Almost every day there are warning signs of the dark shadows that NATO’s intervention has thrown over the Libyan revolution.
In a country with hardly any tradition, so far, of a workers’ movement, the distorting effects and dangers posed by the manner of Gaddafi’s overthrow are starting to come into the open.
Quickly after the revolution started, imperialist powers, Britain, France and the US especially, took advantage of the counter-attack by Gaddafi’s forces towards Benghazi and the east. Stung by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, these imperialist powers intervened as “protectors” of the Libyan people and, via the agency of the self-appointed and pro-western Transitional National Council (TNC), sought to control the revolution and exploit it for its own ends. Thus the fledging democratic bodies that had begun to develop in Benghazi were curtailed and, in essence, the TNC became a NATO ally.
The newly revealed correspondence confirming the close links between the Gaddafi regime and imperialist agencies, like the CIA and Britain’s MI6, show the Western powers’ utter hypocrisy. Their “concern” for the Libyan people under Gaddafi did not amount to much. Trade and assistance with the ‘war on terror’ were the West’s priorities.
Only when they saw a chance to both replace Gaddafi with a more reliable ally, and to take a grip over the revolution starting in Libya, did Washington, Paris, London etc, suddenly start calling for “regime change”. This should serve as a warning not just to Libyans but also to those in Syria and elsewhere who might have hopes in outside intervention against tyrants. The populations in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and other states know just how friendly the Western powers are with dictatorial and undemocratic regimes which serve imperialism’s interests.
Already it is clear that the imperialist powers’ plans, particularly regarding the TNC, are not working out smoothly and they are preparing for the possibility of using the UN as a cover to intervene to try to stabilise situation.
Clearly fighting continued longer than they expected once Tripoli fell. While it is likely that the larger population centres supporting Gaddafi will fall to a combination of NATO air power, rebel forces and the desire for fighting to end, the bitterness caused by this conflict and the tensions unleashed by the revolution and war means there is no certainty that armed clashes will not restart in the future.
The TNC, as we previously argued, is still largely a fiction and is continually hesitating over when to move to Tripoli, which is not simply Libya’s capital but where around a third of the country’s population live. But it not just question of where the bulk of the TNC is. The TNC leaders have problems over who they should accept as representatives from the west and south of the country. The TNC has, so far, not been able to appoint a new “cabinet” to replace the one that resigned after the TNC’s military commander, General Younes, was killed by some of his erstwhile rebel allies.
The tragedy of the first stage of the Libyan revolution is that the largely spontaneous initial uprising did not really result in the development of the democratic, self-organisation of the working masses and youth. This has meant, especially in Tripoli, that in the absence on the ground of democratic independent organisations in communities and workplaces etc, militias and mosques are taking the lead in maintain security and getting services restarted, but they are not democratically run or controlled and their leaders have their own agendas.
In the absence, so far, of a workers’ movement and Left forces, Islamist groups have started to attempt to build wider support by making populist attacks on the Western powers and warning that the revolution could be “lost”.
The revelations confirming US, British, German and other governments’ security services collaboration with Gaddafi in so-called ‘rendition’ (i.e. kidnapping and abduction) and torture have been seized upon by Islamist leaders to build their own support and weaken that of the pro-Western NTC leadership. Belhaj, the rebel forces military commander in Tripoli, recently told the New York Times that “many Libyans feared that the revolution would be ‘stolen’ by rich, Westernised secularists on the TNC”. At this moment, they seem to be especially targeting the TNC’s so-called “prime minister” Jibril and this why he seems to be trying to delay his move to Tripoli, for as long as possible.
Belhaj himself is the former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and was kidnapped in 2004, in Bangkok, in a joint CIA/MI6 operation. He became the rebels’ Tripoli commander after the TNC was forced to withdraw its initial appointment of a former Gaddafi general, Shkal, to the post. Protests and a demonstration by rebel fighters blocked this appointment and instead Belhaj got the job.
Meanwhile in Benghazi, another Islamist military leader, Ismail al-Salabi, of the ‘February 17 Brigade’, has demanded the resignation of the “cabinet” headed by Jibril, as it consists of “remnants of the old regime”. He also warned that “Libya’s frozen assets do not come back under control of the same officials who ran them for Gaddafi”.
Workers and youth not put their demands on table
But these are still early days; Libyan workers and youth have still not put their demands on the table. A key factor in the revolution was the revolt of the youth against the Gaddafi regime’s suffocating corruption and nepotism. Thirty per cent of Libya’s 6.5 million population are under the age of 15 and there are nearly a quarter of a million university and college students - and their voices will be heard.
Oil and gas have made Libya a rich country. The World Bank estimates it has a $160bn foreign currency reserve. This income and wealth allowed Gaddafi to raise living standards, and education and health care were free of charge, and many basic consumer goods were subsided.
Following the international trend of the last 20 years, Gaddafi’s regime had already been privatising. The TNC’s “prime minister”, Jibril, headed Gaddafi’s economic liberalisation policy from 2007. In 2010, Gaddafi’s government published a plan to privatise over 50% of the economy by 2020, although controls were planned to remain in the oil, gas and banking sectors.
However, it is likely that the pro-Western leaders of the TNC will, if they are able to form a government, proceed carefully with a neo-liberal agenda. They will most likely use Libya’s oil and gas income to maintain, at least for a time, public services and subsidies. However, there is already a discussion on whether the subsidies on basic items could be replaced by the ‘Iranian model’, which sees the government directly giving out cash via bank accounts, something that could be used, over time, to reduce the real value of the subsidies. But a renewed world economic crisis would fundamentally change the situation and threaten to plunge the country into disaster. When oil prices fell in the 1980s, Libya’s GDP collapsed by over 40%.
Now, more than ever, the creation of independent, democratic workers’ organisations, including a workers’ party, are vital, if working people, the oppressed and youth are to achieve a real revolutionary transformation of the country and thwart the imperialists’ plans, end dictatorship and transform the lives of the mass of the people.
To achieve these goals, such a movement would need to defend all democratic rights, involve and defend the rights of migrant workers, oppose the privatisation of Libya’s assets, demand the withdrawal of all foreign military forces and oppose all foreign military intervention, demand the democratic election of a Constituent Assembly and, above all, reject participation in any government based on capitalism. Instead, it would strive for a government of representatives of the workers and poor, based upon democratic structures in the workplaces and communities, which would use Libya’s resources for its population. This would be the real victory for the Libyan revolution and set an international example of ending both dictatorial rule and the miseries of capitalism.