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FROGS apparently boil in water without noticing anything amiss until they are done for.
Or, as Ernest Hemingway put it, you go bankrupt “gradually, then suddenly.”
Democratic rights go the same way. We are being boiled and bankrupted right now.
War has always meant a threat to freedom, and for the Tory government — without dissent from the Labour “opposition” — that threat is opportunity.
The huge mass movement against Israel’s genocidal assault on the Palestinian people has rattled the ruling elite with its sustained and intense anti-imperialist anger.
And the elite has fought back. Sometimes they have not been so smart — Suella Braverman self-immolated by challenging peace protesters and “woke” police simultaneously.
But that was always only a start. Under cover of anti-terror and public order laws the state has been extending the frontiers of the impermissible week in, week out during the Gaza crisis, building on previous anti-protest laws mainly aimed at climate change campaigners.
First, take the assault on the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) — hereinafter CPGBM-L — a small communist group rooted in the anti-revisionist movement of the 1960s.
Its members have been arrested, detained, had their homes raided and their families terrified, their literature, phones and computers confiscated and been subjected to draconian bail conditions over the last couple of months.
Their crime? They have praised the Palestinian resistance and have distributed on the ceasefire marches an anti-zionist pamphlet illustrated with a star of David entwined with a swastika on the cover, apparently a reference to the talks around Jewish emigration between the Hitler regime and some German zionists in 1933.
The whole image is clearly offensive to many Jews — and many other people — and zionism’s history and Israel’s methods today both owe a good deal more to British imperialism than to the peripheral engagement of beleaguered German zionists with the Nazis in 1933.
The Haavara talks were scarcely negotiations between equal parties, as the image may imply, nor did the zionists and the regime have the same intentions, unless intent to destroy and to preserve a community are placed on the same moral plane. German Jews able to leave as a result likely survived the war, while those who remained in Germany almost certainly did not.
The alternative to the talks — which were repudiated by many other zionist leaders at the time — was not living as a minority under the Nazis. It was, as it turned out, discrimination followed by death. So there is no good point to be made by the image of the star of David and the swastika.
But displaying it on a pamphlet sold at an anti-war march should not be an arrestable offence. It forms part of political debate, and there is no right to go through life unoffended.
I spoke to one of the CPGBM-L comrades affected, NHS surgeon Ranjeet Brar, recently. He was first arrested when the police took against their pamphlet.
“They had seen this booklet many times before but this time they said we have to arrest you. Four of us were taken from outside Downing Street to a police station in Sutton, which had been specially reopened for handling arrests at these protests and of Just Stop Oil demonstrators,” he says.
“They then raided our homes, seized literature, hard drives, phones and laptops, and they still have them. We were arrested under sections 5 and 18 of the Public Order Act, which includes intending to incite racist hatred.
“We were bailed on condition of not being allowed to distribute literature or display far-right insignia, as if I was going to carry a swastika.”
The next attack was on the demonstration on January 13. This time, the police waited until the demonstration had passed the point where the CPGBM-L stall had been set up.
“Fifty police then surrounded the stall, arresting three comrades, this time under the Terrorism Act 2000, section 12, for supporting Hamas.” Brar, cognisant of his bail conditions, had merely been addressing the crowd.
“They had been urged on by a blog called Harry’s Place, which seems to be working directly with the police, photographing and videoing us,” then tweeting at the Metropolitan Police to act.
Harry’s Place was established more than 20 years ago by a Reuters sports journalist to rally support for those claiming to be on the left who supported the invasion of Iraq, and has long since morphed into a police-aligned, Islamophobic witch-hunt site.
“This time the police were not interested in the pamphlet,” Brar says, the offending image by now covered with a sticker. It was the group’s support for Palestinian resistance, including by means of armed struggle, which was the issue.
The arrested communists were taken to Hammersmith police station. Brar was protesting outside the station when he was identified as having spoken publicly the previous day, surrounded by about 10 police officers, forcibly separated from his four-year-old son, whose welfare was ignored, and arrested again.
“The police were pretty severe and unaccommodating,” he says. He was eventually released with still more restrictive bail conditions. Again, his home was raided, with his wife and children made to stand outside while it was ransacked.
Eventually, more leaflets and a printer were confiscated, but no armalites or semtex. This was under anti-terror legislation. No charges have yet been brought arising out of either episode.
But Brar is right to say that this is political policing with a clear purpose: “It is about dividing the movement, alienating working-class people from attending demonstrations, and frightening people off.”
Since then there have been reports of arrests of an SWP member leafleting for a demonstration and of a Socialist Appeal member holding a placard referring to an “intifada,” or uprising.
The issue is not whether one agrees with a particular placard or pamphlet. The point is that the police are now restricting what can be said on protests, arresting and harassing socialists for their expressed opinions, at marches where it is all but certain that no-one will feel threatened or menaced.
If the logic being applied by the police today had been used in the 1980s, the anti-apartheid movement would have been criminalised for its support for the African National Congress, which the Thatcher government then held to be a “terrorist” organisation.
New boundaries of the acceptable are being imposed. That is also true of the banning of Hizbut Tahrir, an Islamist group whose advocacy of a reconstituted Caliphate is at once utopian and reactionary, but which is entirely peaceful in its promotion.
This is what their conference stated in 2020: “The world is yearning for change; for an end to this unjust capitalist hegemony. It is not enough to waste our energies reforming capitalism, rather the complete implementation of Islam is the only solution that will end the horror and tyranny that is the secular world order.”
Their proscription follows protests they have held — separate from the main demonstrations — since the Gaza attack demanding that Muslim armies come to the aid of the Palestinians.
That might be a concrete demand to raise in the middle of Cairo or Amman, but in London not so much. There is no suggestion that this small group of British Muslims have tried to raise an army or encouraged anyone to join such a thing, still less promoted any violence in Britain.
Richard McNeil-Wilson, an academic specialising in counter-terrorism, puts it well:
“The ban represents a significant growth of the application of security law, the first banning by the British government of a non-violent organisation under counterterror legislation. From a societal perspective, the ban is rooted in, and directly exacerbates, wider patterns of Islamophobia and racism in Britain, risking community cohesion.”
The government proscribed Hizbut Tahrir without a murmur, Rishi Sunak actually describing it in the Commons as a “terrorist” group as if we were talking about bombmakers. The authoritarianism and rank Islamophobia of Starmer’s Labour ensured bipartisan support.
So the police — at the behest and under the supervision of the government, to be clear — are determining what speech is permitted on anti-war marches, the government is banning peaceful organisations, and communists’ homes are being raided in the middle of the night.
Are you feeling warm yet? Brar is right to say this is not near to fascism yet, but it is still a menacing growl from history’s basement.
It is time that the labour movement took a stand. New lines are being drawn which, once imposed, will be much harder to erase.
A start would be rallying in solidarity with the members of the CPGBM-L and other groups if charges are pressed against their members.
Beyond that, we should take every opportunity to make it clear to the Establishment that, with hundreds of thousands on the streets, they need to be more scared of us than we are of them.
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