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British police: Murderous troops of a racist state


Roland Adams, Panchadcharam Sahitharan, Navid Sadiq, Mohammed Sarwar, Siddik Dada, Donald Palmer, Rohit Duggal, Ruhullah Aramesh, Ashiq Hussain, Khoaz Aziz Miah, Sher Singh Sagoo, Fiaz Mirza, Stephen Lawrence, Saied Ahmad, Ali Ibrahim, Donna O’Dwyer, Mohan Singh Kullar, Mushtaq Hussain, Liam Harrison, John Reid, Michael Menson, Manish Patel, Lahkvinder ‘Ricky’ Reel, Imran Khan, Farhan Mohomoud Mire, Sheldon Anton Bobb.

These are only a few of those who have been killed in racially motivated attacks in Britain since 1991. The case of black teenager Stephen Lawrence has received widespread media attention. Other cases were less publicised. Many cases we probably do not even know about.

Stephen Lawrence was stabbed by a gang of white men in south London in 1993. The charges against the accused were dropped due to ‘insufficient evidence’. The fact that we still remember Stephen Lawrence is due to the tireless campaign by his family, friends and supporters who demand justice and who refuse to forget. They refuse to forget that it was the police who proved unable and unwilling to investigate the murder of Stephen Lawrence. They refuse to forget that his murderers are still at large. They refuse to forget that Stephen’s murder was no exception in capitalist Britain.

It comes as no surprise that the police failed to arrest Stephen’s murderers and provide sufficient evidence for a conviction. The police themselves are guilty of racist murder: Roger Sylvester, Joy Gardener, Shiji Lapite, Brian Douglas and Wayne Douglas were all killed by the police.

Those who are responsible are protected by their colleagues and superiors. The very fact that there was an enquiry into police handling of the murder of Stephen Lawrence was highly unusual. However, those who expected the truth to be established were badly

disappointed. The most significant revelation of the Macpherson report were the names and addresses of the 28 people who were questioned as witnesses by the police! This ‘mistake’ was compounded by the fact that copies of the report were given to the men originally arrested. Since then a number of the witnesses have received death threats and had to move away.

The publication of this report prompted announcements by police chief Paul Condon and Home Secretary Jack Straw about the creation of a new anti-racist police force with recruitment targets of improbable numbers of blacks and other racial minorities. In turn this has created media speculation about a new anti-racist era for Britain. Both are fantasies.

What the case of Stephen Lawrence and the bungled inquiry actually reveal is that the police and courts can be relied on first and foremost to serve their own interests and those of their masters. The police are not a neutral agent in society whose task it is to regulate the traffic and show tourists the way to Buckingham Palace. Their task is far more complex and brutal. The defence of the capitalist system requires a specially trained and armed force that can suppress all its opponents. This is where the police come in.

There are many examples of the police protecting fascist demonstrations (or the BNP's Welling headquarters), and then moving to attack anti-fascist protesters. Twenty years ago, Blair Peach was killed by police on a Southall demonstration against the National Front. If, after the Brixton bomb for which they may have been responsible, Combat 18 or other fascists are stepping up racist attacks, their victims cannot rely on the state for much help. In fact, calls on the state to ban fascist organisations cause more harm than good, as such legislation has historically been used against leftists more often than its ostensible targets.

Racism as a capitalist tool

Naturally, the state does not rely on brute force alone. It also employs ideological weapons which aim to turn the victims of capital against each other. State racism ranges from overt anti-immigrant propaganda by politicians and the media, to coded attacks on drug users, to the daily racism encountered in interaction with state institutions such as government offices and the prison system. All this serves two purposes. It deflects attention from the true causes of unemployment, poverty and crime, and it prevents black and white people from struggling together against their common enemy. As a defender of the capitalist system the police force must act in accordance with one of its main ideological pillars – racism.

All around the world people fight back against racism, exposing the roots of racism, identifying racism in the police force and defending victims of racist attacks. By their very actions they point towards an alternative to racism and capitalism. However, they can also become the target of the state and its racist institutions themselves.

As well as those killed by police in Britain, there have been blatant frame-ups and miscarriages of justice like those involving Satpal Ram and Winston Silcott (both still behind bars despite overwhelming evidence that their ‘crimes’ were carried out in self-defence), the Birmingham 6 and the Guildford 4. The draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act is used against suspected Irish republicans, who have also been victims of murder by the British state (Diarmuid O’Neill, the Gibraltar shootings) and against racial minorities such as the Kurds protesting the Turkish state’s capture of Abdullah Öcalan.

US state plans racist execution

A key example of police racism and political victimisation is currently highlighted in the United States. Seventeen years ago, the Philadelphia police and their cronies in the ‘justice’ system targeted black journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. His lifelong struggle against racism and police brutality prompted the state to frame him for murder of a police officer. He was charged with a crime he did not commit and sentenced to death. Still on death row, he is now in immediate danger of execution.

IBT comrades in Britain and around the world are campaigning for Mumia’s freedom. This is not a case only of significance in America. If a massive international campaign can prevent the most powerful imperialist state in the world from wilfully executing an outspoken critic, this will be a huge step forward and morale boost for the international workers’ movement. Beginning on page 4 is an international IBT statement about the case and its wide-ranging political implications.

At the present time, the British state does not make use of the death penalty, but the police here, as in America, are quite capable of execution without the benefit of this legal covering. As well as individuals killed by the police on the street and even in their homes, deaths in custody are high. These deaths should be laid firmly at the door of the system in whose prisons they died.

Racism and the state

So how should we respond to racism in general and state racism (in the police, the judicial system etc.) in particular? Some organisations on the left argue that immediate steps to fight racism should include a reform of the police. The Socialist Workers Party, for example, has been calling on Jack Straw to ‘Sack Paul Condon!’. But why should the ‘tough on crime’ Home Secretary sack the chief of the Metropolitan Police? As far as Jack Straw is concerned, Paul Condon does a good job and is not what he would call a racist. The SWP simply do not see what is obvious: Jack Straw and Paul Condon have fundamental agreement on how to maintain capitalist rule in Britain.

The Socialist Party are even more openly reformist than the SWP. They argue for an ‘accountable police force’. For the SP the police force are not enemies of the workers but instead ‘workers in uniform’ who should be part of the trade union movement! All we need are some democratic reforms and the police will serve ‘the community’. This is directly counterposed to the necessary process of replacing the capitalist police by workers’ militias – a force that would serve the interests of an entirely different class. Perhaps the SP fears this slogan would alienate ‘progressive elements’ in the police force.

A different attitude is displayed by the comrades from the Communist Party of Great Britain. They correctly denounce the reformist notions of the SWP and SP but end up denying the fact that racism has been integral to the operation of capitalist society from its inception. As we noted in 1917 No. 12 (1993):

‘Racism is rooted in the historical development of capitalism as a world system. It has proved through several centuries to be a useful and flexible tool for the possessing classes. It justified the brutal wars of conquest and genocide, which established the European colonial empires. It rationalized the slave trade, which produced the primitive accumulation of capital necessary for the industrial revolution.’

While xenophobia had existed during antiquity, ‘racism’, i.e., the attribution of certain qualities to human beings on the basis of skin colour or other visible distinguishing physical features, was unknown prior to the development of capitalist society. It arose as an ideological rationalisation for the massacre of colonial subjects and the development of chattel slavery.

But according to the CPGB, ‘Clearly, anti-racism is now part and parcel of bourgeois ideology.’ (Weekly Worker 278, 4 March 1999) This is at best naive. Is it possible that the CPGB is credulous enough to simply take the anti-racist statements that mainstream politicians are quite capable of making from time to time at face value? Would they have swallowed equivalent promises of full employment or an end to poverty equally easily? They even entertain the thought that ‘it is entirely possible for the state to launch a campaign to purge the police of racists.’ (ibid.) This begs two questions: Why has the state not done this long ago? And is it even possible?

It is true that overt racism is no longer acceptable in the way it once was in the pronouncements of politicians (though anti-immigrant propaganda remains prevalent). However, a Marxist analysis cannot restrict itself to an examination of statements made by the bourgeoisie and its allies. It must take into account the concrete action of these forces and start from the contradictions that exist between their rhetoric and actual deeds. Covert racism is endemic – the nice anti-racist sentiments spouted by Tony Blair, Jack Straw and the mainstream press are simply camouflage. The CPGB position would seem to imply a reformist view of the nature of the state – which consists not only of Blair and Straw, but also the state bureaucracy, the judiciary, the immigration controls and the armed bodies that defend this system. For the capitalists to actively seek to root out racism would mean undermining one of the key mechanisms of their rule.

The same politicians who have recently been appearing on TV and expressing their horror at the murder of Stephen Lawrence are busy tightening immigration controls and ordering deportations. They administer a system where 16 percent of the prison population is black, compared with 5.5 percent of the general population, where blacks are much more likely to be stopped in the street by the police, where black children have a greater chance of living in poverty than white. This is the real story behind the pious anti-racist pronouncements. If we followed the logic of the CPGB we could have only concluded one thing when John Major announced his intention of building ‘a classless society’: He is a communist!

Racism, reform and revolution

The forces of the state have one fundamental unified aim, to preserve the system based on the private ownership of capital – but this is also a deeply contradictory system which is forced to hide its real nature in order to maintain its rule. The working class and all other victims of capitalism must organise to take advantage of these contradictions and put forward a programme that fights for the interests of all the oppressed, defended by a party that can lead the struggle and knows the nature of its enemies.

This means organising apart from and giving no support to a ‘Labour’ Party which has pledged itself not to expose but to cover up these contradictions, and to use its ties with the union movement to hold back independent working class action. This is the traditional role of social democracy and Labour has shown itself to be more than equal to the task. At night they viciously bomb Serbian cities; at day they work to avoid admitting too many Kosovan refugees and to deny civil rights and decent living standards to refugees of many nationalities who are already here. All refugees should have full citizenship rights!

The state may change and reform itself in various ways but it cannot change its fundamental character unless the working class smashes it by revolutionary action. It will always use the police and courts in order to oppress, maim and murder. For those who are in any doubt about this, may this statement by Paul Hill of the Guildford 4 after he was exonerated and released from jail serve as a reminder: ‘I cannot forget that the judge at my trial said that he regretted that he could not sentence me to death.’