As the US and Britain send massive military forces to the Gulf, police in London have arrested people alleged to have handled the chemical weapon ricin. This is part of the British state’s participation in the ‘war against terrorism’. They whip up fear and anxiety over the existence of previously little known substances, and present the capitalist state as a protector against ‘alien forces’ that have insinuated themselves into British society. Against the scare stories of the media, the following article sets out the marxist framework for understanding what terrorism really is.
Since the end of the 1980s, terrorism has regularly been at the forefront of the international situation; and for the bourgeoisie of the big powers it has become “Public Enemy No.1”. In the name of the fight against the barbarity of terrorism, the two main powers which were at the head of the Western and Eastern blocs, the United States and Russia, have unleashed war in Afghanistan and Chechnya.
Terrorism is not a method of the working class
Generally speaking, classical terrorism could be defined as the violent action of small minorities in revolt against the overwhelming domination of the existing social order and its state. It is not a new phenomenon in history. Thus, at the end of the 19th century, the Russian Populists made terrorism their main instrument in the combat against Tsarism. A little later, in countries like France and Spain for example, it was taken up by certain sectors of anarchism. Throughout the 20th century, terrorism continued to develop and frequently accompanied movements for national independence, as we saw with the IRA, the ETA of the Basque country, the FLN during the war in Algeria, the Palestinian PLO, etc. It was even used following the Second World War by certain sectors of the Zionist movement who were seeking to set up the state of Israel (Menachem Begin, one of the most celebrated Prime Ministers of Israel - and a signatory to the Camp David accords of 1979 - had, in his youth, been one of the founders of the Irgun, a Jewish terrorist group which shot to fame through its attacks against the British).
Thus terrorism has not only been able to present itself (above all at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries) as a means for the struggle of the oppressed against the domination of the state; it has also been (principally in the 20th century) a favourite instrument of nationalist movements aiming to set up new states. It is clear that there is nothing in common between these latter forms of terrorism and the struggle of the proletariat, since the proletariat, whose very essence is internationalist, has no reason to participate in the creation of the bourgeois entities that are national states.
This said, is it still possible to resort to acts of terrorism in order to carry out the struggle against the bourgeois state? The question is worth posing since, as well as certain anarchist movements which say they are fighting for the emancipation of the working class, some groups laying claim to the communist revolution have taken up terrorism, claiming that it can be an arm of combat of the working class; and as a result they have sometimes drawn groups of sincere workers behind them. This was notably the case during the 1970’s with the Red Brigades in Italy.
In reality this terrain of violent struggle by armed minorities is not that of the working class. It is the terrain of the desperate petty-bourgeoisie, that’s to say a class without a historic future which can never raise itself to mass actions. Such actions are the emanation of individual will and not of the generalised action of a revolutionary class. In this sense, terrorism can only remain on an individualist level. “Its action is not directed against capitalist society and its institutions, but only against individuals [or symbols such as the Twin Towers, a symbol of the economic power of the United States] who represent this society. It inevitably takes on the aspect of a settling of scores, of revenge, of a vendetta, of person against person and not a revolutionary confrontation of class against class. On a general level, terrorism turns its back on the revolution which can only be the work of a definite class, which draws in the broad masses in an open and frontal struggle against the existing order and for the transformation of society” (International Review no.15, “Resolution on Terror, Terrorism and Class Violence”)
Thus, the proletariat can never develop its struggle against capitalism through the conspiratorial and individualist methods of terrorism. As a practice terrorism reflects its content perfectly: when it is not an instrument of certain sectors of the bourgeoisie itself, it is the emanation of layers of the petty bourgeoisie. It is the sterile practice of impotent social layers without a future.
Terrorism: an instrument of manipulation by the bourgeois state
The ruling class has always used terrorism as an instrument of manipulation, as much against the working class as in its own settling of internal accounts.
From the fact that terrorism is an action which is prepared in the shadows of a tight conspiracy, it thus offers “a favourite hunting ground for the underhand activities of agents of the police and the state and for all sorts of manipulations and intrigues” (ibid.). Already last century, the terrorist actions of the anarchists were used by the bourgeoisie to strengthen its state terror against the working class. There is the example of the “Villainy law” voted by the French bourgeoisie following the terrorist attack by the anarchist Auguste Vaillant who, on December 9 1893, threw a bomb into the Chamber of Deputies, wounding forty people. This attack had been manipulated by the state itself. In fact, Vaillant had been contacted by an agent of the Ministry of the Interior who, passing himself off as an anarchist, had lent him money and explained how to make a home-made bomb (with explosives and nails) – one which would be both ear-shattering and not too murderous.  Given that the left wing of the bourgeoisie (notably the radicals, spurred on by the Socialist group represented in Parliament by Jaures), inevitably opposed restrictions on the right of association, the most reactionary sectors of the bourgeoisie, acting with an incredible machiavellianism, got around the rules of the democratic parliament in order to get measures adopted against the working class. The attack by Auguste Vaillant thus served as a pretext for the ruling class to immediately vote for exceptional measures against the socialists, repressing the freedom of association and of the press.
Similarly, in the 1970’s, the massive anti-terrorist campaigns orchestrated by the bourgeoisie following the Schleyer affair in Germany and the Aldo Moro affair in Italy served as a pretext for the state to strengthen its apparatus for the control and repression of the working class.
It was subsequently demonstrated that the Baader Gang and the Red Brigades had been infiltrated by, respectively, the secret services of East Germany, the Stasi, and the secret services of the Italian state. These terrorist grouplets were in reality nothing other than the instruments of rivalry between bourgeois cliques.
The kidnapping of Aldo Moro by a raid of military efficiency and his assassination on May 9 1978 (after the Italian government had refused to negotiate his freedom) wasn’t the work of some terrorist fanatics. Behind the action of the Red Brigades, there were political stakes implicating not only the Italian state itself, but also the big powers. In fact, Aldo Moro represented a faction of the Italian bourgeoisie favourable to the entry of the Communist Party into the governmental majority, an option to which the United States was firmly opposed. The Red Brigades shared this opposition to the policy of the “historic compromise” between Christian Democrats and the CP defended by Aldo Moro and thus openly played the game of the American state. Moreover, the fact that the Red Brigades had been directly infiltrated by the Gladio network (a creation of NATO whose mission was to set up networks of resistance should the USSR invade Western Europe) revealed that from the end of the 1970’s, terrorism had begun to become an instrument of manipulation in imperialist conflicts.
Terrorism: an arm of imperialist war
During the 1980’s, the multiplication of terrorist attacks (such as those of 1986 in Paris) executed by fanatical grouplets commanded by Iran, brought forward a new phenomenon in history. No longer, as at the beginning of the 20th century, were terrorist actions limited to those led by minority groups, aiming for the constitution or the national independence of a state. Now it was states themselves which took control and used terrorism as an arm of war against other states.
The fact that terrorism has become an instrument of the state for carrying out war marked a qualitative change in the evolution of imperialism.
In the recent period, we can see that it is major powers, in particular the United States and Russia, which have used terrorism as a means of manipulation in order to justify their military interventions. Thus, the media itself has revealed that the bombings in Moscow of summer 1999 were perpetrated with explosives made by the military and that Putin, the boss of the FSB (ex-KGB) at the time, was probably in command of them. These attacks were a pretext to justify the invasion of Chechnya by Russian troops.
Similarly, as we have fully analysed in our press, the September 11 attack against the Twin Towers in New York, served as a pretext for the American bourgeoisie to launch its bombs on Afghanistan in the name of the fight against terrorism and against “rogue states”.
Even if the American state didn’t directly organise this attack, it is inconceivable to imagine that the secret services of the leading world power were taken by surprise, just like any banana republic. It is more than likely that the American state let it happen, sacrificing its Twin Towers and close to 3000 human lives.
This was the price that American imperialism was ready to pay in order to be able to reaffirm its world leadership by unleashing the “Unlimited Justice” operation in Afghanistan. What’s more, this deliberate policy of the American bourgeoisie is not new. It was already used in December 1941 at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor  to justify the USA’s entry into the Second World War; and, more recently, at the time of the invasion of Kuwait by the troops of Saddam Hussein in August 1990  in order to unleash the Gulf War under the aegis of Uncle Sam.
But this policy of “non-interference” no longer consists, as in 1941 or in 1990, of letting the enemy attack first according to the classic laws of war between states.
It is no longer the war between rival states, with its own rules, its flags, its preparations, its troops, its battlefields and armaments, which serve as the pretext for the massive intervention of the big powers.
Now it is blind terrorist attacks, with their fanatic, kamikaze commandos directly striking the civil population, which are then utilised by the big powers in order to justify letting loose imperialist barbarity.
The use and the manipulation of terrorism is not only the work of small states such as Libya, Iran or others in the Middle East. By sweeping away the classic rules of war, it has become the common practice of all nations, big and small; and terrorism as a means of war between states has now become one of the most crying manifestations of a capitalist system rotting on its feet.
Terrorism, an expression of the decomposition of capitalism
Today, terrorism is inseparable from imperialism. The form that imperialist war is taking now is the result of the world disorder which capitalism entered with the collapse of the eastern bloc and the dislocation of the western bloc. This event, as we have showed, spectacularly marked the entry of capitalism into the ultimate phase of its decadence, that of decomposition. 
Since we developed this analysis in the middle of the 1980’s,  this phenomenon has only widened and intensified. It is characterised by the development of terrorism on a scale unprecedented in history.
The fact that this “arm of the poor” is now utilised by the big powers in defence of their imperialist interests on the world chessboard is a particularly significant expression of the decomposition of society.
Up to now the ruling class has succeeded in pushing obvious manifestations of the decadence of its system to the peripheries of capitalism. Thus the most brutal manifestations of the economic crisis of capitalism had first of all affected the countries of the periphery. In the same way that this insoluble crisis has now begun to come back home with force, hitting with full strength the very heart of capitalism, the most barbaric forms of imperialist war now make their appearance in the great metropoles such as New York and Moscow.
Moreover, this new expression of imperialist war reveals the suicidal dynamic of a bourgeois society in full putrefaction. In fact, the use of terrorism as an arm of war is accompanied by the acceptance of sacrifices. Thus it is not only the kamikazes who sacrifice lives in the image of a world which is killing itself, but equally the ruling class of the states struck by terrorist attacks, such as the American bourgeoisie. Doesn’t the broadcasting on all the screens of the world of the images of the Twin Towers collapsing like a house of cards convey to us the vision of a world heading towards the apocalypse? By allowing the September 11 attacks to happen, the first world power deliberately decided to sacrifice the Twin Towers, a symbol of its economic supremacy. It deliberately sacrificed close to 3000 American citizens on its own national soil. In this sense, the dead of New York have not only been massacred by the barbarity of Al Qaida; the deed was also done with the cold and cynical complicity of the American state itself.
Beyond the human lives involved, something that the bourgeoisie has never worried about, it is above all on the economic level that we can measure the sacrifice that the American state was ready to make in order to justify its enormous demonstration of force in Afghanistan. For that, Uncle Sam was ready to pay (and above all to make the working class pay) for the reconstruction of the World Trade Centre and for all the economic and social disorganisation caused by the collapse of the Twin Towers.
The use of terrorism as an arm of imperialist war in the present historic period of the decomposition of capitalism, reveals that all states are “renegade states” led by imperialist gangsters. The sole difference which distinguishes the big gang leaders, such as the American Godfather, and the second-rate gangsters who set off the bombs, lies in the means of destruction they have at their disposal.
In New York, Moscow, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, Bali, it is the civil populations that are today terrorised by the murderous madness of capitalism.
This situation constitutes an appeal to the responsibility of the world proletariat. The latter is the sole force in society capable, through its revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of capitalism, to put an end to war, massacres, and to capitalist terror in all its forms.
Louise, December 2002.
 See Bernard Thomas, Les provocations policieres (chapter IV). Editions Fayard, 1972.
 See International Review no. 108, “Pearl Harbor 1941, the Twin Towers 2001: the Machiavellianism of the Bourgeoisie”.
 See our pamphlet (in French) on “The Gulf War”.
 See our pamphlet (in French) on “The Collapse of Stalinism”.
 See International Reviews no. 57 “The Decomposition of Capitalism” and no. 107 “Decomposition, the Final Phase of the Decadence of Capitalism”.