Noel Ignatiev's Blog

Their Disorder Is Our Hope

Since the beginning of the “uprising” and NATO bombardment in Libya,  opinion in “progressive” circles has been of two schools: the first welcomed the effort to topple Gaddafi, even to the point of looking favorably, if somewhat warily, on the NATO-supported “rebels.” I shall not comment on that view. The second school denounced the NATO intervention without reservation. That would have been OK, but some went farther and, in their zeal to oppose the NATO intervention, spread tales of the “accomplishments” of the Gaddafi regime, among which were supposed to be a high living standard, widespread social benefits, etc. Some insisted that Gaddafi was under attack for his anti-imperialism and that those who opposed him were Al-Qaeda agents and drug dealers. That view found support in surprising circles. One correspondent, an active internet warrior and a person who has written knowledgeably and thoughtfully on other topics, wrote me that she would open no more emails from me after I pointed out to her, for the second or third time, that it was not necessary to say nice things about Gaddafi in order to oppose NATO intervention.

Now that Gaddafi has fallen, it may be possible inject a bit of reason:

1. The “rebels” were few in number. No doubt the NATO bombardment had an effect, but Tripoli fell to a rebel force of no more than a few thousand. As one reporter, who up to the last minute had been sending dispatches from Tripoli predicting massive resistance to the rebels, finally admitted ruefully, the “‘65,000 well trained and well-armed troops’ hyped Sunday by the Gaddafi government don’t in fact exist.” (It would not surprise me to learn that they did exist—until they were called to action, at which point they decided, wisely, to let those who benefited from the regime do its fighting.) Moreover, the promised house-to-house resistance never materialized.

And why should that be a surprise? Why should the ordinary people of Libya lay down their lives in defense of an oppressive regime that never saw them as anything but pawns in its effort to cut a favorable deal with global capital?

2. According to the NY Times of August 24: “Rebel leaders acknowledged Tuesday that their forces in Tripoli are not under any unified command. Some are simply Tripoli residents who have taken up guns, and have little or no military experience. And rebels from the western mountains fight in independent brigades from each town or tribe, spraying its name — ‘Zintan’ or ‘Nalut’ — as they go.” Moreover, “It is also unclear how many rebel fighters are in Tripoli, in part because so many young men from the city are now brandishing automatic rifles.”

Therein lies the hope of the Libyan people: that the proletarians and other toilers have taken advantage of the collapse of the existing authority to acquire weapons, which they will use for their own purposes. In the nineteenth century Marx noted that the first task of every “revolutionary” government in France was to disarm the workers. Today all the forces preparing to fatten themselves on the flesh of the Libyan people, including the NATO powers, Russia and China, are stressing the importance of the orderly restoration of the authority of the new regime.

Let us hope that they do not find it so easy.

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