Why socialists oppose terrorist actions
By Doug Lorimer
On July 30, two bomb blasts in a crowded marketplace in west Jerusalem caused the deaths of 14 civilians. The Israeli government's use of this terrorist act as a pretext to tighten its repression of the Palestinian population living under Israeli colonial occupation has again highlighted the ineffectiveness of acts of terrorism carried out by small groups as a means of combating oppression.
Socialists oppose such acts because they suggest that it is sufficient to kill or terrify individual representatives of the oppressor group rather than eliminate the entire system of relations upon which oppression rests, and because they substitute actions by individuals or small groups for the actions of masses of people — the only effective means of eliminating social oppression.
Terrorist acts such as kidnapping or assassinations of representatives of oppressive regimes actually hinder the process of bringing masses of people into action against their oppressors. They do this by creating confusion over who is the real source of antisocial violence and injustice. They aid the rulers in their attempts to lay the blame for antisocial violence on the movements of the oppressed, rather than on the oppressive regime, where it properly belongs.
Because it creates this confusion, terrorism gives the ruling class a handle with which to attack all the organisations of the oppressed. A good example of this was the kidnapping and execution in early July of the right-wing Spanish politician Miguel Angel Blanco by the illegal Basque armed group ETA.
ETA's actions have done nothing to advance its demand that Basque political prisoners be transferred to the Basque region, a right to which these prisoners are entitled by law. Instead, they have simply provided the Spanish rulers with a pretext to whip up anti-Basque chauvinism among the Spanish population and to attack the democratic rights of the legal Basque nationalist party Herri Batasuna.
Reliance on terrorist acts to fight oppression encourages passivity on the part of the masses by overestimating the role of dedicated individuals. As a strategy, terrorism promotes the idea that small groups can act as "saviours" of the masses of people, thus calling into question the need for mass struggle.
Terrorist acts against the representatives of oppressive regimes often meet with support and approval by the oppressed masses. But the important question is not whether such acts are popular; it is whether they contribute to a strengthening of the self-confidence of independent mass movements of the oppressed.
In northern Ireland, for example, many among the oppressed Catholic population have no doubt applauded the IRA's assassination of British army personnel or its bombings and threats against symbols of their oppression in Britain itself. But such acts have not contributed to mobilising the oppressed Catholic masses of northern Ireland in mass struggle against their oppressors.
Another deficiency of reliance upon terrorist acts is that it elevates military considerations above political considerations. Terrorist groups are preoccupied with attack plans, guns and explosives, rather than with building mass struggles.
Small armed groups cannot defeat the armed power of the state. The only real strength of those fighting against oppression, in the final analysis, is their potential mass support. Only when those fighting oppression win enough mass support can they neutralise the army or win over its ranks — thus taking the major armed force out of the hands of the oppressors.
In opposition to actions by small isolated groups, socialists advocate the strategy of mass action, utilising all means to encourage the involvement of the largest numbers of working people in mass struggles and to develop the confidence of the oppressed masses in the power of united action.
Of course socialists are under no illusions that the ruling classes will give up their wealth and power to the majority of people peacefully, and they call on the mass-struggle organisations of the oppressed to defend themselves against all forms of violence by the oppressors. But to be successful, armed defence against the violence of the legal or extra-legal agents of the oppressors must have the support and participation of the oppressed masses.
[Doug Lorimer is a member of the Democratic Socialist Party national executive.]