Report to the National Committee, CPUSA
October 20, 2001.
I want to welcome you to our National Center and belatedly congratulate you on your election to the National Committee. This is probably the most important meeting of our National Committee in decades.
On September 11 at 8:48 a.m. our country and world changed as commercial jets were transformed into projectiles of senseless death and destruction by hateful and criminal terrorists.
Not only were the lives of thousands of people lost and not only was there destruction beyond belief, but shock waves of profound sorrow, fear, anger, and concern about our future were felt across our country and the world.
But also, in that horrific instant and the weeks that have followed, domestic and world politics took an altogether new, frightening, dangerous, and unanticipated turn.
How do we explain this turn in world politics?
What direction is it going? Who benefits from it? Where will it end? What can we do? These are questions that this meeting must address.
At the outset, however, I want to say that the way that the Bush administration has chosen to combat international terrorism is counterproductive. There were and still are alternative ways to tackle this new danger to humankind.
Rather than bringing us closer to a solution to the problem, the administration’s response to the terrorist attack is sharpening every struggle to the extreme, endangering every democratic gain won over the past seven decades and, most ominously, plunging the nation into wider and possibly unending war.
As a result, we can expect further loss of life on a broad scale, the likelihood of further terrorist attacks, and the possibility of an era of social retrogression at home and abroad.
The struggle for a peaceful, just, and terror-free world is the overarching issue of our time and is inextricably bound up with the struggle to curb the power of the Bush administration and the most reactionary sections of transnational capital.
Unless the militarist direction of right-wing political forces in our country is checked by the actions of the world’s people, the prospects of a world free of deadly conflict, inequality and economic want are not promising.
As gloomy as the present moment seems, gloom should not be the prevailing mood among communists. We should evince a quiet confidence and determination to meet this new challenge and to meet it, not alone, but with people across our country and planet who are reasonable, and democratic- and peace-minded.
While there is no guarantee of victory in politics, the people of our country and world have come up against huge challenges in the past and somehow mustered the will and unity to prevail. They will do it in the present circumstances, too.
I say this not because I am an unreconstructed optimist but because the class and social forces are slowly assembling, at home and worldwide, that have the strength and unity to restrain the perilous course of the Bush administration and move the country and world in the direction of peace, equality, and economic security.
New Stage of Struggle
With the unrelenting bombing of Afghanistan, the Bush administration has moved its ‘war against terrorism’ to a new stage. The bombing is the most visible and destructive feature of this aggressive assault, but it has other components as well, including the use of Special Forces and commando units.
Whether ground troops will be used is unknown at this moment, but it is likely at some point in this assault. Since Vietnam, successive administrations have been hesitant to introduce ground troops into theaters of military action, but this does not seem to be a major concern of Bush’s advisors, perhaps with the exception of Powell.
In an operational sense, this military action is unilateral. The international coalition is on the periphery of the air assault. For all practical purposes, this is the work of U.S. imperialism and it is doing its job with a vengeance.
The ostensible targets are the Taliban government and the network of terrorists groups headquartered in Afghanistan. After several weeks of steady bombing, it is still unclear what damage has been inflicted on either of these targets. Both have probably been weakened, but only time will tell.
The unrestrained bombing of the country’s major cities has killed innocent Afghani people, and more will be killed. The use of air power may have reached a new level of technical accuracy, but, as most experts admit, bombs and missiles stray from selected targets. Not a day goes by that doesn’t offer fresh confirmation of this fact. Moreover, it would be a mistake to accept the claim that civilians are off the military’s radar screen. Time, not official pronouncements, will render a verdict on that matter.
In addition, by making overland shipments of food and other supplies virtually impossible, the massive air strikes are in all probability a death sentence for 7.5 million starving Afghani people. The dropping of food packets is a cynical and calculated attempt to put a humanitarian face on the U.S. military action. All this should be brought to the attention of the American people.
Another direct result of the bombing is the flight of a half million people to already crowded and unsanitary refugee camps on the Pakistan border, where resources are badly strained.
In short, a vast crisis is enveloping this war-torn country that will inevitably claim the lives of vast numbers of innocent people, especially the most vulnerable – children and the elderly. Any suggestion that the ‘collateral damage’ from the use of military power is minor is either misinformation or a self-serving lie.
In the meantime, not a single terrorist, including bin Laden, has been apprehended, and the Bush administration is now in the business of assembling a puppet government.
Even in the event a new government is stitched together, the Taliban movement will likely remain in the country and engage in guerrilla actions, much like it did before coming to power. In these circumstances, it is almost certain that an occupation army, largely composed of U.S. troops, will be needed to protect the new government, whose legitimacy among the Afghani people will be questionable.
The stay of this occupation army will be indefinite and the scale of involvement will grow over time, much like it did in Vietnam.
In his speech announcing the beginning of the bombing of Afghanistan, President Bush said, ‘Today we focus on Afghanistan. But the battle is broader. Every nation has a choice to make. In this conflict there is no neutral ground. If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and killers themselves. And they will take that lonely path at their own peril.’
There is nothing statesmanlike or sober-minded about this speech. It is saber-rattling and provocative. It inflames passions. It brings us no closer to a solution to the indisputable new danger of terrorism. It sets the stage for an even wider and ever more destructive war in the Middle East and southern Asia.
It operates on the mistaken assumption that war can be contained. We know from history, in fact recent history, that wars have a logic and momentum of their own and can easily spread beyond the prescribed bounds of the cleverest policy-maker.
Keep in mind that spokespersons for Bush claim, although offering no evidence, that terrorists operate in 61 countries. This gives the U.S. broad latitude to invade and topple sovereign governments worldwide, including Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, and Colombia in our own hemisphere. Let’s not forget how successive U.S. administrations during the Cold War punished and overthrew popular governments in the name of fighting the Soviet threat and making the world safe for democracy. To think that this Bush administration would not do the same would be extraordinarily na•ve.
The fact that we have fundamental differences with Bush’s doctrine doesn’t mean that we minimize in the slightest way the danger of terrorism to humankind. To the contrary, terrorism is morally and politically reprehensible, no matter what the source – whether it is state-sponsored or comes from the extreme right, fascistic clericalism or the extremist left.
Today terrorism is a growing and highly lethal danger. With the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorist acts in the 21st century have the potential to harm, even wipe out, whole populations.
Nevertheless, we cannot under any circumstances agree with the Bush administration’s definition of terrorism and the means it chooses to combat it. As some of the more sober-minded commentators have stated, there are other ways to combat terrorism that accent political and diplomatic means.
But the Bush administration and the most reactionary sections of transnational capital ruled out such options from the start, because of their imperialist aims. In doing so, it is turning a tragic moment in our nation’s life into a perilous one for all of humanity.
Some even say that we’re on the doorstep of fascism. In an abstract sense fascism, which we should understand as the replacement of one state form of capitalist class domination – bourgeois democracy – by another form – open terrorist dictatorship, is an inherent possibility in the present stage of capitalist development. But it does not follow that it is imminent at every moment.
Fascism does not appear overnight or full blown, but rather its emergence is a highly contested process that passes through stages and includes bitter struggles on every front – political, economic, and ideological.
‘… [T]he accession to power of fascism,’ said Georgi Dimitrov, ‘should not be conceived of in so simplified and smooth a form as though some committee or other of finance capital decided on a certain date to set up a fascist dictatorship. In reality, fascism usually comes to power in the course of a mutual and at times severe struggle against the old bourgeois parties, or a definite section of these parties, in the course of a struggle even within the fascist camp itself.’
Fascism, however, is generally not the capitalist class’ preferred form of rule. While resorting to fascism allows the ruling class to consolidate its power under certain circumstances, it also runs the risk of narrowing its political base significantly, and strips away the democratic rights that have helped the U.S. ruling class sustain its rule at home and abroad.
Thus, the capitalist class would rather rule through bourgeois democratic forms. But conditions of struggle may arise that lead the most reactionary sections of transnational capital to seriously consider a fascist solution to capitalism’s crisis. The broad democratic movement should not dismiss this danger.
The best way to prevent the rise of fascism is to fight against reactionary measures at every stage of the class struggle. In this regard, it is imperative for all democratic-minded forces in our nation to oppose the current trampling of our democratic rights and liberties by Bush and his Justice Department.
While these anti-democratic measures, codified in the anti-terrorism bill, don’t constitute an immediate threat of fascism, the overall political trajectory of this administration should be a cause for great alarm among broad democratic forces.
Behind the ‘War on Terrorism’
More than patriotic zeal animates the Bush administration’s war against terrorism. More than love of homeland is behind this reckless strategy fraught with dangers to people at home and worldwide. Hiding in the shadows and outside public discourse are other political motives and long-term strategic aims.
What are they?
First, the Bush administration would like to construct an arc of unchallenged political and economic dominance stretching from West Africa across the Middle East and the southern regions of the former Soviet Union and as far east as Indonesia.
This region is rich in exploitable labor and resources – particularly oil, which abounds across this wide swath of territory, generates enormous profits for U.S. transnational corporations, and is the most critical strategic resource for the smooth functioning of the world capitalist system.
According to the Statistical Review of World Energy, this region accounts for more than 65 percent of oil and gas production presently, but by 2050 it will account for more than 80 percent.
‘The combined total of proven and estimated reserves in the region,’ the Statistical Review goes on to say, ‘stands at more than 800 billion barrels of crude petroleum and its equivalent in natural, gas. By contrast, the combined total of oil reserves in the Americas and Europe is less than 160 barrels, most of which, energy experts say, will have been exhausted in the next 25 years.’
Here we see the nub of U.S. imperialism’s geopolitical interests in this region.
Second, the Bush administration wants to use the anti-terrorism war to impose its reactionary, anti-labor, anti-women, anti-people racist domestic program on a reluctant nation, and to consolidate the political power of the extreme right and its corporate backers in the 2002 and 2004 elections. The extreme right is determined to solidify its control over the federal government for years to come.
Finally, Bush’s war against terrorism seeks to reassert U.S. imperialism’s single superpower status in every region of the world and gain advantage over its imperialist rivals.
In short, the Bush administration hopes that its new war against terrorism is its entrance ramp to permanently and irreversibly solidifying its single superpower status in the 21st century.
Yes, its eyes are on the vast oil fields, refineries, and pipelines in the Middle East, Russia, and southern Asia. Yes, it wants to impose a program of reaction at home. Yes, this administration is determined to gain supremacy over its leading capitalist competitors.
Yet as powerful as these inducements are, they are neither more nor less than crucial aspects of a single, integrated, and wider policy of gaining complete U.S. hegemony over the globe and outer space.
The aggressive actions of the Bush administration bring home the point that globalization is not a purely economic process. More than the invisible hand of Adam Smith and the efficiency of rival production units accounts for the unequal distribution of economic and political power across the globe.
The rise and fall of competing imperialisms is closely connected to their ability to project political and military power to far-flung regions of the world, which in turn allows them to gain advantage over rivals as well as adversary classes and movements around the world.
No imperialism is better able to do this than U.S. imperialism, as is evident today. Of course, the drive for global domination brings with it ruptures, contradictions, crises, and, above all, resistance.
New Legimitizing Discourse
The shocking and terrifying nature of the September 11 assault has done more than temporarily traumatize the nation. It has also given the Bush administration and the far right a new legitimizing discourse, or, to put it in a less highfalutin’ way, a new ideological rationale to pursue its political objectives at home and around the world.
Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. ruling class has been without a fully convincing political rationale to give legitimacy to its narrow class interests. Following the defeat of Nazi Germany and Japan in World War II, and for the next 45 years, the specter of an aggressive Soviet Union hellbent on world domination was the ideological canopy under which the American people were mobilized behind the reactionary political project of the U.S. ruling class.
But with the collapse of Soviet socialism and the end of the Cold War a decade ago, the ruling class was without such an overarching ideological rationale. The ‘Soviet menace’ and the ‘evil empire’ were no longer serviceable ideological constructs to give legitimacy to imperialism’s policies domestically and internationally.
In this sense, the disintegration of the Soviet Union was not an unalloyed blessing for the U.S. ruling class. On the one hand, socialism’s collapse objectively removed the biggest obstacle to imperialism’s hegemonic plans, but it also removed the ideological justification for its aggressive policies.
Thus, while U.S. imperialism emerged triumphant at the close of the 20th century, it entered the 21st century without a set of credible arguments that would lend legitimacy to and mobilize the people behind its polices.
For a while it floated the concept of humanitarian interventionism and later it bandied about the notion of rogue states, but neither resonated enough in the thinking of the American people.
So the ruling class, and especially its most anti-working class, reactionary and racist sections, has been groping to find a new rationale – a legitimizing discourse – that will win public opinion to its objective of aggressively pursuing and consolidating its single superpower status worldwide.
In the absence of such an ideological and political construct, a broad people’s movement at home and globally was able over the past decade to frustrate many of the far right’s most reactionary plans. The brazen theft of the presidency in the 2000 elections did not succeed in dampening this movement.
September 11 and its Aftermath
It is in this context that we should see the terrorist attack on September 11. It was so horrific, so immediate, so unexpected, and so cruel that people were profoundly shaken. Millions felt a deep fear that was, up to that moment, foreign to our national psychology.
Life became fragile and contingent. We were no longer safe, no longer immune from violence perpetrated by faceless and remorseless terrorists.
Seizing on this understandable sea change in mass psychology, the Bush administration is transforming the real danger and fear of international terrorism into a new ideological rationale that galvanizes public opinion behind its political program, much like earlier administrations during the Cold War utilized the ‘Soviet menace’ to aggressively pursue their reactionary agenda.
Had the terrorist attack not occurred, the Bush administration probably would have been forced to retreat politically this fall. Bush’s standing in the polls was dropping precipitously, the federal budget surplus was disappearing, the regressive and harmful nature of his tax giveaway to the rich was becoming more apparent, his promise not to touch Social Security was putting him in a bind, and his misnamed ‘anti-missile defense’ system was coming under close and critical public scrutiny.
At the same time, the labor and people’s movement was becoming more assertive at home. Around the world, grave concerns were being voiced in governmental and other circles regarding the administration’s Star Wars project and its unilateral approach to global problems. The worldwide movement against capitalist globalization was gaining in strength and unity.
Indeed, recent protest actions brought home the point that the ‘Battle in Seattle,’ while electrifying the world, was part of a larger continuum of struggle against the transnational corporations and their supranational institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
This political calculus, however, changed on the day that commercial airplanes were turned into lethal, incendiary weapons of war. Almost immediately, the ideological and political framework changed fundamentally. No longer was it the Bush administration and its ultra-right supporters versus a broad people’s movement, but rather a Bush-led coalition fighting international terrorism.
At the same time, labor and the people’s movements were pushed onto the defensive. The rug was pulled out from under the anti-globalization movement. The forces of peace, national sovereignty, and independence found themselves fighting under less favorable circumstances.
Indeed, in this new ideological environment, the pressure from the ruling class on progressive and moderate forces is not simply to rally behind Bush and his war drive, but also to mute their differences on every other democratic and class issue in the interest of fighting the war on terrorism, which President Bush and his aides say will go on for years.
Under the false guise of patriotism and fighting terrorism, administration spokespersons are demanding political concessions and economic sacrifice all down the line. Bush, Trent Lott, Tom Delay and gang say: postpone the fight for prescription drugs, infrastructure construction, and economic relief; forget about amnesty for undocumented immigrants; put on hold legislation against racial profiling and for affirmative action; loosen up environmental regulations on oil drilling. So goes the refrain for these modern-day self-proclaimed patriots who barely conceal their unseemly subservience to corporate interests and the wealthy.
As these pimps of Wall Street tell the American people to sacrifice, billions of dollars are being handed over to the military, intelligence agencies and corporate interests. Sweeping legislation that curtails civil rights and political dissent is being enacted. Plans for a lengthy war are being devised.
However, the path ahead for the Bush administration is not uncluttered – in fact, the plans for a limitless war against terrorism could be an instance of political overreach. Although it appears right now that the administration has cobbled together a broad coalition of support, the support could well be thin and momentary.
Moreover, the objective basis of opposition to the administration’s policies is worldwide in scope and cuts across classes and nations. Even its imperialist rivals have points of opposition with its policies. Thus, a broad worldwide front is both possible and necessary against the most reactionary sections of transnational capital.
While I will speak mainly about the process of developing a movement in our own country, I can’t emphasize enough that, at every point, left, progressive and center forces should have an eye to extending the front of struggle across borders, across continents, across hemispheres, across the globe.
Not surprisingly, Bush’s use of the overwhelming power of the U.S. military to fight terrorism is meeting opposition around the world. Soon after the NATO declaration expressing unconditional support for the Bush administration’s plans, leaders of the Western European governments, save for Tony Blair, began to qualify that support.
Among the European people, support is much more scanty. Many thousands have demonstrated in cities across Europe and a recent public opinion poll showed every European country opposing the bombing by a large majority.
In the Middle East and southern Asia, the opposition to military action is fierce and broad. Not only will terrorist counterattacks probably result, but also some fragile and unpopular right-wing governments could implode under the weight of mass protests. Clearly, Pakistan falls into this category. Protests in other parts of the developing world are substantial as well.
The Struggle Continues
At home, the momentary paralysis of labor and other forces in the aftermath of the terror is beginning to dissipate. With each passing day the atmosphere gets a little less charged, thereby allowing broad class and social forces the opportunity to revisit issues like jobs, Fast Track, Social Security, racial profiling, the environment, and reproductive and immigrant rights, as well as to consider more soberly a sensible response to the new terrorist danger.
Even some sections of the Democratic Party are beginning to have second thoughts about their political posture as the struggle moves from rhetoric to legislative bills and appropriations, and as the costs of this new war become more apparent. Divisions within the congressional Democratic Party caucus are surfacing.
It would be a monumental mistake, as well as a reflection of political amateurism and sectarianism, to concede Congress as an arena of struggle to the ultra-right. To the contrary, mass pressure should be brought to bear on Congress as well as on mass leaders who remain reluctant to join the struggle.
Understandably, in the tragedy’s immediate aftermath elected officials and mass leaders proceeded cautiously, but that moment is passing. A healthy sense of partisanship from center, progressive, and left forces is coming back into the political picture, and none too soon.
Labor is fighting against Fast Track authority. Women are fighting to protect reproductive rights. Hate crimes legislation is resurfacing. A people’s economic stimulus package is finding its way into the congressional debate. There is growing concern about acts of racist intolerance and the denial of civil liberties. Voices of opposition are raised against the Bush war policy.
Where labor, the racially and nationally oppressed, women, seniors, environmentalists, peace activists, gays and lesbians, and young people are reentering the arena of struggle, it is usually not by way of direct opposition to the military action of the Bush administration, even though many may quietly have reservations about the use of force to eradicate terrorism. Instead, the points of entry into struggle are different for different class and social forces.
Broad democratic forces will engage the Bush administration over democratic and constitutional liberties. Even sections of the ruling class are concerned about the sweeping nature of the infringements upon elementary rights being promoted and implemented by this administration. Of course, the battle will be uphill now with the passage of Ashcroft’s anti-terrorism bill.
Others will join the struggle around the fight against racial profiling and other forms of racism that almost inevitably worsen in a war climate. Already concern has been expressed for the rights of people of Arab descent and other peoples of color who are the victims of vigilante harassment and unlawful search, seizure and arrest. Still more needs to be done to guarantee their safety and democratic rights.
And others will join the struggle on other issues such as immigrant rights and full amnesty.
Labor and the communities of the racially and nationally oppressed will largely come into a collision with the Bush administration on the economic crisis in the early going.
And well they should. The terrorist attack inflicted an unforeseen blow to an already unsteady and downward turning economy. Not only did massive layoffs follow, but, no less important, deep uncertainty fell over the prospects of the economy.
‘It is surely wishful thinking,’ opines The Economist, ‘to hope that the bursting of one of the biggest financial bubbles in history, combined with the aftershocks from the most serious attack ever on America’s soil, will be followed by the mildest recession in history. That is not to suggest that America will follow Japan with a decade of stagnation. America is in a healthier state than Japan was at the start of the 1990s. Yet there are good reasons to expect America’s recession to be deeper and longer-lasting than most people now expect.’
The Economist goes on to mention some of the most obvious reasons for its view that the outlook of the U.S. and world economy could well be dire: the scale of investment and borrowing in the 1990s, enormous over-capacity in most lines of production worldwide, and declining confidence among all the actors in the global economy.
Thus, the struggle for income protection and other forms of economic relief, infrastructural investment and public works jobs, and counter-cyclical economic policies, is a pressing political task for the entire working-class movement and its allies. And, of course, we have to wholeheartedly join this struggle.
The present struggles in every arena will develop on different levels, around different issues, and through different centers of organization. No single issue, no single form, no single demand will draw tens of millions into struggle at this moment. But it is probable that issues related to the economic crisis will be the main way that our nation’s working people will engage the Bush administration.
In this emerging struggle, the role of the labor movement is critical. To entertain any notion that the working class and people here or abroad can mount any kind of serious challenge to the Bush administration’s policies without labor being at the center of this diverse movement is misguided. Labor’s leading role is at the core of any winning strategy.
Much the same could be said with regard to the role of movements of the African-American, Mexican-American, and other nationally and racially oppressed peoples.
In the broader movements, and especially the peace movement, new organizations and coalitions may be required. Sometimes the existing forms of struggle are unable to adapt to changing conditions and requirements of struggle. Usually they tend to be too narrow in their approach and thus unable to attract and involve the new and broader forces entering the arena of struggle.
Of crucial importance is to connect the struggles around which people are gravitating to Bush’s war policy and ending terrorism. This will not happen spontaneously. The connections have to be raised in mass organizations and coalitions.
Admittedly, there may be tactical issues that have to be considered, but we should not allow such difficulties to become a reason to be silent. Rather, we should find a way to interconnect the immediate issues with the war danger and solutions to the problem of terrorism.
This will take some creative and flexible approaches. In this regard, sectarian groups and sectarian tactics at this moment are particularly harmful. They turn off the broadest sections of the American people, who, in the last analysis, have to enter the arena of struggle if a different policy is going to be imposed on the political centers of our country.
At this moment, most Americans don’t take everything Bush and his aides say at face value, but they are giving him the benefit of the doubt. The American people want ‘something’ done, some action taken, even if they have reservations about it. The most disabling thing in the public mind is to do nothing, to sit passively in the face of something that is entirely new and terrifying.
That is not entirely surprising because of the traumatic nature of the attack itself and the atmosphere that has been manufactured since September 11 by the Bush administration with the able assistance of the media, particularly television.
We have to be mindful of this mass mood as we elaborate tactics and approaches to winning millions to an alternative policy that both preserves the peace and eradicates terrorism. But in addition to taking into account the breadth of Bush’s support, we have to measure, to the degree that we can, the depth of public support for the Bush doctrine of interventionism. It could well be much thinner than we appreciate.
Actually, mass thinking is more complex, nuanced, and contradictory than it appears. Often, competing ideas contest for dominance in people’s minds. Which idea eventually emerges as the dominant one rests on both internal processes and external pressures.
In the present situation, anger and a desire for revenge compete with a certain soberness, a desire for restraint and a humanitarian rejection of the killing of innocent people. In New York, for instance – and this may seem paradoxical given the massive death and destruction suffered by the great people of one of the world’s great cities – the mood for restraint, for tolerance, for peace is palpable. Similar sentiments are in evidence elsewhere in our country.
I’m somewhat surprised by the depth and extent of these expressions of restraint and concern about the loss of innocent lives. It is encouraging. At the same time, we should not get dizzy with success or minimize the work that needs to be done to win broad sections of the people to a diametrically different way of eradicating terrorism and preserving peace from that proclaimed by the Bush administration.
The heart of the political struggle in the coming weeks is a contest over what idea – the idea of restraint and peace, or the idea of aggression – is dominant in the nation’s collective mind.
To the extent that the peace and justice movements offer a convincing alternative to the administration’s present political course of action and to the extent that we can reach millions with our message, to that extent will millions be won to a saner response to the new danger of terrorism.
Indeed, the nuanced, calibrated reaction of the American people should cause us to take bolder initiatives to influence public perceptions in the direction of restraint and peaceful resolution of this crisis.
To be sure, we should not act provocatively, but at the same time, we have to find ways for the whole Communist Party and Young Communist League (YCL) to engage in and influence this national debate.
Is our nation going to plunge into a wider war or take a step back from the precipice?
Will we work with the world community of nations and in international institutions to eliminate the scourge of terrorism or will we pursue a unilateral and militaristic response in order to consolidate U.S. imperialism’s hegemony worldwide?
Will the federal government provide economic relief for the victims of the economic crisis – a crisis that is deepening and extending across the full length of the economy – or will we turn a deaf ear?
Will we be a nation of equality, civil liberties, and the right to dissent or will we be a garrison state in which rights, liberties, and equality are sacrificed to a phony war against terrorism?
These are some of the questions that we have to respond to in word and deed at every level of the Party. In the coming days and weeks, we need better utilize the People’s Weekly World, Political Affairs and the internet.
Of course, bringing our ideas to a wider audience has to be combined with a readiness to join with others in fighting to impose a different policy on the Bush administration. Thus at every level of the Party we have to go into action mode. Our plans don’t have to be off the chart, but rather bolder and more concrete than usual. We should break with routine and find fresh ways to take initiative.
In the course of these struggles, we can build the Party and YCL. And we can do it at an accelerated pace, provided we act with a sense of urgency, bring clarity to the struggles, find ways to unite diverse forces, and bring the struggle for peace and against Bush’s war on terrorism to every struggle and movement.
Even though we are small, we can make a special contribution to this struggle. But it will take collectivity and lots of initiative, not apart from the American people, but beside them and with them.
This is no time to head for safe harbors. Instead, we have to negotiate the stormy seas of life that our nation now finds itself immersed in. This is no time to look for security in the confines of our buildings and meeting halls, but rather in the turbulent waters in which millions are finding their way.
The Roots of Terrorism
One of the most frequently discussed questions is: how do we explain the anti-American feeling abroad and the rise of this new loose network of terrorist organizations?
I am not sure that anybody, including ourselves, has a complete answer to these questions although it is much easier to explain the reasons behind the rise of anti-American feeling than to explain the emergence of terrorist groups. It is important not to confuse the two phenomena. They are distinct, perhaps with points of common ground, although we have to be careful not to overstate this relationship.
Anti-American feeling arises from many sources. Without trying to be exhaustive, it arises from the U.S. government-sponsored sanctions against Iraq that callously kill children and other innocent people, it arises from the brutal suppression of the rights of the Palestinian people, it arises from the U.S. support for right-wing regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere, it arises from the arrogant projection of U.S. military power around the world and the indiscriminate carpet-bombing of other countries. It issues from the blockades and sanctions against smaller countries, from the arming and training by U.S. intelligence agencies of terrorists like the mujahideen in Afghanistan, the contras in Nicaragua, and the right-wing death squads in Colombia. It issues from the crippling poverty, rampant disease, widespread unemployment, environmental degradation, and social breakdown felt by hundreds of millions across huge regions and even whole continents. Moreover, in recent years, and especially since the fall of the Soviet Union, these conditions have worsened considerably as U.S. imperialism and the transnational corporations, seeing no foes even remotely as powerful as the Soviet Union, have ruthlessly ratcheted up the exploitation of hundreds of millions around the world.
These conditions are the subsoil from which anti-American feeling grows in so many parts of the world, but this soil itself does not germinate terrorism. Exploitation and oppression account for anger and desperation, but do not directly, spontaneously, and automatically lead to the emergence of organized and systematic terrorism.
The kind of terror that struck our shores rests on and is the product of an organizing element. It doesn’t just happen. It’s not genetically passed on from one generation to another. It is not intrinsic to a people, and especially oppressed and exploited people. It doesn’t spring, like a genie from a bottle, from oppressive conditions.
Yes, oppression provokes resistance. But the resistance on the part of the exploited and oppressed is almost always collective and mass in character. Sometimes it is peaceful, sometimes it employs non-peaceful mass methods of struggle because the peaceful alternatives have been exhausted. Wasn’t that the case in our own revolution and civil war?
Material conditions set the stage for struggle and impart a spontaneous element to the struggle, but by themselves do not lead to systematic terror. For that to occur, an organizing element is essential.
Take the rise of fascism in Germany. To attribute it strictly or mainly to the crushing economic circumstances in Germany at that time would be a fundamental mistake. To be sure, material conditions were a factor. But material conditions alone were not enough. Primary was an organizing element – the Nazi Party, with its associated Nazi ideology – that was promoted and aided by the most right-wing sections of German capitalism.
Over time, the Nazis were able to exploit the real and invented grievances of the German people, combined with terror tactics, to mobilize a mass following behind its fascist political project and eventually seize the German state and commit the most heinous crimes of the 20th century.
In similar fashion, the emergence of extreme right-wing and fascist-like Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and South Asia did not occur spontaneously. It took more than exploitation and oppression. An organizing element was essential.
Granted, the wrenching changes in the global capitalist economy, the unrestrained projection of the political and military power of U.S. imperialism, and the crushing of democratic movements and democratic alternatives by U.S. imperialism and its right-wing allies in this region of the world aided this process, but the backward Islamic clericalist groups had to work the crowd. Like other right-wing groups, right-wing fundamentalist clerics demagogically played on real grievances and legitimate anger to win support for backward clericalist ideology and movements, and in some cases for terrorist practices.
Not surprisingly, these clericalist Islamic movements received generous funding from our own intelligence agencies, which counted on them to do some dirty work against communist, socialist, and progressive nationalist forces in their own and other countries.
Instead of pointing their finger at the role of the transnational corporations, US imperialism and their own capitalist and landlord class, the right-wing clerics frame the struggle as a war between the faithful and the sinner, between good and evil, between Islamic and western civilizations, and they offer the creation of a right-wing, in some cases fascistic, theocratic state as a political program.
Their message resonates because on the surface it appears that the clash between the West and the Moslem world is a clash of civilizations and warring religions. And without a democratic and left alternative to contest such views and offer different political alternatives, such a message is more likely to take hold among some sections of the people.
Just a few decades ago, circumstances were significantly different. Socialist and progressive nationalist movements had a broad mass constituency and an independent developmental path was feasible in large measure because of the Soviet Union, but not now.
With the collapse of socialism, the nearly unrivaled dominance of global capitalism, and the weakning of the progressive and socialist forces in the Moslem world, the space for such development barely exists.
This has provided the soil on which clericalist reactionary appeals have gained a hearing among masses. The fascistic clericalist groups like bin Laden’s are the most extreme form of this political trend in the same way that Timothy McVeigh was on the same political continuum as some extreme right politicians in our own country.
Actually, the growth of religious fundamentalism with a distinct extreme right-wing political cast is a worldwide phenomenon. We see evidence of it in our own country as well as other countries. Of course, it has different features and a different history in each country and region of the world. At the same time, it is almost always allied at one stage or another with the most reactionary sections of the ruling elite. It almost invariably acts as a mass constituency for political reaction.
It seems to especially arise in societies where established ways of life and values are being challenged or disrupted. This includes our own country. Using the idiom of the religious text and demagogically exploiting perceived enemies, like western secularism, big government, and contemporary cultural mores, these movements attempt to reach people who feel powerless, rootless and atomized.
Moreover, the leadership of these movements is typically not from working-class strata, but rather from middle and upper classes. And, finally, while such clericalist movements move in a political extremist direction, not all resort to violence against innocent civilians.
In sum, where people are surrounded by upheaval and crisis, are offered no mass democratic solutions, and are divorced from working-class and people’s movements, they are susceptible to the ideology of the extreme right and the appeal of reckless, desperate, and anti-human actions that in the end only serve the ruling classes. It is therefore of greater urgency to build a mass democratic and working-class movement for peace, democracy, social justice and against terrorism in our own country and globally. In fact, it is the only way to eliminate terrorism.
For the sake of balance, we should note that not all religious fundamentalists are political extremists, nor by the same token are all political extremists religious fundamentalists. At the same time, there does appear to be a greater overlapping of the two in recent years. This occurs in a broader context of a closer co-mingling of religion and the state in our country and elsewhere around the world.
Breaking the Cycle of Violence
The foremost question to be answered today is: how do we break the cycle of violence and eradicate terrorism?
First, we have to unequivocally condemn terrorism and express our full support for efforts to capture the terrorists and bring them to justice. They should be held accountable for their horrific act of terror against innocent people. Nothing justifies such an act. It is criminal. But what must guide our country and the world is the rule of international law and not military reprisals; reason and restraint, not hysteria; justice, not revenge.
Second, the organizing force to combat and eradicate terrorism is the United Nations, and especially its General Assembly. An international campaign against terror should be the property of the world community of nations. Terrorism is a global problem. No single nation – especially not our own – should claim proprietary rights over it. The United Nations should be vested with developmental, juridical, and policing powers to conduct this battle against terrorism.
Of course, our government should recommit itself to paying our back dues and conducting itself like a responsible world citizen.
Third, we must reject, in no uncertain terms, the notion that frames this struggle against terrorism as an irreconcilable clash between the civilized and uncivilized world, between the Judeo-Christian and Moslem worlds, between modernity and traditional ways of life or between good and evil.
Such concepts hopelessly obscure a complex issue and are steeped in national and racial chauvinism. Rather, we should see the struggle against terrorism as a struggle of the world community of nations and people against all forms of terrorism and warfare.
Fourth, there must be a settlement, in accordance with United Nations resolutions, of the outstanding conflicts in the world today, particularly in the Middle East. While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the main cause of terrorism today, a just resolution of that 30-year conflict that guarantees the Palestinians full national rights, including an independent state, and security for Israel, would turn the temperature down in the world.
Fifth, a worldwide movement must call on states and governments to renounce the use of forces as a means to settle conflicts between states and peoples. This is an imperative of the 21st century. Violence begets violence and, in this century, can result in the extermination of whole populations, even all of humanity.
In this era, Communists have to see life and the planet on which we live, work, love, cry, express joy, feel sorrow, bear children, and care for the elderly and sick, as precious, fragile and contingent. We are not pacifists, to be sure, but we are aware of the new dangers to humankind in the 21st century as well as the violent and bloody history of the previous century. Thus, we should be the most vigorous advocates of peaceful solutions to humankind’s problems. On our banner should be inscribed a dove and the slogan of peace.
This is not a tactical admonition. It should be a fundamental and strategic concept and value of the Communist movement. Our moral and political authority hangs on it to a large degree.
Which brings me to phrases like ‘the chickens come home to roost’ or ‘what goes around comes around.’ We should leave such statements to Jerry Falwell and his kind.
They are not worthy of the left and progressive movements. They suggest an indifference to life. But don’t we believe that every life, whether it is Palestinian, Iraqi, Afghani, Russian, Chinese, South African, Columbian, Cuban, or American, is equally precious?
In no way do the crimes of U.S. imperialism overseas mitigate the sorrow and tragedy of what occurred on our own soil on September 11. The lives of thousands of innocent people were taken away in a split second and vast numbers of children lost a parent.
The attack was not a blow against imperialism. It was a blow for imperialism. It strengthened the hand of the Bush administration and the ultra right.
I read that a communist in another country said, in reference to the September 11 attack, something like ‘we should not laugh and we should not cry.’ I think this is morally indefensible, politically bankrupt and harmful.
Such a statement is a caricature of anti-imperialism. It is antithetical to Marxism. It has an anti-American smell to it. The anti-American feeling of peoples around the globe is understandable, but such feelings should be off grounds to communists.
Vietnamese communists, even at the height of the war, always made the distinction between U.S. imperialism and the U.S. people. So do the Cuban communists.
Lenin once said, ‘There are two nations in every modern nation … There are two national cultures in every culture.’
On another occasion, he said, ‘Is a sense of national pride alien to us, Great Russian class conscious proletarians? Certainly not! We love our language and our country, and we are doing our utmost to raise her toiling masses to the level of democratic and socialist consciousness.’
On still another occasion, Lenin wrote, ‘If a Ukrainian Marxist allows himself to be swayed by this quite legitimate and natural hatred of the Great Russian oppressors to such a degree that he transfers even a particle of this hatred, even if it be only by estrangement, to the proletarian culture and proletarian cause of the Great Russian workers, then such a Marxist will get bogged down in bourgeois nationalism.’
National pride, anti-imperialism
National pride and feeling are not, or at least should not be, foreign to U.S. communists and to the rest of the left. We should not have the image of people who think there is barely anything right about our country, that it is fatally flawed in every way. There is nothing revolutionary about such an attitude.
Our country has a democratic and working-class culture in which we can and should have great pride. We make a mistake if we do not embrace this tradition and culture, if we do not see others and ourselves as continuing this tradition. We should not cede love of country, pride in country, and inspiration by country to the extreme right.
We don’t advocate unthinkingly wrapping ourselves in the flag and every tradition of our country, but we should not concede our national heritage and symbols so easily. The left and progressive forces are the best patriots and we shouldn’t hesitate to say so.
We call for the removal of the confederate flag from states in the South because of its history and what it represents, but I don’t think that we should allow our national flag to be the property of the right. To be sure, the flag flew in Saigon on the side of U.S. imperialism, it led the charge up San Juan Hill, and it rode into Mexico on a mission of annexation in the mid-19th century. But the flag also flew in Normandy in 1944 as our country opened up the second front, it was at Gettysburg in 1864, it was carried into battle by the Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, and it adorned the speakers’ platform at the historic civil rights march in 1963.
Anti-Americanism has too long been an ideological strain on the left and in our Party. It is not a revolutionary concept nor has it anything to do with fighting imperialism. Sometimes it may sound good, and it may even make some people feel self-satisfied. But we’re not immersed in the class struggle to make ourselves feel good.
Our aim is to change the world. But to do that we have to reach beyond the left because the left doesn’t make history. It is only when the left joins with tens of millions that there is a real possibility of isolating the extreme right and its transnational backers and moving the country in a different.
Anti-American feelings and slogans may momentarily mobilize some people to take to the streets, but their potential to move beyond narrowly circumscribed limits and to capture the imagination of millions is problematic, to put it mildly. It is a major and unnecessary concession to the Bush administration. It weakens the fight against imperialism and international terrorism and for a sane policy of peace and justice. It turns people off. Perhaps in the 1960s, when many of us were young radicals, it was understandable, but in the present circumstances anti-American feeling and slogans are harmful.
At the same time, we have to struggle against any influence of national chauvinism in our ranks and beyond us. That constitutes a major challenge at this moment. But we will convince few people of the harmfulness of national arrogance if we betray in our words and deeds an anti-American attitude.
Similarly, communists in other countries do their own struggle no service if they opportunistically give ground on anti-American feeling among their own people. Consistent anti-imperialism requires a distinction between the U.S. people on the one hand and U.S. imperialism and the Bush administration on the other. But it is precisely this distinction that expressions of anti-American feeling fail to make.
A Small and Shrinking Planet
We live on a small and shrinking planet. Scientific achievements have compressed time and distance. People are becoming more interdependent and interconnected. We are more aware that we share a common humanity with peoples around the world.
At the same time, the contemporary world is also more vulnerable and fragile. Political power and economic opportunities are increasingly unequal. The earth’s landscape is scarred by seemingly unending wars. The environment is under enormous stress. Social progress, even the survival of our planet, seems more contingent and problematic now. Our view of the future is less linear than it was a century ago.
The terrible tragedy of September 11 and its aftermath bring home this realization with extraordinary force.
We as a nation have to decide how we are going to respond to this terrible, heartbreaking tragedy and, in a larger sense, to the new world in which we live.
President Bush would like us to take the sword from our sheath and wield it to construct a new world order with U.S. imperialism sitting on top. Such a course of action, however, will only make our world more fragile and vulnerable. It will further scar our earth and its billions of citizens. It will threaten our very survival.
As a nation, we have to say that such a future is unacceptable. We have to envision a different country and world – one in which our children and children across this globe can grow up secure in every way.
One of the consequences of the terrorist attack is that people across our land are asking themselves in a new way: what is our role in the world? This is a fundamental question for our nation and the September 11 tragedy is forcing each of us to engage in this national dialogue.
The choices are stark. Will we as a nation walk lightly on this earth or tread with heavy boots? Will we engage in dialogue or resort to diktat? Will we be good neighbors and world citizens or unilaterally impose our vision of the future on a reluctant world? Will we cooperate and share our resources or continue to plunder the earth and its inhabitants? Will we rule with the sword or cooperate with the plowshare? Will we wall ourselves off or join with the rest of humanity and address the global issues that are literally crying for resolution?
Most of the world’s people favor peace, neighborliness, cooperation, equality, solidarity, and accenting our common humanity as the only way to make the world safe and whole again.
Such a vision requires that we transform the world in which we live. To start, the tribunes of peace have to take the world away from the makers of war in all of its forms.
Our Party is among the peacemakers. It is where we belong and it is among this multitude of the world’s peoples that our vision of socialism will find its realization.
We shall overcome – Si, se puede!