Kropotkin and Qadhafi

From Open Revolt.



by Said Gafourov

In the last quarter of the twentieth century Libya has been in the focus of world attention. Unorthodox foreign and domestic policies, her challenge to the developed countries together with a strategic geographic position and great mineral (mainly oil) resources, attract special interest in comparison with other countries of the Third World.

One of the most characteristic features of the country has been the Third Universal Theory, developed by the Leader of the Libyan Revolution Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, which was introduced as an alternative to both Capitalist and Communist (i.e. Real Socialist) ideologies.

This ‘new philosophy’ was not only actively implemented in theory and in practice in Libya but was also regarded as the most effective for other developing countries. Such countries as Benin or Burkina Faso used elements of the Third Univeral Theory in their governmental ideologies.

Many Western scholars considered Qadhafi’s ideology to be something specifically Oriental, alien to the Western system of values and lying outside the main stream of both Western and Eastern philosophies; or as a simplification of an already simplified ‘Marxist philosophy’; or as a ‘real socialism’ adapted for ‘tribal socialist princes’.

On the other side some Third World thinkers like Sami Hajjar suppose that Qadhafi’s system of values lies within the framework of philosophical traditions going back to the ‘Social Contract’ of Rousseau.

In 1973 the Ministry of Information and Culture of Libya published a pamphlet “The Third World Theory: the Holy Concept of Islam and Popular Revolution in Libya”. 
The theory was later developed in the 1974 pamphlet “The Principles of the Third World Theory”. At the end of the seventies, Qadhafi published 3 parts of the well-known Green Book, summarising and systematising his theory.

From our point of view, the possible influence (direct or indirect) of ideas of European and Russian anarchism on Qadhafi, is at least worth discussing.

In the XIX century, the term “Anarchism” was used to define a rather wide intellectual and political movement. Such diverse thinkers as Proudhon, Stinner, Bakunin, Leo Tolstoy, Kropotkin and many others declared their solidarity with Anarchism as a socio-philosophical theory. Although their philosophical ideas were rather different, all of them had one thing in common – they all believed that the main cause of injustice, social oppression and exploitation of one human being by another was the State and its political institutions.

Qadhafi’s vision of the Socialist society has been summarised as follows:

“1) The purpose of the Socialist society is the happiness of man which can only be realised through material and spiritual freedom.

2) The material needs of all are to be assured, secure from arbitrary disruption.

3) Inequality of wealth, income and social status should be modest. Wealth in excess of private needs should be public, not private, property.

4) Man should find fulfilment in his work not only in using the income he derives from it”. Peter Kropotkin – the founder of Anarcho-Communism and one of the most respected theoreticians of Anarcho-Syndicalism defined one of the most important human rights – the right of welfare which is “a possibility to live as a human being and bring up children.”“Above bread and above welfare, above collective property we can see a new world coming – a world where we can love each other and satisfy our decent and noble desires for the ideal… where there would not be the rich and the poor… a worker would work at what is better for him, a research worker would make his works without reservations, an artist would not make a profanity of his ideal of beauty in favour of money”.

Thus we can see that the ultimate social goals of Qadhafi and Kropotkin are similar. However, there are many more correlations in the particulars.

The first part of the Green Book (1976) begins with a description and severe criticism of the traditional bourgeois social and political system. It is important to mention that the methodology of this criticism is rather similar to that of Kropotkin or Bakunin. In the introduction to the first French edition of Kropotkin’s Bread and Freedom we read: “the first book by Kropotkin ‘Paroles d’un Revolte’ was mainly devoted to the severe criticism of the immoral and evil bourgeois society and called upon the energy of revolutionaries to struggle against the State”. 
According to Qadhafi the instrument or means of societal control (i.e. the State) is the main political problem which has always stood before humanity. Struggle for the “instrument of control” always led to the victory of an individual or a party or a class and the defeat of the people. “Parliament is a misrepresentation of the people, and parliamentary systems are a false solution to the problem of democracy. A parliament is originally founded to represent the people, but this in itself is undemocratic as democracy means the authority of the people and not an authority acting on their behalf,” states Qadhafi.

“Parliaments have been a legal barrier between the people and the exercise of excluding the masses from meaningful politics and monopolising sovereignty in their place”.

Qadhafi concludes that “It has thus become the right of the people to struggle through popular revolution to destroy such instruments as the so-called parliamentary assemblies which usurp democracy and sovereignty and which stifle the will of the people” – this statement correlates with the famous slogans of modern anarcho-terrorists like, “While evil bourgeois society uses violence under the name of justice the justice of the proletariat is violence”.

Generally speaking, for the Anarchists, the whole system of representative democracy was the object of their sharp uncompromising criticism. Bakunin described a parliamentary republic as a “quasi state of a quasi popular will, which is supposed to be represented by quasi representatives in quasi popular meetings”.

Kropotkin denied the idea that the state was necessary – he called it “superstitions, which play the role of Fate in relations between people”, and he believed that the self-organisation of small communities united on a Federal basis was the structure that should replace the State which is an ‘apparatus of violence.’

He stated that the goal of “finding such a Government which can make people obey, while still obeying society”, was not realisable, and pointed out that “society tries to liberate itself by all possible means from any kind of government and fulfil its requirements with free agreements between individuals and groups, seeking one goal”.

We can see here that Kropotkin’s political ideals come back to the “Social Contract” of Rousseau whom he regarded highly.

We can say that both Qadhafi and Kropotkin see the main internal contradiction within existing societies as the contradiction between society and state. Both of them use the concept of ‘popular masses’ which are the moving forces of social revolutions; the masses are not divisible into strata, classes, ethnic, confessional and professional groups. According to Kropotkin, Anarchy was a “more or less reflected ideal of the masses”. Qadhafi uses the term “people”, and authority of the People in general as an indivisible entity is an alternative to the old unjust political order.

Perhaps we can say that social realities in Libya and in Europe during the great French Revolution which actually determined the ideology of anarchy were rather similar. The social stratification of society in both cases was weak. Anti-feudal unification of all the third estate in France which included the overwhelming majority of social groups, structurally was close to unity of all the Libyans opposing weak and discredited royal power and small comprador trade circles.

On the other side, subsequent polarisation and self-identification of different social groups: proletariat, petty, financial and trade bourgeoisie, peasants etc. must have and actually did conflict with their integration into a unified civil society. Qadhafi once said that, “If Revolution makes a mistake, revolution should be corrected”. This was said at a moment of crucial social contradictions between an emerging bourgeoisie and the Revolutionary Committees which represented the interests of integrated society at a time of anti-colonial and anti-feudal revolution.

The system of People’s Congresses and Committees which from Qadhafi’s point of view is “the only way to genuine Democracy” is really close to both the spirit and letter of Kropotkin’s understanding of a future social self-organisation of society. A people controls itself – this is the essence of democracy according to Qadhafi. In other words, the political model is a stateless form of popular power which is the ideal of anarchism.

Bread and Freedom by Kropotkin is to a large extent based on the concept that the main function of society is t create and re-create material values for the full and many-faceted development of a free individual. The main slogan of anarchism is “freedom for everybody, welfare for all” and Kropotkin writes that “in political economy, one should first of all study the chapter on consumption”.

Qadhafi, in his turn, thinks that the only “legal” goals of economic activity are fulfilment of human demands and he also starts a discussion on economic issues with the problem of consumption. The similarity of ideas of the second part of the Green Book (devoted to economic issues) and the views of anarchists is rather surprising – even the structure of chapters in the second part and Bread and Freedom for example, is very close.

The Jamaharisation practice in Libya corresponds to ideas of anarcho-communists. The theoretical description of Kropotkin’s ideal society – a federation of self-controlling communities – could be a theoretical description of Jamaharian districts system which Qadhafi tried to implement at the first stage of revolutionary transformation in Libya. The goal for both the Russian thinker and the Arab praktik was elimination “of unjust social relations”.

“He who owns the house where you live or the transport which you use or money on which you live, he owns part or whole of your freedom. Freedom is indivisible and in order to be happy a human being must be free”.

This statement could have come from a theoretician of Anarchy but it belongs to Qadhafi. In his turn, Kropotkin writes: “As a matter of fact, in a modern state the biggest obstacle to development and maintenance of the moral level, necessary life in society is an absence of social equality… ‘Without equality in reality’, as they used to say in 1793, a sense of justness cannot become common property. Justness must be equal for everybody and in our society… the sense of equality has defeats at every step… we can find justice only in a society of equals”.

According to Qadhafi a new socialist society is “a society which is absolutely free. This can be achieved only by fulfilment of the material and spiritual demands of a human being by liberating these demands from oppression by other people”.

When defining goals in necessary economic activity in societal transformation, Kropotkin stresses three main elements:

“1) elimination of salary, paid by a capitalist to a worker because it is a modern form of ancient slavery and ‘krepostnoye’ ownership over a human;

2) elimination of private property in whatever is essential for society for the production and social organisation of products of exchange; and finally,

3) elimination from the individual and society of that form of social oppression – State – which serves the maintenance and continuity of economic slavery”.

Qadhafi mentioned that “those who sell their working power whatever their salary, are a kind of slave”, because they work not for their own benefit but or the benefit of those who hire them. From this comes that changing of form of property with it moving from one owner to another, which, even if it is a Working class state in a Marxist tradition, does not guarantee the rights of the worker in the process of production.

Qadhafi makes a concept that in Jamahiriya, the relationships of people in terms of property are partnerships in managing common property. The same concept was put forward by anarchists with their famous slogan – “everything belongs to everybody”.

Qadhafi believes that the solution of this problem can be achieved by the elimination of salary, and thus the liberation of humanity from slavery, and a return to the “natural rules” which determined relationships of people before the existence of classes, governments and laws. The official slogan of Jamahiriya is “Not employees but partners”.

Kropotkin also qualified this approach to the relationships of human beings in the process of production as “natural”.

The approach to the distribution and exchange of goods for these thinkers is similar. Both use an analogy with a supermarket or shop in which “every human being should take from common stocks exactly as much as necessary to fulfil his needs” or “to everyone according to his needs”.

It is interesting that both are against the division of labour, considering it to be unnecessary.

It may be interesting to compare real economic structures in Gulay-Pole and Libya. We can point out that in agriculture, Nestor Makhno and Qadhafi conducted the same policy. Both tried to encourage individual farming with all the means they possessed. Kropotkin as a theoretician was encouraged by the agricultural development of American private farms in the 1890’s and came to the conclusion that small farms were historically progressive and should unite to provide jobs necessary for all of them.

This idea sprang from the Russian tradition of praising ‘Obshina’ as an alternative to capitalist order. ‘Obshina’ was a common ideal of Russian traditional egalitarians like Lavrov, Tkachev or Hertzen.

The third part of the Green Book, which was published in 1979, was devoted to social problems. Qadhafi believes that the main engine of human history is a struggle between social and national (as a part of social) groups for ascendancy over each other. And this struggle can be ended only after complete elimination of one social group’s oppression by another group, or individual.

From this point of view his ideas are very close to the ideas of anarchists. Kropotkin, describing future society, wrote of “free communities, agricultural as well as urban [ie. land unions of people related to each other because of place of living] and wide professional and craftsmen’s unions (ie. unions of people by character of their labour) and communities closely intersecting with each other . . .” Together with these forms of social organisation “thousands of unlimitedly different societies and unions will appear because of a unity of private preferences resulting from common interests: social, religious, artistic, scientific and those that have as their goals upbringing, research or even simply entertainment”.

The Jamahiriya districts in Libya are very similar to the ideal of anarcho-communism.

Qadhafi specifies traditional forms of unification of human beings: family, tribe and nation. The main factor for a harmonious society with the elimination of internal conflicts between individuals, is the family. An individual should develop in his family in a natural way. We can see here the influence of Jean Jaques Rousseau’s concept of “The natural right of a father” which is quite different from all the other rights which exist as a result of the Social Contract.

A wider social structure which includes families, is a tribe. Kropotkin used the term “local communities”. Social functions of tribes in the nomadic society of Libya and local communities in European societies are, to a certain extent, similar. Both provide for the co-existence of families and are supposed to suppress conflicts. The author’s opinion is that in these two theories there are similar social realities and structures with very important functions being discussed in different terms.

It is interesting to mention the terms which the thinkers use. Kropotkin called his theory ‘Anarcho-Communism’. However, when writing of the precedents of Anarchism he recalled a term invented by the Russian historian Kostomarov: – ‘Narodopravstvo’ (‘People’s Govern’) for the Novograd and Pskov feudal republics. This artificial Russian word is probably the best translation of ‘Jamahiriya’ from Arabic into Russian.

On the other hand, neither the Anarchists nor Qadhafi were very concerned for the academic correctness of terms at the expense of political sense. Semantic loadings of the word ‘anarchism’ as well as ugly translation of it into Arabic prevented Qadhafi, who probably had not had access to Anarchist literature, from choosing this term for his concept.

There are two basic differences between the philosophy of the Green Book and Kropotkin.

First of all there is the understanding of the concept of “natural law”. Anarchists accepted Rousseau’s thesis that all the social institutions resulted from the Social Contract and that there were no NATURAL norms and rules of regulation of relationships between people and customs. Traditions are definitely not absolute and are subject to change.

On the other hand Qadhafi points out “laws of society are the sacred heritage of society”.He means that they are objective reality which has its roots in the religion and traditions of the society.

The attitude towards religion is the other big difference. Kropotkin is a definite rationalist, materialist and atheist. Religion is the means of exploitation by the state and the governing classes. However, Kropotkin was very tolerant to individual faith and wrote about religious unions in the ideal society.

For Qadhafi religion, on the contrary, has an intrinsic value and is one of those basic foundations of society, which should not be criticised. This author thinks that the reason for this difference is in the concrete difference of political functions of religion in Christian and Islamic countries.

In Islamic countries Islam has never been a separate political force – more exactly religious and secular power are inseparable. Only Islam gives legitimacy to rulers. Qadhafi as a praktik, realised this and used Islam as a means to stabilise unity in the society using the egalitarian features of Islam.

This side of his practice is reflected in the Green Book: to provide for the fruitful development of a nation, there must be a unifying religion and thus social factor (ie. nationality) would correspond with religious factor and thus the stability of a nation would increase. However, we should mention that traditionalist Ulamaa (theologists) opposed the new theory in the beginning and the official propaganda apparatus of Qadhafi even used a metaphor about the struggle between the Green Book and yellow books. (Traditionally, religious literature in the Arab world is published on yellow paper).

In this work the author tried to delineate some similarities between the ideas of anarcho-communism and the Third Univeral Theory. If we accept the hypothesis of the author, the received position that anarchism is a theory which has never been implemented in practice for a reasonable period of time, should be reconsidered. An analysis of the social and economic development of Libyan Jamahiriya can become an analysis of the first relatively long attempt to apply ideals close or sometimes similar to those of anarchy. Thus we could define Libya as an anarchist entity.

The correspondence of basic views of Qadhafi and Kropotkin in particular could, in theory, be accidental. However, we believe that ideas resembling those of the anarchists’ inevitably appear in those countries with a less developed social stratification but which are in the process of joining the world capitalist economy – like Russia, Spain and France in the nineteenth century or Libya in the twentieth.

We perhaps can never know if Qadhafi accepted Anarchist ideas or whether the socio-political climates in Europe on the eve of the XX century and in Libya in the second part of the XX century resembled each other. But we can say that Qadhafi’s education rather witnesses for the first hypothesis.

Qadhafi could hardly have had access to Proudhon, Bakunin or Kropotkin material during his studies in the military college in Benghazi, but he attended lectures on history in the Royal University of Benghazi where he must have become acquainted with Enlightenment theories.

Kropotkin’s and Qadhafi’s ideas on the role of the state and basic questions of the economy are similar. Differences on questions in the social arena are often related to terminology and socio-cultural differences.

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