Re: Libya: Notes on Recent Postings
- Renfrey, not sure if you saw my last response, which was long and rather detailed: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/GreenLeft_discussion/message/76250;
you do not refer to anything in the post, which is OK, but many of the points I made there directly related to many of the points you make in your latest post. Therefore, I'll try to not respond to everything you say here, as much of it I think I have already answered. So I'll restrict myself to some specific points you make here, and to new developments.
Renfrey's piece is again very thorough and I'm pleased to see disciplined and consistent argument. Nevertheless (as with all of us I guess), he likes to see things the way he prefers. I find this most spectacular in the case of the uprising in Bani Walid against not just the crooked NTC regime but specifically against being ruled by a bunch of armed thugs from outside who imposed themselves on Bani Walid via 8 weeks of medieval siege and closely coordinated NATO bombing *after the fall of Gaddafi.* It is these armed groups that Renfrey sees as a working class alternative to the NTC.
On Bani Walid, Renfrey writes:
"If I read the reports correctly, local fighters and popular organisations forced militia elements loyal to the (decidedly weak) central authorities to flee the city, and went on to proclaim their own control over local affairs. The local forces, it turns out, bluntly deny any affinity for the former Gaddafi regime, or any ambition to reimpose the old people and policies on the country at large."
Gaddafi is dead, and the purpose or wisdom of the Bani Walid resistance openly identifying as a "pro-Gaddafi" movement would be unclear. But let's get things straight. Bani Walid, alongside Sirte, resisted the brutal onslaught of the cowardly NTC thugs, firing massive quantities of weaponry into their city under the cover of NATO bombs, for nearly 8 weeks after NATO bombed the NTC into Tripoli. Virtually all news reports made it clear that support for the old regime was very high in Bani Walid, and the resistance was genuinely popular (not just people "trapped by Gaddafi hold-outs" etc), though not unanimous. It was also widely reported that the Warfalla tribe, for whom Bani Walid is a kind of capital, was largely loyal to Gaddafi (and the biggest tribe in Libya). It seems that at a certain point, the town council, which had been leading this resistance, decided that, given the NTC now controlled most of the country, further resistance to this barbaric onslaught was futile; they could also see what this NATO-NTC barbarism had done to Sirte - erased it from the face of the Earth in a crime-of-the-century type of event which received such underwhelming coverage from the mass media and the international left. To avoid this fate they decided to allow the NTC thugs to come in and pretend to rule over them, as long as they didn't cause too much trouble. Yet from the time they entered, they did begin to cause lots of trouble, and signs of fierce resentment and possible insurgency were there from soon after (see for example http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=105659).
So now that this very group of people finally drive the occupiers out, we do, as Adam Baker rightly states, have a difficult situation for those operating through a pro-"rebel" prism, like Renfrey, *including* for those who, unlike Renfrey, still opposed NATO. The most comical attempt I saw was made by Louis Proyect, the moderator of Marxmail, where he wrote, in all seriousness, that "Thinking about this a bit more, the only forces that can be linked to Qaddafi appear to be the NTC militiamen who were routed (ie, in Bani Walid!). Things seem to be shaping up in Libya as a struggle between the revolutionaries and Qaddafism without Qaddafi." Most do not try to turn reality on its head to that extent, but clutching at straws when some Bani Walid spokespeople simply refuse, for logical reasons, to be pigeonholed as a Gaddafi 5th column, cannot alter the basic nature of the two sides: basically the people and their council who were the most steadfast resistance to a NATO-imposed victory of the NTC have just driven the NTC and the "militias" back out where they came from!
Incidentally, I'm not sure if we ever concluded that Saddam Hussein had zero support in Iraq, though his regime was infinitely more repressive than that of Gaddafi on a bad day. But clearly there was an Arab nationalist current among the Sunni Arabs that *in some sense* identified with aspects of the Baathist tradition as they led an insurgency against the US occupation. Yet I am completely unaware of any "Saddam Brigades" or any such thing. In fact it took a couple of years before many on the western left, or anyone else, could even work out who any of the insurgent groups were and the fact that some came from a Baathist tradition (alongside the more Islamist groups and others). I do not expect there to be an explicitly "Green Resistance", but I do expect that as class fissures widen under the new NTC dictatorship, resistance will come in varying forms with varying ideologies and backgrounds; yes, some will come from former rebel formations or supporters who expected better of the regime they brought to power - this is the trajectory that Renfrey mostly sees and is (IMO) overly optimistic about; but others will come precisely from the formerly pro-Gaddafi, anti-NTC, anti-NATO direction; and in some cases their demands may be mutually contradictory (eg, in recent events in Banghazi the protests expressed their dissatisfaction with their own NTC regime by blaming all the problems on left-overs of the Gaddafi regime in the NTC, demanding (only) they step down, whereas in Bani Walid the former pro-Gaddafi forces drive out the NTC occupation).
Actually I think that is what Renfrey meant when talking about the need for reconciliation at a grass-roots level in order for class battles to be able to move on and not be misdirected into parochial or worse squabbles. In that, Renfrey is completely right. But recognising that means recognising that there was never simply a mass uprising of nearly all Libyan people on one side and a narrowly-based dictatorship on the other. Leaving aside the appalling level of western bourgeois commentary which has tried to equate Gaddafi's populist-Arab nationalist regime with a regime like that of Mobutu or Pinochet (reflected in some left commentary as well, "42 years of tyranny" and other such embarrassments), the fact is that significant layers of the Libyan population remained with Gaddafi, however critically, for whatever reasons, and this included important sections of the poor in Tripoli (eg in Abu Salim), significant tribes in their majority (Warfalla, based in Bani Walid, Gaddafa based in Sirte etc), among the bulk of the black and African population (itself a poor and working class population), among parts of the Sahara, particularly the Taureg, and among important towns that media reports showed remained loyal. I detailed some of this in my last contribution. For some the reasons may have coincided with some residual Arab nationalist hostility to foreign intervention.
And therefore the support of NATO for the outright military victory of one side is something that noone on the left should ever have given support to - talk about a provocation to reconciliation.
Chris Slee, in a very thoughtful response to Renfrey which I agree with entirely, wrote regarding Renfrey's call for reconciliation:
"A worthy goal. But it will be hard to persuade the former inhabitants of Tawergha to unite with those who drove them from their homes. The US-backed rebels have severely damaged any prospect of the unity of "the 99 percent" in Libya."
What Renfrey and others need to understand is that Chris's point here is merely one example of something so widespread that talking as if only one side of this complex conflict was "the revolution" simply ignores the reality of what has happened in Libya; calling the racist pogroms a "blunder" of the revolutionaries leaves me lost for words.
Even aside from the racist pogroms (of which the total ethnic cleansing of Tawergha is but the most extreme example), we could ask: what should have a democratic revolution done after taking power if there was the slightest interest in reconciliation (indeed, if the "revolution" was really democratic)? I will suggest two things it should NOT have done (aside from unleashing racist pogroms against the working classes): It would not have launched a barbaric siege of Bani Walid under the cover of NATO bombs; and it would not have launched an even more barbaric siege of Sirte under the cover of NATO bombs which destroyed a beautiful Mediterranean city and turned it into rubble Guernica/Fallujah style.
While I believe the NTC should have long before accepted the ceasefire proposals of Chavez and the African Union, let's say, for arguments sake, that they were right to reject them, because they got what they wanted anyway (power in Tripoli). OK. So now you've won in Tripoli, launch a ceasefire proposal to the people of Sirte and Bani Walid. Respect the fact that they may not agree with you (!). Make overtures to the people. Make abundantly clear that no force will be used to subdue them. ...
All this, together with ethnically cleansing Tawergha, locking up tens of thousands of people (mostly based on skin colour) for months on end and carrying out widespread, routine medieval torture on them (as has been well-documented and revealed in the media this last week), driving hundreds of thousands more Africans out of the country even after "liberation" (Renfrey quotes 530,000 people, mostly Africans, had fled by April 2011, other estimates were much higher even then, but taking that estimate, and adding just the 400,000 people that Tunisia said had fled to Tunisia alone in September alone, ie, *after* the overthrow of Gaddafi - http://www.tunivisions.net/tunisie-400-000-libyens-sont-entres-durant-septembre-en-tunisie,13798.html - we already have nearly a million Africans fleeing or being driven out) these are a lot of things which have blocked reconciliation, if we want to put a positive spin on the tyrannical actions of the new regime and its armed groups.
Aside from this, a couple more comments. Renfrey says I "fulminate against the very idea of a revolution having occurred in Libya." In fact, in my previous contribution, I gave a number of reasons why I don't think what took place was a revolution, so I won't repeat them, but since Renfrey says this in relation to the racist pogroms, and then goes on to warn against "moralizing" about these issues rather than looking at them politically, I'll just quote what I wrote about that s others can judge whether it was a political judgement or moralizing:
"In fact, Renfrey underestimates the role of racism, which he says is a "blemish", even if a "horrifying" one. *I'm not accusing Renfrey of being soft on this racism,* merely pointing out that in the specific circumstances, in *objectively assessing* whether or not a revolution has taken place, this is far more than a blemish on a bourgeois-democratic revolution, given the fact that some one million blacks and Africans have been expelled from or fled the country, and that these people make up a large part of the working class. Renfrey rightly refers to "the relatively small size and merely inchoate class organisation of the Libyan proletariat," indicating the largely petty bourgeois nature of the revolution, but for us even a limited "bourgeois-democratic revolution" means something led by the petty-bourgeois layers directed against the big entrenched bourgeoisie (or imperialism or other comprador elements) with some level of working class support, not a mobilization of the petty bourgeoisie *against* the small working class, as much of this racist onslaught is."
You may call that a fulmination, but better would be to respond to the substance of it.
A further point on the racist pogroms, Renfrey writes "Here, it helps to refer to history. Urban workers in Russia in the years before the First World War had a foul record of participation in anti-Jewish pogroms, but that didn't make the revolutions of 1917, in which the same broad strata played the crucial role, in any sense illegitimate."
I believe that when Russian workers were engaged in anti-Jewish pogroms, they were not making revolution, democratic or otherwise. I'm not aware that the revolution of 1917 coincided with an upturn of working class pogroms against Jews. I'm not aware that the century of anti-black lynchings in the US Deep South was a time of revolutionary possibility, but no I don't think that means southern US white workers can never change consciousness. Obviously, revolutions are messy, and we shouldn't delude ourselves; all kinds of backward prejudices will be expressed by people even in revolution unless we expect something holy and pure; however, when *great focus and force* is *directed against* another section, a more oppressed section, of the masses, this is the road to fascism, not to revolution, which requires precisely enough solidarity in practice, enough covering over divisions among the masses, that they can unite against and focus thier energies on the oppressor.
And on torture, Renfrey writes:
"Essentially similar considerations apply to the torture. The characterisations we make of social and political forces are based above all on their class essence and ideological-programmatic nature, not on their members' ethical transgressions. The latter may well need to be confronted and dealt with, perhaps severely. But we don't confuse crimes with political dynamics, and we wouldn't be Marxists if we went to pieces on encountering our first contradiction."
By talking of mere ethical transgressions, I think Renfrey is once again underestimating the extent of what is happening. Because presumably the reason we support people rising against a dictatorship is (among other reasons) that we think people have a right not to live in conditions of brutal repression, including widespread and arbitrary torture. But if that is what exists now, on a very widespread and vicious scale, then we do have a right to ask, *politically*, in what sense is this a democratic revolution? I assume comrades have seen the latest reports on the extent of arbitrary jailings and torture carried out both by the NTC regime and the private militias: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestory/2012/01/20121279497910159.html, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/01/2012126601863986.html, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/01/2012126133028210385.html
One more point. Renfrey writes:
"In my view the massive, clearly demonstrated popularity of the revolution gave it the right to call for foreign military assistance to save itself from being crushed once the regime recovered from its initial consternation and went on the offensive. I'm quite a fan of revolutions, and I think that in specific situations saving them from being smashed, and the revolutionaries from being slaughtered in large numbers, may well take precedence over more abstract considerations such as the inviolability of national boundaries. Or to pose things differently, the international left in the case of Libya was faced with a choice. It could maintain its traditional opposition to imperialist military action in the developing world, and for practical purposes, consent to allowing Gaddafi to consign the Libyan revolution to the graveyard. Or, it could opt for a position of tolerating imperialist military action in Libya to the point needed to allow the revolution to survive."
Trouble is, that is not what the argument is about. We could discuss that, the dilemmas, complexities etc. It was discussed at the time. While I'm not as convinced as Renfrey that the only alternative was a very large scale slaughter, that can be discussed. But the question of whether to not oppose specific NATO aid to protect civilians (and the then revolution) in Benghazi, or Misrata, is an entirely different one to whether you continue to support NATO intervention when it moves from protecting/defending urban centres to becoming the air force for one side of a civil war, to support offensive operations to tip the military balance to one side, with the sole, openly declared, illegal aim of imposing regime change and nothing less. These two different debates cannot be fudged, except in as much as one may have opposed NATO at the outset because we may assume it would violate its own UN mandate. It is Renfrey's support to the second that is the problem.
Renfrey is right that the situation has resulted in "more democratic space" in a general way, despite the 10s of thousands of political prisoners, widespread torture, and racist pogroms. Obviously, it should be used by those in Libya who want to fight for a more just society than the current one or the one just replaced. No argument there. But the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban by the US, and of Siad Bare in Somalia, for example, also created such "space." Space should be exploited, whether or not it has been brought about by a revolution; but when not brought about by a revolution, the possibilities of it developing into something better, rather than descending into "utter bloody chaos" full of "mutually antagonistic parochial militias," are slight.
- It's still remarkable that anyone here can DEFEND what
NATO has done and is doing in Libya, but here's some
additonal counter-proof to such imaginings...
Rival Libyan militias fight gun battle in capital
Reuters - Feb 1
By Oliver Holmes
(Reuters) - Rival militias fought a two-hour gun battle over a luxury beach house being used as a barracks in the Libyan capital Wednesday, underscoring how volatile the country is following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
A Reuters reporter heard exchanges of both heavy and light weapons coming from the Tripoli district of El-Saadi beach, a stretch of Mediterranean coast overlooked by office skyscrapers and the Marriott Hotel.
Militias have carved up Tripoli and the rest of Libya into competing fiefdoms, each holding out for the share of power they say they are owed.
A witness, who had been relaxing on the beach with his family, told a local television channel fighters armed with anti-aircraft guns screeched along the coastal highway and stormed a walled residence.
"It was chaos, the fighters suddenly arrived in cars and started shooting at the house. Families fled from the beach," Abdul Musharim told the Libyan news channel 'Libya'.
A militia from Misrata, that arrived in Tripoli during the civil war last year, had been using the house as a barracks. It used to be owned by Gaddafi's son Saadi, a businessman and former professional footballer who is in Niger after escaping across the border when National Transitional Council (NTC) forces captured Tripoli in August.
A member of the NTC's High Security Committee said the fighting was between militiamen from Misrata and units from Zintan. Both groups fought to oust Gaddafi.
"We are not sure what the fighting was about but government forces have surrounded the area and it is calm now," the official said on condition of anonymity.
Black smoke rose from the beach house Wednesday and armed men who said they were working for the Interior Ministry circled the building and warned journalists their cameras would be smashed if they did not leave the area.
The NTC is struggling to impose its authority on the country and form a functioning national police force and army.
"There is nothing going on here, it is safe" an irate man told Reuters as gunfire erupted behind him.
In the chaos, men could be seen running along the beach carrying crates of ammunition taken from the house.
Several militias from outside the capital have set up bases in Tripoli. They clash intermittently often because of disputes over who controls which neighborhoods of the city.
The violence Wednesday was the first time in weeks that a major gunbattle had broken out in the center of the capital.
(Additional reporting by Ali Shuabi and Taha Zargoun; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
+ Libyan pro-Gaddafi fighters `beaten with chains' at prison where Doctors Without Borders allegedly halted aid
+ Blame Nato for the mess in Libya