Anti-terrorism: protecting us or protecting the state?
According to Lord West, Britain is already a world leader in anti-terrorism measures, "ahead of all countries in the world on the protection front". New measures proposed by the Labour government consolidate this position.
Security is to be stepped up at railway stations, ports and airports, with new security barriers, vehicle exclusion zones and blast resistant buildings. The security services, which had 2000 staff in 2001, will increase to more than 4000. There will be new police and deportation powers. A new UK border force with powers of arrest and detention will have 25,000 staff. Another 2000 will work in regional counter-terrorism units. 90 pieces of information will have to be provided to the security services for everyone flying to or from Britain. There will be propaganda against "extremist influences".
When Labour came to power you could only be detained for 4 days without charge, since then it has gone up to 28 days, the longest period of time in Europe, with the possibility that this will be doubled to eight weeks or more (Turkey, conducting a war against the Kurds in its South East, only allows seven and a half days).
In its existing ‘security' infrastructure Britain has more then 4 million CCTVs, the highest number per head anywhere in the world. A DNA database that will have 4.25 million people on it by the end of 2008 is the largest in the world. Official requests (from nearly 800 eligible bodies) for phone taps and email monitoring currently run at nearly 30,000 per month. Labour introduced control orders in 2005 that are used to put people under house arrest when there is not enough evidence to charge them.
The state puts forward a simple case for the strengthening of its apparatus of repression. The Director-General of the MI5 says that in this country there are 30 active groups and 200 other groups making 2000 people actually or potentially involved in terrorism. Lord West says that it will take 30 years to finally crush terrorism.
Yes, terrorism is a real concern for the ruling class, whether it's by disaffected individuals or by groups operating on behalf of hostile imperialisms. At that level anti-terrorism measures are just another part of an imperialist state's military provisions.
However, if you look through the range of measures introduced by governments over the years they are not just directed at its imperialist enemies (that lie behind ‘a tiny minority of violent extremists') but also at its class enemy: the working class and in particular its revolutionary militants.
The sheer volume of phone and email taps (some 400,000 in a recent 15-month period) is not just directed at MI5's 2000 ‘most wanted' but clearly a very wide range of people that the state feels the need to spy on. Or, to take the stop and search powers available under anti-terrorist legislation, only 1 out of every 400 searches results in an arrest (and an even smaller proportion lead to either a prosecution or conviction). The powers exist partly to gather information and partly to intimidate. Indeed, intimidation of individuals, social control, the monitoring of groups deemed a threat, are the focus of the state's security activity.
In the arguments between supporters of the government and civil liberties activists there has been a concentration on the extension of the period of detention without charge. In many ways this is academic as the government already has even more extensive powers if it chooses to declare a state of emergency. The state is effectively saying that it will have the powers normally used in wartime etc, without formally declaring hostilities. But also it doesn't actually need to cover everything it does with legislation. After all, the shoot-to-kill policy operated in Northern Ireland and at Stockwell tube station didn't require any legal sanction.
But why is Britain so far ahead in its preparation for repression? Is it because Labour has an ‘authoritarian reflex'? Or is there something particularly threatening in the current British situation?
No. That the British bourgeoisie is so advanced in its technological, legislative and ideological preparation shows the insight of this particular ruling class. While the struggle of the working class is in the final analysis a threat at an international level, each capitalist state has to prepare its own weapons at a national level. In Britain the state wants to undermine the possibility of future class confrontations, but also be prepared for the possibility of that sabotage failing. Other countries will follow Britain's example. Car 24/11/07