Issue 285 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published May 2004 Copyright © Socialist Review



The terms on which terror takes place

John Molyneux provided an excellent summary of the Marxist view on terrorism ('Marxism on Terrorism', April SR). But a rather catch-all definition of terrorism is implied when he includes 'attacks by the Iraqi resistance'. Small-scale terror organisations cut off from the majority of oppressed people cannot begin to match the power of mass strikes and demonstrations. In such cases, moreover, terrorist 'outrages' usually help the right, not the left, providing justifications for attacks on civil liberties and an erosion of hard-won democratic freedoms. That is why socialists are opposed to groups like the Red Brigades in Italy. John explained all this very clearly.

Quite different, however, is a national liberation struggle waged by a large-scale guerrilla movement with strong popular support. This is not 'terrorism' of the kind critiqued by Trotsky and other Marxists. On the contrary, it is a translation of mass struggle into armed resistance, and it occurs when there is no serious possibility of winning over the rank and file of the army. All revolutions can be reduced finally to a clash of armed forces. The Red Brigades were wrong because their terrorism could not possibly have defeated the Italian state--only a mass upsurge of millions of workers confronting the soldiers on the streets could hope to do this. But this does not apply when the army is that of a foreign imperial power.

Alex Callinicos pointed out in the same issue of SR ('Spanish Shockwaves') that 'the Bush administration's effort to use its military power to entrench the dominance of US capitalism and of the neoliberal economic model that is so fiercely promoted by Washington will be tested, with luck to destruction, between the twin fires of the Iraqi resistance and the global anti-war movement'. Precisely--just as US imperialism was caught in Vietnam between the twin fires of guerrilla insurgency and mass protest. The Vietcong were not terrorists--they were a guerrilla army of national liberation rooted in 10,000 villages. And US defeat did not take the form of mass desertion to the Vietcong--instead, the soldiers, defeated and demoralised, refused to fight, assassinated officers who tried to make them, and eventually had to be shipped home.

The Iraqi resistance (the muqawama) are beginning to look as if they could become equally dangerous. Good. To them, as Marxists, we give--to use the old formula--'unconditional but critical support'. We may question politics and tactics, but we want the muqawama to win. Whereas we never supported the Red Brigades at all.
Neil Faulkner
St Albans

  • Thanks to Socialist Review for your article 'Who are Al Qaida?' (April SR). It seems to me that even most of the media have swallowed whole a myth of Al Qaida concocted by those responsible for the 'war on terror'. While striving to link every incident of resistance to US domination of the Islamic world to one organisation, no questions are ever seriously asked about what this organisation is.

  • The fact is that even the terrorism experts say Al Qaida is not an organisation as such, but a collection of independent Islamist groups which share an ideology but no actual organisational links.

    In other words, there is no such thing as Al Qaida, at least not as it is portrayed by the axis of liars in Washington and London and their media mouthpieces. So why are we blowing the hell out of the Afghan-Pakistani border in search of people who matter very little to the course of events?

    Of course a nice show trial before the November election would help Bush's flagging poll numbers, and we should never rule out the possibility that the boys in charge of the Pentagon are just plain morons who don't understand the war they're fighting (it's happened before). But the most important reason Al Qaida has to be there is that without it Bush and Blair would have to admit that they are creating the hatred and hostility which drives people to resist them, and that until the injustices the west has inflicted on the Islamic world for the last two centuries are addressed (Palestine at the top of the list), the war and resistance will never end.
    John Kennedy

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    Michael Leunig
    Michael Leunig


    Picketing started the 1984 miners' strike and, as the Walrus's analysis shows (April SR), could have won it. Flying pickets from Cortonwood near Rotherham walked out when its closure was announced and brought the rest of the Yorkshire coalfield to a standstill. Pits in Scotland and Wales also had to be picketed out by Yorkshire miners as the strike spread nationally.

    At Manton Colliery--a pit geographically in Nottinghamshire but within the Yorkshire coalfield--a heated meeting of more than 1,000 miners on the Saturday before the year-long strike was to commence voted against stopping work. But when flying pickets from Rotherham's Silverwood pit arrived on the Monday morning, not one miner crossed the line. The minority won over the majority.

    That mood of solidarity against the bosses also prevailed in the early days of picketing in Nottinghamshire itself--although only after Doncaster miners successfully turned over NUM officials to send pickets. Nearly every pit in the Notts coalfield was shut by Yorkshire flying pickets in the first week. But when the pickets were called off for two weeks to allow Notts miners their own ballot, the writing was on the wall. Once the ballot was lost, the battleground shifted to workers outside of the pits--electricity and steel workers. By now many of the miners who thought they could win alone realised workers had to unite against Thatcher and the state. Once Orgreave became the focus, steel became the key. Even then rank and file miners had to petition Arthur Scargill to counter Yorkshire NUM officials, who still sent pickets to Nottinghamshire, asking them to call at Orgreave on their way home!

    But no serious attempt was made to appeal to rank and file steel workers to support the miners. Mass pickets could have created a focus to win action.

    At the height of the police violence at Orgreave, injured pickets could have been taken around steel and engineering works in Sheffield and Rotherham to call for solidarity. The real difference to 1972 in 1984 was not just the lack of a clear strategy pursued by all NUM area officials, but also of a politicised rank and file network to deliver the solidarity on the ground. Many miners were not involved in activity and felt isolated at home, or only later got involved as the strike shifted to a more defensive stage centred on the pit villages. But there were glimpses of marvellous rank and file solidarity--as with the blacking of the Sun and Express by print workers--that showed the potential for wider action.
    Phil Turner
    Andy Phipps
    ex-Manton Colliery NUM


    The Walrus (April SR) draws attention to one key difference between the 1972 and 1984-85 miners' strike--namely that in 1972 Birmingham workers came to the aid of the miners and closed the key Saltley Gates depot. In 1984-85 there was no such mobilisation of Sheffield workers to help shut Orgreave. This can be seen as a failure of working class solidarity, but it would be more accurate to suggest that in large part it reflected the decline of the Communist Party's industrial organisation between the two strikes.

    For all its faults, the Communist Party did play a major role at Saltley. It certainly did not and was not able to at Orgreave. It is a job of socialists now to make sure that industrial organisation is rebuilt, but this time with better politics.
    Keith Flett


    Martin Smith is right (April SR)--the pressure is on to democratise the trade unions' political fund. This has fed into support for a political alternative to New Labour. In Scotland the credible alternative is the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) with seven MSPs, whereas south of the border the launch of Respect has raised the level of discussion. After expelling the RMT for supporting the SSP, New Labour is now threatening to discipline the CWU for giving a donation to the SSP. This can only stimulate the debate further.

    In my own union, the RMT, several branches have supported Respect since it was launched, and many branches are inviting speakers and looking at the alternatives very seriously. This has not come from nowhere. If you speak to staff on the railways you will find enthusiasm for a political alternative.

    Rail workers have been at the forefront of fighting the privatisation disaster, and many were also against the war. Respect could be a natural alternative for them to support.
    Fiona Prior


    Nigel Davey is right about Errol Morris's film Fog of War (April SR)--it gives fascinating insights into the logic of war and the resulting twisted psychology of the imperialists. But it also provides important lessons for today. McNamara reveals that as early as the mid-1960s he and President Johnson realised Vietnam was a disastrous quagmire for the US. Some 23,000 US troops were dead, there was growing unease at home and they wanted out. The paradox was that politically they could only get out if they delivered a decisive blow against the enemy. So they escalated, and every escalation of course only increased the resistance and the radicalisation.

    This is the situation the US and British establishments face today. Even as some of them begin to realise the trouble they are in, their inclination is to dig in deeper. Even the less hawkish sections of the ruling class know once they are committed Bush is right to say 'failure is not an option'. The result can only be growing opposition in the Middle East and growing outrage round the world.

    This is why the war is likely to continue to dominate the political scene. It is also, I suspect, the main reason McNamara laments at one point that 'humanity needs to find a way to avoid war'. The man who helped plan the firebombing of Tokyo and the carpet bombing of Vietnam has not developed a love of humanity late in life. He has just learned from experience that the spiral of war leads to instability and insurrection.
    Chris Nineham


    We cannot blame the 'US government' for our woes (Letter from the US, April SR), but ourselves for allowing our own constitution to manipulate and control not just us but others in its path towards imperial rule. True democracy does not impede growth or dominate others. It was established to be a beacon for those who wish to call on its existence and only that. We do not have the right to impose democracy on nations or peoples who do not truly ask for it.

    The US is a terrorist country imposing pseudo-democratic policies through crafty methods--controlling without regard to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Regime change within the US should be seriously considered.

    The US has in its possession weapons of mass destruction, so why does the UN not impose restrictions against it?

    I am a physicist and a patriot who, through years of being silent, had almost forgotten my obligations. It is high time I and others like me used our intellect and technology to stand up against an oppressor and rid ourselves of this infection. We are a legion that wants to live a life of peace and respect for all living things and have considerations for those who are different and look for ways to truly accommodate those who are slow in understanding.

    We do not need your help, just your patience and understanding of what we are about. We are America's best kept secret that just got out of the 'keep'.
    Judah Ben-Hur
    Los Angeles


    I really enjoyed the interview conducted by Phil Whaite with Pete Doherty of The Libertines (April SR). It was refreshing to read an interview with a member of such a band which asked interesting, thought-provoking questions instead of the usual subjects such as drugs and women.

    The Love Music Hate Racism concert at the London Astoria on 16 March with The Libertines, The Buzzcocks, Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster and Miss Black America was a huge success, and had many people talking about the cause and how they could support the fight against racism.

    With the carnivals coming up in June, Love Music Hate Racism looks set to be gaining support from music lovers everywhere.
    Louise Trainer

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