The Left has lost its way over Libya By William Bowles

26 July 2011

In an essentially excellent piece Sarah Flounders ‘Libya: Demonization and Self-determination‘, near the beginning under the sub-head ‘What should be the response to this terror?’ she writes:

“Unfortunately, a minority of groups or individuals who present themselves as opponents of war spend more time cataloguing Gadhafi’s past real or alleged shortcomings than rallying people to respond to this criminal, all-out U.S. attack. Their influence would be small, except that it coincides with the opinions of the U.S. ruling class. Thus it is important to thoroughly answer their arguments.”

Then she writes:

“The response to this colonial war of aggression should be the same as the response to a racist mobilization, a racist lynch mob or a police attack on an oppressed community: Mobilize all possible forces to stand up to the crime and say “no!” Refuse to take part in the orchestrated campaign of vilification.

“This may not be an easy position to take. But it is essential to reject the racist political onslaught that accompanies the military onslaught.”

I get the impression that Sarah feels caught between a rock and an alleged leftie, else why say ‘This may not be an easy position to take’? Why is it not an easy position to take if it’s so clearly a imperialist and racist attack on a sovereign country? Flounders continues:

“Of course, such misguided groups are a small minority in the progressive movement. But there are those political organizations, which six months ago had not bothered to mention Libya, that now suddenly seek out respectable venues to add their own reasons that the dictator Gadhafi “must go” — an echo of the imperialist demand. Some even insist that in order to be part of the political discourse, every anti-war voice must first join in condemnation of Gadhafi.”

But nowhere do I find Flounders asking the question why? And it’s not merely “misguided groups [who] are a small minority” who fell (again) into the Imperial trap. We saw the same ‘misguided minority’ do it over Yugoslavia and Kosovo. At the the end of the 60s it was Nigeria and the Biafra War (over oil of course with surprise-surprise, Shell, at the centre of it).

But why is the ‘misguided minority’ even regarded as being a part of a (real) left in the West? Or does it reflect a general loss of direction, even motivation for wanting real change within what’s left of the left?

I think it’s time to take a look at the timeline of the latest barbarian attack on the defenceless of the world. I think it reveals far more about how the left in the West operates, what are its motivations, than it does about the aims of the Empire (which should surely by now be apparent even to a reluctant leftie).

First, the ‘Arab Spring’ which was in fact an ‘African Spring’ as it kicked off in Tunisia then spread to Egypt. But this is par for the course. It used to be that all of Africa was actually in Africa but in the 19th century the Western colonialists starting moving things around a bit and all of a sudden, Egypt was an Arab country, as was Algeria, indeed all of the Mahgreb.

We see the same sleight of hand used in the Sudan (now successfully partitioned, eg Balkanized), whereby the country is split between the ‘Arab’ North and the Christian and ‘Black’ South. But they are all Africans in Africa! Most African countries had their current boundaries decided not by them but by their Western colonizers. Most didn’t even exist within their current boundaries before they were colonized and then successfully neo-colonized.

In any case, the popular insurrections in Africa and the Middle East were the setting, the context for what was in Libya, clearly an attempted coup masquerading as a popular insurrection carried along on the wave of the ‘Arab Spring’. This is where it gets interesting.

First, it should have been apparent that unlike the other ‘revolutions’, the Empire was gung ho for the Libyan version, that should have been a warning sign. But for the ‘established’ Western Left Gaddafi is a bit of a Gadfly (in the Western media they can’t even bother to spell his name right, I must have seen at least four varieties and now I’m not sure how it’s spelt either). He didn’t fit the mould of liberation fighter. He was peddling this weird (to lefties) Green Book, neither capitalist nor socialist, floating somewhere inbetween. And he ‘switched’ sides thus he wasn’t to be trusted.

In reality of course the Empire said either you do as we say or we’ll destroy you. So Gaddafi, Khadafi, Ghaddafi or Qhadafi did a deal. It wasn’t the first time and unfortunately it won’t be the last and anyway it didn’t help him, they got his oil, or nearly so.

‘Britain [to Gaddafi]: We’ll let you stay if you step down’ The Times front page headline, 26 July 2011

Hence the initial response on the left and not just a minority, was to support the ‘rebellion’, after all it appeared to have all the right credentials, unless you looked very closely. For me, as soon as I saw that a main player in the rebel camp was a CIA asset based in Washington DC, that was it for me. Game over.

In any case, this ‘assessing’ by the Western Left generally of all those actually engaged in struggle, as to whether or not it’s ‘supportable’ reflects the arrogance of Empire. Who are we to judge? What business is it of ours anyway? This is especially galling when we can’t get our own act together and are still conducting a never-ending fratricidal struggle with each other over who has the ‘real’ socialist vision, let alone who or what to support.

Then came UN Resolution 1973 and the ‘no-fly zone’, itself a clear act of war, period. This got some on the left thinking a little more clearly, but not all. Some actually felt it might compel Gaddafi, Khadafi, Ghaddafi or Qhadafi to go, leave town, disappear. Outrageous but true as it’s predicated on the idea that we have the right to decide whether Gaddafi, Khadafi, Ghaddafi or Qhadafi should live or die.

The setting for this was the propaganda war launched by the West with allegations of ‘African mercenaries’ (note not Arab mercenaries), then mass rapes and slaughter from the air. You know the thing, none of it true and simply airbrushed out of the equation. It had had the intended effect and thus could be conveniently ditched. ‘Black ops’ that many on the Left swallowed hook, line and sinker.

Even Flounders falls into the trap of making apologies for Gaddafi, Khadafi, Ghaddafi or Qhadafi when she writes:

“Whatever mistakes made by the leaders of a small, underdeveloped country facing U.S. sanctions, sabotage and assassination attempts, they are not the reason the U.S. is hell-bent on destroying Libya today.’

Whatever ‘mistakes’ Gaddafi, Khadafi, Ghaddafi or Qhadafi has made are to be deplored, no doubt, but unless you want to invade and overthrow him, there is little that can be done about it except by the Libyans themselves and right now they come out in marches a million strong in support of the guy, and apparently they are all armed. But what if they didn’t? What then?

We all live in a world dominated by Capital as for example Venezuela, the first post-Soviet country to attempt to embark on some kind of quasi-socialist road but it does it in a world dominated in every sense of the word, by its northern neighbour. Building a genuinely socialist economy in Venezuela is all but impossible, there are simply too many obstacles placed in the path of the Bolivarian revolution. Chavez treads a narrow line, able to initiate genuine reforms in some areas but limited by all manner of factors in others. Some because of ‘internal’ contradictions and others from the outside (which in any case feed back on to internal events).

Thus whatever even vaguely anti-imperialist countries do to resist the predations of the Empire should be supported, even Iran, a capitalist country run by the Mullahs. Let the Iranians sort out their own government, a task made all the easier if we do our job and change our governments whose attacks directly drive internal repression in Iran, in part it’s their function.

Should we not support Russia when it objects to NATO expansion right up to its borders? It doesn’t mean we support Russian capitalism or its own lack of human rights or whatever, so why is it so difficult to apply the same reasoning to Libya or Iran? Surely it should be a reflex by now?

If you cast your mind back to the post-war period with its multitude of liberation movements, especially in Africa, virtually all the successful ones were led by Marxists of one flavour or another and even those that weren’t adopted central planning and state intervention in the economy. Many called themselves socialist or ‘African socialist’ and thus most were locked out of the global economy and doomed to fail. Did we in the West not support them even if we didn’t like what they were doing? Did we stop supporting the ANC when it embarked on an armed struggle and in the process killed civilians?

When I worked with and later for the ANC, I was under no illusions about it not having a socialist vision or indeed socialist platform but that didn’t stop me working for the ANC to win power. After that it’s up to South Africans to sort it out one way or the other.

Either way, we have to make the decision about which side we are on. If you think it’s our business to decide what kind of government a country should have then you must surely support armed intervention by the Empire. If you don’t then it’s incumbent on you to try get your government not to do it. All else is merely opinion.

2 thoughts on “The Left has lost its way over Libya By William Bowles

  1. Courtenay Barnett says:

    I wonder whether out of this Norweigan tragedy there cannot be much water found to pour on the war fires around the world.

    I have watched keenly this war unfold in Libya, as I have followed previous wars.

    One of the servants of the Libyan war’s continuation is public opinion in the West. Sadly, we have elected representative goverments that do not represent the true wishes and feelings of the majority. I say that for two reasons relative to the Libyan war. The mainstream Western media (include not just Fox News, but the New York Times, the BBC, CNN and others) are propaganda servants to the war agenda.Service to the oligarchic social order is the the other reason ( I shall return to that).

    One way to gain public support is to publish outright lies. Another, is that one journalist in a big name newspaper runs a line, and others simply quote the original falsehood. All of this has happened in the coverage of the Libyan war. I noted the size of the pro-Gadaffi demonstrations and also noted the spin given by the BBC and others to diminish its implications. Millions marching in the street was not to be deemed as support by the majority of the Libyans for their leader.

    But, the point I am driving at is a link between the recent tragedy in Norway and the bombing of Libya.

    I read years ago where Leonardo Da Vinci had designed flying machines, but shelved them when he weighed the great damage to humans that such devices would do if ever made operative. He had some humanity; our modern humanity, by contrast, has been desensitised, but not totally. We do note that in the Western mainstream media’s reporting there are no Libyan human interest stories. Of course not – the Libyan mother who loses a child in a US/NATO bombing is not a human loss and tragedy to be counted. By contrast, in Norway, the Western media will be full of stories of the human loss and tragedy to the Noweigan mother, the Norweigian father, the Norweigan family. There will simply not be a majority of broad-brush politically motivated journalistic commentaries against ’the enemy’. The Norweigians can safely be projected to the reading Western public as humans – the Libyans cannot, except to state that there is an on-going ”humanitarian bombing mission” to save the Libyans from a leader that the majority want. Pro-war sentiments have to be nurtured; anti-war sentiments have to be suppressed.

    How do we en mass bring all of us, human beings, back into contact with our common humanity? Do we juxtapose an image of the tears of a Norweigan mother against the tears of a Libyan mother; an Iraqi mother? That would be a very effective front page picture on one of the mainstream mass circulation Western papers. The similarity and commonality of human suffering, grief and loss is a very human story that many of us would love to read. And, wordsmiths and an able journalist could write the prize-winning story that helped to bring us back to our senses. But, it is not going to happen – the Libyan mother is the enemy as is the Iraqi mother. ”They” are not ”us” – so we must distance, differentiate and ultimately minimise the other’s humanity. That is how we in the West asssist the war cause. But, with Norweigans we can safely portray true human grief – ”we” are them – ”they” are ”us” – fellow human beings.

    I am suggesting that there is an actual political and psychological management of the global war agenda. What do I mean?

    George Kennan, the US architect of the cold war made these observations:-

    “It may be true, and I suspect it is, that the mass of people everywhere are normally peace-loving and would accept many restraints and sacrifices in preference to the monstrous calamities of war.”


    “We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”


    “Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military establishment would have to go on, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.”

    The adversary has to be created in al-quaida – in the Muslims – in the Islamists – in ”them” versus ”us” – so we must first be nurtured, taught and learn how to hate to find justification for the war.
    Someone said this:-

    “Without an enemy image you cannot have an oligarchic society” The video explains

    ( Methinks, like Winston, I am committing thought crimes).

    If we stepped back and considered what we have done over the past decade -from Afghanistan to Libya – we find this. A single man hold up in a cave supposedly orchestrated and masterminded 9/11 – so that provided justification to have carpet bombed an already devastated Afghanistan that had recently concluded a war with the then Soviet Union. In Iraq – I guess the Americans are still in occupation because they can’t leave before they find the WMDs. In Libya we have the perfect example of the Vietnam logic – “It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it.” – the justification for the My Lai massacre. Thus, the “humanitarian bombing mission” over Libya.

    We from the West are making wars to save the people who are subjected to Western belligerence. We have a “war on terror” because, as George Kennan correctly observed, “Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military establishment would have to go on…” and it and NATO’s militaries have gone on…and on….and on….and…..

    Peace! And, may we all be hampered by more idealistic slogans for the general good of humankind.


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