Libya, War and Oil

Libya, War and Oil

In August this year the US government extended its war in the Middle East and Africa to Libya. It had previously attacked an Isis training camp there some months back killing 50 people. The British government already has military ‘advisors’ in the country.

The Obama administration sent fighter jets into Libya in an attempt to disrupt and ultimately remove the terrorist group Isis from Sirte and the Sirte Basin with its oil reserves. The attack also signalled to Russia and China that the United States intent to pursue an aggressive foreign policy in the region.

The last time capitalist countries in the West were in Libya was back in 2011 when, in an eight month operation, NATO removed Colonel Gadhafi’s regime from power. Coincidentally Gadhafi was just about to offer an oil deal with Russia, India and China (NATIONAL BUSINESS NEWS, 15th March 2011).

Then, as now, the reason for military involvement is strategic; primarily to protect and maintain the supply of gas and oil to the coast, and then on to mainland Europe and the US. Also Libya has five principal ports leading onto the Mediterranean and these are not only useful for the transport of oil and gas.

The campaign of 2011 to secure Libya for Western interests did not go very well. It may have removed the Gadhafi regime but over the last five years it has created conditions of political instability in which thousands have been injured or killed and oil production disrupted. Civil war between competing political factions is the consequence of Western intervention in Libya. The anarchy and chaos also enabled Isis to set up a presence in the oil-rich Sirte region.

What of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) which is supported by the US and its NATO allies? According to US government officials the GNA “invited” the US into their country to attack Isis positions. This “invitation” was nothing of the sort but an example of realpolitik. The US needs official sanction and legitimacy to carry out its military operations. However, the GNA is a political creature of US policy and was politically forced on Libya earlier this year. The Prime Minister designate Fayez al-Sarraj heads a government to do the bidding of the US and its allies.

How much control Sarraj’ s government really has in Libya, even in the capital Tripoli, is a moot point? The east of Libya is controlled by forces under the leadership of General Khalifa Hafter who is opposed to the GNA. After Isis is removed will the US jets be turned on Hafter and his army? Libya will then still be wracked by civil war, death and destruction.

And there is a possibility that General Hafter will receive military support from President Putin’s Russia who looks to the Libyan ports for housing Russian warships and other military assets in the Mediterranean area. Hafter has already been to Moscow and met Russian officials at the Kremlin. Russia is likely to become Libya’s major military equipment provider because under a 2008 deal Moscow cancelled Tripoli’s $4.5 billion debt in exchange for contracts for Russian defense companies that the Libyan government is yet to deliver on due to a UN arms embargo (AL MONITOR 31st May 2014).

In 2008 Moscow and Tripoli were about to set up a Russian naval base in Benghazi, but the ensuing uprising against Gadhafi and the subsequent intervention by NATO meant the plans did not materialise. However, Russia wants to have a strong naval presence in the Mediterranean. A flotilla of warships from the Northern, Baltic and Black Sea fleets conducts regular exercises in the Mediterranean, attempting to reach the same capacity as the Soviet 5th Naval Squadron permanently based in the region once had.

It is all about oil and strategic spheres of influence

As with its other interventions in the Middle East and Africa, the US is concerned about potential oil supplies and other strategic factors such as the use of friendly ports, preventing Russia and China dominating the region and unimpeded sea routes. Isis is currently embedded in a region rich in oil and gas reserves.

There is already an agreement between the GNA and Petroleum Facilities Guard, a paramilitary force who is charged with the protection of the oil infrastructures of the country, to reopen three eastern ports to ship out oil and gas. A client state in Libya is a very important prize for the US. Particularly when Libya happens to have one of the largest oil reserves in Africa.

Sarir, one of the largest oil fields in Syria, used to produce some 180,000 barrels of oil a day and is connected to an oil pipeline that terminates in the oil port of Hariga. Before the Civil War and with Isis taking control of Sarir, Libya accounted for 10% of oil imports to Europe’s Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries. Libya even sent 43,000 barrels a day to the US in 2013.

At 48 billion barrels, Libya has the 9th-largest proven oil reserves in the world and one of the largest reserves in Africa —38% of the continent’s total, according to the US Department of Energy. Oil accounted for 98% of Libya's government revenue in 2012,

The Socialist opposition to war

The problem of sourcing energy for capitalist production is an issue socialists have no interest in. Socialists have no interests in the problems affecting the capitalist class and its politicians. Neither should workers. The class interest of workers and capitalists is diametrically opposed to one another.

As a class workers do not own the means of production and distribution. We do not have raw resources to protect, or strategic ports to maintain, or trade routes to guard. All workers own is their labour power or ability to work which they are forced to sell to employers in exchange for a wage or salary. Workers, as Marx noted, have no country.

Nor do socialists take sides in capitalism’s wars. Unlike the disreputable Stop the War campaign group and its Trotskyist backers from the SWP and Counterfire, socialists do not point the finger of blame at this or that particular capitalist country. The capitalist Left always see the United States and its allies as the villain of the piece - not Russia, nor China, nor Isil.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has a consistent and principled track record of opposing capitalism’s wars on the grounds of class, class interest and class struggle. We oppose capitalism wherever it exists, not supporting one country and opposing another. Nor do we support nationalist groups struggling to replace one ruling class with another. The workers are involved in a class struggle: they should not let themselves be drawn into a national struggle between countries.

War cannot solve working class problems. War cuts across the fundamental class interest of the working class and forces them to support different sections of the capitalist class. In our pamphlet: THE SOCIALIST PARTY AND WAR, we wrote:

Wars reflect the determination of governments to defend or to gain control of valuable possessions by armed might when other means have failed. The purpose of war is to gain or maintain the mastery of territories where there are rich mineral deposits, vital land, sea or air routes or areas where goods can be sold or capital invested (p. 8).

The above statement was written 66 years ago but it could easily have been written today. It is one of the special contributions of the SPGB to Socialist thought to have recognised that Socialism “spreads through the workers acquiring socialist knowledge; the waging of war can have no part in that necessary process” (ibidp. 93).

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.