It appears that the 42 year rule of Moammar Khadafy is coming to an end. Yet his rule and the events leading up to the present situation in Libya contain many of the most fundamental laws of history of capitalism.

Colonial Revolution

Khadafy came to power on the heels of the mass colonial revolt of the previous decades. This anti-colonial revolt was especially centered in Africa and the Middle East and tended to orient towards the Soviet Union. As a result of the influence of Stalinism, most of these revolts did not directly link up the class struggle and socialism with the struggle against colonialism. However, they tended to reflect the anti-capitalist attitudes of the masses in many cases. Also, they tended to reflect the fact that the native capitalist class tended to side with the colonial power, and in any case was incapable of developing society.

As a result, the more radical wing of these revolts tended towards anti-capitalism. Former Egyptian president Gamel Abdel Nasser and his pan Arabism was one of the clearest examples of this. Another was Moammar Khadafy, who upon coming to power nationalized huge sectors of the Libyan economy and, in the process, also provided significant social benefits (free medical care, free education, etc.) Khadafy also clearly oriented towards the Soviet Union, from whom he obtained weapons for his military. He also sought to unite a country that was historically divided into three regions – the east (Cyrenaica), the west (Tripolitania) and the south (Fezzan). In the process, among he reportedly severely repressed some national minorities such as the Berbers in the west, whose language he reportedly outlawed.

Without the control of the working class, the Libyan regime was generally repressive and there was no real check on corruption either.

Collapse of Stalinism

With the collapse of the Soviet Union (1989), Khadafy was forced to turn towards western capitalism. However, Khadafy could not completely escape his past, and as fellow Arab rulers were totally subservient to US capitalism, Khadafy turned to various African states. He sought to establish the Libyan regime as a leader in northern Africa as well as in the continent as a whole, including the proposal for a “United States of Africa” – one united African nation. Of course, with its large oil wealth, Libyan capitalism would be a dominant power in such a nation.

The failure of capitalism to develop the former colonial world combined with the system’s economic crisis to help produce the uprisings throughout the region earlier this year. One major factor in these uprisings was the role of millions of university-educated youth who were unable to find decent jobs. Another factor, especially in Egypt, was the revolt of the working class, which had been engaging in “illegal” strikes since 2004, mainly against privatization and layoffs. These revolts swept into Libya in February of this year.

Capitalism Regroups

However, it seems from the very first that while the protests in Libya initially had a lot in common with those in neighboring states (Egypt, Tunisia, etc.), there were also some differences. These arose from the difference between the Libyan state and that of Egypt, for instance. In the latter case, the regime was completely subservient to US capitalism and had been carrying out neo-liberal policies for at least a decade. As explained, the Libyan regime still retained some of the vestiges of its inheritance of the colonial revolution of decades earlier. As a result, it seems that from the start some reactionary forces were also involved in the protests. Among others were the remains of the old monarchists whose rule Khadafy overthrew when he took power.

In addition, various capitalists started to rise to the top. In one town, as soon as the youth overthrew the Khadafy administration, the local capitalists combined with academics and others to establish themselves as the local government. The severe repression of the revolts also provided the excuse for Western capitalism to intervene. Using a Western-inspired UN mandate as an excuse, NATO forces started a bombing campaign. While the UN mandate only “authorized” NATO to establish a “no fly” zone, NATO in fact carried out 20,000 air sorties (Guardian newspaper, Aug. 18). The excuse for this was the reported atrocities of the Khadafy regime – thousands of civilians killed, mass rapes, etc. However, an investigation by Amnesty International (as reported here: was unable to find any evidence of any of these alleged atrocities. (This shows how careful we must be in accepting the reports of the capitalist media in such situations.) NATO also took control of the Libyan coastline and also helped finance the “rebels.” In addition, various NATO powers clearly had their spies and other agents operating throughout the country.

In part, Western capitalism combined with various capitalist regimes throughout the region to seek the overthrow of Khadafy as well as to suppress the popular nature of the revolt in Libya. This was done through the Gulf Cooperation Council and foremost amongst those states the state of Qatar, whose capitalist class seeks to boost its role throughout the region and beyond. Too small to be a world-dominant power, they can only play a regional role as linked with a major world power, such as US capitalism.

The chief rival to US capitalism – Chinese capitalism – has been hedging its bets. It abstained on the UN vote establishing a “no fly” zone and has been trying to be a mediator in the conflict since then. This reflects it’s nearly $20 billion worth of investment into Libya as well as its desire to continue to be able to import oil from Libya, whatever regime comes out on top in the end.

The combined effect of the Libyan regime’s suppression and the intervention of the regional and NATO powers was to move the struggle from the popular plane to a mainly military one. Within this transformation, world capitalism sought to assure that reliable leaders would come to the fore.

World Capitalism’s Aims

One of the most important was the Ministry of Finance, headed in the National Transitional Council (NTC) by Ali Tarhouni, a 35 year resident of the United States and a lecturer on economics at the University of Washington. His role is important because of a little-noted but crucial aspect of the Khadafy regime. Under Khadafy, the central bank has not been part of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) and, therefore, settles international trade in other currencies aside from the dollar. This means that it accepts other currencies for the purchase of oil. Within weeks of its establishment, however, the NTC took the extremely unusual step of establishing a central bank. This bank was linked with the BIS, meaning that oil would be sold in dollars only.

In addition to maintaining the world domination of US capitalism and the (now weakening) stability of the world monetary system, there was also another reason for this intervention. As an article in the Aug. 24 Guardian newspaper explains: Since the Arab revolution despatched two western-backed dictators in quick succession at the start of the year, there has been a three-pronged drive by the west to bring it under control. In Egypt, US and Saudi money has been poured in to suborn it. In Bahrain, conservative Gulf States have been given support to crush the uprising by force. And in Libya, the western powers have attempted to hijack it, while channelling covert support to the brutally repressed opposition in Syria. What should be added to this explanation is that regional capitalist powers were also involved in this process. (The Qatar-based al Jazeera news, which usually is a fairly good source of world news, completely followed the Qatar state line in this instance.)

Battle Within Libya

Without clear and reliable coverage, it is impossible to definitively determine what actually has been happening within Libya in recent months. This includes the basis of support for either the rebels or for Khadafy. It does appear, however, that both have some degree of popular support. Amongst the “rebels”, this would include an appeal to tribalism. There are also reports of support from various Islamist groups as well as from ethnic groups such as the Berbers. In addition, there are probably some who oppose the Khadafy regime because of its political repression. On the other side, it is likely that many – maybe especially in the larger cities – sense the reactionary nature of many of the ruling forces within the NTC as well as understand their ties to Western imperialism and therefore support Khadafy in this instance. What is clear is that the NTC would never have been able to succeed military without the massive support of NATO. This support included sea support, the bombing raids, and financial support. In the process, these powers utilized much of the most modern military hardware as well as insertion of their own forces (spies, provocateurs, etc.) on the ground there.

In the last week, it seems the NTC has been able to make a major inroad into the capital of Tripoli, possibly even more or less taking over large sectors of the city. (As this is being written, battles are still being reported in many parts of the city.) According to one reporter (Webster Tarpley, whose claims should not necessarily be taken at face value), the leading force in these battles has been those linked with al Qaeda. Whether or not this is really true, in any case it seems clear that the Islamists are playing a significant role in the battle against Khadafy.

Perspectives for Libya

They say that in a war the first casualty is always the truth. Therefore, it’s impossible to really know the military state of affairs in Libya at the moment. The Western capitalist media (as well as al Jazeera) make it appear that all that remains is strictly a mopping up operation and that the capture of Khadafy is simply a matter of time. This is possible. However, it may well be that things are a lot more tenuous. Several regions of Libya are still reportedly in the hands of the Khadafy regime. Also, the NTC is likely to start to fragment into warring factions. These factors mean that a prolonged period of conflict, possibly including outright civil war, is very possible. In fact, it’s possible that there will be a tendency towards the breakup of Libya.

US capitalism has learned some lessons since the invasion of Iraq. This includes the fact that crude, rampant privatization at a breakneck speed is not necessarily the wisest course. Sometimes a bit of subtlety is helpful for them to accomplish their ends. This also includes the fact that outright US invasion is not helpful. However, foreign intervention is already being raised. Among other things, this includes the presence of NATO forces or of a UN “peacekeeping” force. The latter would probably be carried out through the military of various Arab regimes, including that of Qatar and possibly Saudi Arabia.


The reactionary Arab regimes have been crucial in the financial and diplomatic support for the leadership of the Palestinians’ movement. But they have given their support “like a rope supports a hanging man” (to quote Lenin, who used the phrase in a different instance). Just as their intervention in the “Arab Spring” has been to assure that it does not spread and that it does not take on a revolutionary content, so has been their role in the Palestinian struggle.

Clearly, world capitalism is incapable of playing any sort of progressive role. In case after case, whenever it intervened for alleged “humanitarian” reasons, the real reason was to ensure that its interests were preserved. This was true in the war in Yugoslavia, in the intervention after the earthquake in Haiti, and has been shown once again in Libya.

The winds of revolt are starting to blow through the world working class. Throughout Europe we see workers revolting against the austerity measures being introduced. In the Middle East and North Africa we see similar developments. Even in the United States we saw the protests involving some 100,000 in Wisconsin last winter. What remains is for the world’s most important working class – the Chinese working class – to decisively stamp its image on this process. This seems to be under way.

Capitalism increasingly offers a future of increased poverty, blood shed, and environmental disaster. The world working class can provide the alternative, but the time is short. The ongoing struggle in Libya provides many valuable lessons for the world working class struggle to win decisive victory.