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December 2001 • Vol 1, No. 7 •

Terrorism and War:
Where Some in the Antiwar Movement Go Wrong

by Carole Seligman

The carnage created by the terrorist attacks on civilians on September 11 was so horrible—perhaps up to 4000 were killed—that a section of the potential antiwar movement against the war on Afghanistan has been disoriented. Not only has this section recoiled in horror from the hijacked airplane bomb on the World Trade Center towers, they have also recoiled from the struggle against the U.S. response to it. This is very unfortunate because the unlimited scope of “Operation Enduring Freedom” requires an antiwar movement that is strong and capable of answering the attacks on it.

The German Green party exemplifies the disorientation of the liberals. At their Nov. 24 party congress, a majority voted to “accept” the position of their Parliamentary leaders who, in coalition with the German Social Democratic party, voted to send 3,900 German troops to Afghanistan to aid in the U.S. war there. Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, is a Green party leader. Not only was his government post at stake, but the entire governmental coalition of the Social Democrats and the Greens was at stake.

The Green party came out of the environmental and pacifist movements of the 1960s and 70s and according to the New York Times (Nov. 25, 2001) “one of the party’s cardinal principles has been that German soldiers should never take a combat role in other countries.” The Times gleefully reports the pro-war comments of various Green leaders such as Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Antje Radcke, who have caved in to the coalition led by U.S. imperialism.

One leader, Claudia Roth, is quoted in the Times saying, “I think that under certain circumstances it must be possible to engage militarily in order to stop violence.”

The “logic” of supporting the U.S. war to “stop violence”

There is no logic in this statement. It completely ignores the major source of violence and terrorism in the world today—the United States government acting on behalf of the capitalist system. But the Greens are not a socialist, working class party. Their aim has been to reform capitalism, not replace it.

In order to have thrown their lot in with the U.S. war against Afghanistan, the German Greens and their counterparts here in the United States have to completely ignore the facts about the major sources of state terror and violence in the world today.

Explaining the source of terror and violence

Antiwar activists have explained the source of most of the terror in the world by explaining how the U.S. has carried out brutal acts of state terror against civilians where millions of people were killed. They have written and spoken about the war in Vietnam, the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the World War II U.S. firebombing of Dresden, Germany. They condemn the acts of state terror the United States continues to carry out to this day, such as the sanctions on Iraq, the arming of Israel, the “drug war” in Colombia, the maintenance of a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the human species on earth.

The anti-war movement argues that bombing Afghanistan is not the means to end terror and violence. No one in the movement that I have seen condones or apologizes for the September 11 attacks in any way.

Terrorism against civilians is universally condemned

There is universal condemnation, revulsion and horror at the taking of so many lives on September 11, particularly civilian lives. Even those in the movement who in the past espoused the crude proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” have refused to condone or apologize for the Sept. 11 attacks or condone them in any sense as part of a progressive movement.

Those of us who cite the state terror carried out by the United States government do so to remind people here what people all over the rest of the world are more familiar with than we are. We need to explain that people cannot look to the U.S. government to solve the problem of terror and violence since it causes so much of it. The solution must be found independently of the government and the capitalist class it represents.

For nearly its entire existence, the United States has waged wars of aggression against other countries. Two of its bloodiest wars, in terms of the numbers of people killed, were against the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the kidnapped Africans transported here to be slaves.

Since the end of World War Two, the United States has actually bombed 19 countries. In the last five years the U.S. has bombed four countries (five, if we count Afghanistan twice), and currently it supplies deadly weapons to countries who use these weapons against their own people. Countries such as Israel and Indonesia, cited by international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International for use of torture are supported with funds and weapons by the U.S. Israel, cited by Amnesty International for the use of torture against Palestinian prisoners is funded by the U.S. government to the tune of $3 to $6 billion per year.

Are these facts irrelevant to the September 11 attack? While we still don’t know the details of who is behind these attacks and the U.S. government has not presented its case against Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network, we are obliged to explain that these attacks do not come out of a void.

The attacks of September 11, followed by the U.S. assault on Afghanistan are only the latest in a long line of horrific acts of terror against civilians. Most of these acts of massive terrorism (many on a much greater scale than the September 11 attack) originate with the U.S. government and its proxies, from the death squads of El Salvador, Honduras Colombia, and Guatemala, (which took hundreds of thousands of civilian lives) to the wars in Korea and Vietnam (which took millions of lives) to the U.S.-sponsored sanctions against Iraq (which take thousands of children’s lives every month).

The U.S. role of covert support to the terror regime of South African apartheid and the above examples led the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. back in the 1960s to condemn the United States as “the main purveyor of violence in the world”. Nothing since then has caused the U.S. to abandon the use of violence, except when the Vietnamese revolutionaries and the worldwide antiwar movement caused the U.S. to pull out of Vietnam and to cease destroying not only that country’s people but every living thing with chemical warfare.


In fact, a range of articles circulating on the internet and in alternative publications show that Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network, as well as other rightwing terrorists around the world were actually set in motion, and in some cases even armed, by the United States back when they were fighting the former Soviet Union or other enemies of the U.S. government. The word “blow back” used to describe a CIA-sponsored project which ends up turning against the U.S., is being widely used to describe bin Laden, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein.

Focusing our attention on the main purveyor of violence in the world today—the United States—in no way suggests that there is anything “progressive” about bin Laden. Even if he does champion the rights of the Palestinians to self-determination, he certainly hasn’t helped their cause. In the wake of the September 11 attacks Israel has killed 160 Palestinians including many children. This is a sharply escalated rate of killings. The Zionists think they can get away with it because their propaganda falsely equates the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terror with the Palestinian intifada, a defensive revolt of the populace against intolerable oppression by Zionist Israel.


Another error made by some on the left (or formerly on the left) is to call on the U.S. government or United Nations’ agencies under U.S. influence to bring the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks to justice. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the U.S. government says it is doing. That’s its rationale for bombing Afghanistan, targeting other—still unnamed—countries, and slashing civil liberties here at home. It’s all, allegedly, “to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

But justice cannot be achieved through the agencies of U.S. imperialism. Justice is a longer term project that cannot be achieved within the capitalist system.

The profit system is the source of terror and violence

The problem with those who mistakenly attack the opponents of U.S. foreign policy for giving some kind of cover to bin Laden, is that their attention is diverted from the real source of the problem of terrorism and violence in the world. That source, simply stated, is the capitalist system, whose world headquarters is here in the United States.

All the wars the U.S. has carried out through the last century were solely in the interests of the capitalist class. Capitalism operates on the rule of profit. Profit comes from the labor required to extract raw materials, to manufacture these raw materials into labor intensive commodities for sale anywhere and everywhere at the highest price the market will bear. Through many means, including war, the U.S. and the other capitalist powers secure the sources of raw materials, and exploit the labor required to extract, transport, and manufacture products. Profits and the profit system itself is the reality behind free trade/capitalist globalization.

A key product—oil—and everything surrounding it: access to it, pipelines to transport it, labor to refine it, products that require it, is far more related to the attack on Afghanistan than the September 11 terror attack. After all, no Afghans in the United states are even suspected of participation in the September 11 attacks. (See article on page 52 for a discussion on oil.)

Countries not immediately threatened with mass death and destruction by B-52 bombers are faced with a class war no less fierce. This war causes over two billion of the world’s population to live in utter destitution. Whole continents are ravaged by treatable diseases, the AIDS epidemic, hunger, and homelessness. This one-sided class war creates desperation that can cause people to lash out in ways that cannot help solve the problem, such as acts of terror.

Everyday, one can read an article in the New York Times of masses of absolutely desperate human beings, refugees without any resources, children who work long hours, women enslaved in the sex “industry” because there are no other means of earning a livelihood in their home countries. What is this if not the root cause of terrorism?

A strong workers leadership needed

The capitalist class cannot solve these problems because real solutions interfere with profit. A strong revolutionary workers movement for a socialist world based on a rational organization of society for the benefit of the people as a whole is the only alternative to such desperate conditions.

The misleadership of the working class has failed to build such a mass movement to lead society and has failed to lead the working class out of capitalist anarchy with its permanent state of war, violence, and state terrorism. An independent working class leadership, capable of mobilizing the working people of the world to lead society out of this morass, must be built.

Until the working class establishes a leadership that can fight for the socialist alternative to the profit system, we will face wars for capitalist global domination. Until this leadership carries on a struggle for power—workers’ power—we will continue to face terrorism and other hopeless and cruel responses to the horrors the capitalist system has created.





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