Alicia Zukofsky

The Temptation of Power
Thoughts Prompted by the Fall of Gaddafy

Seeing the Adenauer clan linked to the Wehrhahn Group and later on, observing the Flick scandal which involved a big corporation as well as the political leadership in W. Germany, my dad sometimes said it made him almost a monarchist.  “They already have everything  – they don’t  have to fill their pockets quickly, like people who are in office for just a short time.”  He obviously thought of dynasties like the Hohenzollerns and the Windsors. But he wasn’t seriously considering the monarchist option. He knew too well that monarchies were always tremendously costly and exploitative. It was just his way of being ironic or even sarcastic.

Something, in fact, speaks for limiting the time people may hold office to short terms. Power corrupts. Or at least, it causes addiction, to it. Even if, as in the case of the Castro brothers, personal wealth is not coveted.

Yes, I know that Fidel Castro would probably say that he isn’t “addicted” to power. That to be at the top is a burden rather than a joy. That it was out of “responsibility” when he remained commandante en jefe for so long. But responsibility for what – for “the fate of the revolution”? Is the “revolution” something that exists “in itself”, quite apart from the people, el pueblo, the populace? Has the populace no say, no voice?  I know that the official line describing the space of freedom in Cuba is, that “everything is possible” – and thus permitted – “within the revolution. And nothing outside [or against] it.” Sounds fine, in theory, to somebody who desires radical change. But why were pessimistic poems considered to be outside the revolution? It is forbidden to be sad? Or to be unhappy in love? Or to be disturbed by the imperfections of a society engulfed in a process of deep transformation? Who drew the line? What power was accorded to those who drew the line? I know that some, including that cherished, lovely woman, Marta Harnecker, would point to elements of grass roots democracy in Cuba. These things may well exist, on the factory and local level. That’s not enough, however, and there are Cubans who say so. Not just the liberal-conservative and social democratic “dissidents” who idealize the free market and our liberal, free-market-based political system in the U.S.A. Come on, Marta, the fact that our democracy is not real (as the protesters in Barcelona, in Madrid and Manhattan know full well) is no excuse for a Cuban “Socialist democracy” that limits the political debate and curtails the factual right of the people  to choose a head of government. Maybe the Castros and their party would have carried the election. But they never ran in an open, unbiased context. They just prolonged their mandate of power. Not too difficult in an effective one party system and with a party that functions according to a top-down logic. The logic embraced, in a veiled way, by the Democratic and the Republican Party, as well. I know that. But does that make the prevalent practice in Cuba more defendable? More easily excused?

In Libya, it was Gaddafy who hung on to power for too long. When the last days of the regime came as NATO attacked it with Tomahawk missiles, the air force and special forces on the ground, accompanied by troops from despotic Qatar and an assorted bunch of civilians who had taken up arms because of grievances no one can dispute, Fidel Castro sided with the Libyan head-of-state. Why? Was it geo-politics, opposition to US-imperialism – a phenomenon that is more real than most North Americans are prepared to admit – that made the old Cuban revolutionary close his eyes to the short-comings of the Libyan regime? Or did he simply regard these shortcomings as secondary, in the global game that justaposes the advocates of US hegemony and the advocates of popular emancipation, at least in Fidel’s opinion? But what are we to make on an emancipation that presupposes the suspension of civil rights?´Well, we all know or might well know they are imperiled in the US. But was Libya different, under Gaddafy?

But let’s try to be fair. Gaddafy, the man who ran Libya since 1969, can take credit for following the example of Nasser because he toppled the monarchy. A monarchy put in place by the colonialists when they left but were intent on preserving their influence and economic domination.  Even Jean Ziegler admits that in his early years Gaddafy was a progressive. One might almost say, a progressive intellectual. That was the impression of quite a few who saw him debate with Tito about the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries. And the role that this movement might assume in the context of the worldwide anti-colonial and anti-racist struggle for a coveted political and economic liberation that was obviously necessary. And that has not been achieved even now. 

Gaddafy might have been an intellectual if he had not always been an officer in the first place. As head of government, he supported liberation movements, including the ANC that was considered by the U.S. as a terrorist group. Supporting the PLO, including the left-wing  People’s Front and the Democratic People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine, made him few friends among Arab rulers. In fact, Arab despots snubbed him and hated him. Obviously Gaddafy was an Arab nationalist. And it was his nationalism that was disappointed by the other Arab governments  and that made him turn to the idea of African unity. In this way, he overcame Arab and European racism towards “Black” Africans.

Was it the encirclement of the West, was it an effect of the U.S. assaults that killed one of his daughters “in retribution for Lockerbie” (which the Libyans probably were not involved in) that let him become paranoid? Pushed against the wall, with no exit left, he ushered in a privatization program in recent years that was advocated if not demanded by the West. As a consequence, the unemployment rate exploded, especially among young people.(*) We have seen that happen in Egypt as well. Then there was the trouble with religious conservatives. It was not by chance that this conflict spilled over into Libya, both from the Algerian side, and even more because of the conflict in Afghanistan. Was the West having its hands in the game? That’s possible. Just like the Israeli government furthered the growth of Hamas in the early days of that movement, in order to have a conservative, “religious” antidote to Habbash’s PFLP and Hawatmeh’s DPFLP, just like US-supported military dictators in Pakistan pandered to conservative land-owning factions and to the most conservative among the mullahs (often the younger sons or the nephews of the big landowners), in order to push back the left, thus furthering “Islamist” tendencies in once fairly secular Pakistan, certain foreign powers seem to have recruited Libyans for the fight against the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan. And they obviously helped them to return to Libya to cause trouble by creating an “islamist” fundamentalist opposition, in the 1990s. Later on, after 9/11 – that mysterious occurrence – the CIA and their British counterpart changed their course of action. They extradited Libyan “islamists”, their old partners in Afghanistan, to the Gaddafy regime. They – and the Germans, apparently – even trained the regime’s special police forces, something that may have happened in Egypt as well.

If Gaddafy started out as a progressive, this does not erase the fact that like all the other Arab heads of state, with the possible exception of Lebanon, Gaddafy was not democratically elected. And the way the prison revolt by “Islamists” in Tripolis was squelched reminds us of Attica, the infamous prison in upstate New York. Or of the bloody massacre of Tupac Amaru prisoners in Lima, staged during the meeting of the “Socialist International” in the Peruvian capital because the political prisoners hoped for wide press coverage of their demand not to be treated in an inhumane way. The massacre by the army seems to have been okayed by the participants of the ongoing international meeting at the time, including Willy Brandt. There is a photo of him leaving the conference room, after a decision on how to deal with the “blackmail attempt” of the inmates had been reached. His face is cold, hard like marble, and determined. Western democratic leaders often have placed “reasons of State” above humanity.

The massacre of Islamist prisoners protesting against prison conditions  does not speak in favor of the Gaddafy regime, whether we agree with the goals of these islamists or not. It speaks for the regime, however, that many of the hard-core islamists who had served U.S. interests as supposed freedom fighters in Afghanistan, were later on released by the Gaddafy regime, after signing papers that they would abstain from political “trouble-making.” Several of them were soon involved again in U.S. backed coup attempts. Some are among the leaders of the new regime in Libya which promises a movement towards Western style democracy.

The press in North America and Western Europa, defending obvious Western political interests, has painted a dark, bizarre, almost demonícal picture of Gaddafy from the very beginning. That, in iself, was not surprising, given his support for the PLO and its most militant groups. He was always painted as “a little mad” and his insistance on donning a non-Western garb on official occasions (while on photos taken in a private context we see him in a white Western suit) emphasized his “otherness” which, in itself, appeared (or was calculated to appear) suspicious and dangerous to readers of the yellow press. That was all a calculated game, part of the media spectacle produced by the factory of global opinion which turned around the message people like Gaddafy and Morales intend to project to “the masses” in the so-called Third World when they break with Western etiquette and Western clothing habits.

The worst one can say perhaps about this man is that Gaddafy’s “popular democracy” was like Potemkin’s villages. It was paternalistic. It treated the population like children who do not yet know what’s good for them. It was impatient with such “children” if they became “stubborn” and insisted on something that was going against the current, against the direction chosen by the regime.

It can be assumed that just as in Stalinist regimes, Gaddafi’s own “trusted elite” – members of Cabinet, high-level bureaucrats, officers, journalists – were afraid  of being suspected of “divergent political points-of-view.” Probably people in such contexts are liable to spy on each other. The urge to rise within a hierarchically structured state apparatus  encourages opportunism, hiding ones real views, and denunciation of others who are less careful, thus more open and outspoken. In a much less politicized context, the same psycho-social mechanism is at work in every big corporation, from Exxon to GM or GE. Conformity can be enforced with or without a political police. In Egypt, a political police spied on citizens. In Morocco, it still does so, and the same is true of Algeria, Bahrain, the Emirates, Iraq, Kuwait. Saudi-Arabia, Syria, and Yemen. Was Libya an exception? Probably not. If there was no such police, it did not necessarily mean that denunciations and incarceration were absent. This is a part of the power game. If the masses can be controlled and kept at bay without incarceration of political opponents seen as dangerous by the regime, a semblance of democratic normality is more easily attained. How does the U.S. compare with Arab regimes? Yes, there is less of a threat to lose your life when you dissent.  Much less. People, most of them, at least, feel they are living in a fairly open society. But are there no political prisoners? Don’t the “organs of the State” spy on citizens in the U.S., as well? And isn’t there a lot of conformism, despite all the verbal assertion of “individualism” and fashionable “difference”? Isn’t there a hidden anxiety or carefulness that lets many a person try to remain “within the mainstream”? Quite a few people in the United States are often, and apparently in many contexts, afraid to discuss politics. It can be too  damaging, putting off somebody who might be a valuable contact. It can ruin careers.

As for Libya, the implicit climate of censorship and self-censorship that existed, cannot be put in doubt. But otherwise, life, in a material sense, improved under the Gaddafy regime. At least in the early decades. As long as there was no globally disruptive economic crisis. As long as the oil price rose, providing oil income which in turn guaranteed  that the State had growing rather than shrinking funds at his disposal. Both for its modernization strategy and for parallel social policies. For it was Libyan oil income  that led to every improvement, including improvement of the standard of living of the bulk of the Libyan population. No question – it wasn’t any longer the foreign corporations and a local mercantile elite which skimmed off the cream. At least not in the early decades under Gaddafy.

As in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, the modernization effort was remarkable and remarkably successful. Mortality rates dropped sharply. The health system and the education system was modern and both served the common people, in the way typical for social democratic governments in Western Europe. In the poor, so-called Third World such achievements are often taken to be “socialist.” So there was a subjective basis for speaking of a specific, Libyan, “green” socialism. Green stood of course for the Muslim socio-cultural and religious heritage. A heritage that was not denied or repressed, as long as Muslims did not organize a conservative political opposition and as long as they refrained from wanting to base the political system and social life on the shariah. Obviously the regime’s secularism made Gaddafy appear as an “infidel” to the religious hard-liners, the fundamentalists that find their equivalent in Bachmann and the likes of her, in the States. But then, on the other side, the “hard-liners,” the intolerant conservatives, were probably a minority.

The popular base for the Gaddafy regime shrunk when the effects of a whole series of economic crises shook the world and when the upward thrust of the oil price gave way to considerable oscillations. The fact that the regime felt threatened by external adversaries led to costly buying sprees as the acquisition of large quantities of modern weapons was sought. France, Russia, Germany, Italy were the chief suppliers of arms, it seems – the U.S. being more hesitant for obvious reasons related to Washington’s animosity towards any kind of “socialism” and toward the defenders of anti-hegemonistic non-alignment. But also in view of the unresolved conflict in Palestine. 

It was not only heavy spending that served the acquisition of arms which reduced the leeway of the regime and impeded the necessary social and economic policies in its later years. Certain infrastructure projects that tapped water in the subsoil of the desert were tremendously big and costly. They made modern life in cities like Tripolis (and the enormous growth of Tripolis) possible. But they gave income to foreign construction firms and immigrant labor. They created few jobs for Libyans and they diverted funds that should have gone into the development of the productive sector. On the other hand, the successful education system led to the existence of a large number of graduates that the economy could not absorb. Funds for corrective social policies and especially for the creation of a bigger productive base would have been necessary. And this, in the 20 last years, probably more than ever. But that did not happen. On the contrary. As I said already, it was the IMF-advocated privatization strategy that helped increase social inequality in the cities and that drove up unemployment. This was perhaps the most decisive reason for the outbreak of a revolt, apart from U.S. involvement and the “islamist factor.” 

Discontent had been lingering for years. It grew as millionaire businessmen in Tripolis and even in Benghazi were playing a more and more prominent role as wheelers and dealers. They are today among the backers and financiers of the new regime. Then, in the last years of the Gaddafy era, they were suspected of wheeling and dealing with the family members of Gaddafy while furthering political corruption in the administration and in the army as well. Obviously, the fairly limited “elite” of bureaucrats that had formed and the privileged position of the Gaddafy family were conducive to immense and immensely hated corruption.

Often, progressive leaders – whether democratically elected or not – hang on to power for too long.  Perhaps, in regimes that consider themselves the fruit of a revolution, they hang on because they don’t trust their own people. But how did Bert Brecht say, with his dry irony, when the workers in East Germany revolted against demands to increase the productivity of their labor, “the norms,” and when the Socialist Unity Party called in Soviet tanks?  “If you have no confidence in your people, you should choose a new one.”  Piss off, as the young say, today. 
 
 
 
 
 

* “To please the West, Libya cooperated with the Central Intelligence Agency, got rid of its weapons of mass destruction in 2004 and privatized its economy, causing widespread unemployment.” That’s what Dennis Kucinich, a well-informed member of Congress, stated in a public letter published in the New York Times on Sept. 7, 2011. See: Dennis Kucinich, “Intervening in Libya”, in: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/08/opinion/intervening-in-libya-rep-
kucinichs-view.html?_r=1
See also the speech Kucinich gave in Congress on March 30, 2011 where he estimated that the level of unemployment in Libya rose drastically to 20 per cent as a consequence of measures proposed by the IMF and the World Bank that were adopted by the Gaddafy regime.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Check...:http://www.democracynow.org/2011/2/17/democracy_uprising_in_the_usa_noam
 

Check: http://www.democracynow.org/2011/2/17/democracy_uprising_in_the_usa_noam
 

 
LINKS
 

LIBYA
 

The Nation
www.the nation.com

Kucinich, Speech before U.S. Congress, March 31, 2011
(The Nation; April 4, 2011)

backup copy
 

EGYPT

Al Ahram Weekly
http://weekly.ahram.org.eg

Galal Nassar, "The Arab Spring and the crisis of the elite" 

backup copy
 
 

Al MasryAlyoum.com
http://www.almasryalyoum.com

Mohamed Azouz, Egypt govt mulls 
raising workers' incentives in bid to thwart labor strikes 
 
 

Ahmad Fouad Najem, "Forbidden"

backup copy
 
 
 

PEACE MOVEMENT

Tom Hayden, "The Defunding 
of the Peace Movement" 

backup copy
 
 

Not in our name
www.notinourname.net

backup copy
 
 

DISARM NOW
disarm now
 
 

"Former US Attorney General Testifies for Plowshares Activists"

backup copy
 
 

Justice with Peace
(United for Justice with Peace Coalition)
www.justicewithpeace.org
 
 

SPANISH DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT

Democracy real YA!
http://www.democraciarealya.es
 
 

Manifesto of Democracia real YA!

backup copy
 
 

Carolina Castañeda López, La "Spanish Revolution" y los movimientos sociales en la red

backup copy
 
 

Lola Romero Gil, Movimientos ciudadanos, la red se mueve

backup copy
 
 

Lola Romero Gil, "Una semana 
de España acampada, por la democracia real"

backup copy
 
 
 
 
 

OTHER LINKS

Alternative web.es
www.alternativeweb.es
 
 

Esther Vivas
http://esthervivas.wordpress.com/

backup copy

backup copy (doc.file)
 
 

Local to global.org
www.localtoglobal.org
 
 

Left Forum
www.leftforum.org
 
 
 

Libcom.org, Theses on the global crisis 

backup copy
 
 

Forum Social Mundial
www.forumsocialmundial.org
 
 

Z Communications  AND Z mag
http://www.zcommunications.org/
 
 

documenta 11:
demokratie als permanenter,
unabgeschlossener  prozess
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Alternative web.es
www.alternativeweb.es
 
 

Esther Vivas
http://esthervivas.wordpress.com/

backup copy

backup copy (doc.file)
 
 
 

documenta 11:
demokratie als permanenter,
unabgeschlossener  prozess
 
 
 
 
 

Libcom.org, Theses on the global crisis 

backup copy
 
 
 
 

Forum Social Mundial
www.forumsocialmundial.org
 
 

Z Communications  AND Z mag
http://www.zcommunications.org/
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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                                                                                                 go back to URBAN DEMOCRACY issue  # 6

 
 

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