On Tuesday September 11, 2001 the world was shaken by news of the most devastating terrorist attack in history. Alan Woods and Ted Grant make a first urgent analysis of the events and their meaning for world politics.
On Tuesday September 11, 2001 the world was shaken by news of the most devastating terrorist attack in history. Thousands of people are feared dead and many more injured after two planes crashed into the World Trade Centre towers in the heart of New York's financial district. Just 18 minutes after the first explosion there was a second blast as another plane hit the other tower.
It is thought that the aircrafts were passenger planes, and one is believed to be an American Airlines Boeing 767 flying from Boston. The first aircraft crashed into one of the towers shortly before 9am (2pm BST). Smoke billowed out of a gaping hole in the 110-storey tower, which was utterly demolished. Soon after, the other tower was hit by a hijacked plane. People were seen jumping out of windows in a scene of appalling terror. Some 50,000 people worked in the towers, though it seems that at the time of the attack there were about 6,000 - many of whom must have been killed or injured.
The building, the tallest in New York, was a popular tourist attraction which houses financial services companies and the attack occurred at a time when employees and tourists would have already arrived at the building. The Centre was bombed in February 1993, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000 others. Now it no longer exists, reduced to a smouldering ruin.
Nor did the attacks stop here. In another incident, a plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington DC, setting it on fire. In Pennsylvania, airport officials at Somerset County Airport reported a large plane crashing just north of the Somerset County Airport, about 80 miles Southeast of Pittsburgh.
Other hijacked planes were reported to be heading for Washington. The streets of Washington and New York were gripped with panic. Bridges and tunnels in New York have been closed amid fears of further attacks. The tragedies stunned the nation and prompted officials, fearing still more attacks, to evacuate the Capitol, the White House, State Department and other federal buildings. Flights were cancelled at all major airports in the USA. Shortly after the explosion at the Capitol, the federal government ordered all federal buildings in the Washington area closed down, according to the Office of Personnel Management. Within the hour, the federal government took the additional step of shutting down national landmarks across the country, including the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty and the St. Louis Gateway Arch, among other locations, according to the National Park Service.
US officials wasted no time in describing the incident as a terrorist attack. It seems that the FBI was investigating reports of plane hijacking before the two crashes. US president, George Bush, is returning to Washington and has convened a national security meeting. He said the explosions were an "apparent terrorist attack" and said "terrorism against our nation will not stand". For the first time in American history the President has ordered a national ground stop, prohibiting all flights under threat of being shot down.
President Bush ordered a full-scale investigation to "hunt down the folks who committed this act". "I have ordered that the full resources of the federal government go to help the victims and their families," he said, before asking his audience to hold a minute's silence, and offering a prayer for the victims.
This terrorist act has a completely insane and criminal character and must be condemned - but not for the hypocritical reasons given by Bush and Blair. Marxists oppose individual terrorism because it is counterproductive and plays into the hands of the most reactionary sections of the ruling class. This is clearly the case here: this bloody outrage will play into the hands of US Big Business and imperialism. It will give Bush a free hand to do anything he wants in the Middle East and on a world scale. US public opinion will be softened up for any reactionary policies at home and abroad.
It will have a similar effect on US public opinion to Pearl Harbour, which Roosevelt publicly condemned but secretly welcomed. The American public will now be prepared to accept the atrocities of so-called counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist actions abroad, and also reactionary and anti-democratic legislation at home.
Who is behind the attacks?
No group has so far accepted responsibility for the incidents, but many observers have blamed forces in the Middle East. At first, the finger was pointed at the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The Democratic Front immediately denied responsibility, and this is undoubtedly true. Such an ambitious attack, involving the simultaneous hijack of four different aircraft on US soil, must have involved a large amount of planning and organisation, taking months or even years. In fact, none of the Palestinian resistance groups would have the necessary degree of organisation, financial backing and infrastructure to mount such an attack. It is not possible to say exactly who is behind the present attacks. On previous occasions bombing attacks that were blamed on "Middle East terrorism" turned out to be the work of right wing American organisations.
"This is perhaps the most audacious terrorist attack that's ever taken place in the world," said Chris Yates, an aviation expert at Jane's Transport in London. "It takes a logistics operation from the terror group involved that is second to none. Only a very small handful of terror groups is on that list. ... I would name at the top of the list Osama Bin Laden."
It is obvious that this attack is in accord with Bin Laden's aims and methods and that he would have the necessary means of carrying them out. Bin Laden has called in Moslems everywhere to attack and kill Americans. He warned three weeks ago of an "unprecedented attack" on US interests because of Washington's support for Israel. This man and his movement has nothing in common with socialism or anything progressive, but representative of the most rabid reaction. However, it is not enough to shout about Bin Laden. It is necessary to explain how he arose and why.
It must not be forgotten that Bin Laden was originally financed, armed and backed by US imperialism and was the creature of the CIA. When it suited Washington to stir up Islamic fundamentalism as a weapon against the Soviet Union, they did not scruple at supporting such rabid reactionaries and mass murderers. As long as the people being murdered were far away - in Afghanistan or the Middle East, these hypocrites could afford to turn a blind eye. Now they suddenly discover that Bin Laden and his like are the "enemies of civilisation". But in that case, the threat to civilisation should be stamped "made in USA".
As we have stated, the Trade Centre was bombed before in 1993. "A second occurrence is just beyond belief," said Ira Furber, former National Transportation Safety Board spokesman. Indeed, it is, and it is clear that there are many enigmatic elements in this outrage. How does it come about that the terrorists managed to launch such an attack without alerting the US intelligence agencies? Such a vast enterprise must have involved a large number of people, a complex apparatus and a long time to prepare. How could this have escaped the notice of US intelligence?
It has been said that it is difficult to penetrate terrorist organisations. Actually, the reverse is the case. The CIA keeps detailed files on all these groups and undoubtedly has its agents and confidants planted in their ranks - including agents provocateurs, who would be characterised by their extremist attitudes.
In the past, the secret services have had considerable success in preventing terrorist attacks. This time there seems to have been a massive - and astonishing - failure of the intelligence network. British intelligence experts have commented that the failure of US intelligence to detect such an operation on such a vast scale, which must have been planned and organised over a long period is quite astonishing - in fact, inexplicable.
How is it possible that the CIA was so ignorant and inept as to permit such a devastating attack on the nerve-centres of the nation? One possibility has not been mentioned - namely that it was the result of a provocation that went badly wrong. In the shadowy world of intrigue, provocation and counter-provocation that characterises the activities of the secret services, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a section of the US military Establishment decided to allow the terrorists to launch an attack inside America as a means of boosting public support for an aggressive policy and rearmament. This would explain the surprising failure of US intelligence, although the devastating nature of the attack would suggest that the provocation got out of hand.
One thing is certain. That the consequence of the attack will be to strengthen imperialism and the right wing in the USA. Once again, we see the reactionary consequences of individual terrorism - which Marxists unconditionally condemn.
The economic effects
The economic effects of the attack have been immediate and dramatic. Trading on the New York stock exchange was halted indefinitely. This news was followed by steep falls on the stock exchanges in London and other world trading centres. 80 percent of the Internet was down, and mobile phones out of action, adding to the panic.
US stock futures plunged before trading was suspended indefinitely before the opening bell on Tuesday. Stocks in Europe rapidly fell more than 6 percent, with the pan-European FTSE Eurotop 300 down 4.5 percent after earlier gains. "Investors will be wondering if this is the start of a terrorist campaign on the US. aimed at high profile institutions," said Andrew Milligan, head of global strategy at Standard Life Investments in Edinburgh. "There are no prices. There is no trade," said one emerging markets trader in New York. "All the brokers are downtown in the Trade Centre, so there are no prices."
US stocks were expected to tumble after a delayed opening, while insurance stocks were hard hit on fears of massive liabilities. "When the market opens, it will open down a lot,'' said Stanley Nabi, a managing director at Credit Suisse First Boston, which oversees $110 billion. "I think it will open down a couple hundred points on the Dow at least. This is absolutely unbelievable."
Mike Lenhoff at broker Gerrard said: "It's a disaster. It throws the whole market background into chaos. The Pentagon has been bombed and nobody really knows the American policy response, which I think is going to be pretty severe, once they feel confident about who is responsible.
Stocks and the US dollar plunged and safe-haven bonds soared as investors, seeking safe havens in a time of uncertainty, drove the prices of gold and oil and the Swiss franc higher in the wake of the incidents. The London stock exchange immediately went into freefall. The London FTSE index has fallen 200 points, and similar falls have been repeated in all other stock exchanges. The price of oil has risen by two dollars a barrel. Many buildings in the City of London were hastily evacuated, as a result of fears of attack.
In Europe also, short dated European government debt yields plunged with the two-year paper hitting near two-year low. The disaster sapped liquidity from the Euro corporate bond market as investors fled into safe haven government bonds. Investors were already nervous before the attacks, now a new element of volatility has been introduced into the equation.
The dollar fell against both the Euro and yen after the explosion. The Euro stood at $0.9050, compared to $0.8978 just before the first explosions.
The Swiss franc spiked briefly to 1.4901 to the dollar, from opening levels around 1.6882, but fell back quickly to around 1.66. IPE Brent crude futures rose over three and a half dollars to more than $31 a barrel, while gold prices rose over six dollars, or 2 percent, to $278.00/$280.50 per troy ounce. The nervousness of investors was expressed by one commentator in London:
"I don't think one can talk sensibly about market behaviour. Just as we're talking, the UK market fell by 20-30 points - these are pretty fast market conditions. Banks, insurers will fall the most - anything that's exposed. Oil stocks will do well and oil prices are rising. The oil price is now almost $30 (£20) a barrel compared with $27.50 earlier this morning."
The dollar's strength - given the weakness of the American economy - has defied the law of gravity. It has been so far seen as a safe haven in a period of global instability. At a certain stage, it was inevitable that this would be reversed as foreign investors withdrew their funds from America, provoking an increase in interest rates in the USA and pushing the US economy into recession. This process may have already begun.
After nearly ten years of boom in the USA, the world economy is already hovering on the brink of a serious recession. The reality of globalisation turns out to be - a global crisis of capitalism. The underlying cause of capitalist crisis is overproduction. Once the economic cycle reaches the critical point where quantity becomes transformed into quality, any incident can push it over the brink into recession. This was the case with the oil shock of 1973-74. It is necessary to remind ourselves that the rising price of oil was linked to events in the Middle East. Now it is possible that history will be repeated.
New World Disorder
Overnight, the greatest super power the world has ever seen turns out to be a colossus with feet of clay. The most powerful military state the world has ever seen has shown its powerlessness in the face of terrorism. Before the Second World War, Trotsky predicted that America would emerge as the victor and establish world hegemony, but he added that it would have dynamite built into its foundations. These prophetic words have now turned out to be literally true. Ten years ago, after the fall of the Soviet Union, President Bush's father promised a New World Order. Now the reality has struck home with a vengeance.
The rape of the planet by Big Business has created a world fraught with misery, war and chaos, which has now impacted on the heart of world imperialism. This is the real cause of the present atrocity. The terrorism of world-wide hunger, disease, misery, exploitation and oppression which torments millions of men, women and children each and every day of their lives, is the root cause of the turmoil and instability which is sweeping the planet in the dawn of the 21st century.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in Palestine, where the people on the West Bank and Gaza are daily subjected to the bloody attacks of Israeli imperialism, their homes demolished, their young people shot down, their livelihood taken away. Is there any wonder that sections of the Palestinian youth have been driven to desperation? Is it surprising that there is a fierce hatred of US imperialism which backs Israel and remains silent about all these atrocities? Where was the condemnation of President Bush when the leader of the PFLP was recently murdered by the Israelis in a rocket attack? Where was all the talk about an "attack on civilisation" when hundreds of Palestinian civilians were being killed and maimed by the Israeli army?
All this has had the most terrible effects on the consciousness of the Palestinian masses. Hours after the attacks there were reports of celebrations on the streets of Nablus on the West Bank. The terrible suffering inflicted on the Palestinian people by Israeli imperialism, backed by Washington, is what provokes such a reaction. But it is profoundly misguided. Scenes of Palestinian youths on television demonstrating support for the killing of hundreds of US civilians will do tremendous harm to the Palestinian cause in the USA and internationally. The sympathy which they had won among the workers of the USA and other countries because of their suffering at the hands of the Israeli oppressors will be forgotten in a wave of revulsion, which will be used by the US reactionaries to whip up anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab feeling. This in turn will pave the way for new and monstrous acts of repression against the Palestinians which will be more acceptable to world public opinion, whereas previously they were condemned.
The Americans will have to launch a strike against some Arab country - presumably Iraq. They will need the collaboration of Israeli intelligence to carry this out. This will strengthen the hand of Israel, not weaken it. It will harm the cause of the Palestinians, not help it. Therein lays its reactionary character. One has to be blind not to see this.
Despite its spectacular impact, even the best-organised terrorist attacks can never succeed in destroying or even seriously weakening imperialism. George Robertson, the NATO secretary, immediately took advantage of the attack to advocate the stepping up of NATO's military power. The consequences of the present attacks will be serious and reactionary. US imperialism will be under pressure to retaliate, and will not be fussy about which victims it chooses. Already, there have been attempts to blame Iraq for the atrocity. New bombings and devastation will be the answer, adding to the devilish spiral of killing and counter-killing. As far as the peoples of the Middle East are concerned, the present incident will do nothing to help them in their plight. The Palestinian people will derive no benefit from this attack. The US imperialists will be driven even further into the arms of Israel. The brutality of the latter against the Palestinians will be "justified" by the alleged threat of terrorism.
After the terrorist attack in Africa, the US imperialists bombed Libya and Sudan, although neither of these countries had anything to do with it. They will now presumably return to bombing the helpless people of Iraq - as if one bloody crime justified another. In this way, they will aggravate all the contradictions on a world scale, creating new victims and new hatreds - the fuel for new acts of terrorism. This is what they call the "defence of civilisation".
Lenin once said that capitalism is horror without end. In recent years the Americans and Europeans have been arming to the teeth, with a view to intervening against the movement of the masses in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, as in the so-called Colombia Plan. The present atrocity will mean a further acceleration in this aggressive programme of rearmament. It bodes nothing positive for the workers and peasants of the world, but is just another manifestation of the convulsive crisis of capitalism on a world scale. In the words of the Roman historian Tacitus: "And when they have created a wilderness, they call it Peace".
London, 11th September 2001.