Joseph F. Lockard lockard at NetVision.net.il
Sat Jun 10 11:50:40 MDT 1995

Jerry, some comments, agreements and disagreements on your thoughtful post:

>1) Police are not the ones who determine policy within the capitalist
>state.  They "follow orders."  In this sense, one could liken them to
>foot soldiers in the service of capitalism.  This is an important point
>as many who are engaged in struggle with the state see only the police
>and react to them as if they were THE enemy.

This is a fairly useful distinction, one that distinguishes between
immediate agency and system.  The police aren't the true targets, but
rather a shadow of larger, more amorphous systems of social control.  Given
exigencies of confrontation at plant gates, demonstrations, or other
occasions, it's pretty understandable that this distinction is easily
forgotten.  The reservation I'd make to your above statement is the
singularity of 'state,' since oppositional politics usually address a broad
range of oppresive institutions that don't all fit neatly under this

>2) The purpose of police, broadly interpreted, is to maintain "law and
>order" within a given social formation and mode of production.  This role
>has two sides: one, to defend private property and capitalist and state
>institutions; and two, to maintain bourgeois legality.  The first role
>includes (but is not limited to) breaking strikes, arresting protesters,
>repressing communities.  The second role can include enforcement of
>other more "class neutral" laws such as laws against murder, rape,
>violence.  Both of these role are determined fundamentally not by the
>police but by "higher authorities" in the capitalist state (such as the
>judiciary and executive branches).  These higher authorities are the ones
>who must be held responsible for police behavior.

This expands and systematizes the first paragraph.  Questions, though:
what do you mean by bourgeois legality?  As contradistinct from
workingclass or revolutionary legality, I presume?  How many forms of
legality do you recognize?  Or, the reference to "class-neutral" portions
of the legal codes?  Why should we regard murder, rape, or assault as
"class-neutral" crimes when the victimization rates are demonstrably

>3) Some have argued that individual police are at fault, rather than the
>institution itself.  I have no doubt that there are (somewhere) "good
>cops", but this misses the point.  Police policy decisions are rarely
>determined by individual cops.  To understand how police act as a group,
>rather than just individuals, one must consider their social role and the
>means with which police are created and trained.  Police, like soldiers,
>undergo an indoctrination and assimilation process which TEACHES
>individuals to become cops.  It doesn't matter what their moral and
>ethical beliefs were before joining up.  Part of the training process
>involves destroying those older values, substituting new moral values and
>group conduct and behavior, and de-humanizing civilians.  They learn both
>to "follow orders" and de-humanize groups, classes and individuals.  In
>an analogous way, consider managers.  I have known many decent people
>who became managers but the very process of training and assimilation
>required these individuals to change their moral beliefs and values if
>they were to maintain their jobs as managers.  If individual police act
>to expose corruption, discrimination and brutality their careers (and
>possibly their lives) can be shortened rather remarkably.

The good cop/bad cop argument is a complication that humanizes, but
certainly doesn't negate more comprehensive social analyses that rely on
concepts of class.  I agree with your argument about the processes or
indoctrination and values assimilation:  I believe in police training these
are commonly called "professionalism."  The processes are fairly common
throughout uniformed forces and have been well-discussed in many places.

The point I'll disagree with here is that of individual/class
de-humanization, since police academies in the United States and in other
countries have made substantial efforts over the last twenty years to
emphasize sensitivity training and human/community relations. Repression
with a smiley-face, perhaps. Classrooms of rookie cops undergoing
sensitivity training, though, give me a slightly creepy feeling inasmuch as
the tools of psychology are being deployed for improved social control.
Sensitivity needs to be expressed towards individual rights and democratic
practice, not empty politeness.  To be anecdotal again, I'd have to report
that the only time I ever filed a complaint against police behavior, while
in California for a couple months last year, the idiotic and non-responsive
officer went before an internal disciplinary board and was dismissed (there
had been other complaints before mine).  Any de-humanization needs to be
countered with respected institutional procedures, like those
bitterly-resisted civilian review boards, that render police accountable.

>6) Police are nominally workers (i.e. they are wage earners).  In every
>other way, they are not part of the working class but (yes, I think the
>poem I cited before was relevant) MERCENARIES.  If you are being mugged,
>then these mercenaries are paid to help you (which they very frequently
>don't do).

Police are "nominally" workers?  That is, they are workers only on the
technical grounds that they get wage slips?  Does the term "worker" apply
only to those engaged in activities which we might approve?  Coal
stripminers foul up the face of the earth and human existence rather
massively, far more so than the county sheriff's department on its worst
day, but they are workers nonetheless.  As well, many police are far more
attuned to working class values than the average Marxoid poster on this
list.  Or has the University of Virginia computing system become a
workingclass hangout?

As for mercenary, my goodness, under such a broad term of indictment any
state employee (a/k/a public servant) could be labelled 'mercenary.'
Indeed, the radical critique of social work has been that it is police work
by other means.  You've let a visceral dislike of police override lexical

>7) The state seems to go out of its way to recruit vicious, racist,
>sexist, nationalistic individuals.  This is not accidental.  The police
>themselves frequently ARE brutal thugs and many were so before becoming
>police.  This, also, is not accidental.  [snip]  It might also be
>useful to examine which GROUPS and COMMUNITIES cops are, by and large,
>recruited from.  Holding individual cops alone responsible for police
>misconduct is rather like holding Colonel Caley (spelling?) alone for "My
>Lai."  But Caley was not simply an individual -- he was created.  We need
>not only to denounce the individuals but the policy-makers as well.

It used to be said in the American Irish & Italian communities during the
'20s and '30s that the nice boys became firemen, and the nasty boys became
policemen.  Yes, vicious, racist, sexist, nationalistic individuals end up
in police jobs far too frequently.  They're attracted more than recruited,
I suspect, given that labor market conditions have ensured a major
oversupply of police wannabes.  The psychopathology of police recruits
might seem fascinating on the surface, but I'm guessing it's far more banal
and average-joe than we want to believe.

And entirely true that policymakers are equally responsible for the
operations of their foot soldiers.  However, the existence of a politically
responsible leadership doesn't absolve individuals of responsibility for
their actions.  Robert McNamara's guilt for American genocide against the
Vietnamese people doesn't cancel out Lt. Calley's guilt for murdering the
people of My Lai.  The forgiveness doled out to Calley and McNamara both
simply enrages.

>don't look for support from Police Unions as they are, at least in this
>country, ultra-reactionary (and in NYC, even neo-fascist)

Oh god, police unions.......lowest of the low, creeps of the
creeps.....FOP, John Harrington of blessed memory, Policeman's Benevolent
Association......shudders, chills.....

>Police brutality will only end
>when a new social order is established and the police are dismantled as a
>social institution.

I couldn't agree less.  Social revolutions have almost routinely
re-employed the police forces of the overthrown government, replacing only
the police leadership and egregiously violent officers.  Dismantling the
police is utopian and end-of-history thinking (though I appreciate the
idealistic decency of your expression).  A far more realistic direction
lies in addressing the exploitative economic order than generates the need
for vast amounts of police work.

Best, JOE


Joe Lockard                          Tel. (972) 2-246470 [H]
Kibbutz Teachers College             E-mail lockard at netvision.net.il
149 Derekh Namir
Tel Aviv / ISRAEL
Rehov Nissim Behar 3
Jerusalem / ISRAEL


     --- from list marxism at lists.village.virginia.edu ---


More information about the Marxism mailing list