The American Left and the Arab Spring

by Clay Claiborne on August 17, 2012

For someone sitting on the very edge of survival, hope is extremely important. Often it is only hope, sometimes even false hope, that allows him to make it to the next day. That is one of the reasons that religion has always found such a resonance among the lower classes, especially in times of great hardship or struggle. Cynicism is deadly for someone on the edge of survival. Even in the darkest night, he cannot afford to be cynical. That cynicism just might push him over the edge.

Cynicism is a privilege. When practiced by those in a position to do it well, cynicism allows them to criticize the oppressor and sympathize with the oppressed without ever having to move out of their comfort zone. In fact, one of the main objects of this practice of cynicism is to make the cynic more comfortable. He may not, as yet, be wanting for much personally, but he can see the growing misery all around him so he has to think or do something. The cynic solves this dilemma by thinking that nothing can be done!

Hope is entirely a question of subjective attitude. So is cynicism, but cynicism pulls off its master trick by masquerading as objective reality. The cynic always tends to think things really are the way he thinks they are. Time and again you will see him substitute his subjective understanding, even when he knows it is limited(!) for objective reality.

In the United States, this type of cynicism has gained a strong hold on the left in the past decade or more. It has been helped immeasurably by the decline of science and engineering in our culture and a decline in the understanding and practice of dialectical materialism on the left.

The NWO/Pentagon/Illuminati knows all, sees all, controls all. Only tin foil can foil their designs.

Since September 11, 2001, there has also been what I think of as the Invasion of the Conspiracy Theories and all sorts of trash from weird 9/11 theories to chem trails have been given standing. The most significant have been a number of generally related theories that believe a very small clique, often Zionist-related, is “orchestrating” both sides of all wars and just about everything else in the political and economic life of the planet.

If that’s the case, what can you do but gossip about it?

Since the cynic is not looking for ways to attack the problem but for reasons to carry on as usual, it suits this scenario to make the New World Order, the Illuminati, or whoever, virtually all-powerful and quite capable of tricks we aren’t even aware of.

The people, on the other hand, are sheep.

Cynicism springs eternal, so the cynic carries on. He goes to anti-war rallies, he recycles, he does whatever he thinks is the right thing to do, and since he expects things to stay the same or get worst, he doesn’t question whether it is the most effective thing to do.

The Arab Spring

Then along comes the Arab Spring. It blindsided most of the American left. They never saw it coming. It fact, it was already there for about a month before they started to see it at all! But by the middle of February 2011, and the fall of a second dictator, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, none could miss the fact that a new spirit of hope was sweeping North Africa and the Middle East (MENA).

While the protests in Algeria seemed to just fade away, the ones in Libya only grew more intense with every attack by Ghadafi’s goons. It was getting ugly and beautiful at the same time. Ugly because, in Libya, Ghadafi had created something Ben Ali and Mubarak didn’t have, an army that would massacre its own citizens on his orders. Beautiful because throughout the 10 months of bloody struggle, the optimism of the Libyan people never gave way to cynicism, and against all odds, and at great loss of life, and with a little help from interested parties, they were able to prevail and topple the dictatorship that had ruled them with an iron hand for 42 years.

The struggles that started in North Africa moved up the peninsula into Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria, even Jordan. These interconnected uprisings were becoming wide enough throughout MENA that soon everyone was talking about “the Arab Spring.”

The response of the American left has been mixed. After the newness wore off, many started to express doubts. There were many with questions about the religious overtones these struggle inevitably took and Islamist factions among the regime opponents. Others saw a plot hatched in the west to destabilize the region, protect Israel and get all the oil. They have a Wesley Clark video that they like to burn incense to. The cynics are big on both of these views, and anything else they can think of to shovel doubt on people hoping they can build a better world.

But on the whole, the American left “supported” the regime changes in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as the uprisings in Yemen and Bahrain, because those regimes were aligned with NATO and/or U.S imperialism and their protests stayed mainly peaceful. Mainly. Even if these leftists didn’t think much would come of them, or as with Egypt, no real change had been accomplished, at least they “supported” them.

But when it came to Libya and Syria, things got a little more complicated. They were considered by most on the left to be in the “anti-imperialist” camp, they had a record of opposing U.S. imperialism, supporting the Palestinian cause, and claimed to be some kind of socialist back home. Those uprisings also quickly took a violent turn because in those countries, not just the police, but also the army, open fired on peaceful protesters. In Libya, it took only weeks for the opposition to start arming itself, in Syria it took many months.

Libya and the Split within the Left

Ghadafi, especially, spent a lot of time and money with activists in the U.S. burnishing his image as the Che Guevara of Africa.  They took the guided tours and they swallowed his stories about how glorious life was in the Green Jamahiriya.

The truth is that Ghadafi was to Che what the Symbionese Liberation Army was to the Black Panther Party.

When it started to look like a lot of Libyans were rejecting “Brother Leader,” many of these leftists found that unacceptable. Without looking too much into the details, some came to the cynical conclusion that Ghadafi was one of the good guys and this was not a genuine current of the Arab Spring in Libya, but instead, a Western-backed and orchestrated attempt at regime charge under the color of the Arab Spring. Others thought Ghadafi was a bad guy but nonetheless this was not a genuine current of the Arab Spring in Libya, but instead a Western-backed and orchestrated attempt at regime charge under the color of the Arab Spring.

They both united in the view that what was going on in Libya, at least as far as they were concerned, was essentially no different from what the U.S. had done in Afghanistan, Iraq or Vietnam for that matter.

According to them, as soon as the Libyan opposition started demanding protection for the people from the heavy weapons and warplanes sold to Ghadafi by United Nations Security Council members, the one united demand of these anti-war activists was that it not be given to them.

Throughout most of the Libyan Revolution, their main demand was that NATO stop bombing Libya, which, as a practical matter, meant that they were demanding that NATO stop taking out the tanks, artillery, rocket launchers, and aircraft Ghaddafi was using to slaughter civilians. If these people were at the scene when one of these mad killers with assault rifles and hand grenades was doing his thing, they would probably ask the police sharpshooters to stand down because “it would only add to the violence.”

Since there is more than ample evidence to show that the U.S. has been on the wrong side of every war since World War Two, they saw no need to examine the details of this conflict. They could determine which was the wrong side simply by seeing which side the United States and it allies were on, and with that judgment the people’s uprising in Libya was also judged to be of little or no merit, or worst a band of mercenaries and traitors with a healthy dose of al-Qaeda mixed in for seasoning.

There were others on the left, and even more significantly, activists not normally associated with the left, like the hacker group Anonymous, that took a different tack. They saw the uprisings in Libya and Syria as well as those of all the other MENA countries as genuine popular movements for freedom and democracy. They did not tailor their support according to whether the struggle was against a dictator with closer ties to NATO or Russia, and in time they came to focus on the struggle in Libya because it was in Libya that the Arab Spring first turned into an armed struggle.

Now we have an even more violent and brutal struggle that has grown out of the Arab Spring going on in Syria, going on for 18 months now, and the differences that first emerged in the left around Libya have only deepened and widened around Syria.

Evaluating the Libyan Experience

I cry for the Syrians when I’m not fighting for them.

Fortunately for the Libyans, they were able to successfully win their civil war about 10 months ago and move forward with building their country. Fortunately for us, a little time has passed and we are now in a position to examine the outcome to this point and also measure the accuracy of various people and groups on the left as to their expectations going in.

I now wish to examine one article in some detail published on a prominent left Web site and written by someone who opposed the NATO intervention, supported Ghadafi, and thinks the revolution a sham. I want to show the kind of logic that the anti-interventions use to maintain their utterly bankrupt positions. This recent assessment of the Libyan situation was written by Thomas C. Mountain and published on Counterpunch.

(Let me apologize at the outset if this seems to go a little long, but rhetorical questions are a lot easier to ask than to answer with substance.)

From Counterpunch:

Clan Warfare Over the Spoils of Power
Is Libya the Next Somalia?
July 25, 2012

Libya seems well on its way to becoming the next Somalia, with much of the country already ruled by tribal/clan based armed militias. As was the case in Somalia, Libya is in the process of separation, with the eastern, oil rich, Cyrenica region having issued a de facto declaration of independence.

This is wishful thinking on Mountain’s part. As a long-time supporter of Colonel Ghadafi, Mountain wishes only bad things for the Libyan people that overthrew him. As we will see as we go through this, his latest piece on Libya in is based not on an examination of the reality in Libya now but on an extrapolation of what he believes must be the case based on his long-held misconceptions about the country and Ghadafi’s rule.

The revolutionary brigades that Mountain calls “armed militias” are not tribal clan-based so much as they are organic forms of organized armed struggle that grew up in the fight to overthrow Ghadafi. Their core is made up of working-class Libyans.

If one is familiar with the Occupy movement in the U.S. and elsewhere, they may have a clue as to how this revolution has been organized.

In fact, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) was started largely by activists, such as the hacker group Anonymous, as their participation in the Libyan revolution was winding down. The Anonymous “OpLibya” was started in January 2011. OWS was based partly on what was learned in that struggle, and in the same way that each of the local occupy groups are autonomous and yet united by a common cause and  communications network, so it is with various revolutionary brigades in Libya.

They can be thought of as armed occupations.

It is true that there are important regional differences in Libya, and like most countries in the world, it has been cobbled together from different people by the events of history. It is also true that under Ghaddafi, the eastern region, known as Cyrenaica, or Barqa to the Arabs, got the short end of the stick.So as soon as they had the freedom to do so, most Libyans in the region, which is centered on Benghazi, have been keen on seeing that this state of affairs does not continue in the new Libya, and a minority wanted more federation, as in the United States, or for a very small handful, complete separation, but there was no “de facto declaration of independence” and Libya is not headed for the 20 years of civil war Mountain is trying to project onto it.

In March 2012 there was a conference in Benghazi of 3,000 delegates calling for greater autonomy and they set up what they called the Cyrenaica National Congress and they named Ahmed al-Senussi, a relative of Libya’s former king and a political prisoner under Ghadafi, as leader of the self-declared Cyrenaica Transitional Council. What they demanded for eastern Libya was greater autonomy, not separation, but it never carried the weight of law and it never really went anywhere.

Libya is not in the process of separation. In spite of the calls by these federalists to boycott the national election, participation in Benghazi and the east generally was higher than in the country as a whole and after seeing what the will of the people was, the leaders of this federalist movement said they were abandoning that cause, with one of their founders, Abu Bakr saying “the people have spoken.” On their facebbook page, two days after the election, they declared “Federal leaders declare their defeat … No voice louder than the voice of the people.”

Since the election, the 200-member General National Council (GNC) elected on that day have taken over from the National Transition Council (NTC) and elected a representative from Benghazi as their president.

This, by the way, is how democracy is supposed to work.

There is strong evidence that remnants of the Qaddafi regime were financing this movement. It is also true that some of the more extreme members of this movement, seeing that they lacked a real popular base, have turned to “excitive terror” to further their cause, as so many waning movements have done in the past. According the France24, the movement that Mountain seems to favor was little more than a bourgeois attempt to grab power for themselves: “Some Libyans have dismissed the moves for autonomy in eastern Libya as a ploy by a coterie of wealthy families who had prospered under the old monarchy.” They also continued to prosper under Ghadafi, had close ties to his regime, and they have been attempting to use the question of the unequal treatment of the east under that regime to create a counter-revolutionary movement but they are failing badly.

Mountain writes:

Tripoli, the capital of Libya, seems to be headed in the direction of where Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia was 20 years ago, with various well armed militias from outside the city taking up residence and clashing over territory and the spoils of power.

Juan Cole, target of a Bush administration-directed CIA personal assassination campaign, describes what he saw on a recent visit to Libya after hearing what he called the “black legend” about Libya being:

…promoted in part by remnants of the Ghadafi regime and his admirers in the West, in part by overly anxious middle-class Libyans navigating an admittedly difficult transition, in part by media editors looking for a dramatic story.

So imagine my surprise on visits to Benghazi, Misrata and Tripoli, to find that there were no militiamen to be seen, that most things were functioning normally, that there were police at traffic intersections, that there were children’s carnivals open till late, families out, that jewelry shops were open till 8 p.m., that Arabs and Africans were working side by side, and that people were proud in Benghazi of having demonstrated against calls for decentralizing the country.

Since the defeat of Ghadafi, the one constant refrain we’ve heard from the leaders of the great powers – both east and west, elements within the Libyan bourgeoisie, human rights organizations, and the anti-interventionist left has been that the greatest danger to Libya’s future is what they insist on calling “armed militias.” Immediately upon the military defeat of the Ghadafi forces, the united call went out for the revolutionary brigades to be disarmed and disbanded. After that, every instance of post-revolution violence, and there really weren’t that many, was played up all out of proportion. Even simple bank robberies were reported as “political violence.”

The NATO powers, Russia, and China, hoped the violence and chaos in Libya would rise to the level that they could justify sending in a U.N. peacekeeping force,  just as they are talking about now for a post-Assad Syria. The “great” powers may squabble over who has the greatest sway in a post-Ghadafi Libya or a post-Assad Syria but they all agree that those countries should not be allowed to get off the reservation. They can always struggle over the composition and leadership of the peacekeeping force but at least everybody has a way to get their people in. Without “boots on the ground” they can only have a very limited effect on post-regime developments.

The Libyan thuwar made a very smart deal with NATO when they allowed for air support only. There is a whole history of struggle between the NTC and NATO over this question of NATO boots on the ground that still needs to be written as far as I’m concerned, but the thuwar never buckled. Maybe NATO was allowed a handful of forward air controllers. I was never sure how they solved the “friendly fire” problems they had in the beginning, but they never allowed NATO a substantial foothold Libya, and that was a very wise move on their part!

For all the hype from everybody from the New York Times to Counterpunch about the “out-of-control armed militias” and “no functioning government,” things never got anywhere near the point that they could justify any kind of peacekeeping mission.

With no foreign military on their soil, the Libyans actually have a decent shot at shaping their own future.

The Revolutionary Brigades

These revolutionary brigades are the armed working class organizations that grew up to beat the Qaddafi forces and they did.

To do that, they had to develop a culture of cooperation and co–ordination between them. That still exists today. Even Amnesty International had to note that in a report named, unsurprisingly, Militias Threaten Hopes for New Libya:

Hundreds of armed militia groups, established at local levels during the fighting, continue to operate largely independently of the central authorities, often effectively controlling specific areas or neighborhoods. Some militia members have a military background but most were civilians. Militias have established sometimes fluid networks of co-operation.

I added the emphasis to the last sentence. “[F]luid networks of co-operation” sounds like the relationship between Occupy Los Angeles, Occupy the Hood, Occupy Venice, and so on. No central authority and still we manage to work together, sometimes rather well.

These “fluid networks of co-operation” between the revolutionary brigades explains why there was no violence and no disruption of the voting on the day of the national elections (July 7), a day when such violence would be most likely to occur in either Tripoli and Misrata, and only a few incidents in the east owing to the activities of a handful of federation extremists. And when they did attack a polling station in Benghazi, the people came out into the streets to protest, the revolutionary brigades saddled up and started patrolling the city in their technical vehicles and there was no more disruption.

For their part, the mechanics and bakers-turned-revolutionary warriors have said they were not interested in disarming and were not going to disarm until they were sure that they are getting the government they fought for. Its true that the NTC has not had a monopoly of violence in the new Libya. Its merely a question of whether you think that is a good or bad thing.

Now that they have had free and fair elections and elected a 200-member congress, and now that that congress has replaced the NTC and elected a president, we will see how the future goes for the brigades. Personally, I’ve never been too worried about these armed working-class organizations and have noted that very few lives have been lost in clashes between them to date. Even when the Zintan Brigade controlled Tripoli Airport, International flights came and went as usual and there was no extortion.

Of course the detractor of the Libyan revolution are fond of conflating clashes between “out-of-control armed militias” with tribal violence in the south when they report the numbers. These tribal clashes have a long history, predate the revolutionary brigades by decades, and are related to the border trade. Ghadafi use to send in the helicopter gunships to sort things out.

They don’t do that anymore.

In point of fact there was a hell of a lot more violence going on in Ghadafi’s Libya than was ever reported, inside or outside of the country. One victory of the revolution that its detractors have been able to use very effectively to attack the revolution is Libya’s new free press. With hundreds of new websites and publications popping up since Ghadafi went down, everything, and I mean everything gets reported and the old news slogan “if it bleeds, it leads” is as true in Libya as anywhere else, so every little incident has been available to feed the counter-revolutionary propaganda mill.

I will skip over this history with its platitudes like “it wasn’t like the people of either country created what they found themselves in.” What countries or people isn’t this true for? Maybe some people like Mountain can have that kind of identification with those who created the country they “found themselves in”, but I’m a black American so I don’t have the privilege of such illusions. My African ancestors were brought here in chains and my Irish ones were forced here by famine.

NATO’s “War on Libya”

In 2011 Libya was destroyed by an almost unprecedented aerial bombardment, over 10,000 bombing runs with some 40,000 pieces of high explosive ordinance dropped on the country over a period of 8 months or so. 40,000 bombs, killing two people per bomb and you are talking about 80,000 Libyans killed by NATO in 2011? And all of this on a very small population of 6 million?

In fact, very little bomb damage was done to Libya outside of Ghadafi’s military installations. As the New York Times reported in their post-conflict study of the NATO bombing:

There are indications that the alliance took many steps to avoid harming civilians, and often did not damage civilian infrastructure useful to Colonel Qaddafi’s military. Elements of two American-led air campaigns in Iraq, in 1991 and 2003, appear to have been avoided, including attacks on electrical grids. Such steps spared civilians certain hardships and risks that accompanied previous Western air-to-ground operations. NATO also said that allied forces did not use cluster munitions or ordnance containing depleted uranium, both of which pose health and environmental risks, in Libya at any time.

Which explains why the only cluster bombs being cleaned up now were spread by Ghadafi and why there is no depleted uraniam clean up. There is none to clean up! That whole depleted uranium charge was just more of Ghadafi’s misinformation spread generously by the anti-interventionist left.

The only thing unprecedented about the NATO air war on the Ghadafi regime is the incredibility low number of civilians killed. All the post-war studies confirm this.

The Times report continues:

The alliance’s fixed-wing aircraft dropped only laser- or satellite-guided weapons, said Col. Gregory Julian, a NATO spokesman; no so-called dumb bombs were used. While the overwhelming preponderance of strikes seemed to have hit their targets without killing noncombatants, many factors contributed to a run of fatal mistakes. These included a technically faulty bomb, poor or dated intelligence and the near absence of experienced military personnel on the ground who could help direct air strikes. The alliance’s apparent presumption that residences thought to harbor pro-Qaddafi forces were not occupied by civilians repeatedly proved mistaken, the evidence suggests, posing a reminder to advocates of air power that no war is cost- or error-free.

This NY Times piece, by C. J. Chivers and Eric Schmitt, published on December 17, 2012 was one of the first examinations of this question on the ground in Libya after the bombing had stopped and it came to the conclusion that between 40 and 70 civilian had been killed by NATO bombs. On March 2, 2012 the U.N. International Commission of Inquiry on Libya Report found that NATO had killed 60 civilians and finally on May 14, 2012, Human Rights Watch published an exhaustive 76-page study they had made of this question and concluded that at least 72 civilian had been killed in NATO air strikes, including 20 women and 24 children.

But Mountain sees no need to examine, much less debunk, these authoritative on-the-ground studies because he has his own method. You come up with some figure on the number of bombs dropped, you decide how many people you imagine each bomb would have killed, and “do the math.”

Boy, think of all the time and money these organizations could have saved if they had used the Mountain method!

I’ll even wager that Mountain or someone like him would even rather brand all these organization as “instruments of NATO propaganda” rather than adjust their perceptions to reality. This is another way they strengthen imperialism, by giving it credit for power and reach it doesn’t have.

But Mountain has his own methodology to build up his mole hill, and without having examined one bomb site or see one dead body, he comes up with a figure of 80,000 killed by NATO in 2011, in a war with a total death toll of about 30,000.

What is really going on here is that Mountain is making up facts and an alternate reality in a striving to make the situation in Libya today match what he knew it must be based on his “analysis” a year ago.

According to NATO’s final statistics for Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR, NATO flew 9,700 strike sorties, but notes that not all strike sorties dropped bombs. They explain “strike sorties are intended to identify and engage appropriate targets, but do not necessarily deploy munitions each time.” This explanation of what a strike sortie is is always left out of the anti-interventionist description of the term. In point of fact, less than half of NATO strike sorties actually dropped ordinances. NATO claims to have destroyed over 5,900 military targets, including over 400 artillery or rocket launchers and over 600 tanks or armored vehicles.

Libyans in Benghazi thank France for recognizing the NTC.

Far from leading the pack, the U.S. hung back, conducting 1,210 strike sorties, but deploying munitions only 262 times. Norway dropped more than twice that number of bombs (600) and Italy almost three times as many (715).

Since Mountain calls this “an almost unprecedented aerial bombardment,” let’s see how it stacks up against Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam.

Between 2005-2007, as part of “Operation Enduring Freedom” over Afghanistan, NATO flew 24,569 strike sorties.

In just the first month of the 2003 Iraq War, the U.S. launched 15,500 strike sorties and dropped 27,000 bombs. It was even worst in 1991 when 120,000 sorties dropped 265,000 bombs on Iraq.

By the end of the Vietnam War, about 7 million tons of bombs were dropped on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. If we assumed that they all were the common 500-lb. bombs, that would have been 28 million bombs.

So you see, Mountain’s “almost unprecedented aerial bombardment” is hyperbole of the first order, designed to make reality fit with his perceptions.

Today Libya exports over 90% of its prewar oil and gas production, almost 2 million barrels a day of some of the best oil found on the planet.

Not bad for a country that was just “destroyed by an almost unprecedented aerial bombardment.”

Oil and the Libyan Economy

Where the almost $200 million a day, $6 billion a month, over $70 billion by the end of 2012 is going still remains mostly a mystery.

A mystery to who? Western leftists have a tendency to confuse their ignorance for that of people that really matter in the situation. For example, a common refrain among the anti-intervention left during the revolutionary war was “we don’t even know who these people are.” But with all the Feb17 websites, Facebook pages, and YouTube videos they put out, we have had greater access to a foreign revolutionary movement than at any time in history.

The question then was: Do the Libyan people know who the thuwar are? And the question now is: Does the NTC and GNC know where the money is going?

Lets see what we do know:

Its a mystery to Mountain because he hasn’t bothered to Google one thing about the current Libyan budget. The question is a rhetorical one. He hasn’t tried to research the question he is raising because he is not engaged in a facts-based analysis. If he had looked into it, he might have found this:

March 13, 2012. The Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) approved yesterday a $52.4 billion budget for 2012. This year’s budget is the largest in the history in the country and the first following the toppling and death of Muammar Gaddafi last year. The Council announced that strict auditing measures have been attached to the newly approved budget in order to put an end to the country’s long history of corruption. They will announce the details regarding expenditure procedures and auditing standards soon, according to the NTC spokesman. Officials in the Ministry of Finance expect that Libya’s sovereign revenues will depend this year on oil revenues, which the National Oil Company predicts will reach $50 billion, rather than on taxes on the private sector. This is because most private companies failed to achieve positive revenues in 2011 due to the revolution. The budget includes $20 billion to pay government employees and $12 billion to support food and energy prices. The rest will cover Libya’s most urgent priorities, particularly the establishment of state institutions for security, defense, justice, etc.

The NTC paid $800 million for the medical care of those wounded during the revolution, mostly to facilities in Tunisia and Jordan and some as far away as Belgium, where injured thuwar were sent for specialized treatment. The government also paid out LD 600 million to revolutionary fighters in March of this year, with LD 4,000 being paid to married fighters and LD 2,400 for unmarried ones.

Soldiers are generally paid; only in a revolution do they have to win first and then wait.

Did Mountain and Counterpunch ever raise this same question when the Ghadafi clan was living like a kings? For example, his son Saadi is said to have spent  £170 million a year on private jets, five-star hotels, supercars, lap-dancers, jewels, and designer clothes. Once he spent £500,000 to have the Pussycat Dolls, his girlfriend’s favorite group, play at her birthday party in Cannes in the South of France.

The Economist had this to say about the Libyan economy under Ghadafi:

Libya is earning over $10 billion a year from its 1.4m barrels of oil a day. But Libyans see little of it. This year’s budget amounts to far less than its oil receipts; the colonel threw away an earlier budget, prepared by the General People’s Congress, saying oil should not be used for ordinary expenses, like salaries. In this hyper-rich state, a teacher’s salary is about $1,200 a year. Libyans have to go to Tunisia for health care. “Wealth, weapons and power lie with the people,” says the Green Book, the colonel’s revelation to the world. But one man decides which people.

The Islamist Threat

Mountain’s Counterpunch piece goes on:

The Al-Qaeda Godfather of the Libyan rebels who did the mopping up after the NATO bombardment is the infamous Belhaj, former Al Queda in Iraq commander and a capo in Al Queda in North Africa. Today he runs the biggest, most militarily proficient militia in Tripoli. Behind him are tribal militias of various size and abilities and include the Zintan militias presently holding Saif al Islam Gaddafi captive.

So it would appear that Tripoli’s warring militias have some unity and cohesion after all!

Who is this “Al Qaeda Godfather” that Mountain so deeply disparages? He was the revolution’s military commander for Tripoli until he quit his military post to get into politics where his al-Watan Party was beaten badly in the elections in Tripoli.

Abdel Hakim Belhadj was run out of Libya at age 22 for his anti-Ghadafi politics and ended up in Afghanistan via Saudi Arabia fighting with the Mujahideen against the Soviet occupation. After the Mujahideen took Kabul, he traveled across the Middle East and Eastern Europe before returning to Libya in 1992 with the intention of overthrowing Ghadafi.

There, he and others formed the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). The LIFG ran a low-level insurgency tried, three times, to assassinate Ghaddafi before the group was crushed in 1998. Belhadj ran back to Afghanistan and joined the Taliban. After the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, he fled across the border to Pakistan and is said to have traveled widely to Sudan, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Denmark, and Britain.

In 2002, Ghadafi issued an arrest warrant for Belhadj that accused him of being, wait for the magic word now, “al-Qaeda.” The Bush administration and the Ghadafi regime were courting each other by then, five years later they would be enjoying military-to-military relations, but Ghadafi was already playing an expanding role in Bush’s “Global War on Terror.”

Belhadj was picked up with his pregnant wife by the CIA in Malaysia, and with the help of Britain’s CIA, MI6, was sent back to Libya in March 2004. Britain’s Foreign Minister Jack Straw personally signed off on the transfer orders and they both were given a CIA special rendition plane ride straight back to Ghadafi were he ended up spending seven years in the infamous Abu Salim prison before being one of 170 Islamists freed as part of Saif al-Islam Qaddafi’s “de-radicalization” drive in March 2010.

Belhadj was tortured in Ghadafi’s “anti-imperialist” prison with CIA officers present.

When the Libyan revolution broke out Belhadj was right there. Eventually, he became the commander of the renown Tripoli Brigade that played such a key role in liberating the city. As to these pro-Ghadafi charges that he is an “al Qaeda Godfather,” the NTC addressed that directly, as BBC News reported:

The NTC has dismissed any suggestions that Abdel Hakim Belhadj is a former al-Qaeda sympathiser, following reports in the international media as well as statements attributed to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi himself. “NTC members have stated time and again that the revolution has no links to al-Qaeda,” said NTC spokesman Al-Amin Belhadj told al-Jazeera Television last year.

“Everyone knows who Abdel Hakim Belhadj is. He is a Libyan rebel and a moderate person who commands wide respect. Unfortunately, some circles in the West repeat these claims,” he added.

Mountain, I think they are talking to you.

As to Belhadi’s well-known religious beliefs, I would say that oppressed people, and their leaders, often frame their struggles in a religious context. May I remind you that Malcolm X also did good work in the name of Allah, while the more “acceptable” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. framed his leadership with the words of Christian theology.

Libyan Democracy

Elections run by a “government” installed by NATO can only be a charade designed to provide a cover of legitimacy to the continuation of the present regime which is in charge of collecting Libya’s share of the $70 billion a year in oil revenue as well as the over $100 billion of Libyan sovereign wealth deposited in western banks.

Organizing a national election only nine months after the end of a very bloody civil war is no mean feat, but on July 7, more than 1,700,000 Libyans went to the polls and voted in a 200-member General National Congress that has now replaced the NTC.

62% of those eligible to vote did so at 1,542 polling centers nationwide. Only 24 polling centers were unable to open that day because of a variety of problems and there were no complaints of voter fraud of malpractice by election officials anywhere with over 27,000 international and local observers. Women were 46% of registered voters and so were more than 600 of the 2,563 candidates running for the congress (although only 29 women won).

Voter registration didn’t kick off until May Day and was extended an extra week following a call for a boycott by the Council of Cyrenaica. Roughly 89%, or 2.9 million, of all Libyans eligible to registered did so. 374 political entities also registered and campaigning was hot and heavy until just before election day, which had to be put off once from its original date of June 19. Of the parties, the secular National Forces Alliance did the best, winning 39 seats, but only 80 seats were allocated to parties; 120 were allocated to independents.

All in all, it was an amazing accomplishment so soon after a civil war and in a country where the last national elections took place almost 60 years ago!

But the Mountain method means you don’t need to know any of this. You already know that “elections run by a  ‘government’ installed by NATO can only be a charade” so there is no need for an investigation of the facts. You can just imagine what kind of election could they possibly have had after a NATO-orchestrated “regime change” and write that down instead.

One might think that concerned leftists who honestly felt that the Libyan uprising had been hijacked might be interested in the practical question of what they could do to get it back. This would then involve the tactical and historically specific question of what use could be made of a national election, even one being staged by a puppet regime, in the furtherance of that goal.

But not this crowd, not Mountain. Those people turned on the beloved Brother Leader so fuck ’em. They can do no good no more. We are just leaving them to their fate which is to be robbed by the banksters.

See how easy it is to dismiss the election? No need to find fraud or vote tampering, no need to show that people were coerced or had their choices limited. No need to look at the concrete facts of Libya in 2012 at all. Everything flows from conclusions made at the beginning of this conflict that it wasn’t a real people’s movement at all. It was the U.S. leading the “rats” over the cliff.

Wishful Counter-Revolution

On the other side of both Belhaj and the NTC and its offshoots is what is known as the Green Resistance, what the international media calls “pro Gaddafi loyalists”. They include much of the largest tribe in Libya, the Warfalla, from which Saif al Islam’s mother came from and seem to be slowly but steadily pulling together some sort of self defense forces to protect their communities from the militia based warlords.

Since he knew all along that Ghadafi was really a popular fellow, there must be a “Green Resistance,” so Mountain creates it out of whole cloth. Has he forgotten that it was Warfalla officers that attempted to stage a coup against Qaddafi in 1993 and were executed for their troubles, or that Mahmoud Jibril, the leader of the NTC is from the Warfalla tribe?

Mountain still can’t accept the fact that he was wrong and Ghadafi lost, so he imagines the civil war is still going on underneath it all, and he even still sees a way a Ghadafi can win. He is a bit like James Cannon, the American Socialist Workers Party leader, who declared that World War Two wasn’t over in November 1945 three months after Japan surrendered to the United States:

“Trotsky predicted that the fate of the Soviet Union would be decided in the war. That remains our firm conviction. Only we disagree with some people who carelessly think that the war is over.”

There have been a handful of terrorist attacks and assassinations, like the murder of Brig-Gen. Mohammed Hadiya Al-Fitouri, who had defected from Ghadafi and joined the rebellion, and was cut down in a drive-by shooting as he left a Benghazi mosque on Friday this week, and attacks on the Red Cross offices in Tripoli. These may well be the work of Mountain’s “Green Resistance.” Revenge attacks attempting to create the atmosphere of chaos and violence that Mountain wishes for, but they don’t amount to much, have no popular support, and are being rounded up and captured by the revolutionary brigades he so detests.

Mountain sees no need to exam the attitudes of the Libyans now that they are no longer living in a police state; now that they know a family member won’t be killed because they failed to show up in Green Square for the scheduled pro-Ghadafi rally.

Turnouts for Ghadafi rallies mysteriously dwindled with the end of his police state.

Mountain has even converted the local revolutionary leaders into militia-based warlords by a simple act of rhetoric. See, they even have warlords like Somalia!

Belhaj was once in a Libyan dungeon, tortured under the orders of people who are now NTC capos, thanks to the CIA’s rendition program, and only had his torture and mistreatment ended when Saif al Islam Gaddafi convinced his father to pardon Belhaj and his cohorts in exchange for a quickly broken promise of peaceful coexistence.

“NTC capos” is his slanderous attack on the leaders of the most thoroughgoing revolution to so far come out of the Arab Spring. Abdul Jalil was a judge known for ruling against the regime before he was appointed Qaddafi’s Justice Minister. He quit and joined the revolution in its first week. Omar al-Hariri was a Libyan general jailed by Ghadafi after they had a falling out. Ali Issawi was the Libyan ambassador to India before he joined the NTC. There are others from the old government that have lent a hand building the new government. They have been among the most courageous and patriotic Libyans, and none have been involved in ordering torture and are due a lot more respect than Mountain gives them.

Belhaj could well try to secure a cease fire with the Green Resistance, who would also like to see the end of NATO’s puppet NTC. With the NTC out of the picture, maybe even a peace deal brokered with Belhaj and Saif al Islam to try and bring to an end all the fire and sword laying waste to the land?

Mountain should wake up. The South won’t rise again! There is no “Green Resistance,” none in any position to talk about a ceasefire, in any case. He is really out there in Fantasyland and he still longs, even hopes, for a return of a Ghadafi regime.

This may all be wishful thinking [that is the most truthful statement in the piece. – Claiborne] and is dependent on NATO not intervening militarily on the side of the NTC

Get the Met! The NTC has been replaced by the GNC. The Libyan revolutionaries won. Ghadafi is not on the verge of a comeback, nobody is laying waste to the land. Libya has been rapidly rebuilding from the war damage. The longer range issues have to do with forty years of neglect under the Ghadafi regime.

…when it comes to Libya becoming the next Somalia, history seems to be pointing in that direction.

This too is wishful thinking on his part.

If we look back at some of the earlier work of Mountain, we can get a better idea of where he is coming from. In Bombing Libya, Counterpunch, March 23, 2011, he predicts:

It is now widely recognized, at least in the Arab and African world, that the majority of Libyans support their government lead by Col. Gaddafi and that the rebellion is supported by a minority of Libyans. The end of the rebellion seemed to have become inevitable.

We also learn that he considered Mummar Ghadafi an “Arab socialist” and an old friend. He even slept in Ghadafi’s tent once! Like many other leftist, he was taken in by Ghadafi’s showmanship and his supposed anti-imperialist credentials and he never looked too far from the Rixos Hotel.

Mountain never saw things from a Libyan point of view.

Now that attitude has caused him to oppose the most thoroughgoing revolution of the 21st century and perhaps more importantly, it has caused him to discard the dialectical materialist analysis which must be the basis of any practical understanding of the situation in Libya.

The Arab Spring and the Left going Forward

By the turn of the century, the masses of the Middle East and North Africa put their colonial occupations behind them. Most were modern capitalist states and a few laid claim to some form of “socialism,” but politically they were autocracies and military dictatorships under the rule of one man and his family.

In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, these dictators lived like kings and looked forward to passing their powers down directly to their sons. In Syria, the Assad dynasty has already accomplished that feat. In many ways, these regimes operated as monarchies, and these societies showed many other feudal traits as well.

In political-historic terms, that meant that the bourgeois-democratic revolution had yet to be completed in those Arab states.

For a variety of reasons that are beyond the scope of this already long article, the tensions surrounding this regional contradiction had developed to a really explosive potential when Mohammed Bouazizi lit himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia on December 17, 2010, and literally and personally sparking  a conflagration that is burning still. Just yesterday, over 1,000 people protested in that town where it all started, and in Egypt this week, where the “revolution” seems to have fallen into the stagnation of continued military dictatorship after Mubarak was ousted, we suddenly saw that military leadership “retired” by a democratically elected president.

Mubarak may have ruled Egypt for 30 years, but the military has ruled Egypt for 60 years and now that is starting to change.

Libya was the first country in this series of uprisings that went over to armed struggle to the point of civil war. Syria was the second and has been the most protracted and intense. If the Syrian bloodletting hasn’t already passed that of the Libyan experience, we have every sad expectation that it soon will.

Libya is the country were the Arab Spring has gone the farthest. In Libya, the people not only succeeded in ousting the dictator, they completely wrecked the repressive state apparatus.

The Libyan Revolution is, so far, the most advanced revolution of the Arab spring.

In Libya, they have set about creating a new state system virtually from scratch and that transitional state does not yet have a monopoly of violence. Many arms are still in the hands of the working people that overthrew the old regime and they are still organized in a way that they can use that power independent of what is left of the old state.

This assures that the new state is created under their watchful supervision.

The cartoon above illustrates what many on the international and American left think of the Arab Spring. Here we have the blond-haired American Pied Piper with the Zionists hat, leading the little Arab “rats” over the cliff with Libya in the lead and Egypt right behind.

The implication is that these revolutions were all orchestrated by the Western imperialists and the Arabs who are rising up are to ones who are falling for their tricks. The incipient racism of this view is also well illustrated here; the only human in the picture is the blond imperialist/Zionist.

When tasked with quickly understanding just what was happening in North Africa and beyond last year, a number of forces on the left jumped to faulty conclusions. They relied on a sometimes very shallow knowledge of the region and its past and they looked at it too much from their own point of view.

This has caused them to belittle the struggle for liberation everywhere, oppose it in Libya, and turn a deaf hear to the cries for help from Syria.

February 17, 2011 kicked off the uprising in Libya just as March 15, 2011 did in Syria. Libya is not like Syria today largely because NATO came in and wrecked Ghadafi’s war machine from the air and then stopped. Those that opposed any outside intervention in Libya in any possible form failed to get things their way. They hate that! That’s why Mountain’s piece has the “sour grapes” tone it has.

Syria, on the other hand, is the anti-intervention left’s masterpiece.Syria is where they have had it their way right away for 18 months now.

Nobody is intervening to stop Assad’s slaughter of the Syrian people.

“Hands Off Syria” in practice

When Bashar al-Assad rolled up his tanks and heavy guns to Homs, Hama, and Idlib last year, no French jets swooped out of the sky to save the people from slaughter as they did in March 2011 in Benghazi. By then, the anti-interventionists had convinced the world it was better to just stay out of it. So when Assad brought in the helicopter gunships and the Russians rushed him more, nothing was done to stop him from intensifying the slaughter from the air. As soon as he saw that the helos got a pass, he brought in the jets so that we could kill even quicker while the world watched the Olympic Games in London.

On August 15, 2012 the UN Human Rights Council issued a report in which they found that the Houla massacre and the others were perpetrated by the Syrian state and “that Government forces and Shabbiha fighters had committed the crimes against humanity of murder and torture, war crimes and gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including unlawful killing, indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations and acts of sexual violence.” The report further found these acts “were committed pursuant to State policy pointing to the involvement at the highest levels of the armed and security forces and the Government.”

This is the state that the anti-interventionist left has demanded be left to carry out this grim repression with no meaningful relief to the people of Syria from outside.

This is not the stand that people should be taking.

Standing aside and letting the Assad regime continue its slaughter is not the stand the American left should be taking.

We should be among the first and strongest supporters in the struggle for justice and against tyranny throughout all of the countries of the Middle East and North Africa. We should absolutely and loudly oppose the air war against civilian population centers no matter who is doing the bombing and who is being bombed.

We have much to learn from their struggles, especially the advanced examples in Libya and we should be learning those lessons and passing them on.

Most importantly, we should be building connections and solidarity with the people of the Arab Spring and all those struggling to advance humanity around the world.

Watch live streaming video from syrianfreedom at


These are some of my major writings on Libya:

Qaddafi lies live on after him
On Libya & Glenn Greenwald: Are the anti-interventionists becoming counter-revolutionaries?
Libya’s Freedom Fighters: How They Won
Racism in Libya
Helter Skelter: Qaddafi’s African Adventure
The Assassination of General Abdul Fattah Younis
Tripoli Green Square Reality Check
Is Libya Next? Anonymous Debates New Operation

These are some of my major writings on Syria:
BREAKING: Syria releases new images of Bashar al- Assad | Are they fakes?
ALEPPO: Step outside the Matrix and witness the Horror
no blood for oil
Does Syria’s Assad have something on Kofi Annan?
When did “Never Again” become “Whenever?” | #Douma
My response to Phyllis Bennis: Where is the non-violent opposition in Syria?
Another “Houla style” massacre in Syria

{ 109 comments… read them below or add one }

KPRP August 17, 2012 at 11:47 am

Ultimately the test of legitimacy is not whether or not there were elections or if oil production is up, but whether or not the new regime can provide basic services and security.


Brian S. August 17, 2012 at 2:35 pm

@ KPRP: I think its both: the elections have forced the new Libyan authorities to commit themselves to addressing social needs. and will give the Libyan people tools to hold them to account if they don’t deliver.


KPRP August 17, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Elections in capitalist states don’t force politicians to do anything to serve the people as the hundred and fifty or so years of bourgeois democracy has testified. The first such election in the Russian Federation resulted in the reign of one Boris Yeltsin, who engaged in a ruthless capitalist restoration that ravaged the country. The man was also given a second term so you can just see how useful bourgeois elections are in “addressing social needs”. The ruling faction of Libyan bourgeoisie have no interest in helping the common people and the people will either passively accept that or rise up and over throw them. That is the ABC of Marxism.


Arthur August 17, 2012 at 4:13 pm

The ABCs of Marxism tells us:

“the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy.”

The fact we have not been able to win that battle is, leaving aside our own failures, largely due to the obvious fact that elections in capitalist states DO force bourgeois politicians to compete for workers vote by offering concessions to serve their needs. Social advances in the last 150 years in capitalist countries with free elections have been enormous, especially compared with those that don’t.

One cannot be a Communist without first being a revolutionary democrat and you cannot be any kind of democrat while sneering at elections.

This stuff is intended to be poisonous to democratic revolutions in the East European police states and Arab autocracies.

But it is even more poisonous towards revolution in advanced capitalist countries. Obviously no modern working class in a bourgeois democracy would put up with a one party state, even though they still do acquiesce in a two party state with two bourgeois parties. Any attempt by a “lemmingist vanguard” to seize power would be laughed into oblivion by the workers long before it needed to be detained for psychiatric reports by the police, let alone repressed by NATO. The open hostility to democratic elections expressed by the pseudo-left fits well together with their demands for sharp reductions in workers living standards (usually in the name of “the planet”) and brands them as part of the far right.


KPRP August 18, 2012 at 2:12 am

One cannot also be a Communist without first being an anti-imperialist and you cannot be any kind of anti-imperialist if you supported the most blatantly reactionary war of the 21st century. It really takes a high level of hypocrisy to condemn people for being “pseudo leftists” because they think Gaddafi is a great leader and at the same time admire the actions of imperialists like George Bush . Were you advocating for the UN to create a no-fly zone over Iraq to spare the people from the bombs of the Coalition? What about all the Afghans who were killed and displaced so that the US can gain the upper hand in the struggle for Central Asian oil? Do you cry for them at night? Seriously the kind of position you’re propagating is the epitomy of “pseudo leftism” if that phrase is to have any meaning since it contradicts the basic premise of the Marxist left’s position towards imperialism. As Trotsky put it:

“The coercive imperialism of advanced nations is able to exist only because backward nations, oppressed nationalities, colonial and semicolonial countries, remain on our planet. The struggle of the oppressed peoples for national unification and national independence is doubly progressive because, on the one side, this prepares more favorable conditions for their own development, while, on the other side, this deals blows to imperialism. That, in particular, is the reason why, in the struggle between a civilized, imperialist, democratic republic and a backward, barbaric monarchy in a colonial country, the socialists are completely on the side of the oppressed country notwithstanding its monarchy and against the oppressor country notwithstanding its “democracy.” (


Arthur August 18, 2012 at 2:01 pm

1. The UN did create a no fly zone over northern Iraq but it was not to protect anyone from the bombs of the Coalition. It was to protect Iraqi Kurds from mass murder by the Iraqi government.

2. The objective content of a war is what determines the attitude of marxists towards it (including declared and undeclared war aims of each side). Simply announcing that the Iraq war was “the most blatantly reactionary war of the 21st century” proves nothing. The aims were not colonial or neocolonial conquest. No puppet regime was established. A tyranny was dismantled, free elections were held and when the elected government told the Coalition to leave, they left. None of this was consistent with the predictions of those who claimed it would be a blatantly reactionary war. So they simply stopped thinking about it pretended something else had happened.

As the consequences of destablizing autocracies throughout the region unfold it becomes less and less possible to maintain the old unthinking assumptions about Iraq without making a complete idiot of oneself over Libya and Syria.

The pseudos are entirely accurate in claiming that support for application of US air power in Libya and Iraq, especially without UN cover, directly contradicts the “principles” asserted by opponents of the war in Iraq.

So much for those principles! They contradict the more basic principle of supporting the people against their oppressors. Attempts to maintain consistency with old wrong positions about Iraq while taking a better position on Libya and Syria only reflect the lack of time for thinking it all through. As a sop to the pseudos it won’t work. They would rather remain consistently hostile to the oppressed people than admit they were wrong.


KPRP August 18, 2012 at 7:29 pm

“The objective content of the war is what determines the attitude of marxists towards it”

Obviously, but the objective content determined that it was reactionary.

1. You have to see the US invasion in a wider context of the system of oppression. When the ruling class of one nation control the labor and resources of another nation thus putting the population under the condition of super-exploitation that is an undemocratic and oppressive social relation. Third world authoritarianism is a problem, but this is a problem that is spawned from the inequality of nations much in the same way crime families are a product of the inequality in capitalist society.

3. Another factor one must consider is that, historically, the US wars fought in the name of freedom and democracy have ended up in disaster and neo-colonial subjugation.

4. The US had an interest in controlling the regions oil supply for economic and geopolitical reasons. Iraq is a relatively poor country that needs economic independence to pursue national development. The masses of Iraq lost any hope of that when the US invaded and set up a process of privatization of publicly owned oil assets and the handing of important oil contracts to US businesses. (,0,4334362.story)(

5. The wider context of this privatization was the neo colonial domination of Iraq. According to Kwame Nkrumah, “The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.” Iraq’s economy is dominated by foreign multinationals, its state is made up of a military and administrative apparatus trained and created by the US and has a lackey government which toes Washington’s line. The fact that Iraq would become a neo-colonial domain was known quite early in the process and acknowledged by the bourgeois press ( (

6. Elections are not the be all and end all of whether or not the Iraq war was justified. Certainly as Marxists we should consider the totality of social relations produced? States exist alongside socioeconomic relations. Guess who benefited from those relations? The US. Parliamentary institutions exist alongside the military and administrative bodies. Guess who set up those bodies? The US. Elections are also a competition and in order to compete parties and candidates need funds. Guess who provided those funds ($80 million dollars to be exact)? The US. Also in order for an election to be “free and fair” there cannot be a massive external coercive force occupying a country regulating acceptable and unacceptable candidates. Considering the history of the US using elections to set up puppet governments in the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, and El Salvador, there seems to be little evidence that they are necessarily an act of popular sovereignty.(

7. Today Iraqi’s have to live with the result of 30 years of imperial barbarism. The worst (US approved) crimes and actions of Saddam Hussein, pre-war sanctions, invasion and occupation destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure. The government cannot provide basic services like water and electricity. While formally there are civil liberties, they are not guaranteed since the government can block any demonstration if it is not in “the public interest”( According to the Economist’s Democracy index, Iraq has less democracy than Uganda (which is ruled by a dictator) or Kyrgyzstan (which is a post-Soviet autocracy). Political violence has become endemic and is unlikely to stop. According to the UN high commission on refugees there are 4.7 displaced Iraqis. It’s hard to think that all this suffering is justified because of “elections”.

In conclusion, the Iraq War was just a reckless imperialist war which increased oppression rather than decreased it.


Brian S. August 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm

@KPRP: Here, Here. Try Googling “Iraq opinion polls” to find out what the Iraqi people think about this experiment in “bourgeois democracy” from above.


Arthur August 18, 2012 at 8:35 pm


1 and 2. No response needed.

3. Historically the US is indeed notorious for claiming that wars against democracy such as Vietnam were fought for “freedom” and “democracy”. That does not make it wrong to support the American revolutionary war or the war against fascism. Nor does it prove anything about Iraq (except as an explanation for why the war was sold as being about WMDs – claims to be fighting for freedom and democracy would have been laughted at as a result of the notoriety acquired from Vietnam).

4. Iraq’s oil remains owned by Iraq and continues to be sold to the rest of the world on a very competitive world market with no special preference for US oil companies.

5. Iraq has rather more than the trappings of an independent state. The main governing party originated from the islamist Dawaa party which is rather similar to Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Domination of the world economy by transnational capital exists independently of military conquest.

6. The US lost less than 5,000 killed in the fight against mass murder in Iraq. The Iraqis did most of the fighting and dying and they setup both their administrative and security institutions. Iraq has the most free media in the region and the widest range of representation from what until recently were the only free and fair elections in the region.

7. Yes, Iraq is still recovering from 30 years of imperialist barbarism including the crimes of the Sadaam regime previously supported by US imperialism and the pre-war sanctions. Electricity supply has not been able to keep up with the extremely rapid growth of demand and there are many other problems arising from the continuing terrorist mass murder attacks against the people of Iraq from the forces you would prefer also still had the same power to attack civilians that their colleagues in Syria do.


KPRP August 19, 2012 at 1:06 am

3. a) It doesn’t necessarily prove anything about Iraq, only that based on the historical record of US imperialism, the outcomes have almost always been negative. b) The American war of independence and the war against fascism were different because each had a progressive element intertwined within the war, the first being national independence from a foreign power and the second being the independence of nations from three barbaric empires. No Marxist denies that some wars are progressive. Certainly revolutions in the form of insurrection, civil war, and invasion (like the Soviet-Polish war) are justified, but these have to have a class basis like bourgeoisie vs. aristocrats, workers vs. capitalists, bourgeoisie vs. slave-owners etc. If a revolutionary government is threatened by an internal counter-revolution than it has the right to call for aid from its allies, like the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Humanitarian interventions in times of (actual) genocide can be justified as long the war is not likely to aggravate things. If Iraq’s enemies, like Iran or Syria had invaded to stop the Kurdish genocide that wouldn’t have been horrible. But the vast majority of wars are fought for the re-division of the worlds resources either between equals (WW1) or between wealthy and poor states (i.e. imperialism). In times of the former, Marxists are against both powers regardless of who fired the first shot. In times of the latter, Marxists, regardless of the nature of the political or socioeconomic system within the country must support the independence of the backward state, since it is the nature of imperialism to be even more barbaric and exploitative. Case in point, the colonial wars of Europe often fought against societies with various feudal and tributary MoPs that had monarchic or tribal states, but the system imposed was more oppressive than the one that had been replaced. The situation in Iraq today is far worse and people are far more oppressed than when the conquest began 9 years ago. ( ( (

4. 60% of Iraq’s oil reserves have been auctioned off to western companies like BP, Shell, and Exxon. They engage in a shameless act of exploitation when the revenue from oil should go to the Iraqi people, who are in a desperate situation at the moment. Meanwhile labor unions have been repressed by the puppet government.
( (

5. Iraq has the trappings of neo-colonial state whose officials and politicians loyally serve the interests of Western capital much like the majority of states in the Third World. The government protects the interests of US business elites while denying their citizens basic social rights and repressing dissent (

6. ” Iraq has the most free media in the region and the widest range of representation from what until recently were the only free and fair elections in the region.”

This is probably the most blatantly false statement you’ve made in this entire exchange. Iraq scores 152 on the Press Freedom Index putting it in a lower position than Turkey, Lebanon Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, and Oman. Its democracy index score is 4.03, which falls in the hybrid between democracy and authoritarianism, but closer to the latter. Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Palestine all score higher. Freedom House describes as “Not Free” in civil, press, and political freedom. It states very bluntly that “Iraq is not an electoral democracy”. According to Transparency International, Iraq, with a corruption perception score of 1.8, is the most corrupt country in West Asia.


Brian S. August 21, 2012 at 11:01 am

@KPRP: Good bit of research, KPRP. I agree with you entirely on the political issues. It has taken almost 10 years for Iraq to get to its current situation, with an enormous amount of suffering on the way, and this end-state is one of a very attenuated “democracy” even by “bourgeois” standards.
On the question of oil you are not right and the issue is more complicated than you suggest, I’ll say something about that in response to the subsequent post on that issue.

Arthur August 19, 2012 at 7:08 am

8. Ok, thanks to Cyrl (C) and Pham Binh (P) for actually engaging on objective content of the war. I’ll respond less briefly in a series of comments with numbered paragraphss over time. I’m basically asking you to accept that “everything you think you know is wrong” which obviously isn’t going to be easy. Unfortunately (for me) you will have no problem finding numerous references confirming your current views on the factual issues in dispute since those views are far more widely held than mine and reflect the hostility towards the invasion of Iraq dominant in both the liberal media and the US foreign policy establishment and echoed throughout the “left” (not just the pseudo-left).

9. In this comment I’ll just cover oil. Please consecutively number response paragraphs as I am doing so we won’t need extensive quoting and can people can follow the trail despite random threading.

C4 “4. 60% of Iraq’s oil reserves have been auctioned off to western companies like BP, Shell, and Exxon. They engage in a shameless act of exploitation when the revenue from oil should go to the Iraqi people, who are in a desperate situation at the moment. Meanwhile labor unions have been repressed by the puppet government.”

10. The links simply repeat these claim, which is false.

The link to the Independent says “Greg Muttitt, who uncovered the story, exposes the lengths to which the occupying powers went to prise the country’s oil production out of the control of the Iraqi government and into the hands of international oil companies.
Interview by Phil England

Friday 22 April 2011”

11. In fact there was nothing “uncovered” around 2011. Greg Muttitt’s stuff goes back to the original explanations and predictions that the war was “all about oil” and was thoroughly refuted at lastsuperpower in 2006 with follow ups in 2008:

Five years later the Indpendent is breathlessly reporting the same old stuff.

12. In fact 0% of Iraqi oil reserves have been “auctioned off”. What has been auctioned off are Technical Services Agreements and Production Sharing Agreements. These are the standard mechanisms for oil development throughout the world.

13. The more controversial Production Sharing Agreements have typical terms for 80% of the output to go to the state and 20% to the investor. This is a vast improvement on the terms Lenin had to agree to for similar “concessions” – only retaining 30-40% of the output for the state.

14. The aim of moving to Production Sharing (“concessions”) rather than Technical Services is to give the investors an incentive to increase production instead of just being paid a fixed price for work done. The planned increase is from 2.5 million barrels per day to 12 million bpd – which is precisely what the article shows Greg Muttitt opposes (my guess would be on behalf of the Saudis).

15. Essentially people who claimed that the war was to steal Iraq’s oil are merely repeating their claims despite the fact that Iraq is gaining far more from its oil than under Sadaam.


KPRP August 19, 2012 at 10:25 am

First, in the piece you posted Lenin was talking about the oil extracted, not the profit from the oil, buts it’s irrelevant either way since the world capitalist economy is probably very different today than it was then.

Second, PSAs (and other forms of concessions) are fairly common form of agreement between extraction companies and governments, but this just verifies the claim that the purpose of the invasion of Iraq was to reintegrate it in the capitalist-imperialist system. These agreements effectively hand over control of the country’s oil to extraction companies since the state has no control over the production or distribution of oil and only gains rent on usage. PSAs are strongly opposed by Iraq’s unions which continue to be repressed by the government. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company operated on a similar basis in Iran before and after Mossedegh tried to nationalize it.

Third, Greg Muttit is a journalist who is basing his account on interviews with officials, businessman and ordinary Iraqis as well as actual documents and study of the area. I think he’s a better source on this issue than a blogger with a superficial knowledge of oil contracts.

KPRP August 19, 2012 at 10:26 am

Here is a presentation by Muttit to an Iraqi union on PSAs:

KPRP August 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Also I really don’t understand all this obsession with a “war on fascism” when the Iraq war was no such thing. The horror inflicted by the US on Iraq had more in common with Nazi invasions and war crimes than Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. If you play the ethnic cleansing card, I would a) remind you that Hussein was doing it in 1989 with US support and b) that the Nazis used a similar justification when they invaded the Soviet Union.

Arthur August 19, 2012 at 1:14 pm

16. KPRP’s reply is typical. Originally the claim was:

” 60% of Iraq’s oil reserves have been auctioned off to western companies like BP, Shell, and Exxon. They engage in a shameless act of exploitation when the revenue from oil should go to the Iraqi people, who are in a desperate situation at the moment….”

17. I documented the fact that 0% of reserves have been auctioned off. Instead of the secret deals done under Sadaam, awarding oil contracts to people like George Galloway (now defending Assad) there are now open public auctions for standard production agreements as used by other oil exporters in the highly competitive international market.

Instead of acknowledging that the original claim was bogus, KPRP simply switches to saying Production Service Agreements:

“(and other forms of concessions) are fairly common form of agreement between extraction companies and governments, but this just verifies the claim that the purpose of the invasion of Iraq was to reintegrate it in the capitalist-imperialist system.”

18. So according to KPRP, Iraq’s oil exports were previously outside the capitalist-imperialist system and it took an invasion to integrate it. Throw in a few words like “puppet”, “repression” and “union” and this kindergarten stuff is supposed to sound “left”.

19. It takes too long to refute this sort of worthless tripe and the effort isn’t rewarding as it never makes any difference to the true believers. So I’ll only pick a couple more examples from the barrage of “Iraq facts” shared with the people campaigning for “Hands Off Syria” just to illustrate that ignoring the rest isn’t due to inability to refute them.

20. Next installment will on Pham Binh’s “enormous numbers of civilians killed”. My focus will be on who killed them, so while it would be even more horrendous if there were 650,000 civilians killed, and even more important to defeat an enemy capable of that much carnage, I’ll first mention that in fact all plausible estimates are between about 100,000 and 150,000. That is quite sufficient for me to want the destruction of those responsible (ie the Baathists and jihadis), but there’s no need to exaggerate the numbers.

21. For now I’ll just mention that the Lancet study claiming 650,000 gets endlessly repeated within the “left” (not just the pseudo-left) in much the same way as the oil stuff above, despite having been thoroughly exposed.

The American Association for Public Opinion Research issued the following findings about the Lanncet study, supported by the American Statistical Association:

“”When researchers draw important conclusions and
make public statements and arguments based on survey research data, then subsequently refuse
to answer even basic questions about how their research was conducted, this violates the
fundamental standards of science, seriously undermines open public debate on critical issues, and
undermines the credibility of all survey and public opinion research. These concerns have been
at the foundation of AAPOR’s standards and professional code throughout our history, and when
these principles have clearly been violated, making the public aware of these violations is in
integral part of our mission and values as a professional organization.”

22. The following disciplinary action was subsequently taken against the project lead, Professor Burnham of the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public health:

“Because of violations of the Bloomberg School’s policies regarding human subjects research, the School has suspended Dr. Burnham’s privileges to serve as a principal investigator on projects involving human subjects research.”

References can be found in:

KPRP August 19, 2012 at 4:05 pm

1. Arthur, your original claim about oil was: “Iraq’s oil remains owned by Iraq and continues to be sold to the rest of the world on a very competitive world market with no special preference for US oil companies.” This is false since Iraq’s oil industry is no longer nationalized. Oil reverses are being extracted by foreign multinationals. They have control over the production, development and distribution of part Iraq’s oil. The state gains part of the profit, but this is like saying the US is socialist because we have property taxes. Based on information from the Independent, I said “60% of Iraq’s oil reserves have been auctioned off to western companies like BP, Shell, and Exxon.” You countered that “In fact 0% of Iraqi oil reserves have been “auctioned off”. What has been auctioned off are Technical Services Agreements and Production Sharing Agreements. These are the standard mechanisms for oil development throughout the world.” Then I pointed out that this shows that your first claim is false since PSAs are a sign of a privatized oil industry. You claim that I have not refuted your 2nd assertion, but that is because I did not go the great detail about the exact nature of a PSA. A PSA gives a company control over all aspects of the production, development, and distribution of the oil. They effectively own it. The government only gains part of the profit through taxation, which oil companies are conformable with since taxes are not as financially cumbersome as a royalty or a nationalized oil industry.

2. Another issue is the geopolitical motivation of the US to put oil in the hands of a complicit client state rather than a potential enemy.

3. My use of the terms “puppet”, “repression”, and “union” are all justified because they are true and I have provided substantial evidence above verifying it. Its amazing that you accuse me of being in the kindergarten because I use those words and yet you, who calls pre-war Iraq fascist to gain legitimacy by painting this conflict as some kind of reincarnation of WW2, are somehow exempt from being juvenile.

4. I should also reiterate that Iraq has become a typical neocolonial state. Neoliberal economy, compliant state, a military trained and armed by the West, political repression, high levels of corruption, and defunct democratic institutions.

5. Again the human, economic, and social-political cost outweighs any sort of benefit that can be seen in this war. The left should continue, as it has for a century, opposed imperialist war since the barbarity unleashed outweighs whatever horrible social forms the targeted societies have.

Arthur August 20, 2012 at 1:27 am

23. KPRP (C1-C5) I have already provided three links through which anyone can confirm that your repeated claims about oil are false. I also provided the link to Lenin on oil concessions from which people can see how nonsensical your response to Lenin’s policy is. Continuing to repeat and elaborate on this stuff and combine it with more phrases like “Nazism”, “neocolonial” and “neoliberal” will not distract me to repeat the proofs that you are wrong already at those links instead of proceeding to demolish a few other samples from the barrage of “Iraq facts” you and Pham share with the “Hands Off Syria” crew.

PS I may not have time to do the next installment today, but I’m not going to be distracted by simple repetition.

KPRP August 20, 2012 at 9:53 am

Arthur, I have provided an argument showing that the articles you posted from “the last superpower” are based on a misunderstanding of how the oil industry works. You have yet to actually respond to this so I can only assume that you’re unwilling to actually deal with the topic at hand. As I said above there is big difference between keeping output (as Lenin wanted) and keeping part of the profit from the oil, which any half-baked marxist should understand. Your continuing scoffs are not actually helping your credibility. The fact that your actual response doesn’t actually do damage to my argument is clear to any reader who had payed attention to the evidence provided. You also haven’t actually provided any evidence for why the war was a positive thing, only making hysterical remarks about “fascism” and “hands off Syria”.

My comments about neocolonialism are appropriate since you raised it in your first actual post on this topic you said “The aim of the war was not colonial or neocolonial conquest”. I have since refuted your assertion several times on the basis of actually looking at the institutions in Iraq today, which you ignore and paint a rosy picture of a liberal democracy that doesn’t exist. Geopolitical ambition as a reason for conflict seems to be completely lost on you.

KPRP August 20, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I do admit I was wrong about Iraq privatizing its oil reserves (which in most oil exporting countries remain state property), but I want to draw attention to the real crux of the matter which is the actual extraction industry, the ones producing and profiting from the oil, which is now based on foreign multinationals. The CPA after the initial invasion began the restructuring of Iraq’s economy to benefit the international bourgeoisie with CPA Order 39, which to my knowledge has not been reversed and in fact encoded in the Iraqi constitution under article 25: “The State guarantees the reform of the Iraqi economy in accordance with modern economic principles to ensure the full investment of its resources, diversification of its sources and the encouragement and the development of the private sector.” The current model of Iraqi development is based on neoliberal economic policy which means making Iraq a haven for multinational companies. While this may benefit segments of the bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie, the Iraqi workers and poor have little to look forward too.

I should also add this brief description from Human Rights Watch:

“Since the Arab Spring began, Iraqi security forces have clamped down violently against peaceful demonstrators who demanded better services and an end to corruption. Since late 2011, authorities have curtailed demonstrations by flooding Baghdad’s weekly protests with pro-government supporters and undercover security agents. Iraq remains exceptionally dangerous for journalists, with security forces routinely threatening or even beating and arresting media workers. Authorities also confiscate or destroy their equipment. Armed groups kill hundreds of civilians and security forces every year. Abusers are rarely brought to justice for violating the rights of Iraq’s most vulnerable citizens – women and girls, minorities, members the LBGT community, and detainees.”

As well as these stats from MIT:

Population of Iraq: 30 million.

Number of Iraqis killed in attacks in November 2011: 187

Average monthly civilian deaths in Afghanistan War, first half of 2011: 243

Percentage of Iraqis who lived in slum conditions in 2000: 17

Percentage of Iraqis who live in slum conditions in 2011: 50

Number of the 30 million Iraqis living below the poverty line: 7 million.

Number of Iraqis who died of violence 2003-2011: 150,000 to 400,000.

Orphans in Iraq: 4.5 million.

Orphans living in the streets: 600,000.

Number of women, mainly widows, who are primary breadwinners in family: 2 million.

Iraqi refugees displaced by the American war to Syria: 1 million

Internally displaced [pdf] persons in Iraq: 1.3 million

Proportion of displaced persons who have returned home since 2008: 1/8

Rank of Iraq on Corruption Index among 182 countries: 175

I will also leave this quote by Trotsky since it expresses what I’m trying to say at the moment:
“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, slave-owners, and robbers!”

KPRP August 20, 2012 at 4:31 pm
Arthur August 21, 2012 at 11:28 am

23 “I do admit I was wrong about Iraq privatizing its oil reserves (which in most oil exporting countries remain state property), but …”

That comment from KPRP strikes me as a major step forward. I see the “but…” as changing the subject from the original issue of seizing oil as an aspect of the objective content of the war to a much less important side issue about what oil policies the Iraqi government is and should be following. The important context is that Iraq’s oil has not been seized (directly or indirectly) and the theory that the war aim was to seize it has been proved wrong (it was also completely absurd).

I’m not that interested in the side issue so I’ll leave it there. Anyway, as Byork has joined the thread and was the source of the links I gave earlier I’ll leave any further discussion of it to him.

24. I’m also not going to go into the numerous additional “points” about Iraq that get raised. As I mentioned (8) I’m well aware that there are numerous references out there supporting views much closer to Cyrl and Pham’s position than to mine. I can’t tackle them all and still intend to work my way through the main ones in the original barrage from KPRP and Pham.

25. Next installment due is on civilian casualties etc. Apologies but it may be delayed for a few days due to time constraints. (These posts are much more time consuming than off the cuff remarks joining in other current discussions).

Aaron Aarons August 24, 2012 at 5:52 pm

‘Arthur’, in his points numbered 21 and 22 in the responses here, cites two sources in his attempt to discredit the Lancet study of excess deaths following the 2003 imperialist invasion of Iraq. But if one looks at the Wikipedia link Wikipedia link he gives in his point #22, it’s clear that those criticisms of the Lancet study are just about the only really negative ones, and that there are far more defenses of that study than major criticisms of it cited. Moreover, the second of the two attacks on the study and its authors had nothing to do with its accuracy, but with its alleged possible endangerment of those interviewed in the study:

The forms used in the field contained spaces for names of respondents or householders and many such names were collected, in violation of the protocol. The press release said the review did not find evidence that any individual was harmed as a result of these violations, and that no identifiable info was ever out of the possession of the researchers.

But along with that rebuke, there is the following:

An examination was conducted of all the original data collection forms, numbering over 1,800 forms, which included review by a translator. The original forms have the appearance of authenticity in variation of handwriting, language and manner of completion. The information contained on the forms was validated against the two numerical databases used in the study analyses. These numerical databases have been available to outside researchers and provided to them upon request since April 2007. Some minor, ordinary errors in transcription were detected, but they were not of variables that affected the study’s primary mortality analysis or causes of death. The review concluded that the data files used in the study accurately reflect the information collected on the original field surveys.

So the only source cited by ‘arthur’ that actually challenges the survey’s validity is something called the American Association for Public Opinion Research. Arthur ignores all the organizations and individuals that defend the study, even though many such are cited in the Wikipedia article he himself cites. Maybe there’s an innocent explanation for Arthur’s selective and misleading use of his own source (Wikipedia), but I doubt it, since Arthur has shown no evidence of being anything other than a propagandist for ‘democratic’ imperialism.

BTW, there is a serious flaw in the Lancet study and in all studies that compare Iraqi mortality pre- and post-2003. The problem is that, by comparing with a time when Iraq had been, over 12+ years, the target of one major war followed by continued severe economic warfare mixed with occasional direct military attacks, one is comparing excess deaths in one period with already-excess deaths from a previous period, rather than with a period when Iraqi death rates were least affected by imperialist aggression. (They were still, even before 1990, affected by Iraq’s U.S.-backed invasion of Iran. But I’ll leave that aside.) In other words, the excess deaths figures should be higher, if one wants to consider the overall effect of imperialist aggression on Iraqi deaths.

Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 19, 2012 at 12:36 am

Iraq: supporters of the 2003 American Iraq war in these threads continually gloss over the reality of the occupation on the ground much as the pseudos do over Libya now because it was far more ugly, nasty, bloody, and reactionary than Ghadafi and Assad combined and then squared. They don’t mention the enormous number of civilians killed (650k in three years according to the Lancet study), the shooting of civilians on a regular basis at U.S. checkpoints, the flattening of Fallujah in fall 2004 that makes Homs look like a picnic, the Haditha massacre, the use of white phosphorus (shades of ‘Nam), or the atrocities revealed by Bradley Manning where helicopter gunships shot up unarmed men, women, and children in a non-combat situation. The U.S. did nothing like any of this in Libya, hence why the morale of U.S. Military personnel remained high during the NATO operation as Claiborne correctly pointed out.

If the U.S. waged an “objectively” revolutionary war in Iraq in 2003, then why did so many U.S. soliders and veterans turn against it so quickly? Why do so many of them have PTSD if they were doing the right thing most of the time?

The logic of this position would lead these pseudos-in-reverse to claim that Iraq Veterans Against the War is a counter-revolutionary organization for calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. It also leads to the conclusion that the Sunni and Shia majorities that wanted the U.S. to withdraw were also counter-revolutionary. And last of all, it leads to the conclusion that the most murderous force of civilians in post-Saddam Iraq — the U.S. military — had a not only a right but an obligation to occupy Iraq to complete the “democratic revolution” against the will of the Iraqi people!

No self-respecting revolutionary democrat could agree to any of that. A revolution has to be made by the people and for the people, not against them and over their dead bodies.

The arguments and analysis of the 2003 anti-war movement may have been simplistic, facile, completely undialectical, and unable to withstand hostile questioning, but it contained far more truth and wisdom than anything I have seen from the Hitchens-was-right crowd on the topic of Iraq in these threads.

And please spare me this crap about elections in Iraq — the government of South Viet Nam had elections too under the French and the Americans. Are we Vietnamese supposed to be greatful for those elections now too since Viet Nam became a Ba’ath-style police state upon independence?


KPRP August 19, 2012 at 1:42 am
byork August 22, 2012 at 2:59 am

KPRP says: “I do admit I was wrong about Iraq privatizing its oil reserves (which in most oil exporting countries remain state property), but I want to draw attention to the real crux of the matter which is the actual extraction industry, the ones producing and profiting from the oil, which is now based on foreign multinationals”. I admire people who can admit they were wrong – I’ve had to do it too over the years. But I think KPRP is still wrong when he asserts that “the real crux of the matter which is the actual extraction industry, the ones producing and profiting from the oil, which is now based on foreign multinationals”. I read his links and none provide evidence in support of the assertion, which I take to be that foreign multinationals somehow control the oil extraction process in Iraq. Where is the evidence for this? Again, it is just an unsubstantiated assertion. It’s similar to the uninformed ‘paranoia’ about PSAs which are stressed in one of the links.

Contrary to what Greg Muttit has been persisting with for many years now, Production Sharing Arrangements (PSAs) are like technical service agreements in that they do not transfer ownership, which remains under the control of the Iraqi government. PSAs arose during the 1960s when former colonies stood up and demanded a better deal. Generally, the split is 70% or 80% to the sovereign state and 30% or 20% to the company, which also bears most of the risk. This scholarly research paper about PSAs was published prior to Iraq, therefore has no topical line to push, in 1999. It discusses their “anti-colonial” origins too.

The Iraqi government, unfortunately, has not opted for PSAs as a way of rehabilitating and expanding their most vital industry.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks offered the reverse deal to the ‘foreign corporations’ of their day. Lenin offered concessions (the then equivalent of PSAs) on the basis of 60% or 70% to the foreign company with 20% or 30% to the state. In 1921, Lenin addressed communist trade unionists and said: “We shall not grudge the foreign capitalist even a 2,000 per cent profit, provided we improve the condition of the workers and peasants”.

How can the Iraqi government improve things for Iraqis without upgrading and expanding its oil industry and exports? From where else will the revenue come?

The supposed “neo-liberalism” of the Iraqi government pales in comparisdon with Lenin’s enthusiasm for pro-development ‘concessions’. In neither case does ownership of the whole resource transfer. Muttit should be an embarrassment but he receives such uncritical (mainstream) media coverage and unfortunately has an influence in Iraq.

Lenin (1921): “There is the question of actual terms. For oil agreements, they are as follows: from one-quarter to one-third of the whole of Grozny and of the whole of Baku. We have worked out our share of the output: we shall be retaining from 30 to 40 per cent of the oil extracted. We have inserted a commitment to increase output within a certain period to, say, 100 million, and another commitment to extend the oil pipeline from Grozny and Petrovsk to Moscow. Whether we shall have to make any extra payments is to be stipulated in each agreement”.


Brian S. August 22, 2012 at 9:47 am

PSAs were a big step forward when compared with the former concession system; but they have now been replaced in the most sophisticated oil producing states by various forms of technical agreements, which are regarded as much more beneficial to the producing state. The problem is they require the state to assume greater risk and provide more capital. In a state like Iraq, whose economy was shattered by the war, those resources are not available. I assume this is why the Kurds also went for PSAs. Gaddafi also negotiated PSA deals in Libya: one of the things I am interested in seeing is whether the new government, which has inherited these, continues with them, tries to renegotiate them one way or another (the oil companies are pressing for better terms) or tries something else.
The Lenin document is pretty appaling; it appears to be an extremely bad deal, and very poorly justified in Lenin’s speech. Of course Russia was in a desparate situation at the time, and it certainly shows in agreements like these. But I get the sense that Lenin didn’t really understand the issues involved, and there may be more to the story.

byork August 24, 2012 at 4:29 am

This is worth reading – a debate on the topic of whether the Iraq war (overthrow of Ba’athist dictatorship) inspired the Arab Spring. Discussion by the two speakers worth reading too.

Excerpt from Shavaloy Majumdar (for the motion): “She paused in the midst of her conversation. A leader in the Tunisian rebellion, she looked directly into the eyes of a respected American colleague of mine, and replied: “We knew that we could do this when we saw him hang.”


“Saddam. He was the biggest of them all. Bigger than Ben Ali, and bigger than Mubarak. When he was hanging in a Baghdad jail – this brutal and mighty madman – we knew that we could get this done for our people in Tunisia.”

Excerpt from Peter Jones (against):”It is thus very dangerous to impute the cause of these events to any one factor – truly Earth-shattering events are seldom caused by just one thing. So it is with the invasion of Iraq in 2003: perhaps it had an impact in bringing about the Arab Spring, but I think not much of one. More importantly, very few people in the Middle East itself feel that the Iraq invasion is the foundation of their present quest for freedom. Though it is true that the invasion brought down a particularly horrible despot, it also left in its wake a widespread horror at its cost, as well as a strong sense on the part of the peoples of the region that America undertook this action for its own interests – and not theirs”.


Arthur August 24, 2012 at 11:24 am

Yes, its well worth reading.

Peter Jones seemed unable to grasp the point that being strongly anti-American (and also hostile to the US invasion of Iraq) does not contradict being encouraged to overthrow tyranny by the example of Iraq. Neither Iraq nor most of the other new democracies are likely to be pro-American. For people like Peter Jones the concepts “democratic” and “pro-American” are still conflated in the same way they were by supporters of US imperialism throughout the Cold War.

Also striking was his claim:

“To the extent that any previous event was a significant inspiration for the Arab Spring, my sense is that it was the Green Revolution that swept Iran in the wake of the 2009 election.”

I was surprised that the other speaker failed to respond that such events in Iran are strongly influenced by the fact that a democratic Iraq as the main center of Shia totally undermines the ideological foundations of the Shia clericalist regime in Iran.


Brian S. August 17, 2012 at 4:29 pm

@KPRP: sounds a bit millenial.There has to be a political process to get from here to there. Workers have won important concessions under certain circumstances, partly by the use of their voting power. Hence the enthusiastic support for socialist parties taking part in elections by Marx, Engels, and (in certain conditions) Lenin.


KPRP August 17, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Bourgeois democracy grant upon workers essential freedoms, but you would have to be naive to believe that the bourgeois state serves the interests of working class. The reforms gained by workers have not come from the benevolence of capitalist politicians, but from the organized activity of the working class.


byork August 22, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Brian, sorry but htis is not right: “The problem is they (PSAs) require the state to assume greater risk and provide more capital”. The opposite is the case: Production Share Agreements place most of the risk (both financial and production) on the foreign oil companies. Again, I don’t know where you get such ideas and suggest further research.

Under a typical PSA, the government awards the contract to the company (for exploration and/or production) and the company basically carries the risks. The company must eventually produce enough oil to recover costs (“cost oil”). Then, of course, remaining is “profit oil”. It is the profit oil that is shared, usually with 80% going to government and 20% to the foreign oil company. So, it’s really win-win for Iraq (or whoever) – unless of course production does not reach levels sufficient to make profit or the price of oil collapses, etc.

But, sorry, you are simply wrong to assert that government carries greater risk under a typical PSA arrangement.

The ‘blood for oil’ analysis is as discredited as the ‘WMDs’ as an explanation for the war. Greg Muttit has a lot to answer for.

Personally, I think Lenin was spot on in his approach to economic development and the use of concessions favourable to the foreign investors, and it certainly worked in terms of elevating the conditions of the working people in Russia back then.


Brian S. August 22, 2012 at 8:28 pm

@byork – You’ve misread my post – its a case of a floating pronoun. The “they” refers to “various forms of technical agreements,”. Sorry I wasn’t clearer. PSAs are of course “80%win” better than the “30-40% Win” Lenin seems prepared to settle for; but not as good as the “90-95% win” of the best TSAs.
Re Russia: Actually such a deal would have been extremely bad for long term economic development (low take by the state, dependent on imported inputs, production in foreign controlled enclaves, promotion of dualistic labour market: a real sweetheart deal) and not very healthy for politics. But I realise now that this didn’t happen because Lenin wasn’t referring to an actual concession, but only fantasy one he was dreaming of. There were no oil concessions in post-1917 Russia.


Arthur August 24, 2012 at 11:55 am


26. Given the article cited from Lenin (and several others of his on the same topic) I assumed your (unreferenced) claim that there were no oil concessions in post-1917 was false.

I was surprised to find that you appear to be correct:

However the same source suggests that it was far from being merely a “fantasy” of Lenin;s, but a serious proposal pursued seriously.

There is no suggestion that the Soviets preferred to be cut off. They wanted access to Western know how but were refused despite the terms Lenin was willing to accept.

27. Sorry, next installment on civilian casualties still delayed.


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) August 17, 2012 at 6:24 pm

If you have information that indicts the revolution that took place in Libya, I would very much like to hear it.

What is a waste of bits is to try to draw some conclusions about what has just happened in Libya by talking about bourgeois democratic elections in general as being worthless or appeals to the example of the first election in the Russian Federation.

However, the Libyan’s approach their election in a very open way so there is a ton of info on procedures, registration, candidates, parties, campaigns, and debates about all this stuff. Everything you might need to fully understand this new historic experience and draw some new lessons from it.


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) August 17, 2012 at 5:20 pm

The test of legitimacy is whether it is of, and effectively represents, the people. I believe the Nazi’s, and other facist’s regimes, often get high marks in porviding basic services and security. I believe Lenin said something like effecient gov’t was inportant, but most important was that it be “our” government.


KPRP August 17, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Its not a question of efficiency, its a question of granting upon people basic rights that allow for their well being. If a government does not do that how can it possibly be “our”.


Brian S. August 17, 2012 at 7:42 pm

@KPRP et al. It could be quite interesting to have a thread on the Marxist theory of the state and bourgeois democracy. But I don’t think this is meant to be it.


KPRP August 17, 2012 at 7:56 pm

I agree. Sorry for wasting everyone’s time.


Matt August 17, 2012 at 2:01 pm

This seems to be a tale of two moralities. Clay Claiborne is correct to criticize the cynicism of the section of the left “who dare not speak its name”, because this left hypocritically supports the massacres of mass opponents of the traditional Arab Bonapartist-bourgeois regimes (a.k.a. militarized police dictatorships), but doesn’t want to come out and say it because it is tactically inconvenient. But if we recall that the Syrian events began, not with the FSA, but with the repeated massacres of unarmed mass demonstrations by the Assad regime military, and note that this was the immediate response of that regime, then that is what the position of this section of the left comes down to in *practice*: support for the massacres of unarmed mass opposition to these regimes. That is why, when push comes to shove, the cynical left must ultimately question the authenticity of the mass movements themselves. That *is* the concrete expression of their support for their massacre.

OTOH, some parts of the pro-Arab Spring left – of which I count myself a part – fall into a mirror image of that same logical trap as do our opponents. Supporting the resistance by any means on the part of a mass movement against the Bonapartist regimes that has rather decisively given them no alternative to armed struggle – including their *right* to accept arms and military training from *any* source – is *not* equivalent to supporting the military interventions of the imperialist regimes of “our own countries”. We here in the NATO countries do not make that call for military assistance; at the very same time, we do not oppose that same call made by genuine mass movements in countries outside the imperialist sphere. The concrete, material reason is that the guns of NATO are ultimately pointed at the working classes of their own countries – at *us*. We cannot call on the assistance of the guns pointed at us, *for the same reason* the Libyan or Syrian mass oppositions could not call on the guns of their own regimes – it would be suicide to strengthen the arms and prestige of those who would rather kill us – they are the same forces that would rather torture and kill Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, to name an obvious current example.

That is what we will state to any person in the Middle East or elsewhere engaged in struggle against what are in the final analysis capitalist regimes that we have no class stake in. Nobody can call on us partisans of the working class in the USA to support the strengthening of our own state oppressor, which would be so strengthened “at home” by any support by us here for any intervention anywhere, no more then we here in the NATO countries can call on the Libyan or Syrian masses to remain unarmed in the face of a bloody military repression. Yet some opponents of the cynical left fall into this deadly trap.

Note that this position has nothing formally or logically to do with arguments about imperialism’s’ Machiavellian designs around the world. Imperialism intervenes abroad in an effort to recruit reliable agents to work its will. One is shocked to hear of this! What else on earth is new? That is the flip side of the left cynicism “that dare not speak its name”: Imperialism will always succeed. Really?

Yes it is “contradictory”. But unless Claiborne’s invocation of “dialectical materialism” is a mere phrase, the material reality of world capitalism and imperialism, and our position as subjects within it, as the “subjective element”, is contradictory. Lets’ begin practicing what we preach.


Brian S. August 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm

@ Matt: I don’t exclude the possibility that over time the decomposition of capitalism might pitch us (or rather, in my circumstances, future generations) into circumstances where we faced something like a Syrian situation, but we are a long way removed from that, and at least partially protected by several layers of historically fought for bourgeois democracy: that gives us some protection but it also some room for manoueuvre: In any event, victory of the Syrian revolution, however it is bought, will not strengthen our ruling class but weaken it.


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) August 17, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Don’t be so sure “several layers of historically fought for bourgeois democracy” will protect us from attacks by helicopter gunships and jet planes, particullarly when we see how easily the world is accepting it in Syria, and esspecially how easy the left has been fooled into accepting and even defending this type of attack.

Don’t you think all the ruling class in the world are watching as Assad is being allowed to push the upper-limits of tolerable violence against the masses? Meanwhile all’s quiet on the Leftist front!

You all know that South Africa massacred 36 protesting miners? Well, I think all those on the left that cheered on South Africa last year for backing Qaddafi as he was shooting protesters now have some more blood on their hands.


Aaron Aarons August 23, 2012 at 6:30 pm

The people who have blood on their hands regarding the recent massacre in South Africa, and the far greater 18-year-long massacre-by-economic-policy that led up to it and continues, are those who supported the ANC/SACP/COSATU deal of the early 1990’s that demoralized and demobilized the mass movement of the radical Black South African working class in exchange for the employment of the Black petty-bourgeoisie as the new front men for the South African capitalist class.


James August 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm

“Imperialism intervenes abroad in an effort to recruit reliable agents to work its will.”

What do you mean when you say “imperialism” in this sentence? How is “imperialism” recruiting agents to work “its” will? Work its will against whom? Why?

What do you mean when you say “That is the flip side of the left cynicism “that dare not speak its name”: Imperialism will always succeed. Really?”

I think you’ve done a decent job of summing up the various opinions. I help run a site that deals with Iranian events. We started it years ago prior to the Arab Spring when the uprisings were taking place in Iran around the time of the election. It was comical to watch those opposed to the uprisings and implicitly or explicitly support Ahmedinejad on the basis of anti-imperialism, precisely because not a single Iranian socialist organization took this stance (we surveyed as many as we could and like the 10 or 15 we found all supported the uprisings), but also comically because the Ahmedinejad-Khamenei bloc have been talking for some time about increasing privatizations and opening up more of the economy (particularly the oil sector) to foreign investment.

So the “anti-imperialists” were supporting a pro-private, pro-imperial agenda against a mass popular uprising on the unsubstantiated basis that it was “caused” by the CIA or “imperialism” and weakening the pro-imperialist state would “embolden imperialism”.

There were then, on the flip side as you have said, those who supported Mousavi in opposition to Ahmedinejad-Khamenei, but that was a silly position to take too based on Mousavi’s views and the fact that tying the movement to Mousavi’s election and person played a prominent role in preventing the movement from broadening itself to a more general uprising (among other things, obviously). Supporting Mousavi was then opportunism of the worst sort.

How should it have been handled? Who should the left have supported? Well, that question is fundamentally worded incorrectly. Our analysis was on the basis of what was happening. We supported the uprising and reported on the events as they were happening, and analyzed them as they were. We explained the role of the Ahmedinejad-Khamenei bloc as well as also explaining the hindering role that tying the movement to Mousavi was having. We surveyed the various organizations within the country and reported on what they were doing and what kind of positions they were taking, and why we agreed or disagreed with them. We supported the arming of demonstrators for self-defense when the Basij started massacring civilians. We didn’t support Ahmedinejad-Khamenei like the “anti-imperialists”; we didn’t support Mousavi like the opportunists. We didn’t give blanket support to the demonstrators but criticized what we disagreed with and laid praise where it was due.

This is the proper position to take; not one of tailing this or that group opportunistically, infantilely/delusionally calling for “revolution”, worshipping the spontaneity of the demonstrators or fetishizing their actions. Our goal is to explain what is happening; what is actually happening. Who is doing what and why.

“Hence, nothing prevents us from making criticism of politics, participation in politics, and therefore real struggles, the starting point of our criticism, and from identifying our criticism with them. In that case we do not confront the world in a doctrinaire way with a new principle: Here is the truth, kneel down before it! We develop new principles for the world out of the world’s own principles. We do not say to the world: Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it does not want to.”


Arthur August 17, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Love the Marx quote on “Cease your struggles, they are foolish, we will give you the true slogan of struggle”!

The pseudo-left’s support for the Iranian clerical regime marked a watershed in its degeneration going right back to the “Islamic Revolution” of 1979. Only a tiny minority of “tankies” enthusiastic about the East European police states and 1979 was the first time that the large majority of what was then understood to be “the left” got enthusiastic about an obviously reactionary development, simply because it was hostile to US imperialism.

The current complete degeneration can be traced back to that debacle.

A 1980 article on “Fascism and the Left” summed up the situation already arrived at more than three decades ago:

“In Australia many other groups supposedly on the left have exhibited a personal intolerance comparable to the Chinese parrots, and also a comparable willingness to apologise for reactionary regimes in other countries, provided those regimes pay lip service to “anti-imperialist” principles. (Vietnam, Cuba, Iran, Libya… name a country that is suppressing some other country or trying to impose some medieval religion on its people and you will find a “left” group wildly enthusiastic about it.) Scanning overseas “left” newspapers one gets the impression that narrow minded religious bigotry is pretty common, and even where it is not taken to extremes, it is still present. No wonder so many on the “left” thought a fellow zealot like Khomeiny would be progressive for Iran.”


Tom Cod August 19, 2012 at 12:36 pm

No but the Iranian revolution actually was a genuine historic upheaval whether you or I like it or not. I spoke with someone who was there, a US embassy employee who got out, who said they witnessed the largest crowds they had ever seen in their lives. Moreover, it could not have triumphed as a practical matter over the Shah’s military if it did not have massive popular support. The question for you, however, is: doesn’t that attitude contradict your current enthusiasm for the Arab Spring as these struggles are against tyrannies similar to the Shah and are motivated in great measure by Islamic fundamentalism as well. Or it is that in this situation that scenario is seen as potentially more in the interest of the U.S. and “the West”?


Arthur August 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm

There was indeed massive popular support for overthrowing the Shah which was indeed a tyranny similar to those being overthrown today. Its also true that Islamists are a major force in the revolutionary changes throughout the Arab world (eg Daawa and SCIRI in Iraq, Muslim Brotherhood and Ennada in Egypt and Tunisia etc).

But people on the “left” supporting Khomeiny and the clerical fascists in Iran is like supporting the Salafis and (worse) the Takfiri/jihadis in the Arab world. In supporting the bourgeois democratic revolution in Muslim countries we are stuck with being allied with islamists as well as secular democrats at the same time as having differences with both. But we are allied with them AGAINST the enemies of democracy like Khomeiny and the Salafis as well as allied with them against other enemies of democracy like the Shah and Mubarek.

What that 1980 article pointed to was the phenomena of significant numbers of people on the “left” actually siding with the enemies of democracy purely because they were strongly opposed to US imperialism. Apart from the insignificant numbers of “tankies” who still supported the Soviets after the invasion of Czechoslovakis, that was something new then. It is routine now of course, but Iran was the turning point when it actually became NORMAL for people to still claim to be on the left while supporting open enemies of democracy.


Tom Cod August 19, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Surely initially there was a skepticism to buy into what was rightly viewed as the self serving propaganda of counter revolution and imperialism. After a certain point, however, the real character of the Khomeini regime became apparent. Thus those who supported its brutal repressions against dissidents did the movement a disfavor. That it is different from opposing imperialist intervention there by Carter and Reagan, the latter of whom ironically used this regime to finance the contra war in Central America.


Arthur August 19, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Sure, people make mistakes. But supporting clerical fascists in brutal repressions against dissidents is more than doing the movement a disfavour. It is betraying our comrades and siding with the enemy killing and torturing them.

Even the excuse of “anti-imperialism” is peurile as they were supplying cash to help Reagan illegally fund the Contras to buy Israeli weapons for use against their fellow “anti-imperialists” in Iraq.

If intervention would help remove the regime I’d support it. But as far as I can see Iranian revolutionaries (as opposed from some of the Shah regime exiles) believe it would only strengthen the regime.


Tom Cod August 21, 2012 at 10:43 am

and of course it could lead to Armaggedon.


Tom Cod August 21, 2012 at 10:47 am

In a similar vein, Richard Perle has commented in the past that we should take military action against North Korea for regime change.


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) August 17, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Matt, thank you for this:

But if we recall that the Syrian events began, not with the FSA, but with the repeated massacres of unarmed mass demonstrations by the Assad regime military, and note that this was the immediate response of that regime, then that is what the position of this section of the left comes down to in *practice*: support for the massacres of unarmed mass opposition to these regimes. That is why, when push comes to shove, the cynical left must ultimately question the authenticity of the mass movements themselves. That *is* the concrete expression of their support for their massacre.

That advances my thinking on this subject.

But I have to disagree with:

We here in the NATO countries do not make that call for military assistance; at the very same time, we do not oppose that same call made by genuine mass movements in countries outside the imperialist sphere. The concrete, material reason is that the guns of NATO are ultimately pointed at the working classes of their own countries – at *us*. We cannot call on the assistance of the guns pointed at us, *for the same reason* the Libyan or Syrian mass oppositions could not call on the guns of their own regimes.

First, let me very briefly sketch some features about NATO’s air war in Libya that may have been missed by people on the left that weren’t much involved.

No first, let me turn around some of what you said and say:

guns of NATO are ultimately pointed by the working classes of their own countries – by *us*.

So one feature that I noticed in the Libyan conflict in NATO personnel at every level was a certain sense of mission pride that was real this time, like for once, they were really on the right side of a fight.

The “left” wouldn’t see this because they were/are more interested in their own caricature of what is going on, most were busy trying to paint the NATO’s “War on Libya” as just like Iraq or Afghanistan, but the NATO people actually fighting that knew damn well that wasn’t the case.

I think that helps explain the exceptionally low number of civilians killed by NATO.

And at all levels, working with the Libya rebels and working with the international activist network was a game changer at every level for NATO – socially and politically for NATO which never had to work with such “occupy like” networks before, but by the end of it there were individual NATO commanders that had come to rely on information from thuwar on the gnd via this Internet activist network more than they did on intel via official NATO channels.

Second, clearly we have a big military and its not going anywhere soon, so maybe the left should not limit itself to always saying what it shouldn’t do and say what it should do.

We already interject our opinions about how it should do what it shouldn’t be doing, like it shouldn’t use DU when it is bombing people and it shouldn’t carry out war crimes in its imperialist wars.

How about some positive uses for our military? And more, rallying the people and the soldiers behind that!

The main point of these suggests is that your last sentence above is dead wrong.

the Libyan or Syrian mass oppositions could not call on the guns of their own regimes

That’s exactly which guns the did call on!

AJE is carrying an interview with a senior FSA commander today and he says they have received nothing from NATO, Qatar or SA. Nothing, nada, zip.

So where do you think they got the weapons they do have from? From the Syrian regime, either taken or purchased. And who uses these weapons? Soldiers from the Syrian regime. And who arms and trains citizen-activists that have joined the armed-struggle? Soldiers from the Syrian regime!

It was much the same in Libya.

And it is certainly the only way we will win an armed struggle and it will probably take that so the left had better get use to being an influence among the troops. VFP understands that and Marxists better damn well understand that too.


Brian S. August 18, 2012 at 8:36 am

I woudn’t place any great store in changing attitudes in NATO personnel: they are as diverse as any other group of human beings, and may well have taken pride in the clean implementation of their Libya mission, but at the end of the day they are part of a military bureaucracy and will do what they are told. I think the left does need a discussion about how to respond to genuine “humanitarian crises” (and revolution in need) and that should include the possibilities for institution-building, but, as I’ve said elsewhere the American military machine is not part of that answer.


Arthur August 18, 2012 at 10:08 am

Brian, You should checkout “The Collapse of the Armed Forces”:

For other references see

This is critical in every revolutionary movement. There is a Free Syrian Army precisely because you are wrong. The relatively peaceful transitions in Tunisia and Egypt are partly because senior officers of those armies also know that soldiers don’t always do what they are told.

BTW even without active mutiny the professional pride mentioned does influence tactics. eg The unnecessary slaughter of retreating Iraqi looters after their defeat was halted within hours because pilots were objecting, despite the fact that killing retreating and defeated enemy troops that have not surrendered is not a war crime.

Several million lives could have been saved in the Rwanda-Congo wars if NATO had been willing to intervene, The world is changing and what’s already happening in North Africa should eventually require intervention against tyrannies in the rest of Africa. The Danish resolution you mentioned is a sign of the times.

PS Clay, I don’t understand your reference to “VFP understands that”. What is VFP?


Arthur August 18, 2012 at 10:37 am

PPS I meant to refer to Kuwait war when mentioning “retreating Iraqi looters”.


Aaron Aarons August 24, 2012 at 12:38 am

Iraqi “looters”? You mean that some of the Iraqi troops took with them some of the loot accumulated over the years by the Kuwaiti royals?


Brian S. August 22, 2012 at 9:53 am

Arthur this is nonsense: unrest among the grunts stuck in an alien jungle is a world away from the shifting moral attitudes of technicians sitting behind computer screens in the back-offices of the war machine. I repeat: the latter will do what they are told. You aren’t going to get any fragging in air conditioned command and control centres.


Arthur August 24, 2012 at 2:08 am

Bradley Manning?


Brian S. August 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Its great to see Clay returning to the defence of the Libyan revolution. Libya will always hold a special place in my heart, because it broke out at a point when I had the time and the electroniic resources to track its unfolding, day by day. I acquired fairly detailed knowledge of what was happening , but I also saw how the real events were reflected in both the mass media and in the mind of the left. The media simply imposed their preconceptions on a situation they didn’t understand (because they didn’t really do “revolutions”) – so we had an unending string of stories about tribalism, the inevitable partition of the country, Islamic fundamentalism taking over. At one point I tracked all the English language international media for a week : one disaster story after another, and yet I knew that as the week when Libya started to turn the corner: Misrata held the first democratic election in Libya for 40 years, and the Zintan militia handed over Tripoli airport to the Government. The latter was accompanied by a big formal ceremony, and not a single western newpaper reported it (even though it was on the wire services). But if this was bad the left also turned out not to do “revolutions”: It was stuck in its own personal “anti-imperialist ” fantasy of Libya in perpetual chaos, even further removed from reality than the capitalist press. And large parts of it are still there. My teeth are getting worn down from the number of times I grind them while reading on some left site “we don’t want Syria to become another libya!” Well, I don’t know about them – but my response is “we should be so lucky!”
“The Libyan Revolution is, so far, the most advanced revolution of the Arab spring.” I might consider getting that as a tattoo. When the Libyan revolution broke out we were constantly lectured “why doesn’t Libya refuse imperialist intervention and do it like Egypt”. And yet anyone with an unfuddled brain could see that the Libyans were on course for a much more fundamental dismantling of the regime than was going to be achieved in Egypt.
I felt I was in the murkiest depths of political isolation, locking horns wwith Richard Seymour (v. 1.0) and others, when I discovered Clay’s Daily Kos and was finally able to breathe some fresh, revolutionary air. His “Some see in Libyan racism an opportunity to attack the revolution. Others see in the revolution an opportunity to attack racism.” became my watchword.
Now there is a similar job to do for Syria.


Arthur August 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Yes its contradictory. Supporting the Syrian revolutionaries need for armed assistance from NATO contradicts much of what the “left” has been on about.

Not surprisingly that “left” never got anywhere and has largely degenerated into open apologists for mass murder.

So it’s way past time for contradicting and abandoning what it stood for.

Let’s get on with it!

Speaking of which I found the article generally excellent but with two secondary flaws.

1. Continuing to refer to creeps like Mountain as part of the left. I prefer the term “pseudo-left”, but at the very least quotation marks should be used. It is simply absurd to continue regarding these people as in any sense whatever progressive.

2. The passing references to Iraq reflect failure to recognize that the same people were responsible for the same kind of “analysis” of Iraq and that the complete bankruptcy of their fantasy account was demonstrated by the Iraqi elections in exactly the same way that the bankruptcy of their account of Libya was demonstrated in the article by the Libyan elections. We don’t have to agree about this, and full debate can be postponed while focussed on urgent support for Syria. But there’s no need to keep making passing references to Iraq that reflect the same views as people you now know are clueless and/or malevolent.


Louis Proyect August 17, 2012 at 5:51 pm

The first such election in the Russian Federation resulted in the reign of one Boris Yeltsin, who engaged in a ruthless capitalist restoration that ravaged the country. The man was also given a second term so you can just see how useful bourgeois elections are in “addressing social needs”.

This is a rather selective reading of Russian history.

Yeltsin violated the Russian constitution when he dissolved parliament in 1993. When legislators peacefully protested what amounted to a coup, he sent tanks to suppress them and their supporters. Some 2000 Russians died defending their democratic rights against the gangster politician who is obviously an inspiration to Bashar al-Assad.


KPRP August 17, 2012 at 6:29 pm

But that being said, Poland and the Czech Republic dismantled their socialism without recourse to Yeltsin’s methods, but by bourgeois politicians through free elections. The United States has had President after President devoted to anti-working class politics. I’m not against bourgeois democracy, but I don’t think it trumps other considerations and is definitely not some panacea.


Louis Proyect August 17, 2012 at 9:22 pm

What Poland and Czechoslovakia needed was the fucking USSR to keep the hell out when they were trying to get rid of the bureaucracy. Initially both countries sought to retain the gains of the socialist transformation of Eastern Europe but without the repression. By the time the USSR was collapsing these societies had rotted from within and there was no significant left movement to provide leadership. The Arab world is in the same state today. Nobody knows whether the new Libya will evolve toward a socialist society but one thing is for sure, the old system was moribund.


KPRP August 17, 2012 at 6:19 pm

Yes perhaps my example was rather deficient


A Libyan Rebel August 17, 2012 at 6:55 pm

A heck of a long article but for the Libyan part, the author nailed it 100%! I am a Libyan who fled the country due to the wasted tyrant’s persecution only to return and participate in the revolution. I then left and came back to witness the historic elections and thoroughly surveyed the security situation. I can vouch for everything the author said and that he has stated the facts as if he was on the ground. Despite the absence of government, police and any form of law enforcement, in addition to the whole population being armed (in many cases heavily) the security situation in Libya is surprisingly stable. There is absolutely no armed presence on the streets and people have returned to normal daily life. Not just that, but people are all looking forward to building their country and achieving the prosperity they were prohibited from living for decades. I witnesses the elections in July and the happiness and joy in the people’s eyes brought tears to mine. I call it the miracle of elections because if you take into account what Libyans went through for the past 42 years, you would think it’s impossible for them embrace such elegant form of citizenry (elections) so fast. For those truly concerned, I say do not worry about Libya because just as she showed the world her gems of men who spilled their blood for her freedom, she now shows the world her gems of men who sacrifice everything for her prosperity. For the haters, I say DIE IN YOUR RAGE!!

A Libyan Rebel


James August 17, 2012 at 10:19 pm

I seriously haven’t read either the above article or others on the Syrian situation on this site (probably will read this and others this weekend) but has anyone actually explained why it is that NATO or others would assist in such an overthrow, or why they did so in Libya?


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) August 18, 2012 at 12:05 am

I have detailed this in other writings, particluarly “NATO’s Game Plan in Libya” but I believe they intervented to get Libyan Oil back on the market ASAP.

They can’t in this economic crisis afford to have Libyan oil off the market for an extended time, particularly certain EU refineries designed only for Libyan oil.

If Qaddafi could have crushed the uprising in the first 30 days on non-intervention they gave him, that would have been fine with them. By the time he was ready to massacre civilians in Benghazi, the armed struggle had shown it already had legs. Without NATO. it would drag on as it has in Syria. They simply couldn’t afford to have that happen.


Arthur August 18, 2012 at 4:00 am

The speed of French and especially Italian support may have been increased by concerns over protracted loss of Libyan oil, but that isn’t a convincing main cause.

“NATO’s Game Plan in Libya” puts forward additional explanations that aren’t very convincing either.

In particular the following claim is contradicted by the well known facts (and other parts of the article):

“7. ] They acted only after it was clear that Qaddafi could not prevail.”

The opposite was true. They acted because Qaddafi looked like successfully crushing Benghazi and winning, which would have been a major setback for the whole Arab Spring.

I strongly agree with your remarks above in this thread to the effect that we should be rallying both soldiers and the people in favour of POSITIVE uses for the military and also that this has strategic importance for future situations in which the military might be used against the people.

While looking up your DailyKos profile to find that article I noticed that we are not only both from the Vietnam generation but also you are only about 3 months older than me. So I’m sure you recall that the strongest and most effective component of the Vietnam war movement were GIs and that revolutionary left organizations encouraged active work in and with the military (GI publications based on GI cafes and other hangouts near bases etc) even (or especially) when it was in direct counter-revolutionary conflict.

Delays in NATO involvement in Syria can be explained by:

1. No fear of imminent defeat for the revolution. Delay is costing blood for the Syrias but that isn’t NATO’s prime concern. This is well emphasized in the “Your silence is killing us” theme from the flash mobs.

2. Qaddafi was totally isolated with Arab League support for intervention leading to UN cover. Current administration is very reluctant to move without UN cover and needs much more popular indignation against massacres.

3. Regime split in Libya and opposition had credible unified replacement. That took much longer in Syria and is only happening now.

What your doing strikes me as excellently adapted to item 2 which is the only one we can have much impact on – by mobilizing popular indignation against the massacres and thus speeding up intervention.

But that isn’t helped by concessions to the world view of the pseudo-left mentioned above. They don;t matter much and such confusing analysis of NATO’s intentions would not in any way be helpful in mobilizing public indignation to speed up intervention.


Arthur August 18, 2012 at 4:07 am

PS My above 3 points are not intended to be comprehensive but just to include two that we can’t do much about along with item 2 that we can do something about.

Other very important reasons for NATO’s delay that we can’t do much about include:

4. Syria has serious air defences removing which will involve much higher costs both to NATO and to civilians and will not be as decisive as with Libya’s coastal roads.

5. Complications from the more significant jihadi involvement in Syria than in Libya. That ought to be a factor speeding up NATO involvement but its also being used as an excuse for dithering. (Perhaps we can contribute a bit on reducing the dithering about that with some clear analysis in the mass media).


Brian S. August 18, 2012 at 1:52 pm

I think I’ve said before, but you have to be careful when you talk about the “significant jihadi involvementt ” in Syria. The movement has become very diverse, and under siege it has turned to a rhetoric of “jihad” as a means of bolstering its coherence. So you have hard-core salafist al Qaeda identifiers (the least numerous but with some military role), non-salafist jihadists (quite a large group among recent civilian recruits), and non-salalfist non-jihadist fighters who have joined jihadist units because they are better equipped and/or disciplined.
And that’s considerably over-simplifying the picture (still can’t work out where to put the Irish-Libyans.)


Arthur August 18, 2012 at 2:10 pm

I was using jihadis to refer to the Takfiri types similar to Al Qaeda. The movement as a whole is strongly sunni and has a more significant salafist component than Egypt (where about a quarter of voters supported salafi candidates). Funding from Saudi Arabia strengthens that salafi influence far more than Libya (although some of it may be pretending to be salafi to get the money). That creates a milieu in which the Takfiris can and do operate (including people who were fighting against democracy in Iraq).

I think those complications are all the more reason to speed up intervention before the Takfiris can do too much damage with mass murder of Alwai and Shia etc. But I suspect its instead adding to the dithering.


Clay Claiborne (@clayclai) August 20, 2012 at 1:24 am

Maybe they want Assad to succeed. That’s the core reason they haven’t done shit to help the FSA. I believe the FSA commanders who say they haven’t received bullet one from, NATO, Qatar or SA. If someone had given them even a dozen manpads this would be a very different war and many civilian lives would have been saved already.

The FSA hasn’t shot down a single warplane with a surface to air missile. Why? Because they don’t have any. Why? Because they haven’t been given any. Why. Because the talk of such things is for public consumption. They want Assad to win.

They also didn’t do shit to help the Libyan rebels for the first full month. Why? Because they wanted Qaddafi to win. They didn’t intenvene to save the rebels, as is commonly repeated. Qaddafi was not on the verge of wiping out his armed opposition when NATO intervened as is commonly repeated. The armed opposition had alreadt survived it first crusial month with no outside help. By March 17 it had got its sea legs, it was gainning important experience and starting to get significant defections and arms from the regular army, and as we now know, the rebels also had strong centers in Misrata and the west.

Besides, armies know how to dig in or retreat in order. On March 17, Qaddafi was on the verge of a real civilian slaughter in Benghazi, which is not the same as wiping out the armed opposition by a long shot, a view I had at the time that now has been amply confirmed by the experiences in Syria.

But a slaughter in Bengahzi would have forced the issue of sanctions, meaning that Libyan oil would have been off the market for a considerable time even if Qaddafi had been successiful. But as I said, he wouldn’t have. Without NATO intervention, the revolution Libya would have had a much longer row to hoe. They would probably be fighting still like their brothers and sisters in Syria, instead of sending them fighters and arms, holding elections and pumping 90% of pre-war oil.

I believe that is the main reason NATO intervened. Saying that SA could have easily made up the shortfall may look good on paper. Not so good when a tanker from SA shows up at a refinery designed for Libya’s light sweet crude. Say, could you wait off-shore for 6 months while we redesign the plant? – oh, nevermind, I just realized we don’t even have the space for the new cracking facilities we need for anybody else’s oil.

And this in the middle of a world ecomonic crisis and the EU on the brink. If the Libyan war was still going on I’d wager that Italy would be in need of a big bailout by now. That’s why NATO intervened and the US hung back.


Arthur August 20, 2012 at 1:50 am

1. NATO did not have the capability to intervene even in Libya successfully without the US and certainly doesn’t in Syria. Turkey is unlikely to move without NATO backup including US airpower. So let’s focus on the US.

2. The US is now politically committed to defeat of the Assad regime.

3. External support has mainly come in the form of cash, which is used both to maintain fighters and procure light arms locally. Some FSA commanders may have received no munitions at all, others have.

4. The US spent a lot of effort recovering manpads etc from jihadis afer equiping Al Qaeda with them in Afghanistan so it is not surprising that they are reluctant to hand them out. Its not significant evidence against all the highly visible evidence for point 1.

5. Armies may or may not know how to dig in and retreat to order. Civilian fighters certainly don’t learn that in a few weeks. The rebellion would have been crushed, perhaps for a generation if Qaddafi had been allowed through to Benghazi. It has happened before, eg in Syria with 20,000 killed by Hafez Assad and in Iraq following the Kuwait war.

6. The Libyans needed and demanded foreign support almost immediately and got Arab League backing. The Syrian opposition initially rejected armed struggle and large parts of it were not asking for foreign intervention until recently and they are only just getting a unified command together capable of taking over a liberated area.

7. The US may well continue to delay support long after it has become necessary and feasible, but its up to us to convince people that the US should intervene sooner, not reinforce their assumptions that there is nothing they can do by claiming that the US won’t intervene because it wants Assad to win.


Arthur August 20, 2012 at 1:53 am

Typo. In point 4 I meant to refer to the highly visible evidence for point 2 – ie the many indications that failure to defeat the Assad regime would now widely be regarded as a significant defeat for the US.


Brian S. August 18, 2012 at 7:47 am

The factors entailed in something like this are multiple – so, while I usually don’t like “oil” explanations, its certainly possible that oil was one factor in the equation. Overall Libya accounts for a small proportion of world oil output (and the shortfall could be addressed by turning the Arabian taps) , but Italy in particular is heavily dependent on Libyan oil, supplies, so it would certainly have influenced their stance and lobbying over the issue.
While we’re on the subject of Libyan oil, who do you think was the big winner in the recent contracts for 2012 deliveries? How does the conspiracy theorists prediction of of “oil to reward the NTC backers” shape up?
* At 100,000 bpd, Unipec among Libya’s largest clients
* Chinaoil in separate deal of about 40,000 bpd
“BEIJING, March 1 (Reuters) – China’s top two state oil firms have agreed to lift a total of about 140,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Libya under term deals for 2012, ”
A very important item in today’s New York Times – an example of Libya’s need for real “ant-imperialist” solidarity after the revolution


patrickm August 18, 2012 at 8:41 am

Very good question James; I would answer NO; those that see a new and novel phenomena in the U.S / NATO help for the Libyan and Syrian revolutionary forces haven’t got much of a clue at this point, but because they are now open to genuine debate they are moving towards understanding the theory that was predicting these revolutions, AND the U.S. led western support for them. The good news is that you don’t have to even accept the starting position of this theory to jump in anywhere along the journey. If you jump into the investigation and seek truth from facts you may however be the first to shout BINGO…. read on


patrickm August 18, 2012 at 8:47 am
Brian S. August 18, 2012 at 9:15 am

@ James re explanation of NATO in Syria: I have a short answer, a mid-range answer, and a long answer.
The short answer: imperialist state policy machines serve their own interests, but they are not totally short-sighted, and are capable of recognising that situations are uncertain and short- and long-term interests can diverge. One way in which they manage this is by prioritising CONTROL – their worst scenario is one in which they don’t have substantial control . The US’s short-term interest lay in supporting Gaddafi, but he was an unreliable partner and in the long term they needed either to reform the regime (via Saif) or displace it. (there was a division in the security agencies, over whether to support Gaddafi or the rebels) Once the Libyan revolt got underway it was pretty clear that they had a better chance of keeping at least a modicum of control by backing the rebels and that this would also provide a better long-term answer.
For the mid-term answer I’d factor in: we shouldn’t discount the effects of “bourgeois democracy” in the west and the way that impacts on the policy process. I think that gets passed over on this site because its American-centric and these factors don’t play out in the same way in the US.
An example: in my view a key, unacknowledged player in the Libyan situation was Denmark: while the UN security council was dithering over how to respond to Gaddafi’s advance on Benghazi, the Danish parliament passed a resolution instructing the Royal Danish Airforce to provide a no-fly zone in Libya, if necessary acting alone. This put major pressure on the other western states. The Danish parliamentary vote was carried by the 4 votes of the Danish Red-Green alliance ( who subsequently had a big debate over the issue).
My long answer would involve the theory of the capitalist state, Nicos Poulantzas, the “factor of unity” in a social formation, “stateness” … So I’ll save it for another day.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 19, 2012 at 12:35 am

My own view (as stated here ) was that the U.S. realized late in the game that the fall of Benghazi would end any hope of removing or decisively weakening the Ghadafi regime which had, shall we say, a rocky relationship with U.S. imperialism. The week prior to Obama’s announcement, it appeared as there though there would be no military action. Clinton, Gates, and Mullen had all publicly spoken out against the possibility but Obama overruled them and got the Russians and Chinese to abstain at the U.N. at the last minute on the no-fly zone vote. Perhaps if Assad was on the verge of victory in Syria we would see a similar move for similar reasons but that is speculation.

To be clear, the U.S. has intervened in all of the Arab Spring’s revolutions in one form or another. The Pentagon’s military-to-military relationship with the Egyptian army allowed them to influence the generals to more or less stand aside and not to gun down protestors en masse a la Libya/Syria. I suppose the vulgar anti-imperialists would oppose that use of American imperial power too, but obviously it benefited the Egyptian revolution to have the U.S. restraining Egypt’s counter-revolutionary military from waging all-out war on the people.

Imperialists are not like the socialist left, standing on the sidelines, limiting themselves to proclamations and statements, conditioning their support for a force/struggle based on ideological or political agreement, and hoping their guys win out in the end. They get involved to push their agendas and class interests always and in every case. They are completely un-sectarian and it is one reason why they have been beating us so badly on the homefront. They’ll unite with anyone over anything to get the job done. We could learn from that.


Aaron Aarons August 24, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Pham Binh writes:

Imperialists are not like the socialist left, standing on the sidelines, limiting themselves to proclamations and statements, conditioning their support for a force/struggle based on ideological or political agreement, and hoping their guys win out in the end. They get involved to push their agendas and class interests always and in every case. They are completely un-sectarian and it is one reason why they have been beating us so badly on the homefront. They’ll unite with anyone over anything to get the job done. We could learn from that.

The socialist left doesn’t have anywhere near a thousandth part of the material resources available to imperialism, so we can’t do much more than agitation and propaganda among the oppressed strata and their actual and potential allies among the middle strata. We can, of course, give material support to strikers and political prisoners, and occasionally take direct action that is both propagandistic and, in some small way, materially effective. Along those lines, there were some useful direct actions during the war against Vietnam, but the main benefit of all our actions at that time was to encourage GI rebellion, including killing of imperialist officers and less spectacular, but more frequent, refusals to fight. Other forms of action, such as those of the Red Army Fraction, Revolutionary Cells, and Red Brigades, should be critically evaluated so that their strengths, rather than their weaknesses, can be imitated.

BTW, Pham and, especially, his more blatantly pro-imperialist friends here, wax very indignant when the real (i.e., anti-imperialist) left take non-sectarian positions towards people and groups like Amedinejad, Assad, Gaddafi, Hamas, Hezbollah, et al., who find themselves in conjunctural conflict with imperialism. Of course, the socialist left does have to worry about principles and contradictions, since our fight against imperialism is meant to be an integral part of our longer-range fight for the defeat of capitalism, and the establishment of proletarian rule, globally. For that reason, our support for authoritarian capitalists in conflict with imperialism has to be very critical and mostly negative, in the sense of opposing imperialist intervention against them rather than supporting them against those internal enemies who are not pro-imperialist or otherwise reactionary.

Moreover, the imperialists also, at times and despite their greater power to intervene and determine outcomes, have to balance the usefulness of strengthening their temporary allies, as with leftists in their war against Germany and Japan in the 1940’s, or Salafists and Wahhabists in their wars against the left and bourgeois nationalists, against the the future threat from such allies. But, again, they are much stronger materially than any of those allies, so their problems are far less than ours.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 24, 2012 at 3:58 pm

It’s not a question of resources but of intent and orientation. As it stands now, the Western left is doing zero agitation for the Arab Spring and the Syrian revolution and the propaganda ranges from the counter-revolutionary (PSL) to the centrist middle-of-the-road neither-here-nor-there (ISO).

The reality is that the socialist left is doing more for the jail-dodging accused rapist Julian Assange than it is for revolutionary movements abroad or at home.


byork August 25, 2012 at 7:59 pm

When anti-imperialism justifies the continuation of dictatorial regimes, then it is hardly left-wing.

Just for now: natural gas as a motive for NATO/US involvement. It makes as much sense as the ‘blood for oil’ line on Iraq.

Syria is not a signficant producer of natural gas – indeed, it has imported it in recent times. Iran is the region’s biggest producer by a long shot. (I’ve been assured for about nine years now that a US attack on Iran is imminent).

The Syrian regime used Production Sharing Agreements with Total and others, such as Petro-Canada, to ‘auction off’ exploratory blocks a couple of years ago, as they did with Royal Dutch Shell (and Total) in the oil sector – but EU sanctions have led to a curbing in the activities of these companies in Syria. It is significant that Assad is not revoking the PSAs with the foreign companies – presumably, in the fascistic fantasy-world inside his head, he thinks he may stay in power and the sanctions be lifted.

The EU and the USA (the USA was first) have banned imports of oil from Syria, just as the USA did in the case of Iraq in the lead up to war against fascism there. Get it? It wasn’t the dictators who stopped wanting to sell to the US, it was the other way around. They were happy to keep selling to the US, and the earnings helped keep them in power.

Diana Barahona’s thinking is indicative of pseudo-left dogmatism and formula-thinking. There is no need to investigate actual conditions – the starting point for Marxists – she already knows the ‘correct line’. It can be applied to any situation, any conflict. The problem is that it is way out of touch with reality – it ignores the great decline of US imperialism since its defeat in Indo-China in the mid-1970s and it just blocks out the clear reversal in US strategic policy since 2001 (a process that can began as a conflict within the Establishment prior to 2001). It was summed up by Condi Rice in Cairo in 2005 when she admitted that the US had it wrong for 60 years after WW2 – regional dictatorship does not make the US more secure, but less so.

Does anyone seriously think she was saying this to confuse Tariq Ali or was she sending a message to the other regional oppressors, after having just helped the people overthrow one in Iraq?

The pseudo-left position results in the very right-wing, reactionary, position of siding with tyrants at a time when people are rising up against them.

There are moments when I feel exasperated at even having to argue this out – as though the left is not defined by its support for the oppressed, especially when they rise up. Yet in Australia, at least, the mainstream media has succeeded in presenting the pseudo-left as the actual left. No wonder people don’t like ‘the left’ any more!


Ross August 17, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Excellent article. I feel like recent articles in Socialist Alternative and Socialist Worker have demonstrated progress in their thinking, although the Worker piece (this might have been what Brian S. was referring to above) still treats Libya as the black sheep revolution, an example for Syria to avoid. SA doesn’t mention Libya, but it makes clear that “US imperialism is not the central issue” in Syria and defends the revolution.


Brian S. August 18, 2012 at 8:19 pm

@Ross: The articles I was referring to in my earlier post are ones which still invoke Libya as some sort of “disaster”. The reference in the SW article here is very benign by comparison.
Thanks for the links: it looks as if the left is slowly dividing into those who simply lie about what is happening in Syria to try and rationalise their hostile position; and those who recognise the Syrian revolution for what it is and support it politically, These are each good articles in their way, and reflect the latter trend. The only problem lies in the conclusions – there either isn’t one (SA) or its just platitudes (SW).
But I’m afraid its a case of one step forward, two steps back. The British SWP have just published this article which strikes me as a move backwards:
It contains the immortal sentence “Western leaders continue to use the violence of president Bashar al-Assad’s assault as justification for intervention” and goes down hill from there.
But there is one real scandal lurking here. The SA article contains a link to an appaling video of Jonathan Steele and George Galloway retailing nonsense about al Qaeda in Syria: if you look closely you’ll see that its been posted on YouTube by UK StoptheWar. Its also posted on the Stop the War web site:
Now this is an organisation in which the British SWP plays a significant role. Anyone who is in touch with the ISO should raise this with them.


Arthur August 18, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Yes, the SA article only fails to demand intervention, rather than actively opposing it but that may be a significant shift. Could be transitional to a better position.

The SW shift seems weaker.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp August 24, 2012 at 4:00 pm

At least SW has finally come out of the closet as either neutral or in favor of the FSA getting arms from the imperialist West. I guess they realized how foolish it was to be against all forms of imperialist intervention under all circumstances.


David Ellis August 18, 2012 at 5:53 am

The left is dominated by Gramscian Stalinism which turned Stalinism from a pragmatic adaptation to cover for treachery into a respected intellecual `theory’. It is taught extensively in our universities as the radical alternative to other political philosophies when in fact it is arch reactionary. It will support any tyranny you like in the name of anti-imperialism. It is opposition to permanent revolution writ large and sponsored by serious money. Even Stalin could not get away with this level of hostility to revolution. Can you imagine Trotsky criticising Stalin not for subordinating the Chinese masses to the counter-revlutionary Kuomintang but for supporting the chinese revolution at all because it brought with it the danger of foreign intervention? Two of the biggest dangers to radical socialism today are Gramscianism and pro-imperialist `left’ zionism its mirror image with its roots in Schachtmanism and its refusal to defend the soviet union against imperialist war.


Arthur August 18, 2012 at 9:25 pm

My impression is that post-modern relativism and generalized cynicism rather than Gramscianism has been the academic bulwark of counter-revolutionary pseuodo-leftism.

BTW 1. the Chinese revolution was not subordinated to the Kuomintang – the Kuomintang had to flee to Taiwan.
2. The Soviet Union cannot be defended against imperialist war as it disintegrated following its own attempt at imperialist war and consequently no longer exists to be defended.


Tom Cod August 19, 2012 at 12:20 pm

What Ellis is referring to is the subordination of the CCP and the workers movement to the Kuomintang in the 1920s period which resulted in the Shanghai massacre of 1927 and other horrors. It was largely as a result of this defeat that the Long March was initiated. A good introduction to this history is Barbara Tuchman’s “Stilwell and the American Experience in China”.


Brian S. August 18, 2012 at 7:52 am

Tony: stop moaning. Admin has clear and well publicised guidelines about what is unacceptable practice on the site. These are necessary to stop the site turning into a bear-pit that no one will want to visit. This is not censorship but necessary management in all our interests (even yours: what’s the point of gettingall your posts on a site that no one will read). Start by reading them. If you don’t understand them, or don’t understand why they were applied in a particular case, have an email discussion with Admin to get clarification.


James August 18, 2012 at 8:15 am

All posts await mod approval, so I’m not sure why you’re whining. How about you stop whining and dragging down this comments section with your immaturity? If you are opposed to the piece then write a response; if you are opposed to someone’s comment then write a response. Either way it must go through the moderation process like everyone else’s so we don’t get a slew of….well, of posts like yours showing up and driving people away.


Louis Proyect August 18, 2012 at 6:11 pm

What is this nonsense? My last post was held in a moderator’s queue for 16 hours. This is the most tolerant comments policy I have seen on the left and clearly in line with the overall orientation to be more inclusive and respectful of divergent views on the left.


Arthur August 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Its fairlly obvious what this nonsense is. Tony made about half a dozen posts in this thread each of them saying he was being censored (apparantly because they didn’t appear instantly). Now that these completely pointless off topic displays of paranoia have finally been removed from cluttering up the thread he can go around boasting that he wasn’t allowed to post here.

Whether or not he is allowed to continue this game here there will be more Tonys. A separate “junk” thread is useful for publicly recording what has actually been removed from non-junk threads. It helps document their lies as well as ensuring transparency in the necessary process of removing dross to enable actual debate to proceed.


Tom Cod August 19, 2012 at 12:14 pm

The difference between Hitchens and Arthur and similar apologists for the Iraq War and other imperialist adventures here is that Hitchens was candid enough to not attempt to paper his views over with ostensible Marxist orthodoxy. This kind of shameless and blatant support for imperialist war under the aegis of “marxism”, orthodox or otherwise, was an outlook that even Karl Kautsky, the leading orthodox marxist of his time, would have been-and was-embarrassed to be associated with; in fact he was the leading deconstructer of such views, which he, along with other radicals, exposed as an utter fraud-the Woodrow Wilson school of “socialism”. Even later when he railed against Bolshevism as a tyranny over the workers he never supported imperialist intervention against them as he had opposed the First World War.

Sadly, however, there were many putative socialists who did exactly that during the period of the “Great War” whose centennial is rapidly approaching, a phenomenon that was seen on both sides of this conflict. We all know about Wilson and the war to make the war to “make the world safe for democracy” against the depredations of the German and Austro-Hungarian empires which liberals and too many social democrats stumbled over each other to cover for, while social patriotic German social-democrats railed against Tsarist oppression and English colonialism whose victims Germany would liberate, liberally employing “revolutionary” “marxist” rhetoric to highlight this democratic causus belli of their own imperialism. And all of them used racist tinged arguments about democracy and human rights to justify colonialist domination of “uncivilized” and “barbaric” peoples, particularly when it was carried by their “own” governments, with the evolution of former “left wing socialist” Mussolini being the most extreme example of this.

Arthur and his colleagues may display great erudition and ideological glibness, and their observations need to be addressed on their own terms, but one thing is clear: these shopworn liberal and neo-con views having nothing in common with Marxism (or Leninism), having been completely discredited as an iteration of that doctrine and tradition a century ago. Thus a more candid and productive discussion of these issues would benefit from an abandonment of such pretentions.


Byork August 21, 2012 at 6:59 am

I have just discovered this thread and would like to comment on KPRP’s claim, of 19th August, where he asserts that 60% of Iraq’s oil has been auctioned off to mainly US oil companies. KPRP provides two links – one from the Guardian, the other from aljazeera – to support his assertion. I have read both and neither provides evidence to substantiate his claim. The Guardian article merely makes an assertion without evidence. It does point out that an Iraqi MP tried unsuccessfully to take legal action against one of the ‘sell-offs’, namely of the biggest field, Rumaila. Yet the Rumaila field has not been sold off to anyone. All that has happened is that technical service contracts have been awarded to a partnership of BP and the China National Petroleum Company and South Oil Company (Iraqi government owned). Ownership does not change hands in any sense under such contracts and it is frankly ridiculous to suggest that it does. The Iraqis no more lose ownership under these contracts than you or I would lose owenrship of our homes by bringing in a contractor to, say, build an extension or upgrade the electrical circuits in the house. There is so much more I could say but, for now, I’d like to urge readers to look at both links for themselves.

The aljazeera link actually shows that the contracts have primarily NOT gone to US companies. The link includes a diagram that identifies the major fields and which companies have been awarded them. By far the largest, Rumaila, has gone to BP (about a third of which is US based ownership, about a third UK, 15% European) in partnership with China’s national petroleum corporation (owned by the Chinese regime), plus SOC. In the absence of any new final national oil law, Iraq’s oil remains owned by the Iraqi National Oil Company, established in 1966.

The Iraqi government should pursue these contracts for the same reason the Bolsheviks pursued far less favourable oil deals under Lenin and Stalin – namely, to develop a vital resource with a view to earning revenue to help lift masses of people out of poverty and to improve the standard of living. Contracts that do things like renovate infrastructure and bring in innovations such as horizontal drilling in no sense transfer ownership. In 2009, the China company and BP scored a huge technical service contract, with SOMO (the Iraqi govenrment’s oil marketer), to help triple production. Over 20 years, the consortium will invest fifteen billion dollars to do this. What’s in it for China and BP? Well, once production has been raised by ten percent from its 2009 level, then, and only then, will costs start to be recovered and a fee of two dollars per barrel be earned by the companies. That is a VERY good deal for Iraq, with very little risk/cost to the Iraqi government. The fee of two dollars per barrel is chicken feed compared to what each barrel will earn for the Iraqi government. And by the way, under the fascistic Ba’athist regime, US companies such as Halliburton were involved in infrastructure projects inside Iraq and Iraq happily sold the US, and others, all the oil it would pay for.


Brian S. August 21, 2012 at 12:16 pm

@Byork and KPRP:. Thanks for this very interesting post Bjork. The left doesn’t really understand the oil industry very well, despite its obsession with it. I am interested in getting a clearer understanding (partly to follow more closely developments in post-conflict Libyan regarding oil) but haven’t yet fully engaged with the subject.
Its true that modern oil contracts don’t transfer ownership of oil resources from the state to private companies. But that is to some extent a formal question. There are still a lot of issues about the length and terms of contracts that can decide who benefits most from them.
There is no doubt that the US authorities made an attempt at an “oil grab” in post conflict Iraq, centred around the Oil Law introduced in 2007. This would have provided for long term agreements with foreign oil companies to develop new oil fields on terms very favourable to the companies:
However this law met with a huge amount of internal opposition, and it was never enacted (the opposition to the law seems to have been an important episode in moving post-conflict Iraq’s politics forward).
Instead the Iraqi government put up a series of much better technical service contracts for international bids. In fact these contracts were so advantageous to Iraq that the international companies refused to bid on them. The result was some bargaining that then produced agreements with better conditions for the companies (but still with gains for Iraq and a continuing role for the state oil company). These outcome of this process is reflected in Bjork’s links.
from what I can see these contracts were a reasonable deal for Iraq:,8599,1948787,00.html
but the oil companies are still pressing for a better deal for future contracts.
I agree that there is nothing wrong with involving international companies under technical service agreements if the terms are right and there is space for state corporations in the package. But there are also lots of other issues to be addressed around transparency, corruption, etc.


byork August 21, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Brian S., the fact that the draft oil law was never enacted (mainly because of problems with the Kurds who have pursued their own deals based on Product Share Arrangements (PSAs) – much to their advantage, might I add, as the Kurdish regional PSAs are usually based on an 80%-20% share, with 80% going to the Kurdish region – but the failure to pass a national oil law that you and others assert was required by the US occupiers must mean that the Iraqi national government is not a puppet of the US. If it were a puppet government, rather than one democratically elected in competitive multi-party elections and with sovereignty based on the people, then the law would have been passed very quickly. The “oil for blood’ analysis remains false as an explanation for the war.

I recommend that people here read the draft oil law, as I have done, and you will see that it actually keeps control of the oil in the hands of the Iraqi government anyway. The problem with its passage is the regional issue. The draft law does not specify any kind of contracts – yet Greg Muttit has been successful in creating the impression that it advocated PSAs. It’s amazing how much space he is given in the mainstream media.

You are wrong, in my view, to assert that the foreign companies refused to bid for the technical service contracts because the contracts were too favourable to Iraq – after all, foreign compasnies did bid and win them. Iraq’s problem since liberation from Ba’ath fascism has been that companies, epseically US ones, are reluctant to invest because of the absence of a national oil law and because of concerns about the security situation (though these concerns are declining). This by the way explains why so many of the ‘winners’ are not US-based but are Chinese and Russian, Korean, Norwegian…

The ‘blood for oil’ hypothesis has been tested by facts and is a complete dud. If it was about oil, the US would have left the dictator in power – he would have kept selling them Iraq’s oil as he had always done (ie, during the Reagan years he even discounted it for the US). THe US put him in power originally, propped him up mercilessly for many years. The left would have protested about this US policy of support for him, as we did when they propped up a similarly nasty regime in South Vietnam. Yet when the US reverses that course of propping up the dictator, the left should support that course of action because it tallies with the interests of the Iraqi people who hated the regime (as subsequent election results showed).

To understand the motvation for the war, you need to look at the shifts in strategic thinking, and the conflicts, within the US foreign policy establishment. It is telling, I think, that Kissinger was anti-war when all this was being thrashed out by the US establishment.


Matt Osborne August 23, 2012 at 6:17 am

Excellent essay. One point:

“I was never sure how they solved the “friendly fire” problems they had in the beginning”

It was drones. Really. A drone loitering over a combat zone makes all your fire so much more accurate. It even makes close air support possible without “boots on the ground.”


Arthur September 1, 2012 at 8:41 am

26. Apologies to KPRP and Pham but the discussion has moved on and I’m not going to find time to complete replies on Iraq for quite a while. No doubt the topic will come up again, but my primary interest at the moment is catching up on economics with a view to the economic crisis (and I’ve just over-enrolled in about a dozen online courses).

I’ll just quickly pass on for those interested links I had intended to elaborate on for the next installment on civilian casualties.

This is probably the most authoritative estimate, based on updating the Iraq Body Count estimate with data from the wikileaks warlogs.

Table 1 shows that of the total civilian deaths over 5 years from 2003 invasion to 2008 about the following % were killed by each of class of perpetrators:

1. 3% by Iraqi security forces or in cross fire between different forces.

2. 10.7% by Anti-coalition forces in the course of attacks on Coalition targets

3. 12.4% by Coalition forces

4. 73.9% by terrorist mass murderers directly targeting civilians. Described in the paper as follows:
“Unknown perpetrators had a civilian target of attack, while themselves being indistinguishable from civilians (e.g., sectarian and Anti-Coalition combatants and criminals that attacked civilians).”

Thus the overwhelming majority of killings were deliberate mass murder of Iraqi civilians by the “resistance”.

For further background on Lancet study cited by Pham Binh see:

It wasn’t just a matter of research protocol violations but a basically fradulent project intended to influence the US elections.
For example it claimed to have sighted death certificates, which if not falsified would require that half a million more death certificates were issued in Iraq than were recorded. (That is very different from people killed without death certificates being issued – it implies active falsification of the survey data).

Note that comprehensive refutations were published more than 6 years ago but this stuff still floats around. Again that is typical of the way pseudo-left propaganda works. Its exactly the same approach that the same people are using for their propaganda on Syria and Libya.


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