Anti-racist protests in the US have pushed many police forces on to the defensive—and raised the idea of slashing spending on the cops.
What a refreshing change from the way debates around the police in the mainstream normally centre on a contest between different parties about how many more “officers on the beat” they are promising.
So the growing demand to divert police budgets into more useful services is something to be welcomed.
But socialists think we should go further than seeking more control over the cops, we want to abolish them altogether.
The people who rule our society tell us that the police are “key workers”—and protect and serve all equally.
But their real function is to protect capitalism.
The economic system we live under is based on exploitation and oppression, but that is not something that workers simply put up with.
There are regular explosions of resistance that need to be ruthlessly put down.
For the ruling class that means having an armed body of people prepared to use physical coercion to uphold the system.
That’s something that must be clear to everyone watching the scenes of protesters being teargassed and shot at by police in the US.
The Black Lives Matter movement is attacked this way precisely because it is a threat to the state.
The popular idea that the purpose of the police is to protect ordinary people from crime is a nonsense.
The proportion of crimes solved by police in England and Wales fell to the lowest level ever recorded last year, according to Home Office data.
Just 7.8 percent of offenses saw someone charged or summonsed.
Police closed nearly half of all cases because no suspect could be identified.
A considerable amount of police time is spent in “proactive policing”, patrolling of poor neighbourhoods in order to supposedly deter crime.
But the real purpose of this activity is to appear “visible and “relevant”.
Police want to be seen stopping and searching young black people on the streets because it reinforces the idea that there is a problem with crime, and that they exist to deal with it.
For seven weeks at the end of 2014 New York cops were ordered to take a “slowdown” after the racist police murder of Eric Garner in the city’s Staten Island area.
The “slowdown” meant the police didn’t engage in as much proactive policing.
Surely without regular neighbourhood patrols levels of crime would soar? No. During the slowdown people reported fewer crimes than normal.
Once we acknowledge that the police don’t exist to stop crimes aimed at ordinary people, but instead protect the system it follows that they cannot be reformed.
The reason they are more violent and prejudiced than the rest of society is precisely because they reflect the attitudes and needs of the ruling class.
In an alternative society—one in which people are not exploited, and where there is no need for oppression because people collectively had power to decide how resources are allocated—there would be no need for a state police.
Then, those who broke rules that were decided on together would be judged by their peers, rather than a representative of the rich, dressed in robes and a wig.
Nikolai Bukharin and Yevgeni Preobrazhensky, leading Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution, wrote about “Proletarian justice” in their 1919 book The ABC of Communism.
“When the proletariat is in power, it cannot permit the enemies of its class to become judges.
“The workers could hardly accept the representatives of capital or of the landed interest as administrators of the new laws which are intended to overthrow the capitalist regime!” they said.
Socialists should get behind calls to defund the police and use the debates to take the argument far further.