Workers Vanguard No. 1055

31 October 2014


Plumbing the Depths in Milwaukee

Reformists Say: Support Your “Socialist” Sheriff

A host of phony socialists have climbed aboard Angela Walker’s bandwagon as she runs for sheriff of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Walker is a self-proclaimed “free range socialist,” a former bus driver turned legislative lobbyist for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998. Her opponent, who like Walker is black, is the incumbent sheriff David Clarke. A right-wing Democrat, Clarke is a Tea Party favorite with backing from the Koch Brothers among others.

The duties of sheriff, the top law enforcement official in the county, include overseeing police “services” such as drug enforcement, evictions and running the jails. For Marxists, it is unprincipled to give even the most critical of support to any candidate running for an office that has as its exclusive responsibility wielding the repressive powers of the capitalist state, such as sheriff or district attorney. One need not pore over the texts of Marx and Lenin to have a gut feeling of revulsion at the thought of either running for such a post or supporting anyone doing so. Black youth are being gunned down by cops around the country; poor and working people are being evicted from their homes; the black and Latino population of the prisons has reached historic levels.

None of this is an obstacle for Walker’s ostensibly socialist backers, including the Socialist Party USA, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, the International Socialist Organization and Solidarity. Their shared program of seeking to reform the capitalist system led them right into campaigning for a would-be top cop. Walker herself has made quite clear that she intends to carry out the duties of the office. As she explained in an interview published in Solidarity (18 June), she wants to promote “greater cooperation” between the sheriff, the county board and the police department.

Solidarity (24 September) gushes about all the nifty things this “socialist sheriff” could do in cahoots with the small-time capitalist Green Party candidate for state treasurer with whom she is campaigning. Walker would “refuse to aid banks in forcing foreclosed homeowners out of their homes,” invoke a local ordinance allowing the sheriff’s office “to refrain from enforcing ICE sweeps against immigrant workers” and not “waste resources” on locking up pot smokers. You surely need to be in some kind of altered state to buy into the reformist pipe dream that the “people” can take over the instruments of their repression and wield them for their own purposes. The fake socialists, who make a practice of calling for “community control” of the cops and other bogus schemes to cleanse the criminal justice system of the racism endemic to American capitalist society, have managed to outdo themselves here.

As Solidarity proudly notes, if elected, Walker would be the fifth “socialist” sheriff in Milwaukee’s history. The previous four came out of the tradition of the “sewer socialists,” Victor Berger’s Milwaukee section within the right wing of the Socialist Party, beginning at the end of the 19th century. The openly white-supremacist Berger promoted a program of municipal reform—from equitable taxation to better sewer systems—promising to usher in “honest” government while administering racist capitalist oppression.

Revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky put it bluntly: “The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.” Ditto the sheriff. When miners used to sing the old labor anthem “Which Side Are You On?”, the question was not directed at the cops. The armed bodies of men who comprise the core of the capitalist state—the cops, courts, prisons and military—cannot be reformed but must be smashed through victorious workers revolution.