Posts tagged ‘pyrrhic victories’
The armies separated; and, it is said, Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one more such victory would utterly undo him. For he had lost a great part of the forces he brought with him, and almost all his particular friends and principal commanders; there were no others there to make recruits, and he found the confederates in Italy backward. On the other hand, as from a fountain continually flowing out of the city, the Roman camp was quickly and plentifully filled up with fresh men, not at all abating in courage for the loss they sustained, but even from their very anger gaining new force and resolution to go on with the war.
While it may or may not be true (fn 1) that the police were going to stop being quite so violent and intimidating after the Climate Camp at Kingsnorth power station in 2008, even before the murder of Ian Tomlinson in April 2009 forced their hand, the point is that Kingsnorth was “Mission Accomplished” for the police. By their briefings and their aggressive stop and searching and other stunts, they managed to scare off/burn out enough people, and fling enough mud at Climate Camp so that some of it stuck in the eyes of the “public” (fn 2)
Yes, the Kingsnorth camp happened, and later the campers “won” when the the relevant Minister admitted to parliament that despite the lurid and much reported claims of “70 police injured” it was all down to um, heat stroke, tooth ache and bee stings. (See also here and here). But the issue had already been successfully ‘framed’ by the police in the minds of the mass of the public.
The instruments of the State will always be able to regroup – logistically, and ideologically – from setbacks. The press is owned by people sympathetic to the status quo [that's an understatement!] and the police are also a vital source of information for stories to fill the acres of newsprint/time that have to be filled (fn3). And they have asymptotic credibility. Social movements, made up of volunteers, under-resourced and prone to peaks and troughs, cannot – in my opinion – afford such pitched battles. In a war of attrition, logistics is all.
The question around what the exposure of undercover cops in the climate movement actually means is tricky as well. Obviously it’s terrible for the dedicated and determined activists whom they hoodwinked – people are genuinely hurt and pissed off. In some sense it’s “too early to tell.” While the campers have certainly won a moral argument, and the court case around Ratcliffe has raised some interesting legal questions, it’s hard to see that the exposure of Stone and the other agents helps with the stated goal of building a movement.
What are potential “new recruits” to make of it? That once you’re involved, even an activist of many years standing, who is trusted by other activists, may in fact be a police officer (or at least an informer). Mission Accomplished? (fn 4)
In researching this, I’ve just stumbled across a recent (Jan 05) article by one of the Ratcliffe defendants, entitled “The climate movement is in desperate need of renewal“. It’s worth a read. The writer focussed more on external than internal problems, but not all dirty laundry needs to be washed in public, after all…
(fn 1) Someone with a background in these matters says “You’re mistaken that it was their killing of Ian Tomlinson (1 April 2009) which forced the cops to back off in summer 2009, they were already in hot water as the pendulum swang back against them over the Kingsnorth policing. I have had this debate with [redacted], and was able to produce the newspaper clippings from February and March 2009 to prove this point!”. Why we should take police statements to hacks as proving any point whatsoever is another question.
(fn 2) The notion that there is an undifferentiated “public” that thinks the same about what it sees, has the same attitudes and potentials for action, is, of course, ludicrous.
(fn 4) For historical perspective, see Bernard Porter’s excellent “Plots and Paranoia: A history of political espionage in Britain 1780-1988″