Monday, 15 October 2018

Police Spies Exposed

Today’s Guardian newspaper gives us the perfect topic for a new exhibition at the William Morris Museum in Kelmscott House or at the Morris Gallery in Walthamstow: undercover police penetration of leftwing and other progressive groups.  Drawing on findings by the Undercover Research Group, the Guardian reports that the Socialist Workers Party was infiltrated ‘almost continuously between 1970 and 2007’, and that ‘Undercover officers spied on 22 leftwing groups, 10 environmental groups, nine anti-racist campaigns and nine anarchist groups, according to the database.  They also spied on campaigns against apartheid, the arms trade, nuclear weapons and the monarchy, as well as trade unions. Among those spied on were 16 campaigns run by families or their supporters seeking justice over alleged police misconduct’.  These fake activists tricked women into sexual relationships and – in a still more revolting detail – sometimes used the identities of dead babies to generate their own cover.  In contrast, only three far-right groups were infiltrated, a fact which tells you all you need to know about the political leanings of the British police force.

Morris faced similar problems during his own activist career in the Socialist League. In January 1888 he wrote a forceful piece for Commonweal entitled ‘Police Spies Exposed’, in which he argued that ‘police-spying … has become a recognized department of governmental work … it is really an international political secret police that is maintained and worked from Berlin’.  He then gives a list of thirteen names of these agents, including ‘those employed in London’.  How you make an effective public exhibition out of this topic and material, I’m not sure; but then, that’s not my speciality.  I’m sure Morris volunteers at the Museum or Gallery could very effectively do so if they put their mind to it, so I commend this issue to them. 

We would surely be very naïve if we thought police penetration of left and progressive groups had stopped with the disbanding of the Special Demonstration Squad and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit.   No doubt it continues, in suitably updated forms.   Imagine if the William Morris Society itself became a sufficiently effective socialist organisation for the British police to think it worth infiltrating.  Now there is a consummation devoutly to be wished!    

1 comment:

Tony Pinkney said...

The 'Guardian' article is available at: