America and Britain, we are told, went to war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq in order to defend civilisation and democracy from terrorism and rogue states. The torture and humiliation inflicted on Iraqi prisoners reveals the true nature of democratic civilisation.
The Bush administration claims that the hideous revelations from Abu-Ghraib are exceptions to the democratic rule. The truth is that there is a straight line from the measures routinely used at Guantanamo to the 'abuses' in Saddam's former torture-chamber, and that between prison life in Guantanamo and life in 'ordinary' American jails there is only a difference in degree. The truth is that the rank and file soldiers leering in the photographs from Abu-Ghraib were only carrying out 'softening up' policies decided at the very highest level of the American state.
But torture isn't unique to American democracy
The British, who claim to go 'softly softly' compared to the Americans, have used equally brutal methods in Iraq (see the article on page 2) and this is nothing new: British occupying forces have perfected numerous varieties of torture, from the subtle to the savage, in Aden, Kenya, Northern Ireland�
And what of the democratic states who have been openly critical of the Iraq war? France has been the most vociferous, but French imperialism has a very well-documented history of torture from Indo-China to Algeria. Belgium's record in the Congo is no less bloody.
Abu-Ghraib merely symbolises the fact that there is nothing to chose between 'democracy' and 'dictatorship', between one set of capitalist jailers and another.
Workers everywhere should keep this in mind whenever we are asked to stand up for democracy - and we are certainly being asked to do this more and more. This month we are being told that we must do our democratic duty and turn out to vote in European or regional elections; if we don't, then we will open the door to 'undemocratic' parties like the BNP.
We're also being encouraged to celebrate the slaughter on the Normandy beaches in 1944, because this, at least, was a 'Good War', a war to defend democracy against the unspeakable evil of Nazism.
In short, we have to defend democracy because it is supposed to protect us from something much worse. But as long as it allows itself to be caught up in this false alternative, the working class will never get to the root of the problem - a world system in profound decay, a moribund society which oozes war, torture and repression from every pore. As long as we are cowed into supporting the bourgeoisie's 'democratic' factions against its more openly 'dictatorial' representatives, we will never develop our identity and our independence as a class, we will never be able to offer a real alternative to this miserable game of 'choose the lesser evil'.
Capitalism in its death-agony threatens to turn the entire planet into a torture chamber. Against this threat the struggle of the working class raises the perspective of the communist revolution - not to make the global prison more democratic, but to demolish it altogether.