There has been a lot of loose talk about Libyan “rebels” and “revolutionaries”. Precisely, because such historical events are so important, not least to those whose lives are at stake within them, Marxists have always felt a duty to not simply bandy such terms about willy nilly, but to give some kind of precision to the events and forces they are describing.
Firstly, there are those leading former members of Gaddafi's regime that have set themselves up in opposition to Gaddafi. The fact that these elements only yesterday were the people butchering the Libyan people, does not fill me with confidence about their progressive nature or future intentions.
Secondly, there are the Eastern Tribal leaders. Libya has a history of tribal conflicts. It is, in fact, that area of Barbary referred to by Engels in the quote I previously gave from him in his 1848 article on “Progressive Imperialism”.
Thirdly, there are Islamist elements. No one should give any credence to the crap that Gaddafi has been coming out with about Al Qaeda. It would be surprising if Al Qaeda did not have some support, and probably involved in such events. Libya will be seen by them as some kind of secular devil regime. But, they clearly are not a dominating influence within the rebellion. But, many of those doing the fighting interviewed by news teams do seem to be Islamists of varying degrees, and a British Islamist was captured in Libya, having gone there specifically for the purpose of fermenting rebellion. But, it is a Muslim country, and so finding Islamists there is hardly surprising.
In the Panorama programme the other night, most of those who were featured in Benghazi were petit-bourgeois elements – doctors, professionals of various types. Once again that is not surprising. The initially leading elements in bourgeois democratic revolutions are always the petit-bourgeois, and elements of the radical bourgeoisie. However, it should be remembered that these are the very forces, who unless the conditions are extremely favourable to the workers are the ones who will quickly turn on the workers themselves.
Marx had learned this lesson back in 1848. It was why he and Engels were very cautious about tying the fate of the workers to these elements, arguing the need for the workers to concentrate on building up their own forces, completely separate from the bourgeoisie.
This was codified by Lenin and the Communist International in the Theses on The National And Colonial Questions. They set out the need for the workers not to get simply drawn along with these alien class forces, and to maintain strict separation from them. They could ally with some of these forces under certain conditions. The relevant parts of the Theses are:
“4) From these fundamental premises it follows that the Communist International’s entire policy on the national and the colonial questions should rest primarily on a closer union of the proletarians and the working masses of all nations and countries for a joint revolutionary struggle to overthrow the landowners and the bourgeoisie. This union alone will guarantee victory over capitalism, without which the abolition of national oppression and inequality is impossible...
fifth, the need for a determined struggle against attempts to give a communist colouring to bourgeois-democratic liberation trends in the backward countries; the Communist International should support bourgeois-democratic national movements in colonial and backward countries only on condition that, in these countries, the elements of future proletarian parties, which will be communist not only in name, are brought together and trained to understand their special tasks, i.e., those of the struggle against the bourgeois-democratic movements within their own nations. The Communist International must enter into a temporary alliance with bourgeois democracy in the colonial and backward countries, but should not merge with it, and should under all circumstances uphold the independence of the proletarian movement even if it is in its most embryonic form;
sixth, the need constantly to explain and expose among the broadest working masses of all countries, and particularly of the backward countries, the deception systematically practised by the imperialist powers, which, under the guise of politically independent states, set up states that are wholly dependent upon them economically, financially and militarily. Under present-day international conditions there is no salvation for dependent and weak nations except in a union of Soviet republics.”
Theses On The National And Colonial Questions
The importance of the second paragraph in relation to Libya, given what I have said above ought to be obvious. But, this too also has to be taken into consideration with what Lenin had previously said in relation to the Democratic Revolution. Following on from Marx and Engels concern that workers not be hustled into such a revolution before they were ready, before they were able to act to defend their interests against those very bourgeois and petit-bourgeois forces doing the hustling Lenin once more emphasised that the workers should not get involved in bids for power before they were ready. In other words, Lenin was separating himself from the Blanquists.
“Let us take the principal and basic difference between the idea presented by the Vperyod and that presented in the resolution. The Vperyod set the revolutionary proletariat of Russia an active aim: to win the battle for democracy and to use this victory for carrying the revolution into Europe.”
Two Tactics Of Social Democracy In The Democratic Revolution
We should focus our attention on building up the working-class in Libya, and on a programme to further its particular interests. The winning of bourgeois democratic freedoms are important for workers. The right to free speech, to organise, to belong to Trades Unions, to strike etc. are basic tools that the workers need to organise and to be able to develop their own forces, their own property, their own organisations, their own democracy. The right to vote i.e. Universal Suffrage is important, but not as important as the winning of these other freedoms, which enable the workers to develop their own superior alternative to bourgeois democracy, a bourgeois democracy that is in fact only a means by which the bourgeoisie more effectively exploit and dominate the workers.State and Revolution,
“Another reason why the omnipotence of “wealth” is more certain in a democratic republic is that it does not depend on defects in the political machinery or on the faulty political shell of capitalism. A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best shell (through the Palchinskys, Chernovs, Tseretelis and Co.), it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it.
We must also note that Engels is most explicit in calling universal suffrage as well an instrument of bourgeois rule. Universal suffrage, he says, obviously taking account of the long experience of German Social-Democracy, is
“the gauge of the maturity of the working class. It cannot and never will be anything more in the present-day state."
The petty-bourgeois democrats, such as our Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, and also their twin brothers, all the social-chauvinists and opportunists of Western Europe, expect just this “more” from universal suffrage. They themselves share, and instil into the minds of the people, the false notion that universal suffrage “in the present-day state" is really capable of revealing the will of the majority of the working people and of securing its realization.”
What is most certain is that the working-class in Libya or anywhere else cannot be built up by relying upon the forces of Imperialism, of the Big Capitalist States that for over a century have sought to exert their influence around the globe either directly or indirectly. We should not pretend to the workers in Egypt that the immediate cause of their oppression and exploitation resides in some ephemeral “Imperialism”, when in fact, it is clear that their immediate enemy is the Egyptian State, and Capital in Egypt – be it home grown Egyptian Capital such as Orascom, or foreign Capital such as Vodaphone. But, nor should we pretend to the workers in Libya that this Imperialism is their friend or saviour as against Gaddafi. It is the same Imperialism that has armed him with the weapons he is now using against him. It is the same Imperialism that will arm the next tyrant or bourgeois democratic regime that replaces him, and which will in turn be used against them unless they can overthrow it, and install a Workers State.
The only forces we can rely upon are those of the working class itself in Libya, through the Middle East and North Africa, and throughout the globe. If those forces are not sufficient, as yet, if they are not organised enough yet, if they are not conscious enough yet to provide the support needed for the workers in Libya to win, then that is unfortunate. Such proved the case with the British miners in 1984.