VIEW: The method to Libyan madness —Dr Saulat Nagi - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

We are well aware of the historical reality that the “arm of criticism cannot replace the criticism of arms” (Marx). Whatever the outcome of this war might be, these hegemonic powers will prevail. Whether people in return receive a sham democracy is yet to be seen

Libya is convulsed with civil
war and hegemonic designs. Once again, history — which is akin to reality, exists but only as the activity of men in pursuit of their ends — is apparently in the process of being repeated as a tragedy. The clichés of the Cold War era have come to haunt humanity yet again, only with a new vigour. All those who believed in the benign nature of Mr Obama are watching his hegemonic desire for world dominance with dismay and in disgust. He has turned out to be more of hype than hope. Was he not the same person who unequivocally stated in 2007 that a US “president does not have any power under the constitution to unilaterally authorise a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual and an imminent attack on the (American) nation”? Is he not the same person who has ordered an attack on Libya without seeking any authorisation from the Congress? Ah, shifting and oscillating in two contradictory positions is the hallmark of capitalism.

The question keeps reverberating: what made the patience of these jilted lovers of Libya so thin that it has been chosen for their onslaught? What makes Libya so contemptible to deserve such a scourge? Human considerations or conflicting economic interests, one cannot help but wonder. If the primary objective was to save humankind from an imminent catastrophe, then why the people of Yemen, Sudan and Ivory Coast were denied this privilege? On the day the first foreign military strikes were made in Libya, President Saleh was playing havoc in Yemen while King Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa was ruthlessly crushing a secular democratic movement in Bahrain. Furthermore, the Saudi ruling elite — ever eager to stifle any rational thought or public protest — were delivering the marching orders to their forces to assist the king of Bahrain in his heinous attempt to give a sectarian (Shia-Sunni) dimension to the prevalent class war in Bahrain.

The uprising in the Middle East has left many a ruling soul bewildered and terrified. Having realised their strength, the people have taken off the raiment of self-abnegation. They are ready to hold the reins of destiny in their own hands. Contrary to the consensus prevailing about the Arabs, the people in this ordeal have not only proved themselves politically conscious, but averse to anti-American and/or Jewish paranoia. They have refused to live under the tyranny of the ruling despots. The realisation that in human history disobedience is the biggest virtue proves that philosophy is not the monopoly of a few select ‘intellectuals’. The environment (which is nothing apart from the means of production) reacts back on every person and imposes on him a continual process of self-criticism. That is why one of the most important demands made by the modern intelligentsia in the political field has been that of freedom of thought and expression of thought. However, it is not the thought but what people think that unites or differentiates humankind from other species. Despots and tyrants being the representatives of their class are merely an expression of the intensity of class struggle in a particular epoch. The only thought-provoking question is why people have chosen to liberate themselves at this very moment of history. Why the decades of political developments have started to happen in weeks, as once described by Lenin? There is nothing peculiar about this. Historical riddles need an objective analysis. Contrary to the blinkered view, emancipation is an ongoing process and thus one needs to be aware of all the ground realities before expressing a certain opinion while looking for a definite answer.

Gaddafi, a charismatic colonel of the Libyan army, came into the limelight after overthrowing a monarchy riddled with corruption. In the era of the Cold War, he emerged as a leader with new ideas. He was modern within the bulwark of orthodoxy. Whatever the era may be, socialist ideas always carry a strange fascination, especially for those who harbour a desire for change and are not dizzy with power yet. Like all other nationalist leaders, he too was attracted to the economic aspect of socialism wedded with religion. His Green Book however denied the basic tenet of socialism by rejecting the class struggle.

Despite having huge oil resources (3.5 percent of the world’s oil reserves, identified so far), the relations of production in Libya remained very primitive. Although ‘primary accumulation’ was carried out through the capitalist mode of production but tribal relations persisted. The process of primary accumulation in pioneering capitalist countries was extremely exploitative; even in the USSR coercive means were employed to squeeze the surplus from the peasantry. In Libya, due to the availability of oil, this phenomenon was not as crude and coercive, though the base of tribal relations was pastoral, thus leaving very little surplus behind. Due to a very small population and through almost unchanged relations of production, Gaddafi survived for an exceptionally long time. However, all pre-capitalist economies have to pay a heavy price when entering into the capitalist mode of production. Here technology plays the decisive role. The US and Europe, given their material base, are further ahead than any other nation. Gaddafi’s capitulation to the US and European powers can be understood in this scenario. He wanted to mechanise Libya’s oil production and the energy-starved western economies, in particular Europe, had the technology to facilitate this process. To this end, Gaddafi accepted the western hegemony and gave up the idea of becoming a nuclear state. This was neither a war of ideas nor an ideal snowballing in his mind. This was a conflict between the means of production that had rotted and the productive forces. According to Marx, “At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms — the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turns into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.”

Among Libya’s major trading partners, Italy makes up 40 percent of its export market and 18 percent of its import market, Germany makes up 20 percent and 12 percent and Britain 6.5 percent and three percent respectively. It appears that Germany’s wants are being met and that too probably on its own terms. Hence, it was reluctant to initiate this war. France, the former colonial power, is still out of the equation and so is the US — with waning economic might. The latter, despite having a monopoly over the oil produce of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, is demanding its share of the spoils in Libya. Both France and Britain are ready to share with the Americans provided their hegemony over Libyan oil is recognised. That is probably why the two are willing to support the uprising of the ‘unknown’ rebels — to use their own expression. We are well aware of the historical reality that the “arm of criticism cannot replace the criticism of arms” (Marx). Whatever the outcome of this war might be, these hegemonic powers will prevail. Whether people in return receive a sham democracy is yet to be seen. Even if so, “To democratise the villages without altering the property relations is simply absurd.” This saying of Barrington Moore cannot be easily dismissed.

The writer is based in Australia and has authored books on socialism. He can be reached at

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