August 18, 2023
From The Red Phoenix

By Ian Ocx and June Vass.

In the wake of the unprecedented increase in deadly mass shootings across the United States over the last decade we in the American Party of Labor found it necessary to put forward a dialectical materialist analysis of the ongoing gun violence problem within the US, demonstrating the connections between the social alienation intrinsic to capitalism, right-wing extremism, and the fetishized gun culture that predominates within our society. After the publication of this analysis the APL put forward two more articles on the issue, an editorial on sensible gun reform regulations and another analyzing the history and relevance of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. There is one more subject concerning firearms that we as a Party would like to address at this time: a specific quote from Karl Marx which many people within US socialist and communist circles use to justify lax gun regulations across the country. If you have been around the socialist and communist movement for some time you have probably seen or heard people use the phrase “under no pretext” in opposition to the idea of instituting regulations on the sales and purchases of firearms within the US. This slogan, “under no pretext,” which is itself not an analysis of the firearm crisis faced in the US, is a shorthand version of an excerpt from Karl Marx’s Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, written in 1850, the full passage of which reads:

“To be able forcefully and threateningly to oppose this party [bourgeois-democrats], whose betrayal of the workers will begin with the very first hour of victory, the workers must be armed and organized. The whole proletariat must be armed at once with muskets, rifles, cannon and ammunition, and the revival of the old-style citizens’ militia, directed against the workers, must be opposed. Where the formation of this militia cannot be prevented, the workers must try to organize themselves independently as a proletarian guard, with elected leaders and with their own elected general staff; they must try to place themselves not under the orders of the state authority but of the revolutionary local councils set up by the workers. Where the workers are employed by the state, they must arm and organize themselves into special corps with elected leaders, or as a part of the proletarian guard. Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary. The destruction of the bourgeois democrats’ influence over the workers, and the enforcement of conditions which will compromise the rule of bourgeois democracy, which is for the moment inevitable, and make it as difficult as possible – these are the main points which the proletariat and therefore the League must keep in mind during and after the approaching uprising.”

It is important to note that the context in which Marx wrote the above quote is always alienated from the shorthand version of the excerpt when used as a slogan by people on the US left who oppose firearm regulations. The entirety of the Address sourced above was written in 1850, two years into the ongoing revolutionary struggles across Europe, and particularly referenced the then-ongoing class struggle in the German states between the bourgeoisie (the “party” Marx refers to) and the proletariat. This passage was deliberately prefaced with the context, “In the coming revolutionary struggle…” as the middle segment of a three-part chronology of events, separating the tactics Marx deemed necessary before, during, and after the revolutionary struggle. To be clear, the above-quoted passage falls into the second of the three categories – that period of open, “bloody conflicts,” after “the creation of an independent organization of the workers’ party” with “every one of its communes a center and nucleus of workers’ associations.” Thus, Marx’s later insistence to frustrate “any attempt to disarm the workers” is not a universal or immutable decree that every member of the working class should have full and open access to any firearm at all times, but a realization that during the violent rupture of open revolutionary insurrection the proletariat must be able to defend itself from its class enemies, assuming that by that time we will have already organized ourselves and built the necessary structural foundation to do so. 

Where the formation of this militia cannot be prevented, the workers must try to organize themselves independently as a proletarian guard, with elected leaders and with their own elected general staff; they must try to place themselves not under the orders of the state authority but of the revolutionary local councils set up by the workers.

The United States today is suffering from a rampant growth in far-right extremist and neo-fascist politics. This rise in neo-fascist extremism has also sadly led to an increase in the instances of right-wing violence within the US. Between the years 2016 and 2017 right-wing extremist attacks nearly quadrupled, and in 2018 the national average of violent right-wing extremist attacks jumped to 31 instances per year. As was stated in the article the published in The Red Phoenix on May 13, 2023, “The Continued Danger and Tragedy of America’s Gun Violence,” research shows that firearms are used by such extremists because they are “simple to acquire [and] easy to use.”  

It is worth noting here that most violent attacks committed by these fanatics are overwhelmingly aimed at oppressed minorities such as Black Americans, Latinos, and various Asian communities, as well as women, LGBTQIA+ people, and people with disabilities. It is also important to note that these populations who are most victimized by firearms also tend to be the most numerous proponents of increased regulations. According to recent data from the Pew Research Center, Black adults – who die from firearm violence at 2.4 times the rate of their white counterparts – show the highest support for stricter laws at 77%, followed by Asian adults (74%) and Hispanic adults (68%), compared to 58% of Americans overall. As of 2023 gun violence has become a more frequent household fear with 51% of Americans surveyed saying that they “worry that their loved ones could be victims of gun violence.” Overwhelmingly, the majority of the US working class wants to see change and reform to the inadequate system of gun regulations that enable this targeted violence to occur on such a scale.

The APL holds that it is necessary to support stronger gun regulations within the United States at this time, especially relating to semi-automatic firearms (legally referred to as “assault rifles”) and large magazines, including more thorough background checks and longer waiting periods for gun purchases. We, in the US, are not in an active insurrectionist situation like the one Marx referenced when he used that often-abstracted phase “under no pretext” and, as research shows, right-wing extremists, empowered by the intentional inaction of petty-bourgeois legislators, are using the careless gun regulations within the US to inflict their violent and reactionary views on the oppressed and exploited. Marx writes:

“As in the past, so in the coming struggle also, the petty bourgeoisie, to a man, will hesitate as long as possible and remain fearful, irresolute and inactive; but when victory is certain it will claim it for itself and will call upon the workers to behave in an orderly fashion, to return to work and to prevent so-called excesses, and it will exclude the proletariat from the fruits of victory. It does not lie within the power of the workers to prevent the petty-bourgeois democrats from doing this; but it does lie within their power to make it as difficult as possible for the petty bourgeoisie to use its power against the armed proletariat, and to dictate such conditions to them that the rule of the bourgeois democrats, from the very first, will carry within it the seeds of its own destruction, and its subsequent displacement by the proletariat will be made considerably easier.”

Supporting stronger regulations on firearms within the US at this time is a twofold line. It (i) acts as a way to hamper the growing violent neo-fascist threat from arming itself even further, forcing those reactionary elements to bend to the will of the working class; and by extent of hampering the fascists by any degree, (ii) acts as a way to preserve and protect the lives of the multiethnic and multinational American working class. Opposition to strengthening regulations and restrictions concerning the sale of firearms has the potential to dangerously harm the working class within the US and thus impede our organizing efforts to prepare for the real overthrow of capital. In 2022 alone, 21 of the 25 extremist-related murders were committed by white supremacists, which again showcases the need to curtail the ability for the right-wing and neo-fascists to continuously arm themselves at the same rate as they already have been able to do.

Over the course of the coming years of class struggle in the US there will be phases that have strategic importance in relation to firearms depending on the developing material conditions in our society. Right now the immediate and current phase of the working class struggle demands, in relation to firearms, that the focus be on curtailing the prevalence of mass shootings and gun-related violence that disproportionately affects various minority communities within the US working class. The social trauma imposed on the American public by these attacks not only alienates the people at large from radical organizational solutions to this terror due to negative associations with “extremism,” but also foments an aversion to politics in general. This phase, as previously stated, is concerned with combating the growing violent danger of right-wing extremism by fighting for stronger regulations on the sale of firearms (particularly semi-automatic weapons or “assault rifles”), increasing waiting periods for gun purchases, and limiting the sale of large and extended magazines. The US working class needs to win victories against the neo-fascist danger in various forms. However, as stated in our recent article, “The Continued Danger and Tragedy of America’s Gun Violence”:

“With capitalism’s inherent alienating nature, the threat of right-wing extremism and mass shootings will never be truly averted until capitalism itself is overthrown and replaced with a socialist system, where the working people have control over society and will not just limit the contradictions inherent to capitalism but will negate their existence altogether.”

Therefore, the long-term tasks of this struggle will over time enter a different phase, one in which the US working class is not simply in a state of defense, but a position of strategic offense. At such a stage, the relation of the working class to firearm regulations will take new tactical shape. However, until that phase in the revolutionary struggle is reached, the infantile response of abstractly sloganeering Marx’s “under no pretext” quote while alienating it from its intended usage and meaning, all while facing the growing threat of gun violence that undoubtedly affects the safety of the US working class, is a non-dialectical approach to the currently existing material conditions and social relations within US capitalist society, and has no place within the current tactics of a principled Marxist-Leninist movement.

Our previous articles on this subject:

The continued danger and tragedy of America’s gun violence,” May 13, 2023.

Editorial: On sensible regulation of firearms,” May 23, 2023.

The Second Amendment of the Constitution does not justify the ‘right to bear arms,’” June 2, 2023.

Categories: American Party of Labor, Statements, Theory, U.S. News