Law ‘n’ Order By William Bowles

26 November 2003

What the state ‘giveth’, the state can take away

Marx saw the state as ‘whithering away’ with the building of communism (as opposed to the state under socialism, which is a kind of ‘interim stage’ between capitalism and communism). Moreover, Marx was quite specific about it. Under communism, the state becomes a government of ‘things’ as opposed to a government of people.

Well so much for the power of prediction, as both capitalism and the socialisms we had, saw the state take ever greater powers over its citizens and under the pretext of the proverbial (by now) ‘war on terror’, the state is engaged in what can only be described as a general frontal assault on our individual and collective rights.

In the US with memories of the witch hunts of the 50s and 60s still resonating in peoples’ minds with programmes like COINTELPRO, FBI spying, red scares, and the use of local police forces to compile profiles of citizens who don’t tow the line, the latest round of laws such as:

“the proactive collection of information concerning threats to the national security, including information on individuals, groups, and organizations of possible investigative interest.”

are a chilling reminder that the relationship between the state and the citizen is at best a standoff and at worst, Fascism or its equivilent. And it’s important to understand that the propaganda war being conducted around our much-vaunted ‘democratic values’ is exactly that, propaganda.

As General Tommy Franks reminded us the other day, democracy is (was?) a “great experiment” and like all ‘experiments’ it can be abandoned when past its sell-by date, bringing into sharp focus the reality of ‘actually existing capitalism’, always ready to “impose” its version of ‘democracy’ on faraway places and it take it away from those closest. Perhaps there’s only a finite amount of it (democracy) to go around, so like the law of the conservation of energy, if we ‘give’ it to one person, we gotta take it away from someone else?

And it’s no accident that Franks’ statement comes at a time when ‘democracy’ has become such an ‘inconvenience’ to the continuation of capitalism, for how else is the imperium to foist its unpopular policies on us unless under the pretext of some vast ‘conspiracy’ that requires that we are no longer protected from the ‘excesses’ of the state?

Have you never wondered why those in power never object to imposing such restrictions on us peons? It’s because for the rich and the power elite, the issue of civil rights, freedom of expression and all the other ‘luxuries’ of the bourgeous democracy are not a problem for them, as they make the laws that are never applied to them.

Such rights as we have won and at great sacrifice, invariably restrict the ‘rights’ of the ruling class to screw us, hence restrictions on our ability to freely associate, to engage in open opposition to capitalism and its policies (even if we don’t all view them in this light), are rights that once taken away, no matter what the pretext, are immensely difficult to take back.

To some reading this essay, this might read like teaching you to suck eggs as they say, but I beg you to forgive me, as the rise of what the state likes to call terrorism, has thrown a proverbial spanner in the works for those of us engaged in less extreme forms of opposition to the imperium. After all, the terrorist often targets innocent bystanders, although some ‘terrorists’ would argue that none of us are innocents, we are all the ‘beneficiaries’ of the imperium’s policies, even if only in an indirect way.

The problem of course is that the terrorism practiced by the state not only has the force of the state’s ‘legitimacy’, it also has the blessing of the corporate media, ever anxious to do the bidding of its masters, that is after all, one of its prime objectives. And critically, it’s never called terrorism. As I pointed out the other day, the current moniker is “coercive democratisation”, just as the terror raids of WWII were called “strategic bombing” and the innocent victims of the imperium in Iraq, Afghanistan or wherever, are “collateral damage”. Would the media describe the victims of Istambul, Palestine/Israel or 9/11 as merely ‘collateral damage’? I think not, just as the ‘terrorists’ view those of us unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, as part of the war.

I was at one time in my chequered past, the (inadvertent) target of terrorist bombing, that of Apartheid South Africa and I can testify that it’s no fun to know that had I been just a few minutes (or seconds even) early or late, it might have been me. That they could have blown me to pieces had they really wanted to, was part of the strategy. Nothing personal of course, just a warning to us that they knew where we were (security was not a strong point of the ANC).

Are the two sides ‘equal’ in an awful equation of death? What’s the difference between some guy in an F-16, no doubt listening to the latest Britney Spears in his pressurised cockpit as he targets the ‘enemy’ on his display and that of the ‘suicide bomber? Quite a bit, for in the former, the chances of being killed or even called to task for his terrorism are less than nil, whereas in the latter, he (or she) is already dead.

The ‘terrorist’ bomb is either a signal of utter frustration and impotence or a provocation on the part of the imperialists, but separating the two is most often impossible. On the other hand, the F-16, cruise missile or carpet bombing from 50,000 feet up has all the elements of a premeditated and carefully planned terrorist act. Hence the whinging and the whining of the ‘liberal’ commentators who describe ‘terrorists’ as “animals”, “maniacs” and “psychopaths” are to be despised for their hypocrisy and complicity in the lies as they retreat into their phony morality (you know who you are). All deaths are by no means equal.

Do I defend the ‘terrorist’ who takes out the ‘innocent’? Nope, for me as it was for Lenin (whose brother ineptly tried to blow up the Tsar), it’s often a sign of political impotency and infantilism. On the other hand, I would draw a distinction between legitimate attacks on the state and its agents under specific conditions and what I believe is the counter-productive act of planting a bomb in a crowded marketplace.

3000 people died in the Twin towers, 3 million were killed in Vietnam. But terror breeds terror even if they are unequal kinds of terror. Of course it’s very easy for the state and the corporate media to lump them all altogether and (deliberately) fail to acknowledge the difference, just as it refuses to condemn the state’s monopoly on the use of violence simply because it has the force of ‘law’.

Mandela, folk hero of the planet was once labelled a terrorist by the same people who now féte him. Not for him the description of ‘psychopath’ or ‘fanatic’. But an ANC friend of mine who planted a bomb in a bar frequented by the SADF and instead killed civilians, is haunted by his actions, which at the time, had the backing of the ANC as a legitimate tactic to be used against state terrorism. To this day, he is still vilified in sections of the South African media as a murderer. Where is the line? I assisted indirectly simply by preparing diagrams on where to place explosive charges on electricity pylons as part of a sabotage campaign. Am I too, guilty? And if I am, is my act equal to the terrorism of the state?

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