National Sections of the L5I:

Militant, Marxism and the state

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

At toy shops they sell a motorised car that rides along until it hits an obstacle then flips over and starts travelling in the opposite direction. The same thing has happened to the politics of Militant in recent months.

The group which denounced any activity outside the Labour Party as “sectarianism on the fringes of the movement” now stands candidates openly against Labour in elections.

The organisation that denounced black members of the Labour Party for forming their own caucus now has its own black paper, Panther, which carries glowing articles about Malcolm X.

Those who rightly laughed at middle class radical fads in the 1980s now assure us that, under socialism, animals will no longer be “ordered around and killed” but they will have a “meaningful life just like us”! (Militant 10 July 1992)

But one vital thing hasn’t changed. From the example of collaboration with the police in CADV it is clear that Militant has retained its old, completely reformist, view of the police as “workers in uniform”. And despite expelling the former “greatest living Marxist” Ted Grant, Militant has yet to renounce his main “contribution” to Marxism: the thoroughly reformist idea that socialism in Britain can be achieved peacefully through parliament.

The real Marxist position on the police, the courts, the army and the monarchy—the state machine which protects the rule of the employing class—is simple. It has to be smashed and replaced by a workers’ militia, workers’ councils and a workers’ republic.

Of course this becomes possible only at moments of extreme revolutionary crisis. But revolutionary socialists have to prepare the working class for this struggle by refusing to hide the harsh truth that there will have to be a revolution to inaugurate socialist change. At the same time in the workers’ struggles taking place today we have to try to prepare the kind of organisations that can overthrow capitalism and its state.

Faced with police harassment of youth, police attacks on picket lines, police protection for fascists we can and must argue in the here and now for workers’ defence squads.

In every generalised working class struggle, like the miners’ strike, we have to argue for delegate councils of action.

Against management offensives we need a consistent workers’ answer: workers’ control through workplace committees.

As Trotskyists we raise these and other transitional demands wherever the ordinary economic and democratic demands of the workers’ movements clash with the needs of the capitalist system. What does Militant do? It consistently refuses to raise these demands, either in practice or in propaganda.

Faced with the low level, daily problem of the capitalist state - police violence and intimidation against workers’ struggles and communities, Militant argues for:

“Democratic control of the police. Elected local authority bodies to control resources, discipline, training and day to day policing policy.” (Panther Issue 2)

This is a dangerous utopia. In the first place, except in London, there are already partially elected local police committees. Making them fully elected would hardly change the way they operate: they are stuffed full of elected corrupt Labour and Tory politicians already.

Giving them control over policing policy would work only as long as this didn’t clash with the needs of the bosses. Take a picket line for example. Because it is illegal to picket effectively the police force can claim it is only enforcing the law when it smashes up a workers’ picket line. The law protects the bosses and attacks the workers because it is capitalist law. And the police enforce that law because they are the paid agents of the capitalist state.

No amount of democratic control over resources, training and policy would end police attacks on picket lines, because it is capitalist law, not “policing policy” that enables this. Any police authority which told coppers to go and bust the heads of sweatshop employers instead of pickets would be quickly wound up and replaced by the national state.

It would be far more direct and effective if the workers on the picket line organised themselves, got themselves resources and training and gave the riot squads a good beating. The examples of workers beginning to organise such action in the miners’ strike, at Wapping and in numerous other struggles demonstrate the real possibility of building workers’ defence squads in the struggles of today.

Does this mean we refuse to fight for democratic reforms advocated by reformist politicians, or for the scrapping of riot squads and the banning of plastic bullets etc. No. Even the minimal demand of replacing one police chief with another (as happened after the Toxteth uprising in 1981) can be the basis for a united front with reformist leaders and the workers and youth who follow them. But the aim here is to convince workers of the futility of reforming the capitalist state machine, not conning them that it can be done.

Lewisham Youth Rights Campaign recently wrote in Uproar:

“We need an accountable police force, one that we control. A police force that is there to protect our communities, not attack them.”

Well, comrades, the only police force like this will be a workers’ militia, and to get it we will have to smash up and replace the existing police force!

The same is true at the highest level of clashes between the workers’ movement and the state. For years Militant peddled the idea that a “socialist Labour government” could legislate the abolition of capitalism in parliament, “backed up by the colossal power of the working class”.

Perhaps this vague phrase really meant workers’ revolutionary struggle and organisations? No. From Militant’s Editor came the assurance:

“We have proclaimed hundreds if not thousands of times that we believe that, armed with a clear programme and perspective, the labour movement in Britain could effect a peaceful socialist transformation.”

Of course, in private, many Militant comrades never believed this. But the idea that British workers will only make a revolution if they think that it’s going to be peaceful, and are then “shocked” into an armed uprising by the resistance of the capitalist state, is patronising and dangerous.

Leon Trotsky had sharp words for those who tried to do this in the 1920s:

“It is futile to lull the masses to sleep from day to day with prattling about peaceful, painless, parliamentary democratic transitions to socialism and then, at the first serious punch delivered at one’s nose, to call upon the masses for armed resistance. This is the best method for facilitating the destruction of the proletariat by the powers of reaction. In order to be capable of offering serious resistance the masses must be prepared for such action mentally, materially and by organisation”. (Trotsky on Britain p 103)

Militant comrades should ask themselves, despite all the “improvements” in their paper, where it has ever addressed this task of preparing the workers for revolution. The answer is nowhere.

On the ground the police and the professional army, and all those workers who join them, are the enemies of the working class. The policeman or woman is not a “worker in uniform”. As soon as they put on their uniforms the police become paid agents of capitalism against the working class.

Their “job” is not mainly to solve crimes. If that is so why is it that over 80% of all crimes go unsolved? Their real job is to protect capitalist property - from striking workers, rioting youth, “subversive” left-wingers, black people rebelling against racism. And their whole training and subsequent life is geared to doing this job.

Militant should remember that in the miners’ strike, even before Orgreave, 10,000 of their “workers in uniform” were bussed in to stop real workers from picketing. This wasn’t a deviation from the police’s role. It was just a graphic example, on a massive scale, of what the police exist for.

The same is true in a professional army. Even though it is the dole that drives many working class teenagers into the British Army, once there they are subjected to fierce ideological brainwashing against class solidarity. All this is to prepare them for their essential task: to repress working class struggle when the police can’t cope and to protect British imperialism’s interests abroad.

It is different with a conscript army, when the bosses are obliged to recruit the working class youth en masse. Then revolutionaries have to treat the conscripts as potentially vital forces in the struggle for socialism. Time and again mutinous conscript armies have proved the vital factor in revolutionary situations. That is why we have to reject “conscientious objection” and, like the Bolsheviks, work inside the army to break it up and prepare the overthrow of the rule of officers and professional sergeants.

Whether it is inviting the police to collaborate with CADV groups, or advocating democratic control to solve police harassment, or prattling on about a peaceful parliamentary road to socialism and a “socialist” Labour government Militant clearly still carries a lot of the political baggage originated by Ted Grant. A real break with the politics of this proven centrist misleader will require a lot more than committing Militant to the struggle to Save the Whale. It means jettisoning the revision of Marxism on the state that has been at the heart of Militant’s politics for decades and turning to the genuine Trotskyism of Workers Power.