Wednesday, 3 August 2011
CASE 335 - Agent provocateurs
An agent provocateur is a person employed by the police, government, corporation or even the elite or other entity to act undercover to entice or provoke another person to commit an illegal act. More generally, the term may refer to a person or group that seeks to discredit or harm another by provoking them to commit a wrong or rash action.
As a known tool to prevent infiltration by agents provocateurs, the organizers of large or controversial assemblies may deploy and coordinate demonstration marshals, also called stewards.
British Government's Agent Provocateurs Exposed!
An agent provocateur may be a police officer or a secret agent of police who encourages suspects to carry out a crime under conditions where evidence can be obtained; or who suggests the commission of a crime to another, in hopes they will go along with the suggestion and be convicted of the crime.
A political organization or government may use agents provocateurs against political opponents. The provocateurs try to incite the opponent to do counter-productive or ineffective acts to foster public disdain—or provide a pretext for aggression against the opponent (see Red-baiting).
Historically, labor spies, hired to infiltrate, monitor, disrupt, or subvert union activities, have used agent provocateur tactics.
Agent provocateur activities raise ethical and legal issues. In common law jurisdictions, the legal concept of entrapment may apply if the main impetus for the crime was the provocateur.
Provocateurs have always been used by capitalist governments against revolutionary movements. As Lenin remarked to the Second Communist International (point 12): "Notwithstanding their false and hypocritical declarations, the governments of even the most enlightened and freest of countries, where the bourgeois-democratic system is most "stable", are already systematically and secretly drawing up blacklists of Communists and constantly violating their own constitutions so as to give secret or semi-secret encouragement to the whiteguards and to the murder of Communists in all countries, making secret preparations for the arrest of Communists, planting agents provocateurs among the Communists, etc., etc. Only a most reactionary philistine, no matter what cloak of fine "democratic" and pacifist phrases he may don, will deny this fact..."
On the one hand, Lenin says that faced with the internal culture of war, revolutionary movements must go underground and secret, but this has costs of its own, as discussed elsewhere. On the other hand, he goes on to say to the Second International, that no matter how strong the repressive measures of the government, the revolutionary movement must somehow remain visible: "in all cases without exception, the parties should not restrict themselves to illegal work, but should conduct legal work as well, overcoming all obstacles, starting legal publications, and forming legal organisations under the most varied names, which should be frequently changed if necessary."
The danger of provocateurs is associated primarily with secret, underground work, as Lenin experienced on numerous occasions. The agents penetrate into secret organizations and make known their membership and their plans to the government authorities, leading to arrests and to disruption of actions that have been planned in secret. The more public the work of a revolutionary movement, the less effective is this work of the agent provocateur.
The government also uses provocateurs to establish phony organizations that compete with revolutionary organizations in order to divide the movement and confuse the people. Lenin describes one such organization, the Independent Social Labour Party established by agent provocateurs in St. Petersburg in 1905. Within a few years, as is typical for these phony organizations, it went out of existence.
Typically, provocateurs prey on individuals and small groups of revolutionaries trying to convince them to adopt illegal methods, especially the use of violence, in order to trap them and justify their arrest and imprisonment, or even their outright murder at the hands of the police. Lenin's advice was to "spurn ... the efforts of wretched provocateurs to provoke it to fight single-handed..."
Ironically, provocateurs sometimes do more good than harm for the revolutionary cause, because they are forced to do revolutionary work in order to keep their position. Thus, Lenin recalls the case of Roman Malinovsky, who was revealed to have been a secret agent of the Tsar: "As member of the Party’s Central Committee and Duma deputy, Malinovsky was forced, in order to gain our confidence, to help us establish legal daily papers, which even under tsarism were able to wage a struggle against the Menshevik opportunism and to spread the fundamentals of Bolshevism in a suitably disguised form. While, with one hand, Malinovsky sent scores and scores of the finest Bolsheviks to penal servitude and death, he was obliged, with the other, to assist in the education of scores and scores of thousands of new Bolsheviks through the medium of the legal press."
Provocateurs often accuse others of being provocateurs, not only to avoid attention on themselves, but also to discredit effective revolutinaries and to sow disunity and disruption in revolutionary organizations. In his 1903 book, Revolutionary Days, Lenin honored the priest Father Georgi Gapon who mobilized the masses of Russian believers against the Tsar. Many in the movement spread rumors that Father Gapon was an agent, but, as Lenin said, "Only the course of historical events could decide this, only facts, facts, facts. And the facts decided in Gapon's favour."