There are times when you go to write a piece on certain issues — and the Libyan revolution is one of them — when the only way to begin an article is in the manner of Lucky in Waiting For Godot:


Stop! (Lucky stops.) Back! (Lucky moves back.) Stop! (Lucky stops.) Turn! (Lucky turns towards auditorium.) Think!


Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell and suffers like the divine Miranda with those who for reasons unknown…..

Tonight, though the world’s attention has turned east, the revolution continues. Gaddafi’s forces may or may not have recaptured Brega, but their superior firepower definitely gives them the upper hand. Whatever the result will be for the Libyan people, the politics of the West won’t be the same, for either right or left. Ideally, I’d spend more time excoriating the right, and the pro-Iraq-war left, whose response has been pathetic — marked by masturbatory fantasies about George W Bush, blather about “orientalism”, and five-minute-hates against Gaddafi, without ever tackling the difficult question of whether we should help an actual revolution or not. The reasons, as stated before, are obvious — any actual revolution by the people themselves denies the West the chance to heroically project its power.

But let’s face it, the Libyan revolution has proved a supreme challenge above all for the anti-war left.  In Australia the Greens have come out with a consistent line supporting a no-fly zone, but for many the Libyan revolution started as a dream, became a reality, then a test, and is now on the road to being a nightmare. That thing that comes along very rarely — the revolutionary moment, requiring audacity and resolve — presented itself, and large sections of the radical left have retreated into deadened catechism. Much of the wariness about foreign involvement was well-founded in general terms but given the failure to distinguish between intervention, and a request for support, fell into a desperate diffidence or fantasy.

The UK Socialist Worker exemplified this last week, arguing that the rebels were facing a challenge, but that “Libyans must be allowed to make their own revolution”. The assessment was Pollyannaish then; it is ludicrous now, so the Socialist Worker has left the reality-based community in one of the most bizarre assessments of recent times:

“Die-hard supporters of the regime have launched counter attacks and savage repression in areas they control.

“Now the revolution faces a new danger — interference from the West.”

Why is the revolution in danger from the West? Because:

“The West is demanding a pause in the revolution’s offensive from the east … The West hopes that a stalemate in Libya will mean the revolution becoming more and more beholden to it for survival.”

This assertion is unsourced — unsurprisingly because one can find no record of it anywhere, save for a speculation by one state department official that Libya may break up, if the revolution stalemates. As to the official position, there appears to have been no insistence from any Western government for a “slowing down” of the revolution. The only such suggestion appears to have come from Chavez in Venezuela, who wanted to broker a deal.

Having dived into duplicitous doublethink, the Socialist Worker doesn’t hold back:

“The West is demanding a pause in the revolution’s offensive from the east. This would allow the regime to crush key centres of the uprising in the west of the country. This includes the industrial city of Misurata, the oil town of al-Zawiya …”

The timing of this reverse fantasy is a little unfortunate, since by the time it was published, al-Zawiya had already fallen, largely for want of air support and firepower, rather than the morale-sapping potential presence of the West. It is by far from the most perverse line in the article. That prize must go to:

“The no-fly zone that is being touted can only be implemented using massive air attacks that will target conscripts pressed into fighting for the regime.”

Christ, revolution, yes, but we wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt.

In Australia, the Socialist Alliance (publishing through Green Left Weekly) has a long statement on Libya, which, in the classical manner of a certain type of Marxism, spends several pages discussing its economics, hydrology wage rate differentials, etc, before ending on a simple “no to foreign intervention”. By contrast, at least Socialist Alternative has the enemy in its sights, devoting the piece on Libya in its paper to denouncing the real enemy, Socialist Alliance.

There’s a somewhat less boilerplate defence of the non-support position at Larvatus Prodeo, attached to an article drawing on your correspondent’s most recent piece — arguing that a request for support from a revolutionary group is categorically different to an uninvited invasion. Richard Seymour, of the Lenin’s Tomb blog, and author of Liberal Defence of Murder, a comprehensive study of military humanitarianism, who notes (among other points):

“It … matters whether we have established, or even attempted to establish, that this request both reflects the broad thrust of opinion in the revolutionary movement … It is not good enough to cede judgment in this situation — you still have a responsibility, whether you like it or not, to try to adjudge whether in making such a call those elements are selling the revolution a pup.”

Seymour suggests that we have a responsibility to investigate who is asking for what. So we do. But we also have a responsibility to do it in a timely matter, related to the military imperative. There are inevitably a variety of groups with opinions and demands, but if you’re interested in a revolution succeeding, rather than being a noble failure, you go with whoever has established material legitimacy and command — and that is now unquestionably the Libyan National Transition Council, who have repeatedly made clear that they want a no-fly zone. While at the same time explicitly saying that they do not want ground-force intervention.

Given the council’s composition of ex-Gaddafi ministers and others, I wouldn’t be betting on its purity-of-heart either. But that’s not important. They’re leading, as far as one can tell, they’ve established a council and representative structure across the liberated east of the country.

Given the urgency of the process, due diligence quickly slides into prevarication. You may have a responsibility to people to check out bona fides — but you also have the responsibility to act effectively. Research is a great cover for bad faith.

Bad faith is all around, indeed. In a long blog post on the matter, John Passant, who is a member of Socialist Alternative, rejects any distinction between “intervention” and “support”. He then notes that both the transitional council and demonstrations on the street are calling for a no-fly zone.

“That does not alter the situation.
Some revolutions may succeed. In some counter revolution may drown it in blood. The best solidarity we on the left in Australia can show is to side with the anti-imperialist revolutionaries in Libya and oppose both Gaddafi and any Western intervention.”

I find this extraordinary. There is unquestionably a request from a legitimate revolutionary leadership for support, and this expression of fatalism is the best that can be done? How can you possibly side with the Libyan revolutionaries and not support their request for the one thing that might make a real difference?

How did the anti-imperialist left get to this pitiful point, where the consistent expression of their policy on a revolution is a more or less tranquillised indifference as to what might be done to help it? Essentially, history caught up with them.

They were prepared for various bourgeois, reactionary or opportunist uprisings to pose as revolutions in order to gain support (the KLA is an example), such as could be easily rejected. And throughout the Cold War, revolutions, genuine and false, would tend to appeal to the Soviets for assistance. Now, an uprising that is unquestionably a popular and militant revolution by the masses has occurred, and has asked for help from anyone willing and able to give it, and less likely to make much of the history of colonialism, which the Western anti-support groups focus on. This doesn’t fit the frame — hence the desperate search for dissenting voices to latch onto, or the simple and disgraceful, fabrication of a narrative.

The anti-imperialist left want to profess their solidarity with the Libyan rebels. And they want to oppose any form of Western involvement. They can’t do both, because a request for assistance has been made — one that draws on the notion of solidarity to make it. They should at least have the honesty to make it clear that they don’t have solidarity with the Libyans but will simply watch passively and let them be defeated, and then murdered.

A movement that was once about the audacious making of revolution has become as ossified and quietist as the patriarchate of the Eastern Orthodox church, or the German Social Democratic Party c.1910. They have gone from Lenin to Godot in one go, from What is To Be Done?, to “nothing to be done”. They can’t go, they go on. Let’s hope the Libyan rebels can do the same, because they appear to have been deserted by all those who profess to be with them.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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