Workers Vanguard No. 1049
11 July 2014
Cops, Crime and Socialist Alternative
Kshama Sawant Greets New Seattle Police Chief
The savage racism, brutality and terror of the police are hardly news in capitalist America. But the Seattle Police Department (SPD) achieved such notoriety that two years ago it was charged by the government’s top cops in the Department of Justice with “excessive” use of force and an overseer was appointed by the courts. Looking to further clean up the SPD’s image, Democratic Party mayor Ed Murray announced in late June that the city council had approved the appointment of a new police chief, Kathleen O’Toole, who promised to restore public trust in the bosses’ thugs in blue.
The new lady sheriff in town didn’t get the vote of Seattle’s much-ballyhooed “socialist” city council member, Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative (SAlt). But Sawant didn’t stint on effusively praising O’Toole and the “tremendous work” that the Mayor’s office put into the “police chief search.” In her “Remarks on the Confirmation of Seattle’s Police Chief” (25 June) posted on SAlt’s Web site, Sawant welcomes O’Toole’s expressed “commitment to really build a relationship with the community” and proposal for “a tiered approach for policing protests” in which riot police would “only be pulled out if they are absolutely necessary”! Far from any proletarian revolutionary class opposition to the capitalist state—the cops, courts, prisons and military—Sawant’s arguments boil down to simply bartering over the amount of violence “necessary” for the cops to do their jobs as the armed guard dogs of bourgeois rule.
Indeed, many of Sawant’s proposals for “reforming” the SPD parallel those put forward by O’Toole. While complaining of the “inappropriate use of force” and “negative racial biases” of the cops, Sawant herself echoes code words for bringing racist police terror down on black and Latino youth. Decrying “escalating crime” and “gang violence” in Seattle neighborhoods, she complains of “ineffective policing” and too “few officers on the beat.” Tell that to those on the receiving end of racist cop violence! So what exactly was her objection to O’Toole’s appointment? Sawant answers:
“Ms. O’Toole has said that she would like to run SPD like a business. By that she means she wants SPD to be efficient and accountable. While I don’t doubt her sincerity at all, that is troubling to me, since private businesses and corporations are NOT accountable to working people, they are accountable to the profits of a few.... The opposite is needed for a public service, for policing in alliance with the communities, for accountability, for transparency.”
Wow! It would be hard to find a more chemically pure indictment of the insipid social-democratic reformism, not to mention downright bourgeois liberalism, that defines the political worldview of Socialist Alternative. The cops are the daily front-line troops defending the rule of the few whose profits are derived from the exploitation of the many. To assert that the police provide a “public service” is to argue that the capitalist state actually represents the interests of “the people” as opposed to the elementary Marxist understanding that it is nothing other than the machinery for the violent repression of the working class, oppressed and any perceived opponent of bourgeois rule.
At SAlt’s first-ever public meeting in Oakland on June 28, a Spartacist League member nailed them on Sawant’s grotesque statement on the police chief, observing that it was “all in the interests of trying to give a face-lift to the capitalist state, which is really treacherous and criminal from the perspective of a revolutionary working-class movement.” The audience, largely populated by “Left Coast” reformists and rad-libs whose only recent thrill was Sawant’s election, normally would have simply dismissed this argument as yet another example of Spartacist “sectarianism.” Not surprisingly, our intervention is all but disappeared from SAlt’s own account of the meeting posted online. However, one supporter of Sawant, who expressed interest in working with SAlt, rose to say he was troubled that “she refused to tackle the police as a class issue” and asked Socialist Alternative speaker Ty Moore to respond.
Moore, who narrowly lost his electoral bid as SAlt’s candidate in Minneapolis city council elections last November, argued that “one of the most complicated votes Kshama’s had to take is the question of this appointment of a police chief.” Her dilemma, per Moore, was how “to win popular support for a skeptical [!] position toward the police” and “not isolate herself from people who said, well, we should give this new person a chance.” He went on to caution that it would have been a terrible mistake to say something “extreme” like “we want to clear the police completely off the streets.” Of course, the cops will not be cleared off the streets short of a working-class socialist revolution that shatters the capitalist state. And such a perspective is decidedly not that of these social-democratic reformists.
Nonetheless, Moore opined that he “personally” wished that Sawant’s remarks on O’Toole’s appointment “had been a little more hard-hitting.” Such subjective feelings aside, Moore had just gone on at great length about how Sawant isn’t some kind of slippery, unaccountable, electoral sellout. On the contrary, he boasted that “every major decision that Kshama makes is discussed in the elected leadership bodies of Socialist Alternative.” Moore went on to contrast that with “well-meaning left Democrats” who, lacking “an organization” (!) or “cohesive tradition” (!), “find themselves facing huge pressures of co-optation.”
Leaving aside this apologia for “well-meaning” representatives of the capitalist Democratic Party, Moore had it right on one account: Sawant is not some loose cannon. Her accommodation to the capitalist order is an expression of the political views of her organization and the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) to which it is affiliated. The CWI and its sections have a very “cohesive tradition” indeed on the capitalist state and its police—from promoting the myth that these racist strikebreakers for the bosses can be made “accountable to the labor movement” to arguing that they are “workers in uniform” who should be brought into the unions.
As the SL speaker argued at the Oakland meeting, SAlt’s politics are “all within the framework of capitalist democracy. It teaches the working class and oppressed to think and act only within these boundaries. But democracy is a form of capitalist dictatorship, and the only way out of capitalism is to smash the capitalist state, not try to reform it.” Our purpose is to shatter illusions in the capitalist state’s veil of “democracy” as part of forging the revolutionary vanguard party that will fight for the class rule of the proletariat.