There is a fissure in the Left at present; in Australia, it’s playing out on the pages of Crikey, liberal blog Larvatus Prodeo and Benjamin Solah’s Blood and Barricades. The Left is divided between western intervention in the Libyan uprisings, or not. About a UN-endorsed no-fly zone over Libya, or not. About whether such interventions are right, tactically speaking, or not.
On Crikey’s The Stump, Guy Rundle accused the far left of ‘a bizarre passivity’ that has made them ‘conservatives’. He alleged that to show solidarity with Libyans was to support the no-fly zone; everything else was counter-revolutionary.
For me, the equation is pretty simple: there are no such things as benevolent dictators, benevolent governments, benevolent government interventions, benevolent invasions or benevolent imperialism. These terms are paradoxical. Show me an instance of benevolent imperial intervention and history will show the bodies, the oppressed workers, a propped-up regime.
Western nations do not intervene unless they have something to gain. Unfortunately, the Libyan people’s welfare does not rank highly on their list of ‘gains’. Given the profits numerous countries in the EU have made exporting weapons to Gaddafi’s regime, it is in fact something they stand to lose from.
Intervening in Libya is a reactionary narrative, and not unlike the argument of a ‘war for democracy’, which an imperialist intervention has the genuine potential to become. Advocating for some kind of military intervention makes it much harder to stop a military invasion if, say, the intervening governments became taken with Libya’s oil reserves. How would we get millions out on the streets to stop that invasion?
Arguing for such an intervention is an absolute denial of the power and the role of the working class in revolutionary situations. It substitutes a now-recognised brutal regime with a pro-US government, and what’s more, could allow foreign troops on the ground in a region revolting, the last thing any uprising wants or needs.
Honestly, where has a country been better off after Australian intervention? It wasn’t East Timor, where thousands of civilians were killed and where Australian companies were given free reign to move in and fill the void. It wasn’t the Northern Territory, where Indigenous people are still living in abject poverty, subject to dehumanising laws. It wasn’t Iraq or Afghanistan, where there are too many dead to count and quality of life is abysmal. The truth is, when it comes to killing people, the West has a long, bloody history.
In any case, the urgency of this debate is fraudulent, because the Left is, for all intents and purposes, incapable of determining the behaviour of western governments. If we can’t end the war in Afghanistan, we certainly can’t force the government to go to war if it doesn’t want to.
Which means these countries will only introduce a no-fly zone if they want it. Why would they want it?
The answer could lie in Craig Murray’s observations about Bahrain:
The fatter of these two evil ugly bastards is the King of Bahrain. Having invited in foreign armies to crush the pro-democracy protests of his own people, he has immediately let them loose on the demonstrators, who are being viciously attacked by them even as I type.
In classic anschluss fashion, the King has invited his people to “co-operate fully and to welcome” the invaders, as they attack them. He has immediately declared a state of emergency, made demonstrations illegal, and attacked the protestors. Today they killed two and injured 200, many very seriously.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Bahrain the day before the Saudi invasion. The British Embassy issued a first travel advisory for Brits not to travel to Bahrain, also the day before the Saudi invasion. As I reported yesterday, the US agreement to the Saudi military crushing of democracy movements in the Gulf was part of a complex deal which included the surprise Arab League agreement to a no fly zone over Libya. Interestingly, in the BBC report linked above the US admit to advance knowledge of the Saudi invasion, but BBC News is now reporting they are denying it.
So why isn’t the US/UN debating a no-fly zone over Bahrain or Saudi Arabia to help support the democratic freedoms of ordinary people? Precisely because it’s never about the welfare of ordinary Bahranis or Libyans or Afghans or Iraqis.
It’s healthy for the Left to have these debates; it helps everyone orient themselves. But alarm bells should ring when you find your argument aligns with that of Christopher Hitchens.