A creature of a nadir in UK politics, the new minority Conservative government under Boris Johnson is now in full election campaigning mode. A major plank in the policies its wonks have seen fit to promote in recent weeks concerns substantial changes in the criminal justice system.
Headline announcements have promised 20,000 more police ‘on the streets’ and 10,000 more prison places. Both are anathema to socialists. Both have been publicised based on groundless myths about how criminal justice operates, which class it benefits, and at which class it is largely directed. Both are lyingly propagandised by the Tories as if they will tackle crime that blights ordinary people’s lives.
Labour Party weakness
It is wholly wrong for Labour leaders to champion increasing numbers of police officers ‘on our streets’. A party that considers itself to be the sole representative of labour, the 80% of the population which is working class, should know better. The police and the other forces of the state are far from being friends of the working class, especially when it is organised.
For nearly 200 years, workers in struggle have understood that the state’s ‘armed bodies of men and women’ are there to ensure victory against the organised might of the majority. From Chartism to trade unionism to socialist, communist, and Marxist parties, workers have learnt the hard way how the class enemy combats them. Police, prisons, troops on the streets: all have been used to batter and suppress legitimate protests of the majority, especially when they become ‘too dangerous’ to the settled capitalist order.
We can nowadays more easily place the UK police forces amongst those ‘armed bodies’, given their growing use of firearms, riot shields, and body armour. Bourgeois leaders, always happy to place troops’ and others’ lives on the line, learned a lot in the Six Counties about how to attack civilians as a means of terrorising the majority. The lessons learned there are doubtless taught in Hendon Police College and Sandhurst to this day.
Labour has to take a stand for democratising the police and armed forces. Immediately, this must include a demand for the right of all ranks to form trade unions, to strike, and to elect their officers. But in the longer term we should aim for these forces to be abolished and replaced with organisations comprising all adult members of society serving on a rotational basis. It should also be Labour policy to abolish MI5, MI6, GCHQ, and all of the spooks’ deadly anti-working class apparatus.
The ‘sensitive’ Operation Yellowhammer report exposé (‘Operation Chaos: Whitehall’s secret no-deal Brexit preparations leaked’ The Sunday Times 18 August 2019) serves as a chilling reminder of what is in store for the bulk of the UK’s population. Quite apart from a hard border between the 26 Counties ruled from Dublin and the Six Counties of Northern Ireland, the report also shows why Johnson’s extreme rightwing Tory government intends to increase police numbers.
Pointing to likely shortages of fuel, food, and medicines, Yellowhammer mentions, for example, 2,000 probable job losses from oil refinery closures and consequent strike action, as well as generalised protests across the country against our rulers’ Brexit failures. This, it says, could ‘require significant amounts of police resources.’ Very good reasons in ruling class eyes, therefore, to increase police numbers and prison cells. Class war is waged by the ruling class incessantly: the class that the Labour Party represents will be on the receiving end of beefed up means to try to suppress it unless we do something about it. That means uniting and organising with a will to combat our enemy, not fooling ourselves about the true nature of its police and armed forces.
Socialists must consider the broader whole. We aim for a socialist world, but the programme for achieving it needs heft. This is provided by fighting for democratic gains in the here and now, but as extreme democrats, keeping our socialist goal in mind. Certainly, our democratic stance includes raising fundamental questions about so-called law and order.
Further articles in this series will flesh out other important aspects of these questions.