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Since When Was it "Leftwing" To Love Imperialism?

Certain elements of the mainstream left in my context have abdicated all responsibility by supporting the US "humanitarian intervention" in Libya.  The argument is that the "Libyan people" have requested imperialist intervention and so imperialism can be humanitarian in this context.  Thus, arguments that were not acceptable during the phase of imperialism opened by September 11th 2001––a phase that gave rise to the 21st century antiwar movement––are suddenly acceptable now.  Perhaps the uncritical left here cannot separate the context of Libya from the context of Egypt and Tunisia and thus think it is all part of one big revolutionary movement where the Middle East is throwing off its chains and so requires the aid of well-meaning US imperialists to help with their liberation––as if the US was not the main determinant of their oppression in the first place.

Thankfully there has been some critique of the recent "humanitarian intervention" promoted on Speed of Dreams and the Workers Dreadnought.  The Revolutionary Initiative blog also carried a critical and in depth analysis of the Libyan situation that is well worth the read.  Even still, the large-scale outrage one would expect from the population that likes to think of itself as anti-imperialist is currently and terrifyingly absent: it is as if the left believes that if it comes out against the American intervention in Libya it will suddenly be against the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.  What a strange and pathetic abdication of anti-imperialist politics: the tragedy of Hitchens' betrayal in 2001 is becoming a farce as people are literally throwing themselves upon the Hitchensian bandwagon a decade after it was discredited.

The point is not that Qaddafi is someone we should support (we shouldn't), or that he is not some senile tin-pot dictator (he is), but that was not the point in Afghanistan and Iraq, either, and the antiwar movement raised against those interventions rejected this argument as a false dichotomy.  Being against those occupations was never about being pro-Saddam or pro-Taliban; it was about being against imperialism.  Even ten years ago we understood that we could be anti-imperialist without being pro-dictator because we understood that imperialist intervention was not humanitarian.  Moreover, the Taliban was a far more brutal regime than Qaddafi's but we understood the hypocrisy of imperialism when it spoke of freedom, liberation, and women's rights.   Indeed, the Revolutionary Initiative analysis, cited above, points out the hypocrisy of the US intervention in Libya: why Libya and why now, but why not Egypt when the American puppet was falling?  Or why, as comrade nomes has asked, did the US mainstream media order the Egyptians to transition peacefully but is now, after backing a specific anti-Qaddafi alliance consisting of ex-Qaddafi thugs and pro-CIA freemarketeers, celebrating violence in Libya?

There is some tragi-comedy in the fact that, since the first day of the Libyan rebellion, Qaddafi has been claiming that all of the rebels are associated with Al-Queda.  Clearly this was an attempt to remain in step with imperialist interests: fearful of US intervention because he knew that the most organized factions of the rebellion were pro-American, Qaddafi actually tried to convince the world that he was dealing with an insurgency consisting of political Islamicists.  Now here is an important question to ask: if this sad and desperate attempt at propaganda had somehow succeeded, and America had intervened on the side of Qaddafi to put down the rebels because they were coded as properly "terrorist", would the same members of the left who are celebrating American intervention now celebrate it in that case?  Of course not: because the imperialism would, for their poor theoretical grasp on the very reality of imperialism, be utterly obvious.

Unfortunately, the so-called "leftists" who are now supporting America's intervention in Libya have a very simple understanding of what is "good" and "bad" in this imperial-capitalist world, especially after the (rightfully felt) excitement in Tunisia and Egypt.  In this simplistic worldview the equation is: dictators = pure evil––which means that the removal of dictators, regardless of anything else, must be the equivalent of pure good.  This is the logic employed by imperialism, however, and the same logic used to justify almost every imperialist intervention since the days of the cold war.  This was the logic these same leftists rejected when it came to Afghanistan and Iraq because they understood, or at least seemed to understand, that every dictator in the global periphery was an expression of a larger global disorder: imperialism.

While part of the left's current failure (but a failure that will hopefully change very very soon) to organize a strong antiwar movement against the imperialist attacks on Libya is due in part to its justified excitement over the intifadas spreading throughout the Middle East, perhaps we can also blame this failure on its inability to understand politics beyond figureheads.  Perhaps if Bush was spear-heading this imperialist intervention the same people who are now defending it as "humanitarian" would be ready to again jump on the antiwar platform and proclaim their disgust.  Now that the bombings are being ordered by Obama, the argument goes, then they cannot help but be nice and non-imperialist bombings where the Americans are finally being "humanitarian" (just like the Canadian army is supposedly humanitarian and, not to be left out, has just entered this round of imperialism, all electoral parties in agreement, as an ally.).  But imperialism does not do "humanitarian interventions" and never has, no matter what face it chooses to wear.

There are already some signs of an emergent antiwar movement to counter this round of American imperialism but by the time it manifests the intervention could be over and a new Middle Eastern puppet installed.


  1. Great post! My eyeballs almost bulged out of their sockets after reading Gilbert Achcar, a Z-net fave, on US intervention in Libya. To be found here:

    If ppl don't want to read the whole thing, Achcar himself gives us a boiled down and clear summation of his position:

    "So, to sum up, I believe that from an anti-imperialist perspective one cannot and should not oppose the no-fly zone, given that there is no plausible alternative for protecting the endangered population. The Egyptians are reported to be providing weapons to the Libyan opposition -- and that's fine -- but on its own it couldn't have made a difference that would have saved Benghazi in time. But again, one must maintain a very critical attitude toward what the Western powers might do."

  2. It's disgusting that this can even be sold as "anti-imperialist" even with the qualifier. Basically he's saying, "imperialism is okay in some circumstances as long as we have a critical attitude" and then calling it "anti-imperialist." Like I said above, this stuff didn't fly when Hitchens said it and it shouldn't fly now.

  3. Achcar has really fallen off his ball...And has now, like many revisionists, is using Lenin to justify his position!!!!! Egad. For shame...

  4. Disgusting... I'm currently working on a post about the false anti-imperialism he represents

  5. You seem confused about things.

    Good luck with that.

  6. We're all imperialists now, doofus.

    If we don't attempt to build a true liberal empire... all bets are off.

    You are a byproduct of Cold War thinking.

    Please stop it.

  7. The previous two posts are from 'flossophy' from HP.


  8. I'm only posting the above posts so I can briefly reply. After that, I suggest that whoever is responsible look at my comments policy.

    1) To simply claim that I'm "confused" is a pitiful argument, and one that demonstrates utter ignorance of concrete history. Maybe you should try studying the history of imperialism and capital before making such asinine comments.

    2) What is your "liberal empire"? It is not some kingdom of rights but a context where the majority of the world is getting murdered so that the imperialist centres, and those most privileged at these centres, can thrive. A "true liberal empire"? Clearly you do not understand what that means: again, I suggest you actually do some reading in this area.

    3) It's hilarious that you would claim I'm the "byproduct of Cold War thinking" when your posts demonstrate the ideology that emerged from American-influenced cold war ideology: that is, that capitalism is "the end of history." This is the nadir of cold war thinking.


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