by way of introduction…
this introduction is found in the pamphlet S11: Truth and Consequences (Solidarity-Arm the Spirit 2001, ISBN 1-894820-35-5), available for $2.75 US from Kersplebedeb (email me for details )
Passenger planes smash into the symbols of American economic and military power – longtime symbols of unspeakable human suffering and evil combined – killing thousands and sending us all through a political wormhole. Disoriented, shaken and perplexed, “the movement” emerges on the other side no longer sure in which direction to move.
In the immediate aftermath many think first of retreat. Liberal groups like the Sierra Club cancel campaigns, symbolically transferring their do-gooder sensibilities, their cherished moral capital, to the new state of national unity. Supposedly more militant comrades from the anti-globalization movement follow suit, as a bizarro Popular Front for the American Way of Life emerges from the ruins of the World Trade Center.
At the same time two distinct cultural phenomenon take shape, contradictory attempts to reframe what went down. On the one hand the attacks are put in the wash with bleach concentrate, as in popular discourse “Americans” once again means white Americans, and every Arab is now a potential terrorist, and every person of colour a potential Arab. Many have noted the absence of pictures on tv or in the newspaper of Captain Carl Minter, pilot of United Airlines flight 93 which crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside on that special Tuesday morning, as compared to the abundance of pictures and biographical sketches of the passengers who are said to have heroically rushed the terrorists on board. The passengers were overwhelmingly white; Minter was Black.
This time its clear: the good guys are white, the bad guys aren’t.
On the other hand there is a rush to universalize the tragedy, to wrap us all in the American flag. Just as in Israel on the 11th people chanted “We are America”, and Canadian firefighters adorned their trucks with the stars and stripes, prominent Black, Arab-American, Muslim and other U.S. minority leaders have insisted that this was an attack on everyone, everywhere, and most especially on all Americans regardless of race, colour or creed. Organized labour followed suit, the AFL-CIO and the UAW quickly promising full support for any actions Bush chose to carry out, and the Teamsters immediately calling for war against all states harboring terrorists. At last CEOs and truckers, stockbrokers and factory workers, all have something in common*.
In the week following the attacks a lot was made of how the events were allowing the true essence of Americans to shine through, as common people of all walks of life gave what they could – their time, money, compassion – to help out in this time of tragedy.
And yet there is another aspect of this “true America shining through” which is far more important, far more telling, and far less friendly.
The events of September 11th are, after all, quintessentially American. The idea of sending men overseas to kill civilians is as American as apple pie – by way of Hiroshima and My Lai there is nothing new here. Nobody should be surprised that the man alleged to be behind these dastardly deeds is himself an erstwhile ally of U.S. imperialism. While his vision is about as radically different from a world of shopping malls and McDonalds restaurants as you can get, Osama Bin Laden cut his teeth and gained his initial following as an ally in America’s 20th century war against communism. For a section of the U.S. establishment, nobody was beyond the pale in that war of attrition, and for them September 11th truly is nothing more than the chickens coming home to roost.
The response of many White Americans is also quintessentially American. One can almost smell the smoke of past race riots, the blood from past lynchings, the psycho-historical backdrop to what many are fantasizing about. Hundreds of “hate crimes” against Arabs, Asians, and people who look like them, have been recorded in the three weeks following the attacks. Several murders have taken place, schoolchildren have been beaten unconscious, taxi drivers pulled out of their cars, mosques and other “pagan” places of worship attacked, passengers kicked off planes.
What could be more natural on land drenched in the blood of slaves and Indians?
While life may not come risk-free, capitalism actually guarantees an endless procession of horrors and crises, and so in a way there is still nothing new under the sun. And yet for those of us living through this, the political terrain certainly has changed. There are new priorities to be mapped out, which will call for new tactics and new areas of study. Most comrades agree that among our most urgent tasks are:
• opposing and resisting the rise in racism and xenophobia and the consequent crimes of violence against people of colour
• opposing and resisting the new repressive legislation and police powers already being unleashed upon us all, not to mention the new climate of conformity that our enemies are trying – so far with mixed results – to impose
• educating ourselves and others about the role of imperialism and religious reaction in fomenting this crisis
• opposing and resisting militarism and the possibility of a Central Asian massacre at the hands of either U.S. forces or their proxies
We would add that these tasks should be accomplished in the perspective of developing and holding a class position in radical opposition to white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism and patriarchy. Any other strategy will be limited both in terms of longterm viability and effectiveness.
Modestly, this pamphlet is our contribution, in the chaos and confusion following S11, to establishing these battle lines and moving forward. Most of those who we consider comrades have instinctively moved in the right direction – as detailed above – but there are still a lot of questions regarding the nitty gritty of who is who, what is what, and how its all coming together. It is these questions that we hope to help answer.
We are as bewildered by the stunning pace events as anyone else, and so we must admit this contribution has no clear “best before” date stamped on. We hope that the pieces here will continue to be useful to activists for some time to come, but we know their future relevance will depend on events that nobody can predict with ironclad certainty.
For a life without terror or trade centers! For a world without patriarchy, capitalism or fundementalism!