Reconciling Anti-Imperialism and Democracy in Libya
June 24, 2011
Preface: Since starting this website, I am sad to report that I’ve yet to receive any hate mail. So, partly in the interest of attempting to change that and partly for the sake of expressing my views on the subject, I offer a brief commentary here about the US-led NATO war in Libya, based on a Daily Kos article linked below.
A recent article in the Daily Kos describes a forum organized by A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) to discuss the war in Libya and Western intervention there. The A.N.S.W.E.R. forum was part of a larger tour in which former congresswoman and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney presented her observations after returning from a kind of pro-Qaddafi “fact-finding” mission in Libya . The author describes a situation in which anti-Qaddafi Libyans were allegedly barred from the event by A.N.S.W.E.R. organizers. The article is well-worth reading in its own right. But it also speaks to the larger dynamics at work in the debate on the left about Libya.
A.N.S.W.E.R.’s actions in this case are so exemplary of their broader approach to activism and political solidarity, which is characterized by a Stalinist perception that justifies browbeating anyone who doesn’t adhere to their narrow calculus – a calculus that places the United States at the center of all questions. The simplistic logic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is one that rejects all nuances and drives people on the “left” to back dictatorships simply because they brandish anti-imperialist rhetoric, even if that rhetoric objectively contradicts reality, as it does in case of Qaddafi – who until recently was an ardent supporter of the U.S. “war on terror”; who dutifully implemented Western-prescribed neoliberal economic polices; and who now wields NATO-supplied arms to crush a pro-democratic revolt.
Interestingly, like A.N.S.W.E.R., many otherwise pro-war politicians in Congress have come out against the Libyan intervention, but for very different reasons. So there are a variety of motivations to oppose intervention and take an “anti-imperialist” stand. For imperialist lawmakers in Washington , their opposition is based on fiscal concerns, opportunistic partisanship against the Obama administration, or nationalist isolationism. For Stalinist groups like the P.S.L. (Party for Socialism and Liberation – the main force within A.N.S.W.E.R.), their “anti-imperialism” is based on the perception that the target of intervention is a principled challenger of U.S. imperialism. For me, my anti-imperialism on the question of Libya is based on…well, my anti-imperialism.
With that being said, it seems that the author of this article also fails to grasp certain nuances. For him it is not possible to be both anti-intervention and anti-Qaddafi. To be opposed to NATO intervention is to be an apologist for Qaddafi and his crimes. In short, the author buys into the same line of reasoning that A.N.S.W.E.R. does, even though he falls on the opposite side of the equation. That reasoning is based on a confused juxtaposition between anti-imperialist and pro-democracy principles. Fortunately, not only is it possible to be both uncompromisingly anti-imperialist and pro-democracy in the case of Libya , it is in fact the only position for the left that retains both moral and internationalist consistency.