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Why do socialists demonize the police?

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Khawaga
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Jul 20 2011 15:20
Sam wrote:
Khawaga mentions an interesting and significant revolt by conscripted cops, as evidence of why we should nuance our critique of the cops. But they were conscripted - they didn't choose to become cops.

My point was, as I am sure you understood, was that these discussions cannot be universal. There are different political (and police) cultures across the world. Too often anarchists in the western world are simply eurocentric and fail to see that a cop (or soldier) is not always a cop even though he or she is wearing the uniform. If this was a discussion taking place among Egyptian or Tunisian comrades it would look very different. They've already had popular committees taking care of security, fought conscripted cops one day and fought alongside them another day as fellow protesters.

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Arbeiten
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Jul 20 2011 15:38

That's a pretty spot on point Khawaga. We have to take into account the ideological and material landscape in order to properly evaluate the given situation.

Just a quick point as I been thinking about this thread for a while. I think we should be careful to distinguish police from the law (and no, this is not just semantic). Just because your highly critical of the police (as it exists right now, institutionally in say Britain, Greece or France), it doesn't necessarily mean you are against something like laws and rules per se (though these of course would have to be submitted to review, I hope most of us here know there is a difference between property law and laws against murder for instance). Now the police may have certain sanctioning under the law, but they are not the law.

Samotnaf
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Jul 20 2011 16:49
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If this was a discussion taking place among Egyptian or Tunisian comrades it would look very different. They've already had popular committees taking care of security, fought conscripted cops one day and fought alongside them another day as fellow protesters.

How does this square with what just happened last weekend in Tunisia, for instance?

Quote:
Sunday's violence was sparked by an incident on Friday when police, trying to break up an anti-government demonstration in the centre of Tunis, fired teargas inside a mosque.
In the Intilaka district in the west of Tunis, about 200 youths -- many of them with the beards typical of Islamists --set fire to a police station.
In the town of Menzel Bourguiba, about 70 km (45 miles) north of Tunis, four police officers were wounded in clashes with rioters, a police source told Reuters.

Last Sunday cops killed a 14 or 13 yr old (depending on different reports) in a demonstration. In Thala the takeover of the police station (in February, iirc) followed the cops killing people, and was launched initially by one very courageously furious young man who'd lost a close friend. There might have been some demos including conscripted cops - but, having spoken at length to a Tunisian friend about the situation there, there's certainly no more love lost between cops and the mass of the proletarian population than, say , between cops and most blacks in the States.

As for ajohnstone saying we should learn from the past - obviously, but the cops in 1919 were not at all the same as today; for one thing, i think those who went on strike (iirc) were sacked and then some of them were re-employed with contracts specifically forbidding the right to strike; the most militant were not re-employed. Moreover this strike took place in a global atmosphere of a possibly successful revolution.

An understanding of people and movements has to be based on what they do, not on what abstractly potentially they could possibly in different circumstances come round to doing maybe. For all I know, the Queen might one day agree to give up all her privileges and start throwing molotovs at Prince Phillip.

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Khawaga
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Jul 20 2011 17:12
Sam wrote:
How does this square with what just happened last weekend in Tunisia, for instance?

I should have made myself clear that with Tunisia I was referring to popular committees doing security; I am not aware of the composition of the official security forces. Point is that ATR there will be someone doing security/ some remaining policing functions. That we've already seen these bodies formed should bear on the content of this discussion. Now obviously, what happened in Egypt and Tunisia were far from revolutions that overturned social relations and that the security needed was against the police, thugs and certain groups of people looting (and we're not talking about the New Orleans form of "looting" which is completely different). Whether such committees would be a permanent feature in a communist society is hard to tell (and I certainly hope it wouldn't), but they wouldn't be permanent in the sense of being autonomous and separate from society. Everyone, as long as they want to, should take turns doing such security. In any case, the roles and function of such groups would be minor. The odd sociopath, perhaps guarding nuclear waste until we've figured how to deal with it properly.

I guess, in short, it seems like you didn't get why I posted the passage. This discussion has been extremely abstract; it is necessary to consider various contexts in which the police is not always the police as we know it in the West (even within the West). Too often anarchist will come with blanket statements about cops based on their local experience of them. That the police is not part of the working class in the UK (or the US or Canada and a lot of other countries) I would be in complete agreement with, but with Egypt it is completely different.

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Jul 20 2011 17:20

Is the conscription essential, though? I've noticed that more and more people major in "criminal justice" in the US, and the military is recruiting more and more. Even though the police and military are voluntary here, they're becoming more and more attractive as a stable place of employment in this economy.

Black Badger
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Jul 20 2011 17:57

Just to throw some more difficulty into the mix, it's important to remember that around this time of year back in 1936, mostly in Catalunya, anarchists and other revolutionaries were fighting side by side with the Republican Assault Guard (not all of them of course) to beat back the attempted coup by the military backed by the Church, the industrialists, and the large landowners. The forces arrayed against militarized reaction were diverse, and the fact that some traditional enemies of the CNT were suddenly their de facto allies threw many in the CNT and FAI into confusion (aside from the other areas of analytical confusion), often leading to tragicomic results...

RedHughs
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Jul 20 2011 21:07
ajjohnstone wrote:
Another historic event that i could have mentioned was the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 when police demonstrated their working class loyalty by voting to strike, but were asked to continue their duties by the strike committee until the ruling class sacked them all for their pro-strike sympathies. I am sure a trawl of working class experience can provide similar examples.

Contemporary workers can learn something from historic examples, can they not, Samotaf? Or should we simply forget our past and refuse to pass it on, even it is along with ifs and buts...

In recent Wisconsin strikes, the police also expressed solidarity with the struggles at various points.

But I don't think later events in Wisconsin proves much beyond the fact that unions, police and the working class together are, at times, willing to assert "the dignity of labor" or the power of the working class as a class within capitalism - ie, reactionary workerism. It's possible that the working could take a step in this direction and then jump to a more revolutionary position. But if you think this direction itself is revolutionary, you are mistaken.

Edit: Mostly removed references to the original general strike, whose exact makeup I don't know. But the contemporary struggles that receive the solidarity of the police... That's not a tendency which can extended to an attack on capitalist society in any form.

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Jul 20 2011 21:17
yourmum wrote:
Pikel: I don't yet have enough confidence in my beliefs and ideas to engage in much debate, or my ideas are not sufficiently formed to do so with any conviction.

Totally wrong way to look at it. You need to trust your rationality, not your knowledge. if theres wrong stuff in your head theres no better way to get rid of it then to discuss it with other people. So if you do have any ideas, sputter them out and find out if they hold against whats put against them. Because who is going to win most if your ideas are wrong? I guess that would be you! Dont treat an idea like it is your property or a part of your personality. unless it is, duh ;)

I appreciate your sentiment and I think I understand your point well. I do trust my rationality but it's just a tool, it has to have some material to work with, it also has to have time to work and effort applied in the working. Some may have more relevant material than me or have committed more time and effort than me. I can't agree with you that knowledge is not important. So I feel I am entirely sensible to take my time coming to a view before putting that view to public debate. For some things I might take longer than for others. I'm only posting in this thread at all because I feel some level of confidence in my thoughts, but I know I don't have a comprehensively worked-out basis for my opinion, it doesn't please me and I don't need anyone to point that out to me. No point putting ideas forward when I know full well where they are likely to fail and how people will highlight the failure and don't have anything in reserve once that's been done, I'm not a masochist.

Having said that, here is my opinion. I believe strongly in freedom from formal rules and enforcement. I think it's far to easy to go from making sensible rules that are clearly a positive expression of how sane people would like to live, to oppression of minorities of various kinds, and I find talk of coercion troubling. The mere act of writing rules down encourages more rules to follow because a process gets underway. A habit develops, and habits are notoriously hard to break. So while on the face of it I wouldn't mind a law against murder, which all sane people can agree with, it is firstly unnecessary (because its obvious) and secondly encourages further laws (because it's one of many steps in the process of building a body of law) which may or may not be sane.

The formalisation of social relations into laws leads to some extent to law becoming superior to social relations. We (in the UK anyway) have many insane laws which a large number of people at least tacitly agree with, not really because they are themselves insane but because the law is endowed with it's own inherent correctness and things can become morally wrong simply by being criminal. I know this because I have discussed certain behaviours with people who don't like them, who's only remaining argument (after I've shot the others down) against them is that they are illegal and therefore should not be done. I could give examples but this could fork the debate as people will not agree with me that those specific laws are insane; please try and think of some for yourselves.

I also believe that when you treat people like children there is a tendency for at least some of them to behave like children. Disallowed behaviour is enacted specifically because it is disallowed and probably more so because it is disallowed without an explanation. Additionally people neglect their duty to form their own moral views because it's already been taken care of.

I would like to think, therefore, that people can live without formal laws, because I see so many flaws in that system and I see fewer flaws in it's opposite. Where social relations are strong (not hard for them to be stronger than they are now) and people have a clear stake in a society which values them properly rather than treating them simply as workers or consumers to be exploited, then they will inevitably behave differently, because people's behaviour is a reaction to the conditions they find themselves in. It upsets me that some people feel that people won't change much, when their conditions have changed so fundamentally! Surely a fundamental change for the good in behaviour will be the necessary result of a fundamental change for the good in conditions.

@ Revol68, patronising was the wrong word, sorry, belittling would have been a better one, like your "boohoo mummy and daddy are fascists" style talk, which is aimed at getting those you disagree with to shut up because they are stupid spoiled children rather than actually attacking the idea. Note: I am a grown man, my parents were not fascists and I'm pretty sure I wasn't spoiled.

(fuck that's a long post, sorry!)

yourmum
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Jul 21 2011 12:52

Pickel, i wasnt saying knowledge is not important, on the contrary knowledge is what your aiming for or should be as someone who wants to change something. i was trying to say that you cant trust in having the right knowledge, but you can trust in the way your brain works. trust that you will see the truth when someone makes a proper argument (of course because a proper argument teaches about something "material" and you can verify). second point was you better get rid of wrong ideas sooner then later so its always good to discuss the stuff your unsure about. if people care about the truth and not about being a proper communist they wont lay you low for having wrong ideas. i think the very little restrictive or reserved acceptance of new people with a pretty unclear picture about the world proves that it is in the interest of many members of this board to share their enlightenings.

ajjohnstone
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Jul 21 2011 14:29

Samotnaf

Quote:
i think those who went on strike (iirc) were sacked and then some of them were re-employed with contracts specifically forbidding the right to strike; the most militant were not re-employed.

Just to clarify the history

Quote:
The police had also voted and came out on strike, only to be requested by the strike committee to go back to their jobs. The reason for this should be apparent to any serious analyst of the situation. Not until they were confronted with the demand made later to denounce the strike, express regret for their part in it did the bulk of the police force appear as strikers. They were forced out by the forces of “Law and Order”, and their places filled with an assortment of second-story men, forgers, burglars, etc., etc., chiefly imported from Minneapolis.
http://www.worldsocialism.org/canada/

And from Libcom

Quote:
May 30, members of the police force were told to sign a contract to prevent them from joining unions, they refused, but said that they would still maintain law and order. A few days later the entire police force was fired...the North West Mounted Police [not the city police] to disperse the strikers. As the mounted police charged, the crowds scattered into alleyways and side streets off the square, where they were met by "special police" [2000 well paid volunteer scabs were hired] who had been deputised by the city during the strike. Armed with baseball bats and other weaponry provided by local retailers, the special police fought with strikers.
http://libcom.org/history/1919-winnipeg-general-strike

The police voted to strike, were requested by the strike committee not to, but the State demanded a loyalty pledge and when it was refused, the police were sacked en masse - a lock-out- to be replaced by imported scabs.

Samotnaf
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Jul 21 2011 17:34

I was talking about the 1919 UK police strike, not one in Canada, which was the main content of the article you linked to, a "socialist" apology for cops, which merely indicates how little experience the author seems to have had of them; or else an intellectual judgment of people based on some "innate" working classness, but not based on practice, not on the working class for itself.

ajjohnstone
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Jul 22 2011 11:05

Samotnaf, I apologise for mis-interpreting your post since my last post was specifically about Winnipeg, i believed your later comment referred to the details of that and not the earlier link that you had already commented upon.

Also should this thread be limited to the police, what about prison wardens, bailiffs, private security guards, the military, even armament workers, civil servants, we could add to the list almost indefinitely because many workers have roles within capitalism that strengthen the state, that are anti-social, that makes them unpopular with other workers ( i have personal issues with those who work in slaughter houses and i know one union official who dreaded visiting Halls meat industry factory in Aberdeenshire since like me he found that brutality of the killing business affected the humanity of its workers to their detriment but thats neither here or there).

How should it be determined who is worthy of being called working class and deemed receptive to political ideas. Marx i think had little regard for the lumpen-proletariat

RedHughs
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Jul 23 2011 22:05
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Also should this thread be limited to the police, what about prison wardens, bailiffs, private security guards, the military, even armament workers, civil servant

All of these are worth considering. I think there are two different questions. One is whether a given group is part of the working class and the other is whether a given group needs to give up its role if it is going participate in a revolutionary movement.

And here, the question of the process of the transformation of society appears front-and-center. If one believes the-working-class-as-exists-now will rise, and seize society while it is "intact" as the working-class-of-capitalism, then you might believe that none of these groups will be shedding their roles at that point.

The general strikes which were wound-up lead by unions that weren't revolutionary in any fashion would then be a fine model for this. If first the working class takes power, then it transforms itself, possibly over a fairly long period of time, then it makes sense for the same police to petrolling the streets are previously, possibly enforcing modified laws but with things otherwise under control.

Now, on the other hand, if one believes that from "day zero", the working class will have to begin transforming itself and forming the human community of communism, then the immediate abolition of the police, prisons and state bureaucracies would make sense. I would tend to believe that police and prison guards in particular would be the least likely to join a revolutionary contingent. But regardless of which percentage of a group joined the revolution, the function of the police and related groups would be abolished immediately and permanently.

So anyway, I'd thus say this question actually kind of turns on whether one takes a "communism, just like in 1848" position or a "communization now" position.

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Jul 25 2011 01:37

Cops as individuals might be good people, as all of us but when endowed with authority they transform into monsters. The Standford experiment is a good example. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZWsFmjSi78

LBird
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Jul 25 2011 07:40
Dennis3434 wrote:
Cops as individuals might be good people, as all of us but when endowed with authority they transform into monsters. The Standford experiment is a good example.

All that the celebrated 'Stanford experiment' proves is that if we bring up kids in a society that places emphasis on un-questioning respect for our 'betters', and get them used to not thinking critically, and to simply acting as individuals on instructions from authority figures, then when those kids become adults they'll unthinkingly carry out tasks that they are set. Nothing about 'monsters' - the whole experiment is based on liberal individualist ideology, just as you'd expect in the '60s in the USA.

If we tried the same experiment with kids educated in a Communist society, the results would be very different. We're not unhistoric, natural individuals containing a hidden 'monster', but products of a society that requires 'individuals'.

Adults used to acting after collective and critical discussion wouldn't carry out such an experiment. We don't have a society in which adults act in collective fashion, we have a society in which 'individuals' are 'entitled' to their 'own' views and 'socialisation' apparently doesn't exist.

Rejecting the label 'individual' is the real, paradoxical, starting point of 'individuality'.

Samotnaf
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Jul 28 2011 15:59

About the 1919 UK police strike: just read in Sellwood's "Police Strike - 1919" that only a bit over 3% of cops actually went on strike - and that all of them - about 2300 - got sacked, never to return. And that, as said earlier, a no strike for the cops deal was put into the cops' contracts. To reiterate what's already been said: judge people on what they do, not on whether they are "working class" or not. UK cops haven't contributed to a social movement against this world for 92 years, and then only just over 3% did, and that involved, obviously, refusing to perform their social role..

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Jul 28 2011 18:35

This is a good example of some of the problems with police:
http://libcom.org/forums/news/california-police-kill-again-28072011

Some might say well, that's no big deal, maybe it was a bad apple, or maybe there was some justification.

But this killing was absolutely brutal and vicious. They didn't just shoot someone once, like the cops in Oakland last year, they beat this guy to a pulp in a sustained way, repeatedly tasering him. There were at least six of them doing this, with five squad cars. In full view of about 50 people. Other cops that were there threatened bystanders and told them to get lost or they would go to jail. One cop punched a guy filming the attack in the face. They were all complicit in this - as are their superiors, who released a statement stating that the victim had broken the bones of two officers - which was a complete lie.

And so far there is not any criminal investigation into this brutal murder. And what is the likelihood of any of the murderers getting punished for this? Very low to zero I would say.

Samotnaf
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Jul 28 2011 19:23

The Oakland killing a couple of years ago was filmed - clearly (unlike the killing of the recent guy) - by several passengers; the cops did their best to confiscate the mobile phones, but some got away. Since the evidence was unavoidable, the cop got put away - for just 6 months, released last month and the cops told demonstrators against his release that there'd be zero tolerance for anything other than a symbolic demo.
The cop had fired a pistol into the guy's back whilst he was being held on the ground of a train platform, but with a gun you only need one bullet to kill - a taser, as used in the recent murder, needs to be applied several times if you're going to do the job properly, unless the person has a weak heart, when you can be ecological and save on electricity.
But that's just the States, so what can you expect? - British cops are the best in the world (in South Africa us Brits had the best concentration camps in the world).

I think as the irrationalities of capital reach endgame madness point, those protecting it will increasingly reflect this psychotic suicide/homicide capitalism, just not giving a shit whatsoever, off the leash-style, no pretense: I mean, dragging a handicapped guy from his wheelchair in front of cameras seems pretty barmy to me; in the past they'd be more secretive about it.

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Jul 28 2011 21:14
Samotnaf wrote:
The Oakland killing a couple of years ago was filmed - clearly (unlike the killing of the recent guy) - by several passengers; the cops did their best to confiscate the mobile phones, but some got away. Since the evidence was unavoidable, the cop got put away - for just 6 months, released last month and the cops told demonstrators against his release that there'd be zero tolerance for anything other than a symbolic demo.
The cop had fired a pistol into the guy's back whilst he was being held on the ground of a train platform, but with a gun you only need one bullet to kill - a taser, as used in the recent murder, needs to be applied several times if you're going to do the job properly, unless the person has a weak heart, when you can be ecological and save on electricity.
But that's just the States, so what can you expect? - British cops are the best in the world (in South Africa us Brits had the best concentration camps in the world).

I think as the irrationalities of capital reach endgame madness point, those protecting it will increasingly reflect this psychotic suicide/homicide capitalism, just not giving a shit whatsoever, off the leash-style, no pretense: I mean, dragging a handicapped guy from his wheelchair in front of cameras seems pretty barmy to me; in the past they'd be more secretive about it.

I'm not sure if I can completely agree with this as many COPS are assholes to begin with which is why they seek out that profession but I think this does explain a lot as far as people in positions of authority:

When I was in jail I read Zimbardo's book and the guard/prisoner relations in there began to make sense. Power corrupts, especially when there's no accountability as was shown with the Oscar Grant murder.