On June 2nd 250 police, some armed and wearing chemical protection suits, smashed their way into a house in Forest Gate in London, shot one man, beat him and his brother up and arrested them under the Terrorism Act 2000. A week later both were released without charge. The family returned to a home emptied and ripped apart. On the day of the raid the police claimed they were acting “in response to specific intelligence”. The media echoed this with talk of various chemical and biological weapons and spread the lie that one brother had shot the other. The Assistant Police Commissioner for London apologised “for the hurt we have caused in tackling the terrorist threat in the UK” but justified their actions on the grounds that “The police now have to take appropriate precautions to protect themselves, the public, and those inside the premises…during anti-terror operations”.
This was not the only ‘anti-terrorist’ operation during June. On the 6th a man was arrested at Manchester Airport. On the 7th a 16 year old was arrested in Yorkshire. On the 19th and 20th the police and MI6 arrested another 4 in London. On the 26th 250 police staged raids across Bolton and arrested two more. Of these eight only two have so far been charged with terrorist offences. Nothing has been heard of the others. Home Office figures show that of the 895 people arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 before 30 September 2005, just 23 were subsequently convicted of terrorism offences.
For the ruling class such things are the price paid for our ‘freedom’. In the wake of the Forest Gate shooting an un-named ‘counter-terrorism official’ asserted “There are dozens of mass casualty attacks being planned against…the UK and when we have what we believe is genuine intelligence that life is at risk, we have to act” (Observer, 11/6/06). Home Secretary John Reid claimed that “The police are acting in the best interests of the whole community in order to protect the whole community and they therefore deserve the support of the whole community in doing what is often a very hazardous and dangerous job…” Tony Blair echoed this: “I retain complete confidence in our police and our security services in tackling the terrorist threat we face. I don’t want them to be under any inhibition at all in going after those people who are engaged in terrorism. We have to, as a country, stand behind them and give them understanding in the very difficult work they do”.
The strengthening of the state
The bombings in London last July show that terrorism poses a real threat to people in this country. They also showed that, as ever, it is the working class that pays the price.
According to the ruling class such attacks are something alien to society and the anti-terrorism measures and the strengthening of the state’s repressive powers are a reluctant but necessary response to this unprovoked evil. In reality terrorism and anti-terrorism are a product of the development of capitalism, springing from the ever-increasing imperialist tensions that drive every state and would-be state into a war of each against all. It is well known that many of today’s terrorist groups were nurtured by the very states now reinforcing their repressive forces in the name of the ‘war on terror’. Britain was so involved in this that its rivals sardonically renamed London ‘Londonistan’.
In fact the measures taken in the name of anti-terrorism are merely a particular expression of the general tendency towards the strengthening of the state and its repressive apparatus that has been a feature of the last century. All of these measures are intended to enhance the ability of the ruling class to wage war: whether that be imperialist war against other powers or the class war against the proletariat.
The First World War was a decisive stage in the strengthening of the state. In the name of the war to defend ‘our’ way of life and our ‘freedoms’ the state took unprecedented powers to itself to control the economy and industry and, in particular, the working class. For example, legislation was passed in 1915 that allowed workers to leave their job only if their employer gave permission.
The Russian Revolution led to repressive measures aimed directly against the revolutionary working class, such as the Emergency Powers Act of 1920, which allowed a state of emergency to be declared should there be attempts to interfere with the supply of food, water and fuel etc (see ‘The state arms itself against future class battles’ in WR 284).
From the 1970s on Northern Ireland became a testing ground for new measures of repression, such as internment without trial: “Between 1971 and ’75 more than 2000 people were interned without trial by the state in Northern Ireland. Picked up without having any charges laid, or knowing when they were going to be released, detainees were subject to all sorts of treatments…Apart from prolonged sessions of oppressive questioning, serious threats, wrist bending, chokings and beatings, there were instances of internees being forced to run naked over broken glass and being thrown, tied and hooded, out of helicopters a few feet above the ground” (‘A short history of British torture’, WR 290). In recent years the extent of the state’s active involvement in terrorism, with agents in both republican and loyalist groups, has become clearer.
New Labour reinforces the state
The Labour Party has always been fully behind these developments, despite the posture of opposition it sometimes adopts. New Labour has been no exception, perhaps other than in the level of its hypocrisy. Its 1997 election manifesto made a song and dance about ‘human rights’, promising to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into British law. This was followed by an ever-growing range of anti-terrorism measures. After the bombings in London last July Blair declared, “Let no one be in any doubt. The rules of the game are changing”. A recent report by Amnesty International shows just how much the state has been strengthened.
- The Terrorism Act 2000 made a vague definition of terrorism as being “the use or threat of action where the action is designed to influence the government or advance a political, religious or ideological cause” (United Kingdom. Human rights: a broken promise, p.9-10).
- The Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001 “considerably extended the powers of the state. It provided for the forfeiture of terrorist property and freezing orders for terrorist assets and funds. It gave police greater powers to identify terrorist suspects in areas such as fingerprinting and photographing. It also introduced vague offences, such as having ‘links’ with a member of an ‘international terrorist group’” (ibid, p.14). This legislation also allowed suspects to be detained indefinitely without trial and on the basis of secret evidence.
- The same legislation also allowed evidence obtained by torture to be used in trials. The then Foreign Secretary defended this on the grounds that “…you never get intelligence which says, ‘here is intelligence and by the way we conducted this under torture’…It does not follow that if it is extracted under torture, it is automatically untrue” (ibid, p.18).
- The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 introduced Control Orders in place of unlimited detention without trial, which had been ruled illegal. These orders may restrict suspects to their own homes, limit their means of communication, control the people they have contact with, and permit searches at any time. “Thus under the PTA 2005, the UK authorities have, in effect, retained the power to order indefinite deprivation of liberty without charge or trial on the basis of secret intelligence” with the added advantage that “only now this power applies to UK and foreign nationals alike” (ibid, p.24).
Against terrorism and anti-terrorism
While Amnesty International is concerned that these measures undermine the rule of law, for us this is not the question. The law is merely a smokescreen to hide the fact that the bourgeoisie’s rule is always based on its position as the exploiting class; a position ultimately based on violence. Anti-terrorism is merely the latest trick to justify and defend the dictatorship of the ruling class. The measures taken today serve to cow and manipulate the fear that has been instilled into people. They are used to draw people behind the state against the ‘enemy’. The truth is that terror springs from the very heart of rotting capitalism. The war on terror has merely spread terror. Terrorism and anti-terrorism are two sides of the same coin. The bourgeoisie has no interest in protecting the working class as it has shown in war after war. And when the working class dares to raise its hand against capitalism, when it tries to defend itself, the mask soon slips. During the miners’ strike in Britain in the 1980s workers were prevented from moving about the country, their homes were raided, their families harassed while hundreds were beaten up and imprisoned. To Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister, they were the “enemy within”. The working class is always the enemy within because they are the only force that can really threaten the position of the ruling class. So, in the end, all of the repressive forces of the state are aimed against it. Already the current anti-terrorism laws have been used against protestors. We can be in no doubt that when the working class struggles the full range of powers will be turned against it. However, the only real defence against the rise of terrorism and the repressive response of the state is the class struggle. This is the only real ‘war on terror’ because this is the only way that the terror of capitalism can be ended. 1/7/06 North