The following is a letter published in Workers Vanguard August 28, 2008 that addresses the always thorny and ill-understood question of the role of police in capitalist society. That role is not as the vanguard of the working class but the rearguard of the bourgeois class. This lesson has to be constantly addressed to avoid problems when we get on the barricades. (Hell, you don't have to wait that long, just check out the strike lines - then you will know what all orthodox Marxists know almost instinctively. They are on the other side.) Read, once again, as an example, Trotsky's comments on the Bolshevik (and most militant Mensheviks, as well) attitude toward the police in 1917 in his classic History Of The Russian Revolution. Their role has gotten no better since that time. (One could argue that they have actually become more like para-military forces). I find that political people who have an equivocal attitude toward the police and their role in society have usually never been confronted by that force personally. It ain't pretty.
Socialist Party Champions Former H-Block Warden Turned Security Guard
Security Guards Out of the Unions!
We reprint below a letter published by the Spartacist League/Britain, section of the International Communist League, in Workers Hammer No. 203 (Summer 2008).
26 May 2008
Dear Workers Hammer,
Over the last few months a number of articles have appeared in the newspapers of both Irish and British reformist organisations about a hunger strike by “airport workers” in a legal battle against the leadership of UNITE, the trade union that organised them. The articles describe how these “workers” have been betrayed by the union leadership, and now face legal bills arising from the period when they were being organised into the union. This all sounds like the sort of fights workers have faced time and time again. However, it is only further on into the articles that the reader finds out these are not “workers” but security guards from Belfast airport demanding the union pay their £70,000 legal bills. Security guards are not workers but hired company thugs! It is an outrage that UNITE was organising these thugs in the first place. It would also be an outrage to use genuine workers union dues to pay their bills!
The most vocal defenders of these security guards in their battle against UNITE is Peter Taaffe’s Socialist Party. The Socialist Party has long proclaimed these guards “workers,” in fact it played a central role in organising them into the trade union. To add insult to injury, these reformists are now calling on trade unionists around the world to support the bosses’ hired thugs. Knowing full well that security guards are not necessarily popular with workers, they have been circulating a petition which simply refers to them as “workers” and “shop stewards,” omitting what they really did for a job. Lying and hiding basic truths is nothing new to social democrats like the Socialist Party, who are committed to trying to convince workers that the capitalist state can be made to act in their interests.
Even more disgusting, they and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), have also completely disappeared the fact that, prior to patrolling Belfast airport, one of these “workers” was a prison warden at the infamous H-Block/Maze prison! According to the Belfast Telegraph (13 April), Madan Gupta was for years part of the murderous regime that beat and tortured [Irish] Republicans. He was an overseer during the Hunger Strike in 1981! By championing such thugs, the Socialist Party and SWP are spitting on the memory of heroic men like Bobby Sands and the nine others who died on hunger strike that year.
The Socialist Party’s support to security guards is of a piece with their notion that cops and prison guards are part of the workers movement. This includes elements of the Northern Irish security apparatus such as H-Block prison wardens. As Marxists we have a duty to expose and politically combat these cowardly frauds. This is part of the struggle to achieve clarity in the workers movement, in particular on the nature of the capitalist state, which at its core consists of cops, prisons and courts. Prison guards and cops in capitalist countries are not workers, but the hired thugs of the capitalist state. The state is not some neutral arbiter above all classes, as the reformists would like to portray it, but simply the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Cops and security guards are used against workers during class struggle, beating pickets and protecting scabs. Indeed, around the world airport security is at the very front-line of the imperialists’ ongoing “war on terror” targeting, in particular, Muslims. As usual, the Socialist Party cares little for the plight of the besieged Asian communities in Britain or the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland, seeking instead to rally the working class to the defence of the very cops, security and prison guards that are used to beat, torture and imprison them.
There are few places in the Western world where the precise nature of the state and its “special bodies of armed men” is clearer than in Northern Ireland. Since its inception in 1921 as an Orange statelet, the local capitalist class and their British imperialist masters in London maintained their rule through naked anti-Catholic terror. The heavily armed RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] and “B-special” auxiliaries tortured and murdered with impunity, in particular targeting Republicans or anybody that dared question Orange rule. When a mass civil rights movement, supported both by the majority of Catholics and many Protestants, erupted in 1968 demanding an end to the daily discrimination of the Catholic minority, the Orange state and their Loyalist terror groups responded with increasing violence. By 1969 the British government decided to “stabilise” the situation by pouring in thousands of imperialist troops onto the streets of Belfast and Derry. Soon, the army and the RUC were filling internment camps with hundreds of “suspected Republicans” without even the facade of a trial. Innocent civilians were gunned down on the streets—on one day alone paratroopers murdered thirteen in Derry, the infamous Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972.
In contrast to the reformists, the ruling capitalist class makes no apologies for its state and the actions it takes to defend it. To this day, the British ruling class has refused to admit that the troops murdered innocent civilians on Bloody Sunday. The fact that the slaughter of the unarmed civilians is on film, and dozens of eye witnesses have testified, is irrelevant to the arrogant imperial masters. Their message to the population is quite clear: we rule! This is the same message sent out when cops executed Jean Charles de Menezes in July 2005 in London, and repeated in every denial of any wrongdoing. And it was the gruesome message that Thatcher’s government sent to the world when it provoked the Hunger Strikes in 1981. After years of protests against the brutal and demeaning regime under vicious wardens, Republican prisoners led by Bobby Sands insisted on regaining the status of political prisoners, as indeed they plainly were, including the simple rights to wear their own civilian clothes and to organise educational pursuits. The British state saw an opportunity to provoke the threatened hunger strike. It not only refused to listen to the demands, calling Bobby Sands and the others “common criminals” but began reneging on earlier agreements. Thatcher looked on gleefully as Bobby Sands, aged 27, and the others suffered slow, painful deaths.
At the height of the hunger strike, Sands was elected to the House of Commons and, fellow hunger striker, Kieran Doherty to the Dáil [Irish Parliament] as part of mass protests against the system slowly killing them. Both the British and Irish states quickly introduced new laws banning prisoners from running for election—making it clear to all that bourgeois “democracy” is nothing more than a veneer. A veneer that the likes of the Socialist Party hold in the highest of regard.
Because reformists hold that the capitalist state can change its spots and that socialism can be achieved without any need for a workers revolution, i.e., the smashing of the capitalist state and the need to establish a workers state, they must deny the very class nature of this state. By lying to workers that their interests can be served within capitalism, they provide cover for the bourgeoisie. The Socialist Party holds that once the reformists win a majority vote in Britain, laws can be passed in Her Majesty’s Parliament bringing about workers rule. That is, a bourgeois government—for any government administering the capitalist state is bourgeois—will bring workers rule to Britain! The idea that the gentlemen from the City [London financial district], and their friends in Sandhurst [military officer academy], will simply step aside because of a plebiscite and a piece of legal paper, is muck the Socialist Party consistently tries to rub in the eyes of the working class.
It is their reformist programme that inevitably leads the Socialist Party to become craven apologists for cops and prison guards. Their disgustingly chauvinist line on members of the brutal security apparatus in Northern Ireland is nothing new. They have rightly earned themselves the title “Her Majesty’s Socialists” among leftists and Republicans in Belfast and Dublin. The Socialist Party on both sides of the Irish Sea has for decades been proud to refuse to call for British troops out! They defend the “right to march” of the Orange Order, whose annual “marching season” consists of months of anti-Catholic provocations. In 1995, the Socialist Party infamously hosted Loyalist UVF killer Billy Hutchinson, who had been convicted of the murder of two innocent Catholics.
Of course, the Socialist Party is not so “touchy-feely” when it comes to the Catholic minority and Republicans in the North. [Socialist Party leader] Joe Higgins, ex-TD (MP) in Dublin, regularly used the Irish Dáil to denounce Republicans and anybody standing up to Loyalist terror. Higgins seized on the brutal killing of a young Catholic father, Robert McCartney, by members of the IRA, to compare the IRA to Hitler’s SS (see Workers Hammer No. 190, Spring 2005)! And when working-class youth and Republicans bravely fought off riot cops for hours to prevent a Loyalist mob marching through the streets of Dublin, Higgins was quick to join every bourgeois politician in the Dáil to denounce the anti-Loyalist protest as a “sectarian riot” (see Workers Vanguard No. 866, 17 March 2006).
The Socialist Party is the antithesis of the revolutionary workers party, that is a Bolshevik party, that the Spartacist League is fighting to build. We demand the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of the 5,000 British troops in Northern Ireland. We stand for the defence of the viciously oppressed Catholic community in Northern Ireland against Loyalist/state terror. At the same time, we oppose Sinn Féin’s nationalist perspective of a capitalist united Ireland in which Protestants would become an oppressed minority, a prospect that only serves to consolidate the Protestants behind Loyalist bigots, laying the basis for communalist terror, which is antithetical to a polarisation along class lines. In this situation of interpenetrated peoples and fratricidal nationalism, there can be no equitable solution short of the destruction of capitalism and the institution of workers rule. Our perspective is proletarian and internationalist: for the revolutionary overthrow of British imperialism and the clericalist state in the South—which is hideously oppressive of women, Travellers and workers—and the sectarian Orange state.
At a recent Socialist Party meeting in Dublin hosting Peter Taaffe, a speaker for the ICL laid out our perspective while exposing the anti-revolutionary programme of their international, the Committee for a Workers’ International, from their support for “workers in uniform”—including an ex-H-Block prison warden—to their scabbing on the Chinese deformed workers state (see Workers Hammer No. 202, Spring 2008). Many Socialist Party members in the audience, including one who was a security guard, vented their fury at our insensitivity to the plight of these thugs, in particular the lowly security guard, and our call to oust them from the unions. Taaffe’s summary, in particular in response to the ICL, was a ten-minute lesson in just how dirty a business reformism is. After explaining that, as a result of the betrayals of New Labour, it is the task of the Socialist Party to build a “new mass workers party” which is explicitly not revolutionary (i.e., Old Labour), he went into a long rant on the glorious struggles of the British prison officers. He painted a picture of the Socialist Party’s new mass workers party: column after column of uniformed prison officers at the head of the working class! The Socialist Party actually dreams of building a “workers party” based on the brutally racist, BNP [fascist]-ridden, thugs from Wormwood Scrubs and the Metropolitan Police!
Such a reactionary, Labourite perspective, and such deadly illusions in the capitalist state need to be vigorously combated within the workers movement! Cops, prison wardens and security guards out of the unions! The Spartacist League seeks to build a multiethnic revolutionary workers party, a party that will act as a tribune of the people, fighting to mobilise the working class against every manifestation of injustice, racist oppression and state tyranny: Down with the racist war on terror! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! For free abortion on demand! What is necessary is a revolutionary party that fights for the understanding that, as Lenin explained, “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 State and Revolution). These words were written on the eve of the Russian Revolution, the first, and to date, only successful proletarian revolution. Under the leadership of the Bolshevik vanguard party, the working class smashed the capitalist state and established a workers state, consisting of the “special bodies of armed men” necessary to defend the revolution against the deposed ruling class. That revolution makes clear the kind of party the working class needs to once-and-for-all throw off their chains. And it is our task to build this vanguard party!
Labels: armed bodies of men, capitalist class, MARXISM, police, second international, the state, third international, working class