by Andrew Pollack
During recent weeks the imperialist forces attacking Muammar Gadhafi’s regime have dropped what little pretense existed about their goal of regime change in Libya. The defining moment of this shift came when an op-ed cosigned by the heads of state of the U.S., Britain, and France declared: “Gadhafi must go.” In an article published in the International Herald Tribune, Le Figaro, and The Times of London on April 15, Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy, and David Cameron announced they would take whatever military action they needed to remove Gadhafi from power. Their strategy was made bitterly clear on April 29, when a NATO airstrike targeted a house in which Gadhafi and his family were present, killing his youngest son and three of his grandchildren.
The imperialists’ openness about their real goals, and their ever-expanding military measures, have been greatly facilitated by the hijacking of the leadership of the anti-Gadhafi uprising by the Transitional National Council, a mélange of ex-Gadhafi officials and pro-imperialist capitalists and professionals.
This hijacking comes at the expense of a movement that in the first weeks of the uprising had a strong base among the working-class masses and was often led by neighborhood committees. The early phases of armed battles were likewise often characterized by partisan-style fighting. This was only possible because hundreds of thousands in every town and city—even Tripoli—had poured into the streets and organized themselves for freedom.
But while the combined forces of the imperialist countries and their local clients have succeeded—for now—in immobilizing the popular movement against Gadhafi, they have found only stalemate on the military front—which military officials worry could drag on for months.
The U.S. had supplied much of the initial firepower to impose a no-fire zone, and then left the heavy lifting to its European allies. But as the battles moved increasingly into urban areas, NATO powers began to complain that only Washington had weapons allowing for more precise attacks against forces on the ground. In response, Obama on April 21 authorized the use of unmanned Predator drones (which have been responsible for numerous civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Pakistan).
On April 20 France, Italy, and the UK announced they would send ground troops. While the troops, termed military “advisors,” would number at first only in the dozens, their numbers are almost sure to swell—given that every imperialist military official quoted has predicted that the war will drag on for months. Other measures to try to break the stalemate include the announcement by Obama of the provision of as much as $25 million in military surplus supplies and communications equipment for their Libyan allies in the Transitional National Council—but not (yet) weapons.
Meanwhile, politicians and media commentators in the United States and Europe have been calling for even more military intervention in order to “finish the job now.” One of the most widely quoted military analysts, Anthony Cordesman, wrote a bloodcurdling piece for the Center for Strategic and International Studies calling for massive attacks without regard to civilian “collateral damage,” allegedly to stop greater loss of civilian life later on.
Cordesman called explicitly for targeting “Qaddafi, his extended family, and his key supporters,” without worrying about other civilians who would die as a result: “Hard, and sometimes brutal, choices need to be made between limited civilian casualties and collateral damage during the decisive use of force and an open-ended war of attrition that will produce far higher cumulative civilian casualties and collateral damage.”
The likelihood of such barbaric tactics being used was heightened by events last month in the Ivory Coast, where French and UN armies brazenly removed from power Laurent Gbagbo, who had lost a recent presidential election but refused to step down. These actions in Libya and the Ivory Coast are a sign that after the “successes” of regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan, the imperialists feel less and less need to pretty up their interventions with lies or even rationalizations.
Can the mass revolt be revived?
On April 16, four analysts and activists co-authored a column in Al-Ahram titled “Using Libya to Abort the Arab Spring,” which makes a very useful distinction between four conflicts in Libya: (1) Gadhafi versus the Libyan people; (2) the Western war against Libya; (3) rivalry among the aggressors over how the war is conducted and over the future spoils; (4) a yet-to-be begun conflict that the authors recommend be started now—that of the Libyan masses “not only against Gadhafi but also against the forces trying to occupy Libya.”
We wholeheartedly endorse the call for this fourth conflict, without which a post-Gadhafi Libya, or one carved up between him and the TNC, would be even more firmly under imperialism’s domination.
Ironically, the new tactics used by Gadhafi’s forces—mixing with civilian populations, camouflaging weapons, and driving pickup trucks instead of military vehicles—can provide an opening for the masses to re-enter the battle against him. The battles are no longer limited to Gadhafi’s tanks and missiles versus the imperialists and their planes. Once again, it appears, decisive battles will be fought street by street.
However, to effectively combat both Gadhafi and his imperialist rivals, the masses must revive and deepen their own organizations. No one elected the Transitional National Council. Neither the rank-and-file fighters opposing Gadhafi guns in hand nor the broader masses in Libya’s cities have any duty to obey a single order from TNC-appointed officers. And by the same token, the masses have no obligation to respect any of the political agreements for a post-Gadhafi Libya now being forged by imperialist diplomatic officials and TNC representatives.
Instead, the workers and peasants of Libya need to begin organizing now—starting with neighborhood, workplace, and militia gatherings—for a nationwide revolutionary constituent assembly of the sort called for by the left in both Egypt and Tunisia to enable the masses to vote democratically on what kind of government they want.
Such an assembly could seek to organize its own armed forces to battle both Gadhafi and the imperialists. And it could put forward a revolutionary economic and social program to meet the masses’ needs, starting with the kind of political liberties that an imperialist-dominated TNC would never grant, and including such measures as putting Libya’s oil for the very first time under the control of its workers so that its revenues go for the working masses’ benefit.
A revitalized grassroots militia and a constituent assembly promoting a revolutionary program could win the confidence of Libyans who have been misled into fighting on the side of Gadhafi, as well as the masses of Tripoli, whose uprising is in the final instance key to ridding the country both of Gadhafi and of imperialism.
To provide the Libyan masses with the space for such organizing, activists fighting against imperialist wars around the world must redouble our efforts to demand: U.S./NATO, Hands Off Libya! Victory to the Uprising!
> This article was originally published in the May 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.