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As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.
- Abraham Lincoln



Republicanism, the State, the Police and Marxism?

Davy Carlin

In the past few weeks differing aligned republicans have raised the issue of Marxism with myself - all coming from the view of its supposed irrelevancy within the context of communities such as West Belfast. This contribution will deal with such perceptions combined with issues of immediate relevancy within working class areas such as policing. All of which though will come from the starting point of my understanding and interpretation of Marx.

Marxism has long been followed and espoused by persons and groups within the 'republican family' yet many republicans have and do see such ideas as abstract or to be treated with contempt. The tendency of some who follow the Marxist tradition has been to base their understanding and commitment on solely intellectual and academic theory thus alienating themselves practically from the real base for change as defined by Marx.

Marxism should not only be the study, observation and understanding of societies its peoples and its economics through intellectualism, but should also be combined with practical politics which relates to the working class and its organizations. Therefore my belief is that Marxism as theory without Marxism in action will always give rise to the perception of Marxism as abstract. The recent ICTU rallies saw those who follow such ideas argue within their unions with others to put those ideas into practice thus the base was in the lead for support and momentum for the anti-sectarian demonstrations. This then is how Marxism and Marxists can be relevant in modern society.

So then what is to be said about the issue of policing? Many editorials recently have urged the joining of the policing board as a part resolution to the spiral of violence. Yet such expediency and attempted legitimisation of these boards has shown its powerlessness during recent allegations and localized instabilities. The police have constantly voiced their concerns of being 'caught in the middle' in such instabilities. Yet this is an attempt to portray themselves as neutral and as the protectors for wider society. This is an important strategy given that the perception is for wider society’s interests to be protected through neutral authority against an unwelcome minority – which is merely laying the basis if needed for repression. So the police therefore are not only an authority within the state but also an extension of it.

As the state and police are necessitated by each other fundamental reform then set within their agenda would be impossible as it would not only run completely counter to their political mindset but to the interest of the overall state machinery. Such mindset can be shown in an autobiography From Insult to Injury written by retired RUC chief inspector Ivan F Ducan where such institutionalized perceptions and beliefs can be shown to prevail. The book shows the attitude of police officers’ responses to 'certain solicitors' who had alleged connections with the IRA and how they were not to be trusted. Then it shows their 'accountable and lawful' attitudes to upholding the law: quote - 'it was hard not to have sympathy for a police officer who sometimes went over the top in his enthusiasm'. So fellow investigating officers ensured a sympathetic light was always shown towards such officers. So with this mindset held in supposedly 'accountable' officers we can have an educated and realistic understanding of the position of those answerable only to themselves.

In reality then, from the top down fundamental reform of the police will not be changed on such boards as how far and how much reform will depend on the circumstances or the threat perceived against the state through their own definitions. The Scarman report after the Brixton riots in 1981 had a number of thoughts to the attitude of a community towards the police and it makes interesting reading.

Firstly to 'promise' to deal with the socio-economic deprivation in the said areas, to attempt to recruit more officers from such areas with widespread usage of media propaganda, to develop the black middle classes and its affiliated organizations as a barrier against working class anger and interests, to attempt to bring on working class representation as attempted legitimisation, to go into the communities of concern, their schools, public workplaces etc and to 'work' with those in the said community towards normalization and neutrality of 'community policing'. All sound very familiar per chance? Twenty years on - the deprivation still resides in Brixton. The police actions on the street have not changed. Alienation leads still to confrontations which is exploited still by sinister elements. Little if anything has changed.

As a revolutionary socialist I believe the state thus the police cannot be reformed but I also believe in the here and now and not to be abstract in practicalities. So I believe presently that the starting point with policing should be in the context of the understanding of the police and the establishment rather than their definition of policing for and within society. So looking within both the perceived 'police neutrality' to wider society and the establishment’s mindset, we can in fact at times use this collectively for limited change. Where such steps have been achieved it has been when they have been held to account and forced, through that agenda of wider consensus, to be accountable.

The name of Stephen Lawrence is recognizable as it challenged not only the police but so also the institutionalised mindset of both them and the establishment through the unity and consensus of wider society. The Stephen Lawrence campaign was discussed and carried widely within the unions who helped not only bring awareness to wider society but help mobilize tens of thousands onto the streets for basic rights. The police and the establishment did everything possible to avoid change or responsibility - yet organised unity for a common goal produced some limited results within the system.

In the North this lack of stance on issues of importance by many unions needs to be broken down. The 'non political rallies' against sectarianism as defined by the establishment has given a small step to union branches to begin to address difficult issues with branches already beginning to discuss topics such as the ombudsman's report and the role of the police. We should welcome and develop such open discussion in the interest of moving forward together, as important issues should no longer be isolated within limited definitions, but brought to and circulated within wider society. In conclusion revolutionary socialism like other beliefs needs to adapt to the practicalities of change in the increasing modern world. Yet our thoughts though will remain unchanged to how to achieve a society for equality and peace, - that the emancipation of the working class is and will be the act of that class.




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