by Brian Becker
August 23, 2011
Brian Becker, National Coordinator,
Libya is a small country of just over 6 million
people but it possesses the largest oil reserves in all of Africa. The oil
produced there is especially coveted because of its particularly high
The Air Force of the United States along with Britain and France has carried
out 7,459 bombing attacks since March 19. Britain, France and the United
States sent special operation ground forces and commando units to direct the
military operations of the so-called rebel fighters - it is a NATO-led army
in the field.
The troops may be disaffected Libyans but the operation is under the control
and direction of NATO commanders and western commando units who serve as
Their new weapons and billions in funds come
from the U.S. and other NATO powers that froze and seized Libya’s assets in
Their only military successes outside of Benghazi, in the far
east of the country, have been exclusively based on the coordinated air and
ground operations of the imperialist NATO military forces.
In military terms, Libya’s resistance to NATO is of David and Goliath
U.S. military spending alone is more than ten
times greater than Libya’s entire annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which
was $74.2 billion in 2010, according to the CIA’s World Fact Book.
In recent weeks, the NATO military operations used surveillance-collecting
drones, satellites, mounting aerial attacks and covert commando units to
decapitate Libya’s military and political leadership and its command and
Global economic sanctions meant that the country
was suddenly deprived of income and secure access to goods and services
needed to sustain a civilian economy over a long period.
“The cumulative effect [of NATO’s
coordinated air and ground operation] not only destroyed Libya’s
military infrastructure but also greatly diminished Colonel Gaddafi’s
commanders to control forces, leaving even committed fighting units
unable to move, resupply or coordinate operations,“ reports the New York
Times in a celebratory article on August 22.
A False Pretext
The United States, United Kingdom, France, and Italy targeted the Libyan
government for overthrow or “regime change” not because these governments
were worried about protecting civilians or to bring about a more democratic
form of governance in Libya.
If that were the real motivation of the NATO powers, they could start the
bombing of Saudi Arabia right away. There are no elections in Saudi Arabia.
The monarchy does not even allow women to drive
cars. By law, women must be fully covered in public or they will go to
prison. Protests are rare in Saudi Arabia because any dissent is met with
imprisonment, torture and execution.
The Saudi monarchy is protected by U.S. imperialism because it is part of an
undeclared but real U.S. sphere of influence and it is the largest producer
of oil in the world. The U.S. attitude toward the Saudi monarchy was put
succinctly by Ronald Reagan in 1981, when he said that the U.S. government
“will not permit” revolution in Saudi Arabia such as the 1979 Iranian
revolution that removed the U.S. client regime of the Shah.
Reagan’s message was clear:
the Pentagon and CIA’s military forces would
be used decisively to destroy any democratic movement against the rule
of the Saudi royal family.
Reagan’s explicit statement in 1981 has in fact
been the policy of every successive U.S. administration, including the
Libya and Imperialism
Libya, unlike Saudi Arabia, did have a revolution against its monarchy.
As a result of the 1969 revolution led by
Muammar Gaddafi, Libya was no longer in the sphere of influence of any
Libya had once been an impoverished colony of Italy living under the boot
heel of the fascist Mussolini. After the Allied victory in World War II,
control of the country was formally transferred to the United Nations and
Libya became independent in 1951 with authority vested in the monarch King
But in actuality, Libya was controlled by the United States and Britain
until the 1969 revolution.
One of the first acts of the 1969 revolution was to eliminate the vestiges
of colonialism and foreign control. Not only were oil fields nationalized
but Gaddafi eliminated foreign military bases inside the country.
In March of 1970, the Gaddafi government shut down two important British
military bases in Tobruk and El Adem. He then became the Pentagon’s enemy
when he evicted the U.S. Wheelus Air Force Base near Tripoli that had been
operated by the United States since 1945. Before the British military took
control in 1943, the facility was a base operated by the Italians under
Wheelus had been an important Strategic Air Command (SAC) base during the
Cold War, housing B-52 bombers and other front-line Pentagon aircrafts that
targeted the Soviet Union.
Once under Libyan control, the Gaddafi government allowed Soviet military
planes to access the airfield.
In 1986, the Pentagon heavily bombed the base at the same time it bombed
downtown Tripoli in an effort to assassinate Gaddafi. That effort failed but
his 2-year-old daughter died along with scores of other civilians.
The Character of the
The political, social and class orientation of the Libyan regime has gone
through several stages in the last four decades.
The government and ruling establishment
reflected contradictory class, social, religious and regional antagonisms.
The fact that the leadership of the NATO-led National Transition Council is
comprised of top officials of the Gaddafi government, who broke with the
regime and allied themselves with NATO, is emblematic of the decades-long
instability within the Libyan establishment.
These inherent contradictions were exacerbated by pressures applied to Libya
from the outside. The U.S. imposed far-reaching economic sanctions on Libya
in the 1980s. The largest western corporations were barred from doing
business with Libya and the country was denied access to credit from western
In its foreign policy, Libya gave significant financial and military support
to national liberation struggles, including in Palestine, Southern Africa,
Ireland and elsewhere.
Because of Libya's economic policies, living standards for the population
had jumped dramatically after 1969. Having a small population and
substantial income from its oil production, augmented with the Gaddafi
regime’s far-reaching policy of social benefits, created a huge advance in
the social and economic status for the population.
Libya was still a class society with rich and
poor, and gaps between urban and rural living standards, but illiteracy was
basically wiped out, while education and health care were free and
extensively accessible. By 2010, the per capita income in Libya was near the
highest in Africa at $14,000 and life expectancy rose to over 77 years,
according to the CIA’s World Fact Book.
Gaddafi’s political orientation explicitly rejected communism and
capitalism. He created an ideology called the “Third International Theory,”
which was an eclectic mix of Islamic, Arab nationalist and socialist ideas
In 1977, Libya was renamed the Great Socialist
People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. A great deal of industry, including oil,
was nationalized and the government provided an expansive social insurance
program or what is called a welfare state policy akin to some features
prevalent in the Soviet Union and some West European capitalist countries.
But Libya was not a workers’ state or a “socialist government” to use the
popular if not scientific use of the term “socialist.”
The revolution was not a workers and peasant
rebellion against the capitalist class per se. Libya remained a class
society although class differentiation may have been somewhat obscured
beneath the existence of revolutionary committees and the radical, populist
rhetoric that emanated from the regime.
As in many developing, formerly colonized countries, state ownership of
property was not “socialist” but rather a necessary fortification of an
under-developed capitalist class. State property in Iraq, Libya and other
such post-colonial regimes was designed to facilitate the social and
economic growth of a new capitalist ruling class that was initially too
weak, too deprived of capital and too cut off from international credit to
compete on its own terms with the dominant sectors of world monopoly
The nascent capitalist classes in such
developing economies promoted state-owned property, under their control, in
order to intersect with Western banks and transnational corporations and
create more favorable terms for global trade and investment.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the “socialist bloc” governments of
central and Eastern Europe in 1989-91 deprived Libya of an economic and
military counter-weight to the United States, and the Libyan government’s
domestic economic and foreign policy shifted towards accommodation with the
In the 1990s some sectors of the Libyan economic establishment and the
Gaddafi-led government favored privatization, cutting back on social
programs and subsidies and integration into western European markets.
The earlier populism of the regime incrementally gave way to the adoption of
neo-liberal policies. This was, however, a long process.
In 2004, the
George W. Bush administration ended
sanctions on Libya. Western oil companies and banks and other corporations
initiated huge direct investments in Libya and trade with Libyan
There was also a growth of unemployment in Libya and in cutbacks in social
spending, leading to further inequality between rich and poor and class
But Gaddafi himself was still considered a thorn in the side of the
imperialist powers. They want absolute puppets, not simply partners, in
their plans for exploitation. The
Wikileaks release of State Department cables between 2007 and
2010 show that the United states and western oil companies were condemning
Gaddafi for what they called “resource nationalism.”
Gaddafi even threatened to re-nationalize
western oil companies’ property unless Libya was granted a larger share of
the revenue for their projects.
As an article in today’s New York Times Business section
"Colonel Qaddafi proved to be a problematic
partner for the international oil companies, frequently raising fees and
taxes and making other demands. A new government with close ties to NATO
may be an easier partner for Western nations to deal with."
Even the most recent CIA Fact Book publication
on Libya, written before the armed revolt championed by NATO, complained of
the measured tempo of pro-market reforms in Libya:
“Libya faces a long road ahead in
liberalizing the socialist-oriented economy, but initial steps -
including applying for WTO membership, reducing some subsidies, and
announcing plans for privatization - are laying the groundwork for a
transition to a more market-based economy.”
(CIA World Fact Book)
The beginning of the armed revolt on February 23
by disaffected members of the Libyan military and political establishment
provided the opportunity for the U.S. imperialists, in league with their
French and British counterparts, to militarily overthrow the Libyan
government and replace it with a client or stooge regime.
Of course, in the revolt were workers and young people who had many
legitimate grievances against the Libyan government.
But what is critical in an armed struggle for
state power is not the composition of the rank-and-file soldiers, but the
class character and political orientation of the leadership.
Character of the
National Transition Council
The National Transitional Council (NTC) constituted itself as the leadership
of the uprising in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city.
The central leader is Mustafa Abdel-Jalil,
who was Libya’s Minister of Justice until his defection at the start of the
uprising. He was one of a significant number of Western-oriented and
neoliberal officials from Libya’s government, diplomatic corps and military
ranks who joined the opposition in the days immediately after the start of
As soon as it was established, the NTC began issuing calls for imperialist
intervention. These appeals became increasing panicky as it became clear
that, contrary to early predictions that the Gaddafi-led government would
collapse in a matter of days, it was the “rebels” who faced imminent defeat
in the civil war.
In fact, it was only due to the U.S./NATO bombing
campaign, initiated with great hurry on March 19 that the rebellion did not
The last five months of war have erased any doubt about the pro-imperialist
character of the NTC. One striking episode took place on April 22, when
Senator John McCain made a “surprise” trip to Benghazi.
A huge banner was unveiled to greet him with an
American flag printed on it and the words:
“United States of America - You have a new
ally in North Africa.”
Similar to the military relationship between the
NATO and Libyan “rebel” armed forces, the NTC is entirely dependent on and
subordinated to the U.S., French, British and Italian imperialist
If the Pentagon, CIA, and Wall Street succeed in installing a client regime
in Tripoli it will accelerate and embolden the imperialist threats and
intervention against other independent governments such as Syria and
In each case we will see a similar process unfold, including the
demonization of the leadership of the targeted countries so as to silence or
mute a militant anti-war response to the aggression of the war-makers.
We in the
ANSWER Coalition invite all those who share this perspective to
join with us, to mobilize, and to unmask the colonial agenda that hides
under the slogan of “humanitarian intervention.”