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I include below the contents of hopefully an article (but maybe just a letter) that I have submitted to the Weekly Worker newspaper:
Mark Fischer, at the end of his article (‘Review: How to guard against state agents‘, January 16), of “Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police“, by Guardian journalists Rob Evans and Paul Lewis (based on an investigation they conducted alongside Channel 4 Dispatches) says:
After all, if groups as essentially harmless as the likes of London Greenpeace, the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army or Earth First can wobble the world view of some undercover coppers, think of the damage that Marxism’s inspiring vision of the future can do – when we Marxists clean up our act.
I beg to differ in Mark calling these organisations “essentially harmless”.
London Greenpeace produced a leaflet against McDonald’s who sued two of their members (Helen Steel and Dave Morris, who volunteered due to them having virtually no assets) for libel, launching the infamous (from that massively unethical corporation’s point of view) “McLibel” trial, which (largely due to use of the internet by the defendants) was a massive own goal in terms of their reputation by McDonald’s. If you do a web search for McLibel, you even find a film (directed by Franny Armstrong and Ken Loach) of the trial.
The original case lasted ten years, making it the longest-running case in English history. McDonald’s announced that it did not plan to collect the £40,000 that it was awarded by the courts. Following the decision, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in Steel & Morris v United Kingdom that the pair had been denied a fair trial, in breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to a fair trial) and that their conduct should have been protected by Article 10 of the Convention (right to freedom of expression). The court awarded a judgment of £57,000 against the UK government.
What is important about that case, from an infiltration point of view, is (as revealed in “Undercover”) the fact that a Special Demonstration Squad infiltrator helped write the leaflet!
I joined the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army in a protest that had turned violent around the Make Poverty History demonstrations in Scotland in 2005. These clowns helped lighten the mood of what could have turned very nasty indeed. A fact revealed in the book is that some of the infiltrators (but probably not the female infiltrator into CIRCA) have actually encouraged violence, in complete contrast to what their apologists argue.
I have also been to a number of Earth First Gatherings, which I have found very useful at breaking down links between revolutionaries of the socialist and the anarchist/autonomous varieties (as well as helping radicalise the anarchists of a more reformist persuasion).
When Mark says “think of the damage that Marxism’s inspiring vision of the future can do – when we Marxists clean up our act”, I do get the point, despite me wanting Left Unity to stay a broad socialist party (albeit not as reformist as some would like) and the CPGB wanting to transform it into a Marxist party.
Suddenly, the issue of infiltration is topical again with the new revelations about Stephen Lawrence, and home secretary Theresa May being finally forced to order a public inquiry into the undercover infiltration of political groups after an independent inquiry confirmed that Scotland Yard had spied on the family of Stephen Lawrence (‘May orders inquiry into police spies
‘, March 7, The Guardian
Mark’s article doesn’t even mention attempts to smear Stephen Lawrence’s family and friends, including the arrest of Duwayne Brooks (who was present when Stephen was murdered) being specifically picked out of a crowd at the mass demonstration to close down the British National Party HQ in Welling, shortly after Stephen’s racist murder, organised by Youth Against Racism in Europe and Panther (Undercover, page 156), both set up by Militant (an organisation I was then a member of).
The book doesn’t mention Panther, initially just a newspaper produced by black and Asian members of Militant, but later a group with its own autonomous structures. Panther, named after the Black Panther Party in the USA, mobilised a large number of black youths to that demonstration, and later held a huge rally in London at which Bobby Seale, leader of that party alongside Huey P Newton, spoke about the republication (by Panther) of his history of that party, called “Seize The Time”.
Later Panther split due to some members wanting independence from Militant. There were almost certainly state infiltrators on both sides of that struggle. It even led to the farce of two different newspapers, both called Panther, being sold on a later anti-racist demonstration in London that I also attended. Both splinters folded shortly afterwards, and to this day the Socialist Party (as Militant has become) is almost entirely white as a consequence.
The state is not stupid – a large organisation of socialist and anti-racist black youths (as opposed to a black nationalist grouping who play into the hands of big business by aiding its strategy of divide-and-rule) would be an enormous threat to their continued (mis)rule over the vast majority of ordinary people of all races.
The Guardian article referred to above calls one of those agents, who infiltrated Youth Against Racism in Europe and Militant, Pete Black, as
“N81”, alongside Peter Francis (who is not mentioned in Undercover so presumably was exposed after it was written) – see references in the book’s index to the YRE and Militant for further information.
The biggest flaw in Undercover is that it suggests that there is a very low level of infiltration. Once when I spoke to Annie Machon – co-author with David Shayler of “Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers: MI5, MI6 and the Shayler Affair” (a book I also strongly recommend reading, which you can read a scanned copy of for free by following a link from Annie’s website) – she revealed that there were 50 MI5 infiltrators within the Militant Tendency at its height.
It seems to me highly unlikely that – after seeing the mass support Militant received when running Liverpool City Council, and later leading the mass non-payment campaign, involving over 18 million people who hadn’t paid a penny or were in arrears, that defeated the poll tax and played a big role in bringing down Margaret Thatcher – MI5 would withdraw a lot of its agents as Militant shrunk considerably in size after those two struggles.
The article reveals: “Use of covert police listening devices suggests that a suspect in Morgan’s murder knew John Davidson, a detective sergeant who is alleged to have confessed to a corrupt relationship with the father of David Norris, one of the racist gang who stabbed Lawrence to death in 1993.”
Mark Ellison QC’s refusal to accept Scotland Yard’s assertion last month that the suspected former corrupt police officer John Davidson played no role in the initial Morgan murder investigation did not help the Met’s case.
Tom Watson, the campaigning Labour MP, said: “This is a remarkable state of affairs. Once again the Met has told a legal inquiry one thing and there is very strong evidence to suggest the exact opposite.
“Why does this keep happening with this particular police service? We are fast approaching the point where public confidence in policing in London will evaporate.”
Of course, many people (particularly young and/or non-white) already feel what way about the police. Greater Manchester Police are also notorious – the Northern Police Monitoring Project is linking together cases of police brutality/corruption like at the Barton Moss anti-fracking camp, and in miscarriage of justice cases like that of Anthony Grainger. According to Anthony’s cousin Wesley Ahmed, he was shot dead by police two months after being cleared of stealing a memory stick with the names of 1,000 informants and was under massive surveillance after being cleared of suspicion. Now Wesley is under a lot of surveillance himself for campaigning for justice for Anthony.
The Special Demonstration Squad (which only operated in London) has been replaced by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit. Although a lot of details of the misdeeds of the state have been revealed, by The Guardian in particular, with Mark Kennedy, alias Mark Stone, “the first spy ever to be identified as a police officer and unmasked in public” (Undercover, page 4), and with that paper printing many revelations by Edward Snowden about the huge PRISM programme in the USA (aiming for total surveillance so that socialist revolution would be impossible in my opinion) and similar surveillance from GCHQ in the UK.
The more activists know about the powers the state has to monitor us and try to subvert our organisations, the easier we can defeat them. It is obviously foolish to go round accusing people of being an infiltrator without very good reason (although I have been known to do it at times in the past including with a certain “Comrade Delta” perhaps hastening his exit from the SWP!), deciding who to trust (or who to trust most) within your organisation or campaign, largely based on whether they come across as nice people as well as the political positions they are taking and have taken in the past, is a useful rule of thumb.