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Australia: How Socialist Alternative misrepresents Socialist Alliance on Libya

February 22, 2011 -- Solidarity rally in Sydney with the Libyan people in their struggle for democracy. Photo by Pip Hinman. See an article about this action here: http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/46782

[For more coverage of Libya, click HERE.]

By Nick Fredman

March 16, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Most interested observers of the public statements and activity of the Australian organisations Socialist Alternative (SAlt) and Socialist Alliance in regard to Libya would surely conclude that the two groups are in concord: a similar analysis of the pro-imperialist nature of the regime and enthusiastic support for the struggle of the workers and oppressed against dictatorship. Which makes it quite disappointing that Corey Oakley of SAlt has launched a swingeing polemic against Socialist Alliance about Libya[1]. [See Appendix 1 below]

His attacks have been echoed verbally by other SAlt members at recent university orientation weeks and solidarity demonstrations. The comrades accuse Socialist Alliance of, in Oakley’s words, covering past “shockingly sycophantic, fawning” support for Gaddafi and ducking any criticism of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez’ problematic positions on the uprising.

As I will demonstrate below, Oakley is highly selective if not downright dishonest in his presentation of the evidence, and quite hypocritical in his regard to past much worse positions of his own tendency, and the whole absurd campaign is quite sectarian in effect. It is in fact almost a textbook case of how not to conduct debate on the left.

In arguing that Socialist Alliance’s current “determination to expose the failings of the Gaddafi regime is anything but time-honoured”, Oakley, apart from being wrong, suggests that any past support of any aspect of the Gaddafi regime could only have been “sordid", “shockingly sycophantic”, “fawning” and other hyperbolic descriptors.

One would think such a “shocking” record would leave quite a paper and electronic trail. Oakley though can’t find anything actually published by Socialist Alliance since its formation in 2001[2] or anything from Green Left Weekly (GLW) since its first publication in 1991 (all of which is easily searchable online, although as we’ll see Oakley is either unable to do this or is dishonest about his efforts).

Our intrepid polemicist however has found one article that suits his purposes, a piece by Peter Boyle from 1987 published in Direct Action, the antecedent publication to GLW, which he claims is “shocking…” etc. It isn’t clear how Oakley came across this article but it seems likely that it came to SAlt’s attention because Boyle himself recently transcribed it and posted it online, explaining in a post to the Green Left discussion list that he “did this in the spirit of breaking from the sad left legacy of claiming to have always had the right line”[3]. [See Appendix 2 below]

An objective look I would argue indicates that Boyle presents some evidence that Gaddafi’s regime was anti-imperialist and represented some gains for working people, without being wildly enthusiastic or making any claim that Gaddafi or his movement or the Libyan state was socialist. Oakley implies he has uncovered a guilty secret and does not provide a link, or even an original publication date or any citation of any sort, so readers could judge for themselves whether it is as bad as he claims it is.

Before I comment on the position of the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), the publisher of Direct Action back then, a point about Oakley’s claim that this 24-year-old piece “hampers” Socialist Alliance’s current energetic efforts to solidarise with the Libyan revolution today. Luckily for the Australian and international class struggle no one except Okley is rushing out to audit the records of all Socialist Alliance activists to check for perfect foresight before they read GLW or attend a public meeting or demonstration on Libya. Oakley provides not a shred of evidence that any hampering of anything is going on.

In any case, was the DSP’s position back then so very shocking? Possibly yes to those who think the world is static and has no shades between black and white. The DSP in the 1970s and '80s, not so unusually for organisations deriving from Trotskyist traditions, saw the Gaddafi regime as an example of “revolutionary nationalism”. Nasserism, Sukarnoism, the left wing of Ba’athism (before Saddam shot it apart in the early 1960s), the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the African National Congress (ANC) and the Provisional IRA/Sinn Fein were other examples.

Despite their significant differences, we can generalise that these were parties or movements that fought against imperialism and its client regimes and, due to the progressive nature of a struggle that was wholly in the interests of the masses, had at least some influence from and empathy with the workers, peasants and urban poor. In power they generally enacted progressive measures that improved health, education and welfare and reduced imperialist control of the economy. But, particularly in the absence of strong, independent parties based squarely on the workers and poor (often due to the lack of an independent line from Stalinist and reformist parties), such movements had middle-class leaderships and orientations. In short they were quite contradictory phenomena, capable of mobilising the masses and enacting progressive measures, but susceptible to adaptation to local and international capital, especially in the international context of capitalist triumphalism and neoliberalism in the 1990s.

Whether or not the DSP had the perfect line on any of these formations in 1987, any objective look at the coverage of the last 20 years of GLW will reveal a comprehensive coverage and analysis of the actions of, for example, the ANC and PLO that represented betrayals of their stated goals. Oakley delivers a quite sanctimonious lecture about the need to follow Trotsky and analyse degenerating revolutions, but this effort is redundant for GLW.

But what of Oakley’s specific claim that “if you look through the archives on the Green Left Weekly site you cannot find a single article – prior to February 2011 – that seriously criticises the Libyan regime”? Oakley was either inept in carrying out or dishonest in the reporting of his labours. With a site-specific Google search it took me several minutes to find the following quotes from articles published between 2003 and 2008 that clearly show that, at least in the last decade, since Gaddafi made a definite neoliberal and pro-Western turn, the Libyan regime was represented in GLW as a regional bully that is militarist, pro-Western, pro-capitalist and anti-refugee:

The Blair government has approved the sale of these toxic precursors to regimes that have not even signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, such as Israel, Libya, Taiwan and Syria. Moreover, it has carried on this trade while Blair has lied about the "threat" of Iraq's chemical weapons.[4]

By playing along with Washington's latest WMD pantomime, the Qadhafi regime hopes to reestablish cordial relations with the US government and big business… Libya assured Washington that US oil companies were welcome to return to their leases… Libya has announced $35 billion economic plan that is heavily reliant on Western investment, including the privatisation of more than 300 state-owned firms. "The program calls for the privatisation of heavy industry, particularly steel mills, chemical plants, truck and bus assembly lines, textile and shoe factories, as well as state farms", Libyan Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem said in November.[5]

However, since 9/11, Bashir — like Libya's military ruler Colonel Gaddafi — has moved to "normalise" relations with Washington.[6]

Knowing that Sudan is desperate to "normalise" relations with the US, Washington is attempting to lure Khartoum back into the neocolonial fold using the "carrot" of promises to lift US economic sanctions imposed in 1997 and the "stick" of the threat of further sanctions. Such an approach was successful with neighbouring Libya.[7]


The international protests were prompted by Libya's deportation of Eritrean refugees to Eritrea on August 27... Libya began deporting Eritrean refugees after coming under heavy pressure from EU member countries, in particular Italy, to stop "illegal" African migration to Europe.[8]


And now innocent Iraq is already an Uncle Sam target and victim again. Who's next? Iran? Syria? — not Libya, it is now obediently making oil deals with Uncle Sam; and not North Korea that made nukes to protect itself against precisely that.[9]

Libya played a major role in the change of regime in Chad. Libya has tribes that move in and out of Sudan. It has a vested interest in the conflict.[10]

Alongside Sudan, Libya sees Chad as part of its sub-Saharan periphery. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi proclaimed the unity of Chad and Libya in 1980 and fought a long war for control of the territory, until defeated by a Chadian army extensively armed and supported by France and the US.[11]

True, the GLW coverage, apart from the fairly comprehensive 2004 analysis of the pro-imperialist turn by Gaddafi referenced at footnote 5, has been relatively brief until this year. But it compares rather favourably with that of SAlt, whose coverage on Libya between SAlt’s formation in 1995 and 2011 consisted of, judging by a site-specific Google search of their website, a couple of phrases in one article: that following the first Gulf War in 1991 there were “mass [anti-war] demonstrations” in Libya among other countries in the region, and that the Palestinian leftist parties the PFLP and DFLP looked to “so-called progressive regimes” such as in Libya among other countries in the region.[12] Does SAlt’s almost total lack of interest in the country before this year, apart from this rather vague characterisation, “hamper” its current solidarity work?

Further, even if the DSP’s characterisation of Gaddafi was wrong to some extent, is the tradition that SAlt derives from completely innocent of making positive characterisations of political movements in the 1980s that do not seem full of foresight now? No. The antecedent organisation of SAlt was very supportive throughout the 1980s on the exploits of a movement far nastier than Gaddafi’s regime, the Afghan mujahideen. The international leaders of SAlt’s tendency, the UK Socialist Workers Party (of which SAlt is now formerly independent), stated in 1988: “Just as socialists welcomed the defeat of the U.S. in Vietnam, we welcome the defeat of the Russians in Afghanistan. It will give heart to all those inside the USSR and in Eastern Europe who want to break the rule of Stalin’s heirs”[13].

It may seem shocking to Oakley, but I think critical support for Gaddafi, who was clearly progressive in the 1980s relative to the corrupt neocolonial monarchy he overthrew without bloodshed, is not nearly as bad an error as hailing the victory of the likes of Osama bin Laden and other brutal, misogynist, feudalistic, CIA-backed thugs, more reactionary in every respect than the regime they overthrew, and whose victory was a disaster for Afghanistan and the region. Perhaps such an embarrassing record “hampers” the ability of SAlt to solidarise with the many socialists who have directly suffered from Islamists? Does Oakley honestly think it would be appropriate that if the next time SAlt publishes a piece on Afghanistan GLW runs a substantial article about the enthusiastic support SAlt’s political antecedents gave to the mujahideen, and that Socialist Alliance leaders instruct its membership to hassle SAlt members on the issue?

What of Green Left Weekly’s alleged lack of criticism of Chavez and Fidel Castro on the issue? Let’s firstly dispense with the tediously repeated and inaccurate criticism from SAlt that GLW’s coverage of Chavez is uncritical. The internationally acclaimed, on-the-ground reportage of a living revolution by comrades such as Fred Fuentes, Kiraz Janicke and Tamara Pearson has comprehensively covered and analysed successes and reverses and all the main tendencies of the Venezuelan left, including those critical of Chavez, and besides which the efforts of SAlt appear as the insertion of a few selected factoids into crusty old templates.[14]

Green Left Weeky has in fact criticised the positions taken by Chavez and Castro on Libya. An article by Janicke and Fuentes, referred to only briefly and misleadingly by Oakley (again without any kind of citation so that readers can judge for themselves), made criticism and opposition to this position clear. It quoted extensively from a very critical February 24, 2011, article in Rebelion by Santiago Alba Rico and Alma Allende. This article argues that, “Venezuela and Cuba’s reluctance to clearly condemn the brutal repression being carried out by the regime of Muammar Gaddafi’s against a popular revolt will have negative consequences for the anti-imperialist project in Latin America”, and could have the opposite consequence to that intended by politically helping the West intervene militarily, by the latter posing as the only true friends of democracy and justice in Libya.[15]

This and other criticisms Socialist Alliance members have of Chavez and Castro does not mean that we should discount and not discuss the positive achievements of the revolutions that they are part of the leadership of, which dwarf anything SAlt or Socialist Alliance have done.

There’s nothing at all wrong with serious criticism and debate among socialists, about either current issues or historical and theoretical questions. But sanctimonious hyper-factionalised screeds, that are factually wrong, if not dishonest, that are hypocritical whether consciously so or not, and that are full of hyperbolic language, are not useful. In fact such behaviour is quite sectarian, not because it’s mean or rude, but because it “hampers” socialists working together and working out their differences to the extent possible and necessary today. Such narrow-minded behaviour leads to spiralling mutual hostility rather than any clarity.

And when it’s about a current issue that socialists actually have the same analysis and tactical orientation on, it descends to a level of self-parody of far left infighting. SAlt comrades need to realise that if there’s ever going to be a larger and more effective socialist organisation in Australia, it’s going to have a lot broader politics than SAlt’s.

Notes

[1] Corey Oakley, "Libya and the left" <http://www.sa.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3136%3Alibya-and-the-left&catid=210%3Ainternational&Itemid=213>.

[2] The actual adopted position of Socialist Alliance on Libya is at <http://www.socialist-alliance.org/page.php?page=1092>.

[3] <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/GreenLeft_discussion/message/73761>. The original article: "Libya: Modernisation without poverty", Direct Action #612, May 27, 1987, is available at <http://peterb1953.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/what-i-wrote-about-a-visit-to-libya-24-years-ago>.

[4] "John Pilger: Blair peddles banned chemical weapon ingredients", August 6, 2003, <http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/29318>.

[5] "LIBYA: More 'weapons of mass distraction' uncovered", January 21, 2004, <http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/30658>.

[6] "SUDAN: US steps up pressure over Darfur crisis", August 4, 2004, <http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/31691>.

[7] "SUDAN: Oil profits behind West's tears for Darfur", August 11, 2004, <http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/31653>.

[8] "Eritreans protest deportation of refugees", October 13, 2004, <http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/31229>.

[9] "Meet Uncle Sam without his clothes", May 23, 2005, <http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/32485>.

[10] "SUDAN: Darfur problem is political", June 14, 2006, <http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/33702>.

[11] "Chad: Civil war, power struggle and imperialist interference", February 8, 2008, <http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/39011>.

[12] Sandra Bloodworth, "Essays on nationalism and revolution in the Arab world", <http://tiny.cc/n3hw3>.

[13] Socialist Worker, May 1988, quoted at <http://www.icl-fi.org/print/english/wv/974/cliffites.html>.

[14] Articles by Fuentes, Janicke and Pearson are collated at, respectively, <http://www.greenleft.org.au/taxonomy/term/682>, <http://www.greenleft.org.au/taxonomy/term/869> and <http://www.greenleft.org.au/taxonomy/term/711>.

[15] Kiraz Janicke & Federico Fuentes, "First Egypt, next Venezuela?", February 27, 2011, <http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/46804>. Also at <http://links.org.au/node/2187>.

Appendix 1

Libya and the left

By Corey Oakley

March 11, 2011 -- Socialist Alternative -- One of the magnificent features of the Arab revolutions is the ruthless manner in which they have exposed the dirty, duplicitous, hypocritical, blood-soaked truth about the global political establishment. Western politicians, diplomats, university heads, business executives and government bureaucrats have squirmed as evidence of their ties with the despots of the Arab world circulates across the internet.

Disgracefully though, when it comes to the Libyan revolution, some on the left have been able to be tarred with the same brush.

While a clear majority of left wing organisations and groups voiced support for the Libyan uprising, a number either explicitly backed Gaddafi or surreptitiously undermined the revolution and attempted to depict it as a reactionary movement in alliance with US imperialism.

At the head of those offering solidarity to Gaddafi’s tottering rule were the populist left leaders of Latin America. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, as WikiLeaks confirmed in some detail this February, was a long-time ally of the Libyan dictator. At a 2009 summit in Venezuela, Chávez and Gaddafi congratulated each other on their “revolutions” during the ceremonies. Chávez declared “What Simon Bolívar is to the Venezuelan people, Gaddafi is to the Libyan people.”

Little wonder then, that Chávez refused to denounce the massacres being carried out by Gaddafi’s regime. In a televised speech, Chávez told his audience: “A campaign of lies is being spun together regarding Libya. I’m not going to condemn him. I’d be a coward to condemn someone who has been my friend.”

Fidel Castro, in a widely circulated statement, expressed similar sentiments. Both Chávez and Castro warned that the main danger facing Libya was Western intervention – an argument that was to be taken up by a number of groups and individuals on the left seeking to undermine the revolution.

The widely read US-based website MRZine led the charge on this front, and on another – that of attempting to undermine the legitimacy of the revolt by casting dark aspersions about the nature of the revolutionary movement.

Socialists, of course, must resolutely oppose imperialist intervention in the Arab world, which would be aimed entirely at defeating the democratic revolution and ensuring the continued subjugation of the Arab people. Likewise, it would be wrong to deny that as the revolt spreads, all kinds of reactionaries and elements of the old regimes will try to attach themselves to the revolutionary movement and turn it to their own ends.

But the campaign waged by MRZine, Chávez, Castro and others uses the threat of imperialist intervention simply as a justification for their refusal to break with Gaddafi.

Even of those on the left who supported the Libyan revolt, a number have been hampered by their shady past of support for and collaboration with Gaddafi’s dictatorship. The Australian Socialist Alliance backed the revolution. But their determination to expose the failings of the Gaddafi regime is anything but time-honoured.

On returning from the Asia-Pacific solidarity conference held in Libya in 1987, Peter Boyle, a central leader of the Socialist Alliance, wrote a shockingly sycophantic, fawning piece for Direct Action, praising to high heaven the achievements of Gaddafi’s regime and the Libyan revolution. According to Boyle, Libya was a country of “personal freedom” in which “most Libyans I spoke to insisted that they felt more free in their country than in any other they had visited”.

According to Boyle, Libya was much more democratic than the West: “Gaddafi claims to have discovered the perfect model of participatory democracy. And to be fair the people’s congress does allow a degree of control over the government not seen in capitalist parliamentary systems.”

Moreover, this wondrous state of affairs was not due simply to luck, or oil. It was the “revolutionary process” unleashed by Gaddafi’s 1969 military coup:

This prosperous egalitarianism is not simply a product of Libya’s oil wealth. Other Third World countries have small populations and large oil resources but remain marked by great inequality and sometimes by very poor social services. When Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and a group of fellow army officers seized power in 1969, a revolutionary process began. Since then there has been a major redistribution of wealth, and considerable investment in agricultural and industrial development. The Libyan revolution has imposed important restrictions on capitalism, and calls itself socialist…Private land may not be leased out, and private merchandising is also prohibited.

Of course Libya was not perfect, Boyle admitted. But he was quick to reassure us that any lack of enthusiasm to match his own among Libyan youth could be put down to quite banal factors:

Like most Third World states, Libya suffers from an ongoing brain-drain to the West. The revolution’s critics say this is due to political repression, but I found that most students who had studied abroad had more basic motives for being reluctant to return. The main attraction of the West, for quite a few Libyan men, was its nightclubs and discos.

Socialist Alliance members have claimed that it is sectarian quibbling to raise this historical record. They are wrong. First, the support given by them to despotic regimes undermines the left’s claim that socialism is about human liberation, not despotism. It gives ammunition to the right, helping them to bury the truth about the responsibility of the West for the tyrannical power structures of the Arab world under a sea of accusations against the left.

But the problems raised by the Socialist Alliance’s sordid history of support for Gaddafi also reveal fundamental issues with their whole conception of socialism.

Even if we allow for a moment (and we shouldn’t) that the Gaddafi regime was once the inspiring utopia that Boyle suggested in 1987, where is the explanation of how things went wrong? Surely the transformation of a country characterised by the abolition of the profit system and a “prosperous egalitarianism” into an authoritarian dictatorship would have been the subject of extensive study and discussion?

When the USSR degenerated into Stalinist dictatorship, Trotsky and others around the world were consumed by their attempts to understand and explain what had gone wrong. But if you look through the archives on the Green Left Weekly site you cannot find a single article – prior to February 2011 – that seriously criticises the Libyan regime. When Obama belatedly declared his support for Tunisian democracy hours before Ben Ali boarded a plane into exile he was rightly mocked. How is this any different?

The fact is, in any case, that the truth about the Libyan regime was never as obscure as Boyle would have us believe. The working class played no role in the 1969 coup, and in no sense had political power. Libya was in essence similar to many other regimes that took power in the colonial world, regimes which asserted more independence, nationalised key sections of the economy, allied themselves to the USSR or the Non-Aligned Movement.

These regimes had nothing to do with genuine Marxism. They were simply another, statised form of capitalism in which economic and political power was concentrated in the hands of a tiny few while the mass of people had little control over their own lives, let alone their country.

The Socialist Alliance has also been less than thunderous in its criticism of Chávez and Castro for their repugnant stand. This is a major issue because Chávez in particular is regularly featured on the front cover of Green Left Weekly and praised in glowing terms. But the best GLW was able to do in the face of their hero siding with Gaddafi was to say “Ignoring the brutal reality of Gaddafi, who has been a friend in recent years of the West and its allied dictators, risks breaking ties with popular Arab movements.”

Some on the left have argued that it is understandable that Chávez and Castro have been hesitant to break with their ally, as they are in a precarious position in the world and threatened by imperialism. This approach has nothing to do with the Marxist tradition, and demonstrates the ludicrousness of the claim that these regimes are socialist.

The Bolsheviks in revolutionary Russia were not hostile to forming tactical alliances, but they did not privilege maintaining these alliances at the expense of offering solidarity to struggles of the oppressed. The approach of the Bolsheviks was laid out by the Council of People’s Commissars in December 1917:

Taking into consideration that the Soviet government is based on the principles of the international solidarity of the proletariat and on the brotherhood of the toilers of all countries, and that the struggle against war and imperialism can be brought to a completely successful conclusion only if waged on an international scale, the Council of People’s Commissars considers it necessary to offer assistance by all possible means to the Left internationalist wing of the labour movement of all countries, regardless of whether these countries are at war with Russia, in alliance with Russia, or neutral.

There is nothing of this revolutionary internationalism in the foreign policy of Chávez and Castro today. Instead of subordinating the needs of their own state to those of the international revolution, they are prepared to abandon resistance movements internationally in order to maintain grubby alliances that serve their own narrow interests.

That sections of the left were prepared to mount a semi-open defence of Gaddafi as he attempted to drown an inspiring democratic revolt in blood, and that others have until very recently supported his barbaric regime and refuse to break decisively from those who still support him, is a searing indictment of their claims to stand for human liberation, and a demonstration that the cancer of Stalinism has not yet been exorcised. Ridding the left of its foul influence is a vitally important task.

Appendix 2

Libya: Modernisation without poverty

By Peter Boyle

May 27, 1987 -- Direct Action #612 -- TRIPOLI — Most Westerners visiting Libya for the first time probably feel a little nervous because the media have painted such a terrible picture of this country and its revolutionary leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. But once n the land Ronald Reagan callsthe “home of international terrorism” and the Libyans call Jamahariya (Land of the Masses), the carefully crafted international image crumbles in the face of reality.

Most of the members of the small Australian delegation that attended the recent conference of Asia-Pacific peace and liberation groups probably didn’t know what to expect.

On the way our group had been delayed in Pakistan for a day. Our passports had been seized by immigration officials and we had been subjected to countless body searches as we were shuttled from one part of Karachi airport to another.

Every plane in the airport had been surrounded by soldiers bearing submachine guns, which were trained on the passengers.

To add to the drama, the Libyan Arab Airline ject that was to fly us to Tripoli was unmarked. Was this a precaution against attack by United States or Israeli warplanes? Everything suggested we were about to enter a beseiged land that would be bristling with military forces.

But when we landed in Tripoli the airport was near-deserted because it was early in the morning. Not one uniformed or armed person was to be seen. Sleepy officials greeted us, and without so much as a cursory baggage check we were through the formalities.

As we bussed some 200 kilometres to the conference venue, in a coastal town called Mesrata, we saw a peaceful, surprisingly green, landscape. Children were on their way to school, and farmers were at their work on tractors.

This was big change from Pakistan where soldiers bearing automatic rifles with fixed bayonets were posted every 300 metres on major roads. The only uniformed officials visible in the streets of Mesrata and Tripoli were traffic police.

Libya’s armed forces were not deployed against the civilian population, as is the norm in many Third World countries today. Under seige it may be, but this is nevertheless a very relaxed society.

We were free to move around without guides. In two weeks of roaming the streets of Mesrata and Tripoli, I was challenged only twice.

On the first occasion. only a day after arrival in Libya, I had wandered with three other Australian delegates about three kilometres from the conference site in Mesrata. We had begun talking to some people in a block of flats.

In geneneral, people wre quite happy to talk speak to us — to the extent that our modest lingusitic skills permitted — though most women would turn away from men. Some of us had been taking photographs and perhaps some neighbours had complained.

A car pulled up and an official-looking man in plainclothes called us over. He appeared to indicate that we should not take photographs, and told us to accompany him.

We were taken to a building that served as a neighbourhood security office. here too there were no uniformed or armed officials. While we waited for our identities to be checked, we were offered tea and bread rolls.

Eventually, the official who had stopped us returned, apologising profusely, and drove us back to the conference site. When we asked the conference organisers for an explanation of this incident we were told that as the conference had only just begun, the local police had not been briefed and they had reacted to seeing a group of foreigners taking pictures.

We were told that it was generally considered offensive to photograph Libyan women. While we were free to take photographs, we should be sensitive tolocal customs.

The only other time I was prevented from taking photographs was at the Tripoli Suq (taditional market). I was approached by another official who said I needed a permit to take photographs there. At no time was my film confiscated.

These experiences indicated that an effective system of neighbourhood security was in place. According to our hosts, neighbourhood organisations are responsible for local security, and each neighbourhood is potentially an armed unit. In case of emergency anyone knows where to go to to be issued with arms.

A majority of Libyans have some form of military training. High school students — male and female — do one day of military training a week. University students go on three-week training courses at regular intervals.

Students are responsible for security in their schools and campuses. The only other visible security measure in Tripoli consisted of a couple of police roadblocks set up after 11pm to check the identification of drivers. Pedestrians were not stopped. This measure had been adopted after last year’s US bombing raid.

Personal freedom

Most Libyans I spoke to insisted that they felt more free in their country than in any other they had visited. One young doctor, who had studied in the Soviet Union, said ordinary people had more freedom in Libya than in the Soviet Union, and he raised countless examples to prove this.

In capitalist countries, on the other hand, the richer you are the more freedom you have, noted a Libyan postgraduate physics student named Mehdi.

This point is difficult for Western visitors to ignore. In the capitalist Third World, an apartheid of wealth is enforced. The poor are banned from expensive hotels unless they are there to provide obseqious service to the rich. Police and private security guards enforce this caste system.

But in Libya, people felt free to move where they liked. Groups of Libyan youths wandered casually through the most expensive hotels, stopping occasionally for a cup of coffee or a meal.

Privately, some young Libyan men admitted that if they felt restricted in any way it was because of the traditional cultural norms. They missed the discos and neightclubs and freer interaction with women that they had experienced overseas.

A couple of young Libyan men told us that in the two biggest cities, Tripoli and benghazi, some young people lived a more modern lifestyle, though they had to be careful not to offend their families.

Alcohol is banned in Libyan, but some Libyans are reportedly partial to a potet home brew, made from fermented figs and consumed in the privacy of their own homes.

Egalitarianism

The second striking feature of Libya was its egalitarianism. I saw no shantytowns, no bedraggled beggars, and no obviously privileged people in chauffeur-driven limousines. There were expensive cars on the street — BMWs, Mercedes, and even the odd Chevrolet — but these were usually as dusty and roughed up as the other, more modest, vehicles.

The only opulent homes seemed to be those left by the Italian colonialists. These now served as public institutions of one kind or another. Even Colonel Gaddafi’s former Tripoli residence, bombed by US warplanes just over a year ago, was no more than a two-storey, four-bedroom house crowded among older Arab-style dwellings.

Its furnishings were far from extravagant. Gaddafi, it is said, preferred to live in a tent outside his home.

Libya’s egalitarianism is not one of shared poverty. It is an oil-rich country with a small population (three million), and this shows. The roads are crowded with private cars and in general the people display a very easy-going attitude to life. It is fairly easy to own a house or a flat and a car, and have more than enough to eat.

“Unless you own your own home, you are not free,” one Libyan said to me. Interest-free home loans are freely available, and buyers can choose between having a home built or moving into a ready-made flat. There is a waiting list of a few months for homes.

Before the 1969 revolution that brought Gaddafi to power, Tripoli was a shantytown, infested with beggars and thieves. Today it is a modern city surrounded by suburbs of flats and houses. Modern highways connect it to other parts of the country, and a bustling port is being extensively renovated.

One feels safe in the streets as the desperate poverty that fuels petty crime is absent.

Salaries range from 150-600 dinar monthly (one dinar equals $3). Pay varies according to skill, time and risk involved in the job.

There are also increments for people with dependants. A system of progressive taxation evens out incomes. Housing costs take up about 25 per cent of most incomes, while it costs a family of two adults and three children about 140 dinar a month to live.

As most Libyans live in extended family groups, households usually have more than one income, and more than enough money to spend. This excess income is often spent on cars and on overseas travel, several Libyans told me.

There is an extensive social security system. After retirement, people are paid their full salary until they die. Widows are entitled to the equivalent of their late husband’s salary until their children are able to support them.

Health care is totally free, and around Tripoli and Mesrata I saw many modern polyclinics. One doctor told me there are actually too many hospitals, and some will not be opened until the population increases.

Remote communities are serviced by a large flying doctor fleet. Strong attention to prventative health care has rid Libya of all the serious communicable disease. In the past leprosy and other skin diseases had posed serious problems.

This prosperous egalitarianism is not simply a product of Libya’s oil wealth. Other Third World countries have small populations and large oil resources , but are marked by great inequality and sometimes by very poor social services.

Revolution

When Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and a group of fellow army officers seized power in 1969, a revolutionary process began. Sonce then there has been a major redistribution of wealth, and considerable investment in agricultural and industrial development.

The Libyan revolution has imposed important restrictions on capitalism, and calls itself socialist.

Unlike other socialist countries, this social transformation has not been carried out under the influence of Marxist views.

Gaddafi’s revolutionary theory, outlined in his Green Book, does not call for the abolition of private property. Rather it seeks to idealise a society of small producers, all of whom own their own land, machinery and plant.

The sector of the Libyan economy that appears to fit this ideal most closely is agriculture. Small private farms appear to be thriving in the narrow belt of arable land. There is no apparent tendency of concentration of privately owned land in a few hands.

A fairly equitable redistribution of resources that was made relatively easy by the fact that until 1969 most of the plantations, and the few industries, that existed, were owned by foreigners (mostly Italians).

After 1969, the plantations were divided into thousands of small farms and sold to Libyans. The buyers were given long-term loans and generous subsidies. Agricultural college graduates were given priority. To prevent reconcentration of the land in a few hands, strict restrictions were placed on the rights of property owners. Land and industrial plant may be bought and sold by individuals, but private owners are generally prohibited from employing people.

Most farmers rely on family members for labour, though special permits are available for temporary employment arrangements. I also heard unconfirmed reports that in some areas illegal migrants from neighbouring countries were employed illegally.

Private farmers are allowed to sell some of their produce on the open market. Along roadsides there are numerous stalls at which poultry, fruit and vegetables, and sometimes fish may be bought directly from the producers.

Nearly 40 per cent of Tripoli’s residents belong to families that own small farms growing dates, figs, citrus fruits, vegetables and some coffee.

In general, older men and women work the farms, while the educated young tend to concentrate in state jobs in the city.

While operating subsidies to private farmers are small, most farming families generate enough income to permit purchase of modern machinery and irrigation systems.

Profit illegal

Private land may not be leased out, and private merchandising is also prohibited. Unused land reverts to the state. These prohibitions prevent the exploitation of one individual by another, say supporters of the Green Book. Profit has been abolished and individuals are only paid for their own labour.

There are strict taxation provisions, and private capital appears to be tightly controlled. In the cities, private businesses mostly involve artisan trades: tailoring, jewelry making, carpet weaving, food and handicraft manufacture. As a result of such restrictions, only one in six shops in Tripoli’s markets are open.

There is apparently some illegal trading with a small blackmarket in imported goods and foreign currency. US dollars reportedly sell for twice the official rate.

In the first nine years of the Libyan revolution, there were major efforts to encourage development of a private industrial sector. Loans and subsidies were offered, but a combination of cultural, economic and political factors resulted in little progress on this front.

Most of the industry that has developed is in the public sector, mainly in food processing, spinning and weaving, clothing and leatherwork, woodwork and building materials.

In 1978, Gaddafi a movement effectively to nationalize all the larger private industries, under the slogan: “Partners not wageworkers.” Many of the restrictions on capital originate from this period.

Only in Benghazi, an old city in the east of the country, does it appear that there has been major dissatisfaction as a result of these restrictions.

In colonial times there had been a greater development of indigenous capital in that city, and hence a class of wealthier merchants and farmers.

According to an Australia who visited Benghazi last year, there was some deployment of the military in that city at that time. Benghazi is said to be the centre of what dissidence there is against the government.
Today, while some disruptions to supply are evident in the big state-owned department stores and supermarkets, these are mostly shortages of foreign goods, due to the US-organised trade embargo.

The Jamahariya Supermarkets, which are scattered around the suburbs of Tripoli, are well-stocked in all the basic requirements of everyday life, and food appeared to be abundant.

In the agricultural sector, there are development programs designed to give Libya self-sufficiency in food grains. Libyan officials say wheat production on large, modern state farms is rising rapidly.

These large farms are either state-owned or cooperatives. They include major irrigation schemes and experimental desert farms. Private fruit and vegetable production is already sufficient for local consumption, and the main food import is now meat.

Heavy industry

The government has begun an attempt to break away from dependence on oil exports through massive investment in heavy industrial plant.

One major project we visited was the Mesrata steel manufacturing complex, a nearly completed US 5 billion project. Construction by leading Japanese, South Korean, Austrian and West German companies began seven years ago. Next year, the first stage should come into production.

The complex has six furnaces, each with a 90-tonne capacity, making it the biggest such plant in Africa.
It is designed to handle an input comprising 20 per cent scrap iron and the rest in ore. It will produce all forms of steel, and it is hoped it will feed future machine and vehicle industries. Already, Libya has a large bus manufacturing plant.

Industry suffers from the fact that Libya as yet has only a small supply of skilled labour. Half of the Mesrata steel complex workforce will be drawn from migrant labour. All the major contruction projects are carried out by contracted foreign firms, using foreign workers.

According to a Libyan engineer working in the Mesrata complex, operational management will be substantially Libyan after two years of foreign technical assistance.

Labour shortage

The labour shortage is one of the most obvious features of Libyan society. The visitor notices it immediately. There is insufficient labour to even maintainthe large amount of plant and construction invested in ongoing development.

Buildings, machinery, and even public housing, appear to be in need of greater care and maintenance. Public tidiness and landscaping are paid scant attention. Few Libyans are prepared to undertake “demeaning” cleaning jobs when well-paid office jobs are available.

But the shortage of skilled labour is more critical, if not so obvious. This is one problem Libya shares with other Third World nations.

To redress the neglect of education and other services under colonial rule, the Libyan government has spent huge amounts building schools and campuses, and providing generous allowances to students.

Tripoli’s Al Fateh university is a sprawling, modern campus that is turning out thousands of students with sorely needed skills. It is one of two universities. The other is Qar Younnis in Benghazi.

Education was a major priority of the 1969 revolution. By converting homes into temporary schools, the revolution trebled the number of school students in a year, while modern schools are under construction.

Tens of thousands of students went on to do teacher training. To supplement the local tertiary colleges, many students were sent overseas to study. In 1968, there were only 178 Libyan teachers in training locally.

Like most Third World states, Libya suffers from an ongoing brain drain to the West. The revolution’s critics say this is due to political repression, but I found that most students who had studied abroad had more basic motives for being reluctant to return. The main attraction of the West, for quite a few Libyan men, was its nightclubs and discos.

The priority Libya is forced to place on scientific training is having an effect on the political process. The ideology of the Green Book is inevitably being challenged as the overwhelmingly young and better-educated people running the country confront practical problems.

Women

The contradiction between reality and the Green Book’s theory is very obvious in therole of women in Libya.
In the Green Book, Gaddafi argues that social organization should not be based on “man-made” rules but on “natural” cultural base. In Libya, this is expressed in the teachings of Islam.

With this comes an insistence on the traditional division of labour between men and women. Capitalist society, argues Gaddafi, turns women into commodities and forces them to work. This is oppressive. To be free, he concludes, women must play their “natural” role in life.

While women are promised (and by all accounts given) equal rights to education and property, they are expected to treat childrearing as their primary duty, and many older women remain virtual prisoners in the home, venturing out only totally veiled and chaperoned.

But the younger generation has moved rapidly away from the old customs. Despite the official stance on the role of women, the labour shortage is pushing more and more women into the workforce, and with work comes new ideas and greater independence.

Before the revolution, few women had access to education. In 1968, there were only about 96,000 female school students in the whole country. After a year of revolution this figure had quadrupled.

The priority of education over sexual segregation is another example. Generally, high schools are segregated by sex. But in some remote areas, some schools are out of necessity coeducational.

So are the universities, though I noticed that cafeterias appeared to be either formally or informally divided into women’s and men’s areas. At Al Fateh university, the women students spoke confidently and frankly of their career ambitions.

In some ways, the Libyan revolution has resulted in a more rapid modernization of relations between the sexes, without the degradation of women that has accompanied modernization in capitalist Third World countries. For example, women are not being forced into prostitution in droves as they are in the Philippines and Thailand.

Nevertheless, Libya remains a country dominated by men. The people in power are overwhelmingly men, and only a few women seem to have penetrated political circles.

The atmosphere of sexual repression weighs heavily on many young Libyans, and has predictably fostered a double standard (favouring men) with regard to sexual mores.

Cadres

Among the most politicized people we met in Libya were those heavily involved in the health and education fields. Some appeared to accept a more scientific revolutionary theory than is evident in the Green Book. They were prepared to look at other socialist countries, and to learn from their experiences.

One of the conference organizers, a fulltime surgeon, told Direct Action that the greatest problem facing the Libyan revolution was a shortage of cadre.

“There are just not enough people who have a clear vision of the political process we are going through,” he said.

Ironically, the ideology expressed in the Green Book, while successfully uniting the country in a national liberation struggle, may be inadequate to train the cadres of this revolution.

The Green Book rejects parties and theories of class, and insists that the revolutionary cadre be collected in loose revolutionary committees with no formal leadership.

This leaves the committees under the leadership of informal leaders, not all of whom are necessarily committed to the revolution. It leaves the revolution blind to the potential class conflicts that threaten it.

Gaddafi’s ideas are expressed in absolute rather than scientific terms, and the political forms he suggests are often presented as a final, perfect form, rather than an experimental model.

Participatory democracy

For example, Gaddafi claims to have discovered the perfect model of participatory democracy. And to be fair the system of people’s congresses does allow a degree of control over the government not seen in parliamentary systems.

People’s congresses have sacked ministers and altered Libya’s diplomatic links. Independent observers of congress sessions have noted that the debate is often lovely and heated, and apparently free.

The Green Book insists that this system of participatory democracy means that government no longer exists in Libya, and that the people rule. But this happy assertion can also hide a multitude of problems – for example the problem of bureaucracy that obviously plagues the supposedly nonexistent government.

It also masks an apparent power struggle that is going on within the government between forces that want to shed some of Libya’s revolutionary stances and those who want to continue the revolution.

Most Libyans concede that Gaddafi does not lead the country on a day-to-day basis. His leadership tends to be more of a moral kind. He reputedly has no executive power.

The problems of bureaucracy in Libya are evident both internally and externally. The country’s international isolation is not just the work of Washington.

US imperialism’s task has been made easier by the numerous alliances the Libyan governmenthas made with dubious political groups, governments and factions within other national liberation organizations. Often these links are the work of corrupt and inefficient foreign affairs officials.

Internally, the massive waste of human and material resources attests to the problem of bureaucracy.
Bureaucracy is a problem confronting all socialist societies, and a variety for solutions are being tried in different countries.

It would seem that the survival of and future development of the Libyan revolution couold depend to a great extent on the outcome of the experiments in this area in the socialist countries, and the willingness of Libya’s revolutionaries to learn from them.

In the face of the concerted campaign by the Reagan administration and its allies to destroy the Libyan revolution, this presents a major challenge to the small core of Libyan revolutionaries.

Appendix 3

Socialist Alliance statement: Stop the massacre in Libya! Power to the people!

A statement by the Socialist Alliance in solidarity with the people's uprisings in Libya and the Arab world

February 26, 2011 -- The Socialist Alliance extends its full solidarity to the people of Libya now being brutally repressed for demanding an end to the corrupt and unjust regime of dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Their courageous struggle, launched on February 15, for democracy and economic and social justice has resulted in hundreds, if not thousands, of people being killed. Civilians have been strafed and bombed from helicopters and planes, and snipers with high-powered rifles have fired into unarmed crowds. The regime’s murderous crackdown has concentrated on Benghazi - Libya’s second largest city, and the poorest – on the country’s north-east coast, but fighter jets and snipers have also been used against protesters in Tripoli.

Despite the ongoing threats by Gaddafi and his son Saif al Islam to carry out ruthless retribution against all who dare rise up against the regime, sections of the armed forces, several diplomats and some ministers have abandoned the regime. Two pilots flew their fighter jets to Malta rather than bomb their own people and another two are reported to have crashed their jets rather than attack civilians. Gaddafi has ordered the execution of troops who refuse to shoot their own people.

The Gaddafi regime has tried to seal off international knowledge of these events by blocking the internet and locking out journalists, but it is now clear that the people have not been defeated. There are reports that the east of Libya is now in the hands of popular revolutionary committees.

While the atrocities against the Libyan people unfolded, it was days before the United States, Britain and other Western governments were prepared to condemn the regime. The reason is that, despite Gaddafi’s radical posturing and anti-imperialist rhetoric, his regime is tightly enmeshed with the world’s major capitalist powers.

In the 1980s, Gaddafi came under attack from the US administration because he took an anti-imperialist line and gave financial and material aid to many national liberation movements at the time. The imperialist governments saw this as an attack on their presumed right to exploit Libya’s oil resources.

However, since Gaddafi’s rapprochement with the West in the late 1990s, which resulted in the lifting of sanctions by the United Nations in 1999, and Europe and the US in 2004, large Western corporations have flocked to Libya under the regime’s guarantee of access to huge profits. Several major US oil companies, including ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil and Hess Corp, now have significant stakes in Libya. European companies such as British Petroleum, Italy’s Eni, Spain’s Repsol and Royal Dutch Shell have even biggest stakes in Libya’s economy, and there are now about 150 British companies operating in Libya.

Alongside the Western powers’ moves to get their hands on a share of the largest oil reserves in Africa, European governments have supplied Gaddafi with large amounts of arms and other military and electronic jamming equipment. Britain has been heavily involved in training Libya’s police, and has authorised the export to the Libyan state of tear gas and crowd-control ammunition.

These same Western powers that have for the last decade propped up Gaddafi’s rule in order to profit from the country’s oil wealth are now talking about direct military intervention to “restore stability” in Libya - that is, to quell the protests and secure their investments.

While the Libyan and Western capitalists have grown rich, the roughly half of Libyans who fall outside the oil economy have been impoverished. Unemployment is 30%, with youth unemployment estimated at between 40% and 50%, the highest in North Africa. Twenty per cent of Libyans remain illiterate, there are few work opportunities and decent housing is unavailable to many.

This situation, alongside the stifling political repression and the corruption in the ruling regime, have precipitated the current people’s rebellion.

The Libyan people were no doubt inspired by the massive mobilisations of people’s power that toppled dictators Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. The Socialist Alliance, too, takes great heart from all the people’s struggles for justice across the Arab world. These are not simply uprisings against Western-backed dictators, but the active expression of millions of people’s desire for an end to the policies of neo-liberalism that create poverty, unemployment and lack of opportunity for ordinary people. We pledge to continue to take action in solidarity with the people’s ongoing struggles in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, Syria, Jordan and Djibouti.

The Socialist Alliance expresses its 100% solidarity with the Libyan people’s demands for democracy and social justice, and calls for:

  • An immediate end to the massacre, and for Gaddafi and his henchmen to step down.
  • The immediate release of all political prisoners in Libya.
  • No Western intervention in Libya.
  • An end to Western powers’ arms trade with Libya.
  • An end to all Western military occupation and interference in the Middle East and Africa.
  • Appendix 4

    Libya: How Gaddafi became a Western-backed dictator

    By Peter Boyle

    Updated February 25, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/Green Left Weekly -- On February 22, Muammar Gaddafi was boasting on state TV that the Libyan people were with him and that he was the Libyan revolution, even while his dwindling army of special guards and hired mercenaries attempted to drown a popular revolution in blood.

    Civilians were strafed and bombed from helicopters and planes. Snipers with high-powered rifles fired into unarmed crowds. Two pilots flew their fighter jets to Malta rather than bomb their own people and another two are reported to have crashed their jets rather than attack civilians. Sections of the armed forces, several diplomats and a couple of ministers have abandoned the regime and, at the time of the writing, the east of Libya was in the hands of popular revolutionary committees.

    And as more sections of his armed forces stared to go over to the people, Gaddafi ordered troops who refused to shoot their own people to be executed.

    Gruesome footage of the carnage was revealed to the world despite the Gaddafi regime’s desperate attempts to seal the country by blocking the internet and locking out journalists.

    First Gaddafi’s son Saif al Islam (a darling of greedy US and European corporations in recent years) and then Gaddafi himself tried to deny these massacres while simultaneously threatening the Libyan people with ruthless retribution against those who dared to rise up against the regime.

    While the regime’s genocide against the Libyan people unfolded, it took days before the US and other Western governments were prepared to condemn the regime for this monstrosity. Even as late as February 23, US President Barak Obama had not condemned Gaddafi by name.

    From ‘rogue state’ to neoliberal client

    Yet in the 1980s and most of the 1990s the Gaddafi regime was attacked by the same Western governments as a “terrorist rogue state” because of its political and material support to numerous national liberation movements around the world. The administration of US President Ronald Reagan imposed economic sanctions on Libya and carried out bombing raids to try and assassinate Gaddafi.

    In 1988, I visited Libya as a journalist for the left-wing newspaper Direct Action and visited Gaddafi’s bombed out home. I wrote several articles describing and defending the 1969 Libyan revolution.

    However, in the late 1990s secret negotiations for a rapprochement with the US and other Western governments began. First, UN sanctions were lifted in 1999 and by 2006 the US lifted its own sanctions and normalised relations.

    European leaders flocked to Libya with greedy businesspeople hanging on to their coat tails and before long several European oil companies were back in business, with banks, airlines and hotel chains following. Former British Labour PM Tony Blair and scandal-plagued, right-wing Italian President Silvio Berlusconi played leading roles in the process.

    Gaddafi’s son Saif was the the neoliberal frontman for Libya. He offered greater access to capital, tax concessions and privatisation. According to an April 2010 report from the Libyan government, over the previous 10 years the the regime privatised 110 state-owned companies. The same report promised to privatise 100% of the Libyan economy over time. The prospect of the privatisation of the oil refineries and other downstream sectors of the oil industry promises lucrative profits.

    US interests

    Worried that they were missing out to European competition, a group of powerful US companies (including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Dow Chemical, ExxonMobil, Fluor, Halliburton, Hess Corporation, Marathon Oil, Midrex Technologies, Motorola, Northrop Grumman, Occidental Petroleum, Raytheon, Shell and United Gulf Construction Company) set up a US-Libya Business Association to catch up.

    Among the Gaddafi regime’s new lobbyists in Washington was arch neocon Richard Perle, a former Reagan-era US Defense Department official and George W. Bush-era chair of the US Defense Policy Board.

    According to US political reporter Lauren Rozen, Perle traveled to Libya as a paid adviser to the Monitor Group, a prestigious Boston-based consulting firm with close ties to leading professors at the Harvard Business School:

    A 2007 Monitor memo named among the prominent figures it had recruited to travel to Libya and meet with Gaddafi "as part of the Project to Enhance the Profile of Libya and Muammar Gaddafi" Perle, historian Francis Fukuyama, Princeton Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis, famous Nixon interviewer David Frost, and MIT media lab founder Nicholas Negroponte, the brother of former deputy secretary of state and director of national intelligence John Negroponte.

    Several major US oil companies, including ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil and Hess Corp, now have significant stakes in Libya's oil industry, according to a fact sheet prepared by Reuters on February 23. However, 80-85% of Libya’s oil exports go to Europe and companies such as British Petroleum, Italy’s Eni, Spain’s Repsol and Royal Dutch Shell have some of the biggest stakes.

    Italian interests

    In the February 23 issue of the British Guardian, Tom Bawden and John Hooper described the role of Berlusconi in Europe’s courting of the Gaddafi regime:

    Gaddafi and Berlusconi have a famously warm personal relationship. Less well-known, however, is the fact that Berlusconi is in business with one of the Libyan state’s investment vehicles.

    In June 2009, a Dutch-registered firm controlled by the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company, took a 10% stake in Quinta Communications, a Paris-based film production and distribution company. Quinta Communications was founded back in 1990 by Berlusconi in partnership with Tarak Ben Ammar, the nephew of the late Tunisian leader, Habib Bourguiba.

    The Italian prime minister has a 22% interest in the company through a Luxembourg-registered subsidiary of Fininvest, the firm at the heart of his sprawling business empire. Last September, the Libyans put a director on the board of Quinta Communications to sit alongside Berlusconiís representatives.

    Libyan investors already hold significant interests in several strategic Italian enterprises. They reportedly own around one per cent of Italy’s biggest oil company, Eni; the LIA has an acknowledged 2% interest in the aerospace and defence group, Finmeccanica; Lafico is thought to retain more than 2% of Fiat and almost 15% of a quoted telecommunications company, Retelit.

    The Libyans also own 22% of the capital of a textile firm, Olcese. Perhaps their best-known investment is a 7.5% stake in the Serie A side Juventus. But undoubtedly the most controversial is another 7.5 per cent interest in Italyís largest bank, Unicredit.

    The European Union’s latest annual report on arms exports revealed Libya’s biggest military suppliers in Europe, reported Deutsche Presse-Agentur:

    Italy granted export licences totalling 112 million euros, with a single 108-million-euro licence for military aircraft making up most of the amount, [was the largest supplier]…

    Malta emerged as the second-largest exporter, having authorized the sale of an 80-million-euro consignment of small arms…

    Germany was third in the list, with 53 million euros of licences, mostly for electronic jamming equipment used to disrupt mobile phone, internet and GPS communication…

    France was next with 30.5 million euros, followed by Britain with 25.5 million euros, and Belgium with 22 million euros.

    British interests

    According to the Guardian’s Bawden and Hooper:

    About 150 British companies have established a presence in Libya since the US and Europe lifted economic sanctions in 2004, after the country renounced terrorism, ceased its nuclear weapons programme and handed over two suspects in the Lockerbie bombing case.

    The most high profile have been the oil companies, keen to tap Libya’s vast reserves of fossil fuels. In a deal brokered in 2007 by Tony Blair, BP signed a £560m exploration agreement allowing it to search for oil and gas, offshore and onshore, in a joint venture with the Libya Investment Corporation. Shell is also exploring for oil in Libya as western companies seek to capitalise on a country with the largest oil reserves in Africa and substantial supplies of gas.

    High street retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Next, Monsoon and Accessorize have also set up in the country to serve the growing middle-class population, as oil revenues have 'trickled down' into the broader Libyan population.

    Companies such as AMEC, an engineering firm, and Biwater, a waste treatment company, have supplied services to Libya, which is using its oil revenues to reshape the country through an infrastructure spending spree that will cost about £310bn over the next decade.

    British exports to Libya have soared to about £930m in recent years, while the business momentum in post-sanctions Libya is so great that the economy managed to grow by about 5% last year, while much of the rest of the world struggled.

    Gaddafi’s son Saif, speaking in his private suite in Mayfair’s five-star Connaught Hotel, told the British Daily Mirror in June 2010:

    Tony Blair has an excellent relationship with my father.

    For us, he is a personal family friend. I first met him around four years ago at Number 10. Since then I’ve met him several times in Libya where he stays with my father. He has come to Libya many, many times.

    Libya considered Blair to be a trusted adviser to the Libyan Investment Authority, a role that Blair now denies.

    But Blair’s done his dirty job well. As a February 19, 2011 ,report in the British Independent revealed:

    Since the warming of relations between Libya and Britain, officers travelled frequently to Tripoli between 2008 and 2009 to train police, and Britain has authorised the export of tear gas, crowd-control ammunition, small-arms ammunition and door-breaching projectile launchers.

    Three years ago, ministers agreed to send Libya vehicles armed with water cannons. There are also unconfirmed reports that riot vans made by British companies have been present during crackdowns in the Libyan city of Benghazi, where scores have been killed.

    One of the murderous special battalions headed by another Gaddafi son, Khamis, is a British-trained unit, according to a February 21 Associated Press report.

    People lose out

    While Libya’s oil exports have enabled it to build up foreign reserves of US$150 billion, almost half of its youth are unemployed, according to African Online News, an independent African news agency:

    Libya is the richest North African country… But that does not reflect the real economy of the average Libyan, with around half the population falling outside the oil-driven economy. The unemployment rate is at a surprising 30%, with youth unemployment estimated at between 40% and 50%t. This is the highest in North Africa.

    Also other development indicators reveal that little of the petrodollars have been invested in the welfare of Libya’s 6.5 million inhabitants. Education levels are lower than in neighbouring Tunisia, which has little oil, and a surprising 20% of Libyans remain illiterate.

    Decent housing is unavailable to most of the disadvantaged half of the population. A generally high price level in Libya puts even more strains on these households.

    But the key of popular discontent is the lack of work opportunities, which strongly contrasts the Libyan image of a rich nation constantly propagated by the regime and its Soviet-style media.

    The few options for ordinary Libyans include the police or armed forces, construction works and petty trade. But even here, contacts and corruption are needed to have a chance.

    The oil sector employs only 4900 Libyans with a further 1000 training overseas, according to an October 2010 report by Libyan National Oil Company (NOC).

    A revolution betrayed?

    In the 1980s, the Gaddafi regime came under attack from the Reagan administration because it took a strong anti-imperialist line and gave financial and material aid to many national liberation movements at the time. There were also some weird right-wing sects seeking and sometimes obtaining Libyan largesse. The Gaddafi regime meddled disastrously and sometimes bloodily in factional disputes within the Palestinian liberation movement.

    The Gaddafi regime also claims to have provided its citizens with free education and health, though quality and access was not even. Tellingly, Libyans, who could afford it, have preferred to go to neighbouring Tunisia (which is not an oil-rich state) or to Europe for serious medical treatment.

    It provided its workers with some welfare but did not allow trade unions and it certainly it did not treat its significant number of “guest” workers equally or fairly. There were closed labour camps for some of these workers from other countries and trade unions were not allowed. A bizarre personality cult around Gaddafi was obvious and while there was a pretence at popular democracy of sorts through a system of “people’s congresses” these only had a nominal existence.

    Left commentator Tariq Ali dismissed the Gaddafi-led 1969 revolution as “all for show, like his ghosted science-fiction short stories”. But there was a political revolution in 1969 that did result in the nationalisation of the Libyan oil industry and some broader redistribution of oil wealth, which contrasted sharply with that in countries like Saudi Arabia. This was a nationalist revolution, similar to that led by Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt in 1952, which also called itself “socialist”.

    The US and other imperialist governments at the time saw the 1969 revolution as an attack on their presumed right to exploit Libya’s oil resources. David Mack, a former US diplomat and State Department official, explained how the US reacted in the January 2011 Foreign Service Journal:

    By 1969, the US and British air bases in Libya were of declining strategic importance, but Tripoli had become a producer of energy vital to the economies of our West European allies and profitable for American companies. While the US still enjoyed a cozy relationship with an aging monarch and his sclerotic political system, Libyan popular attitudes were not isolated from the rest of the Arab world. The war of June 1967 had left Arabs everywhere with a feeling of humiliation and a conviction that Washington had aided Israel’s victory, achieved in large part by its devastating surprise attack on the Egyptian Air Force. This set the stage for the Libyan Revolution of September 1, 1969.

    Eventually, U.S. policy adapted to these new realities. Henry Kissinger, who was President Richard Nixon’s national security adviser, claims in his memoirs that he favored a covert action program to overthrow the new Libyan leaders and keep the airbase, but yielded to the State Department view of the primacy of the oil interests and declining value of our military base. Much later, during the Reagan administration, the U.S. supported and provided some military training to Libyan émigré opponents of the Gaddafi regime. They proved unreliable.

    According to Henry Kissinger’s memoirs, the government of US President Richard Nixon had prepared a covert program to assassinate Gaddafi and other Libyans who had led the1969 revolution against a corrupt monarchy, but this was abandoned because big oil companies like Exxon and Mobil prefered to cut a deal with the regime, albeit on tougher terms.

    The Gaddafi regime has come a long way since then. It was increasingly betrayed promises and gains of  1969, earning an IMF tick of approval for progress in neoliberal reform:

    An ambitious program to privatise banks and develop the nascent financial sector is underway. Banks have been partially privatized, interest rates decontrolled, and competition encouraged. Ongoing efforts to restructure and modernize the Central Bank of Libya are underway with assistance from the Fund…

    Structural reforms in other areas have progressed. The passing in early 2010 of a number of far- reaching laws bodes well for fostering private sector development and attracting foreign direct investment… A comprehensive civil service reform is needed to facilitate more effective [read lower and stricter] wage and employment policies that would address the needs of a young and growing labor force.

    Recent developments in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia have had limited economic impact on Libya so far. To counter the impact of higher global food prices, the government abolished, on January 16, taxes and custom duties on locally-produced and imported food products. Later in January, the government also announced the creation of a large multi-billion dollar fund for investment and local development that will focus on providing housing for the growing population.

    The IMF will have to eat that prediction. The stifling political repression (which has been fiercest in the eastern part of the country, which is also the poorest), the corruption, nepotism and flamboyant lifestyles enjoyed overseas by Gaddafi’s children have proved too much. And the stirring example of the youth of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Algeria, Yemen, Syria, Jordan and Djibouti added the spark.

    What has led to this new Libyan revolution is the degeneration of the regime born of the 1969 revolution into a crony capitalism. The popular character of the new revolution is undeniable, it is far from clear what sort of regime will emerge out of it. The same greedy and powerful Western interests that first attacked and then propped up the Gaddafi regime are preparing for a change of tack, including considering direct military intervention.

    As the 19th century British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston famously observed:

    We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual ... 

    Hopefully the makers of the new Libyan revolution will heed the lessons of its own history.

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