- Created: Wednesday, 31 July 2013 12:27
- Written by Cat Alison
The British state likes to pose on the world stage as a democracy, safeguarding the rights of the individual to freedom of association, expression and opinion. Any kind of state surveillance by socialist countries has long been grist to the imperialist mill. But every now and then, the curtain is torn aside and the repressive machinery that lies at its heart is laid bare – an apparatus so vast, so indiscriminate and so comprehensive that it makes a complete mockery of Britain’s denunciations of, say, the Stasi in East Germany or the KGB in the USSR. Behind the façade of bourgeois democracy lies a ruthless and paranoid capitalist state concerned only with protecting the interests of its ruling class.
In July 2011, undercover police officer Mark Kennedy was found to have incited campaigners to occupy the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station 18 months earlier. It soon became clear that Kennedy was one of a network of hundreds of police spies working deep under cover within a whole range of radical organisations. More revelations swiftly emerged. Bob Lambert, now an academic on ‘progressive’ policing, was exposed by London Greenpeace campaigners who recognised him from his days as ‘Bob Robinson’, who co-authored the ‘McLibel’ leaflet. Lambert had also posed as an animal liberation activist, going so far as to plant a firebomb in a department store in 1987. On his tip-off, the other activists involved were imprisoned.
‘By any means necessary’
This is the ‘democratic’ state that sends its agents into legal protest groups and organisations to commit crimes, steal the identities of dead children, act as agents provocateurs, burgle offices and homes, pervert the course of justice, make secret recordings, form relationships (and in some cases have children) with bona fide activists and then simply walk away. As the sordid details leak out, the ruling class of course throws up its hands in horror and trots out the well-rehearsed mantra: ‘We didn’t know… none of this was officially sanctioned… actions of rogue individuals’. Hypocrisy and lies – the very modus operandi is summed up by the unofficial motto of one of the state’s spy outfits: ‘By any means necessary’.
Nothing has changed. The latest revelations mainly concern the Special Demonstration Squad, which existed between 1968 and 2008; the database on domestic surveillance run by its current incarnation, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, contains confidential details on almost 9,000 ‘domestic extremists’ – basically anyone who wants to exercise their right to protest in any way whatsoever. The NPOIU, now run by the private and unaccountable Association of Chief Police Officers, trawls emails and telephone calls, logs car number plates and monitors social media, blogposts and images from FIT teams at demonstrations. Its agents continue to infiltrate campaigns and left-wing organisations. In their book on undercover policing,* journalists Rob Evans and Paul Lewis describe the NPOIU’s targets as:
‘those who wanted to “prevent something happening or to change legislation or domestic policy”… campaigners against war, nuclear weapons, racism, genetically modified crops, globalisation, tax evasion, airport expansion and asylum laws, as well as those calling for reform of prisons and peace in the Middle East’.
That’ll be most of us, then.
Meanwhile, the real criminals, the ruling class, are free to go about their daily business of waging illegal wars, implementing brutal racist policies, evading tax and repressing the working class.
In a state where simply signing a petition against the dumping of industrial waste on a local beauty spot can see you labelled a domestic extremist, perhaps nothing should surprise us. Yet what has been revealed about the state’s activities against those fighting police racism and brutality is still shocking.
‘We were trying to tar Stephen Lawrence… we were trying to stop the campaign in its tracks’
In 1993, Peter Francis – the only former SDS spy to have spoken frankly about his undercover experiences as ‘Peter Black’ – was set the task of finding some dirt on the Lawrence family campaign for justice for their son Stephen, murdered by racists that April. The original investigation had been botched by a combination of police racism and corruption. When Stephen and his family came up as, in Francis’s words, ‘totally clean… almost like white, middle class’, the focus shifted to Duwayne Brooks, Stephen’s friend and a crucial witness to Stephen’s stabbing. Francis and another officer embedded in the anti-racist movement trawled through hours of footage of a protest against the BNP just weeks after Stephen’s murder to find an image of Brooks among a crowd of youths who pushed over a car. Brooks was arrested and charged with criminal damage – a charge thrown out as soon as it came to court. But it was part of a sustained police campaign to discredit him and, through him, the Lawrences’ campaign for justice. Other black families fighting for justice, such as those of Brian Douglas, who died after being hit on the head with a police baton in 1995 and of Wayne Douglas and Christopher Alder, who died in police custody in 1995 and 1998 respectively, were also systematically undermined.
Playing the Inquiry game
It is clear that the mechanisms of a bourgeois state cannot defend our rights and freedoms when it is itself the perpetrator of the abuse. It is therefore misleading and dangerous to argue, as the Lawrence family and the civil rights organisation Liberty do, that a judge-led inquiry is any kind of solution. There have already been 14 inquiries set up since the original Kennedy revelations in 2011. The latest, Operation Herne, is expected to cost £7.5m and not report until 2016. Public inquiries simply allow the ruling class to kick a scandal into the long grass, paving the way for a whitewash. As Evans and Lewis point out, ‘The more a controversy persists, the greater the number of inquiries that are held. It’s a game that can last for years.’ The only response to this police state is to continue to campaign, to defend the democratic rights we are told we have – and to expose the myth that bourgeois democracy is, for the mass of the working class, any kind of democracy at all.
* Undercover: the true story of Britain’s secret police by Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, published by Faber & Faber with Guardian Books 2013, £12.99