Workers Hammer No. 246
Down with racist war on terror!
Labour: bloodhound for British imperialism
Boris Johnson’s government is invoking the spectre of domestic terrorism to justify repression at home and imperialist machinations abroad. As in its threats against Iran today, the government aspires to play a greater role in helping to enforce the US-dominated world order. Johnson dreams of the old imperial “Pax Britannica”, which meant a boot on the neck of Britain’s colonies. At home, the Tories promise more police, more racist stop-and-search, more prisons, more government secrecy complemented by more spying on everyone from school children to NHS patients.
Labour governments laid much of the foundation for the “anti-terror” repression on which today’s Tory government seeks to build. Labour has always acted as a bloodhound for racist British imperialism. Although the party’s left leaders such as Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott frequently criticise the “war on terror” for targeting Muslims, they also promote the racist big lie used to sell it: that increased state repression is needed to protect the population from Islamic terrorists. When, before the election, a deranged individual stabbed five people on London Bridge, killing two, Corbyn tried to outflank the Tories from the right on augmenting the apparatus of state repression.
In its election campaign, Labour promised to hire 2000 more police than the Tories would, to hire more prison guards, to fund NATO, continue Trident and support the “long-term future” of the arms industry. Labour even committed to revamping the hated Prevent strategy, under which individuals are investigated by police for the thought crime of “non-violent extremism”, a category elastically defined as beliefs that conflict with “British values”. As we noted in “Anti-Muslim ‘Prevent’ programme: Danger to everyone’s rights” (Workers Hammer no 240, Winter 2017-18), this can include “anything from speaking a foreign language to defending the oppressed Palestinians against Zionist terror”. A June 2019 list distributed by “counter-terrorism” police as part of the Prevent programme ominously included a plethora of leftist organisations, as well as the bourgeois environmentalist Extinction Rebellion.
The state does not exist to safeguard the interests of the population as a whole; its existence is a product of the division of society into classes with mutually antagonistic interests. The capitalist state — the core of which consists of the cops, courts, prisons and armed forces — exists to maintain the class rule and property of the bourgeoisie through organised violence against workers and the oppressed. As has been demonstrated repeatedly throughout the “war on terror”, any increase in the capitalist state’s arsenal of repression will be used against those at the bottom of society, with the multiethnic working class, on whose exploitation capitalism is based, being its ultimate target.
The big lie
The “war on terror” is a political fiction: a war without an end, a defined enemy or a battlefield. In the context of glaring social inequality, it has provided a pretext to suppress dissent and regiment the population. As the Blair Labour government joined the US rulers in waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq, on the home front it set about shredding democratic rights won through hard-fought battles dating back to the English Civil War. Hundreds of foreign nationals were rounded up, accused of terrorism on supposed evidence that the government refused to disclose.
The 7 July 2005 suicide bombings on London Transport, which killed 52 and wounded hundreds, were criminal atrocities whose perpetrators shared the mindset of the imperialists, identifying the whole of the population with the policies of the ruling class. Blair seized on these horrific attacks to apply the shoot-to-kill policy which had long been wielded against the Catholic population in Northern Ireland. Two weeks after the bombings, on 22 July, Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes was killed in cold blood by police who shot him seven times in the head as he sat on a Tube train. The cop execution of de Menezes exemplifies what the domestic “war on terror” means in flesh and blood.
“War on terror”-style repression has a long and sordid history in Britain’s former colonies, including the internment of whole villages in Malaya and the savage repression of the Kikuyu people in Kenya in dirty colonial wars in the 1950s. Likewise, at home: it reflects the ruling class’s hatred and fear of those it exploits and oppresses. To end the brutality of capitalist class rule requires a socialist revolution that replaces the capitalist state — which the Labour Party has worked so hard to enhance — with the class rule of the proletariat.
No to “anti-extremist” bans!
Muslims currently bear the brunt of the “war on terror”. But the British imperialists first tested out many of these repressive measures, including the criminalisation of organisations the government deems terrorist, against the Catholic population in Northern Ireland. After imposing a military state of siege in the North in 1969, the Labour government of Harold Wilson pushed through the (supposedly temporary) Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1974.
In addition to instituting detention without charges and removing alleged Republican sympathisers and their descendants from Britain, the act banned the Irish Republican Army. In 2000, the Blair government expanded the list of proscribed organisations to encompass the whole world, lumping together nationalists like the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), leftists like the Greek 17 November group and various Islamic fundamentalist outfits.
Also included on the proscribed list in 2016 was the fascist National Action. In the context of recent fascist attacks on mosques and other targets, Diane Abbott argues that government repression (and “counter-terrorism” policies such as Prevent) should be used against the fascists in Britain. “Anti-extremist” legislation will inevitably be used against workers and the oppressed, while the bourgeoisie will continue to hold the fascists in reserve to unleash when its class rule is threatened.
Against the Labourites’ reliance on the capitalist state, what is needed to sweep the fascists off the streets is mass mobilisations centred on the trade unions and drawing behind them all the fascists’ intended victims. Such actions will help make the working class conscious of its social power and revolutionary potential to sweep away the capitalist system that breeds fascism.
Abbott was among more than 100 Labour MPs who voted for Theresa May’s sinister 2019 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act (with not a single Labour vote against). That act expanded the proscription policy so that, as we noted in “New law steps up racist ‘war on terror’” (Workers Hammer no 245, Summer 2019): “You can now face up to 15 years in prison if you post a selfie with an IRA emblem visible in the background; or if you happen to click on a website associated with an organisation, such as the Kurdistan Workers Party.” Since then, the police have begun to round up individuals in Britain on suspicion of supporting the PKK.
We oppose Britain’s imperialist rulers, who have perpetrated some of the most vicious boodletting on the planet, banning organisations — including those that have actually carried out terrorist attacks. At the same time, we Marxists oppose individual terrorism as a strategy, even when it derives from a real, if misguided, impulse to defend the oppressed. Terrorism is counterposed to the mobilisation of the masses, and it almost always gets innocent victims.
The attitude of the workers movement to those who perpetrate acts of terror is determined by the concrete circumstances. We stand for the defence of Irish Republicans when they take aim at the British Army, Northern Ireland state forces and Loyalist paramilitaries. Such was the case, for example, when the Real IRA killed two British soldiers in the Massereene army base in Antrim in 2009, even though two civilian pizza delivery men were also injured. But Irish Republicans embrace the genocidal logic of bourgeois nationalism (as does the PKK), which identifies entire peoples as the enemy, rather than the bloody ruling classes.
Thus they have perpetrated random acts of indiscriminate terror against innocent people which are simply crimes from the standpoint of the working class. For example, on 21 November 1974, IRA bombs went off in two pubs in Birmingham, killing 21 people. This atrocity was key to whipping up a wave of anti-Irish hysteria in Britain that paved the way for the passage of Labour’s 1974 Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Finally putting an end to the horrors of imperialist rule — racist oppression, exploitation and war — requires workers revolution. The Labour leaders aim to subordinate the working class to its bourgeois exploiters. A party that will lead the struggle against the capitalists can be forged only through political combat against Labourism, in particular the deadly illusion that the capitalists’ apparatus of state repression can be used to advance the interests of working people and the oppressed.