Checkmate in Libya?

Submitted by Matthew on 15 June, 2011 - 10:16

In Tripoli there have been several reports of security tightening and repression stiffening up — obviously in anticipation of a potential uprising in the city as the rebel forces move closer.

Apart from brief and brutally suppressed skirmishes by disaffected youth in some of the poorer suburbs of the capital there has been little activity on this front since mid-February in the week the insurgency began. At that point attacks by civilians on military installations and officers were defeated more by the extremely effective security measures of the regime then by any lack of will of the rebels in the city.

As the rebels move militarily closer there is a hope that this will act as the catalyst for the uprising to reassert itself in the heart of the regime.

Qaddafi, in conversation on Sunday with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov of the International Chess Federation, expressed surprise at what all the fuss was about. “I am not Prime Minister, not President, and not a King. I do not hold any post in Libya, and therefore I have no position I have to step down from”. The rebel forces are obviously working with a different narrative from that of the regime.

The physical isolation and potential elimination of the Qaddafi family clique is also the elephant in the room for the US and the UK. They are working towards that — masked by their public pitch of humanitarian intervention to stop attacks on civilians.

The different intervening powers are competing to win favour with the National Transitional Council in the east and benefit from the post-revolution settlement. Qatar — perhaps the most autocratic of the Gulf monarchies — has been seriously investing in free Libya.

Pictures of the Sheikh of Qatar adorn public buildings in the free zone. This is a measure of things to come, and is part of the nature of this kind of bourgeois revolution.

Worryingly there are also accounts of Free Libyan death squads taking out individuals perceived as government loyalists before they come before any kind of judicial process.

So we stand not for critical support for the NATO intervention (in terms of its consequences), and neither do we stand against it (in terms of the reality on the ground for a people facing massacre at the hands of pro-regime militias).

In a gesture reminiscent of a magical realist novel set in the declining days of the Soviets, Qaddafi has been playing host to the head of the International Chess Federation. The Russian chess master and former Russian provincial governor played chess with the dictator for two hours on Sunday — ironically at the same time as the Russian foreign ministry was making overtures to the National Transitional Council in the east, in preparation for diplomatically recognising it.

Both Russia and China, reading the cards on the table, have wavered and finally stepped back from supporting the loyalist Libyan regime. The Russians are still looking for some form of negotiated settlement but that looks increasingly unlikely.

Top British navy grandee Mark Stanhope has raised doubts about the finances of the NATO intervention, which has now been extended a further 90 days until the end of September, but the rebel forces have been making serious advances.

The uprising is about to take Zlitan, only 60 miles away from Tripoli. It has broken out of Misrata which is now making some moves back to normal life after being threatened with the slaughter of its population of half a million.

On Friday 10 June, the government forces fought back but were repelled and the initiative is clearly in the hands of the rebels. The old monarchist Tricolour is flying across western as well as eastern Libya now.

Zawiya, where a people’s uprising was brutally suppressed and its mosque razed to the ground by the regime. looks as if it is now in rebel hands. The rebellion amongst the Berbers in the Nafusa mountains south of Tripoli is continuing — again with great successes for the rebels on the Tunisian border.

Sahba in the Saharan south has just been taken by a people’s uprising. That was the gateway to Niger and Chad and a potential escape route for the Qaddafi clan into exile with one of its client regimes in Africa — regimes which were at the receiving end of the regime’s oil millions over the last 20 years and which provided some of the personnel for the mercenary forces used so brutally to crush the uprising in the early days of the civil war.

If the Free Libyan militias find a hostile population rather than a popular uprising in the cities that they liberate, then there could be an intensification of a revengeful death squad policy like that beginning to operate in the east.

Only with the rapid development of civil society and the reassertion of the democratic will of the Libyan working people can that revenge, understandable in its fury, be mitigated.

In any case, this is the moment of downfall for dictators. We can look forward one day, to see the red flags replacing the Tricolour, as the Tricolour replaced the green flags of this vile dictatorship. Red flags are already being seen in Egypt and have already been unfurled in the recent abortive revolution in Iran.

This checkmate is a step forward to that day.


Submitted by Clive on Sat, 18/06/2011 - 14:29

"a Marxist/socialist analysis of the tribal civil war and NATO would have to question the motives of the powers getting involved." Like, duh. This patronising assertion suggests you think *we* think NATO intervention is out of special love for the Libyan people.

When Gaddafi was set to massacre perhaps thousands of people in Benghazi, I was not willing to 'oppose' (as in, go out on the streets to protest against, and try to prevent) the only thing in real time and the real world which was likely to prevent it. That didn't, and doesn't, commit me to lauding, prettifying, etc, NATO or its actions.

If Gaddafi is defeated by a combination of the rebels and NATO, I will not 'oppose' the rebel victory on the grounds that NATO is helping. If Gaddafi falls, I will not 'oppose' NATO 'victory'.

I really don't see what's so hard to grasp about this.

Interesting that you repeat the idea that the conflict is tribal, when nobody I know or know of who seems to know much about it thinks this is true.

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 20/06/2011 - 10:56

It seems to me that there are three basic tests for this debate.

1. In the circumstances as they actually were, is it true that without the NATO intervention Qaddafi would have crushed the rebels?

Of course, it's impossible to know for sure. But it seems very likely. After a brief rebel push forward, Qaddafi's forces had pushed them right back and Benghazi was under threat. Certainly the rebel leaders felt that this was the case - otherwise why would they have lobbied so hard for intervention?

2. Is there some broader issue that outweighs this?

For instance, will this be the first stage in an Iraq-style occupation of Libya? Well, the evidence doesn't point that way. What about the boost to 'humanitarian intervention' ideology and thus the ability of imperialist powers to intervene all over the world? This sort of claim is necessarily a matter of quite vague assessment. But even if you judged this outweighed the actual survival of the actually existing Libyan revolution, it's not the case that Iraq-style adventures have been rehabilitated. In face one of the reasons the Western governments were so reluctant to intervene here at all is precisely the debacle they suffered in Iraq, which nobody has forgotten. They don't want to occupy Libya.

3. Will post-Qaddafi Libya be better for 'our people'?

It's not a question of idealising or prettifying the rebels, let alone their leadership. For Marxists the basic test is whether a society creates spaces - or potential spaces, with pressure - for outposts of "proletarian democracy" (trade unions, political parties, campaigns, press etc) to exist within the interstices of the bourgeois regime. Without such space no labour movement can be built, and no socialist current within it. For Trotsky, that was the basic difference between Weimar Germany and Nazism - not that Weimar was "better" in some positive sense. One strand of the Libyan rebel movement seems to be a popular democratic revolt; and even the leaders have talked about free elections, free trade unions and so on. Clearly we should not trust them. But unless you're claiming that there is, essentially, very little to choose between Qaddafi's regime and the rebels, I can't see ignoring the question of space for workers' democracy to develop makes sense for a Marxist.

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by guenter on Tue, 21/06/2011 - 19:25


that what it was all about.

Submitted by Mark on Tue, 21/06/2011 - 22:20

Thanks for clearing that up. Nice use of capitals.

Submitted by Mark on Mon, 27/06/2011 - 22:37

Fuck me, you are a blithering idiot. So the slogan 'No to NATO bombing, no to arming the rebels with anything that might cause damage' works for you, does it? That's because you live in fucking London.
Not a military expert... but it doesn't stop you yapping on, does it?

Submitted by Mark on Tue, 28/06/2011 - 21:00


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