World Trade Center and Pentagon Attacks
The political and economic aftershocks – a socialist analysis
The carnage in New York and Washington DC resulting from the suicide attacks of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon is a world event like no other before.
New technology and the speed of modern communication allowed millions of people on every continent to follow the horrific events as they unfolded. This has resulted in an outpouring of emotion, a deep sense of concern and revulsion throughout the whole of the planet. This mood is at its strongest in the industrialised countries particularly the US and Europe.
In the neo-colonial world, particularly in the Middle East, there are also expressions of open regret that innocents have had to suffer but this goes with the feeling that this is the result of the crimes of US imperialism in the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. These events have already had colossal repercussions for the US and the rest of the world. The aftereffects are still being felt and therefore it is not possible to draw completely definitive conclusions.
Thousands of people have been killed and countless others maimed on the bloodiest day of violence on US soil since the battle of Antietam in the civil war in the 19th century. More than 300 firefighters, who heroically rushed into the World Trade Center (WTC) to rescue victims, were killed. Many emergency service workers perished. It is not possible to remain unmoved by the scenes of devastation and death, and these have been the sentiments throughout the world.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and the airliners have revealed a terrible human tragedy and heroism in all its dimensions. One survivor commented, for instance, on the heroism of firefighters who, while he was frantically rushing down the stairs to escape, were going up to rescue those trapped above. They subsequently perished when the World Trade Center collapsed. The scenes of people jumping from windows – with one couple holding hands as they did so – in a desperate attempt to cling to life, have been etched into the consciousness of the world. The remarkable story of a man who fell 83 floors and survived is another example. There was also the tragic case of a firefighter rushing to save people who were killed by somebody who jumped out of the World Trade Center windows.
All of this has added to the basic human feeling of the horror at these events. These sentiments are shared by those like us who in no way turn their eyes away from the terrible conditions which motivated the suicide bombers but who will not line up with the hysterical hypocrites of Bush, Blair and the capitalist rulers of the world, who are banging the war drums in preparation for military action against the alleged perpetrators of these actions.
The bombing attacks were completely indiscriminate. Ironically, included amongst many of the thousands of US workers killed at the World Trade Centre were those of many ethnic and national backgrounds from the neo-colonial world. Socialists condemn these bombings. They have played into the hands of the ruling class in the US and internationally and the consequences will rebound on the masses in the neo-colonial world
The repercussions from ‘security’, economic, social and political standpoints will be considerable and can only be tentatively anticipated at this stage. The greatest effects immediately, of course, have been in the US. But this is a worldwide event that will leave no part of the world untouched by its repercussions. As many commentators have remarked, this is the biggest attack on the US ever. Comparisons have been drawn with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. But even that pales before the suicide attacks of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Just over two thousand were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack and provisional figures of those who perished in the World Trade Centre building are far greater. Moreover, the Pearl Harbor attack took place on a Pacific island. This is the first attack on the US ‘mainland’ since the 1812-14 war with Britain. The US has not experienced this type of attack before (leaving aside the failed attack on the World Trade Centre in 1993), despite the fact that it went through the Second World War, the cold war, including the Cuban missile crisis, and the Gulf war.
A handful of suicide attackers armed with knives managed successfully to devastate the financial centre of the US and, therefore, of the world – the WTC, downtown Manhattan and, indirectly, Wall Street – and the military power of US imperialism concentrated in the Pentagon. At the same time, the crashed airliner in Pittsburgh, presidential spokesmen claimed, was possibly targeting either the White House, Camp David or even Airforce One, with Bush on it at the time.
New York City which was paralysed for days in the aftermath of the bombing, is one of the richest cities on the globe independently ‘raking in more annually than all of the world’s most advanced states. In 1998, the city’s budget exceeded that of some major countries, including Russia.’ New York ‘is more than just a wealthy city of eight million people. It is the financial capital of the world’s largest economy. As the significance of what happened in New York sank in across the country, America’s smaller exchanges closed down one by one. But it is the New York stock exchange that moves global financial events’ (Stratfor website, 11 September).
This is the first time since the Second World War that the New York financial markets have been closed for two consecutive working days. We will deal with the likely economic consequences later in this statement.
Even before the full effects of this tragedy can be digested, the questioning and divisions within the US ruling class and worldwide have already opened up. Questions are being posed, such as, how was it possible for US imperialism and its ‘security agencies’, with its battery of the latest hi-tech equipment, with an army of ‘counter-spies’ to seemingly have no warning of these events? This is despite the fact that Osama bin Laden, the main candidate, according to US spokesmen, as the author of these events, warned as recently as three months ago of retribution against the US for the ‘crimes against the peoples of the Middle East and Islam as a whole’.
Moreover, other states, such as France, have had recent warnings and have taken action against attacks from Islamic militants. Little wonder then that in the latest issue of Atlantic Monthly, Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former senior CIA operative indignantly writes: ‘The CIA probably does not have a single truly qualified Arabic-speaking officer of Middle Eastern background who can play a believable Muslim fundamentalist who would volunteer to spend years of his life with shitty food and no women in the mountains of Afghanistan. For Christ’s sake, most case officers live in the suburbs of Virginia. We don’t do that kind of thing.’ [Quoted in the Financial Times 11 September.]
Facing the wrong way
In other words, the US ‘security’ agencies were facing the wrong way, still fighting a version of the ‘cold war’ instead of anticipating the repercussions of their support for Israel, in particular, in its repressive policies against the Palestinians and the general hatred in which US imperialism is held throughout the Middle East and the Arab world in general.
These events have also shattered once and for all the alleged ‘invincibility’ of the US. It has torpedoed Bush’s and the Republicans’ intention to pursue a ‘unilateralist’ foreign policy. The concept that the US is the centre of the world, that little of importance takes place outside of its borders and that it can remain largely untouched by events on the international plane runs quite deep in the US psyche. That has been shattered once and for all by these events.
Mixed in with the bewilderment and anger at the bombings and their perpetrators is a growing realisation and a perplexity that the US is not perceived as the ‘defender of liberty’ internationally but is hated by significant sections of the world’s population for its role as an oppressor, particularly in the neo-colonial world. It is the foremost power and champion of untrammelled global capitalism.
These events mark a significant turning point in world history and particularly for the US. Gone like the snows of yesteryear is the concept now of ‘Fortress America’. The effect on the consciousness of the US people, and foremost among them the US working class, will be felt in the medium and long term. Paradoxically, the idea that the fate of the majority of the US population is tied to that of the peoples in Africa, Asia, Latin America, never mind in Europe and Japan, will grow. But in the first instance, a patriotic and maybe even a xenophobic mood will develop and be whipped up by the US ruling class.
However, 11 September will be forever engraved on the consciousness of the world’s population by the horrors in New York and Washington DC but also by the open and palpable ineptitude, as well as panic, of the political leadership of the US ruling class. Unforgettable was the image of Bush’s first reaction on TV as he referred to the suicide attackers as ‘these folks’! The fact that he took to a bombproof underground Nebraska shelter and criss-crossed America before returning to Washington DC did not cast him exactly in a heroic mould. The same could be said of the congressmen and senators who hastily left Washington DC before returning the next day to sing the national anthem and patriotic songs!
US workers will not fail to draw a comparison between how ‘their rulers’ acted and the heroism of the firefighters, police and others. Even Boris Yeltsin at the time of the attempted coup in Russia in 1991, in retrospect, seems to have come off better in the eyes of commentators than Bush today: ‘Never has a politician’s bromide sounded so ludicrously hollow. This is a huge country; it cannot secure its one sensitive land frontier to keep out illegal immigrants, it cannot secure its coasts to keep out shiploads of illegal drugs. In the modern world, against ruthless, determined and invisible opposition, protection is an impossible ideal. And until now, it has never seemed to be remotely necessary. A spokesman travelling with the president may have given the game away when he listed the two priorities of the day: 1, the president’s safety; 2, getting him back to Washington to reassure the American people. This information was vouchsafed via CNN from a military base in Louisiana a long way from Washington. From there the president was taken to Nebraska which is no nearer. There were also reports that congressional leaders had been taken away to a secret location. As displays of courageous leadership go, none of this ranks with standing on a tank in the streets of Moscow or even remaining in Buckingham Palace throughout the blitz.’ (Matthew Engel, The Guardian, London, 12 September)
The bombings also graphically underline the futility of Bush’s ‘son of Star Wars’ project, which would cost more than $100 billion. This ‘defence’ would not only have proved totally ineffectual against the suicide attackers but would have been even more so in the event of a doomsday scenario, involving the use of nuclear devices in a suitcase or biological warfare by individuals, such as took place in Japan with the Aum sect. And there should be no illusions that such a development is possible with the colossal proliferation of weapons for sale throughout the world in the aftermath of the collapse of Stalinism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. This includes nuclear material and devices.
The US ruling class and its allies, however, are destined it seems to draw exactly the opposite conclusion. The International Herald Tribune, for instance, commented: ‘It was no longer reasonable to mock American concerns about possible missile attacks from "rogue states" like Iran and North Korea. And it made little more sense to say that the United States’ great concern with terrorism essentially masked its failed analysis of the nuances of the Islamic world.’ [John Vinocur, 13 September]
Even more ominous are the conclusions of this author when he comments: ‘It would not be possible to attempt to influence the United States with its thousands of war dead, without accepting the premise that a clash of civilisations has opened.’ The ‘popular’ (read ‘gutter’) newspapers express the same sentiments only more crudely. This is a battle, they claim, between the ‘civilised’ and ‘uncivilised’, between ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Vinocur goes on to say: ‘The attacks were expected to melt away opposition in the US Congress to the missile shield idea, and with it, much of the resistance to it amongst NATO allies.’
Even worse is his conclusion: ‘In a less specific but nonetheless real fashion, the attacks were also likely to remove much of the hysteria from the discussions surrounding the globalisation of world financial markets and commerce… [The attacks on the WTC] underscored the absurdity of the misplaced violence against globalisation and strengthened the hands of authorities dealing with it.’
The most significant part of his statement is the following: ‘Demonising the United States and world trade organisations in a violent context suddenly had the contours of a possibly murderous enterprise.’
This is a little taste of how the world bourgeoisie, beginning with the US, will seek to use these events to enormously vilify the anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation protesters and, at the same time, bolster the repressive apparatus of the state. In the aftermath of the Oklahoma bombing, measures were used to tighten up ‘security’. But it will not be just in the US, or in air travel, either internally in the US or internationally, that the capitalist states will seek to strengthen its role. Serious attempts will be made to undermine individual and personal liberties, on the right to free travel, etc. For example, in Germany the opposition Christian Social Union has already suggested that the German army should now be deployed in an internal security role, something prohibited up to now. The National Guard and army have been deployed in New York and Washington DC with their panoply of tanks, armoured cars, etc.
Futility of Terrorism
This underlines the argument that Marxism has always made against terrorist methods carried out by conspiratorial groups, which, no matter what the underlying causes – oppression, discrimination, poverty, etc – always has the opposite and reactionary effects to that which its perpetrators anticipate.
In the past, Marxists, who base themselves on mass action, had to oppose "individual terrorism", usually action by individuals or small groups to assassinate individual representatives of the ruling class, who would simply be replace by new leaders. The attacks in the US, however, are a form of mass terrorism carried out by a conspiratorial group, not only striking a blow at the symbols of US wealth and power but also indiscriminately claiming the lives of thousands of ordinary people.
The denunciation of ‘terrorists’ in the mouths of Tony Blair, Bush, Ariel Sharon, Vladimir Putin and the rest of them is pure hypocrisy. They are the greatest perpetrators of mass terror, usually against mostly defenceless peoples. Blair daily defended the mass terror deployed against the Serbian people during the Kosova war. Bush’s father and his chief general of the day, Norman Schwarzkopf, perpetrated mass terror against the beaten and defenceless Iraqi army at the time of the Gulf war. The countless civilian victims in Iraq, which we have to remember dwarfs even the terrible numbers killed in New York and the Pentagon, were merely dismissed by Schwarzkopf as ‘collateral damage’.
The veteran expert on the Middle East, Robert Fisk, commented in the British daily, The Independent: ‘Ask an Arab how he responds to 20,000 or 30,000 innocent deaths and he or she will respond as decent people should, that it is an unspeakable crime. But they will ask why we did not use such words about the sanctions that have destroyed the lives of perhaps half a million children in Iraq [a Palestinian journalist in The Guardian has put the figure as one million children who have died from the effects of depleted uranium and starvation], why we did not rage about the 17,500 civilians killed in Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. And those basic reasons why the Middle East caught fire last September – the Israeli occupation of Arab land, the dispossession of Palestinians, the bombardments and state-sponsored executions… all these must be obscured lest they provide the smallest fractional reason for yesterday’s mass savagery.’ [12 September]
Leaders of the G7 sat down for talks with Putin in Genoa, Russia’s prime minister at the time of the final Russian assault on Grozny, Chechnya, in 1999 which resulted in the slaughter of thousands of people.
We oppose ‘terrorism’ but we use this term in a different sense to the pejorative fashion in which the bourgeoisie uses it. For Blair, Sharon and Bush it does not apply to them when they use mass terrorist methods. However, they argue it is legitimate to use this term, when a subject people, take up arms to defend themselves against an oppressive regime. By this reasoning, the South African masses had no right to resist the apartheid regime armed to the teeth. The Palestinian masses are expected to lie down and meekly accept the unspeakable social conditions, the denial of legitimate democratic and national rights, the torture, and the daily bombardments and killings including of women and children.
Socialists and Marxists have nothing in common with this hypocrisy in our arguments against those who use the methods of terrorism. But these methods cannot succeed in seriously weakening capitalism or imperialism never mind lead to its overthrow and a change in society. On the contrary, the experience of the working-class movement and the struggles of the people in the neo-colonial world demonstrate the ineffectiveness and futility of such methods. Even the history of the Palestinian struggle itself underlines this point: it was not the Palestinian guerrilla fighters from outside but the mass uprising of the Palestinian people in the intifada that forced the Israeli ruling class to step back and make ‘concessions’.
Similarly, no matter what the motivation of the suicide bombers was, the net result, as is already evident in the few days following these events, has been to create the conditions to allow the ruling classes of the world to begin to strengthen and justify repressive measures aimed not just against ‘terrorists’ but against working-class movements, radicals and those who intend to protest against the inequality and injustice of the capitalist system. That is highlighted by the above statements from the International Herald Tribune.
The Wall Street Journal, never sober in approaching social or political issues in particular, shrieked the day after the bombing: ‘In order to deal with this threat, governments will have to re-evaluate how they deal with groups which use violence to achieve political ends and abandon policies of appeasement. All countries and groups will have to declare where they stand in the use of violence and be treated accordingly, harshly if they make the wrong choice.’ [12 September]
Contained in this snarl is the implied threat that unless political groups and parties are overtly pacifist and are acceptable to the capitalists then restrictions and even bans will be imposed. Socialists and Marxists have always counterposed to the methods of the ‘terrorists’ the idea of a mass movement and mass action of the working class. Paradoxically, in the heat of these events, for its own class reasons, the Financial Times in Britain on 13 September has recognised the force of our argument. Tucked away in an editorial dealing with the likely economic fallout, it comments about the political effects of the bombing: ‘A decentralised capitalist system is extraordinarily resilient in the face of physical damage. Sustained bombing campaigns, such as that against Germany in the Second World War, rarely bring an economy to its knees. Civil disobedience – such as last year’s European blockades against high fuel taxes – can halt a modern economy much more quickly. But that demands the overt participation of the many, not the secret attacks of a few.’
However, the bourgeoisie as a whole is unlikely to heed their call for a sober assessment of what needs to be done and ‘restraint’ in the methods used. The cry that the US is ‘at war’ is the theme of practically every journal of capitalism, of the media, and is echoed in Europe and throughout the capitalist world.
NATO has even declared that it is not just the US but also all its members which are ‘at war’. This terminology is not at all accidental but expresses the rage of the US ruling class and its allies, of its determination to seek retribution not just against the alleged ‘terrorists’ but also against the ‘rogue states’ which support them. US imperialism is a wounded beast that is ready to strike out in all directions.
It is obviously preparing to strike out in a significant military intervention, probably involving thousands of troops against the perceived ‘enemy’. The problem is identifying precisely who the ‘enemy’ is. Roosevelt, at the time of Pearl Harbor, could denounce ‘this day of infamy’ and mobilise the colossal resources of American imperialism against an identifiable enemy, Japanese imperialism. However, in this case, it is not immediately obvious who is responsible and who will be the ‘targets’.
But this will be immaterial to US imperialism and its allies. Bin Laden has been identified and demonised as the main culprit, although the evidence to date points to the fact that it was probably a consortium of Islamic organisations and groups, which have been in the US for a considerable period of time, which were responsible. Moreover, bin Laden is a creature of US imperialism’s intervention, particularly through the medium of the CIA (who financed him), in the proxy war they organised through the mujaheddin against the USSR presence in Afghanistan. The sins of the past of US imperialism are being revisited on the heads of innocent American men, women and children today.
We should also remember that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida are not in any way progressive forces and are even to the right of the theocratic regime in Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, some voices are being raised cautioning against early and precipitous military action. Some even urge an examination of the social and political conditions, which have bred specifically Middle East individual terrorism. As George Will in the International Herald Tribune pointed out: ‘Terrorism is the tactic of the weak.’ [13 September]
Nevertheless, these voices are being crowded out by the shrill tones of the majority of bourgeois commentators in the US who, as atonement for the deaths, are demanding action, and blood if necessary, and punishment for the perpetrators. The US people were first of all traumatised by these events, but following this will come the anger. Already the voices calling for retribution are prominently featured in the media.
A conscious policy of producing a war hysteria seems to be the guiding principle of the bourgeoisie in America, hitherto not noted for its sophistication in grappling with complex world problems. This is aggravated in a Bush administration distinguished by the crudity of its approach on the national and international planes. One New Yorker on the day of the attacks declared: ‘I feel like going to war again. No mercy. We have to come together like 1941, go after them.’ [The Guardian, 12 September]
Rather than countering such sentiments, if anything, the ‘sober’ spokesmen of US capitalism appear on the contrary to be stoking up this mood. For instance, the Washington Post in an editorial, on 13 September, declared: ‘The nation must prepare itself to fight its first war of the new century – one that must continue until the sources of support for the terrorists have been eliminated and defences against such unconventional warfare are decisively strengthened.’
In relation to the perceived ‘enemy’ it states: ‘Although it may have no single fixed address, it probably has the support or complicity of one or more foreign governments.’ It goes on to state: ‘A state of war also means a national commitment, nurtured by bi-partisanship, cooperation in Washington, to attack and defeat America’s enemies. This means more than merely tracking down and arresting individual suspects, as has been done before… In the past the United States has shied away from squarely confronting regimes that were linked to terrorist attacks against Americans – such as Iran in the case of the 1996 Khobar towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, or Afghanistan in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by Osama bin Laden’s network. It can no longer afford to do so. Instead, it must seek to assemble an international alliance to identify and eliminate all sources of support for the terrorist networks that would wage war on the United States. If necessary, it must act alone.’
Kissinger, with the blood of thousands of Chilean workers on his hands from the coup which he inspired and helped organise against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in September 1973, ironically has now jumped on the bandwagon to denounce ‘terrorism’. He has demanded US forces and their allies should be prepared for an invasion of offending states: ‘Any government that shelters groups capable of this kind of attack, whether or not they can be shown to have been involved in the attack, must pay an exorbitant price.’ [IHT, 13 September]
Already US imperialism has in effect, through the aegis of Britain’s ‘Lord’ Robertson and Blair, put together a NATO coalition similar to that which was assembled at the time of the intervention and bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo/Kosova war in preparation for action. Indeed, US imperialism is trying to go even further than this. Just days after the attacks, they are attempting to assemble an even wider ‘coalition’, similar to that established at the time of the Gulf war.
However, military action of one kind or another against the Palestinians, for instance, will undermine such efforts. Arab public opinion is already at boiling point because of the military repression by the Israeli ruling class, with the acquiescence of the Bush administration, against the Palestinian masses.
Nevertheless, these attempts are ominous and are a pointer to the future route which will be chosen by US imperialism on the world plane. Leon Trotsky made the point that when national tensions reach an explosive stage, imperialism seeks an escape route on the international arena which, in the form of the strongest military power on the globe, could take an increased interventionist role, including military/police type operations against ‘rogue regimes’.
An added ingredient is the weakness of the Bush administration, highlighted during this crisis.
The administration will probably attempt to overcome this by now appearing to be ‘strong’ on the international stage no matter what the consequences in terms of lives lost and the numbers of human victims.
The consequence of the attacks is to reinforce something which the perpetrators sought to undermine, the hegemony of US imperialism. It further underlines the baleful effects of individual terrorism. Since the collapse of Stalinism, the US has been the sole superpower but with severe restraints on this power. Economically, of course, it is the colossus which bestrides the globe. However, because of the world relationship of forces, the overwhelming power of US imperialism has still been severely constrained. Not the least of the factors here was the caution exercised by European capitalism in its distrust of the crude standpoint of US political representatives and its refusal to give unqualified support to US imperialism’s military measures on the world arena. But within days of these events, representatives of French capitalism, which has always traditionally sought to seek some distance between itself and US imperialism, switched tack. Through the medium of Le Monde, and in an echo of Kennedy’s statement at the Berlin Wall in 1963, it proclaimed in a banner headline: ‘We are all Americans.’ [12 September]
Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, who criticised US imperialism at the time of the Gulf war, has fallen into line. Blair had no need to change his position as traditionally he acts, as have all representatives of British imperialism since 1945, as the poodles of American capitalism. Even Russian capitalism, in the form of Putin, has fallen in solidly behind US imperialism on this issue. Even if the ‘coalition’ does not hold in the mid and long term it has, nevertheless, enormously strengthened US imperialism’s hand in using whatever measures it deems necessary to strike back.
What kind of measures will be used is not even clear yet to Bush and the American ruling class. But at the very least some kind of military intervention, possibly not just air strikes but the use of ground troops, will be deployed against bin Laden’s ‘bases’ in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan government, already anticipating such an intervention, has restricted bin Laden’s access to outside communications. This, however, may not prevent a military intervention on some pretext against perceived terrorist bases and even military measures aimed to undermine or cripple the Afghan Taleban government. This would have repercussions not just in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan, with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, which the Musharraf government is impotent to combat. The Pakistani regime is armed with nuclear devices, as is India, and it has been an enduring concern of American imperialism that conflict in this theatre could spiral out of control and result in a limited nuclear exchange.
Now, however, the very actions of US imperialism, if it goes ahead and are on a wide scale, could lead to a situation where events spiral out of control and the nightmare scenario could be realised. This seems far-fetched but we are moving into an entirely different situation where these attacks in the US have skewed how world events will develop.
The retrogressive effects of individual terrorism have also been clearly manifested in the reaction of the labour and trade union leaders, particularly in Western Europe. In Britain, for instance, Blair faced a revolt of the trade unions at the September TUC congress on privatisation. It was widely canvassed beforehand, that he would face the most hostile audience since coming to power four years ago. However, just before he was due to speak, the attacks took place in the US and he promptly cancelled his speech. There was no debate, therefore, at the TUC congress on privatisation.
Thus this key issue facing the British working class and labour movement was not even aired properly at the TUC. Moreover, the conference was wound up early for the first time since 1939 (when the second world war was declared), adding to the ‘war atmosphere’ which the British ruling class along with the ruling classes worldwide want to create. One of the by-products of this ‘non-class’ or ‘all-classes-together’ attitude will be the capitalists’ intention to carry through with the minimum of opposition fundamental attacks on the living standards and the rights of the working class. The Bush administration is being pressed to immediately cut ‘capital gains’ tax.
The Austrian trade union and social democratic leaders have acted in a like manner to their British counterparts. Traditionally reluctant to ratify legitimate strikes and protests of workers against the bosses or government – although they have, nevertheless, been compelled to change that policy slightly recently – they have rushed in to organise a one-minute silence in the factories and workplaces in a demonstration of ‘national unity’ with the bosses and the government in protest against the events in the US.
They were followed by the German trade union leaders together with the bosses who organised a five-minute silence to be observed in all the factories and workplaces and a gathering of ‘the nation’, the employers, trade unions and political parties, at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
In Germany, the slogan used for the rally at the Brandenburg Gate is: ‘No power to terror – solidarity with the USA.’ It is interesting that the bourgeoisie and the social democratic leaders have to borrow some of the language of the working class – ‘solidarity’ – in order to justify this expression of unity with the employers and with their system which, of course, is responsible for spawning the conditions which have given rise to terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The only reason why the British TUC would not have called a similar demonstration is probably the fear of setting a precedent, as well as their lack of influence in general in society and amongst their members. If a demonstration was called, it would undoubtedly be invoked in the future as an example of what could be done on burning social issues such as privatisation.
These developments, however, do indicate already the huge impact which the events in the US have had on the consciousness of wide layers of the population, including the working class. And this is before the full aftereffects of the events in the US have properly felt their way through. Austria and Germany indicate that the reaction amongst the mass of the population, including the working class, at least in the industrialised countries, involves an element of ‘all people together’ – national unity. This is something which is perceived at the beginning of all wars. Trotsky particularly highlighted this at the start of the First World War in the mass patriotic demonstrations in Austria.
Of course, it has not gone as far as that in Europe as yet. And it is problematical how long this mood will last. In the US, mixed with the trauma and mourning evident there could emerge a mood of jingoism, xenophobia and, unfortunately, as has been indicated already, attacks on people from an Arab ethnic background.
The atmosphere of hatred and intimidation which will be whipped up against the seven million Muslims in the US and other countries is typified by what has been reported from Chicago. Many taxi drivers come from Muslim countries and one fleet ordered drivers to go home on Tuesday following a proliferation of abusive comments from passengers. Moreover, many Muslim colleges and mosques remain under guard. Even in Europe, for example in London, there have been examples of verbal abuse directed against Asian people. It remains an important task ‘Socialist Alternative’ in the USA (The US supporters of the CWI) where possible to seek to defend verbally and in action this minority which could be witch-hunted and persecuted in the next days, weeks and months.
At the same time, we should be clear that the reaction would not be uniform to these events either in the US or internationally. A more thinking layer will ponder the root causes of these events, the complicity of the US ruling class in creating the conditions which have spawned the desperation which leads to terrorism. They will undoubtedly connect this to the inequalities in the US and the gross injustices which it, its allies and world capitalism continue to perpetuate.
It is possible that the anti-globalisation movement will be temporarily thrown off guard; some people who have participated in the movement or joined in demonstrations may be discouraged and drop away. But the objective situation which led to these movements will not go away; on the contrary, it could worsen with the overall position of capitalism undermined. If the CWI and its sections intervene in a balanced but clear fashion with our policy of explanation, as well as timely demands adjusted to the situation in each country, we can actually win new forces to our parties and our International.
The general situation, at least in the short term, will not be now as favourable as we anticipated, perhaps particularly in the US. However, in the medium and long term the fundamental weaknesses of US and world capitalism will be compounded by these events. For instance, if as expected US imperialism explodes in a military interventionist fashion, with the thousands of victims that will result from this, that will in turn have a powerful effect on the consciousness of the already worldwide anti-globalisation movement. The issue of war and peace will come much more to the fore with the possibility of powerful peace movements coalescing with the anti-corporate, anti-global capitalism movement. It should be remembered that, notwithstanding the military might of US imperialism, while it can pursue a kind of military/police operations including invasions and temporary occupations of countries or parts of countries, it cannot, as Napoleon discovered, sit on bayonets to hold whole nations in chains.
The lessons of Vietnam are written in the blood of 55,000 US victims, as well as the millions of Vietnamese. This demonstrated that the mightiest military power on the globe, with all the latest fiendish weapons of destruction in its hands, could not hold down and defeat 17 million ragged peasants. In the modern era of globalisation, such methods are absolutely inappropriate and impossible to employ over any long period of time.
This does not, however, preclude, as we have explained, an explosive outburst of US imperialism with the support of its allies. This could take the form of an open or concealed struggle between ‘North and South’, that is, between the industrialised countries and the neo-colonial world in one form or another.
Not the least of the aftereffects of this US ‘earthquake’ is the ideological offensive that will now be launched by the bourgeoisie to enhance and strengthen their system worldwide. There are, however, limits to this. This is not happening against the background of the collapse of Stalinism in 1990-91. However, there is an element of that situation in the present. Then, the political effects of the 1990-92 recession were partly mitigated by the Gulf war. As yet, we do not have a war similar to this. But the bourgeoisie is hoping that it will be able to use this incident and subsequent military operations to divert attention from its ongoing economic problems, including the possibility of a deep recession.
Before these events, US and world capitalism was on the eve of a serious recession or even a slump. Will the attacks have cut across the perspective that was previously mapped out? We have to be conditional with only days having elapsed since the attacks. However, sudden, unforeseen geo-political events of this magnitude historically have often been the trigger for serious recessions or slumps.
The immediate economic fallout is difficult to accurately quantify, but will be certainly massive. There is the loss to the financial markets by the closure on Wall Street and elsewhere. There is the huge cost of the cancellation of all civilian flights in the US and between the US and the rest of the world. There is an average of 55,000 flights daily in the US. The daily loss to the industry ranks in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Tourism and shipping will suffer. The knock-on effect on Europe of air travel and tourism will be considerable. More than two million passengers travel through US air space daily but, even with the resumption of flights, the loss will be severe. Costs to the insurance industry in the US and re-insurers elsewhere are huge. Many insurance companies will be put out of business. Of course, it will be the working class and middle class who will ultimately pay in increased insurance premiums.
The cost for insurance for the World Trade Centre is estimated at $5 billion alone. It now seems that the owner of the World Trade Centre building made an expensive mistake as insurance only covered for the loss of one of the towers because it was ‘inconceivable’ that both could be destroyed. These towers were built to withstand earthquakes, amongst other catastrophes, but not the kind of terrorist attack seen on 11 September. (It also seems that the owners under-insured even for this contingency – for just $1.5 billion instead of the $5 billion which the towers were worth!)
Even before these events, the US was only sustained from tipping over into a full-blown recession by a continuation of ‘consumer confidence’, that is, the US population continued to spend on the basis of massive borrowing and increased household debt. Now the Financial Times comments: ‘Several days’ production is already being lost and a grieving and still fearful nation is hardly likely to turn to the shopping malls and car showrooms. New York’s financial services industry, which alone generates 2.7% of US gross domestic product, will be severely disrupted.’ [13 September]
Consumer spending accounted for two-thirds of US economic activity and has been growing at an annual rate of 2.5%. In the aftermath of this catastrophe it is highly unlikely that this will now be sustained. At the same time, the growth of international tension, the fear of a new round of terrorism, will act to undermine US spending habits.
On the other hand, the US and world bourgeoisie are severely shaken by these events and, afraid that they will coalesce with the most serious recession since 1945, are pumping liquidity into the system. The Financial Times commented: ‘A deep global recession, with all its terrible consequences for people in emerging economies, is precisely the kind of damage that terrorists would wish to inflict. Normally, such an impact would be impossible. Tuesday’s outrage, however costly in terms of human life, is economically trivial but at such a delicate juncture, confidence may be damaged disproportionately.’
Therefore, the central bankers of the US, Europe and Japan have immediately pumped a total of $120 billion into the financial system. The US Federal Reserve added $38.25 billion to the US banking system, some ten times the daily average. The Bank of Japan and European Central Bank injected $80 billion. This could have some effect, perhaps, in mitigating or holding off for a period, the full impact of a full-blown recession. If it is combined with further cuts in interest rates then this tendency could be reinforced. But this outcome is not at all assured.
On the other hand, there are the unspecified fears of unnamed companies, featured in the economic and financial press, that could be about to experience, in the light of the massive financial dislocation, another Long-Term Capital Management catastrophe which could lead to a world financial meltdown. Not the least of the concerns of the US Fed is a precipitous collapse of the dollar.
Another factor is the question of oil. Following the attacks, the price of oil rose by $4 a barrel and stabilised at approximately $28 a barrel. If a major conflict erupts in the Middle East, it will inevitably push the price of oil up and have a dramatic impact on the world economy. Some commentators have suggested that this will be offset during an economic recession because of a drop in the demand for oil and downturn in air travel following the attacks. However, despite this a major military conflict in the Middle East would offset this tendency, forcing oil prices upwards. Already, the price of oil has tripled from $10 to $30 a barrel between 1999 and 2000.
An indication of the impact of these attacks on the world economy is shown in Europe. According to the Financial Times: ‘A former French interior minister yesterday urged Laurent Fabius, finance minister, to push for the suspension of the introduction of euro banknotes to counter the economic risk caused by US terror attacks.’ [13 September]
All these are imponderables at the moment until the situation becomes clearer in the aftermath of these developments. But socialists must be prepared for a number of eventualities. It seems, however, certain that the ‘war’ and the alleged ‘defence’ industries will gain with the inevitable arming and re-arming of US imperialism, as will the ‘security’ industry with the growth of such measures.
However, the underlying economic situation has not changed, if anything it has been worsened by these events and, despite the pumping in of liquidity, it is most likely that there will be a continued slide into recession or slump. However, even if the actions of the Fed and the European and Japanese central banks manage to temporarily ‘smooth out’ the economic cycle and avoid an immediate recession, this will only be at the cost of storing up even greater problems later.
The main political lifeline for US and world capitalism will be the repercussions of these events internationally, particularly the possibility of a small war or a series of military conflicts, which for a time could distract attention from the economic and political effects of this recession. However, even this is doubtful, particularly as far as Europe and Japan are concerned. In the US, there may be an element of what Britain experienced during the Malvinas/Falklands conflict where, despite the devastating economic situation in Britain at the time, Thatcher managed to win a huge election victory on the basis of the patriotic wave which followed the war victory.
This all depends on whether US imperialism will be able to establish a military ‘victory’. International military incursions, even if they are carefully calibrated, will only compound the problems in the Middle East and, particularly, Israel/Palestine which remains a powder keg. Under cover of these events, the Israeli ruling class temporarily moved in and occupied two Palestinian towns and then subsequently withdrew. Sharon has announced the intention to establish a buffer zone between the West Bank, Gaza and Israel proper. This conflict was given a further twist by the involvement for the first time ever of an Israeli Arab in a suicide bomb attack, which has heightened the conflict within Israel itself. It has also reinforced the tendency of a section of the Israeli ruling class to contemplate the doomsday scenario of a repartition of the area, involving the driving out of the million Israeli Arabs, the consolidation of a number of the Israeli settlements already in the West Bank into Israel, and the erection of a cordon sanitaire around Israel. The exclusion of all Palestinians from Israel would enormously compound the social and economic problems of the West Bank and Gaza and provide a festering source for another round of vicious terrorism, from which America, with the rest of the capitalist world, would once again suffer. This running sore would be a guarantee of a further round of terrorist attacks, including on the US and counter measures, etc.
Therefore, no matter which route US and world imperialism chooses, it will find no solution to its problems. Temporarily, class and social issues can be pushed to the background by these events. But we must emphasise that there will be a minority, and a significant minority at that, who will look for explanations and can eagerly embrace the analysis and programme that we put forward.
This period will be a testing time for our US organisation in particular, and for the CWI as a whole. But we must not be blown off course. We must remain firm in the face of what could be another vicious round of bourgeois ideological warfare which aims to demonise all who stand against their system as ‘terrorists’. However, the relationship of class forces will not be fundamentally altered by these events. The economic situation and its political repercussions will be felt in the political arena ultimately. The CWI has established very important points of support and can grow substantially, especially in the medium and long term, if we ideologically come to terms with this new situation.
This is a very important turning point in US and world history. How we face up to this position is an important test of socialists and CWI members and supporters.