“I feel that I have been raped by the state”.
This powerful statement sums up the real nature of the recent revelations concerning the use of undercover police to penetrate and manipulate various protest movements. It was made by one of the women with whom various agents of the Special Demonstrations Squad (SDS) deliberately established relationships in order to gain wider acceptance in the protest movements they wanted to infiltrate. The motto of the SDS was “by all means necessary” and this sums up the general attitude of the capitalist state to maintaining its dictatorship. Human feelings and dignity mean absolutely nothing to the ruling class and their servants.
This was further underlined by the revelations concerning the efforts of SDS and Special Branch agents under the direction of the Metropolitan Police to discredit the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence. Only weeks after the brutal racist murder of this teenager in 1993, an SDS agent was assigned to uncover anything that could discredit the Lawrence family. Special Branch used the police family liaison officer - who was supposed to befriend the family - to spy on all those who came to the family’s home.
The cold and calculating way in which various state agencies use and abuse people is shocking. However, this is the nature of the rule of capital. Nothing is too sacred to be ground under the iron heel of the state. The Lawrences’ grief and anger at the police’s racism showed the reality behind the image of the police in capitalist democracy. The women used by the SDS, had the audacity to “want to bring about social change” as one of them said. A questioning of the system, no matter how mild, is something that the state cannot tolerate.
There has been a whole frenzy from politicians, journalists, and even the police, about ‘rogue’ units, abuses of the democratic system, and the need for democratic control of the police. We heard exactly the same piteous laments two years ago following the exposure of the undercover activity of the agents of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOI) who had infiltrated various anarchist, animal rights and environmental groups in the 2000s Once the noise died down about these ‘abuses of police powers’, it was rapidly replaced by calls for more police powers to carry out systematic surveillance of all telecommunications. It is the same now: despite these revelations, we hear calls for more police powers to ‘fight domestic extremism’.
Hypocritical cant from the politicians
The politicians’ talk about abuses of democracy is as devious as the actions of the SDS, because it seeks to hide the true nature of the capitalist state and its democratic window dressing: “So-called democracy, i.e. bourgeois democracy, is nothing but the veiled dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The much-vaunted ‘general win of the people’ is no more a reality than ‘the people’ or ‘the nation’. Classes exist and they have conflicting and incompatible aspirations. But as the bourgeoisie represents an insignificant minority it makes use of this illusion, this imaginary concept, in order to consolidate its rule over the working class. Behind this mask of eloquence it can impose its class will” (Platform of the Communist International, 1919).
The imposition of this "class will" is precisely the role of secret police units such as the SDS and the NPOI, along with Special Branch, MI5, etc. The Special Demonstrations Squad was formed in the late 60s in order to infiltrate the growing protest movements, and then expanded into infiltratinging animal rights and environmental groups, anarchist and Trotskyist groups in the 80s and 90s. The SDS was part of the Metropolitan Police. In 1999 the NPOI was set up to coordinate and organise nationwide networks of undercover operations and surveillance, The NPOI broadened its remit to include “campaigners against war, nuclear weapons, racism, genetically modified crops, globalization, tax evasion, airport expansion and asylum law, as well as those calling for reform of prisons and peace in the Middle East”, all of which are now defined as 'domestic extremists'. Thus, anyone who opposes or questions what the state does is now an 'extremist' and implicitly linked to 'Muslim' extremists and thus terrorism. This expresses the state’s concern about growing social discontent, even when confined to relatively harmless forms of protest. However, involvement in such movements can and does lead to a wider questioning of the system and the state wants to be able to follow and counter such questioning. It also wants to manipulate such movements in order to generate fear of any form of dissent.
The extent that the state is willing to go to manipulate such groups has been demonstrated in the recent book Undercover: the true story of Britain’s secret police. It claims that the SDS infiltrated an agent into the anarcho-syndicalist Direct Action Movement between 1990-93; two others were sent into the anarchist group Class War, one of them working closely with MI5 who were investigating Class War at the time. The authors say that the NPOI is currently running between 100 and 150 agents. The book also argues that the NPOI has officers or links with polices forces in cities and towns across the country, and that they use infiltration in small local protest groups in order to get agents into national groups and movements. The NPOI itself was placed under the management of the National Domestic Extremism Team in 2005, which the Labour government set up to centralise the various domestic forces of repression.
This centralisation was put to full use in 2011 when hundreds of people who had been arrested, stopped or filmed on demonstrations received letters from the Metropolitan Police, warning them that if they attended the November student demonstration in London they would be arrested.
These claims are certainly informative but unless understood in the context of the dictatorship of capital it can lead to paranoia and mistrust.
One of the reasons for the success of these state agencies in penetrating various movements has been the naivety of those involved, a result of the weight of democratic illusions. The idea that ‘the state is not interested in us because we are too small’ is very widespread, not only amongst environmentalists but even amongst revolutionary groups and individuals. There are also illusions that the state would never infiltrate someone for years, even allowing them to live with a militant. There needs to be a conscious effort to understand and draw the lessons from the actions of these agents, not to become paranoid, but to be aware that the state is interested in any organisation or individual who is against this system, and will use any means necessary against them.
This can be seen in the example of a 69 year old GP place on the list of ‘domestic extremists’ because of his involvement in a campaign to stop ash from Didcot power station (Oxfordshire) being dumped in a nearby lake!
Confronted with the state’s complete disregard for the slightest aspect of human dignity, its willingness to violate even our bodies in order to defend itself, we can only express our solidarity with those women who were used by the state but who are now openly talking about what happened to them, even to the extent of meeting their abusers to challenge what they did. But above all we have to be conscious that the ruling class will go to any length to undermine the revolutionary alternative and reject any illusion that their state can be controlled, reformed or made more accountable. It is our main enemy in the class war and our goal is to destroy it once and for all.
. ‘Methods of infiltration by the democratic state’, https://en.internationalism.org/worldrevolution/201102/4201/methods-infi....
. Rob Evans and Paul Lewis, Undercover: The true story of Britain’s secret police, Faber and Faber, 2013, p 203