From the moment the first of NATOs bombs fell and his murderous advance on Benghazi was ground into the sand it was always going to end this way for Gadaffi. The grainy mobile phone images showed us an old man being dragged through the streets, before being beaten and murdered. The same treatment many Libyans no doubt received from the Colonel’s own police over the past 42 years. There is no need to mourn a tyrant; he stood against everything that we purport to stand for. The only question is what’s next?
Far away from the bloodshed of the Maghreb the British left have been as fragmented and contradictory as ever as the Arab Spring turned to Libyan Civil War and NATO bombardment. While the Socialist Party maintained the anti-imperialist and anti-Gaddaffi positions consistent with a demand for socialism in Libya, some elements of the Stop the War movement veered dangerously close to supporting Gaddafi, viewing events as they do through the prism of ‘Anyone but America.’ Others went in the other direction, offering NATO support that it neither noticed nor needed.
As an aside the harsh reality of the Libyan conflict for the British left is that until we are in a position to directly influence events, either by stopping the British contribution to the war through industrial militancy or intervening in Libya through International Brigades, the positions we take matter very little to the people actually doing the fighting. Where they do matter however is with the people we actually meet. The very minimum a socialist must do to qualify as such is to actually advocate socialism, so our task is to explain the Arab revolutions, within the context of the global financial crisis, and to use Libya as an example of the need for a socialist alternative, in this case to NATO and the National Transitional Council. Anything else is either pointless, removed from reality or a dereliction of duty.
Counter-historical questions about the potential massacre in Benghazi no longer matter. It is impossible to say what would have happened if NATO had not intervened. Civilians may have been massacred, or else the rebels may have defeated an overstretched army whose loyalty to Gadaffi was limited at best. Instead of focusing on what may have been we can only analyse what is: Gadaffi is dead, the NTC will declare national liberation within hours, NATO aircraft carriers will withdraw and the oilmen will move in. Further afield Tunisia remains rocked by protests, Egypt is under military dictatorship and Assad is committing war on the people of Syria. These are dark days for the Arab revolutions.
The question, which only someone on the ground can answer, is how far are the Libyan people willing to take their revolution? They are armed and they are on the battlefield, yet now that Gadaffi is dead and the civil war is effectively over the leaders of the NTC wish nothing more than for the fighters to return home, hand in their weapons and get back to living under the same material conditions as before. If they do so the Gadaffi posters will be torn down and they may even get the first vote in a generation, but the oil money will remain in the hands of the elite as Gadaffi’s Libya is rebranded Libya PLC.
An alternative may be the rise of Islamism. Perhaps after a short time disillusion with the NTC will set in and the fighters who came from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Somalia will help turn Libya into another Gaza strip, a mini-Tehran or a Mediterranean Somalia. Perhaps those western aircraft carriers shouldn’t leave too quickly.
Of course we know that there is another alternative, that if the people of Libya have learnt the lessons of history they can play a fundamental role in its latest chapter. By continuing the revolution, by taking it out of the hands of NATO and the NTC leadership, the working class can not only take power in Libya, they could give new direction to the revolutions of Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and even the protest movements of Israel and Palestine.
What is lacking in Libya after 42 years of dictatorship is an active revolutionary party to promote the ideas of Socialism and give genuine leadership to the movement. Also, the fact that Gadaffi at times referred to his own regime as ‘socialist’ serves only to confuse, yet both of these challenges can be overcome. While a revolutionary party is vital to achieving socialism it is possible that the road towards socialism can be taken by those who do not yet realise their destination. Just as you do not need to be physicist to live under the rules of Newton, nether must you be a Marxist to be subject to the societal rules that Marx first understood.
First, time must be given to re-build, or even build from scratch, a genuine labour movement. Socialists would support calls for independent free and fair elections, with the creation of left wing parties, while using the time to build independent trade unions and worker’s organisations.
Going into, during and after these elections revoluionaries must call for a programme to outline a social revolution to transform Libya, including taking the oil fields into public ownership, ensuring that the benefits are handed over to the people. The idea must once again be raised and popularised that it is class which must become the driving force of the Arab spring, not tribal loyalty, religious fervour or national identity.
The prospects for the emergance of a form of socialism out of the rubble of sirte and tripoli may be extremely mixed, while the chances of a text book revolution and a straight line to socialism are as remote as they ever can or will be, but it remains possible. It was the fruit sellers of Tunisa, the textile workers of Eqypt and the oil workers of Libya which began this revolution, and the task can only fall to them to finish it.