Increasing state repression of left and democratic forces should come as no surprise – and communists must be prepared to tackle it head on, writes Robert Daw.
MI5’s announcement of their decision to form a unit focused on the combat of “Left, Anarchist and Single Issue Terrorism” should come to us as no surprise – Communists are no strangers to repression. From the beginning of the labour movement, Communists and trade unionists have been set upon by reactionary state and non-state agents determined to stop them in their tracks and maintain the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
Karl Marx himself was expelled from Belgium and France after the publication of the Communist Manifesto. Vladimir Lenin spent a year behind bars for possession of an illegal magazine, and was sent into exile in Siberia for three more years immediately afterwards. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered in the streets of Berlin by the SPD government-backed Freikorps in the aftermath of their uprising. Between 1902 and 1913, a young Joseph Stalin was exiled six times for his part in organising the oil workers of Baku and fundraising for the Bolsheviks. Mao and his Communist Party were forced into the Long March to escape the reactionary forces of the Kuomintang. When the Nazis took power in 1933, Communists were the first to be rounded up, persecuted, slaughtered in camps by the thousands. Millions were murdered in Indonesia during the bloody purge of leftists in the 60s. Ibrahim Kaypakkaya was dismembered and killed by the Turkish state, Che Guevara tracked down and assassinated in the Bolivian jungle by CIA-backed gunmen, Ulrike Meinhof hanged in her prison cell by West German state police.
In Britain too, the left has faced intense repression from the ruling class. Trade unions have faced state violence on their picket lines for as long as there have been trade unions, from the violent repression of the Luddites and transportation of the chartists to the miners’ strike and the Battle of Orgreave (pictured above). Many left and anti-capitalist groups, including those in the animal liberation and green movement, have faced infiltration by state agents – with these “spycops” going so far as to manipulate activists into relationships, starting families under assumed aliases, and vanishing without a trace.
The history of our movement is one of heroic defiance in the face of repression; but it is not just a history – for many, it is today’s reality.
Communists and their allies in South America stare death in the face every day. Members of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) have been murdered in revenge attacks even after laying down their guns – many have returned to the armed struggle simply to defend themselves from these killings. Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia, was deposed last year by armed men breaking into his house and forcing him to flee to Mexico. The people of Venezuela have faced down a new wave of US coup attempts against their elected government over the last few years – from helicopter attacks on the presidential palace and a puppet government waiting to seize power, to a full-blown attempt by US mercenaries to kidnap President Maduro. The attempt was quickly put down by local fishermen and loyal members of the people’s militia.
This month, in India, 4 members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) were killed by supporters of the ruling Hindu-nationalist BJP. Meanwhile, PM Narendra Modi’s “Operation Green Hunt” has placed bounties on the heads of CPI (Maoist) members – unsurprisingly resulting in the deaths of innocent people as reactionary peasants try to earn a quick buck purging leftists on behalf of the government.
Here in Britain, those who answered the call of the YPG and travelled to Syria to combat the rise of Islamic State have faced harassment from the state upon their return. Police have caused job losses by contacting employers; arrests and court cases have been common, and in some cases ended with long prison sentences for those brave enough to go and make a stand against fascist terror. And now the government and security state are indicating that no left-wing cause or organisation is safe from interference and repression by the police and security services.
While the weakness of the communist movement since 1990 has been reflected by a relatively low level of state repression, we must not become complacent. As the crises of capitalism grow more severe across the world, and our own movement regains its footing, we will find ourselves in the crosshairs once again. Our very existence, standing proudly against the capitalist world order, is enough to invite repression. In this new situation, we must face up to the necessity of confronting the forces of the state by any means necessary and begin to conduct our work in more secure ways.
Above all, we must be prepared to face repression head on; to steel ourselves to the possibility of arrest, imprisonment and exile; if necessary, to give our lives for our class as our forebears did. We must adapt to this new era of struggle, and fight with every breath in the pursuit of socialism.