Civil War is often a consequence of popular revolt. The English Civil War, was initially a popular revolt. The Peasant War in Germany was a popular revolt that became deepened into a Civil War. The French Revolution was a popular revolt that also turned into a Civil War. The Russian Revolution was a popular revolt that ended in Civil War.
Coming on the back of Popular revolts in Tunisia, and Egypt, and the apparent spread of such revolts to Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, and also some protests in Jordan, Lebanon etc. it was not surprising that the revolt against Gaddafi in Libya, should be seen to be part of a growing movement of Arab revolt. However, as I pointed out in my blog, Has Gaddafi Gone?, lumping all of these events into the same boat was a mistake.
“Care needs to be taken in lumping all of these protests together, however. In Bahrain, for example, the struggle could be complicated by the fact that the ruling group are Sunni, and the majority of the protesters are Shia.
The last week has seen the correctness of that approach. Firstly, in relation to Libya. As I pointed out in my blog The Politics Of Pontius Pilate, when the AWL write,
“We should support the people of Libya - and especially any democratic or working-class forces in the anti-Qaddafi movement. We should distrust the US government, but not let kneejerk "no to the USA" reactions dominate our thought”,
they simply reflect the crude, subjectivist nature of their politics. For them Gaddafi is bad, and so anyone opposing him is good. In the same vein, others in the “anti-imperialist” Camp see “Imperialism” as “bad”, and so anyone opposing it is “good”, which has caused them some significant problems with Gaddafi, who for years was one of their standard bearers of anti-imperialism.
But, in Libya, as much as in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere, what was missing from any of these analyses was any consideration of CLASS, which should be the starting point for a Marxist. That is because those like the AWL are merely a mirror image of the “idiot anti-imperialists” they spend much of their time arguing against. Neither side of this coin, really concerns itself with developing a strategy for the working-class to develop its own forces – outside a debilitating and limited Economism – because neither actually believe that the working-class IS capable of fulfilling its historic mission. So they look to larger social forces – which inevitably means looking to alternative class forces – as the champion for their world vision, with the workers reduced to nothing more than walk on actors.
Compare the AWL's position, stated above, with their position in respect of Iraq, for instance. In Iraq, they did not argue for support for the people of Iraq, as they now call for support for the people of Libya. On the contrary, they opposed the formulation of such a response, precisely because a large proportion of the people of Iraq were hostile to the US/UK presence in the country.
Of course, the AWL were right to oppose those “anti-imperialists” who were so blinded by their “anti-imperialism”, that they forgot about being socialists, forgot about the need to build the working-class as an independent force separate from those other “anti-imperialist” forces in Iraq, who were just as much the enemies of Iraqi workers as were the US/UK Occupiers.
But, the question in relation to Libya is what does it mean to call for support for the “people of Libya”, even if it is limply qualified with the phrase, “especially any democratic or working-class forces in the anti-Qaddafi movement”. Does this mean that in Libya, for instance, that the AWL are prepared to support the same class forces, the same clerical-fascist forces that they opposed in Iraq, just so long as they are, in this case, part of the “anti-Qaddafi Movement”? After all their qualification is only “especially any democratic or working-class forces”. If so, they should explain why that is the case, in this instance.
And the reality is that we do not know who the “anti-Gaddafi forces” are. Some of them, are ex-members of the Gaddafi regime, for example. And, as I said recently elsewhere, on a Channel 4 News broadcast last week, asked who their commanding officer was, some rebel forces replied, “Allah.”
Part of the explanation for that is probably to be found in the continued role of tribal allegiances in Libya. In fact, we see something similar developing elsewhere, and a number of factors inter-relating with each other. As I'd pointed out above, one part of the situation in Bahrain, for example, that had to be taken into consideration, was the division between the Sunni rulers, and the Shia majority, who were discriminated against. The importance of that has been revealed in the last few days. The Shia majority have begun to become increasingly radicalised, no longer happy to settle for some kind of Constitutional Monarchy, but demanding an end to the Monarchy, and establishment of a Democratic Republic. Now, the Sunni rulers have called upon their brethren in Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf States, to come to their support. Saudi Arabia has sent 1,000 troops to bolster the Bahraini regime, with police and other forces coming from other Gulf States. The Shia in Bahrain, facing a clampdown and physical attacks from these forces, are now understandably declaring this an act of war. Given the tensions between the Gulf States, and the Shia regime in Iran, the consequences of this are obvious. In the meantime, although, the US and EU called on the Egyptian Generals to get rid of Mubarak, which they did, and although they told the Bahraini regime to take its troops off the streets, which they did, we are not seeing a repetition of those calls, we are not seeing overt pressure being put on these regimes to stop their attacks on their people, that we are seeing in relation to the attacks of Gaddafi's regime on its people, even taking into consideration the difference in ferocity – for now – of those attacks. As I said in my blog Egypt What Is To Be Done
“If Mubarak continues to hold on to power, and if no quick, effective move is made against him, then it is inevitable that one of two courses will develop. In one course, the movement will run out of steam, and be dissipated, to be met by an equally inevitable clamp down, arrest of protest leaders, and period of reaction to prevent the possibility of any repeat for a long time.
Those western governments who are now giving warm words to the protesters will wring their hands, proclaim their most profound indignation, and then continue to deal with Mubarak or his chosen successor.”
The situation in Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, and probably in Libya, is not the same as the situation in Egypt or Tunisia. The latter two states have over recent years developed economically, and that development is at root the material basis of the revolts that have been seen. Although, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have experienced considerable economic growth, based upon the rising price of oil, their economies remain largely rent based, relying on oil revenues, rather than having expanded into other manufacturing as has happened in Egypt.letter to Bloch,
“According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure — political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc., juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas — also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form.
We make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite assumptions and conditions. Among these the economic ones are ultimately decisive. But the political ones, etc., and indeed even the traditions which haunt human minds also play a part, although not the decisive one. The Prussian state also arose and developed from historical, ultimately economic, causes. But it could scarcely be maintained without pedantry that among the many small states of North Germany, Brandenburg was specifically determined by economic necessity to become the great power embodying the economic, linguistic and, after the Reformation, also the religious difference between North and South, and not by other elements as well (above all by its entanglement with Poland, owing to the possession of Prussia, and hence with international political relations — which were indeed also decisive in the formation of the Austrian dynastic power). Without making oneself ridiculous it would be a difficult thing to explain in terms of economics the existence of every small state in Germany, past and present, or the origin of the High German consonant permutations, which widened the geographic partition wall formed by the mountains from the Sudetic range to the Taunus to form a regular fissure across all Germany.
In the second place, however, history is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each in turn has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant — the historical event. This may again itself be viewed as the product of a power which works as a whole unconsciously and without volition. For what each individual wills is obstructed by everyone else, and what emerges is something that no one willed.”
Of course, as Engels points out, there is a relation between these things. The fact that Catholics were divided from Protestants in the North of Ireland, was not solely a question of a vertical cleavage along the lines of religion. The division also rested upon a material foundation of the unequal treatment of Catholics, economically and politically within the society, and these real material divisions also act to harden the ideological/religious differences too. Something similar can be seen in relation to the situation of Shia in Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. If we were to dig enough in Libya, we might find some similar division, which provides a material basis for the opposition to Gaddafi in the East of the country, and his relative support in Tripoli.
It is, as Engels makes clear above, a crude determinist version of Marxism, which seeks to reduce everything down to a matter of economics, or economic class divisions, and it is frequently these other divisions, which can have powerful ideological and motivational force, which often explain the eruption of Civil Wars, and also inter state wars, that do not represent what would normally be termed popular revolts in that they do not represent a clear class based uprising across all segments of the oppressed masses. It should be clear that in these instances, Marxists have no responsibility for choosing sides within such disputes outside the basic requirement to oppose oppression of minority groups. Our task is not to pick sides, but to present a solution to the oppression of the Minority on the basis of building working-class unity across those divisions.
The one thing that does apply across all of these societies from Libya to Egypt, to Saudi Arabia is the need for Marxists to focus their activity on building up the working-class within, and across these societies, and pushing forward its class interests as primary within any of the struggles taking place.Military Coup As Egyptian Workers Appear On The Stage, I argued,
“The celebrations in Tahir Square are understandable as the events of the day are seen in the positive light of Mubarak standing down, but in reality the Military that have now pushed him aside, possibly on the back of heavy prompting from the US, are the same Military top brass from which Mubarak himself came, and which supported Sadat before him, and which supported Nasser before him. In reality Egypt has merely swapped the political regime of a Bonapartist leader resting on a military-bureaucratic elite, for the open rule of that same military-bureaucratic elite.”
So long as the political regime remains in the grip of these military/bureaucratic elements, or in the hands of feudal rulers such as those in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, any gains made by the workers or the middle classes will be extremely fragile. More than ever, we need to build the strength of the working class on all fronts.