The Significance of the September 11th Events
“Every crisis”, observed Lenin, “casts off the conventional, tears away outer wrappings, sweeps away the obsolete and reveals the underlying springs and forces.”
In making this observation, Lenin had in mind the epoch of crisis for the nations of western Europe, and for the entire imperialist system, caused by the first world war. His observation applies with equal force to the crisis created by the events of 11 September in the US and the brutal war of aggression now being undertaken by Anglo-American imperialism, two of the world’s most powerful and rich marauders, against the poor, semi-starved people of Afghanistan, already suffering from the after-effects of nearly three decades of a proxy war waged against them by imperialism and its stooges in South Asia.
Just as the first world war, by revealing the vitality of the small nations oppressed by imperialism, refuted those who asserted that the energy of the small nations had been exhausted, that they could play no role against imperialism, and that therefore the support for their purely national aspirations was pointless, likewise the events of 11 September, and now the war, have served to underline the vast reservoir of vitality possessed by the nations oppressed by imperialism, and which is bound to play a most significant role in bringing about the downfall of imperialism on a world scale. Moreover, the first world war revealed not only the utter rottenness of imperialism but also of all that was rotten, putrid and decayed in the working-class movements of the imperialist countries, steeped as it had been through decades in opportunism (which easily assumed the form of social chauvinism during the war) thanks to imperialist superprofits which served as the economic basis for bribing the upper layers of the working class.
Likewise the present crisis is proving on an incomparably higher level the ripe rottenness of imperialism as well as the rottenness of what passes for the ‘left’ in the imperialist countries. We deal with the imperialist predatory war now being waged under the leadership of US imperialism elsewhere in this issue. Here we wish to refer in some detail to the reactions, in particular of those caling themselves ‘left’, ‘socialist’, and even ‘Marxist-Leninist’, to the events of 11 September, for they are of particular importance to the question of opportunism in the working-class movement in the imperialist countries. Without fighting against this opportunism, all talk about the struggle for proletarian power is a hollow sham.
It goes without saying, and it was to be expected, that US imperialism would react like a mad bull to the attacks on the bastions of its military (the Pentagon) and economic power (the World Trade Center – WTC). It was equally to be expected that other imperialist powers, as well as imperialist-stooge regimes, in particular the Gulf autocracies, would follow suit and condemn these attacks in ringing tones and endorse every act of brigandage and real terrorism by the US as an act of “legitimate self-defence”, allegedly against a “brutal attack” and a “monstrous injustice”. There is nothing strange in imperialism intensifying its aggression – an aggression that had being going on long before the attacks on the Pentagon and the WTC – on the pretext variously of the ‘war against international terrorism’, ‘the war of civilisation against barbarism’ and, ominously, ‘the crusade against terrorism’. What is truly monstrous is that parties and groups claiming to represent the interests of the proletariat should, as if unable to withstand imperialist pressure and swim against the tide of a public opinion so carefully and craftily created and nurtured by the colossal power of the lying imperialist mass propaganda machine, be nudged into unreservedly condemning the attacks on the Pentagon and the WTC in terms indistinguishable from those used by imperialist organs and statesmen alike. Those guilty of this sinful conduct are not confined to the usual fraternity of counter-revolutionary Trots and revisionist renegades, who can always be expected to follow in the wake of imperialism and social democracy, but sadly are also to be found amongst some of the best contingents of the proletarian movement in the imperialist countries.
By way of an illustration, we shall take the resolution presented, and passed by a narrow majority of two, at the recently-held Congress in Toronto of the International Council for Friendship and Solidarity with the Soviet People. Entitled ‘On the Terrorist Attacks and the Preparation of War’, the very first paragraph of this resolution exposes in a nutshell the opportunism and the monstrously doctrinaire opinion of those who supported it, albeit in a somewhat amended form. In its original formulation, the first paragraph read as follows:
“The International Council for Friendship and Solidarity with Soviet People condemns, without reservation, the September 11th ‘terror bombing’ in New York City and Washington. This action cannot be described as other than a monstrous assault of a mindless and savage character and purpose that has destroyed many thousands of human beings. No human, political, economic or other positive nature has been served. We join with the millions, who are mourning, in extending our deepest condolences to the bereaved and in extending our salutes to those who have innocently lost their lives.”
Then follow eight paragraphs citing some of the crimes committed by imperialism, especially US imperialism, and a final (tenth) paragraph which calls upon peace-loving forces in the world to organise protest and resistance against “the preparation of war by US imperialism” and defend democratic rights and assist the “justified liberation struggles of the people”. In the light of the contents of the first paragraph, the rest of the resolution became the meaningless moaning and grumbling of a parson. When this resolution came up for discussion, a delegate from Britain, representing the anti-imperialist bi-monthly Lalkar, objected to the inclusion of this paragraph and proposed that the first paragraph be deleted in its entirety and replaced by the following amendment:
“The International Council for Friendship and Solidarity with Soviet People extends its deepest sympathy and condolences to the bereaved families whose loved ones died consequent upon the attack on the World Trade Center and other attacks on 11 September 2001. However, this Congress firmly believes that the blame for this tragedy lies solely at the doorstep of US imperialism which for so long has terrorised the peoples of the world in an attempt to maintain its own hegemony and in an attempt to maintain the continued existence of decadent, parasitic and moribund capitalism. It is to be hoped that these events will serve to become the starting point for the proletariat in the imperialist countries, particularly in the US, to start a vigorous campaign against imperialist aggression and brigandage of their own ruling classes and the policies of their own governments. It is to be hoped that those who profess to be the vanguard of the proletariat in the centres of imperialism will rise to the occasion and provide leadership in building precisely such an anti-imperialist movement, for in the absence of such a powerful movement, imperialism will always feel bold enough to perpetrate aggression abroad and suppression at home.”
In support of this amendment, the representative of Lalkar put forward arguments along the following lines : the terms in which the first paragraph characterised the attacks of 11 September were no different from those used by the US state department and media giants such as CNN. It is to be hoped that such an ‘accidental’ coincidence of opinion between the organs of imperialism and those who claim to be Marxist-Leninists cannot in the long run fail to open the eyes of even those who supported the formulations of the opening paragraph.
Marxism is by no means opposed to the use of violence and terror in principle – just the contrary. In the words of Lenin, “terror is one of the forms of military action that may be perfectly suitable and even essential at a definite juncture in the battle, given a definite state of the troops and the existence of definite conditions”.
To the extent that Marxism disapproves of terrorism, it does so only to the extent that terrorism is used “…as an independent form of occasional attack” unrelated to the struggle of the working class and the mass movement, merely an artificial excitant for the purpose of exciting the working-class movement. Without denying the significance of “heroic individual blows”, Marxism warns against “becoming infatuated with terror, against taking it to be the chief and basic means of struggle,” emphasising that terror “can never be a regular military operation”; that at best it can only serve as one of the methods. In other words, while recognising the use of terror as one of the legitimate methods of struggle, to be used in specific circumstances and in no wise as a substitute for building a powerful mass movement, Marxism is opposed to the theory of “single combat”, which substitutes these acts for the building of a mass party leading the masses in their tens of millions (see Lenin’s pamphlet What is to be done? and his articles ‘Where to begin?’ and ‘Revolutionary adventurism’, written in 1901 and 1902). In any case, the expression ‘terrorism’ in its pejorative sense may be used only when the action has failed to reveal anything other than a bunch of wildly insane conspirators, whose actions have evoked no sympathy among the masses. Given the conditions in the US, the parlously backward state of class struggle in that country, the lack of a powerful political party of the working class with close ties to the working class, if the 11 September attacks on the Pentagon and the WTC had been undertaken by a dozen or so Americans, these events could with justification have been denounced as acts of terrorism. The perpetrators of such actions would have aroused no sympathy among the masses in either the US or elsewhere, and would have revealed themselves as a group of violently insane persons. The actions of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber, come to one’s mind immediately.
That, however, is not the case when we examine the events of 11 September. Although no one can as yet name with certainty the organisation to which the people who flew the planes into the Pentagon and the WTC belonged, it is certain that they were Arabs of Middle Eastern origin – most of them hailing from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two of America’s staunchest allies, not to say stooges, in that part of the world. They were incensed, as are millions of others in the Middle East and elsewhere, and rightly so, by the banditry and violence, the looting of their mineral wealth, which brings fabulous riches to a handful of giant imperialist oil companies (the Seven Sisters – now reduced to five through mega-mergers and acquisitions) and the medieval crowned brigands of the Gulf, while leaving the masses of the Middle East to eke out a miserable existence in conditions of dire poverty, homelessness, disease and malnutrition, not to speak of daily violence to which imperialism subjects them, directly through war and indirectly through sanctions, embargoes and blood-thirsty regimes which it instals to control the unruly people. Imperialism has so carved up the Middle East that, by and large, countries which have large populations have no oil deposits; and those countries which sit on huge oil reserves have very small populations and are thus easily manipulatable by the big imperialist powers. On top of all this there are the daily carnage committed by the Zionist settler regime against the subjugated and occupied Palestinian people, and the periodic wars of aggression waged by Israel against her Arab neighbours.
The Israeli atrocities have the full military, diplomatic political and material support of imperialism, in particular of US imperialism. While the Gulf War ended a whole decade ago, Iraq continues to be subjected to bombardment on an almost daily basis and its people continue to be denied, through the infamous sanctions regime, access to food, medicine and spare parts for repairing its damaged power stations, water facilities and other infrastructure. As a result, 1.5 million innocent Iraqi men, women and children have died. With unprecedented shamelessness and a total disregard for human life, US imperialism, through a former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, has gone on record to say that the price exacted by sanctions through the loss of so many Iraqi lives is “worth paying”. It ill behoves people such as these, who are so bereft of any decent human feelings, to now decry the attacks of 11 September.
US imperialism is forever crossings its own national frontiers to wage wars of aggression against other peoples, who are too weak to answer in kind. There is not a country, not a single air force in the world, powerful enough to bomb the US with impunity, whatever the latter’s crimes. But US imperialism does precisely that – it bombs countries at will. Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan are some of the important, but not the only, examples of the victims of US imperialist bombardment.
History furnishes enough proof that the victims have a way of resisting and hitting back, no matter how weak and notwithstanding the inferiority of their weapons. In ancient China, the Chinese emperors, fearful of the wrath of their own people, forbade the carrying of weapons by ordinary people. The latter developed various forms of unarmed combat and martial arts. In our own times, the weak peoples have developed the art of asymmetric warfare, by which they use to good effect the latest imperialist technology against imperialism. The deliberate crashing of an aeroplane loaded with tons of highly inflammable material that turned it into a powerful bomb is just one example of this kind of warfare.
The whole of the Middle East is going through a thoroughgoing national revolutionary democratic revolution against aggression and exploitation and suppression by imperialism and its stooge regimes – ranging from Israel to the medieval Gulf autocracies, which should have been consigned to the museum of antiquities a long while ago, but which continue to survive thanks to the protection afforded them by imperialism for the sake of its selfish aims.
“And a more striking example of this decay of the entire European bourgeoisie can scarcely be cited than the support it is lending to reaction in Asia for the sake of the selfish aims of the financial manipulators and capitalist swindlers” (V I Lenin, Backward Europe and Advanced Asia, May 1913).
These words of Lenin’s, uttered nearly nine decades ago, sadly continue to be true today, revealing the extreme decadence of the imperialist bourgeoisie not only of Europe but also of Japan and the US, particularly of the US, which continues to lend support to reaction all over the world in the interests of its financial manipulators and capitalist swindlers. In lending this support, by its aggression and robbery, by its insatiable greed, by its insensate activity, and by its alliance with reaction, imperialism is rousing millions of slaves in the oppressed nations to anti-imperialist struggle, and it is rousing tens of thousands from among these slaves to acts of supreme sacrifice and heroism.
“Terrorism”, writes Mr Richard Ingrams in the Observer of 16 September 2001, “is not some kind of mysterious virus that attacks us at random from outer space.
“The Irish situation is not all that different from the Middle East in that terrorism has been a direct outcome of the political injustice and lines drawn arbitrarily on maps many years ago. The IRA could never be defeated because there were so many people in Ireland who, while they might disapprove of its methods, sympathised with its political aims.
“It is also worth remembering that there were those who were prepared to martyr themselves for the cause. Even today, there are pictures of Bobby Sands on the walls of Irish pubs and in the offices of Sinn Fein. Yet Mrs Thatcher seemed not to understand the enormous significance of his sacrifice.
“Blair, one might have hoped, would by now know something about the power of martyrdom. If not, at least his Catholic wife could remind him of Tertullian’s famous maxim: ‘The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church'”.
Those who flew the planes into the Pentagon and the twin towers of the WTC, far from being terrorists pure and simple, whom every educated philistine and stupid yokel from the imperialist countries denounces without much thought, were actually some of the most heroic and self-sacrificing representatives of the national liberation movement of the Arab peoples. Their actions were a continuation, and an extension, of the vibrant national liberation struggle of the Arab peoples. These actions were greeted with limitless jubilation by the masses, not only in the Middle East but also in the vast continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America, notwithstanding the contrary condemnatory statements of the heads of state and governments in these countries who dare not speak the truth for fear of provoking retaliation from the almighty, and yet so vulnerable, US imperialism. As a result, far from revealing themselves as a tiny clique of conspirators or senseless maniacs, whose actions aroused no sympathy among the masses, they have shown themselves to be the ardent champions of national liberation and irreconcilable enemies of imperialist plunder and oppression, whose actions are an inspiration to tens of millions of people in the Middle East and beyond, who are already actively participating in their respective countries in the movements aimed at expelling imperialism and removing its stooges.
Where, and in which Marxist text, is it written that while imperialism may unleash its fire power and tyranny on the oppressed people across international frontiers, the oppressed people are forbidden to cross national boundaries and hit back? Where, and in which Marxist text, is it laid down that the unleashing of cruise missiles and carrying out bombardment with warplanes is not an act of terrorism, but it becomes so the minute some unconventional means of delivery are used? If the United States were to launch an aerial attack on, for example, Russia and the latter were to retaliate in kind, no one in their senses would characterise such Russian retaliation as a “monstrous assault of a mindless and savage character”. And yet this is how the actions of 11 September are being characterised even by those who call themselves socialists and communists, for no other reason, it would appear, than that those who committed them were not in a position to command a conventional air force.
Those who, especially on the left, have condemned “without reservation” the “terror bombing” in New York and Washington, have a duty to ask, and answer, the following not all that hypothetical question: if during the Second World War a group of partisans from an occupied country, such as Czechoslovakia, Belgium or France, had managed to reach Berlin and blow up the Nazi military headquarters and the financial district of Berlin, would anyone among the population in the allied countries, unless such a person harboured sympathies for Nazism, have condemned such an attack even if it resulted in loss of lives on the scale resulting from the September 11 attacks? It is most unlikely. On the contrary, such an action would have been applauded, as would have been the self-sacrificing heroism of those who perished in the process of carrying it out. Why, then, are different standards being applied to judge the events of September 2001?
The “unreserved” condemnation by the left of those who carried out the acts of 11 September reminds us of the condemnation at the time of the Irish rebellion of Easter 1916 as a mere ‘putsch’, not only by the imperialist bourgeoisie but also by most of the working-class parties of Europe. The sole honour of defending the Easter Uprising belonged to V I Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Lenin derided those who condemned the Easter Uprising as nothing but a ‘putsch’, calling them the upholders of a “monstrously doctrinaire and pedantic opinion”.
“The term ‘putsch'”, said Lenin, “in its scientific sense, may be employed when the attempt at insurrection has revealed nothing but a circle of conspirators or stupid maniacs, and has aroused no sympathy among the masses.” This, he said, was not the case insofar as the Irish rebellion was concerned, for the centuries-old Irish national liberation movement, “having passed through various stages and combinations of class interests, expressed itself, among other things, in a mass Irish National Congress in America, which called for Irish independence; it also expressed itself in street fighting conducted by a section of the urban petty bourgeoisie and a section of the workers after a long period of mass agitation, demonstrations, suppression of papers, etc. Whoever calls such a rebellion a ‘putsch’ is either a hardened reactionary, or a doctrinaire who is hopelessly incapable of envisaging a social revolution as a living phenomenon” (Lenin, Discussion on Self-Determination Summed up, Collected Works, Vol. 22).
One can say, without in the least disparaging the strength and vitality of the Irish liberation movement of 1916, that the anti-imperialist national movement in the Arab lands has developed to an incomparably higher level. It does not merely express itself in mass congresses abroad (which, needless to say, it also does) or in demonstrations and street fighting; it expresses itself in a veritable armed struggle against imperialism and its stooges. The armed struggle of the Palestinian people and Lebanese people against Zionism, the armed attacks on US bases in Saudi Arabia (Dahran 1996) and on the US destroyer SS Cole in Aden harbour on 12 October 2000, are just the most significant examples of a much wider movement stretching across the entire Middle East. Those responsible for the events of 11 September were inseparably connected with, and an extension of, this powerful national movement of the Arab peoples, which is shaking the very foundations of imperialism. That is precisely why the actions of 11 September aroused great sympathy among the masses of the Middle East (and not of the Middle East alone), who greeted them with joy – not because they like the loss of life, nor because they do not share the suffering of the bereaved families whose loved ones died. Far from it, as the chief victims of imperialist aggression and brigandage, they know only too well the pain and suffering consequent upon the loss of one’s near and dear, which with them is a daily occurrence. No, they greeted with jubilation the 11 September attacks because through these attacks, the weak, the meek and the wretched of the earth had struck back at US imperialism, which has for nearly a century acted in the capacity of a counter-revolutionary gendarme and executioner of freedom all over the world. The spectacle of the burning Pentagon, from where US imperialism daily plans its aggression against other peoples, the sight of the crumbling twin towers of the WTC, from where imperialist financial manipulators and capitalist swindlers pan their robbery of the working class and the oppressed people, which results in the deaths of 13 million children a year through starvation (one child every 2 seconds), must have appeared like a godsend and manna from heaven.
Let it be said in passing that “The twin 110-floor towers of New York’s World Trade Center loomed over New York’s financial district as icons of the power of American capitalism”. They housed the offices of some of the biggest monopoly capitalist corporations:
“The largest tenant in the complex was Morgan Stanley, the investment bank, which occupied 50 floors, mostly with its brokerage operations. Other tenants included the Thomson Corporation, the publishing group, Cantor Fitzgerald, the brokerage firm, AFX news, the financial news wire, Bank of America, Credit Suisse First Boston and Deutsche Bank” (Financial Times, 12 September 2001).
Contrary to the assertions of the ‘left’, overwhelmingly “the hapless victims of the attack were bankers, stockbrokers and management consultants” (Observer, 30 September 2001).
In defending the Easter Uprising in Ireland, Lenin made this penetrating observation:
“A blow delivered against the power of the English imperialist bourgeoisie by a rebellion in Ireland is a hundred times more significant politically than a blow of equal force delivered in Asia or in Africa” (ibid). Besides humbling US power, through reducing to rubble the icons of US military and economic power and throwing into complete disarray the entire functioning of the US state machinery for a couple of days, they bring home to the masses in the US the truth that their security is indivisible from the security of the oppressed peoples, constituting three-quarters of humanity; that US imperialism, for all its might, its military expenditure of more than $300 billion a year, with its plans to build a National Missile Defence so as to make itself invulnerable, remains highly vulnerable and cannot defend its population; that its gargantuan military might exists for no other purpose than to defend US finance capital – the geniuses of financial manipulation and suchlike swindlers – through the suppression, if need be, of the working class at home and of the oppressed people abroad. There are signs, if small, that the American people have been jolted into thinking of the linkages between their security and that of peoples oppressed, occupied, exploited and humiliated by their own ruling class. It is a measure of the shameful bankruptcy of the ‘left’ in all the imperialist countries, of its superstitious reverence for bourgeois prejudices, which in some cases boil down to the mercenary defence of imperialism, that it cannot see these events in this light and feels compelled mindlessly to condemn the actions of 11 September unreservedly.
The reason for this is not so very difficult to figure out. Imperialism long ago engendered a split in the working class – on the one hand the majority of the proletariat, on the other a significant minority of the working class, the privileged upper stratum, who get along quite well under the conditions of capitalism, the size of whose incomes, whose outlook, mode of life and aspirations resemble those of the petty bourgeoisie. Whereas formerly this upper stratum, the labour aristocracy, was composed of skilled craft workers, today it is made up largely of skilled white-collar workers, administrators, labour and trade-union functionaries, and those in supervisory and managerial functions. This labour aristocracy is imbued with a spirit of total contempt for the poor, the deprived and the destitute at home and abroad. And this, for the sole reason that such destitution is a necessary precondition for the maintenance of its privileged and parasitic existence, which explains its philistinism, its subservience, and its sycophancy in the service of the imperialist bourgeoisie. The chief function of this bribed stratum is to act as the watchdogs of capitalism and the purveyors of bourgeois corruption in the working-class movement. It is this section, which is in the leadership of the working class, through the trade unions and social democracy – at least in all the European imperialist countries. Unless a merciless struggle is waged against this privileged, bribed, stratum, all talk about the struggle against imperialism is meaningless. It is the task of those who wish to build a truly revolutionary working-class movement for the overthrow of capitalism to explain to the masses the inevitability and necessity of breaking with this opportunist stratum. It is precisely the fact that this opportunist stratum has for so long enjoyed ascendancy in the working-class movement which explains the utter depths of degradation to which the latter has sunk. On every major national and international question, this opportunist stratum is to be found on the side of imperialism. And this for the reason that the privileged position of this stratum cannot be maintained without the continued flow of imperialist superprofits. Precisely for this reason, every defeat, every humiliation of imperialism, helps to bring nearer the day when it will be possible to free the working-class movement from the suffocating embrace of this privileged opportunist stratum and wage a serious struggle against capitalism in the centres of imperialism. In this regard, as in many others, the events of 11 September will prove to be a watershed even if the initial reactions of the masses are not so promising. Imperialist humiliation and defeats will help to strengthen the revolutionary movement in the US and on the continent of Europe just as the defeats suffered by tsarism in the Russo-Japanese war and during the first world war brought in their train the 1905 and the 1917 revolutions respectively.
Imperialism and its puppet regimes have little hesitation in crossing international frontiers and waging wars of aggression without the slightest regard for human suffering or rules of international law. In doing so, they are teaching their victims a valuable lesson and tempting them to hit back. Those connected with the events of 11 September are by no means the first to do that. The Irish national liberation fighters turned the tables on British imperialism by bringing the fight to the mainland. The serious material damage caused to the City through bombing forced even the Conservative government to negotiate with Sinn Fein. Palestinian fighters have taken the battle to Israel, and by doing so are compelling the Israeli population to realise that it can never live in peace and security as long as the Palestinian people have no peace and security in a state of their own with east Jerusalem as its capital and the right of return for those expelled from their homes at gunpoint in 1948 recognised. Surely the ‘left’ are not going to condemn “unreservedly” the Irish nationalists and Palestinian national liberation fighters as ‘terrorists’, guilty of assaults of a “mindless and savage character”!
To the shame of the ‘left’, even a bourgeois journalist, albeit an enlightened and liberal one, has done better in explaining the events of 11 September by relating them to “the social conditions” out of which they sprang. Writing in the Guardian of 13 September, Seumas Milne says, inter alia, that from the US president to the ordinary people on the streets, it appears that the suicide attacks of 11 September were “…an inexplicable assault on freedom and democracy, which must be answered with overwhelming force”. He continues:
“Shock, rage and grief there has been aplenty. But any glimmer of recognition of why people might have been driven to carry out such atrocities, sacrificing their own lives in the process – or why the United States is hated with such bitterness, not only in Arab and Muslim countries, but across the developing world – seems almost entirely absent. Perhaps it is too much to hope that, as rescue workers struggle to pull firefighters from the rubble, any but a small minority might make the connection between what has been visited upon them and what their government has visited upon large parts of the world.
“But make that connection they must, if such tragedies are not to be repeated, potentially with even more devastating consequences.”
“Since George Bush’s father inaugurated his new world order a decade ago, the US, supported by its British ally, bestrides the world like a colossus. Unconstrained by any superpower rival or system of global governance, the US giant has rewritten the global financial and trading system in its own interest; ripped up a string of treaties it finds inconvenient; sent troops to every corner of the globe; bombed Afghanistan, Sudan, Yugoslavia and Iraq without troubling the United Nations; maintained a string of murderous embargoes against recalcitrant regimes; and recklessly thrown its weight behind Israel’s 34-year illegal military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the Palestinian intifada rages.
“If, as yesterday’s Wall Street Journal insisted, the east coast carnage was the fruit of the Clinton administration’s Munich like appeasement of the Palestinians, the mind boggles as to what US Republicans imagine to be a Churchillian response. “It is this record of unabashed national egotism and arrogance that drives anti-Americanism among swaths of the world’s population, for whom there is little democracy in the current distribution of global wealth and power. If it turns out that Tuesday’s attacks were the work of Osama bin Laden’s supporters, the sense that the Americans are once again reaping a dragons’ teeth harvest they themselves sowed will be overwhelming.
“It was the Americans, after all, who poured resources into the 1980s war against the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul, at a time when girls could go to school and women to work. Bin Laden and his mojahedin were armed and trained by the CIA and MI6, as Afghanistan was turned into a wasteland and its communist leader Najibullah left hanging from a Kabul lamp post with his genitals stuffed in his mouth.
“But by then Bin Laden had turned against his American sponsors, while US-sponsored Pakistani intelligence had spawned the grotesque Taliban now protecting him. To punish its wayward Afghan offspring, the US subsequently forced through a sanctions regime which has helped push 4m to the brink of starvation, according to the latest UN figures, while Afghan refugees fan out across the world”.
Mr Milne concludes:
“Already, the Bush administration is assembling an international coalition for an Israeli-style war against terrorism, as if such counter-productive acts of outrage [being a respectable bourgeois journalist, he cannot resist the temptation of characterising the acts of 11 September as ‘counterproductive acts of outrage, but then, unlike our ‘left’, he does not claim to represent the working class] had an existence separate from the social conditions out of which they arise. But for every ‘terror network’ that is rooted out, another will emerge – until the injustices and inequalities that produce them are addressed” (‘They can’t see whey they are hated’).
Those who claim that no human, political, economic or any other purpose of a positive nature has been served by the 11 September attack ought to look at the following results:
First, the attack has irrevocably dented the prestige and power of US imperialism and smashed the notion of its invulnerability. For all its military expenditure and the plans to build a National Missile Defence (NMD), the US can do nothing to protect itself against the majority of humanity whose lives it makes hell on earth. The Financial Times, the most authoritative spokesman of British finance capital, wrote about the “icons of US capitalism” falling at the hands of its foes, saying that it was hard to imagine the US being the same again after the co-ordinated attacks “against the most potent symbols of America’s economic and military power”, for they were “likely to end forever the notion that the US can live in secure isolation”. Instead the attacks were “likely to reinforce the contrary truth … The twin towers of the World Trade Center seemed as if they would last for ever; the symbolism of their disappearance from the New York skyline will not be lost on anyone, at home or abroad.”
Continues the Financial Times:
“And what price now the administration’s obsession with national missile defence? Joseph Biden, Democratic chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, voiced misgivings on Monday in a speech at the National Press Club. The missile defence system George Bush wishes to build could, he estimated, cost $500bn (£345bn) – and still only be 90-per cent effective against ballistic missile attack.
“‘We will have diverted all that money to address the least likely threat while the real threats come into the country in the hold of a ship, or the belly of a plane or are smuggled into a city in the middle of the night in a vial in a backpack,’ he said” (Stephen Fidler, ‘America’s agony’, Financial Times, 12 September 2001).
The proof of the correctness of Senator Biden’s statement was not long in coming. It is doubtful that US imperialism will ever recover from the blow delivered by the 11 September attack to its prestige, arrogance, smugness and confidence. The attacks have forced imperialist organs and statesmen alike to review their policy towards the Middle East. In its editorial of 12 September, the Financial Times says that “Mr Bush should review his policy towards the Middle East”, for his administration’s “tolerance of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s hard line has encouraged extremists across the region.”
Douglas Hurd, a former Conservative Foreign Secretary, bemoans the fact that Anglo-American imperialism has failed to bring the Iraqi regime to heel. And this for the reason that no group of Arab regimes can any longer be mobilised against Iraq in view of US imperialism’s backing for the brutal Israeli treatment of the occupied Palestinian people. He says:
“As ever, the linkages are unavoidable. So long as Israel bases her own security on maintaining illegal settlements in the West Bank and Gaza – and displays the often brutal characteristics of an occupying power – young Palestinians will become suicide bombers and the US will be unable to mobilise effective Arab support against Mr Saddam” (‘A new code of conduct’, Financial Times, 8 October 2001).
“We support the concept of a Palestinian state”, says Britain’s prime minister, Tony Blair, adding “I have discussed this with President Bush and both of us are seized of the need to push it forward” (see Financial Times, 12 October 2001).
Writing in the Observer of 16 September, risking the charge of being dubbed an anti-Semite, Mr Richard Ingrams expressed himself in the following candid and courageous terms:
“The mountain of words and pictures last week mirrored the piles of rubble in New York. Like the rescue workers there, one waded in trying to find something that was alive, that would illuminate and explain what had happened.
“Noticeable was the reluctance throughout the media to contemplate the Israeli factor – the undeniable and central fact behind the disaster that Israel is now and has been for some time an American colony, sustained by billions of American dollars and armed with American missiles, helicopters and tanks.
“Such has been the pressure from the Israeli lobby in this country that many, even normally outspoken journalists, are reluctant even to refer to such matters. Nor would you find anywhere in last week’s coverage, any reference whatever to things I have mentioned here in recent issues of ‘The Observer’: the fact, for example, that Mr Blair’s adviser on the Middle East is an unelected, unknown Jewish businessman, Lord Levy, now installed in the Foreign Office; the fact that this same Lord Levy is the chief fundraiser for the Labour Party; unmentioned also would be the close business links with Israel of two of our most powerful press magnates, Rupert Murdoch and the newly ennobled owner of the ‘Telegraph’ newspapers, Lord Conrad Black.
“When Mr Blair, supported by these gentlemen’s papers, pledges his support for Mr Bush as he prepares for war with an as yet unidentified enemy, we ought to be prepared at least to incur the charge of anti-Semitism by giving these matters an airing before the balloon goes up.”
In other words, those who do not want ‘terror’ attacks in the US and Europe must get rid of the terror practised by the American colony – Israel – on the Palestinian people.
George Bush, who only yesterday wanted to keep aloof from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (a clear signal to the Sharon government to use limitless force to suppress the Intifida), has suddenly been seized by an urge explicitly to support the creation of a Palestinian state, saying that a Palestinian state had always been part of his vision.
The leading imperialist spokesmen had to make an about-turn because all their attempts to de-link the conflict in Palestine and the continued bombardment of, and sanctions against, Iraq from what they dub their “crusade against global terrorism” have failed utterly, for “in popular perception across the Middle East, the two issues cannot be separated”. Without such a linkage, imperialism cannot hope to get the support of even the most servile Arab regimes.
Even the most respectable commentators in the most prestigious bourgeois publications openly admit that “America is not winning the propaganda war”, that Bush and Blair’s rhetoric is not having any effect on the Arab masses, that sultans and kings may be “cajoled in condemning al-Qaeda”, but it is “a lot harder to convince their subjects” (Philip Stephens, Financial Times, 12 October 2001).
The fact is that when Bin Laden says that “what the US has tasted [on 11 September] is a little bit of what we have been tasting for 80 years, with our people killed, our holy sites attacked”, that the “US and its people cannot dream of living in peace until we have our peace”, that “America must know that the battle will not leave its land … until America leaves our land, until it stops supporting Israel, until it stops the blockade against Iraq”, it strikes a chord among the Arab masses.
When Bin Laden rightly points an accusing finger at the Arab regimes for doing nothing in support of the Palestinian cause, saying “when tanks are on the door of Palestinian towns of Jenin, Ramallah, Refah, we don’t hear anyone raising his voice”, his message resonates among the Arab masses and send a shiver down the spines of the medieval kings, sultans, sheikhs and emirs who rule their people with an iron rod and by the grace of Uncle Sam. (Bin Laden’s remarks quoted above are from his pre-recorded message played on Qatar’s al-Jazeera satellite television channel and reproduced in the Financial Times of 8 and 10 October).
The demands that imperialism remove its troops from the Gulf, that it stop supporting Zionist settler colonialism, that it stop terrorising the Palestinian, Iraqi and other peoples, are just demands, notwithstanding the religious terminology in which they are expressed.
By focussing attention on the burning issues of the Middle East, such as the plight of the Palestinian and Iraqi people and the occupation of the Gulf by imperialism, the September 11 events will help to question and undermine the legitimacy of several reactionary Arab regimes, particularly those of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf statelets, and thus undermine imperialism’s stranglehold of the Middle East and its mineral wealth.
The war waged by US-led imperialism, on the pretext of fighting against ‘international terrorism’, is only too likely to bog it down in unwinnable wars, which in turn will provoke further appropriate responses from the victims of imperialist terror. In addition, as US imperialism widens its war aims, as it is only too likely to do, beyond Afghanistan, it will run the risk of fracturing the fragile coalition it has been trying so hard to build. In the event of that happening, not only will the Arab regimes – even the most reactionary ones – desert it, so also will its imperialist partners with the sole exception perhaps of its lackey-in-chief, British imperialism.
Next, 11 September has done tremendous damage to the world imperialist economy, which even before that fateful day was teetering on the brink of a recession. The US economy has hardly experienced any growth this year; Japan is in recession for the fourth time in the course of a single decade. With the exception of China, east Asia has been devastated by the slowdown of the US economy, especially by the collapse of the new (high-tech) economy. The Eurozone economies are approaching stagnation. Stock markets are tumbling and unemployment is climbing up (in August it rose to 4.9% of the workforce). In the same month (August), consumer confidence fell to an eight-year low. The events of 11 September are likely to prove the proverbial straw that broke the back of the camel. No wonder, then, that Mr Martin Wolf, writing in the Financial Times of 17 September, should complain in these terms:
“In its timing and targeting, as in its organisation, this act [of 11 September] was a product of evil genius”, for the world economy, which was already hovering on the edge of a recession, is only too likely to be tipped into it, as is shown by the collapse of air travel and tourism with its multiplier effect on the rest of the economy. Mr Wolf, like all the bourgeois economic pundits and political sages, advances by way of a solution a further increase in liquidity to bolster consumer confidence and investment, which, in any economy already suffering under the hammer blows of one of those recurrent crises of overproduction, characteristic of capitalism, will cause more problems than bring solutions in the long run.
In addition, Mr Wolf advises that all attempts be made to prevent default by a major institution or country and to “sustain confidence in internationally integrated economies and open society [i.e., imperialism, or ‘globalisation’ if it pleases our imperialist ideologues], which the terrorists wish to destroy” (Financial Times, 17 September 2001, ‘Guardians of the Home Front’).
It was a tall order anyway. But after 11 September it has become harder still, for the attack of 11 September has delivered a powerful blow to the globalisation that the WTC so powerfully symbolised. In its aftermath there is likely to be a flight from risky assets, with the US no longer the world’s safest place to invest in. This in turn will drive down the US equity markets further still and plunge the US economy, and with it the rest of the world capitalist economy, into an almighty mother of all recessions.
“Which corporation is now going to invest”, says Norman Mailer, “trillions in something that can be destroyed by terrorism? So globalisation takes a blow. Star Wars takes a blow. Those are the two ironies I can withdraw from this with some feeling that it has not been a total disaster.”
Following 11 September, the New York Stock Exchange was closed for nearly a week – something which has not happened for close to seven decades. And when it did open on Monday 16 September, the Dow Jones index slid 7%. In the week following 11 September, the already beleaguered Tokyo stock exchange fell 4.8%, London 6.2%, Paris 11.4% and Frankfurt 12.3%.
“The full extent of the US recession will become apparent only in the next weeks and months, but it does not take a Cassandra to predict that the economic effects of the attacks will be bad. Take just one fact: the US stock market was closed for the best part of a week in markets-mad America, where ordinary investors buy stocks and shares in the way we British buy bread and milk, that means $400 billion worth of business was lost while the markets were closed – roughly equivalent to the gross domestic product of Russia.
“Add in the psychological effects of losing many of the best and brightest young stockbrokers and analysis, and the destruction of the centre of American capitalism, and the portents are not good”.
Thus wrote Frank Kane, the business editor of the Observer in the 16 September issue of his paper.
“So many of the assumptions”, wrote Mr Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer of 30 September, “that free marketeers thought they had embedded into politics lie buried under the still-smouldering rubble at Ground Zero.” Before 11 September, he says, regulation was bad for business. And that which was bad for business could not be done. But after September, “who would dare complain if the price of safer travel is slower and more expnensively regulated travel?” The same airlines which resisted regulation as a threat to their profit margins are now demanding – and receiving – massive injections of state funds to avert bankruptcy.
Undoubtedly, imperialist politicians and economists alike would throw either the entire blame for the recession now staring the capitalist world in the face on the events of 11 September, or at the very least, to use the words of the hapless Ms Jo Moore, one of Labour’s spin doctors, use those events to “bury the bad news” about massive redundancies which are being announced but which were already underway. All the same, it cannot be denied that these events have given a helping hand and accelerated the march of the capitalist economy into the ditch of recession.
Lastly, the US intelligence services, with an annual budget of $30 billion (of which $12 billion is devoted to ‘counter-terrorism’) and global panoply of operatives and networks of agents and informers, a formidable apparatus of surveillance backed by the latest technology, have been left with egg on their faces.
All “…the extravagantly funded secret policemen in the intelligence services and bluff analysers of clear-and-present danger in the West’s terrorism and foreign policy institutes” have been left gasping for breath by the audacity of the hijackers, who cocked a snook at the financial and military élites of what, after all, is the world’s mightiest imperialist power, as if to say: “We have nothing, you have everything”, but “we can still take your technology and blow back in your faces” (Nick Cohen, the Observer, 16 September, 2001). And blow back they did!
To conclude, in their scale and in their devastating effects, in the timing and manner of their execution, in the symbolism of the objects of their destruction and the fear they struck into the heart of the US imperialist establishment, the sheer audacity, courage and planning of those who carried them out, the sympathy they aroused among the vast masses of humanity in the Middle East and beyond, the attacks of 11 September on the Pentagon and the WTC will stand as an eloquent monument to the limitless capacity of all progressive humanity in the latter’s struggle against all oppression (including national oppression) and for freedom, national liberation, socialism and communism. Their effects will reverberate for a very long time. The effect of the images of a smouldering Pentagon and the collapsing WTC twin towers, symbolising as they did US imperialism’s military and economic power, on the psyche of the imperialist oppressors and their victims alike, is hard to exaggerate. The world will never be the same again. When these arguments were put, those defending the first paragraph of the Resolution put forward hardly any argument other than to say that so many parties and governments the world over had condemned these attacks. Apart from the needs of statecraft, which might have impelled some socialist regimes to condemn the 11 September attacks, the fact remains the majority is not always the upholder of truth. One only needs to remember Galileo almost single-handedly asserting, against the mighty Church and common humanity, that the earth moves around the sun rather than the other way round.
Having defeated by a narrow margin the amendment moved by Lalkar’s representative, the supporters of Paragraph 1, as if struck by a guilty conscience, moved their own amendment to the same paragraph, under which the word ‘terror’, as also the reference to Washington in the first sentence, were removed. The second sentence was deleted completely. The final version of Paragraph 1, which received the support of the majority, reads like this:
“The International Council for Friendship and Solidarity with Soviet People condemns, without reservation, September 11th attack in New York City. No human, political, economic or other positive nature has been served. We join with millions, who are mourning, in extending our deepest condolences to the bereaved and extending our salutes to those who have innocently lost their lives.”
Notwithstanding the fact that this version is a slight improvement on the original, the Congress nevertheless passed a bad resolution. The sooner it is realised, the better for the proletarian movement in the centres of imperialism.
 In view of the limited time available during the debate on this resolution, only the gist of this article was presented to the delegates by the representative of Lalkar.