Baghdad Comes to London

Comrades of the CWG like most people in the world were forced to confront their political roots and take a position on the London bombings of July 7. Our horror at the bombings was quickly replaced by disgust at the craven British left that ducked for cover behind the Bush/Blair line that these bombings had nothing to do with Iraq or 'imperialism', at least not directly. The London bombings were Baghdad for a day. Blair had brought the war home. And we responded like Madrid workers to the Madrid bombings with the cry "your bombs, our dead" as an indictment of Blair backing Bush. While the suicide bombers were influenced by radical Islamist politics, for us this was the direct result of the failure of the revolutionaries in the imperialist countries to stop the invasions and the occupations, and the conditions of outrage and despair that generate such reactions. While we reject these methods as a means of smashing imperialism, in no way do we condemn suicide bombers for being driven to such methods by imperialism.

To condemn or not to condemn?

In its official statement the day after the London bombings the Communist Party of Great Britain hysterically condemns the bombings as ‘indefensible’, ‘reactionary anti-capitalism’, ‘inhuman’ and ‘anti-capitalist barbarism’.

“The July 7 terror attacks on London are indefensible. They were designed to maximise carnage. Communists unhesitatingly condemn those who planted and detonated the four bombs which killed more than 50 people and injured over 700 others. This was a deeply inhuman act. Reactionary anti-capitalism is no ally of the working class. It is antithetical to democracy, socialism and basic human values. It is itself a manifestation of capitalist barbarism.

These bombs will do nothing - not a thing - to hold back, weaken or divert the rulers of the G8. On the contrary their meeting at Glen-eagles was given a tremendous propaganda boost. George W Bush, Tony Blair, Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin - terrorists on a grand scale in Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya - eagerly paraded their so-called humanitarian and peace-loving credentials before the world's media.

Those who died, those who were injured, were ordinary working class Londoner –the very sort of people who on February 15 2003 rallied in huge numbers - two million of them - to demonstrate their opposition to the pending imperialist war against Iraq. July 7 was an attack on them. Not the warmongers and their obsolete system. What the bombers have done is strike a blow against the anti-war and democratic movement in Britain. Their action certainly plays straight into the hands of Tony Blair and the New Labour government .Blair will cynically use the bombs. He will beat the patriotic drum. He will strive to cement national unity in the 'war against terrorism'. He will use the attacks to justify the continuation of Britain’s junior role in the occupation of Iraq. He will insist that the case for the introduction of ID cards, more surveillance, further police powers, detention without trial and effectively turning Britain into a giant open prison is now unanswerable.

In another lengthy lesson on why communists should condemn the bombings the Socialist Workers’ Party is taken to task for being two-faced.

'On the left the last week has seen an argument between comrades from the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Socialist Workers Party about terrorism. This argument was sparked by the fact that, while Respect, the Stop the War Coalition and Muslim Association of Britain promptly condemned the London bombings, the SWP itself, once again, did not issue an outright condemnation, presumably because it is unwilling to appear to side with the oppressor and with the “real terrorists”, Bush and Blair.

The SWP is being pulled two ways and is clearly in the process of falling into complete incoherence. Its comrades have, either by accident or design, a Janus-like ability to speak with two voices and display two faces. One face, the one they want to show the public, is reformist and respectable: that is the one that in the name of Respect and the STWC condemns the bombings.

However, it fools no one, except perhaps those who want to be fooled. Because the other SWP face, the one they want to show each other, is stony-hard and full of puffed-up pride, talking in terms of an ‘anti-imperialist’ unity and ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. Just as it did over 9/11, Bali and Madrid, this face does not condemn: it forgives, and says that the 50 deaths and 700 injuries were all the fault of Bush and Blair, and that anyway the term ‘terrorism’ has become meaningless.' 

We don't know precisely what motivated the SWP not to condemn the bombings, not do we vouch for its politics in any way. But the CPGBs understanding of anti-imperialism is deficient. To refuse to condemn the bombings as 'anti-imperialist' does not make the radical Islamics the 'friend' of the workers. It is necessary to reject the methods of the Islamic terrorists and yet NOT condemn them precisely because they use a particular 'means' directed against capitalism in the form of imperialism.

The CPGB talks of ‘capitalism’ and ‘anti-capitalism’ abstractly and timelessly and then equates the means used by both sides on the same scale.

But the ends of capitalism and anti-capitalism are very different. One is barbarism, the other is socialism. The means used towards these opposite ends cannot be equated on the same moral scale. There are 'their' morals, and 'our' morals. To understand why morality is class based so that the same means to different ends cannot be equated, read Trotsky's Their Morals and Ours.

Right to national self-determination

The problem with the CPGB is that it doesn’t understand the right of nations to self-determination, and the obligation on the part of workers in imperialist countries to unconditionally fight for this right.

Since the end of the 19th century, capitalism in the form of imperialist invasion, war and re-colonisation, is the concrete expression of the capitalist class enemy. These forms of oppression are ‘barbaric’ and are to be condemned by communists unequivocally. They have no redeeming features; they do not defend democracy, human rights, social development; they have no ‘humanity’ (as a progressive historical social form) whatsoever. The first duty of communists is to turn imperialist wars into class wars and overthrow the imperialist states.

Anti-imperialist resistance is the fight of the oppressed workers and peasants (and also elements of the national bourgeoisie) for their national right to self-determination. The reason that anti-imperialists use methods that can be labelled individual terror is that these are forced on them by the overwhelming military dominance of imperialism. In the film 'The Battle of Algiers' a French colonel complained of the terrorist bombs used by the resistance. An imprisoned FLN leader replied: “you give us your planes and we will give you our homemade bombs”.

Nor are feudal or bourgeois class forces engaged in the national struggle a reason to impose conditions. Trotsky called for support for Haile Sellasie against fascist Italy in 1935. Today radical Islam draws its support from various national bourgeois or petty bourgeois fractions, clerical and secular. It is necessary to fight alongside these anti-imperialist currents with the purpose of winning over the masses from their reactionary banners to the banner of proletarian leadership of the anti-imperialist struggle.

The CPGB and other ‘leftists’ in the imperialists countries who have NOT fought against and stopped imperialist oppression by their own class struggle methods are in no position to impose ANY conditions on the methods used by, or the class composition of, the anti-imperialist resistance. Instead of moaning that Blair will be boosted by the bombs, they should fight for the independent, armed organisation of the international proletariat as the only political force capable of defeating imperialism and its national allies. Their first duty is to do this at home!

‘Lets join to fight the ‘common criminals!’

In a naked twist of logic that support’s Blair’s claim that the bombers were ‘common criminals’, Brendan O’Neill of Spiked Online claims that the bombers were not anti-imperialist fighters but British youth alienated from British capitalism. (After 21/7: still hiding behind the terrorists: By continuing to link the attacks in London with the war in Iraq, anti-war activists are conferring authority on the bombers.)

“To the extent that Iraq was a likely factor in the events of 7/7 and 21/7, it is not that the bombers were making a political strike against the heart of the imperialist beast that attacked Iraq. Rather, it seems more likely that they were influenced by a self-loathing about Iraq that has its roots firmly in British society. That would explain why this apparently 'anti-imperialist' strike involved British citizens planting bombs in the British capital: these acts have their origins, it would seem, in deep moral and political uncertainty and severe self-doubt here at home, rather than in wars of intervention abroad. The upper echelons of British society have partaken in some serious self-flagellation over Iraq, while continuously fretting that some nutter would attack us for our awful deeds. And then we got 7/7 and 21/7.

But more to the point, and to repeat: Even if one of the failed 21/7 bombers now claims that he was politically motivated by the war in Iraq, and even if it transpires that all of the other 7/7 and 21/7 bombers were similarly motivated, so what? Why should that become the focus of the argument for those who want British forces to withdraw from Iraq? Writing in yesterday's London Evening Standard, professor of defence studies Michael Clarke said, 'one of the suspected Tube bombers claims he acted because of Iraq….is it time to pull out?' (8) Why, because some failed bomber whose nickname is 'Bambi' and his mates didn't like the war? On that basis you could argue that a reasonable response to the Charles Manson murders in late-1960s America would have been to allow Manson to join the Beach Boys - apparently, one of his many murderous motivations was that he didn't make it into that band.”

This crude working class psychodrama takes away the political rights of workers in Britain to make an ‘anti-imperialist strike against the heart of the imperialist beast’. Of course, they are just ‘common criminals’ likened to mass murderer Charles Manson. Why should Blair pull out of Iraq when faced with an upsurge of crime at home? He couldn’t have put it better himself. And anyway says Spiked Online, it’s not good enough for the ‘left’ to oppose the war in Iraq merely because of the threats of bombs at home.

Pointing to the bombings and failed bombings in London as an argument against the war in Iraq is a way of avoiding having the hard debate we need. In place of an argument against Western interventionism, and against the right of powerful states to override the sovereign rights of less powerful states, we get this alternative: 'If we don't stop launching wars, they're gonna come over here and bomb us!' Rather than challenging the politics of fear - which both Bush and Blair deployed to win support for the war on Iraq, with their fantastic tales of Saddam's WMD that threatened civilisation as we know it - anti-war activists and writers embrace it and try to turn it to their advantage. They are, in effect, morally blackmailing us into being anti-war, trying to scare us into opposing the war in Iraq: when the left-leaning New Statesman published a picture of a ticking rucksack on its front cover next to the words 'BLAIR'S BOMBS', it was almost a threat: Oppose this war, or else….

Who wants to die for a bosses’ war?

So we can’t oppose the war on the basis of irrational and groundless fear of terror. First we have to ‘debate’ why powerful states most not invade other ‘sovereign’ states. It hasn’t occurred to these patronising petty bourgeois intellectuals of Spiked Online (what do they put in their drinks?) that the vast majority of people don’t want to die for oil in Iraq. That is the problem, they don’t want to die for a bosses’ war or to stop it either. Either way, the war is already held by the big majority to be unjust, and what’s more the suicide bombers and their victims are increasingly seen as innocents dying together because of Bush and Blair’s war in Baghdad and London.

The fact that more than 50 working class Londoners died is to be regretted not just because they were innocent; more importantly, because the British working class did not defeat imperialism at home. In the same way the children who died some days later in Iraq while surrounding US soldiers handing out sweets is to be regretted. Not just because the bomber hit the children instead of the military target. Rather because as yet the insurgency in Iraq is weak, and the anti-war movement in the US and UK has yet to make it impossible for the troops to stay in Iraq.

Nor can it be argued that because the London bombings will be used as a pretext by Bush and Blair to justify and intensify their ‘war on terror’ this is a reason to condemn the bombings. This endorses Bush and Blair shifting the blame from imperialism to the methods of the anti-imperialists. If this bombing is capable of strengthening Blair and ‘striking a blow against the anti-war and democratic movement in Britain’ that is only because this movement is committed to parliamentarism and pacifism and imposes the same standards on the anti-imperialist fighters.

Part of the problem is that the Western left has swallowed the ideology of Bush and Blair’s ‘war on terror’. Even though it claims that Bush and Blair are the ‘real’ terrorists, terrorism itself becomes a matter of degree not kind. By equating imperialist and anti-imperialist terror on the same scale of ‘humanity’ the pacifist left ignores the qualitative difference between terror used to systematically oppress, and terror used to resist oppression.

We should abandon Bush and Blair’s language of terrorism and reject the term outright. Terror is a method of warfare; war itself is an extension of politics; and politics is an extension of economics. There is a difference in kind between imperialist terror to bomb and destroy whole countries, to arrest and imprison without rights any ‘terrorist’ etc. and on the other hand, the methods of the suicide bombers or resistance fighters, opposing imperialism.

To say that Blair’s war and the attack on democracy at home will be strengthened by this bombing is the same old copout of the British left over the Irish national struggle. As Marx, Lenin and Trotsky always said, the British workers will never aid Irish freedom while they do not fight to overthrow the British imperialist state.

But to do this will mean first freeing itself from the social imperialist agenda of pacifism and taking up class war methods of fighting imperialism. Only such methods can strengthen the hand of the resistance fighters ensuring that the organized working class takes over the leadership of the anti-imperialist struggle from the various fractions of the national bourgeoisie. And by fighting for the defeat of our own imperialist bourgeoisies we can create a powerful working class opposition to imperialist war that will fill the political vacuum now taken up by the radical Islamists and their terrorist methods.

From Class Struggle 62 July August 2005

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