Libya and the united front

Jul 4, 2011

July 9, 2011 protest in front of the White House.

All political movements are built on certain points of unity, implicit or explicit, which bring together disparate organizations and individuals for a common cause. Although the imperialist bombing of Libya has entered its fourth month, the anti-war movement appears to be mainly passive and confused about its role. We hope that an explicit articulation of our points of unity can help bring clarity to the situation, and stimulate the level of mass activity that the moment requires.

Last week, the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism,) of which the Party for Socialism and Liberation is a leading part, sponsored a highly successful speaking tour with former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. Other speakers on the tour included Akbar Muhammad, international representative of the Nation of Islam, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition.

McKinney had just returned from a fact-finding delegation to Libya, and reported on the devastating impact of the U.S./NATO bombing. Delivering the other side of the corporate media’s story, she identified Libya’s enormous oil reserves as a key motivation of the foreign intervention. She further reported that the government of Muammar Gaddafi maintains strong support among significant sections of the population. Although the speaking tour was not an anti-war protest in the conventional sense, it was in many ways the first significant anti-war mobilization with respect to Libya, drawing around 1,500 people across the country.

The speakers came from a variety of ideological, philosophical, and political traditions. On important political and social questions, they would in fact be quite far apart, and even on the situation in Libya they did not necessarily share an identical view. But that does not mean that their unity was artificial or accidental. In fact, we believe the unity displayed in the ‘Eyewitness Libya’ speaking tour can serve as a foundation for the broader anti-war movement.

These points of unity are:

  • Opposition to U.S./NATO intervention, bombing and sanctions. The former colonizers and enslavers of Africa have no genuine “humanitarian” concerns; they seek profit and control. As in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are imposing a savage human cost in pursuit of these goals.
  • Respect for Libyan sovereignty. No imperialist power has the right to intervene in Libyan internal conflicts and attempt to assassinate its government leaders.
  • No participation in the war-makers’ demonization campaign. In every war hysteria and so-called “humanitarian intervention,” the preferred tactic of the war-makers is to portray the leader of the targeted nation as the devil, an embodiment of pure evil. Politicians and the corporate media repeat this singular message, which always includes outright fabrication and usually a large dose of racism, minute-by-minute, until it is accepted as truth. If our anti-war literature can momentarily recapture the public’s attention amid the war hysteria, our slogans and key message should counter the corporate media, not participate in their demonization campaign.

So as to be explicit: these points of unity do not require a particular position on Muammar Gaddafi. On the ‘Eyewitness Libya’ tour, some speakers expressed admiration for Gaddafi’s support of the African Union, or the development of the Libyan welfare state. We do not have to have an identical view of Gaddafi to whole-heartedly organize alongside one another.

The anti-war movement’s united front must include those Libyans resisting U.S./NATO aggression. On June 17, and then again on July 1, hundreds of thousands rallied in Tripoli against the bombing. Many waved Libya’s green flag, and carried pictures of Gaddafi. Others, we can assume, are critics of Gaddafi, but mobilized in defense of Libya’s sovereignty. They have united with Gaddafi supporters, and Gaddafi himself, for that common cause.

Abandoning the people rallying in Tripoli against imperialist intervention, some in the U.S. anti-war movement insist that opposition to Gaddafi, and solidarity with the Libyan rebels, must be the starting point for unity. In some cases this manifests into open support for the U.S./NATO intervention. In other cases it results in the hopelessly confused slogan of “Yes to the rebels, no to the intervention!”

The Transitional National Council—the only rebel leadership to have arisen—has been the loudest supporters of the NATO bombers. They have supplied the stories to justify intervention, have lobbied for more aggressive bombing, and served as constant apologists for NATO’s destruction. The western governments, the Libyan government, those rallying in Tripoli, and the rebels themselves all understand that the rebellion based in Benghazi is tactically and strategically linked to the intervention; we cannot afford to pretend otherwise. Advocating for the rebels now is advocating for NATO.

A slogan is more than a headline. It is a political intervention around which agitational (i.e. mass outreach) work and a united front, will be organized. The imperialists too have slogans around which they unite, and at present theirs is “Down with Gaddafi.” To effectively combat their agitation, ours must be of an entirely different nature. That a group of opportunist leftists attached to the “Down with Gaddafi” slogan has done nothing to organize against the war is perhaps the most telling indictment of the slogan.

It is much easier to advocate for the progressive thing when significant sections of the ruling class are openly divided—on gay marriage, collective bargaining rights, the Iraq war, cutbacks, etc. The left can stake out a distinct position from the bourgeois parties, but comfortably swim in the larger sea of “acceptable” opposition. When the ruling class unites to pump out the same message—in this case, that Gaddafi is the devil and must be removed—it requires more backbone to resist the combined pressure.

Writing during World War I, Russian revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin differentiated the socialist movement into three sections: the revolutionary left, the social-imperialists (socialist in name, but openly pro-imperialist), and the “centrists.” He focused most of his polemical writing against the “center” group, represented by German socialist Karl Kautsky, who advocated radical positions in theory, but refused to take actions that would risk isolation from the pro-imperialist left. Lenin argued that regardless of their radical pretenses, the “centrists” were “accomplices” of imperialism.

This relates directly to the present situation. Far too many “leftist” and “anti-war” groups have nothing visible on their websites about Libya. Far too few have passed out a single leaflet against the war. This is unfortunate because many young people joined such organizations in recent years precisely because of their hatred for imperialist wars.

But as the bombs rain down on Tripoli, some groups have issued statements that are as anti-Gaddafi as they are anti-intervention. Some have instead spent much of their time writing vitriolic and dishonest articles against those of us who have been out in front denouncing the intervention. For such “centrist” groups, their top priority is keeping their own politics acceptable to bourgeois public opinion. These “balanced” statements serve only for self-definition—a registering of one’s “position on Libya”—but are not designed to fight the imperialists’ agitation. Their extreme opportunism does nothing to rebuild the anti-war movement, but allows them to join with the capitalist media to say, “We too condemn the enemy.” These so-called socialists and the capitalist ruling class share a common enemy: the Libyan government. Both want regime change in Libya. Both want the rebels to win.

What we need now are straight-forward slogans against the bombing of Libya, and a message that exposes the corporate demonization of Gaddafi as nothing more than a war tactic.

We have put forward our points of unity for the anti-war movement to oppose the war on Libya. We will be rallying at the White House on July 9 with a clear message: “Stop the bombing of Libya!” The speakers may have different perspectives on a range of issues, but because we understand what has brought us together, this unity will not be broken. We call on all genuine anti-war forces to join us.

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