The sordid actions of police informant Rob Gilchrist infiltrating New Zealand activist groups is yet another case of the bourgeois state ‘just doing its job’. In this blog post John Moore argues that the left should strongly condemn the police for their actions, yet those that act with howls of surprise and shock show how little understanding they have of the relationship between the state and capitalism in New Zealand. The left needs to start organizing more seriously against the coercive powers of the capitalist state, but at the same time exercising caution rather than paranoia.
Police spy Rob Gilchrist
The actions of Rob Gilchrist and the police reveal the ugly face of the capitalist state.
So far we know that Gilchrist has acted as a spy for the police for 10 years. He has informed and gathered information on organisations including Greenpeace, anti-Iraq War groups, poverty and beneficiary rights groups, animal welfare groups, GE-free groups and the Workers Party (formerly the Anti-Capitalist Alliance). The use of Gilchrist as a police spy was not an anomaly, but part of wider police intelligence programme. According to the Sunday Star Times http://tinyurl.com/684u3s
The use of an informer was part of a much wider police intelligence effort targeting community groups, using surveillance, filming of protests and seizure of computers and papers following protest arrests.
Capitalism and the state
Ruling class governments, whether Labour, National or whoever, and the police will invariably side on behalf of the employing ruling class and against workers and various oppressed groups. The cops’ actions against anarchists, and Maori activists during the infamous ‘terror raids’ highlighted whose side the cops are on. We in the Workers Party have called for the dropping of all charges in this case, including firearms charges. Recently low paid workers picketing for better conditions and pay in the Unite union have been met with police harassment and threats. Such actions of the cops demonstrate that that the state is an antithesis to the interests of working people and all oppressed groups.
Workers Party candidate Daphna Whitmore recently pointed out in a speech given during an electoral meeting in Otara, that the police ‘don’t protect working class people, they protect the rich; they protect employers’. This most recent case of covert police surveillance of left wing groups by Gilchrist highlights the role of the state to promote the interests of the bosses’ class and the capitalist system as a whole. All governments under capitalism must by necessity shore up the best conditions for businesses to accumulate their profits. Part of this role involves using the coercive arm of the state to suppress, and at times crush, any form opposition to the bosses and their state. Surveillance of left wing activity in New Zealand is nothing new.
Rob Gilchrist and the Workers Party
Our own organization has unfortunately had some contact with the unsavory character Rob Gilchrist. Gilchrist managed to get on to our internal email list and was on the list from June 2003 until March 2004. We know that some of our emails have been compromised, but this has been minimal compared with other groups.
Surveillance of left wing activity
Any person or organization that acts to lessen the suffering caused by capitalism is clearly a target for the New Zealand state, regardless of who is the ruling party. Environmentalist, anarchists, Maori activists, unionists and socialists are all fair game for the New Zealand state. Left-wing newmasses (http://tinyurl.com/6zy9vu) blogger Quentin Finlay pointed out that state surveillance of the left is nothing new:
Friends of mine who were involved in the SAL (Socialist Action League) in the 1970s and in CARE, HART and the PYM in the late 60s, 70s and early 1980s were well aware that their groups had been infiltrated. When he was Prime Minister, Muldoon regularly used the police and the SIS to infiltrate “anti government” and “subversive” (his words) groups, organisations, unions and political parties such as the Labour Party, the SUP and, in 1983/4, even the right wing New Zealand Party.
Parliamentary parties of both the right and ‘left’ have consistently supported extending the surveillance powers of the police and ‘intelligence’ services. When the SIS were caught red-handed breaking into activist Aziz Choudhry’s home in the 1990s, Geoffrey Palmer immediately called on the National government to bring in new legislation to expand the powers of the SIS. Among the MPs who voted for the ‘right’ of the SIS to break into homes were members of the Labour opposition and now Maori co-leader Tariana Turia.
A host of liberals, social democrats and mainstream Maori nationalist have dutifully supported extending the powers of the capitalist state. Revolutionaries, in contrast, unequivocally oppose all aspects of the coercive arm of the capitalist state. All cops, spooks and secret service agents serve the interest of the bosses. In contrast to the likes of Tariana Turia and her ilk, Marxists are for not giving a person or a cent for the capitalist state machine.
Caution but not paranoia
Left-wing organizations and activists clearly need to be on greater alert for spooks and provocateurs. We should be wary of discussing matters on internet lists (whether public or private) that could alert the police. Yet we also need to be careful not to become paranoid and allow this paranoia to stifle our activities. The actions of Gilchrist and the police are reminiscent of the FBI’s COINTELPRO (an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program). COINTELPRO involved a series of covert and illegal activities carried out by the FBI aimed at monitoring and disrupting political organisations. One of the methods used was to create an atmosphere of mistrust and fear in organizations including the Black Panther Party. The FBI and police would exploit genuine fears amongst the left by, for example, smearing genuine activists as agents. The escalation of fear and paranoia amongst the left acted to rip some organizations apart.
The actions of the police and their spook Gilchrist have been met with disgust and disbelief by much of the left. However, these actions by the New Zealand state should not be met with any surprise. The New Zealand state’s job is to defend and maintain the best conditions for the capitalist ruling class. A host of leftist and liberal organizations, from Greenpeace to the Workers Party, are all, in the eyes of the state, fair game. Hopefully this episode acts to expose the class nature of the state, but not lead to unnecessary fear and paranoia.
According to attorney Brian Glick in his book War at Home (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COINTELPRO), the FBI used four main methods during COINTELPRO:
1. Infiltration: Agents and informers did not merely spy on political activists. Their main purpose was to discredit and disrupt. Their very presence served to undermine trust and scare off potential supporters. The FBI and police exploited this fear to smear genuine activists as agents.
2. Psychological Warfare From the Outside: The FBI and police used myriad other “dirty tricks” to undermine progressive movements. They planted false media stories and published bogus leaflets and other publications in the name of targeted groups. They forged correspondence, sent anonymous letters, and made anonymous telephone calls. They spread misinformation about meetings and events, set up pseudo movement groups run by government agents, and manipulated or strong-armed parents, employers, landlords, school officials and others to cause trouble for activists.
3. Harassment Through the Legal System: The FBI and police abused the legal system to harass dissidents and make them appear to be criminals. Officers of the law gave perjured testimony and presented fabricated evidence as a pretext for false arrests and wrongful imprisonment. They discriminatorily enforced tax laws and other government regulations and used conspicuous surveillance, “investigative” interviews, and grand jury subpoenas in an effort to intimidate activists and silence their supporters.
4. Extralegal Force and Violence: The FBI and police threatened, instigated, and themselves conducted break-ins, vandalism, assaults, and beatings. The object was to frighten dissidents and disrupt their movements. In the case of radical Black and Puerto Rican activists (and later Native Americans), these attacks-including political assassinations-were so extensive, vicious, and calculated that they can accurately be termed a form of official “terrorism”.