State, Law and the Guards
First published in Irish Socialist Worker.
One of the key ideas, tenaciously defended by the entire political establishment and ALL the mainstream media is that the law courts, the judges and the police are neutral.
By ‘neutral’ they mean above or independent of politics, above or independent of social classes and above or independent of all interest groups. They simply enforce the law and serve the state and people as a whole.
This idea is extremely important for the preservation of the present economic and political system and for maintaining its legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of working people. In reality it is a myth or rather a series of myths.
Myth number one is the notion of ‘the people as a whole’ who all have one common national interest. In fact within ‘the people as a whole’ there are different social classes who have different, indeed opposed, interests.
Employers, for example, have an interest in paying their workers as little and getting them to work for as long as they can get away with, while workers have an interest in increasing their wages and reducing their hours as much as possible.
The very rich and the corporations have an interest in paying as little tax as possible while getting ordinary people to pay more through VAT, bin charges, household charges, water charges etc. For working class people it is the opposite; resist the charges and tax the rich.
The second myth is that the law is separate from this clash of class interests. In fact the laws of the country have been and are made by and large by the richer classes in the interests of the richer classes. Above all the law defends, indeed sanctifies, the rights of private property and in so doing systematically favours the the interests of those who own most of it, the rich and the capitalists.
The third myth is that the judges and the police operate independently from political and economic power in society. On the contrary the law favours the rich and therefore those that enforce the law – the judges, courts and guards – also enforce the interests of the rich.
Since this is their role in society the ruling classes always make sure the judges and top police are on their side. This is not difficult because the judges and senior police are generally drawn from the same upper social classes and they don’t get appointed to leading positions unless they share the ‘right’ attitudes and opinions i.e. that the current order of things must be preserved. On top of this they are bound to the ruling class, to the big capitalists and top politicians by numerous formal and informal ties – a combination of government committees and social mixing at golf clubs, charity dos, private dinner parties and the like.
Finally, the use of the gardai to protect private property and enforce the system’s rules – against both criminals and protestors – means they repeatedly come into conflict with various sections of the working class, especially working class youth, workers’ pickets, and the most disadvantaged such as Travellers etc. As a result they tend to develop very hostile and reactionary views seeing young people as ‘feral’ and the poor as ‘scum’ and so on.
This why the establishment knows it can rely on the judiciary and the police in a case like Jobstown. They also know they can’t rely on the jury which is why they tried, unsuccessfully it turned out, to fix that by excluding anyone from Tallaght and anyone who has ever opposed water charges.
All of this operates regularly and systematically – and not just in
but in every capitalist society – before we even get to questions of corruption
and particular brutality.
But the ruling class’s and the political establishment’s dependence on the police to defend their interests and their social order means that when corruption appears, as it has done so often in Ireland, their first instinct is to cover it up. They ‘look after their own’ as the saying goes.
Of course they try not to be too blatant about this – they need to preserve the myth of the police as neutral, so they set up numerous ‘inquiries’ that do little except line the pockets of lawyers. But when push comes to shove the establishment, especially Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’ unite, as they have done round Garda Comissioner Noirín O’Sullivan, to defend the state forces who they rely on to hold us, the working classes, down.