Libya: The fall of Gaddafi was a triumph of the popular militia

By Miguel Lamas

Farewell to Gaddafi

The rebel militia conquered Tripoli and the dictator Gaddafi has fled. It is an extraordinary triumph of the popular rebellion that in 6 months of civil war—where the people armed themselves with whatever they could wrest from the army of the dictatorship— demolished the regime. Although according to the interpretation put forward by US imperialism, the media and even sectors of the left, that it was a “triumph of NATO”, it was actually the rebel militia that conquered Tripoli.

The rebel militia was formed at the beginning of the uprising and armed itself with weapons that it captured by raiding police stations and barracks that the military who sided with them handed in. All reports indicate that they do not have a real unified command where all units comply to the same jurisdiction. The militias’ young fighters began meeting in each village or neighborhood and sometimes as groups of friends who left to the battlefront with the weapons that they had obtained. A recent report by a Spanish journalist states that, “Despite their efforts, those in the civilian political leadership have not been able to control nearly fifty militia or Katibas born in the heat of the popular revolt of February” (Maite Rico, El Pais 8/27). Further, tribal and the rural sectors of the oppressed Berbers “won political power due to the war itself …they put together one of the militias more effective in combat” (Patrick Cockburn, Página 12, 8/23).

NATO, which allegedly was involved in Libya “to defend human rights and the people”, refused to arm the Libyan rebels and only France and the Arab emirate of Qatar gave some weapons drop by drop to a sector of the militia that they tried to control. The official argument was that the rebels were not an organized army (which was true, since they were a militia) and that the weapons could fall into the hands of “extremists.”

Thus, during the civil war in 6 months, the militia fought with a huge inferiority of weapons and military training in relation to Gaddafi’s army. Luckily, the militants enjoyed the popular support of the majority. The militants were moving town to town and sometimes, they had to retreat to regroup days in advance.

Both the government spokesmen of US and European imperialism, as well as those who defended Colonel Qaddafi’s dictatorship to the last day like Chavez, agree in attributing the conquest of Tripoli and the fall of the dictatorship to the work of NATO. Although it is difficult to trust most of the information, an analysis of the facts shows that NATO played a rather marginal role and that the battle was indeed a great triumph for the militia which NATO refused to arm.

In fact, the intervention of NATO was limited to air strikes of Gaddafi’s units. But these attacks cannot explain the fall of Tripoli, a city of two million people where Gaddafi’s elite units were concentrated. Only the intervention of the militia, strengthened and hardened in the 6 months of fighting and a mass defection of demoralized Gaddafist troops can explain the fall of Tripoli.

Militarily, the bombing campaign in itself cannot break the ground defense of a big city unless one demolishes the entire city. For example, that is how it happened in 2004 in Iraq when the Americans attacked Falluja, a city that was first demolished by shelling, causing thousands of deaths and injuries and where 400,000 people fled to save their lives over which represented the city’s entire population. Still, it took an intervention by ground forces and house to house fighting amidst the rubble to defeat the military defenses.

The nature of Gaddafi’s regime

Gaddafi began as a bourgeois nationalist Arab regime 40 years ago. He nationalized oil and he had clashes with US imperialism. He was part of the Arab nationalist movement led by the Egyptian Gamal Abdel Nasser.

However, the bourgeois and dictatorial character of the regime brought him closer to reach an agreement with both US and European imperialism. He achieved this turnaround more than 20 years ago. He privatized large state enterprises (several of them in the hands of his family) and handed them over to the large imperialist oil multinationals. The rampant corruption of the regime, beginning with his own family, made him look very much like other Arab dictators. Although the Libyan population has a better standard of living than other African countries due to high oil revenues, living standards began to deteriorate in recent years. Additionally, there was the hatred of the dictatorship and corruption. So its overthrow is a work of the Libyan people contrary to what those like the Chavistas say in that it was an imperialist operation to “take over the Libyan oil.” With Gaddafi, the imperialist powers had control of the oil.

This is why it is an absolutely untenable position of those who like Chavez are trying to support Gaddafi’s regime “from the left” or from a supposed “anti-imperialist” position, a dictator who also delivered oil to the multinationals, signed an agreement on fighting “terrorism” with Bush, and who was a personal friend of the Italian far-right leader Silvio Berlusconi; and collaborated with both Israel and the Egypt of the deposed Mubarak to block Gaza.

We condemn the NATO bombings against Libya. However, these bombings did not turn Gaddafi into anti- imperialist. Even until the last moment, Gaddafi was looking for—even publicly— a deal that would allow him to save his regime and continue the good business relations with both US and European imperialism.

Saif al Islam, Gaddafi’s son, explained during the war to the Algerian newspaper Al Jabar (July 11) that the French government was negotiating with the Gaddafi regime, “Now we are negotiating with Paris, we have contacts with France. The French have told us that the National Transitional Council (NTC) obeys them; and we were told that if France reached an agreement with us in Tripoli, the French would impose a ceasefire on the Council. “Moreover, the Libyan regime continued to deliver oil for the imperialist powers until two months ago (and the imperialists were paying Gaddafi, of course).

NATO’s “conspiracy” against the Libyan people’s revolution

NATO and U.S/ European imperialism’s interest in portraying the victory as theirs is clearly political. NATO seeks to influence the future government that controls Libya so as to its secure oil. NATO intervened in the midst of the Libyan people’s rebellion when it considered that Gaddafi, its former ally would inevitably be overthrown. 

In a column published in (July 4, in Arabic), Munir Shafiq, a former leader of the Al Fatah Maoist current at the time of Yasser Arafat, and general coordinator of the Islamic-Nationalist Congress (a grouping of several parties and personalities, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hebollah) in a column published in (July 4, in Arabic) wrote that:

“No one can understand the reason why NATO’s airplanes are focused on bombing positions in Tripoli that are almost decoys, while they let missile batteries, artillery and military vehicles bomb Misrata as well as other towns. They even let columns of Gaddafi’s forces move around in the open without attacking them. Where then is the protection of civilians, and where is the assistance to the people in getting rid of Gaddafi?

America and NATO’s position is flagrant in conspiring against the people’s revolution in Libya and maintaining Gaddafi’s forces in activity until they manage to control the TNC and maybe also some field leaders. They would only then topple Gaddafi, as they are conspiring against the people, the revolution and Libya’s future.”(Interview with Shafiqby Gilbert Achcar appeared in

The rebel ranks also denounced this. Abu Bakr al Faryani spokesman of the local revolutionary council in Sirte told the Beirut daily Al-Akhbar (June 2): “NATO itself is progressing slowly in its military operations against Gaddafi’s brigades in order to maintain him longer in power, and to increase thereby the price the opposition can be requested to pay to world powers and to the major companies that stand behind them.”

The powers behind NATO gave enough indications that they did not want the rebels to liberate Tripoli on their own. This is what one of the major imperialist newspapers like The Economist of London said openly: “Western governments are hoping that the rebels did not conquer Tripoli after a slow advance from the east with the risk that it would entail defeating Gaddafi loyalists that they met on the road. Thus, it was preferable that the regime imploded from within. “

In an article in The Guardian, [Freelance] journalist Tom Dale commented on NATO’s preference for an “implosion from within”: “But why would the western powers prefer a coup by Gaddafi’s inner circle to victory by the rebel army? Such a coup would imply a negotiated settlement between the elements of the old regime still around Gaddafi, and the rebel leadership – which itself incorporates many ex-regime figures. Western governments want stability and influence, and they see the figures of the old regime, minus the Gaddafi family, as the best guarantors of that.”

As stated above by this Arab leader, the leader of the rebels and the English journalist, NATO policy was rather to intervene to stall the war, bleed the combatants, and become arbiters of an agreement with military leaders and politicians from the regime with the aim of establishing a new government with some stability less stable under its control.

The NTC and NATO

The NATO intervention was politically possible because it was requested and approved by the NTC (National Transitional Council), the rebel government established in Benghazi. The argument was to prevent the advancing Gaddafist forces from reaching Benghazi. According to this logic, the NTC did not ask for help from other Arab countries; it did not call for weapons to arm the militia. Thus, it ignored the huge popular support from left sectors that supported the Libyan revolution, especially in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, basing itself on “help” from NATO. So the NATO intervention confused the Arab people, whose anti-imperialist consciousness is great, and it also confused Europeans who saw it as being “humanitarian”.

This can be explained since the rebellious people and, particularly the militias, lack a revolutionary leadership who could have fought to rely on Arab solidarity to arm the fighters. Taking advantage of that vacuum, the NTC government emerged; headed by President Mustafá Abdul Jalil , age 59, was justice minister until Gaddafi until the rebellion began when he broke with the dictator. The prime minister is Mahmud Yibril of 59 years of age he is an US-trained economist who was responsible for the Development Council of the dictatorship between 2007 and 2011 and who promoted economic liberalization in Libya, that is, the regime’s neoliberal turn. Thus the visible head of the NTC is composed of imperialist agents.

The triumph of the popular militia

The military conquest of Tripoli, as we said at the beginning, is an extraordinary triumph of the militia, not of NATO and in fact, as we saw, the imperialist plan was an agreement with the regime and not the military victory of the popular militia.

However, the links that has been identified between imperialism and the NTC government make it possible for NATO and imperialism to attempt to take over this victory. The NTC government has already committed itself to respect Quaddafi’s oil contracts with the imperialist oil companies and in a recent statement warned that “there should not be retaliation.” In an interview, one of its members said that they “aim to take full political control of Libya” and that, for this to happen they will “convene the security forces to ensure the reconstruction of the country once the Muammar Gaddafi’s regime have fallen. There is a huge task of restoring security in Tripoli. The police, the secret police and the military will be a big part of the reconstruction effort. They will not help the revolutionaries and instead, the revolutionaries will help them”. In other words, the police and the military of the dictatorship must now ensure the security according to the NTC! Thus those in the NTC are thinking about building a new regime with the help of imperialism, the military and Gaddafi’s police.

But of course, we have to see what the victorious fighters in Tripoli think and do. In any case, a dispute for power has been opened. The popular committees that emerged in the neighborhoods, cities and liberated towns and the militia are a popular power although, without its own leadership and in actuality, the NTC is its leadership; but as we saw, a leadership with weaknesses and contradictions. Obviously the government of the NTC does not trust the loyalty of the 50 militias and announced that it would seek the disarmament of the militias.

This is not just a dispute over who is in charge, but how Libya is reconstructed after the Colonel Qaddafi dictatorship. It is over whether to punish torturers of the regime or that they are put in charge of providing “safety” like the NTC wants. It is over whether to continue the imperialist plunder; weather or not the NTC promises now to start a new process of oil nationalization with popular control which is the only way to start solving the unemployment issues. It is whether the new bourgeois who got rich stealing from the state along with Gaddafi are expropriated. It is over whether to allow the NATO imperialist military presence to expel it from Libya. This is an open battle which is similar to what is happening in Egypt and Tunisia where pro-imperialist bourgeois governments emerged after overthrowing the dictatorships. However, it is a process with two very important differences. The first, which is negative for the revolutionary development is the extreme weakness of the Libyan labor movement (most workers were foreigners who left the country at the start of civil war). The second, which is favorable to the continuation of the revolution, is that there was a clear revolutionary popular military victory that destroyed most of the armed forces of the regime (meanwhile, those in Egypt and Tunisia are still intact).

The fall of the dictatorship opens a new stage of revolution, where only a government of the popular militias, the revolutionary committees, the youth and the workers can guarantee a fundamental change in Libya.

We in the International Workers’ Unity (UIT-CI) call to maintain the international solidarity with the Libyan people, encourage them to assert their democratic victory, maintain their armed militias and revolutionary committees and to continue their revolution cutting off the roots of the oppressive regime; we call for the murderer Colonel Qaddafi to be put on trial and punished and we demand the total withdrawal of NATO from Libya, the expulsion of both US and European imperialism and their oil companies, and to preserve the weapons and popular militias in order to guarantee a favorable outcome for the exploited majority of Libya.