Libya: The Poverty of Analyses


I am confused by the analyses of the Anglophone left with regard to the social revolts in Libya.  The only thing folks seem able to muster is a series of bifurcated abstractions.  Thus certain metaphors in the analyses of Libya prevail, such as “greed and grievance”, “patron and client”, “rapacious rule vs innocent population “, “madness vs sanity” etc.  Absent from the discussion are: social forces, social base, achievements and contradictions of Libya’s Green revolution, contradictions of liberal democracy, and the contradictions of market dependency on specific social formations.

One of the results of such a skewed discussion is that liberal democracy is idealized as the only viable political order in Libya (or the rest of the world for that matter).  This is because absent of an analysis of social processes (which the left seems incapable of doing), liberal democracy gets proffered as at least having the institutional checks and balances to keep evil at bay.  Of course, historically we know that this is not true.  In fact liberal democracy is very often the problem, as it also entrenches certain odd forms of non-state and state led dictatorship and rule.  And no stage-ist theory of history can get around this problem.  Liberal democracy does not necessarily lead to things getting better, sometimes life becomes much more ironically cruel.  Modestly, then, we can say that what we need is to build institutions that speak to the specific historical problems of a given social formation.  And yet given that the category of evil has been one-sidely operationalized as the concept through which we think about Libya and Ghadaffi, the end result has been that we have all been led down the path as believers of liberal democracy.

In this sense then, it turns out that in fact the left has no alternative vision or plan to what the invading armies propose.  Instead, the Western left seems to think it has to support all rebellions in the 3rd world if the rebellion opposes a dictator because dictators are inherently bad things.  But are rebels inherently good things?  Dictators might be bad, but they usually express something about the internal politics of a country that goes beyond metaphors of evil (which more rightly belong to a bad Greek drama).  Such is the case also with rebels.  So, if, Ghadaffi has not fallen it is precisely because the Green revolution did achieve something in Libya.  The revolution has a social base beyond Ghadaffi’s tribe.

Thus, if we are serious about international solidarity we need to figure out what the internal politics of a place is, what has been achieved in that country and what are its contradictions.  As I have been saying, supporting rebellions for the sake of supporting rebellions is problematic because everything gets framed as a battle between good and evil.  The alternative that ends up being offered actually narrows the space for thinking about and building something different than liberal democracy anywhere in the world.

Elleni Centime Zeleke, born in Ethiopia, is a lecturer in African Studies at York University in Toronto.  The text above is an excerpt from an article published in Relentlessly Progressive Political Economy on 25 March 2011; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.


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