"This is one of the dirtiest, evilist, corrupted, perverted systems in the world." Paddy Hill of the Birmingham 6.
The release of the Guildford 4 in 1990 began a series of spectacular successful appeals against false convictions obtained by police threats, torture, and fabricated evidence. The Maguire 7 and the Birmingham 6 acquittals followed. Then the Tottenham 3 were released, followed by Stefan Kiszko, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years for the sexual assault and murder of a school girl, after police had forced him to sign a confession. Needless to say, he was brutally mistreated by other prisoners. The growing embarrassment of the legal establishment came too late for Derek Bentley, hanged in 1953 for allegedly telling his comrade Chris Craig to shoot a cop, after police had faked a confession. Craig was too young to hang, so they hanged Bentley, aged 19, instead. Now he is likely to get the rare and coveted prize of a posthumous pardon from the Queen. The West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad was disbanded after an avalanche of appeals against its convictions.
Millions of working class people know that the police are persistent liars, but never before has it been so openly acknowledged. The state's need for reform was well summed up by Judge Verney in April. Sentencing a South London policeman to 30 months in jail for stamping on a man's head and shouting "You black bastard, this will teach you to mess about with the police", Verney perceptively noted that "nothing could be more calculated to ensure disrespect". The exposures of police frame-ups have undermined faith in the system. Juries have in the last two years swung from convicting people on the grounds that they are Irish to letting free open IRA supporters like Dessie Ellis. The state would prefer it if the people who actually committed crimes like the Birmingham pub bombings were in jail. The reason for this is that exposure of the infamies of the the criminal justice system could lead to a major attack on it during the next upsurge of class struggle in Britain. But creating a fairer criminal justice system is not easy. The Appeal Court initially tried to avoid acquitting the Irish victims altogether, then freed some of them on technical grounds, avoiding any criticism of the police or other judges. Finally, quashing Judith Ward's conviction after 18 years of imprisonment for planting bombs, the Appeal judges admitted that scientists, police, prosecution lawyers including the new Lord Chief Justice Peter Taylor, and a police doctor, were all involved in inventing and suppressing evidence during her trial.
The Royal Commission, set up to repair the system after the Birmingham 6 acquittals, will have to try to change the esprit de corps of the police. Royal Commissions are not whitewashes, they are attempts to reform some aspect of the state which is in serious trouble. But attempts to professionalize the police will only meet with resistance, even during periods of relative class peace. During upturns, when they are under attack, the police tend to move to the right, self righteously defending their difficult job against the reforms of the establishment and the bricks of the proletariat, and refusing to change their operating methods. When, after the LA riots, the government decided it was not going to issue the British police with American-style long batons after all, the police were outraged.
Improvements in conditions for prisoners do not necessarily dampen the struggle, as was shown by the riots at Moorland prison in Yorkshire in August 1991 and January 1992. New facilities, including computers and the well-equipped recreation room, were wrecked by the ungrateful miscreants.
In a word, the British state is in trouble. Our attitude is not to demand Justice, as liberal campaigns do. Justice would mean that the people who really did kill PC Blakelock defending Broadwater Farm against the police in 1985 would be in prison, not just that those who were fitted up for it were let free.
JUDGE NOT THAT YE BE NOT JUDGED
Whatever the trials and tribulations of Justice in Britain and the USA, it is still extending its power over the rest of the world. The New World Order has instituted a rapid expansion of the rule of law in time and space. The concept of retrospective legislation putting someone on trial for something which was not illegal when the deed was done was established through a campaign against so called Nazi war criminals. Following unification, ex East German border guards were tried for shooting people trying to escape acts which were perfectly legal under East German law. The USA extended the rule of law by kidnapping General Noriega from Panama and extraditing Columbian alleged drug dealers, charged with breaking US law without setting foot in its territory. The Supreme Court decided that the US Constitution extended to all the world's inhabitants. This is no abstract legal fiction. As we write, the United Nations is trying to bring two Libyans before either British or American courts. They can choose to be tried in Birmingham, UK, or Simi Valley, USA. The imposition of Justice includes punishing countries' working class populations for their rulers breaking international law, as happened in Iraq during the Gulf War.
In LA, the state obviously made a tactical mistake in setting up the acquittal of the LAPD by moving the trial to a fascist suburb. To demand Justice is to demand that it doesn't make such mistakes, to demand that it is more effective. Justice is not just a justification for the rule of property invented by the ruling class, it is a deeply internalized conception held especially dear by the people who have least interest in it, the oppressed. The immediate cause of the April uprisings was the failure of a bourgeois court to find four policemen guilty of beating up Rodney King. Another was the non-custodial sentence given to a shopkeeper who had shot dead an alleged shoplifter, Latasha Harlins. The gay 'White Night' riot in San Francisco in 1978 was based on a demand for someone to get a longer prison sentence for shooting the mayor. However we must argue that there will no more be Justice in communist society than there will be a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.
Revolutionaries utilize blatant examples of injustice to attack the state, to spread distrust of the police and hatred of the prison system, to add to the possibility of widespread working class conflict with its oppressors when the class struggle picks up, by helping to undermine attitudes which accept the rule of law. But in doing this, we can't simply point to injustice, we have to undermine the idea of Justice as well. As a dramatic illustration of why we are against Justice, consider the following demand from Women Against Violence Against Women in London: LIFE IMPRISONMENT NOW! (for someone who allegedly killed his wife). They urge supporters to write to the Home Secretary, "demanding that the government enforces its own law, and inform him of how disgusted you are that his party having been elected three times on the LAW AND ORDER platform is today setting murderers free, unpunished".
On a more serious note, this quote from Pashukanis' Law and Marxism succintly summarizes why Justice is inseparable from the exchange economy:
"Deprivation of freedom, for a period stipulated in the court sentence, is the specific form in which modern, that is to say bourgeois-capitalist, criminal law embodies the principle of recompense. This form is unconsciously yet deeply linked with the conception of man in the abstract, and abstract human labour measurable in time... For it to be possible for the idea to emerge that one could make recompense for an offense with a piece of abstract freedom determined in advance, it was necessary for all concrete forms of social wealth to be reduced to the most abstract and simple form, to human labour measured in time... Industrial capitalism, the declaration of human rights, the political economy of Ricardo, the system of imprisonment for a stipulated term are phenomena peculiar to one and the same historical epoch", cited in Molossi D and Pavarini M, The Prison and the Factory, MacMillan, 1981.
We could add that exchange is another, even deeper precondition, without which the idea of Justice could not exist. The idea of deprivation of freedom for a given time-slot as recompense, or payment, for a particular crime is evident in the frequent reports of victims arguing for longer sentences for criminals, and their outrage at their assailants getting "less than they deserve". To be able to make this calculation, you must have in mind that a particular crime deserves a particular quantity of punishment. Calling for a particular sentence rather than any other, more or less extreme, implies labour time and exchange, which did not arise spontaneously. Justice is not a product of human interaction, it is the expression of class domination, in other words, the State. Undermining Justice is primarily a matter of undermining state authority.
SUPPORTING PRISONERS - WHO, HOW AND WHY
Communists are very few and far between, and inevitably have priorities. We argue that, especially when the criminal justice system is in open crisis, support for its intended victims is a key issue. This is for strategic, not humanitarian reasons. Demonstrations against prison, contact with prisoners, publicity around wrongful convictions etc., can achieve far more than other kinds of militant activity.
The 'Who' is more difficult than the 'Why'. Given practical limitations, we should argue for specific support for particular prisoners, as well as general support for the struggle of all prisoners against prison. The 'How' includes offering to put up relatives when they need to stay overnight for prison visits. Moral support includes writing letters to prisoners. This is not a token gesture - it is crucial to help overcome isolation. Poll tax prisoners were greatly encouraged by the hundreds of letters they received. The demonstrations outside prisons in support of the prisoners had the same effect. The screws took measures to try to prevent prisoners hearing the demonstrators shouting and singing. Isolation is crucial to make prison work.
Support for prisoners is such a central part of the class struggle that there is a tendency not to criticize prisoners at all. The non-angelic character of some prisoners has tended to be swept under the carpet. During the trial of the scapegoats for the Strangeways prison uprising of 1990, supporters rightly kept quiet about some of the crimes they may have committed. It is an uphill struggle explaining why we should support people who have committed anti-working class crimes who subsequently rebel against their imprisonment. But it can't be avoided. At one of the pickets outside Wandsworth prison, when the poll tax prisoners' campaign put forward the programmatic demand "Burn it down, burn it down, burn it to the fucking ground", a passer-by pointed out "there are child murderers in there". In the USA, this argument has even more weight. An easy answer to these public fears is to say that all the anti social elements would be wiped out if we ever got the chance. This is wrong for two reasons.
Firstly, it implicitly supports brutality against alleged sex offenders by other prisoners. The prisoner who got killed during the Strangeways uprising was an alleged sex offender. This is outrageous, considering that there must be hundreds of people in prison framed up by the police. Prisoners should know this better than anyone, yet they often turn their frustration against an underclass created by the prison system. We should make no excuses for this state organized diversion. Attacks on Rule 43 prisoners, who are segregated for protection, are against the class struggle (with obvious exceptions, e.g. imprisoned policemen). Secondly, even if we agree that the worst perpetrators of anti-working class violence would have to be eliminated in a post-civilized society, what about those who are reformable, but not yet to be trusted? Anarchists oppose incarceration of any kind on principle. Their only alternatives are let them go free, or shoot them. This is ridiculously simplistic.
Albert Dryden is a clear example of a class war prisoner. A worker made redundant from the steelworks at Consett, NE England, when it was closed down by Thatcher, he kept himself busy by building a bungalow. The local council wanted to demolish it because of some legal technicality that Albert had overlooked. Adding insult to injury, they brought along camera crews to televize the confrontation. Albert felt that they were going to make him look a fool in front of millions. So he did the only thing he could under the circumstances: defended himself and his house against the forces of the state and media with a gun. He managed to kill the council planning officer in charge of the demolition attempt and wounded a policeman and a BBC reporter in the process of trying to blow away the council solicitor. Now he is doing a life sentence in Durham jail. Write to him expressing your support. A demonstration for him in Newcastle was banned, but he has many friends and supporters in Co. Durham.
Nick Mullen was illegally extradited from Zimbabwe. Framed up for supposedly allowing the IRA to use his flat, he is a straightforward political prisoner, hated by the police for his radical politics. Winston Silcott was one of the three acquitted for the Broadwater Farm cop-chop. He wasn't released because he was already doing life imprisonment for another "murder". There are many dodgy aspects to this case as well. Basically Winston was defending himself against assailants armed with knives. Kenny Carter was framed for murdering another prisoner, who in fact committed suicide, i.e. was murdered by the prison system. Martin Foran, framed up by the West Midlands pigs, has been recaptured and is being denied urgent medical treatment. Prisoners are frequently moved, so for the latest information on the whereabouts of these prisoners and numerous others, write to London ABC, c/o 121 Bookshop, Railton Rd, London SE24.
Another good example of prisoners who have to be supported is those charged with the notorious attack on Reginald Denny during the LA riot. The defence say that he had taunted the black men involved, by shouting out that the Rodney King police were not guilty. Obviously, we don't know whether this is true or not. But we have to support Damian Williams and the other three defendants, because a successful prosecution, regardless of their actual guilt or otherwise, would effectively tar all the insurgents with the brush of racist brutality: a rather hypocritical stance for the American Justice system. The riot would be remembered, not as a massive reassertion of class and community, but as a series of racist attacks. All the other insurgents should be supported, regardless of what they are charged with. None of them could get a fair trial, and even if they could, we would still take a clear line of unconditional support for all hostages taken by the state during the May Days.
A list of other American class war prisoners can be obtained from the Peoples Law Office at 343 S. Dearborn, Suite 1607, Chicago, IL 60604, or the Fall 1991 issue of Social Justice, obtainable from PO Box 40601, San Francisco, CA 94140. Information about imprisoned war resisters from the Gulf War can be found in The Anti-Warrior, 48 Shattuck Sq, Box 129, Berkeley, CA 94704.
We do not believe in supporting only those prisoners who pass a test of political correctness. We believe in supporting virtually all prisoners in their struggle against the system. But it is practical to concentrate on those who are particularly politically pugilistic. Irish Republicanism is a product, and to a lesser extent, a cause, of Anglo-Irish working class division. It is not opposed primarily by denunciation, nor even by analysis, but by undermining the divisions in the class which reinforce it. This does not mean abstractly arguing for unity between prisoners, and then doing nothing to support particular examples. Supporting our class comrades in Northern Ireland means supporting demands for their imprisoned sons and daughters to be released, or at least to be moved to prisons nearer their families, supporting campaigns against sexual harassment in Mughaberry women's prison, etc.. It is impractical and dangerous to attempt to divide Irish people in prison for political offences. Where exactly would you draw the line? Even the most celebrated innocent prisoners, the Birmingham 6, were sympathetic to republicanism. Others became more interested in Irish nationalism whilst inside. Given the racist divisions in prison, this is hardly surprising. Our aim is to overcome these divisions. In Britain at present, this includes supporting all Irish political prisoners as prisoners, regardless of their guilt or innocence. In other Western countries, analogous arguments apply, though not in a mechanical way. With all allowances made for local conditions, involvement in prisoner support work is a priority for revolutionaries today.