The Libyan revolution has been restarted by the support given to it by Western powers, and Libyan rebels have started to reverse the gains made by Gaddafi’s force in the past few days.

They have already retaken Ajdabiya and Zuwaytinah, two towns to the west of the rebel capital of Benghazi, and would appear to be on the march westward.

Though there is still a chance that the revolution will bog down into a protracted territorial civil war or stalemate, a more rapid victory may also be possible.

As Patrick Cockburn has noted, Gaddafi has only been able to call on a few thousand troops in his assaults — their lethality and power has been augmented by his forces’ continued reliance on firepower.

Should he be prevented from using them — which appears to be the case — a space may well open up whereby dissent within his western strongholds becomes possible.

Half the army or more has already deserted — there is no reason to believe that with some more pressure on the ground and from the air, it will dissolve altogether, and the revolution will be won.

Though they have launched attacks on his compound, the US and other forces claim they have no interest in a direct military assassination. It is hard to know whether to believe this.

Much of the anti-support sentiment wants to argue both sides of this;  that the US is seeking to dismember Libya, and impose its will, to which end assassination is being employed — and that international forces are involved to stabilise the situation, to frustrate the revolution in its final victory.

Since the Libyan revolution appears to have come within 12 hours of breathing its last before international support came in, such assessments do not make a blind bit of sense.

But nothing has, in the concerted anti-imperialist opposition to the strategic imperatives of an actual revolution.

Indeed by Monday morning there was a wider question — had the survival of the Libyan revolution emboldened people elsewhere? Had it contributed to the progress of uprising in Yemen, following the killing of 40 protesters on Saturday?

With generals now defecting, and the army appearing to turn against President Ali Saleh, his regime would appear to be near collapse.

Whether that will result in anything more promising than a takeover by the army remains to be seen.

Quite possibly the process was entirely autonomous to the Libyan revolution — and quite possibly the rebel resurge in Libya was what was required as encouragement to push forward.

After all, Tunisia and Egypt were relatively non-violent revolutions — and the latter substantially involved a handover to the army.

Libya was the first uprising with met with concerted opposition — which in turn created a genuinely revolutionary situation, dissolving existing institutions, emboldening people to struggle for radical freedom.

It was thus pretty important that it survive by any means necessary. The alternative was that it be another valiant defeat, another “not-yet” — a situation that many who were opposed to foreign involvement half seemed to welcome.

As international military action intensified, notions of an “imperialist” takeover being spruiked became positively mystical, and increasingly conspiratorial.

Contrary to the likely scenario — that the US had been dragged into a conflict with a petro-dictator they had spent years cultivating — the “anti-imperialist” version has been that the US, broke and with two wars under way, had been desperately looking for a way to insert itself into the conflict.

The analysis stems from an archaic theory of imperialism, formed in the era of the Belgian Congo, and solidified, if not petrified during the decades of the Cold War.

It sees power as expressed only and always in military dominance, territorial occupation, and high capitalist exploitation.

Not only does it fail to consider the contradictions of different types of power — the rather desperate need for the US not to have further drains on its resources, for example — it also fails to consider any process by which ideological fantasies, obsessions, self-delusions might motivate action.

The result is to cede an awesome degree of power and knowingness to great powers that showed, in the Iraq war, that they were utterly incapable of imposing a desired monolithic order.

It would seem obvious that this is the case with the French today. It is also to deny subjectivity or knowingness to the people conducting the revolt, whose wishes those opposed to military support for the revolution have largely ignored — and projected onto them a simplistic anti-colonialism, which it is clear is far from uppermost in their minds.

It’s one reason why US acquiescence in the “assistance” — really a police intervention — by Saudi Arabia in Bahrain, has had such importance attached to it. If you believe imperialism to be a monolithic force — really an idea, rather than an ensemble of material practices — then the fact that it might be capable of having its actions split, set against each other and rendered contradictory, does not occur.

It’s the Libyan rebels who’ve shown a capacity to be reflexive, risk-taking, and radically oriented to the future and its possibilities — including the possibility that it may go terribly wrong.

Meanwhile, in Syria, protesters have torched the ruling party HQ … and Al Jazeera is keeping a keen eye on Algeria …

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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