The Green Book

Libya Table of Contents

Qadhafi spelled out his prescriptions for the Libyan Cultural Revolution in his The Green Book, which grew eventually to comprise three slim volumes. Many foreign observers who had compared Libya's Cultural Revolution to the Chinese Cultural Revolution, naturally compared The Green Book to Mao's Red Book. Like Mao's Red Book, The Green Book has been widely distributed both inside and outside the country. Both are written in a simple, understandable style with many memorable slogans. In size, both are rather modest, but their impact cannot be exaggerated. In a sense, The Green Book has vied with the Quran as the basis for Libya's development, much as The Red Book attempted to supplant the Confucian system of thought.

The Green Book, Part I

In April 1974, Qadhafi relinquished his governmental duties to devote full time to ideological concerns and mass organization. A year later, he announced the reorganization of the ASU to include popular congresses, topped by the GPC. In March 1977, the GPC became, at least formally, the primary instrument of government in Libya. The reorganization of the ASU and the elevation of the GPC were carried out in conjunction with Qadhafi's political theories found in his work, The Green Book, Part I: The Solution of the Problem of Democracy.

The Green Book begins with the premise that all contemporary political systems are merely the result of the struggle for power between instruments of governing. Those instruments of governing--parliaments, electoral systems, referenda, party government--are all undemocratic, divisive, or both. Parliaments are based on indirect democracy or representation. Representation is based on separate constituencies; deputies represent their constituencies, often against the interests of other constituencies. Thus, the total national interest is never represented, and the problem of indirect (and consequently unrepresentative) democracy is compounded by the problem of divisiveness. Moreover, an electoral system in which the majority vote wins all representation means that as much as 49 percent of the electorate is unrepresented. (A win by a plurality can have the result that an even greater percentage of the electorate is unrepresented; electoral schemes to promote proportional representation increase the overall representative nature of the system, but small minorities are still left unrepresented.) Qadhafi also believes referenda are undemocratic because they force the electorate to answer simply yes or no to complex issues without being able to express fully their will. He says that because parties represent specific interests or classes, multiparty political systems are inherently factionalized. In contrast, a single-party political system has the disadvantage of institutionalizing the dominance of a single interest or class.

Qadhafi believes that political systems have used these kinds of indirect or representative instruments because direct democracy, in which all participate in the study and debate of issues and policies confronting the nation, ordinarily is impossible to implement in contemporary times. Populations have grown too large for direct democracy, which remained only an ideal until the formulation of the concepts of people's committees and popular congresses.

Most observers would conclude that these organizations, like congresses or parliaments in other nations, obviously involve some degree of delegation and representation. Qadhafi, however, believes that with their creation contemporary direct democracy has been achieved in Libya. Qadhafi bases this conviction on the fact that the people's committees and popular congresses are theoretically responsible not only for the creation of legislation, but also its implementation at the grass-roots level. Moreover, they have a much larger total membership as a percentage of the national population than legislative bodies in other countries.

In many ways, Qadhafi's political ideology is part of the radical strain of Western democratic thought associated primarily with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. For, as scholar Sami Hajjar noted, Qadhafi's notions of popular sovereignty are quite similar to the Rousseauian concept of general will. Both hold that sovereignty is inalienable, indivisible, and infallible. Both believe in equality and in direct popular rule. Thus, concludes Qadhafi, "the outdated definition of democracy--democracy is the supervision of the government by the people--becomes obsolete. It will be replaced by the true definition: democracy is the supervision of the people by the people."

The Green Book, Part II

Qadhafi begins The Green Book, Part II: The Solution of the Economic Problem: "Socialism," published in early 1978, with a brief examination of the relationship between workers (producers) and employers (owners). He recognizes that the lot of the worker has been improved dramatically since the Industrial Revolution. The worker has gained fixed working hours, overtime pay, different kinds of leave, profit sharing, participation in management, job security, and the right to strike. Drastic changes have also occurred in ownership, including the transference of private ownership to the state.

Despite these significant changes, however, the basic relationship between the producer, who is a wage earner, and the owner, who pays the wages, is still one of slavery. Even where the state owns the enterprise and the income derived from it reverts to the community, the plight of the wage earner, who contributes to the productive process for someone else's benefit, remains the same. Qadhafi's solution to the problem is to abolish the wage system. Rather than contributing to the productive process for the owner's benefit, or profit, the actual producer should be a partner in the process, sharing equally in what is produced or in the income derived from what is produced.

Qadhafi believes that a person cannot be free "if somebody else controls what he needs" to lead a comfortable life. Thus, each person must fully possess a house, a vehicle, and an income. Individuals cannot be wage earners because someone else would then control their income. They cannot have an extra house to rent, for in renting property they would be controlling a primary need of someone else. According to Qadhafi, "The legitimate purpose of the individual's economic activity is solely to satisfy his [material] needs"; it is not to create a surplus in order to gain a profit. Qadhafi maintains that profit and money will eventually disappear as basic human needs are met. The only provision for a differentiation in wealth is social reward, in which the society allocates to an individual a certain share of its wealth equivalent to the value of some special service rendered.

The 1969 constitutional proclamation recognized both public ownership ("the basis of the development of society") and private ownership (so long as it was nonexploitive). The application of Qadhafi's new views on ownership began a few months after publication of Part II of The Green Book. In May 1978, a law was passed giving each citizen the right to own one house or a piece of land on which to build a house. Ownership of more than one house was prohibited, as was the collection of rent. On September 1, the ninth anniversary of the September revolution, Qadhafi called on workers to "free the wage earners from slavery" and to become partners in the productive process by taking over "the public and private means of production." The takeover of scores of firms followed; presumably the firms were to be controlled by the new people's committees. Still another aspect of the drive against exploitation was Qadhafi's late-autumn ban on commercial retail activity. The Libyan leader advised retailers to enter productive occupations in agriculture or construction. However, the immediate practical result of these changes, was economic chaos and a significant decrease in production.

With regard to land, Qadhafi rejects the idea of private ownership. Drawing a distinction between ownership and use, he argues that land is the collective property of all the people. Every person and his heirs have the right to use the land to satisfy their basic needs. The land belongs to those who till it. To hire farm hands is forbidden because it would be exploitive.

The Green Book, Part III

In The Green Book, Part III: The Social Basis of the Third Universal Theory, published in 1980, Qadhafi reiterates and elaborates his view of nationalism and briefly discusses a few other subjects. Qadhafi argues that whereas Marx maintained that class struggle is the crucial variable accounting for change, it is nationalism that is "the real constant dynamic force of history." Qadhafi draws a sharp distinction between a state and a nation or nation-state. A state "embraces several nationalisms," and sooner or later will disintegrate as various national movements clamor for independence or self-determination. A nation-state, consists of a group of people with a prolonged shared history, a common heritage, and "a sense of belonging to a common destiny." Ideally, "Each nation should have one religion," Qadhafi writes, to avoid the potential for conflicts. He believes that national unity is threatened by the resurgence of tribal or sectarian identities. Qadhafi points to the Lebanese civil war as an illustration of the triumph of sectarianism over nationalism.

Part III of The Green Book also contains a discussion of such topics as the role of women, minorities, and education. "There is no difference in human rights between men and women," Qadhafi declares. But a woman has "a natural role" that is different from the male's, namely motherhood. Children should be raised by their mothers, not sent to nurseries. Furthermore, a woman, who "is created beautiful and gentle," should not be forced by economic necessity or by a misguided call for equality to do a man's work, such as "carrying heavy weights."

With regard to minorities, Qadhafi distinguishes between two types. One type belongs to a nation that provides it with a social framework, but also threatens to encroach on its social rights; the other type has no nation, forms its own social framework, and is destined eventually to constitute a nation by virtue of a sense of solidarity.

Qadhafi also gives his radical views of education. Qadhafi condemns formal education as "an act of dictatorship destructive to freedom because it deprives people of their free choice, creativity, and brilliance." He proposes that "all methods of education prevailing in the world should be destroyed" and replaced with a system where "knowledge about everything is available to each person in the manner that suits them."

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress