Libya: a humanitarian war? No: an imperialist war!

Printer-friendly version

“Expressing grave concern at the deteriorating situation, the escalation of violence, and the heavy civilian casualties…

Condemning the gross and systematic violation of human rights, including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and summary executions…

Considering that the widespread and systematic attacks currently taking place in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya against the civilian population may amount to crimes against humanity…

Expressing its determination to ensure the protection of civilians ….

 Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General….to take all necessary measures…. to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack”

From UN Resolution 1973,17 March 2011 


Once again, the great leaders of this world are full of fine humanitarian phrases, ringing speeches about ‘democracy’ and the safety of populations, but their real aim is justify their imperialist adventures.

Since 20 March an ‘international coalition’[1] has been carrying out a major military operation in Libya, poetically named ‘Operation Dawn Odyssey’ by the USA. Every day, dozens of war planes have been taking off from powerful French and US aircraft carriers, or from bases inside the UK, to launch a carpet of bombs at the all the areas containing the armed forces loyal to the Gaddafi regime[2]. In plain words, this is war!

All these states are just defending their own interests

Obviously Gaddafi is a bloody dictator. After several weeks of retreat in the face of the rebellion, the self-proclaimed ‘Guide’ of Libya was able to reorganise his elite troops to make a counter-attack. Day after day, his forces were able to gain ground, crushing everything in his path, ‘rebels’ as well the population in general. And without doubt, he was preparing a bloodbath for the inhabitants of Benghazi when the Operation Dawn Odyssey was launched. The air strikes by the coalition took a heavy toll of Gaddafi’s forces and thus in effect prevented the massacre.

But who can believe for a moment that the real goal of this use of force by the coalition really has the aim of ensuring the welfare of the Libyan population?

Where was this coalition when Gaddafi slaughtered over 1000 prisoners held at Abu Salim jail in Tripoliin 1996? The fact is that for 40 years this regime has been jailing people, terrorising them, making them disappear, executing them…with complete impunity.

Yesterday, where was the coalition when Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt or Bouteflika in Algeria were shooting at crowds during the uprisings of January and February?

And what is the coalition doing today when massacres are taking place in Yemen, Syria or Bahrain? Oh yes, it’s closing its eyes to Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Bahrain – to help the state repress the demonstrations there.

Sarkozy, Cameron, Obama and Co. can present themselves as saviours, as defenders of the widow and the orphan, but for them the suffering of the civilians of Benghazi is just an alibi to intervene and defend their sordid imperialist interests. All these gangsters have a reason for launching this imperialist crusade:

-          This time, unlike in recent wars, the USA has not been at the forefront of the military operation. Why? Why is the American bourgeoisie playing a balancing act over Libya?

On the one hand it can’t allow itself to carry out a massive land intervention on Libyan soil. This would be seen by the whole Arab world as an act of aggression, a new invasion. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have greatly increased aversion to ‘American imperialism, the traditional ally of Israel’. And the change of regime in Egypt, a long-term ally of Uncle Sam, has further weakened its position in the region.

But at the same time, they can’t stay outside the game because this would risk totally discrediting their status as a force fighting for democracy in the world. They obviously can’t give a free hand to the Britain and France tandem

-          Britain’s participation has a dual objective. It is also trying to polish up its tarnished image in the Arab world following its interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is also trying to get its own population used to the idea of foreign military intentions which are bound to get more and more frequent. ‘Saving the Libyan people from Gaddafi’ is a perfect opportunity for that[3]

-          The case of France is a bit different. This is the only big western country which still has a certain popularity in the Arab world, acquired under De Gaulle and amplified by its refusal to take part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

By intervening on behalf of the ‘Libyan people’, president Sarkozy knew very well that he would be welcomed with open arms by people there and that this would be seen in a good light by neighbouring countries, for whom Gaddafi is a bit too unpredictable and uncontrollable for their taste. And we have indeed heard the cry of ‘Vive Sarkozy’, ‘Vive la France’ in the streets of Benghazi. France has, for once, taken good advantage of the USA’s difficulties[4].

Sarkozy has thus made up some of the ground lost by his government’s gaffes in Tunisia and Egypt (supporting the dictators that were eventually kicked out by the social revolts, allowing its ministers to stay too close to their regimes while the struggles were in full flow, even offering to send its police forces to help with the repression in Tunisia….).

We can’t go into all the details about the particular interests of each state in the coalition now at work in Libya, but one thing is sure: there’s nothing humanitarian or philanthropic about it! And the same goes for those who abstained from voting for the UN resolution or did so with great reluctance:

-          China, Russia and Brazil are very hostile to this intervention, simply because they have nothing to gain from Gaddafi’s departure;

-          Italy actually has a lot to lose from it. The present regime has, up till now, assured it easy access to oil and a draconian control of its borders. The destabilisation of Libya could put all this into question;

-          Angela Merkel’s Germany is still a military dwarf. All its forces are tied up in Afghanistan. Participating in this operation would have made its weakness at this level even more obvious. As the Spanish paper El Pais put it on March 21, “We are seeing a rerun of the constant balancing act between Germany’s economic giantism, demonstrated during the euro crisis, and France’s political strength, which is largely based on its military power”.

In sum, Libya, like the whole of the Middle East, is a huge chessboard on which the great powers are trying to advance their pawns.   

Why are the great powers intervening now?

For weeks Gaddafi’s troops were advancing on Benghazi, the rebels’ fiefdom, slaughtering everything in their path. Why did the great powers, if they had so many interests in intervening in the region, wait so long to do so?

In the first days, the tide of revolt originating in Tunisia and Egypt also hit Libya. The same anger against oppression and poverty was welling up in all layers of society. At this point it was out of the question for the ‘world’s great democracies’ to really support this social movement, despite their fine speeches condemning the repression. Their diplomacy hypocritically rejected the idea of interference and proclaimed the right of peoples to make their own history. Experience shows that it’s the same with every social struggle: the bourgeoisie everywhere closes its eyes to the most horrible repression, when it’s not directly lending a hand with it! But in Libya what seems to have begun as a real revolt by ‘those at the bottom’, by unarmed civilians who bravely attacked military barracks and torched the HQs of the so-called ‘Peoples’ Committees’, quickly turned into a bloody ‘civil war’ between bourgeois factions. In other words, the movement escaped the control of the non-exploiting strata. The proof for this is that one of the leaders of the rebellion and the Transitional National Council is al Jeleil, Gaddafi’s former minister of justice! This is a man whose hands are equally as bloodsoaked as those of his former Guide, now rival. Another indication: while the proletarians have no country, the provisional government has adopted the flag of the old Libyan monarchy. Finally, Sarkozy has recognised the TNC as the “legitimate representatives of the Libyan people”.                  

The revolt in Libya thus took a diametrically opposed turn to what happened in Tunisia and Egypt. This was mainly due to the weakness of the working class in this country. The main industry, oil, almost exclusively employs workers from Europe, the rest of the Middle East, Asia and Africa. From the beginning these workers took no part in the movement of social protest. The result was that the local petty bourgeoisie stamped its mark on the revolt – hence the ubiquity of the national flag for example. Worse, the ‘foreign’ workers, who could not therefore identify with these struggles, fled the country. There were even persecutions of black workers by ‘rebel’ forces, following numerous rumours about the regime’s use of mercenaries from black Africa to repress the demonstrations, casting suspicion on all black workers.

Workers’ struggles vs imperialist wars

This turn-around in the situation in Libya has consequences which go well beyond its frontiers. First Gaddafi’s repression, then the intervention of the coalition, is a blow against all the social movements in the region. This has permitted other dictatorial regimes to embark on a course of bloody repression: in Bahrain where the Saudi army has come to the assistance of the regime in dealing brutally with the demonstrations[5]; in Yemen where on 18 March government forces fired on the crowd, killing 51 people; and now in Syria where scores have also been gunned down.

Having said this, it is not at all certain that this will be a fatal blow. The Libyan situation is like a ball and chain on the world proletariat’s feet, but there is so much anger against the development of poverty that it will not paralyse it completely. In Egypt and Tunisia, where the ‘revolution’ is supposed to have triumphed already, confrontations continue between demonstrators and the now ‘democratic’ state administered by more or less the same forces who ran it under the ‘dictators’. Demonstrations have also continued in Morocco, despite King Mohammed VI declaring a constitutional monarchy.   

Whatever happens, for all the populations facing the most terrible repression, or the bombs of this or that international coalition, the sky will not clear until the proletariat of the central countries, particularly western Europe, develops its own massive and determined struggles. Armed by its experience, especially with the traps of trade unionism and democracy, it would then be able to show its capacities for self-organisation and open up a genuinely revolutionary perspective, the only future for the whole of humanity.

To be in solidarity with all those today falling under bullets and bombs does not mean supporting Gaddafi, or the ‘rebels’, or the UN coalition. On the contrary: we have to denounce all of them as imperialist bloodhounds!

To be in solidarity is to choose the camp of proletarian internationalism, to struggle against ‘our own’ exploiters and killers, to participate in the development of workers’ struggles and class consciousness all over the world!


Pawel 25/3/11 



[1] Britain, France, the USA in particular, but also Italy, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Norway, Holland, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

[2] If we are to believe the media, only Gaddafi’s henchmen are dying under these bombs. But let’s recall that at the time of the 1991 Gulf War, the same media were telling us that this was a ‘clean war’. In reality, in the name of protecting little Kuwait from the army of the butcher Saddam Hussein, the war claimed hundreds of thousands of victims.  

[3] We have to remember that in 2007, in Tripoli, former British PM Tony Blair threw his arms around Colonel Gaddafi, thanking him for signing a contract with BP. The current denunciations of the ‘mad dictator’ are pure cynicism and hypocrisy.

[4] Let’s not forget that France is also changing its tune here. It received Gaddafi with great ceremony in 207. The images of Gaddafi’s tent in the middle of Paris went round the world and made Sarkozy and his clique look a bit ridiculous. But now we have a new movie: NATO, the Return. 

[5] Here again the weakness of the working class facilitates the repression. The movement in Bahrain has been dominated by the Shia majority, supported by Iran.


Recent and ongoing: