I am going to talk about Dirty Harry and Junious Poole, and about your responsibility for both.
Dirty Harry, as you may have found out by now, is a well-made right-wing movie, virtually a Birchite propaganda film, made with the cooperation of the great liberal mayor of San Francisco and his great liberal Police Department. Harry, a San Francisco police detective, is a mad-dog sadist killer in plain clothes, with a badge, who hates people, blacks, browns, and himself (more or less in that order) and who is shown to be a great hero who rescues civilization from a crazy killer, who is also in plain clothes but minus a badge. This crazy – I mean the second crazy – is a pathological sniper who is likely to get YOU if you don’t watch out. And so the audience is set up to root for Dirty Harry as he denounces the Supreme Court decisions as soft on crime, and indicts the civilian bleeding-hearts who release an insane murderer to kill more people just because their civil-libertarian do-gooders. This enlightening film even shows you that this mad dog (I mean the sniper) gets himself beat up deliberately in order to accuse Dirty Harry of doing it – so who can believe any stories about police brutality now? The victim probably paid someone to get beat up himself ...
That’s the way it goes, and it sets you up to nod your head as the scriptwriter, on the basis of fraudulent claims of how the rad-libs tie the hands of the cops from protecting you and me – the scriptwriter shows how you need touch cops, free-shooting cops, violence-loving cops; in fact, he shows how you need mad-dog types on the police force in order to protect you against the mad dogs who are not on the police force.
That’s Dirty Harry. Now who is Junious Poole?
Last Monday, in San Francisco, Junious Poole, a black man who was high on liquor and benzedrine, and low on money and hope, took up a rifle in the street and leveled it at two random policemen who happened to be walking along, emptied its bullets at them in a blur of hatred of something, wounding both of them. What he told newspaper reporters reads like an imitative movie script of what a poor devil like him is supposed to say: “It all came down on me,” he said. “No income. My wife collecting welfare, two babies ... I felt disgusted with the whole world and the situation. You can be a fool for so long, man, and then you just begin to see it in front of you,” he said.
Well, this poor casualty of society, who had been a fool for so long: what did he begin to see in front of him? Here’s what he also said: “I saw all the background that I have been told when I saw these two policemen walking down the street.” That’s Poole, verbatim.
What was “all the background” he had been told – what did he see when he saw these two policemen walking down the street? He saw the signs scrawled on walls: “Off the pig!” and similar enlightening political messages about making the revolution in the streets, and picking up the gun to Get the Man. That on the one side. On the other side, he saw all the Dirty Harries in uniform who had roughed up and beaten up blacks in the ghetto areas.
And what did the two policemen see? They saw that Dirty Harry was right: give it to ’em before they give it to you – knee in the groin, bullet in the head, get tough because your life is on the line.
So Dirty Harry produces Junious Poole; and Junious Poole produces more Dirty Harries; and you have a fine old war between the Cops and the Crazies, the Crazies and the Cops – till you can’t tell who’s the cop and who’s the crazy, and moreover it hardly matters.
Now my target in all this is neither Dirty Harry nor Junious Poole. I have no wish to spend any time turning cops into vegetarians or flower children or mourning over their lost souls. I was brought up in a Marxist movement where it was an axiom that a man in this society who put a policeman’s uniform on him and took his club in hand was, until evidence to the contrary, nothing but scum. But, by the same token, I learned a very long time ago not to confuse the ruling powers of society with the scum in their employ.
My target is also not the poor fool, aching with his miseries, who picked up the rifle and might just as well have shot himself in the head as those policemen. My target is the people who told him “all that background.” I refer to the self-styled radicals who, for some years now, have been burbling over with their rhetoric about “offing the pig,” and “picking up the gun,” and “revolution in the streets,” and “urban guerrillas,” and cheering every time somebody else bombs the window of a Bank of America branch, or terrorizes a PG&E power line, or incubates a revolution in a safety-deposit vault, or otherwise takes direct action in terrorism according to the most fashionable doctrines of 1890. Because it has been these bumpkin-blowhards of the Big Bang theory of revolution who have been very successful not in tearing apart the System, but in tearing apart what there was of a radical movement that was aborning.
In the whole history of movements of social dissent, in this or any other country, I doubt whether there was ever an emptier and more self-defeating theory of revolutionary action than this trend in our recent years which made “offing the pig” its main slogan, and orated about making the “revolution in the streets.” Of course, the two come down to the same thing, because if you sally out into the streets to make the revolution, it’s the pigs you’re going to meet. You are not going to run into the Board of Directors of General Motors in this your chosen battlefield, nor into the Cabinet, nor even the office boys of the Powers That Be: the enemy you meet “in the streets” is the hired scum, that’s all. And the cream of the jest is that, for every cop that is killed by some self-styled revolutionary bravo, not a hair is mussed on the head of the ruling class, who have a right to laugh themselves to death over these pseudo-revolutionary antics while, in public, they make a horrified outcry about the crimes of the subversives.
It should be understood that the police are the paravanes of the capitalist state power. That implies a comparison with (say) a minesweeper. It is in mined waters, and any direct contact with a mine will blow a hole in its side. Its whole strategy, therefore, is to avoid any direct contact, but to interpose its own buffers – one or more layers of buffers – which any explosive force has to get through before it can even confront the real core of power. The minesweeper’s paravanes are most useful the further they are removed from the real center that has to be defended. A paravane makes contact with an explosive mine, and it is blown up: the paravane is destroyed, but the ship itself is safe because it has been destroyed.
The police act as the paravanes of the system. They are there, way out in the open, as the first contact with potentially explosive social material. If a cop is killed, or merely attacked, the state power makes a big hue and cry, and can draw a long breath of relief. It can use the incident for arousing public opinion against dissenters; it can use it for escalating repression; it can use it for deepening reaction; and in exchange, all it pays is a pension to the cop’s widow, if that. But not a hair on its own head is hurt. The transaction is so beautifully cheap, for the state, that it could not be better if it had been planned by itself; and you never know whether it was or not. There is a big misunderstanding about the question of telling the difference between police provocateurs and plants, on the one hand, and sincere if stupid Weatherman types, on the other. The misunderstanding is this: that it makes much difference whether you can tell them apart. In the history of terrorism, some waves of reaction have been launched by governments which produced a terroristic incident to order, and some by governments that simply waited for some obliging chucklehead to do it for them. And in some cases, to this day it has not been possible to determine which was which.
I remember vividly an interview that TV newsman Mike Wallace (I think it was he) held with Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria, the first interview he gave after fleeing there, I think. It was broadcast after the first wave of police assaults on the Black Panthers, and, if I’m not mistaken, at the time Huey Newton’s life was hanging in the balance in the courts. In the midst of this lynch atmosphere, which was based on the proposition that the Panthers were nothing but terroristic assassins, Cleaver calmly told his interviewer that sure, it would be a good idea if President Nixon were assassinated.
Now, could Cleaver have done any better to help the lynch movement against the Panthers if he had been paid to do his stuff by the FBI? As it happens, I have no doubts about Cleaver’s sincerity in this case; this political ignoramus and half-baked Theoretician of the Absurd has been a disaster for the Panthers just as he was a disaster for the Peace and Freedom Party, which he knifed in the back after being named its presidential candidate. A police spy would probably be cleverer. But what difference does it make whether the FBI gets his help free or on salary, as this great revolutionary Thinker keeps on sending his advice, from Algeria, on how the radical movement here can get its head chopped off?
This whole movement of sick-radicalism, as represented by these terroristic elements or Weatherman types, counts on something to puff it up from the nullity it really is. They count on you. That is, they count on their mischievous antics meeting with a certain amount of unspoken sympathy from the liberal and radical public, because their intentions are so good, or because they are regarded as being real free-wheeling revolutionaries. That is pure bull-bleep. These elements have nothing in common with a serious revolutionary movement. These types are really middle-class liberals in a frenzy. In fact, some of them act this out by alternating between supporting Democratic Party left-fakers on the one hand and writing articles, on the other, about the chemistry of pipe bombs.
A long time ago, my friend Karl Marx had their number. In 1850 he wrote a review of a couple of books by French police spies on the conspiratorial secret societies of the day – the Weathermen of the day. In this piece, Marx took them down and shook them out as never before. Here are a couple of sentence from Marx’s review, for example:
“Their job indeed consists in forestalling the process of revolutionary development, pushing it artificially into crises, making a revolution on the spur of the moment without the conditions for a revolution. For them the only condition for the revolution is a sufficient organization of their conspiracy. They are the alchemists of the revolution, and wholly share the confusion of ideas and the limitation to fixed notions of the old alchemists. They go eagerly for invented devices to achieve the revolutionary miracle: incendiary bombs, explosive contraptions with magical powers, riots, whose effects are sure to be all the more miraculous and awesome the less they have any rational basis. Busy with such plot-mongering, they have no other aim than the next overthrow of the existing government, and look with deepest disdain on a more theoretical clarification of the workers as to their class interests.”
So much for Karl Marx. But of course Marx is out of date for these bomb-bumblers, whose theories were mildewed with age before Marx was born. These theories, now dressed up with new terms like “urban guerrillaism” or others, have always been the rediscoveries of people overcome by their own impotence, frustrated by their own lack of any really revolutionary perspective, giving out with their last shriek of liberal rage just before going back to “make it” inside the system or to back the latest capitalist politician who uses the latest phrases of the left. Above all, as Marx already said, they have the deepest disdain for the tasks of theoretical education and long-term class-struggle organization of the mass of working people in this country, who in turn have the deepest contempt for them, and rightly so.
Leave these types to their games of Cops and Crazies. That is not the way.
Last updated: 26.9.2004