Shaker Aamer No water for three days. I cannot sleep, or stay awake. Four months hunger strike. Am I dead, or am I alive? With metal tubes we are force fed. I honestly wish I was dead. P J Harvey
Politics of Repression
Make no mistake about it, the legal institutions of liberal democracies are the instruments of repression. Wherever the tentacles of international capital penetrate, its representatives use whatever means necessary to assist in the exploitation of wage labour. Of course, these international capitalists will generate conflicts between themselves and the national bourgeoisie and between themselves and the working class.
The extent and nature of these conflicts are determined by the actual economic situation that exists in particular regions, but the crisis is dealt with at two levels. At the economic level, for example, we see movement of capital, alteration to production and marketing. For example the inability of the American motor car capitalists in the 1970s to compete with Japanese capitalists left thousands of workers jobless throughout the world. The social effect of the struggle between capitalist and worker is felt at a second level, the politico-judicial level with changes in government, a declaration of a state of emergency (Queensland, in 1971 during the Springbok tour and in 1982 during the Commonwealth Games), rapid passing of harsh laws, deployment of troops (Newcastle, 1948), riot squads, increased use of batons, stockpiling of major effective weapons (armalites) and so on.
From the policeman’s and policewoman’s beat, to the flying wedge at a demonstration in the city square, in the courts, in the offices of magistrates and judges, in the cabinet chamber law is written, rewritten, interpreted and reinterpreted, forgotten or enforced in order to maintain the power of the bourgeoisie, to protect their property and to make sure any threat to their dominance is ended, squashed, smashed.
The general intent of the law is to protect the capitalists and their property. The day to day task of the police and legal institutions are set in this direction by the law, by the policy of the police ministry, the policy of the Justice department and the open conspiracy of magistrates, judges and prosecutors. (By open conspiracy I mean that only in special circumstances do judge and prosecutor conspire behind closed doors – for example when the judge, prosecutor and your defence barrister retire to the judges chambers during the trial, some amazing deals are cooked up; you have no knowledge of these deals.) Rather the conspiracy usually takes place by the judge and prosecutor combining to confuse and twist the defence’s argument – a simple practice of presuming guilt and making it difficult to establish innocence).
The law, of necessity, must present an image of impartiality. This attempt to disguise the real nature of law gives it the title of liberal justice. This is the justice of the state that portrays itself, flatteringly, as protecting peoples rights, stopping people from hurting each other, protecting people’s property and protecting freedom.
So we have laws against murder and assault, against stealing, against drugs and drink-driving; we have traffic police and a traffic code. Where, it may be asked, is the element which makes for class oppression? The ruling class, in writing down laws which protect themselves, create a social order for all of us. The theory of equality before the law does not mean in practice that a working class person who is a victim of a crime will receive the same legal satisfaction as when a bank or business is robbed.
The simple fact is that capitalist law, even in its abstract written form oppresses us under capitalism far more than it protects us from crime and criminals created by capitalism. Nonetheless it is important for us to recognise the contradiction between law as it is written down and its actual practice by legal “protectors” such as judges, magistrates and police. In “The German Ideology“, Karl Marx distinguishes the idealist ruling class and the materialist ruling class. Judges are part of the idealist wing of the state. They abstract the material practice of class exploitation into law pretending that it is a fair, rational and moral code.
In its abstract form, law will disguise the fact that capitalism is based on violence and the political powerlessness of the working class. Marx goes on to say that idealist and materialist ruling classes will come into conflict. We see this occur when liberal judges say nasty things about police fabrication of evidence and violence (the Qld Lucas enquiry in the early 1990s was an example).
Campbell-Newman, a materialist representative of the ruling class has defied bourgeois law on a number of occasions (including protecting a cop who bashed a student over the head and protecting “Cedar Bay” thugs). The importance of using the contradictions between idealist judges and materialist police is discussed in the chapter on political court-defence. However it should not be thought that this is the same as expecting one arm of the state to help you in the fight against another arm.
We should not expect, as the Labor Party does, that we can make the courts or the media our allies in the fight against repressive government and its police. We should know about these contradictions, but we should realize that they are only of limited use to us (a liberal judge, under pressure, is likely to shed his guise of fairness, which may give us grounds for appeal but does not help us immediately).
Written law which is massive and confused, can only be, must be viewed in the context of legal practice in our society. There are laws which are obviously repressive in both written form and actual practice.
Two sets of Queensland laws provide good examples.
The laws against abortion condemn women to enforced motherhood and take any control over their future out of their hands.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Acts that existed under Bjelke-Petersen place blacks under the control of a racist government administration. However in many cases, the statutes themselves tell only half the story and the oppressive weight of the law can only be testified to by those who have had the law used against them.
While the law serves the general function outlined here, in certain circumstances, in the midst of capitalist crises and socialist organisation, the law has a special function – the repression of political opposition. We see the “benign” law turn malignant and the “gallant” police of the media turned to the armed force of the state. Gone is the mask of liberal fairness; the policeman and the policewoman are the enemy, both the willing and the unwilling and their function is clear to those who struggle. The judiciary cannot escape; they too join the ranks of the right; they know clearly for what the state pays them. Justice is Blind, but the magistrate sees with rare vision. From the benches they repeat again and again “You ar. guilty to a one if you dare to fight”. These pillars of justice can plead Impartiality, but the working class finds them guilty; in the class struggle they are on the side of private property.
[With thanks to Andy & KW Vista.]