For over a year now the ‘Aufhebengate’ affair has been causing major divisions in the libertarian communist wing of the proletarian political movement. The affair raises a number of important issues for revolutionaries, and although we have held back up till now (for reasons we will explain below) from saying anything about it as an organisation we feel it is necessary for us to make this statement on how we see it.
Aufheben is an annual journal produced by a group based mainly in Brighton in the UK. Its politics are a fusion of anarchist, autonomist, left communist and other political traditions. An archive of its publications, going back to 1992, can be found on libcom1. Aufheben has for some time played the role of a kind of theoretical vanguard of a wider libertarian communist movement, its journal eagerly awaited to provide analysis of contemporary events and more general or historical political questions. The ICC has never shared this admiration and has written some sharp polemics against the group’s most defining notions, in particular its series on the theory of capitalist decadence which many in the libertarian milieu have seen as the definitive critique of this theory, but which we saw as a sophisticated way of rejecting the foundations of marxism2. 3But despite these criticisms, we have not considered the Aufheben group to be outside the frontiers of the proletarian movement.
The Aufhebengate affair began in October 2011 when the Greek group Ta Paidia Tis Galaria (‘Children of the Gallery’, but more generally known as the TPTG) published an ‘Open letter to the British internationalist/antiauthoritarian activist/protests/street scenes (and all those concerned with the progress of our enemies)’.4
Whereas we have seen Aufheben as essentially a magazine circle strongly marked by academicism (although this has not prevented its individual members participating in a number of activist campaigns), we regard the TPTG as a serious communist group, one which has consistently tried to defend revolutionary positions in the social movements that have convulsed Greece in the last few years. This is why we have published contributions by or about them on our website5. Although the TPTG defines itself as the communist wing of the anti-authoritarian movement in Greece, their activity corresponds much more closely than that of Aufheben – which to our knowledge has never engaged in any specific group intervention in the class struggle apart from its journal - to our conception of what a militant communist organisation exists to do: participate as a distinct and organised tendency in the movements of the working class.
The content of the open letter
In its open letter of October 2011 the TPTG announced that one of the members of Aufheben, JD, a social psychology lecturer at Sussex University, had written and/or co-written a number of articles, in particular ‘Knowledge-Based Public Order Policing: Principles and Practice’, which was featured in Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, analysing police tactics at demonstrations and other manifestations of public ‘disorder’. He had also participated in conferences and ‘professional development’ training programmes dealing with the same or similar issues (such as the response of ‘emergency services’ to public disasters). This body of ‘academic work’ has often been carried out by a team composed of academics such as C Stott and S Reicher who have made no secret of the fact that their work has been aimed at, and certainly used for, assisting the police to develop more ‘friendly’ and intelligent tactics for containing social protests. These academics have on several occasions referred to JD as part of the team or have acknowledged the contribution made by his research.
The TPTG were deeply alarmed by this discovery – they had hitherto taken Aufheben seriously as a group and been influenced by some of its output. More to the point, directly facing police repression at public demonstrations in Greece, and aiming to participate in social movements on an international level, the question of how the police deal with popular protest is for them one of very immediate as well as more theoretical concern. The idea that a member of a group which they had always seen as part of the internationalist movement might be implicated in improving police tactics was seen as a betrayal of basic principles.
The response of Aufheben was published on the internet forum www.libcom.org shortly after the Open Letter6: it strongly criticised the TPTG for ‘outing’ one of their members without asking them for their version of the facts and described the Open Letter as a smear. Aufheben acknowledged that JD is required by his university job to share platforms with police sometimes but these events have been essentially focused on emergency situations rather than social protests or revolts. Regarding the particular article on the containment of political demonstrations and social movements, JD didn’t write the article in question. His name was simply added by Stott and Reicher as a favour. Aufheben accept that it was an error on JD’s part to allow this, but insist that he entirely rejects the content of this text. Furthermore, the aims of Stott and Reicher were essentially “liberal reformist” and largely harmless, based as they were on the illusion of reducing police violence against demonstrators. Furthermore, the recommendations of these liberals were of limited usefulness to the police.
This text provoked a second open letter by the TPTG7, which subjects Aufheben’s response to a scathing and in our view justified criticism.
In this text, the TPTG recount how their efforts to get in touch with Aufheben prior to publishing their first open letter had been thwarted by the fact that the group’s official email address had in the past always been answered by JD himself, and pointed out that they had been unable to obtain the email addresses of other members of the group.
They then attack the idea that Stott and Reicher are harmless reformists and show how pernicious their approach is. Not only does it offer advice to police on how to make best use of divisions among the ranks of protesters, but clearly puts forward targeted repression as a last resort if all other methods of containment fail. They also reject the argument that it was merely a question of academic politeness to include JD’s name at the end of the text, since Stott and Reicher had plenty of reason for considering that JD was indeed part of their team, and provide a number of other examples of JD’s work which have similar implications to the ‘Knowledge-based public order policing’ article, much of which has now disappeared from JD’s online profile8. Far from these studies being of little use to the police, the TPTG see the research carried out by these academics as being of real interest to a repressive apparatus which, confronted with growing social rebellion, cannot afford to use outright violence as a first response – and this is precisely why research into more ‘knowledge based’ methods of police control is generously funded by the state.
Finally, the second letter challenges Aufheben’s claim that there can be any hard and fast separation between emergency situations and the problem of social control, since the ‘team’ itself argues that lessons drawn from one area can easily be applied to another, as stated in the 2009 article ‘Chaos Theory’ published in Jane’s Police Review.
The TPTG succinctly summarise Aufheben’s argument: “while we prove that one of their members has been heavily involved in consulting the police how to repress struggles ‘correctly’, instead of just refuting this, they also feel obliged to both present such expert intervention as harmless and to relativise police repression (soft or hard) as if it had no importance at all”.
Impact on the libertarian milieu
The TPTG’s initiative provoked a veritable storm of accusations and counter-accusations on various threads on libcom in 20119 and resurfaced recently, as well as being raised on other forums such as red-marx10.
The ‘defence’ of Aufheben was taken up by the libcom collective and in particular by JK, a former member of Aufheben.
Initially the libcom collective accused the TPTG of engaging in smears and lies and then, after consulting Aufheben, offered some very unconvincing arguments, essentially repeating the weirdly contradictory points made in Aufheben’s reply (JD didn’t write the articles, and in any case these people are indeed ineffectual liberals, etc). The TPTG’s second open letter responds to a number of libcom’s arguments.
Libcom’s defence of JD looks much more like a response of ‘standing by my mate’ than one of defending political principles. This is not altogether surprising given that membership of the libcom collective seems to be based much more on friendship links than on an agreed political perspective.
However, one point they made does need careful consideration and we will return to it: the way the TPTG brought up this matter broke libcom’s rules about naming individuals; and JK in particular insisted on the seriousness of making public accusations against an individual in the movement for collaborating with the police
The libcom collective’s arguments were answered in some detail by other contributors: Samotnaf (who had played a central role in bringing up this issue in the UK11) ocelot, blasto, avantiultras etc. There were some posts by our comrade Leo on libcom and revleft which expressed basic agreement with the TPTG’s position Eventually threads were locked, and after most of those criticising the libcom collective quit the site the issue died down. It flared up again briefly in January 2013, but the debate was at a very low level12: for example, with numerous posters assuming false or spoof identities to ridicule others’ points of view, making it impossible for others to even follow the disagreements being expressed. The issue was also raised on red-marx by a member of the Internationalist Communist Tendency in Italy and the response by Alf of the ICC was discussed collectively before being posted.
The affair is therefore not likely to go away and it has created a very toxic legacy in this milieu. An example: in February 2013 the anarchist Freedom bookshop in Whitechapel, London, was firebombed. This was probably the work of fascists or Islamists but a poster on indymedia had this to say:
“Cop collaborators 01.02.2013 17:01
Freedom is the headquarter of cop-collaborator libcom. If they work with police they deserve all the fire”
Obviously Freedom has never been the HQ of libcom and there are two long leaps from criticising libcom’s evasions regarding JD to first branding the entire site as “cop collaborationist” and then advocating terrorism against them...We refer to this incident not because we want to get drawn into speculation about the motives of the indymedia poster but because it is an illustration of the kind of atmosphere Aufhebengate has produced. The charge of cop collaborators (though not the call for violence) is more widespread and is irresponsible. Whatever criticisms we have of its politics and its attitude to debate, libcom is an important resource for the proletarian movement, both as a discussion forum and as a library of material; and for that very reason the serious mistakes it has made in this affair need to be discussed in a calm manner, as part of a more general debate about the issues of ethics and principle which this business has posed.
How we see it
Given this atmosphere, it has been difficult for ICC comrades say anything about this issue on libcom itself, especially given the hostility towards us that can be expressed by some of the participants on both sides of the debate. At that stage we felt that anything posted ‘officially’ by the ICC would merely pour oil on the fire. But both because we feel the issues are as relevant as ever and because there is perhaps a greater possibility for considered reflection, we feel the need to elaborate our point of view in this statement.
It is not possible to go into the various arguments and counter-arguments that have been aired, especially on libcom, in any depth or detail, not least because a lot of the incriminating articles linked to JD can no longer be found on the web. Nevertheless we think we have understood the issues sufficiently to conclude that the TPTG were quite right to raise this issue. The involvement of the police in the revolutionary movement is not at all a product of fantasy, as recent revelations about the British state’s infiltration of ‘activist anti-capitalist groups’ confirm (see for example: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21316768). By the same token, any concession to collaboration with the police by elements within the movement means the flouting of a class line, a point that we ourselves have been obliged to make in previous crises in our organisation13. And in this case, it seems to us that there is substantial evidence that JD has crossed the line between the inevitable compromises forced on any worker by his job, and a real collaboration with the forces of repression.
At the same time, the libcom collective, which has strict rules about using people’s real names on their forum, were right to point out that accusing someone within the movement of collaborating with the police is a very serious matter and should not in the first place be done in public. But aside from their contingent difficulties in contacting Aufheben as a group, the TPTG were faced with the fact that, in contrast to the past workers’ movement, solidarity between its different components has become extremely tenuous, and there are certainly no structures which might allow the question of police involvement or unacceptable behaviour by revolutionaries to be discussed and resolved in a more discrete and responsible manner. The TPTG did propose in their first open letter a ‘proletarian counter-inquiry’ into this matter and to this extent they were reviving a rather buried tradition of the movement. However, the aim of this proposed inquiry was largely one of researching the general problem of police reactions to social unrest rather than examining the specifics of the JD case.
During the course of the exchange on libcom14, the poster ‘proletarian’ made a rather interesting point:
“I can't see what actually can be done to rectify the situation. I would argue he should be 'disassociated from revolutionary circles' - you know what I mean. But I'm not sure there is the organisation or structure to do this. And there certainly doesn't appear to be the will. I don't really want to bring this up (but I will) because it looks like I'm antagonizing people but the ICC and their calls for a Jury of Honour or whatever were ruthlessly taken the piss out of but wasn't there some 'method in the madness'? There needs to be some kind of way of dealing with these and similar incidents. And I think it's worth looking at how previous workers struggled with difficult questions like this. (I obviously think the guy has crossed a class line)”
We obviously agree with the comrade that there was “method in our madness” when, during some painful crises in our organisation, we called for the establishment of ‘juries of honour’ to look into some of the serious accusations that we ourselves had felt compelled to make against former members of the ICC whose behaviour we found unacceptable. And we did so precisely because these proletarian courts or juries were the method used by the past workers’ movement to investigate such issues.
In an article entitled ‘Revolutionary organisations struggle against provocation and slander’15 we pointed out how dangerous the spreading of suspicion about individual comrades can be, not just for the individual concerned, but for the whole fabric of the organisation and the workers’ movement as a whole. The article cites Victor Serge in his book What everyone should know about state repression, published in 1926:
“Accusations are murmured about, then said out loud, and usually they cannot be checked out. This causes enormous damage, worse in some ways than that caused by provocation itself (...)This evil of suspicion and mistrust among us can only be reduced and isolated by a great effort of will. It is necessary, as the condition of any real struggle against provocation - and slanderous accusation of members is playing the game of provocation - that no-one should be accused lightly, and it should also be impossible for an accusation against a revolutionary to be accepted without being investigated. Every time anyone is touched by suspicion, a jury formed of comrades should determine whether it is a well-founded accusation or a slander. These are simple rules which should be observed with inflexible rigour if one wishes to preserve the moral health of revolutionary organisations”.
However, what was common practice in the past workers’ movement has been all but forgotten in the movement today, which has on its shoulders the trauma of decades of counter-revolution, the weight of sectarianism and the spirit of the circle, a series of divisions which affect the whole internationalist movement – divisions not just between the libertarian/anarchist wing and the communist left, but among the groups of the communist left itself. The ICC’s own experience in this regard has also not been particularly fruitful: in 1995, when we pressed for a jury of honour to look into the ‘Simon affair’ (a militant expelled for engaging in secretive and manipulative practices inside the organsiation), the only organisation of the communist left that was prepared to take part was the IBRP( now the ICT); a few years later, following the 2001 crisis which gave rise to the ‘Internal Fraction of the ICC’, whose members we had expelled for theft and informer-like activities, there was virtually no response at all to our appeal for a new ‘jury of honour’, with relations between the ICC and the IBRP being progressively soured by the latter’s own relationship with the IFICC. Given the difficulties of the communist left to renew its links with the past movement in this area, we don’t have any illusions in the capacity of the libertarian milieu to deal with the ‘Aufhebengate’ affair. Nevertheless these questions will become more acute if revolutionary movement grows and is seen as more as a threat. A wide-ranging and inclusive discussion on the question of solidarity between revolutionary organisations, both at the theoretical/historical level, and at the level of its more immediate and practical implications, is clearly long overdue.
What are the immediate implications?
‘Proletarian’ also raises the question of the immediate implications of this matter: he argues that JD should be 'disassociated from revolutionary circles', but doubts whether there is the organisation, structure, or the will to do this. We could raise a further question: should Aufheben itself be ‘disassociated from revolutionary circles’ until this issue is clarified? But again the problem is the lack of any collective structure capable of making such decisions, or even of any shared agreement about what the diameter and circumference of the ‘revolutionary circles’ might be. This is why for us the prerequisite for any such common structures emerging is the beginning of a serious debate about the basic principles of the internationalist camp: not only at the level of general programmatic positions, but also at the level of behaviour and ethics. This debate, which already exists in a very tentative form through various internet forums, would need to incorporate face to face meetings and conferences at various levels and in different areas of the world. The Aufhebengate affair has highlighted the degree to which today’s internationalist milieu is immature, divided and cut off from the traditions of the past. But perhaps some serious reflection on its implications can constitute a first step towards moving beyond this state of dispersal, which in the end can only help “the progress of our enemies”.
ICC, April 2013
7 ‘Second open letter to those concerned with the progress of our enemies (including some necessary clarifications and refutations of the cop consultant’s defence team’s claims’: http://www.tapaidiatisgalarias.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/OPEN_LETTER_2.pdf
8 In particular: JD’s involvement in the article ‘Chaos Theory’, published in Janes Police Review 117 in April 2009, two years after the policing article; in the HMIC (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary) report into the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protests in London; and JD’s original academic profile on the Sussex University website, which (prior to being quite substantially changed in the period after January 2011) stated that “[My] consultancies include the National Police CBRN Centre, NATO/the Department of Health Emergency Planning Division, Birmingham Resilience, and the Civil Contingencies Secretariat. I run a Continued Professional Development (CPD) course on the Psychology of Crowd
Management for relevant professionals, and I teach on the CPD course on Policing Major Incidents at the University of Liverpool”
13 For example, in 1981 when the ICC’s former Aberdeen section (later the Communist Bulletin Group) threatened to call the police to intervene against the ICC in response to our efforts to recuperate material stolen by the tendency which they supported.