The terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC on September 11 were a horrific tragedy. To those who lost loved ones and friends and to all of those injured, Socialist Alternative sends our deepest sympathies and condolences. Socialists absolutely oppose and condemn this brutal terrorist outrage and the slaughter of thousands of innocent people. The victims were mainly workers – secretaries, firefighters, waiters, and janitors – of all races, nationalities, and religions.
The terrorist attacks have understandably provoked mass anger and opposition to terrorism. The overwhelming majority of people feel that “something has to be done” against terrorism. But will Bush’s “war” stop terrorism? No, it is in fact leading to increased tension, instability and turmoil worldwide, thus aggravating the social conditions which give rise to terrorist atrocities. The US’s actions are worsening the desperate living conditions of the people of the Middle East and Central Asia. Many innocent Afghans are being killed or maimed, and the United Nations warns that more than seven million Afghans are threatened with starvation. Even Vice President Cheney has accepted that these actions will cause a new cycle of terrorism, spawning a whole new generation who will want to avenge this carnage.
The region, already a tinderbox, is being set aflame by the war, massively destabilizing the Indian sub-continent, Central Asia, and the Middle East. Mass demonstrations have exploded in Pakistan, and the Saudi government faces a surge of opposition. Due to the lack of powerful workers’ movements or mass socialist parties, the current US actions will immensely strengthen reactionary Islamic fundamentalism. Throughout the Muslim world, new recruits are joining Islamic fundamentalists, with some volunteering to fight in Afghanistan. This is putting enormous strains on the dictatorial regimes in the region, in particular Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which face the possibility of Islamic fundamentalists taking power.
There is a widespread perception in the Muslim world that the US has failed to present any convincing evidence of the culpability of bin Laden in the terrorist attacks. Most of the evidence said to be in the hands of the Bush administration has been classified and kept from public scrutiny for “national security reasons.” Many believe that “Islamic terrorists” have been arbitrarily blamed to provide the pretext for a “crusade” by the rich and powerful “Christian” countries of the West against the poor and oppressed Islamic countries. This is a hypocritical stance on the part of the wealthy, dictatorial rulers of the Arab states. While resenting the domination of the Western powers, the Arab elite has no scruples about participating in Western capitalism to swell their personal fortunes. For the masses, however, fear of a Western “crusade” reflects their bitter resentment against imperialism, which perpetuates their oppression and poverty.
While it is likely that the US will be able to overthrow the Taliban, there will be no easy victories for Bush as he confronts a number of complex and seemingly insoluble problems. Afghanistan’s extremely harsh terrain will make it difficult to capture or kill bin Laden and the Taliban leaders. The US is also running up against the extreme Afghan winter and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. This will likely force the war campaign to extend into 2002 and develop into a protracted conflict, one which threatens a large number of US casualties. An extended war would put unbearable strains on Bush’s fragile international coalition, and would greatly undermine public support for the war in the US and Europe. Bush’s problems will also multiply after the Taliban is removed, as it will prove difficult to pull together a stable regime to rule Afghanistan, which will prepare the way for future conflicts.
Power and Prestige
The serious strategists for big business recognize that this war will not end terrorism. As the Wall Street Journal said in an editorial, “Ending this war won’t end terror … Americans are simply going to have to live from now on with a certain level of risk.” (October 15th, 2001)
Bush’s war is being fought neither to bring justice to those who lost family members, nor to make American lives safer and more secure in the future. The fundamental aim of the war, currently being waged in the world’s poorest country, is to uphold the predominant worldwide power and prestige of US capitalism. It seeks to demonstrate that no one can destroy the Twin Towers of US finance capital and attack the “Holiest of Holies,” the Pentagon, without the most dramatic and deadly consequences. The ruling class is concerned that if it does not respond in such a way, then it will be seen as “soft,” which could encourage the masses around the world to challenge the US.
The aim is to maintain the ability of US banks and corporations, in their ruthless pursuit of profits, to have privileged global access to cheap labor, energy, raw materials and markets. It is the defense, in fact, of US imperialism – an international system of economic exploitation ultimately enforced by US military power. This exploitative system has created the extreme inequality and poverty, the social turmoil and deep grievances, from which desperate terrorist trends have arisen.
These events represent a major turning point in US history. For the first time in over a century the US has faced a direct attack on its mainland. Americans are suddenly forced to face the fact that we live in an increasingly unstable world. The rest of the globe, with continents ravaged by poverty, disease, and desperation, is no longer a remote problem. Millions of Americans are now grappling with world politics as an issue that directly affects them for the first time in their lives.
War on Workers
The Bush administration, backed by the Democratic Party, has launched two wars: one abroad and one at home, a war on American workers. This bipartisan coalition raided Social Security to pay for the war effort. The war drive propaganda, “You are with us or against us,” is an attempt to create a climate where it is “unpatriotic” to go on strike or to break with the present wave of nationalism. Compare this to the actions of the big corporations, who have cynically laid off thousands of workers during the developing recession and are now planning to lay off thousands more. Boeing has led the charge in announcing layoffs of 30,000. These layoffs will only worsen, since the terrorist attacks have exacerbated the crisis in the US and world economy, which faces the deepest slump since the 1930s.
The government is delighted to announce massive bailouts for the rich while workers are forced to pay. Workers are told to sacrifice everything, “to do their part,” in a war to uphold a profit system designed to exploit and oppress them. The working class and the oppressedÐin the US and globallyÐwill have to pay the price for this war in lost lives, economic crises and social upheaval. Most workers have little or no trust in Bush to defend jobs and services. So why should we trust him to wage a war against terrorism?
Both parties have approved the anti-terrorist bill that severely restricts the civil liberties of all Americans, particularly immigrants. This legislation has been part of the wave of racist hysteria and scapegoating of those appearing to be “Arab” or “Muslim,” which has been used to attack the rights of all immigrants. We must fight against this onslaught, which will not stop terrorism but will only strengthen the power of the US government to repress and harass any movement that challenges capitalism, such as unions and the anti-globalization movement.
Overall the terrorist attacks have had a reactionary effect on US society, temporarily strengthening Bush and the ruling class. More terrorist attacks in the US or Europe, a strong possibility, will further play into the hands of imperialism and could temporarily harden the pro-war feeling and support for increased state repression.
At the same time, a growing movement against the war has developed with unprecedented speed. Many in the emerging anti-globalization movement quickly drew the connection between the fight against corporate rule and the need to oppose this war. Mainly, however, the anti-war movement in the US is a reflection of the latent anti-war feeling, largely a legacy of opposition to the futile Vietnam War that claimed 57,000 US lives and corrupted the political system. At the same time, the character of the attacks has temporarily cut across the “Vietnam syndrome,” that is, the feeling that US lives should not be sacrificed unless the US itself is directly threatened. Now, US imperialism has been able to commit ground forces, though at this stage only limited numbers of special forces, as broad sections of the public are more willing to accept some US casualties. But as the number of casualties mounts and the reality of the war begins to set in, support for the war will begin to diminish.
The task of overthrowing the reactionary Taliban and Islamic fundamentalist groups lies with the Afghan people. On the basis of capitalism and landlordism, the Afghan people are promised an unending hell. The only way out is a struggle for a government of working people and rural poor as part of a wider struggle for a democratic socialist federation of the Middle East. This alone will allow the region to develop economically, and allow the people to begin to find stability and satisfaction in their lives.
In the United States our first step is to oppose Bush’s war. At the same time we must struggle to build a political movement that will create a new, working class political party, and will lead to a workers’ government coming to power in order to end the chaotic capitalism system. This is the only way to win long-term security for workers and young people, internationally and here in the US.
Justice #27, November 2001