Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

Libya \”no fly zone\”: No foreign intervention

Libya “no fly zone”: No foreign intervention

Build an independent movement of workers, the poor and youth

Victory to the Libyan revolution

Robert Bechert, Committee for a Workers’ International

The UN Security Council’s majority decision to impose a “no fly vote”, while greeted with joy on the streets of Benghazi and Tobruk, is in no way intended to defend the Libyan revolution. Revolutionaries in Libya may think that this decision will help them, but they are mistaken. Naked economic and political calculations lay behind the imperialist powers’ decision. It is not a lifeline that could save the revolution, in the real sense of the word, against Gaddafi. The major imperialist powers decided that they wanted now to exploit the revolution and try to replace Gaddafi with a more reliable regime at the same time as giving a demonstration of their power in an attempt to warn the Arab masses not to go “too far” inn their revolutions.

Faced with a rapid eastwards advance of Gaddafi’s forces many in eastern Libya seized hold of the idea of a “no fly zone” to help stem this tide, but this is not the way to defend and extend the revolution. Unfortunately the revolution’s initial drive towards the west, where two-thirds of Libyans live, was not based on a mass movement, built upon popular, democratic committees that could offer a clear programme to win support from the masses and rank and file soldiers whilst waging a revolutionary war. This gave Gaddafi an opportunity to regroup.

The growing support for a “no fly zone” was a reversal of the sentiment expressed in the English language posters put up in Benghazi in February declaring “No To Foreign Intervention – Libyans Can Do It By Themselves”. This followed the wonderful examples of Tunisia and Egypt where sustained mass action completely undermined totalitarian regimes. The Libyan masses were confident that their momentum would secure victory. But Gaddafi was able to retain a grip in Tripoli. This at least relative stabilisation of the regime and its counter-offensive led to a change in attitude towards foreign intervention that allowed the largely pro-Western leadership of the rebel “Interim Transitional National Council” to overcome youth opposition to asking the West for aid.

However, despite the Gaddafi regime’s blood-curdling words, it is not at all certain that its relatively small forces could have launched an all out assault on Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, with around a million living in its environs. A mass defence of the city would have blunted the attack of Gaddafi’s relatively small forces. Now, if the ceasefire holds and Gaddafi remains in power in Tripoli it could mean a de facto breakup that goes back to the separate entities that existed before Italy first created Libya after 1912 and Britain recreated it in the late 1940s.

But, whatever immediate effect this “no fly zone” has, any trust placed in either the UN or the imperialist powers threatens to undermine all the genuine hopes and aspirations of the revolution that began last month. This is because the powers that have decided this are no friends of the Libyan masses. Until recently they were quite happy to deal with, and pander to, the murderous Gaddafi clique in order to maintain a partnership, especially in oil and gas. Indeed, the day after the UN took its decision, the Murdoch-owned “Wall Street Journal” lamented that “the close partnership between the Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s intelligence service and the CIA has been severed” (March 18, 2011). The “Journal” reported that “according to a senior US official” this was “especially productive”.

Now, having lost Mubarak and Ben Ali, imperialism is trying to take advantage of the popular uprising in Libya to both refurbish its “democratic” image and to help install a more “reliable” regime in Libya, or at least a part of Libya. As before, North Africa and the Middle East, with its oil and strategic location, is of tremendous importance to the imperialist powers.

This reveals the absolute hypocrisy of the main imperialist powers that have shamelessly supported repressive dictatorial regimes throughout the Middle East. There was not even a hint of a “no fly zone” or “protecting civilians” during the Israeli government’s 2008/9 attack on Gaza, instead their lips were sealed. At the very same time that these powers were deciding the “no fly zone”, they did absolutely nothing to practically prevent Saudi Arabia and their Gulf allies’ increasingly brutal suppression of the majority of the Bahraini population and attempt to ferment sectarianism. Within 12 hours of the UN decision the forces of the major powers’ Yemeni ally shot dead at least 40 protesters in his capital, Sanaa. The UN was only able to take its decision on Libya because the Arab League supported a “no fly zone”, but of course these mainly reactionary rulers say nothing about repression in Bahrain, Yemen or other Arab countries.

Cameron and Sarkozy’s “concern” for Libya is at least partly motivated by domestic unpopularity and the hope that a foreign success will strengthen each of their standing. Cameron clearly hopes for a boost similar to that which Thatcher enjoyed after her victory in the 1983 Falklands War, but Thatcher achieved a quick military victory and the “no fly zone” will not will produce a similar military victory. Sarkozy, after the disaster of his Tunisia policy that led to the resignation of his Foreign Minister, needs a “success” to lift his low poll ratings as next year’s Presidential election looms closer.

Despite the imperialist powers’ recent rapprochement with Gaddafi, he remained an unreliable ally. Throughout his nearly 42 years in power Gaddafi has zig-zagged, sometimes violently. In 1971 he helped the then Sudanese dictator Nimeiry crush a left coup that took place in reaction to the earlier suppression of the left, including the banning of the one million member Sudanese communist party. Six years later Gaddafi proclaimed a “people’s revolution” and changed the country’s official name from the Libyan Arab Republic to the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriyah. But despite this change in name, and the formation of so-called “revolutionary committees”, this was not genuine democratic socialism or a move towards it. The Libyan working people and youth were not running their country. Gaddafi remained in control, something underlined by the increasingly prominent role that many of his children played in the regime.

Nevertheless, since 1969, on the basis of a large oil income and a small population, there was a big improvement in most Libyans’ lives, especially in education and health. This is something which at least partly explains why Gaddafi still has some basis of support amongst the population. Even while there is growing opposition to the Gaddafi clique, especially amongst Libya’s overwhelmingly young and educated population, there is also a fear of who might replace him and opposition to anything that smells of foreign rule. The revolutionaries’ widespread use of the old monarchy’s flag was bound to alienate those who do not want to return to the past and could be used by Gaddafi to justify his rule. Additionally, flying this old flag risk alienating Libyans from the west because the former king came from the east and had no historic roots in the area around Tripoli.

But these factors are not a complete explanation of why Gaddafi has been able, at least temporally, to stabilise his position. While there was a popular uprising in Eastern Libya, Gaddafi was able to maintain his positions in the west, where two-thirds of the population live, despite large protests in Tripoli and uprisings in Misrata, Zuwarah and a few other areas.

Role of the Working Class

Unlike Egypt and Tunisia the working class in Libya has not, so far, begun to play an independent role in the revolution. Furthermore many workers in Libya are migrants who have fled the country in recent weeks.

The absence of a national focal point which, for example, the Tunisian UGTT trade union federation provided (despite its pro-Ben Ali national leadership), complicated the situation. The huge revolutionary enthusiasm of the population has not, so far, been given an organised expression. The largely self-appointed “National Council” that has emerged in Benghazi is a combination of elements from the old regime and more pro-imperialist elements. For example the Council’s foreign spokesman Mahmoud Jibril, the former head of Gaddafi’s National Economic Development Board, was described by the US Ambassador in November 2009 as a “serious interlocutor who ‘gets’ the US perspective”, i.e. someone the Us can work with.

It is easy for Gaddafi to present these people as threats to Libyan living standards and agents of foreign powers. At the same time this propaganda will have only a limited effect as the worsening of the population’s living standards and continued 10% unemployment have existed since the end of the 1980s oil boom and the start of privatisation back in 2003.

Gaddafi’s use of the threat of imperialist intervention to divide the country did gather some support and now, if the country becomes divided, may gain more. However how long this can sustain Gaddafi is another question. In addition to anti-imperialist rhetoric Gaddafi has made concessions to maintain support. Each family has been given the equivalent of $450. Some public sector workers have been given 150% wage increases and taxes and customs duties on food have been abolished. But these steps do not answer the demands for freedom and end the growing frustration of Libya’s youthful population, with an average age of 24, against the regime’s corruption and suffocating grip.

Internationally tens upon tens of millions of people have followed and been inspired by the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East. Already they have inspired protests against the effects of the capitalist crisis in many countries. Because of this some may support the “no fly zone”, but socialists argue that this move is primarily in the interests of the imperialist powers which is why nothing substantially is being done to hold back the Gulf states’ repressive actions.

But what then can be done to genuinely help the Libyan revolution internationally? First of all would be trade unions internationally blocking the export of Libyan oil and gas. Secondly bank workers should organise the freezing of all the Gaddafi regime’s financial assets.

The “no fly zone” will not automatically lead to the overthrow of Gaddafi, in fact like Saddam Hussein he could entrench his position for a time in those parts of the country his regime controls. As the experience of Egypt and Tunisia shows the key to overthrow dictatorships is the mass movement of the working masses and youth. These examples are the answer to those who say there is no alternative to the “no fly zone”.

A revolutionary programme

Thus the fate of the revolution will be decided inside Libya itself. Its victory requires a programme that can cut across tribal and regional divisions and unite the mass of the population against the Gaddafi clique and in the struggle for a better future.

A programme for the Libyan revolution that will genuinely benefit the mass of the population would be based on winning and defending real democratic rights, an end to corruption and privilege, the safeguarding and further development of the social gains made since the discovery of oil, opposition to any form of re-colonisation and for a democratically controlled, publicly owned, economy plan to use the country’s recourses for the future.

The creation of an independent movement of Libyan workers, poor and youth that could implement such a real revolutionary transformation of the country is the only way to thwart the imperialists’ plans, end dictatorship and transform the lives of the mass of the people.