Fashioning a Working-Class Response to Terrorism


Fashioning a Working-Class Response to Terrorism
reprinted from
The People
June 10, 1995


The public discourse of politicians and pundits on the subject of protecting society from terrorism is notably devoid of anything helpful to workers who earnestly seek a solution to growing social anarchy and violence. In fact, the repressive "solutions" they offer make plain the utter impossibility of government under capitalism ever again fulfilling the role the Constitution saw for it in ensuring the "domestic tranquillity."

It hasn't always been that way. Material conditions at the time of the Constitution's adoption made insuring domestic tranquillity relatively easy. Even then, of course, "domestic tranquillity" was not available for blacks and Native Americans, but the sharp class antagonisms of advanced capitalist society that ensure the increasing social chaos and violence enveloping us today were notably absent. Opportunities for economic advancement were relatively widespread for the white male majority. To paraphrase an old parable: When there are enough water fountains, there are few fights over water.

Economic conditions have changed, and with them the prospects for domestic tranquillity. Today, thanks to the natural development of capitalism, society stands divided into two distinct classes. Two centuries of economic development under a system based on competition and production for private profit have divided society into a majority class of propertyless workers who must sell their labor power to survive, and a tiny minority class that owns and controls the means of life, lives off the labor of the majority and exercises virtual monopoly control over the reins of government.

Through its monopoly of state power and its despotic control over the economy, the capitalist ruling class subjects all of society to the "furies of private interest." At its behest, Congress and the courts outlaw or limit strikes, and police agencies and hired thugs gas or bust the heads of strikers and dissidents. At its behest -- because capitalist industry cannot provide jobs for all -- society's precious resources are wasted on more and more prisons that quickly fill to the brim primarily with members of the working class frustrated or degraded by the inhuman conditions capitalism thrusts upon them. At its behest, laws are written or superseded and workers are marched off to war, the greatest terrorism of all, or brought back to "peace" in a society where there can be no peace, thanks to the plentiful divisions -- by race, sex, age, income, religion and so on -- fostered by a ruling class that now requires such divisions to maintain its rule.

With no solutions to the increasing unemployment and poverty its system causes and the crime it breeds, all the capitalist class can do is contribute to the increase in social tensions and strife by increasing its political stranglehold on the nation and further circumscribing individual rights and liberties.


The Oklahoma City bombing gave impetus to this long-standing trend. Politicians of all stripes jumped at the opportunity it provided to shore up capitalist rule. Bipartisan support now exists to give greater investigative powers and freedom to wiretap to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and for the establishment of a special "counterterrorism" center within the FBI with its own special powers. Support is building for passage of the present version of a draconian "counterterrorist" bill that has been around in various forms since the Bush administration. In general, capitalism's mass media pundits favor at least some variation of these plans.

Calls for such measures overlook the federal government's long record of tolerance for and even occasional collaboration with terrorist groups of the right-wing variety like the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other ultrarightists. The public record includes the FBI's infiltration and use of the Ku Klux Klan to disrupt the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 70s, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' infiltration of Nazis in North Carolina, and its plotting with them of the armed assault that led to the deaths of five antiracist demonstrators in Greensboro in 1979, links between military officials and right-wing groups, plus decades of unpunished lynchings, murders and other racist acts of violence perpetrated by such groups.

The calls for greater investigative powers also overlook decades of involvement by the FBI, the CIA and other police agencies of government at all levels in the surveillance, infiltration, harassment and suppression of peaceful antiracist, antiwar and civil rights groups that would almost certainly suffer from a renewal or increase in such abuses as a result of any widening of the investigative powers of government.

The "counterterrorism bill" is especially ominous. It would give the president arbitrary power to decide who is a "terrorist," with no provision for appeal. It would authorize secret trials of persons accused even of giving contributions -- including humanitarian aid -- to "terrorist" organizations and would accept accusations made by anonymous informants. Those arrested could be declared ineligible for bail, detained indefinitely until trial and considered guilty until proven innocent. Those unable to prove their innocence could be immediately deported (in the case of noncitizens) or given a jail term of up to 10 years (in the case of citizens) even if not proven guilty of a crime.


Calls have emanated from some liberal and reform quarters that in essence make the demand to ban hate talk and hate groups. These calls, too, presuppose that the state is a neutral body that serves the will of the people. Moreover, the call to suppress hate groups and right-wing paramilitary organizations translates into an appeal to restrict their exercise of free speech, free press and free assembly. Such an approach holds great danger for workers generally. Restrictions enacted by the state ostensibly aimed at suppressing such groups can readily be used as precedents to justify the suppression of antiracists, antifascists, unions and the workers' movement generally.

The idea that modern capitalist government can provide domestic tranquillity and protect the public from right-wing -- or any other -- terrorist acts is an illusion. Judging from historical precedent, capitalist government is extremely unlikely to use the new powers it wants to stamp out the radical right, excluding elements like the Oklahoma City bombers that now seem to have turned on their historical nurturer. A similar illusion -- that the instruments of bourgeois democracy would prevent the rise of fascism -- effectively seduced the German working class during the 1930s and helped set the stage for the Nazi Holocaust.


During times of economic hardship, the fascist menace grows more dangerous. Fascist ideology provides simple "answers" to their problems facing displaced and debased workers and desperate petty capitalist elements and provides them with readily identifiable scapegoats for their frustrations -- blacks, immigrants, Jews, "commies" and so on. As economic conditions worsen, fascist groups prosper, but while they may attract the support of individual large capitalists, they don't become attractive to the capitalist class as a whole until the class as a whole feels that its continued rule is at stake. Moreover, since much of fascist ideology is at least vaguely anti-"big business," much of their support is behind the scenes, so as not to risk the ire of the "storm trooper" rank and file the fascist movement relies upon as its coercive force for violent social change and rule.

There are few signs that the U.S. capitalist class is ready to back fascism yet. But recognizing that fascism is capitalism's last line of defense against the possibility of the working class arising to effect its own solution to growing social decay and anarchy, and that the rise of right-wing hate groups comes at a time when more capitalist politicians than ever are spouting some of the same language these groups use, the Socialist Labor Party points out the need for a revolutionary alternative to the economic insecurity sown by capitalism and now being reaped by fascists and other terrorists.

That alternative involves establishing independent, classconscious workers' economic and political organizations to wage revolutionary class struggle on a civilized plane. A political party of the working class is needed to work for a democratic mandate at the ballot box and help recruit workers for the needed economic force. That civilized force must be provided by Socialist Industrial Unions that will work for that mandate AND organize on a classwide, industrywide basis to back up that mandate. This is the civilized force needed to take, hold and operate the means of life and establish a socialist society collectively owned and democratically controlled by the working-class majority. Only such a society can put to an end the class divisions and economic conditions under capitalism that cause strife and anarchy, and at long last return the country to a new stage of "domestic tranquillity."