This week sees the 10th year since the terrible disaster that was the 9/11 terrorits attacks in the United States. Where sadly 3000 maybe more we will never know for sure sadly lost their lives.
As marxists we do not condone individual terroism for our ends. We are against it in every way. Leon trotsky wrote many a good piece on marxists views on terrorism and how we oppose it based on its anti working class sentiment.
But the world changed that day no one can deny that fact. Even as socialists this posed interesting questions at the time. We of course opposed the attacks yet also opposed the imperialist attacks that followed in Afghanistan and Iraq as the "war or terror".
The bloody terrorist outrages of 11 September 2001 in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington were one of the defining moments in recent history. The deaths of thousands of people allowed capitalist reaction – led by George W Bush and the now discredited British prime minister of the time, Tony Blair – the excuse to initiate a new era of terrible imperialist war and foster the poisonous fumes of ethnic division and racism, directed particularly against those of the Islamic faith. This resulted in a colossal number of deaths and destruction which inflicted further untold misery and suffering on millions of working people and the poor, particularly in the neo-colonial world.
The Socialist Party, at the time and since, unequivocally condemned al-Qa’ida, which was behind these attacks, describing its methods as those “of small groups employing mass terrorism”. At the same time, we gave not a shadow of support to Bush or Blair and the cacophony of the capitalist media calling for a worldwide ‘war against terrorism’. In reality, they used 9/11 to justify state terror against defenceless and innocent people throughout the world, symbolised by the torture chambers of Guantánamo Bay and the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
However, this political standpoint was not shared even by some socialist groups, who were equivocal and refused to condemn these attacks. This was a profoundly mistaken approach which risked alienating a majority of working-class people who were repelled by the carnage in New York and Washington. Moreover, this opened up the possibility of driving them into the arms of Bush and Blair in the war preparations for invading Afghanistan and later Iraq.
Historically, Marxism has always opposed terroristic methods. In Russia, Marxism was compelled from the outset to oppose these methods in the struggle against the tsar’s brutal, dictatorial regime. Marxists counterposed the mass struggles of the working class which, by linking up with the peasants, particularly the poor rural masses, was the only force that could lead a successful struggle against tsarism. Not the assassination of even the most repressive government ministers but mass action, the general strike, a mass uprising to overthrow dictatorial regimes, could lay the basis for lasting success.
Leon Trotsky compared terrorism to capitalist liberalism, but with bombs. This seems strange to us today. It is inconceivable, for instance, that Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Britain and deputy prime minister, would be associated with terroristic methods! But Trotsky’s idea remains valid. Liberals believe that the removal of this or that minister or even a government can introduce fundamental change. The terrorist has the same approach but with violent methods. The replacement of a minister or government is insufficient to bring about real social change. Would the removal of the present government in Britain, for instance, and the coming to power of Ed Miliband and his New Labour party fundamentally change the situation? Merely to pose the question is to answer it. Because a Miliband government would be rooted within the framework of capitalism there would be no dramatic change, particularly in the social conditions of the mass of the people.
Al-Qa’ida, however, was an entirely different kind of terrorist outfit. Despite the attempts of some left groups to prettify the image of Islamic terrorists, al-Qa’ida was rooted in the doctrines of Wahhabism, a medieval version of Sunni Islam and the dominant creed of the theocratic regime of Saudi Arabia. In the past, terrorist groups which based themselves, at least in theory, on furthering the social interests of the masses, engaged in the assassination of particular reactionary figures, governments, etc. The origins of al-Qa’ida, with its messianic non-class opposition to the ‘infidel’ and the ‘great Satan’, the US, meant that it was indiscriminate in employing mass terror. Not only did it attack the US and its allies, it also struck down innocent workers and the poor. This was evident on 9/11 but also in its other terrorist acts before and since.
Embracing mass struggle
In the magnificent revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, beginning with Tunisia then Egypt, al-Qa’ida was of little or no consequence. As we predicted – against many left-wing groups, like the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, which adapted to organisations based upon right-wing political Islam and exaggerated their importance – youth and workers rejected the failed terrorist model and embraced the methods of mass struggle. Mass occupations of the public squares, strikes and demonstrations were the political weapons for the Tunisian and Egyptian masses to overthrow Ben Ali and Mubarak.
True, the trigger for the Tunisian revolution was the self-immolation of the street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi. But this individual act had nothing in common with the methods of indiscriminate mass terror of suicide bombers that marks out al-Qa’ida. Moreover, the conditions for revolution would have had to be prepared by the whole preceding period for an accidental trigger to set in motion a mass movement in Tunisia and Egypt, a feature of all real revolutions.
Where religion still retains a certain base and an attraction to the masses, particularly in the neo-colonial world, it partly arises from the conditions of dictatorship or in the underdeveloped economic character of some countries with a large agricultural population. In the Stalinist dictatorship in Poland before 1989, it was Catholicism through the churches which provided the means of organising resistance on the part of Polish workers. Therefore, the rising had a pronounced religious colouration. This did not lead them, however, to draw pro-capitalist conclusions, in the first instance, from their opposition to Stalinism. In 1980-81, the Solidarity movement, with mass committees and participation, represented at bottom the movement for political revolution to replace the undemocratic Stalinist state structures. At the same time, it sought to retain the elements of a planned economy, nationalisation, etc. In the Iranian revolution of 1979, we witnessed a form of ‘radical Islam’ which appealed to the working class and poor for a time. It cannot be excluded that such phenomena can rise again in the neo-colonial world.
In Egypt, initially, the masses were able to concentrate their forces in opposition to the Mubarak regime around the mosques and, to some extent, the underground independent trade unions. But the Muslim Brotherhood was the only organisation which was allowed to function in a semi-political fashion, and also as a charitable, social self-help organisation. Naturally, therefore, for some sections these are the organisations to which they first turned in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Egyptian dictatorship. While Islamist groups and parties exist in Tunisia they do not have, it seems, the same roots as in Egypt at this stage. Post-Gadaffi Libya, on the other hand, could see a fracturing of the country and the growth of Islamist groups. But it is not clear that this will be the dominant trend. In Egypt, despite the recent sizeable mobilisation of Islamists in Tahrir Square, they are by no means guaranteed to win an absolute majority even in the hastily organised early elections which would favour them. Moreover, it is not certain that the Muslim Brotherhood will remain a cohesive, unified force. There are splits, partly reflecting divisions of a class character. There is talk of at least four different political parties being formed from the Brotherhood.
At the same time, the forces opposed to right-wing political Islam, secularists as well as socialists, are finding an echo among newly politically aroused sections of the working class in Egypt, Tunisia and throughout the region. Even in Yemen, which is “widely assumed to have bought into the al-Qa’ida franchise” (The Guardian), the February uprising led to the creation of revolutionary committees where discussion raged about non-sectarian strategies for change. Everywhere in the Middle East and North Africa the initial impulse in the revolutions was for a non-sectarian approach with a clear direction towards class conclusions on the part of the masses. In the unspeakable social conditions in Yemen, a country of seven million people where one third of the population is deemed to be ‘food insecure’ and 10% are malnourished, it will take more than religion to satisfy the demands of the masses.
Liberated from the yoke of dictatorship, they have poured onto the political arena and, as the example of Egypt shows, will be not silenced by the edicts of the discredited military elite. They will push on to advance their demands for drastically improved living conditions, democratic rights, trade union organisation, etc. The vital ingredient which is missing to guarantee success in the struggle is the existence of mass organisations, of powerful trade unions and independent working-class parties. But the convulsive movements experienced and even greater ones to come will be great teachers of the masses that only through their own independent banner will they be able to conquer a position where they can begin to realise their aspirations for jobs, shelter and tolerable living standards.