20 Years Since the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001

A statement by ‘Il Partito Comunista’ (Florence) / ‘The Communist Party’

This month marks twenty years since the attacks of September 11, 2001. The workers of the United States can expect a flood of patriotic drivel to mark the anniversary. Indeed, September 11 remembrance is a cottage industry in the United States, encompassing everyone from the media personalities who drone on about the tragedy every year to the sensitive entrepreneurs who sell 9/11 mementos to tourists in New York City. One only needs to spend a few minutes at the World Trade Center Memorial in Manhattan to experience this ghoulish, sanctimonious, for-profit remembrance.

This twisted form of national memory obscures the real meaning of the attacks. The events of September 11 were of great world-historical significance. This fact is especially clear on their twentieth anniversary, as the United States’ occupation of Afghanistan crumbles in front of our eyes. The September 11 attacks represented the first obvious crack in United States imperial power after the end of the Cold War. It has continued to disintegrate in the two decades since, and now nears collapse.

September 11, 2001 marked the abrupt and unexpected end of the post-Cold War imperialist system. The decline of Russian imperialism after 1989 left the United States as the dominant imperialist state. The paid hacks of the American bourgeoisie call this a “unipolar” international system, with the United States acting as its “hegemon” (borrowing a term from that Stalinist hack Gramsci). They believe that this is still the situation today. September 11 shows that this is not true. At what seemed to be the absolute height of United States power, nineteen members of an international terrorist organization were able to murder three thousand people in two of its most important cities. The international system is never really “polar”, and no state can ever really be hegemonic. International networks, whether formal organizations or informal connections, always exist in the modern world, and they can be just as powerful as any state. As a class that emerged from international trading networks at the end of the Middle Ages, the bourgeoisie knows this truth very well. And after all, it was an international network which laid the foundations for Al Qaeda: the so-called “Afghan Arabs” from the Gulf States who supported the Mujaheddin during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, funded by American and Saudi money.

No country can escape the contradictions of the imperialist stage of capitalism, no matter how strong a position it may seem to have. Even with no other state as its equal, the United States had to face the history that its policy-makers were desperate to escape after the Cold War. Two centuries of imperialism in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia set the scene for the humiliation of September 11, 2001. Just like every Great Power that had sought control over that geopolitically important region, the United States paid off the regional forces who seemed to be on its side and violently suppressed anything that looked like opposition.

The result was the creation of a colonial middle class. Like every middle class in history, this national bourgeoisie wanted to rule outright, but it was prevented from doing so by the imperial bourgeoisie of the United States. So a section of the national bourgeoisie crafted the reactionary ideology of Wahabism, seeing a fundamentalist religious revival as the key to reviving the nation with their class at its head. This ideology was useful to the American imperial masters when it was targeted at their rivals in Russia – but deals with the devil always turn out the same way. The individuals who planned and carried out the September 11 attacks were members of the reactionary bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie of Middle East, raised in the shadow of the Afghan Mujaheddin. Afghanistan was the perfect place for their base of operations, sitting on the frontier between the Middle East and South Asia but not completely under the influence of the regional powers in either one.

The United States helped create the Taliban through its support for the Afghan Mujaheddin against the Russian occupation, yet American politicians continue to claim that their invasion in 2001 was a humanitarian intervention. The CIA had extensive contacts with Mujaheddin fighters before they coalesced into the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The United States knew exactly who the Islamists were and what they would do to Afghanistan. Yet it was only after the whole plan blew up in their faces on September 11 that the captains of American imperialism started crying about the need to “liberate” the Afghan people.

This “liberation” was nothing more than a calculated (or miscalculated, as the past twenty years have proved) geopolitical action, intended [to] exercise control over the types of political groups that could operate in the Middle East and South Asia. In that respect it was no different than the earlier civilizing missions of the British imperialists, who fought three different wars in Afghanistan between 1839 and 1919. Britain’s wars in Afghanistan were about bringing a strong British backed puppet government to power, which would reign in the “frontier tribes” and stabilize the frontier between Britain’s colonial possession in India and Russia’s possessions in Central Asia. The United States’ war for the past twenty years has been about bringing a strong American-backed puppet government to power, which would stamp out any challenge to American control of the entire globe. It is abundantly clear that both missions failed.

The United States’ invasion of Afghanistan brought about nothing but repression. At least 220,000 Afghans died as a result of the invasion and occupation. Others suffered as a result of poverty and the collapse of the medical system. At least another million people died as result of the United States’ invasion of Iraq, which it used to September 11 attacks to justify. And others across the world suffered from the “anti-terrorist” measures that reveal the truly repressive nature of democracy: drone assassinations, kidnapping, torture, imprisonment without trial, and mass surveillance.

The historical meaning of the September 11 attacks is that they marked the downward trajectory of one of the most important imperial powers in history. Now engaged in a new Great Power rivalry with China, the United States strains under the weight of that burden of history. ( 1)

‘International Communist Party’ / ‘Il Partito Comunista’

Source: The Communist Party, Issue 36, September 2021. (Also as a leaflet)


1  The text in Italian closes as follows: “The historical meaning of the September 11 attacks is therefore the sign of the descending trajectory of one of the major imperial powers of history, today engaged in the new rivalry with the emerging China. But the capitalism of all the imperial powers, big and small, fighting each other, is everywhere in its historical descending branch, in its deadly convulsions: it’s only waiting for the revolutionary intervention of the world proletariat to be swept away from history.”

Photograph New York skyline , Twin Towers, 9/11/2001 by Michael Foran, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11785530