(From rogue state to client state?)

The confusing and fluidly changing situation in Libya has been further distorted by the differing perspectives of the various news media.  However, what has been common to most media outlets has been posing of the struggle in terms of nationality and governance.  It is to be expected from the current pro-capitalist news media that issues of class will be generally submerged and only surface occasionally in lukewarm rhetoric on the right of trade union organisation within the future national form of governance. Hence this has caused their contrasting focus on the autocratic governance of Gaddafi versus that of the National Transitional Council (NTC) and its projected metamorphosis into a liberal-democratic form of governance. The distribution of Libyan social complexity along such dualistic and simplistic lines does not help the anti-capitalist movement to make sense of the situation and/or orient its perspectives with any degree of accuracy. The following analysis will try to contribute to a clearer understanding from an anti-capitalist and revolutionary-humanist perspective.


Confusion over the motives of the interventionist strategy in Libya by Europe and North America is also rampant and most frequently posited dualistically between only two competing assertions – humanitarian concern versus concern for oil. This is far too simplistic.  It is clear that the western political elite have been happy to do deals with autocrats wherever they exist and indeed have been instrumental in putting some of them in place. It is also a fact that they were initially reluctant to bless the uprisings taking place during the Arab Spring. The ‘interests’ which determine the concerns and actions of the western elites require stability of regime, which will enable their economic system to function in terms of maintaining access to essential raw materials and markets. The political elite of Europe and North America do not expend several hundreds of billions of dollars, pounds and euro’s to help introduce democratic governance. Their concerns are not predominantly for democracy, but the ability to do contractual, realisable deals with the those who govern. It was only when certain autocratic regimes proved to be terminally unstable that the western political elites switched sides and directed their rhetoric in support of some of the uprisings. And, in the case of Libya, it is not only the exceptional quality of their particular grade of oil deposits, which caused their involvement. In the countries of the middle east and north Africa, as elsewhere, the ‘interests’ of the western economic and political elites are focussed around the following interconnected issues.

 A. Economic. There are substantial European and North American economic ‘interests’ in the oil industry and numerous commercial outlets within Libya. There was also a financial concern in the prior moves by Gaddafi to undermine the domination of western agencies in the international payments system. Such is the instability of the economic and financial system upon which the democracies of Europe and North America are based, that any such payment alternatives, possible reductions in oil supplies or increases in oil prices, would increase the likelihood of a catastrophic financial breakdown and failure of the western economies – with all the internal tensions and repercussions such a collapse would engender. The Gaddafi regime, although courted assiduously by Europe and North American elite, remained in their eyes, an unreliable rogue state. What their economic ‘interests’ require is a system of ‘corruptible’ client states, not only in Libya, but throughout the middle east and North Africa.

    B. Fear of Islamic governance. The spectre of a sequence of perhaps incorruptible Islamic governments taking control throughout the middle-east and North Africa is alarming for the European and North American economic and political elite. Such an outcome, as with the case of Iran, is likely to promote a form of governance, which may not entirely subscribe to the preferred middle-east programme of Europe and North America.  Islamic leaning  governments, even if not fundamentalist, may be less prone to bribery and also argue for a more egalitarian distribution of wealth, which would increase raw material costs. Particularly alarming to Europe and North America, is that the barbaric Zionist colonial enterprise of Israel (an important US and European client state) is likely to be held to greater account even by governments with only moderate Islamic leanings.

    C. The need to re-legitimise western capitalist democracy.  The 19th century reputation of Europe and North America for aggressive military interventions has been primarily reinforced in the 21st by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. The need to improve relations with the Arab world was admitted by the Obama faction of the US political elite, when he was first elected. However, in having to represent the economic interests of the elite in general, the Obama faction needed to continue the occupation of Iraq and increase the armed forces in Afghanistan. The requirement to try to counter this continuing imperialist image was necessary for the future peaceful intrusion and penetration of the West’s economic categories of raw material extraction and ‘free’ markets for the sale of their surplus production.

Individual political elites or factions may favour one or other of the above and some may have entirely other reasons, but each of the issues noted have been effective in promoting the unified political elite willingness to prompt a request or respond to one made by the NTC in the early days of their consolidation in Benghazi. The UN resolution purporting to allow intervention in order to defend the civilian population was of course, just camouflage to allow regime change to be undertaken. The missile attacks, laser guided or not, involve civilian deaths as the military euphemism ‘collateral damage’ reluctantly admits. Indeed, the West’s involvement has probably strengthened support for Gaddafi and therefore prolonged the struggle and in this way increased the number of civilian deaths. This outcome occurs in any war and it is a fact well known and cynically accepted as ‘worth the cost‘, by the West’s political and military leaders. The West’s intervention in Libya is yet another criminal war. The bombing of civilians and civilian infrastructure targets, such as banks, power stations, hospitals, schools and houses are not simply mistakes but deliberate acts aimed at impoverishing and demoralising civilian non-combatants. The destruction of such non-military ‘assets’ also conveniently engender future Libyan dependence upon European loans and building contracts in the inevitable process of post-civil war reconstruction.


i) Pro-Gaddafi fighters.  These comprise of Islamists and secularists, who are also nationalists. They also generally share a militant anti-Imperialist stance which unites them in defence of Gaddafi, whether or not they are also self-interested ‘clients’ of Gaddafi’s family regime or not. The simplistic dualistic positing of all Gaddafi supporters as ‘good‘ or as ‘bad’ guys misses this essential human complexity.

It cannot be beyond possibility that some, who where critical of Gaddafi or indifferent to his regime, may have joined the Gaddafi forces only when the NATO military forces took the side of the Benghazi rebels. Yet it is clear that during the forty plus years of Gaddafi’s rule, self-governance and self-reliance of the Libyan  population was not promoted by him or his regime. The superficial trappings of people’s committees, with his son’s appointed as leaders, did not promote or deliver an egalitarian society either in embryo or in further development. The wealth was not distributed according to citizen consensus or ‘free’ majority vote. Workers had no control over their own production or the surplus value they created.  Thus when the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt provided an example of the power of popular resistance, this example was copied by many in Libya.

ii) Anti-Gaddafi fighters (the ‘rebels‘).  These are a coalition of forces comprising of the following elements; a) pro-west democratic liberals; b) anti-west Islamic liberals; c) anti-west Islamic fundamentalists; d) pro-west secularists; e) anti-west secularists; f) anti-capitalists; and probably g) gung-ho opportunists. Each of these categories, may also be comprised of sub-groups. Thus the dynamics of this side of the conflict are also misunderstood if they are all lumped together.

For this reason also there is, therefore, no real unity of purpose among these ‘rebel’ forces beyond agreement over the removal of Gaddafi. Even before the overthrow of Gaddafi, and during the ‘to and fro’ struggles, differences have emerged within those fighting forces forming the coalition headed by the NATO favoured Transitional National Council. The assassination of General Fatah Younes may have been at the hands of one of the internal coalition groups and many sections of the coalition front-line fighters were not content with the form nor the content of the NATO support. There may be many more instances of such internal frictions. It is the pro-west democratic liberals category (a) who currently dominate the National Transitional Council and have been promoted (and assisted) by the European and North American elites. Thus it will be these who will have a disproportional degree of control over the immediate future of post-Gaddafi Libya. It is into these hands which the frozen assets will be released and the pens for the signing of contracts (before, during and after the Qatar conference and the 1st September ‘contact group’ meeting) will be placed. It is to support these liberal-democratic elements that the full force of NATO and the European and North American governments resources, military and clandestine has been – and will continue to be – directed.  Whether this will give them legitimacy in the eyes of sufficient citizens is as yet an open question, but it will make at least some of them not eligible to govern beyond the ending of hostilities.


Sadly, instead of a united opposition of the Libyan people to the inroads of Europe and North America, military or economic, we have a situation of severe disunity and further potential conflict. Gaddafi, by not relying upon the self-activity and self-organisation of egalitarian communities of working people, has played an instrumental part in the present civil war situation. His reliance on a family elite, internal and external clients, disproportional wealth distribution and a draconian internal ‘security’ force has provoked continued and corrosive opposition. It was a growing opposition which has resulted in this final uprising. In one really tragic sense the actual face-to-face fighting has been cast in the form of a civil war between the pro-Gaddafi anti-Imperialists and the anti-Gaddafi categories of (b, c, d, e and f) above – which include anti-Imperialists. This split and the destruction of one tendency of anti-Imperialists will undoubtedly weaken the Libyan resistance to the encroachments of the West, at least in the short term. Whether the other groups of anti-west Islamic liberals and fundamentalists, anti-west secularists and anti-capitalists, will initially be strong enough or achieve sufficient unity to resist the above-noted imposition of client-state status, has yet to be seen. It is of course, possible that the end of this civil war between pro-Gaddafi supporters and anti-Gaddafi rebels, a further one will develop from within the ’rebel’ coalition between pro-western modernists and anti-western nationalists. To circumvent this possibility and given the NTC’s priority of establishing ‘security and stability’ we can expect his pro-western faction to invite a UN military presence, rather than rely upon the current organisations of fighters in the process of stabilisation. For the same reason we can also expect an invitation to European countries for expertise in policing. Given the almost universal adherence to Islam within Libya and the financial power granted to the NTC by Europe, the most likely medium term outcome, will be the introduction of a form of liberal-democracy overseen by European agencies with some electoral participation by Islamist parties. However, this will be a result from which only the Libyan and international bourgeoisie will benefit economically to any considerable degree. In the hands of the leaders of the NTC, Libya, liberated from Gaddafi, will be ushered into the hands of the neo-liberal globalisation process.


Despite the public statement by Abdel Jalil of the NTC that Libyan ‘wealth will be shared out equally’, there can be no guarantee of this under NTC leadership. From the perspective of the working classes and the poor, the outlook for their welfare under any form of Islamic governance, partial or full, is as bad as that under secularised liberal-democratic governance. That is to say economic standards of living will be unlikely to improve, even though they may well be able to complain more openly about their fate.  The reason is that although Islamist thinkers and activists, correctly condemn the consumerism, exploitation and oppression of the west, many of them have understood this as caused by a socio-moral breakdown due to the domination of Judaism, Christianity and Secularism. Despite some concern for the oppressed, a concern shared by other religions, Muslims, in general do not see oppression arising from the mode of production. For various reasons (ideological and practical), like many citizens under capitalist systems, they have not understood that such negative characteristics emanate from the long-term socio-economic imperative of capital. These negative phenomena are primarily the symptoms of the underlying economic system, not symptoms of any variant of monotheistic religious ideology. It is this economic system which really dominates the west and dilutes, and in certain cases negates, the humanity of so many people.  It is an economic domination which the religion of Christianity and the later ideas of secularism have failed to prevent or roll-back. And it is an economic domination which Islam, as currently understood and practiced, will also be unable to prevent or even control.

The reason for the above assertion arises from the example of the revolutionary transformation of Iran and its subsequent evolution. The Islamic state of Iran provides the most visible and extensive example of the integration of Islam in power with capitalism. Not only is there a comfortable existence between the Iranian Islamic government and the usual pre-IMF (Chicago economic school) levels of capital insertion into the productive capacity of the total Iranian community, it has lately  decided to embrace much more. On its PRESS TV station, Iran has recently announced (23 August 2011) a Thatcher-like enthusiastic programme of privatisation of public assets, in line with IMF suggestions. The path of Islamic capitalism in Iran has already caused economic and social problems within Iranian society which has episodically sought a political expression. The new programme of privatisation, if fulfilled, will only cause more social unrest in the long term. This is because privatisation of previous state assets, in order to maximise profits, does two things. First it sheds labour and secondly increases the prices charged for necessities, such as gas, electricity, water, telephones etc. Both of which, even if buttressed by welfare payments for a time, turn the screw on the working classes and poorest sections of society.


Yet even a limited success for the uprising and subsequent civil-war in Libya and the removal of the Gaddafi regime, will provide inspiration and renewed efforts in other countries involved by the Arab Spring. The lifting of spirits in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, at the premature news of Gaddafi’s fall, indicates that the Arab Street is not only active, but taking an active interest in the progress of other uprisings and challenges to the existing systems. The stalemates in Tunisia and Egypt where the regime remnants are still in control, under the protection of the military, and the street not powerful or organised enough to challenge this control are examples of changes ‘stuck in transition’. They have been going nowhere in the last few months except perhaps creeping backward. However, even in these arrested developments, frustrations are building up and the examples of Libya, both positive and negative will undoubtedly be learned. In Egypt the weakest links in the seemingly impervious military rule is over its continued accommodation to Israel and the dire economic state of affairs. Since the Generals have the power and resources to act positively on these issues, anti-capitalist and anti-regime activists there will benefit from concentrating their criticism on these issues and creating a wedge between the rank and file soldiers and the Generals. In the event of a further popular protest and demonstration, (and even before) the raising of the proposal to form local, regional and national committees of action, should be made. Of course, in all countries with uprisings, there will continue to be collusion between the remnants of the various regimes and the overt and covert agencies of the European and North American political elite. The public exposing of these links will be an important part of the activity of those seeking to develop the self-activity of the population against the imposition of policies against their own general interests.

R.Ratcliffe (August 2011)

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