LIBYA: How Far Has Imperialist Barbarism Gone in Gaddafi’s Old Empire?

There are some who believe that mistakes were made in the past, in the Arab Spring in general and against Gaddafi’s Libya in particular. We are talking here, of course, about those who populate the political world of the capitalist class and its business and economic undergrowth. Faced with the barbarity of the Islamic State and the horrors of the civil war in Libya, they forget their own responsibility for them, whether through aggressive pursuit of their economic objectives or their even worse atrocities. The typical thinking of Western imperialism is that it can commit the most heinous crimes that military technology allows these days, without batting an eyelid. Yet it is scandalised by the ferocity of their opponents, without mentioning the causes of this behaviour in either case.

In 2011, Gaddafi’s Libya, like Somalia, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or pro-Russian Afghanistan before it, suffered the devastation of military intervention followed by social dismemberment, involving tens of thousands of civilian deaths.

Gaddafi, the dictator, the man who built his small empire on oil revenues, who boldly dared to challenge imperialism in order to maintain internal cohesion and become a major player on the international stage, was wiped off the face of the earth by the greed of French imperialism, supported militarily by the British and with the political endorsement of the US. In this game the "paladins" of democracy were not fighting a holy war against a ferocious dictator. There was not even a mention of "democratic" support for the Arab Spring in Libya. What impelled the Sarkozy government to move against Libya was the attempt to extort new and more favourable oil contracts from a post-Gaddafi Libyan government to prevent him selling the "black gold" to the Chinese or once again to the Italian giant, Eni.

The intervention certainly put Gaddafi out of the game, but it also started a process of destruction and civil war that is still going on, with home-grown barbarism adding to what French imperialism did. Ironically, an operation that was supposed to promote France’s oil role in Libya is turning into its opposite. Oil production is five times lower and the struggle between the various factions leads to reciprocal boycotts. This means lots of attacks on oil wells, and, not least, the political insecurity and unreliability of the "Libyan system" is throwing the country into the vortex of a thousand economic and political interests that involves many factions as well as local imperialisms and those from outside the area. None of them want to give up a share of the spoils, or more "modestly" to play a role in monitoring and political controlling the area concerned.

As usually happens in cases of social reconstruction around a single, but rich, economic resource such as energy, the fall of the Gaddafi regime has unleashed the most extreme violence and barbarism that only the pursuit of capitalist interests in an international economic crisis can produce. No matter the cost to civilians, hundreds of thousands of workers, their families and their children. No matter the gang war, the destruction of the enemy, the hypocritical and contradictory agreements. No wonder the shifting alliances between internal factions in the face of international imperialist interests. Meanwhile, the one million refugees knocking at the doors of the Mediterranean are also just relegated to a side issue. The only important thing is to get your hands on the old Colonel’s oil wells, to manage their revenues, to allocate the black gold and gas to the highest bidders and/or the strongest protectors, reinventing the old pattern of Gaddafi’s time. The only difference is that the tragic situation is now being imposed on the new controllers of Libyan "business".

In this absolute chaos and ferocious social barbarism, you can make out some guidelines from the old oil interests that operate in the new Libya. First of all, two governments have come into being. The first is in Tobruk, ruled by an aspiring "constitutional" dictator by the name of Abdulla al Thani. This government in Cyrenaica is for the moment the only internationally credible one. It has a regular army, a parliament, a constitution and extends its power from the area of ​​Tobruk and Bayda, where there are oil terminals to Eastern Libya. At his side is an old opponent of Gaddafi, Halifa Haftar, who with his troops, composed mainly of soldiers belonging to the old army, are leading the military campaign "Operation Dignity" against all other more or less Islamist forces operating in the area. In addition there is the presence of the Zintan Brigades which played a decisive role in the fall of Tripoli at the time of Gaddafi, and a number of political groups and tribes from the south, whose programme demands the separation of Cyrenaica from the rest of the country to gain greater control of the wells and the trade routes to the north, without that is, having to account to anyone for their share of oil revenue.

The second, based in Tripoli, is that of the Islamists. The revolutionaries, as they love to call the new lords of the old capital or the sponsors of the new Fagr (Dawn), have revived the old Parliament as the institutional framework for a process of "national salvation". With a charismatic leader, a Benghazi professor, Umar al Hasi, they take their lead from avowedly Islamist groups, linked to international jihadism like Ansar al Sharia, which is credited with the killing of the American ambassador in Tripoli in 2012, and the Misrata Brigades. Here too, the jihadist Dawn and its allies want to make Tripoli their political and military garrison in order to defend the wells and pipe-lines that comes from the south west to Libya’s shores, without interference from the competition.

There is another possible contender in the Islamic State of al Baghdadi and his Caliphate. For the moment it is installed in the cities of Derna and Sirte in the Gulf of Sirte, where there are some oil terminals. This is an area of great economic and strategic interest because it lies between the two rival governments in Tripoli in the West and Tobruk in the East.

A fourth component is represented by the 140 tribes scattered throughout the country, but especially south of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan. Their role is as supporting actors but, nevertheless, they can make their voices heard because they can block the pipe-line passing through their territories, because they control the key aqueduct that brings drinking water up to Tripoli from the oasis of Kufra, south of Cyrenaica. In other words, we do not have oil, but we want our share of the revenue, otherwise we will damage the pipes and the water system. Basically, post-Gaddafi Libya looks like a war of all against all. Despite the domestic and international economic crisis, despite the drastic decline in oil extraction and, therefore, exports, as well as the destruction of the rest of the Libyan economy, there is no lack of money and weapons simply because the scene of the clash has expanded to include the local imperialisms, who support this or that faction according to their immediate and future interests.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt are financing and arming the government in Tobruk. For Riyadh ­– ever the lynchpin of Opec and the major producer in the area, the country which has done both well and badly in terms oil prices and barrels produced over 55 years of collaboration and, at times, conflict with US imperialism – Libyan oil matters must be keenly followed, steered and shaped. Above all, whatever the future government turns out to be – whether ‘secular’, moderate Islamic, Sunni ­– it’s far better for it if it collaborates fraternally with the Wahabbis. Riyadh would never ever allow the birth of a Shia-inspired government with which it could not have economic and political relations. Above all, it would run the risk of seeing Libya move towards its sworn enemy, a Shia Iran pursuing its ‘new course’. For Egypt, which has played a prime role in the Arab League and generally in Middle Eastern events, from war against Israel to settling disputes between Arab countries themselves, a victory for the Jihadists on its borders would encourage internal enemies, such as the Salafists and, above all, the Muslim Brotherhood. It is even more opposed to the birth of an Islamic State in Libya. It’s no accident that al Sisi thought he would use his F16s to teach al Baghdadi’s troops in Libya a lesson. As for the Emirates, they maintain a lower profile but their oil and financial interests place them strongly in the Sunni camp alongside the Saudis and Egyptians.

On the rival front we have the jihadist government in Tripoli which, despite the official denials, is armed and financed by Turkey and Qatar.

Turkey aspires to become the most important oil hub in the Mediterranean by connecting Europe to the Middle East, and Siberian Russia with Eastern Europe. The oil facilities Turkey is building, and has already largely activated, mean that Ankara has an interest in the destiny of Libyan oil just as much as in the break-up of Syria, the redefining of Egypt’s role in the Mediterranean and Saudi Arabia’s part in the management of international oil affairs. Thus the choice of camp is unavoidable: Against Egypt and Saudi Arabia, against the government in Tobruk and for ‘hidden’ support of Tripoli and the jihadism of Alba and Ansar al Sharia.

For Qatar, the same argument holds as with the UAE, with the difference that the government in Doha has big ambitions and resents Riyadh’s oil supremacy as well as the resurgent political role of al Sisi’s Egypt. It is trying to find its space in Libyan affairs by supporting the same jihadist front that is backed by Turkey and, in soft but insistent voices, even by the followers of the former Egyptian President Morsi.

There also seems to be support for the Islamic State of Al Baghdadi. Officially, after the strategic designs of the black Caliph began to collide with the those who were financing it (USA, Saudi Arabia and Qatar who were giving weapons and financial support with a view to countering Bashar al Assad in Syria and against al Maliki in Iraq), relations appeared to be severed. In reality some channels have remained open ‘thanks’ to the interested benevolence of a number of Saudi princes who are rebelling against the ruling dynasty, as well as contributions from a few Emirs who do not support the new policy of the United Arab Emirates. Also, it shouldn’t be forgotten that, apart from Egypt and Jordan who by ‘necessity’ have to retaliate against the Islamic State, the other countries in the anti-ISIS Alliance undermine its strength since they have no interest in spending a lot on men and weaponry. This gives the Caliph more opportunity to continue his ideological/religious battle and to raise the black flag of the most obtuse medieval Islamism for a bit longer.

One step behind all this we find the watchful interest of France, a main cause of the present disaster. No longer under the management of a right-wing government such as Sarkozy’s but of ‘left-wing’ Hollande, yet France’s imperialist interests – in this case oil interests, associated with the Total-Fina colossus ­– have not changed according to ideological stripe, but remain as they were. For the moment the government in Paris is sizing up how to best renew the old contracts whilst ensuring that the European competition, particularly Italy’s Eni, does not enter directly into the game.

This is the overall frame of the current domestic and international situation affecting the Libyan crisis. Only one component is glaringly absent. Absent from the scene is the world of work, the proletariat, without whom there would be no extraction of oil, who have constructed thousands of kilometres of pieplines and who receive no more than a few crumbs from the oil revenues. Not only has everything except exploitation been taken away from this group, but they have even lost the sense of a social alternative to this barbaric and bestial capitalist world which produces only misery, exploitation, wars and horrendous crimes against humanity and the environment. As if it were completely natural to be exploited in times of peace and butchered in times of war, to live and die under the banner of profit, to be herded into ‘armed gangs’ of Emirs or behind the false flags of democracy. For the international proletariat it doesn’t matter what the latitude, be it Russia or Ukraine, whether Syria or under the black flag of the Caliphate, in Saudi Arabia or the USA, whether in Italy of Eni and Marchionne or in Hollande’s ‘socialist’ France, everywhere we need to re-think the possibility of an alternative to this perpetual social barbarism. The time has passed for inventing strategies about how to reduce armed violence, or combat increased exploitation, unemployment and growing impoverishment at the stroke of a humanitarian declaration. It is no longer possible to think in terms of correcting this infamous economic and social system by pretending to give it a human face. It's time to think of a revolutionary alternative that will put back to the heart of the matter the question of work, the absence of exploitation, the need for harmony between production and distribution and how to stop the destruction of the environment. It means transforming the relations of production for profit, which are synonymous with exploitation of workers within the economic system and imperialist aggression outside, into a system of production and distribution based on the satisfaction of social needs. If this process of re-acquiring the idea of a social alternative does not take concrete political shape, the barbarity of capitalism is going to continue perpetuating exploitation, misery and death, as recent events are demonstrating.


Friday, February 27, 2015