Defend Civil Liberties in Britain!
‘The Rules of the Game are Changing…’
On the morning of Thursday, 7 July 2005, as Tony Blair and his cronies prepared for their G8 summit in Scotland, 52 innocent civilians were murdered and hundreds others injured in an appalling terrorist attack on London’s public transport system. This anti-working class act produced an immediate wave of xenophobic reaction toward Britain’s Muslim minority and provided the reactionary Labour government with a cover for the introduction of a new round of police-state measures, all in the name of “security.”
The connection between the terrorist attacks in London and British participation in the U.S.-led wars of conquest in Iraq and Afghanistan was immediately obvious to everyone. The Royal Institute of International Affairs commented that “riding pillion” with America into Iraq had “given a boost” to al-Qaeda in “propaganda, recruitment and fundraising.” Even a “threat assessment” by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre concluded:
“the invasion of Iraq had created ‘a motivation and a focus for a range of terrorist-related activity in the UK.’ This was based on the pooled findings of the government’s own intelligence agencies. They can hardly be damned as apologists for terrorism.”
—Observer (London), 24 July 2005
But Tony Blair absurdly denies that there is any connection between his government’s role in Washington’s Middle East crusade and the fact that British cities are now producing “home grown” terrorists who are so incensed at the ravages in Iraq and Afghanistan that they are prepared to launch indiscriminate attacks on civilians in London. Anger at the pillage of Iraq, and at the devastating effects of the imperialist invasion and occupation, is justified and predictable. But killing ordinary people on their way to work is criminal from the point of view of the working class, because it fails to distinguish between capitalist warmongers and innocent civilians, most of whom opposed the Bush/Blair adventure from the outset.
New Labour Attacks Civil Liberties
Terrorist attacks tend to boost popular support for imperialist policy abroad and increased repression domestically. Less than a month after the bombings, Blair introduced a 12-point “anti-terror” plan, proudly exclaiming: “Let no one be in any doubt. The rules of the game are changing” (Guardian [London], 5 August 2005).
The “Terrorism Bill” tabled by Home Secretary Charles Clarke in October 2005 decreed that anyone who “publishes a statement or causes another to publish a statement” which “he knows or believes” some other person is “likely to understand…as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism” is committing an offense. The bill declares that it is irrelevant “whether any person is in fact encouraged or induced by the statement to commit, prepare or instigate any such act or offence.” The “indirect encouragement” of terrorism is defined as any statement that “glorifies the commission or preparation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) of such acts or offences.” Anybody convicted of making such remarks can be sent to prison for up to seven years.
Of course, the new law will not be applied to members of the fascist British National Party (BNP), which is organized for the purpose of carrying out racist violence. But it could conceivably be used against anyone making the simple observation that there is a direct connection between Britain’s participation in the occupation of Iraq and the London terrorist bombings.
The original proposal to lengthen the period that “terrorist suspects” can be held without being charged to three months was subsequently reduced to 28 days. This still represents a significant attack on the right of habeas corpus, the bedrock of all civil liberties. Two Islamist organizations, Hizb-ut-Tahrir and al Muhajiroun, are to be banned, despite the fact that, unlike the BNP, there is no evidence that either has been connected to any violent activity. The Home Office has also announced that anyone with dual British citizenship will be deported if the government claims they have been involved in terrorism (Times Online, 12 October 2005). This is clearly aimed at Britain’s Muslim minority, as are the Terrorism Bill’s provisions granting “new police powers to close mosques and other places of worship being used for terrorist activity” (Ibid.).
The terror scare has led to a vast increase in the routine intimidation of immigrants and minorities:
“The use of counter-terrorism stop and search powers has increased sevenfold since the July 7 attacks on Britain, with Asian people bearing the brunt of the increase…. People of Asian appearance were five times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, according to the latest figures compiled by British Transport police. None of the stops have resulted in a terrorism charge, the force said.”
—Guardian, 17 August 2005
This is not the first time New Labour has attacked democratic rights. Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 specified that police could “search for articles connected with terrorism but an officer does not need grounds to suspect the person is carrying such an article” (Ibid.). In other words, the cops are free to do whatever they want. Of the 732 people arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 between September 2001 and April 2005, only 121 were ever charged, and a mere 21 were convicted of anything.
In September 2005 82-year old Walter Wolfgang—a Jewish escapee from the Nazis who opposes Blair’s predatory war in Iraq—was physically ejected from the annual Labour Party conference for calling out “nonsense” during Jack Straw’s speech. When he tried to reenter the meeting he was arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000. George Monbiot observed:
“Had Mr. Wolfgang said ‘nonsense’ twice during the foreign secretary’s speech, the police could have charged him under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Harrassment, the act says, ‘must involve conduct on at least two occasions…conduct includes speech.’ Parliament was told that its purpose was to protect women from stalkers, but the first people to be arrested were three peaceful protesters. Since then it has been used by the arms manufacturer EDO to keep demonstrators away from its factory gates, and by Kent police to arrest a woman who sent an executive at a drugs company two polite emails, begging him not to test his products on animals. In 2001 the peace campaigners Lindis Percy and Anni Rainbow were prosecuted for causing ‘harassment, alarm or distress’ to American servicemen at the Menwith Hill military intelligence base in Yorkshire, by standing at the gate holding the Stars and Stripes and a placard reading ‘George W Bush? Oh dear!’. In Hull a protester was arrested under the act for ‘staring at a building’.”
—Guardian, 4 October 2005
The new bill gives the government the right to place both foreign and British nationals under house arrest. A June 2005 report by Alvaro Gil-Robles, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concern about the rigged judicial hearings which are supposed to review government “control orders”:
“The procedures for such hearings foresee the use of secret evidence and closed hearings, to which a special advocate, appointed by the Attorney General to represent the interests of the suspected may have access, but following which he may no longer converse with control order’s subject. Neither the suspect, nor his own appointed counsel have access to such in camera proceedings or to any secret material used in the course of the hearing. Non-derogating control orders are made for a twelve-month period and may be renewed indefinitely for further periods of twelve-months subject to the same conditions each time.”
Murder of Jean Charles de Menezes: State-Sanctioned Terror
The ugly reality of New Labour’s “anti-terrorism” campaign was revealed by the execution of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian electrician, by a police death squad on 22 July 2005 in London’s Stockwell tube station. The cops’ assertions that he was linked to an Islamic terror cell were soon discredited, as were their claims that he had been wearing an unseasonably bulky jacket (which could have concealed a bomb), and that he had tried to escape when challenged.
After London police chief Ian Blair’s clumsy attempt at a cover-up was exposed as a pack of lies, there were many calls for his resignation. But the Home Secretary applauded the police for their performance. London’s mayor “Red Ken” Livingstone, who was backed by most of Britain’s supposedly Marxist groups in his 2000 election campaign, offered Chief Blair his unconditional support in the wake of de Menezes’ murder:
“There are few people I have had to deal with in 30 years in public life I trust as totally as I do him. He not only has my confidence, he is the best news that London policing has got.”
Livingstone dismissed the execution with the comment that: “Mistakes like this happen when people are under incredible pressure” (Evening Standard [London], 24 August 2005). Under New Labour’s “shoot-to-kill” policy, the cops’ “belief that the public [are] at risk does not have to be reasonable, as long as it [is] honestly held” (Guardian, 25 July 2005).
The government has also been pushing for the introduction of a national ID card with biometric and other personal information. Some 70 offices have already been set up where citizens are supposed to pay £93 (roughly $165) to purchase a card. Those who fail to register will be subject to a fine of £2,500. The new national database that is to be established with all this information will represent a big step down the road to the all-intrusive police state described by George Orwell in 1984.
The government has also tightened regulations on asylum and increased the use of detention camps for asylum seekers. It is mooting a scheme to permit employers of low-skilled migrants to pay only a part of their salary directly to the workers, with the rest being sent to an account that can only be accessed in their home country. Revolutionaries oppose this racist harassment, and call for automatic full citizenship rights for all immigrants, regardless of their official status.
The fascists of the BNP have not missed the opportunity to spread their racist filth and openly incite attacks on Muslims. One of their leaflets had a picture of the number 30 bus blown up in Tavistock Square on 7 July 2005 with the caption “Don’t get mad—get even.” Immediately after the bombings there was an upsurge of racist attacks on Muslims, with 1,200 incidents officially recorded in the first two weeks. The real figure was no doubt even higher.
Class Politics & Civil Liberties
The British left condemned the bombings and pointed to the obvious link with the occupation of Iraq. The Socialist Party (SP), which considers the police to be part of the workers’ movement (when in fact they are the armed thugs of the bosses) and talks about peacefully transforming Britain from capitalism to socialism via an act of Parliament, responded to the killing of de Menezes with an undated leaflet entitled, “Stop shoot to kill—Justice for Jean Charles de Menezes” that sagely advised: “The police need to be democratically controlled.” Unlike the reformists of the SP, Marxists recognize that the police and the rest of the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state cannot be “controlled” by those they are intended to oppress. This is precisely why it is necessary to carry out a socialist revolution—to destroy the capitalists’ state apparatus and replace it with institutions that defend the interests of working people.
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which is currently functioning as a sort of fan club for Respect MP George Galloway, responded in a typically social-democratic manner, posing “peace” as the alternative to “violence” and bleating that: “London is a centre of peace” (Socialist Worker Online, 7 July 2005). Viewed from Iraq, London, the site of Blair’s government, doubtless appears more like a center of imperialist war.
The left-posturing Workers Power, which has spent the past few years in the SWP’s resolutely pacifist Stop the War Coalition (StWC), is mimicking its patron in advancing the notion that the imperialists can be resisted with all-inclusive liberal reformism. Rather than attempting to politically mobilize working-class action against the war, the SWP built the StWC from the beginning as a respectable, middle-class vehicle for letting off steam. In its 8 July 2005 response to the terrorist attack, Workers Power proposed that a social-pacifist, multi-class anti-war movement can defend civil liberties:
“Of course Blair and Bush will seek to use events in London on 7/7 to press on with more draconian attacks on civil rights at home and military brutality and torture abroad. However the huge antiwar demonstrations in 2003 and their partial renewal this year show that they can be fought.”
Workers Power, which was given a seat on the StWC steering committee, is well aware that to maintain the bloc with the various eminent persons, Muslim clerics etc. that give the coalition its bourgeois “legitimacy,” the SWP leaders will deliberately smother any class-struggle initiative. Yet Workers Power still proposes that the SWP give their “peace movement” a more radical spin:
“Finally, but crucially, we must revive the anti-war movement on a massive scale—and this time with an open willingness to take direct action including strikes—to get Britain out now. Leaving aside the debacle in Iraq itself, the London bombings should be an alarm bell that this remobilisation of the anti-war movement is urgently needed.”
—Workers Power, 22 July 2005
The chances of the SWP leadership displaying “an open willingness to take direct action” are roughly equivalent to those of Blair’s New Labour revising its imperialist foreign policy. It is empty verbiage designed to cover Workers Power’s political responsibility for the thoroughly and unashamedly bourgeois-pacifist StWC.
The fight against colonialist adventures abroad is intimately linked to the defense, and extension, of democratic rights at home. It is necessary to mobilize the British working class to answer the capitalist offensive spearheaded by Tony Blair and his cronies with a class-struggle fight against imperialist war and its derivative assault on immigrants, Muslims and organized labor. The workers’ movement has the power to remake society from top to bottom, but to do so it needs a leadership which, instead of seeking to maintain the existing imperialist world order, is committed to overturning it.
A revolutionary leadership for the workers’ movement cannot be built by begging, or seeking to pressure, the pro-capitalist parties to act in the interests of the oppressed. It requires a struggle to build a Leninist combat party capable of educating the masses of working people to recognize the futility of all attempts to humanize capitalism and the need to overthrow the entire system of exploitation and wage slavery.