Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On the Uprising in Libya

On the whole, the global Left seems more or less united in thinking that the overthrow of Gaddafi would be a step forward for the revolutionary upsurge in the Middle East. But not all agree. There is some disagreement on the Left as to how to react to the recent events in Libya. For example, there is a very small set of folks (e.g. here and here) who are clinging to a pro-Gaddafi argument that runs as follows: Gaddafi is a progressive champion of African solidarity and liberation whereas the opposition is racist and pro-imperialist. The trouble with this line is that it simply has no basis in fact. First off, Gaddafi has cozied up to imperialism in recent years in various ways. He has joined in participating in the "War on Terror", he has unsavory ties to Italy's Berlusconi, and he's been at pains to prove to world imperialist powers that he has "seen the light" and deserves to be integrated into global capitalism. Multinational capital has obliged and foreign direct investment has soared in Libya since the 1990s. At the same time, unemployment has soared and wages plummeted. Moreover, as Immanuel Wallerstein has pointed out, until recently Gaddafi was getting nothing but good press in the Western press (from the likes of Giddens, Blair, etc.). To say that Gaddafi stands for anti-imperialism, African solidarity and global emancipation is to say something that has absolutely no basis in fact.

Though this facile pro-Gaddafi position is not widely endorsed, there are still some on the Left who seem to be on the fence as to how we should adjudicate the civil war between the opposition and Gaddafi's regime. The arguments from those on the fence seem to run as follows. The political character of the opposition is unclear at best, and reactionary (even Monarchist) at worst. In this context, the argument goes, the least worst option for progressive may be to side with the Gaddafi regime against the revolt, unless it turns out that the opposition is more progressive than it appeared at first blush.

Let me say why I think this argument misses the mark. First of all, it seems to assume an unduly narrow scope of analysis. To genuinely be a Leftist today is to be an internationalist. And right now, we're living through an epoch of revolutions in the Middle East generally, and in North Africa in particular. We can't even grasp what's happening in Bahrain, Algeria, Yemen and Libya without talking about Tunisia and Egypt. This is an international explosion of struggle. Our assessment and evaluation of each uprising must at the same time answer to this international context.

Of course, each national conjuncture has its particularities, and Libya is no exception. I'm not saying that we should crudely paint each uprising with the same brush. Still, our evaluation of the struggle in Libya must not be narrowly national- ours isn't simply a question of Libya vs. Imperialism. The global Left must also confront the relation between this uprising and the context of the revolutionary upsurge sweeping the Middle East writ large. What happens (or doesn't happen) in Libya will have effects elsewhere in the region.

And it is in this context that Leftists should have no qualms about rejecting the Gaddafi regime root and branch. Whatever might replace it in the event that the opposition prevails (which is looking less and less likely, unfortunately), the Gaddafi regime has proven itself to be a permanent roadblock to the kind of robust, participatory democracy from below that socialists fight for. Even from an anti-imperialist standpoint he is a roadblock. In a word, his regime is an obstacle to further revolution in the region writ large.

Let us not forget that Gaddafi's response to the heroic (and ongoing) Tunisian uprising was that the masses were "foolish" for rejecting the "admirable" Ben Ali. Nor should we forget Gaddafi's ties to the Mugabe regime (which has said it would take him if were he to be ousted), which has recently jailed and tortured socialists for holding mass meetings discussing Egypt and Tunisia. The deep conservatism of figures such as Mugabe and Gaddafi is on full display here. There can be no doubt that they are stalwart obstacles to continent-wide revolutionary struggle. In the long-run, nothing good will come from the continuation of the Gaddafi regime- any destabilization of the regime that creates space for increased struggle from below is to be preferred (some will retort that this seems to give cover to imperialist intervention- but I register my deep skepticism that such intervention would actually create space for increased struggle from below). The regime is so ossified and repressive that a new configuration would very likely be more favorable from the standpoint of the possibility for mass struggle. The sooner the dictatorial, top-down regime in place is unseated the better for leftists in Libya.

Moreover, in the context of region-wide revolution, there is good reason to think that opening up the society to mass struggle is the most progressive way forward(within and without Libya). There is already a large gap between the ideals of the masses of people involved in the opposition and the embodiment of such ideals in the practices of the leaders of the opposition. That gap can only grow in the context of increased struggle. The future of struggle in Libya depends upon an opening that will not obtain so long as Gaddafi retains his grip over the nation.

Of course, it should go without saying that none of this commits us to enabling or otherwise supporting Western intervention. The whole point is that the Gaddafi regime is a fetter on the region-wide revolutionary surge, so it stands to reason that Western intervention would be an even more cumbersome fetter on that revolutionary energy. So it's not as if unremitting opposition to imperialist intervention commits us to defending the Gaddafi regime one iota- the whole point is that we should oppose both Gaddafi and intervention insofar as both deeply impinge upon the capacity of poor and working-class Libyans to rise up and fight for their own liberation. There is no reason that we should think we must choose between Gaddafi or imperialism- this is a false dilemma. We should be uncompromising in standing with the masses of Libyans who share neither the interests of the elites on either side of the Civil War, nor the interests of the imperialist powers looking to get a foothold in a region that is quickly slipping out of their control. There is no plausible argument for intervention- that is something leftists cannot endorse. But refusing to endorse intervention says nothing of whether we should give cover to Gaddafi- that is an entirely different question. And if the analysis above is sound- the answer to that separate question is obvious: Gaddafi is a repressive, conservative force that is a roadblock to the escalation of the region-wide revolutionary upsurge.

The basic question for Leftists is this: What is the best way forward for poor and working-class people in Libya and the region writ-large? I'm firmly convinced that the answer has to be: revolutionary mass struggle. The context created by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions (which are still underway) has spilled over into heretofore unthinkable locales, provoking strikes and direct action in Saudi Arabia of all places. This cannot be underestimated- and one has to believe that the momentum in the region is such that the old "stability" of years past is precisely what we don't need right now.

1 comment:

Rory said...

The next Richard Seymour! Well read and insightful analysis.