Sunday, 3 January 2010

A Note on the Approach of Marxists to the Police

Some time ago now, there was a short polemic published on the Socialist Party in relation to the police and the state (Marxism and the State: An Exchange). The protagonist of the debate, a by then ex member of the Socialist Party had criticised the Socialist Party for its position in relation to the police, regarding that he believed the police were reactionary through and through and therefore Marxists shouldn't make appeals to them.
As the reply admitted, the police are often used to crush the workers movement and are used by the state as a tool for repression. Thus some people come to a position that the police are 'one reactionary mass'. But this is only one side of the situation. Any institution is made of human material and such peoples opinions, beliefs etc change over time. Of course, the impact of their day to day activities is important, but so is the wider world.
As people may be aware, the 1918-19 British Police Strikes were led by Socialists within the police force - now it may be objected that this was a unusual situation - but the reply in the polemic gives several others - such as Emil Eichorn taking over the Berlin police without arguement and the paralysis of the police during the May 1968 events in France. (Also, the 1917 overthrow of the Tsar was conveyed by a very excited Kharkov police chief, as Trotsky notes in The History of the Russian Revolution, chapter 8)
I'd like to add one more, in his book German Revolution 1917-1923, Pierre Broue points out that "... the Communists stepped up their propaganda work towards non-proletarian layers affected by the crisis, in particular officers and policeman."(pg729)
This was in 1923, during the hyper-inflation crisis, when if anything people were turning towards the nationalists in Germany (the Communists experienced growth too, but at a somewhat slower pace). Why approach the police? Because they aren't seperate from the class contradictions that tear through societies.

5 comments:

Simon_Hardy said...

The Police might strike and protest but so what? That does not make them part of the labour movement, they are antagonistic towards it precisely because they are concious of their role in the class struggle (maintain law and order).

Your quote from Broue is revealing, since further along on that page he cites the fact that despite all this propaganda the influence of the KPD "barely went the limits of the working class" and how the KPD during this time was making dangerous concessions at this time.

The Kharkov police chief shouting "Long live the revolution, Hurrah!" in March 1917 is heralding the bourgeois, democratic revolution, not the socialist one. Even if he was, of course there is nothing to say that this or that police officer won't come over to the revolution in times of massive social and political upheaval, but the police as an institution cannot. As Trotsky said "The fact that the police was originally recruited in large numbers from among social-democratic workers is absolutely meaningless. Consciousness is determined by environment even in this instance. The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker."

The CWI's obsession with the state apparatus comes from your decades long deep entryism in the Labour Party, consistently adapting to the prevalent reformist conciousness. The demands to place the police under democratic control is a dangerous fantasy. What did he say about the policy of the police in the 1905 revolution?
"This was as sharp and clear as a saber stroke or the report of a rifle. Arm the scum of the city in the police stations, let them loose against the demonstrators, create confusion, and then take advantage of the scuffle to order the police and troops to intervene; sweep through the city like a storm, leaving blood, fire, and devastation in your wake. Such was the invariable program of the police scoundrel to whom the crowned imbecile had entrusted his country’s destiny."

What does Trotsky say in Problems of the British revolution?
"These same judges pat young fascist thugs encouragingly on the back and recommend the violators of the law to join the police who are charged with safeguarding the law. The judges thereby bear witness to the fact that the difference between violation of the law by fascists and safeguarding the law by the police merely relates to the form and in no way to the essence."

How does Trotsky pose the police question programmatically? This is from the 1934 Action programme for France:
"All the police executors of the capitalist will, of the bourgeois state, and its cliques of corrupt politicians must be disbanded. Execution of police duties by the workers’ militia."

The CWI is unwilling to raise these ideas as "too advanced" for the workers, but rather than just being silent on the question pursues an active policy of trying to spread the idea that the police and be reformed! Even more dangerous is the view that socialism can be brought about peacefully through parliament - another viewpoint that has no basis in Bolshevism.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

Get again the ultra-lefts completely misunderstand things.

What is the point of agitating for democratic control of the police you ask? The point is that if crime and order is a problem that needs some sort of body to do something about it, then it should be democratically controlled, not appointed, so that local populations have control of what is and isn't police (in the same way they would for a workers militia). A lot of people (not everyone, but a majority - i can show you various survey data on attituides towards the police)) do have illusions in the police as a neutral body vis-a-vis classes, and their illusions have to be washed away in the course of events. That is the whole point of transitional demands, to lead from where the situation is today, to where it will be in the future. The whole point of a party is that it evaluates the situation as it is and adjusts its demands to suit, if the situation charges regarding the illusions, the demands change.

On the Broue quote, you may want to either re-read the whole page or get your eyes checked, between my quotation and the text you mention is a small piece about the intellectuals, and the dangers you refer to was not agitation to those layers, but of the way that communist agitators went about it, especially in relation to the so-called 'schlageter line'. (Also if you claim you've read the Broue book you'll know that Lenin agreed with radek in 1923 that it was permissible for the KPD to participate in a parliamentary government - our actual historical position (not the 'strawman' one you attribute to us) of labour to power on a socialist programme, backed up by mass movements of the working class is based on a similar to perspective)

Btw, I should also point out, although Trotsky's writings are often brilliant, it doesn't mean he was perfect and got every single point correct (or that his arguements apply for all time). More that it is his method and way he comes to those arguements which is by far of the most value.

Our analysis has to start from how things actually are and not how we simply wish to them to be for the sake of simplicity. In writing about the police today, we must analyse the police today not as they were in 1926 or 1934 or whenever, let alone comparing between countries. Whilst I would say there are a lot of lessons to be learnt from the 1918-19 police strikes, the police today is different to then. To declare the police to be mostly one reactionary mass, then we need to see that a reactionary consciousness pervades all groups and ranks of the police at all times.

You say that of course this or that police officer may come over to the revolution but the police as an institution won't - where did i say the police as an institution would (where has the CWI for that matter?). I do not know whether you are one of the people that fails to see the difference between a trade union (which represents certain members in an institution) and the institution itself. Or fails to see the difference between the different ranks within the police (there is a reason why the police federation has since its formation given equal weight to constables, sergeants and inspectors on its bodies). When we analyse the police (or other state forces - such as the army) we need to take all this into account

If you would actually like to study this question in detail i'd be more than willing to suggest some books for you to examine (You don't have to accept my argument to do this, I'd rather people argued their points based on facts)

ppnkg said...

You speak on one hand about the 'human material' of the police, and on the other, about the possibility of democratically controlling the police mechanism as such. But an acknowledgement of the qualities of the first does not necessarily relate to change in the second.

If you approach the police as the sum of the individuals that comprise it and their opinions, attitudes and so on, it will be quite difficult to make a good case for the 'undifferentiated reactionary mass' thesis. Good case meaning one that will satisfy your need to appreciate the individual police officer's subjective stance towards life and the job and all that.

I'm afraid the reply did point out the correct position theoretically speaking. What is the analysis you should be concerned with? Obviously, people differ, but what are the real and practical implications of such an acknowledgement if the police mechanism as a whole can be effectively controlled from above, is capable of effectively annihilating practical differentiation and as a whole it is immune to any notion of democratic control? Try to speak to swat teams or the riot police about democracy (or rights for that matter).

How exactly are you going to instil democratic control over a body which is increasingly characterised by such internal divisions that preclude any possibility not only of external control but also any notion of workplace democracy as it were. I think Lenin's aphorism that the the police are 'separate and opposed to the people' said it all - if you really want to make a radical case, you need to return to a problematic of what it means to 'smash the state', rather than dream about democratic control of this police.

It is the intensification of popular struggles that are (and historically have been) able to paralyse the police and bring it to a standstill within a revolutionary situation. The same would be true even if the Left were to participate in a parliamentary government - the 'smashing' is not a matter of parliamentary fiat but always involves mass resistance and opposition. Needless to say that this sort of change will not come from police trade union action...(I'm not saying you're saying this, but let's make this 100% clear).

Having said all this, I completely agree with you that there is always a point in agitating for the democratic control of the police and attack the illusion that the police are a class neutral body. But the change you're after will not be a direct result of this process.

landsker said...

Hello,
Good to see the topic of the police force being examined .....

The wages paid to the police are exceptional, in regards to the qualifications expected to join.

Potential earnings of £150,000 p.a., in a public post that requires no entry qualifications is hardly symbolic of a well-balanced nation.

Also, the function and purpose of each individual within seems to rather favour obedience to the force itself, the state, then lastly, the plebian/citizen.
When so instructed, police officers do and will follow the letter of the law, as per their "operative functions"..... but again, as questioned above....just who is it that determines the priorities and boundaries?


In comparison to other public posts, the police service/legal profession/prison service must be one of the most highly paid sectors..... dozens of chief constables earning more than M.P.`s, more than the PM.....
First year constables with no formal academic qualifications earning higher wages than graduate teachers and nurses......

So, any other voices out there, for further reviews of the police service, and indeed, yes, a democratic accountability, or even transfer of some of the functions and powers to other bodies, i.e. drug policies to the NHS....traffic control to local councils, etc.

Financial fraud is certainly an area that needs to be examined in more detail, more important than perhaps strip-searching teenagers for cannabis, or chasing sports cars along the motorways......

Bearing in mind, that "wasting police time" is a criminal offence.

The taxpayer pays for every last minute of that time, but perhaps the payment has become an overcharge, almost a fraud in its` own right?

Harmer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.