Libya and imperialism
Published Feb 23, 2011 4:32 PM
Of all the struggles going on in North Africa and the Middle East right now, the
most difficult to unravel is the one in Libya.
What is the character of the opposition to the Gadhafi regime, which reportedly
now controls the eastern city of Benghazi?
Is it just coincidence that the rebellion started in Benghazi, which is north
of Libya’s richest oil fields as well as close to most of its oil and gas
pipelines, refineries and its LNG port? Is there a plan to partition the
What is the risk of imperialist military intervention, which poses the gravest
danger for the people of the entire region?
Libya is not like Egypt. Its leader, Moammar al-Gadhafi, has not been an
imperialist puppet like Hosni Mubarak. For many years, Gadhafi was allied to
countries and movements fighting imperialism. On taking power in 1969 through a
military coup, he nationalized Libya’s oil and used much of that money to
develop the Libyan economy. Conditions of life improved dramatically for the
For that, the imperialists were determined to grind Libya down. The U.S.
actually launched air strikes on Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986 that killed 60
people, including Gadhafi’s infant daughter - which is rarely mentioned
by the corporate media. Devastating sanctions were imposed by both the U.S. and
the U.N. to wreck the Libyan economy.
After the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and leveled much of Baghdad with a bombing
campaign that the Pentagon exultantly called “shock and awe,”
Gadhafi tried to ward off further threatened aggression on Libya by making big
political and economic concessions to the imperialists. He opened the economy
to foreign banks and corporations; he agreed to IMF demands for
“structural adjustment,” privatizing many state-owned enterprises
and cutting state subsidies on necessities like food and fuel.
The Libyan people are suffering from the same high prices and unemployment that
underlie the rebellions elsewhere and that flow from the worldwide capitalist
There can be no doubt that the struggle sweeping the Arab world for political
freedom and economic justice has also struck a chord in Libya. There can be no
doubt that discontent with the Gadhafi regime is motivating a significant
section of the population.
However, it is important for progressives to know that many of the people being
promoted in the West as leaders of the opposition are long-time agents of
imperialism. The BBC on Feb. 22 showed footage of crowds in Benghazi pulling
down the green flag of the republic and replacing it with the flag of the
overthrown monarch King Idris - who had been a puppet of U.S. and British
The Western media are basing a great deal of their reporting on supposed facts
provided by the exile group National Front for the Salvation of Libya, which
was trained and financed by the U.S. CIA. Google the front’s name plus
CIA and you will find hundreds of references.
The Wall Street Journal in a Feb. 23 editorial wrote that “The U.S. and
Europe should help Libyans overthrow the Gadhafi regime.” There is no
talk in the board rooms or the corridors of Washington about intervening to
help the people of Kuwait or Saudi Arabia or Bahrain overthrow their
dictatorial rulers. Even with all the lip service being paid to the mass
struggles rocking the region right now, that would be unthinkable. As for Egypt
and Tunisia, the imperialists are pulling every string they can to get the
masses off the streets.
There was no talk of U.S. intervention to help the Palestinian people of Gaza
when thousands died from being blockaded, bombed and invaded by Israel. Just
the opposite. The U.S. intervened to prevent condemnation of the Zionist
Imperialism’s interest in Libya is not hard to find. Bloomberg.com wrote
on Feb. 22 that while Libya is Africa’s third-largest producer of oil, it
has the continent’s largest proven reserves - 44.3 billion barrels. It is
a country with a relatively small population but the potential to produce huge
profits for the giant oil companies. That’s how the super-rich look at
it, and that’s what underlies their professed concern for the
people’s democratic rights in Libya.
Getting concessions out of Gadhafi is not enough for the imperialist oil
barons. They want a government that they can own outright, lock, stock and
barrel. They have never forgiven Gadhafi for overthrowing the monarchy and
nationalizing the oil. Fidel Castro of Cuba in his column
“Reflections” takes note of imperialism’s hunger for oil and
warns that the U.S. is laying the basis for military intervention in Libya.
In the U.S., some forces are trying to mobilize a street-level campaign
promoting such U.S. intervention. We should oppose this outright and remind any
well-intentioned people of the millions killed and displaced by U.S.
intervention in Iraq.
Progressive people are in sympathy with what they see as a popular movement in
Libya. We can help such a movement most by supporting its just demands while
rejecting imperialist intervention, in whatever form it may take. It is the
people of Libya who must decide their future.
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