The State: A warning to the Labour movement

A 1983 pamphlet written by comrades in Britain, republished 2006.

The articles in this pamphlet, which have been edited for re-publication, originally appeared in the following issues of Militant: Peter Taaffe's articles on the state—518 (5 September 1980), 523 (10 October 1980), and 524 (17 October 1980); Ted Grant's 'A Coup in Britain'—547 ( 10 April 1981); and Lynn Walsh's articles on the police-571 (3 October 1981) and 573 (16 October 1981). Drawings and Design by Alan Hardman

Preface 2006

The BBC2 programme, The Plot Against Harold Wilson, screened in 2006 on the 30th anniversary of Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson's resignation in 1976, caused considerable interest.

The events of this period, as they became clear, gave rise to a series of articles in The Militant, forerunner of The Socialist, warning the Labour and trade union activists about the threat posed by the state forces, supplying a Marxist analysis, and a strategy and tactics to deal with the state.

The articles were brought together to form the pamphlet 'The state: A Warning to the Labour Movement'. The basic analysis presented in the articles in this collection remains invaluable to socialists.

As a preface for the internet edition of this 1983 pamphlet we reprint a review of the BBC programme from The Socialist 6 -12 April 2006.

The Plot Against Harold Wilson BBC2

When the generals prepared to seize power in Britain

"Tanks on the streets. The Prime Minister toppled. The Cabinet imprisoned on the QE2. Fiction? No. Thirty years ago a secret cabal of generals, aristocrats and businessmen really did plot to oust Harold Wilson and seize power."

This is how the right-wing Daily Mail half-approvingly reviewed the coup plans against Labour governments in the late 1960s and mid-70s that featured in the BBC2 docu-drama The Plot Against Harold Wilson. Alistair Tice, Sheffield Socialist Party

In March 1976, Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson made the shock announcement that he was resigning with three years left to run. There was much rumour as to why at the time but no satisfactory explanation.

The thirty year anniversary has been marked by renewed speculation that his failing health and exhaustion were compounded by "dirty tricks" from "dark forces" that were trying to undermine him.

A few weeks after he stood down, Wilson secretly invited two BBC journalists, Barrie Penrose and Roger Courtiour, to investigate a "British Watergate" because he said, "Democracy as we know it is in grave danger."

Interspersed with archive newsreel, 1970s music, re-enactment and secret tapings of Wilson and his political secretary and confidante Marcia Williams, Penrose and Courtiour re-tell their investigations.

Much has come out over the last thirty years to substantiate the plot but unfortunately the young reporters got sidetracked by the Jeremy Thorpe affair and so never became our own Woodward and Bernstein (the Washington Post journalists who exposed the Watergate scandal).

The background to this story was the Cold War, a worsening economic situation, growing trade union unrest and the Labour Party being pushed to the left. As former MI5 agent Peter Wright confirmed in his book Spycatcher, Wilson was the victim of a protracted, illegal campaign of destabilisation by a rogue element in the security services. Paranoia

The CIA feared that Wilson was a Soviet agent put in place after the KGB had, according to the spooks, poisoned the previous Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell. MI5 agents then burgled, bugged and spread anti-Wilson black propaganda throughout the media.

This heightened the very real fears of the establishment that Britain was sliding towards anarchy and that Wilson either would not, or could not, deal with the power of the trade unions, who they thought were riddled with 'lefties' and 'commies', and were ruining the country!

If this all seems far-fetched, you have to realise that these spooks were conditioned by their own upbringing, schooling and prejudices to see "reds under the bed" at every turn.

Even David Owen, who became a Labour Foreign Secretary and then founder of the right-wing Social Democratic Party (SDP), was alleged to be a Soviet spy by MI5. It turned out they'd mixed him up with a left Labour MP called Will Owen! British 'intelligence' was no more intelligent then than it is today (WMD...45 minutes...etc!).

This paranoia was exquisitely expressed by a Colonel Blimp made real - retired Major Alexander Greenwood: "I came back from a cruise down the Rhine and, to my horror, I discovered that England was no longer a green and pleasant land. We thought, therefore, that we would form some sort of organisation that would come in if the government failed."

He plotted with General Sir Walter Walker, a former Nato commander-in-chief, and Colonel David Stirling, founder of the SAS. They had both raised private armies of several thousand men, ready to act if the call came. Walker even prepared a speech for the Queen to read out after the coup!

Whilst this all sounds a bit comic opera, there were serious discussions amongst sections of the capitalist class at the time about the need for a "national government" and even an "authoritarian solution". Preparations

Wilson was not a left-winger. In fact he denounced the 1966 seamen's strike as a "communist conspiracy" and accused the National Union of Seamen of being under the control of a "tightly-knit group of politically motivated men" (which included John Prescott at that time on the NUS national executive!).

He then tried to bring in anti-union legislation, entitled In Place of Strife, but was forced to back down by trade union opposition and a split in the cabinet. This infuriated the ruling class who, amidst claims of anarchy and chaos, began to call for a national government.

In 1968, a private meeting took place in the Belgravia home of Cecil King, the then owner of the Daily Mirror group, who asked Lord Mountbatten if he would be the titular head of a new administration.

This came to nothing and the coup threat receded when the Conservatives won the 1970 general election. However, the plans emerged even more seriously after Heath was brought down by the miners in 1974 and Wilson was returned with a more left-wing manifesto.

The Times (the then mouthpiece of big business before Murdoch took it over) declared: "We cannot afford the cost of surrender" to the miners and said in this situation "you do not only have cranks, or shabby men in Hitler moustaches, advocating an authoritarian solution. The most calm and respectable people come to believe that the only remaining choice is to impose a policy of sound money at the point of a bayonet."

This echoed their support for Pinochet's military coup in Chile in 1973 which overthrew a democratically elected left-wing government: "The circumstances were such that a reasonable military man could in good faith have thought his constitutional duty to intervene." Warning

Such a view amongst the British ruling class was given theoretical justification in Inside Right a book written in 1977 by Ian Gilmour, who later served in the Thatcher government.

He wrote: "Conservatives do not worship democracy. For them majority rule is a device ...and if it is leading to an end that is undesirable or is inconsistent with itself, then there is a theoretical case for ending it."

Military manoeuvres were carried out at Heathrow airport in 1975 in what was described as an anti-terrorist exercise. Sound familiar? Wilson claimed that he and the Home Secretary were not informed but the tops of the military must have been involved. It was both a warning and a dress rehearsal.

In the end it wasn't necessary for the state to bring in the tanks. Wilson resigned, Callaghan lost to Thatcher and she confronted the "enemy within" - trade unions and socialism.

But these events show how important it is that in the struggle to change society the working class have a clear understanding of the role that the state forces play in defending the power and rule of the capitalist class.

1983 Intro

"It couldn't happen here!" This is the reassuring myth peddled by spokesmen of the ruling class in relation to the possibility of a coup d'etat in Britain. According to this anodyne view, there are certain special, unique qualities about British society and the British character which, come what may, ensure the survival of British democracy, making the idea of military rule almost ridiculous.

This view is shared by the right-wing leaders of the labour movement. Commenting on the Cecil King/Lord Mountbatten episode, analysed in Ted Grant's article, A Coup in Britain? Denis Healey, Labour's Minister of Defence 1964-70, said:

"I cannot conceive any circumstances in which British officers, however senior, could or would attempt to organise a coup d'etat against the elected government of Britain. The nature and training of the officers in all three services rules it out."

But the evidence of recent years is to the contrary. Even if we leave aside historical examples—and international experience—there have been several sinister episodes which are a warning of the threat posed to the working class by the state's "armed bodies of men" if the labour movement fails to carry through a socialist change of society in the next period.

In the very article in which, under the headline Coups and Codswallop, Denis Healey dismisses the King/Mountbatten story (New Standard, 10 April 1981), Healey refers to "seditious muttering among very senior generals" when the Labour government was considering the feasibility of military intervention in Rhodesia. Of course, Denis "immediately called in the ring-leader and gave him my views of his behaviour. That was the end of that."

Labour activists, however, must take the question far more seriously, as the material set out in our pamphlet demonstrates. The question of the state is fundamental for Marxists, in Britain no less than in other countries. On at least three occasions—in 1968, 1974 and 1979—there have been discussions between top military officers, press barons, prominent businessmen and worthy establishment figures about bringing down the Labour govemment-of-the-day and replacing it with some kind of "Government of National Emergency" backed by the monarchy and the armed services.

The 1968 plot was aimed against a Labour government which came to power in 1964, at the beginning of the economic crisis, when, long before the other major capitalist economies, diseased British capitalism began to reveal all the symptoms of organic crisis. The Wilson government implemented only very limited reforms, and after 1966 adopted crisis measures in the interests of big business. It hardly posed a serious challenge to the system. Nor in the case of the 1974-79 Labour government, which inaugurated monetarism, carried out cuts in social spending, and imposed an incomes policy, was big business facing a serious threat to its wealth and power. Nevertheless, even at that stage, representatives of capital concluded that Labour's right-wing leaders no longer constituted an "acceptable" government because they were subject to enormous pressure from the working class.

For the capitalists' serious strategists, talk of coups was premature, the trigger-happy plotting of political mavericks and ageing ultra-right officers. Nevertheless, the "loose-talk" of the "gin-sodden" generals and their associates, dismissed as unimportant by Wilson, Callaghan and Healey, was symptomatic of a significant change in the thinking of the ruling class. As the advanced capitalist countries moved deeper and deeper into crisis, the spokesmen of capital began to reflect gloomily on the future of their system.

Under the system of political democracy the ruling class, while retaining decisive economic power and control of the state machine, was forced to concede democratic rights to the working class. It has again been brought home to them by the crisis that this was viable only on the basis of sustained economic growth. When capitalism is incapable of developing production and improving the living standards of the majority of workers, political democracy becomes, at best, an expensive overhead for big business. Ultimately, it becomes an intolerable liability. In the end, the survival of the capitalist system, which is based on the profitability of the handful of millionaires who own the majority of finance and industry, depends on settling accounts with the working class. The right to strike and form trade unions, and all the other democratic rights the ruling class was obliged to concede by workers' struggles, constitute insuperable obstacles to the barbarous measures inevitably involved in any attempt to resuscitate a terminally diseased capitalism.

Within the velvet glove of liberal democracy, therefore, the ruling class is beginning to clench the iron fist of naked class rule.

For the time being, moves against an elected government would be jumping the gun. Nevertheless, in the staff colleges senior officers are being prepared to conduct "counter-insurgency" operations in Britain, and the generals clearly regard Northern Ireland as the training ground for methods which they will have to use in the future against mass opposition on the mainland. The lesson of Chile

The lesson of Chile, where in 1973 the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende was overthrown and the workers' movement crushed by Pinochet's bloody counter-revolution, must be taken as a serious warning to the British as well as to the world labour movement. Chile underlines the fatal consequences of taking half-measures which provoke a reaction from the ruling class while failing to give the working class decisive control of the economy and the state. In particular, the lessons of the Allende government's fundamentally mistaken policies towards the state's armed bodies of men (see page 39) must be absorbed by the British labour movement.

However, there is no basis for the idea put forward by some pessimists that because of recent moves to strengthen the state apparatus "fascism" or military-police dictatorship is just round the corner in Britain. The Tones would like to fetter the workers' organisations, and their anti-trade union laws are a step in this direction. But it is one thing to put laws on the statute book and another to implement them. There are dozens of cases already, for instance, in which the Tones' legal restrictions on picketing have been brushed aside by striking workers. The balance of class forces does not favour the capitalists. While the long economic upswing since 1945 undermined the political consciousness of the working class, the changed conditions produced by the new phase of capitalist development enormously strengthened the working class, in numbers, in cohesion, in organisational strength and in terms of its weight in society. The correlation of class forces is overwhelmingly on the side of the workers.

There is not only the sombre tragedy of Chile, but the brilliant example of France, when in May 1968 over 10 million workers participated in a magnificent general strike. The economy was paralysed and the state suspended in mid-air. When General de Gaulle fled in panic to the headquarters of the French forces in Germany, his commander-in-chief, General Massu, told him bluntly that it would be impossible for the army to intervene against the working class under those conditions. A rapid and peaceful socialist transformation of French society would have been entirely possible. It was only the refusal of the leaders of the Communist Party and the Socialist Party to give the elemental movement socialist aims which allowed French capitalism to re-establish its state power. These and other developments, which are dealt with in Peter Taaffe's article The Role of the State (page 25), point to the vital necessity of a clear understanding of these questions.

Three of the articles in the pamphlet deal with the role of the police, an issue dramatically raised by the riots in Brixton, Toxteth, and altogether thirty towns and cities in April and July 1981. Underlying the explosion of anger was the frustration of young people, especially young blacks, at appalling conditions and the bleak prospects offered by ever-lengthening dole queues. But the trigger of the riots in virtually every case was aggressive and provocative policing. The riots and their aftermath brought home to many workers the fact that prejudice and racial abuse, arbitrary arrests, bending of the law, and brutality on the part of sections of the police were more than isolated, "unfortunate" incidents. Major shift

More fundamentally, the events of 1981 highlighted a major shift in the role of the police. While the last vestiges of democratic accountability were being steadily eroded, the police chiefs had step by step introduced new "operational methods". The formation of groups like the Special Patrol Group, equipped with riot gear and backed up with the latest technology, had given the police a para-military capacity of intervening against demonstrations, mass pickets, and trouble-torn areas. The change was justified by Chief Constables in the name of the "fight against crime". But it was clear that the approach amounted to a strengthening of the police, not as an effective crime-fighting organisation, but as a repressive force, as an important arm of the state apparatus. As with the new orientation of army training towards "counter-insurgency" operations, this change corresponds to the ruling class's new perspective of crisis, upheaval and mass opposition.

The very mild criticisms of the police made by Lord Scarman after his enquiry into the "Brixton Disorders of 10/12 April 1981" and his ultra-cautious recommendations for reform have made no real difference to the policies of senior police chiefs. And the hard-line chief constables have been backed all the way by the Thatcher government.

Between 1978 and 1981 spending on the police was increased by 87%. In the coming year, to March 1984, spending on law and order will be increased by £96 million, £64 million of which will go to the police. Police numbers have been increased by over 8,000 since 1979. And while for two years the great majority of public sector workers have been held to pay increases of between 6% and 71/2%, the police have been given rises of 21.3% in 1980/81 and 13.2% in 1981/82. It was admitted by the government in November that since May 1979 the basic pay of police officers has increased by 72%. Fearing the consequences of an economic crisis aggravated by their own monetarist policies, the Tones' only answer is to strengthen the forces of repression.

The ambush and shooting in London in January of Stephen Waldorf, who was mistaken for an on-the-run criminal, brought a public outcry at the apparently reckless military-style tactics of police involved. But this was only the most dramatic of a series of incidents arising from the increased police use of firearms. Moreover, there are more SPG-type squads, under new names, than ever before.

The only obvious response to Scarman's call for steps to counter racial prejudice within the police is an extra week of "human awareness" training for recruits. This has not convinced anyone that there has been a real attempt to change the indoctrination and training of new officers.

Nor has there been any official response to Scarman's call for the independent investigation of complaints. Even the most serious allegations, whether of corruption, perverting the course of justice, or of brutality, are investigated by fellow police officers. Recently, moreover, the police chiefs admitted, after a court ruling, that they had been consistently misinterpreting the 1934 Police Act by refusing to pursue disciplinary action after the Director of Public Prosecutions had ruled out criminal charges. This meant that once complaints had been referred to the DPP, who has very rarely recommended prosecutions against police officers, internal disciplinary procedures were finished. It is hardly surprising, in the light of this, that only a tiny minority of complaints resulted in either prosecutions or disciplinary action actually being taken against accused officers. Yet even now the Tory Home Secretary, Whitelaw, is steadfastly resisting any proposals which would take the investigation of complaints or disciplinary action out of the hands of senior police officers.

Despite Scarman's recommendation that consultation with community bodies should be given legal form, the police are no more obliged to listen to representatives of the community than they were before. True, even hard-line police chiefs, like Sir Kenneth Newman who has now taken over the Metropolitan Police, now pay lip-service to "community policing". What they have in mind, however, is evidently increased police penetration of the community, involving local bodies in policing, rather than any genuine democratic accountability.

One of the most ominous of recent developments, however, is the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, now being pushed through Parliament by the Tones. Without offering any new measures to strengthen democratic accountability, the Bill has been drawn up to give the police draconian new powers. If this legislation goes through, police officers will have greatly increased powers of stop, search and arrest; the power to detain suspects for four days without charging them; and new powers of searching homes, taking fingerprints, and gaining access to personal files. The Bill, if passed, would legitimise the arbitrary, provocative—and until now unlawful—methods increasingly used by the police in recent years. Then, as before, the police would inevitably push beyond the new legal limits in an effort to consolidate enormous repressive powers. Crime

The Tories claim that the police must be strengthened in order to fight crime. There is no evidence, however, either from Britain or other advanced capitalist countries that the new police methods have any effect in slowing down the rise in crime, which has undoubtedly been exacerbated by the breakdown of social norms under the impact of capitalist crisis. In fact, in the recent period detection rates—notably in the Metropolitan area—have tended to decline.

As some police chiefs, like the now retired Alderson, have pointed out (page 56), heavy-handed, "fire brigade" policing tends to be counter-productive. Kesorting to the big stick, which is invariably indiscriminate, provokes a reaction from the public, whose goodwill and co-operation are indispensable for any effective measures for combating crime. In fact, Anderton, Manchester's Chief Constable, let the cat out of the bag (page 57). He makes it clear that the overriding concern of the police and their Tory backers is not crime, which however serious does not threaten the established order, but the threat to the system posed by mass opposition from the working class, particularly the organised labour movement. It is transparent that when they talk about defending "democracy", the hard-line police chiefs really mean defending institutions which uphold the power and wealth of the ruling class, and it is really the methods they propose to use which constitute the most serious threat to the democratic rights gained by the labour movement in the past.

The changing role of the police and the need for the labour movement to respond with a policy for democratic control is the theme of Lynn Walsh's article, A Policy of Force (Page 47).

While opposing the repressive role of the police, however, Militant has always rejected the crude anti-police attitude of some groups which claim to be Marxist. It would be absurd for socialists in present society to stand aside and declare that we cannot support the police in taking action to prevent crime and arrest criminals. Marxists in no way condone criminal behaviour, and we utterly condemn crimes of violence, especially when they are inflicted on women, children, the aged, and particularly vulnerable people.

Appalling conditions and the Tories' own policies push more and more people into crime. But criminal activity in no way advances the movement to change society. On the contrary, it is mainly workers who suffer from violence, theft, and other crimes, while increasing crime provides the police chiefs and the Tories with the pretext they need for strengthened powers which threaten the whole of the working class. Democratic accountability of the police, far from undermining moves against crime, is the only way of ensuring the support and co-operation of workers generally. This, together with steps to eradicate the social roots of crime, is an essential precondition of any real answer to the problem.

Genuine Marxism also rejects the idea put forward by pseudo-Marxists that the police ranks are "one reactionary mass". In the last few years the police have undoubtedly swung to the right. This is partly the result of their experience of right-wing Labour governments, but reactionary views have undoubtedly been deliberately strengthened by recruitment policy and training. However, as the article Trade Union Rights for the Police (page 43) shows, the police are inevitably influenced by wider events in society. In periods of the radicalisation of the working class the police too have been radicalised. With a correct approach, particularly by taking up the issue of trade union rights for the police ranks, the labour movement could have a decisive influence on the way the police move. No less than in the case of the armed services, the labour movement's policy towards this arm of the state is of crucial importance. April 1983




A Coup in Britain? By Ted Grant

Revelations of a 1968 Plot – a Glimpse of the Totalitarian Threat

In March 1981 The Sunday Times carried an article which indicated that there were suggested preparations for a military coup d’etat in Britain in 1968 at the time of the Wilson government. Allegations of a plot to overthrow the Labour government were seriously investigated by MIS, the secret internal security service, but Wilson himself apparently only found out the full details in 1975. However, Lady Falkender, formerly Marcia Williams, Wilson's politico' secretary, told The Sunday Times (29 March 1981) that she and Sir Harold "had a suspicion that something was going on." They were particularly alarmed when in January—and again in June—1974 the army put a "ring of steel" around London's Heathrow Airport, allegedly directed against an unspecified "terrorist threat".

"Lady Falkender said that it 'was horrible—like a Michael Caine movie. Harold was worried about the business when the troops did an anti-terrorist exercise at London Airport. He said to me: "Have you thought that they could be used in a different way? They could turn that lot against the government—totally." It was scary. Like 1984.' ...she named the late Earl Mountbatten as a prime mover in the plan, assisted by 'elements' in the army and the city. 'Mountbatten had a map on the wall of his office showing how it could be done. Harold and I used to stand in the State Room at No 10 and work out where they would put the guns. We reckoned they would site them in the Horse Guards,' she said." {Sunday Times, 31 March 1981);

The Sunday Times referred to the memoirs of Hugh Cudlipp, the Deputy Chairman of IPC, who later took over from Cecil King as boss of the Mirror newspaper group. In his book. Walking on the Water, Cudlipp tells of King's discussions with leading politicians and industrialists about the "imminent fall" of Wilson's government and the possible alternative. In particular, Cudlipp gave some details of a meeting between King, Cudlipp, Sir Soley Zuckerman (the government's chief scientific adviser), and Lord Mountbatten, at the latter's London flat on 8 May 1968. "Cecil King," reported the Sunday Times, "asked Mountbatten to serve at the head of an alternative government once Wilson had been ousted. Cudlipp also described how Lord Zuckerman stormed out of the room crying: 'This is rank treachery. I'll have nothing to do with it'."

Naturally, because of the furore aroused, all the parties to the plot have. attempted to deny the facts. Wilson, who would have been asked for an explanation in the labour movement, first kept quiet about it and then later attempted to deny what happened. But Zuckerman let the cat out of the bag when he confirmed that he made the statement attributed to him by Cudlipp. A mere tête-à-tête among friends would not have provoked such an outburst.

Just like Lt-Col Tejero's attempted coup d'etat in Spain on 23 February 1981, which despite its serious character had aspects of comic opera about it, so the lunatic attitude of these gentlemen in suggesting a coup in Britain, at that time, is an indication of the lengths that the ruling class will be prepared to go to under difficult and serious conditions. The ruling class at the top is split, as last week's statement by 368 prominent academic economists opposing the government's monetarist policy shows. There is no agreement as to which way to turn.

On the one hand, Margaret Thatcher correctly points out that all the other policies have been tried out and found wanting. The only difference with hers is that it will have an even more disastrous effect than the policies of the last thirty years. Those policies, based on Keynesian economics, were introduced because the deflationary policies of the kind now being adopted again by Thatcher and Joseph led to the catastrophe of the slump of 1931. Their present policies have now led to a deepening of the slump of 1980-81. They threaten to lead to a catastrophe for British capitalism with unemployment of over 3 million. Deflation and inflation are merely two sides of the same coin. They saw that on the road of capitalism there is no way out for the economy or for the working class. No capitalist policy can solve the crisis of capitalism.

Yet, if in 1968 and again in 1974 there were serious elements of the ruling- class already suggesting a criminal conspiracy against a right-wing Labour government, we can imagine what will be the position in the future. In another article Militant (6 March 1981) showed how Airey Neave, the Tory MP assassinated in 1979, had suggested to MIS and the secret services that they should act to prevent the coming to power of Tony Benn, if he were to replace Callaghan as party leader. This was at a time when the situation was far less serious than it is now.

According to the Sunday Times one major-general and a number of military men were involved, and as the paper comments, "None was subsequently charged, none of the military men involved in the plot was disciplined." When Callaghan, who was then the Home Secretary, was asked by reporters, he refused to make any comment on the allegations. This indicates that the allegations are correct. Had a grouping of ordinary working-class privates conspired against the government of the day they would have been disciplined, and possibly even sentenced to long terms of imprisonment— whereas these military gentlemen were not even charged!

This shows the situation that could possibly develop in Britain at a time of economic and political crisis. In 1968 the situation was not at all of the serious character that it is at the present time. Yet even against the right-wing Wilson government plots of this character were actually being organised by elements of the military and the City of London. In the plot of Cecil King, it has recently been reported in an article in the Evening Standard, Sir Oswald Mosley, the former fascist leader, was to be included in a government with Mountbatten! Thus the web of the conspiracy spread quite far.

The splitting of the Labour Party by the Council For Social Democracy, now the Social Democratic Party, has been a deliberate plot on the part of capital to try and weaken the Labour Party and prevent it coming to power. This is because the Labour Party membership and that of the trade unions have begun to move towards the left. In 1974 there were articles in The Times which indicated vaguely suggestions of a coup to try and keep the working class in order at the time of the miners' strike. A whole series of inspired articles appeared in The Times, and an extremely reactionary conservative journalist in the United States, William Buckley, wrote an article suggesting that the military in Britain were preparing for a coup.

Suggestions of this sort evaporated when in The Times one of the capitalist historians pointed out, in effect, what Napoleon had long ago explained: that you can do anything with bayonets except sit on them. The historian wrote about the Kapp putsch, when the military attempted to seize power in Germany in 1920. The reply of the workers was a general strike which paralysed the government. Even the civil servants participated. Nothing moved, there were no communications and the government did not even have a typist or clerk. The army generals were compelled to march out of Berlin and hand power back to the Social Democratic government. This douche of cold water put a stop to the talk of a coup at that particular time.

Nevertheless, on the television General Kitson has been interviewed indicating that it might be necessary for the military to "take over against terrorist plots and conspiracies" which might develop in Britain! This could be the pretext on the part of the military, as it was the pretext for action on the part of the military in Spain. Again, a cold douche of reality was given to this situation when The Times correspondent interviewed some non-commissioned officers, sergeants and corporals, and some of the privates in the army. The soldiers, preserving anonymity, explained that their officers were incapable of organising a dance, never mind a coup d'etat. All the work of the army, they explained, was done by the rank and file, especially the non-commissioned officers, the sergeants and corporals.

However, while the reports might seem a question of fantasy and infantile dreams on the part of the military officers in Britain, and of those elements of the City and big business who would like to try and discipline the working class as they have been disciplined in Chile, nevertheless it is necessary for the advanced, active layers in the labour and trade union movement to take such warnings seriously.

World capitalism is entering a new period of crisis unexampled since the 1930s. The economic boom and upswing of the 1950 to 1975 period is now over a long period of crisis, of short booms and slumps, opens up. The ruling class can no longer afford the luxury of increases in the standards of living of the working class, except for very temporary periods. This will mean an intensification of the class struggle to a level never reached in the history of Britain and of other countries in the West in the past. The same instability which has affected the colonial or ex-colonial countries during the course of the last 30 years—with a whole series of coups, counter-coups, revolutions, and counter-revolutions— now also opens up for the countries of the West. This is shown by what happened in Spain in the recent period.

In the past, the argument has been that while these things happen in other countries, it is impossible in Britain. Yet these revelations of conspiracies and plots on the part of various military generals and big business personalities are an indication that with the deepening crisis of capitalism, the ruling class in desperation could take to this road, if they saw that there was no other way out. The fact that a Conservative member of the Shadow Cabinet, Airey Neave, who was very close to Margaret Thatcher, should raise the question of a conspiracy to prevent Tony Bonn from becoming prime minister is an indication that Tory politicians would be prepared to take action along these lines.

In 1911 the Tory Party actually supported the treason of Sir Edward Carson, leader of the Ulster Unionists and a former Tory minister, who mustered 100,000 Ulster Volunteers to block the Liberal government's Irish Home Rule Bill. Under the new historical conditions, the tops of the Tory Party could behave in exactly the same way.

The fact that it was Mountbatten who was involved in this projected conspiracy is not an accident. Mountbatten was very close to the Royal Family, an uncle in fact of the Queen's consort, Prince Philip. The ruling class has been very careful to preserve the monarchy's powers of veto. This was shown when they were used in November 1975 in Australia-through Sir John Kerr, the Governor-General appointed by the Queen—for the dismissal of the Labour government led by Gough Whitlam. In the same way in Britain, the monarchy still formally has the power to select who should be prime minister and the power to dismiss a prime minister and the government. In the event of a royalist plot of the character that has been suggested, the monarchy could be used at a time of desperation on the part of the ruling class exactly as it was used in Australia to dismiss the government there.

What is really revolting is the hypocrisy of the press, and especially of the television and radio. These hypocrites have retailed the statements of the Council for Social Democracy—Shirley Williams, Rodgers, Owen and the others—in attacking the Militant tendency as being 'undemocratic'. Yet these gangsters would be quite prepared to turn to the use of force against the working class if that seemed to be the only way to preserve the profits, income, power and privileges of the capitalists.

The one thing that blocks the way for a peaceful transformation of society in Britain is the attitude precisely of the Social Democrats and of their counterparts in the Solidarity group of Labour MPs. They do not wish to provoke the ruling class by suggesting a change in society. Yet all the developments of the last decade have been an indication of the stormy road that lies ahead for the working class. Millions of unemployed. No way out for the youth. Lowered real wages for the working class as a result of inflation, or as a result of an 'incomes policy', as advocated in an alternative by Healey and the Solidarity MPs. Even powerful sections of the working class like the miners, the water-workers and others have not gained wage increases to compensate for the rate of inflation, especially when one takes into account the tax deductions from their wages.

A new period opens up in which only the transformation of society will solve the problems of the working class. What is necessary is for a Labour government to operate on the policy which is advocated by Militant. Break the power of big business by taking over the major companies and organise production on the basis of a plan. Unless this is done it will be inevitable that in desperation the ruling class will try and solve the problems of their shattered system at the expense of the standards of living and of the rights of the working class.

The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, it has been said! All the class rights which the working class possesses—the right to strike, the right to organise, the right to free speech, the right of free press—were not granted voluntarily by the ruling class, but were only gained as the result of the struggle of the working class. Even the right to vote freely can be taken away by the Tories and the ruling class when it threatens their system. We see already how they have prepared to abandon the old system and return to proportional representation in a desperate attempt to put a brake on a leftward moving Labour government.

The working class, in defence of their rights and interests, can only rely on the trade unions and the Labour Party. The working class can rely only on their own power and strength, their own organisation and their own consciousness and solidarity. It was only this power which led to the defeat of the Heath government by the miners in February 1981. Thatcher in panic drew back from a confrontation with the miners over pit closures, because the working class is a thousand times more powerful than it was at the time of the general strike in 1926.

What is necessary is the realisation among the active layers of the trade union and labour movement of the need for a socialist change of society as a pressing problem. This in its turn can be carried to the mass of the working class and prevent this nightmare of plots and counter-plots, of conspiracies and the other developments which show, as far as the ruling class is concerned, what is lurking in the background. They are thirsting for revenge to try and teach the working class a lesson. If they have failed to do so up to the present time it is because of the fear of the strength of the organisations of the working class.

Unless this strength is organised to change society then inevitably, not only in Britain but in other countries of the West, similar conspiracies will take place. Failure to transform society can lead to a situation where civil war in Britain becomes possible. The working class will never tamely accept the taking away of their rights. They will react as the Spanish workers reacted at the time of the civil war in 1936. They will defend all their rights, including the right to vote, and will not accept their being taken away without a struggle. Postscript: "It might have been otherwise..."

It was in the wake of the so-called "Hollis affair"—revolving around press allegations that Sir Roger Hollis, head of MI5 between 1956 and 1965 (who died in 1973), had in fact been a Russian agent—that the Sunday Times and The Times decided to rake over the details of the King/Mountbatten meeting of May 1968. The incident had first been revealed in Cudlipp's memoirs. Walking on the Water, way back in 1976. In 1981, however, the leading characters were apparently extremely embarrassed by the renewed interest in their 1968 discussion, including Cudlipp who had first spilled the beans (Mountbatten had been assassinated in Ireland in 1979 by the Provisional IRA).

Cudlipp indignantly denied that the King/Mountbatten meeting had anything to do with a military coup d'etat plot. According to him, the 1968 plot actually investigated by MI5 was something completely different. It was the other plot, Cudlipp claims, which was described by MI5's former chief, Sir Furnival Jones, as a conspiracy of "civil servants and military", a "pretty loony crew", to overthrow Wilson's government. There was no connection between that plot, Cudlipp says, and the King/Mountbatten meeting. If this is true, however, it means there was not just a plot—there were two plots!

In a long article in the right-wing academic journal, Encounter (September 1981) Cudlipp argued that King's initiative in approaching Mountbatten was merely a misguided attempt to canvass support for an alternative to Harold Wilson as prime minister. "Mr King... considered that Mount-batten was the sort of leader people would be looking for as the titular head of a new administration if, as he wrongly prophesied, Wilson's government disintegrated. The only mention of armed force by Mr King was in the sense that they would be involved in restoring order after the chaos he was expecting. I am astonished that the whole matter has been revived so many years later." Cudlipp also quoted King's comment on Walking on the Water, "the plans and ambitions attributed to me at the end of my time at the Mirror are purely fanciful." Cudlipp also reported King's statement that he did not "recall Zuckerman marching out saying 'treachery'."

So perhaps the plot of 1968 was really just a figment of the imaginations of The Times's over-zealous journalists.

However, in a later edition of Encounter (January 1982) Louis Heren, deputy editor of The Times when the King/Mountbatten story was published, forcefully refuted the idea that it was all a "non-story". "I had known Mount-batten in India," writes Heren, "and his political ambitions certainly went beyond being the last Viceroy and the first Governor General of India. A very senior member of his staff described him as 'Tricky Dicky'—this was before Richard Nixon had emerged from Congressional obscurity—and quit in disgust."

Heren accepted "that there had been no talk of a coup d'etat". But he went on: "perhaps it was a non-story and not worth the immense effort put into it; but I disagree. It might have been otherwise..." The Times, he continued , had "also plumbed the depths of unease which pervaded Whitehall at the time—Rumours that Cecil King was a key figure in the Putsch may not have reached Hugh Cudlipp, but many of the men we interviewed remembered this and other disturbing rumours. Some may have been nothing more than "loose talk by gin-sodden generals," as a former Director of MI 5 remarked to us; it would seem that they were taken seriously enough to be investigated by the security service."

Lord Zuckerman also wrote a brief reply to Cudlipp in Encounter (January 1982). He clearly did not believe that reports of the King/Mountbatten meeting had been exaggerated, and indignantly rejected the idea that he had overreacted to King's proposals. Zuckerman clearly could not believe that King had failed to hear his comment that it was "rank treachery"; "Mr King would have had to be very deaf indeed not to have heard what I said. I had no doubt about the intent of what he had been saying, even though I do not recall...that the words 'military coup' were ever used. As Lord Cudlipp has written, Mr King had been talking about what he saw as the imminent disintegration of Harold Wilson's democratically elected government; about the likelihood of civil disorder following, with bloodshed on the streets; about the possible need to call in the armed forces; and about machine guns at street corners. Lord Cudlipp relates that Mr King went on to say "that people would be looking for someone like Lord Mountbatten as the titular head of the new administration', ending by asking whether Lord Mount-batten would agree to be the titular head of, presumably, a non-democratically elected administration. Call it what you will, this talk sounded to me like an invitation to participate in an action of treachery or treason." Incidentally, Cudlipp in his Encounter article quotes Mountbatten's own comments in 1978 to another Times journalist: "Cecil King came to see me, at his own request, and said would I take over the country, to which my retort was to kick him out...". Cudlipp puts this down to Mountbatten's "expansive, reminiscent mood", dismissing it as a "pithy titbit."

But the more they try to explain the incident away, the more evidence comes out. What has filtered out is still only part of the story. It would be too much to expect the capitalist press to reveal the whole truth. Nevertheless, what has come out through the serious capitalist journals—not usually read by workers—confirms that, even at the first signs of serious economic and social crisis in 1968, there were discussions among the top representatives of capitalism of military or 'constitutional' coups against an elected Labour government.—L.W.




1. An Apparatus of Coercion

One of the major issues which divides Marxism from reformism within the labour movement is that of the state. In the last analysis—as Marx, Engels and Lenin pointed out—the state consists of armed bodies of men and their material appendages, i.e. prisons, etc. Lenin wrote that "it is impossible to compel the greater part of society to work systematically for the other part of society without a permanent apparatus of coercion."

But does this apply to the modern "democratic" state? "No", say the capitalist professors. They maintain that the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky are a little "old-fashioned". And the theoreticians of the so-called "Communist" Party are at one with this conclusion. After all, we have universal suffrage (the right to vote) and democratic rights in Britain. How then is it possible to talk of the modern state in Britain, America, etc. being a machine for the domination of one class by another?

And yet an examination of the state in Britain today will show that it is firmly under the control of the capitalist class. All the key positions in the civil service, the police, and particularly the army are in the hands of people who have been specially selected by education, outlook, and conditions of life loyalty to serve the capitalists.

This is particularly the case with the summits of the army. Trotsky once described the officer caste in a capitalist army as "the guard of capital...the selection of the individuals, their education and training makes the officers as a distinctive group uncompromising enemies of socialism. Isolated exceptions change nothing." The social composition of the officer corps in Britain completely bears out Trotsky's statement. In the early 1960s it was estimated that nearly 50 per cent of the intake of the officer corps came from the existing officer class, nearly half came from public schools and nearly 77 per cent came from the "AB" socio-economic group, that is the "top 12 per cent" in society.

Since then there has been a widening of the intake into the officer corps, but the majority of the officers still come from the 'elite' of society. Even the small number of officers from the middle class and working class absorb the outlook and class attitude of the officer class as a whole. It could not be otherwise given the rigid hierarchical structure of the army. Indeed, the army expresses in a sharper form the class division within society as a whole. The pro-business and anti-working class outlook of the officers is reinforced, moreover, by the interpenetration of the tops of the army with big business. In the period of 1971-76, for instance, 97 serving officers and 86 defence ministry civil servants joined firms which had contracts to supply arms to the ministry of defence. This same officer class, together with the ruling class as a whole, at the same time stubbornly resists all attempts to give greater democratic rights to the ordinary "squaddie" in the British army.

A similar picture emerges if we examine the judiciary. The judges are one of the most conservative bulwarks of the system. As one commentator put it, "they are men advanced in life. They are for the most part men of conservative disposition."

The monopolies have more and more fused with the state machine in the post-war period. This is perhaps shown most vividly in the movement between the tops of the civil service and the boardrooms of the monopolies. A game of musical chairs takes place between the civil service chiefs and the directors of the monopolies. A most blatant example was the career of the late Lord Armstrong, who moved from chief advisor to the Heath government—he was openly referred to as "Deputy Prime Minister"—to Chairman of the Midland Bank. Mr John Lippet, who was involved in various export activities as a civil servant in helping GEC and other companies to win power station contracts abroad, also recently left the civil service to join the boardroom of GEC!

These few facts alone are sufficient to completely shatter the image of the impartiality of the state in Britain. It is a vehicle for maintaining and defending the dominant interests of the capitalists. This has been demonstrated again and again in the experiences of Labour governments with the civil service and with the chiefs of nationalised industries. Labour ministers have complained—unfortunately only when they have left office—of the obstacles placed in their path by the topmost civil servants.

Reflecting in the Sunday Times (10 June 1973) on her experiences with civil servants as Transport minister in the 1964-70 Labour government, Barbara Castle wrote: "I have no doubt that the civil service is a state within a state...how effectively the civil servants impeded us by saying we could not do some of the things our successors are now doing with remarkable facility...It took several months even to mouth the words 'integrated transport policy'." Barbara Castle gives a glimpse of how Labour ministers can become puppets of the civil service who "control every single ten minutes of a minister's day and night—ministers can't even choose who drafts their replies to letters." Their political bias is shown by the comments of one top civil servant to Barbara Castle: "Well I must admit, minister, it is true that we do tend naturally to have more contact and therefore more affinity with the employers' organisations. It's not that we wouldn't like to have contact with the trade unions. But we just don't know how to set about it."

Sometimes the opposition of civil servants borders on outright sabotage. Thus Brian Sedgemore, in his recent book The Secret Constitution (1980), points out that when Tony Benn was Minister of Energy during a strike at Windscale, his civil servants informed him that unless troops were used to move nitrogen across a picket line a "critical nuclear explosion would take place". Sedgemore diplomatically comments that these warnings were "unfounded". The Civil Contingencies Unit at the Cabinet Office had prepared a plan "to break the strike with troops, thus leaving Tony Benn as a sort of latter-day Churchill" {The Times, 29 May 1980).

If the civil servants are prepared to undermine the measures of right-wing Labour governments, imagine the lengths to which they would be prepared to go to frustrate and sabotage the attempts of a left Labour government! Is not the lesson for the labour movement that it is impossible to use the present civil service, army and police tops to carry through the socialist transformation of society as envisaged in Clause IV, part 4, of the Labour Party's constitution? Won't these same forces actively sabotage such attempts of the labour movement to change society?

This is shown, on the one side, by the big wage increases to the police and army granted by Thatcher. On the other side, is the fact that in this year alone more than 500 workers have been arrested on the picket line. The use of the Special Patrol Group in industrial disputes, and even the use of the army as in the case of the firemen's strike two years ago, has brought into question all the cherished myths in relation to the state. This is reinforced by the use of the SAS in Ireland and Britain and the widespread use of snooping and telephone tapping by the secret service. This is undoubtedly in preparation for future social conflicts in Britain.

Further evidence is found in the writings of Brigadier Kit-son, in which he advises the army to base its strategy, not on the assumption of a war with Russia, but on so-called "internal subversion". This is a euphemism for civil war against the labour movement. Added to this are the recently leaked details of the suggestion of the Tory government to organise a scab army of "volunteers" in preparation for the possible conflicts in the winter.

How can the labour movement counter these preparations of the ruling class? An attempt was made under the last Labour government to undermine the reactionary influence of civil servants by placing "advisors" sympathetic to the labour movement in the civil service machine. This very mild measure was denounced by the capitalist media as an attempt to install "commissars" alongside loyal "apolitical" civil servants.

The Transport and General Workers Union, other unions and some Labour MPs, moreover, attempted to persuade the last Labour government to give rank-and-file soldiers the right to join trade unions. This was also denounced as an at- tempt at "political" interference in the armed forces. To their shame, right-wing defence ministers such as Roy Mason bowed to the pressure of the generals and the press, and refused the elementary and democratic right for soldiers to join trade unions.

However, even if trade union rights were granted, would this be sufficient to counter the danger from the state to the labour movement? The army cannot be used arbitrarily against the labour movement and the working class. Splits and divisions within society are mirrored, in however a distorted form, within the army itself, even in a purely volunteer army. Any attempt to use the army against the labour movement anywhere in Western Europe at this stage would be fraught with enormous dangers for the ruling class. In France and Italy the army is largely composed of conscripts. An attempt to use the army against the working class, as in a situation similar to the May 1968 events in France, would result in a complete split along class lines. In Italy, the attempts at various coups over the last ten years, had they come to fruition, would have met with the overwhelming opposition of the conscript rank and file.

However, the leaders of the Communist Parties in France, Italy and Spain, in their approach to the army, play right into the hands of the ruling class. They almost conspire with the officer class to systematically seal off the young workers once they enter the barracks. The Communist Party in Italy "rejects the idea of a soldiers' trade union as being neither appropriate today or compatible with the specific and peculiar requirements of discipline." And yet in other European countries the Communist Parties have either supported the existing organisation of soldiers into trade unions or have inscribed such .a demand on their banner.

In Holland for instance, there is a mass organisation for conscript soldiers with about 30,000 members which has been recognised to an extent by the military authorities. There is even a left-wing soldiers' organisation. In West Germany, where there is a half-conscript and half-professional army, there is also an organisation for conscripted soldiers of about 100,000 members. There is also a trade union for professional soldiers—which includes those working in "intelligence"!— linked to the German TUC (DGB). In Sweden, there is a similar organisation for rank-and-file soldiers and even a "soldiers' parliament". The slavish worshipping of the capitalist state by the Italian Communist Party leaders leads them to oppose "the setting up of 'party organisations' within the barracks." Such an attitude is calculated to separate the ranks of the Italian army from the rest of the labour movement. This goes hand-in-hand with demands like those of the Spanish CP, for "modem weapons" to be supplied to the military brass. This attitude could result in disaster for the working class of Italy at a later stage if it remains unchallenged by the rank and file of the Communist Party.

There is no reason at all why soldiers should not enjoy all the democratic rights which ordinary workers in Britain possess: the right to strike, to support political parties of their choice, and to read newspapers, books and magazines of a socialist and Marxist character. Their officer class is not denied the right to choose. In an overwhelming majority, they support the existing system and the parties which defend that system. In Britain, the labour movement must campaign now for the democratic right of soldiers to belong to the trade unions. From a long term point of view, it is also necessary to take the present system of training officers— with the reactionary poison against the labour movement which is instilled into recruits—out of the hands of the specialised military academies and the generals, and put it under the democratic control of the labour movement and the working people as a whole.

In the civil service, too, there must be steps taken to democratise at all levels and to involve working people. This is particularly true in the organisation and management of the nationalised industries. Militant demands that the boards of the nationalised industries be composed of one third from the unions in the industry, one third from the TUC representing the working class as a whole, and one third from the government.

Similar demands, taking into account the concrete situation and differences in each field, have been put forward for the civil service and local government.

However, it would be fatal to pretend, as the Communist Party leaders and the reformist Left of the Labour Party do, that "the democratisation of the state" will be sufficient in itself to guarantee the British working class and a Labour government against the fate which befell their Chilean brothers and sisters. Piecemeal measures will neither satisfy the working class nor the middle class, but will inflame the opposition of the capitalists—and, moreover, give them the time and opportunity to strike a decisive blow against the labour movement. This would above all be the case when attempts are made to "democratise" their state. The capitalists would take this as a signal—particularly if the army is touched—to prepare to crush the labour movement.

Does this then mean that the state must remain untouched by the labour movement, as the right-wing of the Labour Party maintain! On the contrary, measures to make the state more accountable to the labour movement must be stepped up. But the limits of such measures must also be understood by the labour movement. The capitalists will never permit their state to be "gradually" taken away from them. Experience has shown that only a decisive change in society can eliminate the danger of reaction and allow the "democratisation of the state machine" to be carried through to a conclusion with the establishment of a new state controlled and managed by working people.

If the next Labour government introduced an Enabling Bill into Parliament to nationalise the 200 monopolies, banks and insurance companies which control 80 to 85 per cent of the economy, a decisive blow would be struck against the 196 directors of these firms who are the real government of Britain. By the economic power they wield, they dictate the course to be followed by both Tory and Labour governments. They would be compensated for the nationalisation of their assets on the basis of "proven need." Such a step, backed up by the power of the labour movement outside parliament, would allow the introduction of a socialist and democratic plan of production to be worked out and implemented by committees of trade unions, the shop stewards, housewives and small businessmen. With the new technology that is on hand, particularly computers, micro-processors, etc., it would be possible both to cut the working day and enormously simplify the tasks of the working class in the supervision and control of the state.

The management of the state machine is at present the closely guarded preserve of the so-called "experts". But with the cutting of the working day, the working class would be given the necessary time to organise and manage the factories, offices and the state. It is true that they would not be able to dispense with the help of the experts. But once it became clear that almost limitless possibilities would be opened on the basis of a planned economy, there would be no shortage of suitable administrators, managers, and technicians coming forward to put their talents at the disposal of society.

The capitalists would not be able to put up a serious resistance to these measures. Those forces which they relied on in the past—as in the 1926 General Strike when civil servants, students and teachers were used to scab—now look towards the labour movement. The bulk of the civil servants are now composed of low-paid workers who would paralyse any attempt of the capitalists to use them against the working class as a whole. The same applies to the army, which in any case does not have the technical capacity—as the reactionary Ulster Workers' Strike in 1974 demonstrated—to replace striking workers. A peaceful socialist transformation of society, would be entirely possible if such bold steps were to be taken by a Labour government, however, it is equally certain that the road chosen by the leaders of the labour movement of prevarication and half-measures—will mean enormous suffering for the British working class. Despite the "democratic" mask which the British capitalists have been forced to don over the last twenty years, if their system is threatened they will not hesitate to resort to what Trotsky called that "cold cruelty" which they displayed in the past, both in their dealings with colonial peoples and towards the British working class. Such a terrible danger is undoubtedly posed before the labour movement in the next ten or fifteen years on the basis of a continuation of capitalism. It can only be avoided by the labour movement arming itself with a Marxist programme. A vital component of such a programme will be a clear understanding of the role of the state. 2. The Forms of Bonapartism

In the words of Frederick Engels, the state "is as a rule the state of the most powerful, economically dominant class which through the medium of the state becomes also the politically dominant class." There are periods in history and in the development of society, however, when the struggle between the classes reaches such a pitch that they almost balance each other out. In this situation, as Engels explained, the state "acquires for the moment a certain degree of independence of both of the warring classes." Such regimes are characterised by Marxists as Bonapartist regimes, or military-police dictatorships.

Such were the regimes of the absolute monarchies at the end of the feudal era. The struggle between the old feudal classes and the rising capitalist class reached such an intensity that the monarchies were able to play off one against the other, thereby attaining a certain independence and only in the last analysis representing the interests of the dominant feudal class.

Similar features were possessed by Napoleon Bonaparte's regime in France from which the term 'Bonapartism' derives. Karl Marx wrote that "rule by the sword" was one of the essential features of Bonapartism. The mutual antagonism and the struggles between the classes which had made the French revolution resulted in the exhaustion of the classes and a virtual stalemate which allowed the bonapartist regime of Napoleon to take form. Napoleon allied himself with the dominant capitalist class and in particular with the banks which represented the most decisive section of the ruling class.

The idea of bonapartism is a closed book so far as capitalist commentators are concerned. Workers can also be confused by the nature of bonapartism. There appear to be a dizzying array of bonapartist regimes. For instance, there were the bonapartist regimes, military-police dictatorships, which took shape in the era of the ascendancy of capitalism throughout the 19th century. Bismarck's state in Germany also possessed some features of bonapartism. Despite the fact that these regimes ruled by the sword, they were relatively tranquil in character in comparison to the bloody bonapartist regimes that we have witnessed in capitalism's decline. Compare, for instance, the violence of Napoleon to the present military-police dictatorship in Chile. After Pinochet's coup against the Popular Unity government in September 1973, the military waded through the blood of more than 50,000 workers in order to consolidate its position.

Another feature of bonapartism which can sometimes confuse workers is the fact that a bonapartist regime, in rising above the classes, can attain a certain independence and even strike blows against the class which it represents. Marx himself pointed out that in France in 1851 the "drunken soldiery" of Louis Bonaparte went on the rampage shooting down some of the capitalists. Yet they had brought to an end the revolution on behalf of those same capitalists. In China at the time of the revolution of 1925-27, Chiang Kai-shek, having crushed the insurrection of the Shanghai working class in April 1927, then immediately turned on the bankers, arrested them, placed them in jail—only freeing them on payment of a ransom of $12 million. They must have ruminated on the fact, while languishing in jail, that they paid a heavy price to Chiang and his state which was 'defending' them. Nevertheless, his state was a capitalist state, a bonapartist regime, which had just defeated the Shanghai working class on behalf of the bankers.

In the modern era we have witnessed all kinds of peculiar variants of bonapartist regimes, particularly in the colonial and semi-colonial countries. Take for instance the bonapartist regime of Peron which was in power in Argentina from 1945 to 1955. Peron was a capitalist Bonaparte: in the final analysis he represented the capitalists and the big landowners. Nevertheless, he came to power by leaning on the powerful Argentinean working class and granting them big concessions such as the formation of powerful trade unions, wage increases, and other reforms. Peron was able to do this because of the favourable market in Europe for Argentinean beef with the beginning of the post-war boom. Resting on the working class he also struck against the class upon which his regime ultimately rested, the big ranchers and capitalists. Despite the balancing between the classes—a feature of all bonapartist states—and the support enjoyed by Peron amongst the working class right up to his return from exile— his regime defended Argentinean capitalism.

Superficial capitalist commentators—and echoing them some on the periphery of the labour movement too—have used examples like this and that of Nazi Germany or Mussolini's Italy to try and show that bonapartist and fascist regimes were not capitalist in character, but were new types of states. After all, in Hitler's Germany the capitalists were "politically expropriated," that is they did not exercise direct control over the state machine which was in the iron grip of the Nazis. Moreover, individual capitalists were imprisoned and in some cases murdered. By pointing to these actions of the Nazis the capitalists hope to throw dust in the eyes of the advanced workers on the nature of fascism and bonapartism. It is also an attempt to absolve the capitalists from the financing and support of Mussolini, Hitler and Franco in the pre-war period.

Fascism differs from bonapartism in the sense that it represents the complete triumph of the counter-revolution, the destruction of all the democratic rights and organisations of the working class in the face of the power of capital. But it retains some of the features of bonapartism, and once in power fascism quickly undermines its support amongst the middle class. It therefore loses its mass basis and becomes a bonapartist regime.

Throughout the post-war period, threats of military-police dictatorships, at least in the advanced capitalist countries, seemed very remote indeed. But with the onset of the world economic crisis, some people within the labour movement, particularly the ultra-left sects and even some of the Tribune left, have raised the possibility of the imminent establishment of "the corporate state". Such a perspective is entirely false at the present time. The relationship between the classes in Britain and indeed throughout the whole of the advanced capitalist world is decisively weighted in favour of the working class. Moreover, the former middle layers in society—civil servants, teachers, technicians etc—have been drawn more and more towards the trade unions and the labour movement itself. Membership of the trade unions in Britain is more than 50 per cent of the working population, and is even higher in some of the other countries of Western Europe.

For the first time in history, there are no outright military police dictatorships in Western Europe. In Spain, in Greece and Portugal, the 1970s witnessed the dismantling of the last remnants of military-police dictatorships. And this is not a reflection of the strength of the capitalists. Normally the capitalists prefer to rule through 'democracy'. It is the cheapest form of rule as far as they are concerned, without the overheads of a bloated military and civilian bureaucracy—at least not to the same extent as military-police dictatorships. Capitalism can also afford the 'luxury' of democracy when the system is going ahead. Such was the case towards the end of the 19th century, the beginning of this century, and since the end of the second world war, at least in the advanced capitalist world. In any capitalist country, the real power in society is exercised not by parliament nor by the cabinet, but in the board-rooms of the big capitalist monopolies. To paraphrase Trotsky, capitalist democracy is where everyone can say what they want...so long as the monopolies decide.

But the fact that the capitalists have been forced to dismantle the military-police dictatorships is a sign of weakness and not of strength. Failure to end the Franco regime threatened them with an insurrection of the Spanish working class. So too in Greece. An inordinate delay, given the fact that support for the military-police dictatorship of the Colonels had completely evaporated, meant that dictatorship was suspended in mid-air. This was dramatically shown in July 1974 when representatives of the Greek Junta themselves described their government as "ridiculous". If the Greek capitalists had not moved then to remove the dictatorship, they faced the prospect of a revolutionary explosion of the Greek working class. It is false to argue, therefore, that military dictatorships are on the horizon.

The Communist Party, on the other hand, commit the mistake of an opposite and even worse character. In so far as they recognise the danger of bonapartist states being established, this is relegated to the dim and distant future. Moreover, as the example of Chile has demonstrated, they are utterly incapable of arming the working class and the labour movement with a programme and a perspective capable of eliminating such a danger. 3. A Marxist Programme – the Vital Guard Against Reaction

It is not accidental that the British capitalists have posed the question—however seemingly remote at this stage—of the eventual use of the army against the working class. As early as 1975, as Jack Jones pointed out, the generals and some strategists of capital were issuing dark threats about a coup unless the working class was brought to heel by the trade union leaders. This threat was quickly withdrawn when the capitalists pondered on the developments in Portugal and Greece. It is one thing to resort to a bonapartist regime: but the removal of that regime can open the floodgates to revolution.

At the same time, any premature attempt to use the army against the working class could result in an explosion that would place the system itself in danger. It is not at all accidental that in the discussion pages of The Times on this issue, the experience of the Kapp Putsch in Germany in 1920 was discussed in some detail. That attempt to overthrow the government resulted in a general strike which utterly paralysed the generals. But as the recent TV programme War School showed, officers are already being trained for "urban guerrillaism" and "riots" in Britain. In effect the army is being perfected for use against the working class in Britain at a certain stage in the future. In 1972, the Tories, in a pamphlet misnamed In Defence of Peace were already taking on board the lessons and writings of Brigadier Kitson.

At the same time, the police are being beefed up to meet the social upheavals which will be a consequence of the ruthless attacks on the working class by capitalism, particularly through the medium of this present Tory government. For example more policemen were injured in training for "riots" last year than in the pursuit of crime itself! The ruling class are already flirting with the idea of using volunteers, that is scabs, in the event of big upheavals in the coming period. All of this demonstrates that the British capitalists, if the situation permits them, would not hesitate to protect themselves and their system.

Sir Ian Gilmour, on the so-called 'Wet' wing of the Tory government, stated in his book Inside Right: "Conservatives do not worship democracy. For them majority rule is a device...majorities do not always see where their best interests lie and then act upon their understanding. For Conservatives, therefore, democracy, is a means to an end and not an end in itself. In Dr Hayek's words, democracy 'is not an ultimate or absolute value and must be judged by what it will achieve.' And if it is leading to an end that is undesirable or is inconsistent with itself, then there is a theoretical case for ending it." In other words, if it no longer suits them the capitalists will move to replace democracy with a regime more suited to their interests. If the labour movement fails, therefore, to carry through, the socialist transformation of society, the capitalists will undoubtedly consider resorting to a royalist bonapartist regime, that is, to a military-police dictatorship, as a means of checking the movement of the working class.

As experience has demonstrated, if it were left to the present leaders of the labour movement, particularly the Communist Party leaders, this task of the capitalists would be enormously facilitated. This is shown most clearly in the writings of Santiago Carrillo, leader of the Spanish Communist Party. Carrillo is a guiding light of Euro-Communism, upon which the British Communist Party bases itself. Many of the ideas of the reformist left of the labour movement throughout Europe are also akin to Carrillo's ideas. His book Euro-Communism and the State is, on the one side, an attempt to convince the capitalists of the Communist Party leaders' 'democratic' credentials; and on the other, an attempt to give a theoretical justification for the abandonment of the traditional Marxist approach towards the state. In contradistinction to Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, who advocated the formation of a new state machine as a precondition for the transition towards socialism, Carrillo proposes "the transformation of the state apparatus by democratic means." This is at one with the Communist Party's conception of a piecemeal transformation of capitalism into socialism. Carrillo accompanies this with the idea of the democratic and peaceful transformation of society.

The Marxists are also of the opinion that it would be possible for the labour movement, with the correct programme, perspective and leadership, to carry through the socialist transformation of society in a peaceful fashion. But one thing is certain: such a development is out of the question on the basis of the road chosen by the Communist Party leaders themselves. Their conception of the capitalist state is completely Utopian. They seek to educate the advanced workers, not on the basis of clear understanding of the nature of the capitalist state and the dangers which are posed to the labour movement in the future on the basis of the continuation of capitalism, but with sugary illusions about the possibility of the reform of the capitalist state.

Yet the living experience of Chile is a complete refutation of all their ideas. But none are so blind as those who refuse to see! The Chilean experience is a book sealed with seven seals, so far as these gentlemen are concerned. For instance, a past leader of the British Communist Party, the late Jack Woddis, in his book Armies and Politics, outlines the measures taken by the Allende government to 'democratise' the Chilean armed forces. This took the form of measures "to improve the pay and conditions of officers and soldiers in order to avoid any grievances which could be exploited by the counter revolution. Army pay was increased by some 40%, flats were built for army personnel, the children of a number of officers were granted scholarships to universities and colleges." The way to influence the officers to the side of the revolution, according to the Communist Party leaders, was to offer financial inducements. Moreover, these efforts were directed in the main towards the summits of the army, and not at all to drawing the rank and file within the army over to the side of the working class and the peasants. As to the possibility of influencing the army, Woddis writes: "It was not possible for the political parties to be the main instrument in bringing about changes in the outlook of the armed forces." And the reasons for this? "Not only would this have created acute tensions between officers and parties, and presented other difficult technical questions, but the constitution itself to which the Popular Unity was pledged strictly forbade it."

Here is an example of the "parliamentary cretinism" (idiocy) which Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky never ceased to denounce when it was practised by the reformist leaders of the socialist parties. It is an example of the cringing policy of the Socialist Party and Communist Party leaders in Chile before the officer caste. Their conception of winning the army officers over to the side of the workers and peasants was by concessions, by discussions, addresses from Allende, and even by the inclusion of generals within the cabinet—but in no sense to attempt to win over the ranks of the army, navy and air force to the side of the working people. Woddis comments, in view of the catastrophe of September 1973: "It might be argued that all this was a wasted exercise"—at which most thinking workers in Britain and Chile, on the basis of their harsh experience, would agree. But on no account can we assume that the Communist Party leaders have learnt the lessons of Chile.

In his book, Santiago Carrillo put forward a similar position for Spain, and indeed for the advanced capitalist countries as a whole. Carrillo asked the question: "Is it realistic by an act of violence to smash the coercive apparatus of the state?" Carrillo falsely draws in by the hair the possibility of "an act of violence" in relation to the destruction of the apparatus of the capitalist state machine. On the basis of a peaceful socialist transformation of society, it would be entirely possible to reconstruct the new state machine. Moreover, Carrillo correctly points to the changes within the state apparatus itself; in particular, to the radicalisation of civil servants, particularly the lower levels, of some sections of the judiciary, and the army. However, the decisive levers of state power, the summits of the civil service, judiciary, army, police, etc, in their overwhelming majority, remain on the standpoint of capitalism. Rather than these sections being won over to the labour movement and the working class, through Carrillo's methods they will be driven further and further into the arms of the capitalists.

There are examples of where the capitalist state machine, under the pressure of enormous radicalisation, has split, with a big section of the officers coming over to the side of the working class. Such was the case in Portugal in the recent period. Not just sergeants and captains, but even admirals and generals formally adopted the ideas of Marxism and socialism. However, this was not achieved by the methods of Carrillo or of his counterparts in Portugal. It was the movement of the Portuguese working class following the events of the attempted coup of March 1975 which compelled the leaders of the Socialist Party and the Communist Party to nationalise the greater part of the Portuguese economy. It was this movement of the working class, not the fact that the CP leaders whispered into the ears of the admirals and generals, which exercised an enormous effect on the outlook of even the summits of the Portuguese army, navy and air force.

Only by opening up new possibilities for the further development of society is it possible to exercise a powerful influence on the ranks of the army. These layers are part of the intermediary strata within society as a whole. Experience has shown that prevarication and half measures, as was the case in Chile, will drive them into the arms of reaction. Carrillo's methods will have the same effect. For instance, imitating Allende's courtship of the generals Schneider and Pratz, Carrillo writes of the Spanish army: "everything leads one to think that the military leaders Lieutenant-general Diez Allegrea and Lieutenant-general Mulado have broader and more modern, though not widely expressed views of defence." It is not by attempting to influence one or two isolated figures, but by offering the perspective of a new society, that the officer caste can either be neutralised, or sections—even a majority—won over to the side of working people.

Piecemeal measures, attempts to "merely reform the state machine," and seek "further inroads into capitalism," without completely shattering the basis of capitalism, would give all the possibilities for the capitalists to use the state machine to smash the workers' organisations when the time is right. The issue of the state which was pushed to the background in the post-war period, will more and more come to the fore in the stormy period that is opening up throughout Britain, and indeed throughout the capitalist world. It is necessary for the advanced workers to grasp fully the essentials of the state, to see the changes that have taken place, and in that way prepare themselves, the working class, and the labour movement, to carry through the socialist transformation of society.




The Police, By Lynn Walsh

1. Trade Union Rights! The Police and the Labour Movement

Workers taking industrial action— particularly when organising picketing, a vital trade union right— have time and again come into conflict with the police. With the Tones' new anti-trade union legislation, there are likely to be even bigger battles. Trade unionists defending jobs and living standards fact the threat of jail either through non-payment of fines or "contempt of court", or through collisions with police trying to enforce limits on picketing or alleging "obstruction" or "public order" offences.

Ironically, however, one of the last groups of potential strikers to be threatened with imprisonment were the police themselves. This was under the last, right-wing Labour government. The episode was only publicised much later. The Sunday Times (9 August 1981) revealed: "The chairman of the Police Federation, Jim Jardine, was threatened with imprisonment as recently as 1977 though the threat was kept a secret at the time. It happened when police, angry at low pay, howled down Merlyn Rees, the Home Secretary of the day, at a meeting in Westminster Hall. Jim Jardine (a serving police constable) was told by a senior officer that calls for strike action would have to be strongly resisted otherwise he would be taken to court and face imprisonment under the 1964 Police Act (under section 53 which prohibits 'causing disaffection')."

Strike action by the police was headed off with an immediate 10 per cent rise and the promise of an inquiry into their pay. When the Tory government returned in 1979, Whitelaw announced the big increases recommended by the inquiry with a big fanfare, clearly attempting to buy the police's loyalty for future confrontation with the labour movement. However, it is clear that in the period of police discontent before 1977 police were leaving at a rapid rate, not only because of pay and conditions but because of disquiet at the way they were being used against strikes and demonstrations.

The 1977 episode points to the contradictory character of the police. While an arm of the state—increasing one of the "armed bodies of men" who make up the capitalists' repressive apparatus—the police, like the armed forces, are composed of men and women drawn overwhelmingly from the working class, and they have their interests and demands as workers. The police pay disputes of 1970, 1975 and 1976-77 aroused growing demands for genuine trade union organisation and action. The demand for the right to strike was intensely debated. A majority of constables in a number of areas indicated in referenda that they wanted strike action. The inspectors were against striking, but the sergeants wavered in between. At the Police Federation conference in Scarborough in May 1977 an overwhelming majority voted for strike action. Federation leaders undoubtedly feared that some constables would take wild-cat action if the leadership failed to move.

Grievances about pay and conditions and frustration with the Federation had clearly produced the beginnings of trade union consciousness among many police men and women. Among a minority, moreover, industrial militancy had clearly begun to stimulate a more generalised class consciousness, with a questioning of their role and their relationship with the labour movement. At Scarborough a young Metropolitan constable said: "We're no different from other workers. We may wear funny clothes and do society's dirty work for them. But we come from the same stock as other workers. (Boos) We have only our labour power to sell, not capital." (Quoted in Robert Reiner, The Blue-Coated Worker) His speech was greeted with cat-calls and shouts of "Commie", etc. Clearly, while militant on pay, the majority of delegates still voiced backward, if not reactionary sentiments towards the labour movement and on social issues. But the very fact that this class-conscious attitude could be expressed by one delegate, even if he represented only a tiny minority at that stage, is very significant.

The ranks of the police were affected by workers' struggles from 1970-77, and many police looked to Labour for progress. But the police, like most other workers, were disappointed by the Labour government's failure to implement its programme. Labour's Home Secretary, Merlyn Rees, summarily rejected their call for the right to strike, while trying to persuade them quietly to accept the government's wage-restraint policy. The record of the Labour government, to say the least, was hardly calculated to swing the police ranks towards the labour movement.

The 1977 episode, in itself, underlines the need for the labour movement to adopt a worked-out policy towards the police. While opposing the repressive use of the force, Labour must nevertheless appeal to the police ranks. While campaigning for democratic accountability of the police, the movement must also call for trade union rights for the police, with the replacement of the Police Federation by a genuinely independent union organisation. It is not only a question of defending the economic interests of the police, but of working to bring the ranks of the police into the orbit of the labour movement.

This has been opposed by some pseudo-Marxists as "Utopian". They want to write off the police as "one reactionary mass", as though they were a completely uniform, immutable instrument of repression. This is a completely one-sided, incorrect view which takes no account of the changes which can be produced by events.

It is undoubtedly true that there are reactionaries in the police. Clearly, there are racialists and some fascist sympathisers within the ranks, and democratic accountability would be used to make sure that these were weeded out. In recent years, moves from the top to shape the police into a more repressive force and the aggressive operational tactics increasingly adopted by local police chiefs has led many of the more reasonable types to leave the force. Recruiting and training is undoubtedly directed towards producing the kind of police the state requires under new conditions. But ultimately the mood and outlook of the police, the balance between their repressive role and the police ranks' own class demands, still depends on the balance of class and political forces in society.

The 1968 May events in France are an example of the way the police can move under conditions of crisis.

The mass strike movement, which involved ten million workers, was actually "detonated" by police repression of student demonstrations, particularly by the brutal actions of the riot police, the para-military CRS. However, as one writer on the police, Tom Bowden, comments: "...While the police were prepared to brutally subdue one of their natural opponents, middle-class students, they were most unwilling to batter those whom they felt to be their worker brothers into submission...Accordingly, they tacitly let it be known that operations against workers could not only cause a grave crisis of confidence within their ranks but also the possibility of what would in effect be a police mutiny." (Tom Bowden: Beyond the Limits of the Law.) In fact, leaders of one of the police unions stated publicly that they would not move against workers. The police were neutralised, or in the case of some sections, drawn behind the workers' movement, and De Gaulle's government was suspended in mid-air.

Another example was in Germany at the end of the First World War. In the crisis, the labour movement took over Berlin, appointing Emil Eichorn, a leader of the left-wing Independent Social Democrats, as police president. "Under his command," writes one of Rosa Luxemburg's biographers, "the police seemed to be turning into a revolutionary institution." (Peter Netti, Rosa Luxemburg). It was the move of the reactionary central government under the right-wing Social Democrats Ebert and Noske to depose Eichorn which precipitated the "Spartakist" uprising in January 1919.

In Britain, too, the mass struggles of the working class between 1913 and 1919 gave rise to a struggle within the police for an independent trade union. The illegal Police and Prison Officers Union gradually forged links with the labour movement, and its leaders called for the democratisation of the police. There had been strikes of the Metropolitan Police over pay in 1872 and 1890. But the most significant strikes were in 1918 and 1919 during the post-war crisis. In 1918, almost all of the Metropolitan force of 19,000 came out in sympathy with their leaders who had been victimised. However, in 1919 a second strike, which led to battles with the army in Merseyside, was broken by the authorities. The government made concessions on pay and conditions, but purged the militants and completely smashed the union. The Police Federation was then established as a tame substitute for a union. At the same time, moves were made to undermine the powers of local watch committees and establish firm central control over local forces.

These examples should be enough to show that the police are not one, unchanging reactionary mass. The police, too, are affected by the crisis in society—and can be influenced by the working class when it moves into action. A correct policy towards the police on the part of the labour movement, however, is a vital factor.




2. Policy of Force – and the Need for Democratic Control

The riots which erupted in Brixton, Toxteth and other cities in the summer of 1981 once again focused attention on the role of the police. In particular, they highlighted the almost complete lack of accountability, and the need for the labour movement to campaign for the democratisation of the police.

The explosion of anger on the streets arose from the terrible conditions faced by workers in the inner-city areas, especially black workers and youth: mass unemployment, rotten housing, inadequate education, health and social facilities etc. But the street clashes also reflected widespread resentment and anger at the police which had built up over a period of years. The labour movement, while defending workers' rights to defend their areas from attack, cannot support looting, arson and petrol-bombing as forms of protest. However, it has to be recognised that in almost every case the riots were sparked off by provocative police action. In Brixton, as was soon revealed, there was the intensive Swamp '81 operation, and a number of brutal arrests and raids. Similarly, in Toxteth a number of arbitrary, heavy-handed arrests sparked off the conflict. These particular incidents, however, were only the tip of the iceberg.

In March 1979, Lambeth Labour council, completely dissatisfied with its lack of control over policing in the area, set up its own Working Party on Community/Police Relations. It concluded (in January 1980) that there was evidence of widespread racism by the police and that they were regarded, particularly by black people, as "an army of occupation". In London and other cities there has been growing anger at the racial bias of the police. The increasing number of "passport raids" has highlighted the police's role in enforcing racialist immigration laws. There is also anger over racial attacks. In the past five years 26 black people have been murdered, with only one or two arrests for these crimes. In the London area there were 2,426 violent attacks on Asians alone in 1980. Very few of these crimes were solved.

In Brixton and other areas of London there was also a strong reaction against the intervention of the Special Patrol Group. Few of the black youth or Labour activists could forget the SPG's responsibility for the killing of Blair Peach after the anti-NF demonstration in Southall (23 April 1979). Before the Brixton upheaval, the inquest on the Deptford fire had emphasised the inability and apparent reluctance of the police seriously to investigate this horrendous crime as a racialist attack. Protest from Labour MPs and civil rights groups had also drawn attention to the scandal of deaths of suspects in police custody. Between January 1970 and June 1979, 245 people died in police custody, with the rate rising from seven a year to forty-eight a year. It was the refusal of the Liverpool police chief, Kenneth Oxford, to reveal the contents of an internal inquiry into the death of Jimmy Kelly which brought about a head-on collision between the Labour councillors on the area police authority and the Chief Constable. Oxford arrogantly expressed the attitude of hard-line police chiefs towards elected police committees. He attacked some councillors for their "vituperative, misinformed comments", and reportedly told members of the police authority to "keep out of my force's business." Liverpool councillors decided to set up a working party to look into the "role and responsibility" of the police authority. After this reported in February 1980, Councillor Margaret Simey, a long-standing member of the authority, commented: "I realise now that there is no hope of running a big modern police force on rules that are no more than a gentleman's agreement" (Weekend World, ITV, 23 March 1980). "Mr Oxford does not seem to think the police committee is worth proper consideration, and the Tory majority do not seem to think that there is anything wrong with that" (Observer, 21 October 1979).

The clashes between Labour councillors and police chiefs in Lambeth (Brixton) and Liverpool (Toxteth) were early warnings of the explosions to come. The conflict over the role of the police authorities in these two key areas, as well as in West Yorkshire (where there was also a council enquiry in 1978) and Lewisham (where in 1980 the council threatened to withhold its contribution to the Metropolitan police), underlined the complete lack of democratic accountability as far as the police were concerned.

Yet the police were not always unaccountable to local authorities. When, after the formation of the Metropolitan police in 1829, police forces were gradually created in the boroughs, they were under the control of "watch committees" made up of council members, who appointed the constables, and their officers, and fixed their pay and controlled their work. When the county councils were reformed in the 1880s, "standing joint committees" were created, comprising of half county councillors and half local magistrates, with similar powers to the borough watch committees. "The control of the watch committees was absolute," writes one historian of the police (T A Crichley, History of the Police in England and Wales). "In its hands lay the sole power to appoint, promote and punish men of all ranks, and it had powers of suspension and dismissal. The watch committee prescribed the regulations for the force, and subject to the approval of the town council determined the rates of pay." In some boroughs the chief police officer was required to report weekly to the watch committee. There was, however, continuous pressure from the government to establish stronger central control of the police; but this was resisted by local interests. Throughout the 19th century the Home Secretary's main role was that of ensuring all areas recruited and maintained adequate police forces, which was carried out through the inspectors of constabulary.

This relationship was not just the product of administrative convenience. It reflected the balance of class forces, and the political relations flowing from them. The borough councils were dominated by the industrial and commercial capitalist class. They paid for the police through the rates, and therefore they insisted they controlled the police. The industrial middle class were suspicious of central government, which they associated with extravagant and unnecessary expenditure, and which they feared would interfere in their affairs on behalf of the aristocratic oligarchy which dominated central government. The propertied middle class which championed parliamentary government took it for granted that a body like the police, which potentially had enormous power, should be democratically controlled.

This, however, was in the era before the working class had become an independent political force. Even at the end of the 19th century only a small minority of workers had the vote. When the great majority of working class men gained the vote in 1918 (all women in 1928) the property owning classes changed their tune. They were no longer concerned about the aristocratic oligarchy, which had been eclipsed by industrial capitalists, but they certainly feared the growing strength of the labour movement. The end of the First World War in 1918 brought a massive radicalisation of the workers, with enormous struggles and strike battles. Labour councillors began to be elected in many towns and cities, with the emergence of a number of Labour-controlled councils. The .attempt of the state to take control of the police out of the hands of local government and concentrate it centrally was also made more urgent by the police strikes of 1918 and 1919.

After the strikes, the Desborough Committee was set up to overhaul the whole police structure, and many of its recommendations were adopted. One recommendation was that the power of appointment, promotion and discipline should be transferred from the watch committees to Chief Constables. This, however, was still resisted in Parliament, and the powers remained formally in the hands of watch committees until 1964. However, in one way and another the powers of Chief Constables were considerably strengthened. So too was the "informal" central influence exerted by the Home Office (and the Scottish Office), especially as central government now provided half the cost of maintaining local forces. The element of democratic control through the watch committees was slowly but surely strangled. The last vestiges of accountability, moreover, were allowed to disappear largely without opposition from the labour movement, controlled in that period by the right-wing leadership.

The 1960 Royal Commission on the Police concluded that the main problem of police accountability was controlling Chief Constables. They "should be subject to more effective supervision," said the report—but this was to be done by making Chief Constables more accountable to central government, not to local watch committees. The Royal Commission's recommendations were put into effect by the 1964 Police Act (and the Police (Scotland) Act, 1967). Borough watch committees and county standing joint committees were replaced by police authorities, made up of two thirds councillors and one third magistrates. Local authorities still paid for half of the cost of the forces, but their Chief Constables, backed up by the Home Office, quickly established the principle that "operational questions" were outside police committees' scope. In practice, the 1964 Act institutionalised and legalised the situation established after 1945. The new police committees are not even committees of the local councils, but independent statutory bodies. This effectively divorces them from council control. In some authorities, like Liverpool, the councillors are not even allowed to ask questions on the police authority.

In theory, the police authorities appoint the Chief Constable and can dismiss the Chief Constable "in the interests of police efficiency." But these powers are strictly subject to the Home Secretary's agreement. In theory, the police committees can question the Chief Constable on his annual reports, or ask him for special reports. In practice this is very difficult. Most Chief Constables' annual reports give very little information on policing methods, and they particularly avoid the most contentious areas of policing.

Most of the police chiefs strongly resist all proposals for increased democratic accountability on the grounds that it would subject the police to "political control". They try to perpetuate the myth, important for gaining public acceptance of their role in the past, that the police are an arm of a "neutral" state. They are, according to this view, "above" politics and sectional interests, and ultimately answerable to the equally "neutral" and "independent" judiciary. The recent changes in police policy themselves refute this liberal myth.

The Police Act and other legislation of the early 1960s for the most part merely institutionalised changes which had already taken place. But it was the stormy events which opened the 1970s, a new decade of crisis, which brought the really significant changes in police planning and training. The Tory government under Edward Heath came to office in 1970 with unemployment over 1 million for the first time in postwar Britain. The Tories set out to take on the working class, aiming to break the power of the trade unions through the 1971 Industrial Relations Act. But Heath's moves against the trade unions provoked massive opposition from the organised workers, which eventually defeated his attempt to use the law and special courts to shackle the unions. The most significant of the industrial battles which shook the Heath government was the 1972 miners' strike. The decisive battle took place at Saltley Gates where 30,000 miners' pickets and other industrial workers blockaded the Midlands coal depot. The police were defeated and forced to retreat. This was not only a crushing blow to the Tory government, but demonstrated to the capitalists the weakness of their state when faced with organised, mobilised workers.

In response, the government instigated an immediate review of its security policy, covering everything from policing the streets to dealing with an insurrection. The strategists of capital were preparing for the possibility of revolution. Raymond Carr, the Tory Home Secretary, set up a National Security Committee to review all aspects of main- taming public order and to produce new "contingency plans". The committee reported in 1975, after the return of the Labour government. Labour changed the name of the body to the vaguer "Civil Contingencies Committee", but adopted all its main recommendations. This major review led to a programme of equipping police forces with modern technology for surveillance and holding records and with new riot gear. New training meant the police were being prepared for riots and for confrontations with demonstrations, strike pickets, etc. More special units were set up to act as para-military squads as and when required. In 1977 riot shields appeared on the streets for the first time in Britain (apart from Northern Ireland) when the police moved against anti-fascist demonstrators protesting against a National Front march through Lewisham. At the same time, however, plans were made for the use of the army to back up the police in emergencies. Joint operations, as at London's Heathrow airport in 1974, were staged, supposedly to counter alleged terrorist threats, but clearly aimed at getting the public used to seeing the army operating with the police on the streets. Then, in 1977/78, the Labour government actually called out 20,000 troops to take over fire-fighting duties and break the strike of the firemen taking action against Labour's pay-restraint policy.

These developments make it clear that the "iron fist" thinking of the Andertons and McNees does not merely express the hardline outlook of a number of reactionary police chiefs, but reflects the new perspective of the strategists of the ruling class themselves. They have recognised that the relative social peace of the post-war period ended with the ebbing of the economic boom. They see that the coming period, with the continued catastrophic decline of British capitalism and the inevitable erosion of living standards, will be one of head-on conflict with the working class. They have therefore discarded the old 'liberal', 'democratic' face of the British ruling class and instead are presenting a brutal, repressive visage. These developments, particularly with the perspective of the Andertons, make it vitally important for the labour movement to campaign for the democratisation of the police.

If the working class is to preserve the economic gains and the democratic rights that it has wrested from the capitalists in the past, it must carry through the socialist transformation of society. Past gains cannot be preserved indefinitely within the rotten framework of a crisis-ridden capitalism. In transforming society, it is Utopian to think that the existing apparatus of the capitalist state can be taken over and adapted by the working class. In a fundamental change of society, all the existing institutions of the state will be shattered and replaced by new organs of power under the democratic control of the working class. While basing itself on the perspective of the socialist transformation of society, however, the labour movement must advance a programme which includes policies which come to grips with the immediate problems posed by the role of the police.

The movement must campaign along the following lines:

The police must be returned to the authority of local government police committees, with powers like those of the original watch committees. The local police committees should have the power to appoint and dismiss Chief Constables and senior officers. They should be responsible not only for the police's physical resources but for "operational questions", i.e. day-to-day policing policies. The Metropolitan Police, which at present is only formally accountable to the Home Secretary, should also be made accountable to a democratic Greater London police committee

The police committees should ensure a genuinely independent complaints procedure under the complaints board composed of democratically elected representatives. They should ensure that the appropriate disciplinary procedures are implemented.

The police committees should ensure that any racist elements or fascist sympathisers within the police are weeded out of the force.

Through such police committees, the labour movement, in areas where Labour controlled the local councils, would be able to establish democratic checks and controls on the role of the police. In the past, before the working class had emerged as an independent political force, the spokesmen of big business and the middle class insisted that the police were democratically accountable. Now, the labour movement, which represents the overwhelming majority in society, must demand that democratic accountability is extended to cover this force which, it is claimed, exists to protect the interests of the public. Labour must also demand:

3. Fighting Crime?

"Law and order" has long been a favourite electioneering slogan of the Tories. They try to represent any criticism of the police as an attempt to undermine "the fight against crime". Calls for democratic accountability are portrayed as "politically motivated" moves to undermine the police's "neutral" and "impartial" role. At the 1977 Tory Party conference, for instance, Whitelaw claimed that it was "part of a left-wing mythology" that "there was something despicable, almost immoral, in discussing the prevention of crime at all." Contrary to Tory mythology, however, Marxists are not opposed to the police taking action to catch criminals and to protect people's safety and personal property. Working-class people are naturally concerned about crime, and especially alarmed about increasing violence. But the Tones, by elevating the "moral" issues and the abstractions of "law" and "legality", want to turn attention away from the social roots of crime.

What better answer to the Tories than the comments of the Boston Police Commissioner, Robert Di Grazia? "We are not letting the public in on our era's dirty little secret," he wrote: "that those who commit the crime that worries citizens the most—violent street crime—are, for the most part, the products of poverty, unemployment, broken homes, rotten education, drug addiction and alcoholism, and other social ills about which the police can do little, if anything." Di Grazia does not draw any radical conclusion about the problem of upholding "justice" in society divided by extremes of wealth and poverty—within a system based on the legalised expropriation of workers' surplus value by the capitalist class. Nevertheless, Di Grazia eloquently denounces the "politicians (who) get away with law and order rhetoric that reinforces the mistaken notion that the police—in ever greater numbers and with ever more gadgetry—can alone control crime."

His criticisms certainly apply to Thatcher's government. Unemployment, Mrs Thatcher said after Brixton erupted in April 1981, was not the cause. The real cause, she implied, was the breakdown of "respect for the law" and the erosion of "moral values". The Tories cannot accept that their economic policies which have had a shattering effect on the youth, have helped create the conditions for conflict on the streets. If there has been a breakdown of previously accepted social norms of behaviour and of traditional morality, they cannot see that the terrible alienation of young people created by the profit system is a powerful contributing factor. Like the politicians Di Grazia criticises, Thatcher and Whitelaw simply back the arming of the police with more powerful equipment: riot gear, water cannon, CS gas, plastic bullets, and, increasingly, firearms. They also support heavier sentences in the courts, and a tougher regime in prisons and juvenile detention centres.

The Tories' approach reflects the thinking of the professional police chiefs. Some, it is true, have spoken out against the crude, hard-line stance of the Andertons and Oxfords. John Alderson, Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall (who retired in April 1982) is a notable example. Alderson said after the riots: "One thing is certain, it is no answer to resort to brute force to control people." Alderson, whose liberal approach is in sharp contrast to that of most other police chiefs, advocates "community policing". In his view, the primary concern of the police should not be "law enforcement" but the welfare of the community and the amelioration of social conditions which foster crime. He recognises that unless the emphasis is on prevention and unless the police have the confidence and support of the people they are supposed to be protecting, there is no hope of effectively "fighting crime".

But the new breed of hard-line police chiefs, like Anderton (Manchester), McNee (Metropolitan), and Oxford (Merseyside), regard Alderson's views as quaintly old-fashioned. They consider that they are coming to grips, no bones about it, with the realities of a society which cannot afford to put the emphasis on social welfare. Unlike Alder- .son, they are not primarily concerned with fighting crime of the traditional sort. They are now preoccupied with the task of defending the status quo in an industrialised, capitalist society increasingly torn by economic crisis and class conflict. To base policing on support and co-operation from the public would, under these conditions, be unrealistic. Any form of democratic accountability is seen by these hard-liners as a potentially dangerous restraint on their ability to use brute force as and when they consider it necessary. They work on the assumption that the police is a force to be used to uphold a framework of authority, which they define as "law and order". From this perspective, "community policing" is seen as little more than a public relations exercise.

The statements of Anderton and the others make it clear what they really mean by upholding "law and order": not the protection of ordinary people from violent assaults, burglaries etc, but the defence of big business, property and the capitalist state from the growing threat of an increasingly radicalised and militant working class. Speaking on Question Time (BBC-1, 16 October 1979), Anderton said: "I think that from the police point of view that my task in the future—that basic crime as such—theft, burglary, even violent crime—will not be the predominant police feature. What will be the matter of greatest concern to me will be the covert and ultimately overt attempt to overthrow democracy, to subvert the authority of the state, and, in fact, to involve themselves in acts of sedition designed to destroy our parliamentary system and the democratic government in this country."

Fighting crime, for chief constables like Anderton, is not the same thing as catching criminals at all. Listening to this and other of Anderton's statements, what doubt can there be that by "democracy" he really means the capitalist system? In practice, "sedition" and "subversion" mean any attempt by workers to use their democratic and trade union rights to defend their interests. For example, the Association of Chief Police Officers complained to the parliamentary Home Affairs Committee (February 1980): "Today the right to demonstrate is widely exploited, and marching is the most chosen form of demonstration adopted by protestors. Irrespective of the peaceful nature of the procession the numbers involved bring town centres to a halt, business is disrupted and the public bus service thrown out of schedule. In short, a general annoyance is created to the normal process of daily life."

How readily have police chiefs resorted to blanket bans on marches under the 1936 Public Order Act, in reality to prevent anti-fascist demonstrations and counter-demonstrations. On a number of occasions, however, Anderton and McNee were prepared to muster an enormous number of police to escort a handful of fascists through the streets, supposedly to defend their democratic right to demonstrate! Police chiefs are also seeking through parliamentary Bills to extend their control of marches, requiring advance notice and seeking to impose their own "code of practice" for demonstrators which would virtually have the force of law.

The police chiefs have been cautious in supporting legislation which would inevitably mean head-on collision with mass trade union forces. They learned some lessons from Saltley Gates and Edward Heath's ill-fated Industrial Relations Act. However, the police have steadily stepped up their harassment of labour movement activists. In a "field manual" produced by a senior London officer in 1977, new recruits were advised to watch out for people who "although not dishonest in the ordinary sense, may, owing to extreme political views intend to harm the community you have sworn to protect." It goes on: "while there are subtle differences between these types of extremists and thieves, it is difficult to put one's finger on material distinctions."

This is the attitude which increasingly underlies routine policing. Clearly, the simple catching of criminals is much less important to the police chiefs, despite the Tones' law and order demagogy, than protecting the system against anyone who has the temerity to defend their interests or propagate their views. The labour movement does not condone crimes of violence (but it equally condemns the appalling cult of violence fostered by business interests through films, television and other media). Nor can the movement, while understanding the social causes of crime, support robbery as an "individual way out" of the problems facing workers. We have no sympathy with vicious criminal elements who are as much a menace to the workers as to big property owners, and whose activity provides the state with the excuse for strengthening repressive powers.

But the need to counter criminal activity does not give the "guardians of the law" the right to act as though they are a law unto themselves. Fighting crime does not justify the harassment and ill-treatment of suspects; or excuse denying suspects adequate legal defence or the twisting or fabrication of evidence. Fighting crime does not justify savage sentences or brutal, inhuman conditions in prisons; and it does not justify racial bias or arbitrary and oppressive policing. Overcoming crime for socialists, means fundamentally the eradication of the social conditions which produce crime. But within the present society, democratic accountability of the police, far from undermining the "fight against crime" would remove the obstacles created by an undemocratic, unaccountable and increasingly repressive police force.



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