Class Contradictions in the North African Revolution
Decades of crony capitalism, funded by the flow of petro-dollars to despots, sheiks, reactionary Bathists, and fake socialist regimes alike, have underdeveloped the Maghreb (North Africa) and the Near East. These regimes have held back the “democratic” aspirations of the people and closed book on the Pan-Arab nationalist revolution that appeared to threaten imperialism 30 years ago. Even while posing as anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist, regimes throughout the region have made their peace with both and have become imperialism’s willing pawns. All have done their part to suppress the masses, and in particular the Palestinian revolution, the working class, minorities (tribal and religious), and women. The role of these regimes, today threatened by their own people, has been to maintain the status quo, keeping oil flowing to imperialism’s oil cartels, and dollars and gold flowing back to a small elite concentrated around the inner circles of the dictators, their families, and their military and security organizations.
The aspirations of Pan-Arabism – national independence (from imperialism and Zionism), secular democracy, and social progress – were destined by the weakness of the national bourgeoisie to collapse. Since this occurred, social equilibrium has been enforced by a well-balanced distribution of the carrot and the stick. In Libya, oil wealth allowed a relatively larger portion of “carrots” to be allotted the masses. In Saudi Arabia, extra “carrots” were quickly distributed at the last moment when the monarchy realized that this equilibrium could not withstand the crisis of capitalism and the uprisings of 2011.
The unfulfilled expectations of the masses, the desire for “democratic” freedoms, and the consequences of high unemployment exploded this winter/spring in a revolutionary upsurge whose leading actors were the under-employed youth, students, and workers (both private and public sector), closely followed and joined by the petty bourgeoisie (small business people, shop owners, professionals and academics). Usurpers to the mantle of leadership, like ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the TNC in Libya, emerged not from the heterogeneous masses who first bared their chests to the bullets of reaction, but only after the initial uprisings, in hope that they would get the nod from imperialism and emerge at the top of the heap.
It is essential to understand that democracy and freedom have different meanings to different social classes. For the workers, basic democratic rights, such as the right to organize and control over one’s conditions of labor, are primary. For the small and large capitalists, bourgeois academics, and intellectuals, the right to exploit labor and participate in the market free from the dictates of crony capitalism, alongside the desire for political, cultural and intellectual freedom, turned them against the regimes. Although each country has its own unique dynamics, these uprisings, which spread across the region in a firestorm of historic consequence unlike anything since 1848, contain the contradictory aspirations of two opposing classes: one consigned forever to be pawns of imperialism, the other burdened with the historic task of defeating it.
These contradictions are subsumed in this re-emergence of the Arab-national revolution, but they can not be resolved by the emergence of “constitutional democracy”. The aspirations of the mass base that ignited the revolution cannot be successfully met if the revolution limits itself to the fight for “freedom and democracy,” as defined by western imperialism and embraced by the petty bourgeoisie, the academics, and wannabe imperialist lackeys like ElBaradei in Egypt and the TNC in Libya.
For imperialism to maintain its financial position, workers must not be permitted to control the conditions of their own labor or the economy, or even be apportioned their proper share of the economic benefit from the natural wealth of these nations. To achieve this end, a willing pawn is required, one who will feign left (advance “political freedom”), but strike to the right (crush the workers’ movements and administer exploitative deals with imperialism).
In Libya, despite the higher GDP and limited gains of women under the “Green Revolution,” the masses, led by unemployed youth and inspired by the events across North Africa, stood up against the repression of Qaddaffi’s brutal regime. The masses no longer believe the lie that Qaddaffi is fighting imperialism and building “Green-Socialism.” Decades of harshly enforced crony capitalism, and Qadaffi’s capitulation to imperialism in 2003, assured that once unleashed, the protests spread across Libya even to Tripoli, where the masses faced an unrelenting violent repression unlike any seen in Tunisia or Egypt. The fantasy of a peaceful “Jasmine” revolution came to an abrupt end. The masses armed to defend themselves from the cruel regime’s commitment to maintaining the status quo – i.e., its deals with imperialism and its hording of wealth at the expense of social programs and political freedom.
In the early days of the Libyan rebellion, two forms of organization emerged: on the one hand, councils of the heterogeneous mass of rebels, organizing in the streets and neighborhoods – embryonic workers’ councils like those we have seen in Tunisia and Egypt – and on the other, a bourgeois council which has now been transformed into the TNC – a rotten menagerie of defectors, monarchists, tribalists, intellectuals and capitalists. As a consequence of decades of repression, these councils are extremely disorganized, and tendencies within them have not fully consolidated. The rapid escalation of military events outpaced the ability of the working and lower classes to self-identify and differentiate from the TNC, particularly since the latter includes military deserters from the regime who appeared to promise sorely needed military leadership, arms, and forces.
The contradiction between the aspirations of the masses and the TNC are reflected most recently in the refusal of the TNC to arm militant youth who stake their lives driving out to the front. Imperialism sees the contradictory nature of the “rebel force” and is having a hard time differentiating who they can trust, hence the hesitancy in sending arms for fear that they fall into the hands of the working masses and unemployed youth.
Libya: A Test of Revolutionary Marxist Method
Recent events in North Africa have caught the Left playing catch-up. Libya in particular has most of the Left stumbling over itself. The contradictions outlined above are quite obvious in the unfolding of events in Egypt and Tunisia, where the workers, democratic militants, and women are already experiencing the reaction of the interim regimes as they try to keep Egypt and Tunisia “safe” for imperialism by preventing workers’ revolution. But in Libya, the left was caught off guard.
Imperialism is intervening in Libya to remove Qaddaffi, a dictator whose brutality has aroused an armed insurrection that threatens to overshoot the US-desired “orderly transition” to bourgeois democracy, and to become a workers revolution. Imperialism’s objective is to replace Qaddaffi with more a “democratic” bourgeois leadership, including ex-Qaddaffi cronies, that can and will keep a lid on the revolution. Both bourgeois factions are appealing to imperialism to be the chosen regime, using the young rebels and the mercenaries as bargaining chips and missile fodder. But Qaddaffi’s shelf life has long since expired, and the TNC has yet to prove its viability. This instability invites an imperialist-dictated partition of the country, a NATO-US “boots on the ground” invasion under the guise of peacekeeping, or both.
Presented with this spectacle – a semi-fascist dictator currently doing imperialism’s bidding, faced off against a second willing pawn waiting in the wings – the Left has floundered. The self-proclaimed Bolsheviks (in the Spartacist family) claim workers have no side. Other spin-offs from the Healyite legacy revive the fantasy that Qaddaffi is defending the gains of the 1969 revolution against Monachist restorationists and agents of imperialism. Both these tendencies reject the righteous indignation of the workers, the poor, and the oppressed, and attribute the uprising entirely to persistent and ever-present imperialist/CIA/MI6 instigation.
Apparently, unless these outfits are themselves in the leadership of a rebellion, they view the masses as the mere fodder of history, to be abandoned to their fate. No, comrades, Marxism does not teach an abstentionist internationalism. Marxism as a method for analysis and intervention guides revolutionaries to act in the historic interest of the working class – an impossible task for centrists, who cannot distinguish the revolutionary agents in this struggle from the stooges of imperialism. We in HWRS and the CWG stand in contrast to those on the left who are blind to the class distinction between the bourgeois leadership of the TNC and the working class youth core of the rebels. Instead, we condemn all attempts to co-opt the youth and exclude them from the military action against Qaddaffi’s forces; we advocate the rebellion’s political and military independence from the TNC leadership; and we urge internationalist workers everywhere to come to the aid of and arm the struggle of the youth and the workers. In other words, as Marxists, we stand for the independence of the working class in its armed insurrection, supporting its promise of defeating Qaddaffi; breaking from the TNC’s “alternative” regime, and then – as the revolution requires – joining with other Arab revolutions to defeat imperialism in the Maghreb.
Despite Qaddaffi’s attempts to paint himself as anti-imperialist, his actions long ago proved his interests lie with imperialism and not with the Libyan masses. His attempt to wipe out the popular revolt of the working people, the only class force that can defend what gains remain from 1969 and defeat imperialism, was initiated both on behalf of his imperialist patrons and his gang of crony capitalists. Unlike the “thirdworldist” left (Castro/Chavez), we do not bloc with Qaddaffi militarily against imperialism (though we do advocate that the working class base of Qaddaffi’s forces defect and join the anti-imperialist fighters).
We are for the defeat of imperialist intervention in every nation oppressed/invaded or bombed by imperialism. The main responsibility for this defeat is in the hands of the workers’ movements in the imperialist countries and their allies in NATO. Therefore, we are against the entire social imperialist left who find excuses for intervention, “humanitarian” or not, of an oppressor country, when they perceive it as necessary to defeat semi-fascism or dictatorship in an oppressed country.
Indeed, the social imperialists (like the German Greens who support the NATO bombing) and the “thirdworldists” are in reality two sides of the same coin. Neither puts any faith in the capacity of the semi-colonial masses, and especially the revolutionary youth, to fight for and win the national revolution as a social revolution. They have a pseudo-revolutionary version of the bourgeois civilizing mission. They believe that either the imperialist bourgeoisie, or the national bourgeoisie in the semi-colonies, can play a progressive role. In either case, their analysis ignores and dismisses the agency of the working masses as the only possible progressive subjective factor in history.
The liberal and progressive pacifists, a sorry strain of social imperialism, place their hopes on NATO/US “humanitarian” intervention. But imperialism cares not one whit for the humanitarian needs of civilians. This lesson – apparently lost on these idealists – has been proved over and again by history: Hiroshima, Vietnam, “Shock and Awe,” “Cast Lead,” Rwanda, and even today in the Congo today. But in the case of the present Libyan war, the perceived threat of massacre has given imperialism a chance to both “toot its humanitarian horn” and find a road to consolidation and victory for their pawn of choice (or last resort), the TNC. Both the pacifist interventionists and the sectarian abstentionists, with their grand pronouncements, ignore the independent role of the working class, and are thereby opening the road for the only other “realistic” solution: imperialist intervention.
The Tasks at Hand
To defeat imperialism, Libyan workers and their allies in Tunisia, Egypt, the Middle East, and Europe must give their IMMEDIATE attention to these urgent tasks facing every working class in the region:
1. Independent mass political organization is essential. A body such as an All-Libyan Conference of Workers’ Councils must be formed, with the explicit project of taking sole, unitary political power throughout the country.
2. Underground and exiled workers’ forces should be represented with delegates, so that the population in Qaddaffi-controlled territory will know that it is not the working class that is bargaining with imperialism over a division of Libya into two poverty-stricken semi-colonial, countries! OPPOSE PARTITION! FORWARD TO THE FEDERATED SOCIALIST REPUBLICS OF NORTH AFRICA AND THE NEAR EAST.
3. Workers must found and build a revolutionary Marxist party now, to delineate a programmatic response to the revolutionary crisis, to popularize the program among the masses, and to win the majority of the Workers’ Councils to support its demands and objectives.
4. No to “power sharing” and to “national” or “people’s” fronts. Each of these is a bayonet pointed at the working class! The TNC’s program is civil war in place of class war. This means a thousand kilometers of desert to cross, at a military disadvantage even with on-again/off-again imperialist air support. This is all the TNC has to offer imperialism, and all it can possibly offer in return for imperialism’s support.
5. Without independent political organization, the working class and youth can expect to be ground between two bourgeois millstones – the old goons of Qaddaffi, and the new goons of the TNC – in a war of exhaustion and elimination. Meanwhile, the young fighters’ relatives who are in Qaddaffi’s hands will pay with their lives. It is only an independent workers’ political program that will cause new revolts in Qaddaffi’s rear and advance the workers’ front line to the door of his tent!
6. Victory over imperialism, Qaddaffi ,and the TNC will require an independent military organization subordinate only to the Workers’ Councils. The TNC leadership will attempt to turn its troops on the youth and the workers tomorrow. Should the youth be so fortunate as to bring Qaddaffi’s head back to Bengazi on a plate, the TNC would soon enough fête the heroes with firing squads! Workers must assume that getting the TNC leaders to commit to class warfare is the true mission of the envoys Washington has sent, in place of arms or Libya’s impounded funds. Neither will be released to the workers and the youth! Not by Washington, and not by the French bourgeoisie, who may invade their country to save it from them! Right now, Washington has a shortage of available troops, and the E.U. NATO countries have even bigger money worries. We say to the Libyan workers: You must build your own workers’ army! Only in this way you can persuade them to give up their invasion plans and return to their secret agent plots.
7. All internationalist fighters must appeal immediately to the unions and sympathetic troops of Tunisia and Egypt to send arms of all calibers, and to form up brigades of trained worker-soldiers to come to the aid of the Libyan revolution! Libyan workers must pledge to return the solidarity when their comrades’ own national bourgeoisies try to loose the professional armies on them! Meanwhile, workers in the imperialist countries have an obligation to wage class struggle against every design the exploiters and their smiling “public servants” have upon your lives, labor and national treasure! This is more possible now than it has been at any time since 1946-47. European workers trained in conscript armies have the experience to form up armed internationalist workers brigades and join the revolution! Workers of Europe and the USA: the victory of the North African workers’ revolution depends to a large extent on our ability to arrest imperialism’s bloody death grip!
In an epoch when imperialism is facing an ever-deepening crisis, the interests of the capitalist imperialist class and its semi-colonial agents can only be realized by intensifying reaction and counter-revolution. Only a national revolution that fulfills the tasks of the permanent revolution can defeat the counter-revolution and open the way to socialism – in the Maghreb, in the Near East, and worldwide.
For the workers to live, imperialism must die! Victory to the Libyan and Arab masses!
Defeat US/NATO in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan! Reignite the Palestinian revolution!
Victory to the popular uprisings in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and Jordan!
Statement of Liaison Committee of Humanist Workers for Revolutionary Socialism (USA) and Communist Workers' Group (Aotearoa/NZ)