Mehdi Ben Barka & the Tricontinental
In Le Monde Diplomatique
[If you find this (paraphrasing) translation poor or inappropriate, you can read the original piece in full here (fr).]
There is little doubt that the Moroccan state (up to high ranking officers and officials) bears a heavy responsibility in the abduction and subsequent murder of Mehdi Ben Barka. The year 1965 starts with violent events that will further exacerbate the sensitivity of the state and eventually trigger a brutal repression: March 22 and 23, students demonstrate against the newly introduced schools admission quotas which they consider discriminatory. They are later joined in the streets by their parents. The demonstrations are repressed in blood by the infamous Gen. Mohamed Oufkir, the then-ministry of Interior. The state of emergency is decreed. Second phase: Hassan II (seemingly) offers an overture to Ben Barka by hinting to the possibility of accepting the idea of a national unity government. Ben Barka deplores the absence of the conditions for a genuine democratic transition and reiterates the views he previously exposed in the message-report he wrote in 1962 for his party’s second congress, under the title: “Revolutionary Option in Morocco.” In June the fake offer is retreated. Secret and frenzied concertations start between the palace and the secret services under the supervision (and that’s an understatement) of United States officials (as it is now widely documented,) and the active “help” of the Mossad (Israel secret services.) In the meantime, Ben Barka dedicates himself to preparing the Tricontinental Conference, the preparatory committee over which he presides […]
Ben Barka defines his objectives: helping national liberation movements notably in Palestine; intensifying the struggle against occupation -including armed struggle- on the three continents; supporting Cuba; getting rid of foreign military bases; opposition to nuclear weapons, to the Apartheid regime and to racial segregation. The end goal being “total liberation.” In late September, Ben Barka visits Havana to finalize the arrangements and preparations for the upcoming Conference, scheduled in January 3th, 1966.
Eliminating Ben Barka was obviously becoming a major and pressing demand for those who wanted to put an end to mounting third-world insurrection. Already in June 1965, Ben Barka loses the Algerian support after Boumediène accessed power through a military coup. To make things even worse, President Sukarnu of Indonesia loses his power in September 30th, depriving the Tricontinental from one of its major bases.
To understand the motives behind the murder of Ben Barka, one needs only to examine the pattern of political assassinations and coup d’etat perpetrated during this sinister period: the Iranian Premier, Ali Mansour, is assassinated in January 21; Humberto Delguado, the leader of the Portuguese opposition, in February 13; Malcolm X, in February 21; the deputy defense minister of Guatemala, Ernesto Molina, in May 21, etc…
In October Mehdi is murdered; in 1967 Che Guevara is executed [in Bolivia under orders from Washington]; Martin Luther King is killed in April 1968; Amiclar Cabral (the major theorist of African liberation) in January 1973…
Thus, a kind of “world class warfare” was taking place in which those who wanted to reestablish a reactionary order used all means of violence, political assassinations, death commandos and imposed absolute dictators and awful regimes, fomenting conflicts and instigating wars of intervention.
Movements of liberation were pushed forward by their quest for a genuine emancipation and the Tricontinental tried to capture this progressive potential. Those who assassinated Ben Barka wanted to kill this perspective of world liberation.
Rest in Peace Mehdi.
As long as the assassination of Ben Barka is still considered as a state secret, nothing will emerge about those who were really behind it. Up to now fingers are pointed at different suspects. But as long as there is no trial of any of them under solid evidence from secret files, the assassination will remain a mystery as long as those involved in it are still alive. May be in 40 years time, the truth will come out. At this time it will be interesting only to historians as politically it will be insignificant.
Ben Barka is still held in high esteem because he never acceded to power. He could have faced difficulties at that time. He couldn’t rule according to his principles as he would have to ally with the Eastern Bloc to stay in power. In a sense emerging states couldn’t be totally independent. I wonder what the Moroccans would have made of his policy if he too would prove repressive to deal with his opponents. Even non-aligned movement couldn’t keep to its spirit. No single third world country regime was able during the Cold War to stay in power without siding with either the East or the West.
One fact that emerges is that figures like Ben Barka no longer stir the political classes in Morocco. The USFP tried to bank on this historical figure during the elections. But the voters no longer feel duped by ideology. They judge by facts. The USFP was disappointing because its current elite changed 180°. to paraphrase the old Arab poet:
ان المناضل من يقول ها أنذا
ليس المناضل من يقول كان بنبركة
Now who can be the new Ben Barka in Morocco now? Almost none. Power changes everything or rather it shows the called militants in their true colour.
Ben Barka will continue to attract attention just because of the mystery of his death. The world has changed a lot since his death. Those who still embrace his ideology are just a minority. Today there no longer the old clash between Communism and Capitalism. There is only the domination of Globalisation. How Ben Barka’s visions fit in today’s modern world as a mode for governance remains open to different political debates.
the fact that the quest for justice is (indeed) arduous and sometimes highly sensitive (for those involved enough to feel threatened) isn’t reason enough (as I’m sure you’ll agree) to shrug the whole matter off!
I mean, the killing of Ben Barka (as I’m sure you’ve understood) wasn’t a matter only for Moroccans since the man dedicated his whole life to the honourable cause of justice. These are not verbigerations from a nostalgic lounge pseudo-activist (that would be me!). Mehdi was not a fanatic, nor was he an obsessed power maniac.
You wrote that no Non-Aligned government has succeeded in clinging to power without slipping on one side or the other of the divide, and that is true to some extent. Remember that most of the charismatic leaders of the movement didn’t give up to their commitment nor did they cross-dressed as most of today pseudo-left does as a matter of routine; they were rather violently ousted from the power they legitimately owned or died in (to put it mildly) peculiar circumstances. As for siding with one or the other camp of the ideological divide, I would like to point at Malaysia as a reasonably successful exception… (Maybe we’ll expand on that particular example in another occasion).
Finally; you wrote Abdelilah that: people were fascinated by Ben Barka ONLY because of the circumstances of his death AND that ideology is no longer a matter of relevance in today’s globalized world.
FIRST: I find it hard to believe that an intelligent man like you my friend could wipe off the memory and achievements of a dedicated, honest, altruistic, progressive, humanist, clever, driven, inspired, compassionate, patriotic, visionary, avant-garde (… I could go on for years!) fellow Moroccan and reduce his legacy to ashes. That would be a bit insulting for the wife and the children of Mehdi who have seen their lives scattered and their hopes poisoned… and for the sake of what? OTHER FELLOW MOROCCANS!!
SECOND: as for the matter of ideology and globalization.
Wasn’t Mehdi stunningly early in calling for a Globalized, compassionate world. The issue of Ideology and old Left vs Right divide may have blurred as years went by, I agree, but the underpinning issues (social issues) behind the so-called ideologies are still here and even more today than ever. When we talk about Capitalism vs Communism what are we talking about in reality? We are talking about two aberrations (both being an extremist reaction to one another) stemming from the urgent need for social justice. You may say that ideology is an anachronism; I say that the struggle for which Mehdi has died is still here, still worth fighting… it’s Altruism vs Egoism!
In fact I am not undermining Benbarka’s legacy. Even King Hassan II admitted the great influence of the man on him. Moroccans in particular should be proud of a visionary like him who resisted the temptation of power without being able to implement his views.
Concerning your first point, I don’t think that Benbarka will stop being a reference for those seeking political reforms. I regret that his image has become just exploited by the USFP without living up to his ideal. The USFP is still idealizing him in their press, but you can see the great distance they have kept from him when they took the key ministries in the past ten years.
What I mean by elucidating the mystery of his death in 40 years or so will be “interesting only to historians as politically it will be insignificant.” is that those behind his death will have died without being brought to justice. In the sixties there was a galaxy of political activists in all parts of the world as mentioned in the article. The question remains if their likes can be reproduced at present mounting stiff challenge to current injustices and abnormalities.
Benbarka will remain legendary for what he stood for, not just in Morocco but around the globe. There is no doubt about that. But he shouldn’t be seen just a hero stirring political debates. Current generations need to update his views to the current world.
Benbarka’s concern for example was to fight the legacy of colonialism and reactionary ideas for a modern and equitable form of government among the emerging countries. In the 21st century such ideas need updating. As you know, ideas that are laudable in essence need to be renovated to keep their vigour. Current activists need to do their best to keep Benbarka’s spirit alive through what they can do to implement his views according to current times.
Hisham thank you for these illuminating posts on Mehdi Ben Barka. I do agree with you that the core issue, social injustice, which these men fought against still exists and remains one of the major problems we see today.
You’re connecting of all the dots and the various assassinations shows us a concerted effort to undermine and destroy third world movements from their intellectual roots. The damage from that we still suffer from till today.
@Abdelilah: Dear brother;
I didn’t doubt for a second of your real intent, and maybe I’m a bit over the edge with matters concerning people like Ben Barka I consider as ultimate inspirations. Please forgive my offensive tone.
The USFP (formerly socialists for hypothetical outsiders who may read that) as you wisely pointed out is an abject empty shell, subsidiary of the neo-makhzen, a bunch of hypocrites and bootlicking groupies of the palace. I would rather look toward the PSU who is a splinter group from the USFP, composed of brilliant intellectuals and people who stayed faithful to democracy. I would also look at AMDH (the Moroccan Human Rights Association) the brave association which has always been in the forefront of the struggle for the truth and justice.
Justice in terms of purely procedural and legalistic matters may never be achieved in this case but believe me Abdelilah, there is more than legal procedure that can be achieved. That’s the real Ben Barka’s legacy: he’s a catalyst, an inspiration, a proof that an alternative to nihilist fundamentalism and to crypto-capitalism does indeed exist.
Thank you Abdelilah and don’t get me wrong… I appreciate agreeing AND disagreeing with you!
You know wassim what worries me most, it’s this feeling of helplessness, which easily transforms into impotence, then into apathy and then one transforms into a vulgar vegetable, ready to accept his faith decided not by his own will but by others. Fatalism… I think is the word… people are becoming fatalist: “There is not much you can do!” they say. “you think you’ll change the world” they add. “you poor little pesky Arab… you shouldn’t be arrogant as to think that your people can ever take matters into their own hands…” they insist.
Remember the Edward Said piece; remember what it says:
“There is a wonderful expression that very precisely and ironically catches our unacceptable helplessness, our passivity and inability to help ourselves now when our strength is most needed. The expression is: will the last person to leave please turn out the lights? We are that close to a kind of upheaval that will leave very little standing and perilously little left even to record, except for the last injunction that begs for extinction.”
It’s always a pleasure to agree and disagree with open-minded people like you. There is no harm in having opposite views as long as they are sound. It’s cohesive and divergent views that generate constructive ideas, as you know.
تبارك الله عليك آ خوية… الله يكتر من امتالك