Workers Hammer No. 202

Spring 2008


Remember Jean Charles de Menezes!

Craven reformists back cops

When up to 23,000 cops marched through London on 23 January demanding better pay, Labourite reformists gave this mobilisation of the repressive arm of the capitalist state a gushing welcome. “Bolshevik Bobbies”, headlined Socialist Appeal, published by the diehard Labourite organisation founded by the late Ted Grant. Revelling in the mood among the cops, the article by Rob Sewell enthused: “There is rebellion in the air. A pillar of the state is in a mutinous mood”, whilst equating the cops with public sector workers whose wages and jobs this Labour government is slashing. Clearly this reformist outfit’s drooling over the police has not gone amiss: Rob Sewell, the author of the article made the breathtaking admission that: “I knew there was something up when the ‘Socialist Appeal’ office got a phone call from the ‘Police Review’ asking for permission to republish an article from our website on the police strikes of 1918-19” (Socialist Appeal, 28 January).

No less jubilant over the police protest was Peter Taaffe’s Socialist Party which said the police protest was “in many ways a momentous occasion”. They pointed out that cops on duty were not allowed to attend but “the turnout was impressive under the circumstances”. These reformists unashamedly boast of having gone to the march and “sold five copies of The Socialist in 20 minutes and got three sheets of our petition for a living wage and joint public-sector action filled in” (Socialist, 31 January).

This craven subservience to the racist capitalist state’s thugs in blue is not new for these organisations, both of which have maintained for decades that the police are part of the working class when in fact they are a core part of the capitalist state. This fulsome support by “socialists” for better pay for the cops is obscene, particularly now in London where the police carried out the brutal, cold-blooded killing of Brazilian immigrant Jean Charles de Menezes in July 2005 and got away with it. This outrage by the Metropolitan Police is in continuity with their years-long role in shielding the racist killers of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993, despite a huge effort by the family campaign to have his killers brought to justice.

Support for the police is an integral part of Labour reformism which has been used to dupe the British working class into supporting the racist capitalist order for over a century. Both Socialist Appeal and the Socialist Party had their origins in the Militant tendency which for more than four decades was an organic part of the old Labour Party. As we wrote 14 years ago:

“Labourism is reflected in Militant’s politics across the board, from its sympathetic portrayal of the British “bobby” and its appeals to the capitalist state to act against the fascists, to its gross refusal to oppose the murderous British imperialist troops sent into Northern Ireland by a Labour government.”

Militant Labour’s touching faith in the capitalist state, Spartacist pamphlet (1994)

Today Socialist Appeal remains inside New Labour, while beseeching the unions to reclaim the Labour Party demanding that Labour must “immediately take over the ‘commanding heights of the economy’ ”. The Socialist Party was formed outside the Labour Party in the early 1990s and now campaigns for a “new mass workers party”, but the politics of old Labour reformism remain unchanged. Both organisations hold that socialism can be achieved through parliament passing an “enabling act” giving a bourgeois government “emergency powers”.

Police: core part of the capitalist state

In an attempt to portray the police as part of the workers movement, Socialist Appeal welcomes the fact that the Police Federation “has threatened to ballot its 140,000 members about the right to strike” (Socialist Appeal, March 2008). The 1984-85 miners strike, in which an army of cops occupied the coalfields, brutally battered the miners on picket lines and protected the scabs from the pickets, showed in unmistakable terms the true function of the cops as regards the unions: they are professional strike-breakers and enemies of the working class in struggle. That is a basic truth that reformists try to cover up. The only purpose served by “socialists” portraying the police as “workers in uniform” is to deny the need for revolution to smash the capitalist state. That is what underlies reformist illusions that the capitalist state can become an instrument capable of serving the interests of the working class and the oppressed in society.

In our last issue we scandalised the Socialist Party and others for their enthusiastic hailing of last August’s prison guards strike (see “ ‘Socialists’ embrace cops and prison guards”, Workers Hammer no 201, Winter 2007-2008). What distinguishes us Marxists from these reformists comes down to the central question of the bourgeois state, which is the divide between reform and revolution. We base our programme on Lenin’s The State and Revolution, written in 1917 shortly before the Bolsheviks led the working class to state power in Russia. Lenin laid out the fundamental Marxist understanding that the state consists of “special bodies of armed men” and “is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another”.

Citing Marx and the experience of the Paris Commune, Lenin reiterates that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes”; that the liberation of the working class cannot come about “without the destruction of the apparatus of state power which was created by the ruling class”. The capitalist state, at its core consisting of armed bodies of men — the cops, courts, prisons and army — must be replaced “by a ‘special repressive force’ for the suppression of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat (the dictatorship of the proletariat)”. In short, the bourgeois state is the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”. The only way to get rid of the rotten racist system of capitalism that breeds racism, poverty, famine and war is through workers revolution that shatters the capitalist state and replaces it by the rule of the working class through workers councils (soviets). This fundamental truth has been obscured and contradicted by Labourite social-democratic organisations for over a century. Our task of building a multiethnic revolutionary workers party requires destroying the illusions perpetrated by Labourite reformists.

The fact that the police may demonstrate for higher wages (or even, on rare occasions, go on “strike”) neither makes them part of the working class nor does it change the material reality that they serve only one master: the capitalist class. By supporting the police demonstration on 23 January, the Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal are supporting better pay for the police force to carry out their work. That consists of brutalising minorities by carrying out dawn raids on Asian homes under the pretext of the “war on terror”, including the raid in Forest Gate in June 2006 in which police shot Mohammed Abdul Kahar and nearly killed him. These “socialists” are backing improved conditions for the police to detain and arrest black and Asian minorities under the racist “stop and search” powers that have been boosted massively. Try telling the families of the dozens of blacks and Asians who have died in police custody that “socialists” support the cops’ claim for better pay for doing their job!

Appropriately enough, marching at the head of the police demonstration was the fascist British National Party (BNP) candidate for London mayor, Richard Barnbrook, who stated that “he had been told by officers that he was welcome” (Guardian, 24 January). As well as the fascists, with whom they overlap, the police are necessarily a sewer of concentrated racism, male chauvinism and anti-communism in capitalist society. This shows the fallacy of reformist appeals to the capitalist state to deal with the fascists. Fascists are extra-parliamentary race-terror gangs which cannot be “stopped” by state bans, nor by campaigns not to vote for fascist candidates in elections. What is necessary to combat fascist provocations is trade union/minority mobilisations to stop them in their tracks! The fascists are kept in reserve by the bourgeoisie to be used in times of crisis and the fight to end fascism is inseparable from the fight to overthrow capitalism.

The reformist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) has in the past argued that cops and prison guards are part of the working class. A 26 January Socialist Worker article headlined: “Whose interests do police officers really serve?” It answered, somewhat surprisingly, that the state “operates as the instrument of the rich to oppress the poor” and that “the police are not part of the working class, but are rather a method of holding back the working class”. But actions speak louder than words: leading SWPer Lindsey German is running for Mayor of London and giving her second preference votes to Ken Livingstone, assuring us that “it is very important that we don’t let the Tory in, which is why I will be calling for all my voters to give Ken their second preference” (Socialist Worker, 2 February). Livingstone boasts of having put thousands more cops on London’s streets and he backed the Metropolitan Police in the face of public criticism over the execution of Jean Charles de Menezes. This cold-blooded execution took place amid a wave of anti-Muslim hysteria following the criminal London public transport bombings in July 2005, at which time the Socialist Party adopted the slogan “no to terrorism, no to war”. This was an echo of Livingstone himself, who brandished his “anti-war” credentials over Iraq while backing the “war on terror” at home. Above all that meant supporting the cops.

The notion that the strike-breaking police are part of the workers movement is the outlook of Labourite union bureaucrats whose policy is class-collaboration. Thus the Socialist Party boasts that its members have a majority on the executive of the civil service union, the PCS. These “socialists”, who have secured a sell-out two-tier deal on pensions, raise not a peep about the fact that the union membership includes immigration cops. We say: all cops out of the PCS!

Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky made it unquestionably clear that the police are the class enemy, saying:

“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.”

—“What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat”, January 1932, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany.