Remember when the ISO denied Libyan rebels’ racism? They now have open slave markets for African refugees

Today, African refugees are being sold in open-air slave markets in Libya — a country that until 2011, as even the BBC has acknowledged, “had one of the highest standards of living in Africa, with free healthcare and free education.”

Why is this happening? The BBC also reluctantly provided the answer: “Libya has been beset by chaos since NATO-backed forces overthrew long-serving ruler Col Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011.”

It goes without saying that conservatives and liberals alike, along with hegemonic capitalist political parties and corporate media outlets unanimously supported NATO’s Libya regime change war at the time. But it is instructive to look back at the propaganda ostensible “socialist” groups used to justify the overthrow of Qadhafi.

The week NATO launched the war to overthrow Libya’s government in March 2011, the Cliffite-Trotskyite International Socialist Organization (ISO) published an outlandish article that — impressively — tried to deny the extreme, violent racism of the NATO-backed Libyan opposition while also simultaneously justifying it by blaming this undeniable extreme, violent racism on Muammar Qadhafi.

Entitled “The facts about racism in Libya,” this risible piece in the ISO’s reliably anti-anti-imperialist newspaper Socialist Worker carried the remarkable subheading, “The claim that the Libyan uprising is motivated by racism should be rejected as a slander against a revolt against a dictatorship.”

Author Rayyan Ghuma attacked the enlightening and important website Black Agenda Report, lamenting that “a small number of left-wing organizations and publications level the outlandish accusation that Libya’s rebels are motivated not by a desire to overthrow authoritarian rule, but by a racist campaign against Black African migrant workers living in Libya.”

Ghuma also expressed hope that Libya’s NATO-backed uprising would inspire a similar “revolution” in Zimbabwe.

Ghuma’s Socialist Worker article echoed the political line of the so-called International Socialist Organization, which staunchly supported Libya’s US- and Europe-backed, Salafi extremist-dominated opposition, while simultaneously claiming to oppose NATO’s military intervention.

The ISO has a long history of claiming it opposes US imperialism while publicly cheering on proxies of US imperialism — not just in Libya, but also in Syria, the former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union, Afghanistan in the 1980s, Cuba, Venezuela, and beyond. (In fact, Socialist Worker‘s propaganda on Syria has been equally grotesque. In 2014, the ISO newspaper published an article by Trotskyite activist Michael Karadjis that described fighters from Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra as “decent revolutionaries” and declared, “Attacking JaN is a way of attacking the revolution.”)

During the NATO 2011 war and immediately after, Libyan rebels ethnically cleansed Black communities and arrested, tortured, and killed Sub-Saharan African immigrants. But the ISO would have us believe this was all a conspiracy concocted by Qadhafi and the bogeyman “Stalinists.”

The ISO’s steadfast support for the Libyan armed opposition continued despite the fact that not only was it plagued by racism, but also that “the rebels included a significant Islamist element,” as the UK Parliament admitted in a 2016 report. The British government’s Libya investigation added that “militant Islamist militias played a critical role in the rebellion from February 2011 onwards.”

And not only that, the ISO also viciously attacked socialist groups that actually stood up for anti-imperialism, condemning and smearing the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) and other parties for daring to challenge NATO’s destruction of an oil-rich North African post-colonial nation.

During the 2011 war, and particularly in the months following the extremely brutal murder of Qadhafi, NATO-backed rebels proceeded to ethnically cleanse Black Libyans. This was documented even by pro-US human rights organizations that supported foreign military intervention in Libya, such as Human Rights Watch.

HRW reported in September 2011 on Libyan rebels’ “arbitrary arrests and abuse of African migrant workers and black Libyans assumed to be [pro-Qadhafi] mercenaries.”

In October, Human Rights Watch noted that Libyan militias were “terrorizing the displaced residents of the nearby town of Tawergha,” a majority-Black community that had been a stronghold of support for Qadhafi. “The entire town of 30,000 people is abandoned – some of it ransacked and burned – and Misrata brigade commanders say the residents of Tawergha should never return,” HRW added. Witnesses “gave credible accounts of some Misrata militias shooting unarmed Tawerghans, and of arbitrary arrests and beatings of Tawerghan detainees, in a few cases leading to death.”

In 2013, Human Rights Watch reported further on the ethnic cleansing of the Black community of Tawergha. The human rights organization, whose longtime executive director Ken Roth had supported military intervention in Libya, wrote: “The forced displacement of roughly 40,000 people, arbitrary detentions, torture, and killings are widespread, systematic, and sufficiently organized to be crimes against humanity.”

None of this is to mention the countless other documented crimes US- and Europe-backed Libyan rebels committed against Black Libyans and Sub-Saharan migrants, during and in the wake of NATO military intervention based on UN Security Council Resolution 1970 — which it is important to underscore was approved by not just the US, UK, and France, but also by Russia, China, India, and Brazil.

Now, six years after NATO’s explicit regime change operation, there are 21st-century slave markets in Libya — or, rather, in the ruins of Libya, which has no functioning central government in large swaths of territory. African refugees are being sold for a few hundred dollars. And the ISO’s publication Socialist Worker is, naturally, silent about this sordid state of affairs in post-Qadhafi, “liberated” Libya.

These slave-sellers are the beneficiaries of the “freedom” NATO brought Libya; they are the beneficiaries of the “revolutionaries” whom the ISO and other Western social chauvinist groups praised.