[Marxism] Prison guards (was: Police unions etc.)

Mike Friedman mikedf at amnh.org
Thu Aug 2 12:16:27 MDT 2007

>Date: Wed, 01 Aug 2007 15:40:02 -0400
>From: mlause at cinci.rr.com
>Subject: Re: [Marxism] Prison guards (was: Police unions etc.)
>To: Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition
>         <marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu>

Although the discussion started with soldiers, as the header 
indicates, we are not now discussing soldiers, but police and prison 
guards. There is a fundamental difference between these bodies. In 
spite of the fact that there is a hierarchy in these bodies, police 
and prison guards are professional [sic] bodies with the goal of 
enforcing "law and order" (i,e., racist laws and the order of private 
property) at home. They are the bodies with which the ruling class 
represses the working masses at home. Police officers must share 
those goals to join the force. No matter what their class origins 
are. It matters absolutely not at all whether they are recruiting 
more African Americans or women, their role is absolute. A Black 
police officer was involved in the shooting death of Sean Bell, a 
short time ago. African American organizations, including the group 
100 BLACKS IN LAW ENFORCEMENT WHO CARE correctly pointed out at the 
time that the police department wages war against Black youth. In 
communities of color (see poem below), the police are an integral 
part of the oppressive and repressive relations and institutions that 
permeate peoples' lives. The historic role of police departments in 
breaking strikes is also quite clear. As others have pointed out, the 
role of their gremial organizations has also been to promote 
repressive legislation and policies and mount attacks on folks like 
Mumia. You are wrong: police forces and their "unions" (if we are 
talking about the PBA) should be denounced in no uncertain terms. 
Moreover, because of the direct role of police agencies in 
suffocating dissent, and spying on and disrupting dissenting 
organizations, we don't try to "win over" police officers to our 
movements. This is not to say that there are no honorable exceptions 
to the rule, some of whom may "turn" of their own accord, or denounce 
abuses within the force (as do the 100 Black Officers).

Soldiers are another kettle of fish. The class and oppressive 
relationships of our society are replicated within the army. Rank and 
file soldiers are just that: workers, whom I would add, do NOT 
necessarily share the goals of the officers, and in fact, are often 
recruited on FALSE pretenses. These workers are thrown against 
enemies -- other workers -- as cannon-fodder, as they always have 
been. Within the army, there IS in fact, a police force designed to 
keep the workers in line. While we may denounce the murderous role of 
the army, we distinguish between the soldiers and their officers, and 
between the soldiers and the military police that enforce the 
domination of the officer corps and the imperialist role of the army 
itself. The growth of the Vietnam antiwar movement within the 
military, as depicted in the movie, "Sir, No Sir!" centered on the 
disaffection of the mutinous rank-and-file and showed clearly the 
differentiation of roles within the military.

The poem Black Soldier, by the Last Poets expresses these 
relationships and distinctions clearly:

Here's to you, Black Soldier,
fighting in Vietnam.
Helping your oppressors
oppress another man.
Here's to you, who volunteered,
your precious life to give,
while we here in the ghetto
are struggling to live.
Here's to you, who, gun in hand,
another's land dethrone,
while national guardsmen terrorize
the ones you left at home.
We hope and pray that you'll be spared
when casualties are high.
We demonstrate for your return,
and we mourn you when you die.
We've watched you grow up
from a child;
We know your strength and might.
It is no news for us to hear
how gallantly you fight.
It is a sin for you to be
upon some foreign shores,
when you are needed right here, at home,
protecting what is yours.
To know the use of weaponry,
I must admit that's good;
there is an occupation force,
in our neighborhood.
They call themselves "peace officers"
and "law enforcement groups."
But, from the acts that they commit,
we know that they are troops.
The government is cracking down,
with their oppressive hand.
They have the dream of stamping out,
resistance in the land.
But, our determination grows
and widens with the days.
We'll fight them from the rooftops,
and the alleyways.
We'll fall upon them in the night,
and put them to the blade.
We'll free the prisoners from the jails,
in calculated rage.
Just one desire burns in our hearts,
our bonds and chains to bust.
We only wish that, with your skills,
you were here with us.
Here's to you Black soldier,
in some far-off, distant land,
sometimes the question does arise,
on which side do you stand?
They called it a riot in Newark,
when the people arose as one.
In Detroit and Boston, in Cleveland and Watts,
they fought back
with firebombs and guns.
"What's the matter with these Niggers?" they said,
"they seem to be going wild."
"All of this fuss over one incident:
a policeman killing a child!"
"And why are they burning and looting the stores?"
"The merchant has been their friend."
"Well, maybe he cheated for a few cents,
every now and then."
"And what about the tenements
they're burning down in the slums?"
Some dog they call a slumlord,
is losing his income.
What a scare they received
when the brother said, "No!
Let's not burn the ghetto down!"
"We'll break up in groups,
and firebomb and loot
on the opposite side of town."
So then they called in their army
machine guns and tanks,
and ordered them to attack.
The people arose together,
and used what they had to fight back.
And now that it's happened,
the questions arise,
why the fury and fuss?
If they look over their past
and examine their deeds,
they'll know what's the matter with us.
When will the promises
be fulfilled,
that they made to us over the years?
Where's the pay
that we have not received
for our blood and sweat and tears?
Where's the employment
that we need? The decent salaries?
Welfare payments will not do,
to feed a family.
They say that conditions
are this way
because we don't have skills.
But, instead, they offer us
extermination pills.
So, we sound a warning;
they better change their tune.
They don't have long to make things right,
they better do something soon.
Their law enforcement
will not work.
Whatever they conspire
will only serve to make us strong,
we will fight fire with fire.
No, that was not a riot,
they saw down in the slums,
that was a dress rehearsal
for things that's yet to come.

>Of course, if you were trying to involve social workers or teachers in
>political action, you'd not want to begin by denouncing them.
>Same with soldiers.
>The comparison is absolutely 100% legitimate as far as that goes....
>So why the shit storm?  Because the Left is comfortable dealing with
>social workers and teachers.  And not with soldiers.
>More's the pity.
>Mark L.

Michael Friedman
Doctoral Candidate in Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior
City University of New York

Molecular Systematics Laboratory
Department of Invertebrate Zoology
American Museum of Natural History
79th Street at Central Park West
New York, NY 10024

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