By JOHN LESLIE
In the aftermath of the mass murder of eight people, including six Asian women, in an apparent racist and misogynist rampage in Atlanta and the murder of 10 people in a Boulder, Col., grocery store by a lone gunman there are renewed calls for more aggressive gun control legislation. Citing the two tragedies, Biden called on Congressional Democrats to act, saying, “I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common sense steps that will save lives in the future.”
Build an economy that really cares about kids
Politicians of both major parties claim that they “care” about the futures of children, but this concern for child welfare always takes a back seat to the interests of Wall Street and the ruling class. According to the USDA, more than 11 million children in the United States face food insecurity—a soft way of stating that they and their families face hunger on a regular basis. Millions remain unemployed and an estimated 4 million have left the workforce during the pandemic.
Politicians of both parties say that we “can’t afford” decent public education. Socialists understand the impulse to stop violence but we ask—what are the roots of violence, and will more laws stop gun violence?
They say that we cannot afford to pay teachers and fund pensions; that we cannot afford to build schools, and so kids are forced to “learn” in buildings that are falling apart. This is, of course, an urban problem. In the wealthier suburbs, the schools are generally well maintained, and the education offered is excellent. Teachers in the suburbs are still treated badly, but not as poorly as city teachers.
In truth, we can afford these things, but the capitalists and their politicians choose not to. Instead, they choose military intervention, drones, and handouts to the rich. The U.S. has 800 military bases in more than 70 countries, but our roads and bridges are falling apart, and our schools are in horrible shape. Instead of building an economy based on the right to health care and a decent job, wealth continues to be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. We spend more on policing and prisons than we do on education.
The bungled COVID-19 response is the responsibility of both capitalist parties. “Essential” workers are often still forced to work without proper PPE, and some states have reopened while the pandemic still rages. Clearly, the lives of working people are being forfeited in the interests of profits. Corporations and the rich were bailed out while working people are left to subsist on inadequate “aid.” A tidal wave of foreclosures looms on the horizon.
No one with any power is even considering disarming or defunding the police or ending the manufacture of assault weapons—including for the military and police. The most recent coronavirus relief bill pushed through by the Democrats increases funding for cops.
In a case currently before the Supreme Court, the Biden administration is supporting giving local police the right to confiscate guns without a warrant—based on the officer’s judgment of the mental state of the gun owner. Virtually all the current proposals—including stricter gun ownership laws and background checks, a ban on so-called “assault weapons,” and allowing mental health professionals to violate patient confidentiality with police (red flag laws)—will lead to a worse situation for working and oppressed people. It will mean increased law enforcement, more people in prisons, and more people facing violent encounters with the police.
Stationing police in schools must be totally opposed. Both Trump and Biden backed stationing cops in public schools during the presidential campaign. In schools where police are stationed, there is an increase in arrests of students and violence against students. Of course, the victims of cop violence and overzealous policing in schools are disproportionately students of color. Socialists favor the disarming and demilitarization of cops. Schools are not prisons.
For the same reasons, we oppose any proposals to arm teachers. Such a move, which is insulting to teachers who struggle for resources daily, would do nothing to make classrooms safer. This would, in fact, make both teachers and students more vulnerable.
“Solutions” that ostracize people for mental illness or violate doctor-patient confidentiality will do more harm than good, because people will hesitate to seek help if they think the therapeutic environment is not safe. And we should be troubled by the effort to scapegoat neurodiverse people, who are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators of it. Bigots kill because they are bigots, not because they have mental illnesses. Politicians and the media have made every attempt to frame the issue of these killings around an abstract notion of guns, and this has erased the racist and misogynist nature of the crimes.
Socialists fight to change the social and economic conditions that make gun violence happen. We understand that these conditions are effects of capitalism, a criminal and heartless system driven by the thirst for profits.
Socialists support the right to self-defense by the workers’ movement and by oppressed people. But we understand at the same time that political activism must necessarily strive for the broadest possible organization and mobilization of the working class and its allies. Small groups substituting for the mass activity of the working class can unnecessarily expose themselves and the broader movement to state repression.
The 1979 Greensboro massacre of Communist Workers Party members is instructive in terms of both the tactical errors of the CWP and the collusion between cops and fascists. The CWP engaged in confrontations with the Klan and raised slogans like “Death to the Klan” in advance of an anti-Klan rally. In collusion with local and federal law enforcement, the Klan attacked the CWP-organized rally, killing five members of the CWP and wounding 10 others.
It is not the task of the revolutionary party to substitute itself for mass organizations in armed defense. The founding document of the Fourth International, the Transitional Program, points out that, in response to a rising fascist threat, the party should urge that defense guards be formed out of the ranks of the unions and other mass organizations of the working class and oppressed. At the same time, we can’t rely on the repressive forces of the state—cops, courts, or capitalist politicians—to protect us from fascist or state violence.
In the Socialist Workers Party Education for Socialists Bulletin, “Counter-mobilization, a strategy to fight racist and fascist attacks,” from the 1960s, Farrell Dobbs states, “The line of the police is to defend the exercise of the formal democratic rights of the fascists, on the one hand, and not to ‘see’ the violations of the democratic rights of the fascists’ victims. Meanwhile, the cops take full advantage of any violation of bourgeois-democratic law that the anti-fascists may commit. In any kind of confrontation between anti-fascist and fascist forces, the basic line of the cops is to protect the fascists in any way they can and to join in the victimization of the antifascists.”
The right to self-defense
Calls for banning certain types of firearms, rigorous background checks by the state, etc. are bad mistakes. Indeed, if the police and military can have so-called assault weapons, no civilian ban could ever prevent right-wing bigots from getting their hands on them, given their intimate association with those institutions. Giving police the monopoly of force in society is a dangerous notion.
Gun control has often been used to disarm Black and Brown people, while the law has ignored the actions of racists. Following Hurricane Katrina, for example, Blacks in New Orleans were disarmed while cops gunned down Black people fleeing the city. The racial disparity in convictions for gun crimes is greater than for any other class of federal crimes (47.3 percent were for Black people in 2013). Black people are far more likely to face mandatory minimum sentences and enhanced penalties.
During both the Civil Rights Struggle and the Black Power movement, Black activists asserted their right to defend themselves “by any means necessary,” in the words of Malcolm X. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) defended both Malcolm and Robert Williams, who organized a Black self-defense group against the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina. The SWP also defended the right of the Black Panther Party to organize free of state repression.
In 2020, due to fascist and white supremacist mobilizations and the mass anti-racist rebellion, Black gun ownership rose dramatically. According to the National Sports Shooting Association, “The highest overall firearm sales increase comes from Black men and women, who show a 58.2% increase in purchases during the first six months of 2020 versus the same period last year.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, Trump and other rightist politicians used racist anti-Chinese rhetoric calling the virus the “kung flu” and the “China virus.” Both capitalist parties have vilified the Chinese government and the ruling Communist Party, an expression of the inter-imperialist rivalry between the U.S. and China. This climate of scapegoating has led to a 149% increase in hate crimes against Asian people. There has been a marked increase (20%) in the number of Asian people buying firearms over the last year.
Socialists understand the Second Amendment as having two souls. It has been employed as a reactionary prop to white supremacy, but it is also a right won by working people and the oppressed for self-defense against racists and fascists.
Photo: Armed police stand over shoppers from supermarket attacked by a shooter in Boulder, Col., on March 22. (Michael Ciaglo / USA Today Network / Reuters)