On Saturday 19 March 2011, exactly eight years after the illegal war on Iraq was launched, combined imperialist forces, with Britain, France and the United States in the lead, openly launched a savage war against the oil-rich, north African muslim state of Libya.
That night, Britain and the United States attacked Libya with 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles, launched from ships and submarines, hitting both military and civilian targets. Separately, French forces carried out four air strikes on ground forces, killing young conscripts and civilians alike.
In this first night of attacks, 64 people were killed and 150 others were wounded. Within the first three days of bombing, most of Libya’s civilian air and sea ports had been destroyed, fuel tanks had been hit, roads, bridges and a heart clinic had been destroyed, and part of the compound where Colonel Gaddafi normally resides was destroyed in a blatant attempt to assassinate the Libyan leader.
Even the British media, craven and bellicose as it is in its support for an unprovoked war of aggression against a sovereign state, could not entirely obscure the grim toll already exacted on the civilian population in just the first few hours of the bombardment. Reporting the first night’s air and missile attacks, the Guardian wrote:
“Residents had gone to bed expecting trouble after a series of explosions to the east, probably at a radar station in nearby Tajoura. It was there, according to her distraught uncle, Muhammad Salem, that three-month-old Siam al-Tabib was killed and her mother injured, though whether by a bomb or a rocket he did not know.
“Her remains were buried under a pitifully small concrete mound covered with three carnations and a scrap of green cloth at the beach cemetery at Shatt al-Hinshir …
“‘These were ordinary people, asleep in their homes, not soldiers,’ one man shouted. ‘Where is democracy when they are killing children?’ cried another, gesturing at the infant’s fresh grave. ‘The people who did this are the terrorists, shedding the blood of innocent muslims.’” (‘Muammar Gaddafi calls on Libyans to resist “colonialists”‘, 21 March 2011)
Desperately trying to mangle its words, the Financial Times reported from the same funeral:
“But there was no compelling reason not to believe the testimony of relatives, who were nonetheless obviously being used to bolster the regime’s case that the air strikes, directed at military installations, had inflicted a terrifying human cost.” (‘Fury erupts at “martyrs” burial’, 21 March 2011)
The Independent reported on the fate of some young Libyan conscripts, defenceless as French jets attacked them in the open desert outside Benghazi:
“The bodies lay strewn, dismembered and burnt. Some of the faces expressed the horrors of the last moments, others lay peaceful, in repose. Around them were the remains of the tanks and artillery of Muammar Gaddafi’s army, destroyed in an hour of pulverising and relentless air strikes … They were caught; vulnerable; in the open; and what was left afterwards resembled a ghastly montage in miniature of the carnage on the road to Basra when American and British warplanes bombed Iraqi forces fleeing from Kuwait.” (‘We needed foreign help – but now Libyans must end all this in Tripoli’, 21 March 2011)
This onslaught occurred just two days after the United Nations Security Council, by 10 votes to nil, with five abstentions, namely Russia, China, Brazil, India and Germany, had passed Resolution 1973, authorising member states to use “all necessary measures“, the customary code words for military action, supposedly to “help protect civilians“.
The resolution, although it certainly amounts to gross interference in Libya’s internal affairs, and despite the fact that even a small child ought to be able to realise that its sole purpose is to provide a legalistic fig leaf for a massive imperialist onslaught on a small third-world nation, nauseatingly couched itself in humanitarian tones, claiming that a ‘no fly zone’ would constitute a “decisive step for the [u]cessation [/u]of hostilities in Libya” (emphasis added).
It hypocritically reaffirmed “its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya“. It talked about “facilitating dialogue to lead to the political reforms necessary to find a peaceful and sustainable solution“. And the resolution affirmed that it was “excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory“.
Preparations for regime change
Yet, despite all these sanctimonious words, the leaders of France, Britain and the United States, Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama, Hillary Clinton, William Hague, Liam Fox and others, war criminals to a man and woman, have made no secret of the fact that their aim is so-called ‘regime change’. “Gaddafi must go” has been their mantra since the first demonstrations were reported in Libya in February.
Despite a public dressing-down from their own military top brass, Prime Minister Cameron, as well as both his foreign and defence secretaries, have all dropped totally unsubtle hints that they are aiming to kill the Libyan head of state. In any case, actions speak louder than words, and, as noted above, Gaddafi’s customary residence was among the first targets of attack.
Following the passing of the UN resolution, Sarkozy summoned a meeting in Paris of selected imperialist leaders and their stooges. The first bombs and missiles were raining down on Libya just hours after the assembled leaders had enjoyed their dinner. Indeed, a smirking Sarkozy emerged from the summit to announce that French forces were already in action.
It is therefore a myth, fit only for the mentally weak or those claiming naivety to the point of cynicism, to imagine that this immense imperialist crusade was assembled in some 48 hours subsequent to the UN Security Council supinely passing Resolution 1973. Targets are not identified and pinpointed; battleships and submarines are not moved to the Mediterranean in a matter of hours.
Clearly, this war against Libya, part of the ongoing attempt to topple any and all governments in the region that take some sort of independent position vis-à-vis imperialism – the latest example being the attempts to destabilise Syria, stir up conflict and provide a pretext for external intervention – has been months, if not years, in the making.
British imperialism has been arming and training Libyan terrorist groups, of an Islamic fundamentalist disposition, since at least the early 1980s, whilst the US CIA has concentrated its backing on a rag-tag mob of supporters of the feudal monarchy that Colonel Gaddafi and other progressive young army officers overthrew on 1 September 1969.
And whilst, as we have seen, the UN resolution specifically excludes ‘boots on the ground’, Britain’s counter-insurgency SAS regiment has been covertly operating in the east of Libya for at least weeks, if not months and years, as testified by the farcical arrest, worthy of a scene from Dad’s Army, of an SAS group by the very bandits they had gone to assist.
The foreign ministry of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) summed up the succession of events well, when it stated: “It (‘the US … in collusion with some western countries’) openly interfered in the internal affairs of Libya, sparking off a civil war, and then cooked up a deceptive resolution by abusing the authority of the UN Security Council. It finally perpetrated indiscriminate armed intervention in the country, going beyond the limits of the resolution.” (‘DPRK foreign ministry spokesman denounces US military attack on Libya’, Korean Central News Agency [KCNA], 22 March 2011)
Specifically, it should be noted that this war has been in preparation for much if not all of the time that the imperialists have been professing their supposed friendship with Libya: whilst Gaddafi was being received with pomp in western capitals; and whilst a succession of top western political leaders made their way to Tripoli to embrace him in his tent, where they were joined by oil barons and financiers, eyeing lucrative concessions and preaching the virtues of privatisation and structural adjustment.
And whilst western capitalists secured themselves lucrative contracts in Libya, the cash-strapped West also solicited and begged for as much Libyan cash and investment, the fruits of Libya’s abundant oil resources, the biggest in Africa, and the hard work of its people, as they could grab. All this has now been blatantly stolen in the form of sanctions and the freezing of Libyan assets.
As soon as the crisis arose, the veteran Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro warned clearly that the imperialists were intent on war:
“What is absolutely evident to me is that the government of the United States is totally unconcerned about peace in Libya and will not hesitate to give Nato the order to invade that rich country, possibly in a matter of hours or a few days.” (‘Nato’s plan is to occupy Libya’, Reflections of Comrade Fidel, 21 February 2011)
The Libyan example
So why, considering the apparently friendly relations between Gaddafi and the imperialists over recent years, has his country been subjected to such a savage onslaught? Why is Libya treated so very differently to Bahrain, Yemen and above all the zionist state of Israel?
The answer to these questions lies in a review of the history of, and basic facts about, Libya; history and facts that are at complete variance with the Goebbelsian propaganda with which we have been bombarded – propaganda that has seduced even some progressive people.
Before Colonel Gaddafi came to power in 1969, Libya was an absolute monarchy, ruled by one King Idris. Idris had been placed on his throne by British imperialism and remained a British puppet until his overthrow. Desperately backward, the country was officially the poorest in the world, society was tribal, social customs were archaic, women were oppressed, illiteracy was around 95 percent and disease was rife.
Unlike the situation in many other Arab and African countries, Gaddafi and his supporters resolved that their country’s newly discovered oil wealth should be used to benefit the Libyan people and not foreign imperialists. Accordingly, the oil industry was nationalised, and the US and British military bases were expelled from the country.
Although he has always been philosophically opposed to Marxism, and was influenced more by Islamic precepts and traditional tribal views somewhat akin to primitive communism, Gaddafi proclaimed Libya to be a socialist country. Indeed, many of the reforms introduced in Libya were, broadly speaking, of a socialist character. Most of the economy was brought under state control, people were allocated rent-free housing, free education and health care were introduced, and women’s equality was proclaimed and to a very considerable extent enforced.
Efforts were made to diversify the economy, in particular with massive engineering projects designed to pipe the country’s vast subterranean water reserves from deep in the Sahara to where they could be used to promote agricultural development, with a view to reducing over time the country’s need to import most of its food.
As a result of such policies, life expectancy at birth reached 73 years, and a per capita income of US$16,600 was achieved by 2008, both according to United Nations’ indicators, meaning that, in terms of the masses’ living standards, Libya had become the richest and most prosperous state in the whole of Africa. According to the UN’s Human Development Report for 2009, prepared by taking the average life span, educational level and per capita income into account, Libya belongs to the ‘high human development’ countries, achieving 52nd position amongst the 179 countries surveyed.
But Libya did not just use its oil wealth for its own benefit. From the early 1970s, Libya gave huge assistance to national-liberation movements fighting imperialism and various puppet regimes, not only in Palestine, southern Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa, but also in Ireland and throughout the world.
Despite its small population, still today just around six-and-a-half million, there is not a corner of the world that has not benefited from Libya’s active anti-imperialist solidarity at some point over the last four decades. The victories of the ANC and the Irish republican movement, and of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, for example, are all inseparable from the generous support rendered by Libya.
Concessions to imperialism
Significant changes did occur, however, in Libyan policies over the last decade or so. These resulted primarily from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist countries of central and eastern Europe due to revisionist betrayal.
Like many other progressive states in the third world, Libya had been allied to the Soviet Union and had benefited from its political, diplomatic, economic, technical and military support. With the Soviet Union no longer around, some adjustments in policy were inevitable. Moreover, Gaddafi appeared to believe that a policy of making concessions to the West and offering them benefits could spare his country the cruel fate of Iraq.
Accordingly, Libya abandoned or reduced its support to a number of liberation and progressive movements. It accepted responsibility for the explosion of a US aircraft over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, for which the country had been placed under crippling sanctions, even though it is well known that Libya had nothing to do with this incident, and paid billions in supposed compensation. Moreover, it agreed to hand over two of its citizens for a blatantly rigged trial, one of whom was sentenced to serve a term of life imprisonment in a Scottish jail – although Libya was subsequently able to win his repatriation on humanitarian grounds.
Libya’s oil industry was again opened to foreign investment as were other sectors of the economy, with an extensive privatisation programme, while a number of social programmes were rolled back, leading to wealth disparity and an increase in unemployment, especially among the youth. Under pressure from the West, Libya also abandoned its nuclear energy programme.
However, despite all these concessions, and the appearance of friendly relations with the West, Libya did not become a client state of imperialism, but maintained an essentially progressive orientation.
Although opened to investment, overall ownership and control of the oil industry remained in Libyan hands. In the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Libya consistently stood with Iran, Algeria, Venezuela and Ecuador to defend the rights of the producing countries. The Libyan people continued to enjoy a standard of living unique in Africa.
On the world stage, Libya continued to follow an anti-imperialist foreign policy in a number of highly important respects. Gaddafi championed African unity and poured literally billions of dollars into development projects in almost every country of the continent. And Libya stood at the forefront of attempts to consolidate anti-imperialist unity between the countries of Africa and Latin America. Among heads of state, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and Bolivia’s Evo Morales remained among Gaddafi’s closest friends and allies.
Hence, we can see that, on both sides, Libya’s rapprochement with imperialism was strategically on a par with the famous example cited by Lenin of the type of agreement reached by the infant Soviet state with various imperialist powers in his 20 August 1918 ‘Letter to American workers’: “The French monarchist and I shook hands, although we knew that each of us would willingly hang his ‘partner’.” (Collected Works, Volume 28)
Imperialist double standards and hypocrisy
It is the fact that Libya under Colonel Gaddafi has remained a fundamentally anti-imperialist state that dictates the completely different response to events, or alleged events, there and events in other parts of the region, such as Bahrain, Yemen or Gaza.
In Bahrain, peaceful protestors have been shot down in the street. The military have attacked hospitals. Injured patients have been further brutalised in their beds. Both patients and doctors have been taken away, not to be seen again. Women medics have been threatened with rape. But the response has been for Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE) troops to invade the country to prop up the king’s tottering rule and defend him from his people. Top EU foreign policy adviser Robert Cooper has defended the repression, saying “accidents happen”. (‘Bahrain protest crackdown defended by European Union envoy’, Guardian, 24 March 2011)
In the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, more than 50 people were killed in just one incident on 18 March, when peaceful demonstrators were fired on shortly after Friday prayers. Both Yemen and Bahrain provide bases for US naval fleets and the Yemeni president was revealed on WikiLeaks as giving his blessing to the US killing as many of his citizens as they liked in drone attacks.
Meanwhile, on 22 March, at least eight people were killed and dozens injured in Gaza on the second consecutive day of Israeli air strikes on the beleaguered territory. Needless to say, the Arab feudals and compradors have been as silent and useless in the face of this latest zionist aggression as they have been throughout the more than six decades since the Israeli state was carved out of the Arab homeland. During recent days, in particular, they have been too busy shooting down their own defenceless populations whilst obsequiously begging the imperialists to slaughter the Libyan people.
Alongside the UN Security Council resolution, the imperialists have made much of their supposed support from the Arab League. This has been driven by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which comprises Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.
These six statelets are all absolute monarchies. Every one of them is bound and beholden to imperialism by a thousand and one threads. Every one of them has been terrified and shaken by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. Every one of them is repressing, and in at least three instances to date (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman) slaughtering their own people. Yet it is these grotesque kings, sheikhs, emirs and sultans, as these feudal relics are variously and vaingloriously called, who have dutifully lined up to beg their imperialist masters to bomb and strafe the Libyan masses into the delights of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’.
Some people in the anti-war movement have professed themselves perplexed by this apparent contradiction. But there is actually no contradiction at all. The imperialists and their stooges have a one-point programme in the region – to drown the peoples’ revolutions in blood, be it the revolutionary upsurge of the Bahraini masses to overthrow their monarchical dictator and American servant, or the struggle of the Libyan people, led by Colonel Gaddafi, to defend their revolutionary gains.
Dirty role of Stop the War
Faced with the third all-out onslaught on a sovereign muslim nation within a decade, the response of the anti-war movement in Britain has been nothing less than a disgrace. The Stop the War Coalition, which has so loved to boast of their million-plus march on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, has been reduced to mobilising dozens. And the reason is simple: they have been on the wrong side.
When the counter-revolutionary uprising had commenced in Libya; when the imperialists had already begun their war preparations, and had been called out for so doing by Fidel Castro; when sanctions had been clamped on Libya, described by the US government as the largest sanctions regime in history, Stop the War was busy calling for protests – against the Libyan government!
Dominated by the Trotskyites of the Counterfire group, recently decamped from decades at the top of the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), and ably assisted by their little helpers in the revisionist Communist Party of Britain (CPB), these opportunists have been congenitally incapable of distinguishing between a revolution and a counter-revolution throughout their political lives, both their own and that of their political trend, so why on earth should they start now?
Even with the launch of all-out war on Libya making their previous position untenable, if they are not to completely abdicate their place in the anti-war movement, the coalition leadership’s efforts have been perfunctory and derisory. And about half of those feeble efforts are still going into denouncing Colonel Gaddafi and the Libyan people’s brave resistance to aggression, which he is leading.
For example, a spokesperson for Stop the War was quoted in the Guardian of 19 March as follows:
“Air attacks on Libya will not help end the civil war but will escalate it and could be the prelude to a much wider war. They will not help bring the downfall of Gaddafi. He is already portraying the UN’s decision as an act of western colonisation and himself as the defender of Libyan sovereignty. Air strikes by the US and Britain will strengthen, not weaken, his position.”
Not to be outdone, Ms Kate Hudson, General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and a prominent member of the CPB, piped up: “CND urges political solutions including increased sanctions”. (‘Stop the War Coalition say airstrikes by UK and US will strengthen, not weaken Muammar Gaddafi’s position’)
Leaving aside the fact that at the moment it is hard to see exactly how sanctions on Libya actually could be increased any further, Ms Hudson, we must presume, has somehow managed to forget that the ‘political solution’ of sanctions claimed the lives of half a million Iraqi children. Or perhaps, like former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, she considers that “a price worth paying”?
On Stop the War’s website, in an article by one Owen Jones, somewhat bizarrely entitled ‘Case against bombing Libya’, we find the following:
“Let’s be clear. Other than a few nutters, we all want Gaddafi overthrown, dead or alive. In both his anti-western and pro-western incarnations, his record is that of a brutal and unquestionably slightly unhinged dictator. I will not caricature supporters of the bombing campaign as frothing-at-the-mouth neo-cons.” (stopwar.org.uk)
Well, if we all “want Gaddafi overthrown, dead or alive“, why on earth should we be opposed to ‘no-fly zones’, why on earth should we be opposed to bombing? And why on earth should these pro-imperialist hysterics be expected to mobilise anyone to come out on to the streets to oppose imperialism, save from the most utter disgust?!
Whilst the imperialists can always count on the social democrats, revisionists and Trotskyites to do their dirty work as the ‘enemy within’, they can also always count on the courageous, determined and resolute resistance of the oppressed and risen masses. As even the Guardian was forced to note:
“Libya’s strength may well lie in its ability to wage a people’s war, drawing on a powerful narrative of resistance to foreign enemies. The most popular and resonant slogan of this crisis is Gaddafi’s determination to fight ‘street by street, alley by alley, house by house’. If he does, it will show up the limits of the ‘crusader’ coalition’s air power and raise difficult questions about whether action on the ground can be avoided if he is to be defeated.” (‘Muammar Gaddafi calls on Libyans to resist “colonialists”‘, 21 March 2011)
The CPGBML, and all genuine anti-imperialists, have no hesitation in taking their side. We say:
Hands off Libya!
Victory to the Libyan revolution led by Colonel Gaddafi!
Death to imperialism!
> Statement – Hands off Libya: Victory to Gaddafi
> Bahrain: Saudi mercenaries cannot stop the revolution – April 2011
> Yemen: President Saleh shoots down his own people – April 2011
> Intifada in Tunisia – February 2011