In this second edition in my series of articles about Criminology concepts in a Socialist context I will discuss the concept of a Socialist Police Force. What would that look like? What would the main aim be? How can trust between the community and the police be guaranteed? Would racism, sexism and trans/homophobia within the police be a thing from the past? To answer these questions I will first unpick the concepts mentioned in this title.
By Socialism I mean socialism as a system in society in which the working class is in control of the means of production, the economy is planned democratically to the need of the people instead of profit, and overall a Marxist approach is applied. In this sense the term ‘police force‘ means a democratically accountable organisation which defends and safeguards the interests of the working class within a socialist society.
To move from the situation now towards a socialist police force we in the Socialist Party would argue for a transitional programme which would only come to the fore when the working class take steps towards that direction. Conditions for that to happen have to emerge through struggle, in which working class people will develop consciousness and confidence that through collective action and organisation victories can be won. But those victories can only be permanent through a socialist transformation of society. To quote the article in the last link above:
“If the working class is to preserve the economic gains and the democratic rights that it has wrested from the capitalists in the past, it must carry through the socialist transformation of society. Past gains cannot be preserved indefinitely within the rotten framework of a crisis-ridden capitalism. In transforming society, it is utopian to think that the existing apparatus of the capitalist state can be taken over and adapted by the working class. In a fundamental change of society, all the existing institutions of the state will be shattered and replaced by new organs of power under the democratic control of the working class. While basing itself on the perspective of the socialist transformation of society, however, the labour movement must advance a programme which includes policies which come to grips with the immediate problems posed by the role of the police” (The State.., 1983, pp53-54) as cited in Marxism and the State: an exchange (2006).
So, what would such a police force look like? Well, it would be acting in the interests of the working class, and be accountable to the working class. Officers would be subject to immediate recall and accountable to a democratically formed workers committee with its base firmly in the trade union movement. But as the conditions of most people will have dramatically changed for the better in a socialist society, over time crime will dramatically change and possibly even disappear. A lot of crime happens as a result of poverty, desperation, unemployment, and inequalities in society. Over generations this can improve dramatically when society turns its attention to the problems causing it. Also the legislation will change as we start to evaluate our values and start to focus on the improvement of health and wellbeing of everyone, as opposed to the all consuming pressure of chasing profit for the few.
I think the police will be tasked with the protection and defence of those values and the working class as a whole from counter attacks by people clinging on to capitalism, and other threats to the socialist state. Trust from the community in the police can only be guaranteed when the police is directly accountable to the community and subject to immediate recall. The community has to guide and lead by debating and making decisions regarding the police’s actions through a dedicated democratically elected committee. Every workplace, so also the police force, will be organised by the workers, so in this case police officers will be in a officers committee who are then accountable to a community committee. But the officers committee would have to defend their rights at work, and make decisions about the work they do and will be part of a national trade union, like every other trade or profession will be.
Within the police force debates will take place about problems and crime and how best to deal with them. I would think this has to happen in cooperation with many other organisations like mental health care, social care, schools, neighbourhood committees etc. and as a lot of legislation will have to change, a larger debate in the whole of society needs to take place. Questions will arise like ‘what is crime’, and how to deal with ‘criminals’. Criminologists will play an important role in this debate and I think society should ask itself, is the penal system as it is today effective and leading to positive outcomes for society?
I think the answer is that it is not effective. There is a whole array of evidence to prove that. I would go as far as to say that a lot of crime happens because of the capitalist system, and that even the penal system is used to make profit (A big part of the US penal system is privatised). I think the whole penal system has to be scrapped and a debate has to take place on how and with what to replace it. The answer is probably a whole cocktail of different approaches, and a lot of additional research needs to be done. Obviously it is not a good idea to just release all prisoners and demolish all prisons. So here also the Transitional Programme will have to play an important role.
But going back to the police force, how do we create a force that is not riddled with racism, sexism and trans/homophobia? In a socialist society any form of discrimination will be fought and the rights of minority groups of any kind will be protected. Malcolm X said : “You can’t have capitalism without racism”. That is because capitalism is build on divisions and individualism. Socialism is build on collectives, sharing and communities. So the very essence of socialism will counter racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.
I personally think that socialism is build on the idea that we are as strong as the weakest link, so it’s very important to look after the most vulnerable in society because the stronger they are, the stronger we are as a whole. Another great slogan I love is ‘One for all, all for one’, which points to a similar idea. Maybe serving in the police in a socialist society should be rotated, so the majority of people have a turn to work in it and help shape it, or maybe alongside a permanent core.
In conclusion I think the society would look very different under a socialism and the police would change with it. Undoubtedly a lot of actions and crimes today would not exist in that case and racism, sexism and other forms of oppression will not be tolerated, and in time hopefully disappear. As under socialism the police would be run by and for the working class, and be accountable to it, it would transform to an organisation working towards a very positive and supporting role. I think it would strengthen the foundations of society and protect it from capitalist and other ideological threats, making it a much safer place to live in than the world is today.