POLICE WATCH INDIA (Regd. NGO)
It would be nice to be able to adopt a coherent and persuasive strategy for confronting and transforming bureaucracy into self-managing alternatives of autonomous working groups, self-reliant communities, federations and networks, drawing on experiences and insights from a variety of successful and unsuccessful grassroots campaigns to change bureaucracy in this way. Unfortunately the information and experience to draw up such a strategy is not yet available, at least not in organised form. No more than a few isolated social action groups have developed campaigns focusing on transforming large-scale bureaucracy as an organisational form.
To outline some principles which we think are important in developing campaigns for transforming bureaucracy as follows:-
Link insiders and outsiders
Campaigns concerning bureaucracy are much more likely to be effective if they involve coordinated efforts by people both inside and outside the bureaucracy. Insiders know what is going on first-hand, especially work conditions, power structures, attitudes, avenues for intervention. They can provide valuable information to outsiders, can advise on what tactics might be misdirected or counterproductive, and can sound out ideas informally. Outsiders have much greater freedom to act without putting their careers in jeopardy. They can take overt stands not safe for insiders to take. Outsiders also can have a wider picture of the role of particular bureaucracies, and are closer in tune with community perceptions.
Insider-outsider links help ensure that campaigns are broad based, and prevent polarisation of attitudes. In many social movements, there is a strong tendency to label all those who are involved with oppressive structures as automatically supporters of the ‘enemy’ and therefore beyond salvation. This can include government bureaucrats, soldiers, police, corporation managers and political party workers. The result of accepting this attitude and adopting polarising methods is that the insiders close ranks against the attack by the outsiders. Any hope of changing the structure, whether government bureaucracy, army, police forces, corporations or political party structure, is squandered. Treating insiders as potential and indeed essential supporters, and building links with them, helps overcome this counterproductive polarisation.
Similar comments apply to insiders. Many workers in government bureaucracies, police forces, political parties and so forth are sympathetic to the goals of outside social action groups, but may see these groups as amateurish and meddling. The tendency is then to avoid contact with them. This allows the outsiders to become more out of touch and frustrated and adopt stronger tactics, thus polarising the situation. It is far more fruitful to build links with the outsiders and help them become more effective. This does not mean channeling the outside actions into bureaucratic avenues, but rather enabling outsiders to be more effective in their own terms, providing a persuasive challenge to bureaucracies while not antagonising bureaucrats needlessly.
The last word here, ‘needlessly,’ is important. Polarisation is often inevitable in social struggles. The point is to avoid a polarisation which turns too many people into supporters of the oppressive structure.
Building links between insiders and outsiders does not necessarily require close collaboration in ‘mixed’ groups. Linking between groups and individuals is compatible with ‘separatism’ so long as no group imagines its own efforts are the only ones required.
People who are both insiders and outsiders at the same time, such as feminist bureaucrats who maintain contact with outside feminist groups, can play a crucial role. They can be a thorn in the side of the bureaucracy by raising challenges internally, and also provide insights to outside groups to make their campaigns more effective.
Some people spend their time developing and carrying out alternative ways of living and working. Others commit themselves to confronting and eroding existing power structures; they may not have the time or energy to develop non-standard ways of living. A third role is of people who work in a bureaucracy and identify with it, but who are prepared to take part in decolonisation, namely helping people over whom they formerly had power to become independent. People in these and other roles should try to communicate with and build links between themselves, but that they should also expect inevitable conflicts between the different roles.
People do not just fall into a particular role, such as ‘decoloniser,’ by chance. Social class, sex, personal history and organisational location can each contribute to this. Decolonisers are so important in helping to challenge and change bureaucracies from the inside, the conditions which produce these people seems a crucial area for investigation.
An example of the unfortunate consequences of lack of contact between insiders and outsiders is the familiar antagonism between social activists and police. Calling police ‘thulas’ ‘mamas’ and even hating them are only among the more extreme manifestations of activist hostility to police, which is mutually reinforcing. WHILE MANY MEMBERS OF POLICE FORCES ARE CORRUPT, BRUTAL AND CONSERVATIVE, NOT ALL ARE. Many are politically aware and often sympathetic to the causes espoused by the protesters who they must guard or arrest. Police are the agents of social control for dominant groups, not the embodiment of evil.
If there is to be any hope of eliminating oppressive social structures, this will involve transforming police forces as structures. There is a need for self-managing methods for neighbourhood security, for alternatives to conventional prisons, for campaigns to undercut the roots of crime as well as redefinitions of crime, and for conversion plans for police forces. To achieve much of this, building links with sympathetic members of the police is an important task.
Use of political methods:
There is little prospect of transforming bureaucracy by exclusively using its own methods, in other words by working ‘through the system.’ Use of standard channels needs to be linked with methods that challenge the bureaucratic way of doing things, and which incorporate the alternatives being argued for.
This principle has the greatest relevance to those inside bureaucracy. One approach to social change is the ‘long march through institutions.’ This means climbing the existing hierarchical ladders to obtain formal positions of power, where supposedly one can then have some impact on social directions. The trouble with this approach is that the institutions change most of the individuals long before the individuals rise to positions to change the institutions.
If people in bureaucracies want to change its structure, they can begin at once by raising issues with colleagues, studying and preparing critiques, speaking out on relevant issues, providing support for insider dissidents, and being involved in action groups inside and outside the organisation. Although bureaucrats are often afraid of the consequences of being socially active, there is usually quite a lot that can be said and done without jeopardising one’s position. In many cases, establishing a history of principled stands and outspoken behaviour allows a person more scope for further such activity. Others learn to expect dissent.
Climbing to or obtaining high positions in hierarchies is not necessarily undesirable for social activists, so long as this is done without sacrificing one’s principles. At higher levels, the dangers of compromise and co-option are much greater. But sometimes the opportunities are greater too. Activists promoting self-management from high-level positions are in an inherently unstable position to the extent that their efforts are successful; their own formal power will be undermined. Indeed, a useful criterion for efforts against bureaucracy is whether top-level power is cemented or eroded.
IN A LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC STATE WHERE POWER RELATIONS ARE MASSIVELY UNEQUAL, LOBBYING IS MOST USEFUL TO POWERFUL GROUPS INTERACTING WITH EACH OTHER, SUCH AS CORPORATIONS LOBBYING STATE BUREAUCRACIES. THIS IS BECAUSE BUREAUCRACIES OPERATE ON THE BASIS OF CENTRALISED POWER, NOT LOGIC. FOR GROUPS WITHOUT TOP-DOWN CONTROL OVER PHYSICAL AND HUMAN RESOURCES, LOBBYING IS LARGELY FRUITLESS AND HENCE INTERACTIONS WITH BUREAUCRATS ARE EXTREMELY FRUSTRATING.