Patriot Act - Countering the Threat to Liberty


Patriot Act
The People
July-August 2004


By Ken Boettcher

People who oppose the Patriot Act (and we are among them) sometimes equate it with fascism (we are not among them). The Patriot Act and certain other state measures implanted in the country's laws over the last 30 years or more may have a fascist "look and feel" about them, and few who are crushed under the iron heel of oppression care much about the brand name of the boot that holds them down. Nonetheless, fascism is no more a string of right-wing or reactionary measures (such as the Patriot Act) than socialism is a string of "left wing" and "progressive" ones (such as Social Security or unemployment insurance). Fascism is an oppressive form of government, to be sure, but not all forms of oppressive government are fascist and fascism is not simply that. Fascism is a product of the streets and the gutter, of poverty locked into a petty bourgeois mindset of brutish social ignorance. Fascists hated capitalism until capitalism found a use for them and bought them off (or thought it did) with money and state power.

Nonetheless, antidemocratic and unconstitutional measures such as the Patriot Act pose a major threat to our liberties as Americans and our rights as workers to resist exploitation and other capitalist antisocial conduct. Consider Attorney General John Ashcroft's now infamous attempt to paint Patriot Act protesters as traitors who give aid and comfort to the enemy -- a prime constitutional qualification for treason -- when he said, "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve." An unnamed White House spokesperson quoted in an article on the Web site put it even more directly last year before the attack on Iraq. "The president," the source said, "considers this nation to be at war, and, as such, considers any opposition to his policies to be no less than an act of treason."

Thanks to the Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and executive orders by the president, the attorney general and others, as well as judicial decisions that back them up, the U.S. government has many more tools in place to more rapidly establish a totalitarian state. More draconian measures like the Domestic Security Enhancement Act -- sometimes referred to as Patriot Act II, a kind of Patriot Act on steroids -- are now working their way through Congress. The Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004, a chunk of Patriot Act II that President Bush quietly signed into law last December while the media distracted us with reports of Saddam Hussein's capture, grants the FBI new and unprecedented powers to obtain records from financial institutions without a court order and without having to prove just cause.

This wave of repressive measures, contrary to Attorney General Ashcroft's arrogant assertion, has ALREADY produced far more than "phantoms" of lost liberty. According to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) document, "8,000 Arab and South Asian immigrants have been interrogated because of their religion or ethnic background, not because of actual wrongdoing."

"Thousands of men, mostly of Arab and South Asian origin," the document continues, "have been held in secretive federal custody for weeks and months, sometimes without any charges filed against them. The government has refused to publish their names and whereabouts, even when ordered to do so by the courts."

"The press and the public have been barred from immigration court hearings of those detained after Sept. 11 and the courts are ordered to keep secret even that the hearings are taking place."

Further, the ACLU document notes, "President Bush has ordered military commissions to be set up to try suspected terrorists who are not citizens. They can convict based on hearsay and secret evidence by only two-thirds vote." And, it adds, "American citizens suspected of terrorism are being held indefinitely in military custody without being charged and without access to lawyers."

By mid-2003, the Justice Department's own inspector general's office had issued a report that considered credible at least 34 complaints of civil rights and civil liberties abuses, including charges that some immigrants in federal detention centers had been beaten. Earlier this year, the inspector general's office issued another semiannual report that documented more than 1,000 complaints of civil rights and civil liberties abuses received by the department over a six-month period. While the report contended that no Justice Department employees engaged in misconduct, it conveniently failed to address the question of abuses by other arms of federal, state or local government.

Moreover, while the Patriot Act and the rest of this wave of repressive measures have been billed as weapons against terrorism, the Justice Department has already used their provisions in other cases not involving terrorism. Mark Corallo, a Justice Department spokesman, made it clear that the department plans to continue to use the new tools against U.S. citizens as well as immigrants and foreign citizens. "If a tool that is legal and constitutionally valid is good enough to use against organized crime or drug dealers, it ought to be good enough to be used against terrorism. Conversely, if it's good enough to be used against terrorists, it ought to be used against other kinds of criminals."

It is not yet true that the United States is in the grip of fascism. What is true is that the ruling capitalist class and its political representatives have in the past three years voted themselves a vast new array of patently unconstitutional weapons with which to protect their interests whenever they choose to do so. While it may be that the country is slipping into a sort of new Dark Ages with respect to human rights and liberties, there is still time to fashion a real response capable of halting the country's slide toward totalitarianism, rooting out its cause, and establishing permanent protections against the possibility of fascism ever again rearing its ugly head.

Benjamin Franklin admonished in 1755, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." No freedom-loving American worker should be willing to bargain away our rights and liberties in exchange for dubious promises of safety from terrorism.

The task before us is not a small one. The threat of fascism or some other form of totalitarianism cannot be ended by tossing the Bush administration out of office. It cannot be voted out of existence. It must be uprooted and deprived of the social soil in which it thrives -- the conditions of privation and constricted economic opportunity wrought by capitalism and capitalist-class rule.

The capitalist system is inherently nationalistic, imperialistic and militaristic. Its ruling class has material incentives to divide workers by race, ethnicity and religion. All it takes is severe economic hardship, social strife, or both -- conditions that are inevitable under capitalism -- to bring these ingredients together and foster the growth of fascism or some like-minded right-wing movement. The attendant longing for "order," and the capitalists' need to preserve their rule, can then bring it to power. The German Weimar Republic actually voted to give Hitler the dictatorial power he sought. A future Patriot Act could amount to the same thing here in the United States, should the U.S. ruling class feel threatened enough -- or should no opposition arise to the kind of "creeping fascism" that presently confronts us.

Society has reached a point where capitalism is increasingly incompatible with freedom and democracy. To save capitalism, freedom and democracy must eventually be destroyed. To save freedom and democracy, capitalism must be destroyed.

Succinctly put, to reverse the trend toward repression, to defend our rights from attack and to make democracy a reality in every sphere of life, the working class must organize to end capitalist control over the means of life and with it the political supremacy of the capitalist class.

The only cure for the fascist threat inherent in capitalist-class rule is the forging of a classconscious workers' movement for socialism that successfully establishes a socialist economic democracy -- a rational social system that can provide fulfilling economic opportunity for all and production for human needs and wants rather than for the profit of the minority capitalist class.

Every classconscious worker who can see what is at stake had best heed the alarm, rouse themselves and join the struggle to educate and organize our class for socialism -- while there is still time to do so.