Attack on Afghanistan starts:
US Bombing Plunges World into Turmoil
CWI Statement 9 October 2001
See below for eyewitness report from Kashmir...
The bombings by the US and Britain of Afghanistan, on the evening of 7 October, has met with protests in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, the USA and indeed throughout the world.
Within hours of the announcement of the bombings a protest demonstration and meeting took place in the centre of London, in Whitehall, outside 10 Downing Street, the residence of the British prime minister, Tony Blair, in which members of the Socialist Party in England and Wales (part of the CWI) played a prominent role.
The London Times in its report of the demonstration carried the following: "Lois Austin, of the Socialist Party, a leader of last night's demonstration, said: 'This is a war by the richest nations against the poorest nations; we condemn the atrocities in New York, but the solution lies with the Afghan people themselves in toppling the Taliban and rooting out the terrorists'." (8 October)
Another Socialist Party member, Nancy Donovan, was also quoted in the London Evening Standard: "Tony Blair is Bush's poodle. His speech last week was just warmongering. Innocent people will be maimed and killed." (8 October)
Others from the US and Austria also spoke at this impromptu demonstration. They were in London for an international meeting of the CWI to discuss the prospects of war and the plans of the CWI to oppose this. Additionally, on 7 October, CWI members participated in demonstrations in New York, in a 5,000-strong demonstration in San Francisco, and in Chicago, where 1,200 protesters gathered to oppose the war.
On that day and the next, throughout the world practically every section of the CWI (which has representation in 35 countries throughout the world) was involved in protests. Particularly important was the 5,000 school students who struck in Berlin on the morning of 8 October in response to a call of the school students' alliance in which the CWI section in Germany, Sozialistische Alternative (SAV), played a key leading role.
These demonstrations indicate that in most countries the anti-war sentiment is probably greater now than at an equivalent stage during the Gulf and Kosova wars. There was outrage at the terrorist attacks in New York and on the Pentagon. But there is, nevertheless, opposition to the brutal and indiscriminate bombing of Afghanistan by the mightiest military power that the world has ever seen. As Robert Fisk remarked in the London Independent newspaper: "There are no Saudi Arabian or Kuwaiti pilots in the night skies over Afghanistan. This is not a Western-Muslim coalition. This is the West on its own, bombing a Muslim country that has a standard of living close to the Middle Ages." (8 October)
Even amongst those who are not openly protesting at this stage, there is no real enthusiasm - at least in Europe and Japan - for this military action. Even in the USA amongst many who believe that 'something should be done to punish the terrorists' there is unease, and opposition to the bombings. There is concern that the use of overwhelming military might may not strike down Osama bin Laden and his circle but could inflict terrible 'collateral' damage on the innocent workers and peasants of Afghanistan, something which could encourage more terrorist attacks.
US imperialism has acted at this time for a number of reasons. Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld and the rest of the spokespeople of the US administration have tried to present military action as a necessary but 'reluctant' measure to deal with 'terrorism'. In reality, the prestige of the US ruling class was severely dented on 11 September and military measures were perceived as the only way to re-establish its position. Rather than eradicating terrorism, US imperialism's 'terrorism from the skies' will beget even more terrorism from below. It is quite striking that a US worker accurately commented to a British Guardian reporter: "If you just take Israel as an analogy, they have been fighting terrorism like this for 30 years and where has it got them?"
But this use of colossal military power - bombers from bases in the US and the Gulf, cruise missiles fired from US and British warships - has been deployed to smash the weak Taliban military machine and also to intimidate other opponents of US imperialism world-wide.
The US Republican right within days of the 11 September attack, raised the prospect of completing what was started in 1992 but not carried through, namely the overthrow of Iraq's Saddam Hussein. This was put on the back burner while US imperialism assembled its coalition in preparation for action in Afghanistan. Now this plan seems to have been revived with the beginning of military action in Afghanistan. David Owen, former British foreign secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary, and Tony Blair in the special debate in the recalled British parliament, have either stated explicitly or implied that after the Taliban is 'dealt with', Iraq could be the next target as a 'terrorist state'.
In preparation for possible future action against Saddam, reports have already appeared in the Western press alleging that Mohammed Attah, one of those who carried out the 11 September attacks, met agents of Saddam in the period leading up to this.
The obscene disproportion between the colossal power of the US military machine and the forces of the Taliban was underlined by the statements of US pilots who carried out the first attacks: "It was like sitting in a tree and having kids shoot bottle rockets up at you." (The Mirror, London, 9 October). The impression is reinforced of a huge bully trampling over an already defenceless country which has already been battered back to a virtual Stone Age by previous wars.
Another factor in the US's determination to act now is the close proximity of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. To continue with the carpet bombing during Ramadan would inflame an already explosive situation throughout the Middle East and the Muslim world generally. At the same time, 'General Winter' - the approach of the Afghan winter which is particularly severe with temperatures of 25 degrees below in the rural areas - is a big complicating factor in the military campaign.
From initial reports it is clear that the bombing was aimed to establish unequivocal US air domination, which is not a difficult task given the paucity of Afghan air defences. The tanks of the Taliban, inherited from the war against Russia, the air defences around Kabul, Kandahar and Jalabad, the electricity system in Kabul have all been incapacitated according to reports appearing in the Western press. However, it is necessary to add a 'health warning' in relation to the reliability of the media. As with the Gulf war and Kosova, a one-sided, favourable presentation of the effectiveness of action by the US and its allies is presented in the Western media. Nevertheless, it does look as though the 'war aims', of militarily weakening the Taliban (prior to its replacement), probably also including the bombing of the Taliban forces facing the Northern Alliance, has been the aim of the attacks in the first period.
However, an air war alone, given the terrain and huge size of Afghanistan, will not be sufficient to disintegrate and completely defeat even the weakened Taliban regime. Both in the Gulf war and the Kosova war, US and British imperialism claimed that Saddam and Milosevic would be suing for peace within a matter of days. It is highly unlikely that the Taliban will collapse on the basis of an air war alone. At some stage, ground troops will have to engage in battle. At the moment, it seems that US imperialism looks towards that the Northern Alliance, with sufficient military and personnel back up, to partially fulfil this role. It will be used to soften up the Taliban until 'Special Forces' and significant numbers of troops can be deployed within Afghanistan.
The Northern Alliance is in no way 'progressive'. The US is using one group of criminals (the Northern Alliance) against the criminals in power, the Taliban. Before the Taliban, the Northern Alliance warlords occupied Kabul, destroying a third of the city and killing 50,000 civilians as they fought each other for control, simultaneously carrying out widespread looting of property and raping women. This completely alienated the population of Kabul and, initially led them to them seeing the Taliban as 'saviours'. Even the bourgeois press has now featured some of these past activities. Nevertheless, an 'intelligence' spokesman for US imperialism admitted after the 11 September attacks that the CIA would now have to use 'unsavoury characters' (read criminals) in support of US aims. 'They might be criminals but they are our criminals' is the approach of the US towards the Northern Alliance.
Northern Alliance warlords
However, the Northern Alliance is based on the minorities of Afghanistan, the Tajiks and the Uzbeks in particular, as well as 20 or so warlords. Because of its narrow ethnic base, the Northern Alliance by itself could not possibly be the alternative for a future government in Afghanistan. But together with other forces it can play a role in weakening the Taliban and leading to their ultimate defeat.
The Taliban has already been considerably weakened in the period up to military action with the defection of those who previously supported it, particularly outside of its strongholds of Kabul, Kandahar and Jalabad.
The US has justified the ferocious bombing campaign because of the need for an alleged war against 'terrorism'. The CWI has made clear in previous statements our opposition to terrorism. We pointed to the reactionary character of bin Laden and his al-Qa'ida organisation, and of the forces which have gathered around them. Even the video released by bin Laden immediately following the attacks on Afghanistan shows his character. Once again he called for a war of the 'believers' against the 'unbelievers'. Included in the latter category are not just the Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and all other religions, but the 'apostates' - other Muslims who do not subscribe to his particular form of 'pure Islam', Wahabism.
Like all nationalist champions, or would-be champions of the Arab peoples, bin Laden has evoked the figure of Saladin. Yet when Saladin, in contrast to the bloody Christian crusaders who massacred Muslims and other members of non-Christian religions, victoriously entered Jerusalem he allowed the preaching of all faiths and no massacres or retributions were used against non-Muslims.
Bin Laden video
Bin Laden and his followers, in the attacks on 11 September, carried out a form of mass terrorism. Yet he has been hailed as a hero by many of the oppressed in the neo-colonial world and, particularly, in the Middle East. This is because of the social and national oppression of the Arab peoples - in particular of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza - by imperialism and its Middle East allies.
And this was enormously reinforced by bin Laden's video which was carefully constructed to appeal to the downtrodden and oppressed throughout the Arab world. The contrast between the setting of the video, the caves of Afghanistan, compared to the broadcasts of Saddam Hussein during the Gulf war, dressed in a Western suit, could not have been greater. Moreover, the appeal was not to one section but to the whole of the Arab world and 'Muslim people'. It played on the enormous sympathies with the struggle of the Palestinian masses and the suffering of the Iraqi people because of western sanctions.
This immediately resonated with the Palestinians in Gaza who came out onto the streets in a mass demonstration in support of bin Laden. The seemingly bold stance and methods of bin Laden are bound to have an appeal to the Palestinian masses confined to the hellhole of Gaza and with the complete failure of the PLO leadership to lead a successful struggle for the national and social rights of the Palestinian people. It appears to the Palestinians that "someone at last is prepared to stand out in our support". A student commented to a reporter from the Washington Post: "We don't support bin Laden for this attacks on America, but if his ideas spread throughout the Muslim world it can do something" (International Herald tribune 9 October). Another simply stated, "Whoever supports us is our friend". This feeling was expressed by Palestinians in the Gaza strip who were met with teargas and even bullets by the police of the Palestinian Authority. One of those killed - a 13 year old boy - is the brother of a top Hamas leaders also killed in 1992, but by the Israeli state!
In Pakistan, 10,000 demonstrated in Quetta in an area which borders Afghanistan itself. Again, Robert Fisk comments: "Because Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan lie on the most dangerous tectonic plate in the world" the dropping of these bombs will result in a huge fall-out.
Pakistan on the brink
The regime of Pervaiz Musharraf in Pakistan was already struggling to control the forces of Islamic fundamentalism within Pakistan itself. He has acted against two prominent generals who helped him to overthrow the former government of Nawaz Sharif but who were in support of some of the Islamic parties. However, significant sections of even the army officers in the Pakistani army - put at between one-quarter and a half - are supposed to sympathetic if not members of the Islamic fundamentalist parties and organisations.
The repercussions for Pakistan are going to be severe, as we pointed out in previous statements. There is an incipient civil war already within Pakistan. The outcome of this could be the removal of Musharraf and his replacement by a fundamentalist regime, and possibly also the fracturing of Pakistan along national lines. In particular, the breaking away of the Northwest Frontier province with its majority Pashtun population makes this a real possibility.
Musharraf is caught between the millstones of the colossal pressure of US imperialism, upon which his regime ultimately depends for economic salvation, and the mounting opposition to the bombings within Pakistan. It is not an accident that he has referred to the current situation as the greatest crisis that Pakistan has faced since the Bangladesh war of 1971. This led to the break up of Pakistan as it was then and the separation of East Pakistan into what became Bangladesh. Given the support of the Pakistan military for the Taliban in the past, including from Musharraf himself, he is not at all enthusiastic about replacing it with the Northern Alliance: "We know the atrocities they committed after the Soviets left and before the Taliban came... I've heard stories that would make your hair stand on end. After this [US military] action there will be a void in the parts of Afghanistan now controlled by the Taliban. If it is filled by the Northern Alliance we will see a return to anarchy and atrocities." (The Independent, London, 9 October)
This is why Musharraf has suggested what was previously "unthinkable", support for the return of the former Afghan king, Zair Shah, as a focal point for an alternative post-Taliban government. Prior to his overthrow in 1973, the king was a "consistent nuisance to Pakistan... voting against Pakistan joining the United Nations and fuelling demands for a homeland - Pukhtunistan - for Pashtuns in the western tribal belt of Pakistan." (The Independent, London, 9 October)
Feeling the ground decisively shift from beneath their feet, the rulers of the Indian subcontinent have sought to huddle together for warmth. Musharraf is reported to have telephoned the Indian prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, 'urging co-operation on terrorism'. In the bloody equation of war, anything is possible. How the Indian subcontinent will configure after this conflict is difficult to predict. But the future will not be one of tranquillity and peace, but of unprecedented turmoil with the risk of a break up, or partial break up, of Pakistan, the repercussions of which will be felt throughout the Indian subcontinent.
The Saudi Arabian regime is also facing unprecedented opposition. This has meant that the Saudi royal family, while giving verbal support to US imperialism, has been compelled to refuse permission for the US bases in Saudi Arabia to be used in military action in Afghanistan. The collaboration with US imperialism, the massive corruption of the rotten ruling feudal dynasty, the worsening economic situation of Saudi Arabia and its effects on significant sections of the population, and the outrage felt at the continued oppression of the Palestinian people, have all fed into a big movement of opposition to the king Fahd regime. The parasitism of the ruling dynasty is shown by the existence of 15,000 'royal princes', each with their own courts and bands of retainers.
At the same time, a section of Saudi youth, who comprise most of the 20 million population, are discontented at the deterioration in their economic and social situation. The drop in oil revenues has meant that income per capita has gone down from $16,000 in the early 1980s to about $7,000. Moreover, the role of the Saudi regime in fostering the development of a powerful clerical establishment, preaching religious messages in the schools and universities, has resulted in bin Laden and his like finding an echo amongst thousands of graduates versed in religious teaching but lacking basic skills for the labour market. Many of these are without jobs. In the words of the Financial Times: "The days of great wealth and government pampering are over. The sprawling avenues of downtown Riyadh, with their US-style malls and luxurious boutiques, stand in sharp contrast to the poverty of the south of the city, where women beg in the streets. Across the country, Saudis who were guaranteed cosy government jobs a decade ago must now look for employment in the private sector and in menial jobs."
This is an explosive mix which the trigger of the Afghanistan war could ignite, leading to the overthrow the 'fundamentalist' regime of king Fahd and its replacement with an even more extreme fundamentalist regime. This would threaten the interests of US imperialism in the region.
This situation has been created by imperialism and capitalism not just in Saudi Arabia but throughout the Middle East. Bin Laden himself is a product of the medieval religious fanaticism promoted by the reactionary Arab regimes, like those of Saudi Arabia, and of the CIA. They organised, supplied and financed bin Laden and his mujaheddin forces in the struggle against Russia. They created a child which has now become a monster. It will not be difficult to locate and bomb al-Qa'ida bases in Afghanistan - which are probably completely empty now - because, after all, the CIA built these bases for bin Laden in the first place.
The actions of yesterday are recoiling on them and have now produced the present nightmare which is unfolding before the eyes of the world. We have the obscene spectacle of the mightiest military power on the globe dropping food parcels on the starving masses of Afghanistan at the same time as raining down bombs from the sky. This is a bit like a past British admiral who after a battle rewarded sailors for their bravery in the course of the war by decorating them and then, because they were not sufficiently prepared for the battle, promptly proceeded to shoot them!
US imperialism's policy in Afghanistan is 'medals first and execution later'. But this will not involve a handful of people. An estimated eight million people, a third of the population, are threatened with hunger and starvation. The dropping of minimal food parcels in this situation is like scattering money in a shopping mall. It is the strong who usually snatch the money while the weak and poor are trampled underfoot. The same is likely to happen in Afghanistan. Moreover, even if 37,500 food parcels were dropped daily they would still only just about manage to feed the population of Afghanistan with one meal after six months.
Future 'terrorist' attacks?
We are only at the beginning of what the strategists of imperialism and capitalism have said will probably be a 'long, thin war'. This will mean a continued bombing campaign for weeks or months, followed by the deployment of ground troops in one form or another. This could be answered by further terrorist attacks in the USA, Europe and elsewhere. And, according to Tony Blair, this nightmare scenario could develop over the 'long haul'. It is now quite clear that the capitalists, who were completely taken unawares by the events on 11 September, are now, nevertheless, seeking to exploit them for their own class interests. 'Terrorism', they now hope, will fulfil the same role in seeking to hold in check the movement of the working class as did Stalinism in the past.
The capitalists used the scarecrow of the totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe as a means of frightening away the working class from the ideas of socialism. In reality, Stalinism was a perversion of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky's ideas of workers' democracy and socialism. The political regimes rested on planned economies but were totalitarian, authoritarian in character with power resting in the hands of a bureaucratic elite. Bin Laden now fulfils for the capitalists the role that Stalin and his like occupied in the past. This is why George Bush Junior has referred to a new 'cold war'. On this basis many states are rushing through new repressive laws and leaders like Berlusconi have tried to link anti-capitalist protesters with terrorism. In the past, parents admonished children with the threat of 'if you don't go to sleep the wolf will get you'. Now the bourgeoisie seeks to invoke the threat of terrorism as a means of blunting working-class opposition to their rule and, particularly, to attacks on living standards and democratic rights. Bin Laden, on the other hand, invokes Muslim unity against the 'Great Satan' of the US and its allies.
The fact that Islamic fundamentalism can be seen by the masses of the Middle East as the vehicle to fight back against their oppression, denial of democratic, religious and ethnic rights is an expression of the weakness of the forces of socialism and, particularly, of Marxism. This, in turn, is a result of the failure of Stalinism. In the past there were important communist parties, dominated by Stalinism, in key countries in the Middle East. But unfortunately, with their policies of tail-ending radical bourgeois nationalist formations, the once powerful communist parties in Iraq, Sudan and Iran, lost favourable opportunities for changing society. Those forces are now just a shadow of their former strength, but their past failures, together with the weakness of genuine Marxism on a world scale, helped to lay the basis for the rise of fundamentalism in the past 20-30 years.
However, this is not the solution for the Arab masses or for others in the Muslim countries in the neo-colonial world. Indeed, bin Laden and imperialism lean on one another and need one another in order to reinforce their hold over their different populations.
Religion and revolt
Moreover there have been many examples in history in which a social revolt of the mass of the working class and peasantry have taken place first under the banner of religion, because of the weaknesses of conscious socialist forces. However, through experience and events, the social and class contradiction contained within all mass religious movements eventually came to the fore. This fractured and dissipated the hold which the priests, mullahs and other religious leaders had exercised. Witness the astonishing turnaround in Poland. In the 1980s and part of the 1990s a dominating and conservative role was played by the Catholic church hierarchy in the movement around Solidarity. Basic democratic rights for women, including the right to choose over abortion, were denied. But now that right is to be conceded with the coming to power of a new government, a bourgeois government, but one pretending to stand on the 'left'.
The whole of the world now faces unprecedented turmoil, with powerful tendencies towards disintegration in parts of the world, unless a strong working class and socialist movement steps forward to take the reins of society into its hands. The events on 11 September and now the bombing of Afghanistan has set in train a process that could unravel all the careful post-war arrangements of capitalism in decisive areas of the world.
The present bloody battle between the Israeli state and the Palestinians could ultimately result in a new Arab/Israeli war which could lead to the expulsion from Israel of the 1.5 million Israeli Arabs and the repartition of that region. This, in turn, would be a formula for further generations of turmoil, conflict and endless bloodshed.
This terrible situation is the product of the incapacity of capitalism to solve the problems of humankind, but also of the weakness of the organised labour movement and, above all, of Marxism. Rosa Luxemburg once declared that the choice before humankind was socialism or barbarism. However, big elements of barbarism already exist in the capitalist world, as evidenced by this conflict. Only socialism can show a way out of the nightmare created by capitalism.
In the short term, the creation of mass parties of the working class would also act as a check on the power of the capitalists to drag the world into a further round of wars, mass suffering, tens of thousands of deaths, impoverishment and misery. It is the task of socialists to oppose this 'unjust' war. This is not a war against 'terrorism'. The only way to eradicate terrorism is to eliminate the causes of terrorism which are rooted in the social, ethnic and national oppression of peoples in the Middle East and elsewhere.
CWI members have been to the fore and will continue to be so in the anti-war movement that is now underway. Our task is to develop this movement in a mass form. This, in turn, means it cannot be restricted purely to the layers involved in the movement at the present time but must turn towards the mass of the working class. Many workers who either acquiesce or support capitalist governments' 'war on terrorism' do so not because they are bloodthirsty or want to see further suffering. They are fearful for themselves, their families and their class of further terrorist outrages unless 'something is done'.
At the same time, when they see the price which will be paid, not just in Afghanistan but in the industrialised countries as well, of the piling up of victims and economic collapse, the pro-war mood which exists in many countries today (which could harden in the first period of this war), will begin to be undermined. The CWI will play its part in furthering the oppositional mood, will strive to build a big anti-war movement linked to the idea of changing society in a socialist direction.
CWI Statement 9 October 2001
Now CWI members are campaigning for these demands:
Stop the war! Organise and build international mass protests against the war.
Stop the obscene imperialist bombing and missile attacks against starving and innocent Afghans.
The overthrow of the Talibans and all the country's reactionary warlords is the task of the Afghani masses themselves supported by workers and young people across the world.
Support the struggle of the oppressed masses to overthrow all the dictatorships and the puppets of imperialism in Pakistan and Middle East.
For a socialist and voluntary confederation of the Middle East
No religious or racist scapegoating. Workers and young people - unite against racism and intolerance, and all attempts to divide working people on religious, ethnic, national or racial lines.
Don't let the bosses take advantage of the atrocities 11 September and the war. No new repressive laws! No trust in the capitalist politicians and their military actions.
Workers shouldn't pay for this war!. No increase in military spending or war taxes. For a united struggle to defend living standards, welfare and jobs.
For an international struggle to end oppression, poverty, wars and terrorism.
Fight for world socialism - a world in peace!
Get organised! Join the CWI and become part of our struggle to build an international socialist movement against global capitalism. Contact the Socialist Party in Belfast or Dublin.
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