Workers have no interest in defending capitalism’s “democratic rights”

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Under the slogan “Kill the Bill”, recent weeks have seen thousands of mainly young people in various cities in England and Wales taking to the streets to protest against the implementation of the 307-page “Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill”, which will hand the police and the Home Secretary greater powers to crack down on protests. While the bill in question does not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland, even there people gathered in public places to express their solidarity with the protests in the England and Wales. In certain places, as happened twice in Bristol, the protests led to violent confrontations with the police.

The proposed legislation intends to give the police in the U.K. more power to deal with "static protests" such as "sit-ins", to impose start and finish times on protests, as well as "maximum noise limits"; to intervene in a protest where noise is impacting those around it – all of which will make it easier to convict protestors. Under this proposed legislation a protester can face a fine of £2,500 and ten years in prison for not following police restrictions over how to conduct a protest. The rules set out in the bill can even be applied to a demonstration of just one person.

This bill is another harsh attack on the means of the non-exploiting population in Wales and England to defend their living conditions. The capitalist state is more and more reclaiming public spaces, while access to these spaces is essential for the workers to come together in order to unify their struggle with workers in other companies and plants. [1] The limitations on going out onto the street and the increased police surveillance were temporary measures introduced during the pandemic, but this bill intends to give certain of these limitations a permanent character. As we have seen before in history: temporary measures decided in face of particular circumstances are not reversed once conditions have “returned to normal”.

The trap of democratic and human rights

And now in 2021 we are witnessing a bourgeoisie that is virtually incapable of offering any viable perspective, leading to a growing gap between the bourgeois state and society, which was precisely the condition for the emergence of populism. [2] At the same time several parts of the political apparatus within the western democracies are substantially gangrened by corruption, discredited and even hated. Decades of attacks against living and working conditions have left deep traces in the working class. In the UK itself "Factional interest, short-term political and personal gain, and naked corruption are replacing the defence of the national interest.” (Johnson government: a policy of vandalism ; World Revolution 387 - Autumn 2020)

The new repressive measures being prepared by the Johnson government do not exist in isolation and have not come about by chance. In reaction to the weakening of its political and ideological weapons, the new regulations of the Johnson government are part of a more general policy of the western bourgeoisie, and intend to strengthen the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state. The growing loss of ideological control forces the bourgeoisie to take refuge to a more rigid state control, and to refine its instruments of intimidation. The massive attacks on the living conditions of the working class, which undoubtedly lie ahead of us, compel the bourgeoisie to prepare for all possible reactions, especially by the working class.

Anarchists come to the aid of democracy

In contrast to the statement published (apparently without any criticism) on the website of the Anarchist Federation (AF), “#KillTheBill: Joint Statement on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill From XR, BLM Local groups, RAAH and more” [3], the new step taken by the Johnson government in the direction of an increased state repression, does not yet make the U.K. a full-blown police state. It is one of the most experienced ruling classes in the world and very skilled in hiding its political domination behind the democratic facade with its parliamentary elections and so-called equal rights for all British citizens. And there is no reason to change this policy since the fundaments of this democracy are not being publicly challenged, either by another faction of the bourgeoisie or by the working class.

The UK is not an open dictatorship, but the British state is certainly an authoritarian and repressive state, just as any state, whether it is “more democratic” or more “totalitarian”. But in both cases, it presents itself as an instrument of protection of society, as it has done in the past year by holding back the extreme social chaos that would arise if the pandemic was allowed to go unchecked. The denunciation by the statement of “the creation of an authoritarian police state” is rather confusing, because it leaves us with various questions:

  • what is the difference between an “authoritarian police state” and a “non-authoritarian police state”;
  • what if the protesters do succeed in blocking the creation of a police state, is this state no longer authoritarian?

But there is more to say about the statement published by the AF. The appeal to #UniteForHumanRights and “to fight to protect the fundamental human rights”, is an open call for bourgeois demands. For human rights derives from “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, which is a bourgeois declaration approved by the United Nations in 1948, at the beginning of the Cold War. The Soviet Union abstained from voting this Human Rights Declaration, and with reason, because it was almost immediately used by the Western bloc to wage a 40 years’ Cold War against the Stalinist regimes, undeniably as inhuman as the countries of the Western Bloc.

The slogan “#SaveOurDemocracies” is another dangerous mystification, because it makes an appeal for us to identify with and defend the mystification of democratic rights. In the name of “the will of the people” it actually calls for a popular front of all democratic forces. But in the 1930’s it was the Popular Front in France that used the state machine is to smash the workers, to imprison hundreds of workers for holding meetings and strikes and to prepare for war by military and industrial conscription of millions of workers. This policy was clearly denounced at the time in the leaflet “France in Revolt”, distributed by the Anarchist Federation of Britain

It may be that the AF has jettisoned any kind of class analysis, but the Anarchist Communist Group, which split from the AF in 2018, has not, and thus it writes that we must resist this bill together, as a class”. But for the rest the article of the ACG remains rather vague about what this means in the concrete conditions of the class struggle today. After this the ACG writes “It’ll mean calling for and organising local meetings and demonstrations”. Is this an appeal to the working class to defend the democratic rights allegedly granted by the class which exploits it? And if it is an appeal for real working class struggle, where are the specific working class demands?

While claiming to defend the essential role of the working class struggle, the ACG seems to have “forgotten” the specific nature of this class, why it is the class antagonistic to capital and therefore the only force in capitalism able to lay the groundwork for an alternative society without repression and exploitation. The working class is a class of wage labourers, including those who are temporarily unemployed, which depend for their livelihood on the selling of their labour power. And its force, its organisation and consciousness, is precisely based on its position as an associated class in the production process.

The ACG wants a class struggle against the new repressive state measures, but in doing that it completely ignores what makes the working class the only force capable of “overthrowing capitalism, abolishing the State, getting rid of exploitation, hierarchies and oppressions, and halting the destruction of the environment”(What is the ACG?); in other words: its class autonomy. [4] Without this class autonomy, without the struggle on a proletarian terrain for authentic class demands, the working class is no more than a sum of individual citizens, an amorphous mass of protesting people at best. Therefore any call to the workers to fight against the new repressive legislation, which is not based on clear class demands, can only serve to disarm the working class.

Within capitalism the working class has no rights

The protests against the new law, and the energetic commitment of the people fighting against its approval, show one thing in particular: the great illusions in the democracy in general and the democracy of the UK in particular. In fact, the appeal by the protesters to “our democracies”, to “the right to protest”, to “human rights”, rights that that the ruling class supposedly tries “to take away from us”, only shows that the main instrument of the bourgeoisie to rule British society is indeed the illusion of democracy, even if it needs police surveillance and state organised violence (which we saw clearly displayed at the vigil for Sarah Everard and the Bristol Kill the Bill protest) as an additional tool. But the need for the bourgeoisie to use its repressive instruments as a last resort makes the democratic mystification no less dangerous.

Democracy is a very refined instrument of social control and no less totalitarian than a full-blown dictatorship. The western democracies “maintain the whole apparatus, from the media to the police, required to impose a grip on society that hides its totalitarianism behind a veil of ‘freedom’.” (International Review no. 62 - Editorial; 1990) The strength of western democracies is precisely located in their ability to hide the fact that its rule is not only as ruthless and effective as any dictatorship, but is actually better organised. In 1919 Lenin had already pointed to the great lie of democracy and showed that “in reality terror and a bourgeois dictatorship rule the most democratic republic” and that shouting in defence of ‘democracy in general’ is actually defence of the bourgeoisie and their privileges as exploiters.” (Theses on bourgeois democracy and proletarian dictatorship)

There is no fundamental difference between the protests against the new bill and the protest against the lockdown: in both cases the protesters reclaim their “freedom” as citizens. In the case of the protest against the new bill they demand the “right” to protest “freely” and in the case of the protest against the lockdown they demand the “right” to move “feely”. But in both cases the demands do not put into question the capitalist system and the authority of the state. This is completely different from the struggle of the working class. And certainly since capitalism entered its period of decadence this class can no longer fight for “democratic demands”, even if certain sectors still have illusions and may get drawn into the defence of such demands. Within capitalism only the ruling class has rights and the workers have no other right than to sell their labour power and to be exploited.

The protests of the past three weeks in the U.K. will not force the bourgeoisie to back down, even if the bourgeoisie gives the impression that it is ready to listen to “the will of the people” and to make some changes in the original draft of the bill. This is a manoeuvre intended to bind the protesters even more to the authority of the state. The present bill is actually not a frontal attack on the protests groups like Extinction Rebellion, but against the future protests that may irrupt when the austerity will be imposed on the working class to claw back the huge debts incurred during the pandemic. This actual legislation is a first step in the preparation of the ruling class to confront its main enemy, the working class, in the battles that will inevitably emerge in the period ahead.

Dennis, April 202 


[1] The strength of the working class struggle is shown when workers of all sectors and companies come together “en masse”, in places where it is possible to have debates, where it can decide on the course of the struggle and the road it has to take. But the majority of workers recognise that massive gatherings, open to everyone who wants to reinforce the struggle, are too dangerous under the circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic. “But as soon as the pandemic is behind us, we will have to occupy the streets again, occupy all public spaces to discuss the means of the struggle and resist the austerity plans that the ruling class will seek to impose on us.”(La bourgeoisie profite de la pandémie de Covid-19 pour attaquer la classe ouvrière!; Révolution Internationale no. 487)

[2] Since the traditional political parties have been substantially discredited in the eyes of the working class, there is a direct link between the rise of populism and the discrediting of the party political establishment. “The roots of populism in Europe and the USA are in the first instance a result of the historical weakening of the traditional government parties, which have been discredited by decades of attacks against living and working conditions, by unbearable levels of chronic mass unemployment, by the cynicism, hypocrisy and corruption of numerous political and economic spheres, and by their incapacity to offer the masses the illusion of a better future.” (Presidential campaign in France: populism and anti-populism, two expressions of capitalism’s dead-end; ICConline April 2017)

[3] #Kill The Bill: Joint Statement on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill From XR, BLM local groups, RAAH and more - Extinction Rebellion UK : “This is an open statement written by a coalition of UK organisations, groups & social movements of all ethnic backgrounds, gender identities, sexualities, faiths, abilities, ages and social standings, who have united to challenge the UK government”. 

[4] The class autonomy of the proletariat means its independence from the other classes of society, its ability to give a political orientation to all the other non-exploiting strata. This class independence of the proletariat constitutes an INDISPENSIBLE CONDITION for its revolutionary action aiming, in the long run, at the overthrow of capitalism and the construction of a classless society and thus without exploitation of man by man. (Balance sheet of the public meetings on the “Yellow Vest” movement; ICConline – 2020s) 




“Kill the Bill” protests in the UK