Eclectics or Dialectics? Unpacking PSL’s Defense of Racist, Collaborationist Tyrannies

by Pham Binh on April 8, 2013

 promoSocialists and War: Two Opposing Trends published by Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) is as thin politically as it page-wise. Clocking in at 46 pages, most of the book consists of freely available published material: a reprint from PSL’s newspaper, a Dissident Voice interview with Brian Becker who is the national director of PSL’s front group ANSWER Coalition, and a historical document, the Basel Manifesto. The only original work is Becker’s essay, “Socialists and War: Two Opposing Trends,” which claims that socialist debates over imperialist intervention into the Arab Spring are the modern analog to the split within the socialist movement over World War One with myself as Plekhanov and PSL as – who else? – the Bolsheviks. (Whether Becker gets to play Lenin and Mazda Majidi Trotsky or vice versa in their 1914-1917 reenactment is unclear.)

The book is a reminder that seven dollars doesn’t buy much of anything these days.

Majidi’s article, “When Justifying Imperialist Intervention ‘Goes Wrong’” is a Revleft-style response to my essay, “Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong.” Majidi’s strawmen speak for themselves and need not be enumerated here. However, his underlying method is of interest. He begins by asserting that, “All demonstrations and opposition movements [are] not progressive.” Undoubtedly this is true, and Majidi cites the Nazis and the Tea Party as examples. So far, so good. He then adds what he calls “color revolutions” to this list:

“Most color revolutions occurred in the former Soviet Republics, such as Georgia’s Rose Revolution, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip Revolution. But there have also been (successful or attempted) color revolutions in other countries, such as Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution in 2005 and Iran’s Green Revolution in 2009.”

What is a “color revolution” according to Majidi?

“Color revolutions usually include the formation of coherent and unified pro-imperialist political forces, which draw upon public discontent with economic distress, corruption and political coercion. They involve several operations, including the creation of division and disunity in the military and an intense propaganda campaign. … Elements who participate in such street protests are often a small part of the population and do not represent the sentiments of the majority of the people, much less the interests of the working class. In fact, many participants in the protests may not support the agenda of the right-wing leadership and its imperialist sponsors. Still, the imperialist propaganda campaign utilizes the protests, however large or small, to promote regime change and the ascension of a client state. The imperialists are not fools to do so; this is precisely what such ‘democratic’ movements produce absent an alternative working-class and anti-imperialist opposition.”

This is a description of associated features, not a rigorous definition.

Many of these features were present in the Egyptian revolution. The “coherent and unified pro-imperialist political force” known as the Muslim Brotherhood rode to power drawing “upon public discontent with economic distress, corruption and political coercion.” Their regime enjoys a much larger and firmer popular base than Mubarak’s decrepit dictatorship and in that narrow sense U.S. imperialism was strengthened rather than weakened by the January 25, 2011 revolution.

Does PSL consider the Egyptian case to be a “color revolution”? Of course not. Thus, the only consistency to PSL’s method is its inconsistency. Eclecticism is inevitable because PSL continually substitutes description for definition.

The next step in Majidi’s counter-argument is to ask, “What is the political character of the Syrian and Libyan rebels?” Earlier in the article, he poses questions of fundamental importance for approaching this issue:

“In his entire article, Binh conveniently assumes the very thing that needs to be proven—that the Libyan rebels and the Syrian opposition are revolutionary. This false premise, once accepted, leads to all sorts of false conclusions. What is the political character of the NTC-led rebels in Libya? What qualified them as revolutionaries? How does Binh determine that the Syrian opposition is revolutionary and the government counter-revolutionary? When analyzing an opposition movement anywhere in the world, this is the first question that needs to be asked.”


The first question that needs to be asked in assessing an opposition movement is: what is it a movement in opposition to? What is the class character of the regime it is coming into conflict with and why? Imagine trying to analyze the political character Occupy Wall Street without knowing the first thing about Wall Street! Majidi makes this exact mistake by assessing the Libyan edition of the Arab Spring without first examining the Ghadafi regime in any detail. Doing this would make defending the regime from the protest movement as PSL does impossible because the regime was guilty of the very things Majidi claims define the rebellion as reactionary and right-wing: racism, collaboration with imperialism, and pro-neoliberalism.

hanging4.7. 77

April 4, 1977, Bengazi. PSL’s “progressive” regime lynched students (without trial) every year on April 4 to “commemorate” the anniversary of a 1976 student uprising.

Racism: Much like the Polish, Ukranian, and other national minorities of Tsarist Russia, Libya’s Amazigh were forbidden from learning, speaking, or celebrating their language and culture by Ghadafi’s regime. Those that dared risked arrest and persecution.

Becker claims “Gaddafi had a lot of support from black Libyans who considered [his] Africa-centric foreign policy to be positive” (33). Does Becker believe Black Libyans supported Ghadafi when he made a racist deal with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to keep Italy free of Black immigrants, saying, “We should stop this illegal immigration. If we don’t, Europe will become Black, it will be overcome by people with different religions”?

Collaboration with Imperialism: Socialists and War: Two Opposing Trends says not a word about how Ghadafi’s regime tortured people on behalf of the CIA and its British counterpart, MI6. Nor does it mention Ghadafi’s mass expulsion of thousands of Palestinian refugees in 1995 and his call on other Arab states to follow suit.

Neoliberalism: Majidi never discusses the Ghadafi regime’s embrace of neoliberalism, so comrade Becker’s words on page 27 may come as a shock:

“Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Gaddafi’s government saw the handwriting on the wall and sought its own accommodation with the West. It adopted a set of neoliberal policies and invited major western oil companies to do business again, once sanctions had been lifted by Britain and the United States.”

So for PSL, it is acceptable for a racist, tyrannical regime to collaborate with U.S. imperialism and institute neoliberal policies but unacceptable for a revolt against this same regime to have racist, collaborationist, and neoliberal elements or characteristics. What is good for the goose is absolutely impermissible for the gander. When Ghadafi made deals with British Petroleum and other western oil companies, PSL said this was understandable and justified; when the post-Ghadafi government honored those same deals, PSL labeled it a pawn of imperialism.

This is doublethink masquerading as Marxist analysis.

Still, the question remains: was it correct to assume (as I did) that the Libyan edition of the Arab Spring was revolutionary and not reactionary, progressive and not regressive? If so, how do we make sense of PSL’s charges of racism, collaborationism, and neoliberalism on the part of the Libyan opposition?

The answer to the first question goes to the very heart of what the Arab Spring is – a series of bourgeois-democratic revolutions. Unlike socialist revolutions and national liberation movements, democratic revolutions are not necessarily anti-imperialist; the pro-imperialist post-revolutionary governments in Egypt and Tunisia prove this. While the socialist revolution is principally a struggle by and for the proletariat (in conjunction with other classes and oppressed groups to be sure) against the bourgeoisie as a whole, modern democratic revolutions pit oppositional sections of the bourgeoisie against ruling sections of the bourgeoisie. PSL points to the defection of neoliberal figures like Mahmoud Jibril from Ghadafi’s regime to the side of the rebellion as proof that it was  reactionary while remaining oblivious to analogous neoliberal figures like Mohammad Morsi and Amr Moussa in the Egyptian revolution and Hamadi Jebali in the Tunisian revolution. PSL does not label these latter revolutions right-wing, reactionary, or “colored.”

Again, PSL’s consistent inconsistency is blindly obvious.

Having exposed PSL’s inability to grasp that bourgeois and neoliberal forces inevitably play a prominent role in modern democratic revolutions, what of their charges that the Libyan opposition was racist against Blacks and collaborated with imperialism? Does this not invalidate the claim that the Libyan opposition was democratic in character?

Historically speaking, democratic revolutions were not anti-racist nor even consistently democratic, the American revolution in which white slaveholders and racists played a dominant role being a prime example. The fact that bourgeois-democratic rights were not accorded to Blacks in 1776 and that America’s post-revolutionary government ruthlessly exterminated the continent’s indigenous peoples does not change the revolution’s democratic character. Libya’s democratic revolution in 2011 is no different in this respect.




Salem Al-Shoushan

Libya’s Black Revolutionary Democrats

The problem for PSL and all those like Richard Seymour who saw Libya’s revolutionary democrats as little more than an anti-Black lynch mob is that they either deliberately ignored or were blissfully unaware of the significant number of Black Libyans fighting Ghadafi’s forces. This would have been impossible if anti-Black racism was the rule rather than the exception among the rebels. Southern rebel brigades made up of the Tuareg and Tebo peoples were almost all Black.

Libya’s rebels had more Black commanding officers than the Union did during the Civil War and they commanded non-Black and mixed race units.

Right: Rebel commander Wanis Abu-Khmada berates a group of rebels in the first days of the revolution for their lack of discipline.

Right: Rebel commander Abdul-Wahab Qayed. After the revolution, he was put in command of Libya’s border protection forces.


Thus, PSL’s depiction of Libyan rebels as Klansmen is counterfactual slander.

As for the charge of collaborating or allying with imperialism, undoubtedly this is true. The problem for PSL is that democratic revolutions – unlike socialist revolutions – are not anti-imperialist by definition, and there is no socialist equivalent of the 10 Commandments that forbids such collaboration on a temporary or limited basis. Majidi concedes this, writing:

“It is possible for one imperialist country, or a grouping of imperialist countries, to temporarily aid independence movements in the oppressed world in order to weaken the hold of their imperialist rivals in a different country.”

By the same token, it is possible for one imperialist country, or a grouping of imperialist countries, to temporarily aid democratic revolutions in rival states just as monarchist France aided America’s democratic revolution against British colonialism. Only a fool would conclude that independence movements and democratic revolutions in the oppressed world are reactionary because they receive temporary or limited aid from a reactionary power.

At the root of PSL’s litany of errors is their utter failure to understand democratic revolutions as Lenin and Marx did. This failure leads them to invent a distinction between the “good” Arab Spring (against pro-U.S. dictatorships) and the “bad” Arab Spring (against anti-U.S. dictatorships) instead of realizing that the Arab Spring is an internationalist struggle against all dictatorships. Every country affected by the Arab Spring saw a fight between bourgeois anti-democratic states on the one hand and bourgeois-democratic mass movements on the other; every one of these struggles and movements had and has progressive, democratic political content compared to the tyrannical governments they struggled to reform or remove.

Supporting one freedom struggle and not another is an exercise in the kind of selective hypocrisy characteristic of liberalism, as is the inability to recognize the difference between revolution and counter-revolution; PSL does both while claiming to be a Marxist organization.

PSL’s attempt to pass off eclecticism as Marxism is even more apparent in its internal documents. Richard Becker’s “A Class Analysis of the Revolutionary Upsurge in the Arab World” is a 6-page chronological summary that is as broad as it is superficial. It reads more like a Wikipedia entry than a thoroughgoing study of Libya’s development since 1969 when a bourgeois nationalist military coup ended the monarchy and inaugurated Ghadafi’s 42-year tyranny from the standpoint of historical materialism. Becker’s 277 words “analyzing” (read: describing) Libya contain no discussion of how Ghadafi imported right-less migrant labor to staff the oil industry, creating an unemployed lumpenproletariat among native Libyans, no discussion of the country’s changing class and state structures, and no recognition of Ghadafi’s impoverishment of the standing army in favor of irregular armies of snitches, spies, and enforcers dressed up as “revolutionary committees.” The national oppression of the Amazigh is invisible to Becker, mirroring Ghadafi’s racist insistence that the Amazigh people and culture simply did not exist.

Having failed to properly examine the context and the regime that gave rise to protests in Libya, Majidi moves on to sketch an alternate history of the revolution that conforms all too perfectly with his description of  “color revolutions.” He uses the fact that the Libyan revolt could not beat the regime militarily in spring of 2011 as proof that it was not popular, not progressive, nor a genuine revolution; perhaps he has never heard of the Paris Commune of 1871 that was also unable to triumph militarily, or perhaps he believes the Commune to be the very first “color revolution” (orchestrated by German and British imperialists, no doubt). Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that Libya was the first instance in the Arab Spring where a capitalist state used lethal force against peaceful protests on a mass scale – the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions were fortunately never tested by this kind of wanton bloodshed. Ghadafi was the bloody vanguard of the Arab Spring’s counter-revolution, and his violent escalation prompted the democratic opposition led by the National Transition Council to seek military aid from imperialist powers that previously they rejected as unwanted and unnecessary.

If anyone is to blame for NATO’s intervention in Libya, it is Ghadafi. He chose to shoot unarmed protesters en masse, handing NATO the political capital it needed to step into what began as a peaceful struggle.

Majidi goes on to argue that because the NTC did not have the “support of the entire population,” it was a fake, reactionary, unpopular “color revolution,” as if there has ever been a revolution in world history that was an exercise in unanimity! As evidence of popular support for Ghadafi, he points to a single state-sponsored rally of hundreds of thousands held in Tripoli “in the midst of the massive NATO bombing” (never mind the fact that NATO attacked only a handful of targets in Tripoli’s vicinity that day). What he omits is that Ghadafi was an unelected autocrat with an entire state apparatus (including a secret police) at his disposal to coerce people to show up, and, most damningly, that there has been not one pro-Ghadafi rally in all of Libya in the almost two years since the regime’s demise. If Ghadafi’s support emanated organically from the grassroots and not from the networks of patronage created by his regime’s oil money, this would not be the case.

Regardless of what position one took on the character of the Libyan opposition back in 2011, what is indisputable today in 2013 is that Ghadafi’s repressive bourgeois state machine was smashed and razed to the ground by the self-armed population organized in militias, that there is no secret police to terrorize the masses, that strikes, protests, demonstrations, and sit-ins are now regular occurrences, that freedom of the press and expression exist, that victims of racist oppression like the Amazigh have made advances, that unlike Kosovo NATO has no bases there, and that free and fair elections for a legislature were held to inaugurate a democratic republic. All of this is a great leap forward, a tremendous democratic gain for Libya’s oppressed and exploited that vindicates those who understood the Libyan opposition to be progressive, revolutionary, and democratic in character and serves as an irrefutable rebuke to those like PSL who slandered the opposition as monarchist(!), racist, unpopular, and reactionary.

Even stranger than PSL’s defense of racist, collaborationist tyrannies in Libya and Syria from the Arab Spring’s democratic revolutions is their assertion that today’s imperialism and the tasks it poses for socialists remain almost totally unchanged from Lenin’s time. In the face of wars like Libya and Mali where Iraq-style colonization is not the name of the game, PSL can evidently only repeat 100-year-old formulas about anti-colonial wars and revolutionary defeatism.


Standing with independent bourgeois nationalist governments as they slaughter their own peoples by the tens of thousands because said governments have conflicts of interest with imperialist powers is altogether different from standing with national liberation movements like the Vietnamese NLF who battled the slaughter wrought by French and American occupiers. The first is criminal stupidity, the second is anti-imperialism.

Two opposing trends indeed.

{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Saturn April 8, 2013 at 12:28 pm

So many feelings!
On the one hand, everything in this article is true and it’s good to have someone calling out the authoritarianism of certain socialist groups, not just in their organizational life but in their foreign policy stances.
On the other hand, what s the purpose of this site? To be a critic of socialism-from-above? Or to be the rallying point of socialist convergence?
I’m not sure it really makes sense to have both on the same site. We have to be on guard against continuing the sect role of being factions-of-nothing. Who is this argument really for? It will really only be a relevant argument once there is even a socialist convergence to even have an debate within.

I say this because I have personally worked with some PSL members, despite having huge differences with them on some foreign policy issues, and we were effectively making all the same tactical arguments within the coalitions we worked in (Palestine, fighting for college funding, the need for a mass-demonstration approach, etc). Every criticism you say is true but I think the socialist convergence really has to take the front burner and the “criticism” (which, while painted as neutral and harmless, is an actual *major* impediment to collaboration) needs to take a break.

But yeah I hope Assad dies.


Pham Binh April 8, 2013 at 1:06 pm

There’s no contradiction between fighting for unity on the left and airing disagreements. Pretending these disagreements don’t exist in favor of Trotsky-style unity-mongering is a failed strategy. The “About” section of this site sums it up well: “A renewed radical left is urgently needed. The North Star aims to facilitate this process. We are not a vanguard or the nucleus of the revolution. Rather, our only party line is that we have no party line — except for a firm belief that a culture of open debate is required for building a left with real political muscle.”

Furthermore, there’s nothing in this piece that precludes unity or joint work with PSL or the majority of the Western far left that bought the Libyan rebel Klansmen stories hook, line, and sinker.


die April 8, 2013 at 10:20 pm

[Admin: edited for insults/profanities]

You are lying.



Pham Binh April 8, 2013 at 11:29 pm

An example of revenge killings rather than racially motivated violence:

You’ll have to do better than that.


Aaron Aarons May 5, 2013 at 12:50 am

Read the link Binh provides and decide for yourselves whether or not these “revenge killings” were based, at least to a significant extent, on race. Don’t forget to read the full article by Abdullah Elmaazi and the article, Scapegoats for the Crimes of a Few, reproduced in one of the last comments.

Many of the ethnic cleansings in the U.S. South in the early 1900’s were also justified as retaliation for real or alleged attacks by Blacks on whites, or for Black defense against attempts to capture an accused Black person to be lynched, with or without trial.


Brian S. May 5, 2013 at 8:54 am

Hi Aaron – I agree that people should read the full texts cited here,to get an appreciation of the Tawergha situation. But I am not sure what conclusion you are taking from them.

The Abdullah Elmaazi article is a balanced account and a powerful plea from a Libyan for justice and reconciliation, which I would wholly endorse.

The article provides some useful information but also contains some errors and omissions – e.g it doesn’t make it entirely clear that Tawergha was the main staging post for the Gaddafi forces and the base for their artillery in the siege of Misrata; the Tawerghans weren’t “still on the run” when the article was dated – they were long settled in a number of camps in Tripoli and Benghazi.

I think the evidence supports the essence of Clay and Binh’s argument – the persecution of the Tawerghans is primarily based on a political line of divide not a “racial” one (although it is likely overlain and compounded by racist attitudes in some quarters). For example, in almost all of the accounts of the detention of Tawerghans they have been seized because they are from Tawergha, not because they are black.

This of course doesn’t alter the fact that this constitutes “collective punishment” and as such is a war crime. Nor that the Libyan government (for a variety of reasons) has not done enough to resolve the situation and seek a just resolution.


Pham Binh April 8, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Another thing: “socialism from below” is something of a useless shibboleth, as Joaquin Bustelo has pointed out elsewhere: PSL’s support for tyrants has little to do with the above/below debate in any case.


Christian April 8, 2013 at 2:29 pm

This is a good article. The PSL is an easy target, but there were a lot saner sections of the far left who decided it would be better if Gaddafi militarily crushed the revolution than if NATO intervened to help it. They didn’t come out and say this, but the effect of protesting airstrikes in March 2011 was to say it.

When I attempted to call this out, I was rebuked as tragically supporting imperialism while my arguments were dodged.

Certainly, not being ruled by British monarchs today is something I appreciate. The statue of a French aristocrat in Lafayette Square directly in front of the white house is a poignant reminder of the fact that without outside assistance from reactionary regimes, the American revolution would likely not have been successful. That doesn’t mean the American revolution did not leave unfinished *many* tasks, and it’s also worth noting that the French regime that helped us was domestically so terrible to its own people it probably deserved to be overthrown itself (which it soon after was, partly by people inspired by American success).

The point is that outgunned people in all military engagements interested in not being heroically killed with their principles intact have both the right and the duty to choose what tactical allies to accept.


Aaron Aarons May 4, 2013 at 2:18 am

Christian writes:

Certainly, not being ruled by British monarchs today is something I appreciate. The statue of a French aristocrat in Lafayette Square directly in front of the white house is a poignant reminder of the fact that without outside assistance from reactionary regimes, the American revolution would likely not have been successful. That doesn’t mean the American revolution did not leave unfinished *many* tasks, and it’s also worth noting that the French regime that helped us was domestically so terrible to its own people it probably deserved to be overthrown itself (which it soon after was, partly by people inspired by American success).

I’m not sure why Christian appreciates being ruled by Wall Street banksters rather than British monarchs (who are, incidentally, a lot less autocratic than the U.S.’ pseudo-elected monarchs) and City of London banksters. But I’m not going to rehash the arguments here, since we’ve debated the matter extensively at the page on Marxist Idealism and the Arab Spring. See my comments there, several of which deal with this particular topic, or with the refusal of Pham Binh and others who brought up the so-called “American revolution” as a positive historical example to deal with it.


Aaron Aarons May 4, 2013 at 2:42 am

Actually, I had already summarized my position on the current page. Just do a find for ‘Aaron Aarons April 10’.


Richard Estes April 8, 2013 at 4:55 pm

“The only original work is Becker’s essay, “Socialists and War: Two Opposing Trends,” which claims that socialist debates over imperialist intervention into the Arab Spring are the modern analog to the split within the socialist movement over World War One with myself as Plekhanov and PSL as – who else? – the Bolsheviks.”

With this kind of reductionist thinking, serious errors are inevitable. The social and cultural differences between the European countries when World War I erupted and the Arab ones associated with the Arab Spring are immense. Applying Marxism to non-European settings requires a willingness to engage this differences in all their complexity. By doing so, we can navigate between the naivete of Eurocentrism and Third Worldism, qualities which, interestingly enough, are both associated with the PSL approach. Together, they are a dangerous mix.


Aaron Aarons May 4, 2013 at 5:04 am

If you’re going to criticize the PSL’s ‘reductionist thinking’, Richard, you should not do it based on Pham Binh’s one-sentence summary of their argument. If that’s not what you’re doing, you should be clear about what assertions by PSL you are responding to.


Rex Bartuzik April 9, 2013 at 12:55 am

This article is misleading about the Qaddafi government.

1) The source about the anniversary executions is a biased source called “Shabab Libya” which is an online youth facebook/twitter group and not a legitimate source. Thus the belief it founded on sloppy evidence.

2) The article is overwhelmingly negative about Qaddafi and avoids key elements about the changes Qaddafi has made since the 1969 coup. I will cite Library of Congress’ “Federal Research Division Country Profile: Libya, April 2005″.

” Education and Literacy: In the early 1980s, estimates of total literacy were between 50 and 60 percent, or about 70 percent for men and 35 percent for women, but the gender gap has since narrowed, especially because of increased female school attendance. For 2001 the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report estimates that the adult literacy
rate climbed to about 80.8 percent, or 91.3 percent for males and 69.3 percent for females. According to 2004 U.S. government estimates, 82 percent of the total adult population (age 15 and older) is literate, or 92 percent of males and 72 percent of females. Primary education is both free and compulsory in Libya. Children between the ages of 6 and 15 attend primary school and then attend secondary school for three additional years (15- to 18-year-olds). According to figures reported for the year 2000, approximately 766,807 students attended primary school and had 97,334 teachers; approximately 717,000 students were enrolled in secondary, technical, and vocational schools; and about 287,172 students were enrolled in Libya’s universities.

“In 2001 public expenditures on education amounted to about 2.7 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Although no figures were found for government expenditures on education, Libyan television announced on September 1, 2004, that a new ministry for education had been formed, the General People’s Committee for Higher Education”

“Health: Basic health care is provided to all citizens. Health, training, rehabilitation, education, housing, family issues, and disability and old-age benefits are all regulated by “Decision No. 111” (dated December 9, 1999) of the General People’s Committee on the Promulgation of the By-Law Enforcement Law No. 20 of 1998 on the Social Care Fund. The health care system is not purely state-run but rather a mixed system of public and private care. In comparison to other states in the Middle East, the health status of the population is relatively good. Childhood immunization is almost universal. The clean water supply has increased, and sanitation has been
improved. The country’s major hospitals are in Tripoli and Benghazi, and private health clinics and diagnostic centers, offering newer equipment and better service, compete with the public sector. However, if they can afford it, many Libyans nonetheless travel to Tunisia or to Europe if they need sophisticated medical treatment. The number of medical doctors and dentists reportedly increased sevenfold between 1970 and 1985, producing a ratio of one doctor per 673 citizens. In 1985 about one-third of the doctors in the Libya were native-born, with the remainder being primarily expatriate foreigners. The number of hospital beds tripled in this same time period. Among major health hazards endemic in the country in the 1970s were typhoid and paratyphoid, infectious hepatitis, leishmaniasis, rabies, meningitis, schistosomiasis, venereal diseases, and the principal childhood ailments. Malaria has been eradicated, and significant progress has been made against trachoma and
leprosy. In 1985 the infant mortality rate was 84 per 1,000; by 2004, the U.S. Agency for International Development estimated that the infant mortality rate had dropped to 25.7 per 1,000.

“Other estimates report an infant mortality rate of less than 20 per 1,000. Human
immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases are estimated at 7,000 and derive primarily from drug use. Multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis has begun to emerge among the population of drug users.

“Welfare: Libya ranks 58th out of 177 on the 2004 United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report, which measures quality of life. The government subsidizes medical care and education. A labor law provides for workers’ compensation, pension rights, minimum rest periods, and maximum working hours. The government also heavily subsidizes rent, utilities, oil, and food staples”.

3) ALSO it is not slander that the Libyan rebels are racist and are murdering Africans. This is evident, at least according to Amnesty International. NTC Chairman Jalil even promised to close the border with Chad and Mali.

The entire population of Tawergha was turned into a ghost town due to the National Liberation Army’s ethnic cleansing of the town of 30,000 people because they were African.

IN CONCLUSION: This article is incredibly misleading and its analysis of Libya should be taken with a grain-of-salt.


Pham Binh April 9, 2013 at 7:38 am

1. Every source is biased, including Human Rights Watch. The key question is: is the information from that source true or false? You failed to dispute the substance of the claim I made and failed to provide a shred of contrary evidence about the Ghadafi regime’s yearly lynchings of students. Bleating about biased sources gets you nowhere.

2. All of these wonderful statistics didn’t stop the Libyan masses from rising up and demanding freedom when the Arab Spring came along.

3. As mentioned in a previous comment, Tawergha was not racially motivated violence it was revenge killings. If the town was made up predominantly of Arabs, Italians, or Martians, the end result would’ve been the same.

The claims of racism surrounding Tawergha reflect a profound ignorance about Libyan society and stem from a thoroughly Euro-centric point of view. If the victims of a crime are dark-skinned and the perpetrators are not, the European and American mind can only process this as a case of racism rather than understanding that skin color in many cases is incidental rather than determinant. Try looking at the Libyan revolution from the Libyan point of view and you’ll see Black brigades and Black commanders, another fact you didn’t dispute.

To conclude, your comment is mostly vacuous since it did not challenge let alone refute the central claims made in the piece. I’d mention something about a grain of salt, but that would be too charitable in this case.


Aaron Aarons May 4, 2013 at 2:35 am

Regarding Binh’s point 1: When somebody makes a claim that some particular event or series of events occurred, the burden of proof is on the person making the claim, not the person questioning it. Otherwise, I could assert that Pham Binh has held secret meetings about Syria with agents of Qaeda, perhaps showing a photo or two of Binh talking with some unidentifiable men whom I claim are Qaeda operatives, and it would be Binh’s responsibility to disprove the allegation.


Pham Binh May 4, 2013 at 5:14 am

I’ve met that burden. Read the link.


Aaron Aarons May 8, 2013 at 1:33 pm

The sequence of comments here is convoluted, so I’m not sure what link you’re referring to. But it doesn’t matter in relation to the point I was making, which is that the burden of proof regarding whether something occurred or not is on the person or group claiming that it occurred, not on those denying or questioning that claim.


Aaron Aarons May 8, 2013 at 1:47 pm

It’s a bit like a prosecutor having to prove his case against a defendant, rather than vice versa.


Brian S. April 9, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Binh and Michael P. have dealt effectively with the racism and human rights issues. (Although I note that Rex’s enthusiasm for the Library of Congress document stops short of its section on human rights – others consulting the source might want to continue reading).
I just want to add something about the other myth he peddles about Gaddafi’s Libya: that it was some kind of socialist paradise in which the people benefitted from exceptionally generous welfare schemes. Rex refers to Libya’s international Human Development Index (HDI) rank ( 58th place in 2005 ). It seems odd for a socialist to attribute a country’s development solely to the benificence of its ruler. Even more unusual for one of Rex’s persuasion to forget the factor of OIL.
There is nothing exceptional in Libya’s standard of living when you compare it with other similar countries – large oil producers with relatively small populations. Indeed, Libya has had the lowest HDI of this group , with the United Arab Emirates, Qatar,and Bahrain all ranking well above it.What did distinguish Libya was that by 2010 it had the highest rate of unemployment of these countries (indeed of the whole region), standing at about 20%, fuelled by Gaddafi & Son’s new found enthusiasm for neo-liberalism. A constant theme of those who lived through the reality of Gaddafi’s Libya (as opposed to the fantasies) was the way in which the education system and health services were being run down, and state handouts were allocated on the basis of political patronage. (While of course the Gaddafi clan bought up prime real estate across Europe).


Michael Pugliese April 9, 2013 at 2:08 am

Re : 1) The source about the anniversary executions is a biased source called “Shabab Libya” which is an online youth facebook/twitter group and not a legitimate source. Thus the belief it founded on sloppy evidence.

Actually, the original source for the article at is by Tasbeeh Herwees, a student I assume at USC , studying journalism. . You can reach him at [email protected] . Contrary to what Rex asserts , which does have a Facebook and twitter presence, it is a legitimate website/source. For the most part they reprint articles from the MSM, but, do also have some original feature articles such as , on a massacre rarely noted by defenders of the Gaddafi regime.

I found another webpg. on these executions, which cites “The Libyan Students Movement Documents,” @ . Omar A. Dabboub, 7 April 1977, Benghazi. Teacher. Executed by public hanging, for participating in Jan. ’76 student demonstrations. Gaddafi presided over the execution personally.Mohammed bin Saud, 7 April 1977, Benghazi, same day as Dabboub. Teacher. Executed by public hanging, for participating in Jan. ’76 student demonstrations. Gaddafi presided over the execution personally. Rasheed M. Ka’bar, 16 April 1984, Tripoli. Student. Arrested in Nov. ’80, following unrest at the College of Engineering. Accused of being follower of Sheikh Bishti (Mosque leader, tortured and killed by A. Zadma and Revolutionary Committees.) Sentenced to death by Revolutionary Committees, and executed at the College of Pharmacy, Tripoli. University students forcefully gathered to view execution. Hafed. al-Madani, 16 April 1984, Tripoli. Student. Arrested following unrest at Engineering College, Nov. ’80. Executed by public hanging at the College of Agriculture, Tripoli.Mustafa R. an-Nuwairy, April, 1984. Student. Elected President of Student Union, academic year 1975-76. Elected Secretary of Benghazi chapter of Student Union. Expelled from Benghazi University and arrested in 1976. Arrested again in 1980 and sentenced to death and executed by the Revolutionary Committees in front of university students and staff.List is excerpted from more extensive list in al-Inqadh Magazine, Vol. 10, Issue No. 37, September 1991, Pages 80-105.


Brian S. April 9, 2013 at 10:52 am

Excellent research Michael. Ironic that Rex should complain about Shabbab Libya ( as you say, a quite reputable source) and then reference Human Rights Investigations – a totally phony propaganda site (most likely the creature of some intelligence agency)
Here is further documentation of the nature of “justice” in Gaddafi’s Libya:
(Shades of the Moscow Trials: nothing new in the world of tyrants).


David Ellis April 9, 2013 at 7:05 am

A case of apolitical or ideological anti-imperialism. As an unconditional supporter of the Arab Spring the occasion of imperialism’s intervention in Libya was an opportunity to urge the speeding up of the Libyan Uprising to bring down the hated Gadaffi regime. Beware false friends of course and understand that imperialism is entirely self-serving and acts only in its own interests and will ultimately be looking to impose a new more Western friendly Gadaffi on the people of Libya but definitely take advantage of the situation to press home the rebellion. It was certainly not an occasion for organising demonstrations in favour of Gadaffi’s right to flatten Benghazi. I’m certain that would have been the position of Lenin and Trotsky who were quite clear that movements against colonial and semi-colonial regimes were entitled to get help from even fascist imperialists if they could whilst of course avoiding any political restrictions that might come with such help. No, the sects responded apolitically to events in surrounding the Arab Spring and soon became hard and fast opponents of it describing it as a CIA/Fundamentalist plot.

By the way in passing I do believe that socialists should be arguing for China to go into N. Korea to `liberate’ the people from the wretched regime there and prevent imperialism from moving in, turning North Korea into a semi-colony and moving their forces up to the Chinese border. Unfortunately the empiricist/apolitical sects have unilaterally recharacterised China as a capitalist/imperialist state and in the event that China did do this would presumably take a plague on both your houses position and not defend China against imperialist aggression. Of course the Chinese Stalinists are far more likely to come to an accommodation with imperialism that will sell out the North Korean people and see the noose tightened around China’s neck.


David Ellis April 9, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Behind the blackguarding of the Arab Spring by the sectarian left is Stalinist popular frontism (serving not the foreign policy of the now defunct Soviet Union but its theoretical detritus in the form of Gramscian `anti-imperialism’ whereby Western imperialism is a hegemonic whole pitted against the rest of the world and there are no such things as semi-colonies) and behind that is anti-revolutionism and behind that is pro-imperialism.


Louis Proyect April 9, 2013 at 12:45 pm

its theoretical detritus in the form of Gramscian `anti-imperialism’

Can you expand on this?


David Ellis April 11, 2013 at 8:52 am

I’ll try. Gramsci saw his task as giving sophisiticated theoretical cover for the Stalinist assault on the theory of Permanent Revolution which would justify such evils as subordinating the proletarian and popular democratic masses to the stunted semi-colonial bourgeoisie via an anti-imperialist Popular Front. The subordination of the Chinese Communist Party to the Kuomintang being the best example which ended with the Kuomintang slaughtering the Communists and many more besides. Gramsci systematised Stalinist betryal in theory. Later this system in the Cold War came to see the world split between pro-West and pro-Soviet nations. No matter how venal the leaderships of the pro-Soviet nations they were with `us’, part of `our’ hegemony. With the collapse of the Soviet Union the `pro-Soviet’ regimes were still seen as part of the anti-imperialist hegemony instead of as the semi-colonies they actually are. In actual fact it is Stalinism taken a step further because not even the Stalinist would have opposed the rebellion against the Chinese semi-colonial/feudal order. They merely wished to subordinate that rebellion to the Chinese Capitalist Class. The `left’s’ support for Gaddaffi and Assad would be like Stalin openly supporting the Chinese semi-colonial state against the Chinese Revolution because it was part of the `anti-imperialist’ hegemony. Had there been no Arab Spring then clearly we would defend the sovereignty of the semi-colony against imperialism but the most important thing for revolutionaries was the Arab Spring and its promotion and victory. Of course imperialism was the main danger (and we should never cease from pointing that out and warning that its motives are and can only be entirely self-serving) but the most immediate danger was the semi-colonial tyrannies themselves and the Arab masses had every right to press home their rebellion opportunist imperial intervention or no.

Rush job sorry.


Aaron Aarons April 10, 2013 at 2:26 am

Binh writes:

Historically speaking, democratic revolutions were not anti-racist nor even consistently democratic, the American revolution in which white slaveholders and racists played a dominant role being a prime example. The fact that bourgeois-democratic rights were not accorded to Blacks in 1776 and that America’s post-revolutionary government ruthlessly exterminated the continent’s indigenous peoples does not change the revolution’s democratic character. Libya’s democratic revolution in 2011 is no different in this respect.

(1) White slaveholders didn’t just play a dominant role in the American settler rebellion as people who happened to be slaveholders, but they played that role in furtherance of their interests as slaveholders
(2) One might paraphrase Marx by observing that rule from England had become a fetter on the development of the destructive forces of English colonization of North America and that the American settler rebellion liberated those forces.
(3) Treating the 1776 rebellion and its alleged “democratic character” as part of a tradition to uphold is part of the problem, not part of the solution, in the development of a real left in the U.S..
(4) Binh’s comparison of Libya’s 2011 rebellion with the U.S. settler rebellion of 1776 is actually more negative, and less fair, than anything the PSL has said about that uprising.


Pham Binh April 14, 2013 at 10:25 pm

Libyan government doubles state aid to the disabled, widows, and divorcees:

The article mentions new child benefit payments as well.

I wonder how the pseudoleft will twist this to fit their neoliberal triumph in Libya fantasies?


Pham Binh April 16, 2013 at 9:34 pm

And here I thought PSL’s book was bad:

I submitted it to The North Star editorial board for re-post here but it was rejected due to its low quality (lol). Oh well.


Reza Lustig May 4, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Read your piece. Interesting, but it failed to answer the charges I made towards the new government in Libya today. I.e., that it is a democracy, but hardly “radical.”

The existence of other political parties is not that radical a policy. Look at Iran: loads of political parties, virtually all of them indistinguishable from the other. Back when the Shah was in power, Iranians had a joke where they said they would vote for either a “Yes Party” or an “Of Course Party”: I’ve looked up all the political parties in Libya right now, and can find very little to distinguish one from the other in all the ways that count (i.e. economics; all of them are neoliberal, some with an Islamist stripe).

I was actually pretty optimistic about the Libyan revolution, about a year ago. I remember writing a column, where I said that the fall of the Gaddafi regime was a net positive, since it would give workers and students breathing space to set up progressive organizations (i.e. political parties, trade unions, student societies) of their own. Well, it’s been almost a year, and so far I am thoroughly underwhelmed. Thanks to their willingness to be voters for the grey-haired former regime technocrats who make up the new government, they have signalled their approval for them to keep Gaddafi’s liberalization and austerity policies.

You accuse the PSL of a double standard in comparing the Libyan and Egyptian revolutions. In under two years, look at all the organizations that have sprung up in Egypt, and can throw their weight around: politicians like Hamdeen Sabahi; parties like the Revolutionary Socialists (their stance towards the previous elections notwithstanding) and the Socialist Popular Alliance Party; not the least, the independent labor union federations. In Libya, neoliberalism is still unopposed.

What’s worse, the Islamists have the opportunity to paint themselves as the opponents of foreign influence and neoliberalism; the Libyan people are fairly conservative, so such a movement could find ready support.

Within the context of the Syrian revolution, I find the situation to be fairly similar, and thus problematic in the long run. You seem to be convinced that the existence of a multiparty system with comparatively little “repression” means that victory has been achieved, and progressive forces will naturally spring into existence to push for more change. I am unconvinced.


Pham Binh May 4, 2013 at 8:29 pm

You seem to confuse two different things: democracy and socialism. A radically democratic state is not necessarily a socialist one. I describe Libya today as radically democratic because it lacks an effective standing army, police, and most crucially, a secret police. This is why your comparisons with Egypt today or post-1979 Iran are so off-base — both bourgeoisies have massive apparatuses of repression at their disposal. Egypt is also very different because the regime tolerated some level of union and civil society organizing starting in the 1990s, so what you laud today and use as a basis for measuring progress in Libya has been developing for two decades or so prior to the January 25 revolution. Furthermore, in Egypt strikes and demonstrations are still met with lethal force, so to say that they are having more success in resisting neoliberalism than in Libya is not true.

We have a couple good articles about Egypt specifically that get further into these issues:

To return to the point I made at the beginning: a radically democratic state is not necessarily a socialist or even a leftist one. I don’t see why you’re so disappointed the Libyans didn’t opt to create soviets and elect communists to their national legislature the first chance they got. It’s just another form of Marxist idealism, a refusal to understand things as they are, on their own terms without arbitrary yardsticks and a priori blinders. It makes no sense to expect similar results to arise out of radically different conditions, circumstances, and contexts.

The Libyans have a much better chance of resisting neoliberalism than the Egyptians because they don’t have to worry about being shot or tortured if they march, protest, sit-in, or strike and that is really what’s so important about the Arab Spring’s democratic (not socialist) revolutions. It creates an opening for progressive forces, meaning it’s the beginning — not the end — of the struggle for socialism.


Aaron Aarons May 5, 2013 at 10:35 am

Can you name a single case where socialism, i.e., the elimination of the dominance, if not the total elimination, of private property in the means of production, including land, has come into existence in a bourgeois-democratic state, rather than directly through the overthrow of a neo-colonial or autocratic state without a chance for the bourgeoisie to consolidate its rule in democratic form?


Pham Binh May 5, 2013 at 12:35 pm

I don’t know of any cases of proletarian rule except for the Paris Commune of 1871 and the soviets in late 1917/early-mid 1918, neither of which led to the end of private property, so I’m not sure what you’re getting at.


Aaron Aarons May 5, 2013 at 2:57 pm

My question was not about what you see as “proletarian rule”, but about socialism as defined by property relations. The countries that Trotskyists call “deformed workers’ states”, and that I would call “bureaucratized socialist states”, include the U.S.S.R. until 1991, China and Vietnam until whenever, Cuba since 1959. In all those cases, private ownership of at least the major means of production was eliminated. That has not, AFAIK, happened anywhere else in the modern world.

Incidentally, we don’t define “capitalism” by the forms of government, including parliaments, elections, etc., nor by whether elections are free, but by the form of property ownership; Nazi Germany and the Weimar Republic were equally capitalist. So why should “socialism” be defined by the forms of government? You can say you don’t support, say, Cuban socialism because of a putative lack of “democracy”, but that doesn’t make Cuba less socialist.


Pham Binh May 5, 2013 at 3:44 pm

Socialism isn’t defined by property relations but by class rule.


Brian S. May 6, 2013 at 7:28 am

As I’ve argued elsewhere, you need to look at both state forms and production relations. The concept of “deformed workers states” creates confusion by mixing them up. While I agree that the cases you cite were for a period “post-capitalist” in their production relations, they were unable to sustain those structures, much less take them forward to socialism. So just as there are no “democratic” case of the transition to socialism neither are there any “proletarian” ones either.
On another issue: I read the Lenin text you are discussing as part of Lenin’s late engagement with rethinking the transitional process. Its significant that in a text written 4 years after October his main emphasis is on “the bourgeois-democratic content of our revolution.” and when he comes to talk about “the laying of economic foundations for the new, socialist edifice” his main reference is to the NEP (which was harnessing market and capitalist economic forces.)


Brian S. May 5, 2013 at 6:27 pm

@ Reza Lustig: Libyan democracy is only just taking shape at this point. Its true that there is an absence of significant left parties on the political scene, but that reflects the weakeness of political traditions in the country; and the fact that it is still very much in a transitional situation. The recent turmoil over the “Political isolation law” which has now been passed by the GNC has been interpreted in the west as just political instability, but it looks to me more like a slightly chaotic expression of a “radical democratic” current.
You say “In Libya, neoliberalism is still unopposed”. But in part that because it is only just being POSED – there has been very little detailed discussion of the shape of democratic Libya’s economic order. The first announcement of plans to reduce subsidies was made yesterday – so we’ll have to see what reaction that evokes. There will almost certainly be a round of privatisation, given that large parts of the public sector were inefficient, regime patronage machines, but we don’t know how far that will go. Out-and-out neo-liberals like Ali Tarhouni have been pushed out of the political arena, and workers in several industries, have made it clear that they expect a say in any reorganisation. All this is likely to fuel extensive political debate and probably political differentiation of various sorts.


Reza Lustig May 5, 2013 at 7:04 pm

I Really wish I could be as optimistic as you, but I’m really going to need examples here. For instance, you cite ONE politician who is being “pushed out” for his neoliberalism, but look at all the other major politicians in government like Mahmoud Jibril. From their wikipedia pages alone, I can see that most of them are technocrats (mostly engineers or businessmen) who were educated in western universities. And if opposition to them is as strong as you say, what is to prevent openly radical Islamist elements from filling the vacuum?

As something of a “market socialist,” I’m not categorically opposed to governments divesting themselves of unproductive enterprises, but if this practice becomes widespread than what is left of the public sector and social welfare? In the two years following the end of the civil war, I’ve heard of a grand total of ONE strike, so workers consciousness doesn’t strike me as being very high in Libya.

I’m not saying that the Libyan people will NEVER organize progressive mass organizations, but I’m not seeing any indicators that they are well underway anytime soon. And this greatly concerns me, as I believed that the revolution’s victory would create a breathing space for such developments.


Brian S. May 6, 2013 at 7:09 am

Reza: please stop putting words in my mouth – it does neither of us any favours. Nowhere did I say there was “strong opposition” to neo-liberalism – what I said was there was little or no opposition at the moment because the issue wasn’t on the political agenda, but that we could expect some sort of opposition (possibly strong, possibly not – my crystal ball is in for servicing) once (if) neo-liberal reforms were being actively pursued.
Like you I’m not opposed to privatisation of bloated public sector patronage operations; I’m also not opposed to reforming subsidies when they produce regressive income distribution . I agree that the issue will be “how far does this go” – but we have no indication of that so far (neither do the Libyan people). There is a proposal in the air to reorganise the public National Oil Company – but this has been presented as decentralisation rather than privatisation. This process needs watching – but in some ways it could strengthen the NOC’s role in the economy. Libya has an urgent need for expanded refinery capacity (it actually imports gasoline) and its likely this will be addressed by joint ventures between NOC and foreign firms: but whether or how much that will affect the power of the NOC is again an open question.
Ali Tarhouni was not just”one politician” – he was the main figure in the post-Gaddafi political scene with an explicit committment to neo-liberal policies; he was at varous times oil minister, finance minister, and prime minister under the NTC, and expected to hold high office after the elections. In the event he was rejected by all the main political forces, and had to form his own party, which won 2 seats in the election. Mahmoud Jibril is not in the government.
If you are only aware of one strike since the revolution, then I fear the problem lies not with the Libyan workers, but your monitoring :
Oil workers–source/
garbage men:
port workers:
Air traffic controllers:


Louis Proyect May 5, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Can you name a single case where socialism, i.e., the elimination of the dominance, if not the total elimination, of private property in the means of production…

In 1922 Lenin wrote: “The direct and immediate object of the revolution in Russia was a bourgeois-democratic one, namely, to destroy the survivals of medievalism and sweep them away completely, to purge Russia of this barbarism, of this shame, and to remove this immense obstacle to all culture and progress in our country.”

The notion of socialism being built in a single country was foreign to Russian Marxist thought. While Lenin used different formulations at different times, there is little doubt that he viewed the USSR as a beachhead that could help to facilitate revolutions in more developed nations–especially Germany.

I am not surprised to see Aarons express himself in Stalinist terms since that pretty much characterized his Marcyite politics on international questions.


Aaron Aarons May 5, 2013 at 3:29 pm

I’m not sure what the quote from Lenin about what had been the “direct and immediate object of the revolution in Russia” has to do with this discussion. But the entire article from which that quote is taken is quite relevant to the discussions here about “bourgeois democracy” and the Menshevik-Stalinist concept of ‘stages’ that many people promulgate here. See:

In particular, Lenin clearly refutes the idea that what he calls “the bourgeois-democratic revolution” can be consummated under bourgeois rule, i.e., without expropriating the bourgeoisie!


Pham Binh June 11, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Protestors demanding jobs a crimping Libya’s oil output:


Pham Binh June 28, 2013 at 1:00 pm

PSL’s “neocolonial” regime in Libya refuses to cooperate with the ICC and extradite Ghadafi’s son:

Kudos to the militia for holding onto him. Strange behavior by U.S. “pawns.”


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Rodge Norie December 26, 2015 at 10:50 pm

Wow. Reading this in December 2015 is depressing. There were people on the so-called Left who supported the Libyan intervention, claimed the “revolution” was radically democratic, that the “Libyan masses” were “rising up and demanding freedom,” positively (?) comparing it to the slaveowners in 1776, etc, etc. ??? I’m not particularly friendly to many of the PSL/ANSWER foreign policy ideas but this article will give me great pause before I so easily dismiss them ever again.


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