David Davis and his grand gesture:Bourgeois law protects the bourgeoisie

Printer-friendly versionSend by emailWhen Labour pushed through the legislation extending detention without charge from 28 to 42 days, the air was full of the usual talk about basic freedoms and the preservation of civil liberties that has accompanied counter-terrorist bills over the years. Conservative MP David Davis decided that all the propaganda about habeas corpus, Magna Carta and the rest could do with more sustained exposure and resigned so he could fight a by-election on the question.

Initially there was speculation that he'd got a screw loose, but pretty soon a wide range of figures, from right to left, rallied round in his defence. The fascist BNP said it would not stand in the election as it agreed with what Mr Davis said about changing the detention law. The Libdems and many Labour MPs said they backed him on this particular matter. Left-winger Tony Benn supported Davis, who returned the compliment by praising one of Benn's speeches as "astonishingly wise and insightful".

A Trotskyist group, the Socialist Equality Party, is also standing in the by-election. Fully participating in the electoral circus, they claim to be different to the other parties. They say (all quotes from World Socialist Web Site) that "None of the official parties can genuinely defend democratic rights", which means they all have the same goals, but reckon that they're the ones for the job. They denounce Labour's "attempts to justify the overturning of the historic foundations of British law" and insist that "The cornerstone of democracy is the safeguarding of the individual citizen from arbitrary action by the state". None of these remarks would sound strange coming from the mouths of Davis or any of his supporters.

In the pages of World Revolution we have over the years covered the various repressive measures brought into law by the capitalist state. However, we've also tried to get over the fact that the legislation will not only be used against the ‘terrorist' threat, but also against the working class and revolutionary militants; and that this strengthening of the state is inevitably justified by a propaganda barrage about democracy and freedom. The ruling class uses this ideological cover to try and obscure the real nature of the state that imposes all the repressive measures.

You can read about the extent of CCTV surveillance, the DNA database, or the latest repressive laws in the pages of WR, or from David Davis or the SEP. The difference is that the SEP, like Davis and Benn, says "This latest measure stands at the apex of a mountain of anti-democratic legislation", whereas the marxist approach of the ICC shows that repression and democracy go hand in hand as weapons against the working class. The historic foundations of British law are based on the defence of the interests of the ruling class. When the Romans ruled Britain the law defended the interests of a slave-owning class, not of the slaves. In feudal times the law defended the interests of the lords and king, not the serfs and villeins. In capitalism bourgeois law serves the interests of the ruling bourgeoisie, not the working class.

There are certainly different ideological weapons used to buttress the rule of particular classes. Feudalism used the church and religion where modern capitalism uses the media and democracy, but they are both forms of class rule. There is, however, a key difference between feudalism, within which the bourgeoisie could gradually develop as an exploiting class until it was in position to dominate the state and overhaul it for its own purposes, and capitalism, where the working class is an exploited class and, rather than taking over the state of its exploiters, will have to destroy it.

Democracy and repressive law are not capitalism's only weapons. The history of Northern Ireland, for example, shows what the state is capable of. Internment, interrogation using sensory deprivation techniques and other methods that prefigured the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, the manipulation of terrorist groups and a shoot-to-kill policy were all used by British democracy. The Stockwell shooting of 2005 shows that the British mainland is not going to be immune to the repressive armoury developed on the other side of the Irish Sea.

David Davis, a supporter of the previous 28-day detention rule, may not sound very convincing to everyone as an opponent of 42. More to the point, the whole campaign over rights and freedoms is a smokescreen to hide the shared interests of government and opposition, of Right and Left. When the working class struggles it finds the law against it at every turn. By law you can't stage a spontaneous demonstration, as you have to give the police at least 6 days advance notice. If you strike in solidarity with workers in a different sector of the economy, or in a different company, it's illegal. The destruction of capitalist rule is also not approved of in bourgeois law. Don't trust anyone who asks you to fight over changes to the law rather than the defence of working class interests. Those interests certainly include the fight against repression, but the working class has its own methods in the struggle against arrests, deportations, or other forms of state violence.  Car 30/6/8

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