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A Tyrant Without the Quotation Marks

Liga Bolchevique Internacionalista Sugarcoats Qaddafi


By Rodolfo Kaleb

November 2011


A rather thick collection of documents has recently been published in Brazil by the Liga Bolchevique Internacionalista titled “Trotskyist Theses on the Imperialist War on Libya”. The collection is of interest as, at first glance, the LBI takes a formally correct position on the key issue in the war which many others on the left simply failed, which side to take. The collection includes many polemics with groups and currents who betrayed the principle of defending oppressed countries against imperialism, including many who went so far as to praise the National Transitional Council/NATO takeover of Libya as a genuine “revolution.” 


“Unlike revisionist traitors, the revolutionary Marxists swim against the pro-imperialist tide which the left has been swept up in, militarily blocking with Qaddafi against imperialist intervention, while at the same time remaining totally independent of and giving no confidence to his bourgeois nationalist government.”


“É possível ser anti-imperialista apoiando os “rebelados” pró-OTAN?” (March 2011)


While for socialists the primary immediate task during NATO’s intervention was to repel the imperialists and their domestic agents, remaining politically and organizationally independent of Qaddafi’s bourgeois forces, even while being in a military bloc, was not simply some minor detail.


The goal of revolutionaries is to mobilize the working class to overthrow capitalism and take power into their own hands. Political adaptation to any section of the bourgeoisie would make accomplishing that goal impossible. Our class reasons for being on the same side of the barricades with Qaddafi’s forces against the imperialists were different than his myriad apologists, which internationally included bourgeois populist figures such as Hugo Chavez. From the criterion of the capacity of leading the struggle for socialist revolution, groups which gave Qaddafi any confidence would be just as useless as those who took the wrong side in the war.


In that regard it should be noted that Leon Trotsky’s Fourth International had a highly different attitude towards the working class fighting for democratic demands in bourgeois dictatorships such as Qaddafi’s than the one advanced by the LBI in Libya. 


The LBI writes;


“Imperialist wolves like Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron, mouths dripping with blood and saliva, demand the ‘dictator’ leave power immediately, while pursuing the largest air strikes mankind has witnessed in history."


Libyan Resistance, LBI’s website, August 22


“Monarchist supporters of Libya’s former king, deposed by the colonels in 1969, were the initiators behind the supposed mass movement against the 'bloodthirsty tyrant' Muammar Qaddafi….   Soon those rebelling against the nationalist caudillo began receiving sophisticated heavy weaponry that they used instead against the Libyan people themselves who remained determined to stay loyal to Qaddafi’s 'bloody dictatorship'”.


Resistência Líbia, LBI site August 22


To begin, there is the clearly false assertion that “the Libyan people” were solidly backing Qaddafi. It is obvious that Qaddafi had many supporters in Libya. But it is also obvious that so did the rebels, whose base, unlike the reactionary bourgeois leadership, also included supporters amongst all classes, including some sectors of the Libyan proletariat. Next there is the decision to constantly use the quotation marks. But wasn’t Qaddafi in reality actually a tyrant and bloody dictator? It seems the LBI did not think he was. The LBI seemed unable to acknowledge the Qaddafi regime’s dictatorial character in these or any of their other articles on Libya. In other articles the LBI argues that the description of “dictator” was nothing more than “cantilena” (blabber), a propaganda tactic used by his pro-imperialist opponents, “the same being used against Chavez today.”


Obviously we did not derive our position on the war from the undemocratic character of Qaddafi’s regime. We were defending a semi-colonial country against the imperialist powers. Objectively, in seeking to defend its own separate [bourgeois] interests, so was the ruling government. However oppressive and bloody, any regime installed by imperialism would be qualitatively worse. As Leon Trotsky noted [1], the victory of the imperialists would signify the imposition of “double chains” imprisoning the Libyan people.


Not the slightest credence should be given to the “democratic” claims of imperialists like Obama, Sarkozy, Cameron and company who are responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Libyans since the bombardments began. But that should not prevent us from denouncing Qaddafi and pointing to the tyrannical character of his government. It is due to his policies that the workers movement in Libya is almost non-existent.


“All other political parties were proscribed. Trade unions were incorporated into the ASU [Arab Socialist Union, Gaddafi’s party] and strikes forbidden. The press, already subject to censorship, was officially conscripted in 1972 as an agent of the [1969] revolution [of the colonels, sic].”


Helen Chapin Metz. Libya: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1987.


With a ban on all independent press, trade union and political activity for nearly 40 years, the working class was left unprepared for any form of independent resistance. Likewise the absence of democratic rights (which predated Qaddafi coming to power but whose continued existence he ensured) helped contribute to pushing many Libyans into accepting NTC/NATO propaganda about fighting for bourgeois democracy which was used to justify the slaughter.


While in Chavez’s Venezuela these democratic freedoms exist and the “Bonaparte of the twenty-first century” has repeatedly received voter approval to remain in power, the accusations of dictatorship in Libya are more than “cantilena”. Thus democratic demands would have played an important role in politically preparing workers against Libya’s dictator (without any quotation marks). In the 1938 founding document of the Fourth International authored by Leon Trotsky, there is an entire section devoted to explaining the important supplementary role played by democratic demands in backward [or dictatorial] capitalist countries.


“It is impossible merely to reject the democratic program; it is imperative that in the struggle the masses outgrow it. The slogan for a National (or Constituent) Assembly preserves its full force for such countries as China or India. (…) 


“As a primary step, the workers must be armed with this democratic program. Only they will be able to summon and unite the farmers. On the basis of the revolutionary democratic program, it is necessary to oppose the workers to the ‘national’ bourgeoisie.”


The Transitional Program, September 1938.


While organizing workers in military detachments to help repel the NTC/NATO bloc, a revolutionary party in Qaddafi’s Libya would also raise the call for expropriation with no compensation and workers control of all imperialist and national industries to help highlight the ruling governments’ true class character. It would also be essential to mobilize the workers using democratic demands such as freedom of press, trade union and political organization and calling for a Constituent Assembly elected by universal suffrage.


The LBI has indeed pointed to the bourgeois character of Qaddafi and criticized his [economic] collaboration with imperialism, but has carefully avoided acknowledging issues and raising demands related to his regimes dictatorial character. This omission is underlined by the fact that not even one democratic demand is raised against Qaddafi in the LBI’s 80-page pamphlet! Reading between the lines it is clear the LBI nurtured some serious illusions about the Libyan strongman. Along with spreading those illusions to others, the LBI’s policy would assist in pushing many workers who opposed Qaddafi’s tyranny into the arms of the tribal reactionaries, who falsely presented themselves as fighting for the bourgeois democratic rights which clearly did not exist under Qaddafi. In the end, the bourgeois “democracy” they will have actually received will be in accordance with Islamic law and brought into being under the rubble of imperialist murder and destruction


The necessity of defeating the imperialists did not change the strategic goal of revolutionaries, leading the working class to power in their own name. This could not be done by glossing over key aspects of Qaddafi’s rule but only fully exposing him on all fronts. But by treating the issue of democratic rights in Libya as a taboo subject, an 800 pound elephant in the room whose presence they would pretend not to notice, the LBI in practice abandoned its “total political independence” from Qaddafi.




(1) In an interview published in Novermber 1938, Trotsky explained


“In Brazil there now reigns a semifascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of the conflict will the working class be? I will answer for myself personally—in this case I will be on the side of “fascist” Brazil against “democratic” Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat. Truly, one must have an empty head to reduce world antagonisms and military conflicts to the struggle between fascism and democracy. Under all masks one must know how to distinguish exploiters”