Arming of the Popular Masses or Reforming the Police?


A discussion of strategies like “Defund the Police”, “Community Control over the Police” and “Autonomous Zones” in the context of the current popular uprising in the U.S.


By Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 19 June 2020,








Brief summary of our assessment of the current situation in the U.S.


Growing mistrust against the militarized police


Proposals for reforming the police


Marxism and the capitalist police


Are police workers in uniform”?


Armed self-defense guards controlled by popular assemblies


Should socialists support “defunding the police”?


Should socialists call for “community control of the police”?


Is creating “Autonomous Zones” the way forward?


Revolutionary Tactics





In the following essay we will discuss some key issues of the current popular uprising in the U.S. against racism and police violence. In particular we will deal with the question of the character of the capitalist police and if it can be reformed. Following from this, we will discuss several questions of strategy and tactic which are crucial for the struggle against the capitalist state apparatus.


The Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) defends the Marxist position that the capitalist police are an organic part of the class society and, hence, that it can not be reformed. This does not mean that socialists should take an indifferent position on demands which call for concrete reforms. But it is a dangerous illusion to believe that there could be police within the capitalist society which does not serve the interests of the ruling class, i.e. which does not oppress the working class and the popular masses. Hence, the strategic goal must not be to advocate the illusion of a non-racist, non-oppressive police in a capitalist society. The task is rather to prepare and organize for the socialist revolution in which the working class and the oppressed will overthrow the bourgeoisie, destroy the repressive state apparatus and open the road towards a classless society.


From this follows the main conclusion that the key task of socialists has to be working towards the creation of mass organs of struggle in order to advance the struggle against the capitalist polity. This is why the RCIT advocates the formation of workers and popular assemblies in workplaces and neighborhoods as well as the creation of armed self-defense guards. It is only such organs under the control of the masses which can defend the interests of the masses. Most importantly, revolutionaries should unite on the basis of a program of action – for the U.S. as well as the international class struggle – and work towards the creation of a revolutionary party.




Brief summary of our assessment of the current situation in the U.S.




The cold-blood murder of George Floyd by the police has provoked an unprecedented mass movement against racism and police violence. Since the end of May, the U.S. is hit by a popular uprising which has spread not only to all major cities but even to small towns and rural areas. These protests show no sign of ebbing, even less so since videos of another killing of a black man, Rayshard Brooks, by the police in Atlanta on 12 June, have become widely known and provoked additional outrage.


These mass protests have met a brutal response by the highly militarized police and President Trump continues threatening to send the army in order to “dominate the streets”, i.e. to smash the popular uprising with brute force. In response, sectors of the movement fight back and in some cases, police buildings and cars have been burnt. There have been also some cases of looting. The popular outrage about police violence is so massive that there have been even a number of incidents where individual members of the police as well as the National Guard showed sympathy with the protests. Reflecting the highly volatile situation, 80% of registered voters say that things are out of control in the U.S. according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. i This is without doubt the largest and most significant mass protest in the U.S. since 1968.


The RCIT has elaborated a number of statements and articles on this inspiring mass movement. ii We concluded that by the end of May, a pre-revolutionary situation has opened up in the U.S. – a situation where the ruling class is deeply divided, the state apparatus fractured and the masses are no longer willing to tolerate the prevailing system of racism and police violence. This uprising has initiated a global wave of protests and is an important strike against the ongoing reactionary offensive of the ruling class under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis. iii


In our documents, we argued for a number of tactics in order to advance the struggle. In particular we emphasized the necessity for the masses:


a) to organize in popular assemblies and committees of action in workplaces, neighborhoods, schools and universities. Such committees should decide about the demands and the course of action. They should also elect delegates so that there can be a regional and national coordination;


b) to build armed self-defense guards in order to defend the communities against the enemy in blue and to drive the police as much as possible out of the communities;


c) to organize a general strike.


In addition, we consider it as important to intensify agitation among police, National Guard members and federal troops so that they refuse order to suppress the protests.


We are fully aware that there exist major obstacles for moving ahead in the struggle. The masses lack political experience and self-organization and, above all, an authentic workers party. In short, what is missing are mass organizations which are independent of any faction of the ruling class. As a result, the working class and the oppressed are dominated by organizations – the AFL-CIO, various community organizations, etc. – which are thoroughly bureaucratized and closely linked with the Democratic Party, one of the two major parties of America’s imperialist bourgeoisie.


Hence, the task of revolutionaries in the U.S. is to help the vanguard of the masses to learn the necessary lessons, to participate in the mass struggles, and to advance the formation of organs of popular self-organization. Most importantly, revolutionaries should advocate the formation of an independent workers party for which they should argue for a program of socialist revolution. In order to effectively sight for such a program, revolutionaries need to unite in an international Marxist organization and operate under a joint discipline. This is what the RCIT is fighting for.




Growing mistrust against the militarized police




A crucial result of the current mass protests is a significant change in the attitude of sectors of the masses towards the police. While there has been traditionally a large public support for the police in the past, this has substantially dropped in the recent past. This is reflected in the huge support for the mass protests which has also lead to a “moral crisis” among a number of police and members of the National Guards.


This process is also confirmed by actual polls. Unlike in the past, the majority of the U.S. population views the police as the major problem and not the “violent protestors”. According to a Morning Consult poll, “55 percent [say] police violence is a bigger problem than violence against the police. Just 30 percent hold the opposite opinion.iv


Another poll found that a majority of voters (51%) think that killings like those of George Floyd “are part of a broader problem”. Much less, 37% of voters, “think these killings are isolated incidents”. v


The same poll found also that “while a plurality of voters (48 percent) reported that the events of the past few days didn’t change their level of trust in the police, those who reported that they now trusted the police less (37 percent) was more than double those who said they now trusted the police more (16 percent).


Related to this is a broad support to create a new non-police first responder agency, like emergency medical services or firefighters, to deal with issues related to addiction or mental illness.


In short, we see that there is a growing recognition among significant sectors of the masses that the problem is not a few “bad cops” but the current system of the police itself.




Proposals for reforming the police




Against such a background of a developing mass consciousness which is critical of the police, some strategies have gained popularity in recent weeks. A particular popular conception is the demand to “defund the police”. This concept, advocated by progressive activists for years, calls local and state administrations to cut law enforcement budgets and to shift resources to funding of vital social and health services.


There are various strategies within this broad concept with some merely opposing police budget increases while others advocating mass reductions. More radical forces advocate full defunding as a step toward abolishing police forces. Some initiatives are tied to the fight to close prisons.


The popular demand to defund the police is a progressive reaction to the extraordinary expansion and militarization of the American police apparatus in past decades. According to data compiled by the Urban Institute, state and local governments spent $115 billion on policing in 2017 – almost a tripling since 1977. vi This is bigger than the military budget of nearly every other country in the world, as an observer noted. vii In a number of major cities, the police budget dwarves those for education, housing, and other crucial services. According to a report from the Center for Popular Democracy published in 2017, the following cities spent a huge share of their general fund budget 2017 to the Police Department: Los Angeles (25.7%), Atlanta (30%), Detroit (30%), Minneapolis (35.8%), Chicago (38.6%), and Oakland (41.2%). viii An actual report indicates that these figures have increased even more since then. Los Angeles’s proposed police budget for 2021 is $1.8 billion — more than half of the city’s total spending for the year. New York City’s annual police budget is a whopping $6 billion, which is more than the city spends on health, homeless services, youth development, and workforce development combined. ix


Furthermore, the U.S. police forces have been massively militarized in the past two decades. Based on the so-called 1033 program, the Pentagon transferred military equipment of over $7.4 billion since the program’s inception in 1997 to more than 8,000 law enforcement agencies. x It is also well known that many police departments are trained by Israeli specialists who transmit their bloody counter-insurgency experience in suppressing the Palestinian people. xi


Related to this, there has been a huge increase of using surveillance technologies – from facial recognition to military-grade drones – to identify and track protesters by local, state and federal law enforcement organizations. “Police use of these national security-style surveillance techniques – justified as cost-effective techniques that avoid human bias and error – has grown hand-in-hand with the increased militarization of law enforcement.” xii


Given these extraordinary figures and the evident brutality of an over-confident police in terrorizing the oppressed masses, it is hardly surprising that people want a reduction of the police funding and a shift towards the social and health sector.


Unsurprisingly, Joe Biden and the whole Democratic establishment reject this demand. xiii The Democratic Party is an integral part of the U.S. ruling class and has always been so. It would be foolish to believe that it is only Trump or the Republican Party which stands for racism and police brutality. xiv Racial inequality, the killing of about 1,000 or more people by the police every year, the extraordinary over-representation of Afro-Americans among the prison population – all this started long before Trump and it will not end with him. It is an inseparable part of capitalism.


Even Bernie Sanders, the progressive figurehead of the bourgeois Democratic Party, does not endorse this slogan. Quite the opposite, demonstrating his pro-capitalist outlook disguised by some socialist phrases, Sanders supports a strong capitalist police. xvI think we want to redefine what police departments do, give them the support they need to make their jobs better defined. So I do believe that we need well-trained, well-educated, and well-paid professionals in police departments. Anyone who thinks that we should abolish all police departments in America, I don’t agree.xvi


Nevertheless, the popular uprising puts enormous pressure on the ruling class – in particular on the local and state level where the mass protests are particularly strong. In Los Angeles, city officials have proposed cutting up to $150 million from the police department’s budget. Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat, promised to use such freed up money “so we can invest in jobs, in health, in education and in healing.xvii New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the city would move funding from the NYPD to youth initiatives and social services without giving details. Julia Salazar, a New York state senator and supporter of the reformist Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) expressed optimism: “To see legislators who aren’t even necessarily on the left supporting at least a significant decrease in New York police department funding is really very encouraging.


The most radical development has taken place in Minneapolis – the city where George Floyd was murdered and where the popular uprising started. In an attempt to pacify the mass protests, a majority of the members of the Minneapolis City Council voted to disband the city’s police department. “It is clear that our system of policing is not keeping our communities safe,” Lisa Bender, the council president, said. “Our efforts at incremental reform have failed, period.” Another city councilmember said in a tweet that the city would “dramatically rethink how we approach public safety and emergency response.xviii We note in passing that a radical step like announcing the dissolution of the Minneapolis Police Department reflects the extremely volatile nature of the current phase – a profound confirmation of the RCIT’s assessment of the present situation as a “pre-revolutionary”.


An important result of the popular uprising is a movement in the education sector to stop collaboration with the police. In recent days, the school board in Minneapolis voted to end its contract with the police department. The University of Minnesota has also pledged to stop working with police. xix Naturally, this is a highly encouraging development as it undermines social control of youth by the repression apparatus.




Marxism and the capitalist police




How should Marxists approach initiatives like the increasingly popular campaign to “defund the police”? In our opinion, one should recognize both the progressive sentiment behind the popular support for this idea as well as the limitations of this campaign.


We need to start with assessing the fundamental character of the police. As everyone knows, police exists in all countries and, historically, have always existed within capitalist class societies. As we have elaborated somewhere else in more detail, the capitalist system of exploitation of the labor force could not exist without a state apparatus ensuring and enforcing the social and political framework conditions. xx


Hence, the state in capitalism is not “neutral” and can not be such. Its purpose and, hence, its whole inner structure is designed according to the necessity to function as an instrument of the ruling class. This is why Karl Marx characterized the role of the state as a “machinery of class domination”. xxi Or to put it in the famous words of Lenin – the leader of the Russian Revolution in 1917: “The state is a special organisation of force: it is an organisation of violence for the suppression of some class.xxii


In other words, the objective role of the capitalist state does not depend on the specific parties and persons in government. As they say, Presidents come and go but the police, the army and the judiciary remain the same. This apparatus is inextricably linked with the capitalist class and particularly its top layer. Just look at the politicians who switch in their careers between political office, business, security and education sector (or who are closely connected via family and friends).


In summary, the capitalist state in the U.S. (as well as in all other imperialist countries) defends the interests of the monopoly bourgeoisie both against its domestic enemies (i.e. the working class and the oppressed) as well as against its foreign enemies (Great Power rivals as well as oppressed people in the Global South). xxiii


It is certainly true that the capitalist state in the U.S. has a brutal history (e.g. the genocide against the Native Americans, slavery and Apartheid against the black minority, it has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, etc.) It is also particularly violent today. In 2015, the British newspaper The Guardian calculated that the police in the U.S. killed more people in the first 24 days of that year than the police of England and Wales, combined, over the past 24 years! xxiv


Likewise, police repression and criminalization is a key instrument of the ruling class in the U.S. to intimidate and control its population. At least 77 million U.S. adults have criminal records, including nearly 7 million currently in prison or jail or on probation or parole. This means that America now houses roughly the same number people with criminal records as it does four-year college graduates. Regardless of race or gender, researchers estimate that by age 23 nearly one in three Americans will have been arrested. xxv


However, it would be wrong to assume that this is some kind of American exceptionalism. Just look to other imperialist states like China (e.g. the barbaric oppression of the Muslim Uyghurs with special concentration camps or the ongoing police violence of the democratic movement in Hong Kong). xxvi Or take Russia where the Chechen people have experienced two wars of extermination in 1994-96 and 1999-2009 and a bloody ongoing occupation since then. xxvii Furthermore, the police and military in Latin America or Africa can hardly be called more “human” than their U.S. colleagues.


It is true that the police in the U.S. kill more people than in Western Europe. But the reason for this is not a particularly trigger-happy mentality of the Americans (just think about the barbarous history of the ruling class in Western Europe marked by colonialism and fascism with myriads of million victims). The reason is rather that the class contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the workers and oppressed in the U.S. is sharper, more explosive and less mitigated by reformist party and union bureaucrats.


The history of the U.S. also demonstrates that the oppressive role of the police, army and judiciary is unimpaired from the personal composition of the local, state or federal government. Centuries of slavery, extermination of Native Americans, strike-breaking operations of the police, military interventions of the U.S. abroad have proven this beyond doubt. Numerous studies on racial inequality in the past decades have also shown that racism is inextricably embedded in capitalism.


To give just one example we refer to a well-known study published by the The Sentencing Project some years ago: “Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. African-American males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males and 2.5 times more likely than Hispanic males. If current trends continue, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can one of every six Latino males—compared to one of every seventeen white males. Racial and ethnic disparities among women are less substantial than among men but remain prevalent.” xxviii


In summary, Marxists characterize the capitalist state as organically repressive and racist in the service of the ruling class. It can not be reformed. It is not a neutral institution where one only needs to remove the “bad cops”. It is by its very nature repressive, anti-people and racist. Hence, it has to be smashed as the Marxist classics have always emphasized in contrast to various reformist ideologues. Lenin, for example, stated: “The proletarian revolution is impossible without the forcible destruction of the bourgeois state machine.xxix


Likewise, it is a fatal illusion to imagine that capitalism could be overcome by peaceful means. Just look how violent the police reacts already now when they are faced with peaceful mass demonstrations which only protest against the cold-blood killing of unarmed black people! What will they do if people demand more, if they want to take wealth from the super-rich in order to ensure decent living conditions for the masses, if they want to disarm the killer cops, and if they want to get rid of a ruling class which oppresses and exploits them?!


History has demonstrated this fundamental truth again and again. The American Revolution 1775-83, the French Revolution 1789-94, the revolutionary crisis in Europe in 1830 and 1848, the Taiping Rebellion in China 1851-64, the American civil war 1861-65, the Paris Commune in 1871, the Russian Revolutions in 1905 and 1917, the liberation of Latin America from the Spanish conquistadors, the anti-colonial struggle of the African and Asian peoples against the imperialist occupiers, etc. – no real progress has ever been achieved without a violent struggle of the oppressed against the oppressor!


It is only revisionist pseudo-Marxism – like the Stalinists, left social democrats or some self-proclaimed Trotskyists (e.g. CWI, ISA, IMT, etc.) – which preaches that a peaceful transformation to socialism would be possible. Ignoring the fundamental and irreversible class character of the state, these ideologues claim that the parliament and other institution of the bourgeois state apparatus could be utilized for the socialist transformation. Alan Woods, for example, the leading theoretician of the “International Marxist Tendency”, claims: „A peaceful transformation of society would be entirely possible if the trade union and reformist leaders were prepared to use the colossal power in their hands to change society.“ xxx This is even more so because, according to Woods, bourgeois institutions of the capitalist state could become instruments of socialist transformation. Hence, in the dream world of the IMT, a revolution could even take place via parliamentary elections! “Under these circumstances, there is not the slightest question, not only that the revolution in Portugal could have been carried out peacefully, but that it could have been done through parliament.” xxxi


In contrast, the RCIT defends the classic position of Marxism that a socialist transformation is only possible if the working class arms itself and smashes the bourgeois state machinery in a violent revolution. Or to put it in the words of Lenin: “The supersession of the bourgeois state by the proletarian state is impossible without a violent revolution.“ xxxii


For these reasons we also reject the petty-bourgeois pacifist position opposing the people’s right to bear arms. This right – the so-called Second Amendment of the US Constitution – states that "a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Naturally, self-defence guards based on popular assemblies have the responsibility to make sure that reactionary muddleheads and violent wackos don’t possess any arms. But the pacifists’ opposition simply means that the police – i.e. the armed thugs of the ruling class – have the monopoly of force. And such a monopoly would be highly disadvantageous for the liberation struggle of the workers and oppressed.




Are police workers in uniform”?




Related to the assessment of the bourgeois state apparatus is the question of the class character of the police. In contrast to Marxists, various reformist and centrist tendencies consider the police as “workers in uniform”. As a consequence, these forces support demands improving the material conditions of the police (i.e. making them more effective). Likewise, they argue that trade unions of the repression apparatus (e.g. police, prison guards, army, etc.) should be part of the labor movement. As the quote above shows Bernie Sanders supports such demands for “well-paid police”. So does the DSA. The same is true for various pseudo-Trotskyist organizations like Socialist Alternative (SAlt) with Seattle City Councilor Kshama Sawant as its highest profile public representative (it is the largest section of the International Socialist Alternative, which split from the CWI in summer 2019), the Independent Socialist Group (the U.S. section of the Britain-based CWI led by Peter Taffee) or the LIT-CI (whose most prominent section is the PSTU in Brazil).


Marxists strongly refuse the idea that police would be “workers in uniform”. The only purpose of the police is to control and oppress the working class and popular masses. Neither of them directly or indirectly creates or distributes value in any form. They are paid parasites and thugs of capitalism, i.e. anti-proletarian forces. They are part of the middle layers and not of the working class. It doesn’t matter if a police man or woman initially comes from the working class. Not the past but the present and the foreseeable future are decisive for the character of such forces. This is why the RCIT considers the idea that police would be ”workers in uniform” as ridiculous and dangerous. Trotsky once rightly commented: “The fact that the police was originally recruited in large numbers from among Social Democratic workers is absolutely meaningless. Consciousness is determined by environment even in this instance. The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker. Of late years these policemen have had to do much more fighting with revolutionary workers than with Nazi students. Such training does not fail to leave its effects. And above all: every policeman knows that though governments may change, the police remain.” xxxiii


This is not a purely theoretical difference but has profound practical consequences. Revolutionaries strive to weaken the repressive apparatus. They do not support it and they don’t try to strengthen it. Strengthening the police only means strengthening the machinery which controls and kills black and other oppressed people. Of course, when there are signs that police or soldiers refuse to suppress the popular masses, we are not indifferent but welcome – and try to support – such developments. In fact, we have seen such developments in a number of cities in the course of the current uprising. Fraternization with police or soldiers when they are willing to oppose anti-people violence is legitimate and useful. But as long as the police carry out the instructions by their commanders – which is always the case outside of revolutionary upheavals – they are an enemy of the working class and the oppressed.


Hence, revolutionaries also strongly oppose the presence of police, prison guards, or army unions in the ranks of the workers movement. These are reactionary forces as can be seen when such unions defend the “rights” of killer cops. Hence, the RCIT calls for the immediate expulsion of police, prison guards, or army unions from the AFL-CIO or any other trade union federation. Likewise, we refuse to support demands for higher wages, better equipment, etc. for the police.


Shamefully, various reformists and centrists advocate a pro-police line. The long-time leader of the Austin (Texas) branch of the DSA, was for years an organizer for a cop “union,” the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT). CLEAT is Texas’s largest police union which represents 21,000 cops. xxxiv SAlt’s Kshama Sawant voted in 2018 on the Seattle city council to confirm the new police chief Carmen Best. xxxv The Socialist Party, the CWI’s leading section in England & Wales, has proudly announced for years that Brian Caton, the general secretary of POA – Britain’s prison guards’ “trade union” – is one of its members. xxxvi




Armed self-defense guards controlled by popular assemblies




Starting from the Marxist assessment of the bourgeois state in general and its police in particular socialists must have no illusion in a peaceful transformation of capitalism or the possibility to reform the police. Only a socialist revolution via the armed insurrection of the working class and the oppressed will create a classless society without racism and police violence. Hence, the strategy of revolutionaries is focused not on illusionary hopes of a non-racist and non-violent police but rather on building mass organizations based in workplaces and neighborhoods which are capable to fight against the bosses and their police.


In fact, the oppressed have always spontaneously strived towards organizing and arming themselves when they rose up against the rulers. This has been the case in all revolutionary upheavals. In the U.S. itself the uprising of the black people in the 1960s resulted in the formation of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.


The task of revolutionaries is to explain the masses the necessity of building such popular assemblies and armed self-defense guards and to help them in the formation of such wherever it is possible. Socialists should agitate that the masses should not hope that “others“ – “good” establishment politicians, “good” cops, etc. – safe them but that they must rely only on their own efforts. As the old saying goes: “God helps those who help themselves”. The workers and oppressed can only advance their interests if they organize and fight themselves.


How could such a work start? It can begin with calling an assembly in a workplace, in a residential block or in a neighborhood. When progressive forces exist on the ground – a militant shop steward, a trade union branch, a local community organization, even a popular pastor, imam or rabbi – revolutionaries should approach them and ask them to help in organizing such initiatives. If such forces are not available, revolutionaries have to try without them. It can start with a single meeting and the plan to launch some activities – a local march, holding a public meeting, organizing a patrol in the neighborhood, etc. If possible, such meetings should become regularly (depending on the circumstances and possibilities every day or every week) and result in the formation of a committee of action which organizes local work systematically.


Arming the masses can start with small steps. Organizing patrols with clubs can be a beginning. Such activities must be done not as a militaristic project imposed on the local population. It must be rather based on popular support. In fact, it can only exist if it has popular support since any such initiative will meet hostile response from local authorities and police who fear that their monopoly of power is put into question.


Revolutionaries must not have any contempt for local, limited activities. However, they must not be seen as a goal in itself. They are rather part of a larger project. Hence, revolutionaries need to combine such concrete activities with systematic agitation and propaganda in order to explain the masses the need to organize and to win them for a socialist program of mass struggle. Involvement in local activities and political agitation can and should be combined in that sense that the “small projects” in which revolutionaries are involved serve as a practical example of the revolutionary strategy.


Revolutionaries should strive to unite the most consciousness activists in a single organization based on a socialist program. This is particularly urgent since the struggle for socialist revolution can not be won within a day or even a year. It is rather a long-term project and it can only succeed if the vanguard of the working class and the oppressed is organized in a revolutionary party – nationally and internationally – which fights on the basis of a common program and discipline.


As we said above, revolutionaries must not look with contempt to “small projects” or to the struggle for reforms. However, such reforms and projects are subordinated to the strategic goal – raising the consciousness of the masses and organizing them for the revolutionary struggle. Only those “small projects” and reforms are legitimate which serve this goal. Those “small projects” and reforms which rather undermine the self-organization of the masses or which rather confuse and regress their consciousness are illegitimate and don’t deserve the support of Marxists. Let us now turn to discuss what this means concretely.



Should socialists support “defunding the police”?




The slogan “defund the police” is gaining widespread support among progressive forces. As we said above it reflects a progressive desire among many activists. The DSA puts at the centre of its current campaigning demands: “Defund the police. Fund healthcare, unemployment benefits and PPE.xxxvii The left-wing magazine Jacobin also supports the demand to “defund the police” and calls Bernie Sanders to “be an excellent spokesperson (…) for the demand to cut police spending and increase social spending.xxxviii


Kshama Sawant’s Socialist Alternative (SAlt) also supports this slogan. Its branch in Minnesota, with Minneapolis at the state’s capital, calls for cutting the “MPD’s budget by half”. “Defund MPD — Community control over public safety — Tax the rich to invest in green jobs, social programs, public education, and permanently affordable social housing. Cut MPD’s budget by half. Fund alternative emergency response methods and hire workers in mental health services, additional specialists, and social workers — well paid with the right to a union.xxxix


We in the RCIT believe that revolutionaries should deal cautiously and concretely with the issues related with such campaigns. First, it is urgent to warn against any illusion that it would be possible to transform the capitalist police into a non-racist and non-violent force. Neither budget cuts nor the change of personal can achieve this.


Secondly, it is important to point out that even if the budget of the police is cut, it still has a huge amount of money and weaponry. In other words, it remains a highly dangerous and deadly enemy. Hence, the working class and oppressed needs to organize and arm themselves instead of hoping for a “reformed”, “better” police.


Thirdly, as Max Rameau and Netfa Freeman from the Black Agenda Report correctly warn, less police does not necessarily mean less repressive forces. In a recently published article, they refer to the experience of South Africa where the ruling elite increasingly relies on private security firms in order to defend their power and wealth. “South Africa is a modern capitalist country that is mostly post-industrial and features pockets of development that mirror the wealthiest western nations. Yet, the government there does not spend anywhere near the amount of resources on police as the United States. So how do upscale malls, financial districts, wealthy white neighborhoods and other configurations of the ruling class protect themselves from the majority of residents living in poverty? They hire private security firms to enforce the rules of the establishment -- not the laws of the province or country.xl


It is worth pointing out that the private security sector is also thriving high in the U.S. and other countries. In many semi-colonial countries it is the army which is strongly involved in keeping domestic security in the interest of the ruling class as we could see during the global wave of reactionary lockdowns. xli


Finally, it reflects an utter reformist and pacifist outlook if organizations like SAlt call for “defunding” or even the “dismantling” the police but, at the same time, they don’t raise a single word about the necessity to build armed self-defense guards. Being silent on this issue can only create the illusion among the masses that there would be an objective necessity for the existence of an (“improved”) capitalist police.


Our criticism does not mean that socialists should ignore the progressive potential behind the slogan “defund the police”. Any reduction of the police budget is to be welcome as it weakens and undermines the armed enemy of the working class and the oppressed. However, this must not mislead revolutionaries to spread any illusions that this would be a way towards a “better, more trustworthy” police. Neither must it mislead revolutionaries to vote for a police budget or to support any police commander (as SAlt’s Kshama Sawant did). It is in contradiction to the principles of socialism to vote for any budget of the police or the army. This has been always of the workers movement as it is expressed in the famous slogan: “Not One Man! Not One Penny!




Should socialists call for “community control of the police”?




Another popular slogan among some community organizations is the call for “community control of the police”. Where this slogan is raised by black activists, it often reflects a progressive mistrust in the police and a desire to get things under popular control. While we think that this slogan is mistaken, we understand and respect the motivation of black community organizations raising it.


We can not say the same about self-proclaimed “Trotskyist” organizations – like the CWI, the ISA (see e.g. the SAlt quote above), or the IMT – which have raised similar slogans since many years. These people claim adherence to the principles of Marxism or even Trotskyists and pretend to have learned the lessons of two centuries of international class struggles. They have no excuse for such reformist nonsense.


The RCIT rejects the slogan for “community control of the police” because it creates the illusion that the capitalist police could be brought under the control of the people. This, however, is not possible and a contradiction in itself. The police are paid by the capitalist state, their commanders are appointed by the ruling class, and they are dominated by a cadre trained for many years in a bourgeois and racist outlook. You can not “control” a tiger to live as a vegetarian. Neither can you “control” the police to act as a pro-people’s force.


The way forward is not to put illusionary and misleading slogans like controlling an institution which is not controllable but to advocate the formation of our own armed institutions – self-defense guards which are appointed and controlled by popular assemblies. Of course, every police man and woman is welcome in such self-defense guards if they break with the Police Department, if they have not committed crimes against the people, if they have gained the people’s trust and if they agree to serve under the discipline of such popular guards. However, it is highly likely that such cases will be rather the exception. More importantly, we totally reject the dangerous illusion that the capitalist police as an institution can serve the people at any time or under any condition. No, revolutionaries can not call for “control” of the bourgeois repression apparatus but must rather call for smashing it.




Is creating “Autonomous Zones” the way forward?




Another project which has gained national attention is the creation of so-called “autonomous zones”. In Seattle, the police was forced to disband a police precinct building in the Capitol Hill after days of heavy street fighting with brutal police attacks against demonstrators. As a result, protesters took over control of several blocks and created the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” – a barricaded zone without presence of police. Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best described the retreat of the police as an exercise in “trust and de-escalation.” xlii


This move has provoked hysteric reactions by President Trump who denounced the demonstrators as "ugly Anarchists" and "domestic terrorists". He called the governor of Washington and the mayor of Seattle to "take back" the zone and threatened "Take back your city NOW. If you don't do it, I will." To this, Seattle's mayor pointedly replied by telling Trump to "go back to your bunker". xliii


With certain similarities to the Zuccotti Park encampment during the Occupy Wall Street protests in autumn 2011, protesters have set up autonomous self-government structures in the area with offering free water, hand sanitizer, face masks, food and other supplies. There are teach-ins, street art installations and other activities.


It is certainly a very welcomed development if protestors succeed in expelling the police from certain areas. Such self-governing zones can serve as a point to organize and to educate for the struggle. The RCIT strongly supports this achievement and calls to defend it against any attack by the police or right-wing provocateurs.


However, we also warn against any illusionary concept of creating a long-term “left-wing island” within the capitalist world. It would be utterly wrong to view the CHAZ as anything else but a temporary area which provides better conditions to organize and educate. It is not and it can not be a sustainable achievement. Hence, we criticize any conception – advocated by anarchists or other forces – as utopian which orientates on building an alternative society within a few blocks. xliv Such an approach only serves to focus the work of activists to a small area isolated from the popular masses. In contrast, revolutionaries advocate that activists do not isolate themselves from the masses but rather work and live among them. We say to the activists: “Organize and fight in the workplaces and neighborhoods of the popular masses. Do not leave the work among them by transferring the focus of your work to small, isolated ‘liberated areas’.




Revolutionary Tactics




As we have said above, the RCIT urges revolutionaries not to neglect the struggle for reforms. However, the focus of work must be to organize and mobilize the masses to build organs of self-organizations – popular assemblies and committees of action in workplaces, neighborhoods, schools and universities as well as armed self-defense guards. Likewise, it is important to organize agitation among members of the police and the National Guard so that they refuse orders to suppress the protests.


It is urgent to resist against the attempts of the reformist forces like Bernie Sanders to divert the focus of the movement away from the street and towards the elections in November. This is the usual strategy of “progressive” Democrats who want to gain seats so that they can be part of the game of bourgeois politics. While revolutionaries do not refuse in principle to stand at elections in order to reach a wider audience for socialist ideas, they must never support bourgeois politicians (like those of the Democratic Party). xlv Neither can they support shifting the focus from the mass mobilizations towards bourgeois electoral politics. The task is not to replace Trump by Biden but rather to overthrow the Trump Administration by a general strike and a popular uprising so that the road is open for the formation of a workers government.


Having said all this, this does not mean that we underestimate the importance of fighting for concrete reforms. Socialists should support all demands which weaken the police and which serve the working class and oppressed in advancing their independent organizations. In contrast, all demands which politically hamper and confuse the popular masses need to be opposed by revolutionaries.


The RCIT calls to review all old cases which brought Afro-Americans in prison. These cases must be reviewed by popular tribunals whose members are elected by the masses, first and foremost members of the black community. We demand the same for all cases of police violence or murder against black, Latino, etc. people and, in general, those from the popular masses.


All prisoners, in particular from ethnic minorities, who have been incarnated for petty crimes (drug abuse, theft, etc.) should be immediately pardoned and released. Naturally, this would not include sexual offenders.


We also call for the immediate release of and drop of charges against more than 10,000 activists who have been arrested until now during the ongoing popular uprising since late May.


We support all demands which put limits – or at least make it more difficult – for the police to brutally attack the workers and oppressed. Hence we support bills to ban police from using chemical weapons and chokeholds. At the same time we warn that even if such bills would be adopted, police would often ignore and break such law. Likewise we strongly support that schools, universities and other institutions stop collaboration with police.


We also advocate the immediate expulsion of all police, prison guards and army unions from the AFL-CIO.


The RCIT proposes to combine such a program of action with social and health demands. In order to fight rising unemployment and poverty, we advocate a public employment program financed by taxes on the super-rich. Likewise, we call for the nationalization of corporations under workers control and without compensation. xlvi


Against the assault on democratic rights we put forward demands against the lockdown, against the suppression of the right to assemble and demonstrate, against emergency powers for police and army, against the build-up of surveillance, etc.


And in order to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, we demand free mass testing, quarantine for those infected and free access to hospitals for severe cases, the expansion of the public health sector under workers control, an international program of cooperation in order to develop a vaccine, the expropriation of the pharmaceutical industry under workers control, etc. xlvii


Likewise, the struggle against the dramatic economic attacks must have at its center a set of demands against sacking, the worsening of the labor conditions and wage cuts, for the expropriation of corporations under workers control, for a public employment program financed by taxes on the super-rich, etc.


These are some of the most important demands in the current situation. While each and every of these demands is progressive and should be raised, they are part of a comprehensive Transitional Program which aims at the expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the nationalization of banks and corporations under workers control, the overthrow of the capitalist state by an armed uprising of the workers and popular masses and its replacement by a workers and popular government based on action councils of the masses, etc.


Such a program can not and will not be realized spontaneously. It needs an organization of like-minded and dedicated activists, a revolutionary party, which fights for it. The RCIT calls activists who broadly share our outlook to unite with us so that jointly build a revolutionary party in the U.S. and international. Such a Revolutionary World Party will fight for the overthrow of the capitalist exploiter system. It will be free from all opportunistic trends among the so-called left, like support for state bonapartism (e.g. the Lockdown policy) and reactionary support for any imperialist Great Powers (e.g. China, Russia, EU). We appeal to all comrades to join the RCIT in working for such a historic task!


i Mark Murray: Poll: 80 percent of voters say things are out of control in the U.S., 7 June 2020,


ii The RCIT has published several statements and articles on the popular uprising in the U.S. since its beginning. USA: Justice for George Floyd! Workers and youth of all color: unite in struggle! For self-defense committees against the police! Organize a general strike now! 30 May 2020,; A Pre-Revolutionary Situation Has Opened Up in the U.S., 31 May 2020,; United States: Is a Bloody Counterrevolution Looming? For a general strike and self-defense committee to defend the popular uprising against a police-military crackdown! 2 June 2020,; Why We Speak about a Pre-Revolutionary Situation in the U.S., 4 June 2020,; Report (with Video): Black Lives Matter Demonstration in San Francisco, 7 June 2020,

See on this the compilation of RCIT documents on the popular uprising in the U.S. which can be found on this sub-page of our website:


iii RCIT: The Global Popular Uprising against Racism and Police Violence. This is a turning point ending the global counterrevolutionary situation. But workers and oppressed need to prepare for an ongoing reactionary offensive of the ruling class!, 8 June 2020, The RCIT has analyzed the COVID-19 crisis extensively since its beginning. Starting from 2 February we have published nearly four dozen documents which are all collected at a special sub-page in our website: In particular we refer readers to the RCIT Manifesto: COVID-19: A Cover for a Major Global Counterrevolutionary Offensive. We are at a turning point in the world situation as the ruling classes provoke a war-like atmosphere in order to legitimize the build-up of chauvinist state-bonapartist regimes, 21 March 2020, See also the new book by Michael Pröbsting: The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution: What It Is and How to Fight It. A Marxist analysis and strategy for the revolutionary struggle, RCIT Books, April 2020,


iv Chris Walker: Majority of Americans Support Uprisings, Disagree With Trump, Poll Finds, Truthout June 2, 2020


v Ethan Winter, Charlotte Swasey and Jason Ganz: Voters Support Protests, Have Lost Trust In Police, 6 June 2020,



vii Amanda Arnold: What Exactly Does It Mean to Defund the Police? 2020-06-12,


viii See Center for Popular Democracy: Freedom to Thrive: Reimagining Safety & Security in Our Communities, 2017


ix Amanda Arnold: What Exactly Does It Mean to Defund the Police? 12 June 2020,


x Brian Barrett: The Pentagon’s Hand-Me-Downs Helped Militarize Police. Here’s How, 2 June 2020,


xi Nada Elia: Defund the police: We need an alternative to the racist US system, Middle East Eye, 10 June 2020,; Ramzy Baroud: The ‘Palestinian Chair’: Israel’s direct role in US police violence, Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC), Brief No. 9/2020, 18 June 2020


xii Andrew Guthrie Ferguson: Drones and Protesters: How High-Tech Surveillance Amplifies Police Bias and Overreach, The Conversation, 13 June 2020,


xiii Steve Peoples, Alan Fram and Jonathan Lemire: Key Democrats spurn push to defund police amid Trump attacks, 2020-06-10


xiv See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: The Meaning, Consequences and Lessons of Trump‘s Victory. On the Lessons of the US Presidential Election Outcome and the Perspectives for the Domestic and International Class Struggle, 24.November 2016,


xv See on this e.g. the following articles of the RCIT: Yossi Schwartz: United States: The Need for a Labor Party, 23 July 2019,; Yossi Schwartz: Once Again: Opportunism of US Left Exposed. An Analysis of the US 2016 Elections Campaign, 14 August 2016,; Yossi Schwarz: Why Not to Vote for the Democratic Party in the Forthcoming US Elections or at any other time, 2.3.2016,; see also chapter “Deep domestic political crisis in the U.S.” in RCIT: World Perspectives 2020: A Pre-Revolutionary Global Situation. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, 8 February 2020,


xvi Andrew Marantz: Bernie Sanders Is Not Done Fighting. The senator on the protests, his phone calls with Joe Biden, and when to compromise, June 9, 2020,


xvii Jonathan Allen, Trevor Hunnicutt: Explainer: U.S. protesters call to 'Defund the Police.' What would that look like? Reuters, 5 June 2020,


xviii Michael Balsamo: When protesters cry ‘defund the police,’ what does it mean? 2020-06-08


xix Sam Levin: Movement to defund police gains 'unprecedented' support across US, 4 June 2020,


xx See on this e.g. chapter III of the above mentioned book by Michael Pröbsting: The COVID-19 Global Counterrevolution: What It Is and How to Fight; see also by the same author: Britain: The left and the August Uprising, 1 September 2011,


xxi Karl Marx: Drafts of The Civil War in France, in: MECW, Vol. 24, p. 486


xxii V. I. Lenin: The State and Revolution. The Marxist Theory of the State and the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Revolution; in: CW Vol. 25, p. 407


xxiii See on this e.g. the following two books by Michael Pröbsting which can be read online or downloaded as a PDF for free: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, January 2019,; The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, RCIT Books, Vienna 2013,


xxiv Jamiles Lartey: By the numbers: US police kill more in days than other countries do in years, The Guardian, 9 June 2015,


xxv Matthew Friedman: Just Facts: As Many Americans Have Criminal Records as College Diplomas, 17 November 2015,; Cynthia A. Golembeski: Being convicted of a crime has thousands of consequences besides incarceration – and some last a lifetime, The Conversation 18 June 2020,


xxvi See on this e.g. the latest RCIT statement: China / Hong Kong: Down with the National Security Law! Organize and mobilize against the looming counter-revolutionary onslaught by the Stalinist-Capitalist regime! 23 May 2020,; on the Muslim Uyghurs see e.g. Michael Pröbsting: China: Defend the Muslim Uyghurs against Oppression! 18.10.2018,


xxvii See on this e.g. Where does the RCIT Stand on Russia's Occupation of Chechnya?


xxviii Report of The Sentencing Project to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Regarding Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System, August 2013, p. 1,


xxix V. I. Lenin: The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, in: LCW Vol. 25, p. 237


xxx Alan Woods: Marxism and the State, December 2008,


xxxi Ibid


xxxii V. I. Lenin: The State and Revolution, in: LCW Vol. 25, p. 405


xxxiii Leon Trotsky: What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat (1932), in: Leon Trotsky: The Struggle Against Fascism In Germany, Pathfinder Press, New York, p. 147,


xxxiv See on this e.g. Julia Wallace, Tatiana Cozzarelli: Cop Organizers Aren’t Comrades, August 30, 2017

IG: Cops, Prison and Security Guards Out of the Labor Movement! DSA Debacle Over Cop “Union” Organizer,


xxxv Left Voice: Open Letter to Kshama Sawant: Don’t Support the Police! August 23, 2018,


xxxvi Interview with POA leader Brian Caton, The Socialist newspaper, 16 September 2009,


xxxvii DSA: June Dispatch: Growing our power to defund the police and defend black lives, 4 June 2020,


xxxviii Meagan Day: Bernie Sanders Should Embrace the Demand to Defund the Police, 2020-06-10,


xxxix Socialist Alternative: Minneapolis Council Makes Big Promises in Response to Rebellion, 12 June 2020


xl Max Rameau and Netfa Freeman: Community Control Vs. Defunding the Police: A Critical Analysis, 10 June 2020,


xli See on this e.g. Joint Platform of Progressive Organizations: YES to Jobs, Food and Health! NO to Lockdown, State Repression and Poverty! June 2020,; Joint Statement of the Revolutionary and Progressive organizations of the world: For a people-based approach to the COVID-19 Crisis! Down with State Repression! April 2020,; RSL (Kenya): The Oppressed Masses demand “Stop Killing Us!” Report (with Pictures and Video) of the Demonstration of the People of Kenya against Police Brutality, 9 June 2020,; RSV (Nigeria): Down With The Iron Curtain Of Hunger! Open Up Nigeria! Mass Testing Is The Key! 29th April, 2020, Michael Pröbsting: The Police & Surveillance State in the Post-Lockdown Phase. A global review of the ruling class’s plans of expanding the bonapartist state machinery amidst the COVID-19 crisis, 21 May 2020,


xlii See on this e.g. Oli Mould: Seattle’s BLM Autonomous Protest Zone and the Paris Commune of 1871: Anti-Capitalist Spirit still Lives, The Conversation 16.06.2020,; Democracy Now: Seattle Activists Create Autonomous Zone Near Abandoned Police Precinct After Days of State Violence, 11 June 2020,


xliii 'Go back to your bunker': Seattle mayor hits back at Trump, 12 June 2020,


xliv See on this e.g. Shane Burley: Life and times at the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, 16 June 2020,


xlv See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Marxism and the United Front Tactic Today. The Struggle for Proletarian Hegemony in the Liberation Movement and the United Front Tactic Today. On the Application of the Marxist United Front Tactic in Semi-Colonial and Imperialist Countries in the Present Period, RCIT Books, 2016,


xlvi See on this e.g. the RCIT’s founding program: The Revolutionary Communist Manifesto (2012), and the RCIT’s Manifesto for Revolutionary Liberation (2016),


xlvii See on this RCIT: A Revolutionary Action Program to fight COVID-19! Workers and Oppressed: Don’t trust the State of the Rich and Powerful! Trust only Yourselves! April 2020,