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Diana Johnstone, Qaddafi, and the dangers of rote thinking

Louis Proyect

March 7, 2011

As someone who was a fairly high-profile defender of Milosevic during the war in Kosovo, I might have been expected to apply the same "formula" to other subsequent "color revolutions" as has been the case with Michel Chossudovsky’s Global Research website, MRZine, the Marcyite sects, et al. Perhaps my close proximity at one time to Jared Israel served to inoculate me against such susceptibility. After seeing him "evolve" first into a rabid defender of Putin and other such former Soviet bloc thugs, then a 9/11 Truther (a function of his pre-existing Islamophobia and a belief that the CIA orchestrates everything), and then finally into a hardened Likudite who supported Israel’s war on Gaza, I took a deep breath and said that something more nuanced was needed. You can’t simply put a minus where the ruling class puts a plus.

It also bothered me that many of the "anti-imperialists" took up the cause of Robert Mugabe. Because he was being demonized in the liberal press and because he was a leader of the guerrilla struggle for national independence, that was all that they needed to know. If ISO members in Zimbabwe were being arrested, that was acceptable to some. A kind of weird amalgam was made between these revolutionary socialists and the MDC that they participated in for a time. Because Soros donated money to the MDC, then the entire struggle against Mugabe was tarnished. This kind of "if, then" logic is what you might see in a textbook on formal logic and arguably belongs there.

But things really came to a head with Iran. As someone who followed events closely in the early 80s when Khomeini cracked down on the left, even putting his opponents in Evin prison—the same charnel house run by the Shah, I could not buy into the realignment being pushed by MRZine. Indeed, from what I could gather from this sorry online publication, the crackdown on the left was a pretty good thing. If you were familiar with the CPUSA’s defense of the Moscow Trials, you could understand why MRZine would be so anxious to see the "wreckers and splitters" in Iran destroyed.

The latest and most boneheaded example of rote thinking can be found of course in the defense of Qaddafi. This takes either explicit forms such as Chossudovsky publishing an article that stated "People in Libya were rich" or more often an implicit defense on the basis that he was a lesser evil compared to the uprising. Unlike Egypt or Tunisia, the opposition was stigmatized as  CIA-inspired even though the same kinds of imperialist connections could be found in the movement against Mubarak and Ben Ali. Qaddafi was given a pass because, like Mugabe, he was a fighter for national independence decades ago. But as a British playwright once put it: "…that was in another country; And besides, the wench is dead."

The latest example of rote thinking can be found in today’s Counterpunch. Diana Johnstone, a highly respected (at least in some quarters) specialist on Yugoslavia, has written an article titled "Another NATO Intervention? Libya: Is This Kosovo All Over Again?". It is a mixture of reasonable anti-imperialist logic plus some of the same nonsense that can be found in all the usual places.

The worst thing about it is that it sweeps the period from 2004 until the February 2011 uprising under the rug. Johnstone claims that Qaddafi has been demonized like Milosevic:

As "the new Hitler", the man you love to hate and need to destroy, Slobodan Milosevic was a neophyte in 1999 compared to Muammar Qaddafi today.  The media had less than a decade to turn Milosevic into a monster, whereas with Qaddafi, they’ve been at it for several decades.  And Qaddafi is more exotic, speaking less English and coming before the public in outfits that could have been created by John Galliano (another recently outed monster).

If she had been following newspaper coverage on Libya with the same assiduousness as she covered Yugoslavia, she would have not written such nonsense. To start off with, Condoleezza Rice met with Qaddafi in 2008 and said "The relationship has been moving in a good direction for a number of years now, and I think tonight does mark a new phase." To show how touched he was with his new best friend, Qaddafi showered $212,000 in gifts on her, including a diamond ring and a locket with his own picture inside. If people like Michel Chossudovsky and Diana Johnstone had a better feel for history, none of this would be much of a surprise. Rice’s visit to Libya was virtually the same as Nixon and Kissinger’s to China. It marked a new relationship based on the solid realities of commodity exchange. Qaddafi had come to the conclusion that Western imperialism would be a good partner in oil production in the same fashion as it was in Saudi Arabia or Iraq today. The real analogy was not between Qaddafi and Milosevic but between Qaddafi and Vojislav Kostunica, the neoliberal politician who was determined to realign Serbia as a maquila zone economically and a friend of NATO politically.

Johnstone is particularly upset with the left for its refusal to hoist Qaddafi on its shoulders, especially an unnamed Trotskyist group that stated: "Of all the crimes of Qaddafi, the one that is without doubt the most grave and least known is his complicity with the EU migration policy…" Unfortunately, she does not provide a citation for this so I am not sure which group it is that I would like to solidarize with. Unlike her, I think this is exactly what should make the left understand that Qaddafi is our enemy.

As my readers should know by now, MRZine and Black Agenda Report have failed to do their due diligence on the question of racism in Libya, claiming falsely that the uprising that began last month ushered in a new phenomenon, namely racist pogroms against Black African workers in Libya. In reality, this is a long-standing problem that existed under Qaddafi, something that Johnstone alluded to but belittled in her commentary. She acknowledges that detention camps for immigrant workers existed but faulted the left for singling that out as a sign that Qaddafi was in league with imperialists, especially his friend the racist Berlusconi who sought to keep Blacks out of Italy. Here’s just one report on the love-fest between the great Pan-Africanist and the right-wing Italian sexist pig:

The European Union is keen to strike a pact with Muammar Gaddafi to stem the flow of immigrants across the Mediterranean, officials said today, after the Libyan leader put a price tag of €5bn (£4.1bn) a year on the deal.

"There is great scope to develop cooperation with Libya on migration," said Matthew Newman, a commission spokesman. Other officials said three negotiating sessions were expected by the end of the year between Brussels and Tripoli as well as the staging of a summit of EU and African leaders in Libya in November.

In a highly theatrical visit to Italy this week, Gaddafi warned that Europe would turn "black" unless it was more rigorous in turning back immigrants. Libya is a key transit point for illegal migration from Africa to Europe. The Libyan leader said the bill for sealing the crossing routes would be at least €5bn a year.

Get that, comrades? Qaddafi warned that Europe would turn "black". And this fucking (excuse my language) comprador despot is someone who gets the red carpet treatment in Venezuela. As much as I admire Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, this is not something they got right. And the longer they persist in obfuscating things, the worse it will be for them.

The struggle in the Arab world is for democratic rights. That trumps any diplomatic deal struck between Venezuela and Libya. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels first came into prominence as activists in the revolutionary upsurge of 1848 that sought to abolish feudal despotism. The ground had to be cleared for battles between the working class and the bourgeoisie. To hasten that showdown it was necessary to fight for a democratic republic with full rights for working people, including the right to form trade unions, to vote and to assemble peacefully. That is exactly the same kinds of battles taking place in the Arab world today and those on the left who oppose it through malicious propaganda are serving the counter-revolution.

:: Article nr. 75639 sent on 07-mar-2011 20:02 ECT


Link: louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/diana-johnstone-qaddafi-and-the-dangers-of

:: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website.

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