The debate over the Western military intervention into Libya that has swept sections of the world’s left since it began in March were concentrated into one passionate session at the annual congress of Denmark’s Red-Green Alliance (RGA), held in Copenhagen over May 20-22.
The 300 congress delegates, representing 5900 members, were asked by a majority of the RGA’s National Board to endorse the March 18 vote of its four MPs in support of the “no-fly zone” imposed on Libya by NATO powers including Denmark ― acting in the name of United Nations resolution 1973.
The alternative was a National Board minority counter-motion, which stated that “the decision was the most wide-ranging in the history of the RGA, and it was the wrong one”.
The RGA MPs had asked for three specific commitments from the Danish government as a condition for their support: that the attacks on Gaddafi forces be stopped once the regime accepted a ceasefire, that UN forces not bomb residential areas, and that there be full respect for Libya’s future sovereignty ― including control of its oil wealth.
The Danish foreign minister Lene Espersen said she believed the operation would take place in accordance with these commitments, leading to RGA Mps to vote in support.
On March 19, the decision was endorsed by the National Board, with two against and two abstentions.
Within two weeks, however, with the Gaddafi air force destroyed and the army in retreat from Benghasi, the RGA had withdrawn its support. On March 30, MP Frank Aaen stated that NATO’s air strikes “had succeeded in stopping the attacks from Gaddafi on the civilian population. It was a correct decision to stop his attack, and we are pleased to have been part of it ...
“[However], it was crucial for us that the political goals were ceasefire and negotiations. But now we have to state that there has been made no serious effort in that direction whatsoever, even though it is point number one in the UN resolution.”
On April 30, the National Board unanimously adopted a resolution on it future orientation towards the Libyan uprising. That might have seemed to settle differences within the RGA, but it was vital to revisit the issue at congress because the original decision had provoked a furore among the membership.
So a session was set for the Libya debate and the May issue of party magazine Red and Green carried the arguments for and against the MPs’ stance.
Delegates supporting the original decision focused on one question above all ― as Gaddafi’s forces approached Benghasxi, how else could a massacre of the civilians have been stopped?
It was argued this was the sort of extreme situation covered by the party’s 2009 congress resolution allowing support for the use of military force with UN support when there was no other option for preventing genocide or crimes against humanity.
Minority supporters replied that due to the NATO intervention, more civilians would die than would have perished if had Gaddafi’s forces entered Benghasi. They also stressed that the threat of “genocide” had been beaten up by the media to give the imperialist powers grounds for establishing a toehold against the Arab democratic revolution.
“Our MPs were naive”, said one delegate. “How, after Iraq and Yugoslavia, could they fall for the Hollywood myth of the quick, surgical military intervention?
“And what power did we ― or the Danish government ― have to bind Sarkozy and Cameron to our interpretation of the UN resolution?”
Others couldn’t understand the MPs’ rush to back the no-fly zone when the RGA’s Scandinavian sister parties were more cautious and when Venezuela, Turkey and African states were offering to mediate in the conflict.
One younger delegate stressed: “We don’t support military solutions. We don’t call for a no-fly zone over the West Bank, Syria, Bahrain or Yemen.”
But support came from delegates with a Kurdish background. One said: “No-fly zones can help a people in struggle. The no-fly zone established over northern Iraq in the 1990s allowed us to reorganise against Saddam Hussein.”
Other delegates openly agonised: “I originally thought our MPs had no choice but to support the UN resolution. But now I’m half-convinced it was a hasty decision.”
An older delegate, confronting those who wanted to find a basis in principle to support or oppose the decision, said: “We all know our MPs didn’t become militarists overnight, we all know the RGA is against imperialism and for peace, but these principles can’t give us the answer here.
“I believe the comrades [the MPs] made the least wrong decision possible on the information they had at the time. When that information changed, we changed our position, and our reputation with the Danish people as a party of peace and solidarity hasn’t suffered.”
Minority supporters pointed out in reply that the NATO intervention had strengthened Gaddafi’s position with progressive public opinion and made it harder to build the solidarity movement with the Arab revolutions.
The discussion spilled over into broader issues, such as the RGA’s attitude to the UN and its bodies, and the decision-making method of the party.
When the vote was taken the majority received 149 votes, and the minority 136, with a handful of delegates abstaining. Another resolution, to have decisions on war decided by the entire RGA membership, was overwhelmingly defeated.
Later in the congress, greetings from the Socialist Youth Front, the independent youth organisation that works most closely with the RGA, contained a sharp criticism of the MPs’ decision and its endorsement by congress.
The other main resolution facing the delegates was on rebuilding the Danish public sector “as a generator of employment, welfare and democracy”.
It proposed a campaign to “turn the public sector into a motor for the entire society when it comes to generating good and sustainable jobs, welfare and democracy.”
The main amendments, which were accepted, came from the RGA’s environment commission. They stressed the need for a revived public sector as the motor of action on climate change.
The delegates left the congress in high spirits. The Libya debate, though heated, was conducted in a comradely spirit and showed the RGA in the Danish media as a party of serious discussion and commitment to the struggle for social justice and solidarity.
With Denmark due for national elections any time before November, elections set to be dominated a rising tide of xenophobia, the RGA is now at 4.7% in opinion polls.
If that support holds the party will at least double its parliamentary representation.