Capitalist politicians are unprincipled opportunists. Nothing better illustrates this fact than the post-9-11 repressive legislation The Patriot Act in the USA, the response in France to the Paris shootings on January 7, and the Stephen Harper government’s Bill C-51, which was in the works before the random killing of soldiers in Quebec and Ottawa last Fall.
The Paris events, which is the focus of this talk, gave French and allied capitalist heads of state—some 50 presidents and prime ministers, plus top U.S. officials the opportunity for an unprecedented show of unity under the slogan “I am Charlie Hebdo.” Consider the rank hypocrisy of the perpetrators of war and systematic violence coming together to pose as defenders of “free speech, liberty, fraternity, and democratic rights.” Virtually all of them have played a leading role in suppressing, if not murdering, opposition currents in their own countries and around the world wherever their troops engage in the ruthless murder of oppressed people.
An article by Parisian journalist George Kazolias, subtitled, “The Wages of Intolerance,” captured the grotesque hypocrisy of those who led the Jan. 11 government-sponsored and media-promoted Paris march of 1.6 million people. “Then there were the world leaders, “Ukrainian Prime Minister, Arsenily Yatseyuk, who has neo-Nazis in his government and has done nothing to bring to justice the fascists and their police accomplices who murdered 48 ethnic Russians in Odessa last May.
“There was Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, who has taken numerous measures to muzzle the opposition press, earning the scorn of Reporters without Borders, which ranks his country 64th in press freedom.” Orban has also earned international criticism for encouraging persecution of the Roma people and for his party’s anti-Jewish stance.
Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, whose government slaughtered over 2000 Palestinians last year in its invasion of Gaza, also marched in Paris. While in France, Netanyahu called on French Jews to migrate to Zionist Israel for their “protection.” What hypocrisy! Kazolias, in his article, recalls that noted Israeli historian Shlomo Sand has written, “I am aware of living in one of the most racist societies in the Western world.”
Beating the war drums loudly, the president of the Council of Jewish Institutions in France, Roger Cukierman, declared the attacks in Paris to be the beginning of “World War Three” and likened them to what is happening in “Syria and Gaza.” Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy went further, proclaiming, “War has been declared on France.” Le Figaro’s editorial writer, Ivan Rioufol, joined the chorus with “France is at war. Perhaps at civil war tomorrow. Its enemy is radical Islam, political Islam, Jihadi Islam.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made similar statements about Canada being at war with Jihadi Islam. On that basis Harper may extend Canadian Forces bombing of Iraq.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu joined in the display of ruling-class solidarity. There was no mention of his government’s decades of trampling on freedom of expression, not to mention its ongoing subjugation and war against Turkey’s oppressed Kurdish masses, including during recent months when the Turkish government gleefully stood aside watching the Islamic State try to wipe the canton of Kobanê and its Kurdish defenders off the face of the Earth.
While President Obama did not attend the rally, Jane Hartley, U.S. ambassador to France, was present.
But voices of dissent spoke loud and clear in the U.S., Canada, and around the world. “We are NOT Charlie Hebdo!” read the Dec. 15 statement adopted by the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC).”
“Neither do we condone the bombings and murder of journalists at their headquarters, however much we are repulsed by their racist, chauvinist and hateful Islamophobic caricatures of oppressed people. Neither do we condone the subsequent murders at the Paris Kosher supermarket”.
“Yes,” the UNAC statement continued “…we are for free speech, freedom of expression and democratic rights for all, including the Muslim and antiwar activists who were banned by the French government from street protests in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, and the Muslim women who are banned from wearing the veil. We are for freedom of expression and the right to exist of Muslim Americans, 700,000 of whom have been investigated or interrogated in the U.S. for being Muslim, or the 1.5 million Latino immigrants in the U.S. who are imprisoned, detained and deported, or the entire world’s people who are victims of the all-pervasive high-tech surveillance of everyone’s personal means of communication by the U.S., France and all other so-called democratic nations.”
Using as a pretext for deepening the concerted and worldwide assault on civil liberties and democratic rights and to justify new wars of conquest, the Jan. 7 bombing of the offices of the racist, Islamophobic, satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo—where a terrorist attack killed 17 journalists—world imperialism has declared yet another “war on terror.” This one includes openly sending U.S. and allied troops to areas of the world, such as Africa, where they have generally operated in a covert manner in the past. The world’s real terrorists believe that Charlie Hebdo can be used to legitimize, in the name of fighting terrorism, their plans for theft and conquest.
The French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle was assigned a week later to head for Iraq to join U.S. and Canadian fighter planes in bombing that nation to smithereens. The French National Assembly is certain to renew its previously “limited” commitment to join the U.S. bombing in Iraq and Syria.
Three thousand French troops have been deployed in Africa to “counter extremist groups in Chad and Mauritania.” Thousands more are stationed in other former French colonies like Mali, where in the name of fighting terrorism they organize to install dictators posing as democrats to protect their “interests,” and murder all who oppose the re-colonization of the African continent now in progress. The current rationalizations to combat terrorism are dutifully employed to demonize all who resist—the same arguments used in previous centuries to justify colonization, plunder and enslavement.
A massive mobilization of French police was ordered by President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Marcel Valls. Ten thousand French troops were deployed across the country to “guard vulnerable sites deemed at risk.” Jewish schools and synagogues were placed high on the list. The objective is to manufacture a terrifying atmosphere of fear, suspicion, and recrimination. Electronic surveillance has been ramped up to “curb jihadist recruitment in prisons and other crucibles of radicalization.” Does this sound familiar?
“The French response,” according to The New York Times, “played into an emerging debate across Europe that pits support for civil liberties against the demands of security officials, who site the attack as evidence of an urgent need to introduce stronger powers to monitor suspects.”
A month earlier, France witnessed a wave of criticism of U.S. mass surveillance of its citizens and of the all-pervasive horrors that were revealed in Diane Feinstein’s $40 million, 6000-page Senate Intelligence Committee report documenting widespread CIA “illegal” detention and torture. France was among several nations which condemned as “draconian” the post-9/11 U.S. reactionary measures like the Patriot Act that made deep incursions into basic civil liberties. Today, that rhetoric has vanished.
We hear of no measures taken to protect the beleaguered Muslim communities that surround Paris, largely populated by impoverished African and Middle Eastern immigrants—where unemployment ranks highest in the nation and social services rank lowest. Unemployment among Muslim youth approaches 40 percent. Close to half of the residents of Muslim communities lack a high school diploma. As in the U.S., police harassment and profiling—stop and frisk, French style—are taken for granted.
There has been little mention of the 50 recorded post-Charlie Hebdo fire bombings or of the racist graffiti-tagged and bullet-ridden mosques; such atrocities meant to terrorize the Muslim population are ongoing and proceed with impunity. France’s Central Council of Muslims reported 21 shootings that targeted Muslim buildings, just in the aftermath of January 7.
There is little mention of the fact that 60 percent of French prisoners are Muslims, or that Muslim women are repeatedly attacked by Islamophobic bigots who tear off their veils (nicab) or even their hijab (traditional clothing). The report of an Islamophobic monster tearing off the veil of a pregnant 21-year-old Muslim woman went largely unnoticed, including the fact that she was thrown to the ground and repeatedly kicked in the stomach, only to lose her unborn child a few hours later in a local hospital. The French police reported that she was “kicked in the side”! There are no nationwide searches for the racist gunmen and bombers!
Long ago, Leon Trotsky sharply counterposed individual acts of terrorism by tiny groups and individuals outraged by imperialism’s never-ending wars, torture, and racist rationalizations, on the one hand, to the necessity of collective and united struggles against the capitalist system itself. He wrote, “To learn to see all the crimes against humanity, all the indignities to which the human body and spirit are subjected, as the twisted outgrowths and expressions of the existing social system, in order to direct all our energies into a collective struggle against this system—that is the direction in which the burning desire for revenge can find its highest moral satisfaction.”
Tragically, in the absence of collective struggles against the system led by conscious mass revolutionary parties deeply rooted in all the struggles of the oppressed and aimed at challenging capitalist rule, the imperialist war makers will continue to prevail—through conquest and occupation, or through the ruination of entire peoples. Under these circumstances, isolated and individual acts of terror will inevitably continue and be used to further fan the flames of hate. As in France, imperialist usurpers will use them to justify their mass terror—that is, unending wars as well the imposition of blanket restrictions on civil liberties for all those who dare to speak out.
One can only wonder whether the words of Charlie Hebdo journalists, or the words of the multitude of journalists from publications throughout France, not to mention the words of the neo-fascist supporters of Marine Le Pen’s National Front, will be subjected to the same scrutiny. Bigots, including those of the liberal or libertarian Charlie Hebdo type as well as their right-wing counterparts, rarely mobilize to defend “free speech” other than their own.
The history of capitalist government bans on free speech—not to mention its restrictions of freedom of association, press and assembly—is pitiful. In the U.S. in recent years a wave of reprisals has been meted out against college professors, including termination, for their public statements opposing Israel’s persecution of Palestinians. Students who assemble to protest the massacre of Palestinians and who organize on campus to support BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against apartheid Israel see their organizations disbanded across the country. A prominent pro-BDS student, Dan Freeman-Molloy, was expelled from York University in Toronto a few years ago.
During the McCarthy era witch hunt of the 1950s, and long afterward, government-invoked “national security” was employed to persecute and imprison radicals of every kind, especially members of the Communist Party (CP) and Socialist Workers Party (SWP). In 1941, the central leadership of the SWP was jailed for 18 months under the notorious Smith Act for their socialist ideas alone. A few years later, the Smith Act and other reactionary laws were used against the CP, with wholesale arrests and imprisonment—again for ideas alone. The “evidence” against the prisoners cited activities such as displaying the works of Karl Marx in their public bookstores.
In Canada, the predecessor organization of Socialist Action, the Revolutionary Workers’ Party, was declared illegal under the War Measures Act. To avoid detection, RWP leader Ross Dowson disseminated a party statement against the repressive law by tossing armfuls of copies from the roof of a downtown Toronto skyscraper.
The witch hunt included legally sanctioned and government-enforced mass expulsion of socialists from trade unions and jobs. Loyalty oaths were mandatory in several cities for everyone teaching in public schools. Travel restrictions, blacklisting in the entertainment and media industries, and a multitude of other fundamental infringements of democratic rights were the rule and remained so for decades.
Today, the invocation of “national security” is once again used for deep incursions into democratic and human rights. The wholesale surveillance of the entire citizenry—as revealed by Edward Snowden—as well as torture and detention, and even the selected murder of American citizens through drone attacks in other countries, are routinely justified by government officials while the courts grant their rubber stamp of approval.
Socialists are ardent defenders of free speech and all other democratic rights won in struggle against government efforts to restrict them. We know full well that so-called hate-crime legislation will inevitably be employed to restrict the rights of radicals and socialists to freely organize and protest. We have no illusions that the bigots organized in groups like the Ku Klux Klan, not to mention racist Tea Party fanatics, or racist police and elected officials, or Canadian ultra-right wingers in the Conservative Party, the National Citizen’s Coalition, the National Foundation, Alliance for the Preservation of English in Canada, Real Women, the Heritage Front, and the Christian Heritage Party, will be punished. Indeed, capitalism intentionally keeps these rabid organizations in reserve—albeit on a short leash and on the margins of society—until they are needed to stoke the flames of murder, hate, and repression.
When that time comes, the hate groups will be joined by the full force of capitalism’s increasingly militarized police and other repressive forces. Armed with the “legal” weapons that are today being systematically put into place, capitalism must resort to repression of a magnitude never before seen as its only “solution” to the rise of mass working-class resistance. We expect that such resistance will arise since U.S., Canadian and world capitalist rulers, enveloped by crisis, have no alternative to their present course of imposing austerity measures on workers and all oppressed peoples.
Only the united and conscious mobilization of the hundreds of millions of capitalism’s victims, here and worldwide, can pose a serious alternative—an alternative aimed at ending the system’s inherent need to oppress and exploit in the interests of the ruling-class “one percent.” The rule of the 99 percent—in which the working class in all its manifestations, in all its nationalities and racial groupings, rules democratically and through its own institutions—can open the door to a bright new socialist society.
The massive so-called ‘anti-terror’ Bill C-51 that Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is rushing through the House of Commons would create a secret police force with powers to spy on Canadians, to break the law in order to disrupt protest groups, and to detain suspects on the thin grounds that a crime “may occur.”
The Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau, after emitting muted criticism, voted for the bill. Trudeau complained about the speed of passage. That prompted pundits to remind the public that Jean Chretien’s Liberal government in 2001 curtailed debate on the first wave of anti-terror laws. Even more telling is the ‘like-father-like-son’ comfort Justin has with repressive statutes. The infamous War Measures Act was imposed by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in October 1970. It resulted in the jailing of hundreds of Quebecois cultural and political personalities who were never convicted of any crime.
It took some time for New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair to finally get off the fence. For weeks he seemed content merely to demand “more oversight” of the expanding Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Socialists call for curtailment of police powers under the capitalist state, not ‘oversight’ by loyal bourgeois appointees.
The fact that Mulcair had to be publicly cajoled into opposing C-51 by aged social democratic icons Ed Broadbent and Roy Romanow, and by legions of social justice activists and civil liberties lawyers, is disturbing. Diplomatically, that’s called ‘leading from the rear.’
Now the task is for the NDP and its labour allies to win working class public opinion to defeat the terror law, and the corporate terrorists behind it.
That will entail ensuring that the defense of civil rights and opposition to imperialist war are made prominent issues in the campaign leading up to the October 19 federal election.
Mass demonstrations held across Canada, in which over 90,000 rallied and paraded on March 14 against Bill C-51, showed that we’re off to a good start.