French navy technicians load a Mica missile, destined for Libya, under the wing of a Rafale
jet fighter on the deck of Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in the
[For more left views on Libya, click HERE.]
By Kevin Ovenden
March 28, 2011 -- Socialist Unity -- The Arab revolution has widened the left’s horizons. In the region
itself there is now a historic possibility of a new radical politics:
successful resistance to the hegemonic Western powers and to Israel
fused with the movement of the young and propertyless masses against the
corrupt and complicit elites.
The fall of Tunisia's Ben Ali and Egypt's Mubarak shattered decades of Western policy,
rocking them onto the back foot. They are now moving onto the front
foot, as the regional despots raid their political and military arsenals
to cling on.
Thus the developing Arab movements and the left face new political
challenges and strategic choices. That is the context of the legitimate
debate Gilbert Achcar has framed over the Western military intervention
Gilbert outlines a case for qualified political support for the soon
to be NATO-commanded air and naval operations in Libya (no one on the
international left is in a position to do anything materially/militarily
He writes as a well-known Marxist and opponent of the Afghan and Iraq
wars, a supporter of the Palestinian struggle and a genuine friend of
the most radical edge of the Arab revolutions.
Gilbert Achcar is no part of the liberal attack pack, who in natural
alliance with the neoconservatives brought us the disasters of
Afghanistan and Iraq. But he argues that over Libya the left should
support the action of powers who occupy those two countries, albeit with
many caveats and with vigilant suspicion.
It is a badly mistaken position over Libya. When its logic is
generalised -- as Gilbert does -- it plays dangerously into the hands of
the reactionary forces which he and the left hope the Arab revolutions
will eventually eradicate.
Western intervention across the region
Gilbert introduces two analogies to make the point that socialist
principles are not articles of religious faith and are no substitute for
providing concrete answers based on a “factual assessment” of concrete
The point is helpful: the analogies, not. As he acknowledges,
proceeding by analogy tends to generate confusing polemics over what is
common between unique events, each of which is itself the subject of
considerable controversy and of radically different factual
The Rwandan genocide, one of his examples, is arguably (at the very
least) more a horrific lesson in the consequences of actual Western
intervention, in its totality up to and including the eve of the
slaughter, than it is a counter-example for those Gilbert takes to task
for a “religious” opposition to all Western military action.
In any case, even the Western leaders who have driven the Libya
bombing have not suggested that the events they say they forestalled
were analogous to the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide -- though the
most rabid tabloids and the bomberatti have. It is self-defeating for
the left to insert those connotations ourselves. It is even more
damaging if we at the same time fail to foreground the most salient and
distinctive feature of which the uprising in Libya is an expression --
the wider Arab revolutionary upheaval.
That regional process, and what it means both for the Western powers
and for those who have risen up in Libya, barely features in Gilbert’s
analysis. Instead, he largely accepts the question as French President Nicolas Sarokzy,
British PM David Cameron and US President Barack Obama frame it: a particular, Libyan moral
dilemma confronting their publics and states, whose wider actions are
But their military action is not some singular response to a
potential humanitarian crisis. It is more even than the latest chapter
in a history of wars attended by specious humanitarian claims. That
said, history alone -- recent and ongoing in Iraq and Afghanistan --
should cause anyone who hopes for a progressive outcome to this bombing
or who invests it with moral worth to pause and reflect.
The bloody past and present also contribute to the rational
underpinning of a far from “religious” anti-war sentiment, which goes
beyond the left to embrace an unprecedentedly large section of public
opinion -- a testament to the international movement against the Iraq
The context, however, is not merely historical. The same actors who
are launching missile strikes over Libya are intervening at the same
time and with the same objectives across the rest of the same region.
(Unless we are unfeasibly to imagine that their motives, interests and
aims are fundamentally different in Libya and in the Gulf -- an
unsustainable moral-political atomism, certainly for a Marxist.)
The same European Union mandarin -- civilising-colonialist Robert
Cooper -- is briefing about bringing democracy to Libya and also writing
apologias for the Saudi-orchestrated murder of democrats in Bahrain.
The same President Obama who said that attacks on hospitals were a casus belli
against Tripoli is standing by his allies in Riyadh and Manama, who
spent many days… attacking hospitals under the noses of the US Fifth
The same treasury revenue going up in smoke as missiles explode in
Libya is subsidising Israel’s missiles blowing up people in Gaza -- not
two years ago, but today, now, with the threat of much more imminently.
The same Qatar that is belatedly providing air support for the
attacks in Libya is simultaneously sending troops to attack democrats in
the Persian Gulf.
For sure, there are great fractures and differences of emphasis as
the US with its European and Arab allies seeks to cohere a response to
the challenge posed by the Arab revolutions.
The US would like more palliative reforms from the kings of Arabia;
the Saudis want to give none. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has cleaved as long as
possible to the autocrat in Yemen; Frenh foriegn minister Alain Juppe, stung by the political
crisis wrought by his predecessors’ intense relationship with Ben Ali,
called earlier for Ali Abdullah Saleh to go.
But the overall aim is the same: to corral the revolutionary process
and ensure it is steered along a path which is stable and compatible
with the interests of the Western powers and whichever safe pairs of
hands they can identify in each state.
Oil and Western policy
Those interests do ultimately come down to the control of Middle
Eastern and North African hydrocarbons. Is the West’s policy about oil?
On one level it is always about oil. When Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and Sarkozy
embraced Muammar Gaddafi, the unspoken interest was oil. When they find
themselves intervening to overthrow him, the underlying interest remains
oil -- just as it was when the West supported Saddam Hussein in his
attack on revolutionary Iran and then, a decade later, drove him out of
Kuwait, embargoed Iraq for 12 years, finally invading a second time and
The same imperial, capitalist objectives in the region can be served by different politiques d’Etat; to
paraphrase Lord Palmerston, imperial chancellories have no eternal
friends and no eternal enemies, only eternal interests -- as Hosni
Mubarak discovered at the 11th hour.
So why the change in policy towards Gaddafi? There are those who
serially tell us that this time it’s different, this time the Western
governments are subordinating self-interest to humanitarianism. Gilbert
is not one of them. But his argument lends them credibility -- and if
adopted by the left would encourage them to go further.
Gaddafi managed neither to fall on his sword, like Mubarak, nor to
crush the opposition, like the Al Khalifa kleptocrats in Bahrain -- but
only after the intervention of the Washington’s oldest ally in the region, the
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
He did succeed through vicious repression and playing on sectional
divisions in Libyan society in displacing the dynamic of the youth-led
revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt (which has also been central in Sanaa,
Yemen, for six weeks) with an armed conflict more resembling a civil
In those circumstances he became a liability for the West. On the eve
of the bombing campaign Obama said that the instability in Libya
threatened “vital US allies in the region”.
Gaddafi himself had already proven that he had no intention of posing
such a threat. Those who think that he is some kind of anti-imperialist
now would do well to reflect that even as he denounced the Western
bombardment as “crusader aggression” he was proclaiming himself as the
only possible Libyan leader to maintain peace with Israel and to prevent
African migrants from entering Europe.
It is preposterous, as Gilbert says, to claim that Gaddafi has been
hostile to Western interests over the last decade and that that is why
the West want to topple him. But equally, it is evident over two last
weeks that the flaking-rule of this recently acquired, flakey ally no
longer served them well.
The wrangling in Western capitals over how to respond and bring a
return to stability more plausibly reflects the uncertainty that has
beset their attempts to rally a riposte to the Arab revolution than it
does some dawning recognition of a hitherto absent moral sensibility.
Unlike in Egypt, there was no army high command to switch allegiance to
smoothly and safely.
The same hesitancy marked the Arab despots. They want an end to the
revolutionary wave, but they have no loyalty to, still less liking for,
Gaddafi -- or necessarily for each other; the Qataris long campaigned for
the toppling of Mubarak. The West’s actions are a single axe to fell a
two-headed monster, they hope.
Gilbert says we should not “dismiss the weight of public opinion on
Western governments” in deciding their actions, justified as preventing a
slaughter in Benghazi.
Now, only the self-appointed and deluded leaders of “global civil
society” would claim that public opinion in Europe and North America is
what drove the decision to go to war. Britain and the US went to war on
Iraq despite public opinion.
There is little enthusiasm for this war -- that much is clear from the
conflicting opinion polls. So we are left with the observation that
public outrage at a predicted massacre was just one factor among many in
Sarkozy’s and Cameron’s drive to get the missiles launched and bombs
Morality and Western bombs
Let us put to one side that it was the dire warnings of the very
politicians who pushed for bombing -- Juppe and Britain's William Hague
preeminently -- which informed the public discussion about a possible
slaughter. Let us also return shortly to whether their warnings were
right and what might have been done.
In a limited sense public compassion was significant. It determined
the ideological register in which London, Paris and Washington have
chosen to re-legitimise their roles in the Arab region after the
battering they have taken from Iraq and the fall of their allies in
Tunisia and Egypt.
Gilbert touches on it when he identifies the West’s concern to ensure
a continued “ability to invoke humanitarian pretexts for further
imperialist wars like the ones in the Balkans or Iraq”. But that means
that giving any credence to their current humanitarian pretext simply
makes it easier for them to construct exactly the narrative for more
Emboldened Western powers make further wars more likely. Supporting their military actions contributes to that.
Unless we are to detach Libya from what the Western powers are doing
and will do in the region and elsewhere, that consequence surely weighs
on one side of the moral balance Gilbert enjoins us to strike: “what is
decisive is the comparison between the human cost of this intervention
and the cost that would have been incurred had it not happened.” The
dead in Bahrain and Yemen deserve to be counted too.
The first cost we will come to know as events unfold in North Africa,
the Middle East and beyond. The second, we can never know with
It has become largely accepted that Gaddafi was about to take
Benghazi and would have killed thousands. The success and scale of
Gaddafi’s repression do not for a second decide our opposition to it.
But they are crucial to Gilbert’s test for whether we should support
what the Western powers are doing.
So let’s assume that Juppe, Hague and others were right: Gaddafi was
about to win and kill thousands. ”Can anyone claiming to belong to the
left just ignore a popular movement’s plea for protection… when the type
of protection requested is not one through which control over their
country could be exerted?”, asks Gilbert.
Up to then, however, the rebels’ requests had been ignored, not by
the left, but by those to whom they were addressed. They asked the great
powers who now pose as their protectors for access to weapons days into
the uprising. They were refused.
At the time, Berlusconi’s foreign minister Franco Frattini voiced
most clearly the West’s suspicions about the Benghazi rebels: they were
an unknown quantity but some were definitely Islamist (he warned
ominously of the proclamation of an “Islamic Emirate” on the southern
Mediterranean) and a banner opposing Western interference was
So intelligence had to be gathered (special forces and spies were
dispatched), guarantees had to be sought (commitments to Libya’s
commercial treaties were swiftly obtained), the picture allowed to
clarify and nothing be done which would enable any agency independent
from the interests of the Western corporations and states which had got
along famously with Gaddafi over the previous 10 years.
The condition that intervention would not amount to exerting control
over the country was breached before the words in the UN resolution
ruling out an occupation were typed up. What else might Sarkozy and
Clinton in Paris three days before the UN vote have bargained over from a
position of strength with the former regime figures who they plucked as
representatives of the Benghazi opposition?
Gilbert does not address the baleful effects of the West’s embrace on
the opposition itself. Nor does he consider how intervention led by the
former North African colonial powers allows Gaddafi, of all people, to
wrap himself in the shroud of Omar Mukhtar, the hero of the devastating
Libyan war of independence against fascist Italy, thus giving him
another weapon to shore up support.
The opposition may well have started as an admixture of forces
comparable with the Tunisian and Egyptian movements. But the former
regime elements, appointing themselves as leaders, and reliably
pro-Western figures have unsurprisingly been promoted as the rebellion
becomes more dependent on Western military force.
If war is an extension of political conflict by other means, then
military conflict extends its own political logic. In a position of
military weakness the Benghazi council has called for greater and
greater Western military action.
Rebels complained early on that they were not in a position to call
in Western air strikes. They may want US, French and British planes to
be the opposition air arm, but they are under US/NATO command. It calls
the shots. It isn’t the rebels’ airforce; they are now more NATO’s
The Benghazi council has not yet called for ground troops -- which are
not ruled out by the UN resolution -- but if a stalemate sets in… what
then? Perhaps some more on-the-ground “specialists” to guide in the
missiles or some more “advisors” (special forces, i.e. highly trained
killers, are already there)?
Should the left ignore the call for further help, even if a “popular
movement” warns of massacres and, as the Pentagon has said, air action
alone is not certain to achieve victory on the ground? Shouldn’t we
support steps to make the missile strikes more accurate, to reduce
“collateral damage”? Wouldn’t it be immoral not to?
Should we seek to expose the insincerity of the West by demanding
more militarily action on behalf of the rebels if they don’t succeed
quikely? Should we greet any move towards de facto partition with
demands that the West “finishes the job” and removes the butcher
Surely it would be immoral, having prevented the fall of Benghazi, to
watch the fighting drag on and Gaddafi remain in control of most of the
country? It is the rebels’ requests, after all, which authenticate the
moral case for supporting the bombing, according to Gilbert. And they
want more bombing.
The war has already gone further than the restricted no-fly-zone
Gilbert says it would be immoral to oppose. The UN resolution went well
beyond that. The opening attacks were not against aircraft but on ground
forces and Gaddafi’s compound -- they had the coordinates from Ronald
Reagan’s assassination attempt in 1986. Given the results of every other
Western air war, is there any doubt that the cruise missiles and “smart
bombs” have caused civilian casualties? (At the time of writing Western
warplanes are fully engaged in bombing Ajdabiya so the rebels can take
Herein lies the essential unreality of Gilbert’s position. He wants
to scalpel out from the UN resolution and NATO bombing a humanitarian
kernel that we must support. We should oppose the rest. We should
monitor the course of an inherently chaotic war to ensure that military
action doesn’t go beyond the humanitarian aims we have imputed.
But means and ends were always wider. That’s why the vaunted
international consensus collapsed within 24 hours. There was no actual
demarcation between a supposed humanitarian mission and the wider
objectives of the belligerents -- especially of Sarkozy and Cameron, who
openly proclaimed a doctrine of regime change.
The political futility of Gilbert’s position is apparent when he
writes, “… we should definitely demand that bombings stop after
Gaddafi’s air means have been neutralised”. The Pentagon declared them
neutralised the day before his article appeared, but the bombing
Alternatives to NATO action
So what is left of the argument that we should have supported a
no-fly zone which was superseded before the Security Council vote? Only
that Benghazi was about to fall, there would be a massacre and there was
no alternative to supporting Western action which, whatever its wider
ambitions and methods, did prevent it. Let’s accept the claim of an
imminent massacre and look at whether there was any alternative.
Gilbert dismisses the idea of the rebels arming as impractical: there
were only “24 hours” for them to get the weapons and learn to use them.
But any impracticality is a result of the political priorities of the
For two weeks they refused weapons and imposed an embargo to stop any
shipment while they sought guarantees that the Benghazi rebels would
not use them against their vested interests in Libya, established under
Gaddafi over the last decade. They blackmailed the genuinely
revolutionary elements and suborned others of the Benghazi leadership as
Gaddafi’s armor moved in. The left everywhere should say so clearly,
not accept the fait accompli of coercion.
Gilbert argues that the left could oppose war against Serbia and Iraq
because we were able to point to diplomatic alternatives, but that over
Libya there were none. Now, I don’t know how realistic Vladimir Putin’s
diplomacy was in relation to Slobodan Milosevic or how credible was
Saddam Hussein’s offer to withdraw from Kuwait. But neither do I
remember those being necessary conditions for the movements against the
wars of 1991 and 1999.
Following Gilbert’s thesis nonetheless, there was a high-level
African Union delegation on its way to Tripoli to seek a diplomatic
settlement when the Western bombing started. Gilbert suggests that
Gaddafi is too irrational to be a party to a mediated solution. But we
were told that Milosevic and Saddam were also mad dogs, genocidal
dictators who would never accept a mediated solution. These are hardly
strong grounds for opposing the Balkan and Iraq wars yet giving the West
the benefit of the doubt over Libya.
Gilbert argues that any Arab-organised intervention would cause just
as many civilian casualties and lead to just as much imperialist
influence over Libya. He cites Saudi Arabia and Egypt as two possible
interveners. A few moments’ factual assessment shows that such an
intervention would likely open up very different possibilities.
It was almost certainly impossible for Saudi Arabia to lead an
intervention perceived as supporting the Arab revolution. It was leading
the suppression of the revolution in Bahrain at the same time. It is
the most brittle and ancient of anciens regimes, which has rejected all
calls for it to broaden its social base through serious reform. The
tensions would have exposed it utterly and opened a breach for the Saudi
opposition movement -- much more so than in tiny Qatar. That’s why the
House of Saud voted for the West to do it.
Egypt is different. Mubarak is gone. The army remains. But it
presides over a society in which an actual revolution is still being
fought out. It’s currently Washington’s biggest regional concern. An
intervention led by Egypt would not have simply been a cat’s paw of
London, Paris and Washington. Its reflex within Egypt would not have
been of the “bomb the new Hitler” variety that is dredged up on these
occasions in the imperialist countries. It would have been conditioned
by the new found activism of the Egyptian people.
Egyptian socialists have issued a statement opposing the West’s
military action in Libya and agitating for popular pressure to come to
the aid of the rebellion in their western neighbour. You only have to
picture Egyptian flags, of the kind that fluttered in Tahrir Square,
being waved in Benghazi rather than the Tricolor and Union Jack to
appreciate what the difference would be.
There were alternatives to supporting the West’s bombing. Of course,
they were not ones Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama would freely choose. They
had to be argued and fought for against the line of the Western
governments. In that sense they were not as immediate as the willing
decisions of those who control powerful states. But if the left were to
accept that the only realistic solutions are those that the US, EU and
NATO want to entertain, then we too succumb to blackmail and there seems
little point in building an independent left. We face strategic
Democracy and the Islamist scarecrow
The left wing of the Egyptian revolution -- the most important in the
region thus far -- has rejected that blackmail. They are not people who
can be dismissed as armchair critics sitting in comfort. And the mass
forces that were ranged against Mubarak remain independent of Western
Gilbert, however, privileges the Libyan rebels, who are now dependent
on Paris and London, acting on Washington’s dime -- Pentagon spending
was 50 per cent of the NATO total 10 years ago, now it is 75 per cent.
In a deeply worrying aside, he asserts that whatever regime the
Libyan rebels might form now would automatically be better than “the
fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood” playing a “crucial role” in
post-Mubarak Egypt. That makes a terrible concession not merely to the
Western powers’ military action, but to their politics and ideology as
they try to reshape the Arab region under rejuvenated hegemony.
They want the public East and West to believe that regimes dependent
on Western force of arms and constructed at conferences in Paris or
London -- like Nouri Al-Maliki’s in Iraq -- are a priori better than long
suppressed Islamic movements playing an independent, prominent role. The
Arabs, they maintain, are not ready for unguided democracy. Israel’s
Tzipi Livni is promulgating bespoke criteria for Arab parties to be
admitted to the democratic club; they include recognising Israel.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood does not fit the Islamophobic
demonology and in any case is an organic part of Egyptian society -- a
vital point for anyone who truly believes in national
self-determination. As the political space has opened up so have the
divisions in an organisation that was always more of a coalition than a
monolithic party. There is a widening crack between a politically
conservative old guard and a youth imbued with revolutionary
aspirations. In fact, several parties look set to emerge from the
Brotherhood’s ranks. They include those who emphasise radical democratic
and social change as opposed to the imposition of restrictive mores.
The most popular model among the mainstream of the Brotherhood and
among many other Islamists in the region is now the AKP government in
Turkey. It is far from a socialist administration. But it beggars belief
that on account of its Islamic roots it and those who emulate it must
be by definition worse than the forces who hope to come to power in
Libya under Western bombs and licence.
The Turkish government’s position over Libya is to call for Gaddafi
to go, to limit action strictly to humanitarian objectives, to criticise
military “excesses” and to oppose Western politicking. In those
respects, it’s a position not unlike Gilbert’s. But he cedes the pass to
those who are waving the Islamist scarecrow.
Events since the appearance of Gilbert’s article have made bald
assertions of the superior progressive credentials of the now
Western-dependent opposition in Benghazi untenable. Serious media
organisations such as the LA Times -- not conspiracist
supporters of Gaddafi -- have carried first-hand reports of grizzly
treatment of black migrant workers at the hands of Benghazi’s new
security section. They are also rounding up those they say are “Gaddafi
loyalists”. What fate lies in store?
We have been here before. We have seen other sectional movements
prove incapable of transcending the divisions fostered or exploited by
the regime they oppose, and thus failing to unite the bulk of society
behind them. We have seen how in a bitter military conflict some have
ended up playing on those divisions themselves. Some have even taken a
portion of the brutality they have faced and hurled it back in kind.
In Benghazi under Western oversight we are not seeing the kind of
sloughing off of the muck of ages that lit up Cairo’s Tahrir Square when
Muslims and Christians linked arms against divide and rule and pressed
the most radical revolutionary path.
For several reasons, among them Gaddafi’s repression, that process
was marginal to the Libyan uprising. The Western powers certainly do not
want to see it emerge now in Benghazi, or in Tripoli if Gaddafi falls.
They won’t want the voices in Misrata that are skeptical of the West’s
role to grow louder. And they are now in a stronger position to stop all
Gilbert, of course, points out US and European hypocrisies. The
apparent contradiction on which the hypocrisy rests is not incidental.
It is rooted in a consistent set of deep interests which are far from
contradictory: their hands on the spigot of the world’s energy economy
against competitors from without and the mass of the people within.
But with Libya as his point of departure Gilbert’s resolution of the
seeming inconsistencies of the West takes us in exactly the wrong
direction. If followed, it would lead to a strategic divergence on the
left and inadvertent relief to the hypocrites.
Gilbert spells out his approach by pondering the prospect of major
Israeli air strikes against Gaza and a hypothetical call for a Western
no-fly zone in response: “Pickets should be organised at the UN in New
York demanding it. We should all be prepared to do so, with now a
powerful argument” -- the argument that you did it over Libya so do it
In fact, while the deputy prime minister of Israel has mooted an
imminent repeat of Operation Cast Lead, more limited air strikes are
already happening, and more intensely than at any time in the last two
So this isn’t a question for the future. It is now. What is the response, and what ought it be?
In the region, the reaction among the left and progressives has been
overwhelmingly to point to continuing Western -- crucially US -- backing
for the state of Israel, the latest egregious example being yet another
US veto of a Security Council resolution opposing illegal settlement
It’s been to highlight Tel Aviv’s request for a further $20 billion
subvention from Washington. It has been to focus attention on the
transitional government in Egypt to demand it reflect popular sentiment,
break fully with the Mubarak/Sadat years, open the Rafah border, cut
off gas supplies to Israel and declare for the Palestinian struggle. (It
has already felt sufficient pressure to caution Israel against an
all-out Gaza war.)
Similar arguments are being raised by the radical left and the now considerable pro-Palestinian movement in Europe and the US.
Their direction of travel is not for further Western military
engagement in the Middle East following Libya -- intervention that may
come in Syria if events follow a similar pattern. It is for ending that
engagement -- direct and through Western support for the military
machines of Israel and Saudi Arabia.
It is not to demand European and US diplomats descend in greater
number to “help” bring peace and justice. It is to tell the likes of
latter day Prince Metternich, the US State Department’s Jeffrey Feldman, to
get back to Washington and take with him his schemes for manipulating
opposition forces which he perfected in the sectarian labyrinth of
It is not for the West to do more; it is for them to stop doing what they are doing.
This isn’t a semantic game. The movement that emerged in Tunis and
Cairo shows the potential for a new agency in the Arab region -- a
radical force that is independent of elites, big and small, Western and
Sidi Bouzid and Tahrir Square restored Arabs themselves as the agents
of progress in their region after the catastrophe of the neocon
experiment with Iraq and all that went before. The West wants to
reinsert itself, forcibly if necessary, as the principal actor, the
arbiter of progress for the natives.
It might be objected that it is an uphill struggle for popular Arab movements to force a retreat in Western policy, and to frustrate their and the regional rulers’ interests. That’s true.
But it is far more preferable, and infinitely more realistic, than lobbying for the imperial powers to become
something which they cannot be: a force for progress, if only they
could be persuaded to resolve their supposed mixed motives and
conflicted thinking in the right way.
This strategic choice is being fought out now in Yemen. The most
dynamic elements in the society -- the young people who gather outside
Sanaa’s university -- are choosing the Cairo of Tahrir Square over the
Benghazi of Western suzerainty. But there are other powerful, sectarian
or sectional political actors too. Some toy with Western or Saudi
backing to compensate for a failure to pull decisive force behind their
own bids to be the replacement for Saleh’s regime.
A similar political battle is starting in Syria, where the West does
have a vital interest in toppling the regime -- but not for one that
would be even more of a problem for it and Israel. It doesn’t want a
Tahrir Square in Damascus; it would like a Benghazi or Baghdad -- and it
will act accordingly.
The first phase of the Arab rising of 2011 carried echoes of the
European revolutions of 1848. They made flesh the truly progressive
modern force which Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels identified in the Communist Manifesto published that year as “the independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority”.
Such independence in the matured global capitalist system of today
depends upon many things. Above all it cannot happen without spurning
the embrace of the biggest capitalist powers and consistently opposing
their ideologies, their political machinations and their killing
[Kevin Ovenden is a member of the executive of the Respect Party
in Britain, an officer of the UK Stop the War Coalition and a leading
Palestine solidarity activist.]