Editorial: War, Plots and Civil Liberties
Was there really a plot to blow up transatlantic airliners or were the police just using a pretext to fish for information by rounding up and questioning people they suspected were up to something without knowing precisely what?
Will ministers eventually say, as they did after the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes and after the raid on that house in Forest Gate when another innocent man was shot, that it’s better to err on the side of safety? Better a few innocents are shot than a terrorist act in which hundreds die?
Whatever the truth, the “security alert” last month in which a terrorist attack was said to be “imminent” allowed the state to project itself as the defender of the public. It is no such thing. The state is controlled by pro-capitalist politicians who pursue policies they consider to be in the general interest of British capitalism, even to the extent of putting the lives of the general public at risk.
The present government, led by Blair, has decided that it is in the best interest of the British capitalist class to tag along behind the US government’s global pretensions, especially its so-called “War on Terror”, which is really a struggle with certain Middle East states and disaffected Arab elites and their supporters for control of that oil-rich region.
The US government is committed to furthering the interests of US capitalism, which don’t necessarily coincide with those of British capitalism, and there are pro-capitalist politicians in Britain, some apparently within the cabinet, who think that Blair might have gone too far in his pro-US stance. But it is not up to us as socialists to judge which politicians best represent the interest of the British capitalist class.
It is this pro-US capitalism policy option that has put the “British public” in danger by making them legitimate targets in the eyes of the Islamist opponents of US domination of the Middle East. It is just plain ridiculous for government ministers to try to deny this. What makes it worse is that neither the attack on Iraq nor (even less) giving Israel more time to bomb Lebanon enjoyed majority popular support.
But no government can leave such a vital decision as to whether or not to go to war to a popular vote. This is because the role of governments is to be “the executive committee of the ruling class” and, as the interests of the capitalist ruling class are at variance with those of the rest of us, such a decision cannot be left to us as there is no guarantee that our decision will coincide with what the ruling class judge to be in their interest. In fact, in the case of war, people spontaneously tend to be against it.
It is true that, as most people do support capitalism, if a government launches an effective enough propaganda barrage it can generally persuade people to support a war. But this takes time and decisions about war cannot wait. Blair is on record as saying that as a leader it is his duty to give a lead on going to war, even against majority popular opinion. In Britain, until recently and still formally, going to war was a government decision that didn’t require even parliamentary approval.
Democracy and war are in fact incompatible. States have to have a minimal degree of popular support to function, but this need not extend much further than allowing the populace to decide every few years which group of pro-capitalist politicians are to staff the state and, exercising “leadership”, use it to further national capitalist interests.
Truth may be the first casualty of war, but civil liberties come a close second. Whether real or manufactured, “terror plots” and “security alerts” provide a pretext for a state to further erode civil liberties inherited from a more liberal past, as the string of laws introduced by the Blair government to increase the powers of the state bears witness.
It can’t be denied that there is a conflict going on involving attacks on innocent civilians on both sides. In Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon the US and /or its allies bomb villages and villagers. In America on 11 September five years ago and in Britain last 7 July, the other side killed innocent workers at or on their way to work. Socialists condemn both sides. And we don’t swallow the propaganda that the state is there to protect us.