I know next to nothing about Libya. But that doesn’t seem to be stopping anyone else from talking about, so I will too. I’m astounded at the cardboard cut-out analyses emanating from the Left – whereby this sort of regime change is either an authentic popular revolt or an imperialist intervention. The point of differentiation seems to be when NATO bombs start to fall – at which point, even if little else changes in the composition of the revolutionary forces, what was once a popular insurgency worthy of support suddenly flips over into a collection of deluded dupes and the armed representatives of a nascent wannabe comprador bourgeoisie eager make themselves useful to the neoliberal world order. What has happened to the mass base of popular support for the revolt? Has it simply disappeared? Is NATO really driving the insurgency?
Clearly it’s true that the NATO intervention was intended as a means of bringing the Arab revolutionary wave under control – claiming it for the liberal world order and thus attempting both to steer it in a direction more compatible with imperial objectives and to dampen it down. It’s also been a way – and quite successful in this judging by many newspaper editorials – of rehabilitating the strategy of ‘humanitarian intervention’ and so on. But that doesn’t wholly define what’s happening. What if it’s both – an authentic popular revolution and an imperial intervention? A complex mix of the two. This would make things very difficult for the cardboard cut-out approach.
All sorts of dangers flow from the way in which Gaddafi, apparently, has been overthrown. Interventionist hawks will, clearly, use this as an opportunity to call for further interventions in the ME – perhaps in Syria next. Perhaps the new emerging regime in Libya will, as many are suggesting, function as pliant neoliberal state. But then again maybe not.
One things does seem clear to me. The overthrow of Gaddafi will embolden the forces of revolt elsewhere in the region. When the revolution in Libya slowed down and settled into stalemate a few months ago the whole revolutionary wave in North Africa and the ME also ground to a halt. Gaddafi was the blockage. Now he’s gone it seems and the blockage is removed. This will provide a tremendous morale boost to the revolutionary forces in Syria and perhaps in Iran. There is no reason why these forces cannot overthrow their autocrats on their own. The intervention in Libya was an ad hoc policy-on-the-hoof measure. It was an attempt to bring things under control – when events had spiralled out of control in Tunisia and Egypt and elsewhere. It was/is thus an indication, precisely, of the way in which things, generally speaking, are not under control. The revolutionary wave has not been tamed.