By Immanuel Wallerstein
There is so much hypocrisy and so much confused analysis about what is going on in Libya that one hardly knows where to begin. The most neglected aspect of the situation is the deep division in the world left. Several left Latin American states, and most notably Venezuela, are fulsome in their support of Colonel Qaddafi. But the spokespersons of the world left in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe, and indeed North America, decidedly don’t agree.
Hugo Chavez’s analysis seems to focus primarily, indeed exclusively, on the fact that the United States and western Europe have been issuing threats and condemnations of the Qaddafi regime. Qaddafi, Chavez, and some others insist that the western world wishes to invade Libya and “steal” Libya’s oil. The whole analysis misses entirely what has been happening, and reflects badly on Chavez’s judgment – and indeed on his reputation with the rest of the world left.
First of all, for the last decade and up to a few weeks ago, Qaddafi had nothing but good press in the western world. He was trying in every way to prove that he was in no way a supporter of “terrorism” and wished only to be fully integrated into the geopolitical and world-economic mainstream. Libya and the western world have been entering into one profitable arrangement after another. It is hard for me to see Qaddafi as a hero of the world anti-imperialist movement, at least in the last decade. [... ]
This is what the left in the rest of the world sees, if some left governments in Latin America do not. As Samir Amin points out in his analysis of the Egyptian uprising, there were four distinct components among the protestors – the youth, the radical left, middle-class democrats, and Islamists. The radical left is composed of suppressed left parties and revitalized trade-union movements. There is no doubt a much, much smaller radical left in Libya, and a much weaker army (because of Qaddafi’s deliberate policy). The outcome there is therefore very uncertain.
The assembled leaders of the Arab League may condemn Qaddafi publicly, but many, even most, may be applauding him privately – and copying from him.
It might be useful to end with two pieces of testimony from the world left. Helena Sheehan, an Irish Marxist activist, well-known in Africa for her solidarity work there with the most radical movements, was invited by the Qaddafi regime to come to Libya to lecture at the university. She arrived as turmoil broke out. The lectures at the university were cancelled, and she was finally simply abandoned by her hosts, and had to make her way out by herself. She wrote a daily diary in which, on the last day, Mar. 8, she wrote: “Any ambivalence about that regime, gone, gone, gone. It is brutal, corrupt, deceitful, delusional.”
We might also see the statement of South Africa’s major trade-union federation and voice of the left, COSATU. After praising the social achievements of the Libyan regime, COSATU said: “COSATU does not accept however that these achievements in any way excuse the slaughter of those protesting against the oppressive dictatorship of Colonel Gaddafi and reaffirms its support for democracy and human rights in Libya and throughout the continent.”
Let us keep our eye on the ball. The key struggle worldwide right now is the second Arab revolt. It will be hard enough to obtain a truly radical outcome in this struggle. Qaddafi is a major obstacle for the Arab, and indeed the world, left. Perhaps we should all remember Simone de Beauvoir’s maxim: “Wanting to be free yourself means wanting that others be free.”