By Alex Callinicos
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West’s role in dictator’s downfall shouldn’t stop us celebrating

This article is over 12 years, 3 months old
MUAMMAR GADDAFI’S end resembles nothing more than that of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, sometime colonial master of Libya.
Issue 2275

MUAMMAR GADDAFI’S end resembles nothing more than that of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, sometime colonial master of Libya.

Captured by Italian partisans, Mussolini and his lover Clara Petacci were executed on 28 April 1945, and their bodies strung up in a petrol station in the Piazzale Loreto in Milan.

Mussolini was destroyed by the coming together of potentially antagonistic forces—Britain and the United States on one hand and the Communist led resistance on the other.

Their armed might broke the grip of fascism on Italy, and the Communist-led resistance movement seemed to promise a very different kind of future from the restoration of capitalist order eventually achieved by the Western imperialist powers.

Odd partners also did for Gaddafi—Nato bombers and special forces backing up ramshackle but eventually effective popular militias.

The role of the West helps to explain the ambivalent reaction by many on the left here to Gaddafi’s death.

But in the Arab world there seem to be few mixed feelings. “Gaddafi is gone. Your turn is coming, Bashar!” demonstrators against the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in Hama shouted on Friday last week.


In his outstanding biography of Mussolini, RJB Bosworth writes: “He had preached a revolution which destroyed neither private property nor the family hierarchies associated with it.

“He had tried to be Catholic and non-Catholic, Romagnole, Italian and universal, populist and elitist, orthodox economist and advocate of social welfare, racist and realist.”

Much the same could be said of Gaddafi. Of course, his regime wasn’t fascist in the proper sense. But he too presented himself in highly contradictory ways—the author of an anti-capitalist “Green Revolution” who cheerfully coexisted with the oil super-majors, Pan‑Arabist, Pan-Africanist and clan leader, an exponent of direct democracy who ruled by ruthless terror, the anti-imperialist who embraced British prime minister Tony Blair.

These contradictions also confuse some on the left, who took Gaddafi’s more radical professions seriously.

What is valid in their reaction is that Nato can claim credit for the rebels’ victory.

The US, France, Britain and Italy will be well-placed to shape the new government in Tripoli. And their companies will do their best to profit under the post‑Gaddafi regime.

But let’s not kid ourselves. British and other Western companies were operating in Libya perfectly happily under Gaddafi. In 2007, BP announced a £560 million investment in exploration in Libya—its biggest worldwide.

The connections weren’t confined to the economic sphere. The fall of Tripoli threw up documents exposing the role of the CIA in kidnapping the Islamist activist Abdul Hakim Belhadj, now a rebel commander, in March 2004 and handing him over for torture to the Gaddafi regime.

The Financial Times has highlighted the role of the British secret intelligence service (MI6). “Britain was able to establish a close relationship with Libya in 2003 because of Colonel Gaddafi’s landmark decision to renounce his weapons of mass destruction.

“That commitment was heavily brokered by MI6 in London, with Sir Mark Allen, MI6’s head of counter-terrorism, playing the lead role.”

Collaboration in the “war on terror” merged with jobs for the boys (and the occasional girl). Back in February, the Financial Times documented the “close links [that] exist between former UK government figures and Libya. Sir Mark Allen later went to work for BP.


“Robin Lamb and Oliver Miles, who both served in the UK embassy in Tripoli, are leading figures in the trade promotion body, the Libyan British Business Council. Baroness Symons, a Foreign Office minister in the Blair government, is a paid member of the National Economic Development Board of Libya.”

This makes it understandable why Western leaders have been so loath to condemn what seems to have been Gaddafi’s summary execution.

A trial might have been highly embarrassing if he had spilled the beans on his dealings with the likes of Blair.

So we should have no qualms in joining the Libyan people’s celebrations of the tyrant’s demise.

But we should warn them against trusting the Western powers that were content to work hand-in-glove with him while they suffered.

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