Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The New Voice

Who Supports Police Strikes?

Published: The New Voice, Vol. VII, No. 20, October 2, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Workers should not support police strikes. Cops are not workers; they are part of the capitalist state. In their role as armed protectors of the big business system, police have objectively increased the level of exploitation that workers must suffer at the hands of the capitalist class.

These hired goons do not change their nature just because they themselves happen to want more money or better conditions.

In the August 21 issue of The Call, the Communist Party Marxist-Leninist (CPML) sets forth what amounts to support for a strike by police officers in Memphis, Tennessee. Call editors report favorably that leaders of the AFL-CIO in Memphis hinted there would be a general strike if police demands were not met. Later, the city did cave in on most of the demands, and perhaps the labor bureaucrats’ threats played a role.

CPML writers vacillate on the question whether cops are members of the working class, and end up lumping them with public workers:

The police strike in Memphis is a sharp indication of the growing militancy nationwide of public employees. While police usually play the role of strikebreakers, in this case they find themselves confronted face-to-face with the bosses’ refusal to give them income which keeps pace with worsening inflation. (The Call, August 21, 1978)


CPML’s line seems to be: usually, the police are enemies; but when they are on strike, they join ranks with the working class and achieve status as public workers. This is a reformist line and ignores class analysis and revolutionary strategy.

Workers support each others’ struggles because they have common material interests, not because of some pro-struggle instinct. Better conditions for police do not serve the interests of the working class, because police themselves stand against the workers’ struggle for a larger share of the product they produce. Every time the cops weaken a strike by protecting the strikebreakers, forcing the strikers to settle for less, they adversely affect the material well-being of the entire working class.

Police are part of the state–the ruling class’s machine of violence and suppression. To believe that the police will change their anti-working class nature in the face of inflation and economic crisis is to believe that the capitalist state can be reformed, changed to serve the working class without being overthrown. A reformist view of the state is totally inconsistent with Marxism.

People who believe in working-class revolution can tolerate no equivocation on the question of the capitalist state, including the police. In order to set up socialism, workers must have a revolution which seizes ownership of the means of production away from the capitalist class arid which smashes the capitalist state. These are the immediate tasks of revolution, the prerequisites to taking the first step toward a socialist economy. If these prerequisites are not met, the revolution will fail.

Where does the CPML find any common interest between the working class and a group of armed thugs who oppress workers, keep us in bondage to capitalists, have a definite negative effect on our material standard of living, and are an immediate target of workers’ revolution? There is no revolutionary leadership here.


The Call writers were carried away by the possibility of a general strike, even though the only hint at such a thing was made by labor mis-leaders who rival the police in thwarting workers’ struggles. Perhaps the police and the labor bureaucrats had an interest in winning the cops’ demands, but the working class did not. A general strike in support of police in Memphis would not have been a good thing. As it was, the amount the cops won with labor bureaucrats’ help was a setback for the working class.

Without a correct class analysis or revolutionary strategy, the CPML fell into a classic marsh criticized by Lenin over 70 years ago. The practice of using the action of the moment as an excuse to abandon the political education of the working class is called “subservience to spontaneity.” Those who travel that path are called “Economists.”

If we want to win now, if we want to win in the future, and especially if we want to win socialism, we have to be crystal clear on the nature of the cops and we have to bring that clarity to the working class. The goal of the working class, especially revolutionaries who seek to lead it, is to distinguish sharply between police “struggles” and the struggles of workers, so that workers will have no illusions about the police. We must be ready to fight the cops at every turn; even the hint that we can regard them as part of the working class disarms us.

A concrete form that this main task takes right now is to win firefighters from the false idea that they share some “public safety” status with cops. Clearly, the interests of firefighters lie with rest of the working class, not with the capitalist state machine. To the extent that firefighters and others are fooled into thinking that putting out fires is somehow like breaking strikes, it will erode the struggles of firefighters and give the police the aura of being public workers.

CPML’s analysis falls down exactly on the task of drawing the line between police and firefighters. The Call paints a picture of solidarity between Memphis police and firefighters based on the initiative of the former. In fact, when firefighters joined the police on strike, it was the firefighters’ second strike in several weeks. They, not the cops, played the vanguard role, and in the earlier strike, they got no support from the “militant” police. Union misleaders talked the firefighters into going back to work with the promise of arbitration. That scheme broke down, and the firefighters struck again, this time in conjunction with the police. Thanks again to union misleaders, the firefighters’ demands were merged with the cops’, and they settled together for the same package.

The firefighters’ initiative was to strike on their own; it was the role of union misleaders which dragged them into an “alliance” with cops. CPML’s selective reporting and pro-cop analysis serve the misleaders and the capitalist state, not the working class.

In contrast, when The New Voice reported on a strike by firefighters in Normal, Illinois last June, we were careful to point out:

...The strike proved that public employees are not included in the state apparatus–the machine of violence and suppression used by the capitalist class to keep the working class down...We should encourage public employees in their fight against the police and other staff of the state. (The New Voice, June 26, 1978)

Revolutionaries see beyond the action of the moment. They use a class analysis which tells them who has a real material interest in fighting the capitalist class. In struggles, they apply a revolutionary strategy which takes class consciousness to the workers as they battle for true reforms. On all these levels revolutionaries help workers see that police are anti-working class and that we must fight them, not support their demands for better conditions to attack us.