CWI on WTC and Petagon Attacks [ Part I ]

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Sat Sep 15 10:02:44 MDT 2001

ommittee for a Workers' International
PO Box 3688,
E11 1YE
E-Mail: cwi at <mailto:cwi at>
Tel: ++ 44 20 8988 8760

World Trade Center and Pentagon Attacks - The Political and Economic
Aftershocks, A Socialist Analysis

The carnage in New York and Washington DC resulting from the suicide attacks
of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon is a world event like no other
before. New technology and the speed of modern communication allowed
millions of people on every continent to follow the horrific events as they
unfolded.   This has resulted in an outpouring of emotion, a deep sense of
concern and revulsion throughout the whole of the planet. This mood is at
its strongest in the industrialised countries particularly the US and

In the neo-colonial world, particularly in the Middle East, there are also
expressions of open regret that innocents have had to suffer but this goes
with the feeling that this is the result of the crimes of US imperialism in
the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. These events have already
had colossal repercussions for the US and the rest of the world. The
aftereffects are still being felt and therefore it is not possible to draw
completely definitive conclusions.

Thousands of people have been killed and countless others maimed on the
bloodiest day of violence on US soil since the battle of Antietam in the
civil war in the 19th century. More than 300 firefighters, who heroically
rushed into the World Trade Center (WTC) to rescue victims, were killed.
Many emergency service workers perished. It is not possible to remain
unmoved by the scenes of devastation and death, and these have been the
sentiments throughout the world.

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the airliners have revealed a
terrible human tragedy and heroism in all its dimensions. One survivor
commented, for instance, on the heroism of firefighters who, while he was
frantically rushing down the stairs to escape, were going up to rescue those
trapped above. They subsequently perished when the World Trade Center
collapsed. The scenes of people jumping from windows - with one couple
holding hands as they did so - in a desperate attempt to cling to life, have
been etched into the consciousness of the world. The remarkable story of a
man who fell 83 floors and survived is another example. There was also the
tragic case of a firefighter rushing to save people who were killed by
somebody who jumped out of the World Trade Center windows.

All of this has added to the basic human feeling of the horror at these
events. These sentiments are shared by those like us who in no way turn
their eyes away from the terrible conditions which motivated the suicide
bombers but who will not line up with the hysterical hypocrites of Bush,
Blair and the capitalist rulers of the world, who are banging the war drums
in preparation for military action against the alleged perpetrators of these

The bombing attacks were completely indiscriminate. Ironically, included
amongst many of the thousands of US workers killed at the World Trade Centre
were those of many ethnic and national backgrounds from the neo-colonial
world. Socialists condemn these bombings. They have played into the hands of
the ruling class in the US and internationally and the consequences will
rebound on the masses in the neo-colonial world

The repercussions from 'security', economic, social and political
standpoints will be considerable and can only be tentatively anticipated at
this stage. The greatest effects immediately, of course, have been in the
US. But this is a worldwide event that will leave no part of the world
untouched by its repercussions. As many commentators have remarked, this is
the biggest attack on the US ever. Comparisons have been drawn with the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. But even that pales before the
suicide attacks of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Just over two
thousand were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack and provisional figures of
those who perished in the World Trade Centre building are far greater.
Moreover, the Pearl Harbor attack took place on a Pacific island. This is
the first attack on the US 'mainland' since the 1812-14 war with Britain.
The US has not experienced this type of attack before (leaving aside the
failed attack on the World Trade Centre in 1993), despite the fact that it
went through the Second World War, the cold war, including the Cuban missile
crisis, and the Gulf war.

A handful of suicide attackers armed with knives managed successfully to
devastate the financial centre of the US and, therefore, of the world - the
WTC, downtown Manhattan and, indirectly, Wall Street - and the military
power of US imperialism concentrated in the Pentagon. At the same time, the
crashed airliner in Pittsburgh, presidential spokesmen claimed, was possibly
targeting either the White House, Camp David or even Airforce One, with Bush
on it at the time.

New York City which was paralysed for days in the aftermath of the bombing,
is one of the richest cities on the globe independently 'raking in more
annually than all of the world's most advanced states. In 1998, the city's
budget exceeded that of some major countries, including Russia.' New York
'is more than just a wealthy city of eight million people. It is the
financial capital of the world's largest economy. As the significance of
what happened in New York sank in across the country, America's smaller
exchanges closed down one by one. But it is the New York stock exchange that
moves global financial events' (Stratfor website, 11 September).

This is the first time since the Second World War that the New York
financial markets have been closed for two consecutive working days. We will
deal with the likely economic consequences later in this statement.

Even before the full effects of this tragedy can be digested, the
questioning and divisions within the US ruling class and worldwide have
already opened up. Questions are being posed, such as, how was it possible
for US imperialism and its 'security agencies', with its battery of the
latest hi-tech equipment, with an army of 'counter-spies' to seemingly have
no warning of these events? This is despite the fact that Osama bin Laden,
the main candidate, according to US spokesmen, as the author of these
events, warned as recently as three months ago of retribution against the US
for the 'crimes against the peoples of the Middle East and Islam as a

Moreover, other states, such as France, have had recent warnings and have
taken action against attacks from Islamic militants. Little wonder then that
in the latest issue of Atlantic Monthly, Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former senior
CIA operative indignantly writes: 'The CIA probably does not have a single
truly qualified Arabic-speaking officer of Middle Eastern background who can
play a believable Muslim fundamentalist who would volunteer to spend years
of his life with shitty food and no women in the mountains of Afghanistan.
For Christ's sake, most case officers live in the suburbs of Virginia. We
don't do that kind of thing.' [Quoted in the Financial Times 11 September.]

In other words, the US 'security' agencies were facing the wrong way, still
fighting a version of the 'cold war' instead of anticipating the
repercussions of their support for Israel, in particular, in its repressive
policies against the Palestinians and the general hatred in which US
imperialism is held throughout the Middle East and the Arab world in

These events have also shattered once and for all the alleged
'invincibility' of the US. It has torpedoed Bush's and the Republicans'
intention to pursue a 'unilateralist' foreign policy. The concept that the
US is the centre of the world, that little of importance takes place outside
of its borders and that it can remain largely untouched by events on the
international plane runs quite deep in the US psyche. That has been
shattered once and for all by these events.

Mixed in with the bewilderment and anger at the bombings and their
perpetrators is a growing realisation and a perplexity that the US is not
perceived as the 'defender of liberty' internationally but is hated by
significant sections of the world's population for its role as an oppressor,
particularly in the neo-colonial world. It is the foremost power and
champion of untrammelled global capitalism.

These events mark a significant turning point in world history and
particularly for the US. Gone like the snows of yesteryear is the concept
now of 'Fortress America'. The effect on the consciousness of the US people,
and foremost among them the US working class, will be felt in the medium and
long term. Paradoxically, the idea that the fate of the majority of the US
population is tied to that of the peoples in Africa, Asia, Latin America,
never mind in Europe and Japan, will grow. But in the first instance, a
patriotic and maybe even a xenophobic mood will develop and be whipped up by
the US ruling class.

However, 11 September will be forever engraved on the consciousness of the
world's population by the horrors in New York and Washington DC but also by
the open and palpable ineptitude, as well as panic, of the political
leadership of the US ruling class. Unforgettable was the image of Bush's
first reaction on TV as he referred to the suicide attackers as 'these
folks'! The fact that he took to a bombproof underground Nebraska shelter
and criss-crossed America before returning to Washington DC did not cast him
exactly in a heroic mould. The same could be said of the congressmen and
senators who hastily left Washington DC before returning the next day to
sing the national anthem and patriotic songs!

US workers will not fail to draw a comparison between how 'their rulers'
acted and the heroism of the firefighters, police and others. Even Boris
Yeltsin at the time of the attempted coup in Russia in 1991, in retrospect,
seems to have come off better in the eyes of commentators than Bush today:
'Never has a politician's bromide sounded so ludicrously hollow. This is a
huge country; it cannot secure its one sensitive land frontier to keep out
illegal immigrants, it cannot secure its coasts to keep out shiploads of
illegal drugs. In the modern world, against ruthless, determined and
invisible opposition, protection is an impossible ideal. And until now, it
has never seemed to be remotely necessary. A spokesman travelling with the
president may have given the game away when he listed the two priorities of
the day: 1, the president's safety; 2, getting him back to Washington to
reassure the American people. This information was vouchsafed via CNN from a
military base in Louisiana a long way from Washington. From there the
president was taken to Nebraska which is no nearer. There were also reports
that congressional leaders had been taken away to a secret location. As
displays of courageous leadership go, none of this ranks with standing on a
tank in the streets of Moscow or even remaining in Buckingham Palace
throughout the blitz.' (Matthew Engel, The Guardian, London, 12 September)

The bombings also graphically underline the futility of Bush's 'son of Star
Wars' project, which would cost more than $100 billion. This 'defence' would
not only have proved totally ineffectual against the suicide attackers but
would have been even more so in the event of a doomsday scenario, involving
the use of nuclear devices in a suitcase or biological warfare by
individuals, such as took place in Japan with the Aum sect. And there should
be no illusions that such a development is possible with the colossal
proliferation of weapons for sale throughout the world in the aftermath of
the collapse of Stalinism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
This includes nuclear material and devices.

The US ruling class and its allies, however, are destined it seems to draw
exactly the opposite conclusion. The International Herald Tribune, for
instance, commented: 'It was no longer reasonable to mock American concerns
about possible missile attacks from "rogue states" like Iran and North
Korea. And it made little more sense to say that the United States' great
concern with terrorism essentially masked its failed analysis of the nuances
of the Islamic world.' [John Vinocur, 13 September]

Even more ominous are the conclusions of this author when he comments: 'It
would not be possible to attempt to influence the United States with its
thousands of war dead, without accepting the premise that a clash of
civilisations has opened.' The 'popular' (read 'gutter') newspapers express
the same sentiments only more crudely. This is a battle, they claim, between
the 'civilised' and 'uncivilised', between 'good' and 'evil'. Vinocur goes
on to say: 'The attacks were expected to melt away opposition in the US
Congress to the missile shield idea, and with it, much of the resistance to
it amongst NATO allies.'

Even worse is his conclusion: 'In a less specific but nonetheless real
fashion, the attacks were also likely to remove much of the hysteria from
the discussions surrounding the globalisation of world financial markets and
commerce... [The attacks on the WTC] underscored the absurdity of the
misplaced violence against globalisation and strengthened the hands of
authorities dealing with it.'

The most significant part of his statement is the following: 'Demonising the
United States and world trade organisations in a violent context suddenly
had the contours of a possibly murderous enterprise.'

This is a little taste of how the world bourgeoisie, beginning with the US,
will seek to use these events to enormously vilify the anti-capitalist,
anti-globalisation protesters and, at the same time, bolster the repressive
apparatus of the state. In the aftermath of the Oklahoma bombing, measures
were used to tighten up 'security'. But it will not be just in the US, or in
air travel, either internally in the US or internationally, that the
capitalist states will seek to strengthen its role. Serious attempts will be
made to undermine individual and personal liberties, on the right to free
travel, etc. For example, in Germany the opposition Christian Social Union
has already suggested that the German army should now be deployed in an
internal security role, something prohibited up to now. The National Guard
and army have been deployed in New York and Washington DC with their panoply
of tanks, armoured cars, etc.

Futility of Terrorism

This underlines the argument that Marxism has always made against terrorist
methods carried out by conspiratorial groups, which, no matter what the
underlying causes - oppression, discrimination, poverty, etc - always has
the opposite and reactionary effects to that which its perpetrators

In the past, Marxists, who base themselves on mass action, had to oppose
"individual terrorism", usually action by individuals or small groups to
assassinate individual representatives of the ruling class, who would simply
be replace by new leaders. The attacks in the US, however, are a form of
mass terrorism carried out by a conspiratorial group, not only striking a
blow at the symbols of US wealth and power but also indiscriminately
claiming the lives of thousands of ordinary people.

The denunciation of 'terrorists' in the mouths of Tony Blair, Bush, Ariel
Sharon, Vladimir Putin and the rest of them is pure hypocrisy. They are the
greatest perpetrators of mass terror, usually against mostly defenceless
peoples. Blair daily defended the mass terror deployed against the Serbian
people during the Kosova war. Bush's father and his chief general of the
day, Norman Schwarzkopf, perpetrated mass terror against the beaten and
defenceless Iraqi army at the time of the Gulf war. The countless civilian
victims in Iraq, which we have to remember dwarfs even the terrible numbers
killed in New York and the Pentagon, were merely dismissed by Schwarzkopf as
'collateral damage'.

The veteran expert on the Middle East, Robert Fisk, commented in the British
daily, The Independent: 'Ask an Arab how he responds to 20,000 or 30,000
innocent deaths and he or she will respond as decent people should, that it
is an unspeakable crime. But they will ask why we did not use such words
about the sanctions that have destroyed the lives of perhaps half a million
children in Iraq [a Palestinian journalist in The Guardian has put the
figure as one million children who have died from the effects of depleted
uranium and starvation], why we did not rage about the 17,500 civilians
killed in Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. And those basic reasons why the
Middle East caught fire last September - the Israeli occupation of Arab
land, the dispossession of Palestinians, the bombardments and
state-sponsored executions... all these must be obscured lest they provide
the smallest fractional reason for yesterday's mass savagery.' [12

Leaders of the G7 sat down for talks with Putin in Genoa, Russia's prime
minister at the time of the final Russian assault on Grozny, Chechnya, in
1999 which resulted in the slaughter of thousands of people.

We oppose 'terrorism' but we use this term in a different sense to the
pejorative fashion in which the bourgeoisie uses it. For Blair, Sharon and
Bush it does not apply to them when they use mass terrorist methods.
However, they argue it is legitimate to use this term, when a subject
people, take up arms to defend themselves against an oppressive regime. By
this reasoning, the South African masses had no right to resist the
apartheid regime armed to the teeth. The Palestinian masses are expected to
lie down and meekly accept the unspeakable social conditions, the denial of
legitimate democratic and national rights, the torture, and the daily
bombardments and killings including of women and children.

Socialists and Marxists have nothing in common with this hypocrisy in our
arguments against those who use the methods of terrorism. But these methods
cannot succeed in seriously weakening capitalism or imperialism never mind
lead to its overthrow and a change in society. On the contrary, the
experience of the working-class movement and the struggles of the people in
the neo-colonial world demonstrate the ineffectiveness and futility of such
methods. Even the history of the Palestinian struggle itself underlines this
point: it was not the Palestinian guerrilla fighters from outside but the
mass uprising of the Palestinian people in the intifada that forced the
Israeli ruling class to step back and make 'concessions'.

Similarly, no matter what the motivation of the suicide bombers was, the net
result, as is already evident in the few days following these events, has
been to create the conditions to allow the ruling classes of the world to
begin to strengthen and justify repressive measures aimed not just against
'terrorists' but against working-class movements, radicals and those who
intend to protest against the inequality and injustice of the capitalist
system. That is highlighted by the above statements from the International
Herald Tribune.

The Wall Street Journal, never sober in approaching social or political
issues in particular, shrieked the day after the bombing: 'In order to deal
with this threat, governments will have to re-evaluate how they deal with
groups which use violence to achieve political ends and abandon policies of
appeasement. All countries and groups will have to declare where they stand
in the use of violence and be treated accordingly, harshly if they make the
wrong choice.' [12 September]

Contained in this snarl is the implied threat that unless political groups
and parties are overtly pacifist and are acceptable to the capitalists then
restrictions and even bans will be imposed. Socialists and Marxists have
always counterposed to the methods of the 'terrorists' the idea of a mass
movement and mass action of the working class. Paradoxically, in the heat of
these events, for its own class reasons, the Financial Times in Britain on
13 September has recognised the force of our argument. Tucked away in an
editorial dealing with the likely economic fallout, it comments about the
political effects of the bombing: 'A decentralised capitalist system is
extraordinarily resilient in the face of physical damage. Sustained bombing
campaigns, such as that against Germany in the Second World War, rarely
bring an economy to its knees. Civil disobedience - such as last year's
European blockades against high fuel taxes - can halt a modern economy much
more quickly. But that demands the overt participation of the many, not the
secret attacks of a few.'

However, the bourgeoisie as a whole is unlikely to heed their call for a
sober assessment of what needs to be done and 'restraint' in the methods
used. The cry that the US is 'at war' is the theme of practically every
journal of capitalism, of the media, and is echoed in Europe and throughout
the capitalist world.

[ end Part I ]

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