The role of gangs...

Sam Pawlett gusm at
Thu Apr 11 21:13:50 MDT 2002

Derek Seidman wrote:

> More could be said, but what do people think? What
> type of role could/will gangs play when it all starts
> to go down? What type of orientation should
> revoultionary socialists have towards them?

Hi, there have always been criminal gangs of varying sophistication
because  in crime and violence there is often strength in numbers  and
more complicated capers require a division of labor. What all gangs
have  in common is their  ruthlessness in dealing with freeriders,
doublecrossers and narcs. Gangs can be as ruthless as they want towards
their own because their activities are already below the board--you
can't call the cops if your gang is punishing you. Because their
economic activities are already below the board, gangs have developed
their own rules and social norms, as it were. For example, one is not to
go to the police or 'rat' someone out no matter the consequences or what
is at stake. That is a gross violations of personal and social honor.
Paying a heavy price for not doing so is considered noble and enhances
one's prestige, honor and trustworthiness. These norms and rules have
evolved to protect against freeriders and to solve collection action
problems (here the prisoner dilemma is most apt and is sometimes
literally true)

  Most of the gangs I have encountered in Latin America (particularly in
El Salvador and Honduras) consisted of youth who had been deported from
the USA (usually L.A.) and had brought their gang colors and culture
back with them and started afresh in LatAm where those types of gangs
had hitherto been alien. Once their presence was established, the gangs
grew into a serious problem--particularly since the police are vastly
underfunded and quite often corrupt. In Colombia, once urban militia of
the M-19 and FARC have become gangs (mostly in Cali and Medellin).

    The political status of them works both ways, some gangs become
politicized (like Hampton and 'the Rangers' as you mention) and some
political groups (usually the ones who practice violence) descend into
criminality with no or dubious politics. The latter is most conspicuous
in prison gangs and political groups which are underground already
(e.g.  UVF (semi-underground), M-19, Panthers,) and are trained in
robbery, kidnapping, extortion and murder, to start off with. For these
groups, transition to a criminal gang is easy to make with the politics
used to assuage members consciences. For the most part, criminals do not
care about politics and will cut deals with whomever offers them the
best deal (the film 'the General' deals with this.) It is this reason
that they should be avoided, they cannot be trusted and their methods
are unacceptable to a socialist morality. The latter because the gangs
usually or are willing to rip off other poor and working class people
and do not consider their acts against the wealthy to be political acts.
'When it all comes down' the gangs will either disintegrate (or
implode), become a new ruling class (as in West Africa) or act as
enforcers for a fascist regime or worse. I think socialists should have
no dealings with them,  associations with gangs taints reputations and
exposes one to needless risks--to say the least. Marx and Engels were
correct that  the lumpen proletariat often have no revolutionary
potential (there are exceptions e.g. in Nicaragua and Venezuela while in
Brazil the favela vote is conservative) for their politics are often
fascist. If gangs have any politics at all, I would call it fascist.

Sam Pawlett

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