Muammar Gaddafi’s Green Book: The Good, The Bad, and The Weird
Note: Updated with additions on 4/9/22.

Muammar Gaddafi was, is, and always will be a controversial figure. Though his rise from Bedouin nomad to ruler of Libya is impressive, many of the things he did while in control of the country were unquestionably authoritarian and criminal. However, Gaddafi began as a sort of liberator. He joined the Libyan military in the early 1960s and later became one of the leading figures behind the 1969 coup to overthrow King Idris. With the monarchy successfully abolished, Gaddafi seized power and transformed Libya into the Libyan Arab Republic. Eventually, Gaddafi decided to put his political, social and economic views on paper in a brief volume entitled The Green Book, first published in 1975, with an English version distributed worldwide a year later.


Part 1: The Solution to the Problem of Democracy

In this opening section of The Green Book, Gaddafi argues that “democracies” as we know them are actually highly authoritarian and anti-democratic. He states that parliamentary systems, while well-intended, often end up misrepresenting the interests of the very people they were established to to serve. Partisan politics, he asserts, will always end up resulting in politicians serving the interests of the party rather than the people who voted for them. Gaddafi argues that direct democracy, as opposed to representative or parliamentary democracy, is the best remedy for this problem. 

Additionally, he says that class conflict will always result in the most powerful class dominating the lower classes, particularly through political means, so it is essentially useless for the upper class to try to appease the lower classes in a one-size-fits-all way because appeasement will never be enough to keep the lower classes happy and they will always have different interests than those of the ruling class. Gaddafi goes on to outline his specific vision for direct democracy. He says that direct democracy should be carried out through what he calls “Popular Conferences” and “People’s Committees.” Basically, “Popular Conferences” are decentralized electoral bodies elected directly by the people that are divided into two groups: Basic and Non-Basic Popular Conferences. In turn, These Popular Conferences elect members to People’s Committees. He goes on to say that the “true definition” of democracy is “the supervision of the people by the people (p. 25).”

Next, Gaddafi addresses laws and where their basis should come from. He argues that laws should be based in religious or traditional principles and says that secular constitutional law is “invalid and illogical” because it “ … lacks the natural source from which it must derive its justification (p. 26).” Later on, he describes how direct democracy will help in increasing freedom of the press, something he says everyone should be entitled to, including individuals and corporations.

Part II: The Solution to the Economic Problem

Gaddafi begins by acknowledging that conditions for working people in modern times are better than they were at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. However, he says, policies like overtime pay, social security, the right to strike and limits on working hours don’t go far enough in making the life of an average working person bearable and politicians from across the spectrum have failed to deliver on meaningfully liberating workers from their oppressors. He also makes the point that public sector workers aren’t treated that much better than private sector workers. He poignantly states, “Wage-earners are but slaves to the masters who hire them. They are temporary slaves, and their slavery lasts as long as they work for wages from employers, be they individuals or the state (p. 42).” 

He argues for the abolition of wages and communal ownership of the means of production. He also makes the argument that technological advancement will reduce the hours and numbers of workers needed to produce and provide goods and services. He goes on to say, “The freedom of a human being is lacking if his or her needs are controlled by others, for need may lead to the enslavement of one by another. Furthermore, exploitation is caused by need (p. 46).”

One example Gaddafi gives of an essential “need” is housing. He advocates for universal housing and appears to support rent only in the form of voluntary compensation. He also argues that each person should be entitled to no more than a single house. In regard to one’s income, Gaddafi argues that a worker should be entitled to a full return on the product of his or her own labor and not be given in the form of wages or charitable donations. He then takes a short detour (pun intended) to argue for public transportation against private transportation. Finally, he asserts that land is an essential resource and should therefore not be privatized, but owned by the community as a whole and distributed according to use (for instance, a farmer will obviously need more land than someone who just works in a factory). 

Gaddafi continues by voicing his opposition to the profit motive, his support for trade unions and strikes, and reiterating his support for the abolition of wage labor. He concludes Part II by railing against people for employing and exploiting “domestic servants.” He says that, much like other wage-earners, domestic workers are essentially “slaves” and are woefully mistreated. Gaddafi states that all household work should only be the responsibility of the members of that household and that it is unacceptable to outsource that work to underpaid and mistreated employees who have no connection to the household whatsoever. 

Part III: The Social Basis of the Third Universal Theory

In this final section of The Green Book, Gaddafi lays out his views on certain social issues and posits that his general philosophy, which he calls the Third Universal Theory, is the best way to structure society because it is based around national and tribal principles. He counters the Marxist assertion that history is essentially a long series of class struggles with his own inference that history is dominated by a series of national struggles. He acknowledges that within nations there are fierce sectarian divisions based on factors such as religion and culture, but he believes that the struggle to survive will ultimately force nations to unify if their existence is threatened. He then goes on to talk about the family being the true bedrock of society, and that tribes are just one unit larger than families. 

Additionally, he discusses how, as the world population grows, the more distant we feel from one another. He once again uses the tribe as a model to demonstrate how feuding factions can tear the entire structure apart, and he believes this is happening on a much larger scale in the world as a whole. According to Gaddafi, nationalism shouldn’t be done away with. Rather, it should be preserved and embraced because it, to him, is the most effective way at bringing people together and keeping them together longer in a much stabler system. 

Next, Gaddafi discusses his views on women. He begins by railing against anti-female discrimination and, while acknowledging that there are differences between men and women, asserts that both men and women should be treated equally. He even points out that males have it easier than females because they don’t get pregnant or go through menstrual cycles or miscarriages. He goes on to essentially advocate for some kind of supported maternity leave on the grounds that a child must bond with its mother to be brought up properly and no parent should outsource motherly duties to nurses, babysitters or daycare providers. He continues by arguing that women should not be expected to have careers or do odd jobs. Gaddafi believes women should work if they want to, but they shouldn’t feel compelled to do so.   

Gaddafi then transitions to talking briefly about minorities and issues involving minority rights. In summary, he posits that the state is unfit to truly rectify the injustices done to minorities. He argues that states who supposedly grant minority rights can easily take them away. To Gaddafi, the only solution to the problem of minority rights is to lift minorities up through non-state means (“the people”), thus avoiding the “dictatorial” approach usually taken by the state.

He expands on this by predicting that black people around the world will triumph against white people, despite several obstacles like unemployment, poverty and lack of access to healthcare and birth control. 

Next, Gaddafi eviscerates centralized, state-run education, which he says has led to the suppression of freedom, intelligence and creativity, and has fostered a “forced stultification of the masses (p. 99).” He believes students should be free to choose to study the subjects that interest them instead of being coerced by the state into learning boring, irrelevant drivel that will never help them in life. He also advocates for the teaching of both religious and secular subjects in schools and says the complete omission of either one would be a mistake. 

He then moves on and discusses art, music and language. Gaddafi states that throughout human history, the lack of a single, unifying, universal language has been a serious problem. However, art can be interpreted and understood by everyone, no matter what language they speak. He then clarifies that the lack of a universal language isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself, but, paraphrasing, it is the fact that is highly unlikely that even if a universal language were to be created, it would ever be instinctual for people to use for generations. 

Gaddafi concludes Part III by using sports as an analogy for wealthy individuals hoarding their riches from the masses (e.g. where they sit in relation to other fans in the stands) and he argues that sports, just like political power, should be accessible to all people, not just a few privileged elites. He wraps up the book by saying that Bedouin people, like Gaddafi, tend to be more interested in athletics than in performing arts because they don’t see much value in performing. Gaddafi hopes that this trend will change.

The Good    

The book is written– for the most part– in simple, direct language, which makes it a more accessible piece of work than, say, some complex academic diatribe. This is absolutely one of the book’s strengths. Another strength is the book’s brevity. The Green Book is a little over 100 pages long, and some of its “chapters” are merely a paragraph or two confined to a single page. Many people, especially political figures, talk a lot but say nothing. Gaddafi does some of that in this book, but he largely keeps even his more substantive points short, sweet and to the point.

Speaking of substance, I agree with Gaddafi on several points. As shown above, he makes a lot of anti-state, pro-libertarian arguments and calls for the decentralization of governmental and workplace structures. These are wonderful policies to advocate for because they allow people to live the freest and happiest life possible in an environment free of both state and corporate coercion. 

Also commendable is Gaddafi’s defense of mothers and his view that they should spend more time with their children and less time doing meaningless labor in order to provide for them. Providing for your children means nothing if you can’t spend time with those very children as a result of you being tied up at work all the time. Related to that, I also thoroughly enjoyed Gaddafi’s thrashing of wealthy people who hire poor domestic servants to literally do their dirty work for them. Many of those domestic servants may have kids at home who would very much appreciate having them around. 

Additionally, Gaddafi’s advocacy of universal housing was nothing short of brilliant. Everyone deserves shelter, and Gaddafi understood that. In fact, he actually implemented this policy in Libya and it was quite successful. I also agree with him that all land should be owned by the community and distributed according to need. 

His simple, direct advocacy of the abolition of profits and wages is the correct strategy for explaining those policies to people. This allows for a less complicated conversation with others who may not be familiar with socialist or anarchist theory. Overcomplicating certain concepts can sometimes be a problem for socialist and anarchist discourse, but The Green Book offers a reasonable alternative to consider when explaining some of our ideas.

Finally, Gaddafi’s support for black people and feminism might not seem like a big deal to us today, but these were still fairly new and, dare I say, “radical” concepts in certain parts of the world in the mid-1970’s. However, Gaddafi obviously didn’t care if he offended anyone simply by calling for marginalized communities to be treated like human beings. That’s something he deserves an enormous amount of respect for.

The Bad

While there are many parts of The Green Book that are clearly anti-statist, Gaddafi never clearly outlines how he or “the people” are supposed to rid themselves of the state. Is it through revolutionary means? Nonviolent resistance? General strike? I’m genuinely not sure because nothing in the book addresses any coherent strategies for transitioning from a statist to a stateless society. 

Additionally, while Gaddafi voices support for socialism on a few occasions in the book, he also appears to support corporate media outlets and says they are entitled to freedom of the press like any other outlet. While this should be the case and government censorship should never be the answer to any problem, it’s not clear why Gaddafi randomly brings up the corporate press and effectively defends them.

Finally, the structure of society and governance upon which Gaddafi’s “Third Universal Theory” is based is very confusing to me and the one part of the book that does seem to be overly complicated and not very well thought-out. The “Popular Conference” idea is okay, but I don’t see a need to break the Conferences up into two separate groups and then have these groups elect an unaccountable group (“People’s Committee”) that meets at most a few times a year. To me, that sounds like a needlessly bureaucratic and hierarchical structure that is not unlike the structure of a state. Gaddafi makes no solid argument as to how this bureaucracy can be prevented. Essentially he makes a tautological “it’s a better structure because it is” argument. It isn’t better because all you’re doing is replacing one bureaucracy with another. In addition to the problem of bureaucracy, he doesn’t offer any clear direction on how workplaces should be structured. As noted above, he advocates for the abolition of wage labor, a mutalist style of compensation for labor and a decentralized workplace structure, but he doesn’t say anything about whether workplaces should be represented by workers’ councils or should be structured a la Mondragon, etc. 

The Ugly

The Green Book has many enjoyable moments. Even most of the parts I disagreed with were interesting and satisfying to read. Regardless, there were a few moments that made my jaw drop. First, Mr. Gaddafi makes several references to “natural law” and “human nature” throughout the text. This shocked me, because these terms are usually used by people with extremely conservative views, not necessarily by revolutionaries. It is possible for one to be somewhat socially conservative and have socialist economic views, but people with revolutionary views on economics also tend to be progressive on social issues. Putting aside that appeals to nature are logical fallacies, it is important to restate that Gaddafi did support black people and women, but he also makes derogatory and stereotypical remarks about both groups in this book. When discussing women, Gaddafi assures readers that women are naturally and inherently “gentle,” while males are inherently “strong and striving.” He goes on to rant about how society is trying to turn men into women and women into men.

This assertion could easily be found today on any far-right media site. Also like these sites, Gaddafi claims that specific gender roles and traits are actually liberating. This is truly misguided. There is nothing wrong with effeminate men or masculine women. There is nothing wrong with trans people. Traditional gender roles are an antiquated idea that should not be taken seriously anymore. 

Lastly, the way Gaddafi talks about black people is quite problematic. He is obviously very supportive of black liberation, and that is a noble position, but his attitude toward black people is condescending and dominated by racist stereotypes. He rightly acknowledges that black people around the world have been held back by systemic factors resulting from colonialism and exploitation, but he also blames black people for being too quick to get married, having too many children, and “being less obsessive about work” than other races because they live in a hot climate. In other words, Gaddafi is basically implying that black people are lazy and sexually promiscuous, which are incredibly harmful and counterproductive stereotypes used by the very colonialists he claims to be against. 

Overall Assessment

The Green Book, much like Muammar Gaddafi himself, is a mixed bag. It’s filled with good ideas, bad ideas, contradictions, logical fallacies, brilliant observations, incoherent solutions, and concrete policy goals. Overall, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anarchists and socialists, but it’s certainly not Mutual Aid, The Conquest of Bread, or What is Property?. These books weren’t perfect either, but they were certainly more coherent and, for the most part, less condescending and reliant on stereotypes. Gaddafi wasn’t the boogeyman Western governments made him out to be, but he was also not without his flaws, and The Green Book displays those flaws for all to see. Having said that, his political intelligence is also on display, as is his apparent understanding that everyone deserves to have their basic needs met and deserves to be treated with dignity, and that is admirable.  

To conclude, let me be absolutely clear: I am not a Gaddafi apologist and I do not endorse his criminal actions in any way, shape or form. While some of his policies were decent, it would have been better if he was more true to his word and left those decisions in the hands of his people rather than implementing state-directed policies through a centralized government. As I said in the beginning, Muammar Gaddafi should always be remembered as an authoritarian.

One of the points I was trying to make in reviewing this book is that some of the policies in it appear to be geared toward decentralization and democracy, yet Gaddafi hypocritically ignored his own theories and policy prescriptions. There is simply no excuse for that. I apologize if this wasn’t made clear earlier in the article.        

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