2001-09 News & letters statement on September 11
Say no to terrorism and Bush’s drive to war!
—A Statement from the National Editorial Board of News and Letters Committees
September 16, 2001
A double tragedy descended upon the world with the barbaric, cruel and inhuman terrorist attack on New York and Washington, D.C. on September 11. The first tragedy was the terrorist attack itself, which created a level of destruction and mayhem never before seen in a U.S. city. The second tragedy, now unfolding, is the response to the attacks by the Bush administration, which has used them to declare a "state of war" and is pushing for total militarization, at home and abroad.
As Marxist-Humanists, we oppose both sides of this double tragedy. Our ground is the absolute opposite of mindless terrorism and statist militarism—the idea of freedom.
HUMANISM VS. TERROR
The September 11 attacks have nothing to do with any struggle against capitalism, injustice, or U.S. imperialism. They were a brutal act of violence against U.S. workers that has no rational cause, legitimacy, or justification.
No group took responsibility for the attacks, and not a single political demand or proclamation was issued by anyone. It is hard to discern any political content to these acts, presumably carried out by Islamic fundamentalists under the leadership of Osama bin Laden. They were simply geared to kill as many people as possible. Such cruelty could only have been carried out by the most reactionary, backward elements imaginable.
And yet even in the midst of this anti-human destruction the light of humanism did shine, in the hundreds of workers and citizens who flocked to "ground zero" in New York to help clear rubble, save victims, and provide medical aid to the injured. The unexpected—construction workers rushing to save office workers, Black youth helping elderly Jewish people to get out of the area—became commonplace. New forms of solidarity emerged—as seen in the prisoners at Folsom Prison, most of them Black, who collected $1,000 to aid victims of the disaster.
These humanist expressions of solidarity, however, are being quickly buried by Bush’s effort to use the attacks as an excuse to militarize America, restrict civil liberties, and prepare for what the rulers have long aspired for—permanent military intervention overseas. Bush is being given a free hand to rebuild the military, gut domestic social programs, and bury the memory of his stolen election. On a single day the terrorists succeeded in totally shifting the ideological ground and handed the far Right one of its greatest victories.
Bush is preparing to bomb anywhere he deems fit to "eradicate terrorism"—even though this may mean killing thousands of innocent people in Afghanistan and elsewhere who have suffered for years from the repressive, anti-woman policies of such reactionary regimes.
Bush claims that revulsion over the September 11 attacks has unified the nation, for now. Yet let’s not forget that a similar kind of "unity" after Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941 was used by U.S. rulers to commit such atrocities as the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima. We are being thrust into a new, voracious, and deadly militarism.
This does not mean Bush has all the cards in his hands. Forces have been unleashed by the events of September 11 that may be beyond anyone’s ability to control.
First, the economic impact of the attack on the World Trade Center—tens of billions of dollars of damage were done and many airlines now teeter on the brink of bankruptcy as a result of the disruption of air travel—will almost certainly send the U.S. into a full recession.
Second, world politics—especially Middle Eastern politics—is far too volatile for the U.S. to simply ride roughshod over each and every country. Bush’s effort to enlist Arab countries like Syria as well as Arafat’s PLO in the "battle against terrorism" has evoked complaints from Israel’s Sharon, who is making use of the crisis to extend a total military crackdown against the Palestinians. The U.S. is also insisting that Pakistan break ranks with Afghanistan and allow U.S. forces to use it as a launching pad for attacks on its ruling Taliban. Though it has so far said that it will cooperate with the U.S., Pakistan’s regime is very unstable and is itself closely linked with Islamic fundamentalists.
The impact of Bush’s effort to promote military adventurism on an unprecedented scale is already seen in the jingoistic attacks against Muslims, Arab-Americans, Palestinians, South Asians and other peoples of color that have occurred from Chicago to Texas. Talk shows are filled with calls to send Arabs and Muslims to internment camps, just as the U.S. did with Japanese-Americans during World War II. This atmosphere also extends to restrictions on various forms of protest and political expression. On Sept. 14 two activists in Philadelphia who were holding a sign over a bridge in defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal were approached by federal ATF agents and ordered to disperse. That government terrorist specialists are already being used against legitimate, non-violent activists is an ominous signal of what is ahead.
WHAT TO DO?
It is imperative that we completely and totally oppose Bush’s effort to respond to senseless terrorism with an equally senseless policy of indiscriminate military intervention, just as we must oppose all efforts to restrict civil liberties at home or scapegoat immigrants and people of color. But an effective opposition to this new militarism will not emerge unless we project a total view rooted not just in what we oppose, but what we are for.
It is therefore all the more disturbing that some on the Left have only mildly condemned the September 11 attacks and have spent most of their time arguing that the real culprit is—U.S. imperialism. U.S. military intervention against Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan and its support of Israel, some say, has created a climate which drives opponents of the U.S. to pursue such "desperate measures" as suicide attacks. As John Keller put it in "The Chickens Come Home to Roost," "When a big country uses its military or money to push around a smaller country, the small country can only fight back via terrorism."
This amounts to a bizarre spectacle. While the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks remain silent as to their motives and intentions, "leftist" commentators, from Alexander Cockburn to Naomi Klein, are trying to provide the rationale for them! All we need to know, presumably, are the crimes of U.S. imperialism, and then the reasons for the September 11 attack supposedly become "understandable."
These "explanations" misconstrue the nature of the forces which conducted the attacks. Reactionary Islamic fundamentalism is not simply driven by hatred of U.S. imperialist acts against Iraq, Palestine, or any other country. Islamic fundamentalism is just as much driven by hatred of feminism, homosexuality, workers’ rights, etc. Such groups as Afghanistan’s Taliban, Algeria’s FIA, and the terrorist cells in Egypt which have murdered Marxist professors as well as indigenous writers and singers represent a violent rejection of everything "Western"—especially those aspects of Western society created through decades of struggles by workers, women, gays and lesbians and minorities for a more open and free society.
To try to rationalize the September 11 attacks as an "understandable" reaction to U.S. foreign policy skips over the fact that some forces opposed to the U.S. are just as regressive, if not even more so, than U.S. imperialism itself.
TWO WORLDS IN EACH COUNTRY
Yes, U.S. imperialism is a terrible force which wreaks enormous destruction throughout the world. And yes, the U.S. is implicated in the crimes against humanity of the Taliban and bin Laden—the CIA supported bin Laden when he fought the Russians and as recently as a few months ago the U.S. gave Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban $100 million in aid.
But by the same token, these forces are implicated in the crimes of the U.S. government. Islamic fundamentalism has again and again strengthened U.S. imperialism by taking actions which have undermined revolutionary forces and solidified counter-revolutionary policies.
This was true in 1979, when the taking of hostages at the U.S. embassy in Iran by Islamic fundamentalists helped Reagan achieve political ascendancy. That is true today, when an anti-feminist, homophobic fundamentalism of an even more reactionary bent is enabling the inheritors of Reaganism to impose their regressive agenda upon this country.
Those fighting for human liberation need to make it very clear that the attack of September 11 was not a viable protest or response to the U.S. or any of the atrocities it perpetrates around the world. To even hint otherwise is an attack on the freedom movements within the U.S. and internationally and can result only in further isolating leftists from the masses.
For its part, the Taliban no more speaks for the Afghan masses than its ideological twin—Jerry Falwell—speak for the American masses. There are two worlds in every country, including in Afghanistan.
As the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan recently said, "There is a vast difference between the poor and devastated people of Afghanistan and the terrorist Taliban criminals. While we once again announce our solidarity and deep sorrow with the people of the U.S., we also believe that attacking Afghanistan and killing its most ruined and destitute people will not in any way decrease the grief of the American people. We sincerely hope that the great American people could differentiate between the people of Afghanistan and a handful of fundamentalist terrorists."
It is no less imperative to single out the two worlds within this country. We need to decisively reject the argument, recently made by an anarchist, that "The American populace to a large extent shares responsibility for the deaths of their compatriots, as they share responsibility for all the deaths carried out by or in the interests of the U.S. military."
Such narrow opposition to U.S. imperialism has for far too long disoriented would-be revolutionaries. It has led them into opportunism and realpolitik, distancing them from the aspirations of the masses of human beings for genuine liberation. In recent years, such attitudes have caused a section of the Left to betray the Bosnian and Kosovar people, and tacitly to give support to Milosevic’s genocide.
The lesser-evilism which underlay much of the Left’s silence on Bosnia, and its refusal to support the movement for national self-determination in Kosova, has only succeeded in strengthening the power of U.S. imperialism. The reason so many despair of the struggle for freedom and turn to patriotism, xenophobia and statism is that they see no liberatory alternative to capitalism. Instead of responding to each political crisis by repeating the same old slogans against "U.S. imperialism," revolutionaries have a responsibility to oppose all societies and tendencies based on alienated human relations while projecting a positive vision of a new society, what Karl Marx called "positive humanism, beginning from itself." Only in that way can humanity see that there is an alternative to capitalism-imperialism.
In a word, those opposing Bush’s drive for war need to take this moment to stop and think.
Nowhere is that more important than for the movement against global capital, which reached a turning point in the protests in Genoa this summer. The atmosphere now descending upon this country may well hurt the movement by discouraging activity. Many are even asking whether the opening reached in the anti-globalization movement will be shut down. But the answer to this is not to just beat the drum for more activity, as if repeating familiar criticisms of U.S. policy will by itself suffice.
We live at a moment when political opposition must have a total view in order to be truly effective. We must take a firm stand against all forms of injustice, whether as propagated by terrorists, U.S. imperialism, or by anyone else, while developing a comprehensive perspective of the kind of new human relations we are for. Never has dialogue and debate on the need for a philosophy of revolution been more important—not alone for the forward movement of the struggles against global capital, but for their very existence. We urge you to join in the theoretical and practical work of developing these perspectives with News and Letters Committees, America’s only Marxist-Humanist organization.