#marchforourlives: From liberal discourse to class analysis

#marchforourlives: From liberal discourse to class analysis

How can a class perspective help to shed light on the ongoing debate over gun control?

From right-wing politicians dismissing the survivors of the Parkland massacre to late night talk show hosts taking aim at the NRA, gun control has dominated the headlines and become the focus of national discourse.

The debate has quite naturally spilled over into more radical spaces, with It's Going Down and libcom.org hosting front-page articles on the topic.

While both of the linked pieces oppose gun control, there's been no shortage of other voices who are quick to point out that the working class in America suffers from gun violence at a level unmatched in any other developed industrial country. Surely, this must have something to do with the American state's lax attitude toward gun ownership.

I tend to agree with whichever argument I hear last: I hear someone from Redneck Revolt and suddenly I want to join a left-wing gun club. Then I hear a critique of that strain of radical pro-gun argumentation and I think maybe that is fetishizing gun ownership. We'll never out-gun the state anyway, so gun control is worth it to save proletarian lives.

I haven't come to a conclusion one way or the other, but I do think a class-based approach would engender a very different ideological framework than that coming from media and at least some sections of the student movement itself.

I don't think I'm offering anything particularly new, but I do think it's worth attempting to anchor the debate in a class politic, not only to fend off any creeping liberalism but because #marchforourlives is part of a developing process of politicization of a new generation. We should offer these young people a more radical perspective than they'll ever find in the Democratic party or on cable news.

To my mind, such an approach has four key elements:

1) Recognize the racist history of gun control legislation

The classic example here is that of Ronald Reagan who, while he was governor of California, supported a law to curtail gun ownership in specific response to the rise of the Black Panthers and their advocacy of armed community self-defense. The conservative, second amendment-loving, white establishment - including the NRA, which supported the California law - has no problem with gun control if the intent is to keep guns out of the hands of black people .

There's every reason to believe that any new gun control measures will be enforced in a similarly racist way. They will be used as an excuse to come into communities of color, to hand out harsher sentences to individuals of color, and to come after revolutionaries of color should such a movement take hold at any point in the future.

To view the debate though this particular lens - even if one still supports gun control measures - takes its out of a narrow legislative focus and, instead, inserts it into a wider social framework. Race and class are obviously front and center, but it taps into wider issues of the relationship between poverty and crime, the role of the police as agents of social control, and what militant community self-organization looks like.

2) The linking up of social movements

From Black Lives Matter to the Women's March to statewide wildcat teachers' strikes, the Trump era has, arguably, seen the biggest increase in social movement activism in generations. Any response to the problem of gun violence must be tied into these wider movements.

It's through seeing the connections between these supposedly disparate bits of our lives - school, work, policing - that we can begin to understand the wider social forces at work. This begins to break down the divisions of race and gender and worker/consumer and allows us tackle the problems of society in a more radical way; one that looks at root causes and can point towards more fundamental solutions to the problems we face.

3) A demand to disarm the police (and, ultimately, dismantle both the police and the military)

The police function to maintain the existing structure of society. It's no surprise, then, that working class people, poor folks, and people of color are far more likely to be victims of police violence. It's also no surprise that police forces are a bastion of reaction, a bubbling cauldron of personal bigotry and institutionalized prejudice.

A safe society is one where want and hunger don't hang over the heads of a huge section of the population. Arming cops does nothing to stop or prevent crime, but it does increase the violent potential of an institution that exists specifically to protect the interests of the few at the expense of the many.

4) A demand to repurpose gun factories

Guns are a business and there are whole set of individuals who have a vested interest in their continued production.

I couldn't care less about the execs at Smith and Wesson or the leadership of the NRA, but we shouldn't frame the debate in a such a way that fails to draw a distinction between the gun industry itself and the workers it employs.

A demand to turn socially destructive industries over to socially useful production is not without precedent. The most instructive example is the Lucas Plan. In 1976, workers at the UK arms manufacturer Lucas Aerospace were facing job cuts. In response - and in conjunction with a program of industrial action - a group of workers and radical shop stewards put forward a plan to turn production over to socially useful purposes, saving jobs in the process.

This needs to be the model for dealing with a whole host of industries in the US and it needs to come from within and without the industries themselves. We can begin by demanding that gun factories be turned over to some type of socially useful production - solar panels or public transport vehicles or whatever.

It's time to assert our needs and our desires over those of capital and, in the process, wrest some small degree of control over the productive resources of society.

Finally, we need to have an analysis of #marchforourlives. It must be one which allows us to engage with the movement and hopefully draw out its more radical potential.

Seeing students take to the streets as a default response to the problems they face is a good thing. I think it's fair to say, however, that much of the rhetoric coming from these protests fails to make a break with the dominant liberal discourse on gun control. We should recognize that, but we must also recognize that action and content rarely progress in tandem.

The politics of individuals develop; the politics of movements and even entire generations develop. We can offer a critique, but we should nurture a response that sees taking to the streets as an integral part of responding to social problems. And we can do so as critical participants in wider activist networks - as much as it pains me to use the word. We need to do our part to ensure the movement isn't disarmed by being absorbed into the Democratic Party, its NGOs, and the dead-end of liberal activism.

Posted By

Chilli Sauce
Apr 9 2018 18:53


  • It's worth attempting to anchor the debate in a class politic, not only to fend off any creeping liberalism but because #marchforourlives is part of a developing process of politicization of a new generation.

Attached files


Apr 9 2018 21:32
Arming cops does nothing to stop or prevent crime

I am of course aware of cops function of protecting the ruling class etc but I think it would be helpful when speaking to non politicos to avoid making such black and white statements, because they will instantly draw out all the exceptions and you look like a idiot. For instance, an armed terrorist has just gone into a public venue and gunned down a bunch of innocent unarmed members of the public entirely unprovoked. At which point, the police are called and respond by shooting dead said individual to ensure he does not kill more.

In this instance, they have definitely prevented more crime (murder) being committed.

Apr 10 2018 02:02

Most recent figure(April 5) 304 people have been killed by police in the US. That is the one's that are officially recognized, figures are notoriously hard to pin down because they don't always log fatalities. Even with the recent spate of spree shootings, the police have killed more people this year and every other year than mass shootings. Armed cops are a serious problem and I think this should be pointed out in any discussion, rather than glossed over. I don't think I can actually remember a situation where cops in the US have gone in and cleanly taken out a shooter. Half the time they kill more civilians than the shooter.

Apr 10 2018 02:09

(Posting in small chunks because my phone is being a bastard.)

Good post Chilli, I don't really know where I stand on gun control either. For one thing I don't live in the US and I get pretty fed up with smug Canadian attitudes to US gun issues, mostly because people here erroneously think you can't buy similar firearms here. For one thing I like to shoot I'm getting range time for a birthday present. I don't own a gun and I see no reason to change that though.

Apr 10 2018 02:14

To a large extent I see the gun control battle to be a bit of a non starter. Get real, America is not about to fall out of love with guns. There may be some tinkering, some kinds of weapons prohibited (although doubt it) but there's no sea change in attitudes to guns anywhere near the horizon. However, the gun control fight is a great way to feel righteous. Even if the laws changed tomorrow, there's no way the gun owning population are going to be disarmed. There's no political will for it. However it's a good way to voice your indignation without the bother of addressing the systematic problems which lead to high levels of gun injuries and fatalities.

Apr 10 2018 02:23

A huge chunk of gunshot wounds and fatalities are accidental, which is something which can be addressed. If you can't take guns out of American cold dead hands, at least make sure people can handle the things safely. I don't have a citation at hand but I have read that one third of American kids grow up with a gun in their house. Educate people and educate them young. Schools have drivers ed classes, gun safely classes seem like a sensible solution to the problem of kids getting their hands on the gun their dumbass parent left lying around. Might prevent little Johnny accidentally shooting his kid sister. I know some people will be horrified at the idea of teaching kids gun safety 101 but if people are going to be around guns, they should know how to handle them.

Apr 10 2018 02:33

Maybe in an ideal world people shouldn't have guns but America isn't ideal and gun control. isn't going to happen in any meaningful sense. The problem needs to be addressed differently. American gun culture is different to that anywhere and it's not realistic to expect any legal solution to the problem. Try to address the issues which are tackleable.

Guns aren't going to be outlawed. What is a more meaningful area of discussion, given what is likely a lost cause which is gun control, is to address the conditions which are underlying the issue, why these mass shootings happen.

Apr 10 2018 02:34

And that's a huge subject, too much for tired old me to deal with tonight.

Apr 10 2018 06:43

Haven't given much thought to any of this. I never really got the interest in owning guns as a hobby or whatever (to upset liberals? to feel powerful?). It's all too crude for my tastes. Guns and other weapons are obviously designed to cause harm to others, and I'm not really interested in that. I wouldn't mind a future where there aren't any, except maybe in the context of hunting or whatever, but definitely not in any other regard.

this is a neat sculpture anyway

Lucky Black Cat
Apr 17 2018 03:06

I don't have any insightful comment to add but I just wanna say I appreciate hearing fellow anarchists/communists coming out as confused on the gun control issue in the USA. I also find myself sympathizing with both perspectives, but am sometimes shy about admitting it when comrades wanna call me a liberal for it, and liberals wanna call me stupid and heartless.

I like the ideas you sketch out about how to start moving forward on the gun violence issue in a better way and tying multiple struggles/issues together (seeing as how they already connect). Of course there are a million more questions about how to do this and how other pieces of the puzzle fit in, but it's cool to see someone trying to expand the scope of how this issue is thought about and approached.

Apr 18 2018 19:36

^ this