Response to TPTG

A response to an open letter by Greek group TPTG.

TPTG have chosen to publically identify the real name of an Aufheben contributor, a method we have previously only encountered from the right-wing press. They have done this despite an email circulated in August clarifying the numerous factual errors and false claims they make. They make extremely serious charges of ‘collaborating with the state and repression’ and ‘pacifying class struggle’, despite knowledge that this is just a smear, and added to this with unfounded speculations of their own. We regard it as ridiculous that at a time of unprecedented class offensive by capital, some of Europe's ultra-left have chosen to focus on ten-year-old gossip about Aufheben, and we resent the fact we've had to waste time on dealing with this when there's any number of more pressing things to be involved in. Nevertheless, we are obliged to respond.

The research work
J did not write the ‘Policing’ paper or any part of it – yet despite knowing this the TPTG piece chooses to refer to this as J’s paper and quotes from it extensively as if it represents J’s views. We obviously reject fully the liberal-reformist assumptions, language and aims of the paper. J was added as an author by the first author as a ‘favour’, because part of the paper refers to J’s research on identity-change in crowds. Being added as an author is a standard academic practice; and sometimes published papers contain statements that some of the named authors don’t agree with. But in this case it was a mistake by J to allow his name to be added to a paper that he was against in principle.

TPTG take the word ‘consultancies’ on J’s university profile too literally. The ‘NATO’ reference is actually a literature review by the Department of Health which cites J’s research on a mass emergency. The review and the research are about psychosocial care and nothing to do with crowd control (this can be checked by the link on his research website); J had nothing to do with anyone from NATO; and J is not responsible for the views expressed by the document authors or any of their statements or recommendations. As TPTG know, The talks to the ‘policing major incidents’ meeting, the CBRN centre, and Civil Contingencies Secretariat were each about his research on mass emergencies. They were part of the dissemination of his research to the emergency services and other relevant organizations that he is expected to do as part of his work at the university. The ‘blue light services’ work closely together; and so talking about emergencies means probably talking to cops as well as the others. His University encouraged this, and it would have looked odd to refuse to communicate with the cops. So he accepted this as a small cost of the overall job of research work.

The mass emergency talks consisted of a critique of irrationalist models and assumptions, and describe his research evidence that membership of a psychological crowd in an emergency is a source of resilience and adaptive response (such as coordination and cooperation). This argument provides a possible justification for emergency response strategies prioritizing communication and provision of information (lack of which survivors find distressing and frustrating) over control. He stands by this research work as worthwhile and even humane.

The supposed dangerousness of the liberal reformists
The TPTG letter is factually incorrect. J’s two colleagues do ‘lobby’ for less violent policing. All such liberal-reformist lobbying addresses the cops in their own terms - and this is what we disagree with. But it is simply wrong and confused to say that this equates with ‘support’ for the use of force; it is precisely because the two colleagues do support ‘anti-capitalist demonstrators and football fans’ that they seek to reduce police violence, arrests and jail sentences.

More importantly, however, J rejects his colleagues’ reformist project: we cannot contribute to the communist movement by using ‘enlightened’ expert advice to alter policing methods, or through any other such mediations, but rather through imposing ourselves collectively. The research he does with his two colleagues, and the fact that his name is sometimes attached to publications by them that are used to put forward their liberal-reformist arguments, is politically irrelevant, rather than practically or ideologically damaging.

TPTG suggest that the ideas in the ‘Policing’ paper have helped in tactics of repression. This is based on a misunderstanding. The premise of the paper is the cops’ own role in (inadvertently) contributing to the development of a riot. In plain English, ‘guiding the cops to act in ways which maximizes the opportunities to engage crowd members’ in processes of de-escalating conflict means suggesting to the cops that it’s in their own interests not to use force as their first choice method. The research on which the paper is based shows that policing perceived by crowd members as illegitimate and indiscriminate brings them together against the police; the premise, therefore, is those situations where people are not already united against the police. The research and ideas don’t explain how the police’s actions can create difference in a crowd where it didn’t exist previously.

Giving the cops the ‘insight’ that their own (‘illegitimate and indiscriminate’) behaviour can contribute to crowd conflict is not at all the same thing as giving them the ability to undermine our struggles. In the first place, there are obvious limits to the extent to which the cops can take on board and act upon this knowledge. For one thing, due to their social location, the police are in a sense right to fear ‘the crowd’ (and therefore ‘rational’ to resist the overtures of the liberal reformers, as many of them do): at the end of the day, the state is threatened by crowds of angry proletarians and reacts accordingly. They will therefore still tend to act ‘against the crowd’ on occasions, even when given the ‘insight’ that beliefs about crowd dangerousness can be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The ‘Policing’ paper cited by TPTG only aims to “hinder … crowd members’ unification” by arguing against brute force repression. But it is simplistic to understand by this that there is a straightforward relation between repression and the development of struggles, in the same way that there is no simple relation between ‘facilitative’ policing and the falling back of struggles. There are too many mediations. Experiences of police ‘illegitimacy’, rather than spurring people on, can actually be ‘disempowering’. There is not much use being anti-police if you can’t do anything about it. On the other hand, struggles can sometimes take off when policing is experienced as soft or ‘fair’. For example, the UK student movement was boosted by events at Millbank in 2010, when police held back. The crowd event remained buoyant but did not escalate; but the movement itself did escalate through that event.

In short, TPTG are simply wrong to state that the ‘Policing’ paper, and by extension J, help the cops practically with ‘correct repression’. Ultimately, the police are forced into repressive strategies by proletarian militancy regardless of such ‘insights’, and in any case the relationship between soft/hard policing and advance/retreat of struggle is highly mediated and contingent on numerous factors. By association TPTG have implicated J in collaboration with repression - a very serious charge with no basis in fact. Just as we disagree with his liberal reformist colleagues’ view (that working to soften the state through the mediations of expert opinion is a part of social change), so we also disagree with TPTG when they suggest that this expert intervention is an active impediment to social change.

After this decade-old gossip resurfaced back in January 2011, TPTG said they didn’t want to use the Aufheben group e-mail to contact us. Another friend, P, requested and was given one of our personal e-mail addresses in February; but no-one has used this or any other means to get in touch with us about this except through this public ‘outing’. TPTG have made extremely serious charges against one of us (“cop collaborating”), but made no attempt to clarify the facts – for example by contacting us with a simple e-mail. We circulated an email back in August explaining these facts. It seems to have been ignored. But why let the facts get in the way of a good smear story?

7th October 2011

Brighton & Hove Unemployed Workers Centre
PO Box 2536