Chris Harman


East and West, Tanks and Cops
Defend ‘Freedom’

(7 September 1968)

From Socialist Worker, No. 87, 7 September 1968, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

THOSE WHO RULE on both sides of the Iron Curtain have once again proved how hollow are the words they use to apologise for their positions.

In Chicago, police, supported by troops with fixed bayonets, mercilessly beat up peaceful and unprotected demonstrators.

In Prague, tanks patrol the streets while the Russian rulers openly boast of their intention to “liquidate 20,000 counter-revolutionaries”.

Few people defend such action. But many try to find excuses. While some see what is happening in Prague as a “mistake” made by those who are basically still “socialists”, others see Chicago as an unfortunate upset in the normal democratic process introduced by Mayor Daly.

But neither events were accidental.


The behaviour of the police in Chicago was far from being an “aberration”. Those without power in American society – the negroes in the south and in the ghettos of the north, the white poor, workers manning picket lines – experience such violence as a matter of course.

The “mistake” in Chicago was that this time the police went to work on a few of the wrong people in front of a huge television audience.

The illusion of American “democracy” should have been shattered, in any case, by what went on inside the convention. Despite massive evidence from primary results and opinion polls that at least 40 per cent of US voters would support a “peace candidate” (as McCarthy at least pretends to be), they are to be offered a choice in November between identical policies from identical war-mongering candidates.


Similarly, the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia is merely the latest in a history of the use of crude force to put down those who begin to question absolute control from above. The imprisonment of writers and intellectuals in Russia and the fire power let loose on Budapest in 1956 are only the best known examples.

There are important differences between American and Russian society, between the “free world” and the “socialist third”. But both have in common this much: they are controlled by small ruling classes that will use all the resources of modem technology to keep down the workers who may threaten their rule.

The fact that they need to do so should not unduly disturb us. It proves that they at least recognise the power that will be exercised when the mass of working people begin to take control of their own lives.

Last updated on 11 October 2020