State hits right to publish

Last week’s jailing of three anarchists marks a fresh assault on the right to publish which should be condemned by the entire working class.

It came as the government looks set to launch an attack on the jury system itself. Home secretary Jack Straw seems likely to reverse his earlier opposition to removing the right to elect trial by jury for minor offences, in view of the “substantial support” shown in the consultation exercise set up by the Tories.

At present those charged with offences such as theft, burglary and petty assault can opt to be tried by a jury, rather than risk a summary decision by an unelected reactionary magistrate. It is widely acknowledged that defendants are more likely to be acquitted by a jury, but opponents of the right to be tried in the crown court describe those who opt to exercise it as “playing the system” (The Daily Telegraph November 15).

What really concerns them is the fact that crown court proceedings cost around £8,000 per person per day. Whereas Straw previously condemned the Conservative proposals as “unfair, short-sighted and likely to prove ineffective”, now he holds the purse strings he is starting to sing a different tune.

The three anarchists, Stephen Booth, Saxon Burchnall-Wood and Noel Molland - militant ecological and animal rights campaigners - were each sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for publishing articles in the Green Anarchist which allegedly incited readers to commit crimes. These included smashing windows, burning buildings and sending parcel bombs. While no evidence was presented that the defendants had themselves planned any such actions, let alone tried to carry them out, the publication of the articles were deemed sufficient to convict them of “conspiracy to incite others” to commit criminal damage. Neither was there any evidence that criminal damage had been contemplated by “others” as a result of reading the articles.

Catch-all conspiracy charges have been widely used where the state has feared it would be unable to obtain a conviction for the substantive offence. The judge in an Angry Brigades trial three decades ago notoriously illustrated how easy it is to ‘prove’ conspiracy. He gave the example of two people standing outside a jeweller’s store, one of whom is holding a brick. All that is necessary to establish conspiracy is proof that “a knowing look” was exchanged between the two people. It is not necessary to establish that there was an attempt to throw the brick, nor that the two people knew each other, let alone ever exchanged words.

Last week’s trial adds a new twist to the use of the conspiracy laws, in that none of the defendants were accused of even glancing at a ‘brick’ themselves. These outrageous charges and sentences represent an attack on the right to think and publish openly - something which can be used against any revolutionary, and particularly against the revolutionary organisations of the working class.

Communists do not hide their intention of ‘inciting’ workers to use the violence of the majority against the oppressive ruling class. We have no doubt that the state will use every method at its disposal to maintain the monopoly of the minority over the ‘legitimate’ use of violence.

The action against animal rights campaigners is an outrage. But those who fight for bigger things, for the liberation of humanity, can expect much worse.

Peter Manson