Opposition to the London Bombings: Voices are raised against capitalism’s descent into barbarism

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In the midst of all the statements on the bombings in London, most of which are only notable for their varying levels of hypocrisy, we have become aware of two statements, both from the libertarian and anarchist milieu, that attempt to defend a class position.[1] One is from the libcom.org website,[2] the other from the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (ZACF) of South Africa.[3]

            The ZACF begin by declaring that they “stand foursquare with the working and poor people” who were the targets of the bombings, while the libcom.org statement deplores “the horrific attacks on innocent people this morning in London”. They then deal with the question of terrorism: “Terrorist actions are completely at odds with any struggle for a freer, fairer society and never help oppressed people in any part of the globe. Instead violence against civilians is a tool of states and proto-states every bit as brutal as the ones they profess to oppose” (libcom.org); “…we are unrepentant in our bitter opposition to terrorism in all forms, whether driven by state or sub-state opportunism” (ZACF). The libcom.org statement ends by declaring solidarity “with all people fighting exploitation and oppression in all its forms, from opponents to the occupation of Iraq here to those in Iraq who are opposing both the occupying forces and the ultra-reactionary Islamists that the Occupation helps strengthen”; while the ZACF conclude: ”We, the ‘great unwashed’, are the only thing that stands between terrorists - whether they lurk in the shadows or bask on TV - and the barbarism they attempt to midwife”.

            The importance of both statements is that they grasp something of the fundamental fact that terror, like imperialism, is not a function of this or that country, or a result of one foreign policy rather than another, but is a product of capitalism as a whole from which no state can stand apart. As we say in our own statement: “The truth is that Blair’s values and Bin Laden’s values are exactly the same. Both are equally prepared to cause death and destruction to innocent people in pursuit of their sordid aims. The only difference is that Blair is a big imperialist gangster and Bin Laden is a smaller one”. ('World Leaders', 'International Terrorists' – all of them massacre the workers!)

The workers’ movement has always rejected terrorism as standing opposed to the interests of the working class. Suicide bombings are not ‘weapons of the oppressed’ anymore than IRA car bombings, shootings and beatings were before them, or the bombs planted in cafes by the ‘anti-imperialist’ forces in the Vietnam War before that or the actions of the terrorist gangs that helped create the state of Israel before that. This year will see the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest terrorist bombings of all time: the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.[4] Terror has always been a weapon of the bourgeoisie, whether it be the genocide committed against native peoples during the colonial era, the slaughter of workers after the revolution of 1919 in Germany or the Nazi concentration camps and the democratic firebombing of Dresden during the second world war. The ZACF statement is the clearer of the two on this point: “the only beneficiaries of today's global ‘strategy of tension’ (the misnamed ‘war on terror’), that thinks nothing of the lives or ordinary people are those who, like the vultures of the G8 elites roosting at Gleneagles, are left cold by the pleas of humanity”. In contrast, the libcom.org statement echoes the leftists in arguing that: “The British Government, by sending British soldiers to kill and die in Iraq and Afghanistan has made all of us a target for terrorists in their pursuit of increased profit and power at the expense of ordinary working people”. It is not that there is no truth in this statement, the actions of one power will always provoke a response from its rivals, but the error is the suggestion that this could be avoided by a change in policy, thereby implying that peace is an option under capitalism. It is because this is impossible, because all that capitalism can bring is increasing war, terror and misery, that movements such as Stop the War and the Make Poverty History reinforce the grip of the bourgeoisie.

            Both statements suffer from this lack of precision about the nature of capitalism and both reflect a certain ‘liberal’ approach in contrasting ‘the people’ to ‘the state’. For the ZACF “What matters is that humanity refuses to be led like sheep to the slaughter by their leaders” while detecting in the actions of “the G8 elites” the “stench of fascism”. The first loses sight of the fact that it is only the offensive action of the working class against capitalism that can end the slaughter, while the second implicitly sees current developments as undemocratic, whereas in reality democracy is as bloodstained as any fascism or Stalinism. Similarly, libcom.org’s solidarity with “all people fighting exploitation and oppression in all its forms” also lacks the necessary clarity about the role of the working class. There is no surprise in these weaknesses since they reflect anarchism’s roots in radical liberalism. However, it is possible for them to be overcome if the militants who produced these two statements continue their efforts to defend a class position.

The hypocrisy of the left

The strength and sincerity of the positions taken by libcom.org and the ZACF can be seen by comparing them with those of the SWP and George Galloway.

            The SWP declared that “Our thoughts are with all those killed and wounded in this morning’s terrible attacks in London” (statement on website, 7/7/05) while Galloway, on behalf of Respect, stated “We extend our condolences to the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives today and our heartfelt sympathy to all those who have been injured by the bombs in London” (statement on website, 7/7/05). Both present the current policy of the British state as the immediate cause of the bombings: “if the British government continues on the course Tony Blair has set, these will not be the only innocent people to suffer” (SWP statement, 13/7/05); “We argued, as did the security services in this country, that the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq would increase the threat of terrorist attack in Britain. Tragically Londoners have now paid the price of the government ignoring such warnings” (Galloway, ibid).

            The current state of terror is the result of bad policy decisions by governments, the US first and foremost of course, that have created a situation where the only possible opposition seems to be terror. The SWP asks “how could four ordinary young men from Yorkshire be driven to blow themselves up in London?” and then lists the wars and atrocities in Iraq and elsewhere that “produced the swamp of bitterness that Osama bin Laden tapped”. They conclude: “So, like the rest of us, they will have raged. But they will also have despaired. Then they succumbed, like other desperate young people on every continent at different times over the last 150 years, to the disastrous fantasy that they could rid the world of violence by hurling back a portion of it in some act aimed at innocent people.

“When people in the Catholic ghettoes of Northern Ireland found their cries for justice ignored and violently repressed in the 1960s, some turned to terrorism. The repression of ordinary Catholics served merely to prolong the bloodshed for 30 years until there was finally some attempt to address the political causes of the conflict.

“The repressive measures the government has introduced and is contemplating now will also bring further grievances, further bitterness that feeds a terrorist reaction.” (Statement of 13/7/05).

Galway’s argument is the same, but with an added dash of personal egoism: “A swamp of hatred towards this country has been watered by the invasion and occupation of Iraq, by the daily destruction of Palestinian homes and by the occupation of Afghanistan… I said nearly four years ago that if they handled 9/11 in the wrong way they would create 10,000 bin Ladens. Does anyone doubt that 10,000 bin Ladens at least have been created by the events of the past few years?

For both there is a simple way out: “There has to be a dramatic reverse in policy, at home and abroad. Pulling the troops out of Iraq will begin to drain the swamp of bitterness that nurtures terrorism. It will not end the threat of terrorism overnight, but it is the necessary first step. The majority of people in the US have turned against Bush’s war — we must intensify the pressure on the British government to break from him as well” (SWP); “The only way out of this morass is to reverse the policies that have taken us into it. As the Spanish people showed us last year, the way out is to withdraw from Iraq and to break from Bush’s war on terror.

“It is to address the grievances across the region, not to add to them by support for Israel’s Ariel Sharon, and for the corrupt kings and presidents of Arabia” (Galloway).

This is not the simple open support for ‘resistance’ movements of the past but a more sophisticated and ‘sorrowful’ and hypocritical ‘understanding’, which reflects, in part, the leading roles played by Galloway and the SWP in the so-called peace movement. This more discreet approach is evident in the image of the ‘swamp of bitterness and hatred’ that both use. This swamp has supposedly been created by the actions of the US and its British sidekick and the suicide bombings in Palestine, Iraq, New York, Madrid and now London are a consequence. Those who resist are 'justified', while their methods are merely understood and excused. This was expressed more explicitly by another leftist (and now media pundit), Tariq Ali, through a historical comparison: “Throughout the Vietnam War the US denounced the Vietnamese when they planted bombs in the capital, Saigon. But the resistance had to do this to make the country ungovernable. It is not a pretty thing. But the character of the occupation determines the nature of the resistance — this is true in every single instance.” (From SWP website). The implied message is that the resistance in Iraq today also seeks to make it ungovernable and that the London bombings bring this home to one of the invaders. Today it is more effective to put this position across in the language of pacifism, just as the great powers hide their imperialist appetites under a cloak of humanitarianism. In the end, behind the lies and hypocrisy, there is no difference between Blair and Galloway, between Labour and the SWP: all champion peace through terror; all are part of capitalist barbarism, all oppose socialism. The ZACF and libcom.org, for all of their confusions, are at least trying to stand against the tide of capitalist barbarism whereas the SWP and Galloway are part of it.

North, 23/7/05.


[1] We are not dealing here with the statements produced from within the proletarian milieu, such as the one by the IBRP, which we will come back to another time.

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