Libya: A different view of the rebels


Richard Seymour (“Libya: Spring time for NATO”, GLW #876) has done an admirable job debunking justifications of “humanitarian” wars and its defenders. But his analysis of the internal dynamics of Libya leads him astray — so much so that bold assertions are taken as facts with nothing to back it up.

He says the co-option of the Libyan revolution by NATO is a victory for reaction. Then he says it is no good hoping that the militias will shake themselves free of such constraints if they take power.

The mistake is to separate the militias from the popular revolution as if they are distinct entities. The militia is the armed wing of the revolution.

Co-option is different from dealing with constraints. Co-option would mean the Western powers have complete control of the revolution.

But what evidence does Seymour provide? Is it that former regime elements are in control of the revolt and they have cut a deal with NATO? But where is the evidence of this deal? We have none, it is guesswork.

The actual evidence is that NATO is not interested in placing the rebel transitional council into power, but prefers a stalemate. This is why NATO allowed African Union representatives in to try to negotiate a settlement.

Why do that if the Libyan revolution was totally co-opted by NATO? Why would NATO ground the air force that the rebels have in their possession, if they were “their” guys?

NATO does not want the transitional council in power by itself, despite some of its leadership being opportunist, because of its popular support within Libya.

It is not reliable enough for them, because its support base is the masses moved into revolutionary political action. It would be expected to fulfill at least partially the popular aspirations of the Libyan masses.

Seymour is right when he says: “The migration deals with the European Union, the oil deals with multinationals and the arms deals to ensure the suppression of more radical political forces would all be central planks of a post-bellum regime.”

But this is also true of Egypt and Tunisia. The revolution would need to be deepened.

Seymour says that to prevent the massacre in Benghazi “a logical solution would have been to allow Turkey and others to facilitate negotiations”. Turkey is far from a neutral player. It has significant interests in Libya. There is the US$15 billion worth of no-bid contracts awarded to Turkish firms, among other interests. When the anti-government protests started in Libya on February 17, the Istanbul stock exchange’s main ISE-100 index fell 11%.

The Benghazi population had no reason to believe that Gaddafi would be sincere about negotiations. The Gaddafi government announced a ceasefire twice, while it continued to murder civilians in Misrata and other areas.

Seymour says there is no reason to believe a popular revolution can emerge from the situation.

I would suggest a people’s revolution has already occurred in Benghazi. The population is now arming itself, police are disarmed and there has been an explosion of free speech, independent journalism and political organising.

The question is whether this can spread and whether NATO bombing is a block. I would say it is, which is why I think the bombing should end and the rebels should be properly armed.

Revolutionary sentiment does exist in Tripoli, but the initial uprising was brutally crushed and forced underground.

Probably the silliest bit is his talk of the working class. Of course, the working class, or the multi-class movement that makes up the opposition, cannot guarantee there won’t be a sell-out. But I think it is wrong to dismiss its power because it couldn’t beat Gaddafi's forces militarily.

This is only partially true. They did in Benghazi and other cities, not just in the east.
There is also the total imbalance of military weaponry. Gaddafi’s military was armed to the teeth by the west, which proved too much.

That is why it is so crucial to demand that the rebels are armed.

But Seymour also thinks the weakness of the working class in the movement is shown by the fact that there are only “1000 trained fighters among the rebels” and about “17,000 volunteers” — a minority of the population. As if you could possibly conceive that armed militias fighting a war could be the majority of the population!

Yes, they are a minority in terms of a population, but not a minority in terms of who they represent.


So Tim, what exactly is the mandate that these rebels have to represent the mass of the Libyan population? A good number of these rebels have been roughing up dark skinned immigrants from other African countries that Gaddafi encouraged to migrate to Libya. The race card seems to be a rallying call for these people. There also seem to be those among them who wish to establish an Islamic caliphate, which will no doubt entail some form of sharia law. Gaddafi's regime was not perfect but it was strong on gender equality. Do you really believe that these 'rebels' represent the majority of Libyans and are some kind of revolutionary vangard?

James Goodwood

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