Friday, October 21, 2005

Sanctioned corruption

Oh what an interesting fact I found out in my contract lecture yesterday. Apparently, it is perfectly fine for the police to take payment, for special services rendered to individuals. From the Police Act 1996:
25. - (1) The chief officer of police of a police force may provide, at the request of any person, special police services at any premises or in any locality in the police area for which the force is maintained, subject to the payment to the police authority of charges on such scales as may be determined by that authority.
'Special services' indeed. These services have included stopping striking miners from picketing (Glasbrook Bros Ltd. v. Glamorgan CC [1925]). One would imagine it would be the sort of thing used against protestors too.

What can I say?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Old news...

...nevertheless nicely written. A week ago now, Seumas Milne wrote a very good article in the Guardian on my bĂȘte noire, this horrible Terrorism Bill. I particularly liked this passage:
In fact, under the terms of the bill, anyone who voices support for armed resistance to any state or occupation, however repressive or illegitimate, will be committing a criminal offence carrying a seven-year prison sentence - so long as members of the public might reasonably regard it as direct or indirect encouragement. Terrorism is not defined in the bill as, say, indiscriminate attacks on civilians, let alone an assault on civilian targets by states - but as any politically motivated violence against people, property or electronic systems anywhere in the world. This is not only an assault on freedom of speech and debate about the most contentious subject in global politics. It also makes a criminal offence out of a belief shared by almost every society, religion or philosophy throughout history: namely, that people have the right to take up arms against tyranny and foreign occupation. Clarke made clear on Tuesday that this was exactly his intention. He could not, he said, think of any situation in the world where "violence would be justified to bring about change".
Which means, as most people of even a vague intelligence have realised:
Clearly, that did not apply to the invasion of Iraq or the bomb attacks on street markets carried out in Baghdad by US and British-backed opposition groups before 2003. But, as the mayor of London pointed out yesterday, support for Nelson Mandela, the wartime resistance and any number of anti-colonial liberation movements would all have been crimes under this bill.
Though as we know, Blair has (oddly) been prattling that it's all a matter of common sense, clearly the old boy hasn't read the Terrorism Act 2000. But, as we all know, this law is not 'designed' to 'catch' everyone, it's there to catch a few people. It's kind of like infect a whole population with a virus, and then only giving certain people the cure, as Milne puts it:
In practice, of course, the law is intended to be used selectively: it is aimed not just at those who praise bomb attacks on the London tube, but at Muslims and others who believe that Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans and others have a right to resist occupation.
Which, of course makes me seriously worry about the fate of the anti-imperialist left. As Milne correctly notes, the likely effect of this legislation is to likely to simply 'alienate' those Muslims who serve as its target. And we all know what this sort of thing ended up doing in Ireland.

All I hope is that people can avoid the smears of not caring about public safety and oppose this terrifying law.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


My opinion on Slavoj Zizek is pretty similar to my opinion on Walter Benjamin. Both of them say some really interesting things, but sometimes I'm left staring at the page/screen thinking 'what the hell is going on'. In Zizek's case me having a rudimentary, at best, knowledge of Lacanian psycho-analysis is no help. However, for those of you who are subsrcibed to New Left review, he wrote an interesting article last issue, entitled Against Human Rights. Now, obviously since it was Zizek the subject matter strayed quite a lot. One thing that I really agree with him on is the role 'rights' play in depoliticising struggles, and de-linking the economic sphere from our attention. As Zizek puts it:

However, the question is: what kind of politicization do those who intervene on behalf of human rights set in motion against the powers they oppose? Do they stand for a different formulation of justice, or do they stand in opposition to collective justice projects? For example, it is clear that the us-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein, legitimized in terms of ending the suffering of the Iraqi people, was not only motivated by hard-headed politico-economic interests but also relied on a determinate idea of the political and economic conditions under which ‘freedom’ was to be delivered to the Iraqi people: liberal-democratic capitalism, insertion into the global market economy, etc. The purely humanitarian, anti-political politics of merely preventing suffering thus amounts to an implicit prohibition on elaborating a positive collective project of socio-political transformation.

However, I think that Zizek's conception of Human Rights is a bit one dimensional. Insofar as he ignores the positive impact that they can have, in terms of people's lives. This is reminscent of certain Brezhevites, who talk about 'bourgeois' political rights, which we have to counterpose to 'proletarian' economic rights. This is me is nonsense. In a very real sense all rights are bourgeois, inasmuch as their form is rooted in commodity exchange. But this does not tell us everything about their content or their effect in the material world.

Until it is possible to transcend the law it need to be vigorously contested, in line with an explicit class struggle.

However, we should try to transcend the notion of broad generalities of right, becuase (as I have already noted) these rights are indeterminate, and so can be 'captured'. An example can be taken from a recent land law lecture. Here, the lecturer was talking about a generalised 'right' or law for unproductive land to be expropriated and put to better use. Now, on the one hand, this could create good factual situations, where the poor peasantry are able to occupy and use the land of big business (a la Venezuela). Yet the very scope of such a right simulataneously allows capital the power to kick people out of their homes for 'development'.

The 'bad side' of the right is always contained as a 'potentiality' within the right itself but it needs a particular set of circumstances to actualise. What I think it would be interesting to see is how class struggle is able to demarcate the 'scope' of a right, so that its material effect is different. Becuase if content is, to a degree 'up for grabs', people like Zizek might do better to capture the content and engage in critique.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Right, well it seems technology has a grudge against me, what with me still having no internet, that stupid post destruction and, most gallingly the oddness surrounding my laptop. Nevertheless I shall persevere with a bit of a 'news' roundup.

Firstly, and importantly, the Terrorism Bill, amended, has been published. Against the odds, they've seen reason and 'ditched' the substantive glorification offence, however, it's not dead. Obviously this merits an at least brief perusal, as it is rather important. The substantive offence of 'encouraging' terrorism is still there:
1 Encouragement of terrorism
(1) A person commits an offence if—
(a) he publishes a statement or causes another to publish a statement on his behalf; and
(b) at the time he does so—
(i) he knows or believes, or
(ii) he has reasonable grounds for believing, that members of the public to whom the statement is or is to be published are likely to understand it as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism or Convention offences.
The offences are starting as they mean to go on, worryingly. Firstly, we see that old chestnut rearing its head 'objectivism'. The fact that you can be guilty of the offence if you have 'reasonable grounds for believing' that 'members of the public to whom the statement is or is to bepublished are likely to understand it as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism or Convention offences' means it is irrelevant what you actually thought you were doing, the only relevant fact is what a 'reasonable person' would believe. This of course casts the net very widely, especially considering some of the latter points:

(2) For the purposes of this section the statements that are likely to be understood by members of the public as indirectly encouraging the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism or Convention offences include every statement which—
(a) glorifies the commission or preparation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) of such acts or offences; and
(b) is a statement from which those members of the public could reasonably be expected to infer that what is being glorified is being glorified as conduct that should be emulated in existing circumstances.
So glorification is back, despite Charles Clarke's assurances to the contrary and it is much the same as before. The funny thing is that this 'change' has simply smuggled the provision in through the back door. Whereas Clarke said the Bill would read:
To make a statement glorifying terrorism if the person making it believes, or has reasonable grounds for believing, that it is likely to be understood by its audience as an inducement to terrorism.
But in fact what we now find is that 'inducement to terrorism' simply includes glorification, the two proposals have simply been assimilated. Again:
(4) It is irrelevant for the purposes of subsections (1) and (2)—
(a) whether the statement relates to the commission, preparation or instigation of one or more particular acts of terrorism or Convention offences, of acts of terrorism or Convention offences of a particular description or of acts of terrorism or Convention offences generally; and
(b) whether any person is in fact encouraged or induced by the statement to commit, prepare or instigate any such act or offence.
That's right, this isn't about terrorism, this is about enemies of the state (though the former is often shorthand for the latter). But don't worry:

(5) In proceedings against a person for an offence under this section it is a defence for him to show—
(a) that he published the statement in respect of which he is charged, or caused it to be published, only in the course of the provision or use by him of a service provided electronically;
(b) that the statement neither expressed his views nor had his endorsement (whether by virtue of section 3 or otherwise); and
(c) that it was clear, in all the circumstances, that it did not express his views and (apart from the possibility of his having been given and failed to comply with a notice under subsection (3) of that section) did not have his endorsement.
If you don't really think it it's fine. Of course there are more crimes created, but I think this is the most relevant one. A lot of this might well hinge on the judicial construal of reasonable and glorify, both are these terms of rather indeterminate, and the judicary could go more than one way.

Rather heartingly (although disturbing from any legal nihilist's point of view), the judicary might well be able to stand up for themselves this time. Lord Phillips has expressed some rather strong views in a recent interview. The judicary, as of late, have been pretty good at looking after 'rights', and such a statement is nice, especially considering the heat the politicians are placing on the judicary.

What's disturbing about this is that it takes a bunch of white, middle-aged, highly educated blokes to guarantee the ability of progressive forces to organise against the wishes of our 'democratic' parliament. Such a situation does need a materialist explanation, and I hope someone will attempt it.

Of course this Bill underlines what I have been saying about this legislation from the get-go. The definition of 'terrorism', and the notion of 'glorification' are so broad, that huge swathes of people might be 'criminilised'. This means that any 'selection' of the offenders has to be done by the DPP, now I do need to read more about the DPP I admit, and I'll hopefully get a bit of info come Monday. However, there is still a very relevant point to be found here. I mean, examine this article, about academic freedom:
Jonathan Whitehead, the head of parliamentary and public affairs at the AUT, said the new clause still did not require someone to have an intent to glorify terrorism to be caught by the legislation. "A lecturer could still do it by mistake without realising it," he said.
Read the whole article, because it shows the massive indeterminacy that this sort of law will create. However, I'd suspect that most lecturers won't need to be worried, because they will be in that happy majority of people who are simply 'potential' criminals. Something tells me though that a problematic 'core' of people would be ripe for the convicting. Remember that the broad nature of this Bill would criminalise even support for the war in Iraq, this must mean there is an independent, 'non-legal' criterion to prosecution.

Now, let me explain myself further. I do not for one second take the claims of liberal legalism at face value. Firstly, the law and the rule of law are premised on violence, and since they are rooted in commodity production, they are premised on exploitation. Furthermore, I agree with the realists that law is inseparable from indeterminacy and politics. This being said, there are degrees.

Even if 'law' is indeterminate politics, it is indeterminate politics expressed a particular form. This is the form of 'formally equal' legal subjects locked into the concrete relation of dispute, governed by general laws. Now, obviously in practice there are no 'legal' reasons. But the legal form clearly provides a veneer of protection as against pure politics, this is especially so when class struggle is mediated through it.

But the current situation cannot be like this. Becuase although this content is expressed within a legal context, it makes a mockery of the legal form. This law is so broad-based that too many people will be offenders. Thus, the selection of these people can only be made with huge discretion to particular circumstance. Now, although this occurs all the time the degree to which this would happen here is startling. This means that what we are seeing is the 'selection' of people on a political basis so as to punish them. We are no longer dealing with sovereign individuals 'actively asserting' a 'right', we are dealing with a sovereign choosing people on political grounds to be punished.

When something is so broad it allows you to pick anyone, you need a new, exhaustive criteria to pick them. Whilst all laws do this none do so to such an extent. This means that the small protection afforded by the legal form has vanished. In practice many people will be eligible for detention etc., as was seen at the Labour party conferece. Furthermore, this is not some paranoid pipe dream, as historically laws have often been used for new 'purposes'.

Now, I don't wish to pull the 'cookie cutter' leftist card here, but this is a process that was extant in Nazi Germany. Here's a quote from Neumann and Kirchheimer's The Rule of Law Under Seige (p. 138):
'If the general law is the fundamental form of law and if the law is not only voluntas but also ratio, then one must state that the law of the authoritarian state has no legal character. Law as a phenomenon is only possible if it manifests itself as general law. In a society that cannot dispense with law complete gnerality of law is impossible. The limited, formal, and negative generality of law under liberalism not only makes possible capitalistic culpability but also guarantees a minimum of liberty...[In the authortarian state] general law and contract disappear and are replaced by individual measures on the part of the sovereign'
Of course, there are differences here. Firstly, the 'individual measures' are mediated by making the law too broad (note broad and 'general' are not the same thing). Secondly, Neumann traced this trend (as the CLS movement also does) to the increasing monopolisation of capitalism, the growth in state economic intervention and the fusion of state and monopoly power. Whilst I believe such a trend is evident, this legislation, in such an exaggerated form is clearly the result of a specific historical conjuncture.

Anyway, more news when I get it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Damn it!

Ok, I just had a nice long post, which I somehow managed to lose, I will re-write it as and when but I am probably too annoyed to do it just now, rest assured it'll be up though.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Terrorism, terrorism, terrorism

Over six hundred people were detained under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Well, as I've said before all of the current legislation used to 'fight terrorism' is so ridiculously broad that it can be used for virtually any purpose. The '[a]nti-Iraq war protesters, anti-Blairite OAPs and conference delegates' were all searched under section 44 of the Act, even though 'none of them was suspected of terrorist links'. Section 44 of the Act reads:

44. - (1) An authorisation under this subsection authorises any constable in uniform to stop a vehicle in an area or at a place specified in the authorisation and to search-

(a) the vehicle;

(b) the driver of the vehicle;

(c) a passenger in the vehicle;

(d) anything in or on the vehicle or carried by the driver or a passenger.

(2) An authorisation under this subsection authorises any constable in uniform to stop a pedestrian in an area or at a place specified in the authorisation and to search-

(a) the pedestrian;

(b) anything carried by him.

(3) An authorisation under subsection (1) or (2) may be given only if the person giving it considers it expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism.

(4) An authorisation may be given-

(a) where the specified area or place is the whole or part of a police area outside Northern Ireland other than one mentioned in paragraph (b) or (c), by a police officer for the area who is of at least the rank of assistant chief constable;

(b) where the specified area or place is the whole or part of the metropolitan police district, by a police officer for the district who is of at least the rank of commander of the metropolitan police;

(c) where the specified area or place is the whole or part of the City of London, by a police officer for the City who is of at least the rank of commander in the City of London police force;

(d) where the specified area or place is the whole or part of Northern Ireland, by a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary who is of at least the rank of assistant chief constable.

(5) If an authorisation is given orally, the person giving it shall confirm it in writing as soon as is reasonably practicable.

The 'problem' with this is that it is all too vague. Bearing in mind that 'terrorism' is the use of 'violence' for a political end the police, in terms of the statute, were acting perfectly legally. However, even if the police are being 'unreasonable', the law is a lived, material reality, if the police are allowed to do such a thing then the 'accurate' interpretation of the statute is ultimately rooted in what the police do, this is the position that a materialist must take.

What would be interesting to look at is how widespread the tendency towards broadness is. Becuase if such a broadness does tend to undermine the legal form, we can draw important theoretical conclusions about late capitalism.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Normal service will resume shortly

I'm currently undergoing a transitional period, since my bloody university room has no internet access, this is not a huge problem but it will mean that I might need a while to do stuff, anyway I'll try and get something up tomorrow, as I am enjoying this, even if you all aren't.