[Marxism] Monthly Review accuses ISO of spreading racist lies

Jeff meisner at xs4all.nl
Thu Aug 25 10:09:12 MDT 2011

At 09:02 25/08/11 -0400, Louis Proyect wrote:
>Claims that the Libyan government was employing African 
>mercenaries against the rebels were given credence in some 
>left-wing media ...

I don't find this response to the British SWP very compelling at all. The
most it would convince me of is that the TNC is not above lying, hardly a
revelation at this point. In fact the NYT article does a pretty good job of
illustrating what we know to be the first casualty of war.

The MRzine article doesn't contain any new facts, nor could the writers
know whether the claim about mercenaries from sub-saharan Africa was true,
false, highly exaggerated, or whatever. Nor do I claim any inside
information. Nor does the NYT which now admits that they never confirmed
the fact. However I suspect (I say "suspect") that there is some truth to
the claim, not only because I've heard such claims by interviewees (who,
again, could have been lying) but because of the apparently unchallenged
fact that Gaddafi had extensive military cooperation with troops from
various African countries training there, and it's hard to imagine that he
wouldn't have used them if they were available.

What's more, one of the left cheerleaders for Gaddafi, Gerald A. Perreira,
who lived in Libya for years, doesn't deny that there were sub-saharan
Africans fighting on Gaddafi's side, but only denies "that the many
Africans in military uniform fighting alongside the pro-Qaddafi Libyan
forces are mercenaries." Rather he implies that they were fighting because
they "support and respect Muammar Qaddafi as a result of his invaluable
contribution to the worldwide struggle for African emancipation." He
decries the media assuming that these were mercenaries "without any
research or understanding of the situation." 


Well excuse my skepticism, but I would be much more inclined to believe
that they WERE mercenaries, now that he has conceded that they indeed were
there fighting on Gaddafi's side. I really do not believe that there could
have been many of them fighting simply out of admiration for Gaddafi. I
could also point out that if these outside forces were being paid for their
services, then they were *technically* mercenaries, but I suspect (again,
only suspect) that they were being paid sufficiently for them to risk their
lives for a cause that they wouldn't have otherwise been willing to die for. 

Now a very different question is whether there was racism on the part of
the Benghazi rebels, whether the perception/fact of black mercenaries
became part of a racist narrative, and whether innocent black Africans were
detained and even killed by the rebels in this vein. We have already looked
at these questions, and the answers are yes, yes, and yes. In fact both SWP
articles decried by the MRzine article clearly denounce any such racism:

  To the extent that there are racist attacks on Black
  Libyans and other African migrant workers, they
  must be opposed, as we oppose any form of
  racism--bigotry is wholly out of step with the
  spirit of the revolt sweeping across North Africa 
  and the Middle East.

Of course that racism, to whatever extent it existed, is a blemish on the
revolution. If there were any significant leaders of that revolution that
promulgated such views, then I think we would have heard about it by now.
It is rather a matter of "unofficial" racism by members of the fighting
force. Both SWP articles discuss the racist atmosphere Gaddafi had already
promulgated in Libya which may have laid a basis for the inexcusable racism
of some Arab revolutionary fighters.

All in all, the SWP articles are rather decent in my opinion (I have some
disagreements), and certainly not promulgating any lies intentionally, or
unintentionally (unless it turns out that all of these sub-saharan Africans
really were fighting with Gaddafi out of political solidarity). The second
one also takes a good swipe at the pro-Gaddafi (oh right,
anti-anti-Gaddafi) left.


On the issue of racism, however, I would take issue with one statement in
the second SWP piece:
  But it must be pointed out that the Qaddafi regime
  helped create the conflict by consciously drawing
  on Black Africans to serve as a mercenary force
  against the resistance.

While there well may be a cause-effect relationship, I feel that citing the
presence of a black person as an explanation for racism against them,
amounts to blaming the victim. The writer of the article should have been
more sensitive to the implication that could be drawn from what was a
(cheap?) shot at Gaddafi. And if anything, he would most likely have used
mercenaries from sub-saharan Africa because they'd work for less pay.

- Jeff

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