The Real Problem of realizing A World Without Police

by Jehu

I have been reading a pamphlet on police abolition, A World Without Police, in conjunction with an essay by Scott Jay, “The real problem with Jill Stein”.

The essay highlights a real paradox in the thinking of what I will for the purposes of this comment call the radical Left. By the term, ‘radical Left’, I mean those activists and thinkers who are explicitly committed to a socialist future and who see this coming into being outside the existing state and the two major political parties. The term, ‘socialist’ is used here loosely, but roughly correlates with what Marxists would define as the end of the system of wage labor.

The pamphlet, ‘A World Without Police’ touches on one aspect of what this loosely defined socialist future would look like, public safety. In this vision a socialist future is one in which the public function of the police has lost its character as a special body of individuals. That function is now carried out directly and immediately by the members of society. It is, of course, tentative, as should be expected: It is impossible to say how those who have never grown up with armed men and women patrolling a community will function in absence of those men and women. But, the pamphlet tries to paint a realistic picture of what this looks like for those of us for whom the police seem as necessary as food and water.

The authors note, for instance, that “People turn to the cops when they have no other way to address violence in private spaces , but alternatives like support networks, crisis centers and self-defense groups can begin to leave police intervention behind.” So they propose we should develop  community  “phone  trees”  and  rapid  response  networks; study and share conflict mediation skills; and build  survivor-led  groups to defend  against  domestic  violence  and  sexual  assault.

These ideas go much further than simply figuring out how to live without police: the authors of the pamphlet are essentially arguing the division between public and private spaces will cease to exist under socialism. The fate of women, children and many vulnerable members of society will no longer be left to arbitrary violence of so-called private relations. A society that explicitly recognizes the social character of these alleged private domestic relations, will have no need for a special armed body of men and women with monopoly on the power to intervene in those domestic relations. It is a society that polices itself — it is no longer policed.

The problem with realizing this sort of society is examined in the LibCom essay. Jay Scott directly confronts this issue: “The real problem with Jill Stein is not so much with Stein as it is with the Left itself.” According to Scott, the radical Left’s break with the existing state remains incomplete, as shown by the Green Party itself. The Green Party, Scott explains, has a long history of running candidates for office who use the party to build their radical credentials and then dump it for a career in Democratic Party politics — and he gives a particularly telling example of this sort of behavior:

“Audie Bock was an active Green Party member for several years when she ran for California State Assembly in 1999 as a Green, won, and then soon after left the Green Party. By 2002, she was officially a Democrat and ran against Congressmember Barbara Lee, stating that Lee’s opposition to the Afghanistan war was unpatriotic.”

As many people know, Lee was the only member of congress to oppose the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists.

This observation can very easily be extrapolated to the entire radical Left: the radical Left has been simply a staging platform for the launch of bourgeois candidates. To put this in baseball terms, the radical Left has pretty much functioned as the farm club for the two major parties. This is not an accident: the radical Left sees itself in these terms, because it imagines all radical change is political change. The radical Left has no conception of social change that is not merely political, that is not merely a change in personalities in the state. Yet it continues to propose changes, like that in the above pamphlet, that suggest radical transformation far beyond mere change in which party wins an election.

A world without police requires a fundamental alteration in existing social relations — the erasure of the distinction between public and private spheres of life. However, the radical Left honestly and really has no practical idea how to bring about such a change. So, it goes through the motions of radical visioning like a religious nut who observes some ancient ritual, then covets her neighbor’s spouse.

On the one hand, the radical Left throws up bold visions of the future. On the other hand, it proposes to realize this in the next election if it should win. There is a huge disconnect between vision and methods here that is displayed in the Scott’s ugly history of the Green Party. But, as Scott explains, this is really the history of the radical Left itself.

“There is something fundamentally wrong with a process where this party is left to decide who will be the Left’s official voice for a year or more.”

In truth, the problem is not just the process by which the Green Party picks its candidates — every party has its own methods to arrive at it platform and nominees. The problem is a radical Left that still believes it can achieve very radical social change with the same methods as its enemy, the existing state. It believes, in other words, that it can erase the distinction between the public and private sphere though methods that explicitly assume a distinction between the public and private sphere.

Now here is where it becomes difficult for the radical Left’s vision: As a practical matter, the police cannot simply be replaced from the top after an election victory. They must be forcibly pushed out of the community; the community itself must decide the police must go. No radical Left party can do this for the community; it must be the community itself that arrives at this decision. This, in turn, requires a community that is organized to assume the functions of the police. To make an analogy, a capitalist run factory cannot be converted into a cooperative unless the workers are already organized. The work of realizing a police free society is completely unlike the work of electing a radical Left party into office.

I am sure that this is not new information to anyone on the radical Left. In fact, many on the radical Left never engage in any sort of electoral politics at all. However, when the police murder another citizen, these same radicals are in the street protesting — as if the existing state can be influenced by a few hundred protestors blocking traffic. For all their radical refusal to engage with electoral politics, each new outrage only provokes demands for the state to change its behavior.

The flip side of the failure of the Green Party is a bunch of radical Leftists who are in the streets protesting cops. Neither the Green Party nor these activists have any hope of realizing a police-free society, but it makes them feel good about themselves to face off with the police and scream their heads off.

To be clear, there is nothing in principle wrong with protesting and there is nothing in principle wrong with engaging in electoral politics, but in between elections and protests nothing is being done to organize the communities and factories who are the only social force that can eject the police from their midst. Moreover, if the communities were being organized, a protest could be organized at a moment’s notice. If the communities were being organized, they — not political parties — would nominate candidates committed to the sort of radical social change we advocate.

Organizing communities doesn’t conflict with protesting or elections, it firmly places both under the supervision of society. What is clear in every election and every protest is the lack of connection between communities and radical Left activists and parties. It is no wonder then that Democrats regularly exploit radical protests and parties to promote their own agendas. You radical Leftists do all the groundwork pulling people into the streets and the Al Sharptons parachute in to exploit the discontent.

How long are you going to accept this?