Canadian fighter pilots “flew 946 sorties and dropped almost 700 bombs” in last year’s NATO intervention in Libya.  But rather than enforcing a no-fly zone to protect civilians, the Canadian pilots—and their counterparts from other NATO countries—took sides in the conflict, intervening directly on behalf of anti-Gaddafi rebels.
But who exactly were the rebels that NATO sided with?
Private remarks by Canadian military officers, reported by the Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese, suggest the rebels weren’t everyday people thirsting for democracy, as NATO officials and mainline media made them out to be.
Gaddafi had claimed that “the rebellion had been organized by” Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb “and his old enemies the LIFG (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group), who had vowed to overthrow the colonel and return the country to traditional Muslim values, including Sharia law.”  But this was dismissed by the West as propaganda.
Still, a “Canadian intelligence report written in late 2009…described the anti-Gadhafi stronghold of eastern Libya” where the rebellion began, “as an ‘epicentre of Islamist extremism’ and said ‘extremist cells’ operated in the region.” 
And Canadian military intelligence noted “in 2004 (that) Libyan troops found a training camp in the country’s southern desert that had been used by an Algerian terrorist group that would later change its name to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM.” 
Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who had “joined the U.S.-backed resistance to the Soviet (intervention in) Afghanistan, fighting alongside militants who would go on to form al-Qaeda,” was emblematic of the militant Islamic character of the uprising.
“Mr. Belhaj returned to Libya in the 1990s and led the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in fierce confrontations with Col. Gadhafi’s” government. The LIFG was aligned with al-Qaeda. 
Belhaj was “the rebellion’s most powerful military leader.” 
This should have aroused suspicions about the true nature of the uprising, but there was an earlier clue that the Benghazi revolt was inspired by something other than a thirst for democracy.
“On Feb. 15, 2011, citizens in Benghazi organized what they called a Day of Anger march. The demonstration soon turned into a full-scale battle with police.
“At first, security forces used tear gas and water cannons. But as several hundred protesters armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails attacked government buildings, the violence spiralled out of control. Demonstrators chanted, ‘No God but Allah, Moammar is the enemy of Allah’.” 
Today, Libya is a warzone of competing militias. The Transitional National Council, anointed by the West as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people, has no authority.
And now, one year after the uprising began, some NATO officials are admitting that NATO aligned itself with militant Islamic rebels to oust Gaddafi, who US officials had complained was engaging in “resource nationalism,” while oil companies denounced him for trying to “Libyanize” the economy. 
According to the Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese, some Canadian military officers in private refer “to the NATO jets bombing Gadhafi’s troops as ‘al-Qaeda’s air force’.” 
The parallels with Syria are obvious. As Gaddafi’s government struggled with a number of militant Islamic uprisings over the years, so too has the secular government of Bashar Assad in Syria.  Calls have been made for NATO countries to intervene there too, either as the rebels’ air force or arms supplier or both.
But it’s clear that a NATO intervention in Syria will be a repeat of Libya, with NATO forces backing militant Islamists with the sole goal of sweeping a government from power that the West’s economic interests are not wholly comfortable with. Syria too practices economic nationalism.
The Assad government has drafted a new constitution , to be put to a referendum later this month, which promises the multi-party democracy and democratic reforms the West demanded—but now, on the eve of their being delivered, dismisses as “meaningless.” 
Apart from allowing multiple parties to contest elections and multiple candidates to run for president, the new constitution mandates that the country’s resources be publicly owned (which is to say that the country will practice the “resource nationalism” that got Gaddafi in trouble), that taxation will be progressive, and that the economy will be directed, rather than laissez-faire. 
Democratic reforms are largely irrelevant to the West. Otherwise, it would do more to press Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and other petro-despotisms—from which Western oil companies derive billions of dollars in profits—to change their ways. Instead, Bahrain, site of a renewed uprising that is being violently suppressed–as one there was last year–continues to receive US-backing and arms.
Calls for democratic reforms—in some countries, not others—are simply pretexts for intervention. The West’s real motivation for backing uprisings in Libya and Syria are economic: turning the countries away from resource nationalism and a measure of independent, self-directed economic development into profit-disgorging spheres of exploitation for Western banks, corporations and investors.
In pursuit of these goals, NATO countries are willing to ally with anyone. Even al-Qaeda.
1. David Pugliese, “The Libya mission one year later: A victory, but at what price?” The Ottawa Citizen, February 20, 2012. http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Libya+Mission+Year+Later+victory+what+price/6178518/story.html
2. David Pugliese, “The Libya mission one year later: Into the unknown”, The Ottawa Citizen, February 18, 2012. http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Libya+mission+year+later+Into+unknown/6172099/story.html
3. David Pugliese, “DND report reveals Canada’s ties with Gadhafi”, The Ottawa Citizen, April 23, 2011.
4. David Pugliese, “DND report reveals Canada’s ties with Gadhafi”, The Ottawa Citizen, April 23, 2011.
5. Hadeel Al-Shalchi and Maggie Michael, “Libyan rebel hero plays down Islamist past”, The Associated Press, September 2, 2011.
6. Rod Nordland and David D. Kirkpatrick, “Islamists’ growing sway raises questions for Libya”, The New York Times, September 14, 2011.
7. David Pugliese, “The Libya mission one year later: Into the unknown”, The Ottawa Citizen, February 18, 2012.
8. Steven Mufson, “Conflict in Libya: U.S. oil companies sit on sidelines as Gaddafi maintains hold”, The Washington Post, June 10, 2011
9. David Pugliese, “The Libya mission one year later: Into the unknown”, The Ottawa Citizen, February 18, 2012.
10. Stephen Gowans, “Syria’s uprising in context,” what’s left, February 10, 2012. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/syrias-uprising-in-context/
11. David M. Herszenhorn, “For Syria, reliant on Russia for weapons and food, old bonds run deep”, The New York Times, February 18, 2012.
12. SANA, February 18, 2012
Vladimir Lenin used to say that there’s no all-inclusive democracy that serves all people and all classes equally. Democracy is a class affair, serving whichever class has state power. Talking of democracy in the abstract, of pure democracy, or democracy above class, is a mistake.
This follows a Marxist critique of capitalist democracy. Capitalist democracies are, according to some Marxists, democracies for the capitalist class, the fraction of the one percent that includes major investors, titans of finance and captains of industry who derive their income from the exploitation of others’ labor (which is to say through rents, profits and interest.)
This doesn’t mean that members of this elite control the outcomes of elections, but they do exercise outsize influence over them.
For example, its members own, and have control over most of the media, and hence are in a position to shape public opinion.
There is a sense too in which they own and have control over most of the politicians. By virtue of their great wealth, they are the major contributors to political campaigns. What’s more, they’re able to entice politicians to act in their interests by promising them lucrative jobs when their careers in politics are over.
They’re also able to extort electoral outcomes by stirring up fears that voting for parties that are against their interests will cost people their jobs. This is done by threatening to move investments to friendlier jurisdictions if a party is elected that is against their interests.
Also, people who work for private businesses—a substantial part of the electorate in capitalist democracies–may fear that openly campaigning for anti-capitalist parties will put their jobs at risk. As a consequence, they’re cowed into remaining on the political sidelines.
Additionally, the superrich can foster allegiance to parties of private property by using their vast wealth to buy the hearts and minds of voters.
And then there’s the ultimate assurance that the interests of the economic elite will be safeguarded against the danger of their parties losing an election: the intervention of the military.
For all these reasons, elections in capitalist democracies—while they may be deemed free—are heavily stacked in favor of the class of financiers and owners of major enterprises who use their dominant economic positions to influence the outcomes.
Despite this, the view that democracies are always democracies for the class in power is not widely held. And the analysis remains, for the most part, foreign to large parts of the organized left, as well. Instead, the dominant view is that as long as there are two or more parties to choose from, and the state remains neutral, elections will be fair and independent of class.
Do capitalists believe this nonsense? Not at all. Always conscious of themselves as a class and acutely aware of their position and power, captains of industry and titans of finance recognize that if they are knocked from their perch at the top of society, the chances that their parties will prevail in electoral contests are vanishingly small. In a democracy for the many—what in Marxist terms might be called “the dictatorship of the proletariat”—they haven’t a chance.
To make my point, I cite Jose de Cordoba’s February 14 Wall Street Journal article on Venezuela’s general election, scheduled for later this year. Cordoba presents a class conscious analysis to declare that the upcoming election will be free but unfair, unfair because the electoral advantages normally enjoyed by the top one percent are, this time, all on the side of the bottom 99 percent.
These advantages derive from the control that the many of Venezuela have over state-owned enterprises, state-owned media and the military, through their representative Hugo Chavez and the United Socialist Party he leads.
Cordoba notes that control of the state gives Chavez “many advantages over Mr. Capriles,” the scion of a wealthy family who will contest the presidency in October on behalf of the united opposition—and who, if elected, will reverse Chavez’s majority-friendly reforms in favor of restoring ownership of the economy and control of the state to the privileged few. According to the Wall Street Journal reporter these advantages include:
• “Control over most mass media.”
• “Access to billions of dollars…to buy the hearts and minds of poor voters.”
• Stirring “the widely held fears” that a vote for the opposition will cost public servants their jobs.
• The fears of employees of state-owned enterprises that “they would lose their jobs if they were identified as opposition voters.”
• Intervention “in the elections (by the military) if the president were in danger of losing.”
Part of this is speculative. We don’t know if the military would intervene to rescue a failing Chavez election campaign. But significantly, these are the very same advantages that the capitalist class enjoys in most capitalist democracies. Cordoba, as far as I know, has never complained about the owners of capital enjoying parallel advantages in other elections, so why complain about the other side enjoying the same advantages now?
The reason is because democracy, as it operates in capitalist countries, is supposed to benefit the capitalist class. It shouldn’t act in the interests of the many–and usually doesn’t.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions. Capitalist democracy didn’t prevent Chavez from being elected president. Still, a coup did follow.
Once the media and schools, the economy, and the military are brought under public control by a party whose allegiances lie with the exploited many against the exploiting few, democracy becomes authentic, and is no longer a means for the superrich to use their money power to buy the outcome.
All the same, it may seem to those in whom the idea has been instilled that democracy is above class that Chavez’s advantages are unfair. But consider the alternatives.
If not public control over the media, then private control by the wealthiest citizens, who can shape public opinion to suit their interests.
If not public control of enterprises, then an effective dictatorship of private owners over the economic (and therefore also political) lives of the many.
If not a military politicized to safeguard the interests of the exploited many against the exploiting few, then a military politicized to safeguard the interests of the exploiters.
The Wall Street Journal isn’t agitated because October’s election in Venezuela won’t be an exercise in democracy in the abstract. The newspaper and the class that owns it and on whose behalf it speaks is agitated because democracy in Venezuela is becoming what it was always meant to be: rule by the many—not a democracy of the few.