Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, at the Detroit Bead Museum on the west side during September 2008. (Photo: Omorose), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
The Imperialist War for Libya: Pan-Africanism or Neo-colonialism?
How the military and political struggle in North Africa will determine the future
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
There is ample evidence that the forces behind the ongoing imperialist war in Libya are motivated by the large reserves of oil and natural gas in that North African country. The war also is resulting in the placement of a beachhead for the United States and NATO in the northern region of the continent where popular uprisings have taken place in Egypt and Tunisia.
Libya has the largest known reserves of oil on the African continent along with a geographically strategic coastline on the Mediterranean Sea which is a gateway to other parts of the region as well as southern and western Europe. Since the eruption of the civil war inside Libya on Feb. 17, a refugee crisis has developed that is extending into the European Union member states.
This flight from Libya is different than the exodus propelled by the unrest in Tunisia where thousands of mainly youth have fled to Italy and France. In Libya the political character of the oppositional rebellion against the government in Tripoli immediately took a hostile stance toward international workers from Asia, the Arabian Peninsula and even other parts of the African continent.
The workers from neighboring African states were categorically labeled “mercenaries” and were consequently treated as a threat to the political agenda of the rebel forces. Reports emanated from Libya indicating that darker-skinned Africans from other states were beaten, imprisoned and lynched in significant numbers.
Since the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has been a strong proponent of African unity and the creation of a continental government, the attacks on Africans and Arabs from different countries was viewed as a repudiation of the policy and ideology of Pan-Africanism and Pan-Arabism. With the beginning of the rebellion in eastern Libya, the general line of the Transitional National Council (TNC) has been inwardly directed against the continuation of the existing government absent of any public consideration of the impact of the imperialist intervention inside the country.
Yet the current war in Libya will determine to a large degree the character of the unfolding struggle for the political dispensation of Africa, the Arab countries and the Muslim world. It is within these areas where various peoples and religious groups reside that constitute today the military theater of the most violent and protracted conflicts for political and economic dominance.
At the origin of the struggle is the question of which social classes, national groups and economic interests will become the controlling force in such a large section of the world. What is taking place now in North Africa and throughout the region is a continuation of the legacy of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism.
The African Roots of War: Yesterday and Today
World War I represented a culmination as well as a beginning for a new phase in human history and the development of world civilizations. In 1914, the world had witnessed the expansion of colonialism throughout Africa and Asia going back at least five centuries and intensifying in the aftermath of the abolition of chattel slavery and the advent of direct imperial rule. In the western hemisphere the Europeans established colonies to eliminate the indigenous peoples of the Americas and to exploit the labor of the imported and enslaved Africans.
It was the seizure of native lands in the Americas, the theft of their natural resources, the transporting of millions of Africans as slaves and the production of strategic minerals and agricultural commodities that placed the European colonial countries and the United States in a dominant position within the world economic system. This had not always been the case, particularly prior to the 15th century when many countries within Europe suffered from bubonic plague, perpetual warfare and superstition.
Nonetheless with the breaking out of European explorers and slave traders from the continent, the basis for the transformation of the world economic system was well underway. If it had not been for the growth of the slave system in the United States, the country would not have become the world power that it is today. This is the case despite claims to the contrary by the apologists for slavery and capitalism in North America.
W.E.B. DuBois, the co-founder of the NAACP and the Pan-African movement as well as the creator of the Encyclopedia Africana, wrote in 1935 that “The giant forces of water and steam were harnessed to do the world’s work, and the black workers of America bent at the bottom of a growing pyramid of commerce and industry; and they not only could not be spared, if this new economic organization was to expand, but rather they became the cause of new political demands and alignments, of new dreams of power and vision of empire.” (Black Reconstruction, p. 5)
DuBois then outlines the growth of the territorial boundaries of the U.S. and linked this with the growth of chattel slavery. The Pan-African scholar stresses that “First of all, their work called for widening stretches of new, rich, black soil—in Florida, in Louisiana, in Mexico; even in Kansas. This land, added to cheap labor, and labor easily regulated and distributed, made profits so high that a whole system of culture arose in the South, with a new leisure and social philosophy.”
The writer then notes that “Black labor became the foundation stone not only of the Southern social structure, but of Northern manufacture and commerce, of the English factory system, of European commerce, buying and selling on a world-wide scale; new cities were built on the results of black labor, and a new labor problem, involving all white labor, arose both in Europe and America.”
Consequently the so-called “war between the states” that began in 1861 was a struggle over the economic future of the U.S. The war was about sovereignty of the southern region only to the degree that it threatened the existence of slavery as the dominant system of production.
Although the scholars allied with the southern aristocracy, and oftentimes the capitalist class, routinely deny that the civil war was centered on the economic and class restructuring of the U.S., the system of slavery was forced to give way to industrial capitalism as the dominant relations of production within modern western society. Neither slavery nor industrial capitalism constituted benevolent systems of governing and organization of society. The exploitation of labor represents the cornerstone of the profitability of these unjust and repressive systems.
Karl Marx, the founder of the scientific socialist theory, who wrote extensively on the U.S. Civil War, noted in 1861 that “It is above all to be remembered that the war did not originate with the North, but with the South. The North finds itself on the defensive. For months it had quietly looked on while the secessionists appropriated the Union’s forts, arsenals, shipyards, custom houses, pay offices, ships and supplies of arms, insulted its flag and took prisoner bodies of its troops. “(Marx, Die Presse, No. 293, October 25, 1861)
Marx goes on to point out that “Finally the secessionists resolved to force the Union government out of its passive attitude by a blatant act of war, and solely for this reason proceeded to the bombardment of Fort Sumter near Charleston. On April 11, their General Beauregard had learnt in a meeting with Major Anderson, the commander of Fort Sumter, that the fort was only supplied with provisions for three days more and accordingly must be peacefully surrendered after this period. In order to forestall this peaceful surrender, the secessionists opened the bombardment early on the following morning (April 12), which brought about the fall of the fort in a few hours.”
Just as the economic and class character of the system of slavery is often denied or distorted, the real reasons behind the existence of colonialism and neo-colonialism are also open to fierce debate and controversy. As DuBois pointed out in his essay entitled the “African Roots of War” published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1915, “The Colored Peoples will not always submit passively to foreign domination.”
DuBois continues saying “To some this is a lightly tossed truism. When a people deserve liberty, they fight for it and get it…Colored People are familiar with this complacent judgment. They endure the contemptuous treatment meted out by whites to those not ‘strong’ enough to be free. These nations and races composing as they do a vast majority of humanity, are going to endure this treatment just as long as they must and not a moment later.”
Although it would take another fifty years for the national independence and human rights struggles of African and other oppressed peoples to materialize into a critical force, the liberation movements made tremendous gains in the quest for political freedom and economic self-determination.
Yet as Kwame Nkrumah--the founder of modern Ghana and the 20th century pioneer in the international struggle for Pan-Africanism--demonstrated, the challenge of the African peoples would move from the acquisition of self-government to genuine economic liberation and socialism. Nkrumah would define neo-colonialism as the major impediment to development for the African peoples and other nations and social classes under the yoke of imperialism.
Nkrumah says of the system of imperialism that “Many have argued that the resources of Africa were useless to the native inhabitants until they were developed, and they could not have been developed without European capital and skill. It has even been said that ‘the European investor, however, self-interested he may have been, was serving Africa.’ This sort of argument reminds me of the man who, having found buried treasure in his neighbor’s garden, took it away and then told his neighbor that he was doing him no harm, because, until then, he was unaware of its existence. In any case, he did not own a spade. To those who study the facts fairly, it must surely be clear that the European occupation of Africa was carried out for the benefit of Europeans. Concern for the welfare of the African peoples hardly entered into the matter.” (Africa Must Unite, 1963 quoting as well A.J. Janna: European Rule in Africa, 1961, p. 20)
Even in the aftermath of the independence of African states and the formation of a continental organization known as the Organization of African Unity in 1963, Nkrumah pointed out that the continent was still not free from foreign imperialist domination and the exploitation of both natural resources and labor. This post-colonial phase of imperialism does require the development of different forms of struggle.
Nkrumah observed saying “Now that African freedom is accepted by all except the die-hard racialists as an inescapable fact, there are efforts in certain quarters to make arrangements whereby the local populations are given token freedom while cords attaching them to the ‘mother country’ remain as firm as ever. This arrangement gives the appearance of nationhood to the African territory but leaves the substance of sovereignty with the metropolitan power.” (Africa Must Unite, p. 179)
In addition offers of assistance and aid from the colonial and neo-colonial powers are nothing but a revised mechanism to maintain control of the putatively independent African state. Nkrumah emphasizes that “A certain token aid is pumped in by the colonialist power in order to mislead the people and give the impression that something is being done for them. It is meant to divert the nascent demand for a change of government involving more positive independence and a program envisaging popular welfare. “
Then of course, according to Nkrumah, “The intention is to use the new African states, so circumscribed, as puppets through whom influence can be extended over states which maintain an independence in keeping with their sovereignty. The creation of several weak and unstable states of this kind in Africa, it is hoped, will ensure the continued dependence on the former colonial powers for economic aid, and impede African unity. This policy of balkanization is the new imperialism, the new danger to Africa.”
Therefore, the civil war and imperialist effort to topple the government in Libya is designed to further the interests of neo-colonialism in Africa. If the imperialists can replace the existing government with one that is totally compliant with the interests of the western capitalist states under the leadership of Washington, it can serve as a prototype for further encroachment in the overall process of revolutionary democratic uprisings taking place in Egypt and Tunisia as well as Yemen and Bahrain.
Status of the War in Libya
What is often overlooked in analyzing the Libya civil war is the fact that there are key figures within the opposition that have opposed the Gaddafi government for over three decades. Many of these elements are supported by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon.
In fact there have been numerous articles published which substantiate the “secret orders” that have resulted in the White House and Downing Street dispatching intelligence and special forces units into Libya in order to train and arm the anti-government rebels. The rebels are totally dependent upon the imperialists for arms, material aid, political and military cover.
If there had not been the intervention of the U.S. and NATO, the war would in all likelihood, have been already settled. The imperialists are out to seize total control of the natural resources in Libya and the strategic waterways in the Mediterranean in order to enhance their economic and political position within North Africa and the Middle East.
The imperialists are also involved in order to put the brakes on the rebellions in neighboring Egypt and Tunisia in an effort to prevent a genuine anti-imperialist and anti-zionist movement from taking power in these two important African states. Moreover, the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) represents the current imperialist strategy of military domination and regime change for the continent.
These dynamics coupled with the inter-imperialist rivalry between the U.S. and other industrialized states such as France, Britain, Italy and even Canada constitutes a key element within the current political juxtaposition involving Libya and the African continent as well as the Arab world. France led off the aerial assault on Libya but it would be the superior military capacity of the U.S. that has guaranteed the continuation of the bombardments which began on March 19.
Providing arms, training, a naval blockade and air cover for the counter-revolutionaries, the imperialist states have maintained the war since Feb. 17. Their miscalculation in regard to the relative strength of the Libya government and the rejection of the regime-change strategy by other states and peoples throughout the world has created a dilemma for the imperialists.
The sending of ground troops would prove disastrous for the former colonial powers and the neo-colonialists. Africa has a history of fighting colonial and imperialist states for national liberation. The invasion of Libya by the U.S. and other western imperialist states would represent a major struggle against neo-colonialism in which Washington, London, Paris and Rome would not be able to sustain or militarily prevail. The invasion would be opposed by millions on the continent and throughout the region. Such a war would be met with widespread opposition among key political elements within the developing countries as well as among the oppressed and working class within the industrialized states.
Yet the ongoing war in Libya is creating a huge humanitarian crisis with widespread dislocation, the destruction of the national infrastructure, the deaths and injuries of thousands of people inside the country and the weakening of the economy and influence of Libya both within Africa and internationally. This of course is the aim and objective of the imperialist states.
Facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the western capitalist states are desperate to deflect attention away from their failure to re-structure the global labor markets to guarantee the perpetual growth in profits. At the same time the emergence of the Peoples’ Republic of China, Russia, Brazil, India, Iran, Venezuela and other states poses a threat to the transnational corporations, the financial institutions and the imperialist military forces.
Through the exercise of military prowess, the U.S. and the western Europeans are attempting to ensure their continued dominance. Nonetheless, without the aggressive military posture the economic program of imperialism is unsustainable.
However, the reliance on an aggressive military policy will inevitably lead to re-current resistance movements within the working class, the peasantry and the national bourgeoisie of the various countries throughout the developing world and within the industrialized states themselves.
Consequently, there is no real way out of the crisis for the imperialist states and this fact of modern history will be realized only through the death and destruction of millions throughout the world.
As the outcome of the Civil War in the United States during the 1860s resulted in the consolidation of the geographic territory of the country and the eventual imperialist expansion of its influence in the aftermath of the so-called Spanish-American war of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the current policy pursued by the western states in North Africa will be critical in determining the future of not only this region but of the world in general. No country in Africa or the Middle East will be secure if the imperialist states are allowed to dominate the region through the establishment of permanent military bases and the installation of new puppet regimes in Egypt and Tunisia and the overturning of the government in Libya.
Not only will the United Nations be used to provide the legal basis for the occupation of Libya but the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other so-called impartial bodies will be hijacked to provide political cover for more aggressive policies toward Libya and other states that are targeted for regime-change by the U.S. and its allies. These institutions are only designed to provide for the continuing dominance of the western imperialist states since the horrendous crimes against humanity that these states have committed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Palestine and other geo-political regions of the world are never addressed.
Pan-African Unity and the Struggle Against Imperialism
The African Union, a 53-member body of independent states, took a position against foreign military involvement in Libya and demanded a ceasefire and the initiation of a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Libya. These efforts, along with the program advanced for peace by Venezuela and other Latin American states, were rejected by the imperialists and the rebels they are supporting.
This illustrates clearly that the imperialists and their allies do not want a just peace in North Africa. It also shows that the current attack on Libya has been planned for some time and that it cannot be separated from the overall strategic situation throughout the region.
As Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe pointed out recently “The forthcoming African Union Summit to be hosted by Equatorial Guinea in June is critical in light of the machinations of Western countries in North Africa,” remarked the state-run Herald newspaper. The paper quotes President Mugabe as saying “The forthcoming summit will be an important one. People who colonized us want to come back, see what they are doing in North Africa,” the former liberation movement leader said. (Herald, May 3)
After meeting with President Mugabe, Equatorial Guinean State Secretary in Charge of National Security, Juan Antonio Bibang Nchuchuma, said that “As you know, security is very important. Africa suffered for a long time. We need security and we are working with others to stabilize the situation we have in Africa.”
Nchuchuma continued by noting that “We are very busy and as you know for the 42 years of independence of Equatorial Guinea this is the first time we have hosted the AU Summit. People of Equatorial Guinea and the government are very excited. We have prepared a new city for the summit.”
The current situation in North Africa must be addressed seriously by the AU as well as on the level of the masses of workers, farmers and youth on the continent. The occupation of Libya by the leading imperialist states will worsen the conditions for all sectors of society within Africa.
The lessons of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq reveal that the social situation of the majority of the population will inevitably degenerate under an imperialist occupation. The wealth of the country will be stolen at unprecedented levels and the dislocation of the people will be on the same level as prevailed under slavery and settler colonialism.
With the escalation in the usage of targeted assassination against leaders and figures considered enemies by the imperialists, the positions among the opposing forces will harden and become even more violent and retributive. The demonization of various organizations and leaders will serve as a mechanism to build support for wars of occupation among the population groups within the imperialist states as well as to win allies in the developing countries.
As the Co-director of the International Action Center (IAC) Sara Flounders points out in a recent article written in the aftermath of the announced assassination of the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, “Although Obama hailed this as a ‘turning point in the war on terror’, it is clear that he was not proposing any plans to bring U.S. troops home. Instead, the resulting jingoistic media barrage is being used to celebrate the three unpopular wars that have devastated Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, at the cost of more than 1 million lives and $US1 trillion over the past 10 years.” (Terror & the Osama bin Laden Assassination, May 3, workers.org)
Flounders goes on to observe that “The orchestrated celebration of this military operation will justify further expansion of the military budget, weapons systems and tactics like targeted assassinations, secret renditions and new drone attacks. The threat of shadowy bin-Laden and the al-Qaida network have been used again and again to build support for U.S. wars, repressive legislation, maximum security measures and wide-ranging attacks on civil liberties.”
Not only will the assassinations of Muammar Gaddafi’s son and grandchildren as well as the death of Osama bin Laden not bring about a lessening of U.S. aggression around the world, it will in all likelihood, do just the opposite with the request by the White House, Congressional hawks and the Pentagon to increase military spending and the expansion of wars of occupation against the developing countries.
Flounders points out that “Obama warned of ‘violent attacks around the world after the death of bin Laden.’ Such dire yet vague warnings might also be used to push through new legislation giving a blank check to wildly increased levels of repression within the U.S. and to waging new U.S. wars abroad without any form of Congressional debate or authorization. Such pieces of legislation are already introduced in both houses of Congress.”
The challenge within the capitalist states is to mobilize the working class and the oppressed to oppose all of the imperialist wars of occupation. The social conditions of the people of the U.S. and the other industrialized states will not improve as long as the military expenditures and the human costs of waging war hampers the ability of the these governments to provide decent jobs, healthcare, quality education and housing to their people.
Therefore, the war is being waged against both the peoples of the developing world as well as the majority of the population groups within the imperialist states themselves. The anti-war movement in the West must therefore view itself as the natural allies of the peoples of the developing countries who are also struggling for the same improved living conditions as all others are throughout the world.