[Marxism] Has imperialism changed its stripes?

johnedmundson at paradise.net.nz johnedmundson at paradise.net.nz
Wed Jul 6 01:42:27 MDT 2011

Allan asked:
> I've been following the debate over the war in Libya on the list, and have
some > questions for those who generally put forward the "anti-pro-Qadaffi"
position, > as I'll refer to it.

> The Libyan opposition (the "rebels") are supported by NATO and the western
> imperialist powers. If they represent a genuine force for democracy and
> self-determination, why are the imperialists supporting them militarily and
> politically?

I think the reason they are being supported is pretty clear and I doubt there'd
be much disagreement on this question taken broadly, although a lot in the
detail. I think the West saw the Libyan situatio as one where they could get a
win and reverse the process that was starting to spread right through the Arab
world. Whereas people like Zine Abadin ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak were long-time
loyal allies of the West, and it might have been expected that they would be
supported, a number of things worked againnst it. Firstly the West was caught by
surprise. Secondly, Tunisia, and Egypt even moreso, are much more complicated
when it comes to intervening. They are so big and populous that an intervention
would have needed much more planning. There was no time and a decision was made
to cut them loose. Gaddafi was much flakier and didn't have the history of
loyalty. In fact, despite his having been fully rehabilitated at an official and
business level, it was easy to justify a campaign against him with a domestic
population well used to his characterisation as a mad dog, terrorist etc, due to
his past words and deeds, and actions attributed to him and his regime.

The West will do all it can to support the "right" revolutionaries in Egypt,
Tunisia and the rest of the Arab world too. It's already doing so, trying to
make sure "its" revolutionaries control the process.

In Libya, it was deemed appropriate to launch a military action, made easier by
the fact that assorted ex-regime people and other ammenable figures were
assuming top leadership positions.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that they "represent a genuine force for
democracy and self-determination". What I would say is that they had every right
to try to ditch Gaddafi and the NATO intervention doesn't take away that right.
Of course it does make it much much more difficult for a progressive result to
emerge from the rubble of the war.

> Would a victory for the opposition on the basis of the NATO intervention be a
> positive step for democracy, self-determination, and ultimately for the
> development of socialism in Libya and in the broader Middle East in general?

That is not something I would be prepared to predict. Obviously if Gaddafi
hadn't acted with guns to suppress the revolution - if he'd "gone quietly" like
ben Ali and Mubarak, there would have been much greater cause for optimism. As
it stands there is little cause for optimism in the short term in my view, in
terms of Libya. As to the rest of the Arab world, obviously the West's intention
is that the process will be arrested but I don't think there are any grounds to
say that they have succeeded yet in that aim.

A problem for me with the counter argument - that the rebels are rotten
counterrevolutionaries (now at least if not from the start) due to their
willingness to call for NATO support (which many emphatically did not do in the
beginning) is that a) there will always be someone willing to call for Western
intervention, and b) if all the West need do is mumble words of support for
possible intervention (after all this debate began as soon as there was only
pretty incoherant mutterings about a 'no fly zone') for the left to abandon the
struggle, then we will be forever reactive.

Just an additional point in response to Jamie. I'm not at all convinced that
partition will occur, or is an objective. The bogey of possible partition has
been raised many times, with all the attendant implied reference to past
colonial occupations, Fascist Italy etc. But to my knowledge the rebels
themselves have never indicated that they would settle for anything less than
the territorial integrity of all of Libya. No Western figure of any significance
is actually arguing for partition, and partition would be inherently volatile,
so (while not entirely ruling anything out) I would be surprised if that is the

I also think Jamie is a bit inaccurate when he suggests that the "Western powers
replaced the genuine revolutionaries in the transitional council with the
cuckold interim government". I think that atempts to cast the process in terms
that are altogether too black and white. Those people got to their positions in
the movement by a range of means. To suggest it was all down to Western scheming
is in my view incorrect.

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