Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

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

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Regime Change Begins At Home

To come within the orbit of imperialist politics is to be debilitated by the stench, to be drowned in the morass of lies and hypocrisy...Now, as always, let us stand for independent organisation and independent action. We have to break our own chains. Who is the fool that expects our gaolers to break them?
CLR James, 1935

Sadly, there are one hell of a lot of such fools around at the moment, willing to suspend disbelief and hope against hope that a classic imperialist adventure in Libya can somehow bring liberation, even after the bloody criminal disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan. Those wars are now clearly to be consigned to the 'memory hole' as if they did not happen or are not still happening. It is as if a tidal wave of forced amnesia has swept over the British political elite and its allies in the corporate media. A Western intervention in the Middle East? Yes, fine, what could possibly go wrong? As the Guardian's Andrew Rawnsley - an ever loyal servant of power - observed of the House of Commons when David Cameron announced the UN was going to war:

After his Commons statement, Conservative MPs saluted their leader. Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne sat on the front bench, nodding approvingly. A Lib Dem member of the cabinet says proudly: "We have taken as forward a position as the Conservatives. We have argued the same way Paddy Ashdown did over Kosovo. To stand aside in this sort of situation would have been unconscionable." Iraq has left deep and still not entirely healed wounds in the Labour party. It would have been less risky for Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, to sit on the sidelines. So they deserve some credit too for putting Labour on the right side when a fascistic dictator threatens slaughter on his own people. Mr Cameron will get a resounding endorsement for his position when MPs vote tomorrow.

The Guardian on Saturday reported just four out of 650 odd MPs supported the Stop the War Coalition's position on this. For all the talk about Gaddaffi as a 'fascistic dictator', it is almost as if we are the ones living in a totalitarian state - yet we are supposed to be the ones bringing 'democracy'. Moreoever, as Robert Fisk notes, 'there is a racist element in all this'.

The Middle East seems to produce these ravers [like Gaddaffi] – as opposed to Europe, which in the past 100 years has only produced Berlusconi, Mussolini, Stalin and the little chap who used to be a corporal in the 16th List Bavarian reserve infantry, but who went really crackers when he got elected in 1933 – but now we are cleaning up the Middle East again and can forget our own colonial past in this sandpit.

For Cameron, an old Etonion brought up on British imperial mythology and legend, this war is a classic means of trying to distract attention away from his failing and unpopular economic agenda of cuts and privatisation at home - in the finest traditions of Margaret Thatcher's 'Falkland's moment'. In trouble at home with lecturer's strikes and looming strikes over public sector pensions, facing a mass demonstration by trade unionists and students in London, what better timing for a war? And just like the British ruling class over a century ago predicted at the outbreak of the Boer War in South Africa that 'it would all be over by Christmas', so Cameron reassures us that this war will be speedy. Yet, just as the bloody Boer War was in reality about securing gold and diamond reserves - so this war is a classic imperialist adventure to do with securing Libya's oil.

The hapless Clegg's Liberal Democrats, in supporting the racist Tory warmonger Cameron, are following more than just the tradition of Paddy Ashdown - they are standing in the dishonourable traditions of the racist warmongering Liberal Lloyd George , who once noted in his diary in 1932 after an attempt by some in the League of Nations to outlaw aerial bombardment, that the British Empire 'reserves the right to bomb niggers'.

And as for Ed Miliband's parliamentary Labour Party - well, what does one expect now from such a party? Despite Ed Miliband's claims to have 'learnt lessons' from Iraq, it is now manifestly clear that he and his party have learnt next to nothing. The silence of the likes of Diane Abbott is thunderous - political power and patriotism before principle it seems is the order of the day. Even some ordinary Labour Party members who on any other day would proudly wave the red flag of socialism are now lining up under the likes of the Stars and Strikes and the Union Jack. So David Osler tells us that 'once in a while there is a more or less accidental coincidence between what the US wants to see happen in a country and the interests of working people that live there. Libya, here and now, is one of those times.'

History here goes out the window. Can he give us any previous examples of such halycon days when 'what the US wants to see happen in a country and the interests of working people that live there' coincided?

Instead Osler tells us that 'the stark fact is that without external support, the forces that have put their lives on the line in the current uprising against Gaddafi face certain defeat, and a reactionary regime will brutally and triumphantly consolidate its rule, perhaps bringing the revolution in North Africa and elsewhere in the Muslim world to a total halt.'

The 'certain defeat' of the Libyan Revolution was far from certain - Gaddaffi's forces would have found it almost impossible to take and hold a city like Benghazi - and would have faced guerrilla war across Libya even if they did - while it is not only Gaddaffi's regime but the US and its allies that have a material interest in 'bringing the revolution in North Africa and elsewhere in the Muslim world to a total halt'. As Tony Blair puts it, the Western ruling class 'cannot be a spectator to the Arab Revolutions' - what he means is that they have to get in there and stop this 'outbreak of democracy' spreading further across the region - which is why Blair is so proud of Cameron for embracing 'the principle of intervention'.

Socialists have to maintain our independence from such imperialist politics - soaked as they are in blood and oil - and stress instead that the No Fly Zone Is No Way to Free Libya - liberation and emancipation can only come from the mass actions of the oppressed and exploited themselves -as the Arab Revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have so beautifully demonstrated up to now. For those of us in the West, Regime Change Begins At Home - and in Britain that process of transformation has to begin on March 26th - Turn Trafalgar Square into Tahrir Square!

Edited to add:
Richard Seymour: A Humanitarian Intervention?
Karl Sharro: 'The No-Fly Zone in Libya: Hijacking the Arab Uprisings'

Edited to add:
* Protest on Budget Day. This Wednesday March 23rd Stop the War and CND are participating in a protest outside Downing Street on budget day. We will be demanding David Cameron stops pouring money into yet another futile and destructive foreign war at a time when he is trying to force through the most drastic programme of spending cuts in generations. Welfare not Warfare - protest on Budget Day
Assemble 5pm Trafalgar Square and March to Downing Street.

* Come to the Public Rally - Hands off Libya, Hands off the Middle East. 7pm Wednesday March 30th.
Conway Hall, Red lion Square, London WC1
Speakers include Tony Benn, Lindsey German, Sami Ramadani, and Jeremy Corbyn MP.

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