Where are we after September 11?

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 policies.

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 agenda.

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.