The Internationalist  
April 2011  

From Messengers for Qaddafi to Cat’s Paws for Imperialist Intervention

Libya and the Opportunist Left

Qaddafi TV speech, March 2. In the 1970s, most of the left hailed him as an “anti-imperialist” while authentic Trotskyists gave no political support to the bourgeois nationalist strongman. Today the opportunist left supports the pro-imperialist opposition, paving the way for U.S./French/UK bombing. (Photo: Moises Saman for The New York Times)

Over the decades authentic Trotskyists have defended Libya against imperialist attack while giving no political support to Muammar al-Qaddafi. For opportunist leftists in the early years, however, it was enough that Qaddafi taunted Washington. They portrayed the Libyan leader as a paragon of the “Arab Revolution.” This was a strange “revolution” that was not aimed at toppling the local ruling classes – in fact, its protagonists were bourgeois nationalists – but instead was directed mainly at an external enemy, Zionist Israel. Thus Intercontinental Press (8 December 1969), published by the U.S. Socialist Workers Party, carried an article noting that “The leaders of the Libyan revolution of September 1 are continually disavowing Marxism and the class struggle.” Still, it declared the foundation of the Libyan Arab Republic to be “A Step Forward of the Arab Revolution.” [1] The laws of uneven and combined development, the SWP argued, would force Qaddafi to abandon his “narrow, nationalist” version of a Koran-based Arab Socialism. Instead, the laws of the market induced Qaddafi to abandon his socialist claims in favor of free-market capitalism.

Most groups in the petty-bourgeois left in the early 1970s portrayed Qaddafi as an “anti-imperialist,” but one tendency went further. That was the organization led by Gerry Healy which claimed to be the International Committee of the Fourth International. Although Healy had once labeled Qaddafi a fascist, by the mid-1970s his British organization, the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP), and his U.S. subsidiary, the Workers League, positively lionized the Libyan leader. They also swooned for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. This was no accident. The WRP put out a daily newspaper, Newsline, which seemed far beyond the organization’s financial means. For years there were rumors of funny money behind it. But when in 1985 Healy’s lieutenants staged a coup and ousted the WRP’s “founder-leader” they revealed that the party had received over 1 million pounds over seven years from various Arab dictators and petro-sheiks, including rulers of Kuwait, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Iraq and particularly Qaddafi’s Libya. Here is the breakdown:

Libya ........................ £542,267
....................... 156,500
Abu Dhabi
PLO ...............................19,997
Unidentified or other
sources .......................261,702

Total ......................£1,075,163

–reprinted in Workers News, April 1988

In exchange, the WRP performed certain services, including photographing Iraqi leftists who protested in London against Hussein’s executions of Iraqi Communists.

Healy’s American acolyte during this period was Workers League leader David North, now head of the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) which runs the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS). Today, the WSWS poses as champions of Trotskyism, with articles such as “Libya and the bankruptcy of Arab nationalism” (23 February) exposing Qaddafi’s “socialist” pretensions and hailing the anti-Qaddafi, pro-imperialist rebels. Nowhere do the Northites confess to the fact that they were once paid propagandists for Qaddafi, receiving blood money to hail his “revolution.” We have documented how North & Co. (in another incarnation he is the head of a non-union commercial printing operation) oppose unions, fingered supporters of the U.S. SWP for repression by Khomeini’s Islamic Republic in Iran and engaged in a host of anti-working-class actions.[2] But in the litany of crimes of these cynical imposters, it should not be forgotten that they were once messengers for Qaddafi.[3]

For many years, the staunchest defenders of Qaddafi on the U.S. left were the followers of ex-Trotskyist Sam Marcy in the Workers World Party (WWP). Marcy broke politically with Trotskyism in defending the Kremlin’s repression of the 1956 Hungarian workers uprising. A few years later he broke organizationally as well in siding with Mao Zedong’s China against the USSR in the Sino-Soviet split. The Marcyites typically sing the praises of hard-line Stalinist regimes (Kim Il Sung’s North Korea is a favorite) and of “Third World” nationalist strongmen such as Saddam Hussein or Muammar Qaddafi, while “at home” they organize protests with liberal Democrats such as Jesse Jackson and assorted popular-front antiwar movements. Lately, however, they have been waffling over Libya. An editorial in the 3 March issue of Workers World (published February 23) declared, “Of all the struggles going on in North Africa and the Middle East right now, the most difficult to unravel is the one in Libya.” On the one hand, it stated:

“Getting concessions out of Gadhafi is not enough for the imperialist oil barons. They want a government that they can own outright, lock, stock and barrel. They have never forgiven Gadhafi for overthrowing the monarchy and nationalizing the oil.”

On the other hand:

“Progressive people are in sympathy with what they see as a popular movement in Libya. We can help such a movement most by supporting its just demands while rejecting imperialist intervention, in whatever form it may take.”

Conclusion: “It is the people of Libya who must decide their future.” I.e., don’t ask the WWP.

Opportunist leftists push fiction of a “Libyan Revolu¬tion” that is opposed to imperialist intervention. Yet Libyan rebels have pleaded for U.S./French/British/NATO/U.N. forces to strike Qaddafi forces. Here rebel fighters atop bombed tank. (Photo: Patrick Baz/AFP)

A 2004 split-off from the WWP, the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), continued the Marcyite tradition of political support to Stalinist and bourgeois nationalists and domestic reformism. In fact, their overall politics are still virtually identical to those of the WWP, although the PSL tries to give it a more hip radical veneer with portraits of Che Guevara while pursuing crass electoralism. But the PSL, too, has been having stomach pains over Libya. An article titled “Libya and the Arab revolt in perspective” (Liberation, 24 February) stated: “At present, the revolt has not produced any organizational form or leader that would make it possible to characterize it politically.” It also opined that “Gaddafi is not a puppet of imperialism like Mubarak was,” but “developments in the last decade have greatly and understandably diminished his credibility among progressive and anti-imperialist forces in the region, almost all of which have declared their solidarity with the Libyan revolt.” As in the case of the WWP, the conclusion is: “it is the people of Libya and the Arab world who will determine their future.” This is a “perspective”?!

The Marcyites continue to hail Qaddafi’s supposed “strong anti-imperialist positions” in the past, ignoring the evidence of his collaboration with Washington in the 1970s (see “Qaddafi and the Imperialists: On and Off”). But since the U.S. invasion of Iraq (according to the WWP), or “in recent years” (so says the PSL), Libya “finally succumbed to U.S. demands” (WWP) and “has made many concessions to imperialism” (PSL). A subsequent article in Workers World (10 March) details how Libya slashed billions of dollars of subsidies for basic necessities and sold off hundreds of state firms. But they seem to have discovered this fact only after February 17, for at the time of Qaddafi’s visit to the U.N., Workers World (24 September 2009) published an article gushing over Libya’s “40 years of revolution.” What changed was not Libya, which has avidly sought imperialist favor since the mid-1990s. Rather, the Marcyites’ recent mealy-mouthed positions reflect the fact that two different forces they tail after (liberal imperialists and semi-colonial bourgeois nationalists) have come into conflict. That’s why WWP and PSL now talk with marbles in their mouths.

If the Stalinoids are feeling conflicted over their one-time putative “anti-imperialist” hero Qaddafi, the social democrats are solidly for the pro-imperialist rebels. First and foremost is the International Socialist Organization (ISO), which seized on the WWP and PSL’s embarrassment to tweak their reformist rivals with whom they organizationally compete in the antiwar, student and other “movements.” An article by the ISO, “Taking Sides About Libya” (Socialist Worker website, 28 February), takes the Marcyites to task for not endorsing pro-rebel demonstrations in San Francisco and elsewhere, declaring that WWP/PSL “allegiance to police states” has “no place in the fight for social justice.” No place? Hmm. This was the line of openly pro-Democratic Party groups like the moribund United for Peace and Justice who insisted on no cooperation with the WWP (via the International Action Center) and PSL (via International ANSWER). But the ISO hastens to add, “Of course, socialists and radicals of all stripes must continue to work together to oppose U.S. military intervention” despite disagreements.

Covering its left flank with this fig-leaf (the ISO claims to oppose U.S. intervention while supporting a “movement” which is crying for it), the polemic also serves to ward off any internal dissent over its support to the Benghazi “democrats,” portraying any opposition as “siding with the tanks.” Earlier (February 22), the ISO ran an incredible string of outright falsehoods taken from Andrew Solomon in the New Yorker portraying Qaddafi’s Libya as identical to the usual U.S.-backed African dictatorship (it “does not take care of even the most basic government obligations,” makes “no effort to provide adequate public accommodation,” does nothing to “raise the standard of living for the population as a whole,” etc.). While of late, the regime has presided over mounting unemployment, increasing concentration of wealth, falling real income and other consequences of the U.S./IMF “free market” economic policies it has adopted, unless one understands that Libya has far and away the highest standard of living in Africa, one can’t understand why Qaddafi continues to have substantial support in much of the country.

Check out those wheels: this isn’t the wretched of the earth. Rebels flee from Ras Lanuf on March 30.
(Photo: Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Proof? There are the reports of residents joining loyalist troops and militias to fight the rebels, even in Benghazi. As for the standard of living, there is the fact that there are (or were) more than 1.5 foreign-born workers in Libya, mostly from Egypt and Tunisia. Or just take a gander at the photos of the cars the rebels are driving to battle: those are some pretty hot wheels. In most of Africa and the Near East, virtually nobody among the impoverished masses has a car, new or old, much less late model Toyotas, Nissans, 4x4 Land Rovers and Land Cruisers, etc. The “pro-democracy” rebels are hardly the downtrodden wretched of the earth but a well-to-do layer of businessmen, engineers, bankers, imams and managerial employees of “multi-national” corporations, plus some of their counterparts from the Qaddafi regime. In fact, a good part of Qaddafi’s travails are due to the fact that his regime didn’t carry out a social revolution and left the eastern bourgeoisie in place. Meanwhile, his economic policies created a substantial middle class which considers Qaddafi and his cohorts to be uncouth country bumpkins, wants to live like Europeans, and has been hard-hit by the regime’s new Western-inspired economic policies.

The ISO printed a piece by Richard Seymour (author of the blog Lenin’s Tomb and a supporter of the British Socialist Workers Party), “The West’s Fear of Qaddafi’s Fall” (Socialist Worker website, 24 February). Seymour insisted that “the trouble for the U.S. and UK governments in this revolt is that they really, really don't want Qadaffi to fall.” The trouble for the ISO is that the U.S. and U.K. governments really, really do want Qaddafi to fall. Barack Obama said so, Hillary Clinton said so, David Cameron said so, and now they’re trying to do so, while piously pretending to protect the civilian population. More fundamentally, the ISO’s “trouble” is that their “third camp” politics – taken from their mentor, the late Tony Cliff, who called the USSR “state capitalist” and during the anti-Soviet Cold War summed up his position as “neither Washington nor Moscow” – inexorably place them in the “first camp,” that of imperialism. As they focus on “democracy” while blithely crossing the class line, these “State Department socialists” end up with State Department-sponsored “youth movements,” and mercenary mujahedin (holy warriors) who want back on the CIA payroll like they were in fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan (and the Cliffites praised them as “freedom fighters”).

Cliff’s SWP in Britain (with which the ISO was initially allied in the International Socialist Tendency, until they parted ways in 2001 accusing each other of being insufficiently opportunist) has been at the forefront of those who – while peddling imperialist war propaganda against the Qaddafi regime and hallucinatory tales of “new forms of democracy” in Benghazi – claimed that “Libyan revolutionaries” are opposing Western interference. It quoted Abdel Hafidh Ghoga, the spokesman for the rebels’ Transitional National Council, saying, “We are against any foreign intervention or military intervention in our internal affairs” (Socialist Worker [UK], 5 March 2011). That was when the rebels thought that the Qaddafi regime would simply collapse, but a few days later, this same Ghoga was singing a different tune: “The Libyan people are facing genocide…. We demand a bombardment of the camps where he (Qaddafi) keeps his mercenaries and the roads he uses to transport them and his security forces” (Reuters, 10 March). So much for the myth of an anti-intervention sector of the Libyan rebels.

Libyan rebels threaten black African workers. Opportunist leftists alibi lynchings, claiming racism was due to Qaddafi. (Photo: AP)

While the ISO and SWP/UK are the largest and most outspoken left groups in championing the cause of the monarchist, Islamist, ex-Qaddafi and pro-imperialist Libyan rebels, they are joined by the whole of the social-democratic milieu in portraying these reactionaries as fighters for “democracy.” Socialist Action (March 2011) calls for “Victory to the Workers' and Peasants' Uprising Against Qaddafi!” while adding a ritual call, “US Hands Off Libya!” It says it must give its “political support” to the workers, peasants and youth who are supposedly separate from the “middle-class professionals—doctors, lawyers, academics, etc.” and defecting military officers who “would turn over Libya to imperialist intervention.” SA’s claim that it is only the latter who are pleading for aid from the U.S. and Europe is a fairy tale. Despite the single banner against foreign military intervention and a few quotes from youth interviewed by liberal media, there is no indication of any significant sector of the rebels opposed to the U.S./UK/U.N./NATO “no-fly” zone or to calls on the imperialists to use their bombs to get rid of Qaddafi and his regime.

Another social-democratic group, Socialist Alternative (SAlt), likewise calls, in a March 19 statement, for “Victory to the Libyan Revolution!” while adding “No to Western Military Intervention!” An earlier article by SAlt’s mentor and leader of the Committee for a Workers International, Peter Taaffe, hailed “Herculean efforts to remove Gaddafi dictatorship in Libya” (CWI web site, 8 March). SAlt and the CWI are less hot on promoting an imaginary anti-intervention, worker-peasant sector of the “revolution” and admits that “people’s committees” in the east are “not fully based upon the real involvement of working class people.” But while professing opposition to Western military intervention, SAlt/CWI calls for workers in the West to implement economic sanctions against the Qaddafi regime: “trade unions should block the export of Libyan oil and gas” and “bank workers should organise the freezing of all the Gaddafi regime’s financial assets.” Whether trade-unions or governments carry out such measures to strangle Libya economically, the Taaffeites are calling for imperialist sanctions which proletarian revolutionaries and class-conscious workers resolutely oppose.

Still another denizen of the social-democratic swamp, the Workers International League (WIL), a satellite of the Allan Woods’ Socialist Appeal group inside the British Labour Party and his International Marxist Tendency (IMT), is even more open about the fact that “reactionary bourgeois agents” are running things in Benghazi, and that the rebels are led by “direct representatives of imperialist interests” (“Libyan Interim Government – agents of imperialism,” In Defense of Marxism web site, 1 April). At the beginning, however, Woods was ecstatic: “Uprising in Libya: Tremble, tyrants!” (IDoM, 23 February). “The revolution has already spread to the west,” and “the fall of Gaddafi is now only a matter of time,” proclaimed Woods, who is forever announcing revolutions here, there and everywhere, from Venezuela to Argentina, Bolivia, Iran and now Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. While saying sotto voce (in a stage whisper) that “we must oppose imperialist aggression,” whether bombing or in other forms, the IMT is strangely low-key about this. As over Iran, which led to a split in Woods’ international, their big problem is that their hero Hugo Chávez is a big pal of Qaddafi’s.

In claiming to support the “Libyan Revolution” while simultaneously opposing imperialist military intervention, it should have occurred to the various social democrats that the very people they’re seeking to tail after in Libya won’t appreciate this pro-forma opposition to Western bombardment of Qaddafi, which the rebels see as their only hope of survival, much less victory. In fact, along with the “cruise missile liberals” and Labour Party leaders, a few Western leftists, of sorts, have come out for the imperialist bombing campaign – or at least against denouncing it. Like a number of left apostates did over the bombing of Yugoslavia by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton in 1999, they want to “give war a chance.”

Chief among them is the British Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) of Sean Matgamna, who developed a passion for the anti-Trotskyist renegade Max Shachtman, who refused to defend the Soviet Union against imperialism in World War II and went on to become a propagandist for the U.S. government in the Korean War, the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and the Vietnam War. Matgamna recently wrote an essay, “Why we should not denounce intervention in Libya” (Solidarity, 23 March). He takes his stand on the basis of “any humanitarian, socialist or even decent liberal point of view.” Of course, the imperialists “humanitarian” concern “is not unconnected with their concern for Libyan oil. Of course they are hypocrites.” Of course, the humanitarian “decent liberal” Matgamna would “not give positive political support to the governments and the ruling capitalists” while supporting their war. But of course. (He also backed the imperialist-backed Kosovo Liberation Army in ’99, and notoriously supports Israel in its war against the Palestinians.) Going a step beyond the reformists of the antiwar movement, the AWL are outright apologists for imperialist war.

Another of this ilk is the Lebanese academic Gilbert Achcar, a long-time spokesman for the USec and a fellow at the International Institute for Research and Education founded by USec leaders Ernest Mandel and Livio Maitan. In an interview which Achcar “gave to my good friend Steve Shalom” of Z Magazine and was reposted on the web site of the USec’s International Viewpoint (March 2011), Achcar claims that “given the urgency of preventing the massacre that would have inevitably resulted from an assault on Benghazi by Gaddafi’s forces, and the absence of any alternative means of achieving the protection goal, no one can reasonably oppose it” [U.N. Resolution 1973, calling for military action against the Libyan regime in the name of protecting civilians]. This set off a flurry of responses, including from the SWP/U.K. leader Alex Callinicos, who in reply agrees with “my old friend Gilbert Achcar” that sometimes asking for help from the imperialists is okay, just not in this particular case. That such an oh-so-collegial “debate” between a coterie of “left” academics could even take place is proof positive that none of them have the remotest connection with revolution or Marxism.[4]

For revolutionary Trotskyists such a “discussion” is an abomination: it is not only necessary to fight against imperialist intervention tooth and nail, it is an obligation to defend a semi-colonial country under attack, whatever the pretext or its internal regime, and to seek the defeat of the imperialist attackers, no matter how “democratic” or “humanitarian” they claim their mission to be. Leon Trotsky defended Ethiopia (then called Abyssinia) under the feudalist and slave owner Haile Selassie against imperialist Italy in the mid-late 1930s. French Communists stood on the side of the Rif rebellion in the early 1920s, and Communist-led dock workers refused to ship munitions to the French troops defending the colony of Morocco. Was Berber tribal leader Muhammad Abd al-Krim a progressive? Hardly. V.I. Lenin defended the “Boxer Rebellion” in China in 1900 which sought to restore the Manchu Qing dynasty. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels defended the Sepoy Rebellion in India in the late 1850s, even while noting that it was sparked by a mutiny of mercenary soldiers who carried out no small number of atrocities and was led by feudalist Muslim forces.[5] In all these cases, the fundamental issue was the fight against imperialism. As Lenin wrote in his pamphlet, Socialism and War (1915):

“If tomorrow Morocco were to declare war on France, or India on Britain, or Persia or China on Russia, and so on, those would be ‘just’ and ‘defensive’ wars, irrespective of who attacked first; any socialist would wish the oppressed, dependent and unequal states victory over the oppressor, slave-holding and predatory ‘great’ powers.”

Today the overriding issue in Libya is the struggle against imperialism. For decades the dictatorships of this strategically vital region, as well as the Zionist oppressor state in Israel, have rested on the support of imperialism. The uprising in Libya was fueled precisely by Qaddafi’s adoption of the dominant capitalist economic policies as a part of his alliance with imperialism. To call on the imperialists to intervene, militarily or through punishing economic sanctions, is to guarantee that at this moment of great and potentially revolutionary upheaval, the dominant imperial powers, first of all the United States, will continue to be the arbiters, exploiters and oppressors of the Arab masses. It is necessary to organize a struggle for workers revolution throughout the region not only against the strongmen such as Qaddafi but also against imperialism and the “democrats,” monarchists and Islamists who would serve as its front men.

Those leftists who openly call for Western military action, such as the AWL and Achcar, are what Lenin called social imperialists, like the German Social Democrats who voted for war credits in 1914 in the name of fighting tsarist reaction. Once the Maoists might have called them “running dogs” of imperialism, although in this case “lap dogs” would be more to the point. On the other hand, by drumming up political support for the pro-imperialist Libyan rebels whose rebellion is dependent on and who call for U.S./UK/U.N./NATO intervention, the social-democratic and other “social pacifists” in the “antiwar” movement are serving as cat’s paws, that is to say dupes or stooges, who have paved the way for imperialist attack. Today as in the past, a real struggle against imperialist war and domination requires fighting to smash the imperialist system by socialist revolution throughout the region and the world.

[1] The American SWP was fraternally tied to the United Secretariat of the Fourth Internation (USec). Today, the Socialist Action group, which is similarly linked to the USec, writes that “much of the left fell for his [Qaddafi’s] rhetoric, as they had—and still do—for other bourgeois populists in neocolonial countries” (Socialist Action, March 2011). They neglect to mention that the cheerleaders for the Libyan leader included the SWP, to which most of the Socialist Action leadership belonged at the time.

[2] See “Where Were You, David North?The Internationalist No. 29, Summer 2009; “Socialists in Bourgeois Electionland,” The Internationalist No. 28, March-April 2009; and “SEP/WSWS: Scab ‘ Socialists’” (December 2007) available on our web site, www.internationalist.org.

[3] This sordid history is documented in several articles published by Workers Vanguard, the newspaper of the Spartacist League, when it was the voice of revolutionary Trotskyism, which can be found on the web site Anti-SEP-tic. These include: “Healyites, Messengers of Qaddafi,”  WV No. 158 (20 May 1977); “More from Healy, Messenger of Qaddafi,” WV No. 174 (23 September 1977);   Healyites Got Blood Money,” WV No. 517 (4 January 1991); “Northite Blood Money,” WV No. 523 (29 March 1991); “Northite Fool's Gold ,” WV No. 533 (22 November 1991).

[4] Achcar is at least consistent in his support for imperialism: in 1980 he – along with Tariq Ali – put forward a resolution in the USec calling for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in the face of the CIA-sponsored Islamist onslaught (see Gilbert Achcar, Eastern Cauldron [Monthly Review Press, 2004]). And in 2006 he supported the pseudo-elections being held under the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

[5] See “Lenin on the ‘Boxer Rebellion’” and “Marx on the Sepoy Revolt” in The Internationalist No. 21, Summer 2005.

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