Tear gas, police spies and the lie of democracy

When the police start firing tear gas and rubber bullets at you for having the audacity to protest in the streets, you know you’re not living in a democracy.

The current rulers of both Turkey and Brazil were sold to the people as outsiders – an Islamic moralist and a former Marxist freedom fighter.

But Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Dilma Rousseff are both from the same mould as Tony Blair, who fooled so many people in the UK back in 1997, or Barack Obama, who delighted liberals all across the world when he first became President of the USA in 2009.

They are nothing but frontpeople for the same deadly neoliberal system that has the world’s population and environment in its toxic grip.

Once in power, the pretence cannot be maintained and, if challenged by dissent, the local franchise of the global capitalist system will always react in the same way – with repression of one kind or another.

It will hardly come as a surprise to most anarchists that the UK state has been developing a method of total surveillance of electronic communication passing through the country.

But the details provided by a report in The Guardian on Saturday, thanks to courageous whistleblower Edward Snowden, are certainly welcome.

Perhaps more people will wake up to the reality that the state is not a benign entity, protecting the population from “terrorism” and crime, but a hostile organisation that regards its own subjects as a threat to the interests it really represents.

Behind the official language used to justify the surveillance, we see that these interests are, as you’d expect, its own monopoly on power (“national security”) and the unimpeded continuation of the capitalist system which it imposes on us (“economic wellbeing”).

When Special Branch police officers openly argue that protest is covered by the definition of terrorism in the 2001 legislation, you don’t have to be a genius to understand the intent behind these insidious systems of control.

The aim of the British state is to ensure we never reach the point here where it has to resort to using tear gas and rubber bullets on the mainland, that its totally ruthless determination to maintain the stranglehold of the ruling elite is never exposed as such, that the illusion of government by consent remains intact.

Coincidentally, the same issue of The Guardian also includes a report on police spies in the protest movement, ahead of the publication of a new book, Undercover: The True Story of Britain’s Secret Police.

It reveals that Special Branch conman Bob Lambert not only infiltrated London Greenpeace (and sexually and emotionally exploited female activists), but also co-wrote the leaflet that led to the McLibel court battle.

Although the affair ended up as a great moral victory for Dave Morris and Helen Steel, and a PR disaster for McDonald’s, it is fair to assume that this was not the intention of the police spy.

Instead, he was presumably acting as an agent provocateur, aiming to serve up an easy target for the corporate lawyers and thus deterring other campaigners from criticising McDonald’s.

This is a key element to the story of state’s infiltration of groups who dare to challenge the state-capital mafia which is sometimes overlooked – they’re not just “spying”, watching what’s going on, but taking a pro-active role in steering activists in directions favoured by the state.

Another example of this is revealed in a recent book published by Corporate Watch, Managing Dissent: Capitalism, Democracy and the Organisation of Consent. Tom Anderson notes there that the presence of undercover officers “can help the police to shape and mould the activities of groups that they have infiltrated” and “undermine and disrupt political activity which challenges the system”.

The British state is a powerful and sophisticated creature. Who knows in what other ways its infiltrators have, and no doubt continue to, undermine efforts to combat capitalism? What has so far been revealed may only be the most obvious tip of the iceberg.

Anarchists should be careful not to fall into the trap of accepting reformist liberal framing of these issues – for instance, despite the quality of its news coverage here, The Guardian’s editorial piece still trotted out the usual warning about what could happen if the total surveillance system fell into “the wrong hands”.

The hands of an ultra-powerful group of secretive, corrupt, power-hungry, warmongering sociopaths who are happy to destroy the planet we live on for their short-term material greed, perhaps?

We need to counter that line by saying loudly and clearly that we are already living in that plutofascist society and that the tear gas, surveillance and police spies are all just part of the prison they have built around us.

We need to say loudly and clearly that as anarchists we reject all of that, in its entirety, and aren’t just calling for some adjustments here and there.

We need to say loudly and clearly that we refuse to be confined by the mindset that cannot see any other possibilities than the sick capitalist society in which are imprisoned, that we refuse to play their game by their rules, that we don’t even accept the language in which they talk to us or their most basic assumptions about the legitimacy of land ownership, of authority, of their judicial system and the force by which they impose it on us.

This, as I argue in The Anarchist Revelation, is the first step to doing something about it. Our vision – of an entirely different future from the one with which we’ve been presented – has to be voiced before it can be heard. After it has been heard it can be shared and dreamed. And after it has been dreamed it can be turned into reality.

As Dave Morris told The Guardian on Saturday: “All over the world police and secret agents infiltrate opposition movements in order to protect the rich and powerful but as we have seen in so many countries recently people power and the pursuit of truth and justice is unstoppable.”