SPGB Socialist Opposition To War - The War In Libya.

The Labour Government Connection.

Until recently, Colonel Gaddafi was a friend of Western capitalism, feted by former Labour Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown while his son, Saif, whose LSE doctorate was monitored by Professor David Held, now writing Ed Milliband’s political manifesto, and signed off by the Labour peer, Lord Desai, was a close confidant of Lord Mandelson. In 2005, the Labour government licenced the sale of £29.5m worth of “military transport aircraft” to Libya; and in 2009 and 2010 again authorised the sale of “bombing computers” and “military aircraft equipment” (PRIVATE EYE 18th March 2011). In return lucrative oil deals were forged with the Libyan Oil Corporation and BP with a major exploration and production agreement in March 2007.

Following the up-risings across Libya in February 2011, Gaddafi’s regime, with a track record of brutality, torture and repression, became once more a pariah State with the ironic spectacle of British Typhoon jet fighters (cost in use of £80,000 per hour) destroying British military equipment bought by the Gaddafi regime, though not before his secret police had used on protestors an assortment of “anti-riot shields, body armour, anti-riot guns, crowd control ammunition, smoke ammunition, tear gas/irritant ammunition” purchased from British arm manufacturers via Serbia (loc cit).

As with all conflicts involving British capitalism there are a number of armchair supporters of the war urging deracination of Libyan tanks, artillery pieces and communication systems. They do not have to clear up the charred remains of soldiers nor witness the grief of parents and partners. The journalist, David Aaronovitch, for example, has a track record for indulging in war by proxy (TIMES 18.03.11). He is content to let someone else do the killing and dying while he berates anyone who dares call into question the actions of Western capitalism pursuing its oil interests while masquerading as the Seventh Cavalry coming to the rescue of beleaguered homesteaders.

Capitalism’s Need for Oil

And so another war takes place for Western oil interests and the protection of its spheres of strategic interest. Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa with 42 billion barrels of oil and over 1.3 trillion cubic metres of gas. With only 25 per cent of Libya’s surface territory explored to date the actual reserves could be even greater (http://www.oilgasLibya.com). Before the uprising, Libya exported most of its oil to Europe (ARAB TIMES 20th March 2011). The largest quantity of oil from Libya, 32 percent, goes to Italy. Germany takes another 14 percent, Spain 10 percent and France nine percent. Other big customers are China (10 percent) and the United States (five percent).

Europe, in particular, needs Libya’s oil and the current civil war is an opportunity to insert a more favourable regime in Tripoli. The first serious move to give support to the insurrection was the failure of an SAS protected diplomatic mission from Britain to the rebels at Benghazi while a more decisive shift in the balance of power was the French air force’s destruction of Gaddafi’s weapon systems on the outskirts of the city weighting the civil war in favour of the insurgents.

Why the importance of Libyan oil for Western capitalism? The magazine Commodities Now put the question into some perspective both for European oil production and the opportunities for Western capitalism in removing Gaddafi and replacing him with a more pliant regime.

While the rest of the world should be able to handle the loss of Libya's light sweet oil, it poses severe problems for Europe's already troubled refining sector, which relies on high quality crudes to make any money at all. Loss of Libya's oil production has exposed the escalating problem for European refiners trapped between increasingly stringent standards for transportation fuels and their own lack of investment in upgrading and especially desulphurisation capacity as a result of poor profitability… Libya's light sweet oils are particularly prized by refiners because they yield a high proportion of valuable products (gasoline and diesel), while minimising the need for expensive processes to break up larger, less valuable molecules… and remove sulphur … Loss of Libyan crude has exposed deeper structural problems in European refining that are blocking investment. In a note published in November 2010, the European Commission said EU refining capacity is out of step with evolving demand. EU refineries produce too much gasoline, for which demand is shrinking, and not enough middle distillates such as diesel, for which demand is growing rapidly…Between 1990 and 2008, demand for middle distillates rose 35 per cent, and demand for jet fuel/kerosene and diesel increased 82 per cent, while demand for gasoline fell 26 per cent. But while EU supply of middle distillates rose 28 per cent, gasoline production fell only 4 per cent (20th March 2011)

The Problem with Nuclear Energy

Another immediate consideration for Western capitalism is the disaster at the nuclear plants at Fukushima in Japan, forcing governments to reassess their future oil requirements. The crisis in the Japanese Nuclear industry - known about since 2002 - highlights the safety risks associated with operating nuclear plants and has already prompted governments around the world to question the wisdom of reliance on nuclear energy.

The initial reaction by governments has been to adopt a precautionary stance. Germany, for instance, has decided to suspend its unpopular decision taken last year to extend the life of its nuclear reactors while the Swiss and Indian governments are also reviewing their nuclear energy plans along with the US who were about to approve a new generation of nuclear plants (WASHINGTON POST 14th March 2011).

Nearer home, the chief executive of RWE Npower warned the British Government that it could be forced to delay plans to build UK nuclear power plants especially if the costs go up due to more stringent safety measures and the deregulation of the nuclear industry does not happen (DAILY TELEGRAPH 24th March 2011). The need for secure oil routes has now returned to the top of the political agenda.

The Socialist Position on War

The problem of sourcing energy for capitalist production is an issue Socialists have no interest in. Nor do Socialists take sides in capitalism’s wars. 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. 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” (1950), 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 61 years ago. It could easily have been written today. It is the special contribution 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” (p. 93).

Hypocrisy, War and Propaganda

War also brings in its wake hypocrisy, propaganda and lies. Socialists, for example, note the make-up of the Arab League, one of the pivotal movers in the United Nations resolution to enforce a Libyan no fly zone.

Most of the countries that form The Arab League habitually use political thugs, torture and violence to supress dissent. The shooting of unarmed protesters in the capital of Bahrain seems to have been totally ignored by Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama as they urged Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to join their adventurism. Is their silence something to do with the Naval Support Activity Bahrain; a US navy base sheltering the US Naval Forces Central Command and the US Fifth Fleet?

Then there is Saudi Arabia, another member of the Arab League. Saudi Arabia is the breeding ground for the terrorist organisation, Al Qaida who exports its brand of Islamist terrorism around the world and who supports the rebels in Libya (ironically the rebel leadership have been trained in the US and UK to speak the politically correct language of “democracy” and “freedom”). The US is now preparing to arm the rebels via Saudi Arabia while there are numerous SAS “boots on the ground” in Libya itself (THE DAILY MAIL 25 March 2011). And as one wit observed, if the rebel forces advance to Tripoli, armed to the teeth with US weaponry, and launch attacks which cause civilian casualties, will the British government decide to bomb the rebels? “Or are some civilians more innocent than others” (THE DAILY TELEGRAPH 25th March 2011)?

Saudi Arabia’s ruling dictatorship also advocates the Wahhabi doctrine which is virulently anti-Semitic and forces Saudi woman to conform to repressive religious edicts restricting dress, transportation, movement and the ability to participate politically. Long after Gaddafi has gone from the political scene; the House of Saud will be feted by Western Capitalism and arm manufacturers deaf to the screams of political prisoners, the subjugation of women and the barbaric treatment of those who transgress Saudi law.

Wars under capitalism are not fought for “humanitarian” reasons but over the necessity to secure vital resources like oil, protect trade routes and maintain spheres of strategic interest. There are many brutal dictatorships in the world but war is only pursued if it is in the national interest to do so, not on grounds of morality. As to the lies and propaganda, the coalition’s rocket jet and submarine missile attacks are not protecting “civilian lives” as the UN resolution misleadingly states, but assisting the rebels to defeat Colonel Gadhafi’s regime. As Hiram Johnson once remarked: “The first casualty when war comes is the truth”; although manipulation by politicians of the truth is par for the course no matter whether a country is at war or not.

Socialists do not place moral weights on capitalist countries and we reject the theological doctrine of “a just war”. Governments, in trying to come to terms with the conflicts and contradictions generated by capitalism, turn to war when other means fail. All capitalist countries exploit the working class and workers have identical class interests with workers elsewhere in the world not with their own capitalist class and politicians. Instead, Socialists urge the working class to look to their own class interests. The oil wars will continue throughout the 21st century until the world’s working class stops following leaders and instead organises consciously and politically to replace capitalism with Socialism.

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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.