Last Sunday's Observer (14 March 2010) led with a scurrilous 'exposé' of how "an officer from a secretive unit of the Metropolitan police" was "working undercover among anti-racist groups in Britain, during which he routinely engaged in violence against members of the public and uniformed police officers to maintain his cover." Despite the sensationalist introduction to the article, 'Officer A' does not describe any violent incidents in which he was involved. No wonder. The organisation he infiltrated, Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE) is a peaceful organisation of young people, which in the 1990s, led by Militant Labour members (now the Socialist Party), organised mass protests against racism and the BNP. In doing so YRE often faced violence from the far-right, and unfortunately also from the police. Ludicrously the article says Officer A's "key success" was the discovery that the 1993 demonstration against the BNP's headquarters was going to be "far larger than thought". YRE repeatedly told the police that the demonstration would be huge - taking place after four racist murders, including that of Stephen Lawrence, within two miles of the BNP headquarters. Fifty thousand attended.
YRE argued that it should be allowed to march peacefully past the BNP HQ. The police response, as the Observer's website film makes clear, was to refuse to allow the demonstration to march at all, and to carry out an incredibly brutal attack on peaceful young people using their democratic right to protest. It is no surprise to discover that not only did the police use violence against YRE demonstrations, but also infiltrated them. Militant Labour warned of the danger of police infiltration, and in particular of the use of provocateurs. Those who remember 'Officer A' recollect that he did not fully agree with our position on how to defeat the BNP. We explained that defeating racist and fascist groups is a political task which required patient campaigning in working-class communities, rather than street fighting. 'Officer A' wasn't convinced of our position and tended to argue for brawling with the BNP, indicating that he was attempting to play the role of provocateur.
When movements are sufficiently powerful neither state repression or infiltration will stop them. Despite the role of the police, YRE led an anti-racist movement that defeated the BNP for over a decade. Over the last two years the strikes of the prison officers and oil refinery construction workers have illustrated that, when faced with a determined mass movement with a combative leadership, the existing anti-strike and repressive laws cannot prevent a struggle taking place. Nonetheless, the Observer's 'revelations' will serve to warn the new generation of young people who will turn to struggle, that the state and its coercive apparatus - the police, the legal system, the armed forces etc - ultimately are used in the interests, not of the majority, but of the ruling class. An essential part of workers' struggle over the coming years will be for the repeal of anti-trade union and anti-democratic laws, and for the disbandment of the SDS, the Territorial Support Groups (riot police) and all other similar units. This should be linked to the demand for a democratically controlled police service which is under the control of, and accountable to, the communities it serves.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.