War drive - our response

Our members? aggregate was held in London on September 16. Mary Godwin reports

CPGB members voted overwhelmingly for a  motion on the terrorist atrocities in New York and Washington and the imperialist war drive. The agenda had been changed so as to formulate our collective response to the devastating events and the new, highly fraught situation. The final version of the motion, agreed after lengthy discussion, is printed on page one of this edition of the Weekly Worker.

Comrade John Bridge, opening the debate, began his introduction by deploring the approach taken by some on the left which disparaged the mass outpouring of emotion following the attack. While it is regrettably true that the press and TV do not report the death and suffering of the millions of victims of United States imperialism around the world, this should not detract from our sympathy for those killed, injured and bereaved by the September 11 terrorist attacks. Communists are concerned about waste of life everywhere, said the comrade.

Referring to the lead article in the previous Weekly Worker (September 13), comrade Bridge said he had some disagreements with it. Specifically, concerning the phrase, ?the suicide actions can only have been symbolic?. Oppressed peoples who have suffered the effects of US imperialism for decades are celebrating the fact that for the first time someone has successfully stuck back at imperialism in its heartland. The material consequences in the US and elsewhere may also be enormous, argued the comrade.

Understandably on one level, but also cynically, the US administration has used the events of September 11 as an opportunity to declare war against ?terrorism?. President George W Bush has already told the American people that there will be no short-term solution; this time, in other words, attacking his enemies with cruise missiles will not be enough. The Bush administration has a long-term agenda, of using new forms of war to impose the new world order of US domination. All countries, particularly those in the Middle East, are being told to bend to the will of the US administration or face the consequences. Many of these states have unstable governments - either vulnerable autocracies or fragile coalitions, often including islamic parties sympathetic to the terrorists. The US interventions will certainly lead to chaos, maybe the coming to power of counterrevolutionary obscurantists.

In this situation, predicted comrade Bridge, democratic rights and liberties in America, Britain, and other countries will be threatened. Anyone demonstrating against the wars the US seems set to launch will be seen as opposing a holy crusade against terrorism. Already there is serious talk of introducing identity cards in Britain. The world economy is on the brink of recession, and striking  trade unionists defending jobs and conditions  will be portrayed as undermining the war effort.

Seconding the motion, comrade Anne Mc Shane said the first people in Britain to feel the impact of the events would be asylum-seekers. People are fleeing Afghanistan in greater numbers in response to the threat of US attack, and those coming to Britain risk being attacked as terrorists by racists and chauvinists. Already there have been instances of attacks on mosques and Asian businesses, and the government has outlawed several organisations it accuses of backing terrorism, including Turkish community support groups. Comrade Mc Shane proposed an amendment to the original motion: to add the phrase, ?Oppose scapegoating of migrants and asylum-seekers?. Comrade Bridge accepted this amendment.

In the past all US foreign policy actions were based on a sense of physical and military invulnerability at home which now has been violated, comrade Michael Malkin said in the debate. The US government has an attitude of ?anyone who is not for us is against us? and defines terrorism as anything opposed to US purposes. The US military is preparing to attack Afghanistan, but one of its principal targets is Iraq, and if necessary it will fabricate evidence incriminating the Iraqi state in the attacks, he suggested.

Several comrades remarked on the unexpected tone of hostility to the US in TV and radio phone-in programmes in the days after the suicide bombings, including in the Radio Four PM programme letters feature and BBC TV?s Question time. At least for a small self-selecting sample of British workers, sympathy for the victims seems not to be seen as incompatible with a realisation that US imperialism has reaped what it sowed, and bears prime responsibility in the last analysis. Comrades also noted that the BBC later apologised and suggested that Question time should have been pre-recorded and ?edited? (ie, censored). This is a sign of what may come: dissenting voices and those defending democracy and civil liberties will be criticised by the establishment and suppressed on the pretext that they are supporting terrorism. Some commentators have announced the end of the ?century of liberty? and called for tighter restrictions in all sorts of spheres.

Comrade Marcus Larsen said world imperialism is preparing militarily for war, and invoking legal arguments to justify its actions, while fanatical muslims are trying to turn it into a religious war against the west. It is important for communists and revolutionary socialists to respond correctly in this dangerous situation. Comrade Larsen said that the SWP would set up an anti-war coalition with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and other pacifists. He said this is not good enough. The Socialist Alliance must take the lead in mobilising an anti-war and anti-imperialist mass movement. Both in this debate, and the session on the Socialist Alliance, many comrades expressed surprise and disappointment that the SWP leadership seems unwilling to discuss the attacks on the World Trade Center in the SA and refuses to condemn them.

Workers Power criticised the terrorist attacks in the US on the basis that they are counterproductive in the fight against imperialism. Comrade Peter Manson deprecated this kind of response, saying that this implied that the perpetrators were somehow on our side, fighting imperialism alongside ourselves. The ?criminal actions? should be condemned both because they were committed by reactionaries and also because they were inhuman. He said communists should ?refuse to bloc? - for example, on anti-war demonstrations - with groups whose regime, if they ever achieved state power, would prove to be more reactionary than the capitalism they are fighting and which we seek to transcend positively.

Adding to this, comrade Phil Kent stressed the importance of telling the working class that president Bush and the world capitalist system do not have the interests of the working class at heart. The US government seeks to establish a favourable climate for capital by imposing their new world order. The spectacular suicide attacks on September 11 are an example of the most extreme form of negative opposition US imperialism inevitably creates against itself.

Several comrades spoke about the hypocrisy and tackiness of official government-sponsored grief, such as the three-minute silence most workers were ordered by their management to observe on Friday September 14. Others pointed out that, as the US  has long sponsored Israeli state terrorism against Palestine, it should not be surprised at Palestinian lack of sympathy for the US dead. Comrades argued that we should condemn the terrorist attack itself, but seek to understand those who welcome it.

A small minority of members present, led by John Pearson, disagreed with the phrasing of the motion and described the use of the words ?terrorism? and ?condemn? as concessions to the bourgeois consensus. Comrade Pearson said that while all civilian deaths in wars are regrettable, he personally felt no sympathy for the casualties in these attacks. We are on the side of the oppressed, argued the comrade, and should feel no regrets for the oppressors when the oppressed strike back at them.

Many speakers vigorously opposed this attitude, from several angles. Firstly on the grounds that most of those killed were workers, and even those who were highly paid company directors were still human beings. We condemn all acts of individual terrorism, especially those carried out by counterrevolutionary groups claiming to act in the name of the oppressed. That does not mean some descent into pacifism We defend revolutionary violence, which is perfectly legitimate, if not necessily advisable, in circumstances where there is mass backing for an uprising or a protracted guerrilla struggle. Our support for the democratic content of the IRA armed struggle was mentioned. Marcus Larsen contrasted it with our correct opposition to the Taliban, whose Afghan regime may be ?anti-imperialist?, but is almost the last word in the oppression of the oppressed.

The contribution of comrade Pearson was described as an example of ?crude anti-Americanism? - and defeatist, in that it gives up on the working class of America. Comrade  Kent made the point that the perpetrators of the terrorist attack are also the enemies of socialism and the working class, and that the American workers who died were therefore killed by the class enemy.

In his summing up, comrade John Bridge said our project is to liberate all of humanity from the inhumanity of capitalism, including even  the bourgeoisie. The solution to the problems of humanity must come from the working class, not least those in of the capitalistically advanced countries. Comrade Bridge declared himself surprised by the controversy and intensity of debate the motion had provoked.

He agreed that socialists should never politically bloc with reactionary anti-capitalists. Lenin?s Comintern specifically refused to align itself with reactionary muslim fundamentalism in the far east. He also agreed that the Socialist Alliance must take the initiative in the opposition to the war. The class struggle will be intensified internationally and in Britain, and the Socialist Alliance must equip itself to fight the war in such a climate of sharpened class struggle.

The amended motion was put to the vote, and passed with no votes against and one abstention.