Give the Americans a break

Submitted by AWL on 16 May, 2011 - 11:46

A "guest" contribution about the shooting of Osama bin Laden.

At present there is a hoo-ha going on about US forces shooting Osama bin Laden, not only a combatant (in the war he had declared on the USA, Israel, some other Western countries and probably Shiite Muslims and lax Sunnis as well), but a high level commander. The shooting of bin Laden is just one example of a common occurrence in wars, namely that the combatants shoot each other.

This was not capital punishment without a trial, unless it is agreed that this happens to every soldier who is killed in action. However, it is against the rules to shoot combatants who have indicated their desire to surrender. In the case of bin Laden, reports have suggested that he was unarmed, but did not attempt to surrender. Indeed it is claimed that bin Laden instructed a companion to not allow him to be captured alive by the US forces. Apart from the fatuous suggestion that Pakistan should have been informed prior to the action, there is no case against the Americans. They even (reportedly) gave bin Laden a Muslim burial at sea.

It is well known that the "War against Terror" was launched in the aftermath of the September 11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York. George Bush promised to get bin Laden "dead or alive", as in the old Wild West. Bush demanded that the Taliban government of Afghanistan hand over bin Laden, for a crime committed on American soil. The Taliban replied that they would first need to be convinced that bin Laden had committed an offence against Islamic law. Bush responded with a barrage of bombs and eventually pro-American forces captured Kabul. There are some that claim that the attack on Twin Towers had been perpetrated by some faction of the American Government or Intelligence services, for the purpose of justifying the attack on Afghanistan. My own view is that this is an insane conspiracy theory, in keeping with the idea that the United States is the Great Satan; the origin of all evil in the world. Bush was actually disappointed to be informed that al Qaida had masterminded the September 11 attacks [1]. Bush wanted to be told that the attacks were planned from Iraq. Eventually he found another excuse to attack Iraq (weapons of mass destruction) and the American contribution to the war in Afghanistan was significantly reduced.

Al Qaida

The other side in the continuing War on Terror war is al Qaida, which means "The base". A number of organizations cohere around this base: for example: Usama bin Laden Network, Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Places, and (cop this) World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders. Of course "Jews" was a slip of the pen, they meant "Zionists"! "Crusaders" means (roughly) the Americans and Christians. Their objective appears to be to "liberate" the holy places by booting Jews and Crusaders out. This does not even come close to a rational objective that Marxists could support.

Yet some "Marxists" do come close to "critical support" (your objectives are OK, but your methods are crap) for Jihadis. Why? Basically because "Crusaders" sort of means "Americans", therefore critical support is "anti-imperialist". A similarity is often thought to exist between modern terrorists and the "Socialist Revolutionaries" in pre-revolutionary Russia. The Socialist Revolutionaries targeted individuals in the Government, up to and including the Czar himself. If assassinations were not sufficient by themselves to bring about liberation, then the masses, who would be inspired by the assassinations, would rise up and finish the job. As an aside, Lenin's elder brother (Sacha) believed this theory and was hanged by the Czarist regime (I don't recall whether Sacha's assassination attempt was successful - attempted assassination could still get someone hanged). Lenin had to endure his brother's execution and he decided that, rather than step into Sacha's shoes, he would find a better way.

The Marxists (Lenin among them) did not sermonise along the lines that "Thou shalt not kill". The problem was that the Socialist Revolutionary method could never work. Why would the masses understand and be inspired by an assassination, in the absence of propaganda explaining its purpose? But the presence of propaganda in favour of assassination would alert the police, who would insert a spy into the ranks of the Socialist Revolutionaries and round them up. As another aside, the Czarist censorship deemed Marx's Capital to be theoretical, posing little threat, so there was no need to ban it!

The Marxist position v the Socialist Revolutionaries could be said to be "critical support", with a heavy emphasis on the "critical". The position with modern terrorism is quite different. Modern terrorists do not selectively target members of the ruling class. They do not consider class at all and randomly kill as many Jews or Crusaders as they can. The justification for critical support is very weak: You are fighting against US Imperialism, so you are on the right side, but your methods of struggle need to be improved. Flying planes into tall buildings is rather indiscriminate. Is there some way you could be a bit more selective in your targets?

The problem with this position is that, despite the Marxist terminology of US Imperialism, it is hardly Marxist at all. It overlooks that the United States has a very large and potentially very powerful working class. Some Maoists, declare the conflict between US Imperialism and oppressed peoples and nations of the world to be the "principal contradiction". They then arrive at a "Marxist" version of the belief that the USA is the Great Satan. Mao was a brilliant commander of the Chinese revolution, but his "dialectics" was really just a way of deciding which battle needed to be fought now, and which battle could be safely delayed. Maoism, especially Lin Biao's "surrounding the Town by the Countryside" [2] version, reduces the role of the American working class to attempts to weaken US Imperialism from within [3]. But why should American workers sympathise with the objectives of people who are opposed to the USA and who sympathise with people who are trying to kill any Americans?

The American working class response

Soon after September 11, George Bush visited Ground Zero, where firemen [4] and other workers were still engaged in the huge task of cleaning up the rubble. Some firemen had died during the attack - caught up in the collapse of the buildings while heroically trying to rescue people from the fires. As George Bush arrived he was greeted with a spontaneous and powerful chant of USA! USA!

Oh dear! US workers are not interested in weakening the Great Satan? It wasn't difficult to see why. It wasn't about supporting George Bush, although his bin Laden, "dead or alive", vow would certainly have increased his support. The stirring chant was simultaneously an assertion of national pride and defiance of the bastards who had perpetrated the Twin Towers atrocity. An Australian version might be: You can knock us down, but we get up again!

But the USA is an oppressor nation - isn't that national pride bad? I used to think it was. Hadn't Lenin distinguished between the chauvinism [5] of the oppressor nation, which was awful, and oppressed nation patriotism, which was progressive, but in need of diplomatic reminders that the workers of the oppressor nation were not the enemy? Well Yes, but Lenin [6] had also pointed out that even in an oppressor nation, national pride in itself was not an issue. It depended whether the pride was in reactionary or progressive features of the nation. Lenin counted himself as a proud Russian, but he was proud of the revolutionary spirit of the workers, not in the knout and the gallows of Czarist Russia [7]. So, as a would be Marxist and an admirer of Lenin, I can now relax about finding the workers' chant emotionally compelling, even though I am not American.

So do we "critically" support the USA? Not at all; the US ruling class is imperialist, so we are obliged to not support imperialist oppression, not even "critically". However, American workers demanding protection from terrorism is no different in principle from workers demanding that the bourgeois state build better hospitals. A workers' state would indeed build better hospitals, but if Marxists are commonly seen to be talking crap on major issues, there will never be a workers' state. Workers are entitled to improve their life expectancy, without waiting for the Revolution.

Plague on both Houses?

By itself this is a vacuous response. It's all very well saying what we don't approve of, but any political tendency has to indicate what it would do, given the chance [8]. For a start we would insist on the distinction between Jihadis and the wider Muslim population, Sunni or Shiite. We would oppose stupid stunts, like the burning of the Koran by some US pastor, whose name I have forgotten and whose name I do not wish to remember. We would see it as critical to undermine the Jihadis by winning their recruitment base away from "holy war". But this alone may not be enough; those already recruited to the cause of holy war will be almost impervious to persuasion. Organisations like al Qaida must be countered by force. On this issue we are at one with American workers. President Obama has taken out bin Laden in a way that leaves little room for sensible criticism [9]. The (possible?) alternative, of taking bin Laden into custody, was perilous. What about kidnappings, followed by an ultimatum to release bin Laden - or the hostages will be killed? My conclusion, on the specific issue of the killing of bin Laden, is stated in the title.


1. A third plane damaged one wing of the Pentagon and a fourth plane had an unknown target (White House?) but crashed without hitting any target (apparently because passengers overpowered the hijackers).
2. Some wag asked: what else could surround the Town?
3. Maoism also has some bizarre offshoots; the genocidal Pol Pot regime, the terrorist Shining Path movement.
4. Yes, this should be "fire-fighter", but on TV it did appear that they were all men.
5. This led many socialists on both sides of WW1 to decide that their own government was the lesser evil.
6. Trotsky claimed "the national policy of Lenin will find its place among the eternal treasures of mankind."
7. No quotation marks, because it is from memory and may not be Lenin's actual words.
8. This is disputed by some small Marxist groups. Until they change their mind, they will stay small.
9. It is the volume of non-sensible criticism that provoked the writing of this article.

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