The Libyan intervention and the Bay of Pigs: A Parallel

There is still much ado among socialists and left-wingers of various stripes as to the question of support for the Libyan rebels, and more particularly, what to make of the US/British/French/NATO intervention in that country. Now that the Americans, deeply fearing being enmeshed in a third hopeless and unwinnable enterprise, have quickly withdrawn, the onus is on the British and French to finish the job and drive out Ghadaffi without making it too obvious their aim is to drive out Ghadaffi: surely a task worthy of a second Suez. Since the respective leaders of the UK and France are about as intelligent and capable as their counterparts during the Suez ‘crisis’ were, this should come as no surprise. In practice, perhaps following instinct, virtually no left-wing parties and organizations whatever have actually come out in support of the foreign intervention against Ghadaffi. This seems to be entirely independent of the reported fact that some elements in the Revolutionary Council in Libya, an outfit of great political variety and opacity, had actively requested such intervention. However, among the general population there is less clarity. Although it seems that generally the majority opposes further war in Libya, probably due to war exhaustion, there is a general feeling in most responses as well as in the wider media of sympathy with any Western-led enterprise to at the very least punish the evil man Ghadaffi for his attacks on the rebels. The only prominent counterpart to this has been the consistent campaigning by MRZine and Counterpunch against the rebels themselves; they seem to have either bought “Colonel” Ghadaffi’s appeals to his Arab Jamahiriyan brand of sham socialism, or they have simply translated their habitual anti-imperialism into a position of ‘say the opposite of what your enemy says’. Neither seem to be very wise from any point of view.

That said, it does behoove us to address more fully the important question of a case like this, where there is rebellion against a disliked government, with a seeming progressive element in it, although it is unclear to what extent. At the same time, there is a potential imperialist element to the rebellion itself, because of the support from outside. This is a question of both political theory, in terms of what we take imperialism and anti-imperialism to be, as well as strategy, in that we need to decide to what extent we consider outside help by opposing forces to be acceptable to achieve generally desirable aims. To understand this, I believe it is useful to go back to an older discussion, now long forgotten: a discussion between Max Schachtman, a leader of an American socialist group originally committed to opposing both the US and the USSR in the Cold War but generally veering towards supporting the former, and Hal Draper, who had split off from the former’s group over exactly this issue, and insisted on considering each equally undesirable from the long-term point of view of socialism. The time here is the 1960s, and while one can debate the correctness of the assessment against the USSR and its allies, it may be clear that neither country involved really represented socialism as we think of it, or made any real moves towards getting there. It is in this context that the debate must be understood. The debate was about the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, which at the time appeared as an uprising within Cuba itself of anti-Castro forces; it was clear to all that those forces had the support of the US, but this being the second day of the invasion, it was not yet generally known that the whole thing was set up by the US to begin with, at least not to Schachtman. For our purposes this is not the interesting part, nor is the question of whether Castro following the Soviet line was really as bad a development as it is made out to be here, since there is no equivalent situation to that in Libya today. What is interesting to us is assuming that we think of Castro as a dictator, generally undesirable but flashing ‘progressive’ credentials (like Ghadaffi), and of the rebels as they were seen initially: a motley bunch with a left and a right, the politics being entirely undetermined as yet, claiming to fight the tyrant for a free politics in Cuba of whatever kind (similar to the rebels in Libya today). Continue reading “The Libyan intervention and the Bay of Pigs: A Parallel”

What We Can Learn From Hal Draper

Many Marxists have been great theorists. Equally many, perhaps more, have been great practical men and women: great organizers, trade unionists, and practical politicians. Unfortunately, what has been most rare are the people whose genius resides in their grasp of the intermediate field, the field of understanding the implications of general theory for a particular case. This field, what one might call applied theory or political interpretation of theory, is perhaps the most difficult of all. For that reason, insofar as it has been done at all it seems to have been the domain of leaders of petty sects and mini-parties. Their obvious lack of success has led many to think that there is nothing to it: either that one cannot make general rules about the application of Marxist theory in a specific case, or that it is a matter of the individual genius of particular politicians, e.g. Lenin. The latter seems hard to reconcile with the principles of historical materialism and tends to lead to cults of authority, something Marx and Engels always despised and which tends to impede the communist movement. The former is more defensible, but while flexible seems to dangerously underutilize the long experience of Marxism as a tradition and movement. After all, ‘best practice’ is important in any learning, and internationalism demands that we look to experiences of other countries in other times to see how we can improve on ourselves. It is also useful if there is a coherence to our approach, not in the last place with the aim of showing how Marxism can actually help a workers’ movement. Moreover, Marx and Engels themselves were highly active in the political organisational matters of their time, and so were many of the great theorists after them, whether Rosa Luxemburg or Lenin or even Huey Newton. For these reasons, it is interesting to study better the materials that exist on the interpretation of Marxism, in particular the ‘Marxism’ of Marx and Engels themselves, to the level of practical politics, the kind that is reported upon in the newspapers and debated in the parliaments. Continue reading “What We Can Learn From Hal Draper”