Sunday, 23 January 2011

The problems of police infiltration

In recent weeks, more than a few reports have emerged of undercover police infiltrating a range of activist groups. For more specific details, see recent stories on Fitwatch and Indymedia. The latest scoop is that these spies were cleared to have sex with activists in order to blend in. Understandably, this has provoked much outrage and concern. But the question remains: what can we do about it?

There are reactive actions in the pipeline. Tomorrow, female activists will be conducting a "blockade" of Scotland Yard, saying that "women in the UK should not have to worry about being sexually abused by policemen. It is as simple as that." This is fair enough. The idea that the state should actively encourage its agents to exploit the sexuality of those it supposedly serves in order to aid it in disrupting and suppressing dissent only further demonstrates why that institution of domination ought to be dismantled.

Other initiatives, such as the call on Facebook for "an independent judicial inquiry into the undercover police surveillance of environmental protesters" are more misguided.

After all, the whole point of a state is to exercise authority and dominion over its subjects. Of necessity to its own survival, it must put down challenges to the ruling class, and no "independent" review will end this practice any more than the Chilcott inquiry will see Tony Blair indicted for waging an illegal war of aggression in Iraq. Any and all faith in the system to right itself is wholly misplaced.

So, what can we do? As Adam Ford points out, this is a problem unique to broad-based anti-capitalist movements. Because it is "workplaces and neighbourhoods are where the day-to-day battle against capitalist domination is fought," and "it is there that the resistance is most protected from stage subterfuge." We know our work colleagues and our neighbours, and an infiltrator is far easier to root out. But, in broader spheres, "it is surely impossible for such activists to guard against clandestine state intervention."

Despite this, one thing activists must not do is become paralysed by suspicion. If organised resistance retreats into itself, it becomes disconnected from the working class. Thus, we do the state's job for it by defusing the threat of popular anger exploding upon the establishment.

By remaining open enough that people beyond the "professional left" can become involved, we of course return to the problem of easy infiltration. Especially since, in Ford's words, such infiltrators are given "police licence to commit crimes" so that "they will necessarily gain a certain amount of trust from people who don't know them." I am one amongst many who has operated under the presumption that "if they are putting themselves at risk, they must be trustworthy."

To combat this, yet remain open enough to not become insular and irrelevant, is surely a very fine balance. I doubt that there is a formula, and if there is I certainly don't have it.

What I do know is that as police tactics evolve so must our responses. New weapons to combat state suppression emerge all the time. Fitwatch is one. Interactive maps to avoid kettling on demonstrations is another. As long as we're willing to learn the lessons that present themselves, it's not unfeasible to think that we can move a step ahead of police evidence gathering techniques.