Workers Hammer No. 245

Summer 2019


New law steps up racist “war on terror”

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 (PKK), deemed “terrorist” by the government. These are among the numerous acts subject to criminal prosecution under the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, which came into effect in April.

This new law is the latest domestic expression of the global “war on terror” under which the imperialists ride roughshod over neocolonial peoples around the world. The accusation of “terrorism” provides the state with a licence to suspend democratic rights, criminalise political activity, as in the case of the IRA and the PKK, and ultimately to engage in legalised murder. This assault on civil liberties, especially the rights of Britain’s beleaguered Muslim minority, further enlarges the powers of repression available to the capitalist state.

In addition to the provisions cited above, the law extends the government’s power to prosecute British citizens for alleged crimes committed abroad: if you raise funds or offer support for a Muslim charity or a Kurdish or Tamil organisation while abroad, you could find yourself facing jail time when you return home. Another clause makes it an offence, punishable by up to ten years in prison, to travel to any part of the world deemed off-limits by the home secretary. Sajid Javid has announced that this will apply to parts of Syria, including the Kurdish-dominated northeast, and may be extended to parts of West Africa. In future, the Home Office might make it a crime to visit Russia or Venezuela or any country British imperialism has chosen to demonise.

The far-ranging aspects of this law throw the net wide for government fishing expeditions to frame up anyone it wants to see behind bars. The Act’s mere presence on the statute books is intended to have a chilling effect on any who might challenge the depredations of British imperialism. But what the government is actually able to get away with will ultimately be determined by the level of class and social struggle.

This latest assault on elementary democratic rights breezed through Parliament with barely a whisper of opposition. Over 100 Labour MPs, led by shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, voted for the law while Jeremy Corbyn and the rest absented themselves from the vote. In 2017 Corbyn seized on the criminal Manchester bombing to attack the Tories for reducing the number of cops on the street while the party’s election manifesto called for greater military spending and more cops, prison guards and border police. Abbott repeated those sentiments during the Commons debate on the bill in June last year, chiding the government that “Laws, whatever their merit, become a dead letter without police officers.”

Such criticism of the Tories from the right is an expression of Labour’s fundamental allegiance to the British capitalist order, whose “democratic” trappings are a cover for the class dictatorship of the exploiters. But Labour’s support for augmenting the state’s repressive powers does not at all deter the party’s reformist cheerleaders. Abbott, in addition to being Labour’s prospective top cop for racist British capitalism, is president of Stand Up To Racism, the liberal lash-up promoted by the Socialist Workers Party.

The British rulers have long been world leaders in producing tyrannical “counter-terrorism” legislation. The new law amends the Terrorism Act 2006 and the Terrorism Act 2000, both of which were introduced by Blair Labour governments. The latter was a more draconian replacement for the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974, instituted by Harold Wilson’s Labour government to target Irish Republicans. The current counter-terrorism laws are part of a vast arsenal of entrapment, surveillance and repression aimed particularly at oppressed minorities (see “Anti-Muslim ‘Prevent’ programme: Danger to everyone’s rights”, Workers Hammer no 240, Winter 2017-2018).

And more is in the pipeline. On 20 May Javid announced plans for a new Espionage Bill and “updates” to the treason laws. Javid justifies these new measures as intended to counter alleged “hostile state activity”, specifically by capitalist Russia and the Chinese deformed workers state. The main aim however is to prevent “unauthorised disclosures”, ie to seal the lips of any who would expose the ongoing crimes of British imperialism and its American senior partner around the world. As an article on the technology website (20 May) notes, Javid is “charging ahead with new laws intended to criminalise any British copycats of Edward Snowden — and allowing a future crackdown on Huawei”.

Javid also pledged to continue stripping Britons of their citizenship, as he did earlier this year to Shamima Begum, a British-born teenager who spent four years living with ISIS in Syria. Revocation of citizenship used to be rarely applied but has dramatically expanded in recent years. Since 2016 the government has removed the citizenship of around 120 people. Citizenship is the right to have rights; to be rendered stateless is to be made a non-person, sometimes literally. Two Londoners were assassinated by US drone strikes in Somalia in 2012 after being stripped of their citizenship.

While increasing their domestic repression, the British imperialists continue to wreak death and destruction abroad. The list of organisations proscribed as “terrorist” is a virtual roll-call of the victims of British imperialism. It includes Irish Republicans, Sikh, Kurdish, Palestinian and Tamil organisations, as well as Islamist groups in the Near East, the Indian subcontinent and other former British colonies.

Around 1000 British troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan and the army is running counter-terrorism “training” missions across Africa. Britain is also providing military support to the Saudi-led war in Yemen. British forces have carried out over 1700 airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria since 2014. After its claim that these strikes had killed only one civilian (among 4000 supposed militants) was met with widespread derision, the Ministry of Defence admitted it had no idea how many civilians it killed. While despising everything that ISIS stands for, we Marxists stressed that every blow ISIS struck against the imperialist forces and their proxies in Iraq and Syria coincided with the interests of the international proletariat. British troops out of the Near East, Africa and Afghanistan!

Frame-ups, spying, infiltration, torture and murder have long been part of the everyday workings of capitalist rule. The veneer of “democracy” is meant to cover the reality of the capitalist state — with its cops, courts, prisons and army — as an apparatus of violence to protect the ruling class and its property and profits against the exploited and oppressed. The ultimate target of the capitalist state’s repression at home is the multiethnic working class, which alone has the social power and interest in overturning capitalist rule and establishing a workers state. For the proletariat to triumph over its exploiters, it is necessary to forge a revolutionary workers party. Rather than the chauvinist and pro-imperialist Labour Party, the working class needs a party that champions all the exploited and oppressed, a party like Lenin’s Bolsheviks which led the working class to power in Russia in 1917.