Friday, 21 October 2011

Where Now For Libya?

Gaddafi is gone. Good Riddance. His demise was fitting for what had gone before. Although, he was captured and executed by Libyans, it was only made possible because his convoy was bombed using the high-tech weapons of Imperialism. So much for Imperialism only being engaged in a “No Fly Zone”. The Imperialist War against Libya was launched on the basis of preventing a massacre of civilians in Benghazi.
On that basis pro-imperialist organisations such as the AWL justified Imperialism's War. The AWL misquoted Trotsky's statement, about not standing by while blood soaked tyrants carried out atrocities, to justify their support for the blood soaked tyrants of Imperialism, and the latest massacres they were about to unleash. The War ended with that same Imperialism carrying out a two month bombing campaign against the people of Sirte, which, together with the bombardment of those civilians, by the forces of the new Libyan State, created what the Red Cross and others described as a humanitarian catastrophe. But, just as Trotsky's actual quote was a critique of those like Miliukov, who cherry picked which massacres to speak out against, the AWL said absolutely nothing about the massacre of the people of Sirte being carried out by Imperialism, and the new Libyan State.

For all the hand wringing about whether Gaddafi should have been summarily executed or not, this is not a pressing issue for socialists. He was no friend of ours, and like some bourgeois commentators said, he could have acted as a pole of attraction for his forces to have continued to fight. The bourgeoisie, and their apologists should remember that rational conclusion the next time they wish to criticise the Bolsheviks for executing that other tyrant, the Tsar of Russia, for exactly the same reason!
However, just because we can be glad he is gone does not mean that what replaces him will necessarily be better! In 1979, we could be glad that the Shah of Iran had gone, but arguably, the rule of Khomeini that replaced him was worse. The strength of Marxism is that it does not see these kinds of historical events as being some kind of accident, or of being simply the fruition of some ideal in the minds of Men.
Marxism allows us to understand that these historical processes are the working out of the material interests of competing social groups, which are themselves formed ultimately by the material conditions existing within the particular society. Socialism was just as much a desirable goal in the 17th. and 18th. Centuries, as it was in the 19th. and 20th. Centuries and is now, but Marxism provides the tools to understand why Socialism was not possible in those previous times, however much it might have been desired by the real people living then, and why, in fact, those that sought to achieve it, were merely Idealists and Utopians, who frequently ended up as reactionaries, because they failed to recognise the historically progressive role that Capitalism was playing in creating the conditions that would make Socialism possible.

What the future holds for Libya lies in the hands of real human beings, in what they do, but what those real human beings do is not unrelated to what they perceive to be their own immediate and longer term interest. What they perceive to be their interests, in turn depends upon the material conditions existing in Libya, and how this determines what class they belong to, and what class they see the potential for quickly entering.
It depends upon whether they belong to a tribe that is likely to be favoured in the new arrangements, or has been one of the tribes that was favoured by Gaddafi, and is likely, therefore, to see its benefits, at the least, removed, and at worse, is discriminated against, as other tribes benefit. It will depend also upon other factors that are immediately ideological, yet act with the power of a material force, but which themselves have roots in the material conditions. The power of the clergy has always been bound up with the low level of modernisation of a society, and the continued vestiges of Landlordism.
It is not an accident that fundamentalist religion in the United States is strong in the country areas, but weak in the big cities. It is no accident that fundamentalist religion is strongest in those parts of the Middle East, where essentially pre-Capitalist relations exist, and where the economy remains largely rent based, even if it is rent received from the extraction of oil. Even in those societies where a measure of industrialisation exists, such as Iran, the power of the clergy is based in the countryside, with its main opposition coming from within the Cities, and urban areas.

It was the fact that this clergy had its own ideology, its own social base, and its own disciplined organisation that enabled it to fill the power vacuum in Iran after the downfall of the Shah.
Given that it has been the Islamist fighters that have been the most organised group in Libya, that have most of the arms, and whose leader is now the military chief in Tripoli, and given that they have a clear ideology around which to mobilise, compared to the vague and disparate ideas of the middle class forces that make up the front of the TNC, it is likely that the same process will unfold in Libya. That is particularly likely given the support for the revolt that has been provided from outside, by other feudal, Islamist Gulf states. On the other hand, there are other material forces at work. The European Imperialist forces that pushed for this war against Libya, particularly France, did so for their own economic, political and strategic interests.
Gaddafi, at least, for forty-two years kept the Oil in Libyan hands. It now looks likely that it will be privatised and transferred to the ownership of European Capitalists. They did not build up links with those elements of the Gaddafi regime, that now sit on the Transitional National Council, for nothing. They have not spent blood and treasure fighting this war for nothing either. Plans were long ago drawn up for putting boots on the ground under cover of providing assistance for reconstruction, and the building of democracy. That would undoubtedly be the basis for a new war, presented as merely a policing action, to disarm those elements that refused to lay down their arms and submit to the power of a new state authority.
On the other hand, the imperialists may well decide to live with a new Islamist regime in Libya, depending upon its nature, in the same way that they live quite happily with the Islamist regimes in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and so on. For so long, as they see these economies merely as sources of cheap oil, there is no need to push for the kind of modernisation, and establishment of bourgeois democracy that is required for a modern industrialised state. Libya, more than most of the Gulf states falls into that category.

As a Marxist, it is of course, very tempting to argue that what is desirable for Libya is Socialism. But, it is precisely Marxism, which enables us to see why that is not an option. At the very least, Socialism would only be possible in Libya today on the back of an Arab socialist revolution spreading across the whole region, but not only does that seem unlikely under current conditions, but it is not clear that given the reality of the current global capitalist economy, that the productive forces within those states are themselves sufficiently developed to make such a revolution possible, let alone sustainable. In reality, such a revolution could probably only succeed if it quickly obtained the support of a revolution throughout much of Europe, which again seems unlikely. It is then tempting to argue that if Socialism is not possible, then at least the establishment of some form of bourgeois democracy would be desirable. But, again, the strength of Marxism is to force us to examine the material reality and to determine not what is desirable, but what is achievable, what is likely, what offers the best conditions for the working class to advance, and thereby to make Socialism possible at some point in the future.

What this analysis, based upon consideration of the material conditions, existing within society, enables us to do, is to locate cause and effect, and to understand, on that basis, that when we see the same phenomena repeat itself, it is not due to accident or whim. If we look across the Middle East and North Africa, and see the absence of bourgeois democracy, we are able to understand why this is without resort to subjective – and often racist – explanations of why that is, such as that Arabs are not capable of it, due to their nature.
Of course, Arabs are as capable of establishing bourgeois democracy as anyone else, provided that the appropriate material conditions exist for them to do so! The reason they have not done so, is precisely because of the absence of those material conditions. It is no accident that, in those countries where the economy has been almost solely based upon pre-capitalist economic relations, that pre-capitalist forms of political regime exist. It is no accident that in a number of Arab states, where a measure of industrialisation and modernisation has been attempted, these societies have thrown up Bonapartist regimes such as those of the Shah, or of Nasser, or Saddam, or Gaddafi.

In nature, where we see something that repeats itself, it is invariably because the process of evolution has discovered that this feature is beneficial, that it is the most efficient means of achieving a given task. So, we see that once the eye developed, it was repeated across species. The reason is that the eye is extremely beneficial. It offers significant advantages to any creature that has it. That does not mean that all eyes are exactly the same, but they are all eyes. Not all Bonapartist regimes are the same, but they are all Bonapartist regimes, and they have arisen, because history has found that they are a most effective means, under certain conditions, for achieving its aims.

Trotsky analysed Bonapartism in considerable detail. He distinguished between two different types of Bonapartism. Firstly, there is that type which arises in the context of a process of development.
It arises, because the society needs to modernise, to industrialise in order to compete in a global environment. But, whilst it needs to do this, the domestic bourgeoisie is too weak to assume political leadership – itself a consequence of the lack of development – in its own right. We can see such regimes in the case of Napoleon, of Bismark, and of Louis Phillippe and Louis Bonaparte. In these instances, the State itself rises up above society, and carries through the historical task of modernisation and industrialisation.
In so doing, it necessarily creates the conditions for the development of a more powerful bourgeoisie, middle class and proletariat, which in turn establishes the conditions under which bourgeois democracy can exist. Trotsky saw the limitations of this because of the need for the bourgeoisie to rely on the support of the workers, who would press their own interests. He argued in Permanent Revolution that the workers would be forced to continue the revolution beyond the bourgeois revolution to the socialist revolution. However, what history shows is that to the extent that this occurs under conditions, where Big Capital can make concessions to the workers, through the establishment of Social Democracy, it can buy them off via higher wages, and better conditions, and through the establishment of a Welfare State. Moreover, to the extent that the Landlord Class themselves become Capitalists, their interests and those of the industrial Capitalists converge.

Trotsky argued that this kind of Bonapartism could be seen elsewhere, and under similar conditions, carrying out a similar modernising role. That is how he viewed the Cardenas regime in Mexico, for example. Because, these regimes acted to develop the productive forces, and thereby created the conditions for human progress towards Socialism, he viewed these regimes as progressive.
That did not imply any kind of subjective, moral judgement about these regimes, which could be extremely brutal. He made the same kind of analysis in relation to Stalinism. Once again, the ruling class, in this case the workers, was too weak to assume political leadership, again a consequence of the lack of development. In order to bring about that development, it was forced to cede that role to its State. In so far as it acted to develop the productive forces, and thereby to create the material conditions under which the workers could develop, and thereby take power in their own name, it was historically progressive. Again this implied no moral judgement about the nature of the regime itself, which he amply denigrated in his writings for its crudeness and brutality.

But, the second type of Bonapartism identified by Trotsky was where development had occurred, and the bourgeoisie had become strong, but where it had become relatively weak due to the rise of the workers as a revolutionary class. Here the State rises above the contending classes not due to an absolute weakness of the bourgeoisie, not in order to bring about development of the productive forces, but merely as a necessity for keeping down the revolutionary class, and its political ambitions. Such a Bonapartism is reactionary. Fascism, Trotsky says is a specific form of such Bonapartism.

If we look at the Bonapartist regimes that exist or have existed across the Middle East and North Africa, they are primarily of the first kind. They have arisen, from revolutions waged against existing feudal monarchies, such as those which exist in the Gulf States. Their goal has been to overthrow those existing feudal relations, and to bring about some form of modernisation and industrialisation. To that extent they have been progressive, however, much we might feel distaste for the methods they have adopted. We are Marxists not Moralists. The methods used by British Capitalism in the 19th Century were hardly without criticism for their brutality, yet Marx emphasised their historically progressive nature. Given the role of those feudal Gulf States in supporting the rebels, given the role of the Islamists within the revolt, given the base of the revolt in Benghazi, which has been traditionally the source of support for the old Monarchy, and the fact that the old Monarchist flag has been adopted by the rebellion, and given the fact that Libya remains largely a rent based, pre-capitalist economy, the chances that what might transpire is a counter-revolution, cannot be dismissed.

The most likely outcomes for Libya are either a return to some kind of Feudal Monarchist regime, or else the establishment of some form of Islamic State. Neither offer the Libyan workers much, if any, improvement over the horror they have faced under Gaddafi. The least likely outcome is some kind of stable bourgeois democratic regime, however, much we or the Libyan people might wish that to be the case. As Marx put it, “Man creates his own history, but under conditions not of his own choosing.” Or as Engels describes their theory in this regard, in his letter to Bloch,

“...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.”

And in Libya there are no shortage of such conflicting wills. Libya is wracked by what political sociologists call cross-cutting cleavages. That is, as well as the horizontal stratification of the society on the basis of class, and status divisions, it is also vertically divided by divisions along tribal, ethnic, and historic lines.
Given the lack of any established civil society, the normal means by which these divisions are managed is missing. In a society where these divisions are hardened by tradition and history, reinforced by economic advantages that are tied to them, and where they are backed up with a large number of guns it would be surprising if it were not to lead to conflict. In fact, it is precisely these kinds of conditions that tends to create the conditions for a Bonapartist regime to rise up in order to establish order. The solution to these kinds of division has traditionally arisen when the bourgeoisie has become strong enough to establish its rule securely, and has been able to smooth over the vertical divisions, by establishing a range of organs of civil society to control and manage them, and when the development of the economy has been sufficient to buy off the working-class with various reforms. But the conditions for that do not exist in Libya. There is neither a sizeable nor powerful bourgeoisie, and consequently no sizeable working-class either.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Oil accounts for 95% of Libyan Exports, 25% of GDP, and 80% of Government revenue. 60% of the population are employed in Services, many of these being employed by the State, or else are petit-bourgeois traders. A large number of workers employed in the Oil industry, and other industries, are in fact foreign nationals. This is a very narrow base upon which to try to build bourgeois democracy. Not only have these kinds of rent based economies traditionally led to a political superstructure that supports some form of feudal regime, or else some form of Bonapartist regime, but the fact that Libya has such potentially large oil revenues, and such a small population, means that these revenues provide huge power for the central State, which controls these revenues, and controls foreign investment in the oil and associated industries. Who controls the State controls the country. There will be a huge incentive for particular groups to try to monopolise that power for itself. No one has sought to deny that huge divisions exist between the many different groups within Libya, nor that the only thing that held them together was a hatred of Gaddafi. Now that glue has been liquidated, and the eruption of those divisions is almost inevitable.

The main function now for Marxists is to try to provide what assistance they can for Libyan workers for what they now face. It is essential that the Libyan workers maintain strict separation and independence from the other forces in Libya, and begin to develop their own organisations in opposition to them.

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