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John Passant

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March 2011



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Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

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The pro-war left in Australia and intervention in Libya

The Libyan revolution and the attempts by Gaddafi and his forces to drown it in blood  have produced different responses from the Left in Australia (and I might add, around the globe).

Over at Larvatus Prodeo, the soft left’s favourite blog,  Kim says:

I have never been one to argue that there are no circumstances whatever when there can be legitimate military intervention. In that I have been consistent over the years, while rejecting the rhetoric of the “pro-war left”.

But this [Libya] strikes me as an exceptional situation.

One wonders what are exceptional situations and what are not. It is a phrase that can be all things to all people. 

It is not clear how this argument about ‘an exceptional situation’ differentiates Kim from the pro-war left who used exactly the same sort of argument to justify their support for US firepower to overthrow Saddam in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan, with the consequent death of over one million civilians in Iraq and tens of thousands in Afghanistan.

Funnily enough, the argument never seems to be raised by the soft left to justify calls for imperialist action against America’s good friend, the House of Saud. Presumably such a brutal dictatorship is not ‘an exceptional situation.’

These sorts of ‘exceptional situations’ arguments did get a run from many on the Left to support Australian imperialism invading East Timor. That has produced magnificent results for the people there, hasn’t it? And some on the left use similar arguments to justify the Northern Territory intervention, another grand success story no doubt.

The phrase ‘an exceptional situation’ is an apologia for US imperialism.  So tell me, Kim, when has the US really intervened for humanitarian reasons? Iran in 1953? Using Israel as its attack dog in the region since 1948? Central and Latin America since forever? Vietnam? Cambodia? Grenada? Iraq? Afghanistan? What about the dead in Kosovo?

Tell us about the success of the US invasion of Haiti over a year ago and the liberation of the people there starving and diseased in their tents and soon to be completely under a US puppet regime?

Can you see a pattern here?

It is ahistorical nonsense to support Western intervention in the misguided belief it will serve the interests of Libyans rather than US imperialism. Does the pro-war left learn nothing from history?

One of the reasons US imperialism is hesitant about intervening is that it knows that many of the people of the region understand its real nature. After all they have suffered for the last 30 or 40 years under US supported dictatorships. The other is that the US thinks its former friend, Gaddafi, will probably win so why alienate him too much?

The battle between Chinese and American imperialism means the UN Security Council will never vote for intervention. That won’t stop the US if it thinks it is in its interests to kill Libyan civilians, but it will drive Gaddafi into the arms of the Chinese and Russians.

In the case of Libya Western support is more recent but real nevertheless as UK and German arms manufacturers and dealers supplied Gaddafi with the weapons he is now using against his people and US, UK and other oil companies won concessions  in the country with the largest oil reserves in Africa and vast unexplored areas with huge oil and gas potential.  

I’d have some respect for the Kims of this world if  they had led a concerted campaign for ‘humanitarian intervention’ in every country in which a US supported or other dictatorship prevails. At least then they’d be consistent.

They’d still be wrong because imperialism has no humanitarian intentions and those who give it that gloss do its dirty propaganda work. As the experience of the Middle East and North Africa shows, American imperialism is about control of the region through puppets who suppress their people in the interests of the US war and profit machine.

Intervention, support, no-fly zones, call them what you will, are about continuing that suppression and protecting the interests of the US and Western Europe.

To imagine this is in some way going to be humanitarian is to live in the land of the neocons and war criminals of the US establishment and to accept the sort of fantasies about liberating countries and democratising the region that George Bush used to attack Iraq. 

To believe Western imperialism will intervene to protect a revolution is sheer madness. It might intervene, but never for that reason. Any intervention will be an attempt to destroy the revolution and its possible development in a direction that serves the interests of the Libyan masses.

The people of Libya have two enemies  who until a month ago were pals – Gaddafi and imperialism. Their struggle is a struggle against both. Allying with imperialism will defeat their own liberation.

In Egypt and Tunisia the US did not have to intervene physically because the partial revolutions there have not destroyed the old regimes, only their leaders.  In Libya the civil war does not make this managed change an option. 

The pro-war left’s talk of saving the lives of revolutionaries is a smokescreen for defeating the revolution’s potential and keeping it in safe pro-Western hands. 

Over at Crikey Guy Rundle argues that there is a difference between support and intervention. By support he means a no-fly zone and similar measures. By intervention he means ‘a massive and autonomous operation, with support from the forces on the ground’.

The left needs to be clear. Support is intervention. A no-fly zone means bombing Libya. 

In his article Pollyanna rhetoric hiding the truth on Libya Rundle criticises Socialist Alternative for its anti-imperialist stance.  He quotes from an article in their magazine called Libyan revolutionaries speak out: “The West’s war machine won’t help us win” in which they argue that ‘we have to let the Libyan people make their own revolution.’

Disingenuously Rundle’s criticism of this position as treating the Libyans like children, of being passive and fatalistic, of refusing to stand in solidarity with the revolution ignores the fact that revolutionaries in Libya were making the very point Socialist Alternative was. No doubt they too are pollyannas, to use Rundle’s imperial terms. 

The Socialist Alternative article Rundle criticises starts with the following comment from human rights lawyer and spokesperson for the Libyan National Transitional Council Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga:

“We are against any foreign intervention or military intervention in our internal affairs,” said Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga in Libya’s second city Benghazi last Sunday. “This revolution will be completed by our people with the liberation of the rest of Libyan ­territory.”

Rundle of course is entitled to use the words of a former regime Minister to justify his pro-imperialist stance. But to imagine that this signifies absolute support for such action is a nonsense.

The situation is changing as Gaddafi wins some military gains and will if successful slaughter tens, if not hundreds of thousands of his people.

That may explain why a week before the former Minister was arguing against foreign intervention and today he is not. He is hardly a credible anti-imperialist and pro-people revolutionary source and certainly not one the left should rely on to justify unleashing the forces of imperialism in any form on Libya. 

However, according to The Sydney Morning Herald

In Benghazi, thousands of women held a demonstration in support of a no-fly zone.”We don’t want foreign intervention, all we want is an air exclusion zone and our boys will do the rest,” said Nada al-Turki, an economics student.

That does not alter the situation.

Revolution from below, real revolution in which the masses of the population challenge their rulers, cannot come from above in the form of ‘intervention’.

Some revolutions may succeed. In some counter revolution may drown it in blood. The best solidarity we on the left in Australia can show is to side with the anti-imperialist revolutionaries in Libya and oppose both Gaddafi and any Western intervention.

In essence the pro-war left and Kim and Rundle see  ruling class agents as capable of liberationary change. They have this analysis in common with stalinism and social democracy.

The former Justice Minister whom Rundle relies on to justify air strikes and a no-fly zone is also a member of the Libyan Transitional National Council.  In its founding statement, again something Rundle doesn’t mention, the Council said:

Furthermore, we request from the international community to fulfill its obligations to protect the Libyan people from any further genocide and crimes against humanity without any direct military intervention on Libyan soil.

Bombing airfields, which is part of what a no-fly zone entails, arguably contradicts that request of the Libyan revolutionaries.

These statements call into question Rundle’s assertion that ‘ in making their revolution the Libyan people are, as free revolutionary subjects, asking for material support.’  Further the nature of that support is not, if conducted through the agency of US and Western imperialism, neutral. Nor is it humanitarian.

Rundle’s apoplexy against the anti-imperialist left becomes even pronounced when he says:

To “let them make their own revolution …” in such condition is not a guarantee of autonomy, but to treat a people like children. It is to go beyond respect for national self-determination, to a rigid respect for national boundaries more characteristic of realpolitik conservatives than internationalist radicals.

This of course is nonsense. Rundle is in fact supporting US imperialism, which respects its own nation state boundaries and treats the rest of the world as its empire with fixed or expanding spheres of influence in favour of the US, to invade and defeat the Libyan revolution. His internationalism is the internationalism of imperialism.  Ours is the internationalism of the working class and oppressed people across the globe.

When the question is posed – which side are you on? – the answer is clear. Kim and Rundle side with the world’s greatest butchers, and we revolutionary socialists stand with those fighting against their local dictators and in doing so against imperialism.

Let me respond the Rundle’s abuse of the internationalist left with an alternative – his support for imperialism intervening in Libya is support for the defeat of the revolution.

Rundle shows no sense of solidarity, no sense of what revolution is and no sense of how to support it when he hides behind the ‘humanitarian’ lies of the Western powers. 

Rundle’s description of Socialist Alternative as having a ‘rigid respect for national boundaries’ is laughable.

 The deepening of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, the overthrow of the old regimes and the development of working class organs of democratic self-government out of the strikes in Egypt, if that occurs, offers a way forward for Libya and the other revolutions across the region instead of the lockstep support for the barbarism that is US imperialism that Kim and Rundle offer. 

To imagine  imperialism will be an agent for real change in the interests of the Libyan people is the stuff of realpolitik conservatives.

Guy Rundle is now the Christopher Hitchens of Australian politics.  

The Western powers will intervene only if it is in their interests to do so. These powers care nothing for the Libyan people. They care only for their own strategic, political and economic interests, interests which are inimical to the interests of the Libyan revolution.

Rundle and Kim seem to imagine that the choice in the Middle East and North Africa is between liberal democracy and dictatorship. It isn’t. It is between workers’ revolution and dictatorship.

That is why the ongoing development of the Egyptian revolution – in the words of one Egyptian revolutionary socialist ‘taking Tahrir Square to the workplace’ – is of vital significance to the Egyptian revolution and ultimately to the revolutions for freedom and food, justice and jobs, across the region, including Libya.

That deepening can show the other revolutionaries the way forward for them – winning over the conscripts and their arms, as has been happening to some extent, and running their workplaces democratically. It can also provide a material base for support for the Libyan revolutionaries,  a material base of Egyptian revolutionaries, arms and supplies.

The best solidarity we can show to the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East is to support the deepening of the Egyptian and other revolutions in a working class direction and not be sucked in by the siren song of imperialist intervention and the continuation of its brutal rule in the region.  To stand against imperialist intervention is to stand with the revolutions.



Comment from Tony
Time March 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm

I was wondering if Christopher Hitchens was going to appear in this piece. Although he has made some good commentary on other issues, I was always perplexed by his defence of the Iraq invasion force.

Comment from John
Time March 14, 2011 at 5:40 am

I referred to Hitchins because Rundle bought it up.

Comment from Magpie
Time March 14, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Although I agree with your analysis, John, that any kind of intervention by the US and Western Europe will come with a price-tag attached, it’s not easy to remain impassive before this situation.

You are right on this: it’s always been like this with these interventions, and will always be.

At the other hand, it’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening with these people; and to know that what awaits them is even worse. So much courage and hopes and suffering wasted.

I feel like the proverbial donkey, starving to death while standing midway between two equal piles of grass.

Frankly, I don’t know what to do.

Comment from Ross
Time March 14, 2011 at 10:57 pm

An excellent analysis John.You do your cause an injustice by constantly rerferring to socialism and boogymen bosses.It is all about fairness.Socialism has the conotations of oppressive big brother,just like the corporate oppression we are experiencing now. Not all bosses in our system are bastards.We all need to find new words to define the reality of our oppression.

It is the sterotypes that the elites use to divide and conquerer the masses on both the left and right side of politics that we need to address.By defining yourself as a socialist or communist,you have fallen for their trap.

Comment from guy rundle
Time March 15, 2011 at 10:00 am

i’ve got a reply to this, among others, at:

Comment from Tony
Time March 15, 2011 at 10:43 pm

On this issue:

Comment from John Passant
Time March 16, 2011 at 2:36 am

Apparently Hillary Clinton, the new favourite of the pro-war left, agreed to the Saudi invasion of Bahrain to crush the revolution there as part of a deal to get the Arab League to call for imperialist intervention in Libya. Ah, but a no-fly zone really is in the interests of the Arab revolution isn’t it?

Pingback from Libya: intervention, anti-imperialism and leadership – Blood and Barricades
Time March 16, 2011 at 11:02 am

[…] changed and those ex-Gaddafi officers are calling on the UN to institute a no-fly zone. But as others state including in the comments to his article, these leaders cannot be assumed to represent the […]

Pingback from En Passant » Libya, Bahrain and imperialism
Time March 18, 2011 at 11:07 am

[…] Readers might also like to have a look at The pro-war left in Australian and intervention in Libya. […]

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