Where are we after September 11?

BY:CPUSA National Committee| October 31, 2001
Where are we after September 11?

The following is an excerpt from a report to the Communist Party’s national committee, elected at its convention in July. The national committee met Oct. 20-21 in New York.

The shocking and terrifying nature of the Sept. 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 worldwide.

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 a 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 creditable 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 reactionary sections, has been groping to find a new rationale – a legitimizing discourse – that would win public opinion to its objective to aggressively pursue and consolidate its single super-power status worldwide.

In the absence of such an ideological and political construct, a broad people’s movement at home and globally over the past decade was able to frustrate many of the far right’s most reactionary plans. Even the brazen theft of the presidency in the 2000 elections did little to change this situation.

It is in this context that we should see the terrorist attack of Sept. 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 until that moment, foreign to our national psychology.

Life had become 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, President Bush probably would have been forced to politically retreat this fall. After all, his 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. Grave concerns were being voiced in governmental and other circles around the world regarding the administration’s Star Wars project and its unilateralist 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 like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

This political calculus, however, changed on the day that commercial airplanes were turned into lethal and incendiary weapons of war. Almost immediately, the ideological and political framework changed fundamentally. No longer was it the Bush administration and his ultra-right supporters versus a broad people’s movement, but rather a Bush-led coalition fighting international terrorism.

Consequently, political initiative shifted to the Bush administration and his extreme right-wing counterparts in Congress while 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 in less favorable circumstances.

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 interests of fighting the war on terrorism which Bush and his aides say will go on for years.

Under the false guise of patriotism and fighting terrorism, spokespersons for the Bush administration are demanding political concessions and economic sacrifice 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; loosen up environmental regulations on oil drilling, and so on goes the refrain for these modern-day American patriots whose ‘patriotism’ barely conceals their unseemly subservience to corporate interests and the wealthy.

As these pimps of Wall Street tell the American people to sacrifice, billions are being handed over to the military, intelligence agencies and corporate interests. Sweeping legislation that curtails civil rights and political dissent is being enacted. More plans for a lengthy war are being considered.

However, the path ahead for the Bush administration is not uncluttered – in fact, the plans for a war against terrorism could be an instance of political overreach.

Even though it appears right now that the administration has cobbled together a broad coalition of support, it 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 the left, progressive and center forces should have an eye to extending the front of struggle across borders, across continents, across hemispheres and across the globe.

Already, and 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, which expressed unconditional support for the Bush administration’s plans, leaders of the Western European governments, save Tony Blair, began to qualify that support.

Among the people of Europe, support is much more scanty. Demonstrations have occurred, one of 50,000 in Germany, and a recent public opinion poll showed every European country opposing the bombing by a large majority.

In the Middle East and South Asia, the opposition to military action is fierce and broad in scope. Not only will terrorist counterattacks in all probability result, but also some fragile and unpopular right-wing governments could topple under the weight of mass protests.

Clearly, Pakistan falls into this category. Protests in other parts of the developing world are substantial as well.

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, reproductive and immigrant rights, as well as to more soberly consider 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, as the costs of this new war become more apparent. Divisions within the Congressional Democratic Caucus are surfacing.

It would be a monumental mistake, as well as a reflection of political amateurism and sectarianism, to concede the Congress as an arena of struggle to the ultraright. To the contrary, pressure should be brought to bear on Congress as well as on other mass leaders who remain reluctant to join the struggle.

Understandably, elected officials and mass leaders in the tragedy’s aftermath proceeded cautiously in the wake of the terrorist attack, 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, I would add.

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 expressed about acts of racist intolerance and decreased civil liberties. Voices of opposition are being 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 they may quietly harbor some 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. Of course it will now be an uphill battle with Congressional passage of Ashcroft’s counter-terrorism bill.

Still others will join the struggle against racial profiling and for tolerance. And others will join the struggle on issues, like 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.

It is well they should, because the economic crisis – which began months ago – is worldwide in scope and has the real potential to be deeper than mainstream economic observers predict.

The attack resulted in immediate layoffs and added greatly to the deep uncertainty over the short- and long-term prospects of the U.S. economy, making the struggle for relief and countercyclical policies a pressing political task for the entire working-class movement and its allies. 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. This will remain so. Probably, issues related to the economic crisis are 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. 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 mistaken. Labor’s leading role is at the core of any winning strategy.

Not everyone is of this mind. Thus, it is imperative that the broad left in labor convince those that we work with that labor’s role is vital to any serious challenge to the policies of the Bush administration.

Much the same could be said with regard to the movements of the African-American, Mexican-American and other nationally and racially oppressed peoples.

There is much that we can do in this regard, but it will take practical initiatives as well as persuasive arguments.

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 capture the new and broader forces entering the arena of struggle.

In the 1930s, for example, the AFL refused to organize mass industrial workers. This set the stage for the formation of the CIO. Or to take a recent example, Jobs with Justice filled some space on the left-center end of the labor movement.

Of crucial importance at this moment is to connect the struggles around which people become activated and Bush’s war policy. 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 the reason to be silent. Rather we should find a way to interconnect the immediate issues with the war danger and the struggle against 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.


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