CWI on WTC and Petagon Attacks [ Part II ]

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Sat Sep 15 10:02:49 MDT 2001


[ Part II ]

War Psychology

NATO has even declared that it is not just the US but also all its members
which are 'at war'. This terminology is not at all accidental but expresses
the rage of the US ruling class and its allies, of its determination to seek
retribution not just against the alleged 'terrorists' but also against the
'rogue states' which support them. US imperialism is a wounded beast that is
ready to strike out in all directions.

It is obviously preparing to strike out in a significant military
intervention, probably involving thousands of troops against the perceived
'enemy'. The problem is identifying precisely who the 'enemy' is. Roosevelt,
at the time of Pearl Harbor, could denounce 'this day of infamy' and
mobilise the colossal resources of American imperialism against an
identifiable enemy, Japanese imperialism. However, in this case, it is not
immediately obvious who is responsible and who will be the 'targets'.

But this will be immaterial to US imperialism and its allies. Bin Laden has
been identified and demonised as the main culprit, although the evidence to
date points to the fact that it was probably a consortium of Islamic
organisations and groups, which have been in the US for a considerable
period of time, which were responsible. Moreover, bin Laden is a creature of
US imperialism's intervention, particularly through the medium of the CIA
(who financed him), in the proxy war they organised through the mujaheddin
against the USSR presence in Afghanistan. The sins of the past of US
imperialism are being revisited on the heads of innocent American men, women
and children today.

We should also remember that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida are not in any way
progressive forces and are even to the right of the theocratic regime in
Saudi Arabia.
 
At the same time, some voices are being raised cautioning against early and
precipitous military action. Some even urge an examination of the social and
political conditions, which have bred specifically Middle East individual
terrorism. As George Will in the International Herald Tribune pointed out:
'Terrorism is the tactic of the weak.' [13 September]

Nevertheless, these voices are being crowded out by the shrill tones of the
majority of bourgeois commentators in the US who, as atonement for the
deaths, are demanding action, and blood if necessary, and punishment for the
perpetrators. The US people were first of all traumatised by these events,
but following this will come the anger. Already the voices calling for
retribution are prominently featured in the media.

A conscious policy of producing a war hysteria seems to be the guiding
principle of the bourgeoisie in America, hitherto not noted for its
sophistication in grappling with complex world problems. This is aggravated
in a Bush administration distinguished by the crudity of its approach on the
national and international planes. One New Yorker on the day of the attacks
declared: 'I feel like going to war again. No mercy. We have to come
together like 1941, go after them.' [The Guardian, 12 September]

Rather than countering such sentiments, if anything, the 'sober' spokesmen
of US capitalism appear on the contrary to be stoking up this mood. For
instance, the Washington Post in an editorial, on 13 September, declared:
'The nation must prepare itself to fight its first war of the new century -
one that must continue until the sources of support for the terrorists have
been eliminated and defences against such unconventional warfare are
decisively strengthened.'

In relation to the perceived 'enemy' it states: 'Although it may have no
single fixed address, it probably has the support or complicity of one or
more foreign governments.' It goes on to state: 'A state of war also means a
national commitment, nurtured by bi-partisanship, cooperation in Washington,
to attack and defeat America's enemies. This means more than merely tracking
down and arresting individual suspects, as has been done before... In the
past the United States has shied away from squarely confronting regimes that
were linked to terrorist attacks against Americans - such as Iran in the
case of the 1996 Khobar towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, or Afghanistan in
the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by Osama bin
Laden's network. It can no longer afford to do so. Instead, it must seek to
assemble an international alliance to identify and eliminate all sources of
support for the terrorist networks that would wage war on the United States.
If necessary, it must act alone.'

Kissinger, with the blood of thousands of Chilean workers on his hands from
the coup which he inspired and helped organise against the democratically
elected government of Salvador Allende in September 1973, ironically has now
jumped on the bandwagon to denounce 'terrorism'. He has demanded US forces
and their allies should be prepared for an invasion of offending states:
'Any government that shelters groups capable of this kind of attack, whether
or not they can be shown to have been involved in the attack, must pay an
exorbitant price.' [IHT, 13 September]

Already US imperialism has in effect, through the aegis of Britain's 'Lord'
Robertson and Blair, put together a NATO coalition similar to that which was
assembled at the time of the intervention and bombing of Serbia during the
Kosovo/Kosova war in preparation for action. Indeed, US imperialism is
trying to go even further than this. Just days after the attacks, they are
attempting to assemble an even wider 'coalition', similar to that
established at the time of the Gulf war.

However, military action of one kind or another against the Palestinians,
for instance, will undermine such efforts. Arab public opinion is already at
boiling point because of the military repression by the Israeli ruling
class, with the acquiescence of the Bush administration, against the
Palestinian masses.

Nevertheless, these attempts are ominous and are a pointer to the future
route which will be chosen by US imperialism on the world plane. Leon
Trotsky made the point that when national tensions reach an explosive stage,
imperialism seeks an escape route on the international arena which, in the
form of the strongest military power on the globe, could take an increased
interventionist role, including military/police type operations against
'rogue regimes'.

An added ingredient is the weakness of the Bush administration, highlighted
during this crisis.
The administration will probably attempt to overcome this by now appearing
to be 'strong' on the international stage no matter what the consequences in
terms of lives lost and the numbers of human victims.

The consequence of the attacks is to reinforce something which the
perpetrators sought to undermine, the hegemony of US imperialism. It further
underlines the baleful effects of individual terrorism. Since the collapse
of Stalinism, the US has been the sole superpower but with severe restraints
on this power. Economically, of course, it is the colossus which bestrides
the globe. However, because of the world relationship of forces, the
overwhelming power of US imperialism has still been severely constrained.
Not the least of the factors here was the caution exercised by European
capitalism in its distrust of the crude standpoint of US political
representatives and its refusal to give unqualified support to US
imperialism's military measures on the world arena. But within days of these
events, representatives of French capitalism, which has always traditionally
sought to seek some distance between itself and US imperialism, switched
tack. Through the medium of Le Monde, and in an echo of Kennedy's statement
at the Berlin Wall in 1963, it proclaimed in a banner headline: 'We are all
Americans.' [12 September]

Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, who criticised US imperialism at
the time of the Gulf war, has fallen into line. Blair had no need to change
his position as traditionally he acts, as have all representatives of
British imperialism since 1945, as the poodles of American capitalism. Even
Russian capitalism, in the form of Putin, has fallen in solidly behind US
imperialism on this issue. Even if the 'coalition' does not hold in the mid
and long term it has, nevertheless, enormously strengthened US imperialism's
hand in using whatever measures it deems necessary to strike back.

What kind of measures will be used is not even clear yet to Bush and the
American ruling class. But at the very least some kind of military
intervention, possibly not just air strikes but the use of ground troops,
will be deployed against bin Laden's 'bases' in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan
government, already anticipating such an intervention, has restricted bin
Laden's access to outside communications. This, however, may not prevent a
military intervention on some pretext against perceived terrorist bases and
even military measures aimed to undermine or cripple the Afghan Taleban
government. This would have repercussions not just in Afghanistan but also
in Pakistan, with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, which the Musharraf
government is impotent to combat. The Pakistani regime is armed with nuclear
devices, as is India, and it has been an enduring concern of American
imperialism that conflict in this theatre could spiral out of control and
result in a limited nuclear exchange.

Now, however, the very actions of US imperialism, if it goes ahead and are
on a wide scale, could lead to a situation where events spiral out of
control and the nightmare scenario could be realised. This seems far-fetched
but we are moving into an entirely different situation where these attacks
in the US have skewed how world events will develop.

Political Consciousness

The retrogressive effects of individual terrorism have also been clearly
manifested in the reaction of the labour and trade union leaders,
particularly in Western Europe. In Britain, for instance, Blair faced a
revolt of the trade unions at the September TUC congress on privatisation.
It was widely canvassed beforehand, that he would face the most hostile
audience since coming to power four years ago. However, just before he was
due to speak, the attacks took place in the US and he promptly cancelled his
speech. There was no debate, therefore, at the TUC congress on
privatisation.

Thus this key issue facing the British working class and labour movement was
not even aired properly at the TUC. Moreover, the conference was wound up
early for the first time since 1939 (when the second world war was
declared), adding to the 'war atmosphere' which the British ruling class
along with the ruling classes worldwide want to create. One of the
by-products of this 'non-class' or 'all-classes-together' attitude will be
the capitalists' intention to carry through with the minimum of opposition
fundamental attacks on the living standards and the rights of the working
class. The Bush administration is being pressed to immediately cut 'capital
gains' tax.

The Austrian trade union and social democratic leaders have acted in a like
manner to their British counterparts. Traditionally reluctant to ratify
legitimate strikes and protests of workers against the bosses or government
- although they have, nevertheless, been compelled to change that policy
slightly recently - they have rushed in to organise a one-minute silence in
the factories and workplaces in a demonstration of 'national unity' with the
bosses and the government in protest against the events in the US.

They were followed by the German trade union leaders together with the
bosses who organised a five-minute silence to be observed in all the
factories and workplaces and a gathering of 'the nation', the employers,
trade unions and political parties, at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

In Germany, the slogan used for the rally at the Brandenburg Gate is: 'No
power to terror - solidarity with the USA.' It is interesting that the
bourgeoisie and the social democratic leaders have to borrow some of the
language of the working class - 'solidarity' - in order to justify this
expression of unity with the employers and with their system which, of
course, is responsible for spawning the conditions which have given rise to
terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The only reason why the British TUC would not have called a similar
demonstration is probably the fear of setting a precedent, as well as their
lack of influence in general in society and amongst their members. If a
demonstration was called, it would undoubtedly be invoked in the future as
an example of what could be done on burning social issues such as
privatisation.

These developments, however, do indicate already the huge impact which the
events in the US have had on the consciousness of wide layers of the
population, including the working class. And this is before the full
aftereffects of the events in the US have properly felt their way through.
Austria and Germany indicate that the reaction amongst the mass of the
population, including the working class, at least in the industrialised
countries, involves an element of 'all people together' - national unity.
This is something which is perceived at the beginning of all wars. Trotsky
particularly highlighted this at the start of the First World War in the
mass patriotic demonstrations in Austria.

Of course, it has not gone as far as that in Europe as yet. And it is
problematical how long this mood will last. In the US, mixed with the trauma
and mourning evident there could emerge a mood of jingoism, xenophobia and,
unfortunately, as has been indicated already, attacks on people from an Arab
ethnic background.

The atmosphere of hatred and intimidation which will be whipped up against
the seven million Muslims in the US and other countries is typified by what
has been reported from Chicago. Many taxi drivers come from Muslim countries
and one fleet ordered drivers to go home on Tuesday following a
proliferation of abusive comments from passengers. Moreover, many Muslim
colleges and mosques remain under guard. Even in Europe, for example in
London, there have been examples of verbal abuse directed against Asian
people. It remains an important task 'Socialist Alternative' in the USA (The
US supporters of the CWI) where possible to seek to defend verbally and in
action this minority which could be witch-hunted and persecuted in the next
days, weeks and months.

At the same time, we should be clear that the reaction would not be uniform
to these events either in the US or internationally. A more thinking layer
will ponder the root causes of these events, the complicity of the US ruling
class in creating the conditions which have spawned the desperation which
leads to terrorism. They will undoubtedly connect this to the inequalities
in the US and the gross injustices which it, its allies and world capitalism
continue to perpetuate.

It is possible that the anti-globalisation movement will be temporarily
thrown off guard; some people who have participated in the movement or
joined in demonstrations may be discouraged and drop away. But the objective
situation which led to these movements will not go away; on the contrary, it
could worsen with the overall position of capitalism undermined. If the CWI
and its sections intervene in a balanced but clear fashion with our policy
of explanation, as well as timely demands adjusted to the situation in each
country, we can actually win new forces to our parties and our
International.

The general situation, at least in the short term, will not be now as
favourable as we anticipated, perhaps particularly in the US. However, in
the medium and long term the fundamental weaknesses of US and world
capitalism will be compounded by these events. For instance, if as expected
US imperialism explodes in a military interventionist fashion, with the
thousands of victims that will result from this, that will in turn have a
powerful effect on the consciousness of the already worldwide
anti-globalisation movement. The issue of war and peace will come much more
to the fore with the possibility of powerful peace movements coalescing with
the anti-corporate, anti-global capitalism movement. It should be remembered
that, notwithstanding the military might of US imperialism, while it can
pursue a kind of military/police operations including invasions and
temporary occupations of countries or parts of countries, it cannot, as
Napoleon discovered, sit on bayonets to hold whole nations in chains.

The lessons of Vietnam are written in the blood of 55,000 US victims, as
well as the millions of Vietnamese. This demonstrated that the mightiest
military power on the globe, with all the latest fiendish weapons of
destruction in its hands, could not hold down and defeat 17 million ragged
peasants. In the modern era of globalisation, such methods are absolutely
inappropriate and impossible to employ over any long period of time.

This does not, however, preclude, as we have explained, an explosive
outburst of US imperialism with the support of its allies. This could take
the form of an open or concealed struggle between 'North and South', that
is, between the industrialised countries and the neo-colonial world in one
form or another.

Not the least of the aftereffects of this US 'earthquake' is the ideological
offensive that will now be launched by the bourgeoisie to enhance and
strengthen their system worldwide. There are, however, limits to this. This
is not happening against the background of the collapse of Stalinism in
1990-91. However, there is an element of that situation in the present.
Then, the political effects of the 1990-92 recession were partly mitigated
by the Gulf war. As yet, we do not have a war similar to this. But the
bourgeoisie is hoping that it will be able to use this incident and
subsequent military operations to divert attention from its ongoing economic
problems, including the possibility of a deep recession.

Economic Consequences

Before these events, US and world capitalism was on the eve of a serious
recession or even a slump. Will the attacks have cut across the perspective
that was previously mapped out? We have to be conditional with only days
having elapsed since the attacks. However, sudden, unforeseen geo-political
events of this magnitude historically have often been the trigger for
serious recessions or slumps.

The immediate economic fallout is difficult to accurately quantify, but will
be certainly massive. There is the loss to the financial markets by the
closure on Wall Street and elsewhere. There is the huge cost of the
cancellation of all civilian flights in the US and between the US and the
rest of the world. There is an average of 55,000 flights daily in the US.
The daily loss to the industry ranks in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Tourism and shipping will suffer. The knock-on effect on Europe of air
travel and tourism will be considerable. More than two million passengers
travel through US air space daily but, even with the resumption of flights,
the loss will be severe. Costs to the insurance industry in the US and
re-insurers elsewhere are huge. Many insurance companies will be put out of
business. Of course, it will be the working class and middle class who will
ultimately pay in increased insurance premiums.

The cost for insurance for the World Trade Centre is estimated at $5 billion
alone. It now seems that the owner of the World Trade Centre building made
an expensive mistake as insurance only covered for the loss of one of the
towers because it was 'inconceivable' that both could be destroyed. These
towers were built to withstand earthquakes, amongst other catastrophes, but
not the kind of terrorist attack seen on 11 September. (It also seems that
the owners under-insured even for this contingency - for just $1.5 billion
instead of the $5 billion which the towers were worth!)

Even before these events, the US was only sustained from tipping over into a
full-blown recession by a continuation of 'consumer confidence', that is,
the US population continued to spend on the basis of massive borrowing and
increased household debt. Now the Financial Times comments: 'Several days'
production is already being lost and a grieving and still fearful nation is
hardly likely to turn to the shopping malls and car showrooms. New York's
financial services industry, which alone generates 2.7% of US gross domestic
product, will be severely disrupted.' [13 September]

Consumer spending accounted for two-thirds of US economic activity and has
been growing at an annual rate of 2.5%. In the aftermath of this catastrophe
it is highly unlikely that this will now be sustained. At the same time, the
growth of international tension, the fear of a new round of terrorism, will
act to undermine US spending habits.

On the other hand, the US and world bourgeoisie are severely shaken by these
events and, afraid that they will coalesce with the most serious recession
since 1945, are pumping liquidity into the system. The Financial Times
commented: 'A deep global recession, with all its terrible consequences for
people in emerging economies, is precisely the kind of damage that
terrorists would wish to inflict. Normally, such an impact would be
impossible. Tuesday's outrage, however costly in terms of human life, is
economically trivial but at such a delicate juncture, confidence may be
damaged disproportionately.'

Therefore, the central bankers of the US, Europe and Japan have immediately
pumped a total of $120 billion into the financial system. The US Federal
Reserve added $38.25 billion to the US banking system, some ten times the
daily average. The Bank of Japan and European Central Bank injected $80
billion. This could have some effect, perhaps, in mitigating or holding off
for a period, the full impact of a full-blown recession. If it is combined
with further cuts in interest rates then this tendency could be reinforced.
But this outcome is not at all assured.

On the other hand, there are the unspecified fears of unnamed companies,
featured in the economic and financial press, that could be about to
experience, in the light of the massive financial dislocation, another
Long-Term Capital Management catastrophe which could lead to a world
financial meltdown. Not the least of the concerns of the US Fed is a
precipitous collapse of the dollar.

Another factor is the question of oil. Following the attacks, the price of
oil rose by $4 a barrel and stabilised at approximately $28 a barrel. If a
major conflict erupts in the Middle East, it will inevitably push the price
of oil up and have a dramatic impact on the world economy. Some commentators
have suggested that this will be offset during an economic recession because
of a drop in the demand for oil and downturn in air travel following the
attacks. However, despite this a major military conflict in the Middle East
would offset this tendency, forcing oil prices upwards. Already, the price
of oil has tripled from $10 to $30 a barrel between 1999 and 2000.

An indication of the impact of these attacks on the world economy is shown
in Europe. According to the Financial Times: 'A former French interior
minister yesterday urged Laurent Fabius, finance minister, to push for the
suspension of the introduction of euro banknotes to counter the economic
risk caused by US terror attacks.' [13 September]

All these are imponderables at the moment until the situation becomes
clearer in the aftermath of these developments. But socialists must be
prepared for a number of eventualities. It seems, however, certain that the
'war' and the alleged 'defence' industries will gain with the inevitable
arming and re-arming of US imperialism, as will the 'security' industry with
the growth of such measures.

However, the underlying economic situation has not changed, if anything it
has been worsened by these events and, despite the pumping in of liquidity,
it is most likely that there will be a continued slide into recession or
slump. However, even if the actions of the Fed and the European and Japanese
central banks manage to temporarily 'smooth out' the economic cycle and
avoid an immediate recession, this will only be at the cost of storing up
even greater problems later.

The main political lifeline for US and world capitalism will be the
repercussions of these events internationally, particularly the possibility
of a small war or a series of military conflicts, which for a time could
distract attention from the economic and political effects of this
recession. However, even this is doubtful, particularly as far as Europe and
Japan are concerned. In the US, there may be an element of what Britain
experienced during the Malvinas/Falklands conflict where, despite the
devastating economic situation in Britain at the time, Thatcher managed to
win a huge election victory on the basis of the patriotic wave which
followed the war victory.

This all depends on whether US imperialism will be able to establish a
military 'victory'. International military incursions, even if they are
carefully calibrated, will only compound the problems in the Middle East
and, particularly, Israel/Palestine which remains a powder keg. Under cover
of these events, the Israeli ruling class temporarily moved in and occupied
two Palestinian towns and then subsequently withdrew. Sharon has announced
the intention to establish a buffer zone between the West Bank, Gaza and
Israel proper. This conflict was given a further twist by the involvement
for the first time ever of an Israeli Arab in a suicide bomb attack, which
has heightened the conflict within Israel itself. It has also reinforced the
tendency of a section of the Israeli ruling class to contemplate the
doomsday scenario of a repartition of the area, involving the driving out of
the million Israeli Arabs, the consolidation of a number of the Israeli
settlements already in the West Bank into Israel, and the erection of a
cordon sanitaire around Israel. The exclusion of all Palestinians from
Israel would enormously compound the social and economic problems of the
West Bank and Gaza and provide a festering source for another round of
vicious terrorism, from which America, with the rest of the capitalist
world, would once again suffer. This running sore would be a guarantee of a
further round of terrorist attacks, including on the US and counter
measures, etc.

Therefore, no matter which route US and world imperialism chooses, it will
find no solution to its problems. Temporarily, class and social issues can
be pushed to the background by these events. But we must emphasise that
there will be a minority, and a significant minority at that, who will look
for explanations and can eagerly embrace the analysis and programme that we
put forward.

This period will be a testing time for our US organisation in particular,
and for the CWI as a whole. But we must not be blown off course. We must
remain firm in the face of what could be another vicious round of bourgeois
ideological warfare which aims to demonise all who stand against their
system as 'terrorists'. However, the relationship of class forces will not
be fundamentally altered by these events. The economic situation and its
political repercussions will be felt in the political arena ultimately. The
CWI has established very important points of support and can grow
substantially, especially in the medium and long term, if we ideologically
come to terms with this new situation.

This is a very important turning point in US and world history. How we face
up to this position is an important test of socialists and CWI members and
supports.

International Secretariat of the CWI 14/9/01

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