Marxist Theory

Police: enforcers of class rule

11 July 2021
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The ideology of capitalist democracy is based on the idea that society is composed of free individuals whose relations are governed by a neutral state, which is itself subject to laws passed by a democratic parliament. This is a myth, whose purpose is to obscure the true character of the state and relations between people.

The fundamental relationship in society is class – one minority class owns all the means of production (factories, land, houses, banks, media) and is therefore able to exploit the mass of workers who own no property. The state, the permanent body of unelected civil servants, police, army, and judges, is the instrument by which this tiny ruling class maintains its rule, principally by enshrining the sanctity of private property in law.

Primitive societies did not require a state as they did not consist of classes in the same way that modern society does. With the development of a surplus of food, a division of labour arose, leading to different social classes with specialised roles (priests, farmers, warriors, etc). This was the origin of the state form, with legal codes, ideology, and monopoly of force required to justify and defend the new ruling class.

To fulfill this function the state must appear to act as a mediator between the competing classes, but it is not neutral – just ask workers who have their strikes banned because of a couple of spoilt ballots.

The police are the enforcer of that class rule. They are a permanent fixture of the state – although governments may come and go, the police remain as an oppressive force against the working class. Due to this role, the police are firmly in the camp of the capitalists against the working class. All police officers, even those who come from working class and minority backgrounds, have thrown in their lot with the ruling class against the working class’ historic interests. As Trotsky said, “The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.”

The disproportionate treatment of minorities by police demonstrates this. Minorities make up a disproportionately large section of the working class and are on average the poorest and most oppressed. The police are taught to fear and despise these communities. As a result, they bear the brunt of the state’s violence.

The police do not exist to ‘protect and serve’ the population at large, as the propaganda would suggest, but rather to protect and serve the interests of the exploiting and propertied class. Day to day police spend most of their time policing the crime which is generated by a system based on increasing inequality and social and racial oppression. Since a socialist society would do away with the oppression of women and black people, and provide for all through a democratically planned economy, we would not need a professional police force standing above and against the population. Instead we could protect ourselves through community self-defence forces rooted in and accountable to local populations.

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