State Repression

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First published in Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, No 31, August 1983.

Reprinted in Issue 135, February 1997

The current debate on the Police Bill has concentrated on the narrow technical question of who should authorise police bugging operations. There has been little outcry over the fact that the debate has revealed not only the extent of police bugging (which has been known to many people for years anyway), but the increasingly repressive, strong state that has been built over the past two decades. Using whatever pretext is currently fashionable (drug barons, paedophiles, agitators), the state has gradually taken to itself powers that make opposition to the rule of the rich illegal. The Police Bill not only authorises the police to extend their burgling and bugging operations, but puts the National Criminal Intelligence Service on a statutory footing, and allows the vetting of millions of job applications every year. Lots of information will not only be checked but also gathered and centralised.

Opposition of a wide variety is being criminalised and those who speak out are being harassed, bugged and persecuted. But it is important not to view these developments as isolated or recent. They are part of a strategy that was clear from 1981 onwards. It is well worth looking at the history to understand what strategy the enemies of democracy are pursuing and why they are doing it.

We reprint an edited version of the editorial from FRFI 31 (August 1983). Entitled 'Kenneth Newman -- the enemy in our midst', the article deals with Kenneth Newman's first report as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and his ties with Major General Frank Kitson, Commander in Chief of UK Land Forces of the British Army. Both had extensive experience of developing and implementing the British state's repressive strategy in Ireland -- Newman as head of the RUC and Kitson as an expert in counterinsurgency.

It was shortly after the April 1981 Brixton Uprising and the revolt in other cities in that summer, that Newman took up his post as Commissioner and a secret meeting of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) with the RUC and British Hong Kong Police began the process of reorganising the British police to deal with 'public disorder'. The strategy this article reveals has been implemented, added to and refined in the 14 years since then. In the next issue of FRFI, we will examine the subsequent development of state repression.


Newman's main point is that opposition to the police in these times of severe economic crisis is 'a threat to public order':

'In some areas of London extreme activists seek to represent practically any police intervention as "harassment". Although they purport to speak for the whole community, the reality often is that the majority of citizens in the area are concerned about crime and want more police intervention rather than less, Regrettably, these activists gain publicity for their views out of all proportion to their influence in the community.

'Whilst the majority remain relatively unmoved by these tactics, a minority of the young and alienated sections of the community are influenced and encouraged to become more antagonistic to the police. To that extent, the activists are a destabilising influence and a threat to public order.'

In this way Newman attempts to 'criminalise' political opposition to the police. This is the first step to turning any effective political opposition to the British state into a criminal act. It goes hand in hand with ruling class propaganda directed against any 'extra-parliamentary' opposition. Only ineffectual political activity limited to establishment bodies and parliamentary debate will be regarded as legitimate. Anything else is outside the bounds of legitimate 'democratic' opposition and must be dealt with as 'a threat to public order'.

Newman has done all this before as Chief Constable of the RUC in the occupied Six Counties of Ireland. There, the only effective political opposition to the loyalist police state is led by the Republican Movement. Newman's job was to use the police to implement the Labour government's strategy of 'criminalising' the revolutionary national struggle to drive British imperialism out of Ireland. The fundamental feature of this strategy was judicial internment -- the 'conveyor belt' process of arrest, systematic torture in police cells, forced 'confessions', Diplock (non-jury) courts and imprisonment in specially-built concentration camps in the H-Blocks. This process decisively depended on 'confessions' forced out of suspects at specialist interrogation centres such as Castlereagh -- in other words, torture. Newman reorganised the RUC intelligence-gathering operation so that it could do this job.

When the inevitable outcry against this torture began, Newman systematically denied it was taking place and said that the prisoners were injuring themselves as part of an IRA propaganda campaign against the police. A TV programme giving evidence of torture was said by Newman to put RUC men's lives at risk. Then as now, the accusations against the police were fully justified. An 'Amnesty International mission to Northern Ireland found evidence of torture. Newman's own police surgeon's reports had also conclusively demonstrated this. For three years Newman had covered up torture. No doubt this was another case of'dedicated denigration of the police'.

After the 1981 uprisings in Britain the ruling class needed Newman's experience gained in Ireland for use in Britain. He was therefore made head at the Metropolitan Police in 1982. And it is no coincidence that in the same year Major General Frank Kitson was made Commander-in-Chief of the UK Land Forces of the British Army. Kitson had also been in Ireland from 1970-72 and had been responsible for the brutality and torture involved in internment. Britain was found guilty by the European Commission of Ruman Rights of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment during that period.


Kitson is an 'expert' in counterinsurgency, that is, putting down revolutionary democratic struggles against imperialism. His book, Low Intensity Operations, is designed to gather together this experience and is easily adopted for use in a crisis-ridden Britain. Kitson argues that it is necessary to ruthlessly stamp out 'subversion' -- that is, revolutionary opposition -- whilst simultaneously strengthening 'moderate' elements who support the state. Intelligence-gathering operations are an essential feature of this process to target those capable of organising serious opposition.

His method of gathering intelligence relies heavily on a 'large number of low grade sources' -- small pieces of information acquired by the police and army -- fed into computers to build up a total picture of the community and its inhabitants. At the same time, 'psychological operations' are used in an attempt to isolate the opposition from the people. These include propaganda against the opposition cause, use of the press and media to put over the government side, government schemes to win 'moderate' opinion and support, 'dirty tricks' such as fake leaflets and eventually provocateurs and agents who masquerade as oppositionists to discredit the cause, and finally, if necessary, the assassination of leading oppositionists. The aim, in Kitson's words, is 'to discover and neutralise the genuine subversive element' and 'to associate the many prominent members of the population, especially those who may have been engaged in non-violent action, with the government.'

'Intelligence gathering' and 'psychological operations', Kitson emphasised, had to take place before the emergence of subversion or an offensive phase of conflict had begun. This is the significance behind Newman's and Kitson's appointments in Britain. The ruling class is preparing for the major unrest and popular rebellion which is inevitable even here in Britain. They are acutely conscious of the depth and severity of the imperialist crisis and know it can only be solved by imposing intolerable levels of unemployment, poverty, homelessness and repression on the British working class. Already Newman's reorganisation of the Metropolitan Police as outlined in the 1982 report shows him putting phase I of Kitson's overall strategy into operation.

Newman's proposed reorganisation of the Metropolitan Police to make it an effective intelligence gathering force is outlined in the 1982 report. Newman's plan is to centralise and computerise information gathered from a variety of 'low grade sources'...

Newman calls this making the police 'responsive to local needs'. What he actually means is a centralised and directed police response to community-based intelligence and consultation with middle-class 'moderates' for the purpose of isolating and attacking those liable to organise opposition or create problems for the police...

The technology required for Newman's strategy is already being introduced. A huge new computerised 'command and control' system will be in use by the end of 1984. An automatic fingerprint recognition computer system will be ready in late 1983. A locally-based computerised information system for the use of foot patrol officers is part of Newman's neighbourhood policing project.

Newman carried out a strikingly similar reorganisation of the RUC in Ireland to make it an effective intelligence-gathering force directed at Republicans. The RUC had access to the central army computer with details of over half the population of the Six Counties and to the Metropolitan Police's Special Branch computer. The ruling class chooses its servants well.

'Psychological operations' at this stage consist of building links with 'moderate' community figures and projecting a favourable image of the police...

Should all this fail and disorder break out, the Metropolitan Police have been well-prepared. The Instant Response Units, riot control police dressed for combat and armed with shields and truncheons, have already been used to swiftly and violently crush any street resistance. Last year there were '21,775 single day attendances' on riot shield training courses and '14,398 single day attendances' on courses for Instant Response Units. The number of police authorised to use guns is now 4,476. It is certain that all those who now dissipate their protest over a wide variety of causes might concentrate their efforts and produce a situation which was beyond the power of the police to handle. Should this happen, the army would be required to restore the position rapidly. Fumbling at this juncture might have grave consequences even to the extent of undermining confidence in the whole system of government.' (Low Intensity Operations)

During the 1981 Brixton uprising it was said that army liaison personnel were present in the police station. More recently, 600 soldiers were sent to Greenham Common to guard the base during the peace women's blockade. Heseltine made the absurd claim that it was done to guard against possible terrorist infiltration of the peace women. In fact it was to defend the base if the police lines broke.


Increasingly people faced with police harassment have to organise to defend themselves. And when they march, picket and demonstrate they meet with further attacks. In Stoke Newington the youth who marched for a public inquiry into the death of Colin Roach suffered 100 arrests. The courts then back up the police...

Those publicising cases of police harassment and organising defence campaigns not only face police attacks and frame-ups, but are soon at the receiving end of 'psychological operations'. Newman's 1982 report is a classic example... And the press and media are eager participants in this process. Hence the publicity they gave to Newman's remarks about subversives. At his press conference on the report Newman, according to The Guardian, directly linked 'extreme activists' with criminal activities such as drug trading and dealing in stolen goods: 'Activist groups trawl for issues which provide a cloak for drug trading and movement of stolen goods. There may be elements of that in the Colin Roach case.'

The police are part of the repressive arm of the capitalist state. Their function is to defend the wealth, privileges and power of the ruling class. They will take whatever action necessary, no matter how brutal and repressive, to put down any challenge to the present system. They are racist because they face the challenge from the most oppressed sections of the working class -- black people and black youth in particular.

The police are to be given even greater powers to gather intelligence and to arrest and detain suspects when the new Police Bill (the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act) becomes law. Greater police repression has met with little opposition from 'liberals' or the Labour and trade union movement. Their argument that the police in a capitalist state can somehow be made accountable to democratically elected bodies is simply wishful thinking in the face of Newman's and Kitson's strategy. And community policing is, after all, a cog in Newman's machinery of intelligence gathering.

No, there is only one way to fight back. That is through organised political opposition to growing police repression. The black youth and others harassed by the police will organise, as Newman has acknowledged, effective defence campaigns in their areas. In doing this, they will meet opposition from the police and those who are prepared to collaborate with them.

The fight will not be an easy one. The ruling class has an organised strategy for dealing with those who oppose it, no matter how genuine their grievances. Kitson and Newman will lead the offensive against the oppressed. They are the enemies in our midst. But the Newman/Kitson strategy can and has been defeated. In Ireland the Republican movement, with mass support, is fighting on undefeated. The youth of this country must recognise that there is no alternative but consistent political organisation if they are not to be defeated.

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