Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

For liberation from below in Libya

One might have thought that neo-conservatives would be maintaining a decent, respectful silence of late, as their elitist and ultimately racist belief that democracy and liberation from tyranny in the Middle East was only possible though Western military action and 'humanitarian intervention' received - after the criminal disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan - the final glorious refutation as the people of the region themselves took to the centre stage of world-history, making their own reality by bringing down dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt. As Medhi Hasan noted,

far from retrospectively vindicating the unilateral, aggressive and militarised approach to democratic reform favoured by the Bush administration in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt vividly illustrate the way in which democratic change can come from within, from "people power". The US approach - "bomb, invade, occupy" - has been made irrelevant. The Tunisian and Egyptian protesters were supported by Facebook, Twitter and al-Jazeera, not tanks, planes and "shock and awe".

Yet if one hoped for a period of silence and reflection - just one minute silence for their victims maybe on behalf of the neo-conservatives, one hoped wrong. Take, for example, the British 'History Tsar' Niall Ferguson, currently busily promoting his new book and TV series.

Ferguson's new work Civilization: The West and the Rest, is essentially like all his other books - about narrating the story of money and power in order to make himself money and power. However, this time around he wants to focus on making the rise of Western imperialism seem acceptable to British schoolkids by taking out the nasty bits of exploitation and oppression associated with it. 'It is partly designed so a 17-year-old boy or girl will get a lot of history in a very digestible way, and be able to relate to it'. For Ferguson, the rise of 'the West' then came about because of something apparently innate about those he calls 'Westerners' and missing from those he calls 'resterners': Basically, 'Western civilisation' magically developed six 'killer apps': competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism and the work ethic, while 'the rest' presumably were some essentially lazy, primitive, backward 'other' - who apparently not only did not help to develop any of these 'killer apps' - but were somehow essentially predisposed not to do so.

Stop me if any of this story sounds in any way familiar. Yep, well done - this racist framework sounds familiar as it was essentially how world history was taught to Ferguson himself when the British Empire was still in full swing, and generations of British schoolkids before him. Yet Ferguson's essentially racist historical philosophy is not only fully in keeping with the 'muscular liberalism' espoused in David Cameron's recent attacks on 'multiculturalism' at home - but also those trying to find intellectual support for the idea of military intervention in Libya and abroad today. For Ferguson, clearly the West has not brought enough death and destruction and carnage to the Middle East in the past - it is clearly high time the West now thought about a new imperial 'civilising mission' as the 40 million or so 'poor, ill-educated young men' of the Arab world are only capable of making 'large-scale and protracted violence'. Indeed, for Ferguson, 'the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East could turn much more violent, with a death toll running into tens or hundreds of thousands. Then they could spark a full-blown war, claiming millions of lives.'

The 'large scale and protracted violence' on display so far in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya has come from the old ruling dictatorships trying to maintain its grip on power using Western arms. Still, I guess its nice for Ferguson to warn of the dangers of a 'full-blown war' in the Middle East which could claim millions of lives - though perhaps such a warning is a bit rich coming from an unrepepentant champion of Bush and Blair's bloody Iraq war.

Rather than the likes of war-mongers like Ferguson giving lessons on winning democracy to heroic Arabs fighting and dying for it in the streets of Tripoli, we should perhaps listen instead to their voices: 'We are against any foreign intervention or military intervention in our internal affairs,' said Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga in Libya’s second city Benghazi last Sunday. 'This revolution will be completed by our people with the liberation of the rest of Libyan ­territory.'

Edited to add: Stop the War statement on Middle East revolutions

There must be no US or British intervention in Libya: the future of Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen must be determined by the people of those countries alone.

The uprisings sweeping the Middle East deserve the support of all progressive people. They are directed against autocracies which have denied their people basic rights and the possibility of a decent life.

These autocracies have also, for the most part, depended on the self-interested support of the big powers, the USA and Britain first of all. Western governments have prioritised cheap oil, arms sales and support for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians above the rights of the Arab peoples.

The response of the British government to the events of the last month exemplifies this hypocrisy. David Cameron has prioritised arms sales to the region. And the clamour to intervene in Libya has more to do with control of that country’s oil resources than with support for Libya’s people.

The Conservative-Liberal Coalition has followed Tony Blair’s lead in seeing the Middle East entirely through the prism of the interests of BP and British Aerospace. Any British intervention in the region would be directed to furthering those interests, not the freedom or democracy which can only present a challenge to western domination of the region.

Stop the War Coalition is clear that there must be no US or British intervention in Libya or anywhere else in the Middle East under any pretext whatsoever. Such interference over the last century is the root of the region’s troubles, and its continuation will solve none of the difficulties there.

The future of Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen and all the other states facing popular uprisings must be determined by the people of those countries alone. Solidarity with those fighting for their democratic and national freedom is our obligation.

We can best discharge it by demanding that the government at long last takes its hands off the Middle East and its people, leaving them to settle accounts with their own rulers.

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