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(en) DA #29 - Social Democracy & Other Myths - Democracy & violence: 2004 update

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 17 Feb 2004 08:12:11 +0100 (CET)

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Boys in blue and other not-so-friendly faces of modern western democracy, UK-style.
It is an old joke that any country that puts democratic in its name
isn’t. Look no further than the former East Germany, or the
current Democratic Republic of the Congo. Similarly, when
governments act in the name of democracy and/or freedom, it can be
safely assumed they are acting neither democratically or in ways
which increase any freedom, except the state’s freedom to interfere
with the life of its citizens (or if you live in the UK, ‘its subjects’).
Whilst it might be hypothetically possible to imagine a state in which
everyone agrees to be subjected to the rule of a few, such a
hypothesis also seems to be even more utopian than the most far-out
dreams of the libertarian left. The democracy of the old soviet style
democracies (much simplified) was that everything was done in the
people’s name, and, if they wanted to, they could rise up and put a
stop to it - which they eventually did. In absolute monarchies and
dictatorships, rule of the monarch was through the power of heredity,
tradition, conquest and divine appointment. If you didn’t like it,
they had gangs, knights, armies, secret services, spooks,
‘intelligence’ services and police forces (oh, and their church)
to persuade you otherwise.

In social democracies (as is expanded on elsewhere in this issue of
DA) the stated idea is to tame capitalism on behalf of the populace,
and surely, there are people out there who believe that is what they
are doing. But in order to tame – get some concessions from –
capitalism, what they need to do is tame/control the populace, or at
least, that bit of the populace that does least well out of capitalism
whilst contributing most to it: the working class. In a modern western
state, this control is achieved through various methods of assuasion
and persuasion that it really is the best available system, by use of
media, spin, and numerous politicians, pundits and other chancers.
One method is to compare and contrast with less subtle examples of
state control around the world. “Rock the boat and this is what
you’re going to get”, is what we are told, directly or implicitly.

It is not normally pointed out that these very despots, tyrants, mass
murderers and other ogres are there due to the direct influence of
western countries. For example, they may allow corporations to
exploit their working class or their natural resources for the benefit of
the rich world - places where social democrats have a little leeway
and liberal democracy can be afforded. However, even in these liberal
democracies, the veneer of participation and freedom of voice and
action are barely tolerated, and when the paranoid state decides, then
the various methods of violent repression come to the fore.

The modern state has a whole host of less-than-subtle methods of
control ready for when the ungrateful people who are ruled for their
own good fail to be fully appreciative of this fact. Obviously, the first
line of attack is the police force - which becomes increasingly
paramilitary with each passing Home Secretary. The police are there
to protect the loyal subjects of her majesty from all those nasty
criminals and terrorists. However, their main job is to use the many
laws at their disposal to stop militant working class self-organisation,
collective action and protest.

Now, nicking ‘criminals’ and ‘terrorists’ is unlikely to
need massive numbers of armed and trained riotplods. Even in the
‘good old days’ (sic), the early bobbies were actually armed
and armoured, just not as overtly as today. A strong helmet and a very
heavy and solid lump of wood (a truncheon is a mean weapon) would
do for day to day bashing of miscreants round the head. Such deviants
could always be separated up and talked to in privacy later on. The
understanding was that when there was serious civil disobedience
involving large numbers of people, either it would be contained in a
working class area, or more usually, the troops, as they had done for
centuries, would come in and sort it all out.

Rulers have always seen a need for minders and security forces in
real numbers for the more important day-to-day task of mass social
control. Before the police, there was the army, and before that, any
paid band of mercenaries or desperadoes would do. As the 20th
century developed and the army being called in started to seem a bit
excessive (well, until Thatcher briefly re-popularised it), the overt use
of troops to suppress protest and mass disobedience became a little

Hence, coppers started playing more of a role, and the day-to-day
bobby began to get more and more kit, more and more training, and
began to be well up for it.

The cops also learned one or two lessons. If all they had were lumps
of wood and funny-shaped helmets, then they were more or less on a
par with the people they were seeking to control, and when there were
more of them than police, they lost ground. So off they went and got
some new kit. Now half a dozen people cannot get together without a
white van of fully armoured riotplods being parked just round the
corner. This is serious preparation for violence, looking like some
cross between a goth convention and knights in armour - dressed in
sexy dark colours and big boots, thick overalls with leg armour, body
armour, and armour on their arms, hands and shoulders, all topped off
with a big helmet and a shiny shield. They now carry night sticks,
pepper and gas sprays, and can always call on the baton-wielding

Not only are they going about prepared with malice of forethought to
enact violence, they are doing so in a provocative manner designed to
intimidate. The clear message is “don’t push it sonny”, by
megaphone, radio, video cameras scattered about our towns and
cities, helicopters, and who knows what other Big Brother kit. The
important point here is that violence is not just there in direct
confrontation; it is most often felt in terms of intimidation.

Through its police arm, the state can lock people up by force for
suspicion of breaking laws the state itself defines. By criminalising
dissent, for example, labelling those who question any aspect of the
state’s behaviour as terrorists, they can remove activists by
force, isolating them from others and sending a very clear message to
others, “don’t even think about messing with us, we are
bigger, stronger, better organised and have far less scruples”. The
whole development of ID cards (see also page 8) has very little to do
with anti-terrorist activities. ‘Real’ terrorists or insurgents
tend to be honest about who they are, although they may hide their
intentions (which won’t be written on any ID card anyway).
Equally, it may make a limited amount of financial fraud harder, but the
average criminal isn’t going to be worried about having an ID card.
ID cards are really about shouting to the population as a whole that
they are part of the state; the state knows who they are and where
they are, and any messing about will mean that they will be ‘dealt

While the new-look police ‘take care’ of things at home, the
official standing armies are now mainly sent around the world to kill
and be killed in the support of capitalist interests overseas. They are
kept busy and trained in empire building. They also help to inflate
politicians’ egos, as they see themselves as statesmen (sic),
striding the world stage against a uniformed backdrop. However, the
army also acts as a domestic insurance policy, which can easily be
brought back to control - or at least keep contained - a wayward
populace, as they have been doing for decades in northern Ireland.

Without getting all paranoid and conspiracy-obsessed, behind all this
overt use of violence and threat of violence, there is also the secret,
unknown world of the intelligence communities. They are there to spy
and prey upon the people. Functioning outside the normal legal
niceties, their role is occasionally brought into the light of day, when
one of the pet spooks, no doubt upset about their pension
arrangements, decides to leak what exactly they have been up to.
Such ‘insights’ only serve to confirm state paranoia, with
supposed grown-ups running around spying on left-wing groups,
infiltrating trade unions and generally hyping things in a bid to justify
their existence. Also, of course, their activities are not restricted to
surveillance, infiltration, propaganda, acting as agent provocateurs
– there is a more hands-on side to their activities.

This may all make for a gloomy outlook for 2004, but the twist in the
tail is that paranoid leaders always end up overstepping the mark, and
people turn around en masse and say ‘we’ve had enough’.
Sexy S&M gear or not, the modern police are overstepping big time,
and more and more people have had enough.
Direct Action is published by Solidarity Federation, the British section
of the International Workers’ Association,

* DA is the Solidarity Federation magazine which is about getting
real change with anarcho-syndicalism. What’s that?

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