Friday, March 25, 2011
Rebel forces are detaining anyone suspected of serving or assisting the Kadafi regime, locking them up in the same prisons once used to detain and torture Kadafi's opponents.
For a month, gangs of young gunmen have roamed the city, rousting Libyan blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa from their homes and holding them for interrogation as suspected mercenaries or government spies.
Over the last several days, the opposition has begun rounding up men accused of fighting as mercenaries for Kadafi's militias as government forces pushed toward Benghazi. It has launched nightly manhunts for about 8,000 people named as government operatives in secret police files seized after internal security operatives fled in the face of the rebellion that ended Kadafi's control of eastern Libya last month.
"We know who they are," said Abdelhafed Ghoga, the chief opposition spokesman. He called them "people with bloodstained hands" and "enemies of the revolution."
Any suspected Kadafi loyalist or spy who does not surrender, Ghoga warned, will face revolutionary "justice."
And look at the photo galleries. The prisoners are almost all black. It's true that Qadhafi bears considerable responsibility for promoting racism in Libya, that his regime encouraged chauvinist and supremacist movements in northern and central Africa, and that he has played a classic divide and rule game by pitting Libyan workers against sub-Saharan immigrant workers over the last decade or so - resulting in several episodes of mob assaults on immigrant workers. It's also true that while the basis for this revolt was and is the manifest injustices and oppressive cruelties of the Qadhafi regime, racism has haunted the revolt from the start, with the early hysterical rumours about "African mercenaries" (hint: Libyans are Africans - they meant black people). Now this racism has fused with the revolution in the most dangerous, ominous way. Yes, Qadhafi uses mercenaries to kill his opponents - it's not unknown for him to do this. He may be using some of his networks built up over years of intervention in sub-saharan Africa. But it just so happens that racism operates on real antagonisms. For example, I don't know or think it inherently important how many of these are black ('African'), and how many are brown ('Libyan', or 'Arab'), and how many are white (Russian and Ukrainian, one reads) - it only becomes important when you apply a racist ideological frame to the subject. And that frame, having corroborated the harrassment and beating of African and immigrant workers by some rebel forces, and threatening serious "mob violence" against said workers, is now justifying purges against black and immigrant workers, when the revolution had the capacity to end that oppression.
What racism does in this context is externalise antagonisms that are inherent to Libyan society - it makes it seem as if Qadhafi rules solely through and on behalf of his extended family and 'tribe' and with the use of 'foreigners', as if the problem with Qadhafi is that he's some sort of alien coloniser. This makes a certain amount of sense for the former regime elements who want to conserve the basic class structure and particularly the position of the national bourgeoisie that was formed under Qadhafi's regime - all of Libya is united, they say, we have no divisions, only a usurping entity. And it is those elements who consistently lobbied for an alliance with imperialism, from fairly early on, even when signs were appearing saying "no" to foreign intervention. They had to win that argument, or at least win significant sectors of the revolution to it. It's important to stress that the transitional council has never really commanded authority throughout the insurgency as a whole, and is still trying to overcome the 'disarray' of a very de-centralised, disarticulated movement. It incorporates elites and professionals, military officials, academics, politicians, capitalists and so on, but it does not incorporate the popular forces actually driving the revolution. Ironically, Ghoga, who is defending this racist purge, is himself a human rights laywer. So, in this sense, the alliance with imperialism is probably intended to overcome their lack of authority over the movement, and their inability to act as a hegemonic, cohering element in the revolt.
This will be for a variety of reasons. The revolt in Libya happened very suddenly, and was almost as suddenly pitched into a civil war situation by the sheer viciousness of Qadhafi's response, which went farther, quicker than Mubarak's crackdown. Unlike in Egypt, where there had been a decade of building and organising among labour groups, Islamists, liberals and the Left, this revolt had to come together in a remarkably short space of time. But another crucial factor is that those assuming leadership could not articulate a set of sufficiently popular demands to win over the majority of the revolutionary forces let alone the society at large, due probably to their situation in Libya's class structure. So, lacking the ability to concentrate the wider social forces in Libya within its ranks, and without the defection of further elite forces, particularly military elites, the council began arguing for intervention from day one - an argument which they would have known meant cutting a deal with imperialist states, who would otherwise tell them where to go and certainly not vote through a UN resolution on their behalf. It would seem that without a genuinely representative national organisation pushing a clear popular agenda, and under the weight of Qadhafi's assault, and with a fairly conservative rump of elites bolstered by imperialism, the emancipatory content of the revolt has been diminished, leaving the more rotten elements to come to the fore. That would be my explanation.