Who Courted The Colonel (and the Colonel's son)?
LSE students say Gaddafi money should be restituted to Libyan people
Socialist Worker photo
IN the Spring of 1976 I packed my flask and peanut butter sandwiches, and set off to thumb my way from the Midlands where I'd been staying, to London, where I'd been invited to the offices of the Workers Revolutionary Party and its publications, for a chat with journalist Alex Mitchell. Later in the day Alex took me over to see the top man Gerry Healy. What they had to tell me was that though the WRP had been in financial difficulties, and had to close its then paper Workers Press along with its London printing operation, it had been having discussions with new friends in the Middle East, who were prepared to help it launch a new paper. Knowing my interest in the Middle East, on which I'd contributed articles before, they wanted me to come and work for this paper.
I didn't need asking twice, and not just because I needed a job. Some years previously the Party leadership had persuaded me to give up a column I'd begun writing in Free Palestine and back out of a speaking invitation I'd received (on the dubious grounds that I'd be sharing a platform with Ivor Montague, an old Stalinist). If the interest in the Middle East that had started growing when the 1973 oil crisis coincided with the miners' struggles had led to a less negative and sectarian response, I was pleased to see it. I had heard that the Party had been contacted by former adherents of Pierre Lambert's Paris-based international organisation, first in Israel and then among Palestinians. I'd not heard much. But if these promising sounding contacts had led to us finding new support for our paper, as well as it paying particular attention to the Middle East, that was fine by me.
The first week I sat down at a desk in what was to be the News Line office I read a BBC Monitoring Service digest saying Libyan radio had reported a delegation from the 'Revolutionary Workers Party' visiting from Britain. There might well be some obscure group with that precise name (Posadists from Paddington?) but Alex had just come in looking like he'd caught the sun, and I could hazard an intelligent guess. Someone saying they were from the BBC 'phoned to ask about the report. Naturally I told them I hadn't a clue.
Then a delegation from Libya arrived, nice warm friendly people, though they were whisked off upstairs to a closed meeting, from which there came a lengthy joint statement that appeared as a two page centre-spread in News Line. Not exactly a secret conspiracy.
Whatever largesse flowed from Libya's oil wealth did not reach the pockets of most WRP members, who continued toiling to raise funds for a daily paper, premises and apparatus out of proportion to the party's shrinking support and membership. To impress the friends, and obtain contracts, the party's new printshop in Runcorn, staffed by dedicated comrades, had to over-invest in what was to become surplus capacity, also purchasing quantities of newsprint destined to take up space and not be used, because someone had told Healy its price would soar.
Gerry Healy got invited to lecture on Marxism in Beirut, and later enjoyed a motor cycle escort when he was in Baghdad. My colleague Jack Gale got to cover the war in Lebanon, leaving me the run of two pages and a Reuters machine, plus perusal of various papers that came in. I eventually got to travel, to Scotland to join a youth unemployment march, and to report the firefighters' strike from Birmingham.
On the News Line, I was told to stop a corner of 'Fourth International news' I'd begun including once a week, just items such as a meeting in Dusseldorf, a demonstration in Sri Lanka, or a new journal launched by our Venezuelan comrades. "Our readers don't want to know about this sort of thing," Alex Mitchell told me firmly. I started to say that, on the contrary, workers, and especially the young, were excited to know that we were part of an international movement, as I had been when I joined as a teenager. No use. I should have realised that when he alluded to "our readers" in a certain tone he wasn't talking about those whose papers I delivered in Brixton.
Alex was sent abroad to cover conferences in Mediterranean countries of parties in which, I guessed, the Colonel had an interest. Our own comrades in Greece and Spain had to take a back seat or not be seen at all.
Having only lasted a couple of years on News Line, and never been a leading party member, or what you might call a "close associate" of Gerry Healy ("arms length" might better describe it ), I cannot confirm or deny more sensational claims about acts supposedly performed for Gaddafi. I was never asked to "spy" on the Jewish community, or I would have pointed out you could consult the Jewish Yearbook in any library, purchase a copy of the Jewish Chronicle at the newsagents, or join a conducted tour of synagogues. Nor have I ever been approached by anyone purporting to investigate such alleged activities.
I do know the WRP leadership channelled resources to a group within the Labour Party, with the paper Labour Herald, including Ken Livingstone and then Lambeth council leader Ted Knight, both of whom were battling the Thatcher government at the time. If that was Libyan money, it could have gone to worse causes (and sometimes did). I also know, from friends at the printers, that they turned out large quantities of Gaddafi's Little Green Book, though what happened to these I don't know. I never saw a copy myself, I don't recall it going on display in our bookshops, and I don't think it ever replaced Volume 38 of Lenin's Works as compulsory reading for the WRP school and Healy's lectures on Dialectics.
An amusing sight recounted by Alex Mitchell was that of Libyans on a plane returning from London, snipping off labels from garments they'd bought, so customs would not know they had been shopping at Marks and Spencer, historically a Zionist-supporting firm. I don't know if they'd be allowed to carry scissors on an airliner today, but Marks and Sparks has a branch in Tripoli these days. On the Western side hypocrisy has continued to surround the Libyan trade. At the height of supposed sanctions my last employer, its CEO a Rear-Admiral, hosted the second Libyan delegation I'd seen, signed contracts, and began sending lecturers out to Libya to run training courses, though they had to change planes a couple of times as British Airways was not going there.
Since then links have considerably increased, of course, as Libya was brought into the fold, and though irate Americans worked themselves up over the Megrahi affair and firms like BP going out to do well for themselves, American business has been just as keen as the British.
Sean Matgamna in Socialist Organiser, followed by the BBC Money Programme, both did exposes on Healy's links to Gaddafi's Gold, but I don't know whether they have managed to keep up with the more recent, and 'respectable' connections. My friend Keith says: "Colonel Gaddafi's son Saif was given a 'doctorate' by the LSE, he subsequently gave a £1.5m 'grant' to them. The Oxford University Press even printed his thesis, The Role of Civil Society in the Democratisation of Global Governance, probably encouraged by Saif's proposal to purchase 20,000 copies himself. The publication has now been put on hold, before they were able to complete the transaction. As to whether OUP now has 20,000 copies stored somewhere of a thesis now thought to be largely plagiarised, it doesn't reveal".
Oh no, not another Little Green Book saga ?! I suppose as Brent TUC assistant secretary I could enquire at the OUP in Neasden, but don't think we want to be lumbered with them even to give away as Christmas prezzies.
That venerable institution, the London School of Economics, has been embarrassed by attention drawn to its dealings with the Colonel's regime, and apparently they did not just take his money.
Andrew Coates, writing on Facebook, notes that Anthony Giddens the former director of the LSE, and noted theorist of the Third Way, has been in a spot of bother (More Here). Baron Giddens, as he became, made a trip to Libya in 2007 to discuss 'democracy' with the Colonel, observing afterwards:
“If Gadafy is sincere about reform, as I think he is, Libya could end up as the Norway of North Africa.”
As one-party states go, Libya is not especially repressive. Gadafy seems genuinely popular. Our discussion of human rights centred mostly upon freedom of the press. Would he allow greater diversity of expression in the country? There isn’t any such thing at the moment. Well, he appeared to confirm that he would. Almost every house in Libya already seems to have a satellite dish. And the internet is poised to sweep the country. Gadafy spoke of supporting a scheme that will make computers with internet access, priced at $100 each, available to all, starting with schoolchildren.
Will real progress be possible only when Gadafy leaves the scene? I tend to think the opposite. If he is sincere in wanting change, as I think he is, he could play a role in muting conflict that might otherwise arise as modernisation takes hold. My ideal future for Libya in two or three decades’ time would be a Norway of North Africa: prosperous, egalitarian and forward-looking. Not easy to achieve, but not impossible.
Who is His Lordship?
Many people who studied sociology in the 1970s and 1980s began with a foundation course based around Gidden’s Capitalism and Modern Social Theory. An Analysis of the writings of Marx, Durkheim and Max Weber. This was a solid, if somewhat summary, overview of the bases of contemporary social thought – a seen through the ‘founding fathers’.
A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism (1981) followed. This attacked Marxism as a dogmatic mono-causal theory. In place of economic determinism we should pay attention to a multiplicity of social antagonisms, from class to sexuality to state and social power. It outlined an overall left agenda for social advance, bringing Giddens close to radical socialism on some issues. He developed his own ‘structuration’ theory, which is basically a conceptualisation of everything agreeable to left-of-centre sociologists that has ever been said about structure and agency. By the time of the 1995 Second Edition and the Fall of Communism Giddens dropped socialism (or ‘the cybernetic model of socialism’) altogether. He began to talk of being “beyond left and right”.
In the rest of the decade Giddens developed the theory, and policies, of the Third Way. There was no alternative to capitalism, only different ways of managing it. Social democrats backed equality and social justice within this framework. They should modernise society (welfare reform onwards) and help everyone ’pilot’ their way in the age of globalisation.
Tony Blair appeared to endorse this approach. In practice, Blair’s leadership was used to turn the outward practice of the Labour Party into a form of Christian Democracy (favouring social solidarity and market economics). Giddens’ own influence has left little ideological imprint. I wonder if even the author read Over to You, Mr Brown – How Labour Can Win Again (2007).
Giddens was beguiled by Gaddafi. He illustrates that the ability to willingly let the wool be pulled over one’s eyes is not confined to the left. ‘Tends’ ‘Coulds’ and ideal futures apart the fact that he could not see the basic character of the regime speaks volumes about Giddens The creatures that have found progressive radicalism in Islamism are paralleled by this state intellectual who discovered the merits of the Green Book State and its Great Helmsman.
Some say that there is no stupid idea that some intellectual somewhere has not come to support (as Karel Čapek observed in the War of the Newts )."
I believe we have seen this talk of a 'third way' that is "neither right nor left" before, and it was far more deadly in Europe than with Colonel Gaddafi.
It is reported today that a top man at LSE has resigned, in advance of an inquiry by Lord Woolf into the School's links with Gaddafi.
I do hope this inquiry will consider all LSE links with foreign dictatorships, and the more widespread practice among academic institutions, encouraged I believe by HM government, of pursuing contracts for courses for various unpleasant regimes. But I fear I am going to be disappointed and that once again it will be hypocrisy that prevails.
Meanwhile, as the latter-day WRP and miraculously surviving News Line urge the Libyan masses to rally to the side of Muammar Gaddafi against imperialism, I offer this little extract, from an item by Joe Murphy in the London Evening Standard about a shooting party, and dedicate it to the "conspiracy" buffs in some quarters who have been blaming "the Rothschilds" for the Colonel's little difficulties :
"The weekend took place in 2009 at Waddesdon Manor, the Buckinghamshire home owned by financier Jacob, 4th Baron Rothschild.
"Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was a guests of financier Nat Rothschild and Lord Mandelson, the former business secretary who was virtual deputy to Gordon Brown. The peer and Saif are said to have got on well and met again at the Rothschild holiday home in Corfu..."
While you're getting your head around that, have a thought for another family facing a dilemna.
In September 2009, Prince Andrew, the Duike of York, flew into Algeria to open a new British embassy there. While he was there, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi also paid a visit, and the two men stayed in the same compound, and had much to discuss. Now Labour's shadow justice minister Chris Bryant has had the audacity to suggest that Andrew should lose his job as a trade envoy. Speaking in the Commons, Bryant said: "Isn't it increasingly difficult to explain the behaviour of the UKTI (UK Trade and Investment) special ambassador for trade, who is not only a very close friend of Saif Gaddafi, but is also a close friend of the convicted Libyan gun smuggler Tarek Kaituni?"
Considering the hardware Britain has been selling to Gaddafi, such as sniper rifles, I would have seen no difficulty in explaining Andrew's behaviour or his value to the Department.
But with the freezing of Libyan assets, including presumably Saif (as houses?) £10 million mansion in Hampstead, think of the Windsors now having to decide if Andrew's friend should still be invited to the nephew's wedding.