After Madrid

Submitted by martin on 17 March, 2004 - 10:14

Against the terrorists - international working-class solidarity

The bombing which killed over 200 people at three railway stations in Madrid in the morning rush hour of 11 March was an unspeakable atrocity.
Whoever did it is as much an enemy of the working class and democracy as were the Italian fascists who killed 85 people by bombing Bologna railway station in 1980, or the American right-wing terrorists who killed 168 with a bombing in Oklahoma in 1995.

It would be plain stupid for socialists to translate what the bombers do and aim for into our liberationist concerns, and conclude that they were representing Third World people against imperialism. They see themselves as soldiers of God making war on everything in the modern world that socialists, or even liberals, prize and see as a stepping stone to a better world.

In the declarations of those who massacred innocent people in Madrid, "1492" - when the last Islamic state in Spain was conquered by the Christians - looms as large in their decision to target Spain as the Spanish government's support for Bush's war in Iraq.
The bombers are sophisticated enough, it seems, to calculate the effects of their work on the Spanish elections, but their intelligence serves the deepest obscurantism in the 21st century world.

A statement claimed to be from al-Qaida says that: "It is a response for your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies... You love life and we love death... If you don't stop your injustice, more blood will flow".

The Madrid bombers want US and UK troops out of Iraq in order to do what? To carry out more attacks in Iraq like those at Shia festivals in Karbala and Baghdad on 2 March, which killed as many people as the Madrid bombings? To restore Sunni sectarian supremacy in Iraq? To turn Iraq, or as much of it as they can hold, into a giant base for their war on modern society?

The chief targets of al-Qaida and their like are not, in fact, the US or Spanish governments, but ordinary people - including Muslims - in Madrid or New York or Istanbul, and, above all, the ordinary people of Muslim countries, whether religious, not-so-religious, or secular, who reject the evil, life-hostile, death-worshipping, demented bigotry that al-Qaida stands for.

Up to 100,000 died in Algeria's civil war of the 1990s, killed by the Islamic fundamentalists or by the military dictatorship. Tens of thousands were killed by the fundamentalists in Afghanistan; tens of thousands by the fundamentalists of a different stripe which have ruled Iran for 25 years.

Fundamentalist terrorism like the Madrid bombings is not a retribution for Bush's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It existed long before those wars. The main difference was that its victims were less publicised.

Against that fundamentalist terrorism, we should stand together with the majorities of the mostly-Muslim countries as well as with the ordinary people attacked in Spain or the USA.

We oppose the racists, bigots and chauvinists who will seek to turn anger about the Madrid bombing against ordinary Muslims, against immigrants, against refugees, and against civil liberties.

If the strategy of al-Qaida makes sense on any level, it is to goad on the USA's arrogant, imperialistic, militarist "war on terror" in the hope that the ensuing turmoil will topple governments in mostly-Muslim countries and allow fundamentalists (or, more extreme fundamentalists) to replace them.

In solidarity with the victims of terror all across the world, we must reject both poles of that deadly logic.

American Christian fundamentalism, though for now more restrained, is no less reactionary, obscurantist, and life-perverting than its Islamic fundamentalist equivalent. Those Christian fundamentalists form one of the poles in US politics on which Bush stands.

Back in 2001, when the US and UK started bombing Afghanistan, we wrote: "The US-British alliance will not defeat, or cut the roots, of terrorist-fundamentalism...

"It is quite possible that the US-British attack will end with bin Laden, or his similars, still at large and active, and new masses of recruits for them and other terrorist-fundamentalists.

"At the very best it will push back one terrorist-fundamentalist faction. It will not cut the roots of fundamentalism, it will not end or diminish the widespread fundamentalist terror against the people of the fundamentalists' 'home countries'."

So it has happened. And the Iraq war has nurtured an expansion, not a defeat, of terrorist-fundamentalism.

Socialists must side with the forces of democracy, secularism, and socialism across the world, against both US-led militarism and terrorist fundamentalism.

We must side with groups like the new independent trade unions and unemployed organisations in Iraq.

We must support the Israeli refuseniks and the Palestinians fighting for a democratic solution in Israel-Palestine - Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, and Palestinian self-determination in an independent state of their own, alongside Israel.

Bush and Blair will not defeat terrorist-fundamentalism. Only the renewal and revival of the world labour movement, international working-class solidarity, and consistent democracy will finally do that.

Different types of terrorism

"Terrorism", in classic Marxist terminology, meant something quite different from the terrorism of the Madrid, Karbala, or Baghdad bombings.

The "terrorists" in Tsarist Russia, for example, were revolutionaries who set out to kill the Tsar or top officials in order to weaken the tyrannical regime and encourage popular revolt. Marxists sympathised with them while criticising their tactics as ineffective.

Attacks on civilians like the bombings of European cafés in Algeria during that country's war of independence (1954–62) were in a different category, too.

There was a simple answer: for France to get out and allow Algeria to win independence. To support the cause the bombings were meant to serve, and explain that the victory of that cause would end the horror of the bombings, made sense.

Similarly the attacks of groups like the Provisional IRA were usually aimed against economic, military, police, or paramilitary targets. Sometimes they were inexcusably reckless about civilian casualties; sometimes they shaded over into outright communalism against the Protestant-Unionists.

All the attacks, even those we condemned strongly, were tactics within a definite political cause with which we could sympathise at least in part.

If the Madrid bombers succeed indirectly in getting Spanish troops out of Iraq - as they may do, since the bombings helped tilt the election in favour of the Socialist Party, which has long opposed having Spanish troops there - will they be satisfied and stop further attacks? No. They will be encouraged.

The supposed injustice they want to erase or defeat by making more and more blood flow is not this or that action by the USA, or Spain, but the very existence of secular, modern, non-Islamic society.

Indiscriminate killings of civilians designed simply to punish and destroy are not bad tactics. They are atrocities.

Paying the price?

The Stop The War Coalition has issued a statement on the Madrid bombings: "Bush, Blair, and Aznar were the axis which took the west into war. Now they are being held to account for the consequences of that war.

"The election result in Spain, which saw Aznar's party trounced, can only be interpreted as a vote against war. The Spanish government enthusiastically signed up to the illegal bombing and invasion of Iraq a year ago: it has paid the political price.

"The terrible bombings in Madrid were seen by many Spanish people as a result of its government warmongering. They refused to allow that same government to use the tragedy to justify its policies. The war has made the threat of terrorism greater, not less".

While describing the bombings as "terrible" and a "tragedy", this statement pointedly does not condemn the bombers. Read it carefully, and it does not quite say that the bombings were a rough but salutary method of holding Spain "to account" for the Iraq war, or making it pay the due "price"; but that is plainly its drift.

The logic here is simply an inversion of the US warmongers who argued that Afghanistan and Iraq had to be blitzed as the only way of making their rulers "pay the price".

It was right to oppose the US/UK war in Iraq. It is right to oppose the occupation. Nothing is gained by the specious argument that fundamentalist terrorism is just an automatic reflex result of the war and occupation.

That is a reprise of the argument put in the Socialist Worker pamphlet about the Afghan war, when it explained away al-Qaida by pat phrases like "barbarity bred barbarity", "barbarism can only cause more counter-barbarism", or that these were "terrorists the West has created". More crudely: these are Third World peoples, what else can you expect?

Such arrogant, metropolito-centric thought licensed Socialist Worker to sigh conventionally about how "tragic" 11 September 2001 was, but still to endorse Islamic fundamentalism as "anti-imperialist".

It amounts to writing off and betraying the socialists and democrats of the world's poorer countries, who fight against the barbarism of the IMF and global capital and simultaneously against the "counter-barbarism".

Filling the vacuum

How has the world got to the point that people in Madrid or Karbala, New York or Bali, Istanbul or Quetta - or London, too - know that any day someone walking or driving past may choose to blow up everybody around them, children included, out of sheer rage against the whole world of today?

Lenin, the Bolshevik leader in the Russian workers' revolution of 1917, had no rosy view of the capitalism of his day. He lived through the First World War, in which about eight and a half million troops, and between five and 13 million civilians, were killed, a toll far higher than in any previous war.

Yet, towards the end of that war, he could still assume some achievements of civilisation to be solid even under capitalist conditions.

In State and Revolution (1917) he argued that no special army or police would be needed in a developed socialist society to deal with individual assaults, abuse, and violence. "This will be done by the armed people itself, as simply and as readily as any crowd of civilised people, even in modern society, interferes to put a stop to a scuffle or to prevent a woman from being assaulted".

He took it for granted that "any crowd of civilised people" would help each other to keep the streets and public places safe for all.

Despite all the progress of technology since then, socially we have spiralled down a long way. First came the horrors of slump, Nazism, and Stalinism. Today the alleged al-Qaida statement about the Madrid bombings - "we love death" - is an extreme expression of a demoralisation and atomisation which spreads wider.

We have, as Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto, "left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous 'cash payment'". Or, rather, what remains are those who want to control the cash-nexus culture by forcibly imposing a God-fearing order from an imaginary past.

The catastrophe of Stalinism, and the defeats suffered by most labour movements in the last 20 years, have injured hopes of collective self-improvement, and created the vacuum filled by cash-nexus and obscurantism.

Islamic fundamentalism is basically a political current, not a religious belief. It arises from the failures of secular nationalism in the Muslim world - or, rather, from the taunting turmoil created by its half-successes. It is roughly the equivalent within today's Muslim world of fascism within Europe.

In Capital, Marx wrote that where slave or serf labour become integrated into the capitalist world market, "the civilised horrors of overwork are grafted on the barbaric horrors of slavery, serfdom, etc"; and that less-developed capitalist countries suffered "not only from the development of capitalist production but also from the incompleteness of that development".

What has happened with Islamic fundamentalism is a sort of political equivalent of that economic combination of evils: a fusion of the culture of ancient honour-killings, or the jihads of Islam and the crusades of Christendom, with that of modern carpet-bombing.

Lenin's assumption in 1917 about "civilised people" in the West European cities where he had lived in exile were based on decades of work by labour movements. Those movements had built up dignity, self-respect, and a sense of collective social responsibility among working classes first formed in conditions of degradation, and imposed some measure of civilisation also on the middle class and the ruling class.

That we must rebuild.

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