The war in Libya is over and the old dictator Gaddafi has met a violent and inglorious end. The leaders of the free and democratic powers are congratulating themselves on their support for the rebels (now the legal government). The people of Libya celebrate their new freedom and the victory of the revolution. Not too triumphalist, a word of criticism for the brutal manner of Gaddafi’s end, not fitting for one in the rulers club, but a job well done by NATO for a change. This is the narrative in the media.
Gaddafi wasn’t the only one to meet a violent end; 50 Gaddafi supporters were executed with their hands tied behind their back on the eastern edge of Sirte. The town of Tawargha was ransacked and the 30,000 residents banned from returning because of their support for Gaddafi. We shouldn’t be too surprised by the level of brutality meted out to the defeated, because the new regime received its training under the old regime, in fact some of them used to be the old regime.
The new Transitional National Council of Libya wants to avoid the mistakes of Iraq where many of the repressive structures were dismantled. This time those who benefited under Gaddafi will remain. When criticism of the old regime is made the emphasis is on the idea of the all powerful dictator with his handful of loyal cronies rather than the embarrassing collusion of the whole Libyan elite. The announcement of Abdurrahim al-Keib as the new interim Prime Minister can be seen as an attempt by the TNC to distance itself from the past. The previous holder of that position, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, was a justice minister under Gaddafi. Also we shouldn’t forget that the nations who raced to defend democracy this year were rubbing shoulders with Gaddafi last year.
This attempt to bury the past is also an attempt to avoid a new civil war between the factions that have emerged in the new Libyan state. The bourgeoisie in Libya is not united in action. There are differences between east and west Libyans, Islamists, tribes, local warlords and non-TNC rebels. The TNC is an attempt to hold things together and prevent the country descending into total chaos.
The inter-bourgeois war in Libya also had a clear imperialist dimension. The intervention of France, Britain and the US via airstrikes, 10,000 according to the BBC, helped to swing the civil war in the favour of the rebels.
The triumph of the TNC over Gaddafi’s forces is no victory for the working class or the legions of the exploited in Libya. The development of the uprising into a civil war between bourgeois factions, backed by the imperialist powers, was a symptom of the weakness of the working class in comparison to Egypt, where the working class played a significant role in the movement even if it failed to take decisive leadership.
This does not mean that the class struggle is totally absent from Libya. At the end of October, strike action by Waha Oil workers, unhappy at the continued presence of the same directors who collaborated with the Gaddafi forces during the civil war, had been going on for two months. The TNC backed the directors, not the workers of course. Workers from other refineries and other sectors of the oil industry joined them in protest outside the National Oil Corporation headquarters, also unhappy about the Gaddafi supporters who manage them. The future for the Libyan workers lies in the continuing defence of their own class interests against whichever faction takes the reins of power, but their main hope lies in the development of the class struggle throughout the region and across the globe.