Theory: Why Marxists oppose individual terror

WHAT HAPPENED in the US on September 11 was an outrage. It should be met with unreserved opposition.

In opposing this atrocity and sympathising with the thousands of ordinary people who became innocent victims we stand apart from George Bush and other spokespersons for the ruling elites across the world whose statements of condemnation are pure hypocrisy.

Bush has talked of a battle between the forces of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. If by ‘evil’ he means the actions of people who have a complete disregard for human life and who are prepared to indiscriminately massacre innocent civilians, he would have to list the political and military establishment in the US in this category.

The horror that was inflicted on those unfortunate airplane passengers or those who happened to be in the twin towers of the World Trade Centre was captured on film and relayed around the world. But there were no cameras or film crews allowed in the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps in the Lebanon when the US backed Israelis sealed them off while the Phalange militias went on a murder spree against Palestinian men women and children.

Likewise no one was there on the ground to record the human suffering when US bombers carried out the US threat to return Cambodia to the Stone Age. Nor have images been circulated to show the suffering of the civilian population of Iraq, where, according to journalist Robert Fisk, sanctions have destroyed the lives of half a million children.

The litany of crimes carried out by the US and other capitalist powers goes on and on.

The rage that creates suicide bombers capable of acts like this comes from the nightmare that capitalism has inflicted on the peoples in the ex colonial world. It is also because the weakening of socialism in the eyes of the masses means that there appears no way out of the poverty and the tyranny of the imperialist powers and the despotic local rulers.

Under these conditions people can turn in desperation to ideas like fundamentalism, just as nationalism and even racism can gain a base in more developed countries. Prolonged social and economic crisis can also bring about social disintegration and produce elements of barbarism as we saw in Rwanda.

However to understand the horrors that capitalism has inflicted on the peoples of the neo colonial world is not to justify similar horror being inflicted on ordinary people in the US..

Marxists have always stood against the methods of individual terror as practised by groups like the IRA and the PLO. The working class is the only force that can overthrow capitalism and can only do so using the methods of mass struggle not isolated military attacks..

But the attack that turned the twin towers of the world trade centre into a mass grave for thousands goes beyond what we mean by individual terror. The individual terrorist carries out military attacks mainly against the state or individual members of the establishment.

Those who turned passenger planes into guided missiles aimed at buildings crowded with civilian workers did so to kill as many people as possible. The scale of what they did makes the term individual terror inappropriate and inadequate. This was indiscriminate terror, the mass murder of innocent people.

Also far from being done in the name of any radical cause or any genuine liberation struggle this appears to have been the work of quite reactionary groups who have links with backward and utterly oppressive regimes like that of the Taliban.

Individual terror, far from weakening the State, ultimately strengthens it, providing it with the excuse to reinforce itself with extra "emergency" powers that very often end up being used against the struggles of the working class.

The message of the individual terrorist is "leave it to us". The only role they give to the mass of the people is to stand and watch and applaud. Their actions lower the understanding of workers of the need to struggle.

The more "effective" the terrorist act the greater the confusion and disorientation it produces among the working class. This is borne out by this latest attack which goes beyond individual terror in its scale and it "effectiveness".

At first it created shock and confusion among the US ruling class. But as the dust has settled the Bush administration has emerged strengthened, able to whip up patriotic fervour and a mood of national unity.

The attack has given the excuse for more repressive measures, not just from the US but also from other powers. International measures against "terrorism" are being discussed.

The repression will be felt far beyond the shores of the US. Already Muslims have been attacked in a number of countries as racist ideas develop on the back of the huge propaganda effort aimed at demonising a whole people in order to maintain the mood for military retaliation. And the post Vietnam reluctance of the US people to commit ground troops to a war abroad that might result in sustained casualties has been partially evaporated in the wave of anger that these attacks have produced.

The disorientating effects on the working class and anti capitalist movements are already clear. The anti capitalist demonstration that was due to be held in Washington at the end of September promised to rival Genoa in its size will not now take place.

The US working class, along with workers across the world, is facing an economic recession, a recession that had begun before these attacks, but may be made more severe by them. It will now be harder for the working class to resist the job losses and attacks on living standards that recession will bring.

All these effects will be temporary. The working class will regain its confidence and will again take the road of struggle. What these attacks have done is make this more difficult.

Does this mean that our message to the peoples of the ex colonial world is to preach passivity and an acceptance of "their lot"? No. We are for mass struggles of the working class and the other oppressed sections of these societies to shake off the political and economic yoke of capitalism.

The big battles that have shaken much of Latin America in opposition to the neo liberal policies dictated by world capitalist institutions like the IMF and World Bank have shaken capitalism and at the same time have struck a chord of sympathy among the working class in the advanced capitalist countries. Mass struggle by the peoples of the ex colonial world for socialist change accompanied by an appeal to the working class of the west for support would have a decisive and positive impact, not the decisive but negative impact of these latest actions.

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September 2001