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Dancing with the Devil: Lessons from the Libyan Civil War

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For a generation that has witnessed few genuine people’s movements succeed in transforming the nation-states where they reside and engage in bottom up processes of social revolution, the popular uprisings in Africa (Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Libya) and southwest Asia (Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria) have been very instructive. In the main what these movements reiterate is that “repression does indeed build resistance“, although it may take a decades for it to mature or to find the right time and opportunity to express itself. All of these states had been captured and ruled for years, if not decades or longer (in the case of Morocco in fact centuries), by neo-colonial forces that found countless ways to compromise with imperialism and brutality repress and contain the democratic aspirations of the peoples for social revolution. The rebellions of 2011 are more than justified responses to this sad history of neo-colonial reaction and imperialist domination.

While each of the uprisings as individual events deserve to be analyzed and studied in detail, the situation in Libya I would argue is the most pertinent for revolutionary forces around the world to understand. There are some very critical lessons to be learned from the current conflagration in Libya on the does and don’ts of engaging in revolutionary struggle. The most central of these lessons focuses on the importance of self-reliance to the success of peoples’ struggles for self-determination, national sovereignty and democratic rights. History painfully illustrates that political forces that aspire to make revolutionary change that don’t prioritize self-reliance in all aspects of their endeavors in making change typically don’t end up determining their own destiny. Forces that don’t adhere to this principle typically gravitate towards opportunism and seek short cuts to victory. Short cuts don’t build organization, develop a political base, nor transform consciousness. Short cuts typically embolden counter-revolution and inevitably lead to defeat. Even worse, they open the door for better organized or more powerful players on the world stage to dictate and determine the outcome of the struggles.

In its quest to depose the Gaddafi government, the Libyan opposition has violated the principle of self-reliance, and has made a fateful deal with the devil that has likely sealed its fate. In calling upon outside forces to intervene in the attainment of a key strategic objective – in this case to provide it with aerial superiority, military intelligence, arms, and training (all in clear violation of UN resolution 1973) – the Libyan opposition is engaging in a critical short cut that can only lead to a Pyrrhic victory. The “no-fly zone” administered by the US and NATO, under the banner of UN legitimacy, not only changes the overall balance of forces in this struggle, it has insured that imperialism will ultimately determine the outcome to its liking and/or strategic needs, as favors are not awarded for free. Imperialism will make sure that any new Libyan regime (which despite many confused claims about the opposition, particularly by a number of left forces, is being lead by key elements drawn from the Gaddafi regime, who have opportunistically jettisoned it in the hopes of administering their own imperialist sponsored fiefdom) is a neo-liberal state that will keep the oil spigot flowing, enable aspects of oil production to be further privatized, and fully serve the economic and political needs of transnational capital. What this means for the opposition, and more importantly for the Libyan people, is that at best they will have UN monitored and sanctioned “democratic elections” that will merely substitute one puppet regime for another.

In all fairness to the Libyan opposition, the opportunism and expediency it is demonstrating in appealing for US and NATO military support, is in part the result of its insufficient organization and political unity. The Libyan opposition is not a consolidated entity. It is, at best, a mixed and incongruous patchwork of forces, brought together by the unique circumstances of the popular African and Arab uprising of 2011. It is also safe to say that not all of the forces within the opposition support imperialist aid and intervention. Some level of awareness of the dangers posed by imperialist intervention was clearly expressed in statements that the opposition wanted no western “boots on the ground” as it were during the initial public requests for imperialist intervention. However, the cautions of this faction of the opposition were clearly minimized and eventually cast to the side, as CIA and other special forces of imperialism are now openly operating on the ground (and likely have been all along).

Despite the uneven experiences and variances in political orientation amongst the opposition forces, a dominant orientation and leadership is being exhibited and promoted, and it is this leadership that is currently leading the Libyan uprising down a dead end road of subservience and dependency to imperialism. One can only hope that this mis-leadership won’t be as treacherous as to follow the path of so many other opportunist forces in history and embark on a course of liquidating its left flank after being granted the reigns of state power to eliminate the possibility of anti-imperialist resistance and the demands for genuine transformative justice. The spectre of left liquidation in Indonesia, Iran, Ethiopia, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Mexico, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Egypt and so many other examples should not be taken lightly. To safe guard against such a development, it is imperative that the revolutionary forces within the opposition consolidate themselves and be prepared to engage in long, protracted struggle on three fronts against the Gaddafi regime, reactionary and collaborationist forces within the opposition (including the many defectors from the Gaddafi regime operating within the Transitional National Council), and most importantly, against imperialism and its many tentacles.

There is no evading or getting around the importance of self-reliance in revolutionary struggle. Attempts to tactically exploit contradictions amongst imperialists forces to one’s advantage are a definite part of revolutionary strategy. But, in an era such as the present, where the US government serves as the principle organizer and alliance shaper of the enforcement of the dictates of transnational capital, there are few genuine inter-imperialist rivalries to exploit in any substantive way. While there are many faces and manifestations of imperialism – some forms seem to be regional in nature, like the European Union; others to be engaged in joint frontal initiatives, like the US, France and Canada in Haiti and others still to be in contention with each other, like BRIC versus the G8 – there are none, as of yet, in open challenge to US hegemony.  Let us hope that the Libyan opposition, and all the principled forces of the African and Arab popular uprising, assimilate the hard lessons of history regarding the need for self-reliance and not fall pray to short-sighted opportunism which will only allow imperialism to distort the revolutionary process and destroy its transformative potential.

Kali Akuno is the National Coordinator for the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXMG) and the Director of Education, Training, and Field Work for the US Human Rights Nework (USHRN). Kali is currently working on a book tentatively entitled “Confronting a Cleansing: Hurricane Katrina, the Battle for New Orleans, and the Future of the Black Working Class“. The views expressed in this article do not reflect those of MXGM or USHRN. Email feedback to: [email protected].

  • Ch

    Nice BS article. There was no popular uprising in Libya, just an army of Salafi fanatics armed and trained by NATO and GCC next also bommed from above by the latter. Witnesses are the African migrants as well as black Libyan nationals labeled as “mercenaries” by the western propaganda presstitute organizations and who have all been ethnicly cleansed!!!!

  • breaux

    Your analysis is right on. With that in mind I would like to shift the focus to Haiti where the rebuilding effort ( what there is of it) is firmly in the clutches of Bill Clinton and the forces of imperialism that he fronts.
    The people are still mainly living in tents under primitive conditions. However, their has been a major effort to empower them by the creators of the Earthship architecture who took their concepts and techniques of home building to Haiti and succesfully introduced it to some people. It is a truly empowering concept that combines material that always ends up in the garbage dumps with skills that people already possess to create homes that are earthquake proof, cheap, energy independent, collect and reuse water resources and provide sanitary facilities and waste collection. It is developing slowly as a movement because, I think, it represents a threat to the corporate plan to cash in on the rebuilding effort by forcing some form of industrial housing on the people. By simply googling EARTHSHIP IN HAITI you can see the many videos that have convinced me that this represents a path that can be seized by the grassroots and could lead them to a better future and set an example for the world.
    With the events of climate change becoming ever more severe and numerous, and the need to recycle and use every available resource becoming ever more obvious, the development of safe habitats may outweigh political concerns and be closer to the local and certainly easier to effect. New techniques must be a part of every communities arsenal if we are to survive the enormous events that are coming down the pipe. This is one of those techs that would help us all if we learned and supported it.

  • Nina

    Publishing this piece puts into question the credibility of MXGM. For an organization which is dedicated to black liberation, attacking the Libyan Jamahiriya — the state of the masses created by Gaddafi, which safeguarded the livelihoods of Libya’s large black African population — smacks of a misunderstanding of the historical context of the conflict.

    Gaddafi was a devoted pan-Africanist who died preventing the NATO-led recolonization of Africa. He was a great socialist icon who championed grassroots democracy and opposed the institutions that MXGM also claims to oppose: capitalism, neocolonialism and neoimperialism, and patriarchy.

    The Libyan opposition, bankrolled by corporate puppets in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, engaged in despicable racial terror against black Libyans especially in majority-black towns like Tawergha. Why is none of this mentioned in Kali’s piece?