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

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 12 11:10:41 EDT 2007

(while still written from a Western perspective, some interesting points)

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. 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 at 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.

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