Leaflet distributed in Ireland, December 2011
When the UN “no-fly” zone over Libya was imposed, the Workers Solidarity Movement (WSM) wrote:
“the WSM in general is ‘against the intervention by the UN or any other collection of imperialist “peacekeepers”’ because ‘There can be no “just settlement” that involves any imperialist power or the UN or similar bodies.”
—“UN Resolution imposes ‘unprecedented’ No Fly Zone on Gaddafi”, 18 March 2011
While claiming to oppose UN/NATO interventions “in general”, the WSM opined that, “the no fly zone should perhaps be an exception to this general position”. At bottom, the WSM’s willingness to make an “exception” in Libya derived from the pressure of popular opinion, which had been shaped by a successful disinformation campaign alleging a wholesale slaughter of civilians by Gaddafi’s forces. The WSM statement included the following comment by one of their members:
“I’m very sceptical of US or UN military ‘interventions’ generally, but in reality my scepticism is a luxury people in Libya don’t have. And I’m both confused and glad that this [UN] resolution is based upon the defense of civilians. Let’s hope that the self determination and desire of people to have control over their own lives is assisted by it.”
The comrade’s confusion is understandable. There can never be any basis for hoping that NATO’s actions are motivated by a desire either to defend civilians or assist them in gaining “control over their own lives”. In Libya, as everywhere else, the imperialist great powers act solely in pursuit of their own interests. What sort of “revolutionaries” could imagine anything else?
With disarming naïveté the WSM explains its policy as one of striking a “balance” between opposition to imperialist intervention in general and “solidarity” with the neo-colonial masses bamboozled by honeyed lies about NATO’s “humanitarian” and “democratic” intentions:
“This question of where the balance lies between international solidarity with pro-democracy movements and opposition to imperialism could well rapidly return to the top of the agenda in a very much bigger way as the regime in Syria continues its months long military suppression of the democracy movement there.
. . .
“Part of this is down to a standard dogmatic polarization between pro-intervention liberals who think the bombs are being dropped to protect Libyans on the one hand and on the other the nationalists and hard core Leninists who think Gadaffi’s [sic] past make [sic] him an enemy of imperialism today.”
—“As Gaddafi falls – Lessons from Libya – imperialism, anti-imperialism & democratic revolution”, 20 October 2011
In fact, Leninists defend neo-colonies against imperialist aggression regardless of the character of the indigenous regimes (i.e., including anti-working class bonapartist dictatorships like Gaddafi’s). We oppose, in principle, without exception, any and all military interventions in neo-colonial countries by imperialist predators. This demarcates Leninists from “revolutionaries” who are prepared to make “exceptions” rather than buck popular opinion.
The WSM is quite right that the current situation in Syria (where the imperialists are hostile to the regime) more closely parallels that of Libya than Tunisia or Egypt, where popular mass mobilisations forced pro-imperialist dictators to step down. The Syrian “rebels”, like their Libyan counterparts, while clearly aided and favoured by the West, are essentially an indigenous formation which seeks to displace the regime of Bashar al-Assad in order to establish their own right to exploit and oppress the Syrian masses. We defend Syrian civilians against wholesale state repression, but revolutionary socialists have no reason to support either side in the current conflict between oppressors and would-be oppressors. But if the US, Britain or France intervenes militarily in Syria – as they did in Libya in 2011 and, earlier, in Kosovo in 1999 – then the international workers’ movement has a duty to militarily support the Assad regime against the imperialists and their proxies.
The WSM has apparently decided that categorical opposition to imperialist intervention in neo-colonial countries is “dogmatic” and “unbalanced”, and instead proposes to support such interventions if they are sufficiently popular:
“while retaining the right to advise and criticise we should start off with a defense of the popular movement and an acceptance that the decision about how to balance political opposition to imperialism with the military need for imperialist intervention is theirs and theirs alone to make. In any case it is not as if the imperialist powers themselves are going to pay attention to what the miniscule groups of anarchists, Leninists or other revolutionaries have to say anyway.”
The imperialists certainly do not much care what anarchists or Bolsheviks think. But the role of revolutionaries is not to persuade (or pressure) the ruling class to behave better, but to advance a political programme that shows working people how to break their chains and overthrow the capitalist predators. The first step is exposing the reformist lie that the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state can be utilised as an agency of liberation by the oppressed. To declare that it is up to a “popular movement” (almost inevitably dominated by bourgeois elements) to decide whether or not to support imperialist military intervention is to place popularity above principle and abdicate any pretence of providing revolutionary leadership. “Revolutionaries” who seek to “balance” a supposed “military need for imperialist intervention” with the imperatives of overturning global capitalist rule are in effect volunteering to serve as the political agents of the bourgeoisie within the workers’ movement.