A deliberate attempt to kill as many as possible. A carnage. On Friday 13 November the streets of Paris and its suburbs were turned into a macabre theatre of bloody and barbaric acts carried out by a handful of terrorists, armed with Kalashnikovs and suicide vests. Their target? All those “prostituted” by the “western way of life”1, and young people in particular2.
On 11 January, by executing the cartoonists from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Daesh wanted the kill the ‘dads’3 of a libertarian tendency marked by the social movement of May 1968. This time, by attacking places of festivity and entertainment (Stade de France in Saint-Denis, the bistrots and restaurants of the 10th and 11th arrondissements of Paris, the Bataclan concert hall4, Daesh deliberately targeted young people who had committed the crime of liking to get together, to discuss, to have a drink, to dance and sing, in other words, who liked being alive (which the bourgeoisie, profiting from the emotional atmosphere and the media brainwashing, tries to identify with patriotism!). This is the same generation which had dreamed of reigniting the torch of May 68 during the social movement in France in 20065 and which in January had quite rightly expressed its solidarity with the murdered Charlie Hebdo artists by coming out in massive demonstrations6.
These new crimes, coldly planned, motivated by an obscurantist and morbid ideology worthy of Nazism, are not the fruit of a few “monsters” who simply need to be eradicated7. That is the way the bourgeoisie presents things. It’s an argument that serves only to justify war and engender even more hatred and crimes. At the root of these evils lies the whole capitalist system, a system with no future, no perspective, which is decomposing bit by bit and is dragging the whole of humanity into its murderous descent.
Islamic State, a product of imperialism
Daesh is a particularly revealing manifestation of the suicidal dynamic of capitalism. It is a pure product of decadence, a direct secretion of its final phase of decomposition.
In this framework, the aggravation and multiplication of imperialist conflicts, the accelerating break-up of social bonds, are rooted in a society which has no historical perspective. Neither of the two fundamentally antagonistic classes in society, bourgeoisie and proletariat, have been able to impose their historical project, world war on the one hand, communist revolution on the other. Since the mid-80s, the whole of society has been trapped in the immediate, looking increasingly devoid of any future and little by little rotting on its feet8. The collapse of the USSR in 1991, a product of the dynamic of this last stage in the decline of capitalism, exacerbated all of capitalism’s contradictions. The expressions of this phase are multiple: individualism and every man for himself, gangsterism, a retreat into different kinds of identity, obscurantism, nihilism, and above all the accentuation of the chaos of war. To the point where the weakest states have been destabilised and pushed to the edge of collapse, while military conflicts ravage whole regions of the planet. In this process the main imperialist powers bear a central responsibility, particularly in Africa and the Middle East. A glance at the history of the conflicts in these regions in recent decades illustrates this reality very well. Over this period, the USA has found it harder and harder to impose itself as the world’s cop. It may seem paradoxical, but the existence of the Russian enemy forced all its adversaries to seek protection behind the USA. The nations of the western bloc were obliged to accept Uncle Sam’s bloc discipline. As soon as the USSR fell, the western bloc also broke up and all its components started playing their own imperialist cards. The USA tried more and more to impose its leadership by force. This was the meaning of the huge military display of the 1990 Gulf war, a moment in which the American bourgeoisie managed to oblige all its allies to rally behind it. But the situation for the USA continued to deteriorate, and they were increasingly isolated when it came to the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, and the result of these adventures was to completely destabilise both countries. We foresaw this dynamic in 1990:
“The war in the Gulf shows that, faced with the tendency towards generalized chaos which is specific to decomposition and which has been considerably accelerated by the Eastern bloc's collapse, capitalism has no other way out in its attempt to hold together its different components, than to impose the iron strait-jacket of military force. In this sense, the methods it uses to try to contain an increasingly bloody state of chaos are themselves a factor in the aggravation of military barbarism into which capitalism is plunging”9.
Thus, the American intervention in Iraq in 2003, quite apart from the 500,000 deaths it caused, brought down the Sunni government of Saddam Hussein10 without being capable of replacing it with a stable state. On the contrary, the exclusion from power of the Sunni faction and its replacement by a Shia faction has created a permanent state of chaos. It’s on the basis of these ruins, of this void left by the failure of the Iraqi state, that Daesh was born. It goes back to 2006, when al-Qaida, together with five other jihadi groups, formed a “consultative Council of the Muhajadeen in Iraq”. And on 13 October 2006, the Consultative Council proclaimed the “Islamic state of Iraq”, which considered itself to be a real state. Many ex-Saddam generals, militarily competent and haunted by the spirit of revenge against the west, joined the ranks of what was to become Daesh. The destabilisation of Syria then provided the opportunity for Islamic State to develop further. In 2012 it began to spread to Syria and on 9 April 2013 it became “the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant”.
Each new imperialist conflict, in which the great powers all played a crucial role, would provide Daesh with the occasion to widen its grip, growing on the fertile ground of hatred and revenge. Several jihadi groups have pledged allegiance to Islamic State, such as Boko Haram in the northwest of Nigeria, Ansar Shuras Shabab al-Islam in Libya, Jund al-Khalifa in Algeria and Anar Dawlat al-Islammiya in Yemen. Undeniably, Islamic State has been fed by imperialist war. This is a phenomenon which has grown and extended since the mid-80s: under the weight both of internal economic and political contradictions and of the effects of imperialist war, the weaker states are tending to collapse. In the east in the 1990s, particularly in the Balkans, this took the form of a splintering of nations and of bloody conflicts, such as the explosion of Yugoslavia. From Caucasia (Chechnya) to central Asia (Afghanistan) or Africa (ex-Zaire, the Horn of Africa etc), state instability gave way to the appearance of parallel and uncontrollable proto-states, directed by war lords. Daesh is a new expression of this gangrene, but on a much bigger geographical scale than before.
But let's get back to the responsibility of the great powers, who don’t stop at merely destabilising whole regions for their strategic and military interests. They are also directly involved in the creation of these murderous obscurantist cliques and have tried to make them their instruments. Islamic State is made up of the most 'radical' Sunni factions and their main enemy is thus the great country of Shia Islam: Iran. This is why all the enemies of Iran (Saudi Arabia, the USA11, Israel, Qatar, Kuwait...) have at some point all supported Daesh financially and sometimes militarily. Turkey has also supported Islamic State with the idea of using it against the Kurds. This circumstantial and heterogeneous alliance shows that religious differences are not the real ferment behind this conflict: it is indeed imperialist interests, national capitalist interests which above all determine the lines of scission and transform the wounds of the past into today's hatreds.
But in any case, all of them have had to think again. Saudi Arabia has now forbidden any financial aid to Daesh and jailed all those who continued to act as its advocates; the USA has officially initiated a certain rapprochement with Iran in order to fight against Daesh. Why this turnaround? The answer says a lot about the putrefaction of the capitalist system. The religious obscurantism and above all the destructiveness of Daesh are such that the group has escaped anyone’s control. Such states with no future and dominated by Sharia law have already existed, in central Africa for example, but they have always been limited to a particular region. The Daesh phenomenon is affecting a much wider area, and above all the highly geostrategic region of the Middle East12.
The incessant changes of alliances, this short term outlook, this increasingly destructive approach, like the existence of the Islamic proto-state itself, reveal the dead end that capitalism has reached, the absence of any lasting solution or perspective for all nations.
Here again the compass of marxism enabled us to understand, in 1990, that the whole social order had reached this impasse: quote.
“In the new historical period we have entered, and which the Gulf events have confirmed, the world appears as a vast free-for-all, where the tendency of "every man for himself" will operate to the full, and where the alliances between states will be far from having the stability that characterized the imperialist blocs, but will be dominated by the immediate needs of the moment. A world of bloody chaos, where the American policeman will try to maintain a minimum of order by the increasingly massive and brutal use of military force”13.
The latest turn around: France, through its rapprochement with Russia, is ready to support Bashir el-Assad (officially responsible for 200,000 deaths since the beginning of the civil war!) against Daesh even though since 2011 it has been putting all its diplomatic weight behind the “Syrian opposition”. Putin, with all his shameful crimes in Chechnya then in Ukraine, has become someone you can do business with again.
By waging all these wars, by sowing death and desolation, by imposing terror with their bombing raids and stirring up hatred in the name of 'self-defence”, by supporting this or that killer regime, by offering no other solution than more and more confrontations, and all this to defend their sordid imperialist interests, the great powers have the greatest responsibility for the accentuation of global barbarism, including the barbarism of Daesh. This so-called Islamic state, with its holy trinity of rape, robbery and repression, which destroys all culture (the same hatred of culture as the Nazi regime14), which sells women and children, sometimes for their organs – this is no more than a particularly blatant and 'honest' expression of the capitalist barbarity which all states, all nations, are capable of committing. “Violated, dishonored, wading in blood, dripping filth – there stands bourgeois society. This is it in reality. Not all spic and span and moral, with pretense to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and the rule of law – but the ravening beast, the witches’ sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true, its naked form”15.
A new step in the decomposition of capitalism
It is thus first and foremost the great powers who are unleashing their own barbarism on the planet and above all in the weakest capitalist nations. And now his barbarism is escaping their control and is hitting the heart of the system like a boomerang. This is the real significance of the November 13 attacks in Paris. They are not just one more terrorist act: they show that there is a new step in the exacerbation of imperialist tensions and in the decay of capitalist society. In effect, while such actions regularly decimate the populations of Africa and the Middle East16, the fact that they are reaching the heartlands of capitalism is particularly significant. At the time of the bombings that hit Paris in 1985 and 1986, we wrote:
“What the current wave of terrorist attacks shows is that this decomposition of capitalist society has reached such a level that the great powers are less and less shielded from its most barbaric manifestations, that they are finding it harder and harder to contain to the Third world these extreme forms of the convulsions of a dying system. Just as in an initial period the capitalist metropolitan centres were able to push the most catastrophic effects of a crisis whose origins lie at the very heart of the system, so they pushed to the peripheral countries the most barbaric forms of the convulsions this crisis engenders, above all armed conflicts. But today just as the crisis is hitting with renewed force the central countries of capitalism, so it also brings back with it some of the barbarism which has been unleashed in the Third World”17
With the November 13 attacks, this process which opened up in the mid-80s, and above all since the destruction of the Twin Towers in 2001, has got wider and wider. But it has just reached a qualitative new level even in comparison to the outrages in Madrid (2004), London (2005) or Boston (2013). At the time of writing, the number of dead stands at 130 and the number of wounded at 351, 98 of them very serious. This frightful hecatomb is one of the worst in the centre of Europe since the Second World War, even though it would have been much bigger if the attempt to bomb the Stade de France hadn’t failed18. But the real difference isn’t just at the quantitative level – the Madrid bombings also killed many people (200 dead, 14 wounded). But his time, it wasn’t a brief, isolated act: Islamic State succeeded in multiplying the number of places attacked and prolonged the slaughter for three hours in the middle of Paris. Thus, in western Europe, for a whole evening, people experienced the war atmosphere which the population of Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria live through on a daily basis (and which so many of them are trying to flee from).The “meticulously”19 prepared scenario engendered a real wave of shock and panic. The direct transmission of the events, of these images of urban warfare, by all the world’s television services, the uncertainty about the number of victims, the number of attacks and of terrorists involved…all this created an unbearable climate of terror. Millions of powerless spectators remained glued to their screens and then were unable to sleep during the night.
Islamic State has managed to prove that a great economic and military power like France is incapable of preventing such actions; even though it had every reason to expect such attacks it couldn’t stop the killing.
Worse still, Daesh was able to use men and women born and living in France and Belgium, capable of committing the worst crimes in the name of a morbid, sickening ideology. In other words, it is above all the decomposition of society at the very heart of capitalism which has given rise to such an atrocity.
Many of those who saw the terrorists at close hand and lived to tell the tale, expressed their astonishment at the banal appearance of the killers: young people between 20 and 30 trembling with fear and sweating profusely20, justifying their murderous actions with the pretext of “avenging the crimes committed by the French army in Syria”. These monstrous acts were not carried out by monsters but by human beings who have been totally ground down and indoctrinated. The majority of these terrorists were born and grew up in “civilised” Europe. Many of the European jihadis now in Syria have come from the petty bourgeoisie which, in the absence of any perspective, jealous of the model up set by the big bourgeoisie, and above all foreign to any project of an alternative society, is deeply infected by nihilism. It’s this same layer of society which in the 1930s and 40s formed a large part of the shock troops of Nazism.
Another considerable part of the army of Daesh has come out of the poor suburbs, street kids with a chaotic history, humiliated by a system which has refused them entry to most forms of economic activity, as well as any social and cultural life. Here again, the wish for revenge on the one hand and nihilism on the other are probably the main driving forces behind their journey. Through these cowardly, shameful and absurd massacres, these elements finally have a sense of their own existence. It matters little to them whether they die as long as they have the idea that they are getting back at the system which has excluded hem. A final part, especially among the kamikaze elements, has been directly recruited from petty criminals. They are often people who have already carried out robberies or acts of aggression and who find themselves a few years later with a Kalashnikov in their hands, now killing with a pseudo-religious pretext.
In sum, in Europe and the Middle East, as in the rest of the world, the absence of any perspective for society, and its consequences – social putrefaction, gangsterism, the development of a lumpenised morality - supply the soil for this toxic growth. The encounter between these young people who have been born in Europe and the Syrian and Iraqi obscurantist gangs who have a real military savoir-faire is not at all an accident.
The great powers use the deaths caused by terrorism to justify war
To summarise: imperialism and decomposition are the two parents who, by getting together, have given birth to today’s terrorism. War, no-future, fear and hatred, moral collapse, terrorism… then war again. It’s an endless vicious circle. Capitalism will drag the whole of humanity towards ruin if it’s not destroyed and replaced with another society.
But what was the reaction of all the grand nations on the very night of the attacks of 13 November? The words of the Socialist prime minister of France, Manuel Valls, pronounced the day after on the biggest TV channel, gives us the tone of it: “there must be a will to annihilate Daesh”; this is a war which “could take months and maybe years”, and which will call for “exceptional measures”, adding “I will do this so that national unity will be preserved”, and finishing by a call to arms: “let’s be patriots in order to crush terrorism”. And all the national newspapers joined the chorus: “Now it’s war!”, “France is under attack!” This patriotic campaign has been relayed on an international scale, orchestrated around the Red, White and Blue and the Marseillaise. All over the world, on all the monuments, on all social networks, in sports stadiums,, the French flag has been displayed; the words of the Marseillaise were published in all the English newspapers so that the public could join in the singing at the England-France game at Wembley on 18 November. There is obviously no real solidarity from the other great powers towards France – all of them are engaged in pitiless competition, economically and sometimes militarily. No, each national bourgeoisie has simply used the 130 deaths in Paris, and the fear they have created, to put across the putrid idea that national unity is the highest and most beautiful possible unity, allowing us to “live together” and to protect ourselves from the “outside”. In reality, national flags are always flags of war! The national flag is the symbol of an ideology which pulls together the different classes of the nation against other nations. Fundamentally, it’s the same ideology as the ideology of Islamic State. And in France today it’s the Socialist party in power which is spearheading this warlike spirit. Result: French military HQ has already carried out reprisals against the outrages, dropping dozens of bombs in a few days and dispatching its aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle in order to treble the strike capacity of the French army in Syria. These attacks can be added to the 4111 targets hit by the Russian army in the last few weeks. Although every day the press relates the “collateral” victim of these massive bombings21, it is impossible to access the real figures. This is true of every war waged by the great democratic nations who intervene in the name of peace, humanitarian, safeguarding the people, etc. And each time, the human balance sheets published some years later are really terrifying. According to a very serious report: Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 years of the ‘War on Terror’22 the war launched by the US after the attacks of 9/11 2001 had in 12 years caused the deaths of at least 1.3 million people in three countries (Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan), with the report making it clear that this was a “low estimate” which didn’t take into account other conflicts (Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria). It’s Iraq that has paid the heaviest price for the war on terror, with around a million deaths, contrary to the 11,000 claimed by the US media and the 30,000 by ex-President George W Bush. The report speaks of a “crime against humanity close to genocide”. This is the real face of imperialist war. This is the real meaning of so-called “surgical” strikes!
The current air strikes in Syria will perhaps do damage to Daesh, which will make it even more desperate and suicidal, but above all they will sow fear and hatred throughout the region. The phenomena which gave rise to Daesh will in the end be strengthened. The “response” of the big powers to terrorism is part of the escalation of barbarism, part of the spiral of irrational violence.
Exacerbating hatred and reinforcing repression
Drawing the lessons from the aftermath of the attack on Charlie Hebdo on 7 January, when the bourgeoisie, surprised by the spontaneous demonstrations, was obliged to rapidly leap onto the train and take charge, the French state this time prevented the same spontaneous impetus towards solidarity, which might favour reflection and discussion and contains the possibility that people might see “the street” as a political force. On the contrary, everyone was urged to stay at home and identify with “la patrie”, to accept the logic of war. The idea of national service and a “national guard” is resurfacing. The Socialist party in France has taken advantage of the situation to step up its arsenal of surveillance and repression. The state of emergency was prolonged by three months for the first time since the war in Algeria (in 1958 and 1961) and it applies to the whole mainland and the overseas departments as well (Gaudeloupe, Martinique, Guyana, la Réunion and Mayotte). This state of emergency is a special situation, based on exceptional measures which restrain “freedoms”. It “confers on the civil authorities, in the zones it applies to, exceptional police powers”23, such as the possibility of carrying out raids without a warrant. It’s all about getting the population used to the drastic reinforcement of repression which, as the bourgeoisie knows perfectly well, it will have to use against the working class in the future. A whole array of new laws to tighten “national security” is under discussion, and the same campaign about security is being carried out across the world.
The state thus profits from terrorism, presenting itself as the guarantor of peace in order to wage war; as the protector of human rights to strengthen the control of the population; and as the guardian of social unity in order to exacerbate hatred. Hatred of foreigners, hatred of Muslims, and all the other divisions which allow the capitalist order to rule over the exploited, are being stoked up daily. Actions against immigrants are multiplying, as in Germany, where refugee camps have been set on fire. In France, the discourse of the Front National and right wing politicians like Nadine Morano play on the same reactions as Islamic State: fear, exclusion, the hatred of the other.
One perspective for humanity: class struggle against capitalism!
In such a social context, the few expressions of real solidarity appear heroic. Despite the risks and the danger, people immediately came to help the wounded. In the neighbourhoods under attack, residents didn’t hesitate to open their doors to give refuge to people panicking in the streets. Almost everywhere, a momentary tendency to come together in solidarity and indignation was quickly smothered. All this shows that the indifference and ignorance of the person next to you, which in normal times prevails in capitalist society, can be overcome when there is a conscious wish to express solidarity, to help people facing real danger. We’ve seen this in the last few months when a significant part of the working class welcomed the refugees, especially when they first arrived in Germany. But the present situation also shows that this fragile impetus, given the serious weaknesses of the working class today, can easily be derailed onto the false ground of patriotism and nationalism, behind which lies the murderous and in the end xenophobic logic of the most democratic states. The climate of fear and terror, along with the propaganda barrage after the Paris attacks, will weigh heavily on the consciousness of the working class: the call for national unity behind the nation and the state in danger can only reinforce the influence of deadly illusions about defending democracy and strengthening security, and this on an international scale. And this will make it even harder for a real perspective to emerge, further strengthening the suicidal tendencies of this rotting system.
Real working class solidarity can only be expressed in an independent manner, outside the influence of all forms of bourgeois ideology, and above all during workers’ struggles. The generation which was the prime target of the 13 November attacks was, in the social movement of 2006, able to generate a great wave of solidarity throughout the working class. And when young people from the poor suburbs came to rob people taking part in the demonstrations, this generation of students and precariously employed workers refused to fall into the trap of division. They sent delegations to these neighbourhoods to try to win people to the general struggle. If they had the understanding to do this, it was because the social movement had been able to organise itself through general assemblies which allowed for reflection, discussion and collective elaboration, in other words, the raising of political consciousness. This is the only way to go forward in the face of the worst effects of decomposition: solidarity in the struggle, open and frank debate, the development of class consciousness. In the end, only this logic, contained in massive struggles of the working class, can permit the emergence of a political class identity, the development of the historical perspective of a new society. This is the perspective of a world without classes, without wars and frontiers, a human community based on the satisfaction of human need and not the needs of profit.
“The madness will cease and the bloody demons of hell will vanish only when workers….finally awake from their stupor, extend to each other a brotherly hand, and drown out the bestial chorus of imperialist war-mongers and the shrill cry of capitalist hyenas with labour’s old and mighty battle cry: Proletarians of all lands, unite!”24
1 According to the terms used by the Daesh communiqué claiming responsibility for the attacks
2 A large number of the victims were aged between 25 and 35. See for example, ‘A Paris, une generation visée’ (Le Monde) or ‘La jeunesse qui trinque’ (Libération 15.11.15)
3 Eg Cabu, 76, Wolinski, 80, Bernard Maris, 68
4 Where “hundreds of idol worshippers had gathered in a profligate prostitution party” (Daesh communiqué)
5 See the article on our website ‘Greetings to the new generation of the working class’, https://en.internationalism.org/inter/138_france_students
6 On this, see ‘Les portraits poignants des victims du 13 novembre’ on the Libération website
7 “If all the countries together can’t eradicate 30,000 people who are monsters, nothing has been understood” Laurent Fabius, minister of foreign affairs of the Socialist government in France (declaration on the radio station France Inter, 20 November).
8‘ Decomposition, final phase of capitalist decadence’, International Review 62, May 1990, https://en.internationalism.org/ir/107_decomposition
10 Let’s also recall that it was the same USA which had contributed significantly to Saddam coming to power in Iraq in 1979, as an ally against Iran.
11 “Daesh has at its disposal a veritable ‘treasury of war’ (2 billion dollars according to the CIA) of massive and autonomous revenue – there’s no comparison with what al-Qaida had access to. Daesh has all kinds of military equipment, some of it rustic but also some heavy and sophisticated weaponry. Rather than a terrorist movement, we are confronted with a real army led by professional officers. Who is the Doctor Frankenstein that created this monster? Let’s say it clearly, because it has consequences: it is the USA. Through short term political interests – some of which are shared by its friends in the west – other actors have thus, by complicity or deliberately, contributed to building and strengthening it. But the prime responsibility lies with the USA” (speech given by general Vincent Desportes, an associated professor of political science in Paris when interviewed by the French Senate regarding Operation ‘Chammal’ in Iraq. Available on the Senate website.
12 The Caliphate which it claims to want to conquer by force of arms thus comprises: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Kurdistan, Kazakhstan, the Gulf countries, Yemen, the Caucasus, the Maghreb, Anatolia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, the whole Horn of Africa, Andalusia and part of Europe. This unrealisable project is totally suicidal but no less devastating for that.
13 ‘Militarism and decomposition’
14 Another point in common with the Islamic State is that the Nazi regime had the same unrealistic and suicidal policy of conquest. This is why the term Islamo-fascism is indeed appropriate to describe the ideology of Daesh.
15 Rosa Luxemburg, The Junius Pamphlet
16 The list of attacks throughout the world since the toppling of the Twin Towers is September 2001 is endless. One recent example: the attack and hostage taking against the international clientele and local people at a hotel bear the centre of Bamako in Mali by a group linked to al-Qaida a week after the Paris massacres, adding at least 27 more deaths.
17 ‘Terrorist attacks in France: an expression of the barbarism and decomposition of the capitalist system’, Révolution Internationale 149, October 149
18 The scale of slaughter caused by the suicide bombings which regularly plague market-places in the Middle East gives us an idea of the terrible carnage that would have taken place had the terrorists managed to get inside the stadium.
19 The term used by the Daesh communiqué
20 These kamikazes are also often heavily drugged to assist their actions, as was the case with the young man who carried out the massacre at the Sousse hotel in Tunisia in June.
21 An example among many: “Yesterday, at least 36 people, including 10 children, were killed and dozens injured during more than 70 raids carried out by Russian and Syrian forces against several locations in Deir Ezzor”, according to Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (L’Express, 20.11.15)
22 Published by the following organisations: Association Internationale des Medécins pour la Prévention de la Guerre Nucléaire (IPPNW, Nobel peace prize in 1985), Physicians for Social Responsibility and Physicians for Global Survival
23 Senate, Étude de legislation comparée no. 156, January 2006, ‘L’état d’urgence’
24 Junius Pamphlet