The state arms itself against future class battles
The election campaign has further strengthened the atmosphere of fear about terrorism, crime, anti-social behaviour, asylum seekers and foreigners. This atmosphere is not only the result of the crude stirring up of the most bestial passions by both Labour and Tories. It is part of a calculated process aimed at justifying the strengthening of capitalism's repressive apparatus.
The capitalist class has no real answer to the deepening economic crisis, advancing social decay and mounting imperialist tensions. The idea that 'things can only get better' has become an increasingly hollow joke as military barbarism has engulfed ever larger parts of the planet, unemployment has increased, work has become ever more alienating and the dream of retirement has turned into a nightmare of continuing to work till you drop. We have also seen a growth of terrorism internationally, which is a reflection of increasingly chaotic imperialist antagonisms, and an explosion of anti-social behaviour, which again is a reflection of a general tendency towards the disintegration of social ties. However, the inability of capitalism to offer a future is also generating the conditions for the emergence of massive workers' struggle. The response of the ruling class to this situation can only be the development of the fortress state.
One of the reasons that the ruling class brought Labour to power in 1997 and kept it there has been its ability to carry out an unprecedented, systematic development of the repressive apparatus. In the name of 'modernising' the state through 'joined up government' the supposed welfare aspects of the state - health, social services, education - have been tied into the repressive apparatus. These institutions of state control over social life has always maintained the appearance of being there to 'help'. Now, through the cynical use of the tragic death of children such a Victoria Climb‚ these bodies have been forced into even closer links with the police. Joint databases have been set up, whose aim is to make all information kept on the population, including children, easily available to the police and the security services.
This centralisation of information has been further developed with the insistence that Internet providers keep records of all e-mails and the browsing habits of their subscribers. The security services can now sit at a computer and access a vast pool of information.
Whilst at the computer they can also access many of the 4,000,000 CCTV's that spy on the population, making it the most watched population in the world (The Independent 12.1.2004). This includes the apparently innocent system of 700 cameras that monitor cars entering the traffic congestion zone in central London. "MI5, Special Branch and the Metropolitan Police began secretly developing the system in the wake of the 11th of September attacks" (The Observer, 9.2.2003). The system not only records registration numbers but also has facial recognition software. This technology is also being introduced throughout the CCTV network.
Thus, the state has the ability to monitor and film workers' demonstrations, strikes, and political activity that takes place in the street. And in the future this system will be a powerful tool when openly repressive measures are taken against the developing economic and political struggle of the working class.
The excuse of fighting crime and anti-social behaviour has been the cover for the introduction of unprecedented draconian powers through Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBO's). The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 defines an antisocial manner as "that which causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm and distress to one or more persons not of the same household as the person against whom the order is made". These measures introduced in 1998 give the police and local authorities powers to impose curfews in designated areas which force those under the age of 16 to stay at home between 9 pm and 6 am. 79% of police forces in England and Wales have imposed such curfews ('Police curfew', www.liberty.org). Today this law is used to repress working class youth, tomorrow it will be extended to include all workers in designated areas.
The 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act gives the police the power to disperse groups of two or more persons "if any members of the public have been intimidated, harassed, alarmed or distressed". The perfect tool for dispersing pickets, workers' demonstrations or revolutionaries selling their press in the streets.
If readers think we are exaggerating, the state is already using ASBO's, according to the civil liberties group Liberty, against protesters. "Protesters are also being issued with ASBO's by police and local authorities. Breaching an ASBO - which lists forbidden behaviour such as waving a banner or being in a certain area - is a criminal offence and can result in imprisonment" ('Right to protest', www.liberty,org). We do not think that there is a right to protest, but if the state is using such orders to repress protesters today there can be no doubt they will use them against the revolutionary class and its political minorities in the future.
The actions taken by the state against peace protesters during the Iraq war also show how the anti-terrorist laws are going to be used against the working class. Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows the police to stop and search people in designated areas. This power, according to Liberty, has been used to stop people going to anti-war demonstrations. Protests outside of RAF Fairford, during the Iraq war, were broken up though the use of anti-terrorist laws. This included an eleven year old girl being issued with an anti-terrorism order.
The anti-terrorism laws also provide legal cover for the existing activities of the political police and secret services: bugging, surveillance, following, the placement of agent-provocateurs, etc.
History also underlines that the bourgeoisie will use such laws against the working class. Faced with the revolutionary wave that followed the Russian Revolution, the British state established the Emergency Powers Act 1920. This allowed a state of emergency to be imposed if "any persons or group of persons....(interfere with) the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel, or light, or with the means of locomotion, to deprive the community of the essentials of life" (quoted in States of Emergency, Keith Jeffery and Peter Hennessy, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983). This power was used against the 1920 strike of miners, railway and transport workers, and during the 1926 general strike. And after the second world war, the 'radical' Labour governments no less than its Tory successors invokeded this act in breaking the 1948 and 1949 dock strikes, 1955 rail strike, 1966 seamen's strike, the dock and electricity workers' strikes in 1970, the miners' and dockers' strikes in 1972.
In 2004 the state updated the Emergency Powers Act with the Civil Contingencies Bill, which says a state of emergency can be called if amongst other criteria an "event or situation" threatens to disrupt the supply of money, food, water, energy, fuel, electronic or other systems of communications, transport, and services relating to health. This means a state of emergency (which gives ministers powers to impose martial law, stop movement around the country, ban meetings etc) could be called if strikes affected these central aspects of the economy.
If at present the state is not using the measures laid out in this article against the working class, it is because the level of the class struggle is not high enough. The ruling class, through the Labour Party, is taking full advantage of this situation in order to re-forge and strengthen its weapons of repression. But faced with this daunting armoury it is essential to remember that its very development expresses the ruling class' long-term fear of the future that the working class offers humanity.
Nevertheless, it was not mainly naked force that defeated the revolutionary struggles between 1917 and 1927, but illusions in the democratic process, which is in reality a cover for the dictatorship of capital. The working class will only strengthen this dictatorship if it demands that the state respect its rights. Groups like Liberty may be good at pointing out the facts of repression in Britain and elsewhere but they will never be able to halt the state's drive to control every aspect of our social lives. Only the working class can do this through its collective struggle. There are tentative signs that the working class is beginning to take up this struggle again. For it to be successful it must not be drawn into the dead end of the democratic process but must show the same will and daring that its ancestors showed in 1917. Only then, with the destruction of the state, will we see the end of bourgeois repression.