Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 31, 2011

A nightmare on the brains of the living

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 7:09 pm

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.

–Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire”

By now it has become clear that there are four different perspectives on the left about Libya:

1. Qaddafi as heroic anti-imperialist: Found at Counterpunch, MRZine, and Global Research, this perspective relies heavily on falsification such as the claim that NATO invaded because Qaddafi opposed AFRICOM. My emphasis has been to debunk these claims even though this led to me being accused of supporting NATO. One supposes the only way to avoid such false accusations is to follow the bullshit party line of the brain-dead “anti-imperialist” left. No thanks.

2. The rebels were good guys until NATO got involved: This is the analysis put forward by the ISO in the USA and the SWP in Britain. I was sympathetic to this analysis but came to reject it during the Berber offensive in Western Libya. As someone who despises the oppression of national minorities, I began to realize that there was more to the revolt than puppets whose strings were being pulled by NATO.

3. My own analysis: this should be obvious from the comment above.

4. Gilbert Achcar: Achcar defended NATO’s no-fly zone. As a long-time opponent of imperialist interventions, I could not abide by this although I found much of Achcar’s analysis on the money. Despite his being vilified by members of the Counterpunch tendency, I don’t regard him in the same light as the Paul Bermans and Kenan Makiyas of the world. I would tend to regard his position as falling into the category of a legitimate mistake made by revolutionary in much the same way I regarded some comrades’ support for the KLA.

UPDATE: I just got email from Achcar complaining that I misrepresented him. Instead of trying to characterize his views, I will simply quote his March 25 Znet article and let my readers draw their own conclusions:

Can anyone claiming to belong to the left just ignore a popular movement’s plea for protection, even by means of imperialist bandit-cops, when the type of protection requested is not one through which control over their country could be exerted? Certainly not, by my understanding of the left. No real progressive could just ignore the uprising’s request for protection — unless, as is too frequent among the Western left, they just ignore the circumstances and the imminent threat of mass slaughter, paying attention to the whole situation only once their own government got involved, thus setting off their (normally healthy, I should add) reflex of opposing the involvement. In every situation when anti-imperialists opposed Western-led military interventions using massacre prevention as their rationale, they pointed to alternatives showing that the Western governments’ choice of resorting to force only stemmed from imperialist designs.

In the absence of any other plausible solution, it was just morally and politically wrong for anyone on the left to oppose the no-fly zone; or in other words, to oppose the uprising’s request for a no-fly zone. And it remains morally and politically wrong to demand the lifting of the no-fly zone — unless Gaddafi is no longer able to use his air force. Short of that, lifting the no-fly zone would mean a victory for Gaddafi, who would then resume using his planes and crush the uprising even more ferociously than what he was prepared to do beforehand. On the other hand, we should definitely demand that bombings stop after Gaddafi’s air means have been neutralized. We should demand clarity on what air potential is left with Gaddafi, and, if any is still at his disposal, what it takes to neutralize it. And we should oppose NATO turning into a full participant of the ground war beyond the initial blows to Gaddafi’s armor needed to halt his troops’ offensive against rebel cities in the Western province — even were the insurgents to invite NATO’s participation or welcome it.

The question of rebel racism tends to reveal how the different perspectives line up against each other. For Counterpunch’s sorry gaggle of Qaddafi apologists, racism only became a problem in February 2011. When Qaddafi’s troops lost control in Benghazi, there was an outbreak of racist pogroms—an unheard of phenomenon in enlightened Libya. For them, it was like Union troops being withdrawn from Dixie at the end of Reconstruction.

The British SWP’s Richard Seymour wrote a piece for the Guardian’s “Comments are Free” calling attention to the rebel attacks on African workers that acknowledged the racism that existed in Libya historically:

How did it come to this? A spectacular revolution, speaking the language of democracy and showing tremendous courage in the face of brutal repression, has been disgraced. Racism did not begin with the rebellion – Gaddafi’s regime exploited 2 million migrant workers while discriminating against them – but it has suffused the rebels’ hatred of the violently authoritarian regime they have just replaced.

This is certainly a step upward from Counterpunch’s coverage of Libya, but then again nearly anything would be.

Despite his impressive Marxist credentials, Richard betrays a certain sense of fatalism in describing all the bad things going on Libya, from racist attacks on Africans to joining hands with NATO:

An explanation for this can be found in the weaknesses of the revolt itself. The upsurge beginning on 17 February hinged on an alliance between middle class human rights activists and the working classes in eastern cities such as Benghazi. Rather than wilting under repression, the rebellion spread to new towns and cities. Elements of the regime, seeing the writing on the wall, began to defect. Military leaders, politicians and sections of business and academia sided with the rebels.

But the trouble was that the movement was almost emerging from nowhere. Unlike in Egypt, where a decade of activism and labour insurgency had cultivated networks of activists and trade unionists capable of outfoxing the dictatorship, Libya was not permitted a minimal space for civil society opposition. As a result, there was no institutional structure able to express this movement, no independent trade union movement, and certainly little in the way of an organised left. Into this space stepped those who had the greatest resources – the former regime notables, businessmen and professionals, as well as exiles. It was they who formed the National Transitional Council (NTC).

When I read this, I can’t help but think of the Faust legend. In exchange for immortality, Faust sells his soul to the devil. At the end of Goethe’s play, the devil comes to collect on his debt and leads Faust down to the fiery pits of hell. For the rebels, another such punishment awaits them but it is not Hades—it is ending up like Iraq and Afghanistan. If they don’t like it, too bad. That’s what happens when you make a pact with the devil.

Some people have trouble with this deterministic scenario. When the ISO published an article following Richard’s analysis (either intentionally or unintentionally), an Arab leftist wrote in:

But that the rebellion benefited from NATO support in its insurgency still doesn’t mean that the rebellion has lost its way or is a stooge of imperialism. The overwhelming thrust of the rebellion has been paid for by a determined struggle of the Libyan people, who sacrificed perhaps as much as tens of thousands of lives for their freedom. The thought that they would allow the fruits of their rebellion to be so easily snapped up by an ex-regime, pro-West alliance, is unlikely, premature and excessively cynical.

Here lies the main fault of the article: The Arab Spring is about human agency and popular will, which cannot so easily be put back in the bottle–and certainly not by an opportunistic section of the opposition in cahoots with the Western governments and Big Oil.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THOSE WHO will determine the fate of Libya are the people themselves, and particularly the fighting forces on the ground, most of whom have correctly focused on fighting the regime, rather than flirting with Western diplomats. The balance of power between these different elements of the opposition remains to be disclosed, though it is premature to select the winner now.

While this should not be seen as an excuse for rebel racism, there really has to be much more attention paid to the background of such ugliness. To start with, the presence of sub-Saharan workers in Libya has to be understood in the same light as the bracero program in the USA that brought Mexicans in to pick fruits during WWII because of a labor shortage. Qaddafi did exactly the same thing. In 2000, well over 20 percent of the workforce consisted of immigrant labor—mostly from sub-Saharan Africa.

After judging that the supply now exceeded the demand, the Libyan authorities began to crack down on “illegals” just as has been occurring in the USA. They also collaborated closely with Berlusconi who complained of the same problem. From 2003 to 2005 Libya threw 145,000 undocumented workers out of the country, an accomplishment that President Obama would probably envy.

All throughout this period, the Libyan cops were following extrajudicial procedures just like those in Arizona. When human rights groups complained, the Libyan government defended itself by saying that immigrants enjoyed the same rights as its citizens. Wow, that must have come as some relief.

It should be mentioned that Qaddafi launched his bracero program using pan-African rhetoric.

Cheap labor was being imported because he believed in African unity. Anti-foreigner sentiment grew in Libya despite Qaddafi’s lip-service to fraternalism. It should be noted that all of Qaddafi’s fans who point to his racially enlightened views have probably not spent much time looking at his Green Book, the fount of all his wisdom. On page 30 you can read this:

Black people are now in a very backward social situation, but such backwardness works to bring about their numerical superiority because their low standard of living has shielded them from methods of birth control and family planning. Also, their old social traditions place no limit on marriages, leading to their accelerated growth. The population of other races has decreased because of birth control, restrictions on marriage, and constant occupation in work, unlike the Blacks, who tend to be less obsessive about work in a climate which is continuously hot.

Didn’t Jimmy the Greek get fired for saying things like this?

Given the precarious state of immigrant labor in Libya, it should be no surprise that pogroms were unleashed starting in 2000. That year, on September 17, the BBC reported:

The Libyan General People’s Congress has instituted new security measures across the country.

Correspondents say they are believed to be in response to clashes reported to have taken place between Libyans and African expatriates in the town of Zawiya, west of Tripoli.

The Sudanese independent daily newspaper Akhbar al-Yom reported 50 people were killed in clashes between Libyans and nationals of Sudan and Chad.

In a statement the Congress said it had ordered the authorities to stem the hiring of foreigners by the private sector.

Immigrants from neighbouring Arab and African countries have been lured to oil and gas-rich Libya in search of work.

Earlier Sudan asked Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to intervene to try to contain the situation.

The Sudanese Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail had made telephone calls to a number of Libyan officials.

Considering the social milieu that the rebels came out of, it is no surprise that they did not arise above it. In a parallel universe other Libyans might have eschewed armed resistance and spent months and months building civil society but one cannot be guaranteed that Qaddafi would have not crushed the movement. Unlike Egypt or Syria, the totalitarian grip of the great leader was far more like what was seen in Eastern Europe. He brooked no opposition in the country and efforts to discuss the country’s real problems—including racism—were nipped in the bud.

Given the brutality of the rebels, it is understandable why some would want to wash their hands of them. I can’t blame Richard Seymour for expressing his disgust. Of course, on the other hand, the Counterpunch apologists for Qaddafi deserve a spot in hell alongside Faust’s for their brazen lies about “enlightened” racial policies in the good old days.

I cannot help but think of the Soviet Red Army that saved humanity by pushing Hitler’s army back into Europe and breaking the Nazi war machine once and for all. In his article Trotskyists and the Resistance in World War Two, Ernest Mandel wrote:

…there was a just war of national defence of the Soviet Union, a workers state, against an imperialist power. The fact that the Soviet leadership allied itself not only in a military way – which was absolutely justified – but also politically with the Western imperialists in no way changed the just nature of that war. The war of the Soviet workers and peasants, of the Soviet peoples and the Soviet state, to defend the Soviet Union against German imperialism was a just war from any Marxist-Leninist point of view. In that war we were 100 per cent for the victory of one camp, without any reservations or question marks. We were for absolute victory of the Soviet people against the murderous robbers of German imperialism.

No matter how just that war was, how could any leftist support the troops who were capable of carrying out atrocities that dwarf any occurring in Libya today? In a May 1, 2002 article titled ‘They raped every German female from eight to 80’, Antony Beevor wrote:

“Red Army soldiers don’t believe in ‘individual liaisons’ with German women,” wrote the playwright Zakhar Agranenko in his diary when serving as an officer of marine infantry in East Prussia. “Nine, ten, twelve men at a time – they rape them on a collective basis.”

The Soviet armies advancing into East Prussia in January 1945, in huge, long columns, were an extraordinary mixture of modern and medieval: tank troops in padded black helmets, Cossack cavalrymen on shaggy mounts with loot strapped to the saddle, lend-lease Studebakers and Dodges towing light field guns, and then a second echelon in horse-drawn carts. The variety of character among the soldiers was almost as great as that of their military equipment. There were freebooters who drank and raped quite shamelessly, and there were idealistic, austere communists and members of the intelligentsia appalled by such behaviour.

Beria and Stalin, back in Moscow, knew perfectly well what was going on from a number of detailed reports. One stated that “many Germans declare that all German women in East Prussia who stayed behind were raped by Red Army soldiers”. Numerous examples of gang rape were given – “girls under 18 and old women included”.

Marshal Rokossovsky issued order No 006 in an attempt to direct “the feelings of hatred at fighting the enemy on the battlefield.” It appears to have had little effect. There were also a few arbitrary attempts to exert authority. The commander of one rifle division is said to have “personally shot a lieutenant who was lining up a group of his men before a German woman spreadeagled on the ground”. But either officers were involved themselves, or the lack of discipline made it too dangerous to restore order over drunken soldiers armed with submachine guns.

Calls to avenge the Motherland, violated by the Wehrmacht’s invasion, had given the idea that almost any cruelty would be allowed. Even many young women soldiers and medical staff in the Red Army did not appear to disapprove. “Our soldiers’ behaviour towards Germans, particularly German women, is absolutely correct!” said a 21-year-old from Agranenko’s reconnaissance detachment. A number seemed to find it amusing. Several German women recorded how Soviet servicewomen watched and laughed when they were raped. But some women were deeply shaken by what they witnessed in Germany. Natalya Gesse, a close friend of the scientist Andrei Sakharov, had observed the Red Army in action in 1945 as a Soviet war correspondent. “The Russian soldiers were raping every German female from eight to eighty,” she recounted later. “It was an army of rapists.”

Now of course everybody (except die-hard Stalinists) understand that the Kremlin was socialist in name only at this point and that such cruelty was perhaps to be expected. But does this negate the progressive character of the war against Hitler?

If we measure the rebel conduct in Libya or the Red Army’s in 1945 against those that were found in the Red Army in 1919 or in the Oriente Province in 1959, there is little doubt that they will fall short. But on the other hand, a good case can be made that they were all part of the upward march of humanity against oppression. Sometimes history will throw you a curve ball. It is best to keep your eye on the ball and figure out a way to move from our unhappy status today and toward a better future. In my view, the left in the West has to figure out a way to relate to the rebels in Libya who decided to risk their lives fighting against a torture state that was armed to the teeth by the very imperialists who now decided to change horses in midstream. This is especially true since there are ominous signs that the imperialists have about as much interest in armed militias challenging the prerogatives of the TNC as they would toward any such formation in the Middle East. The agenda of the West is to rapidly disarm the rebels and figure out a way to impose Qaddafi-ism without Qaddafi. This is something that the citizen-soldiers of Libya would resist to the death and we have to figure out a way to offer solidarity, even if we can’t abide by their racist treatment of African workers. This may not seem easy, but we have no other choice.

August 30, 2011

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills

Filed under: crime,Film,religion — louisproyect @ 6:04 pm

On August 20 the New York Times reported on the freeing of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., commonly known as the West Memphis Three. Imprisoned seventeen years ago for allegedly murdering three young boys in a satanic ritual, their freedom was won through DNA evidence as is so often the case nowadays. The article mentions a 1996 documentary about their case that led to a national campaign to win their release:

An award-winning documentary, “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” was released after their convictions, bringing them national attention.

Benefit concerts were held, books were written, a follow-up documentary was made and a movement to free the “West Memphis Three” grew in size and intensity, drawing those intrigued by the case and those who saw a kinship with the men at the heart of it.

“I was kind of going through the same clothing style: long hair, dark clothes,” said Mecinda Smith, 30, one of the hundreds of supporters who had come to the courthouse, holding posters and wearing “Free the WM3” T-shirts.

“We were just trying to stand out and be different,” said Ms. Smith, who was 12 when the murders took place.

Last night I watched it on HBO and like all their documentaries, it can be also bee seen on-demand from Time-Warner or on your computer using HBO Go. Additionally, you can rent it from Netflix, as well as a follow-up documentary made in 1999 titled Paradise Lost 2: Revelations. Meanwhile, “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” which was shown at this year’s New York Film Festival and scheduled for HBO next year, brings the case up to date.

These films were co-directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, who also worked on “Brother’s Keeper” together, another film about marginal members of society being accused of a capital crime. In that film, a mentally impaired brother is accused of a mercy killing of his own brother on a dilapidated farm that he shared with another brother. Despite the fact that the three elderly men were reclusive and shabby-looking, this did not prevent their neighbors from pitching in to help them find a lawyer and build solidarity for the accused brother. It is a singularly inspiring film and also available from Netflix, including a streaming version.

Berlinger is also the director of “Crude”, the courageous and radical story of Chevron’s attempt to force the people of Ecuador to accept the toxic waste legacy of Texaco, a company absorbed by Chevron, that has left land and water despoiled and thousands ill. He has been in a running battle with Chevron over the oil company’s demand to see his outtakes as part of a bid to prove that they have no responsibility for the damage.

There is an obvious affinity between the characters in “Brother’s Keeper” and the West Memphis Three. The prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of Jessie Misskelley Jr., who had an IQ of 72 and who was grilled by the cops for 12 hours after being arrested. He was pressured to testify against his two friends Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, who—like him–came from poor and dysfunctional families. Echols in particular was the easiest to demonize since he listened to heavy metal music, dressed in Goth style and described himself as a Wiccan. In a rural Arkansan town in the early 1990s, this was not the way to endear you to the community, least of all the cops. Like many towns in the Bible Belt, it was also a breeding ground of Baptist churches that took the idea of Satan very literally.

When the local cops could not find the actual killers of the three boys, they victimized Echols and his two friends who they calculated a jury would find guilty just on the basis of their appearance. While Misskelley and Baldwin did not share Echols’s Goth lifestyle, guilt by association could be relied on by local prosecutors. As Echols states in the film, West Memphis was a modern version of Salem, Massachusetts.

With a complete lack of physical evidence, the prosecutor is forced to rely heavily on questions to Echols on the witness stand about his reading habits, particularly the Satanist Aleister Crowley who the youth has actually never read, only heard of. On his Wiccan beliefs, Echols states that he was drawn to them because they stressed the eternal female principle. One can only wonder how he survived growing up to the age of 17 in West Memphis, an ordeal by fire equal in some ways to the next 17 years he would spend in prison.

The Salem-like hysteria that pervaded this trial overlapped with the “repressed memory” sexual abuse cases of the period that were documented in another powerful HBO documentary titled “Capturing the Friedmans”, about a gay computer programming trainer who supposedly sexually abused dozens of his students in his basement classroom on Long Island without them ever telling their parents. Although Satanism was not a factor in the trial, it relied completely on the “repressed memories” of his students who described wild orgies in the basement prompted by the suggestions of the investigators.

The two themes of ritual satanic abuse and repressed memories, however, did come together in the infamous McMartin preschool case of 1983. Young children were pressured into “remembering” that the satanic teachers and care-givers at the school lured them into orgies as wild as that took place in the Friedman basement. The wiki on the McMartin case states:

Some of the accusations were described as “bizarre”,[6] overlapping with accusations that mirrored the just-starting satanic ritual abuse panic.[4] It was alleged that, in addition to having been sexually abused, they saw witches fly, traveled in a hot-air balloon, and were taken through underground tunnels.[4] When shown a series of photographs by Danny Davis, the McMartins’ lawyer, one child identified actor Chuck Norris as one of the abusers.[2]

Some of the abuse was alleged to have occurred in secret tunnels beneath the school. Several investigations turned up evidence of old buildings on the site and other debris from before the school was built, but no evidence of any secret chambers was found.[4] There were claims of orgies at car washes and airports, and of children being flushed down toilets to secret rooms where they would be abused, then cleaned up and presented back to their unsuspecting parents. Some children said they were made to play a game called “Naked Movie Star” in which they were photographed nude.[4][1][21] During the trial, testimony from the children stated that the naked movie star game was actually a rhyming taunt used to tease other children—”What you say is what you are, you’re a naked movie star,”—and had nothing to do with having naked pictures taken.[4]

Although I have been harshly critical of Alexander Cockburn in recent years, this Wall Street Journal piece on the McMartin miscarriage of justice reminds me of how his writings back then inspired me to take up the cause of the left after 11 brutal years in a Trotskyist sect:

Wall Street Journal

February 8, 1990

The McMartin Case: Indict the Children, Jail the Parents

Ray Buckey is a man whose life has already been effectively destroyed. The first charge of child abuse against this teacher at the McMartin day-care school in Manhattan Beach, Calif., was laid against him in the summer of 1983. The allegations against him had been extorted from her two-year-old by a mother — now dead — with a history of mental illness who also claimed that an AWOL Marine had sodomized her dog.

It was not long before Ray Buckey had direct experience of the operations of the justice system. The Manhattan Beach Police Department sent a letter to 200 families whose children attended McMartin that read in part, “Any information from your child regarding ever having observed Ray Buckey to leave a classroom alone with a child during a nap period, or if they have ever observed Ray Buckey tie up a child, is important.”

By spring 1984, Mr. Buckey, his mother, grandmother, sister and three fellow teachers had been arrested, and the police now claimed no less than 1,200 alleged victims of abuse. Briefly released, Mr. Buckey was rearrested and jailed for five years. On Jan. 18 of this year, after a trial that lasted more than two years and cost $15 million (making it the most expensive criminal trial in U.S. history), a jury acquitted Mr. Buckey and his mother on 52 counts of molestation. On 13 remaining counts of molestation and conspiracy against Mr. Buckey the jury was deadlocked (though it seems a majority was convinced of his innocence) and a mistrial on these counts declared.

Any sane society would have granted the Buckeys peace to recover as best they could from this horrible ordeal. But on Jan. 31, Los Angeles County District Attorney Ira Reiner announced that Ray Buckey would be retried on at least some of the 13 counts. The decision came after a period of grotesque agitation by the parents of the supposedly abused McMartin children. They appeared on talk shows, and terrorized the Los Angeles Board of County Supervisors into voting 4 to 1 to urge the district attorney to a new trial. (If he did not, they wanted the board to call upon the state attorney general to take the decision out of Mr. Reiner’s hands.)

Mr. Reiner, who is running for the office of state attorney general this year, has in the recent past lost well-publicized cases. The McMartin verdict was another blow, and he obviously felt he had to put Mr. Buckey back in court or face taunts for being soft on child abusers. Mr. Reiner was also presumably under great pressure from Attorney General John Van de Kamp to retry Mr. Buckey, since Mr. Van de Kamp is running for governor and public sentiment is strongly against the jury’s verdict of Jan. 18. So here are two men with tremendous incentives to put Mr. Buckey back in the dock — in an atmosphere so polluted with hysteria it must be doubtful whether any jury could be assembled to assure Mr. Buckey a fair trial.

The psychological squalor is even more disturbing. The McMartin case was but one in nearly 40 episodes across the country between 1983 and 1987 in which prosecutions against teachers or supervisors in day-care centers were prompted by children’s accusations.

Many of these accusations, taken seriously by parents, social workers and the justice system, were of the most fantastic nature. McMartin children said they had been marched to cemeteries to dig up bodies. One child said he had seen his teacher fly. In 1985 children in Pennsylvania said teachers had forced them to have oral sex with a goat. In 1986 children in a preschool in Sequim, Wash., said they had been made to watch animal sacrifice in a graveyard. In Chicago, the kids said they had watched a baby being boiled.

Terrible injustices were done in this extraordinary replay of the 17th-century Salem witch trials. People were tossed into prison for years, on the say-so of infants. In all 50 states children as young as two or three can testify to abuse, without corroboration from adults and without physical evidence. In many states they can make charges without having to endure cross-examination, being bounced up and down on a judge’s knee in private chambers. In some states the charges can merely be repeated as hearsay by adults.

What was the reason for this wave of self-evidently preposterous stories about a satanic network terrorizing infant schools, and other tales of ritual abuse?

Society seems to have a periodic need for witch trials. At the onset of the Reagan era there weren’t really any Communists around to persecute, so the hunt went back to the traditional exorcism of Satan, whose horns and cloven feet assumed the form of the local day-care teacher.

The 1980s also brought the great onslaught against Freud, arguing against Oedipal fantasy and in favor of the reality of physical abuse. These days many people like to claim they were “abused” as a child. It’s a way of absolving yourself for screwing up by shifting the blame to your infancy, when you can’t be blamed for anything. From these gymnastics, by which “therapists” make their money, the adult emerges guilt-free.

Also, the charges were quintessentially Reaganite, in that they took child abuse out of the family, which is where 99% of it occurs, and put it into day-care centers, which in the Schlaflyite scheme of things are abodes of Satan. Again, some parents probably feel a fair amount of guilt for dumping their children in day-care centers anyway, and are obviously ready by way of compensation to support passionately whatever their children may claim. Of course, any considerate parent, social worker or sane therapist (as opposed to the hysterical self-promoters who mostly feature in these cases) would realize that months and years of interrogation and court procedures are the very last things a child needs after a genuine case of abuse. The public investigation and litigation merely magnify the hurt.

The trouble is that these parents now have a huge emotional investment in “the case,” whether it be McMartin or similar episodes. Indeed, in some of these court trials the parents also have a strong material interest, in the form of very substantial awards by insurance companies that cover day-care centers.

So now the McMartin parents can triumphantly torture poor Ray Buckey again, abetted by the cowards and opportunists in the justice system. But if people can be prosecuted on the words of children, then children should take full responsibility for what they are saying. If a child says he saw Ray Buckey kill a horse with a baseball bat (which one did claim) and if this charge is disproved (which it was), then the child should be indicted for perjury, with present prohibition against such infant indictment removed.

If a parent abetted the child in this false accusation, then this parent should be indicted for perjury, too. If the court then establishes that parent and child were lying, at least the parent should suffer the consequences. A few well-publicized sentences of imprisonment of parents (along with “therapists” and social workers, it goes without saying) and we would see a speedy end to these disgusting miscarriages of justice.

Those independent militias

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 12:47 pm

The Economist

The rebellion’s leaders

Good intentions, fragile legitimacy

The new Libya is in the hands of a largely self-selected bunch of civilians and fighters who have done pretty well so far. What comes next is a lot hazier

Aug 27th 2011 | Benghazi | from the print edition

Those independent militias

The NTC may be less able to restrain its fighters once the threat from Colonel Qaddafi is removed. Much of the rebel manpower is grouped into 40-plus privately organised, privately funded militias known as katibas (brigades). Each katiba is usually drawn from one town, commanded by a respected local military veteran or, in some cases, by the businessman who financed it. They drive privately owned pickups or jeeps with mounted anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns, captured from government arsenals or supplied by foreign benefactors. Members are enthusiastic but usually have only cursory training and very little sense of military discipline, often commuting to the front from their homes. Katiba leaders say that they meet the NTC’s more formalised military wing in an operations room to plan battles, but decisions appear to be arrived at by consensus rather than through any military chain of command.

Relations between the NTC and the katibas were brought to crisis point by the assassination on July 28th of Abdel Fatah Younis, a defecting general who became the NTC’s top military commander and may have wanted to bring the militias under centralised control. The circumstances surrounding the killing have yet to be explained. NTC judges had issued an arrest warrant for General Younis on suspicion that he had made unauthorised contact with Colonel Qaddafi, but the killers themselves are reported to have been rogue katiba fighters with a personal vendetta against the one-time Qaddafi loyalist.

They may have been members of the Abu Ubeidah Ibn al-Jarrah brigade, said to be a force of former political prisoners, some of them radical Islamists. After Younis’s death, the brigade was reportedly dissolved, and the NTC has turned him into a martyr, standing for proper military discipline. Posters of the confident, neatly uniformed general smilingly greet motorists on several of Benghazi’s main streets.

In the aftermath of Younis’s assassination, katiba members swear that they answer to the orders of the NTC. “We all have the same goal. We all want to end this,” says Muftah Barrati, a senior official at the camp of one of Benghazi’s largest katibas, the 17 February Martyrs Brigade. “When this is complete, we all will return to our jobs.” He himself was a financial manager for the computer company of Mustafa Sigizli, a businessman who helped set up the brigade. Rebels, with no former jobs to return to, may be given the option of joining a national army.

However, it would be a rare rebel force that did not derive some sense of entitlement from the sacrifices made during a hard-fought war, and the katibas still brush off requests by NTC officials to place themselves under the authority of a unified command. Based on the barrages of celebratory gunfire in Benghazi that erupt nightly to mark weddings, funerals or good news from the front, katiba members enjoy owning automatic weapons and would be reluctant to give them up.

Council members say that they know they would have more authority were they an elected body. They have thus opted for a fairly swift transitional period. The fall of Tripoli, when it is fully established, will set off an eight-month countdown to provisional elections. Some say this timetable is too short for a country with no experience of even single-party politics, let alone of genuine democracy. A group of protesters holding a sit-in outside NTC headquarters last week said that they suspected senior council leaders of having cut a deal with a handful of Libyan political groups, such as the Muslim Brothers and the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, a long-established exile group. The experienced groups, complained the protesters, had an unfair advantage in knowing how to campaign and win votes.

August 29, 2011

Who really beat Qaddafi?

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 11:05 pm

Sat Aug 27, 2011 at 08:30 AM PDT

Who really beat Qaddafi?

by Clay Claiborne

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Now that it is clear that the 42 year reign of Mummar Qaddafi has come to an end and there is little left to do on the military side beyond putting down a few pockets of pro-Qaddafi resistance, the question of bragging rights to this victory seems to be coming to the fore in certain western circles.

NATO and it’s allies are looking to increase their influence in Libya so they can cash-in on post Qaddafi developments. Although they never managed to get “boots on the ground” during the conflict as NATO would have liked, they still hope to fulfill that dream, via some “peace keeping” or “stabilization” mechanism. Regardless of whether they are successful in that quest, they will be peddling their influence in a hundred other ways.

In preparation for that, they are now trying to take credit for the victory over Qaddafi in subtle ways that will allow them to take ownership of it in the public mind. Typical of the way they do that is the story that has been circulating in the media in the past few days about a group of British SAS on the ground in Libya. An example is this one in the Telegraph 24 Aug 2011:

Libya: SAS leads hunt for Gaddafi

British special forces are on the ground in Libya helping to spearhead the hunt for Col Muammar Gaddafi, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.For the first time, defence sources have confirmed that the SAS has been in Libya for several weeks, and played a key role in coordinating the fall of Tripoli.

With the majority of the capital now in rebel hands, the SAS soldiers, who have been dressed in Arab civilian clothing and carrying the same weapons as the rebels, have been ordered to switch their focus to the search for Gaddafi, who has been on the run since his fortified headquarters was captured on Tuesday.

I don’t want to address the question of whether or not this is true. Even if the SAS were there, they can hardly take credit for this brilliant victory, a “key role” could be anything. That could mean communications and intelligence and it almost certainly meant supporting the sea assault by Thuwwar from Misrata, but trying to imply that a handful western special force Rambo types, who suffered no causalities as far as we know, are the real authors and heroes of this victory is to take credit were it is not due.

The campaign that routed Qaddafi’s Tripoli defenses in a few days was masterful! First there were the coordinated campaigns in the west coming down from the Nafusah Mountains and from in the east, west of Misrata, then the convergence on Tripoli via three major roads, from the west, east and south, together with an amphibious landing of a brigade from Misrata and the uprising by secret forces already in Tripoli. It was a brilliant victory. It showed great unity and coordination by freedom fighters from separate parts of Libya and the leadership of their command staff in spite of the assassination of their chief of staff, most likely by Qaddafi agents, only weeks before. It will go down in military history as a classic victory.

The idea that the authors of this were some westerners who just parachuted in and not the people who lived Qaddafi’s nightmare for 40 years and have been fighting it for the last 6 months is ridiculous. Those most likely to believe it are those that have some misconceptions about the supremacy of western special forces and the inferiority of Arabs.

The Libyans are the ones that have been fighting in these lands since before the Romans. They know the lay of the land and they knew the rising capabilities of their people. The only thing they could never be sure of was NATO, which was MIA for the early parts of the campaigns around both Misrata and the Nafusah Mountains and bombed the wrong armies too many times. Why do the British feel the need to resurrect the “Lawrence of Arabia” mythology to try to snatch credit for this win from the revolutionary Libyan people?

full article: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/08/27/1010769/-Who-really-beat-Qaddafi

Victim of CIA extraordinary rendition is now commander in Tripoli

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 6:55 pm

Abdul Hakim Belhadj: Military Leader in Tripoli and Victim of illegal American Rendition

The military commander who led the revolutionary forces into Tripoli, and took the iconic bab al-azizziya was Abdul Hakim Belhadj (alternatively spelled AbdelHakim Belhaj). He is now the military leader in Tripoli, who on the night of liberation drew parallels between the fight in Tripoli and the conquest of Mecca while surrounded by several others celebrating around him. He has since held more formal press conferences where he outlined the objectives of uniting the military factions in Tripoli under a single command, taking weapons out of the hands of militias, as well as rejecting the existence of any extremists within the ranks of the revolutionary army.

Abdul Hakim Belhadj (also known as Abdullah al-Sadiq) was also previously the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) which fought against the Gaddafi regime for more than a decade. According to a piece written by Nawaf al-Qudaimi, he had fought in Afghanistan from 1988, but returned to Libya in 1994. After confrontation with the Gaddafi regime which led to the killing of the then leader of the group Abdul Rahman al-Hattab, Belhadj managed to leave Libya and returned to Afghanistan in 1995. Upon his return to Afghanistan he was with the group of Libyan fighters which refused to join with Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaida movement. This group included several other leading figures from the LIFG, whom subsequently elected Belhadj as the leader of the movement.

As a result of the 9/11 attacks this group left Afghanistan and dispersed amongst several countries, with Belhadj ending up in Malaysia where he was detained and transferred for interrogation* in Thailand by American forces during a period when numerous other personalities were also similarly detained and questioned. Once the Americans realised that the group had no connection to Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, they were instead rendered to the Libyan regime of Moammar Gaddafi (rather than Guantanamo) in the same year where they ended up in the notorious Abu Salim prison in Tripoli. This is of no surprise since Western intelligence agencies (of the same nations now supporting the revolution) praise the information they received from the Libyan regime regarding Islamic opposition and so were not adverse to delivering them any Libyans they kidnapped from elsewhere.

In 2008 Saif al-Islam initiated and and convened a set of meetings between the Libyan regime and its facilitators including Ali al-Salabi (a leading Islamic scholar in Libya who lent support to the Libyan uprising from the start) and Noman Benotman (a former member of the LIFG who was reportedly expelled from the movement in 2002 due to suspicions of his activities whilst in London and of links with the Libyan regime, and has since become another in a long line of self-styled analysts of Islamic movements that apparently embellish accounts of their past experiences to burnish their credentials)  on the one hand with the leaders of the LIFG on the other. The meetings resulted in the renouncement of certain ideas which were published in a book entitled Corrective Studies on the Doctrine of Jihad, Hesba, and Rulings (available online in Arabic) which sought to dispel amongst other things the notion that the killings of civilians was in any way Islamically permitted. Given that the group’s leaders had previously refused to work with al-Qaeda it appears some of the book was written simply to satisfy the Libyan regimes desire to demonstrate its ability to rehabilitate “terrorists” as part of Saif al-Islam’s charm offensive in the West, and to end the suffering of its members in jail in exchange.

Belhadj and several other members of the LIFG were subsequently released from Abu Salim prison in 2010, and at the beginning of the Libyan uprising he and others from the movement joined the Libyan revolution under the leadership of the National Transitional Council, and has characterised the revolution as a popular uprising involving the whole of Libya.

This explains how Belhadj, a victim of the American rendition program, has ended up as the military commander of Tripoli. While other members of the NTC hold press conferences in Qatar, or give warmly received speeches at the Arab league (a collection of representatives from regimes who lack integrity and which enjoys zero credibility on the Arab, or for that matter, any, street), Belhadj has been leading those alongside him forward to the liberation of Tripoli. Though some of the opposition abroad felt betrayed by the group’s dialogue with the regime which appeared to endorse it, and it remains to be seen how independent figures such as Belhadj will remain given the diplomatic and financial pressures that are being borne down upon the NTC by NATO, it cannot be doubted that they do represent a legitimate voice from within the society.

At this point it is worth reflecting on how this “terrorist” who was illegally detained, interrogated and then rendered to the Libyans (and no doubt subsequently tortured by them) is now considered by some as the hero of the revolution in the context that this uprising has been military backed and now feted by both politicians and media which further highlights what was discussed on these pages recently – that the politics of ‘terrorism’, laws relating to ‘terrorism’ and media coverage on ‘terrorism’ is all based exclusively on the political agenda and one in which Western interests drive the language used.

The reality is that Belhadj is one of the most authentic faces of the Libyan revolution. His opposition to the Gaddafi regime began more than 20 years ago, and unlike several of the NTC members who up until and beyond the start of the uprisings were either members of the regime themselves or living far away in the West, he has been at the forefront of the struggle both literally and figuratively. This is not to dismiss the role of others but rather to emphasis that it will be natural for people to look to those such as Belhadj as their leadership who sacrificed with them against Gaddafi on the front lines. When he states that there is no extremism in the ranks of the revolutionaries – he means those who would sanction the killing of civilians for political goals (something which America and her NATO allies would not be able to honestly claim for themselves), and not the British government definition which labels anyone who believes in the application of Islamic Shari’a law and the establishment of a State to apply them as an extremist. There is little doubt that according to Western understanding Belhadj along with many others in Libya and beyond in both Tunisia and Egypt would be considered extreme, an indictment of the West’s rhetoric and policy towards Islam and Islamic revival.

This further exposes the simplistic narrative regarding Islam, Islamic movements, and so-called “Jihadi” movements. The lack of differentiation between the mostly irredentist groups who sought to overthrow their governments (almost invariably one form or another of unaccountable oppressive police states) whether in Egypt, Libya or elsewhere and al-Qaida, is inaccurate but expected from both the American government and its allies in the Arab world and beyond. Post 9/11 the rhetoric of the “War (of) Terror” has been used to justify all manner of abuses against a spectrum of opposition in order to maintain the status quo which served the US “strategic interests” in the region. This conflation has gone beyond even groups which took up arms against the state, to include any Islamic opposition. Hence support for a roll call of dictators from Karimov, Mubarak, Abdullah, Hussain and Gaddafi was a given up until the beginning of this year when events of the ground have forced the hand of the West to try their best to back the winning horses to maintain some form of control over the forthcoming changes to the political setup. As events develop in Syria and elsewhere, it is questionable how long the ever sliding grip will be able to maintain its grasp.

* UPDATE – According to a Human Rights Watch report, he explicitly claims to have been tortured by the CIA themselves in Thailand

Reza Pankhurst is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He has a PhD from the London School of Economics Government department, and also blogs at rezapankhurst.net.

Misrata rebels defy “anti-imperialist” analysis

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 2:14 pm

Misrata rebels defy Libya’s new regime

City refuses to accept appointment by National Transitional Council of former Gaddafi ally as Tripoli security chief

Misratans protest

Misratans protest against the National Transition Council decision. The placard reads: ‘Whoever helped kill Libyans will never lead us, even with one word.’
Photograph: Irina Kalashnikova

The first cracks in Libya‘s rebel coalition have opened, with protests erupting in Misrata against the reported decision of the National Transitional Council (NTC) to appoint a former Gaddafi henchman as security boss of Tripoli.

Media reports said the NTC prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, is poised to appoint Albarrani Shkal, a former army general, as the capital’s head of security.

Protests erupted in the early hours of the morning in Misrata’s Martyr’s Square, with about 500 protesters shouting that the “blood of the martyrs” would be betrayed by the appointment.

Misrata’s ruling council lodged a formal protest with the NTC, saying that if the appointment were confirmed Misratan rebel units deployed on security duties in Tripoli would refuse to follow NTC orders.

Misratans blame Shkal for commanding units that battered their way into this city in the spring, terrorising and murdering civilians.

NTC sources say Shkal, formerly a key confidant of Muammar Gaddafi, turned rebel informer in May, passing valuable information back to the rebel capital, Benghazi.

But Misratans believe that prior to that, he was operations officer for the 32nd brigade, whose overall commander is Gaddafi’s son Khamis.

The brigade took the leading role in a siege that saw tanks and artillery bombard residential areas of the city, murdering several hundred civilians.

Shouting above anti-Jabril chanting and volleys of gunfire being fired into the air, one protester, Mohammed Zubia, said many people were shocked by the news. He said: “Mr Jabril says he wants to include all people who worked for Gaddafi but how can we accept that? We need new blood.”

Mr Jabril, whose NTC executive installed itself in Tripoli over the weekend, says he wants to build an “inclusive” administration. He appears to have the tacit support of London, with the defence secretary, Liam Fox, telling al-Jazeera it was important the NTC avoided excluding members of the former regime.

London is believed to be keen to avoid a rerun of Iraq, where a de-Baathification programme saw the ruling administration removed and chaos follow the US-led invasion in 2003.

But Misratans say allowing Gaddafi regime officials to take key security jobs is not the answer.

“I can’t see any justication for [it] whatsoever,” said Hassan al-Amin, who returned to the town after 28 years’ exile spent in the UK. “We have a big force in Tripoli. They are not going to follow orders from a war criminal.”

The president of Misrata’s council, Sheikh Khalifa Zuwawi, said Misratan rebel troops controlling many strategic points across Tripoli may refuse to obey NTC orders.

“I think all the Libyan thwar [revolutionary fighters] will not obey his [Shkal’s] orders, not just those from Misrata,” Zuwawi told the Guardian. “Shkal is with Gaddafi. Not long ago he was using troops to shell people in Misrata. Mahmoud Jibril cannot do it just by himself: it is against the people.”

Behind the protests is a wider grudge between Misratans and the NTC, which many accuse of representing Benghazi rather than Libyans as a whole. Misrata’s military council continues to refuse to follow orders from NTC army commanders, and some rebels complain that Misrata’s units and those from the Nafua mountains, to the west, have not been recognised as having been the key to the fall of Tripoli.

“We won’t follow his [Shkal’s] orders, no,” said Walid Tenasil, a Misratan fighter returning to garrison duty in Tripoli. “Our message to the NTC is: just remember the blood. That is it.”

Misrata’s protests pose a potential security problem for the NTC because it has come to rely on Misratan rebel units holding strategic points in the capital.

Insights on Libya from Mike Ely

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 12:12 am

(Mike Ely blogs at the Kasama Project, an attempt to break with sectarianism by comrades from the Maoist tradition.)


August 27, 2011 at 4:17 pm

J.M. [This is Jay Moore, who Mike is going to reply to] writes:

“As far as I’m concerned the default Marxist position (of any sort of revolutionary Marxism that I can think of) is to oppose imperialism (and its agents). It is incumbent upon those, like Proyect, who think differently, to demonstrate it for us.”

Mike Ely:

In fact there is no “default Marxist position” on such matters — or any matters of practical politics. And describing your own personal position as a “default” serves to avoid the needed demonstration that you declare others need to make.

This view of marxism is itself one of the controversies in our discussions here — since arguments can’t (imho) be based on simply assuming or declaring some pre-existing “default,” then (on that basis) avoiding analysis, then denouncing those who disagree on the basis of violating the default.

Communism is a movement against class society and the oppression it creates. How that is fought (and against whom) at different moments and in different places — is a subject of analysis and line struggle.

To give an example:

In the course of China’s complex revolutionary process, Mao Zedong frequently spoke of three mountains on the backs of China’s people: imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism.

At different points in the revolutionary struggle, different “mountains” were the central focus of the popular struggle.

For example in the early base areas (in remote feudal regions), the main focus of the revolution was the class struggle for agrarian revolution (i.e. against feudalism), while waging armed struggle against the attacking armies of warlords and the GMD (i.e. local feudals and the national bureaucrat capitalists).

With the invasion of China by Japan, the situation changed. Mao viewed the contradiction as having objectively shifted to the one between China’s people and Japanese imperialism. Modifications were made in the policies of agrarian revolution (i.e. land seizures were stopped, rents were controlled, etc.), alliances were proposed and made with those bureaucrat capitalists opposed to the Japanese invaders. And, there was even an alliance (of sorts) with the imperialist war block fighting Japan in the Pacifiic (so that the Yenan forces of the communists accepted arms and war material from the U.S. imperialists etc.)

With the victory over Japan, the focus shifted to a new civil war with the GMD (again: bureaucrat capital) who were backed to the hilt by U.S. imperialism. And after the defeat of the GMD, the Chinese army had yet another war to fight agains the U.S. directly in Korea (with its diverse UN allies).

Finally, after the countrywide seizure of power in society was secured (through literally two decades of complex warfare and class struggle) the Communist Party of China led the world-historic agrarian revolution of the early-fifties, breaking the back of feudalism in China.

In the end, all three mountains were removed.

But such a complex process could not have been waged ( a ) with a Marxism that assumed itself to have some “default,” and ( b ) by an analysis that assumed (apriori? based on what?) that the contradictions in China, in the Third World and in the world as a whole were fixed, permanent, and easily deducible.

* * * * * * * * *

On the question of Libya….

There is an insistence that the only question here is whether to support or oppose U.S. imperialism. And then (by a sleight of hand) the measure of opposition to U.S. imperialism is presented as support for the Gaddafi regime.

If you don’t support the Gaddafi regime, you must support U.S. imperialism. If you oppose U.S. imperialism, you must support the Gaddafi regime.

This is mechanical in the extreme, and consists of a sequence of blurred over assumptions that flatten reality to a binary two-dimensions.

We live in the heartland of U.S. imperialism. We have a responsibility to expose and oppose the actions of “our” imperialists. We cannot build a movement worth spit if we don’t do that — militantly, consistently, creatively.

But there is no reason that this requires prettifying the bureaucrat capitalist regimes of the third world that they are (at various times) bullying — or denying the right (and need) of the people in these countries to overthrow these local oppressors as the opportunity emerges.

* * * * * * * *

There is another matter that I want to bring up:

It is implied in various parts of this dicussion that “anti-imperialism” is the view that specific imperialist powers is always and everywhere the “principal contradiction.” I think this too is reductionist.

Imperialism is a world system (not simply a set of powers). Certainly the U.S. military is a major and highly visible pillar of world imperialism. But the governments of major resources producers were themselves part of that world system — integral to its operations, and exploiters in their own right.

Opposing imperialism as a world system involves (of necessity) more than simply opposing the imperialist armies of great powers — it involves critiquing and overthrowing the relations between dominated countries and that world system. And that domination is embedded in the existence and operations of major bureaucrat capitalist forces in those countries as well.

Some people have trouble imagining that Gaddafi can be emmeshed in imperialism (as a mid-level player) if a) he is known to haggle over oil prices and b) he is targeted by the U.S. Why?

The whole OPEC thing is not anti-imperialist — it is a bargaining over price (by oil producer cartels) fully within the confines of capitalism and imperialism.

And the U.S. has often targeted (and killed) leaders of various third world states (Diem of Vietnam, Noriega of Panama, Saddam Hussein of iraq) without them having the slightest claim to anti-imperialism or progressive politics. That is, in fact, business as usual in the empire (and any empire).

In other words, U.S. targeting is hardly proof of any progressive content. And being targeted by the U.S. or fighting its forces doesn’t make you “objectively” anti-imperialist — it doesn’t change your class nature.

Also in this discussion, it is sometimes claimed that because some oil revenues were used for education or other social services that this documents some progressive (and again, anti-imperialist, and even socialist?) nature to the libyan government. However all oil producers use their massive funds to buy some social stability (is saudi arabia “progressive” because it pays for education and medical care? Was Saddam?) On the contrary, this is actual part of the mechanism of bureaucrat capitalism (and the difference between such bureaucrat capitalism and the kind of imposed government called ‘puppets’).

In some cases, leftist mind sets are back in the 1950s — where very crude “puppets” were imposed in the first days after colonialism. (Diem is an example). And if the subsequent third world governments nationalize industry, and demand higher prices, and use some of those funds for political stability — there are some socialists in the world who see their highest aspirations being realized. To me this reveals the nature of vision of socialism — in the form Mao called “goulash communism,” where political power, liberation and social transformation are forgotten, and “socialism” becomes little more than a package of bennies (handed out by an oppressive, capitalist state).

* * * * * * *


There is nothing anti-imperialist about the Gaddafi regime. Its ruling family were mid-level players fully within the world imperialist system, on a fully capitalist basis — using classic mechanism of oil regimes.

I am not saying that all capitalist forces are the same, or that all capitalist governments are the same, or all capitalist politicians are the same (we are not trying our own reductionism). But I am arguing that inventing a socialist, popular, or anti-imperialist nature for this state (or for Iran, or for Saddam’s Iraq) is to be deeply mistaken. (And it is in fact a historical residue of the era of Bresnev politics — where the imperialist Soviet state itself decreed various potential allies among the worlds bureaucrat capitalist regimes to be progressive, non-capitalist etc. This is not a spontaneous confusion, but a long historical line struggle over fundamental questions of class analysis and revolutionary strategy.)

I think that the main thing to do around the recent Libyan war was to loudly oppose the U.S./NATO attacks. These interventions were the major obstacle to the hopes of Libya’s people, and meant that (ultimately) the uprisings of against a government became instruments of continuing imperialist domination. And that is, in fact, an anti-imperialist position (while prettifying Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein is not understanding imperialism or opposing major forms of that system).

WE are anti-imperialist in these sense (and to the extent) that we oppose imperialism (as a world system). And we (revolutionaries within the U.S.) oppose and expose U.S. imperialism (in particular) with a self-conscious consistency and tenacity — both because of our position and because of our analysis of its role in the world.


August 27, 2011

Qaddafi’s Overthrow: a “Blow to the Arab Spring”?

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 9:30 pm

By Pham Binh

Not since the European revolutions of 1848 have revolutions spread with such speed and force. The Arab Spring brought more change to the Middle East and North Africa in less than a year than occurred there over several decades. Brutal dictators who seemed invincible were toppled in a matter of weeks in Tunisia and Egypt, protracted civil wars erupted in Yemen, Syria, and Libya, and the monarchy in Bahrain managed to survive only thanks to the political and material support it received from the Saudi monarchy and the U.S. government.

Muammar Qaddafi has joined the ranks of ousted dictators Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but not in the same way. In the case of Libya, the U.S. government and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies became intimately involved in toppling his tyrannical regime after some hesitation.

Some on the left who initially supported the Libyan rebellion argued that the involvement of the U.S. and NATO in Qaddafi’s ouster makes them the real winners in Libya, not the Libyan people. In doing so, they have come perilously close to the positions of groups like the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) who were “skeptical of, if not downright hostile to, the popular challenge to the Qaddafi regime that began with mass protests” as the International Socialist Review put it.

A recent editorial in the U.S. Socialist Worker newspaper described Qaddafi’s downfall in the context of NATO’s military intervention as a “blow to the Arab Spring” and argued that: “[t]he new government that will come to power in Libya won’t answer to the people of Libya and their desire for democracy and justice. It will answer to imperialism – and that is a blow to the Arab Spring, which this year showed the world the hope of an alternative to oppression, violence and tyranny.”

These truisms apply equally to the post-Mubarak government in Egypt, which is a military dictatorship that uses force against protestors, outlaws strikes, continues its cozy relationship with Israel, and receives billions of dollars in U.S. military and economic aid. Clearly, the military junta running Egypt “answers to imperialism” and not the people, nor does it care about their desire for democracy and justice (in fact, it fears that desire). As with Libya, the U.S. became intimately involved in trying to get Mubarak out of office, albeit in a different form.

Even if Mubarak had stepped down under U.S. pressure instead of pressure from striking workers, no one would conclude that his overthrow was a “blow” to the Arab Spring.

Socialist Worker’s line of reasoning involves two errors: one is a failure to understand the Arab Spring and the other is a flawed view of the revolutionary process in the context of a world dominated by imperial powers like the U.S., China, Russia, Germany, Britain, France, and other nations.

The Arab Spring is a dynamic process of mobilization from below, counter mobilization from above, and political radicalization on a mass scale. This process is driven by material conditions, namely, the tremendous gap in wealth between the elites of the Arab and North African states and their populations on the one hand and the autocratic, repressive measures these states use to keep their populations in line on the other. It is not primarily a process driven by opposition to U.S. imperialism. This is why the uprisings did not stop at the borders of Libya, Syria, or Iran whose regimes were not friendly to the U.S. government but were just as economically polarized, brutal, and corrupt as their pro-U.S. neighbors.

The main loser of the Arab Spring process has been the U.S. government for the simple reason that there were far more pro- U.S. regimes in North Africa and the Middle East than anti-U.S. regimes. The U.S. lost close allies in Egypt and Tunisia, is opposed to the “wrong side” winning the civil war in Yemen, would welcome the end of Assad regime in Syria, and managed to turn the Libyan revolution to its advantage, but not exclusively so. As Richard Seymour who writes the Lenin’s Tomb blog noted: “[t]he government that now follows will be less oppressive and more democratic than the one it ousted.”

In other words, toppling Qaddafi was a step forward for Libya’s workers, students, and oppressed groups like the Berbers. They now have more space to organize unions, political associations, and struggles for what they need than they did under the decrepit Qaddafi dictatorship. This is a good thing and it should be celebrated, Socialist Worker’s admonitions notwithstanding.

If it wasn’t for the ongoing revolt, Qaddafi would still be in power today. NATO’s military might prevented the Libyan revolution’s physical destruction at Bengazi, played a decisive role in paving the way for its ultimate triumph in Tripoli, and corrupted the “normal” Arab Spring dynamic of mobilization, counter mobilization, and mass radicalization. That the U.S. government would manipulate and try to control a struggle against an adversary is unsurprising. What is surprising is socialists disowning a struggle because the U.S. moved to shape it or because the struggle’s leaders made political choices we find abhorrent.

The combination of a democratic revolution and imperialist intervention in conjunction with that revolution against their common enemy caused tremendous confusion on the left internationally: Marxist academic Gilbert Achcar initially supported U.S. military attacks on Libya; PSL denounced the rebellion and supported Qaddafi’s repression; Socialist Worker supported the rebellion prior to the intervention of NATO. Needless to say, this brief survey does not cover the range or nuances of positions expressed by various left currents, but it does show concretely how living revolutions pose new and challenging questions for us that make textbook responses inadequate at best.

The involvement of the U.S. military in Qaddafi’s ouster is both a symptom and a cause of tremendous problems for the Arab Spring process generally and for the people of Libya specifically. In Egypt, the military stood squarely behind Mubarak until general strikes by workers erupted in every industry and every town; this has not been repeated elsewhere. In Libya, the rebel leadership’s failure to mobilize the masses, particularly the workers involved with oil production and distribution in oil fields and at ports and sea terminals, meant that the struggle against Qaddafi was not a social struggle but a military one where he had the advantage, provided that outside powers did not step in. They did. He lost.

The question now is will Syria’s revolutionaries call for U.S. military intervention as their counterparts in Libya did instead of relying on mobilizing the social power of the working class as was done in Egypt? Will the U.S. exploit the difficulties of Syria’s revolutionaries to turn their democratic revolution into a win for itself, bolstering its domination of the oil-rich Middle East? Now that Qaddafi is gone, will the Libyan people force their new rulers to give them a greater share of the country’s tremendous oil wealth and democratic rights? How will they react to the integration of their country into the world capitalist system’s global race to the bottom for workers, a race that is rapidly hollowing out what is left of the American dream?

How these questions are answered by the tens of millions awakened by the Arab Spring remains to be seen. We in the West need to do what we can to keep the hands of our rulers off of other people’s revolutions, which means taking a stand against imperialist intervention even when it is disguised as aid to a beleaguered rebellion (John Reed was absolutely right when he said Uncle Sam never gives something for nothing). We also have to realistically appraise the mistakes and successes of the Arab Spring instead of disowning them totally when imperialist powers try to use them for their own advantage, something that is inevitable in an increasingly multipolar world.

Above all, the best thing we can is focus on organizing our own workers, students, and oppressed people to win whatever small gains we can. The accumulation of concrete victories, however small, is the only thing that can lead to our own desperately needed spring.

Pham Binh’s articles have been published by Asia Times Online, Znet, Counterpunch, and International Socialist Review. His other writings can be found at http://www.planetanarchy.net

August 26, 2011

Iron Crows

Filed under: Asia,imperialism/globalization,workers — louisproyect @ 5:32 pm

The documentary “Iron Crows” that opens today at the Film Forum in NY derives its title from the nest made by a couple of crows in a tree on the desolate grounds of PHP, a ship breaking site in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Instead of using twigs, they build their nest from iron filings that are plentiful in a place where taking apart decommissioned ships is big business. The crows are a perfect metaphor for the men (and boys) who work there. At the end of each working day—the average wage is 2 dollars—they have to scrape iron filings from their feet and legs. Most of them work in bare feet or flip-flops and shorts. Until recently their employer, one of the more enlightened, did not even supply hard hats. An average of 20 workers dies in the ship salvaging industry each year. With a work force of 20,000, this is a shockingly high number.

“Iron Crows” is about as fine example of solidarity with the working class in film that I have seen since “Wasteland“, the documentary about the men and women who worked as recyclers in the world’s largest garbage dump at Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Artist Vik Muniz incorporated them in a series of large-scale photos based on classic paintings that used salvaged material of the kind that they extract from the dump each day.

Just as art can be created out of the bowels of Jardim Gramacho, it is gratifying to see Korean film-maker draw beauty out of a landscape that seems just as unpromising. But that he does. The sight of an enormous oil tanker floating silently into the shallow waters out of the morning mist near the PHP yards is as breathtaking as a Thomas Eakins seascape.

But the focus is almost entirely on men at work. Scaling the ships each day, they use blowtorches to “break” the ships into manageable blocks of metal that can be reused in new industrial production. Some 85 percent of Bangladesh’s iron comes from the Chittagong ship-breaking docks.

Except for the blowtorches, there is not a single labor-saving device at PHP. There are no forklifts or cranes. When a piece of the ship has been cut from a higher deck, the workers toss it over the side taking care that one of their comrades is not in the path of the projectile. Once it is on the ground, a crew of a dozen or so workers will hoist the slab of metal on their shoulders and walk it to an awaiting truck, all the while singing a work song that—to my astonishment—sounds exactly what I have heard from Leadbelly or Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee in a context that is not that far apart. Given the desperate situation of many of these workers who hail from northern Bangladesh and view PHP as a step up, there is a compulsory character to their labor that approximates prison labor in Mississippi or Alabama.

Despite their integration into the world capitalist marketplace, the workers retain customs from their village and a steadfastness to their Muslim faith that are not much different than the patterns Bengali people have followed for a thousand years. They sacrifice a goat at one point and mix its blood with sawdust. The mixture is then scattered into the bowels of the ship they are working on at the moment in order to ward off evil spirits.

As you watch them at their various tasks, you become mesmerized. Director Bong-Nam Park has an amazing ability to turn their labors into something approximating a ballet. The only other film that I have ever seen that comes near to delivering that sensation is “In the Pit“, a 2006 documentary about construction workers involved in building the second deck of Mexico City’s Periferico freeway that is available from Netflix, which I recommend highly.

The big difference between “In the Pit” and “Iron Crows” is politics. The Mexican film is primarily interested in the esthetics of work, while “Iron Crows” is also a cry for social justice that is often heartbreaking. A man who is featured in the film visits his home village in the north for his yearly reunion with his wife and relatives, where he sees his infant daughter for the first time. She was born blind because of an inadequate diet. While we are all aware of the crushing poverty of Bangladesh, seeing this man and his wife weeping over this tragedy makes it personal, which was obviously the intention of director Bong-Nam Park.

Clearly a turn is taking place in Korean film. Despite being one of the most exciting and innovative film industries in the world today, the emphasis has been mostly on genre, including ghost and gangster stories. Park’s documentary tells us that the wrenching changes brought on by globalization have inspired some Koreans into applying their skills to social and political topics.

Chittagong has a particular meaning for me since my old friend Bedabrato Pain, whose wife Shonali Bose directed “Amu“, screened his newly completed film “Chittagong” at NYU a couple of months ago. Chittagong was the site of an armed rebellion led by high school students in 1930 that was crushed by the British. I will have more to say about this film in a week or so, but will simply observe now that the promise of the struggle against British colonialism has only been partially fulfilled through independence. Nominally free, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers are still prisoners of starvation.


Just received this email from an old friend from Bangladesh who actually lived not too far from Chittagong:

A minor comment on your review would be that workers retain rural customs and unorthodox Muslim traditions that are local to Bangladesh/ Bengal.  For example, theses practice, like sacrificing goats and warding of evil spirits, are also common among Hindu Bengalis, too.  Some of the workers in ship building industry in Chittagong are of Hindu origin too,  I believe.

Some of the religious/traditional practices of Bengali workers, such as beliefs in saints (“pir”), spirits (“jins”), etc. are not in accordance with (strict) Wahabi-type Islamic fundamentalism .  These beliefs and practices are often condemned by orthodox Muslim clergy and the likes of Jamaat-i-Islam.


Release of prisoners at Abu Salim

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 1:54 pm

This was the prison where 1200 men were killed in 1996 during an Attica-type revolt. On February 15th 2011 the lawyer for the families of the dead men was arrested. Two days later Benghazi rose up. The rest is history.

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