The fifth anniversary of 9/11 has been marked by a propaganda orgy. In the two months leading up to the anniversary, there were all manner of solemn ceremonies, pompous speeches, television and radio news specials, interviews, documentaries, and Hollywood’s release of not one, but two, theatrical movies -- the World Trade Center and United 93 – during the summer. Even cultural institutions, like the museums in NYC have organized exhibits and displays as part of the campaign.
While some of the more local ceremonies perhaps simply memorialized the 2800 people who died on 9/11, the main focus of the Bush administration was an attempt to rekindle the patriotic fervor that gripped the U.S. in 2001 in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center. This fervor, complete with flag waving, war psychoses, and willingness to accept whatever the government said was necessary to prevent further terrorist attacks, has been largely squandered in the last few years, due to a combination of clumsiness, miscalculations, and general bungling of the Bush administration and the effects of capitalist decomposition which would have kept any White House occupant from being successful.
President George W. Bush threw himself into the forefront of the administration’s newest propaganda campaign with a series of addresses before pre-screened, guaranteed-to-be-friendly audiences, such as veterans groups and military officers associations, that reaffirmed American resolve to wage the war against Islamic terrorism. With nearly two-thirds of the population now believing that the war in Iraq was a mistake and expressing a lack of confidence in the government, Bush seemed particularly desperate to revive support for the war and minimize any Democratic gains in the midterm elections in November. Bush even introduced the formulation “Islamic fascism” into the mix and compared critics of his war policies, including those who disagree on the war in Iraq and those who oppose his abandonment of the Geneva Convention and endorsement of torture, to those who appeased Hitler in the 1930s. Such posturing appears increasingly quixotic when critics, particularly on torture, include the likes of Senators Warner, McCain, and Graham, as well as Colin Powell, former member of the Joint Chiefs and Bush’s own Secretary of State from 2001-2004.
In his radio address on Saturday, Sept 9th Bush fell back on his now boringly familiar platitudes about the “brutality of the enemy” and the need to “act decisively to stop them from achieving their evil aims.” His primetime address to the nation on the evening of Sept. 11 was more a pep talk for the war in Iraq than it was an homage to the 9/11 victims, especially since now the administration has been forced to admit that Saddam Hussein had no links to al Qaeda, had nothing to do with 9/11, and even regarded al Qaeda as hostile to his regime. Bush devoted a mere three paragraphs of his speech to remembering the dead, and went on and on glorifying his administration’s role in “this struggle between tyranny and freedom” and invoked the image of the glory days of World War II and the Cold War, when fascism and Russian Communism respectively were the “evil” enemies of the U.S.
Putting aside the bombast of the bourgeois propaganda barrage, it is appropriate to offer a revolutionary perspective on the 5th anniversary of 9/11. There are a number of observations that should be advanced:
1) The tragic death of so many innocent people, the overwhelming majority of them workers, on 9/11 is testimony not to a “war of civilizations,” a pretext for imperialist war, as the bourgeoisie claims, but irrefutable evidence of the depravity of world capitalism. It is proof that capitalism today offers humanity a stark choice between barbarism or socialism, that unless it is destroyed by proletarian revolution this bankrupt and outmoded social order will condemn humanity to more and more death and destruction. Nearly three thousand people died in a single day because capitalism no longer has a reason to exist.
2) Five years after 9/11, it is clear that the bourgeoisie has failed miserably to use that tragedy to achieve an ideological and political defeat of the working class in the United States in order to mobilize it behind the state for imperialist war. The dominant fraction of the bourgeoisie, including both Republicans and Democrats, were unanimous in their support for war in Afghanistan and Iraq, as part of American imperialism’s strategy to reassert its global hegemony in the post Cold War era, to firmly establish its military presence in the strategically important Middle East, and put pressure on its erstwhile allies in Europe who were increasingly inclined to play their own cards on the imperialist terrain following the collapse of the bloc discipline that had characterized the Cold War period. With the 9/11 attacks, which as we have detailed previously in articles in Internationalism and in the International Review, were anticipated, expected, and permitted by the Bush administration, in much the same way that the Roosevelt administration permitted the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor in 1941, in order to manipulate popular opinion in favor of war, the U.S. bourgeoisie counted on those traumatic events to help it definitively overcome what the bourgeoisie terms the “Vietnam Syndrome” – the unwillingness of the working class to be mobilized for war and to accept sacrifice in the service of America’s imperialist appetites.
However, despite the momentary gains the bourgeoisie made on this level in the aftermath of the attacks in 2001 and the high hopes the bourgeoisie harbored, the working class has turned its back on the war and increasingly moves to return to class struggle. So discredited is the official explanation of 9/11 and so advanced is the mistrust of the government, that all manner of conspiracy theories have proliferated in recent years. The growth of this “9/11 truth movement” shows a deterioration in the political authority of the state. This movement includes elements that believe the government knew in advance that a terrorist attack was coming but permitted it to happen and others who believe that it was the government itself that blew up the trade center. In fact polls show that as much as 36 percent of the population disbelieves the government’s official explanation of 9/11 – a level of distrust that was unimaginable in the days immediately following the attacks in 2001.
3) If the bourgeoisie has not achieved an historic defeat of the American proletariat, they have been successful in using national security as the pretext for a dramatic strengthening of the state’s repressive apparatus. Under the guise of protecting Americans from the “enemies of freedom,” the ruling class has eroded legal rights and protections that were supposedly characteristic of this highly vaunted “American freedom.” The USA Patriot Act, introduced in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and voted upon even before legislators had an opportunity to read it and without any public hearings whatsoever, permitted all manner of intrusions into individual privacy, promoted domestic spying, warrantless wiretaps and searches, and interception of email, regular mail, library borrowing and bookstore purchasing records (so Homeland Security could protect America by knowing what people were reading!). In New York City, the police now set up random checkpoints to search backpacks and briefcases of workers traveling to or from work. The Patriot Act was modified slightly this year when it was renewed by Congress, but its most repressive measures remain intact. While these repressive measures today are supposedly directed at Islamic terrorists, their institutionalization and general acceptance will make them a valuable tool in the future for the bourgeoisie to use against the working class as its struggles intensify. On this level, the ruling class can claim a real success from 9/11.
4) The war in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, the war in Afghanistan have achieved the opposite of their desired effect. Rather than strengthening American imperialism and reasserting its hegemony, have bogged U.S. imperialism down in an endless quagmire, weakened its strategic and tactical position, spread chaos throughout the Middle East, increased challenges to U.S. domination and created a crisis for American imperialist leadership. The American military, the most powerful in the world, has been stretched thin, unable to respond effectively to further military missions, and thus renders American imperialism more vulnerable to challenges in other parts of the globe. Indeed it is this crisis of American imperialism that underlies the current divergences within the ruling class, as it becomes increasingly clear that Bush team is incapable of adequately defending the interests of the national capital (see the article on the crisis of American imperialism elsewhere in this issue).
5) This disunity in the bourgeoisie over the ineptitude of the Bush administration has exposed the political incapacity of the ruling class to manipulate its electoral process effectively. For the bourgeoisie, George Bush’s re-election represented a setback in its ability to readjust its political division of labor and imperialist policy. It was not the result that best served the interests of the dominant faction of the ruling class. This inability to manipulate successfully the electoral circus as it has done for decades during the period of decadent capitalism reflects a serious weakness for the ruling class of the only remaining superpower. Following the election a series of political campaigns were used to put pressure on the Bush administration to moderate its policy. After a period of resistance, the administration seemed to respond to the pressure, removing, for example, Paul Wolfowitz, the chief neoconservative architect of the Iraq war strategy, from the Pentagon and kicking him upstairs to the World Bank.
However, since then the administration has dug in its heels and recently attacks on the Bush administration have reached incredible heights. The regime is essentially gripped by political paralysis, incapable of implementing any of its domestic agenda since the 2004 election, such as social security cuts or immigration “reform,” and facing a rising chorus of criticism on its conduct of the war. In June, the same Supreme Court, dominated by Republican appointees who put a partisan seal of approval on Bush stealing of the 2000 presidential election, ruled that his policies on international prisoners held at Guantanamo violate international law and the Geneva Conventions proscription of torture and inhuman treatment. (The Court did not rule on the CIA’s secret prisons and torture program, which were not acknowledged to exist by the government until September.) Even high ranking uniformed legal officials in the military testified before Congress in opposition to Bush’s new proposals for military tribunals for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo, and leading Republicans like McCain, Warner, and Graham have rebelled against the same proposals. This whole blame game is of course ironic since it doesn’t really matter who occupies the White House or how they nuance American policy. The conditions characteristic of the period of decomposition are in the final analysis the underlying cause for the failure of American policy. While the Bush administration is indeed particularly clumsy in its implementation of imperialist policy, there is in fact no reason to believe that any other occupant of the White House would have been any more successful.
In sharp contrast to
the warlike rhetoric of the last few weeks, on the occasion of the fifth
anniversary of 9/11, American capitalism is mired in crisis on both the
imperialist and domestic political terrain. Its long sought dream of mobilizing
the working class for war is once again just a dream, and it faces a working
class that is undefeated and more inclined to return to class struggle and
resist austerity. Not much for the bourgeoisie to celebrate. The only
alternative to the future of death and destruction that capitalism holds in
store for us is the class struggle and working class revolution. –