[Marxism] Mike Ely (Kasama Project) on Libya

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Aug 24 06:29:23 MDT 2011

His comment appeared under my article "Notes on Libya" that he 
crossposted: http://kasamaproject.org/2011/08/22/33228/

Andrei writes:

     “The fall of Qaddafi is not just a defeat for people’s Libya, 
but a defeat for Africa and the Arab people.”

My geography is a bit spotty. Where exactly is this Peoples’ Libya 
you speak of?

Do such things emerge without socialist revolution? Is there some 
other process by which “peoples governments” emerge?

The defacto invention of a socialist Libya is a pure fantasy — 
where materialism is precisely the issue. Libya is a capitalist 
oil state, ruled by a corrupt (and highly eccentric) family of 
bureaucrat capitalism. It is fully integrated into world 
capitalism, and actively invests capital in world finance 
(mega-bucks, big-time).

Most oil economies find ways to establish political stability by 
creating welfare and educational programs (Iran does it, Saudi 
Arabia does it, Iraq did it….) And often that stability helps very 
brutal (or reactionary) governments weather discontent (the Saudi 
monarchy just wrote a check to its own people).

But a certain kind of socialist sees education and health care as 
socialist — so when Libya has education and health care it is seen 
as (somehow) socialist. Is Saudi Arabia also socialist? Or western 

The basic assumption is that “if the U.S. attacks them, they must 
be progressive.” This argument is only effective if our discussion 
is devoid of history. In fact, the U.S. attacks all kinds of 
reactionaries (and that attack doesn’t make the U.S. progressive, 
and it doesn’t make those local oppressors progressive.)

For example, the U.S. overthrow Noriega and Diem (and even invaded 
panama to do it).

And of course the U.S. also has war-contradictions with big 
oppressors too: with Nazi Germany, or Tojo’s militarized Japan, or 
Breschnev’s Soviet Union.

And those powers were quite capable of using “anti-imperialist” 
rhetoric. Japanese imperialism presented itself as the 
“non-European power” (protecting Asian people from the western 
imperialists). They called their new empire “the Greater East Asia 
Co-prosperity Sphere.”

Bresnev’s USSR even used “socialist” rhetoric. So when Breznev 
invented his “Breznev doctrine” (a mirror image of the Bush 
doctrine) and declared that the Soviet Union had a right to invade 
and carry out regime change in its neighbors and allies — all this 
was justified in terms of “socialist internaitonalism” etc. (i.e. 
no sovereignty rights among the allies of this nominally 
“socialist” war bloc).

And (it needs to be said) in many wars, neither side is 
progressive. Breznev invaded Czechoslovakia and removed the Dubcek 
regime. It was an act of imperialism, and an unjust violation of 
sovereignty…. but no one thinks that Dubceck was “more socialist” 
than the Soviet imperialists.

Some people tried to say that the U.S. and its allies attacked 
Serbia because it was somehow socialist or an obstacle to 
capitalism. In fact, Yugoslavia was the worlds first example of a 
capitalist state with a nominally communist superstructure (and 
had never been socialist). The Serbian leadership the U.S/Nato 
deposed were ugly chauvinists who came to power with a hysterical 
campaign against the fairly vulnerable Kosovo albanian (and the 
Bosnian muslims) — nothing progressive there.

And of course, we opposed the US/NATO attacks on 
Yugoslavia/Serbia, just as we should (with energy) expose and 
oppose the U.S./NATO crimes in Libya (and their future moves to 
modify their domination).

But why do we need a fantasy politics that assumes:
a) various bureaucrat capitalist states in the third world are 
somehow progressive (or even socialist).
b) that anything the U.S. attacks must be (somehow) progressive 
(as if the world and its politics is binary, and as if the U.S. 
only attacks progressive things… so we can use their policies as a 
litmus test replacement for our own class analysis).

We should oppose U.S. imperialism. That is our responsibility. We 
should to it systematically and with great clarity. And we have a 
great deal of work to do because, even among radical people in the 
U.S., there is often a strong current that the U.S. could do good, 
and it could have a democratic, pro-people foreign policy. Such 
illusions are closely tied to the illusions that led to supporting 

But opposing U.S. imperialism does not require prettifying 
reactionary states. Nor does it change the fact that revolution 
means that people must overthrow their governments. A revolutinary 
movement in Syria, or Iran, or Libya, or [fill in the blank] 
directly faces their governments (not just a distant disembodied 
imperialism) — and their governments and ruling classes are 
(today) deeply entwined with imperialism.

Final point:

When did imperialism become the only enemy of the people of the world?

Mao (for example) talked about three mountains on the back of the 
Chinese people: Feudalism, bureaucrat capitalism (i.e. the central 
govt of GMD) and imperialism.

Feudalism is far weaker today in the world and rarely holds major 
state power.

But certainly people in many places face both bureaucrat 
capitalism and imperialism (look at Mexico!). And there are often 
feudal remnants that deeply affect hte nature of the class struggle.

This is not a colonialist world. This is not 1950. The local 
rulers of states like China, Iran, South Korea, India, Turkey, 
Brazil, Mexico, are quite formidible and oppressive in their own 
right — and they are targets of revolution (together with foreign 

The view that imperialism alone is the people’s oppressors (and, 
beyond that, even that U.S. imperialism alone is the world target) 
is actually not a revolutionary view.

And it quickly leads to arguments that people should rally around 
all kinds of ugly and brutal and reactionary local oppressors. And 
it is a politics of endless resistance without plans for actual 
revolution (i.e. overthrow the fucking government). And suddenly 
local governments (even of quite major oppressors in their own 
right) supposedly become “allies” in resistance and not targets of 

There is a long history of this in some (rightist!) currents of 
the communist movement. But it was never a good politics, and 
certainly isn’t today.

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