The Met Police’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) was an undercover unit tasked with infiltrating political groups. Operating between 1968 and 2008, the squad has been under scrutiny recently, facing a public inquiry into its activities.
While it is known that the SDS mainly infiltrated leftist and progressive circles, the most recent phase of the inquiry has revealed that, from 1973-82, the unit was also spying on school children as young as 14-years-old.
Fight against fascism
A 1975 circular from MI5 to police chief constables ordered units to collect information on kids deemed to be involved in ‘subversive activities’. Included in this, according to the inquiry, were members of School Kids Against Nazis (SKAN).
SKAN was a countrywide campaign against the rise of the far right in the 1970s. An offshoot of the Anti-Nazi League, SKAN was an organised response to the National Front (NF) – a fascist group that targeted ethnic minorities, and which saw schools as a main area of recruitment.
The NF published a youth paper, Bulldog, and an infamous pamphlet entitled “How to Spot a Red Teacher?”. These were distributed to school children, provoking attacks on teachers.
Their 1974 manifesto outlined how, under an NF government, schools would be segregated by race, with the teaching of all social sciences banned, and all ‘unsuitable’ teachers fired.
SKAN undertook political education to deepen students’ understanding of fascism. They also distributed leaflets, organised rallies, and forged links with other anti-fascist and anti-racist groups.
The SDS’ investigations did not stop at reporting on the political activities of these kids; photos and personal information were also included.
One 17-year-old was reported to be spending “a lot of his spare time” at his girlfriend’s home, while a 14-year-old boy was described to be “effeminate”.
Upon questioning, spy cop Paul Gray said “no consideration was given to me as to the appropriateness of reporting on children”. He also noted that the reports aimed to identify these children in future demonstrations.
Spy cops and the state
The British state has a long and notorious history of spying on the left and the labour movement. For decades, it has infiltrated and recruited informants into groups and organisations deemed a ‘subversive threat’. This included the Militant – the Marxist tendency in Britain in the 1970s and 80s.
Engels described the state as “special bodies of armed men” standing in defence of the property, power, and privileges of the ruling class; a tool for the oppression of the exploited majority by an exploitative minority.
The Met Police – and other such institutions of the state – clearly have no qualms about spying either on teenagers or on trade unionists. The capitalist state is a relentless machine for the suppression of one class by another.
No surprise, then, that former MI5 director Peter Wright described agents as having “bugged and burgled [their] way across London at the state’s behest”.
These ‘spy cops’ scandals show the true nature of the state and its apparatus. The illusion of ‘democracy’ and ‘impartiality’ is stripped away, revealing the state’s real role: to maintain and uphold the status quo.
It is especially telling, in this respect, as the same inquiry has revealed, that a group of school kids standing up against fascist ideas through legal activities was considered a threat and was infiltrated, whereas the fascists were not.
Ruling class trembles
Far from being a sign of strength, however, such state spying is a sign of weakness. The fragility of the ruling class is laid bare by their fear of those not even old enough to buy a lottery ticket.
Today, with millions of young people being radicalised by the crises, crimes, and horrors of capitalism, the ruling class is again fearful of what lies ahead – trembling at the spectre of communism.
Hence their attempts to repress a new generation of activists: through the Prevent programme in schools; with the exclusion of anti-capitalist ideas from the curriculum; and by tightening anti-protest laws.
Similarly, whilst the SDS may have been disbanded, the Tories are keen to beef up the powers of the police – including giving spy cops legal immunity for crimes committed during their undercover operations.
With strikes and struggle on the rise, in other words, it is clear that the establishment is once again preparing for class war.
But as the revolutionary French writer Victor Hugo stated: No force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come.
Organised and mobilised en masse, conscious of their own power, workers and youth can smash through any state repression. Armed with a clear Marxist programme, fighting for socialist revolution, nothing can stand in our way.
Sara Al Disi