Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Socialist Worker and Morning Star (Nick Wright) on Spycops Surveillance.

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“…the police knew exactly what was going to happen and timed their actions with precision.” (Nick Wright).

Socialist Worker has finally commented on the Spycops surveillance.

They are pretty brief about the whole business, MI5 told spycops to monitor socialists and children, and end with this,

The ongoing, public cover-up of the spy cops has thrown an occasional light on the activities of the police. Many of those spied on have chosen to participate in the inquiry in the hope of intensifying that light. Others, including the SWP, have not because they believe it will be a cover-up or for other reasons. There are two certainties—that police evidence will always involve memory loss, and the inquiry will not bring the justice that the cops’ victims deserve.

A different, and far more lengthy, report is carried in the Morning Star.

The Spycops inquiry: a window on the sinister side of the British state. (also on the blog 21Century Manifesto, here).

Nick Wright. Morning Star.

This is an article on the Spycops scandal, not least because it traces the undercover policing back to the protest at Red Lion Square against the National Front in June 1974 during which Warwick University student Kevin Gately died.

As somebody who was at the protest, and who saw the violence, including the police thumping people, pretty violently down a side alleyway near the Square, not to mention having joined the International Marxist Group (IMG) not long after the events, and who went to Warwick University in 1976, Nick Wright’s account is of special interest.

Cde Wright’s outrage at the British state is no doubt justified.

Yet there is this in his own past, beginning in the 1970s,

What was Straight Left? An introduction by Lawrence Parker.

opposition in the CPGB coalesced around Fergus Nicholson (other key figures were John Foster, Brian Filling, Nick Wright, Susan Michie, Pat Turnbull and Andrew Murray) who had been the CPGB’s student organiser until 1974. The Straight Left newspaper was launched in 1979, with a theoretical magazine, Communist, also appearing. Membership figures are impossible to guess

The Straight Left group, again showing its origins in the CPGB’s pro-Soviet left of the 1960s, took an extremely uncritical view of the Soviet Union and other ‘socialist’ nations, and viewed the actions of the CPGB as a ‘national’ sin against the ‘internationalist’ probity of the Soviet Union’s camp. Straight Left publications were filled with reprints from Soviet agencies such as Novosti and other press agencies from the Eastern Bloc.

Many people will have seen the German film,  Das Leben der Anderen, “In 1984 Stasi Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), code name HGW XX/7, is ordered to spy on the playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), who had so far escaped state scrutiny due to his Communist views and international recognition. Wiesler and his team bug the apartment, set up surveillance equipment in an attic and begin reporting Dreyman’s activities.”

Many more will be aware of the Stasi Mass Surveillance of the population of the DDR. “Four decades of domination over almost all aspects of life in East Germany came to an abrupt halt exactly 25 years ago today. On 31 March 1990, one of the most intrusive surveillance organisations in human history, the Ministry for State Security, more infamously known as the Stasi, was dissolved.”

The Stasi took surveillance to unprecedented, intrusive levels to gather deep knowledge about what people did and said, which they used to manipulate and control the population.

Like the USA and the UK, who today intercept our emails and internet records, the Stasi sought to infiltrate personal life to collect intimate information about peoples’ lives to identify those they considered a threat. In the Stasi museum today you can see the personal and seemingly inane material kept on file, including photographs of bedrooms and record collections.

The Stasi’s surveillance network spiralled out into every aspect of daily life. Among an estimated 274,000 employees were at least 174,000 informants, which would have been about 2.5% of the working population.” (Amnesty International).

Wright begins,

THE Spycops inquiry, more properly the Undercover Policing Inquiry, continues to let slip an occasional nugget from the mountainous, if heavily redacted, pile of documents introduced into evidence.

The focus of the inquiry is the investigation of a long period of undercover infiltration into more than a thousand political groups.

The starting date is 1968 and the attention is on two Metropolitan Police units, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU). This reflects one aspect of the secret state’s anxieties as the post-war period of growth began to falter while the freeze on politics that the cold war imposed was beginning to melt.

Intelligence gathering was the principal function of these units and they deployed over a thousand officers in a new and wide variety of target organisations.

This expansion took the work of Britain’s archipelago of secret police structures beyond its surveillance and interference in the Communist Party, in industrial disputes, internal trade union struggles and Irish republicanism and its routine counter-intelligence functions.

The brutality of these units became a scandal when, in 1974, Warwick University student Kevin Gately was killed on an anti-National Front demonstration.

The demonstration was organised by Liberation, formerly the Movement for Colonial Freedom. It was here that I gained an insight into the relationship between police intelligence gathering, political action and public order. I had been working full time for Liberation and its key London organiser, Kay Beauchamp, asked me to arrange the security in a rear section of the march.

Possessed of a deceptively mild manner and acute political judgement (she had been the sole woman among the team that established the Daily Worker in 1930) she brought great experience as a key organiser in the anti-fascist and post-war period.

Various Trotskyist and Maoist elements were refusing collective discipline — and some trade union people were anxious about this. Our intelligence was that a provocation was planned and Kay asked me to maintain a discreet cordon sanitaire.

The procession — headed by a police control vehicle and the London Co-op loudspeaker van — entered Red Lion Square and turned right, away from a dense police cordon guarding the short street entrance to the National Front meeting to conduct its open air meeting as agreed with the police.

A tail end contingent then entered the square, linked arms — possibly the most perfomatively stupid thing to do when getting into a fight with the police — and charged the police lines. To confront the police the charge had to wheel left. Inevitably this meant its momentum was weakened and as it collided with the police line it was swiftly broken up.

Note, the Wikipedia account says the IMG was the main force involved in this, and some accounts claim that if not a member Kevin Gately was an IMG ‘contact’. The version I heard was the the charge on the police lines was led by the 40-50 supporters of the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist).

Red Lion Square and the death of Kevin Gateley

Despite spelling Kevin Gately’s name wrongly this looks about the best account.

The other version of events is the one found by Lord Scarman. In his account, the Maoists were ignored in favour of members of the IMG (‘a front of determined-looking young men with their arms linked’) who had refused to follow the Liberation organisers and led instead what Scarman termed ‘a pushing affair – the weight of a small number of demonstrators’ against police lines. This tentative push, Scarman found, grew in force, even though the numbers involved were still tiny, becoming a first ‘vicious scrimmage’, then an ‘unexpected, unprovoked and viciously violent’ assault and in its final stages a ‘riot’, to which it was the police’s ‘duty’ to respond with unrestrained force. To an event greater extent even that the police themselves, Scarman blamed Gateley’s death not on the officers who struck him but on the IMG whose failure to disperse was (for Scarman) the effective cause of Gateley’s death.

At forty years distance, some of Scarman’s findings just about ring true. The measures of linking arms was a recurring anti-fascist tactic, which had travelled to Britain via the IMG from Paris. The suggestion that a couple of dozen protesters may have pushed at police lines is plausible; the police were, after all, blocking the agreed route to Conway Hall. At demonstrations, it is far from unusual for police pushes to be resisted and for something like a ‘scrimmage’ (i.e. a rugby scrum) to follow between protesters and the police. Members of the IMG, a party which in its subsequent history was never at the militant wing of anti-fascism, may well have seen the CPE (M-L) and may have pushed in the same the direction as them. Even if we accept that they pushed as hard as they could while still linking arms (Scarman’s ‘vicious scrimmage’), this is no force at all. Anyone who has attended more than a handful of protests will have seen desultory pushing of this sort; the reason why Red Lion Square is remembered is not because of this push but because of the police response, which was to escalate the conflict by charging at the crowd with batons drawn.

Photographs from the day show mounted police striking at the heads of demonstrators with sticks. Nick Mullen, a twenty-eight-year-old student from an Irish family was one of those struck on the head. He had been on Old North Street at the same time as Kevin Gateley and a picture shows Mullen’s face thick with blood. In Mullen’s account, the fatal conflict began when the policemen on foot received an order to attack, causing them to lift their batons. One demonstrator called out, ‘Why don’t you put your truncheons away?’ To which a policeman answered, ‘You must be fucking joking.’ There was a push and one of the demonstrators fell. Mullen claims to have heard a policeman shout, ‘One of the bastards is down. Let’s trample him.’

The last photographs before Gateley suffered the blow that killed him show the student at the junction of Red Lion Square and Old North Street with his way seemingly blocked by police officers. Between Gateley and Conway Hall there are mounted policemen, riding their horses into the crowd. Gateley is three rows back from them, facing mounted officers to his front and police on foot to his side. Subsequent photographs show Gateley after he collapsed. Officers reached for Gateley’s unconscious body and lifted his foot before it fell weightless to the ground.

Having been on a fair number of violent demonstrations in England, and in France, including being present in solidarity that evening with the 1986 student protest in which the police clubbed Malik Oussekine to death, I would say that Red Lion Square stood out for its intensity. This was amplified by being in a confined district of London, near Holborn Tube, and the relatively small numbers involved- 900 National Front and between 1,000 and 1,500 Counterdemonstrators

Wight continues and adds his own speculations,

From my viewpoint it was clear that the police knew exactly what was going to happen and timed their actions with precision. That is how Kevin Gately died of a head injury sustained in those brutal moments.

Apart from “my viewpoint” nothing more about the police foreknowledge is offered by the vetran CPB supporter.

The police foot detail easily absorbed the charge and the mounted police set about the crowd.

These events and the subsequent Scarman inquiry are brilliantly detailed in Only One Died by Liberation’s general secretary Tony Gilbert. When the amateurish bravado of the rag-tag-and-bobtail of Maoists and Trotskyists met the carefully choreographed actions of the police nothing went exactly according to plan.

Unless, that is, agents provocateurs among the demonstrators were deployed with that intention and/or the police wanted to blood their new Special Patrol Group.

Again, no new evidence is offered.

The weak rationalisations of the police commanders collapsed under sharp cross examination and they finished up blaming each other for their inevitable mistakes of omission and commission. Lord Scarman, predictably, found no-one responsible for Kevin Gately’s death. The scene was set for further deaths at the hands of the riot police.

Now it is more than true that they found nobody responsible for the death, though how far that set the scene for further hard-line police tactics against demonstrators is not clear.

The rest of the Morning Star article covers the present day.

Star readers will know from the excellent reporting by Bethany Rielly and Ceren Sagir that the present spycops inquiry is looking at the situations where undercover police infiltrated and subverted various groups and movements, stole the names of dead children, created fake identities to support their cover stories and deceived women into intimate relationships.

The trail of damaged lives and the emotional damage that ensued has put undercover policing under a spotlight. The courage and tenacity of the women involved and the revelation that the criminal justice system was corrupted with the police concealing evidence means that these kinds of operations will continue with extra efforts to hide them from public scrutiny.

Among the interesting documents that have surfaced in the inquiry is the weekly timetable of an induction course for Special Branch officers.

Day one starts with the usual courtesies and and sessions on the role of regional Special Branches and the Metropolitan Special Branch and a scary introduction into the Threat from Subversion.

A session on the Communist Party is supplemented by one on Subversion in Industry.

Our dedicated public servants get a crash course in Trotskyists, anarchists and the quaintly entitled Subversion in the UK Coloured Community before breaking for drinks parties.

Soon they are on to Soviet Bloc subversion and eurocommunism, international communist front organisations, international politically motivated terrorism and liaison arrangements within the EU.

Sworn enemy of Eurocommunism, and Brexit ultra, Wright just can’t let these go….

Written by Andrew Coates

May 19, 2022 at 11:41 am

7 Responses

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  1. I don’t know much about the main driving force behind the linked arms theory, but I do remember an eccentric Maoist of the time who tasked himself (he knew Latin) to examining in the Roman military strategist Polybius’s writing, the concept of the ‘Phalanx” and whether it held relevance to 1960’s London. I never found out his conclusions alas. As to the odd nuggets from the Spyops hearing, one from today (yes, I know I’m sad). This relates to a set of billet-doux between the Met SDS / SB and MI5 for a cold February nights drinkies at MI5’s then Curzon Street offices. See; https://www.ucpi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/MPS_0735795.pdf


    May 19, 2022 at 1:16 pm

    • We definitely did do the “link arms” during the 1970s, very much so on anti-NF demos round in the country in the later part of the decade.

      I have heard that the IMG were influenced by the tactics of the LC, “On 21 June 1973 the militants of (far right) Ordre Nouveau attending a meeting “Halte à l’immigration sauvage” (stop uncontrolled immigration) clashed violently with those of the Ligue Communiste. This led to the ban of both organisations. ” The LC became the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, the French party in the same Fourth International as the IMG.

      Joining the IMG after Red Lion Square I can recall seeing a film about this,

      At one anti NF demo, 1975-6 I think, we all, in the IMG, turned up with helmets…..(mainly building site ones).

      Andrew Coates

      May 19, 2022 at 1:34 pm

      • Strange that poor old Kevin Gately has almost been forgotten on the Left while Blair Peach is (rightly) honored and remembered frequently. Was it because he wasn’t linked to any organization who could keep his memory alive ?


        May 19, 2022 at 4:36 pm

        • Having been a Warwick Student myself (a couple of years after Red Lion Square, from 1976 to 1979) I am glad that he was and is remembered there.

          Meeting Room 2 renamed ‘The Kevin Gately Room’
          News from Warwick SU

          As per Policy 123 (Remembering and Commemorating Kevin Gately) passed at All Student Vote during the 2018-19 academic year, Warwick SU is proud to rename Meeting Room 2 “The Kevin Gately Room” and unveil a plaque commemorating Kevin.

          Kevin Gately was a Second-Year Mathematics student at Warwick who died as a result of head injuries sustained while attending an anti-fascist march against the National Front in 1974. He was the first person to die at a demonstration in Britain for at least 55 years, and suspicions that his injuries arose from police brutality on the day were never fully answered. In response to his death, hundreds of students marched in London and Coventry to pay tribute to him.

          A mural commemorating Kevin and the proud history of anti-fascist struggle at Warwick hangs in the SUHQ building at the top of the main staircase:


          Andrew Coates

          May 19, 2022 at 5:20 pm

  2. The SWP leadership at the time consciously enabled the infiltration and ignored it when it was occurring. No wonder they are sheepish now about acknowledging it and will keep stories about it as brief as possible. Their leadership model means all decisions made by previous central committees must be publicly defended and supported. To quote Trotsky from 1924, “We can only be right with and by the Party, for history has provided no other way of being in the right”


    May 19, 2022 at 4:32 pm

  3. A little jewel sitting in a tedious and bureacratic statement today from one of SDS head Honchos, DCI Trevor Butler, for today’s hearing. Dealing with trave outwith London he had the nasty suprise of meeting up with Sam Smith’s bitter. And this gets on the file…..” As I recall, I also travelled to Merseyside on one occasion with DS Croyden to liaise with local Special Branch there, albeit the precise circumstances escape me. Similarly, I remember travelling back from somewhere, I think it was Scotland, through Yorkshire. In each case, it is the journey itself that has stuck in my mind. On the way back from the former visit we were stopped by an officer from the Leicestershire Constabulary, and on the latter we had lunch in a pub owned by the Sam Smiths brewery, which sticks in my mind.”


    May 20, 2022 at 12:51 pm

    • Sam Smith’s sticks in my mind too – far from unpleasant, a very decent beer, with a creamy top, like a lot of Yorkshire ale, Theakston’s onwards. Drinking it for the first time in the 1970s it struck me as a lot better than our average London beer (most of which was piss poor, apart from Fuller’s and Young’s, not widely available, and not at all in North London) and smoother than the pint of Adnam’s in Suffolk.

      Andrew Coates

      May 20, 2022 at 4:35 pm

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