of support among the Cingala. Again, their failure was political, since in the military front they managed to do quite well fighting in an island.

But again, the bottom line is that as already said, a popular war is determined by the people, not by things (whether planes or sand, or tress or mountains) as when you say “This is not the 1930's, the last time when you might have believed that a rag tag army without air support could take on a modern one in a war and win” (let alone how inadequate is to define an insurgent army as a “rag tag army”!!!); or when you say “The nature of modern weaponry is such that even a tiny handful of loyal military personnel can slaughter thousands in minutes. Revolution in the age of the helicopter gunship is no longer a question of huge numbers being able to face down military units.” I'm not sure you are aware of the implications of these statement, but actually, there is a persistence of guerrilla and revolutionary struggle, not only in mountains and jungles, but in areas full of people from where the insurgencies are drawn, in this contemporary time. From a military perspective, they seem to be viable. The problem is always political or imperialist backing to a decadent leadership that keeps them alive.

Then again you claim that “in such terrain you end up being forced to fight in towns & cities. This comes with enormous costs when you face a military prepared to simply massacre civilian populations under the heading of 'collatorial (sic) damage' as happened in Fallujah.

The first thing is that to say that an urban setting for guerrilla warfare is far more costly in human terms that a rural setting is just not right. Such a statement is not based in any evidence. I am sure you are perfectly aware of the massive horrors endured by people in the countryside of let’s say, Colombia, Vietnam or Kurdistan, to name but a few, but I don’t understand why you don’t take this into account… it has been pretty horrific, far worse than anything we’ve seen in irregular warfare in towns –Fallujah included. In fact, in urban centres it is far more difficult to apply a scorched earth policy as you can easily do in the countryside (over the last 15 years, the Colombian state has displaced over 5 million peasants and no one takes notice –if the main scenario was the urban centres, they would find far more difficult to apply the scorched earth tactics they can easily use far away from “civilisation”)

The cost of a popular war is high in all cases (even in Mexico or the Ukraine, and that was all well before the ‘30s and the airplane). I know no experience of popular war which is clean and humane, and that’s why resort to weapons has to be avoided at all costs, until no other means are available. My own view is that the putschists in Libya were no aware of this –they thought of an easy victory.

Even your observations on human costs, seem to suggest that at the end of the day NATO saved lives. If this is not a soft argument for humanitarian intervention, then what is it? But unfortunately I don’t think NATO intervention saved lives. Probably they did save a good few if the army would have entered Benghazi (eventhough with Chomsky I agree that nothing of the scale of Rwanda or Colombia or Sri Lanka would have happened in Benghazi: probably, you’d have had a crackdown like in Syiria, Bahrain or Yemen, vicious and ruthless but not genocidal). But now what about Sirte, Beni Walid, Jufrah, Sabha? There’s good reasons for concern that the retaliation to those strongholds could be terrible, but of course liberals and interventionists don’t care too much about them. In fact, I found odd not to have dealt with the denunciations about summary executions and atrocities commitede by the bombings, which should be quite central since the whole point of this intervention, in theory, was to protect civilians. Now the “rebels” are amassing forces out of these towns, that have civilians as innocents as those in Benghazi, who will face massive bombardments and violence. Who cares about them? Why if they did this in Benghazi was wrong, but now in Sirte or Sabha is alright? In the end I dread that the human cost of this Libyan adventure will be much, much higher than anything we imagine.

Sure, I agree with you that it is up to the Libyan themselves if they accept NATO support or not. I doubt that there was no other alternative, but it is a decision up to them to make. It is also up to them, if some Libyans prefer to fight for Gaddafi. Equally, it is up to them if they give 35% of their oil to France as discussed these days in the conference of “friends” of Libya (wouldn’t you be a friend this way?). And it is also their own business if they decide to have sharia law or not. But the point is we are not in Benghazi. You article is written from Ireland, a country right beside the UK and part of the EU. From that angle, I think that whatever we say has to deal with the reality we face directly. Once, someone asked Chomsky why he was so vitriolic against the USA and said so little, in comparison, about the USSR. His reply was classic –because I am a US, not a Soviet citizen. Likewise, it is not up to us to muse around decisions taken in Libya, but to confront imperialism and the role of NATO which is a direct problem of ours. Sure, they may not listen to us, but our public is the ordinary folk here and breaking the consensus around imperialism is a task for us in a context like this, as if NATO were the saviours of humanity or acknowledging their right to have rapid deployment forces all over the world to police the neighbourhood. Taking all this into account, I think the point of such an article should have been in unequivocal terms to take an anti-imperialist position that was watered down with claims that the rebels had no other option (then why oppose imperialism if it can be useful?), or the implicit argument that it saved lives (and who cares whatever happens in the next five years?). I think it failed to be so. It may be just the way it reads and not what Flood tried to say, but I write this stuff earnestly and without a spin to the arguments.

From this point of view, and considering our own reality, I think the SWP slogan is actually sound (no matter I found most things about them unsound and unsavoury), because it will not influence Cameron or Sarkozy’s position, and certainly it won’t have any impact with the Benghazi crowd. What it is doing is setting clearly the terms where the left in the UK stands –we do not condone dictatorship (as those who defended Gaddafi as opposed to imperialism) and we are not with NATO (as those who condoned NATO aggression as the legitimate response of the international community to a dictatorship, or as the lesser evil). I don’t thinks there was more to say for now than the FdCA did and I stick to that as the right position from an Italian and European perspective in any case.


Ps. Now, when said:

The core motivation in writing this piece was to address what we can say about the central contradiction of those who are fighting dictatorship but taking aid from imperialism in doing so. This is not a new argument for Anarkismo, for a long time material published here on Haiti that mentioned Batay Ouvriyé was more or less trolled by posts pointing out they had accepted funding from the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The trolling was so consistent that we ended up creating a special article for that discussion, see

This is stretching the argument to a point too much. First, because Aristide was not a dictator but a democratic government. Secondly, because the whole debate was about a trade union (Batay Ouvriye) which launched an open appeal for funds during a strike and they received financial support from an organisation linked to NED, which they did accept. That is a far cry from being trained and armed to topple a particular government, with a “regime change” strategy, while with the excuse of protecting civilians, no other than NATO bombs intensively other cities in the country (the UK today admitted to have hit over 900 “targets”) and while you negotiate the resources of your country with these imperial benefactors. I don’t know if I am missing something, but this sounds radically a different scenario to the point that no comparison is possible.

A comparable case would be to explore the Kurdish case, where there is clearly a pro-imperialist and an anti-imperialist force, facing both friends and foes of the US, in countries where they are not majority beyond certain regions, so they are not “hegemonic” in their own states either.

author by Wayne Pricepublication date Mon Sep 05, 2011 04:46Report this post to the editors

Both Andrew Flood and Jose Antonio G. are revolutionary anarchists who oppose imperialism and defend national liberation. I am used to agreeing with both of them, my wise friends, particularly as opposed to anarchists who oppose national liberation (such as the Italian comrades) or, on the other hand, those radicals who capitulate to nationalism. In this case I cannot; I think I am more in agreement with Andrew, here.

The first issue, for me, is the nature of the war in Libya. It began as a revolutionary civil war between popular forces, with some sort of bourgeois democratic program, and the Quaddifi regime. Then the US and NATO became directly involved militarily. Did this change the nature of the war. Was it still a civil war, but with an element of imperialist military involvement, or had it changed into, primariiy, a war between the people of Libya and the imperialist powers? That is the question. And as best as I can understand, it has remained still a genuine Libyan civil war. That the popular side is led by pro-capitalist types who will cut deals with imperialism was always true and is mostly true of Egypt and Tunisia also. That a large part of the people have illusions about the imperialists and their motives is also true, etc. But then anarchists never politically supported the leadership and never capitulated to the masses' illusions, even before the interventions.

Could the Libyan people have won without miiitary aid from the imperialists? I do not know. Guerrilla war has been successful in open desert conditions, in the famous case of "Lawrence of Arabia's" leadership of the military side of the "Arab Revolt" during WWI in the Arabian peninsula. But the Turks did not have jet planes, helicopter gunships, or space satelites!

In principle, it is permissible for a revolutionary force to make a military alliance with the imperialist enemy-of-our-immediate-enemy. If we have no illusions. But this is different from a bourgeois force permitting itself to be taken over by imperialists. In any case, it is the Libyans who are "under the gun" and have the right to make these decisions.

The job of anarhists is to make clear our *political* opinions: opposition to the old tyrannt and demanding his overthrow; opposition to the would-be new bourgeois rulers, and demanding as much democracy as possible from the new regime; and opposition to the imperialists, even those who gave aid to the rebellion, demanding full independence from them all, advocating international proletarian revolution. Or so it seems to me.

author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Mon Sep 05, 2011 06:13Report this post to the editors

Thanks for your contribution Wayne. I agree 100% with you on principles: "The job of anarhists is to make clear our *political* opinions: opposition to the old tyrannt and demanding his overthrow; opposition to the would-be new bourgeois rulers, and demanding as much democracy as possible from the new regime; and opposition to the imperialists, even those who gave aid to the rebellion, demanding full independence from them all, advocating international proletarian revolution." That's been exactly my position from the start, particularly vis a vis the debate with the "humanitarian interventionists" in Ireland and the "Gaddafi Apollogists" in Latin America.

But again, on the question of intervention, I think probably I did not explain myself well since you don't seem to address my main issue that is not of principle, but of evaluation of circumstances:

1. I don't think this started purely as a revolutionary civil war. Key to my argument is that on the grounds of the evidence I have, this started as both a popular rebellion and a coup d'Etat by sectors of the regime, disaffected or ambitious, that caught the opportunity to jump off the ship as soon as this started (unlike other countries where cracks within the ruling block appeared as the situation went on and on, such as Syria or Yemen). They precipitated the civil war, expecting an easy victory with some sectors of the army who defected in the east, to which Gaddaffi responded with apalling (but not unseen) violence, setting the tragedy on its course. This is my understanding of things, with the fragmentary evidence available. I'm not saying that there was no reason to revolt or that the popular rebellion did not have much revolutionary potential from a start -quite the contrary (and I expressed that in clear terms from the very beginning).

2. In the course of the events, NATO reinforced this putschist element over the popular element of the rebellion. I am not talking just about a burgeois leadership, I am talking about sectors of the regime that quite earlier on had their own agenda. This makes it quite different to whatever happened in Egypt and Tunisia (where the popular element was dominant), and this is why the crisis was provisionally solved in such a different way.

3. This is the reason why I think that the issue of "how will revolutionaries deal with the possibility of imperialist support" is redundant. For imperialism will never support any rebellion with revolutionary potential -I think the last time they did was Cuba in 1959 and they well learned the lesson. That's why they would not support the PJAK guerrillas in Iran and instead label them terrorist (an insurgent movement in that country should be considered necessarily a Godsend for them!). If they threw their support was only when they made sure that the putschist element had become dominant and thwarted the popular rebellion. This is what I understand to be ultimately the analysis of Libyan anarchist Saoud Salem's statement (when he talks about the two bis mistakes: militarisation and accepting intervention).

4. From that I derive the most important lesson in my opinion: revolutionaries will always fight on their own, as a popular block, sometimes with sectors of the national bourgeoisie behind them (as in Spain or Nicaragua, but always with their own class agenda which is ultimately in opposition to that of the people and that's why popular fronts should be politically avoided), but never with the aid of imperialism. And from the history of past popular movements I recognise that on the one hand, that a popular war should be avoided at all costs as a possible revolutionary scenario (for the human cost it necessarily brings, which is always high no matter what terrain it is fought in), and on the other hand, that it is possible to win without the support of a foreign power when you have a sound political basis, and this is the determinant factor, not air power or terrain.

Once again, not the last word has been said in relation to Libya. As I said in our own article, this is just one country in a complex regional scenario and hopefully there is cross "contamination" that strengthens the popular sector. But I see a tough time ahead where all the demons of civil war have been unleashed. I genuinely wish I was wrong, but only time will tell.

But as you said, those decisions are taken by people there. All we can do is draw lessons, and put in terms as clear as possible that neither dictatorship nor imperialism (global dictatorship) is our option, that not one is preferable to the other. And this needs to be done in clear cut terms even at the risk of sounding rhetorical or "ludicrous".

author by Andrewpublication date Mon Sep 05, 2011 21:38Report this post to the editors

Jose the genuine differences I see here are not so much about the question of imperialism but of what the 'real' military possibilities were in this situation and to an extent what the nature of the rebel movement was at the start of the revolt. I think you have pulled a very long and polemical response out of these two questions in which to be honest both of us are making what are at best guesses.

We could probably argue about whose guesses on these questions are best for some time but this seems a little pointless as one of the core ideas I was advancing was that such calculations were going to be made by those on the ground who in most respects will be much better placed to make them. I've read an awful lot of left commentary that expects people to make such decisions based on the commentators interpretation of whatever evidence they had to hand, I'm not convinced by that method.

My intention with this piece was to
1. look at what the actual relations of Gaddafi with imperialism were (and the revelations over the weekend of the cooperation and correspondence with MI6 are fascinating).
2. expose both the motivations of the imperialist powers and the very real differences between them. I think you underestimate this in seeking to reach absolutist conclusions about the possibility of any imperialist power ever arming any rebel movement that has a progressive element. In particular its a mistake to look at US motivations alone, it seems clear in the case of Libya that the French in particular were pushing things well beyond where the US wanted to go precisely because the US was nervous about who the rebels really were.

I think your conclusion only makes sense if we see imperialism as all seeing and all knowing and beyond that as a single body rather that a set of powers that may have conflicting interests. The simple example of Afghanistan demonstrates how even the US can make incorrect decisions, arming the Mujahideen against the Soviets was celebrated at the time even in Rambo films but post 9-11 came to be seen as a mistake. True as a result of that blow back they are very much more cautious today. In Libya (unlike for the most part South America & Central America) the US is only one (if the biggest) among a number of major imperialist powers. To me the question of how to respond to revolutionaries who seek to make use of the divisions is more complex than seeing fatal corruption occurring at the moment the first bullet is obtained. The corrupting effect such aid carries with it is clear and discussed in the article but this also does not make for a simple absolute judgement.

That was the relevance of the Haiti example. I was of course careful to point out they were very different situations but indeed in one aspect BO were 'worse' in that they were taking funds in opposition to a relatively progressive democratic president rather than a military dictator. But the point of that example was not that the situations were somehow identical but that quite significant elements of the left approached them in an identical manner, that of seeing the acceptance of any aid as an instant and fatal contamination regardless of any other facts or analysis. This I feel is too crude in BOTH cases, the fact they are very different situations only serves to underline the bankruptcy of such a 'cookie cutter' approach.

It is of course very true that what happened in Libya was very different from what happened in Egypt or Tunisia but what does that mean? That we might wish for more perfect movements to emerge (for sure we would wish this!). That we might wish the military to more willing to step aside? And lets be honest, in Egypt at least it seemed the US intervention was also present, in the sense of signalling the army not to follow Mubarak's wish for a general massacre.

These are things we might indeed wish for but if circumstances are not as ideal as we desire does this mean we have nothing to say other that wishing that they were. This is actually quite a tough question - perhaps as you insist the SWP approach of in public telling the masses that the Libyans can do it on their own while to the more select political intellectual sphere saying "The sad fact is that massacres are a chronic feature of capitalism. The revolutionary left is, alas, too weak to stop them. Until we become stronger, we can at least offer political clarity about what’s at stake." is more correct. But there is something in it I dislike and to be honest I would be surprized if you actually embrace that approach.

As you seem to have once more missed it I will repeat one of the four points I concluded with
"An absolute political opposition to imperialism itself in either its military or economic forms and a rejection of the concept of humanitarian intervention from above." I dislike the 'what you really meant' method of argument, it is at worst dishonest and at best would only serve to prove me a careless writer. (And who cares about that.) I don't think I could have made my stance on so called 'humanitarian intervention' clearer then as it was first expressed.

author by Alan Gibsonpublication date Mon Sep 05, 2011 23:32author email alan.bolshevik at gmail dot comReport this post to the editors

Surely the core question here is the context of the imperialist attack on Libya.

Andrew's article clearly argues that imperialist intervention may sometimes be "permissable":

"An acceptance that the question of how much military support it is permissable for those in struggle to accept from imperialist powers is not an absolute but rather dependent on the nature of those movements and what they are sacrificing for such support. And at the end of the day while we may advise and critique it is the movements themselves that will make these judgement calls"

This would seem to stand in direct contradiction to the following from the WSM position paper "Capitalist Globalisation and Imperialism" (

"18. There can be no 'just settlement' that involves any imperialist power or the UN or similar bodies. Such settlements will be designed in order to protect the interests of the imperialists. Therefore we always oppose intervention in any region of the world for whatever reason by the imperialists.

"19. We are for the unconditional withdrawal of troops of the imperialist countries from any country they are occupying. Imperialism is the primary cause of most of the national and ethnic conflicts imposed on the worlds population. No imperialist can play any part in solving these conflicts."

To the extent that the WSM take their position papers seriously as a guide to action it would seem that they have to either change this position paper so that it is more in accordance with the position on Libya or change their position on Libya so it is more in accordance with their position paper.

I would tend to think it would make more sense to be the former as this is just a continuation of the WSM's less than consistent approach to opposing imperialism - as outlined in the IBT article

author by Waynepublication date Tue Sep 06, 2011 00:53Report this post to the editors

"Surely the core question here is the context of the imperialist attack on Libya." states the Trotskyist.

Perhaps it is for a North American, but not for Libyans, I would think. For them, the first issue is the nature of the civil war. As Jose Antonio writes, this had both popular rebellious trends and reactionary, opportunist, pro-imperialist trends. He does not believe that the imperialist would have intervened in a genuinely popular revolutionary effort. However, it is quite possible for them to intervene in a mixed situation, precisely to have strengthened the reactionary side against the popular side!

The question for me is, given this constellation of forces (popular, but not revolutionary-anarchist; conservative and opportunist "rebels"; Quadaffi's pro-imperiaist nationalism; and the imperialist forces themselves), how should revoluitonary anarchists relate? To whom should they relate? Can they work with (and within) the popular forces without capitulating to the pro-imperialist leadership? Can they adequately warn the rebel base against the imperialists's motives?

How to combine purity in principles with flexibility in tactics?!

author by Alan Gibsonpublication date Tue Sep 06, 2011 06:49author email alan.bolshevik at gmail dot comReport this post to the editors

So Wayne, I can only presume that you disagree with the WSM's position paper on imperialism:

"18. There can be no 'just settlement' that involves any imperialist power or the UN or similar bodies. Such settlements will be designed in order to protect the interests of the imperialists. Therefore we always oppose intervention in any region of the world for whatever reason by the imperialists.

"19. We are for the unconditional withdrawal of troops of the imperialist countries from any country they are occupying. Imperialism is the primary cause of most of the national and ethnic conflicts imposed on the worlds population. No imperialist can play any part in solving these conflicts."

And think that these clauses should be replaced with something like:

18. There can sometimes be just settlements that involve the military intervention of imperialist powers or the UN or similar bodies. Such settlements will sometimes be in the interests of working people and the oppressed. Therefore we sometimes oppose and sometimes support interventions by the imperialists - deciding on a case-by-case basis.

19. We are for the unconditional withdrawl of troops of imperialist countries from any country they are occupying, except when we have decided their intervention was permissable. Imperialism is a cause of most of the national and ethnic conflicts imposed on the worlds population except in those cases where it isn't. Sometimes imperialists can play a part in solving these conflicts.

The above is perhaps a bit too ironic but still it does seem to capture something about the programmatic position that would necessarily be generalised from what you and Andrew are arguing in relation to Libya.

It will be interesting to see how seriously the WSM takes their own "position papers" as the position paper on imperialism and the actual position taken in relation to Libya are completely at odds and one of them has to change. If the general analysis in the "position papers" aren't a guide to/framework for the positions taken in specific situations then why bother having them...

author by Andrewpublication date Tue Sep 06, 2011 21:27Report this post to the editors

That is quite an effective if highly rhetorical polemical approach Alan but IMHO it completely ignores the contradiction that the article is actually trying to deal with. And the quote you select doesn't say what you think it does both directly (that quote doesn't seek to address what our line should be but rather what the line of some democratic movement might be and how we would react to ir) and indirectly (because what I think our line should be and have already reminded people of is as below.)
"An absolute political opposition to imperialism itself in either its military or economic forms and a rejection of the concept of humanitarian intervention from above."

In addition as the article itself makes clear I don't think the intervention is/was humanitarian - rather it was to do with a number of factors including
- controlling access to the oil
- rivalry between imperialist powers
- trying to shape the oppositional movement in a pro-western direction

All this would be much simpler if we were dealing with an anarchist or other revolutionary socialist movement in Libya. Such a movement would not have received NATO support - indeed in such a situation it would be probable that Gaddafi would have received fresh military supplies.

If the movement had been identical to that in Egypt then perhaps as there a combination of popular pressure on the rank and file and the US Military advising the officer class would have seen the military refuse to suppress the rebellion and instead strike a deal to get rid of Gaddafi. This would also have presented a much more straightforward situation (although there are those on the left who see the whole 'Arab Spring' as a western conspiracy and not entirely without 'evidence' of a sorts).

Neither of these were the situation we saw. Instead we saw a much weaker popular movement within which Islamists were stronger and against which Gaddafi was able to quickly deploy military repression. Instead of generals holding back repression and striking a deal we saw some of the leading regime elements jump ship. This movement decided to accept imperialist air support (and Special Forces on the ground).

Now the problem I have with the replies is that rather than trying to deal as I tried to do with what sort of approach we can take to such an actual movement they instead just wish it was a movement and situation of the 1st or 2nd type. One where this messy question of NATO air support never arises.

The approach I tried to suggest doesn't take that approach. Instead it suggests that although the situation is contradictory the acceptance by the rebels of military support from some imperialist powers does not instantly impose a requirement on us to denounce them for doing so and insist that either Gaddafi is now an anti-imperialist or that there is nothing to choose between the two sides. (there would seem to be the other possible positions),

The rebels believed they could risk accepting a certain amount of imperialist aid without therefore becoming pawns of imperialism. This was why they drew the distinction between air power and infantry on the ground. (Of course 'the rebels' is a simplification here, different factions expressed different approaches but this does describe the collective position as it was expressed). The approach of many appeared to be 'there is no humanitarian reason for the NATO intervention but we can take advantage of their military power to defeat Gaddafi and seek to limit what we give in return.' The extent to which their calculation was right or wrong we will see unfolding in the next weeks but it does seem to be the case that NATO is not getting all its own way. NATO can hardly be happy for instance with the publication of the secret MI6 communications or the appointment of Abdul Hakim Belhaj as leader of the Tripoli Military Council. His public statements suggest that he has some outstanding issues with the fact that Britain handed him over to be tortured by Gaddafi (see for instance )

Time will tell whether or not their calculations were correct (and indeed which of the various factions comes out on top). The current issue of The Economist expects the new government to impose less favourable conditions on the global oil companies but like the rest of us they are just making an (educated) guess. The point though is that these outcomes are not absolutely pre determined in the way commentators of the left have treated them as being.

Frankly I'm rather disappointed that the most vigorous responses to this opinion piece have been to misrepresent what has actually been written and then wish for a reality other than that which is actually present. Both of these methods are in my opinion why the radical left is often irrelevant and is not taken seriously be many outside the already existing ranks of the faithful. Responses that largely consist of misrepresentations constructed in order to then accuse me of heresy against the faith are those I expect from old and stale religions fearful of a changed world. We need to do better.

author by Alan Gibsonpublication date Wed Sep 07, 2011 00:21author email alan.bolshevik at gmail dot comReport this post to the editors


Surely the point of writing about what is happening in Libya, or anywhere else we are not directly able to intervene in, is an attempt to influence events there, or at least to draw the lessons from what we think happened there.

Therefore we present a programme for what we think should happen - which can at least, in the absence of any forces attempting to implement it on the ground, be critiqued at the level of theory, as is happening here.

In my understanding this programme should start with the necessity to form independent workers militia but then it is a question of what those independent workers militia should do.

There was a very real military conflict taking place between on the one side the Libyan regime and on the other imperialism supported by the TNC.

Once this conflict was in existence any such independent workers militia then had three basic strategic choices.

A) Would it take a militarily independent position of attacking either side depending on purely tactical considerations?


B) Would it continue to see the regime as the greater strategic danger and thereby placing itself in a de facto military bloc with the TNC and its imperialist sponsors/allies?


C) Would it recognise the imperialists as the greater strategic danger and thereby placing itself in a de facto military bloc with anyone, including the forces of the Libyan regime, who was also fighting the imperialists & their local allies?

Of course within these three basic perspectives there are all shades of implementation dependent on tactical issues to do with available resources but still the different general strategic choices are clear.

I argue for any independent workers militia to take a military side with anyone fighting against the strategically greater danger of imperialism - including, to the extent they were fighting the imperialists, the neo-colonial Qaddafi regime.

By implication this means being "critical" of anyone who choose option A) or B) and I don't shy away from saying that.

You instead say that this "does not instantly impose a requirement on us to denounce them for doing so". In the absence of you presenting any alternative programme for what should have happened that would seem like implicit support for their actions to me. I also note that you have no such reluctance about denouncing a whole range of other perspectives (quite a few of which I agree with you about). And as others have pointed out the WSM has historically been quite willing to offer programmatic advice on other events around the world - so what else to make of your reluctance to do so in this case?

At best you seem agnostic - "Time will tell..." - about what might happen as a result of this imperialist intervention (which as is becoming clearer every day was decisive in defeating the Libyan regime - see for instance

But even this best case of agnostism about the results of this imperialist attack stands in stark contradiction to the points I have quoted from the the WSM position paper on imperialism which correctly are quite categorical about the impossibility of an imperialist intervention resulting in a positive outcome and therefore the need to oppose ALL such imperialist interventions.

You say that it is me, and others who have critiqued your piece, who "misrepresent what has actually been written and then wish for a reality other than that which is actually present".

I'm sorry but I think I have based my analysis on exactly the reality that has occurred in Libya and what would therefore be the strategic choices to be made by any revolutionary forces there. And further that I have highlighted a quite blatant contradiction between the WSM theoretical opposition to imperialist interventions and your position of either support for, or agnostism about, this concrete imperialist intervention in Libya.

author by Andrewpublication date Wed Sep 07, 2011 19:58Report this post to the editors

The three choices you suggest are somewhat useful in this debate as although the workers militia's waiting to hear form us are unfortunately fictional* at least the question is concrete enough. I can see we fundamentally disagree as I would not have suggested any sort of military bloc with the Gaddafi regime - that is an option BTW we have always rejected - Workers Power argued a similar position to yours in the First US / Iraq War. So for what its worth I think your reading of the WSM historic position is wrong as back in 1991 we supported the uprisings, desertions & strikes against Saddam. That situation was simpler as the USA/Bush took Saddam's side on that one by suspending the no fly zone to allow him to crush the rebellion but there were were certainly elements within the US Military who saw that as a mistake so it could have gone otherwise. So back then we'd have been in A) which I think is not so different from where I think an actual workers militia* would have been in recent events.

But of course that militia doesn't exist* so the question we actually face is whether the NATO intervention means we should have switched from supporting the democratic uprising to supporting Gaddafi's suppression of that uprising in the name of 'anti-imperialism'. The article is saying no. From what you say above though as soon as the first NATO plane took off you would have been in a military bloc with those Gaddafi forces attempting to storm Misrata? This is the orthodox Leninist positions even if a lot of Leninists avoided putting it out explicitly but its never been ours.


* there are probably no workers militia's in the sense you and I probably mean it but there are substantial forces independent of the TNC pushing a different agenda which might well amount to 'Would it take a militarily independent position of attacking either side depending on purely tactical considerations?' This includes a growing public hostility to both NATO and the NTC which could well end in a military conflict. Today's Guardian has an interesting article, see Now from here it is hard to know what the program of these forces is and where whatever progressives forces that exist are going to stand in what would look like a repeat of the Islamist v Neoliberalist v Popular Democracy splits in the opposition that were seen elsewhere but where what I call the PD forces were strong enough to form a distinct bloc seperate from those other two. Of course the Gaddafi victory you appear to wish for above would have prevented us ever seeing how the struggle between those three blocs played out - something that is at the heart of the alternative approach I argue.

author by Alan Gibsonpublication date Thu Sep 08, 2011 05:06author email alan.bolshevik at gmail dot comReport this post to the editors

You say:

"But of course that militia doesn't exist* so the question we actually face is whether the NATO intervention means we should have switched from supporting the democratic uprising to supporting Gaddafi's suppression of that uprising in the name of 'anti-imperialism'. The article is saying no. From what you say above though as soon as the first NATO plane took off you would have been in a military bloc with those Gaddafi forces attempting to storm Misrata? This is the orthodox Leninist positions even if a lot of Leninists avoided putting it out explicitly but its never been ours."

Actually that is a crude misunderstanding of the position.

The "military bloc" phrase refers to the direction that the guns are being pointed in terms of opposition to imperialism - it is not a blank cheque to support any actions by other participants in the "military bloc".

To the extent that the Qaddafi regime fought the imperialists and their allies then the hypothetical independent workers militia would not disrupt their actions and might even seek to co-ordinate military action (though in this case I think the possibility for co-ordination would be limited given the untrustworthy nature of the bloc partner).

But to the extent the Qaddafi regime carried out atrocities against the civilian population then the hypothetical workers militia would attempt to stop them. This would also have been true in Iraq in 1991.

Actually your position on the imperialist assault on Iraq was more general than you make out. It was not just about what to do in the situation of the uprising - you argued for neutrality in the overall imperialist conflict with the regime.

I realise what your position on LIbya is but I really fail to see how it is consistent with your position paper on imperialism when it argues that you "always oppose intervention in any region of the world for whatever reason by the imperialists".

So why not in this case?

Unless of course "oppose" here means making merely verbal genuflections of opposition while at the same time advocating actively participating alongside them militarily.

I guess your concern is that actually fighting the imperialists in LIbya would bring the hypothetical workers militia into conflict with the bulk of the indigenous uprising, not only the explicitly pro-imperialist elements around the TNC. But the WSM position paper does not present any conditionality on opposing imperialist intervention for this, or any other, reason.

If a hypothetical workers militia was to follow the perspective outlined in the WSM position paper then I think they would in effect be implementing the position I outline.

The actual position you take in concrete situations of imperialist intervention seems to be completely conditional on how unpopular you judge the neo-colonial regime being attacked to be - as I argued in the article recently published by the IBT (

author by José Antonio Gutiérrez D.publication date Thu Sep 08, 2011 05:40Report this post to the editors

“Jose the genuine differences I see here are not so much about the question of imperialism but of what the 'real' military possibilities were in this situation and to an extent what the nature of the rebel movement was at the start of the revolt. I think you have pulled a very long and polemical response out of these two questions in which to be honest both of us are making what are at best guesses.”

Sure, my opinion was in relation to the military possibilities of a popular war in the 21st century, which remain high if costly. I gave examples to that matter. But the possibilities of success are linked to the “nature” of the “rebel” movement and that is what I tried to address at length, by insisting that the sector who benefited from the imperialist intervention was the old putschist clique now in power. In the process they crushed the popular rebellion. So intervention instead of strengthening the chances of the popular revolt actually crushed it. That’s my argument. And it has implications on how we see imperialism of course.

”I think your conclusion only makes sense if we see imperialism as all seeing and all knowing and beyond that as a single body rather that a set of powers that may have conflicting interests.”

That maybe so, but this was clearly a NATO intervention were the hegemonic interests were quite clear from the start. Still, maybe they are not all seeing but they are more far-sighted than the bulk of the left.

“The simple example of Afghanistan demonstrates how even the US can make incorrect decisions, arming the Mujahideen against the Soviets was celebrated at the time even in Rambo films but post 9-11 came to be seen as a mistake.”

I did not say imperialism never made mistakes. I said imperialism, since Cuba 1959 will never support a movement which has revolutionary potential. I am sure you will agree with me that the mujahideen never had any revolutionary potential, and if they supported them was because, in their view of the world they represented a counter-revolutionary force, identifying the revolutionary forces (mistakenly) with the Soviet occupation.

“True as a result of that blow back they are very much more cautious today. In Libya (unlike for the most part South America & Central America) the US is only one (if the biggest) among a number of major imperialist powers.”

When I talk about imperialism in the Libyan case, I’m talking about NATO –whose major players on this occasion were France and the UK.

“To me the question of how to respond to revolutionaries who seek to make use of the divisions is more complex than seeing fatal corruption occurring at the moment the first bullet is obtained.”

Divisions of imperialism in relation to Libya? Where? I think I gave evidence (based on fragmentary evidence that it is all that you and me have at the moment) about how intervention reinforced putschists and crushed the popular committees, for instance. I am not referring to some corrupting moral influence or some other mumbo-jumbo, but about a very specific process. It is funny that you accuse others of distorting your arguments when that is exactly what you are doing. (Therefore, the example of Haiti is not valid, and again, I don’t know how can you an imperialist institution donating dollars for a strike, than an imperialist army bombing Tripoli).

”It is of course very true that what happened in Libya was very different from what happened in Egypt or Tunisia but what does that mean? That we might wish for more perfect movements to emerge (for sure we would wish this!). That we might wish the military to more willing to step aside? And lets be honest, in Egypt at least it seemed the US intervention was also present, in the sense of signalling the army not to follow Mubarak's wish for a general massacre.”

Of course imperialism is present in Tunisia and Egypt trying to shape events! That’s out of question. What I am saying is that imperialist military intervention closed the gates for a people’s solution in Libya, reinforcing the putschist clique that is structurally the same as the old regime…. Gaddafism without Gaddafi as we would call it. Well according to you, it may as well be an opportunity to get rid of the dictator and open up a pro-democratic process. It is not about the “ideal movement”, but about the specific mechanisms used to crush the people’s revolt. In Egypt and Tunisia we have denounced the transition government as much as we denounced Mubarak. In Libya we should denounce the TNC and imperialism in as much as we denounce Gaddafi. That’s my criticism of your article.

As you seem to have once more missed it I will repeat one of the four points I concluded with
"An absolute political opposition to imperialism itself in either its military or economic forms and a rejection of the concept of humanitarian intervention from above."

I did not miss it, but I give it no more than rhetorical value after you add “acceptance that the question of how much military support it is permissable for those in struggle to accept from imperialist powers is not an absolute but rather dependent on the nature of those movements”. So imperialist intervention is, after all, permissible. That’s what you say.

“I dislike the 'what you really meant' method of argument, it is at worst dishonest and at best would only serve to prove me a careless writer. (And who cares about that.) I don't think I could have made my stance on so called 'humanitarian intervention' clearer then as it was first expressed.”

Thanks for calling me dishonest. That’s a very fitting way to finish your “argument” anyway. You start by insulting on it everyone you had a chance to insult, and then you end up this way. Typical. Anyway, I raised my objections earnestly as I said, because in my opinion the argument that the military intervention was “necessary” (and that’s what you insist on the grounds of the military requirements of people’s war in the 21st century) has a logic implication and is that, if necessary against a vicious dictator, what Gaddafi obviously was, then why denounce it? This to me is crystal clear and I would not be arsed to go through a debate with anyone if I did not believe it was actually important, but you end up in a tantrum and then add in your next response “Frankly I'm rather disappointed that the most vigorous responses to this opinion piece have been to misrepresent what has actually been written and then wish for a reality other than that which is actually present. Both of these methods are in my opinion why the radical left is often irrelevant and is not taken seriously be many outside the already existing ranks of the faithful.”

I am not misrepresenting but taking the logic of your argument, in spite of lipservice declarations on opposing imperialism but then accepting it as necessary at least I some occasions. But the surprising thing is blaming a trivial argument over the irrelevancy of the radical left. I take it as who's coming from, someone hardly with much mass appeal and whose wisdom has not saved anarchy in Ireland from being an ultra-marginal note in the left. You can argue on your own since I agree with you in two respects: rhetorical polemics have limits and time will tell. Enough said.

author by Alan Gibsonpublication date Thu Sep 08, 2011 13:23author email alan.bolshevik at gmail dot comReport this post to the editors

I forgot to add that in the case of Iraq I think the WSM realised that they were diverting from the logic of their own programme by describing the Iraqi regime as "would-be mini-imperialists” - a made-up category just to justify not carrying through with advocating opposition to the imperialist attack on Iraq. A category which has no real meaning and as far as I am aware has never been used again.

author by Andrewpublication date Thu Sep 08, 2011 21:19Report this post to the editors

Jose I think you have fallen into the sad old routine of personalising differences and as part of that taking umbrage at perceived insults while not noticing those you have been spraying from the start of this discussion - I'd politely suggest you re-read your contributions here and consider this. Your last reply has quite a low level of political content around actual rather than perceived differences because of this. I have no interest in playing that game and thus creating yet another of those 'old men with ego's' feuds that has done so much to damage the left and anarchist movements. If you want to return to the discussion about what is in the article rather than what you imagine to be in it (or worse yet what you think of my irrelevancy, really who do you think cares?) I will be happy to do so.

The most relevant thing you say is the idea that the NATO intervention completely distorted the popular element of the revolt from day 1. The distortion I obviously agree with and discuss in the article but where we differ is I think it remains clear that this process was not only completed on day 1 it has also not been completed today - I've already provided examples of this so I won't repeat them. I don't think the US measures the 'revolutionary potential' of movements in the way you or I do, I think it measures their potential to turn against US interests which is why their miscalculation around the mujahideen is relevant. I think reading the material I quote in the article makes it very clear that the calculation the US applied to the revolt with regards to the other NATO forces involved was quite different. I also cite differences _between_ the NATO countries in their dealings with the Gaddafi regime and with the TNC, that between the US and France being greatest and with a clear intention by France to gain favor over Italy through its support for the rebellion. Of course if something approaching a socialist revolution were to break out in Libya all such differences would quickly be put aside for sure but that doesn't mean that significant inter-NATO differences don't exist today. And this without even touching on Russia & China who are not NATO members or Turkey which is.

Alan there are obviously a number of areas of genuine political disagreement here but I think when you ask "I realise what your position on LIbya is but I really fail to see how it is consistent with your position paper on imperialism when it argues that you "always oppose intervention in any region of the world for whatever reason by the imperialists" you continue to misunderstand what the article says. Again let me refer you to point 1 of what I gave as a summary of a position
1. An absolute political opposition to imperialism itself in either its military or economic forms and a rejection of the concept of humanitarian intervention from above.

This actually is quite similar to the earlier formulation you quote. The contradiction you see of course is how does this square with not therefore refusing support for the progressive elements of the democratic revolt that accepted air support. The resolution of that contradiction is that they did so with the intention of both imposing limits on it (successful to date) and of accepting aid as a temporary expediency to be dumped as soon as it was possible. This is a gamble/calculation on their part that may or may not pay off, just as it was under very different circumstances in the Haitian situation. I tend to go with the line that sees war as a continuation of 'foreign policy' that includes funding opposition groups rather than something completely distinct and separate from it.

I think what you and others are struggling with here is that I refuse to construct a simple picture that is free of contradictions. The simple picture is where as soon as the first NATO plane takes off the rebels (not just the TNC BTW) are instantly converted into simple stooges of imperialism. And where all possibilities of them acting independently of imperialism and even against it is eliminated. My problem with the orthodox anti-imperialist approach argued here is that its proponents have to pretend this is what actually happened when it is quite clear things are much more complex. This position is simply the other side of the coin of the left 'humanatarian interventionists' who had to believe that because the rebels needed air support this meant that NATO was all of a sudden offering this for humanitarian reasons.

I'm suggesting that neither of these polar opposites describes reality and it is not productive to base a theoretical position around them. I wrote this article precisely because Libya was not at all a simple straightforward situation and I saw it as a significant flaw of the left in general that so many felt they had to pretend it to be so. It's unfortunate that this discussion is little more than an attempt to insist on simplifications and that ignore's just about every concrete example I've given of complexity in favor of once more asserting such simplifications.

My bottom line is I don't think the future for Libya is clearly settled now and I certainly don't think it was firmly settled 6 months ago when the first NATO plane took off. Its certainly possible NATO will impose a new 'stability' on Libya more favourable to it than that under the Gaddaffi regime. It's certainly true that the fact Gaddafi was able to turn to military repression has greatly increased that possibility. But as I already mention The Economist feels the deal for the oil companies will be worse even from a TNC regime and it is clear that sizable elements of the US military and western intelligence services are more than a little concerned at the outcome and in the US case clearly were right from the start.

author by Alan Gibsonpublication date Thu Sep 08, 2011 22:15author email alan.bolshevik at gmail dot comReport this post to the editors


Ok, so I am being too simplistic about it - maybe.

But I am left unsure what your advice to any like-minded elements in Libya would be.

Of course there are a great many tactical considerations but I think the 3 strategic perspectives I outline cover the possible basic frameworks that could be argued for and it seems from a previous post that you accept this.

You are reluctant to clearly say what you think any hypothetical independent workers militia should have done but from my reading of what you have said it seems that you support participation in the uprising even if that meant participation in an effective military bloc with imperialism.

You defend this by pointing to there being so many contradictions and it not being a classic case where the lines between imperialism and their opponents is clear, so the general principles outlined in your position paper are not valid. Or perhaps you think it is wrong to even attempt to give such advice because the situation is so full of contradictions. Or perhaps that your position papers are only guidelines to apply when life presents us with simple situations where the lines are clear.

Either way I am then left wondering how you, and the WSM, will cope in real life situations if/when you are in a position to act and change things - situations which will usually be complex and full of contradictions.

This is precisely why the programmes of revolutionary organisations are so important because they are, presuambly, based on the general strategic understandings that we have gleaned from the history of the class struggle and provide us, and those who look to us for leadership of ideas, with a general framework to guide us through the complex and contradictory reality we are faced with. (Which is or course not to say that they provide a simple ready-made blueprint and must be open to revision when proven incorrect or incomplete by reality.)

In the case of opposing interventions of imperialism this general strategic understanding is based on a whole myriad of historical examples which all tend to back up the general framework that the imperialists do represent a qualitatively greater danger than any neo-colonial regime, even if ruled by a tyrant, they may come into conflict with.

Where we have a programme that is so clear and categorical - as with the WSM's position paper on imperialism - it seems light-minded in the extreme to ignore its general framework on the basis that a particular concrete reality is complex and contradictory. As that will very often be the case I am left wondering what is the point of your position papers?

author by Hichampublication date Wed Oct 05, 2011 04:30Report this post to the editors

you can read what the mercenary heros of this writer are doing to Libyan people.

Say NATO bombed to stop massacre in Bengazi and now massacre is in Sirte and why this person don't speak out against this crimes? Sirte people are not people? why he is silent? Ban Walid is called renegade region. Sirte is hungry, thirsty, killed all in Sirte, children, man, woman.

Concerns about the humanitarian crisis in Sirte have focussed on the Ibn Sina hospital. Medical workers who fled Sirte said patients were dying on the operating table because there was no oxygen and no fuel for the hospital's generators.

"It's a disaster," a doctor who gave her name as Nada told Reuters as she fled the city on Tuesday. "They are hitting the hospital. Two kids have died there. There is random shooting at the hospital from both sides."

author by Jo Bpublication date Thu Oct 27, 2011 22:41Report this post to the editors

Qatar army spokesman confirmed the part 500 Qatar troops played in this illegal war this week, and was proud of their involvement.
They also had armoured vehicles and heavy weapons on the ground, which have been seen in YT videos for some time.

So, there were foreign trops in Libya, mercenaries.
I'm sure: more claims such as "we are not at war" will emerge as lies.
The one other one we know already was, of course "We are not after individuals".
And of course: "We are not there for 'Regime Change'".

The first casualty in war is Truth. - We know that now.
The next one are many civilians - We know that now (mostly NATO "protected civilians").
The next one will be - or is already Justice - with The Hague mis-used as political tool.

And NATO? From a defense alliance degraded into a master's hunting pack:
I shoot the prey - you bite it to death!

And Europe? Derailed from her way to Independence and Unity - by a pack of traitors who are easily bought into a Coalition of the Cheaplings.

Respect for Germany: They were not bought - twice they resisted: Iraq and Libya.
For Afghanistan - everybody was fooled. Whatever brought down those towers in New York (it wasn't those planes alone - they couldn't), 9/11 fooled the world to come under US command.

And ever since, the rats followed the piper. They paid his financial greed - and the price for it.
They have to shake off those colonial chains, go back to their own fold - and to the decency of a free continent.

Number of comments per page
This page can be viewed in
English Italiano Deutsch
Employees at the Zarfati Garage in Mishur Adumim vote to strike on July 22, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Ma’an workers union)

Front page

SAFTU: The tragedy and (hopefully not) the farce

Anarchism, Ethics and Justice: The Michael Schmidt Case

Land, law and decades of devastating douchebaggery

Democracia direta já! Barrar as reformas nas ruas e construir o Poder Popular!

Reseña del libro de José Luis Carretero Miramar “Eduardo Barriobero: Las Luchas de un Jabalí” (Queimada Ediciones, 2017)

Análise da crise política do início da queda do governo Temer

Dès maintenant, passons de la défiance à la résistance sociale !

17 maggio, giornata internazionale contro l’omofobia.

Los Mártires de Chicago: historia de un crimen de clase en la tierra de la “democracia y la libertad”

Strike in Cachoeirinha

(Bielorrusia) ¡Libertad inmediata a nuestro compañero Mikola Dziadok!

DAF’ın Referandum Üzerine Birinci Bildirisi:

Cajamarca, Tolima: consulta popular y disputa por el territorio

Statement on the Schmidt Case and Proposed Commission of Inquiry

Aodhan Ó Ríordáin: Playing The Big Man in America

Nós anarquistas saudamos o 8 de março: dia internacional de luta e resistência das mulheres!

Özgürlüğümüz Mücadelemizdedir

IWD 2017: Celebrating a new revolution

Solidarité avec Théo et toutes les victimes des violences policières ! Non à la loi « Sécurité Publique » !

Solidaridad y Defensa de las Comunidades Frente al Avance del Paramilitarismo en el Cauca

A Conservative Threat Offers New Opportunities for Working Class Feminism

De las colectivizaciones al 15M: 80 años de lucha por la autogestión en España

False hope, broken promises: Obama’s belligerent legacy

Primer encuentro feminista Solidaridad – Federación Comunista Libertaria

© 2005-2017 Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by [ Disclaimer | Privacy ]