Disarm the police

The shooting dead of two unstable individuals within a week by trigger-happy police officers underlines once again the need for communists and leftwing socialists to adopt a principled attitude towards capitalism?s police and other armed forces.

On July 12 Andrew Kernan, who had been suffering from mental illness for around 15 years, was killed by Merseyside police as he held a samurai sword above his head. Kernan?s mother had barricaded him in his bedroom after he had become distraught, and called the police to help calm him down.

After they arrived, he managed to grab the sword, ran outside and was eventually shot twice in the chest. ?You don?t kill somebody with a mental illness,? said Marie Kernan. ?What sort of society is that??

Then, on July 16, a man holding a gun-shaped cigarette lighter was killed in Brixton, south London, when police from an armed response team fired six shots. In an effort to allay anger and disquiet, and to side-track protests, it was immediately announced that both incidents were to be referred to the police complaints authority, the official in-house whitewashing institution. There is also talk of banning all types of imitation guns.

No doubt some of our Socialist Alliance partners will view this as justification for their belief in the need for ?police accountability?. But making the police ?accountable? for their actions - even if that were possible - in no way brings them over to the side of socialism. No number of elected police committees or ?guidelines? arrived at after consultation will disguise the nature of the institution - an instrument of class oppression, whose underlying raison d??tre is to defend the system of capital, not advance the interests of the working class and the mass of the population.

At the Socialist Alliance?s March 10 policy conference the CPGB and Workers Power put amendments to the pre-general election policy document, which argued that we should as an organisation state that our aim is for the abolition of the police and standing army and their replacement by working class militia and community self-defence organisations. These amendments were overwhelmingly defeated. Even the call contained in the original policy document to ?disarm the police? was considered ?too radical? and deleted - the Socialist Workers Party in particular maintaining that the SA must consciously adopt a programme that was non-revolutionary in order to provide a comfortable home for Labourites disillusioned with Tony Blair.

Comrade Mike Marqusee, speaking for the removal of ?Disarm the police? from our manifesto, said that workers would not understand how such a policy could be made to work. What would happen if some disturbed individual went on the rampage on a working class estate with a weapon (a samurai sword or a cigarette lighter gun perhaps)? The important thing for comrade Marqusee was that the issuing of arms to the police should be strictly controlled and that non-lethal weapons should be employed.

Such an approach would be perfectly understandable coming from members of Andrew Kernan?s family. But our intention as communists and leftwing socialists is not to equip the police with yet more non-lethal paraphernalia: stun guns, CS gas, darts, etc. On the contrary we must use every police outrage, every injustice, every violation of democratic rights to make propaganda against them as an arm of the state. Simultaneously we must explain the necessity for those below taking control over their own lives and their own areas through a system of defence patrols and in due course a workers? militia that equips itself with the most destructive weaponry objective circumstances permit and demand.

So for us it is not just a question of the police using their arms in a more controlled, more constrained way. When the class struggle heats up, police power is not only employed against wayward or anti-social individuals; it is also used against those forces opposed to the state, above all the working class. Remember the miners? Great Strike of 1984-85, Wapping 1986, the poll tax police riot in 1991 and Oxford Circus on May 1 2001. When the police ban our marches, single out our leaders, break up our picket lines, it is no use demanding that they do so in a more considerate way. We need to argue against their right to control us in the first place.

It ought to be axiomatic that communists and leftwing socialists use every opportunity to argue against the state?s monopoly over the means of violence. Unapologetically then, we say the Socialist Alliance should reject all reformist nostrums about police ?accountability? and ?slashing? arms spending. Instead adopt the slogan made famous in World War I by that unforgettable German communist, Karl Liebknecht: not a penny, not a person for the bourgeois police and other armed forces.

Jim Blackstock