First, let us address the police as they exist today, to put it bluntly, the police don’t exist for your protection, they exist to solidify the ruling classes’ hold on power. They do this by solidifying the rule of the state and thereby of the existing social order and current mode of production which is inherently exploitative in nature. They might be your friends now, going around the cities and towns promoting a false sense of communal solidarity. They may converse with you, help you, hell they may even save your life. But all of this is a mirage, masking their real purpose which isn’t all that hidden if you simply look closely. They exist solely to act as agents of the bourgeois state. On behalf of the state, they are granted the sole legitimate monopoly on violence in our society, thereby they are in many ways, the essence of the very state itself. They aren’t there to be your friend, though they may very well be so. They exist yes to prevent violent crime (which is the sole justification for their existence) but moreover to act as agents of capitalist exploitation. Look at this both now and in historical context. Who is there when the working class rises up and demands better working conditions? Who is there to intimidate and arrest when the people rise up in protest against injustice? Who was there to beat and kill when the workers demanded to join a union or to end child labor? Who is there to intimidate when the people stand up in the thousands against an unjust police killing or state corruption? Who is there to intimidate, to beat, imprison and kill when you act against their interests, against the interests of the ruling class? It is none other than the police force!
Sure they may seem your friend today, but when ‘shit hits the fan’, as they say, and 70% of the population declares itself in opposition to the current social conditions, it will be they who raise their baton and gun against the very people they are supposedly there to protect. As Trotsky correctly said, “The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.” They, as an institution, are always on the wrong side of history, I make no false gestures of communal solidarity with them. They serve no other purpose but to maintain and exploitative social system. To be more direct, what would happen if the workers banded together, rebelliously making up the majority of the population, and took the means of production which they toil day and night with from the capitalist who exploits them? Even if 80% of the people were in support, they would show up and beat, nay, kill those very workers! They would have no mercy! Historically this has always been the case. Show me one example where the police were on the right side of history!
But oh! You say that the police act against violent crime and therefore they are justified in their actions! But this is a meager excuse for the horrendous injustices brought about by the bourgeois state, and particularly its cronies (i.e. the police). We do not wish to abolish the police entirely today, but we do on the other hand wish to strip it of all its political attributes at once. In this way the police force, as it exists today, ceases to exist. How? Let us look to Marx’s writings on the Paris Commune as an example. Thus we transfer from focusing on the policing institutions that exist today in bourgeois society, to what will exist in the future socialist society:
“The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at any time. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class…. The police, which until then had been the instrument of the Government, was at once stripped of its political attributes, and turned into the responsible, and at all times revocable, agent of the Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workmen’s wages. The privileges and the representation allowances of the high dignitaries of state disappeared along with the high dignitaries themselves…. Having once got rid of the standing army and the police, the instruments of physical force of the old government, the Commune proceeded at once to break the instrument of spiritual suppression, the power of the priests [as in separation of church and state]*…. The judicial functionaries lost that sham independence… they were thenceforward to be elective, responsible, and revocable”
But what all does this mean? It means for the first time ever, the establishment of legitimate democracy. Both in the political and industrial sense (socialism). In The State and Revolution, Lenin further clarifies:
“Democracy is a form of the state, it represents, on the one hand, the organized, systematic use of force against persons; but, on the other hand, it signifies the formal recognition of equality of citizens, the equal right of all to determine the structure of, and to administer, the state. This, in turn, results in the fact that, at a certain stage in the development of democracy, it first welds together the class that wages a revolutionary struggle against capitalism–the proletariat, and enables it to crush, smash to atoms, wipe off the face of the earth the bourgeois, even the republican-bourgeois, state machine, the standing army, the police and the bureaucracy and to substitute for them a more democratic state machine, but a state machine nevertheless, in the shape of armed workers who proceed to form a militia involving the entire population.”
The police in class society, admit it or not, is an inherently political institution. What Marx, and later Lenin proposes, is to strip the policing institutions of these very political attributes. But how does this work exactly? No longer will the police force be an oppressive apparatus of the state, no longer shall it act to hold down the majority of the population but is instead to be responsible to them. The organs of the police shall be democratically elected by the proletariat, responsible to them and at all times revocable. They will act only to solve serious crimes and arrest dangerous criminals, and by serious, it is meant violent.
But who then is to suppress counter-revolution on account of the overthrown bourgeoisie? This has already been answered, an armed militia involving the entire population (and you thought we communists were against guns)! In this way, it is the population at large acting as the state through its various militias which are inherently democratic in nature. The police can be instantly recalled by the people themselves, no longer can the police raise its batons to the working people en mass. If they rise up then they rise up, and no state institution shall stop them as it will be the will of the overwhelming majority of the people. But if the counter-revolutionaries rise up to bring back the overthrown oppressive order, then the whole population, through the armed militias, rises up and stops them, by force if necessary. Thus it is the majority acting to suppress the already withering away minority, and not a minority (acting through the police) acting to suppress the majority (the proletariat).
Obviously, it must be said, this was not, and likely could not have been done in the early Soviet Union. Indeed Lenin, due to the material conditions of early Russia, had to abandon this (what was at the time a) utopian ambition of a truly democratic society. However, in modern times, such a system is possible. And we communists hold it to be much preferable to the existing mode of exploitation. So we Leninists look back to the USSR as a tragic attempt at revolutionizing a society to get to such a point where this was possible, and we Trotskyists view it as a degenerated workers state after Lenin’s death under which the Stalinist bureaucracy abandoned Lenin’s original ambitions and betrayed the revolution, as the society envisioned by Lenin was never actually attempted even on a small scale by the Stalinist bureaucracy. Even when taking into accound the civilian police under Stalin, they could not and did even later attempt to do away with the police force, and never to strip it of its political attributes. Also, it must be said, socialism itself as an economic system was never actually achieved either in these workers states!
So now I ask you in closing, wouldn’t you prefer to strip the police of its political attributes? Wouldn’t you prefer a police force you can democratically elect, that was responsible to you and instantly recallable at all times? Wouldn’t you prefer a police force going only after serious, violent crimes? I think most sane people would. The police today are a hindrance to social progress, and moreover to a truly democratic society. They are not your friend. A better world is possible my friend, but not under capitalism! The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains, now more than ever!
See Karl Marx, The Civil War in France (Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 2, Moscow, 1973, pp. 217-21). (Also in State and Rev (below) pp. 26)
See Vladimir Lenin, The State and Revolution (Lenin Internet Archive (marxists.org) 1993, 1999, pp. 58).