Where Are We After September 11?

October 31, 2001

The following is an excerpt from a report to the Communist Party’s National Committee, elected
at its Convention in July. The National Committee met Oct. 20-21 in New York.

The shocking and terrifying nature of the Sept. 11 assault has done more than temporarily
traumatize the nation. It has also given the Bush administration and the far right a new
legitimizing discourse, or, to put it in a less highfalutin way, a new ideological rationale to pursue
its political objectives at home and worldwide.

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. ruling class has been without a fully convincing political
rationale to give legitimacy to its narrow class interests. Following the defeat of Nazi Germany
and Japan in World War II, and for the next 45 years, the specter of an aggressive Soviet Union
hellbent on world domination was the ideological canopy under which the American people were
mobilized behind the reactionary political project of the U.S. ruling class.

But with the collapse of Soviet socialism and the end of the Cold War a decade ago, the ruling
class was without such an overarching ideological rationale. The ‘Soviet menace’ and the ‘evil
empire’ were no longer serviceable ideological constructs to give legitimacy to imperialism’s
policies domestically and internationally.

In a sense, the disintegration of the Soviet Union was not an unalloyed blessing for the U.S.
ruling class. On the one hand, socialism’s collapse objectively removed the biggest obstacle to
imperialism’s hegemonic plans, but it also removed the ideological justification for its aggressive

Thus, while U.S. imperialism emerged triumphant at the close of the 20th century, it entered the
21st century without a set of creditable arguments that would lend legitimacy to and mobilize the
people behind its polices.

For a while it floated the concept of humanitarian interventionism and later it bandied about the
notion of rogue states, but neither resonated enough in the thinking of the American people.

So the ruling class, and especially its most reactionary sections, has been groping to find a new
rationale – a legitimizing discourse – that would win public opinion to its objective to aggressively
pursue and consolidate its single super-power status worldwide.

In the absence of such an ideological and political construct, a broad people’s movement at
home and globally over the past decade was able to frustrate many of the far right’s most
reactionary plans. Even the brazen theft of the presidency in the 2000 elections did little to
change this situation.

It is in this context that we should see the terrorist attack of Sept. 11. It was so horrific, so
immediate, so unexpected and so cruel that people were profoundly shaken. Millions felt a deep
fear that was, up until that moment, foreign to our national psychology.

Life had become fragile and contingent. We were no longer safe, no longer immune from
violence perpetrated by faceless and remorseless terrorists.

Seizing on this understandable sea change in mass psychology, the Bush administration is
transforming the real danger and fear of international terrorism into a new ideological rationale
that galvanizes public opinion behind its political program, much like earlier administrations
during the Cold War utilized the ‘Soviet menace’ to aggressively pursue their reactionary

Had the terrorist attack not occurred, President Bush probably would have been forced to
politically retreat this fall. After all, his standing in the polls was dropping precipitously, the
federal budget surplus was disappearing, the regressive and harmful nature of his tax giveaway
to the rich was becoming more apparent, his promise not to touch Social Security was putting
him in a bind and his misnamed ‘anti-missile defense’ system was coming under close and
critical public scrutiny.

At the same time, the labor and people’s movement was becoming more assertive at home.
Grave concerns were being voiced in governmental and other circles around the world
regarding the administration’s Star Wars project and its unilateralist approach to global
problems. The worldwide movement against capitalist globalization was gaining in strength and

Indeed, recent protest actions brought home the point that ‘The Battle in Seattle,’ while
electrifying the world, was part of a larger continuum of struggle against the transnational
corporations and their supranational institutions like the International Monetary Fund and World

This political calculus, however, changed on the day that commercial airplanes were turned into
lethal and incendiary weapons of war. Almost immediately, the ideological and political
framework changed fundamentally. No longer was it the Bush administration and his ultra-right
supporters versus a broad people’s movement, but rather a Bush-led coalition fighting
international terrorism.

Consequently, political initiative shifted to the Bush administration and his extreme right-wing
counterparts in Congress while labor and the people’s movements were pushed onto the
defensive. The rug was pulled out from under the anti-globalization movement. The forces of
peace, national sovereignty and independence found themselves fighting in less favorable

In this new ideological environment, the pressure from the ruling class on progressive and
moderate forces is not simply to rally behind Bush and his war drive, but also to mute their
differences on every other democratic and class issue in the interests of fighting the war on
terrorism which Bush and his aides say will go on for years.

Under the false guise of patriotism and fighting terrorism, spokespersons for the Bush
administration are demanding political concessions and economic sacrifice down the line.

Bush, Trent Lott, Tom Delay and gang say: Postpone the fight for prescription drugs,
infrastructure construction, and economic relief. Forget about amnesty for undocumented
immigrants; put on hold legislation against racial profiling; loosen up environmental regulations
on oil drilling, and so on goes the refrain for these modern-day American patriots whose
‘patriotism’ barely conceals their unseemly subservience to corporate interests and the wealthy.

As these pimps of Wall Street tell the American people to sacrifice, billions are being handed
over to the military, intelligence agencies and corporate interests. Sweeping legislation that
curtails civil rights and political dissent is being enacted. More plans for a lengthy war are being

However, the path ahead for the Bush administration is not uncluttered – in fact, the plans for a
war against terrorism could be an instance of political overreach.

Even though it appears right now that the administration has cobbled together a broad coalition
of support, it could well be thin and momentary.

Moreover, the objective basis of opposition to the administration’s policies is worldwide in scope
and cuts across classes and nations. Even its imperialist rivals have points of opposition with its
policies. Thus a broad worldwide front is both possible and necessary against the most
reactionary sections of transnational capital.

While I will speak mainly about the process of developing a movement in our own country, I can’t
emphasize enough that at every point the left, progressive and center forces should have an
eye to extending the front of struggle across borders, across continents, across hemispheres
and across the globe.

Bush’s use of the overwhelming power of the U.S. military to fight terrorism is meeting opposition
around the world. Soon after the NATO declaration, which expressed unconditional support for
the Bush administration’s plans, leaders of the Western European governments, save Tony
Blair, began to qualify that support.

Among the people of Europe, support is much more scanty. Demonstrations have occurred, one
of 50,000 in Germany, and a recent public opinion poll showed every European country
opposing the bombing by a large majority.

In the Middle East and South Asia, the opposition to military action is fierce and broad in scope.
Not only will terrorist counterattacks in all probability result, but also some fragile and unpopular
right-wing governments could topple under the weight of mass protests.

Clearly, Pakistan falls into this category. Protests in other parts of the developing world are
substantial as well.

At home, the momentary paralysis of labor and other forces in the aftermath of the terror is
beginning to dissipate. With each passing day the atmosphere gets a little less charged, thereby
allowing broad class and social forces the opportunity to revisit issues like jobs, Fast Track,
Social Security, racial profiling, the environment, reproductive and immigrant rights, as well as to
more soberly consider a sensible response to the new terrorist danger.

Even some sections of the Democratic Party are beginning to have second thoughts about their
political posture as the struggle moves from rhetoric to legislative bills and appropriations, as the
costs of this new war become more apparent. Divisions within the Congressional Democratic
Caucus are surfacing.

It would be a monumental mistake, as well as a reflection of political amateurism and
sectarianism, to concede the Congress as an arena of struggle to the ultraright. To the contrary,
pressure should be brought to bear on Congress as well as on other mass leaders who remain
reluctant to join the struggle.

Understandably, elected officials and mass leaders in the tragedy’s aftermath proceeded
cautiously in the wake of the terrorist attack, but that moment is passing. A healthy sense of
partisanship from center, progressive and left forces is coming back into the political picture, and
none too soon, I would add.

Labor is fighting against Fast Track authority. Women are fighting to protect reproductive rights.
Hate crimes legislation is resurfacing. A people’s economic stimulus package is finding its way
into the Congressional debate. There is growing concern expressed about acts of racist
intolerance and decreased civil liberties. Voices of opposition are being raised against the Bush
war policy.

Where labor, the racially and nationally oppressed, women, seniors, environmentalists, peace
activists, gays and lesbians and young people are reentering the arena of struggle, it is usually
not by way of direct opposition to the military action of the Bush administration, even though
they may quietly harbor some reservations about the use of force to eradicate terrorism.

Instead, the points of entry into struggle are different for different class and social forces.

Broad democratic forces will engage the Bush administration over democratic and constitutional
liberties. Of course it will now be an uphill battle with Congressional passage of Ashcroft’s
counter-terrorism bill.

Still others will join the struggle against racial profiling and for tolerance. And others will join the
struggle on issues, like immigrant rights and full amnesty.

Labor and the communities of the racially and nationally oppressed will largely come into a
collision with the Bush administration on the economic crisis.

It is well they should, because the economic crisis – which began months ago – is worldwide in
scope and has the real potential to be deeper than mainstream economic observers predict.

The attack resulted in immediate layoffs and added greatly to the deep uncertainty over the
short- and long-term prospects of the U.S. economy, making the struggle for relief and
countercyclical policies a pressing political task for the entire working-class movement and its
allies. Of course, we have to wholeheartedly join this struggle.

The present struggles in every arena will develop on different levels, around different issues
and through different centers of organization. No single issue, no single form, no single demand
will draw tens of millions into struggle. This will remain so. Probably, issues related to the
economic crisis are the main way that our nation’s working people will engage the Bush

In this emerging struggle, the role of the labor movement is critical. Any notion that the working
class and people here or abroad can mount any kind of serious challenge to the Bush
administration’s policies without labor being at the center of this diverse movement is mistaken.
Labor’s leading role is at the core of any winning strategy.

Not everyone is of this mind. Thus, it is imperative that the broad left in labor convince those
that we work with that labor’s role is vital to any serious challenge to the policies of the Bush

Much the same could be said with regard to the movements of the African-American,
Mexican-American and other nationally and racially oppressed peoples.

There is much that we can do in this regard, but it will take practical initiatives as well as
persuasive arguments.

In the broader movements, and especially the peace movement, new organizations and
coalitions may be required. Sometimes the existing forms of struggle are unable to adapt to
changing conditions and requirements of struggle. Usually they tend to be too narrow in their
approach and thus unable to capture the new and broader forces entering the arena of struggle.

In the 1930s, for example, the AFL refused to organize mass industrial workers. This set the
stage for the formation of the CIO. Or to take a recent example, Jobs with Justice filled some
space on the left-center end of the labor movement.

Of crucial importance at this moment is to connect the struggles around which people become
activated and Bush’s war policy. This will not happen spontaneously. The connections have to
be raised in mass organizations and coalitions.

Admittedly, there may be tactical issues that have to be considered, but we should not allow
such difficulties to become the reason to be silent. Rather we should find a way to interconnect
the immediate issues with the war danger and the struggle against terrorism.

This will take some creative and flexible approaches. In this regard, sectarian groups and
sectarian tactics at this moment are particularly harmful. They turn off the broadest sections of
the American people who, in the last analysis, have to enter the arena of struggle if a different
policy is going to be imposed on the political centers of our country.


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