By Sofia D., Red Phoenix correspondent, Minnesota.
In the years since the murder of George Floyd, there have been numerous discussions and campaigns concerning the role and structure of policing. What is their function? Who do they serve? What should progressives do about them? Three years later, there is little resolution. Working people have methods of resisting police temporarily, such as the recent establishment of a civilian commission in Chicago, but no permanent solutions. “Defunding the police,” in order to fund other social services, was and is a radical demand. But, as was quickly found, politicians have ignored this demand, paid lip service to it, or simply “defunded” the police in a marginal, temporary way, without any subsequent funding of other social services and resources.
The American Party of Labor, like many other communist and progressive organizations such as NAARPR, has long campaigned for a solution for the people called Community Control of the Police even before the events of 2020. This article reaffirms this policy and explains what it means in the context of capitalism. It also reminds us of the racism, chauvinism, and brutality of the American police.
In a situation where the capitalist minority exploits the working masses, political tension arises naturally. This tension takes the form of violence of one class against the other. The police and the bourgeois state are the weapons with which the exploiting, capitalist class enforces its “property rights” and suppresses working-class resistance and revolutionary activity. This was the function of the Tsarist police, and of all the police of Europe. This was and is taken to an extreme in the various colonial countries, where the “property rights” protected by police took the form of a “right” to own humans. This was enforced with an extreme form of nationalist and racist degradation, exploitation, and violence. In the pre-Civil War era of the U.S., the police served in the North as traditional European-style defenders of capital, while in the South they served as colonial-type defenders of slavery. Both institutions of police collaborated together to return slaves escaping to the North back to Southern plantations. Such is the land where “all men are created equal.”
Police are, and have always been, a tool of violence against working people, contrary to the claims of the capitalist class and their lackeys in local and federal government. The police in a capitalist society serve the interests of the oppressors rather than their “community.” As a smokescreen, in media and in the news, the bourgeois class presents the police as an institution above class allegiance. Supposedly they protect “peace” and the “rule of law,” and stop “dangerous criminals.” In reality, however, it is clear to see that they are more concerned with enforcing laws which keep the working masses in bondage, and acting as an extreme white nationalist and racist battalion to oppress and murder the working class, as well as people of oppressed races and nationalities without regard to class background.
Initially, the call to defund the police makes sense. If the entire institution is a dangerous weapon of the bourgeoisie, why not abolish it entirely? Without the working class seizing state power, this goal cannot be met. Without control of its own enforcement agency – the state – to protect the interests of the working class, we will be vulnerable to the parasitic leeching of genuine criminals and traditional bourgeoisie alike. Therefore, while the capitalist police must be ultimately transformed, there must be something to take its place.
But why can that not be community policing? Community policing is a policy which employs law enforcement officers directly from the communities they control. This can lessen the overt chauvinistic violence of the police. But under capitalism, those “community members,” at the end of the day, still enforce the property laws and capitalist interests which keep working people poor and oppressed. This reform may be preferable to the current state of affairs, but it does not change the fundamental relationship between the police and working people. It is a reformist measure but has some short term value for the working class.
Given this, we support a fuller Community Control of the Police. We understand this as a way of introducing elements of workers’ control and workers’ power into bourgeois politics, especially if coupled with education on the differences between liberal reformist demands and revolutionary demands. Bourgeois republics wear a mask of democracy, claiming that they serve the interests of “the people” who under favorable circumstances can force the hand of the bourgeoisie. Demanding Community Control of the Police means demanding a revolutionary power which bourgeois “democracy” cannot stand.
True Community Control of the Police – what we are fighting and aiming for — is comprehensive in its structure: a directly elected, all-civilian council, with complete and final authority over police policy, budgeting, staffing (the power to hire and fire officers), discipline, investigation, and every last element that is currently handled by the cities, counties, and policing institutions. This authority must supersede the authority of the police chief or superintendent. No current or former officer can be allowed to serve on the council. Anything less than this is either a partial concession, or deceptive sleight of hand.
The moment they are pressured, the bourgeoisie will turn one of two ways. They will either take off the mask, and state explicitly that Community Control of the Police would be “bad for business and obstruct public safety,” or they will try to undermine and absorb the campaign, limiting the power of Community Control to reign in the police’s nationalist and chauvinistic violence. This is seen in the “advisory boards,” which will not have oversight of all discrepancies and abuses, and answer directly to their local government. As with community policing, even this limited outcome would be preferable to the current situation, but it is a short term gain that still preserves the same fundamental economic relation that produces poverty and misery.
When we call for Community Control of the Police, we are calling for a revolutionary restructuring of law enforcement. We are calling for the complete transfer of power of militarized violence from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat. We know that the capitalist class will never allow this without a fight. But it is possible that we might gain a taste of freedom by playing on their hypocrisy and desire to save face. We can use the capitalists’ need to “appease” the masses, in increasingly unbearable conditions of exploitation and oppression, in order to secure vital breathing room for the organization of a truly democratic and socialist movement. This tactic of “playing the bourgeoisie’s game,” at least in the meantime, has produced impressive first steps in Chicago. There, organizers have managed to squeeze out their very first taste of power. That includes the ability to substantively challenge the hiring and firing decisions of the Mayor’s office.
Community Control of the Police is not a defanged alternative to defunding the police, but rather its more complete and powerful realization. Only in the context of near-total capitalist hegemony, where no radical demands will be met without being diluted or torn apart into mere slogans, Community Control of the Police is more likely to win us life-saving concessions while we continue to organize for proletarian state power. The greater our demands, the more likely we are to gain from our struggle against the bourgeoisie. At the same time, the denial of these basic, democratic reforms concretely exposes the lack of freedom and democracy possessed by the people and the proletariat in the United States and beyond.