Why Marxists oppose acts of political terrorism

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Q: As a Marxist organization, what does the Freedom Socialist Party think of the terrorism of September 11?

A: IN the tradition of revolutionary thinkers and leaders including V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, we categorically oppose terrorist acts by people who are attempting to substitute, as the introduction to Trotsky’s pamphlet Against Individual Terrorism says, “the technical feats of a small group for the necessary social movement of the masses themselves.”

But we also recognized that what constitutes terrorism is defined by those in power – the ruling class.

The dictionary defines terrorism as “the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence to intimidate or coerce societies or governments.” By this standard, the U.S. government is the biggest terrorist there ever was – and many of the world’s people see this quite clearly. The U.S. funds death squads and mercenaries, engineers coups and assassinations, imposes blockades that starve thousands of people, fuels civil strife, and bombs nations it cannot co-opt or humble.

All the while, its politicians and agencies are labeling the people who oppose these actions as “terrorists.”

Q: Some individuals and groups identified with progressive causes at times engage in terrorism. Why do socialists disagree with terrorism when used by people whose ultimate goals may be similar?

A: Terrorism is an attempt to force change through the use of things like bombs, assassinations, and hijackings. In fact, real change can only e brought about by the concerted, conscious mobilization and action of large numbers of the working class. As a strategy, terrorism goes nowhere.

But realizing that, and recognizing the terrible loss caused by an action like the leveling of the World Trade Center, doesn’t keep us from understanding what motivates terrorism.

As Trotsky writes, “The most important psychological source of terrorism is always the feeling of revenge in search of an outlet” The crimes perpetuated by capitalism against defenseless people cause terrorism.

Q: What is the effect of terrorism on the stats quo? On the working class?

A: Acts of terrorism may throw the capitalists into temporary confusion. But the life of the system doesn’t depend on the existence of particular buildings such as the Pentagon and WTC, or even on an important individual like the president. Buildings and people can be replaced.

The disarray introduced into the ranks of the working masses by a terrorist attempt can be deeper. Trotsky observes that “the more ‘effective’ the terrorist acts, the greater their impact, the more attention of the masses focuses on them – the more they reduce the interest of the masses in self-organization and self-education.” After all, if “a little chunk of lead is enough to shoot the enemy through the neck, what need is there for class organization?”

Individual terror, says Trotsky, “belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness.”

Terrorism also gives the ruling class a pretext to crack down on dissent and suspend civil liberties. Immigrants, a vibrant and important sector of U.S. labor, are coming in for increased persecution in the wake of September 11. We can also expect a crackdown and intimidation campaign against the anti-WTO/anti-corporate mass movement.

Q: If Marxists are against terrorism, why are they so often labeled terrorists?

A: The people who run the state in the interest of the corporations will call any militant or threatening activity directed against their policies terrorism. Strikers on picket lines, environmentalists, blocking bulldozers, and countries resisting U.S. imperialism, like Cuba, have all been slandered as terrorist.

In a May 10 speech, former FBI director Louis Freeh told Congress that the Workers World Party, Reclaim the Streets, and WTO protesters in Seattle have all gone onto a list of domestic “anarchist and extreme socialist groups.”

Just as communism was once the scary buzz word used as the rationale for crushing protest and attempts to win better conditions and more freedoms, now it’s “terrorism.” If we want to be able to organize anything from a union to a revolution, we can’t let them get away with it.

Q: What are Marxists doing in the wake of the September 11 events?

A: Acts of individual political terrorism are born out of repression and despair. As radicals in the United States, the best thing we can do is keep on fighting for a system that doesn’t breed the tragic conditions at home and around the world, that make acts of terrorism inevitable.

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