Socialists v Terrorism

By Alan Jones Justice Issue 27 November-December 2001 [paper of the CWI in USA.]

Socialists oppose the terrible terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Our condemnation has nothing to do with the hypocrisy of Bush when he attacks "terrorism." Bush and the other ruling elites across the world have never hesitated to resort to armed force, which has claimed the lives of thousands of men, women and children who bear no responsibility for the actions of their rulers.

This was seen in the ruthless bombings of the Iraqi and Serbian population. In Iraq, 6,000 children are still dying every month from hunger and disease as a result of the sanctions against that country. In recent memory, the ruling class remained silent while the massacre of 17,000 Palestinians and Lebanese civilians was carried out in Lebanon with the complicity of the Israeli army in 1982. They were likewise silent about the 30,000 slaughtered in Nicaragua by the Contra thugs who were supported and financed by the CIA and the US government. The US also supported the very terrorist organizations they are now attacking when they wanted to use them to attack the former soviet-sponsored regime in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Historically, socialists have always stood against terrorist tactics carried out by small clandestine groups as a means of changing society. The methods of terrorism, organized by individuals or small groups carrying out attacks against the state, do not succeed in their stated goals. They turn the working class into passive spectators, and confuse and disorient the working class into believing that social change will come from somewhere else other than from their own power.

Terrorism in general, far from weakening the state and the power of the ruling class, ultimately strengthens it because it provides an excuse for the state to reinforce itself with extra "emergency" powers that are later used against the struggles of the working class. The more "successful" or spectacular the terrorist attack, the greater the confusion and disorientation it creates among workers and the larger the opportunities for the ruling elite to clamp down and increase police repression. This is shown in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, which has strengthened the US ruling class. They have been able to whip up nationalism and create an atmosphere that turned some people against immigrants, Muslims, and anyone who did not agree with the war plans and bombing of the Afghan people.

The attack provided the US ruling class with the smokescreen it needed for new attacks against democratic rights and repressive "anti-terrorist" laws. In the name of the war against terrorism, the Bush administration has launched a series of attacks against the working class with relative impunity. One of the results of terrorism is to drive workers politically into the arms of the bosses and their political representatives as can be seen in Bush's approval ratings shooting up from 50% to 90%.

At the same time, the mass anti-corporate demonstration scheduled for Washington DC at the end of September (which was part of an increasingly radicalized youth movement in the US and part of the anti-capitalist movement internationally) was cancelled as a result of the attacks against the WTC.

However, these setbacks in the consciousness of workers and young people will be temporary. They will regain their confidence and move to take the road of opposition to the plans of Bush and big business, as can already be seen by the development of the anti-war movement.

Lessons From the Palestinian Intifada

An example from the Palestinian struggle is helpful in elaborating the effects of individual terrorism on mass struggles. For an entire historical period, Palestinians saw the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) guerrillas who were based outside the country as their "future liberators." But the military defeat of the PLO in the 1980s and the expulsion of the Palestinian guerrilla fighters after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon made it clear that this hope was futile.

This led the Palestinian masses in the West Bank and Gaza to conclude that there would be no liberation from "without" and they had to take the struggle into their own hands. This was the basis for the launching of the heroic first and second Intifada, which were essentially mass movements with an armed wing.

Groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad have mistakenly resorted to using "suicide bombers" against Israeli forces and increasingly against Israeli civilians, but the most effective struggle has been a mass movement carried out by tens of thousands of Palestinians who are prepared to fearlessly confront the Israeli forces. The methods of terrorism in Palestine, while born out of the terrible suffering of the Palestinian people as well as the fact that the Israeli state has shut off any possibility of other legitimate means of protest, is counterproductive and provides an excuse for the Israeli ruling class to carry though worse repression and consolidate a base of support among Israeli workers.

A New Kind of Terrorism

A distinction should be made between the Sept. 11 attacks and more traditional terrorist tactics. Classically "individual terrorism" was a tactic of assassinations or attacks against the state, individual leaders, or military forces, in the name of the oppressed or of a radical cause by small clandestine groups. Even this term would not entirely apply to the terrorist tactics employed by radical groups such as the PLO and IRA in the 1960s and 70s in the name of national liberation, who sometimes carried out bombings which indiscriminately killed civilians (including people on their own side).

But the September 11 terrorist attacks are of a qualitatively different nature. They were indiscriminate and mass murder of over 5,000 innocent people who happened to be in an airplane or in the World Trade Center.

The groups that carried out this action did not make any demands on the US government. Their only aim was to kill as many people as possible. Far from having any connection to liberation struggles, they are said to be connected to reactionary Islamic fundamentalist groups with links to the oppressive regime of the Taliban.

How to Fight Terrorism

Very often, terrorism became the weapon of desperation after defeats or retreats of the mass movement or revolutionary processes. In such times, terrorist organizations and groups fill the vacuum left by the decimation of mass organizations and movements and gather support from layers of the population who see no other option to advance the struggle. But when the working class and the oppressed advance to form mass movements and mass working class parties, then renewed forces for social change gather and the possibility of achieving gains or winning struggles isolate terrorism as a political factor. That's why brute force and repression was never a solution for terrorism, but victorious movements of the working class often ended terrorism.

Historically, however, any victory or gain of the oppressed classes is temporary unless the system and class from which those victories are snatched through struggle is replaced by a new system from the struggling oppressed classes. Only the defeat of capitalism and its replacement by a socialist, egalitarian society that ends class exploitation could end the cycle of violence and terrorism, war and oppression permanently.

The best defense against terrorism is to build a powerful international movement against capitalism and war, and to build mass parties of the working class. Workers campaign through mass struggles, mass demonstrations, strikes and general strikes to defend their economic interests and democratic rights. It is through education, international solidarity and struggle that we can build political parties based on the needs of the working class and the oppressed. These parties will campaign for a society free of exploitation, poverty and inequality, defend the rights of women, and demand full democratic rights for all minorities, nationalities and religions. They will fight for public ownership of the big corporations under democratic workers' control and management as the best way to rid the world of the conditions that breed terrorism.