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.
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