9/11: 4 clues 20 years later

12 September, 2021

9/11

It has been 20 years since the 9/11 attacks of 2001. TV channels and the press are devoting thousands of pages today to what is already today a hazy memory for most. Understanding 9/11 in the perspective of these two decades requires putting it in the context of the global imperialist game and the evolution of the struggles and balances between classes in the Arab-Islamic world.

Table of Contents

1. 9/11 was born out of the political and historical impotence of Islamism

Al Zawahiri and Bin Laden, inspirers of 9/11
Al Zawahiri and Bin Laden, inspirers of 9/11

September 11 is the high point of Al Qaeda’s strategic and tactical approach. This proposal represented a radical break from the assumptions and orientation of the original Islamism which, after its defeats in Algeria (1998), Dagestan (1999) and Chechnya (2000) and its political retreat in Egypt appeared to have reached its terminal stage.

Between traditional Islamism and the jihadism that materialized on 9/11 the political differences are substantial:

The goals changed: an Islamic republic that would inherit and reform from power the national laws versus a new caliphate. The main enemy changed: national governments or non-Muslim powers. And as a consequence of both, the strategy: maximize what would bring the Brotherhood closer to power or push for a war that would show as clearly as possible a confrontation between the crusaders and the knights of the prophet.

11S: From Islamism to jihadism and back

Jihadism and Islamism are born of the same class matrix, the petty bourgeoisie of the Arab countries, but the jihadist proposal could not succeed because it confronted the very essence of the class from which it emerged. And in fact, it did not succeed, it was always marginal.

Even if it enjoyed a moment of universal exposure, it never reached the real leadership of the global Muslim petty bourgeois movement… nor did it have any chances to really contest it because its distinctive element was precisely the proposal to overcome the nation by an anational entity – the Ummah, the community of Muslims – and the struggle for the power of the state by the independent construction of a feudal para-state. But…

The petty bourgeoisie of Egypt, Libya, Jordan or Syria is a product of the national state, it was born as a massive class of state capitalism. Its political prospects are reactionary by virtue of being national, not pre-national as the jihadists’ caliphate dream.

11S: From Islamism to jihadism and back

This is why Al Qaeda was unable to capitalize on its omnipresence in global political discourse during the decade following 9/11. In fact, what the first 10 years of the “war on terror” accomplished was less to build al Qaeda as a universal enemy than to revive the Muslim Brotherhood’s social base into the most vigorous form of nationalism in quite a few Arab countries.

It would be the Brotherhood and their new imperialist backers, Turkey and Qatar, who would capitalize on the revolt of the petty bourgeoisie in an open struggle for power, the so-called “Arab Spring” (2010-11) culminating in their entry into the Tunisian government, the rise to the presidency of Morsi in Egypt (later ousted by the military), the Tripoli government until the end of the Libyan civil war, a Turkish puppet buffer state in northern Syria and ministerial participation in the governments of Morocco – very symbolically terminated this week – and deputies in Indonesia and Malaysia

Despite the impact of 9/11, jihadism did not succeed in uniting the petty bourgeoisie on a global platform, which was the objective of Al Qaeda (=the base). Jihadism never managed to be the expression of the revolt of the Muslim petty bourgeoisie, not even of the Arab one. Its pretension to overcome the national framework made it impossible.

Read also: 11S: From Islamism to jihadism and back, 11/9/2020

2. One thing the cycle opened with 9/11 shows is how all “radical” movements of the petty bourgeoisie necessarily end up as pawns of some external imperialism as well as savage repressors of the workers

Worker protesters in Tebourba, Tunisia, clash with the police and the army in 2018.
Worker protesters in Tebourba, Tunisia, clash with the police and the army in 2018.

And despite leading the petty-bourgeois revolt in half a dozen countries Islamism failed to consolidate power except in islets such as Gaza. That said, two things were made abundantly clear:

  1. All the movements of the petty bourgeoisie end up being irremediably pawns in the imperialist game. That is to say, proving by their actions the impossibility of their own approach -the possibility of a capitalist development independent of national capital- without even needing to come to power.
  2. Their frontal and bloody opposition to any expression of the working class. From the savagery of the repression of the Islamic State and its establishment of slave labor, to the gunfire riposte against strikes in Libya by the ministry of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 20 years we have had hundreds of examples.

3. 9/11 was not an expression of the weakness of US imperialism, nor the beginning of its downfall

US GDP compared to that of China and Japan
US GDP compared to that of China and Japan

In addition to the confusion between Islamism and jihadism, another idea that is appearing in the media these days is that 9/11 precipitated the fall of the United States as a dominant power. The jihadists, even if they did not manage to seize their longed-for caliphate, would have somehow triumphed. This is not true.

By the time of 9/11, almost a decade had passed since the collapse of the Russian imperialist bloc. The US presented itself as a global “hegemon”. It is then increasingly resisted by France and Germany, with which it competes in the East, and faces the consolidation of a new regime in Russia which reorganizes and disciplines around the state the oligarchs’ bourgeoisie. China is increasingly dependent on US capital and its growth, significantly lower than that of the US, does not allow it to be conceived as a global rival yet.

September 11 does not break this dominant position. In fact it exacerbates it. The US disciplined all its allies after 9/11 without encountering any dissent. The resistance of the “European partners” to participate in the invasion of Iraq soon proved impotent and futile. The invasion of Afghanistan was a military stroll. That of Iraq is based on the concept of “overwhelming military force” and the result is indeed overwhelming, though resistance will soon be present in both countries, as well as an imperialist game of Pakistan in Afghanistan and Iran in Iraq.

September 11 also ushers in an era of massive, global electronic surveillance which grants the US government a power over information and communications like no state in the world had ever had before. The year 2001 was also a turning point in technological development. After the “dotcom crash” of 2000, Internet will be led by Google, Facebook and Amazon, that is, the leap towards a massive and concentrated capitalization in the electronic networks… which provides a lasting digital hegemony to US capital. Capitals that at that very moment begin to turn towards Big Data and Artificial Intelligence to consolidate their advantage.

4. The turning point in the imperialist game is the 2009 crisis, not 9/11; the end of the cycle is the Green Deal and the exit from Kabul

GDP evolution of Spain, Italy and France, stagnant since 2009
GDP evolution of Spain, Italy and France, stagnant since 2009

The turning point in the imperialist game comes with the 2008-2009 crisis. The economic disaster leaves the Europeans behind as potential rivals (compare the two graphs above). But it barely distorts Chinese growth rate, which is already higher than that of the United States.

The sharpening of imperialist conflict – especially between regional powers – makes the US position increasingly uncomfortable. The resistances were beginning to look unmanageable and the Middle East unprofitable from the US global imperialist perspective. The change from the period opened by 9/11 is drastic and that is why President Obama will avoid a new military intervention in Syria and will begin the withdrawal from Iraq

And, more importantly, in the following years, the conflict with Russia will align the Europeans with the US and for the first time the US begins to feel Chinese competition as a strategic danger in important sectors: from steel to telecommunications

It is the world of the 2010s, that of the “Arab Spring”, the “Chinese threat” and the annexation of Crimea, which exacerbates the division in the American bourgeoisie that will lead Trump to the presidency. Also the one that will foster, by a similar mechanism, the Brexit.

September 11 opens an American “super-power” cycle that enters into crisis at the end of the decade with the financial crisis and that closes now, with the new impetus of the crisis in 2020, the pandemic and the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

A new phase is opening, ushered in by the Biden presidency, which

  1. Reorients the great game of US capital towards the Green Deal as a synthesis between the interests of financial and technological capital and the resistance of industrial capital and the petty bourgeoisie.
  2. It redirects US policy towards an accumulation of forces for a radicalization of the imperialist conflict with China, which is what the departure from Kabul really symbolizes.
Read also: Is Kabul the "end of the American era?, 11/9/2020