On working with the Armed Forces

Chris Brady chris_brady at SPAMearthling.net
Mon Jun 19 12:27:55 MDT 2000

To underscore Carrol’s point about police we can briefly review the
Chilean case of 1973.

There were problems in the Chilean Navy and Air Force during the coup
days of September 1973, and there were problems with anti-coup
“Constitutionalists” in the Army prior to the coup.  Some mid-level
Army officers had to be, shall we say, shown the way.
But not the Carabineros.

The Carabineros are the National Police of Chile. They wear familiar
olive-brown uniforms and are actually under the centralized command of
the armed forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Carabineros).  There maybe
local garrisons and patrols, even jails and station houses for uniformed
police and crime detectives, but there is no local police in the strict
sense of a municipal force under the authority of the locality.
(Private security forces are burgeoning, however, and rent-a-cops).
Carabineros with green flashes on their collars and white shoulder
staps, belts and pistol holsters direct traffic; others with brown
instead of white stand on guard at La Moneda, the Presidential Palace.
They betrayed their President Allende who died in that building.
Instead of defending him and his administration, the government, the
elected order, the Carabineros command joined the anti-constitutional
coup led by Armed Forces Commander in Chief General Pinochet of the
patriotic Army.

I was in Chile when the Carabineros counterattacked the indigenous
Mapuche who fire-bombed logging equipment that was being used to cut
down trees on their land that was expropriated by the Pinochet regime.
Maybe this provided the impetus for me to regard the Carabineros as
more of an occupation army than a police force, but let's face it:
they do policing.  They maintain law and order.  That law and order
was institutionalized during the Pinochet period. But the order was
clearly in jeopardy before during the Unidad Popular government of
Salvador Allende.

Carrol introduced the notion of a categorical difference between police
forces and the regular army, navy and air forces, i.e., the latter
contains revolutionary potential while the former does not, or put
another way, the latter is made up of regular members (NCOs, not
officers) who can be defined as “workers in uniform” whereas the police
cannot.  I have some qualms about fully going along with Carrol’s
determination.  The main body of the police is drawn from the working
class. Certain historical events might lead one to the happy
anticipation that the constabulary have essential elements in that
working class constituency that are by definition a part of the
working class movement.  I think of the Boston Police Strike of 1919,
and of when recently the California police union stood up first to
support the tax break for teachers (in lieu of a raise) proposed by the
Governor.  That union expressed solidarity with a fellow pubic service
union.  But these are exceptional instances.

I think Carrol is fully correct if we accept a working definition of
police, that is a circumscription based on how the police have acted
historically.  I have seen too many photos of cops bashing heads of
striking workers and protesters, gassing them, shooting them.  I know
of how the secret police behave.  And I am sorry that the revolutionary
potential of a police force is ridiculous to consider in the functional
sense. But as Carrol says, if a cop shows sympathy with the criminals,
regardless of how that definition of "criminal" is determined, well,
that cop becomes an aberation as well and must be dealt with

However, I have some more thoughts on the cops.  I think it is naive to
attack the police as the present embodiment of the state. I do not
believe individual constables are our enemies. In a capitalist
society where economic conditions coerce all sorts of compromises
to get by, cops are more victims than enemies.  Cops in capitalist
society seem to regard themselves as separate from the people they
ostensibly serve and protect.  I suspect it is in part because the
"people" are socially atomized. Consider also the clicheic reality of
New York City cops, and other cities, too, who live far away,
physically, economically, culturally, from the areas they patrol.

I have seen police in the streets of Havana and their interaction with
local neighborhoods is more intimate than in New York or Eugene, Oregon.
But people in Havana have more say through their CDRs (Committees in
Defense of the Revolution).  Neighborhoods have nothing like CDRs in
the USA and Canada.  No one in a neighborhood can be arrested by the
Havana police without the permission of the CDR of that neighborhood.
That includes those human rights protesters (some of whom have had
their CIA covers blown).

But even in Cuba, the police are the hands-on controllers of a society.
They break up fights, chase robbers, intervene in activities that
go against the dominant order.  Still again, even in Cuba, the police
are not the ones on the rafts.  They stay while professionals,
academics, and star sports opportunists strive to gain by betrayal of
the homeland.
The police are the guardians of the established order.
Change the laws, change the order, but police are by definition
anti-revolutionary, even in a revolutionary society.
The goal of a revolutionary socialist society is to obviate the
necessity of police.  People who would be police in former social
setups, instead of chasing "crooks" would be free to pursue other

Chris Brady

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