When Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death in 1993, the high-profile failure of the police to carry out anything resembling a proper, competent investigation into this racially-motivated crime led to unprecedented scrutiny and public exposure of the institutional racism which remains firmly entrenched in Britain’s police force today.
The brave and tireless work undertaken by a number of anti-racist campaigners and support groups, alongside the dogged persistence of the Lawrence family, proved extremely unpopular with the police and government top brass, who, whilst publically maintaining they were doing all they could to help the Lawrence family, covertly worked to undermine and discredit both the family and the campaign for a proper investigation.
Peter Francis, whistleblower
Now, an ongoing investigation by the Guardian newspaper has revealed an extensive and long-term programme of covert surveillance and political policing, which was led by a force known as the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS). This gang of mercenary sociopaths infiltrated a wide variety of campaign groups, in many instances for years at a time, and many of its officers formed sexual relationships with campaigners and activists under false pretences. Some even fathered children with the partners they were living with under these assumed identities.
Peter Francis, who has worked with the Guardian for the last few years, was one of these officers, and is the source of the latest revelations regarding the surveillance of the family of Stephen Lawrence and the attempts to undermine and discredit the campaign his family waged for justice. On 24 June the Guardian reported:
“A police officer who spent four years living undercover in protest groups has revealed how he participated in an operation to spy on and attempt to ‘smear’ the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, the friend who witnessed his fatal stabbing and campaigners angry at the failure to bring his killers to justice.
“Peter Francis, a former undercover police officer turned whistle-blower, said his superiors wanted him to find ‘dirt’ that could be used against members of the Lawrence family, in the period shortly after Lawrence’s racist murder in April 1993.
“He also said senior officers deliberately chose to withhold his role spying on the Lawrence campaign from Sir William Macpherson, who headed a public inquiry to examine the police investigation into the death.
“Francis said he had come under ‘huge and constant pressure’ from superiors to ‘hunt for disinformation’ that might be used to undermine those arguing for a better investigation into the murder. He posed as an anti-racist activist in the mid-1990s in his search for intelligence.
“‘I had to get any information on what was happening in the Stephen Lawrence campaign,’ Francis said. ‘They wanted the campaign to stop. It was felt it was going to turn into an elephant.
“‘Throughout my deployment there was almost constant pressure on me personally to find out anything I could that would discredit these campaigns.’
“Francis also describes being involved in an ultimately failed effort to discredit Duwayne Brooks, a close friend of Lawrence who was with him on the night he was killed and the main witness to his murder. The former spy found evidence that led to Brooks being arrested and charged in October 1993, before the case was thrown out by a judge.
“Francis was a member of a controversial covert unit known as the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS). A two-year investigation by the Guardian has already revealed how undercover operatives routinely adopted the identities of dead children and formed long-term sexual relationships with people they were spying on.
“The past practices of undercover police officers are the subject of what the Met described as ‘a thorough review and investigation’ …
“Francis has decided to reveal his true identity so he can openly call for a public inquiry into undercover policing of protest. ‘There are many things that I’ve seen that have been morally wrong, morally reprehensible,’ he said. ‘Should we, as police officers, have the power to basically undermine political campaigns? I think that the clear answer to that is no.’”
It’s not just a ‘Met’ thing
Anyone with the misconception that it’s just the Met police who are institutionally racist and underhand should look no further than the case of Christopher Alder. Christopher, a black male and former soldier, died on the floor of a Hull police station as he choked on his own vomit in 1998.
As he died, police stood about watching, made monkey noises and laughed and joked. All this was caught on CCTV. An inquest found that Christopher was “unlawfully killed”, but of course no police officer has ever stood trial, and the report into his death found that the police had been merely “unwittingly racist”.
Following on from the revelations of spying in the Met, an internal search of police records by Humberside police ‘discovered’ information to suggest that Christopher’s sister Janet, who bravely campaigned for justice after his death and continues to campaign against racism, injustice and police crimes, was spied on by the Humberside force.
Janet has not only exposed the actions of the police inside the station on the night of her brother’s death, she’s helped many other campaigners to call into question the appalling racism inherent in the police force and challenged the state-sponsored myth that the police are merely there to ‘serve and protect’ the community!
Janet has had to endure further misery at the hands of police, including the trauma of burying her brother again after his body was ‘discovered’ in a morgue some 11 years after he was supposedly buried. An unfortunate mistake? Perhaps not.
The latest findings concerning the surveillance of Ms Alder by the cops have led to the instigation of yet another IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) investigation and, perhaps, after a few years, there will even be an apology.
But whilst the state seeks to manage this most recent exposure of police criminality, subversion and interference, we must make it clear that the role of the police under the bourgeois dictatorship (democracy for the rich, dictatorship for the rest of us) is to protect the interests of the ruling class, manage the plebs and ensure the status quo is preserved.
Marxism and the state
Although the bourgeois class (the capitalist ruling class) prefers to maintain its rule by consent (whether through apathy or bribery), it is quite ready to resort to naked force, or covert intrigue and espionage, to maintain its class rule over the proletariat (the working classes).
The history of the police is the history of the class struggle. From its earliest days to its modern incarnation the police have always been a tool of the capitalist class to protect their property and their hold on power.
All revolutionary movements – and even those movements and campaigns which do not have conscious revolutionary goals but which bring into question and expose the injustice of bourgeois rule – present a challenge to the capitalists’ hold on state power. All of these are therefore legitimate targets for the police and law courts as far as the capitalists are concerned.
Whether it’s the mighty Bolsheviks or the Youth against Racism in Europe (another of the former targets of the Special Demonstration Squad), the bourgeoisie knows that its system is riddled by internal contradictions; that the majority of the people would benefit from socialist revolution; and that anything which brings them closer to social revolution, anything which challenges the idea of the total supremacy and ongoing hegemony of the rule of the financial elite, the banks and barons of finance capital, is a danger that has to be dealt with.
From the very beginning, the police have been used as an instrument of class rule. In 1820s’ London, Bow Street Runners (the forerunners of modern policemen) infiltrated the revolutionary movements of the British working class, most famously in the Cato Street conspiracy.
Outraged by the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, in which unarmed workers had been chopped down by the army, and under the heavy weight of autocratic rule, a group of revolutionaries called the Spencean Philanthropists were betrayed by police agents in their ranks.
The group’s members were captured, and they were hanged and beheaded at Newgate after a trial in which police agents were the key witnesses. How very democratic! Right from the start, the police were involved in maintaining the rule of the bourgeois class by any means necessary – not in helping Victorian grannies across cobbled Cockney streets!
Fast forward and cross the Atlantic to the civil-rights movement of 1960s America and we find a network of police spies and agent provocateurs sent into the movements of the revolutionary workers and students such as the Black Panthers, Young Lords and Students for a Democratic Society.
A huge programme of surveillance, murder and covert operations known as Cointelpro (Counter Intelligence Programme) saw the false imprisonment of many of the best leaders of the working class and oppressed masses, and the eventual subversion of their once-revolutionary organisations.
Everywhere, the class struggle rages on. At times it is more open and the clashes are sharper, at other times less so. Everywhere, the workers and the poor organise to advance their interests or to protest at their poor treatment and conditions. And everywhere, the ruling class, through its lackeys, dupes and flunkeys inside our movement, and by its use of paid police agents and provocateurs, works to ensure that our movement is discredited and undermined. And when it is deemed to be necessary, the ruling class has no hesitation in using lethal force to protect its privilege.
Whether your name is Pat Finucane or Fred Hampton – if you’re getting in the way of the profit-takers you may well find yourself going the same way as the Spencean Philanthropists. That the police continue to conduct undercover investigations – spying, counter-intelligence and reconnaissance work – comes as no surprise to those advanced workers who make a study of their history and use Marxism Leninism as their guide to action.
What is to be done?
A struggle against the bourgeois class is possible. Whilst the means of terror, subversion and murder in our rulers’ hands are unparalleled, the great appear great merely because we are on our knees!
Lenin and Stalin, the leaders of the Russian Bolsheviks, forged a disciplined and centrally-organised party of revolution that waged a determined struggle against the Russian king (the tsar) and the Russian capitalists, as well as against the regime’s paid agents, spies and traitors, and they were able to overcome all obstacles in their path and build up a new type of society – one where the police, army and state machinery was in the hands of the Russian workers and peasants.
And because the communists were successful in carrying out a workers’ revolution, because they were able to use state power against the old bourgeois class and build a socialist society, our bourgeoisie continues to moan and wail about the ‘police state of Bolshevik Russia’, to decry the ‘terrible crimes of the KGB’ and to squeal about the ‘oppression of the Stasi’ and ‘secret police’ in the former socialist countries!
This is all done to distract the workers from the real facts. That the Met Police, the LAPD – indeed, all police forces in the capitalist world, are in the hands of the capitalists and conduct daily outrages against the poor and oppressed – the majority of the people – on behalf of the minority, the rich.
The police are just one tool by which this tiny class exerts its rule over the masses. What our rulers really despise about the KGB, the Stasi and other socialist police forces is the fact that for the first time in history the workers had taken hold of the reins of power and expropriated the scum that for so long had murdered and set up for hanging, deportation or destitution those who dared to challenge the ruling class and fight for a better world.
Whilst the police and state security apparatus is huge, it is not as large as the working class. Moreover, it relies on workers to do its dirty work. Without our cooperation, our rulers would have no power at all and their machinery of repression would be useless!
We are the majority; we must harness the power of this mighty class; we must unite and lead the working masses in a revolutionary struggle against imperialism and capitalist dictatorship. We have allies in this mission, and they are the people who currently wage struggles in their own countries to be rid of the British, American and French invaders, corporate looters, spies and agents. We must unite with these brave fighters against our common enemy and build a new, socialist society!