Special supplement to Socialist Worker (Canada).
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The full horror of the September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. is now becoming clear.
Thousands of people are known to be dead.
On four hijacked airplanes 266 people lose their lives, including 33 crew members. One plane crash-landed in Pennsylvania, killing all aboard. Another crash-landed into the Pentagon, centre of US military power, where as many as 900 are presumed dead.
But the worst devastation happened in New York City. Two of the hijacked airplanes were turned into suicide bombs, flown directly into first one and then the second 110-storey World Trade Centre towers, leading to a massive explosion, fire and ultimately the collapse of those two towers and two other adjacent buildings.
More than 260 firefighters and dozens of other rescue personnel are missing and presumed dead. And there will be thousands of others who will have lost their lives.
The first building was attacked just before nine, the second just after nine in the morning. At least 20,000 people are at work in those buildings at that time in the morning. In total, some 50,000 normally worked in the two towers.
What a horror! A terrible loss of life has resulted from these events. And who is in a skyscraper like the World Trade Centre at 8:45 in the morning? Secretarial staff and cleaning staff – some of the poorest and most vulnerable workers in the United States.
The assumption by most observers was that the hijackers had forced the planes to crashland as part of a politically-motivated campaign against the US government. Most observers assumed that the attacks originated from the ongoing crisis in the Middle East.
It is a tragedy when ordinary working people become the victims of political conflict. It is inexcusable when ordinary working people are used as a weapon.
That said, we should remember several things.
First – while all eyes, as this is being written, were focussed on “Middle East” terrorists, we should remember what happened April 19, 1995. That day, a terrible explosion killed hundreds at the federal building in Oklahoma City.
Everyone assumed that the culprits were “Middle East terrorists.” An hysterical wave of racism swept through the United States and Canada. In Toronto, a young man whose parents were Iranian was held and interrogated for hours by police, simply because he “looked” Middle Eastern.
But it turned out that the culprits were Timothy McVeigh in conjunction with other white, far-right extremists, born and raised in the United States. There was no wave of anti-white hysteria in response.
Canadians and Americans with a Middle East background have long been targets of abuse and discrimination. Whoever was responsible for these attacks on the United States, without any doubt people of colour and recent immigrants will be scapegoated again.
It is the responsibility of everyone to denounce and oppose the racist scapegoating of people from the Middle East.
Rightly or wrongly, all eyes are now on the Middle East as the source of these attacks.
So it’s important to examine the real situation in the Middle East.
It is appalling that thousands of innocent people have been killed in what seems to be a politically-motivated attack.
But in the Middle East, innocent civilians have long been the victims of politically-motivated attacks.
According to the United Nations, some 1.5 million Iraqis have died since 1991, as a result of sanctions imposed on that country in the wake of its war with the United States. Those sanctions have deprived pregnant women, newborn babies and elderly people of necessary medication. The devastation of the country has poisoned the water supply, leading to the premature deaths of tens of thousands of young children.
These civilians are the innocent victims of politically-motivated attacks – and the power behind those attacks is the United States.
What about the plight of the Palestinians? Expelled from their homes in 1948 and again in 1967, millions are forced to live in squalour and despair in refugee camps on the West Bank, on the Gaza Strip and elsewhere.
The record of the United States and its allies, including Canada, has been one of using massive violence, using children and civilians as cannon fodder, simply to advance their own interests.
The Middle East has one thing the United States and Canada need – oil. To protect that resource, they have stooped to the most outrageous tactics.
The terrible war against Iraq, for instance, in 1990 and 1991, saw some 200,000 Iraqis killed in a war that everyone now knows was a war for oil.
The US said it was a war to defend a small nation, Kuwait.
And it was true that Kuwait had been occupied by Iraqi troops.
But a much bigger nation, Kurdistan, has long been occupied by foreign troops. Turkey, for instance, has conducted a long and terrible war against the millions of Kurds who live in its territory.
But the US did not invade Turkey to defend Kurdistan. Turkey is a United States ally, a key component of its military stranglehold on the Middle East. Turkey can do what it wants against the people of Kurdistan, as long as it remains loyal to the interests of the US and its powerful corporations.
It should be no surprise to anyone that such a history – a history of violence and oppression in the interests of military power and corporate profits – should breed violence in response.
The real tragedy is, we can expect more violence in the weeks and months to come because of the devastation created by those who rule the world.
The third world is staggering under a terrible economic crisis. The poorest nations of the world are being strangled by debts they owe to western banks and western corporations ...
In 1990, one billion people in the world survived on less than one dollar a day. By the year 2000, this had increased to 1.2 billion, in a decade which was described in the United States as one of unprecedented prosperity!
Far more money pours into the coffers of the world’s banks in debt payments than goes out from the west to the world’s poor in terms of aid.
Even worse, our western rulers use the fact that they hold the debt of these countries, to force the governments of the third world to implement policies which will make their people even poorer.
These structural adjustment policies – slashing social services, privatization and deregulation, attacking union rights, slashing minimum wage levels – takes an already bad situation, and makes it worse.
The results have been horrific.
Africa has been written out of the world economy. In Russia, life expectancy has gone backwards to 19th century levels. The Asian crisis of 1998 created immeasurable poverty in Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country, reducing sections of the population to eating bark just to survive.
If third world debt was cancelled, we could begin to break this cycle of poverty, we could begin to remove the ground which breeds despair and the desperation of violence.
But the US, Canada and the corporations based in the west have no interest in canceling third world debt – they are more interested in fattening the profits of their already money-soaked banks.
And as long as these policies continue – policies of corporate greed – there will be no end to the violence of poverty and no end to the despair which breeds violence in return.
So we should mourn for the victims of September 11. But we should mourn for the victims of sanctions against Iraq, mourn for the lost generations in Palestine, mourn for the millions condemned to in the third world by the policies of our rulers and our corporations.
And then we need to organize to end the violence in the only way that violence can be ended – by getting to its root.
A terrible consequence of the September 11 attack will be an increase in the militarism of the world’s biggest power, the United States.
President George W. Bush was already planning a massive increase in arms spending to fund his “Star Wars” missile defence plan.
However, it was hard to justify spending billions on this space-age fantasy. In the past, US presidents could conjure up the “threat of Russia”. But Russia’s empire has collapsed, Russia itself is a shadow of its former self, the Cold War is over and the US is the only victor.
To date, all that Bush could talk about were “rogue states” like Korea and Iraq. But no evidence could be produced that these tiny, impoverished states were any threat to the military might of the United States.
But immediately after the September 11 events, media commentators were comparing what had happened to Pearl Harbour, the attack by the Japanese air force on Hawaii that was the pretext for the US entering World War II.
“We’re at war” said a Pentagon spokesperson, and you could almost feel the pressure for more planes, more guns, more bombs, more tanks.
It is not a coincidence that this pressure for new arms spending is happening while the US is teetering on the edge of a deep recession.
Japan has been in a slump since 1990, East Asia and Russia collapsed in 1998, Argentina, Mexico and Thailand have all gone into recession this year, and now in the heart of the beast, the United States, Canada and Western Europe, months of decline in manufacturing employment are being followed by a collapse in overall economic activity.
We are in the middle of the fourth deep slump of the world economy since the early 1970s.
The US needs to stimulate the economy. George Bush has committed himself to massive tax cuts ($1.3 trillion of those cuts are now making their way through the economy), but all past practice indicates that this will not be sufficient to restart the economy.
There needs to be a massive increase in spending from some sectors, and consumers are so indebted that they are likely to use the tax cuts, not to spend, but to pay down their debt.
Historically, only government spending has had the effect of stimulating the economy. But Bush and his Republicans are completely opposed to an increase in government spending – except for the arms sector.
An atmosphere of war, a militaristic panic, a perceived external enemy – these all play into the one thing that Bush knows he must do to kick-start the US economy – massively increase spending on arms.
What this will mean for the people of the world should make us shudder.
The US military has been responsible for the most appalling violence in recent times.
Think of the thousands who died in Panama, when the US bombed the city to get rid of their former protegé, Manuel Noriega?
Think of the two to three million Vietnamese in the 1960s and 1970s, the one to two million Koreans in the 1950s, who were killed by US firepower, in what we now know were pointless wars.
Think of the victims of Agent Orange, dying in agony to this day because of this chemical poison used in massive quantities in Vietnam.
Think of the tens of thousands of fleeing Iraqi soldiers, killed “like cockroaches” in the words of one military spokesperson on the highway of death at the end of the Iraq war in 1991.
Think of the children being poisoned today in ex-Yugoslavia and Iraq, poisoned after breathing in radioactive dust created by depleted uranium shell fragments that the US military knew were poisonous.
And remember, the US often uses its massive firepower indiscriminately.
When bombs leveled US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in August, 1998, the US said, as it is today, that Osama Bin Laden was behind the attacks. They retaliated with a missile strike on a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory, they said was connected to Bin Laden.
But ten months later, the US admitted that it carried out this strike in spite of having no evidence that linked the factory to Bin Laden.
Their war on terrorism, then, did not punish terrorists, but simply the terribly poor people of famine-plagued Sudan.
The list goes on.
The violence of September 11 was terrible.
But the coming violence from the US military will be far more serious.
We know from past crises that the US and Canadian governments are quick to attack scapegoats at home. They cared not a bit that Middle East terrorists were not to blame for the Oklahoma bombing – it was politically useful to target people from the Middle East, and they were targeted.
Without doubt they will be targeted again.
In addition, the biggest threat to US and Canadian corporate rule to emerge in decades – the mass anti-capitalist movement – will be ruthlessly scapegoated.
In a war-atmosphere, an hysteria develops where all critics of the system are pilloried, all dissent is stifled, all those who refuse to toe the line are repressed.
In Toronto, just hours after the attacks, the first signs of this oppression were being felt.
An administration representative from Ryerson University phoned the president of the student council, asking her to call off an activist assembly scheduled for September 12, because one of the advertised speakers was John Clarke from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP).
What possible link could there be between OCAP and the September 11 events? Clearly, there is none.
But that makes no difference. The point is to use these events as an excuse to stifle progressive events that challenge the status quo and the corporate agenda ...
Undoubtedly, this will make the work of the anti-capitalist movement in the coming days and weeks more difficult.
We will face a wave of hysteria, fomented by the media, denouncing the upcoming anti-IMF World Bank demonstration in Washington, denouncing the October 16 mobilization in Toronto, denouncing the November 9 mobilizations against the WTO meetings in Qatar.
Some will seek to retreat completely in the face of this hysteria.
Buzz Hargrove, for instance, president of the Canadian Auto Workers, has already sent a letter to Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress calling for a suspension of worldwide labour-led mobilizations November 9. He said this would symbolically express the labour movement’s opposition to senseless violent acts.
Hargrove is wrong. To abandon November 9 in the face of a newly confident right wing would intensify the paralysis that many activists are feeling in the wake of the September 11 events.
We have to respond on two fronts.
First, we have to be prepared with the arguments as to the real sources of the violence in this world, the real threat to ordinary people – a threat which comes from imperialism, not some faceless terrorists.
The Ryerson students responded brilliantly. They went ahead with their assembly, but changed its focus – “How do we win a world of peace?”
Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees in British Columbia also responded brilliantly. Instead of arguing that November 9 be cancelled, they argue for a change of focus. “It seems clear that we must now make ‘Peace and fair trade’ our focus and rallying call for any events leading up to or around November 9th,” said a CUPE representative from BC.
This is the approach we need on all fronts.
Bush is masquerading as the defender of peace.
But he is a liar. He is the leader of the most dangerous rogue state in the world.
It is the anti-capitalist movement, the new radicalization, that contains within it the seeds of a world where violence can be eliminated.
But this has to be patiently explained to people in the coming weeks and months.
Second, we have to remember that in spite of the hysteria, the issues we have been fighting on have struck a chord with millions, and the basis for this remains.
Structural adjustment programmes continue to strangle the lives of millions in the third world.
Privatization and deregulation continue to pulverize the lives of working people and the poor here in the west.
Poverty and despair continues to define the lives of the majority of people in the world.
For the moment, the din of war-hysteria will make it harder for us to get this message out.
But that din will not last forever.
It will soon become clear just how vicious and ferocious the face of militaristic imperialism is.
In the long run, the very forces that have created this crisis – a world driven mad by corporate greed and imperialist violence – will recreate the conditions where millions will listen to the message of the anti-capitalist movement.
A better world is posssible.
A better world is necessary.
But to get to that better world, we have bitter struggles against a dangerous enemy. Activists have an immediate job to do, explaining that the real enemy facing working people in the US and Canada is not a group of “terrorists”, but the corporations and their government friends who have ruled by violence and despair for generations.
When Bush, Blair and Chrétien talk about putting an end to horrors like the assault on Manhattan, they mean returning fire, an eye for an eye, relying on military power, unleashing state-sponsored terror.
They will only succeed in preparing future attacks, creating new implacable enemies willing to lay down their lives in such attacks.
They will only replicate the very motives that propelled the events of September 11: the desire to return fire on the economic and military tyranny of western imperialism.
Raising the ante with yet greater horror cannot end horrors.
The call for revenge will be motivated by portraying the US – and the western powers – as morally superior, innocent victims.
This cannot stand for long.
The ruling elite of the western powers – like ruling classes in every country – have bled the working people of their own country to pad their wealth and power. But they have done more: as the paragons of world imperialism, they have ground nations, cultures, peoples around the world under their heel.
The reaction of Bush and his allies will not succeed, but there is a way to end such acts of terror for good.
We must create a world of peace – not just the absence of war, but a world where all people can meet as real equals.
We must create a world without racism and oppression – a world that only becomes possible when those responsible for past crimes make honest amends for the living legacy of those crimes.
We must create a world of without exploitation – where success is no longer defined by how many others you step on and where those who work take control of the fruits of their labour.
A pipe dream?
That is what Bush and Chrétien would say. That is what all those with a vested interest in maintaining a world of exploitation, oppression and war always say.
It is their solution – promising to end terror through greater terror – that is the real pipe dream.
Where is the power to build this new and better world?
The power is one that the bosses and politicians really fear.
The power is one that the adherents of terrorist tactics ignore.
That power is the economic might of the organized working class.
It is a power – here in the west – which was in the process of rising from a long sleep, joining and supporting the growing movement against corporate globalization, against capitalism.
Temporarily that power will be distracted by the “war hysteria” being created by the rulers and their media.
But it won’t be long before the dust settles and the root evil in the world emerges in sharp relief – the existence of a tiny class of people which draws its power from the continued misery and enslavement of the vast majority of the planet’s population.
Last updated on 18.9.2001