The end came suddenly and without warning. In the moment of truth the Gaddafi regime fell like a house of cards.
Last night the streets of Tripoli were filled with wild rejoicing as rebel forces occupied Green Square in Tripoli. Libyan rebels waved opposition flags and fired shots into the air in jubilation after reaching the central square of the capital in the early hours of Monday. Until now the vast square was reserved for carefully orchestrated rallies praising Moammar Gaddafi. Now it erupted in celebration after rebel troops pushed into the centre of the Libyan capital.
On Friday opposition forces captured Zlitan, 80 miles east of the capital. Tripoli was being caught in a pincer movement, with the eastern and western prongs of the rebels advancing from Zlitan and Zawiya moving to cut Tripoli off from the rest of Libya. The fall of Zawiya was a mortal blow, depriving the capital of access to oil supplies. This probably was the decisive moment that completely undermined the morale of Gaddafi’s men. Only a complete collapse of morale can explain the apparent absence of resistance in the last stages and the comparative ease with which the rebels entered the centre of Tripoli.
As recently as yesterday morning, the Gaddafi administration had insisted it would fight on to the end. Colonel Gaddafi’s oldest son, Saif-Al Islam, in a televised speech promised he would never raise the “white flag” over Tripoli. Then, in what was clearly a sign of desperation, Muammar Gaddafi’s government declared its readiness to engage in immediate negotiations with the rebels. When one is on the point of being defeated militarily, it is customary to ask for immediate negotiations – though there was really nothing left to negotiate.
Colonel Gaddafi himself announced his willingness to negotiate directly with the head of the rebel National Transitional Council, spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said. Coming after weeks and months of boastful talk about fighting to the death in the streets of Tripoli, this was rich with irony. Even more ironic, it seems that the government had asked NATO to convince the rebel forces to halt an attack on Tripoli, according to a spokesman on state television last night.
Replying to this offer, the head of the transitional council hastily announced that the rebel fighters would halt their offensive if Col Gaddafi announced his departure. Mustapha Abd El Jalil added that the rebel forces would give Col Gaddafi and his sons safe passage out of the country. This is yet another proof that the leaders of the Transitional Council have been trying all along to stitch up an unprincipled compromise with the old regime.
However, these sentiments were clearly not shared by the rebel forces that have been fighting for months to overthrow Gaddafi. Ignoring the wheeling and dealing of their “leaders”, they pressed on with their offensive, brushing aside the ineffectual resistance of what was left of Gaddafi’s army. To the west of Tripoli, the rebels overran the depot of the elite 32nd brigade, commanded by Col Gaddafi’s son, Khamis. And late last night the rebel forces had taken over several suburbs, hoisting their tricolour on public buildings.
With breathtaking speed the rebels advanced right into the heart of the city, apparently without any major resistance from troops loyal to Col Gaddafi. As the rebels moved into the capital, its defenders simply melted away. In a question of hours, the rebels announced that they had taken over the entire capital, with the exception of Gaddafi’s stronghold.
The absence of any serious resistance, when the government had promised to fight for every street, is an eloquent confirmation of the lack of any firm support for the crumbling regime. Instead of bloody street battles, the TV pictures showed large numbers of people coming onto the streets of Tripoli to greet the rebels. A rebel leader said the unit in charge of protecting Gaddafi and Tripoli had surrendered and joined the revolt, allowing the opposition force to move in freely.
Reuters reported that Gaddafi's son and heir apparent Saif al-Islam has been arrested. It seems that Muhammad Gaddafi, his eldest son, turned himself in to rebel forces in Tripoli, according to a report by the rebel government. This cowardly surrender is in blatant contrast to the earlier fighting talk and promises to fight to the death. It suggest complete demoralization in the ruling clique.
Of Gaddafi himself there is no news. In the latest audio broadcast, he acknowledged that the opposition forces were moving into Tripoli and warned the city would be turned into another Baghdad. "How come you allow Tripoli the capital, to be under occupation once again?" he said. "The traitors are paving the way for the occupation forces to be deployed in Tripoli."
The colonel insisted he would not be leaving the capital and that he would defeat enemy forces. He called on his supporters to march in the streets of the capital and "purify it" from "the rats." These words show that the old man is made of stronger stuff than his pampered playboy sons. In his mind he may be planning some kind of counterattack. But his speech reminded one of the desperate letters sent by Tsar Nicholas to his generals in February 1917. Like him, Gaddafi was moving phantom armies that have ceased to exist except in his imagination.
The chance of a last-minute comeback seems remote. Although Gaddafi has often sprung many surprises, it is hard to see what cards he still holds in his hands. One possibility is that he may try to regroup in the areas where he has support among certain tribes and launch a guerrilla war. But even if he still has some troops willing to obey his orders, as the hours pass and the rebel hold on Tripoli tightens, such a possibility seems increasingly remote. The scenes of masses of people celebrating victory in Green Square last night told its own story. This is the place where Gaddafi supporters have gathered nightly throughout the uprising to rally support for their leader. The symbolic import of these scenes is self evident.
The Libyan leader is not a stupid man, but he has long been surrounded by a camarilla of yes-men who never contradict him and reinforce his sense of omnipotence and invulnerability. It is obvious from his words and actions that Gaddafi has been living in a delusional world for some time. His speeches bore the same air of unreality as those of Hosni Mubarak in the last days of his regime.
Lord Acton said: power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is a well documented fact of history that absolute monarchs and dictators in the end succumb to a form of madness. When somebody comes to believe that they are all powerful, the line between what is real and what is fantasy becomes blurred.
Libya is the only case where the imperialists have been able to intervene directly in the events that have swept the Arab world in the last eight months. The experience of their attempts to intervene in Iran in 1979-80 taught the Americans that it is not a good idea to intervene militarily in a revolution.
Even when they decided to intervene in Libya, they were divided. The Americans were hesitant, especially the generals who have been taught a few painful lessons in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was the French and British who, for their own reasons, were most belligerent. However, recently they too have been expressing serious doubts about their involvement in Libya. Their treasuries are empty, their armies are overstretched and their citizens are not enthusiastic about foreign military adventures.
In order to justify their Libyan adventure, they used the excuse of “preventing civilian casualties”. On the basis of this excuse they got the UN Security Council to vote for military action. This limited aim was merely a fig leaf to disguise the real aim of the NATO powers – to overthrow Gaddafi. The British and French imagined that it would be sufficient to drop a few bombs and Gaddafi would surrender. They were mistaken.
It is unnecessary to point out that the intervention of NATO caused many more civilian deaths. Its spokesperson (a woman, of course!) boasted last night that NATO planes had attacked over 4,000 targets since it began operations a few months ago. These targets were not only military, but included civilian areas. They killed not only civilians but also rebel fighters. The repeated incidents of NATO planes bombing rebel positions exposes the hollowness of all the propaganda about “smart bombs”, which supposedly guarantee that there will be no civilian casualties.
The imperialist bombing campaign was relentless and brutal. They attempted to kill Gaddafi and members of his family and entourage. This went far beyond the stated aims of the campaign. Despite the angry protests of the Russians, the spokespersons in Washington, London and Paris made no secret that their aim was regime change in Tripoli. These actions at once expose the cynicism of the imperialists and the reactionary role of the so-called United Nations, which provides a respectable cover for the bandits to carry out their dirty work everywhere.
It is clear that the intervention of NATO played a key role in destroying Gaddafi’s military capability through merciless aerial bombardment. NATO has been covering the rebel advance with air strikes on Tripoli, reporting the destruction of 36 targets over the weekend. Gaddafi's spokesman Moussa Ibrahim claimed that 1,300 people had been killed in fighting in Tripoli yesterday. Without this air cover the task of the rebels would have been more difficult. However, it is not the case that NATO won the war. The war was fought and won by the rebel fighters on the ground. This is an important fact and one that will determine what happens in the next stages.
In fact, the NATO campaign served to underline the limitations of air power alone. Months after the bombing began there was no sign of a decisive military victory. The leaders in Paris and London feared that the Libyan conflict might drag on inconclusively for years. The history of wars shows that it is impossible to win a war by air power alone. Ultimately, wars are won by troops on the ground. But after Iraq and Afghanistan, the last thing they wanted was to be dragged into a war on the ground in Libya. They were therefore greatly relieved (as well as surprised) by the news that the rebels had entered Tripoli.
President Obama said the Gaddafi regime had reached a "tipping point". The British government said the end was near for the Libyan leader, and urged him to go. But the rejoicing of the imperialists is mixed with a feeling of anxiety. The victory was won by the rebels on the ground, whose real aims and intentions are unclear. They are armed and will now be feeling very confident. This scenario is a minefield for the imperialists, who are already expressing concern about a “power vacuum” after the fall of Gaddafi.
In war it frequently happens that allied armies fight against a common enemy for entirely different reasons. In the American War of Independence in the 18th century, monarchical France fought with the American rebels against the forces of the British Crown. The military intervention of France undoubtedly helped the American colonists to obtain victory. But the war aims of France had nothing in common with those of the American rebels.
The French were engaged in a power struggle with England for control of colonies – including in the New World. If, instead of rule from London, the American colonists had ended up with rule from Versailles, they would have been even worse off than before. Fortunately, the international balance of forces – and the French Revolution – prevented that from happening.
Our attitude to war
Our attitude to war is dictated not by sentimental reasons (false “humanitarianism”, “democracy” etc., etc.) but by the question of what interests are behind war in every given case. In this case, both the imperialists and the rebels desired the overthrow of Gaddafi. But they did so for reasons that were not only different but entirely contradictory.
The imperialists wanted to get rid of Gaddafi because he was too independent and not willing to do what they desired in all circumstances. They wanted (and still want) to replace him with a more pliant and obedient stooge. Above all, they want to get their hands on Libya’s rich oil supplies. Greed, not humanitarianism, is their real motive.
The uprising against Gaddafi that began in Benghazi presented them with an opportunity that was too good to miss. They pretended to sympathize with the revolutionary people, just as the King of France pretended to sympathize with the American colonial rebels. But their sympathy, like that of the Bourbons, was never genuine. They fear the Arab Revolution like the plague and will do everything in their power to destroy it.
As long as the war continued, these contradictions were largely submerged. Some misguided elements in the ranks of the rebels even asked NATO to step up its intervention. Such illusions in the good will of the imperialists are not only mistaken; they are extremely dangerous. The imperialists are following their own agenda, which does not include victory for the revolutionary people in Libya or anywhere else.
The moment the fighting ends, these contradictions will come to the fore. In fact, they were already evident even during the fighting. It is no accident that NATO refused to arm the rebels. Had they been properly armed and equipped, the rebels could have taken Tripoli months ago. But they were armed only with small arms that were no match for Gaddafi’s tanks and heavy artillery.
That was one reason for the slowness of the rebel advance, which was repeatedly thrown back by Gaddafi’s troops who were properly armed and equipped. But it was not the only reason. The self-appointed and unelected Transitional Council that has installed itself in Benghazi, and presumes to speak in the name of the Revolution, although nobody has ever given it the right to do so, has all along been striving for a deal with Gaddafi and putting the brakes on the Revolution. That is hardly surprising since it contains a significant number of former Gaddafi supporters in its ranks. The rebel victories were won, not thanks to this body but in spite of it.
For more than 40 years, Gaddafi ruled Libya with an iron hand. Now that hold has been shattered. The big question now is: what comes next? This victory has been hard won by the blood and sacrifice of the revolutionary people, especially of the youth. Nobody knows how many have been killed in the bloody six months civil war, but the numbers will certainly be in the tens of thousands. There may well be a desire for revenge on the part of the rebels, although the talk now is of national reconciliation and unity.
This is a dangerous moment for the Libyan Revolution. Even as people dance and cheer on the streets, dark clouds are gathering. What has been won by blood can be easily signed away in ink. The fruits of victory can be stolen from the people who won them in struggle.
Behind the scenes, the merchants are haggling, the lawyers are cheating, the politicians are manoeuvring. These people did not do the fighting and dying, but they will now swiftly step forward to occupy the centre stage.
The careerists and opportunists – not a few of whom were loyal Gaddafi supporters until recently, will elbow aside those revolutionary youths who left Benghazi in battered old cars, armed with little more than revolutionary fervour, to confront Gaddafi’s well-armed mercenaries. The latter will find themselves marginalized in an unscrupulous scrable for power.
And all the time, the imperialists will be circling like hungry vultures, waiting to pick up the juicy morsels. “Look,” they will say: “we are your friends. Remember how we helped you?” The Libyan people would do well to keep well away from “friends” such as these!
All the contradictions that were hidden in the course of the armed conflict will now come to the surface. The war aims of the imperialists and their stooges in the Transitional Council are incompatible with the objectives of the revolutionary people. There will be an increasingly sharp polarization within the rebel camp.
As far as national reconciliation is concerned, the interests of the Revolution will not be served by pointless witch hunting of minor figures in the old regime. But there can be no question of reconciliation with those who have committed terrible crimes against the people. The Libyan people are the only ones entitled to judge these criminals. They should not be handed over to the so-called International Court of Justice, but publicly tried by people’s revolutionary courts.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague confirmed to NBC News that Saif al-Islam was in rebel custody. In June the ICC issued arrest warrants for Gaddafi, his son Saif and Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi on charges of crimes against humanity after the U.N. Security Council referred the Libyan situation to the court in February.
This is yet another example of the hypocrisy and double standards of the imperialists. There is no doubt that these men are tyrants whose hands are stained by the blood of their people. But the same may be said of the Sultan of Bahrain, who brutally suppressed the pro-democracy movement with the active assistance of the Saudi hangmen. Where are the charges against those gentlemen? And where are the charges against the Israeli ruling class? Or, if it comes to that, against Tony Blair and George W Bush? The imperialists are interested in “justice”, “democracy” and “humanitarianism” only insofar as it serves their interests.
We must oppose every attempt of the imperialists to interfere in the affairs of the Libyan people. Let the Libyan people settle their own problems without the interference of the imperialists gangsters! Any illusions in the good intentions of the imperialists would be fatal to the future of the Libyan Revolution.
The gangsters in Paris, London and Washington were never interested in the problems of the Libyan people. Their “humanitarianism” was a joke in very bad taste. What they are interested in is to get their hands on Libyan oil. They have their tentacles in the Transitional Council, which will be very willing to sell off the wealth of Libya to their friends in NATO, as long as they receive a suitable commission.
Our policy is: For the complete independence and national unity of Libya! That is our first demand. Halt the imperialist intervention! The Libyan people must be free to decide its own affairs without any outside interference!
Secondly, we demand full democracy now: for a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly to draw up a new constitution based on the fullest democratic rights for the people: the right to strike, demonstrate and organize, full freedom of speech and assembly, and all other rights that will enable the Libyan workers to organize and develop the class struggle to the fullest extent.
Thirdly, there must be no trust whatever in the Transitional Council. The Gaddafi regime was defeated by the armed people, and power must be in the hands of the armed people, not usurped by the careerists. Set up revolutionary committees in every town, city and village, in every factory, school and college. The committees must be linked up on a local, regional and national level. Only the revolutionary committees can guarantee the convening of a genuinely revolutionary and democratic Constituent Assembly.
It is natural for the people to celebrate a victory. But it is dangerous to celebrate too soon. The revolutionary people must be vigilant to defend what has been won or else victory can slip through their fingers. The Libyan Revolution is not yet over. Many trials and difficulties lie ahead.
If the Revolution had a leadership that was worthy of it, it could be the starting point for a general revival of the Arab Revolution, starting with the Maghreb: it could provide a mighty impetus to the Revolution in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, and above all in Egypt. But the Egyptian Revolution shows how easy it is, in the absence of adequate leadership, for the Revolution to be sidetracked and hijacked by alien elements.
The Libyan Revolution contains many contradictory elements, and it can go in a number of different directions. Its main weakness, as in Tunisia and Egypt, is the absence of the subjective factor: the revolutionary party and leadership. That missing factor will make the Revolution more complicated and drawn out, but the Revolution also has great strengths.
The revolutionary people, and above all the youth, have shown tremendous courage, strength and determination. We must base ourselves on these things and fight to bring the Revolution to a successful conclusion. That will only be possible when the workers and peasants take power into their hands.
The Libyan people did not fight to remove one gang of corrupt gangsters merely to replace them with another, even more rapacious, gang. Workers and youth of Libya! You have shown your courage and ability by your actions. Do not allow anyone to snatch victory from your hands. Trust only yourselves, your own strength and your own revolutionary organizations!
The overthrow of Gaddafi was only the first step. The real Libyan Revolution starts now.
London, 22 August, 2011.