'Terror plot' ploy
James Turley calls for minority workers to organise in active unity as workers, in defence of the democratic rights of all
Last week’s highly publicised ‘anti-terrorist’ raid in the north-west provoked the usual anti-migrant and anti-Muslim reaction in the rightwing press.
Those detained are suspected of plotting an “Easter spectacular”, in the slightly distasteful words of The Daily Telegraph (April 10), which would involve bombings at civilian ‘soft targets’, such as shopping centres and night clubs. This is not remarkable - we are forever being told that some thuggish police raid has foiled a 24-style carnival of death, after all. (One cannot but recall the patently absurd spectacle of tanks rolling into Heathrow airport, weeks before the invasion of Iraq - as if anything could get off a plane that needed a tank to kill it.)
The ‘unique selling point’ this time, from the reactionary press’s point of view, is the conditions surrounding the presence of these men in Britain. Put simply, they are all on student visas, and overwhelmingly from the world’s new favourite ‘terrorist breeding ground’, Pakistan. As such, rightwing organs like the Telegraph and the Mail are having a field day - the perfect combination of unruly youths, immigration ‘chaos’ and Muslim radicals.
An op-ed piece in the Mail (April 10), in particular, is remarkable. Our author, Michael Burleigh, is an infamously apoplectic historian. He provides us with a long laundry list of Islamist radicals to have traversed the British university system - Anjem Choudary, founder of the banned al-Muhajiroun organisation; Kafeel Ahmed, passenger in the car driven into Glasgow airport in 2007 (halfway through a PhD in computational fluid dynamics, no less); “al Qa’eda mastermind” Dhiren Bharot; and so on.
Why, pray, are our universities so prone to producing threats to national security? Students by and large fall into “the age group from which historically most terrorists have been drawn”. Students can have “technical skills which can be used for bomb-making” (an unorthodox application of computational fluid dynamics, one notes).
But let us not forget that students’ “passions are easily incited and new ideas ingested, often under the sinister guidance of leftwing academics who are as immature as those they are teaching”. Burleigh’s example is the esoteric anthropologist, Chris Knight, a Communist University regular, who has been shamefully suspended from his job at the University of East London, ostensibly on the basis of inciting violence in the run-up to the recent G20 protests.
And if the reader dismisses Knight as a “silly old fool”, says Burleigh, you should remember that “many academics actively propagate a highly politicised view of the world - especially when they teach about the Middle East”. Among these, naturally, Burleigh would no doubt count himself - this is a man whose recent book Sacred causes contained “a photograph of the World Trade Center in flames ... captioned with the statement, ‘This act of mass murder announced the onset of unlimited Islamist aggression against western civilisation’” (now, Mike, tell us what you really think - The Guardian October 28 2006).
Above all, for Burleigh, this is evidence of the “failure of multiculturalism” - favourite cliché of hard-line reactionaries from Labour to the BNP: a motley crew of ‘hate preachers’, vacillating politicians and liberal intellectuals are to blame for cultivating terrorist attacks. If only ‘western civilisation’ were more vigorous in its self-defence ...
In practice, of course, the direct implications of Burleigh’s article are precisely that academics should be censored for being too ‘political’ (ie, even remotely leftwing), that state repression should be employed in order to enforce a homogenous ‘culture’ - those great ‘British values’ that nobody seems to agree on.
The indirect implications are taken up more vigorously by a Telegraph news piece. The headline - “‘Terror plotters’ allowed to stay despite visa breaches” - says it all (April 10): the esteemed Tory broadsheet has learned that at least two of the suspects had violated the terms of their student visas, and that the relevant state departments had not summarily ejected them from the country.
Plainly, the implication goes, the visa system has failed, and needs to be tightened up considerably - but what else do we expect from the government that gave us ‘asylum madness’, hordes of ‘Polish plumbers’, etc? Needless to say, one of the terrible visa violations that were supposed to alert the state to the dangerous extremism of these men amounts to ... getting a job as a security guard - a well known ‘gateway drug’ to mass murder, I’m sure. The simple dictates of logic have never been known to interrupt a Torygraph rant against immigrants, however.
This political programme is not one unfamiliar to us, of course. Were we not exposed to it daily from the Mail and its competitors, we would suffer it in propaganda from the ‘modernised’ British National Party, as well as from the right of the Tory Party (and the mainstream of the Tory Party, when it needs to cultivate its rightwing credentials), and finally from the most completely degenerate elements of the Labour Party (Frank Field and his cohorts).
Yet its ubiquity is on one level surprising - as it is not much less obvious that it is completely utopian (not that it’s much of a utopia) in almost all its respects. It is clear that the flow of migrants continues almost regardless of what concrete immigration policies are pursued by the state - the distinction is between different immigrant experiences when they arrive. The phenomenon of the ‘clean skin’ (the would-be bombers, inasmuch as the police story is true, have been hand-picked to fly beneath the radar of MI5 profiling) is testament to the ease with which people can be brought in and out of a country - particularly one on an island such as Britain, which does not even have the East German/Israeli option of building a wall.
What, then, is the force that sustains this assemblage of reactionary elements? Why do large sections of the bourgeoisie propagate it through political, media and other ideological apparatuses? Firstly, we must note what the ruling class gets out of it - that is, in the first instance, a comparatively strengthened state apparatus, with more powers to regulate the day-to-day activities of its subjects and the (otherwise) free movement of people. A close second priority is to divide the oppressed, and in particular the working class.
The state apparatus can strengthen itself simply by appropriating greater means of military force - but since this is difficult to wield against its own population tout court, a more attractive option (outside of times of revolutionary crisis) is to cultivate an attachment to the bourgeois project among alien classes - particularly the petty bourgeoisie. This attachment is what Marxists since the rise of Russian social democracy have called hegemony.
Immigration alarmism, terrorist panics, hatred of liberalism - all are old tropes of petty bourgeois ideology. Today, however, they are not produced spontaneously by that class so much as they are produced for the latter by the ruling class itself, in defence precisely of its rule. Furthermore, since the petty bourgeoisie overlaps with layers of the working class, its ideologies naturally penetrate - though not without conflict and difficulty - the proletariat as well. The communist programme is, in the last instance, a machine for breaking the hegemony of the ruling class and winning the broad masses to active partisanship in the project of its revolutionary overthrow.
In the present situation, where the world is engulfed in economic turmoil and wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere are increasingly unwin-nable, these ideas are far more dangerous. They are more dangerous because they are more seductive an option for a ruling class widely reviled, particularly in the person of the ‘greedy banker’ - and because the weaker position of the bourgeoisie, combined with the absolute decimation of the workers’ movement since the Thatcher-Reagan years, makes it possible that the reactionary programme will find its purest organisational expression: the rise of the far right.
Against this, communists must defend migrants and threatened minorities. This does not mean defence of ‘multiculturalism’ (in the last instance, another front of bourgeois hegemony - in this case over the petty-patriarchal structures of semi-autonomous ethnic and religious minorities, and consequently the subjection of the Muslim, Pakistani, etc masses to those structures). It means the organised and active unity of minority workers as workers, in the defence of the democratic rights of all.
It is not that (for instance) Muslim workers have a ‘choice’ between communism and the ideologies of the mosque in order to defend themselves politically, and we would prefer for our own, separate purposes, that they chose the former. In reality, the choice is false, as only communism will really defend them.
Likewise, the Mail’s hated liberal academics, if they are to fight off attempts to foist a duty to spy on students (Michael Burleigh foams at the mouth at the temerity of the UCU’s Sally Hunt for doing so) or further restrictions on what they can research and/or teach, must recognise that this struggle is, in the last instance, a class struggle between an increasingly proletarianised layer of the population and its exploiters - direct and indirect.
Above all, we prosecute indefatigably the fight for internationalism - which means the abolition of all borders, and the frustration of all attempts to divide the workers. Internationalism is not a symbolic commitment, but the most basic condition for the success of the communist project.