Missing Truth and Irony in Bin-Laden’s Critique of Capitalism

Missing Truth and Irony in Bin-Laden’s Critique of Capitalism
by Paul Street; October 12, 2007

Just because someone has a lot of blood and a criminal historical record on their hands, that doesn’t mean they can’t accurately identify some key facts of social and political reality.  Take Leon Trotsky.  He ordered the state murder of hundreds of revolutionary Soviet soldiers during and after the 1921 Kronstadt Rebellion (1)   He collaborated with Lenin in the rapid abolition of Soviet workers’ control and endorsed a plan of forced collectivization and “primitive socialist accumulation” that might well have out-Stalined Joseph Stalin himself.

He also penned brilliant analyses and critiques of Russian Tsarism, western capitalism-imperialism, Soviet bureaucracy and foreign policy, European politics, and German fascism.  As Isaac Deutscher noted, speaking of the last subject area, “like no one else, and much earlier than anyone,” Trotsky “grasped the destructive delirium with which National Socialism was to burst upon the world. His commentaries on the German situation, written between 1930 and 1933,…stand out as a cool, clinical analysis and forecast of the stupendous phenomenon of [fascist] social psychopathology and of its consequences”(2).


Another if much less intellectually impressive example is the neo-feudal and arch-patriarchal butcher Osama bin-Laden.  Contrary to the paranoid and dysfunctional fantasies of the 9/11 conspiracy crowd (1), bin-Laden really is the leading perpetrator behind the criminal jetliner attacks of September 2001. [The Popular Mechanics piece referenced does little to “prove” that bin Laden was behind the attacks.  Also note please that there are conflicting videos available of bin Laden both claiming the attacks and denying that he had anything to do with them.  Also keep in mind the CIA’s will and ability to manufacture fake “intelligence.”  Think for yourself.  – MJM]  I have nothing but contempt for his criminal actions and the extremist Islamic fundamentalism that has informed his bloody career from before he worked for the American Empire (against the Soviet Union) through his current position as that Empire’s supposed Public Enemy No.1. I also personally reject his faith in the existence of God (“Allah”) and his narcissistic belief that he can justify mass murder by reference to divine authority – a belief he shares with fellow fundamentalist, messianic, and mass-murderous son of petroleum wealth George W. Bush


At the same time, I’ve got to give bin-Laden some basic credit for out-performing the majority of the United States’ intelligentsia by mentioning some elementary facts of American, Western and world life and history during his September 7th (2007) video Address to the American People. By bin-Laden’s account, “talk of the rights of man and freedom are lies produced by the White House and its allies in Europe to deceive humans, take control of their destinies and subjugate them. Those with real power and influence” in the U.S., bin-Laden added, “are those with the most capital. And since the democratic system permits major corporations to back candidates, be they presidential or congressional, there shouldn’t be any cause for astonishment – and there isn’t any – in the Democrats’ failure to stop the war. And you’re the ones who have the saying which goes, ‘Money talks.’”


Bin-Laden noted that U.S. “democracy” had shown its powerlessness by “sacrificing soldiers and populations to achieve the interests of the major corporations. And with that,” he added, in a passage that crudely and clumsily speaks some rather basic truths U.S. journalists and intellectuals dare not publicly acknowledge for fear of offending their business class masters:


“it has become clear to all that [the corporations] are the real tyrannical terrorists. In fact, the life of all of mankind is in danger because of the global warming resulting to a large degree from the emissions of the factories of the major corporations, yet despite that, the representative of these corporations in the White House insists on not observing the Kyoto accord, with the knowledge that the statistics speaks of the death and displacement of the millions of human beings because of that, especially in Africa. This greatest of plagues and most dangerous of threats to the lives of humans is taking place in an accelerating fashion as the world is being dominated by the democratic system, which confirms its massive failure to protect humans and their interests from the greed and avarice of the major corporations and their representatives. And despite this brazen attack on the people, the leaders of the West – especially Bush, Blair Sarkozy and Brown – still talk about freedom and human rights with a flagrant disregard for the intellects of human beings. So is there a form of terrorism stronger, clearer and more dangerous than this? This is why I tell you: as you liberated yourselves before from the slavery of monks, kings, and feudalism, you should liberate yourselves from the deception, shackles and attrition of the capitalist system. If you were to ponder it well, you would find that in the end, it is a system harsher and fiercer than your systems in the Middle Ages. The capitalist system seeks to turn the entire world into a fiefdom of the major corporations under the label of ‘globalization’ in order to protect democracy.”


Dominant U.S. media immediately ridiculed bin-Laden’s Address for advancing supposedly preposterous notions about U.S. and Western politics and policy. As far as “mainstream” U.S. reporters and commentators were concerned, bin-Laden’s “ludicrous rant” against “the capitalist system” and its Frankenstein creations the corporations was proof that he was out of touch with reality.


Some talking and scribbling U.S. heads also felt compelled to comment on the absurdity of a supposed Islamist holy warrior seeming to “channel [atheist] Marxism” by denouncing the glorious “free market system.” 


But the real problem with bin-Laden’s criticism of U.S. and global capitalism and the giant corporate wealth concentrations that rule western “democracy” wasn’t that it was wrong or even all that bizarre. As is well known within and beyond the U.S. but unmentionable in dominant (so-called “mainstream”) corporate U.S. media, bin-Laden’s “rant” all- too accurately captured harsh American and global political-economic realities.


The U.S. is the “best democracy that money can [and did] buy.”  It’s political system really does confer wildly disproportionately political and policy influence on the United States’ heavily corporate-connected top 1 percent , which own half the nation’s wealth and an equivalent if not higher share of its politicians and policymakers. 


The United States’ corporate elite actually does undermine the Democratic Party’s ability and willingness to act in accord with the majority antiwar sentiment that bin-Laden noted.


Much of the nation’s corporate elite really is profiting hand over first from a militaristic and imperial foreign policy that imposes steep costs on the U.S. populace and especially on the nation’s working majority and lower classes, who lack the economic resources to meaningfully influence politicians in either of the nation’s two dominant corporate-imperial parties. 


Corporations like Boeing, Raytheon, Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, Exxon, General Dynamics, General Electric really are great “tyrannical terrorists” who regularly destroy lives and livable ecology (as with global warming), undermine democracy, generate poverty and concentrate wealth and power at home and abroad. 


The broad populace of the West really is largely enslaved to the cancerous and authoritarian nightmare that is the profit-addicted, privileged-serving, human and environment-assaulting capitalist system.


And that system really is “turn[ing] the entire world into a fiefdom of the major corporations under the label of ‘globalization’ in order to protect democracy.”


All of that and much more is all too tragically true, sad to say – something that is well understood by much if not most of the morally and politically cognizant human race.  And for what it’s worth, that understanding is deeply consistent with the world’s leading religious traditions (Islam included), all of which have always contained strong ethical objections to the savage wealth/class inequality, economic exploitation and narcissistic commercialism that lay at the dark heart of the deadly bourgeois mode of production, exchange, governance, and “life.”  



No, the real problem with bin-Laden’s critique of American capitalism is that his jetliner attacks drastically strengthened the power of U.S. military and other corporations by giving the arch-plutocrat Bush II a great pretext to consolidate and concentrate the wealth and power of the privileged few. Nine Eleven was a great opportunity for the U.S. state-capitalist elite on numerous levels.  The imperial “defense” corporations and the oil giants have enjoyed a remarkable wartime Profit Surge while Bush-Cheney have used the “war on terror” to invade Iraq and identify resistance to the Republicans’ arch-plutocratic agenda with a treasonous failure to “support the troops” and with opposition to National Security. 


Nine Eleven was a “disaster-capitalist” (4) windfall for bin-Laden’s “real tyrannical terrorists.” It was major blow to those struggling to advance social justice, democracy and economic equality within and beyond the U.S.


The other irony is that bin-Laden and other Islamic fundamentalists owe much of their power in the Middle East to the global march of western capitalism-imperialism. As Gilbert Achcar shows in his marvelous book The Clash of Barbarism: September 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder (New York: Monthly Review, 2002), the rise of militant, anti-Western Islamic fundamentalism is rooted in U.S. policies aimed at the control of Middle Eastern oil reserves and in Western-imposed global-capitalist (neoliberal) processes of class and public-sector disintegration.  These policies and processes have provided fertile recruiting ground for al Qaeda and its many imitators. Resentment abhors a vacuum and bin Laden et al. have garnered a membership windfall from the misery that negative (top down corporate and state-capitalist) globalization has imposed on Middle Eastern masses who – thanks in no small part to U.S. policy – no longer possess relevant secular and left-nationalist outlets for their democratic and social aspirations.   


On the crackpot American right, the usual vicious red-baiting voices of reaction took bin-Laden’s criticism of western capitalism and his positive references to Noam Chomsky (praised for “speaking sober words of advice prior to” the invasion of Iraq) to prove that the Western Left and bin-Laden “share the same ideology.”  Last we looked, however, neither Chomsky nor other leading western antiwar and anti-imperial voices have joined bin-Laden in calling for the conversion of the American masses to Islam. And bin-Laden has yet to embrace the causes of radical workers’ control, participatory democracy, or women’s rights.


The leading figure of the historical Western left Karl Marx was critical of religious faith but deeply attuned to the role of economic exploitation and capitalist alienation in making religion necessary to desperate masses the world over.  Capitalism, Marx and Frederick Engels noted in 1848 (in a passage that seems highly relevant more than a century and half later), “has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations.  It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors,’ and left no other bond between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’ It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation.  It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom – Free Trade.  In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation” (5). 


This passage from The Communist Manifesto provides some interesting context for understanding feudal bin-Laden’s problem with capitalism.  It also helps explain the success  bin-Laden and other Islamic fundamentalist have experienced recruiting followers in the Middle East, where western capitalism-imperialism has long ironically encouraged the persistence of “religious fervor” and “chivalrous enthusiasm” by undermining any and all Left-secular responses to the soulless march of exchange value, egotistical calculation, and socioeconomic dispossession and where the persistence of feudal and patriarchal regimes and values have long served the United States’ dominant interest in the region – the control of a single, super-strategic material of great of critical imperial relevance: Middle Eastern oil (6). 


Paul Street is a writer, speaker and activist based in Iowa City, IA and Chicago, IL.  He is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); and Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in Post-Civil Rights America (New York: Routledge, 2005. Paul can be reached at paulstreet99@yahoo.com.






1.    Paul Avrich, Kronsdadt 1921 (New York, 1970), pp. 144-145, 211; Isaac Deutscher, The Prophert Armed: Trotsky 1879-1921 (New York, 1954), pp. 511-512.


2.    Leon Trotsky, The Struggle Against German Fascism [New York: Pathfinder, 1970]).


3.    For a useful science- and fact-based antidote to 9/11 conspiracy theories, see Popular Mechanics, Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can’t Stand Up to the Facts (New York: Hearst, 2006). 


4.    Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Age of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Metropolitan, 2007).


5.    Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: International Publishers, 1948 [1848]), p.11.


6.    As Gilbert Achcar noted in 1997, “of all the major geopolitical regions, the Arab world is the only one in which a relative [neoliberal] reduction of the state’s influence on the economy – inaugurated by Anwar Sadat in Egypt as long ago as the early 1970s – has not seen an accompanying reduction of its control over politics. It is also the only one where civil society has been unable to wrest political expression from bureaucratic and despotic state control…How are we to explain this Arab anomaly? And. More important, why is it so blatantly tolerated [really supported and protected, P.S.] by those same superpowers that preach democracy to the rest of the planet? Two basic factors explain this anomaly of Arab despotism.  The first is the curse of oil…The perpetuation, and in some cases installation, by the Western governments of premodern tribal dynasties in the oil states of the Arab peninsula contrasted strongly with colonialism’s project of overturning traditional structures in other parts of the world and setting up models emulating political modernity.  The ‘civilizing mission’ of the West in the establishment of state institutions did not extend to these countries.  On the contrary.  Here the project was to consolidate backwardness in order to guarantee unfettered exploitation of hydrocarbon resources by the imperial powers.” Gilbert Achcar, The Clash of Barbarisms: Sept 11 and the Making of the New world Disorder (New York: Monthly Review, 2002), p. 45. 



One Response to “Missing Truth and Irony in Bin-Laden’s Critique of Capitalism”

  1. Rick Nichols Says:

    ” the real problem with bin-Laden’s critique of American capitalism is that his jetliner attacks drastically strengthened the power of U.S. military and other corporations ”

    I was totally following along ’til I hit this: take the bull by the horns, friend.
    In three months of necessary albeit reluctant analysis I have managed to sort out the factually-based info from the obvious and blatant “fallacious de-bunking mechanism” that pervades American media.

    David Ray Griffin. Steve Jones. Kevin Ryan. Jim Hoffman. Richard Gage. Ray McGovern. Bob Bowman. The evidence is overwhelming, the deception is truly insidious. Take heart, friend…

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