Our reply on the Bali Bombing
Thank-you for your critical comments on the ICC article 'How Australian imperialism benefits from the Bali massacre', from World Revolution 259. This letter responds to your criticisms, point-by-point. Please pardon the length of this letter; the questions you ask actually touch on matters of immense importance to the working class. For this reason, it was necessary to respond in some length - and to therefore take some time responding to you.
We wrote: Abu Bakar Bashir, spiritual leader of one of the country's principal Islamist organisations, has been arrested and faces a possible death penalty for alleged complicity.
You objected to this, writing: Abu Bakar Bashir was not at the time arrested for complicity in the Bali bombings. At the time he was under arrest for suspected involvement in 3 church bombings in 2000.
You are, of course, correct. But we were actually very careful not to state at the time that Bashir had been charged with complicity in the Bali bombings - although it was obvious that that was what he would eventually be charged with.
We wrote: New 'anti-terrorist' laws have been announced in Indonesia, after Australia demanded these in the wake of the bombing. Some 400 Australian Federal Police and some FBI agents have rushed to Bali and are working in 'partnership' with Indonesian police investigating the bombing.
You commented: 'There were no where near as many as 400 AFP agents deployed in Indonesia'. You are right about this. ABC Radio National gave out the figure of 400 at the time that Commonwealth Police were initially sent to Bali, after the bombing. The WR article was written at this time. The figure now cited is 200 Commonwealth Police.
We wrote: Australia has also donated A$10 million in 'counter-terrorism aid' - allegedly to assist Indonesia to build an effective 'counter-terrorism' capacity, but really to institutionalise an Australian security presence there and to bring Indonesia closer to Australia's expanding sphere of influence.
You responded: What exactly is wrong with providing funds to nearby country that is desperate need to police its own population?
Our answer to this is based on our assessment of the role of the police everywhere, as well as our knowledge of the Indonesian capitalist regime and what all states (which are all capitalist in our view - including Cuba, North Korea, etc.) must do in order to survive in today's world. Contrary to the lies we are told, the police are not neutral, with just a few 'bad apples'. They play a clear role on behalf of the capitalist class as a whole. They (together with the armed forces) are the chief physical defenders of the capitalists' interests - especially defending capitalist property. Certainly, there are cops who help children cross roads, etc., and there are soldiers who create emergency health clinics in devastated zones. But this is not the main role of any sector of the state apparatus, which is above all the creature of the national bourgeoisie in each country.
The Australian capitalist class is no different from any bourgeoisie on this planet. The severe crisis of the capitalists' economic system (fundamentally a crisis of capitalist over-production) compels every bourgeoisie to compete with each other for control of as much territory as it can get away with grabbing, just in order to survive (though this is not just a matter of "economic" necessity, and usually has more to do with national strategic imperatives: we suggest you look at some of the articles published in our International Review, especially on the questions of imperialist tensions in the Middle East today).
Australian capitalism has created a sick myth of how it has never "imperialised" another country. The truth is starkly different - especially in South-East Asia, but also in the Middle East, where the behaviour of Australian imperialist troops during World War I repelled even the hardened imperial armed forces of Great Britain.
Australia's connection with the territories that came to be absorbed into Indonesia such as East Timor starkly demonstrates that their armed forces were not the philanthropists they pretend to be. The fact is that every time capitalist Australia has any connection with East Timorese and Indonesians, it is workers and poor farmers who die on all sides.
During World War II, Australian imperialism fought part of its war with Japan using the East Timorese as canon fodder.
In 1965, the Indonesian Government of the day was overthrown in a brutal military coup. Java's rivers ran red with the blood of hundreds of thousands - including many workers - for months. Australia warmly supported the new military dictatorship of Suharto and Co.
Australia and the Western Alliance turned a determined blind eye to the Indonesian military's repression of workers and poor farmers over the next 30 years.
In the final analysis, the West had no serious problems with the way the Suharto regime conducted itself. Strikes were brutally crushed, and Indonesian imperialism forcibly extended its scope to West Papua and East Timor. Undaunted, the West - including Australia - continued to provide military aid to Jakarta. The only thing that has changed recently is that Australian has sensed an opportunity to raise its stake in the Indonesian archipelago and has acted accordingly. This is due both to local factors (events in East Timor and in Indonesia generally) as well as factors of a more global nature. Let's look at the global factors first because it's always advisable to start from the biggest possible 'big picture', in order to put smaller, localised, elements into perspective.
The break up of the former USSR and the Eastern bloc in the late 1980s meant the end of the Cold War, but it has hardly ushered in the golden era of international peace and brotherhood that we were promised by capitalism at the time. Indeed, military tensions, genocidal massacres and wars have only multiplied ever since.
Without the threat of Russia, the United States is no longer able to prevent its former allies from competing directly with it and each other for a share of the imperialist pie. Powers both large (France, Germany, etc.) and small (Iraq, Serbia etc.) have clashed with America either directly (the smaller powers) or by proxy, through the training and deployment of local nationalist gangs.
Australian capitalism's admittedly minor, but nonetheless bloody, record on the world stage - and especially with respect to Indonesia and East Timor - demonstrates that it could only bring more bloodshed with its international force of 'peacekeepers'.
The truth is that Australian capital sees the misery of the East Timorese as a burning opportunity for it to at long last strike out for its share of the post-Cold War booty, by leading its own military adventure. The Australian Government even caused a major embarrassment to an over-stretched US on this issue, not to mention severely disturbing Washington's cosy relationship with Jakarta.
Now consider the 'local' elements. In fact, the stakes are big for Australia. Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country. Australian capital aims to bring it forcibly under its wing - over the bodies of not only East Timorese civilians, but also the soldiers on all sides whom never asked to be there, workers and peasants in uniform. And that is without reckoning on the chilling possibility of an escalating conflict that spreads to other Indonesian territories. As with all wars this century, the major casualties will be civilians.
Once again capitalism thus shows us its real face, time and again: an endless barbarism, good only for death and destruction. 'Bad' or 'weak' world leaders do not cause wars. They are capitalism's only answer to its insurmountable economic crisis.
It is the crisis that is sharpening the rivalries between nations, pushing them to seemingly endless military confrontations. The more the crisis deepens - as we are seeing once again right now - the more capitalism will wallow in blood, and the closer war will come to the developed countries.
The countries who made war against Yugoslavia not that long ago hypocritically claimed that this was urgently necessary to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Kosovars. This lie relied upon 'forgetting' that it was the NATO invasion itself that provided Belgrade with the best excuse - and practical opportunity - to do this.
Similarly, in East Timor, it was much the same powers who helped create the conditions for the massacre that Australia used as its excuse to intervene in 1999. Australia and the United Nations 'assured' the East Timorese that they could deliver 'peace' and independence' to them, if only the East Timorese would vote for it. It was always obvious that Jakarta would never accept losing this territory.
In June 1999, communications intercepted by the Australian Signals Directorate proved that the Indonesian military was meticulously planning the current ethnic cleansing. Undaunted, the Australian Government publicly denied the veracity of these reports. Yet, as PM Howard has since admitted, Australian troops had been preparing since at least early 1999 to play an active interventionist role in East Timor, when Jakarta's violent post-referendum campaign inevitably erupted there.
No other conclusion makes sense: Canberra was banking on Jakarta's present murderous offensive in East Timor, just like Washington was on Belgrade's ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. This also fits quite well into the plans of US imperialism, as we wrote in the November 2002 issue of World Revolution:
In the period leading up to the bombings, there were a number of visits to Indonesia by top US officials, including Colin Powell and the director of the FBI. Moreover, well-known 'hawks' like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, have been demanding an official resumption of US military aid to Indonesia, which was suspended in 1992 following massacres by the Indonesian forces in East Timor. In October the issue was debated in Congress, having received a letter from Indonesian human rights organisations opposing the resumption, given that there was no improvement in the country's human rights record. The letter also argued that the threat of terrorism - which the Bush administration was citing as the main reason for unblocking restrictions on military aid - was "very much exaggerated".
Add to this the fact that there have long been very tight connections between the radical Islamist groups and the Indonesian secret services and military forces, then suspicions can only increase that the bombings are extremely 'timely' for US imperialism, enabling it to strengthen its arguments in favour of military aid, of using Australia as a local gendarme, and of establishing a much more direct presence itself. This would allow the US to impose its version of 'stability' on a political entity which is vital strategically but divided up into a myriad of islands, many of which are agitating for independence from Jakarta; at the same time a direct military presence in the region would allow the US to begin the effective encircling of its principal imperialist rivals in the region, China and Japan. Little wonder that the Bush administration wants to blame the bombings on groups linked to al Qaeda and thus integrate its Indonesian strategy into the global 'war on terrorism'.
You next cite the following passage from our article: To ask the question of who benefits is to answer it. The answer is clearly neither the Islamists nor even the Indonesian state, but, most directly, Australia, but also, indirectly, the United States. The bombing provides Australian imperialism with a golden opportunity to impose itself directly on Indonesia in an unprecedented manner.
You ask: 'How exactly?' In much the same way that it has done in East Timor - by imposing its armed agents. And also, in this case, by compelling the Indonesian Government to dance to the 'War on Terror' tune. This time, of course, it does all this not in partial opposition to the United States, but as US imperialism's local 'deputy sheriff' (to use another phrase of John Howard - this time made a few days after the September 11 massacre, to describe the 'security' role he envisaged for Australia in the Asia-Pacific. Check the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age or The Australian for this period.)
We wrote: And back in Australia, the bombing has provided the most warlike fraction in the bourgeoisie with a very big stick to cow and morally blackmail workers not convinced of the need to wage all out war on Iraq in the near future. A relentless media campaign from the bombing onwards keeps the horror of this outrage constantly in public consciousness�
You respond to this as follows: I wouldn't call it a campaign, as there was barely any coverage on television for the first days after the bombings. Sure it got an extensive workout in local media in the days following, but why wouldn't it? With, at that time, hundreds of Australians missing, it seems only natural that local media attention would be primarily occupied with the bombings.
That is simply not true. Every day in the newspapers, for weeks afterwards, there were literally pages of coverage picking over every point not only of the atrocity, but also of the victims' lives. It was actually quite sick, because the purpose was not to grieve for the victims but to use their horrible deaths to beat the drums of war. The plan was to put out the message that 'these people' (for the moment, Muslims, especially) really had to be put in their place. Of course, the Australian state is very well aware that the Islamic establishment in Australia is quite prepared to support it in any war, as it always does. But that was not the point. The point was to divide the working class on false, sectarian, lines and on that basis (i.e., by thus dragging it onto bourgeois ideological terrain) to build hysteria, with the central aim of breaking down working class opposition to war against Iraq. This was also the purpose of the door-smashing early morning raids by ASIO in the same period. And, to a certain extent, it had the desired effect. In the first couple of weeks after the Bali bombing and consequent media vilification campaign, literally dozens of attacks on Muslims (mostly working class Muslims, too) occurred and the idea of war against Iraq received more support.
We wrote: Accompanied by injunctions to "get the bastards who did this" (Prime Minister Howard's words) and to enthusiastically prosecute the 'War on Terror'.
You claim: John Howard has never said this in relation to the Bali bombings. His response to the bombings was calm and he never made a claim to "get the bastards who did this" (although if he did, please provide me with a link to mainstream news web site that reported this).
Actually, John Howard did say this - it was literally front page news - once again check especially the Sydney Morning Herald, but it was more than likely also reported in The Age or The Australian for this period, as well.
We wrote: Opinion polls taken just before the Bali bombing indicated that a majority of the population did not support a new Gulf war. Although new polls have not been taken since the bombing, it is clear that there has been a certain shift in opinion in favour of war.
You comment: As of last Saturday (January 18), only 6 percent of the population of Australia supported a war that was not backed by the UN, hardly a "certain shift in opinion in favour of war".
Two points here: (1) There has been a clear but small increase in the support for a war; (2) a war backed by the UN will still be a war on Iraq, that can be expected to kill at least 200,000 civilians. The US has tabled plans to carpet-bomb Baghdad in the first 48 hours of the coming war with an equivalent force of bombs as it dropped in the entire Gulf War of 1991. The Australian bourgeoisie's reactionary and highly mendacious post-Bali campaign has been the primary factor in building support for a UN-conducted war.
We wrote: So who did carry out the Bali bombing? Given the facts stated above -and the precedents of Pearl Harbour and the US World Trade Centre attacks, it is quite possible that this horrendous crime was at least perpetrated with the full knowledge of the Australian and US bourgeoisies, in order to obtain the political results listed above. Did Islamists carry it out as the bourgeois media alleges? Possibly - but then, the Australian and US bourgeoisies, not to mention the Indonesian bosses, have been manipulating various Indonesian Islamist fractions since at least the 1950s.
You comment: "Indonesian bosses" have been in cahoots with fanatical Muslims for years.
We essentially agree here - although it would be more accurate to describe the 'fanatical Muslims' as capitalist political leaders who find it useful to manipulate Islam for wholly temporal and modern political purposes. Capitalism employs a range of outmoded images to mask reality. Thus (and similarly), Chief Buthelezi in South Africa is not really the 'tribal leader' he masquerades as, but a capitalist businessman, with his own very material interests to defend and extend. There are very few true tribes in today's world. A tribe is a little world falling back upon itself, a defence organism. It is a traditional and conservative institution, a community or a confederation of communities for the protection of its members against outside aggression and for the maintenance of its outdated racial customs and way of life. The term only has scientific meaning when applied to a 'relatively undifferentiated society, practising a primitive subsistence economy and enjoying local autonomy'. It cannot be applied to societies 'that have been effectively penetrated by European colonialism, which have been effectively drawn into a capitalist money economy and a world market'. (See Archie Mafeje, "The Ideology of 'tribalism'", in Journal of Modern African Studies, Volume 9, No. 2, 1971, p. 258.) Far too often the term 'tribe' is misused, when another term is arguably more appropriate. Entities called 'tribes' still exist, of course, as do supposed 'tribal chiefs', but these are qualitatively different from their pre-capitalist predecessors.
Similarly, none of the Islamist organisations that Western nations have named as terrorist are principally religious. Al-Qaeda, Ansar al-Islam (in Iraqi Kurdistan) Abu Sayyaf (in the Philippines) etc., etc., are all certainly terrorist, but their aims are very political. What's more, they are frequently used by states (such as Iran) for their own strategic purposes.
We wrote: In Indonesia's recent history, Islamist fractions have been used to first bring the last Indonesian President, the 'moderate' Islamist Abdurrahman Wahid, to power in October 1999 and then to help throw him unceremoniously out again less than 2 years later.
Furthermore, there is something decidedly fishy about the wealth of information now flooding out of the Australian media - most of it openly acknowledged as being from 'security specialists', if not from actual intelligence agencies. These include extremely detailed accounts of numerous alleged meetings of Islamist terrorist leaders in south-east Asia, to plot various atrocities. According to Australia's most respected current affairs programme Four Corners on 28 October, one such meeting was held in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur in January 2000.
You object: And one of the most unwatched, like the television network it is shown on.
No offence, but this does not prove that it is wrong. It might, however, indicate that a minority trend in the Australian bourgeoisie wants to sabotage the current war drive, because it considers it not in its own interests.
We quoted further from the Four Corners programme: The CIA got wind of it ahead of time and tipped off Malaysian intelligence, which carried out video and photo surveillance. The meeting was attended by some of Osama bin Laden's most trusted operatives, including two of the hijackers who would die in the September 11 attacks on the United States.
The gathering was hosted by Hambali [who is now accused by Australia of being Osama bin Laden's chief lieutenant in south-east Asia], who'd come from Indonesia. Bin Laden's man in Manila, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, was there as well. Among the others present were the September 11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who were at the controls of the plane that hit the Pentagon. Also there was another al-Qaeda bomber later accused of the attack in Yemen on the warship 'USS Cole'.
The meeting is thought to have been a key planning session for those attacks.
And we added: The purpose of these claims by Four Corners was to garner support for Australian imperialism's new imperialist ventures [you ask, "what ventures?"] In Indonesia, as well - in a turnaround from its attitude prior to the Bali bombing - to build support for the US push for war against Iraq. But perhaps Four Corners tells us too much. For, if the CIA had indeed got wind of the Kuala Lumpur meeting ahead of time (and the meeting did actually take place), why did it not intervene to have the terrorists plotting against it arrested and nip these plots in the bud?
The point about 'what ventures?' has already been answered above, with regard to East Timor, especially. But you don't accept the broader claims in the passage that you've just cited above, writing:
There is no way it would have been approved by Malaysian authorities, who are deeply anti-West, although are only too happy to put their hands out for foreign aid - mainly of the Australian government.
The Malaysian bourgeoisie, like all bourgeoisies, first and foremost looks after its own interests. This means looking over its shoulder at its neighbours, who are its rivals. Malaysia participated willingly and fully in Western anti-USSR military and trade alliances during the Cold War and benefited tremendously from them. Since the collapse of the Eastern Bloc it sees the opportunity - and the need - to strike out more openly for its own interests, just like every other state on the planet. This translates into an increasingly strident rhetoric against its larger rivals (most of the world!) but especially against Australia, whom Malaysian PM Mahathir denounces as alien to Asia. But in today's world, it is becoming increasingly meaningless to call a country 'anti-Western', given that there is no longer a united, disciplined Western Bloc any more, for the reasons discussed earlier.
We wrote: Of course, it could be that the meeting did not take place at all, and that this is just one more strand in the mendacious web being woven by the pro-US bourgeoisie to transfer real working class hostility to its war plans into enthusiasm for new imperialist war. But if Four Corners is actually telling the truth, it surely lends considerable weight to the argument that the Bali bombings were carried out with the full knowledge of the Australian and US bourgeoisies, in order to benefit from the bombing's political fallout.
Other evidence tends to support this last, chilling conclusion. Despite claims by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer that warnings were given to Australians intending to travel to Bali before the bombing, cautioning them against the strong possibility of terrorist attacks on that island, this is simply a lie. Downer's department issued travel advice on 20 September, warning of such a danger in Jakarta - but adding in bold type that tourist services in Bali were 'operating normally'. A further statement, issued this time by the Australian Embassy in Jakarta on 3 October, repeated the earlier advice.
You comment: I can't verify that, although it is likely this is the case since Bali is mainly a Hindu populous, and the local population is extremely friendly towards Westerners.
We shall see who is correct on this, ultimately. But consider the mounting evidence of a totally unbelievable number of 'security errors' in the US, warning of the September 11 atrocity, long before it happened. See also the Sydney Morning Herald, especially for October 2002.
We stated: This also fits into a pattern. Just as US governments were warned before both Pearl Harbour and September 11 that massive attacks were imminent, so it appears that the Australian Government knew what was afoot in Bali but sat on its hands, in order to make political gains from the ensuing carnage.
You object strongly to this, writing: You tell me how the Australian Government could gave responded practically to intelligence that there is a threat to "bars, clubs, hotels, places of worship or any other place where Westerners would gather" (however it goes) in Indonesia?
The point here is that there are reports in the Sydney Morning Herald and other Australian media that terrorist attacks against Australian tourists in Bali were imminent and the Australian Government chose deliberately to ignore these. If this is true, surely it had ulterior political and strategic motives for this? For us, the point is that the capitalist class is utterly ruthless, being literally willing to stop at nothing in order to protect its interests. The terrible bloodbath on September 11 and the smaller bloodbath in Bali, were not sudden bolts out of the blue by 'fanatical Muslims'. On the contrary, they were both a new, and qualitatively more serious, link in a long chain of wars, acts of destruction, developing militarism and arms build up.
We wrote: The upshot of all this is that Australia now has the biggest presence in Indonesia since that country's independence in the 1940s.
You comment: If Australia really wanted revenge, wouldn't it (with the help if its allies) just launch a military attack on Indonesia?
Certainly, but given (as we strongly suspect) Australian authorities knew beforehand of the impending bombings, the aim is not revenge but political and strategic, as argued above.
We wrote: Australia's Prime Minister John Howard has been able to cobble together a new 'anti-terrorist' alliance with Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia.
You comment: Any leader with half a brain would do the same - no matter what their own political views are. In fact, the US has been helping the Philippines bomb the Philippines to remove Muslim fanatics. I would hardly call any deal done with Malaysia an alliance. The Government of that country has continued with their anti-Western rhetoric, which will lead to only further problems again. What hypocrites - the Malaysian Government can't get enough of Australian funds - let alone continues with anti-Australian rhetoric.
The 'Malaysian Government can't get enough of Australian funds' - and the Australian Government can't get enough US military bases! But both the Australian and Malaysian bourgeoisies, like all the others, are always ruthless in seeking to advance their own interests, as discussed above.
We wrote: The new alliance is officially intended to guarantee the safety of regional trade against terrorist attacks. But there can be no doubt that this scheme will be used to force more active support for the US' war plans. This will be particularly useful against Malaysia (whose fiercely nationalist President has denounced the US war drive against Iraq) and Indonesia (whose current President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, has tried to balance between Islamist forces opposed to the US war plans and pro-US elements in another section of the local bourgeoisie). Howard will visit the Philippines and Vietnam in the New Year, to twist these countries' arms to be more active at the regional level in the 'War on Terror'.
You remark: Hardly twisting arms, but any leader of any country that faces the threats that Western nations currently do and does nothing about it is a few tacos short of a combination plate.
Certainly, every state will seek to defend its territory etc. But this is not the point, which here is twofold: (1) the Australian bourgeoisie is here using the 'War on Terror' franchise it has had bestowed on it by Uncle Sam to simultaneously advance both this war and to look after and if possible expand its own interests and (2) the problem of global terror is one very much created by the capitalist states themselves. On the one hand, terrorism feeds off the crushing poverty and desperation in the underdeveloped countries that has resulted from capitalism in its decadent (or imperialist) phase. On the other hand, terrorism is now used by states (Iran, Syria, the US�) for their own security and political purposes. The only way to eliminate both terrorism and war is to stamp-out the cause - capitalism.
We wrote: The various Asian and Western governments involved and the assorted Islamist fractions are all equally reactionary. Neither 'democracy' (or 'anti-terrorism') nor the US' 'War on Terror' will put an end to the fundamental cause of terrorist atrocities such as the Bali bombing, for the simple reason that it is decomposing capitalism which is producing such massacres across the globe. Just like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, the forces most likely to have been behind the Bali atrocity are former clients of the United States. And just as in the cases of Pearl Harbour and September 11, the country whose citizens were the main victims of this particular massacre (Australia) almost certainly conspired to stifle warnings of the impending atrocity from reaching the light of day. In other words, whatever the particular details, innocent people are once again the victims of decomposing capitalism, which is everywhere and in all its forms (Third World, terrorist and democratic) prepared to commit the most horrendous deeds to extend its bloody rule.
You conclude: I was only pointing out factual inaccuracies within the article, so I'll just leave this alone
Actually, it would be interesting to know what you think about this paragraph, which is the most important in the article and complements our last response, above.
We don't know what you'll make of our response to your comments and questions. We hope at least that we've responded adequately to you. In any case, we'd be interested to learn of what you think about our answers.
Thanks again for responding to our article.
JE, for the ICC. (7/2/03)