World Trade Center Bombing (1993) - Terrorism Can't Help the Cause of the Oppressed

World Trade Center Bombing
from the New Unionist, April 1993, pages 1,3

World Trade Center Bombing

Terrorism Can't Help the Cause of the Oppressed

No one should have been surprised by the World Trade Center bombing in New York.

For years the government of the United States has brought violent death and destruction to the peoples of other countries, most of which were militarily defenseless.

Vietnam might never recover from the economic and ecological devastation wrought by U.S. terror bombing in that criminal war. Tens of thousands have been murdered by U.S. military actions against the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Nicaragua, Libya, Lebanon, Panama. And the most one-sided carnage of all, the Gulf War destruction of Iraq, is fresh in the minds of the people of the Mideast and throughout the world.

Besides direct attack by the U.S. government, third-world peoples are also subject to the state terror of puppet governments of the U.S. Palestinians are regularly murdered by Israel' s military forces supplied and financed by the U.S. Indonesia slaughters the people of occupied East Timor with the blessing of our government.

In all, the U.S. sells arms and provides aid to close to 100 dictators and authoritarian governments around the world (not including "democracies" like Israel). Right up to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saddam Hussein was one of "our" strongmen whose oppression and murder of the Kurds and other Iraqi dissidents-including poison-gas attacks-drew no objection from Washington.

The U.S. government has earned such a great reservoir of ill-will and hatred in the world that the surprising thing is that this country was for so long spared violent acts of retribution.

As understandable as the World Trade Center bombing is, however, it and other terror acts against the property and people of the United States will do nothing to change U.S. foreign policies or alleviate the poverty and oppes-sion suffered by third-world peoples. Terrortacticsby oppressed groups are not an expression of power, but an admission of weakness and desperation which, if continued, only result in their defeat.

Terrorism by the Palestinians against Israel proved so ineffectual that the PLO renounced it as official policy years ago. The IRA has conducted a bombing campaign against England for decades without forcing the British to leave Northern Ireland. In India, before the recent rash of Hindu-inspired bombings, Sikh separatists carried out terror attacks, including the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, to no good effect for their cause.

Terror can't influence or overthrow state policy because the state can always bring to bear its own weapons of terror on an infinitely greater scale. While terrorists may be able to kidnap or assassinate a government official here and there (which does nothing to weaken the institution of government), governments use the pretext of illegal acts to suppress and jail dissidents and thereby debilitate resistance to their rule.

In fact, because terrorism inevitably harms innocent bystanders-such as the workers in the Trade Center at the time of the bombing-the political effect of terror is usually to strengthen the legitimacy of the state because it is seen as protecting citizens against the murderous acts of amoral madmen. The legitimate grievances of the resistance movement are thereby discredited in the eyes of the people.

This is so predictable and effective from the standpoint of the state that government security agencies regularly infiltrate organizations they wish to disrupt with agents provocateur, whose assignment is to goad the groups into committing violent and illegal acts.

Modern governments, especially those of industrial countries that command overwhelming police and military powers, can't be brought down by external force (except by that of another militarized state). Governments can only be captured or replaced from within, by political means.

Political power is the force of numbers, of the great mass of the population of a country sharing the same ideas as to what is right and moral in social affairs.

In the United States, the capital-owning class comprises only a small percentage of the population yet it monopolizes political power-the institutions of government-because it dominates the working-class majority ideologically.

Most people today accept the premises of capitalism-that individuals and corporations have a right to own the industrial resources of the nation and to operate them for private profit. They express agreement with these principles of the owning class by voting for its two parties (or three, as in the last election), thereby legitimating the political rule of the owning class. This class then rules in its own self-interest, the interest of a small minority of the population.

For the system of government to become truly democratic, in the sense of representing the interests of the people as a whole, the ideas of the majority first have to change. This happens by dissenting political organizations offering alternative ideas about how to structure society, combined with growing practical evidence in people's everyday lives that the existing system doesn't work.

Although opportunities for public dissent are limited or impossible in totalitarian states, political action, not armed insurrection, is still the most feasible means for changing government in an industrial society.

When East Germany was a separate country ruled by the Communist Party, the government maintained a tight control on the population. Surveillence cameras kept watch on public areas. Spies and informants were everywhere. The secret police kept files on millions of citizens. Resistance seemed futile.

But once the ruling class's external prop -- the Soviet Union -- was withdrawn, the people lost their fear and came out as a single united force against the state. They "voted" the government out by huge demonstrations in the streets that declared they no longer recognized the authority of Communist Party. Against this show of force the Party bosses revealed the essential cowardice of all ruling classes and surrendered without a fight.

The situation is of course different with third-world peoples, whose source of oppression is a foreign country in which they have no potential political power. In this case, they need to win support for their cause from the people of the oppressing country who do have potential power.

For example, the Palestinians can't win by directing their fight against the people of Israel. They must weaken the government of Israel by persuading the Israeli working class that its real interests lie not in alliance with Israel's ruling class but in solidarity with Palestinian workers. It is only through mass political pressure within Israel in support of justice for the Palestinians that the government's policy will change. (Or it will change if the U.S. forces Israel to recognize the claims of the Palestinians. But that would be to "stabilize" the region and make the Palestinians dependents of the U.S. the way Israel already is.)

Working-class solidarity and alliance can't develop, however, as long as Israeli and Palestinian workers are terrorizing each other on the streets of Israel and the occupied territories. Nor can the Palestinians gain political support in the United States through acts of terror against Americans.

This is not a matter of American revolutionaries lecturing Palestinians or anyone else on how to conduct their struggle. It is a matter of debate within what needs to be an international movement against capitalism on the best strategy and tactics for the movement.

The immediacy of the suffering of the Palestinian people and other oppressed nationalities will of course make them impatient and angry with the political backwardness of the workers of the U.S., Israel and other imperialist nations, and tfie temptation will be great to see them as part of the enemy camp. But the fact remains that an international working-class movement is the only force capable of overcoming the injustices endemic to the international capitalist system, and tactical decisions need to made with that goal foremost in mind.

While the people of East Germany succeeded in toppling their oppressive political system, they had no program for establishing an economic democracy to take its place. Given that the so-called Communists ruled in the name of socialism and workers' democracy, it wasn't surprising that the people imagined the Western system was the only alternative they could choose. But in truth they only exchanged a phony "workers state" for a phony "freedom," and conditions for workers in eastern Germany are today worse than under the Communists.

Political organization and action, as necessary as they are to change society, are not enough: alone they only result in exchanging one set of crooks for another. To establish a thorough-going change from the grassroots up, the workers must also organize economically, into an all-inclusive industrial union. It is this workplace-based organization that can give the people direct democratic control over their own labor and the product of their labor, becoming in the process the nation's new form of government.

Industrial organization also gives the people a power base to back up their political will that succeeds where the force of armed violence and terrorism fails.

When the people of Iran "voted" in the streets to get rid of the Shah in 1979, the government responded by shooting them down. However, this criminal action only served to raise the people's determination to destroy the government to a higher level of resolve. They could not respond with arms, but the organized oil workers of Iran went on strike, shutting off the government's financial support, including its ability to pay its police and soldiers. The King of Kings then decided it was time for a vacation outside the country (the ruling-class cowardice factor asserting itself once again).

However, the consciousness and organization of the workers were not deep enough to enable them to establish their own workplace democracy to replace the Shah's state (in addition to the natural obstacles of achieving this in an isolated third-world country). The reactionary religious fundamentalists were therefore able to take power, and they subsequently ruthlessly suppressed the independent labor movement.

The hallmark of the workers' movement must be the rejection of violence and terror as weapons of liberation. It is political and industrial organization that will destroy the exploitation and oppression of capifalism.