The first war of the 21st century

Thursday, 20 September 2001
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Alan Woods and Ted Grant analyse in detail the perspectives for the so-called 'war against terrorism', the effects this will have in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East, and strongly denounce the hypocrisy and double standards of Bush and US imperialism in general. September 21, 2001.

Events on a world scale are moving rapidly towards a deadly dénouement. After the events of the 11th of September, US imperialism has been thrashing around, like a wounded beast, looking for an enemy to strike out at. There was never any doubt that it would soon find one, and that when it did its response would be devastating.

The American imperialists have threatened Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries and bullied Pakistan. They have put heavy pressure on the governments of Europe, leaving them in no doubt that they expect unconditional backing for whatever actions they see fit to perpetrate. Their slogan is "whoever is not for us is against us".

Washington lost no time in blaming Osama Bin Laden and his organisation Al'Qaida for the terrorist atrocities. We have already pointed out that the recent attacks were exactly in line with the aims and methods of this group, although the Americans have been remarkably slow to produce any solid evidence of its involvement.

In general, the much-vaunted US intelligence services have displayed a level of blind incompetence in this affair which beggars belief. In 1991, an identical plot to blow up the Palacio de Oriente during the Madrid peace conference was foiled by the secret services, yet this time nothing was done, despite the fact that the Americans were warned in advance of the imminence of an attack.

According to the Daily Telegraph (16/9/01), Israeli intelligence warned their counterparts in the USA last month that large-scale terrorist attacks on highly visible targets on the American mainland were imminent, and that a cell of as many as 200 terrorists were planning a big operation. Yet the warning, delivered by two senior experts in Mossad to both the CIA and the FBI, was ignored. In addition, it appears that some of those who participated in the attack had lived in the USA for months or even years. Yet these cells remained undetected.

Initially, we considered the possibility that a section of the intelligence establishment might have plaid a role, whether by commission or - more likely - by omission. This hypothesis is still possible, but the sheer scale of the disaster makes it difficult to believe. The astonishing ineptitude of the CIA may have been partly a result of the same mistaken faith in technology as a means of surveillance. Satellites may be able to detect many things, but they were clearly unable to detect the activities of this group of determined saboteurs on American soil. Neither are they now able to detect Osama Bin Laden, who is said to have fled to the mountains of Afghanistan, but who in reality could be almost anywhere.

The American ruling class, following blindly the advice of the general staff, believed that its vast firepower and technological know-how were a sufficient guarantee of invulnerability. Now all these illusions have been blown sky-high. While President Bush was busy advocating a new version of "space wars", involving huge expenditure on ultra-high technology designed to protect the USA from missiles, a group of 50 or so individuals armed with knives managed to inflict the biggest catastrophe in any single incident since the American Civil War.

Stupidity plays a greater role in world history than most people imagine. The American establishment frequently gives the impression of a provincial and short-sighted view of world affairs that borders on obtuseness. There is a dialectical contradiction between the colossal achievements of America's science and technology and the mediocrity and backwardness of its ruling class - which finds its perfect reflection in the figure of George W. Bush, a provincial politician of extremely limited intellectual powers who now holds in his hands the most powerful military machine the world has ever seen.

In ancient Greek tragedy, the central figure suffered from overbearing pride (hubris) which prepared the way for a terrible fall (nemesis). The colossal power of US imperialism, its vast riches and its absolute domination of the world since the fall of the Soviet Union, has given rise to unbridled arrogance. Washington imagined that it could intervene everywhere in pursuit of American interests, and bomb any recalcitrant peoples into submission. Now this pride has received a most violent shock.

The shattering blow inflicted on the confidence of America has forced the ruling circles to reconsider their conduct on a world scale. But the conclusion is not that America should retreat within its borders (this is not a realistic option in the modern world) but on the contrary: that the USA must reply with a crushing display of force and a declaration of war against unspecified enemies on a world scale. They have moreover warned that this war will be both prolonged in time and bloody in its methods.

Hypocrisy of imperialists

The USA is now throwing its weight around everywhere, using the excuse of the so-called war against terrorism. In reality, US imperialism has used terrorism as a tool of policy for decades. They maintain a hypocritical double-bookkeeping on this as on all other matters. It is astonishing to see all these American and European politicians trumpeting about Good versus Evil, Civilisation versus Barbarism and the supposed "higher moral standards" of Western democratic nations as opposed to the "uncivilised" ones. "We", they imply, "never perpetrated such heinous criminal acts against any people or nation in the world like the latest terrorist attacks on New York and Washington."

US imperialism has frequently been guilty of the worst kind of terrorism: Hiroshima, Dresden, Vietnam, Cambodia, the last ten years of murderous sanctions upon Iraq and all USA's financing of abominable dictatorships and far-right governments and movements in Central and South America and all over the world along the five last decades. These barbarous acts destroyed not just thousands but millions of lives of "innocent civilians" and put all other terrorist acts in the shade.

The hypocrisy of the American ruling class is truly breathtaking. They warn the world that no country can assist a terrorist force to kill American citizens, destroy American property and sabotage the American economy with impunity. But it was the United States that organised, armed and financed the Contras in Nicaragua to conduct bloody acts of terrorism, sabotage and mass murder in order to bring down a regime they disapproved of. That, apparently, was OK. So was the US backing of Noriega in Panama, and of Sadam Hussein in Iraq, when he launched his attack against Iran.

Tony Blair - who is a practicing Christian, and a most enthusiastic advocate of wars of all sorts - claimed to have an "ethical foreign policy", yet the British sell arms to Israel, when the latter is killing and maiming Palestinians every day. Before that they sold arms to the monstrous regime of Suharto who slaughtered one and a half million Communists in Indonesia with the active involvement of the CIA, which provided lists of prospective victims to the murder squads of Suharto, and then ticked them off as they were killed. The USA waged a merciless war against the people of Vietnam, destabilised the democratically elected government of Chile, and backed the bloody Argentine dictatorship. At present it is organising an illegal blockade against Cuba. Yet these ladies and gentlemen have the effrontery to speak in the name of civilisation!

The "free" Western media is always highly selective in its coverage of terrorism. Just two days before the bombings in Manhattan and Washington, US and British planes dropped bombs on southern Iraq, killing eight people. Not a word was said in the West. That should not surprise us. In the Gulf War, 200,000 Iraqis were killed by NATO forces, and not much was made of this either. True, many of the victims were soldiers. But since then, near to one million innocent civilians - 600,000 of them children - have died as a result of the monstrous sanctions levelled by the Christian, civilised West against the people of Iraq (Sadam Hussein and his ruling clique are hardly inconvenienced).

It is true that the Taliban regime is a monstrous and reactionary government, and that Bin Laden is a vicious counter-revolutionary and a murderer. No self-respecting socialist or member of the Labour movement would have anything to do with such movements. But we have long memories and remember that it was US imperialism, the CIA and its Pakistani stooges, who created, organised, armed, financed and trained these monsters, as a key element in their struggle against the USSR, just as they armed and supported Sadam Hussein and egged him on to attack Iran. Now the same hypocrites want to get the support of Iran for their attack on Afghanistan, on the cynical principle: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Taliban's bluff is called

The Taliban regime - now with its back against the wall - has chosen the path of defiance, threatening to declare a jihad against the USA, while playing for time in delaying a decision on the future of Bin Laden. The trick of passing the decision on his future to a conference of clerics was obviously a delaying tactic, as was the "recommendation" of the conference that Bin Laden should be politely asked to voluntarily (!) remove himself from Afghanistan. Such advice cannot be taken seriously by anyone. Washington replied, as could be expected, that Bin Laden must be handed over to "responsible authorities" - i.e., themselves. Moreover, President Bush has demanded that Kabul hand over all terrorists, together with "the lieutenants and the infrastructure (sic!)". This is what Marlon Brando, in the film The Godfather, used to call "making them an offer they can't refuse".

Even if Bin Laden decided to leave Afghanistan (and he may already have done so), the threat to Afghanistan would not be removed. Whichever country that decided to take him in would immediately be faced with the wrath of the USA. Therefore, the only possibility would be for Bin Laden to change his identity and attempt to live an anonymous existence in Iraq or some other country. The Taliban would say "he is not here, we do not know where he is". The Americans would say "we don't believe you" and the attack would commence anyway. Nor can the Taliban's offer to negotiate with Washington be taken seriously. By imposing conditions such as the international recognition of the Taliban regime, the ending of all sanctions and the halting of all aid to the opposition, they have, in effect, thrown down the gauntlet to Washington, while trying to appear reasonable. It is a very old trick, which will fool nobody, and least of all the Americans. US imperialism is not interested in negotiations, but only a massive display of its power.

At this point, only the unconditional surrender of the Kabul government might avert war at the eleventh hour. The handing over of Bin Laden will not be enough to achieve this. Washington will demand the right to send its forces into Afghanistan to destroy Bin Laden's bases and round up all his supporters, and also impose heavy conditions on the Kabul government. Since many of the Bin Laden group are members or close collaborators of the Taliban, this would be unthinkable. Only an open split in the Taliban leadership, leading to open capitulation to the Americans, could bring about such a situation. This could not be achieved without a bloody internal struggle, in which the leading faction would hold most of the cards. Therefore, the logic of the situation points to one conclusion: matters must be settled by force of arms.

What now?

What form will the conflict take? The USA has in its hands the most terrifying weapons of destruction known to mankind. There is absolutely no doubt about their potential for destruction of life and property on a massive scale. Unhappy Kabul, already wrecked by decades of war, would swiftly be reduced to rubble. But the problem is that this would solve precisely nothing for the Americans. The military significance of such a target is nil. The Taliban will have utilised the delay to withdraw all their forces from Kabul. When the Americans and their allies finally decide to strike, they will find that they are bombing an empty city, where the only victims will be those too poor, old or sick to flee. They would have the satisfaction of blowing up the buildings of the Taliban and destroying some of Bin Laden's bases, but only at the cost of generating new bitterness and rage against the United States in Afghanistan and throughout the region.

By bombing alone, Washington cannot realise its objectives in Afghanistan. But the prospect of being sucked into a war on the ground in the most difficult conditions against an enemy accustomed to guerrilla warfare, gives them reason for serious thought. The Afghans have repelled virtually every invader since Alexander the Great. The memory of what happened to the Russians is still fresh in the mind of the American military. Therefore they would not want to remain long in Afghanistan, let alone occupy it. They could stage a brief but devastating military incursion, with the objective, not of occupation, but of inflicting the most extensive damage on the country - to bomb it into the stone age, except that the country is not far off that condition already.

If Bin Laden can be taken "dead or alive" - to quote the celebrated phrase of the foremost representative of Western Christian civilisation - that, of course, will be a plus. But first they will have to find him! In the second place, the liquidation of Bin Laden will, in itself, solve nothing. The initial idea of the obtuse Bush, who appears to have seen too many John Wayne films in his youth, was to stage a display of overwhelming force, against which no-one could stand - to bomb and devastate, irrespective of the loss of life. But in reality, such an action would serve only to stoke the fires of world instability, exacerbate all the contradictions and enormously increase the risk of new terrorist outrages and new innocent victims everywhere.

In the last few days, less obtuse minds have been brought to bear on the complex question: against whom should America act, and how? There has clearly been a change in Washington's tactics. The USA have changed its plan. Now, according to some reports, its plans centre upon removing the Taliban regime and replacing it with an "interim government", possibly headed by the 86 year old king, Zahir Shah, presently in exile in Rome. Negotiations are taking place with the Northern Alliance, the armed opposition led by ex-President Rabbani which has been fighting the Taliban for some years and currently controls about 5 percent of the territory.

To date, the Northern Alliance has been supported by Russia, Iran, India, and the ex-soviet Central Asian Republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Now the leaders of the Northern Alliance have offered their services to US imperialism. This offer suits Washington's interests very well. The Pentagon has been reluctant to use ground troops ever since Vietnam. By using the Northern Alliance, they can partly avoid the accusation of "infidels" attacking a Moslem state. It will have the additional advantage that non-Americans will take the brunt of the casualties.

The Taliban's image of indestructibility is a myth. In fact, the poorly trained religious students from Pakistan would never have been able to take Kabul without the help of the Pakistani secret services - the notorious ISI - and the CIA. The Taliban itself is an assortment of groups and individuals which can easily fall to pieces when confronted by a serious enemy. They initially succeeded in taking control because of the extreme unpopularity of the war lords and bandits who, under the name of "mujahedeen", had installed themselves in power after the downfall of Najibullah and devoted themselves to plundering the country as a suitable reward for "freedom fighters".

At first the Taliban seemed to guarantee an element of stability and respect for the law - albeit the harsh law of the Sharia. But now, most of the people of Afghanistan must be sick of them. They have maintained themselves in power, partly because of the inertia and exhaustion of the masses, but mainly because of the support of Pakistan. Once this support is withdrawn, they will collapse like a pack of cards. This is the calculation of Washington, and it is probably fairly accurate.

However, there are a number of complications in this equation. The Northern Alliance is based on minority nationalities, mainly Tajiks, whereas the Taliban is mainly based on the majority Pathans. By putting forward the figure of the king, Washington hopes to enlist the support of Pathans and other groups. On the basis of a combination of threats, force and bribes, they may well succeed in detaching many of the local Pathan tribal leaders who previously backed the Taliban, and will support anyone who grants them a license to plunder. The Taliban leaders will rapidly find themselves isolated and without perspectives. It is well that they trust in God, since no-one else will help them.

Will this be a good thing for the people of Afghanistan? The fall of the murderous clique of Taliban counter-revolutionaries will be mourned by no Socialist or progressive person. But the return of the feudal war-lords of the Northern Alliance will be no better. Let us remind ourselves that the Taliban succeeded in coming to power only because the masses were alienated by the constant robberies and rapes carried out by these "freedom fighters". To make matters worse, they will now be the open agents of US imperialism, which will, behind the scenes, run the country in its own interests.

The Taliban will not immediately disappear from the scene. They can wage a guerrilla war from the mountains which can go on for years, with financial help from reactionary circles and fundamentalists in Pakistan, although this will be on the level of mere banditry. On the other hand, despite its verbal support for the USA in its "anti-terrorist crusade" (with an eye to getting Washington's backing for its Chechen adventure), Moscow will not be pleased to see the USA taking control of Afghanistan and strengthening its influence in Central Asia. There are powerful interests at stake here, connected with oil and gas, and the thorny question of the building of a pipeline through Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean.

The events in Afghanistan will have serious consequences for all the neighbouring states, especially Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, already threatened by Islamic fundamentalist insurgency. This conflict will lead to new and even more bloody wars in the future. For the people of this unhappy region there will be no respite.

The effects in Pakistan

The effects in Pakistan of any attack on Afghanistan will be immediate and dramatic. So far, the demonstrations by Pakistani fundamentalists have been sporadic and not very big. The student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami organised one of the few big protests, Ulema clerics in Lahore carried placards with the slogan "Osama is our hero". But the authorities, with the Americans breathing down their necks, have cracked down. In a demonstration in Karachi, two protesters were killed and several more wounded. Riot police have broken up demonstrations with tear gas and batons.

The ferment reflects a widespread mood of discontent that can spill over onto the streets in the event of a US attack. It is even possible the government of Musharraf could be overthrown. Despite the undoubted risks, however, Musharraf has no alternative but to support the Americans. The same is true of most of the officer caste, who have large bank balances stashed away in America and Europe.

But the situation is extremely fragile. A minority of the officer caste - especially those related to the ISI - have close contacts with the Taliban. They support fundamentalist reaction and are hostile to the USA - not so much from religious conviction as from financial interests: there is a huge amount of money in the black economy that now sustains Pakistan. This money comes from the vast and lucrative drug trade which is based in Afghanistan - the biggest producer of opium in the world. There is a well-established connection between the murky world of the Pakistani drug barons, the fundamentalists and the Pakistani secret services.

However, US imperialism will be strengthening its grip on Pakistan. It cannot afford to take over Afghanistan only to see Pakistan fall into the hands of its enemies. Washington will use the carrot and the stick to bring the situation under control. It has already rewarded Musharraf with a gift of 600 million dollars in debt rescheduling, while lifting the sanctions imposed three years ago on India and Pakistan for their testing of nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, not satisfied with attacking Afghanistan, US imperialism is already casting its eye around for another victim. Reports have already been put in circulation, which purport to associate Iraq with the terrorist attack. The fact that the source of these reports is Mossad - the Israeli secret police - immediately gives rise to the idea of a provocation. Tel Aviv would like the Americans to renew their bombing of Iraq, which plays into their hands. The Americans would again have to rely on Israel for intelligence and logistical support. The Israeli-American axis would be strengthened, to the detriment of the Palestinians.

However, a new onslaught against Iraq would plunge the whole of the Middle East into turmoil. The price of oil would go through the roof, further exacerbating the world economic crisis. The enraged Arab masses would take to the streets, threatening to destabilise one Arab regime after another. American embassies and economic interests would be open to attack everywhere. It is not excluded that even the pro-American Saudi regime might be overthrown. The USA would be sucked inexorably into an even greater military involvement. Under such circumstances, new terrorist outrages - including inside the USA - would be inescapable.

Marxists condemned the terrorist attacks on the USA in the most vehement terms. Now we condemn with equal vigour the state terrorism that seeks to take vengeance on innocent men, women and children. On this road, only more blood and tears can be expected. The losers, as always, will be the poor people. The human catastrophe that must ensue will have an effect on the conscience of the world - including the USA. Questions will be asked. Minds, attitudes and opinions will begin to change.

The world faced with recession

On Monday 17th September, when the New York stock exchange re-opened after the longest shut-down since the Great Depression, the Dow Jones suffered a fall of 620 points - the biggest one-day fall in its history. Overnight, 370 billion dollars were wiped off US share values, sending a shudder down the spine of every investor in the world. In place of all the sugary rhetoric of recent years, there is an all-pervasive pessimism and fear for the future. The capitalist system has entered into uncharted waters on a global scale.

All the patriotic appeals did nothing to remove the deep sense of anxiety which has gripped the investing fraternity. Everywhere there is a growing nervousness, which translates itself in steep falls on the stock markets of the whole world, beginning in the USA. Like a huge stone suddenly dropped into a lake, the crisis in the USA has made waves. It has reverberated across the globe, precipitating further falls in the stock markets in other countries.

This is not at all surprising, since the only thing holding up the world economy in the recent period has been the consumer boom in the States. This is what gave a temporary respite to the economies of Asia after the slump of 1997. America saved them by absorbing their exports, particularly those related to the new technology: microchips, computers, etc. Now this process has reached its limits. Hit simultaneously by a falling stock exchange, rising unemployment and accumulated debts, consumer confidence in the USA will not survive the shock. Falling demand in the USA will hit all exporting countries - whether in Asia or in Europe.

The fall-out has been particularly severe in the so-called emerging markets in Asia and Latin America. The Brazilian currency - the Real - experienced a new fall, which, in turn, will put more pressure on Argentina, already teetering on the brink of default. Japan's recession has been still further aggravated, with no solution in sight. A new wave of bankruptcies is being predicted, with further stresses and strains on Japan's fragile financial sector.

On the morning of the 21st of September, as we write these lines, 50 billion pounds were wiped off share values in the London stock exchange in half an hour. For the first time in years, not a single share on the London market was up, everything was in the red, including insurance companies and air lines (naturally), but also telecoms and big companies like EMI. Investors are fleeing from risk - and that means the stock exchange. Other stock markets - Frankfurt, Paris, Tokyo - experienced still greater falls.

The Dow Jones has fallen 12 percent since the 11th of September, and now stands at its lowest level for three years, with the prospect of further falls to come. And nobody knows where the bottom lies. One economic comentator observed that "if you had purchased $1000 worth of Nortel Networks stock one year ago, it would now be worth $49. If you bought $1000 worth of Budweiser (the beer, not the stock, at $3.80 per six-pack) one year ago, drank all the beer and traded in the cans for the nickel deposit, you would have $79."

Of course, the downward movement is not uniform, nor does it affect all shares. Indeed, some shares have experienced sharp increases. Which shares have risen? Those connected with the arms industry, security and defence: companies like Lockheed are doing very well indeed. In its preparations for war against the "enemies of civilisation", Congress has voted 40 billion dollars for "Security". This public largesse will mean juicy profits for the big electrical companies linked to the defence establishment. As Lenin once remarked when someone told him that war is terrible: "Yes, terribly profitable!" While military aircraft are doing well, civilian aviation is faced with a deep slump. Already Virgin Atlantic has announced the loss of 1,200 jobs, and British Airways is contemplating the sack for a further 6,000. But this is nothing compared to the catastrophe in the US civil aviation industry, which faces at least 50,000 job losses immediately. The cumulative effects of this will produce a sharp decline in business activity, profits and investment.

Faced with a general collapse in business confidence, the Federal Reserve has reacted by delivering yet another cut in interest rates - the eighth this year. The new cut of half a percent was designed to head off a crisis on Wall Street when the stock market re-opened. But to no avail. Alan Greenspan looked like a man attempting to bail out the ocean with a teaspoon. This crisis is not confined to the stock exchange. The whole world is moving into recession simultaneously - for the first time since the 1930s. The mood has changed from "irrational exuberance" to deep pessimism. Instead of talk about the "peace dividend" and the new economic paradigm, the talk is now of just two topics: war and economic recession. Globalisation has revealed its true nature: as the global crisis of capitalism.

How to defend 'civilisation'

As always, individual terrorism has had the most negative consequences, throwing back consciousness. The action on September 11th was simply insane. Apart from killing a lot of innocent civilians, what did this action achieve? Only to provide an excuse for US imperialism to go on the rampage everywhere and to push a large part of the American population behind Bush and the most reactionary and aggressive circles of the ruling class and the military.

Not long ago, George W. Bush, the right-wing Republican who was so unpopular that he only managed to scrape in to the White House on the basis of a rigged vote, is now riding high in the opinion polls. In just a few days his lamentable conduct at the time of the bombing has been forgotten: the fact that he took half an hour to react, and then spent hours flying in circles before finally landing in the safety of a bunker in Nebraska while his fellow Americans were dying - all this does not prevent this man from breathing fire and thunder against "the enemies of civilisation" and warning of dreadful retribution, even at the cost of (more) American lives.

As we predicted in the statement of 11th September, the immediate consequences of the bombing have had a completely reactionary character. In every city, town and village of the USA, the Stars and Stripes are waving, "God bless America" is sung, while in some areas, mosques are vandalised, Arab children are afraid to go to school in the home of democracy and Christian civilisation.

The mood in the United States before these atrocities was generally opposed to the USA getting involved in military adventures abroad. Now all that will change. There will be little opposition to the idea of attacking Afghanistan, or to the renewal of the bombing of Iraq. If the aim of the terrorists was to help the Palestinians, then they have achieved the exact opposite. The most reactionary circles in Israel have been strengthened, and the Palestinians placed in the greatest danger.

It is true that temporarily Washington is putting pressure on Tel Aviv to stop pulverising the Palestinians, since these actions are making Washington's Arab allies nervous at a time when the USA is striving to put together a "grand coalition" in support of an attack against Afghanistan. In such a coalition, a few tame Arab "moderates" are very useful, and it is not politic to upset them. But in reality, the dependence of the USA on Israeli support is greater than ever, and therefore the power of Israel has increased dramatically at the expense of the Palestinians. The worried look on the face of Yassir Arafat (who also wants to join the US's "anti-terrorist coalition!") is a graphic expression of the real position.

Having vented its rage on the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and other "rogue states" deemed to have helped terrorism, the attention of the US military and intelligence Establishment will be directed to the "enemy within". While all the time shouting about democracy, it will take steps to curtail the democratic rights of its citizens, all in the name of defeating terrorism. This has already begun both in the USA and in Europe.

An important part of this will be the strengthening of the intelligence services. In reward for having displayed the most unbelievable incompetence, the CIA and FBI will be given access to unlimited funds and powers. Since this cash award is being made at a time when the budgetary surplus of the USA has turned into a deficit, cuts will have to be made in other items which are not considered essential to civilisation, namely, education, health and culture. The population of the USA - they imagine - will be more than willing to shoulder these "small sacrifices" as part of the war-effort. In this way, using the excuse of the "war against terrorism", the American ruling class will try to place the burden of the economic crisis firmly on the shoulders of the working class.

The essence of the matter has nothing whatsoever to do with religion, or the "clash of two cultures" or "the struggle between Good and Evil" or any of the other nonsense churned out by superficial commentators or people interested in deliberately sowing confusion and spreading reactionary and racist ideas. The problem is that the capitalist system - the untrammelled power of the big multinational companies, backed by imperialism, have caused chaos, mass unemployment and misery everywhere, resulting in universal instability. And it is the masses, the ordinary people, whether in Manhattan, Karachi or Kabul, who pay the price.

The real enemy of peace and civilisation is not a man or woman, it is a system. And therefore, those who wish to fight back against the evils of our time, those who thirst for revenge against the atrocities that destroy and blight human life and make this world into an intolerable thing, should not seek to destroy this or that individual, but to join the fight to destroy the system itself - capitalism - which breeds such monstrosities.

In the short run, the tide in the USA is flowing strongly in the direction of reaction. But this tide, like all others, will eventually turn. The masses have been violently shaken out of their lethargy and routine. In the workplaces, the main item of discussion is no longer football but world politics. Peoples' attention is being focused on world events and the conduct of their government in a way that was not previously the case. Sooner or later, they will come to understand that the present policies bringing nothing but new tragedies and disasters for the people of the whole world, that nothing good can come from a diseased system which puts the profits of a few super-rich individuals and big corporations before the lives, jobs and living standards of the many.

NATO and UNO

War always subjects every political tendency to a cruel test. This is no exception. The role of the right wing reformist leader is what one might expect: a complete capitulation to imperialism. The European right wing Labour leaders like Tony Blair have pledged their full support for NATO. But NATO is the armed bloc of international imperialism, dominated by the USA. After the fall of the USSR its power has grown enormously. At the present time, it has only 12 percent of the world's population, but accounts for 40 percent of the planet's conventional weapons, 45 percent of all nuclear weapons, 56 percent of all military spending and a staggering 90 percent of all expenditure on military research and investigation.

Despite all the talk about a "grand coalition" against terrorism, there is no real solidarity between Europe and America. With the exception of Tony Blair, who never loses an opportunity to display his slavish attachment to American imperialism (which reflects the real position of Britain as a second-rate world power and a satellite of Washington), the other European powers have given only muted support to the USA, and every day display greater reticence towards the idea of military retaliation. This applies especially to France, which, as well as an understandable reluctance to see the Eiffel tower demolished, has its own interests in the Middle East and wants to cultivate good relations with the Arab countries - including Iraq. As time goes on, new cracks will open up in the "grand coalition" and between Western Europe and the USA. These contradictions will be greatly exacerbated by a slump which will aggravate the already existing economic conflict between the American and European capitalists. The struggle for markets on a world scale will be intense.

For their part, the left reformists have also shown themselves to be hopelessly inadequate. In Spain the United Left has appealed to US imperialism to show moderation, which is like trying to persuade a man-eating tiger to eat lettuce instead of meat. In Britain, Tony Benn, the most intelligent of the Labour Lefts, has talked of the need for Christian values (!) and demanded the intervention of the United Nations. Similar statements have been made by the representative of the French Greens (the German Greens seem to be backing the Americans!) and others. This is a hopeless and short-sighted position.

The (dis) United Nations will only back US imperialism, as they did at the time of the Gulf War, providing it with a convenient legal excuse for aggression against Afghanistan and other countries. After the terrorist attack in the USA, the UN Security Council immediately passed Resolution No. 1638 which calls on all states to bring to justice the perpetrators, organisers and collaborators of the attacks, and in practice gives the USA a free hand to carry out any actions it sees fit. And we can take it for granted that the UN will back the USA in everything it does.

As we have explained repeatedly, the UN is only a forum for the imperialist powers which can sometimes settle minor disputes, but is utterly powerless to do anything where the real interests of imperialism are involved - as they are here. The UN is now a complete irrelevance. Everybody is waiting to hear what the US will say or do, but nobody pays any attention to what the UN is doing - which is, basically, nothing.

The new world disorder

After 1945, the people of Europe and North America forgot what war was like. The United States and the Soviet Union balanced each other out on a world scale and thus established a relative stability. People in the West got used to this and saw the absence of war as something normal. War was something that happened to other people: in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East. The Vietnam War had serious consequences in America, but all the fighting and dying took place far away in distant Asian jungles. The barbarism was reserved for others.

Now all that has changed. In the space of a little over twelve months we have seen the horrors of war on the soil of Europe for the first time since World War Two, and now the horrors of what looks very much like a war in the heart of the United States. This is a grave warning to working people everywhere: the crisis of capitalism has now acquired a convulsive and general character which threatens to drag every country - including the countries of Western Europe and Northern America into the general world instability, with all the attendant features of wars, terrorism, economic crisis, mass unemployment and social breakdown. The general picture resembles a world gone mad - but the real source of the insanity is not to be sought in the deranged mind of a fanatic like Bin Laden, but in the insanity of the capitalist system itself, which is destabilising the entire world far more effectively than the conspiracies of Al' Qaida.`

With colossal power comes colossal arrogance. The USA has conducted itself on a world scale in the manner of British imperialism in the days of gunboat diplomacy. But there are fundamental differences. Britain ruled the world in the period of the rise of capitalism, when the capitalist system was still playing a relatively progressive role. The USA inherited the mantel of Britain as the international gendarme, but in the epoch of imperialist decay, with entirely different results.

Before the Second World war, Leon Trotsky predicted that the USA would emerge as the main imperialist power, and would dominate the world, but that it would have dynamite built into its foundations. This remarkable prediction has now been vindicated with the force of a shattering explosion.

When the Soviet Union collapsed exactly ten years ago, the bourgeois were ecstatic. They boasted that they would bring about a new world order, with universal peace, stability, democracy and prosperity, thanks to the wonders of the market economy. All of this was to be underpinned by the United States - the only world super power. A decade later, all these dreams have ended in a pile of smoking rubble. The vision has turned into a nightmare for the peoples of the entire world - including the United States.

The reality of the "new world order" was immediately exposed by the Gulf War. The message of this uneven conflict was clear: that any country which tried to resist the USA would be subject to an armed onslaught of massive proportions. However, today, ten years later, the USA has not achieved its essential war aims in Iraq, and Sadam Hussein still sits firmly in his place. Later on, the adventure in Kosovo ended in a messy solution which created many more problems than it solved in the Balkans, which are threatened by new wars, conflicts and instability. All this shows the limits of the power of the USA.

Bush has made it clear that he will not distinguish between the terrorists and the states that allegedly protect them. The real meaning of this - and of the new world order in general - is just this: that the USA abrogates to itself the right to intervene militarily in any country where it perceives its interests to be threatened. In the case of Yugoslavia they intervened in the internal affairs of what was supposed to be a sovereign state, in complete violation of all the accepted norms of international law, tearing up the tradition of non-interference that has been (in theory) accepted by international diplomacy for at least three hundred years. Now this concept of how to conduct US foreign policy has been deepened and extended in an unprecedented way.

In the words of the proverb: if you play with fire, you are likely to get burnt. By its conduct the USA has greatly increased instability on a world scale. The growing turbulence has now impacted on America itself. And it will not end soon. There is no lack of combustible material on a world scale today. By lashing out in all directions, Bush and co. will set all this material ablaze, further disrupt the world economy making a slump inevitable, and in passing create many more Osama Bin Ladens, who will be eager and willing to organise new outrages against the people of the United States.

Far from the soothing picture of peace and prosperity, we have entered the most turbulent and convulsive period in human history. The turbulence is not limited to one country or even to one continent: it is truly global. The US imperialists imagine that they can base themselves on the present mood of the American public, still reeling and disoriented after the recent bombings. But this will not last. The mood of the American masses will change into its opposite, especially when the body bags begin to be flown home. People will begin to ask: what was the point of this?

The crisis of capitalism expresses itself in universal instability: instability on the stock market and in the economy, instability in relations between the nations and instability in the relations between the classes. This must sooner or later be reflected in a profound change in the psychology of the masses, who, through their experience of great events, will come to understand the real nature of the crisis and what has to be done to find a way out. The process will not be easy or automatic, but it will inevitably take place over the next period. The poisonous fumes of reaction and chauvinism will dissipate. The way will be cleared for an enormous swing to the left everywhere

The long period of relative peace and stability that characterised the history of the western world for half a century after 1945 has definitely terminated.

The capitalist system is heading for one shock after another. In the storm and stress which is being prepared on a world scale, the psychology of the masses will be transformed. The stage is set for tremendous battles between the classes, in the course of which the working class will have to re-learn all the lessons of the past.

The working people will come to understand the need for a radical change in society. Ideas which today are listened to by tiny handfuls will be eagerly sought out by the masses. Socialism and Marxism will once more occupy their rightful place at the head of the workers' movement. The Labour Movement will be transformed from top to bottom. Its organisations, armed with the ideas of Marxism, will become genuine vehicles of struggle, ready and willing to lead the working people to the transformation of society and a socialist world order.

London 21st September 2001.