Basic Income, Decent Wages and John Clarke’s Radicalism: A Tale of Social-Democratic or Social-Reformist Deja Vu

I have criticized Mr. Clarke’s views of basic income on a number of occasions, the most recent one being An Inadequate Critique of a Radical Basic Income: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Three: Basic Income), so i will simply quote a couple of his relatively recent posts on Facebook. The first post is dated May 17, 2022, and the second is dated August 4, 2022.. I will also briefly quote from an article he published on August 6, 2022, in Counterfire ( https://www.counterfire.org/articles/opinion/23380-the-false-promise-of-basic-income-in-wales ) and make a few additional comments. I refer the reader to the above-mentioned post for more detailed criticism.

“With a basic income program, recipients would be motivated to participate in the labour market and feel empowered to discover the most fulfilling way to work without fearing for their financial security.”

That quote leaps out at you as the clearest expression of the basic income delusion. What is proposed here is the provision of a level of income to millions of people that would utterly shift the balance between workers and employers in this society.

The article completely fails to understand that the capitalist job market rests on economic coercion and the seller’s market it envisages here would represent a devastating defeat for the capitalists. Yet this enormous retreat by that class is supposed to happen on the basis of a social policy redesign.

In reality, however, the measure that is being proposed here would work in a way that would actually worsen the situation of working class people because the payment would function as a subsidy to employers and as a cash replacement for existing public services.
Mr. Clarke simply repeats himself in a contradictory manner. Of course, if a minimum basic income is all that workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers can expect, then it would probably be better to leave the current welfare system as it is (although Mr. Clarke does not really provide any convincing arguments to the contrary). 
 
Mr. Clarke continues to assume that only a minimum basic income would be the aim of a movement to free workers from the dictates of the market for workers. He continues to contradict himself since he assumes, on the other hand, that adequate housing, free university tuition and so forth will arise with a struggle (see  Critique of the Limited Aim (Solution)–Decent Wages–of a Radical Social Democrat: The Case of the Toronto Radical, John Clarke: Part One). Struggle for a radical basic income is not something in the cards, for him–but a struggle for various welfare reforms are. Why does he persist in assuming that those who advocate a radical basic income would presume that it would not require much struggle, indeed, a major struggle between workers, citizens, immigrants and migrants, on the one hand, and the class of employers and the government on the other?
 
Let us assume, however, that he is right. What proposals does he have from moving from the present welfare system to a society freed from the power of a class of employers? His proposals boil down to a refurbished welfare state, with various public services provided by the capitalist state. Of course, even if a refurbished welfare state arose, there would always be the threat of a return to some form of neoliberalism–which is what I argue in another post (see Anti-Neoliberalism Need Not Be Anti-Capitalist: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Four: The Welfare State and Neoliberalism, or The Infinite Back and Forth Movement of Capitalism).
 
Mr. Clarke accuses those who propose a radical basic income of being delusional. I will let the reader draw her/his own conclusion conerning the clarity of Mr. Clarke’s own vision of the nature of the real world, its problems and solutions to those problems. 
 
From August 4, 2022, Facebook:
 
“A Universal Basic Income would require a rethink of the values attached to different types of work, as workers would not be forced to accept just any job.”

I just saw this on Twitter and want to draw attention to it because it so perfectly captures the essence of the sadly pervasive basic income delusion. The problem is a failure to understand the nature and present condition of the society that we live in. What is being proposed is to take from the capitalist class their capacity to exploit workers by ending the economic coercion the job market rests on. This isn’t just about ‘values’ but a proposal to fundamentally challenge capitalism. I’m in favour of such a challenge but that’s a job for the mass action of the working class and not a social policy enactment.

You notice that the tweet pays no attention whatever to the means by which this shattering course of action might be achieved. There’s no proposal for the massive social action to completely change the balance of power in this society that would begin to make this proposal coherent. It is simply assumed that UBI has about it a rationality and fairness that can prevail regardless of social reality. Yet, because the political level is so low in this society, it is possible to write something like this and be taken seriously. If someone were to tweet out that “Staying young means never getting old,” the absurdity would immediately be apparent because those who read it would pass from the desirability of eternal youth to considering how likely it is to happen. Yet, the notion that governments that have worked for decades to intensify the exploitation of the working class are going to suddenly enact a measure that will overturn the very basis for capitalism is taken quite seriously.
At a time when what we demand and how we fight for it are critical issues, the faith based basic income delusion is a preposterous diversion that we must outgrow.
 
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Daphne L. Hunt

UBI = Universal Bandaid Income. Over the past 40 years or so, the corporate sector has contributed less and less to the tax “burden” and more of it is shouldered by individuals. These individuals don’t seem to get that that’s why their taxes are so “high” and they are getting less from them and yet they are yakking on about “personal responsibility” without reference to corporate responsibility. One tells them about the co-operative sector as a means of alleviating poverty and they sniff at it and say “fairy tales” or “granola” sector unaware of the $billions it contributes to GDP and tax revenue, helping people stay employed, and making a healthier economy. But John, you already know all that. I just needed to vent. Thank you.
 
Daniele Colajacomo

I agree with you. Whole policy changes do happen, but if the capitalist class retains its pivotal influence in law making and market manipulation, it will attempt, and likely succeed, in neutering the effects of basic income, likely by bankrupting the state as they try to do with every institution that works against their insatiable interest, then pointing the finger at ubi as the culprit.

Of course, if there is no class struggle, then any universal basic income that threatens the availability of workers for exploitation by employers would be successfully resisted. A social policy that is not backed up by organized power of the working class would be whittled away for the benefit of employers. 

The pilot program initiated in Wales certainly would not become universal. From the article by John Clarke in Counterfire

Following in the footsteps of a sizable number of their international counterparts, the Welsh government has launched a pilot project to study the possibilities of basic income. As it unfolds, ‘more than 500 people leaving care in Wales will be offered £1600 each month (before tax) for two years to support them as they make the transition to adult life.’

Mr. Clarke is certainly correct to question whether such a program would be generalized (become universal) since it would probably threaten the job market, as he himself argues: 

In a capitalist society, the job market rests on economic coercion and, if workers or potential workers have an alternative source of income that meets their needs, their bargaining power is massively increased. For that reason, social benefit levels are set high enough to control social unrest but great care is taken to ensure that they are not adequate enough to discourage people from taking low paid jobs.

So, since such a policy would increase the bargaining power of workers. Mr. Clarke, however, does not mention that to aim for such a goal would also threaten the class power of employers. Such a goal could serve as an organizing tool and a rallying point to increase not just “the bargaining power of workers” but their class consciousness and their class power by having workers coming to understand that employers need to have persistent economic coercion in place if they are to control workers in the first place and that the workers need to organize to counterpose such economic coercion by aiming to formulate policies that negate such economic coercion.

What does Mr. Clarke propose as an alternative to a radical basic income? A refurbished welfare system (as I argued in my posts above. He also repeats his social-reformist rhetoric of “decent wages” in his published article: 

The great problem with basic income is that, precisely when there is such an acute need for a major fight back, it seeks a non-existent detour around the class struggle. If precarious, low-wage work has proliferated, rather than fight for decent wages and workers’ rights, it lets the exploiters keep their profits and asks only for wage tops up, paid for out of the taxes of other workers. In its response to technological displacement, instead of fighting for reduced hours of work at no loss of pay, it again lets the capitalists off the hook. [my emphasis]

Mr. Clarke nowhere justifies his assumption that radicals who propose a radical basic income “seek a non-existent detour around the class struggle.” My view (subject to change since a radical basic income policy is a means to an end of aiming to challenge the class power of employers and not an end in itself) is that such a policy likely has greater scope for challenging the class power of employers than a refurbished welfare state. It also has greater scope for challenging the class power of employers than the aim of “decent wages”–a figment of Mr. Clarke’s social-reformist or social-democratic imagination since there exists no such thing as decent wages in a society dominated by a class of employers. As I wrote in one of my posts cited above: 

Let me make a categorical statement: There is no such thing as a decent wage. To work for an employer is in itself degrading, exploitative and oppressive. The concept of a decent wage serves to hide this exploitative situation (see The Money Circuit of Capital). 

Mr. Clarke, apparently, only aims at refurbishing the welfare state rather than abolishing exploitation. Like Mr. Bush’s own references to exploitation, Mr. Clarke uses the concept as a rhetorical flourish (in his case, to criticize a radical policy of basic income) while conveniently “forgetting” the concept when it comes to the issue of whether wages can ever be decent.

Furthermore, there is no logical basis for counteposing a struggle for a radical basic income and 
“fighting for reduced hours of work at no loss of pay.” They are not mutually exclusive. Mr. Clarke fails to justify his implicit claim that the struggle for a radical basic income cannot include a struggle for reduced hours of work at no loss of pay.

The fact that economic coercion exists is used by this social refomer to oppose a policy that possibly challenges such economic coercion–because of the fact itself of economic coercion! It is like saying that because economic exploitation of workers by employers is a fact that therefore workers should not struggle to abolish economic exploitation. 

An Inadequate Critique of a Radical Basic Income: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Three: Basic Income

Introduction

In two earlier posts, I criticized the views of the  radical activist here in Toronto, John Clarke (see  Critique of the Limited Aim (Solution)–Decent Wages–of a Radical Social Democrat: The Case of the Toronto Radical, John Clarke: Part One and   Critique of a Limited Definition of the Problem: The Case of the Toronto Radical John Clarke, Part Two). In particular, I criticized his proposed solution or aim in the first post (decent wages) and his identification of the problem in the second post (unequal distribution of produced consumer commodities). I now address his criticism of the proposal of a basic income. 

Let me add that, in the second post, I added an addendum, in which Mr. Clarke proposed engaging in radical practice to replace capitalism (a.k.a., the class power of employers). Mr. Clarke continues to advocate for more radical solutions. Thus, he wrote on Facebook (May 3, 2022): 

The murder of Rosa Luxemburg by social democratic leaders points to something about reformism. If you think capitalism can be incrementally transformed, you need it to function well. This means, at a time of crisis, you have to be prepared to defend it against the very working class you claim your political project will liberate.

In time, the logic of the reformist approach produces representatives who dispense with any polite fictions of socialism in the cloudy future and whose loyalty to capitalism is beyond question. They then go about breaking strikes, imposing austerity, degrading the environment and dropping bombs on oppressed countries with every bit as much enthusiasm as any openly declared representative of the capitalist class.

The problem with the above is not what it states, but in what it omits. Before Mr. Clarke’s more explicit radical turn, he advocated such reformist policies as “decent wages” and a reformed welfare state (despite acknowledging that economic coercion formed a necessary aspect of a society characterized by the class power of employers). Indeed, as I wrote in another post: 

I have already criticized, briefly, his apparent recognition of economic coercion and his subsequent ignoring of this recognition in a pamphlet with several articles written by him (see  Basic Income: A Critique of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s Stance  and “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function” (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty: OCAP)). I have, however, now come to the conclusion that Mr. Clarke recognizes the existence of economic coercion only in order to criticize neoliberalism and not the class power of employers and hence not capitalism as such. 

Mr. Clarke, if he has indeed taken a more radical turn, would do well to engage in critical inquiry into his former beliefs. He should also rethink the thrust of his criticism of basic income in light of his more explicit rejection of capitalism. Of course, if he comes to the conclusion that basic income should still be rejected, but has an alternative proposal that would link immediate needs of workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers with the long-term need to abolish the class power of employers and the associated economic, political and social structures, and he provides valid reasons for his rejection, I would agree with him. Basic income as a policy is really only a tool or means to the end of economic coercion, and if there are better alternatives that will link immediate and long-term needs, then I would support them and reject basic income. 

Let us turn to Mr. Clarke’s views on basic income–at least before his more radical turn.

Mr. Clarke’s Critique of Basic Income

Mr. Clarke has this to say about basic income (see his post, dated June 21, 2021 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r40D6fU760s&t=4s) (The following is practically verbatim):

Part 2: Basic Income

Those among the left who support basic income make a fundamental mistake in that they don’t take into account the necessity of economic coercion that was outlined above. They imagine that basic income has some magic quality that would make it exempt from the factors that constitute economic coercion and that would prevent basic income from being realized. Furthermore, they believe that existing income-support systems fail to meet people’s needs because of some design flaw; they believe that only if income-support systems could be reorganized in a better way, it would meet people’s needs. But that is not what is driving the process that is making them inadequate.

The left make an unwarranted assumption that basic income would be more adequate–that it is somehow going to meet people’s needs that existing programs do not. It will somehow be exempt from the limitations that other income-support programs are not.

Some among the left point to the pilot project of basic income instituted by the former Liberal government in Ontario. It is true that the project provided levels of income significantly higher than current social assistance levels, but to assume that such a project, if generalized throughout Ontario, would maintain such levels, is unwarranted.

Another unwarranted assumption is that basic income would be better because it would be universal. Those among the left who advance this view are filled with false hopes since no program of basic income actually being considered in the real world has universal scope; it will be targeted, with only some people qualifying.

It is also suggested that the stigma attached to existing income-support systems would be reduced if basic income were introduced and therefore would be more popular and it would be harder for governments to cut it. Mr. Clarke disagree with this. If a basic income were introduced, it would be attacked and questioned in exactly the same way as existing programs. In addition, popularity even if it existed would not save it. Public health-care programs have been under attack and faced massive austerity cutbacks despite being vital, necessary and popular.

Another suggestion is that basic income would be an unconditional benefit. In practice, that is unlikely to be the case. Mr. Clarke, on the other hand, does agree that existing income-support programs are bureaucratically intrusive. They are fused with elements of moral policing. And these things do indeed need to be challenged.

It has also been suggested that basic income will happen and will save us from the workless future based on robots. This view that we are on the cusp of an automated life is exaggerated, and the real situation is much more nuanced than that. On the other hand, Mr. Clarke does not deny that technological displacement is not a real issue. What he does question is that basic income is the magic solution to that problem. Capitalism does not function by allocating a certain adequate fund owned by billionaires in Silicon Valley so that people can receive an adequate standard of living. Since the industrial revolution, capitalists have used the introduction of new machinery to gain a competitive edge over their rivals, to displace workers and to create a greater climate of desperation and to try to drive down wages and that’s the fight that we are going to be in. We are going to have to fight in this situation as workers have always fought against technological displacement. We are going to have to fight for reduced hours of work. We are going to have to take up a whole series of important struggles.

It must be said that only under an irrational, profit-driven greedy system is this an issue. The idea that technological gains, which increase the productivity of human labour, should be something that we should be alarmed about, is confined to this system. Why should not those productive gains be used to benefit everyone? Why do we not take the machines away from the capitalists and use them to everyone’s advantage?

Mr. Clarke then refers to the various pilot projects on basic income because this is a big selling point for people who promote basic income. In Ontario, as mentioned above, a pilot project in basic income was initiated under the Liberal government for 2000 people. It provided a higher level of income than social assistance, it was relatively secure until the Tories cut it. They did intensive studies to show that people were better off. The studies prove nothing. They were not studying basic income but rather poor people. Of course, it is obvious that if you increase the level of income, people’s health is better and, in general, people’s lives are better.

The question that needs to be posed is: What effect basic income would have if it were implemented across a larger area of a capitalist economy. Basic income takes us in directions that are very dangerous–directions that we should be fighting rather than embracing. Basic income is essentially a proposal for a massive extension of social provision by way of the cash benefit. Seventy percent of the people in the pilot project in Ontario were not on social assistance. What they were primarily looking at was a wage top-up system. So the idea of basic income is to extend the benefit to a wider proportion of the working population.

This situation entails the commodification of social provisions, and such commodification is enormously dangerous. What it does is have you accept the low-wage, precarious workforce. But you then allegedly take away the worst effects of it by taking tax revenues paid by other working-class people not just a wage top up to those workers but what is in effect a wage subsidy to low wage employers. This has the effect of removing pressure on such employers to increase wages. It undermines the efforts to raise minimum wages. It simply accepts the low-wage precarious workforce but tries to provide a kind of limited sedative. This is a major mistake.

Mr. Clarke also believes that by providing so much more in the form of a cash benefit, you would facilitate the agenda of austerity and privatization. This cash benefit would be used, in practice, to justify the further gutting of public services. This is why the right is so enamored with the idea of basic income. Both eff Bezos and Milton Friedman favoured a basic income, and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce favours a national pilot project on basic income. Friedman n particular argued that unions, minimum wages and social programs were all monstrous totalitarian interferences in the freedom of the marketplace. On the other hand, he recognized that pure capitalism without limits could be counterproductive. Consequently, what was necessary was the provision of a basic income at a minimum level, without any other social support system in place. The American right-winger Charles Murray has developed this further as has the Canadian right-wing institute the Fraser Institute. Murray advocates providing a minimum basic income that does not interfere with the flow of low-wage workers but that at the same time prevents social breakdown. Basic income for Murray is not to supplement and augment existing social provisions but rather replaces them.

Focusing on basic income enables the right to divert attention from the gross inadequacy of existing income-support systems. Basic income as a social policy would thus take us to playing the game of the right in the context of a capitalist economy and especially at this time, with the present balance of forces in society.

The counterargument by progressives on the left, of course, is that that is not their vision–that that is not the kind of basic income that they want. They want other systems to be strengthened; they want good minimum wages. The problem with that is that it does not take into account the prevailing situation. It does not take into account the present balance of forces. It does not take into account the agenda of capitalism. It assumes somehow that a wish will get you there. The kind of basic income that comes into existence would be shaped by the prevailing situation. If you assume that what you want or imagine can be realized, then you can create any number of utopias. Some people claim that universal basic income could be provided at such a level that they can literally decide whether they can participate in the job market or not. Where the money is to come from, and who is to provide it is unclear.

But as Pam Frache, from Toronto’s Workers Action Centre put it so well, to expect the capitalist state to provide the working class with an unlimited strike fund is an absurdity. And to suggest at this point in time, after forty years of defeat at the hands of neoliberal attack, that we’re in a position to win even a fraction of that is preposterous. Someone the other day stated that Mr. Clarke’s arguments were wrong because his version of basic income would be universal; it must be adequate; and it must be financed entirely by attacks on wealth. Of course, you can demand that the sky rain whiskey, but it’s just not going to happen. It is not realistic. Philippe van Parijs, Belgian advocate of basic income, has even suggested that basic income could even transform, could transform society, could abolish capitalism. Of course, if wishes were horses we could bet on basic income. However, we have to deal with reality. At the moment, it constitutes a very dangerous and distracting leftist illusion.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) [the social-democratic party here in Canada) are making a lot of effort in trying to win a basic income. Mr. Clarke is sad to say that some union leaders are buying into the idea. Social movements are backing it. Even a section of the anti-capitalist left is embracing basic income in this situation. It poses sometimes as a very transformative, radical bold proposal, but Mr. Clarke believes that it makes its peace with the capitalist marketplace and the neoliberal order. It says: wages will remain low, but it will be topped up by the tax revenues. This is a mistaken direction.

The Potentiality of Radical Proposals, Such as a Robust Basic Income, to Point Beyond a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers

It should be noticed that Mr. Clarke’s soul reference to what could be considered a radical aim that points beyond a society dominated by a class of employers is an isolated reference that Mr. Clarke fails to integrate in any way with his proposal for an enhanced welfare state. Thus, he states above: 

Why do we not take the machines away from the capitalists and use them to everyone’s advantage?

Yes, indeed, why do we not do that? How would we do that? By only enhancing the welfare state? How does only enhancing the welfare state contribute to that goal or aim? Mr. Clarke’s question is actually purely rhetorical. It serves no purpose that would enable workers to organize themselves in the present to realize that goal–an internal aim. Mr. Clarke’s aim of enhancing the welfare state is the primary focus; the reference to taking “the machines away from the capitalists and using them to everyone’s advantage” is not linked in any way to that focus. 

Could proposing a radical basic income that points beyond a market for workers by involving  a robust or enhanced or thick basic income that increases the freedom of workers from economic coercion be a stepping stone to the goal of taking “the machines away from the capitalists and using the to everyone’s advantage?” 

Of course, I fully admit that a basic income can be used for conservative purposes, for social-democratic purposes or for socialist purposes–just as can a proposal for welfare reform. It is to what basic income is linked that determines its conservative, social-democratic or socialist nature and not the proposal itself. Mr. Clarke, however, cannot admit that because his goal is decidedly reformist despite his radical rhetoric to the contrary. 

Consider Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborgh’s (2017) view in Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy, page 124: 

There is, however, no reason why one should wait until full abundance to start realizing partially the distributive principle that defines communism. Indeed, if it turns out—in light of historical experience and for deep-seated reasons to which Marx paid insufficient attention—that capitalism does better than socialism at developing the forces of production, this gradual transition to communism could happen in the context of a capitalist economy. The proposal of an unconditional basic income makes a lot of sense in this perspective. While not yet in a state of abundance, our society may plausibly be regarded as affluent in the sense that it could cover everyone’s fundamental needs unconditionally with a basic income, topped up in some cases to address special needs such as disabilities

This sounds fine, but I agree with Mr. Clarke that it is likely utopian–but not for Mr. Clarke’s reason that it is unrealizable. A robust basic income would interfere in the market for workers. Even if the resistance of employers were overcome–a big if–the working of the capitalist economy would be distorted substantially, leading to breakdowns in the accumulation process of capital and could be a threat to other workers–unless further measures were introduced. Thus, if a robust basic income were in place, it is likely that productivity of labour would initially decrease as economic coercion became less effective; absenteeism and other measures that entail the avoidance of work (understandable given the dictatorial nature of such work–see for example my post  Employers as Dictators, Part One) would also likely rise. For example, resistance by workers to work certainly characterized some sections of the working class during Michael Seidman (1991), Workers Against Work: Labor in Paris and Barcelona During the Popular Fronts, page 9: 

Furthermore, I wish to bring out the utopian dimension of resistance, a word which I have chosen because of its positive connotations. The importance of resistance in two major European cities in the fourth decade of the twentieth century indicates that refusals of work should not be dismissed as the behavior of “backward” or “primitive” working classes. Certainly, resisters did not articulate any clear future vision of the workplace or of society. Unlike the Marxists, they did not fight to take state power or, in contrast to the anarchosyndicalists, abolish or minimize the role of the state. I do not wish to
ignore the fact that workers’ refusals to work harmed the fight against Franco and weakened French defenses in a period of Nazi rearmament. Yet one might interpret resistance itself as suggesting a working-class utopia in which wage labor would be reduced to a minimum. Resistance was also a conjunctural and cyclical phenomenon, but refusals remained an intrinsic part of working-class culture and manifested themselves in different periods with various divisions of labor. During the Popular Fronts, workers revolted against a variety of disciplines, including that imposed by working-class organizations. Wage earners certainly wished to control their workplaces but generally in order to work less. One may speculate that the way to eliminate resistance is not by workers’ control of the means of production but rather by the abolition of wage labor itself.

The idealization of work in its present form meets the resistance of workers in various ways. Marx recognized this. From Marx-Engels Collected Works, 1843-1844, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Estranged Labour,” page 274: 

What, then, constitutes the alienation of labour? First, the fact that labour is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his intrinsic nature; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home. His labour is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labour. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labour is shunned like the plague. External labour, labour in which man alienates himself, is a labour of self-sacrifice, of mortification. Lastly, the external character of labour for the worker appears in the fact that it is not his own, but someone else’s, that it does not belong to him, that in it he belongs, not to himself, but to another.

If a robust basic income were implemented, it would interfere with the accumulation of capital, leading to the emergence of problems that would require further measures that would involve further interference in the process of the accumulation of capital. It would be better to be conscious of such a possibility and the need for a conscious movement that aimed to abolish wage labour–rather than enhancing the welfare state (itself still grounded on wage labour) or in a reversion to a neoliberal paradise.

Mr. Clarke’s implicit assumption that it is utopian to propose a robust or enhanced basic income, given economic coercion, is a conservative stance. It uses a radical view–that economic coercion is a fact of life in a society dominated by a class of employers–to draw conservative (social-reformist) conclusions. The same method was used by Mr. Bush in his one-sided use of Marx’s theory of surplus value (see Basic Income: A Critique of the Social-Reformist Left’s Assumptions and Analysis: Part Two and  Social-Reformist Leftist Activists Share Assumptions with the Right).

Mr. Clarke’s Inconsistent Call for Class Struggle

Mr. Clarke often calls for struggle (including class struggle) to achieve reformist aims. Of course, we should struggle to obtain higher wages, more secure employment, safer workplaces, expanded and better social housing, expanded universal healthcare, childcare and so forth. But why does he include struggle for an enhanced welfare state and exclude it from the process by which basic income arises? Mr. Clarke provides no reason for his exclusion of struggle for a basic income. He simply assumes that the class of employers will automatically achieve a minimal form of basic income–and simultaneously assumes that, if we struggle, we can achieve an enhanced welfare state despite the resistance of the class of employers.

I will simply quote from previous posts as well as from above Mr. Clarke’s many references to the need for struggle in order to substantiate my claim that he emphasizes struggle for enhanced welfare reforms, on the one hand, while ignoring the possibility and the need for struggle to achieve a robust basic income that threatens the existence of the market for workers on the other; such a collection of quotes provide a concentrated form of proof of my claim (rather than just being scattered). The quotes are sometimes overlapping since Mr. sometimes simultaneously argues for the need to fight for enhanced welfare reform while ignoring such need in the case of a robust radical basic income: 

Mr. Clarke’s Call for Class Struggle in the Case of an Enhanced Form of Welfare Capitalism

The alternative is to rejuvenate our unions and fight for decent wages, to fight to increase minimum wages, to fight for workers’ rights–rather than extend the cash benefits and extend the reach of the marketplace. It is far better to put considerable effort into the struggle for public services. … 

We need a fight to ensure that disability benefits are adequate and meet people’s needs and that they are secure. We need to challenge the intrusion and moral policing that goes on within these systems.

Again: 

But to extend the cash benefit widely out into the workforce is a huge mistake. And we could do so much better. Rather than try to get what in practice would be a meager cash benefit, it would be so much better to struggle to challenge the commodification of housing, the neoliberal city, the blighting of urban space with this agenda of greed by fighting for a massive extension of social housing. So that’s a benefit that goes to working-class people and does not go into the pocket of landlords. There’s a need to fight for increases in the adequacy of healthcare. The pandemic has made that absolutely clear. We need pharmacare, dental care, a unviersal childcare program that is not an empty perennial liberal promise. We need post-secondary education to be free; we need free public transport systems. On all of these fronts, we need to take up a fight.

But people will say: We have suffered defeats. We cannot win these things. Mr. Clarke argues that the left has for a very long time been forced on the defensive. The class struggle has not gone in our favour for a considerable period of time. But there is no alternative but to rebuild and to fight back and to win what we can. And to challenge this society but to fight for a different society. That’s absolutely indispensable. There in fact is not some social policy ruse that can just put things right.

Again: 

During the pandemic, struggles have broken out across the world, from Minneapolis to New Delhi to East Jerusalem. As the global health crisis subsides, there will be a strong determination to fight for something better. As we challenge, not just the ‘economic scarring’ left by the pandemic, but the impact of decades of austerity, we shouldn’t settle for a commodified form of social provision that makes its peace with the neoliberal order. We need to fight employers to win decent wages and to take to the streets to demand massively expanded social housing, greatly improved public healthcare, free public transit, universal child care and much else beside.

Mr. Clarke’s Lack of Reference for the Need to Engage in Class Struggle in the Case of the Proposal for Basic Income

Let us now see how Mr. Clarke presents basic income: 

Basic income is not going to solve the problem. Our lack of strength, our lack of ability to fight in the way we need to fight is the problem we have to address. We need to build that movement now more than ever. In this situation of global crisis we need more than ever to fight back, and we can do so much better in focusing our struggles than to fight for the commodification of social provision and basic income.

Again:

I wish I could convince more BI supporters to consider the foundations before they try to put the roof on. One such supporter told me a few months ago that my arguments on the role of income support in this society constituted ‘an irrelevant history lesson’ but I beg to differ. To provide nothing at all to people who are unemployed or otherwise outside of the paid workforce has proven impossible so income support emerged to contain social unrest. However, it is always provided reluctantly and to the least degree possible because it limits the economic coercion the job market rests on.

Conclusion

This inconsistency is explained by Mr. Clarke’s reformist aims. Despite Mr. Clarke’s references to exploitation  and economic coercion, he assumes that they are somehow fixed and permanent. Rather than directly trying to develop a movement for abolishing exploitation and economic coercion (with a struggle for both enhanced welfare reforms and a robust basic income being linked to such an aim), Mr. Clarke proposes reformist measures that do not address at all the issue of exploitation or economic coercion as such. Somehow, the movement for welfare reform is supposed to lead to taking over the machines owned by employers. This is utopian in the bad sense of the term as being unrealistic. 

Rather, a proposal for a robust basic income that questions the premises of the class power of employers and the associated economic, social and political relations would point the way out of both the current situation and the class situation that we constantly face. 

In a future post, I may will inquire into a possible explanation hinted at above: Mr. Clarke’s real aim is not the elimination of capitalism but of neoliberalism. 

Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part Four: Critique of the Idealization of Publicly Owned Infrastructure, Etc.

Introduction

This is the final post of a four-part series of posts. For the context of where the following fits into my participation and withdrawal from the organization Social Housing Green Deal, see the first part Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part One: The Working Class, Housing and the Police.

People’s Pandemic Shutdown

I sent the following email to Ms. Jessup at 816 a.m. (Toronto time), May 23, 2021, the same day that we were to have a general zoom meeting:

Hello Anna,
 
Attached are some questions I have about the Draft Action outline of the People’s Pandemic Shutdown. I would appreciate it if you would circultate it to others.
 
Thanks.
 
Fred

No one, as far as I am aware, ever discussed my questions and concerns. Such is the nature of the “progressive left” here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (and undoubtedly in many other parts of the world).

The following is my inquiry and critique:

People’s Pandemic Shutdown

We Demand Everything

(Draft Action Outline)

Long Term Objective

Politically compel a wealth transfer, from police, military, and big business, into stabilizing, publicly owned infrastructure, capable of responsibly managing disease, and ensuring genuinely healthy and safe living conditions for all on Turtle Island.

Immediate Objective

Embolden communities in Tkaronto, with the moral imperative, to occupy public space, and interrupt commerce, to achieve this long term objective.

Build solidarity, by highlighting the connections among peoples’ struggles.

 

  1. Questions about “Long Term Objective”:

    a. To what are they referring when they speak of Turtle Island?

  2. What do they mean by “publicly owned infrastructure?” Current public infrastructure, such as schools and welfare services, are oppressive in many ways. Should the left be demanding the transfer of power to such oppressive structures? Or should it be demanding the simultaneous transfer to and restructuring of public infrastructure? Will this need to restructure oppressive publicly owned infrastructure be addressed?

  3. For safe living conditions for all, it would be necessary to abolish the power of employers, would it not? Is there any such demand in this document? Could such an objective be immediately achieved? Or would it require years if not decades of organization, discussion and critique?

Strategy

  • Meet with abolitionist and anti-capitalist allies to develop comprehensive demands and an outline of what our social infrastructure must look like.
  • Mutually supportive promotion of the event and of each others struggles
  • Emphasise our commitment to publicly gather, with distancing and masks, to get the infrastructure we need, for all of us to be really and truly safe.

Infrastructure/programs to Consider in our Demands

  • Health care
  • Long Term Care Homes
  • Public Education 
  • Harm Reduction 
  • Food Security
  • Social Housing
  • Disability support programs
  • Paid sick days 
  • Free Transit
  • Recreation, parks
  • Equity Based Social Work 

Questions for the “Strategy”:

  1. Who are these abolitionist allies? Anti-capitalist allies?

  2. Would not the formulation of comprehensive demands require a critique of current demands that not only fall short of comprehensive demands but include arguments or references to less comprehensive demands as fair or just, such as the phrase “$15 and Fairness?” Or “fair” contracts or collective agreements? Or “decent work” and other such phrases? Will the need to engage in critique of other, reformist positions form part of the discussion?

  3. “To get the infrastructure that we need, for all of us to be really and truly safe,” will require years and indeed decades of struggle, discussion and critique for all of us to be really and truly safe. For example, I was diagnosed twice with cancer (invasive bladder cancer, and then a few years later rectal cancer—with subsequent metastatic liver cancer). When I asked the doctor why I had cancer again despite taking measures (such as healthier eating habits), his response was: “Bad luck.” Furthermore, as the documentary “Pink Ribbons Inc.” indicates, funding for most cancer research focuses on treating cancers once they arise rather than preventing cancer in the first place. Safety at work and in the community requires us to take control over producing our lives—and that requires abolishing the class power of employers. Will that be addressed?

  4. Re Infrastructure/programs: How are these demands to be met unless we control our life process? And how are we to control our life process without abolitioning the class power of employers? Will such abolition be front and centre of the strategy?

  5. Re Health care: Is it really possible to care, not just technically, but socially and emotionally, for those in need of health care in a health-care system characterized by, on the one hand, a hierarchical division of labour of nurses’ aides, nurses and doctors and, on the other, budget restraints dictated by the overall need to ensure that there is a constant flow of profit and accumulation of capital? Furthermore, the health-care workers work for a wage. What implication does this have for providing, not health services, but health care? Will these issues be addressed?

  6. Re: Public education: Is it likely that there will be any proposal for abolishing grades or marks or notes that oppress children and adolescents? Will there be any proposal for restructuring the curriculum such that it becomes meaningful for most children and adolescents? For example, John Dewey proposed and put into practice a curriculum that centred on the common needs of most human needs—for food, clothing and shelter. Learning to read, write and to develop and understanding of science emerged through engagements with actually reproducing various forms of human lifestyles in history. In that school, there were also no grades, marks or notes. Assessment occurred, but it was for the purpose of aiding children and adolescents to improve the quality of their work and not to compare one student’s achievements with the achievements of other students.

    Or will such proposals for change merely be “add-ons” to existing oppressive public educational structures, such as those proposed by the Chicago Teachers’ Union in their document Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve?

  7. Re Social housing: As I pointed out in my email concerning 33 Gabian Way, when 23 police showed up, the situation involved social housing—which can be just as oppressive as market housing. Will the oppressive nature of such housing be addressed?

  8. Re: Paid sick days: This demand assumes the continued existence of a class of employers, does it not? It may function as a tactical demand, but it is hardly on the same level as abolitionist demands, which are strategic. Is there any indication—or will there be—that even if there are paid sick days, this will hardly be sufficient since workers as a class will still be exposed to dangers at work over which they have no or little control since it is the employers who have power over the purchase of equipment and the organization of work?

  9. Re: Equity-based social work: What does this mean? Can social work really be equity-based in the context of the class power of employers?

 

Workers’ Demands to Build Upon

  • Status for all workers
  • Paid sick days for all
  • Genuinely safe and healthy working conditions for all
  • Livable wage for all

Questions for “Workers’ Demands to Build Upon”

  1. Re: Genuinely safe and healthy working conditions for all: to achieve this objective would require the abolition of the class power of employers. If this is the case, will such a demand be raised? If so, does not such a demand oppose many among the left who seek only reform and not fundamental structural changes? Would it not be necessary to engage in criticism of those who seek only to reform the class structure rather than abolish it?

 

Foreign Policy Demands to Build Upon

  • Cease all participation in illegal wars
  • Cease all monetary support to state governments known to commit war crimes or participate in illegal occupation, including Saudia Arabia and Israel

Questions for “Foreign Policy Demands to Build Upon”:

  1. Is there such a thing as a legal war? Why the reference to illegal at all? Why the reference to “law” at all? Does not the legal system oppress us in one way or another? Will this issue be raised and discussed?

  2. Re “illegal occupation”: Is there then such a thing as a legal occupation? Same questions as in 1.

 

Draft Itinerary for Day of Action (June Xth)

  • Defunding of oppressive corporations
  • Defunding oppressive police and military

1PM Toronto Police HQ 40 College Street

-Occupy the street, banners of connected struggles, chants

-Physically distant, masks

1:30PM Walk to Bay and College

-Occupy the intersection

-We Demand Everything: speakers connect the struggles and demands

Questions for “Draft Itinerary for Day of Action”:

  1. Re: “Defunding of oppressive corporations”: If all corporations are oppressive, then is the demand really the abolition of the existence of corporations? Or does the demand just mean: “Defund particular corporations that are particularly oppressive?” There is a world of difference between the two kinds of demand. Furthermore, what does it mean to “defund” a corporation? Nationalize it? But nationalization has hardly meant democratization. Nationalized corporations can be just as oppressive and exploitative as private corporations. ‘

  2. Re: “Defunding oppressive police and military”: Does that mean that all police and military are oppressive and should be defunded? Or just particularly oppressive forms of police and military structures? If all police and military are to be abolished—would that not require the abolition of the class power of employers as well since the main function of the police is to maintain the existing social order, with its class, patriarchal and racist structures, internally? And the military’s main function is, at a minimum, to maintain the existing social order externally? (and to extend the power of the government territoriality sometimes, if need be, in order to maintain social order)? Will such a demand be forthcoming? If so, will there be simultaneous critiques of those who seek merely to reform the class power of employers but not abolish such power since those who seek only reforms themselves would oppose such an abolitionist stance?

The meeting was supposed to be at 3:00 p.m. I expected, as usual, an email zoom link to be sent before the meeting started. I did not receive any such email.

I waited until 4:38, at which time I sent the following email to Miss Jessup:

Frederick Harris
Sun 2021-05-23 4:38 PM
To:

  •  Anna Jessup
 
Hello Anna,
 
I will no longer be attending the zoom meetings.
 
Fred
 

I did not think about looking on the organization’s Facebook page since the custom since February was for Ms. Jessup to send the zoom link by email.

I was curious. Was this just a mistake in not informing me that the zoom link would be on the Facebook page? I did look at the Facebook page–and then saw that the meeting was still being held–from 3:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.–a double session. I was not informed about the change in zoom link location, and I was not informed about the substantial extension in the length of the zoom meeting? Why was that? There started to exist evidence that this was a conscious effort to exclude me from participating:

Screenshot (6)

Political Implications

The social-democratic or reformist left are a clique; they refuse to engage in serious inquiry about the demands they raise. If there is such criticism, they refuse to consider them, and they may even resort to censorship in order to avoid reconsidering their approach.

Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Seven: Giving to Abolitionists with One Hand While Taking Back with the Other and Giving to Social Democrats

In his article published in the social-democratic journal Canadian Dimension on May 28, 2020, “Can We Ever Truly Transform or Democratize the Police? Measures Are Needed to Restrain and Neutralize Police Brutality to Whatever Extent Possible,” Harry Kopyto, ( https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/can-we-truly-transform-or-democratize-the-police) seems to agree much more with James Wilt in the debate between Mr. Wilt and Herman Rosenfeld in the same journal (see my posts, such as Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One). He argues, in effect, that it is, in practice, impossible to reform the police:

Rosenfeld is correct in promoting legislative and other changes similar to the ones identified above in response to the litany of police violence described by Wilt, but he is wrong in sowing illusions that these measures will change the fundamental nature of the police and “transform” them.

On the other hand, he claims that both Mr. Wilt and Mr. Rosenfeld have something to learn from each other: 

In my view, based on a career working as a criminal lawyer and a legal advocate against police abuse for 47 years before retirement, they should both learn to listen to each other because they both have something insightful to say.

I deny that Mr. Rosenfeld has much to teach us about how we are to address the problem of the police in relation to the working class. Mr. Kopyto concedes too much to Mr. Rosenfeld. Indeed, Mr. Kopyto falls into the same position, ultimately, as Mr. Rosenfeld, when answering the question: What is to be done? 

For example, Mr. Kopyto concludes his article with the following (despite showing the oppressive nature of the police historically): 

On the other hand, Wilt is right to point out that as enforcers of capitalist laws, police forces are inherently violent instruments of class oppression and must be abolished along with the capitalist system they serve. However, in the meantime, until that happens, measures are needed to restrain and neutralize police brutality to whatever extent may be possible [my emphasis].

This is a defensive position. Of course, we need to restrict the powers of the police at every opportunity (but this contradicts Mr. Rosenfeld’s view that we need the police because they protect workers from the theft of their property and from murder–see my critique. Mr. Kopyto does not mention Mr. Roesenfeld’s defense of the police in terms of these two functions).

In martial arts, if you can attack and defend at the same time, all the better. From Alan Gibson (2000), Why Wing Chun Works, pages 39-40 (Wing Chun is a form of Chinese kung fu): 

Simultaneous attack and defence.

Simultaneous attack and defence does not only mean doing one thing with one hand, (defending) and something different with the other (attacking). In Wing Chun this happens most of the time. Simultaneous attack and defence also refers to one hand serving two purposes at once.

Defensive measures may, on occasion, be necessary under special circumstances, but it is much more preferable to engage in simultaneous attack and defence in order to win a battle. To engage in purely defensive actions constantly often leads to defeat or at least to a weakening of one’s actions–as has indeed occurred with the rise of neoliberalism and the weak, defensive response of unions in many parts of the world. 

Mr. Rosenfeld, with his reformist suggestion of “transforming and reforming the police,” puts off forever the need to take back the protection of our lives from threats to it from others–and that means the major threat that employers mean to working-class lives (something which Mr. Rosenfeld does not even consider) (see Working and Living in a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers May Be Dangerous to Your Health). 

But let us return to Mr. Kopyto’s “In the meantime.” This “in the meantime” provides an opening to the social-democratic left to put off forever the abolition of the police. Their position, practically, is to perpetuate the existence of the police. They do not aim to abolish the police as a separate institution until some vague, distant future (Mr. Rosenfeld mentioned 100 years in his article–but it could well have been 1,000 years or 10,000 years–100 years is an arbitrary number chosen by Mr. Rosenfeld in order to postpone aiming to begin the process of abolition today). 

I will repeat (and quote) what I wrote in other posts about the difference between the abolitionist stance, which argues that it is necessary to incorporate the goal of abolishing the police in the present if that goal is to be realized. 

In a previous post (see How to Aim for Socialism Without Aiming for It, or The Nature of the Social-Democratic or Social-Reformist Left) , I wrote: 

The movie Rocky III illustrates what I mean. Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone), who had lost his title of world heavyweight champion to James “Clubber” Lang (played by Mr. T), was being trained by former heavy-weight boxing champion Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers, who won the first match against Balboa in the first movie and lost in the second movie). (There are undoubtedly racist overtones in the movie–see  Siobhan Carter’s  master’s thesis  Projecting a White Savior, the Body, and Policy).

At one point in his training, Rocky said that he would train later. Apollo answers: “There is no tomorrow.” The basis idea is that if you want to accomplish anything in life, you had better not procrastinate–putting off tomorrow what needs to be done today. Social democrats (and the radical left here in Toronto) act like Rocky Balboa did before Apollo Creed criticized him–they believe that socialism can arise in some distant future without explicitly incorporating the aim in the present, just as Balboa believed that he could regain the heavyweight title without incorporating that goal into his present actions. In other words, he believed that he could engage in procrastination.

The social-democratic or reformist left do the same thing. They shift the fight for socialism to some distant future and content themselves with fighting for reforms that fail to challenge the class structure. Their socialism is always pushed into the future as an ought that never meets the present conditions and circumstances; future and present (and past conditions) are severed.

They may indeed achieve social reforms–as they have in the past, but the claim that they are aiming for socialism is untrue–as was Rocky Balboa’s efforts at training to regain the heavyweight championship of the world until Apollo Creed criticized him.

The social-democratic left (and, practically, much of the radical left here in Toronto and undoubtedly elsewhere) consider that it is impossible to aim for socialism by incorporating it into our daily lives. They believe in magic; an aim can be realized without the aim organizing our activities in the present. 

Mr. Kopyto’s “In the meantime” provides an opening for social democrats to separate the future from the present and put off aiming for socialism in the present.

Let me repeat from still another post what a real or good aim means (not the pseudo-aim of social democrats who claim they are aiming for socialism). From Democracy and Education (2004):

The aim must always represent a freeing of activities. The term end in view is suggestive, for it puts before the mind the termination or conclusion of some process. The only way in which we can define an activity is by putting before ourselves the objects in which it terminates—as one’s aim in shooting is the target. But we must remember that the object is only a mark or sign by which the mind specifies the activity one desires to carry out. Strictly speaking, not the target but hitting the target is the end in view; one takes aim by means of the target, but also by the sight on the gun. The different objects which are thought of are means of directing the activity. Thus one aims at, say, a rabbit; what he wants is to shoot straight; a certain kind of activity. Or, if it is the rabbit he wants, it is not rabbit apart from his activity, but as a factor in activity; he wants to eat the rabbit, or to show it as evidence of his marksmanship—he wants to do something with it. The doing with the thing, not the thing in isolation, is his end. The object is but a phase of the active end,—continuing the activity successfully. This is what is meant by the phrase, used above, “freeing activity”

By contrast, the idea of “in the meantime” that is purely defensive involves an external aim or a pseudo-aim or not really even an aim since it fails to link up the present with the future and the future with the present:

In contrast with fulfilling some process in order that activity may go on, stands the static character of an end which is imposed from without the activity. It is always conceived of as fixed; it is something to be attained and possessed. When one has such a notion, activity is a mere unavoidable means to something else; it is not significant or important on its own account. As compared with the end it is but a necessary evil; something which must be gone through before one can reach the object which is alone worth while. In other words, the external idea of the aim leads to a separation of means from end, while an end which grows up within an activity as plan for its direction is always both ends and means, the distinction being only one of convenience. Every means is a temporary end until we have attained it. Every end becomes a means of carrying activity further as soon as it is achieved. We call it
end when it marks off the future direction of the activity in which we are engaged; means when it marks off the present direction.

Mr. Kopyto certainly does not intend to be a reformist, but his “in the meantime” leads directly and practically to such conclusions. His insights, such as the following, then can be dismissed by the social-democratic left:

The police, in Canada and elsewhere, were created to protect property rights and enforce repressive laws that were created and interpreted in the interests of the status quo. Even decades before it became the norm for police to break up demonstrations or target minorities, they were used to enforce criminal conspiracy charges against trade union “combines”. Police forces are not neutral or reformable—they are quasi-militarized with all emphasis on a culture of obedience and none on training to be able to exercise independent and critical judgment. Hence, sexism, racism, xenophobia and a “we-they” mentality run rampant in these institutions of repression. In many cases, as we know, police have been used to deny democratic rights and attack or restrict labour actions.

Why is it not possible to engage in defensive measures while simultaneously engaging in actions that serve to protect workers and other community members? I have already provided some examples of such efforts in the past (see Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Four: Possible Alternatives)? 

There has been a call for defunding the police and using some of the funds to hire mental health workers, social workers and others to investigate violent crimes and to deal with gender- and race-based violence, civil services to engage in traffic services, the enforcement of bylaws and minor offences, and a specialized unit for immediate intervention in violent crimes, with such a unit having all other present functions performed by police allocated to other kinds of people as outlined above, and therefore with a much reduced budget and area for intervening in citizens’ lives (see https://defundthepolice.org/alternatives-to-police-services/). 

Furthermore, why not use some funds to create protective organizations for workers and others outside work? For hiring or training workers in health and safety inspections since workers often face many more dangers from working for an employer than threats at being murdered (see Working and Living in a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers May Be Dangerous to Your Health). 

Such abolitionist initiatives need to be sought in the present and not in some distant future. From Ray Acheson,  (page 25): 

The imperative of now

Abolition is inevitably a long-term, ongoing project of change. But abolition is not just
about the future: it needs to start now.

In this moment that we are currently experiencing, this moment of profound shifts in
thinking and in action happening across the United States and around the world, it
is important to recognise that we are already doing abolitionist work. Throughout the
COVID-19 pandemic and during the recent protests, we have built and enriched mutual
aid networks—models of community support learned from, among others, Indigenous,
Black, and queer communities. People from all walks of life are coming together to care
for each other physically and emotionally. Many of these acts of solidarity and support are
being documented through independent media like Unicorn Riot; many of them will never
be recorded. But it is happening, and it shows what more we can do.

Mr. Kopyto may not have intended to argue that the police should be perpetuated, but his use of the phrase “in the meantime,” coupled with merely defensive measures that regulate the police in effect defend the perpetuation of the police. 

Socialists need to aim for abolition by bringing such an aim into the present–into actions and engagements that institute policies that link the present to the future aim, and the future aim to present actions and engagements. 

That is our task at the present as socialists. 

The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Air Canada, One of the Largest Private Employers in Canada

The following applies to Air Canada workers before the COVID-19. The situation undoubtedly has changed since then since the airline industry has suffered disproportionately an economic crisis relative to some other industries (such as food production).

In another post, I presented the twenty largest employers in Canada according to level of profit (see A Short List of the Largest Private Employers in Canada, According to Profit). One of those employers is Air Canada, a privatized airline company (that used to be under public ownership).

I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of workers of Magna International in an earlier post (see The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One); Magna International is one of the largest employers in Toronto.

I decided to look at the annual report of some of the largest private companies in Toronto and Canada if they are available in order to calculate the rate of exploitation at a more micro level than aggregate rates of surplus value at the national or international level. Politically, this is necessary since social democrats here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere) vaguely may refer to exploitation–while simultaneously and contradictorily referring to “decent work” and “fair contracts.” Calculating even approximately the rate of exploitation at a more micro level thus has political relevance.

Conclusions First

I am going to begin with a conclusion, and then explain what it means and how it is calculated so that the reader understands where I am headed in the calculations:

For every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Air Canada works around an additional 42 minutes for free for Air Canada.

In a 6-hour work day, the worker produces her/his wage in about 3.5 hours and works 2.5 hours for free for Air Canada. Of course, during the time that the worker produces her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is  also unfree (see, for instance, Management Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario and Employers as Dictators, Part One).

In an 8-hour work day, the worker produces her/his wage in about 5 hours 36 minutes and works for 2 hours and 24 minutes free for Air Canada.

In a 12-hour day, the worker produces her/his wage in about 8 hours 24 minutes and works for free for 3 hours 36 minutes for Air Canada.

Of course, social democrats refer to this situation, in one way or another, as “fair.” They do so by using such terms as “fair contract,” “free collective bargaining,” “fairness,” “economic justice,” “good contract,” “decent work,” “companies paying their fair share of taxes” and similar rhetoric. Such rhetoric, rather than enlightening workers about their situation, actually hide it. The working class deserves better than this ideology.

The Nature of the Rate of Exploitation

But what is the rate of exploitation? And why not use the usual rate of profit or the rate of return? The rate of profit is calculated as profit divided by investment. Since employers purchase both the means for work–buildings, computers, office supplies, raw material–and hire workers–we can classify investment into two categories: c, meaning constant capital, or the capital invested in commodities other than workers; and v, or variable capital, the capital invested in the hiring of workers for a certain period of time (wages, salaries and benefits).

The purpose of investment in a capitalist economy is to obtain more money (see The Money Circuit of Capital), and the additional money is surplus value when it is related to its source: workers working for more time than what they cost to produce themselves. The relation between surplus value and variable capital (or wages and salaries) is the rate of surplus value or the rate of exploitation, expressed as a ratio: s/v.

When the surplus is related to both c and v and expressed as a ratio, it is the rate of profit: s/(c+v).

In Marxian economics, you cannot simply use the economic classifications provided by employers and governments since such classifications often hide the nature of the social world in which we live. The rate of profit underestimates the rate of exploitation since the surplus value is related to total investment and not just to the workers. Furthermore, it makes the surplus value appear to derive from both constant capital and variable capital.

How I Calculated the Rate of Exploitation of Air Canada Workers

I calculated the conclusion as follows:

The income statement is broken into the following categories for 2019 (in millions of Canadian  dollars) :

Total revenue: $19,131
Total operating expenses: $17,481

Wages, salaries and benefits: $3,184
Aircraft fuel: $3,862
Regional airlines expense:

Aircraft fuel: $485
Other: $1,95

Depreciation and amortization: $1,986

Aircraft maintenance: $1,004

Airport and navigation fees: $990

Sales and distribution costs: $874

Ground package costs: $627

Catering and onboard services: $445

Communications and information technology: $397

Other: $1,671

Operating income: $1,650
Non-operating income (expense) [if it is income according to standard accounting practices, it has no parentheses; if it is an expense, it is within parentheses and needs to be subtracted–but see below): $125

Foreign exchange gain (loss): $499
Interest income: $164
Interest expense: ($515)
Interest capitalized: $35
Net financing expense relating to employee benefits: ($39)
Gain (loss) on financial instruments recorded at fair value: $23
Gain on debt settlements and modifications: $6
Gain (loss) on disposal of assets: $13
Other: ($61)

Income before income taxes: $1,775 (adding operating income and non-operating income (expense) together)

Some explanation of “interest capitalized” is in order. I have had difficulty in understanding the nature of “Interest capitalized.” As far as I can tell, interest that is normally paid and is an expense for the particular employer is treated, in Marxian economics, as part of surplus value because, at the macro level, it comes from the surplus value produced by the workers. Interest capitalized seems to be different since the interest charged on money borrowed for the purpose of the construction of fixed assets (with a specific interest rate attached to it) is “capitalized,” or not considered part of interest expenses until the construction is finished and the fixed asset is ready to use. This accounting distinction, however, from the macro point of view, is irrelevant since both interest expenses and interest capitalized are derived from the surplus value produced by workers (or appropriated from them in another industry). Accordingly, both interest expenses and interest capitalized should be added to the amount of “Income before income taxes” category.

The adjusted “Income before income taxes” therefore is: ($1775 +$515)=$2,290 (interest capitalization has already been added to income so there is no need to add it here).

Another necessary adjustment relates to the category and amount “Net financing expense relating to employee benefits: ($39)”. Pension-related expenses should probably form part of wages and hence should be shifted to “operating expenses.” This shift does not change the surplus value produced nor the “Income before income taxes” category; it just changes the distribution of expenses, from “Non-operating income (expense) to “Total operating expenses” by way of increasing the category “Wages, salaries and benefits” by $39; the category “Wages, salaries and benefits” are therefore $3,223.

The final calculations with adjustments before determining the rate of surplus value are:

Total revenue: $19,131
Total operating expenses: $17,520
Operating income: $1611
Non-operating income: $640
Income before income taxes: $2251

To calculate the rate of surplus value, we need to relate “Income before income taxes” to “Wages, salaries and benefits.” So, with the adjustments in place:, s=2251; v=3223. The rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value=s/v=2251/3223=70%.

That means that for every hour worked that produces her/his wage, a worker at Air Canada works around an additional 42 minutes for free for Air Canada.

In a 6-hour work day, the worker produces her/his wage in about 3.5 hours and works 2.5 hours for free for Air Canada. Of course, during the time that the worker produces her/his own wage, s/he is subject to the power of management and hence is unfree (see, for instance, Management Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario  and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

In an 8-hour work day, the worker produces her/his wage in about 5 hours 36 minutes and works for 2 hours and 24 minutes free for Air Canada.

In a 12-hour day, the worker produces her/his wage in about 8 hours 24 minutes and works for free for 3 hours 36 minutes for Air Canada.

I have used the lengths of the working day as 6, 8 and 12 because the length of the working day varies. According to one source:

As a customer service agent, you ll work from 3:00 am, 4:00 am and 5:00 am morning shifts, or 11:00 am, 12:00 pm, 2:00 pm. Afternoon shifts. Not sure about night shifts as I never work any of them. Part time is 6 hrs per day and full time can be 8-16 hrs. per day. You can exchange shifts, give away shifts, trade, pick or even parcial shifts. That part helps a lot when you need a day or 2 off.

Social-Democratic Rhetoric Neglects the Wider Context that Reveals the Exploitation of Workers

Of course, social democrats refer to this situation, in one way or another, as “fair.” They do so by using such terms as “fair contract,” “free collective bargaining,” “fairness,” “economic justice,” “good contract,” “decent work,” “companies paying their fair share of taxes” and similar rhetoric. Such rhetoric, rather than enlightening workers about their situation, actually hides it. The working class deserves better than this ideology.

By neglecting the fact of exploitation, other social democrats draw incorrect political conclusions. Thus, there are social democrats who try to claim that we need to reform the police rather than abolish it (see, for example, Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Two) because workers have property. Some workers in the more developed capitalist countries do indeed have property (and fewer, of course, in the less developed capitalist countries), but they obtain that property by being exploited in the first place. If they understood that, would they support the police, whose main function is to protect the power of the employer to exploit them (and, only secondarily, to protect them and their own property)?

If the above calculations can be improved in any way, please comment on the above. I have been unable to find many guideposts about how to calculate the rate of exploitation or the rate of surplus value at the level of particular companies.

Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Five: More Philosophical Considerations

This is the fifth and perhaps the last post in a five-part series on the issue of the reform of the police versus its abolition. (I came across an article on unions and the police (not police unions) and may write a post on that still). It is more theoretical than the first four posts since it deals with references to philosophies that try to link the present to the future and the future to the present in a much more general way. The issue has general significance for a socialist strategy.

The context of this post is explained thus (from the previous posts):

Mr. Rosenfeld, a self-declared radical and Marxist living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in an article published in the social-democratic magazine Canadian Dimension on April 20, 2020, Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking), responded to another article published on April 12 in the same magazine, written by James Wilt,  Abolishing the police is the only reasonable response to Winnipeg Police killings. Wilt argues that the police cannot be reformed but must be abolished since their function is essentially repressive, and that essential function is sufficient for demanding its abolition

I also quoted Mr. Rosenfeld in a previous post:

It is one thing to envision what a future socialist and decolonized society might look like in 100 years and strive to move in that direction. But to talk as if the necessary political and social conditions of such a society exist at this moment is to fly in the face of reality. And, once again, it takes the struggle to transform or democratize these institutions off the agenda.

It is my contention that Mr. Rosenfeld has a mechanical or external conception of the relation between the present and the future, as well as the relation between the future and the present. This mechanical or external conception is characteristic of all reformist socialists. It is, in other words, a pattern that is consistent with what I called a bad aim in the previous post. By contrast, the abolitionist stance incorporates the future in the present and the present in the future. This internal purpose or aim is characteristic of the more profound philosophies in the past.

The linking of the present to the future in an internal way goes back at least to Aristotle, perhaps the greatest ancient Greek philosopher. From Alfredo Ferrarin (2004), Hegel and Aristotle, pages 21-22 :

But, Aristotle asks, does not a physician cure himself? When such a phrase is used we must indicate that what we actually mean is that the physician heals himself qua [as] patient, not qua [as] physician. Here the doctor is an active principle of change in another thing or in the same qua [as] other. The distinction of respects is crucial, and such examples can be multiplied. Yet Met. Θ 8 [reference to Aristotle’s work Metaphysics] proves that this does not extinguish the question. This “active principle of change,” dunamis, must mean generally “every active principle of change and rest. Nature . . . is an active principle of change but not in another thing but in the thing itself qua [as[ itself” (1049b 5–10). So there do seem to be cases in which agent and patient are the same, and in which different respects cannot be distinguished. Such cases still have to do with becoming, but with a highly qualified notion of becoming. If I use a tool, say, a saw to cut a piece of wood, here agent, means, and patient fall asunder [apart]; but in the case of a living being, agent and patient are identical; the animal acts on itself qua [as] itself. Such cases have to do with a peculiar kind of activity, an activity in which the end and the agent are the same; but in such cases the idea of a self-actualization of sorts, a becoming that is not external to the patient because it is effected by and directed to itself, is central.

Life is constituted by self-movement and self-change; change in this case is the same as self-change and is different from mechanical or external change. External or mechanical change does indeed occur, but there is no identity of the beginning, the means and the end or result.

Aristotle views internal ends to be very distinct from external ends (pages 23-24):

Activities are ranked according to whether their ultimate end is internal to the agent or outside of the agent. The end of production is the product, an object external to the producer; here the activity is instrumental to the usage, so that the ship captain’s expertise and knowledge of the form and end is architectonic and directive for the ship builder’s art. In action, by contrast, producer and user are the same, for good action is the end (Eth.nic. VI 2, 1139b 3–4; 5, 1140b 7), [reference to Aristotle’s work Nichomachean Ethics] and action has no end outside itself (Pol. VII 3, 1325b
15 ff.) [reference to Aristotle’s work Politics]. An end that is chosen for its own sake is a complete and perfect end in an absolute sense (haplôs, Eth.nic. I 5, 1097a 30). This praxis or action is a complete activity (Met. Θ 6, 1048b 18 ff.), which gives a determinate meaning to individual existence.

The importance of the incorporation of life–and its internal purposefulness–for philosophy is also seen later. Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, incorporated purpose into his philosophy in what is called his third critique Critique of Judgement (the first two were Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of Practical Reason). Kant’s incorporation of internal purposiveness into his philosophy was itself incorporated into the philosophy of another German philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel. From Karen Ng (2020), Hegel’s Concept of Life: Self-Consciousness, Freedom, Logic, pages 5-6:

In order to provide a systematic account of the concept of life, this study will defend three interrelated claims. The first is that the core tenets of Hegel’s philosophy, and particularly those that concern his concept of the Concept, center on the purposiveness theme, inherited from Kant’s Critique of Judgment (1790).5 In the third Critique, a text that is considered by many to be the key for the development of post- Kantian philosophy,6 Kant introduced the problem of nature’s purposiveness in connection with an investigation into the powers of judgment, essentially arguing that a principle of nature’s purposiveness is the condition for the non- arbitrary operation of judgment in its pursuit of empirical knowledge.7 As part of his investigation, Kant introduces an idea that I argue is central for the development of Hegel’s concept of the Concept— namely, the notion of internal purposiveness manifest in the self- organizing form of an organism or natural purpose (Naturzweck). The idea of internal purposiveness is the Kantian ancestor and model for Hegel’s concept of the Concept, and Hegel repeatedly attests to its importance, claiming that “reason is purposive activity,” and more emphatically, that internal purposiveness is “Kant’s great service to philosophy” (PhG ¶22/ 3:26; WL 654/ 6:440).8 [Reference to Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit]. Although the details of Kant’s own account are, to be sure, much disputed, what is indisputable is Hegel’s unequivocal endorsement of Kant’s conception of internal purposiveness and his insistence that it plays a positive, constitutive role with respect to the activities of reason and thought.

Let us now listen to Mr. Rosenfeld:

It is one thing to envision what a future socialist and decolonized society might look like in 100 years and strive to move in that direction. But to talk as if the necessary political and social conditions of such a society exist at this moment is to fly in the face of reality. And, once again, it takes the struggle to transform or democratize these institutions off the agenda. Further, considering what it would take for a socialist government to challenge capital and bring in critical transformations of the state and the economy, policing would certainly have to change, but it would have to play a role in dealing with those who organize to oppose these changes.

If a socialist society involves the abolition of the police as a separate power, then that end, if it is to be internal to present activity, must function to organize our activities in the present towards that end. Otherwise, the reference to striving “to move in that direction” involves an external purpose that has no function in the present. It is a mere “ought” that will never arrive since it always pushed into the future rather than linked to the present.

The German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel criticized the ought typical of this point of view. From The Encyclopedia Logic (originally published in 1830; new publication 1991), page 30:

However, the severing of actuality from the Idea is particularly dear to the understanding, which regards its dreams (L e., its abstractions) as something genuine, and is puffed up about the “ought” that it likes to prescribe, especially in the political field-as if the world had had to wait for it, in order to
learn how it ought to be, but is not. If the world were the way it ought to be, what then would become of the pedantic wisdom of the understanding’s “ought to be”?

Hegel also saw clearly that, theoretically, this ought is really an aim that is designed to never be reached; he called such an aim the “bad infinite.” Mr. Rosenfeld’s socialist society (100 years from now) is like the (bad) infinite that lies beyond the finite world in which we live. From G.W.F. Hegel, The Science of Logic (originally published in 1812/1816 , new publication in 2010), page 111:

When, therefore, the understanding, elevating itself above this finite world, rises to what is the highest for it, to the infinite, the finite world remains for it as something on this side here, and, thus posited only above the finite, the infinite is separated from the finite and, for the same reason, the finite from the infinite: each is placed in a different location, the finite as existence here, and the infinite, although the being-in-itself of the finite, there as a beyond, at a nebulous, inaccessible distance outside which there stands, enduring, the finite.

Another interesting aspect of Mr. Rosenfeld’s article is the arrogance expressed in the article towards more radical views. Mr. Rosenfeld characterizes explicitly more radical views as “ridiculous” and “sloganeering”:

Calling for the abolition of the police force sounds ridiculous to most people because it is. Radical sloganeering is no substitute for engaging with the complexities and requirements of serious left strategies for change.

Mr. Rosenfeld shows explicitly his real contempt for workers and others who are, directly or indirectly, oppressed by a separate police force–for that is the issue, not his ridiculous characterization of the problem. His “reformist sloganeering” is also ridiculous since he provides an external model of how we are to move from where we are now to where we want to go–by offering us an external model of aims.

Mr. Rosenfeld also explicitly expresses his contempt for workers and others who are, directly or indirectly, oppressed by a separate police force in the title of his article: “Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking” [my emphasis]. Mr. Rosenfeld, apparently, does not even understand what intelligent thinking involves. Among other things, it involves linking means to ends, and ends to means, in an internal fashion. From John Dewey (1938), The Logic of Inquiry, pages 9-10:

Reasonableness or rationality is, according to the position here taken, as well as in its ordinary usage, an affair of the relation of means and consequences. In framing ends-in-view, it is unreasonable to set up those which have no connection with available means and without reference to the obstacles standing in the way of attaining the end. It is reasonable to search for and select the means that will, with the maximum probability, yield the consequences which are intended. It is highly unreasonable to employ as means, materials and processes which would be found, if they were examined, to be such that they produce consequences which are different from the intended end; so different that they
preclude its attainment. Rationality as an abstract conception is precisely the generalized idea of the means-consequence relation as such.

Mr. Rosenfeld, by using a model of thought that is characterized by an external relation between means and ends, necessarily engages in unintelligent or irrational thinking. He then accuses anyone who disagrees with his model of sloppy thinking.

It is interesting that Mr. Rosenfeld had the opportunity to comment on some of my views on the police in a couple of posts (see Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One  and   Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part Two). The first one was posted on August 30, 2020, and the second one on February 21, 2020. On May 29, 2020, Mr. Rosenfeld made the following comment on the article I posted (see Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Three): “Well, I’ve finally had enough.” He unsubscribed from my blog. I guess this is the expression of the democratic nature of of the social-reformist left–a lack of debate and discussion. The accusations of “being ridiculous” and engaging in “sloppy thinking” also express the democratic nature of the social-reformist left.

This does not mean that the police can immediately be abolished (any more than can the enemy in any war)–but it does mean that we need to begin to organize for the purposes of abolishing the police (just as, in any war, we need to begin immediately to organize to engage in battle and–to win the war)–and calling for such abolition. Mr. Rosenfeld forever will push the abolition of the police into the future–like all social-democratic reformists. Mr. Rosenfeld’s means do not correspond to his end, and his end does not correspond to his means. He engages in irrational thinking.

As I will show in another post (while criticizing Sam Gindin’s views (a political colleague of Mr. Rosenfeld here in Toronto and joint author of a book, with Leo Panitch, on globalization), the issue of an external purpose versus an internal purpose is relevant for determining or characterizing the nature of socialist society and socialist relations.

John Dewey, perhaps the greatest philosopher of education, incorporated the life process–and internal purposiveness–into his own philosophy. He has this to say about the present and its relation to the future (and to the past): will leave him to provide the last word philosophically on this topic. From Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938), pages 238-239:

For the purposes of a particular inquiry, the to and from in question may be intelligently located at any chosen date and place. But it is evident that the limitation is relative to the purpose and problem of the inquiry; it is not inherent in the course of ongoing events. The present state of affairs is in some respect the present limit-to-which; but it is itself a moving limit. As historical, it is becoming something which a future historian may take as a limit ab quo[from which, as in a beginning] in a temporal continuum.

That which is now past was once a living present, just as the now living present is already in course of becoming the past of another present. There is no history except in terms of movement toward some outcome, something taken as an issue, whether it be the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Negro Slavery in the United States, the Polish Question, the Industrial Revolution or Land Tenure. The selection of outcome, of what is taken as the close, determines the selection and organization of subject-matter, due critical control being exercised, of course, with respect to the authenticity of evidential data. But the selection of the end or outcome marks an interest and the interest reaches into the future. It is a sign that the issue is not closed; that the close in question is not existentially final. The urgency of the social problems which are now developing out of the forces of industrial production and distribution is the source of a new interest in history from the economic point of view.

There is accordingly, a double process. On the one hand,  changes going on in the present, giving a new turn to social problems, throw the significance of what happened in the past into a new perspective. They set new issues from the standpoint of which to rewrite the story of the past. On the other hand, as
judgment of the significance of past events is changed, we gain new instruments for estimating the force of present conditions as potentialities of the future. Intelligent understanding of past history is to some extent a lever for moving the present into a certain kind of future. No historic present is a mere redistribution, by means of permutations and combinations, of the elements of the past. Men are engaged neither in mechanical transposition of the conditions they have inherited, nor yet in simply preparing for something to come after. They have their own problems to solve; their own adaptations to make. They face the future, but for the sake of the present, not of the future. In using what has come to them as an inheritance from the past they are compelled to modify it to meet their own needs, and this process creates a new present in which the process continues. History cannot escape its own process. It will, therefore, always be rewritten. As the new present arises, the past is the past of a different present. Judgment in which emphasis falls upon the historic or temporal phase of redetermination of unsettled situations is thus a culminating evidence that judgment is not a bare enunciation of what already exists but is itself an existential requalification. That the requalifications that are made from time to time are subject to the conditions that all authentic inquiry has to meet goes without saying.

Present problems include the oppressive, racist and deadly power of a separate group called the police that preserve the existing class power of employers as well as the systemic racism that has accompanied it in various countries. Socialist relations between people would not require such an oppressive, racist and deadly power. To link the future in the present, and the present in the future, by proposing the abolition of the police, is to think and to act intelligently.

It is not sloppy thinking to incorporate internal purposefulness  into our actions; it is intelligent thinking. Some of the greatest philosophers have incorporated such a view into their own philosophies.

What do you now think of Mr. Rosenfeld’s title of his article: “Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking”?

Supplement

One of the good things about blogs is that you can return to a post and add to it (or change something)–unlike emails. 

Mr. Rosenfeld, in another article that addresses the implications of a possible victory of Trump or Biden  (https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/us-election-what-could-it-mean-for-canada-and-the-canadian-left).  He briefly refers to the police and his continued advocacy for the their reform rather than their abolition–without argument: 

Of course, the push from below includes the movements in cities across the US demanding radical reforms of the repressive apparatuses represented by policing and criminal justice, and directly attacking systemic racism, as well as the on-the-ground movements against fossil fuels and pipelines.

He fails to refer to “the movements in cities across the US demanding” the abolition of the police due to “the repressive apparatuses represented by policing and criminal justice.” 

This neglect and indeed probable conscious omission of references to more radical demands–what do you think it expresses? 

Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Four: Possible Alternatives

This is a continuation of an earlier post on the issue of reforming the police versus its abolition.

Mr. Rosenfeld, a self-declared radical and Marxist living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in an article published in the social-democratic magazine Canadian Dimension on April 20, 2020, Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking), responded to another article published on April 12 in the same magazine, written by James Wilt,  Abolishing the police is the only reasonable response to Winnipeg Police killings. Wilt argues that the police cannot be reformed but must be abolished since their function is essentially repressive, and that essential function is sufficient for demanding its abolition.

In the last post on this topic, I indicated that I would provide an outline of some possible alternatives to police as a separate organization that might be created in the present.

Let me, however, fully admit that one of the reasons why people accept the separate existence of the police is the need for protection from activities that may harm them, such as personal theft of their property or murder. Mr. Rosenfeld is certainly not wrong when he points out that workers do rely on the police to protect them from such activities (although he certainly overestimates the effectiveness of the police in carrying out that function and ignores completely the fundamental or main role of the police as violent defenders of the existing organized exploitation and oppression of millions of Canadian workers and billions of workers worldwide).

As Kristain Williams argues (2007), in Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America, page 224, the police rely on the protection function, such as it is, to legitimate their own continued separation from the rest of us–as does the capitalist government or state:

C R I M E AS A SOURCE OF STATE POWER

There is a question that haunts every critic of police-namely, the question of crime , and what to do about it. This is a real concern, and it deserves to be taken seriously. The fact is, the police do provide an important community service-offering protection against crime. They do not do this job well, or fairly, and it is not their chief function, but they do it, and this brings them legitimacy. ? Even people who dislike and fear them often feel that they need the cops. Maybe we can do without omnipresent surveillance, racial profiling, and institutionalized violence , but most people have been willing to accept these features of policing, if somewhat grudgingly, because they have been packaged together with things we cannot do without crime control, security, and public safety. It is not enough, then, to relate to police power only in terms of repression; we must also remember the promise of protection, since this legitimates the institution.

A personal experience drove this protective function home to me. The mother of my daughter, Francesca, was born in Guatemala. In 2013,  Francesca graduated from high school, and I promised to take her to Guatemala when she graduated before I moved to Toronto. However, I looked at the murder statistics in Guatemala, and they were even higher than during the civil war–a difficult feat given the massacres that the Guatemalan military had carried out during the civil war.

I wanted my daughter to improve her Spanish. I myself had learned Spanish in Guatemala in two cities: in Quetzaltenango (locally called Xela), and Hueheutenango (known as Hueheu by the locals). At the time, I did not know how dangerous it was in Xela or in Huehue. I opted for another city in Guatemala–Antigua (not Antigua and Barbuda of the Caribbean). I had heard of Antigua when I was learning Spanish in Guatemala, and I made a point of not going there since I was told that it was very touristic–and it still is. However, given that Antigua had extra police in Antigua–tourist police–I opted for Francesca to study Spanish in Antigua rather than in Xela or Hueheu–for protective reasons. Despite my evident dislike of the major police function of protecting the power of the class of employers, the protective function of the police was something that I considered when making a decision concerning Francesca’s safety.

Proposals for the abolition of policing thus need to take into account the importance of the protective function for people.

The protective function of the police needs to be integrated into the community once more–not as “community police” (which so typically combines the carrot and stick) but into the community protecting itself through its own organizational efforts—self-organization of the community. Williams mentions two historical movements that shed light on the potential for communal self-protection: the labour movement and the resistance of Afro-Americans to police oppression and their own internal need for self-protection (page 226):

The obvious place to look for community defense models is in places where distrust of the police, and active resistance to police power, has been most acute. There is a close connection between resistance to police power and the need to develop alternative means of securing public safety.

In the United States, the police have faced resistance mainly from two sources-workers and people of color (especially African Americans) . This is unsurprising, given the c1ass-control and racist functions that cops have fulfilled
since their beginning. The job of controlling poor people and people of color has
brought the cops into continual conflict with these parts of society.

He outlines the creation of an alternative worker-protective force during the 1919 Seattle general strike (page 227):

The classic example is the Seattle General Strike of 1919. Coming to the aid of a shipbuilders’ strike, 1 10 union locals declared a citywide sympathy strike and 100,000 workers participated. Almost at once the city’s economy halted, and the strike committee found itself holding more power than the local government. The strike faced three major challenges: starvation, state repression, and the squeamishness of union leaders. Against the first, the strikers themselves set about insuring that the basic needs of the population were met, issuing passes for trucks carrying food and other necessities, setting up public cafeterias, and licensing the operation of hospitals, garbage collectors, and other essential services. Recognizing that conditions could quickly degenerate into panic, and not wanting to rely on the police, they also organized to ensure the public safety. The “Labor War Veteran’s Guard” was created to keep the peace and discourage disorder. Its instructions were written on a blackboard at its headquarters:

The purpose of this organization is to preserve law and order without the
use of force. No volunteer will have any police power or be allowed to carry
weapons of any sort, but to use persuasion only.

In the end, the Seattle General Strike was defeated, caught between the
threat of military intervention and the fading support of the AFI.:s international
officers. While the strike did not end in victory, it did demonstrate the possibility
of working-class power-the power to shut down the city, and also the power
to run it for the benefit of the people rather than for company profit.

The strike was broken, but it did not collapse into chaos. Mayor Ole Hanson
noted, while denouncing the strike as “an attempted revolution,” that “there
was no violence . . . there were no flashing guns, no bombs, no killings.” Indeed,
there was not a single arrest related to the strike (though later, there were
raids) , and other arrests decreased by half. Major General John Morrison,
in charge of the federal troops, marveled at the orderliness of the city.

The Afro-Americans developed, first, the Deacons for Defense and Justice and, later, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in order to deal with police oppression and the general need of Afro-American for their own protection (page 227-228):

Almost fifty years later, more sustained efforts at community defense grew out of the civil rights movement. As the militancy of the movement increased and its perspective shifted toward that of Black Power, African Americans prepared to defend themselves-first against Klansmen and cops, later against crime in the ghetto. As early as 1957, Robert Williams armed the NAACP chapter in Monroe, North Carolina, and successfully repelled attacks from the Ku Klux Klan and the police. Soon other self-defense groups appeared in Black communities throughout the South. The largest of these was the Deacons for Defense and Justice, which claimed more than fifty chapters in the Southern states. The Deacons made it their mission to protect civil rights workers and the Black community more generally. Armed with shotguns and rifles, they escorted civil rights workers through dangerous back country areas, and organized twenty-four-hour patrols when racists were harassing Black people in Bogalusa, Louisiana. They also eavesdropped on police radio calls and responded to the scene of arrests to discourage the cops from overstepping their bounds.

Williams and the Deacons influenced what became the most developed community defense program of the period-the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. ‘The Panthers, most famously, “patrolled pigs.” Visibly carrying guns, they followed police through the Black ghetto with the explicit aim of preventing police brutality and informing citizens of their rights. When police misbehaved, their names and photographs appeared in the Black Panther newspaper.

The Panthers also sought to meet the community’s needs in other ways, providing
medical care, giving away shoes and clothing, feeding school children breakfast, setting up housing cooperatives, transporting the families of prisoners for visitation days, and offering classes during the summer at “Liberation Schools.” These “survival programs” sought to meet needs that the state and the capitalist economy were neglecting, at the same time aligning the community with the Party and drawing both into opposition with the existing power structure.

The strategy was applied in the area of public safety as well. The Panthers’ opposition to the legal system is well known: they patrolled and sometimes fought the police, they taught people about their legal rights, and they provided bail money and arranged for legal defense when they could. But the Panthers also took seriously the threat of crime, and sought to address the fears of the community they served. With this in mind, they organized Seniors Against a Fearful Environment (SAFE) , an escort and bussing service in which young Black people escorted the elderly on their business around the city.

A further example of self-organization of the protective function is the women’s liberation movement. The women’s liberation movement in the 1970s led to the formation of women’s organizations designed to address a lack of protection from the separate police force: (From Vikki Law (March 2011), “Where Abolition Meets Action: Women Organizing Against Gender Violence,” pages 85-94, in Contemporary Justice Review, volume 14, Number 1), pages  86-87:

The 1970s (women’s liberation: defending themselves and each other)

Women’s liberation movements of the 1970s allowed women to begin talking openly
about their experiences of sexual assault. Discussions led to a growing realization that women need to take their safety into their own hands and fight back.

Some women formed street patrols to watch for and prevent violence against
women. In Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, members of Women’s Liberation group
Cell 16 began patrolling the streets where women often left their factory jobs after
dark. ‘We were studying Tae Kwan Do and decided to intentionally patrol, offering to accompany women to their cars or to public transportation,’ recalled former Cell 16 member Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. ‘The first time two of us went to the nearby factory to offer our services to women workers, the first woman we approached looked terrified and hurried away. We surmised that my combat boots and army surplus garb were intimidating, so after that I dressed more conventionally.’

Later efforts were better received: Dunbar-Ortiz recalled that one night Cell 16
members met Mary Ann Weathers, an African-American woman, at a film screening. ‘After the film we introduced ourselves and told her we provided escorts for women. We asked her if she would like us to walk her home, as it was near midnight. Mary Ann Weathers, who joined our group, marveled over the bizarre and wonderful experience of having five white women volunteer to protect her’ (Dunbar-Ortiz, 2001, p. 136).

Dunbar-Ortiz also recalled that she traveled around the country speaking and
encouraging women to form similar patrols. Students at Iowa State University and the University of Kentucky responded, forming patrols on their campus.

The lack of police and judicial response to gender violence led to increasing recognition that women needed to learn to physically defend themselves from male
violence.

In 1969, Cell 16 established Tae Kwan Do classes for women. Unlike existing police offered self-defense classes that promoted fear rather than empowerment, Cell 16’s classes challenged students to draw the connections between their learned sense of helplessness and their role in society as women (Lafferty & Clark, 1970, pp. 96–97).

Self-protection of women by women emerged not only in response from attacks from strangers–and the lack of protection afforded by the police–but also in response to attacks from people women knew (page 87):

Although much of the 1970s rhetoric and organizing around gender violence presupposed that women were attacked by strangers, women also recognized and
organized against violence perpetrated by those that they know, including spouses and intimate partners. In Neu-Isenburg, a small town near Frankfurt, Germany, a group of women called Fan-Shen decided that, rather than establish a shelter for battered women, they would force the abuser out of the house. When a battered woman called the local women’s shelter, the group arrived at her home to not only confront her abuser, but also occupy the house as round-the-clock guards to the woman until her abuser moved out. When the strategy was reported in 1977, Fan-Shen had already been successful in five instances (‘Women’s Patrol,’ 1977, p. 18).

Sex workers in Daytona Beach, Florida, armed themselves with weapons after it became clear that the police were doing little to protect them (page 89):

In March 2006, police responded to the murders of three sex workers in Daytona Beach, Florida, by cracking down on prostitution. In one weekend, 10 people were arrested in a prostitution sting. Recognizing that the police response did more to target than to protect them, street prostitutes began arming themselves with knives and other weapons to both to protect themselves and each other and to find the killer. ‘We will get him first,’ declared Tonya Richardson, a Ridgewood Avenue prostitute, to Local 6 News. ‘When we find him, he is going to be sorry. It is as simple as that’ (‘Daytona Prostitutes,’ 2006).

Montreal sex workers formulated a different strategy: they used shared information to protect each other and to organize to advocate for the decriminalization of their profession (pages 89-90):

In Montreal, sex workers have taken a different approach to ensure their safety. In
1995, sex workers, public health researchers, and sympathizers formed Stella, a sex
workers’ alliance. Instead of knives and other weapons, the group arms sex workers
with information and support to help them keep safe. Stella compiles, updates, and circulates a Bad Tricks and Assaulters list, enabling sex workers to share information and avoid dangerous situations. It also produces and provides free reference guides that cover working conditions, current solicitation laws, and health information. Recognizing that the criminalization of activities related to the sex industry renders sex workers vulnerable to both outside violence and police abuse, the group also advocates for the decriminalization of these acts (Stella, n.d.).

Other examples could be given, but the above examples of grassroots self-protection should be enough to show that we do not need the protective function to be embodied in a separate organization called “the police.”

Mr. Rosenfeld’s claim that the demand for the abolition of the police is absurd is itself absurd. He also claims that Mr. Wilt’s call for the abolition of the police is an example of “sloppy thinking.” Intelligent thinking, however, requires inquiry in one form or another–or it is just sloppy thinking.

Since Mr. Rosenfeld’s article presents little evidence of having engaged in inquiry into the nature and function of the police in a society characterized by a class of employers, on the one hand, and historical examples of communities organizing to protect themselves without the police on the other, it can be concluded that Mr. Rosenfeld’s article is a good example of the sloppy thinking characteristic of some of the social-democratic left here in Toronto (and undoubtedly elsewhere).

It is too bad that the social-democratic left rarely engage in self-criticism in order to prevent sloppy social-democratic thinking from becoming public.

Reform Versus Abolition of Police, Part Three

This is the third post in a five-part series on the issue of the reform of the police versus its abolition. It is more philosophical than the first two posts since it deals with the relation of the present to the future–and the future to the present.

The context of this post is explained thus (from the previous posts):

Mr. Rosenfeld, a self-declared radical and Marxist living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in an article published in the social-democratic magazine Canadian Dimension on April 20, 2020, Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking), responded to another article published on April 12 in the same magazine, written by James Wilt,  Abolishing the police is the only reasonable response to Winnipeg Police killings. Wilt argues that the police cannot be reformed but must be abolished since their function is essentially repressive, and that essential function is sufficient for demanding its abolition

Near the end of my last post, I quoted Mr. Rosenfeld:

It is one thing to envision what a future socialist and decolonized society might look like in 100 years and strive to move in that direction. But to talk as if the necessary political and social conditions of such a society exist at this moment is to fly in the face of reality. And, once again, it takes the struggle to transform or democratize these institutions off the agenda.

I will now address the issue of “a future socialist and decolonised society” in terms of the nature of the relation of the future to present reality, or more generally the relation of the future to the present.

In general, there are two ways of imagining the future among the left: the social-democratic way and the Marxist way.

The social-democratic way imagines the future as some distant event that we aim at but has little to do with our present activities and realities. The aim is indeed there–to achieve a socialist society–but only as an external aim that has little or no self-organizing function of our present activities and realities. Here the present and the future are separated, with the future being simply beyond present reality. This is indeed how Mr. Rosenfeld presents the future–as illustrated by the above quote.

This view of the future has a long history among the left. Karl Kautsky was a leader of the German Social Democratic Party in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As Jukka Gronow says (2016), in On the Formation of Marxism: Karl Kautsky’s Theory of Capitalism, the Marxism of the Second International and Karl Marx’s Critique of Political Economy, page 162:

The revolutionary goal principally accepted by the party in its programmes seems
to be of no practical importance.

He then quotes Kautsky:

We know that our goal can be attained only through a revolution. We also know that it is just as little in our power to create this revolution as it is in the power of our opponents to prevent it. It is no part of our work to instigate a revolution or to prepare the way for it. And since the revolution cannot be arbitrarily created by us, we cannot say anything whatever about when, under what conditions, or what forms it will come

This is the attitude of a reformist, not someone who aims to change the present conditions through aiming at socialism. This is also Mr. Rosenfeld’s attitude–as it is of so many leftists–really social reformers or social democrats.

Let us look at John Dewey’s view of the nature of aims to see the difference between an internal aim (what Dewey called a good aim) that incorporates the future in the present and an external aim that has little relation to the present. From Democracy and Education (2004). Let us begin with his characterization of a good aim:

The aim must always represent a freeing of activities. The term end in view is suggestive, for it puts before the mind the termination or conclusion of some process. The only way in which we can define an activity is by putting before ourselves the objects in which it terminates—as one’s aim in shooting is the target. But we must remember that the object is only a mark or sign by which the mind specifies the activity one desires to carry out. Strictly speaking, not the target but hitting the target is the end in view; one takes aim by means of the target, but also by the sight on the gun. The different objects which are thought of are means of directing the activity. Thus one aims at, say, a rabbit; what he wants is to shoot straight; a certain kind of activity. Or, if it is the rabbit he wants, it is not rabbit apart from his activity, but as a factor in activity; he wants to eat the rabbit, or to show it as evidence of his marksmanship—he wants to do something with it. The doing with the thing, not the thing in isolation, is his end. The object is but a phase of the active end,—continuing the activity successfully. This is what is meant by the phrase, used above, “freeing activity”

Let us now turn to his characterization of a bad aim–what is typical of the social-democratic or social-reformist left in general and Mr. Rosenfeld’s attitude in particular. Dewey had this to say:

In contrast with fulfilling some process in order that activity may go on, stands the static character of an end which is imposed from without the activity. It is always conceived of as fixed; it is something to be attained and possessed. When one has such a notion, activity is a mere unavoidable means to something else; it is not significant or important on its own account. As compared with the end it is but a necessary evil; something which must be gone through before one can reach the object which is alone worth while. In other words, the external idea of the aim leads to a separation of means from end, while an end which grows up within an activity as plan for its direction is always both ends and means, the distinction being only one of convenience. Every means is a temporary end until we have attained it. Every end becomes a means of carrying activity further as soon as it is achieved. We call it
end when it marks off the future direction of the activity in which we are engaged; means when it marks off the present direction.

A quote from Dewey in another post is also relevant (see Intelligent Activity According to John Dewey: Its Political Implications for the Left):

The net conclusion is that acting with an aim is all one with acting intelligently. To foresee a terminus of an act is to have a basis upon which to observe, to select, and to order objects and our own capacities. To do these things means to have a mind—for mind is precisely intentional purposeful activity controlled by perception of facts and their relationships to one another. To have a mind to do a thing is to foresee a future possibility; it is to have a plan for its accomplishment; it is to note the means which make the plan capable of execution and the obstructions in the way,—or, if it is really a mind to do the thing and not a vague aspiration—it is to have a plan which takes account of resources and difficulties. Mind is capacity to refer present conditions to future results, and future consequences to present conditions. And these traits are just what is meant by having an aim or a purpose. A man is stupid or blind or unintelligent—lacking in mind—just in the degree in which in any activity he does not know what he is about, namely, the probable consequences of his acts. A man is imperfectly intelligent when he contents himself with looser guesses about the outcome than is needful, just taking a chance with his luck, or when he forms plans apart from study of the actual conditions, including his own capacities. Such relative absence of mind means to make our feelings the measure of what is to happen. To be intelligent we must “stop, look, listen” in making the plan of an activity.

Intelligent activity–which is really intelligent thinking–involves the unity of the future in the present and the present in the future.

Mr. Rosenfeld’s article is a good example of the social-democratic left; he sees socialism as an end that will be realized only in the distant future–hence his reference to “100 years.” Such a goal is only vaguely related to the organization of present activities–hence his disdain for all talk of abolition in the present. He, like his social-democrat comrades, split the present and the future, and the future from the present.

Since Mr. Rosenfeld claims that police abolitionism is “sloppy thinking,” presumably his own reasoning illustrates “non-sloppy thinking.” I hope to have shown that his thinking is in fact the opposite of what he accuses the abolitionist stance. The abolitionist stance incorporates the future into the present and the present into the future by organizing present activities in real preparation for the creation of a socialist society. Socialist society cannot arise in any other way–because the future is always through the present and not something external to it.

This view of the relation of the future to the present and the present to the future has philosophical predecessors before Dewey. A later post in this series will refer to these philosophical predecessors in order to round out the issue of reform versus the abolition of the police and to link the previous concrete issues to more general issues so that the reader can, hopefully, see the connections between more abstract theory and more concrete considerations–as well the connections between more concrete considerations and more abstract theory.

Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Two

This is a continuation of an earlier post on the issue of reforming the police versus its abolition.

Mr. Rosenfeld, a self-declared radical and Marxist living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in an article published in the social-democratic magazine Canadian Dimension on April 20, 2020, Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking), responded to another article published on April 12 in the same magazine, written by James Wilt,  Abolishing the police is the only reasonable response to Winnipeg Police killings. Wilt argues that the police cannot be reformed but must be abolished since their function is essentially repressive, and that essential function is sufficient for demanding its abolition

Mr. Rosenfeld has the following counterargument:

How can a class society such as ours, wrought by contradictions, which often manifest themselves in the form of criminal activity, and in which working class and socialist political agency are virtually non-existent, manage without some kind of policing institution? Shouldn’t that institution be thoroughly transformed, by political struggle, into a more humane, limited and less autonomous one? How can this happen if it is simply abolished, or if criminal activity such as murder and theft, that often targets working class people (yes, working class people have personal property that can be stolen), is no longer illegal or goes unprosecuted?

Mr. Rosenfeld, in his haste to oppose what he perceives to be left-wing extremism, fails to inquire whether his assumption that the police actually do engage mainly in activity that either prevents “murder and theft” or at least investigates it after the fact. I have already referred to a quite different view of the nature and function of the police (see , for example, Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One).

Mr. Rosenfeld removed himself from this blog in May 2020 (see the comments to the post Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Three, and the above post was posted in August 2019, so there is no excuse for his ignoring what I wrote in the above post. I will quote, once again, from that post, in addition to providing a couple of further references. Mr. Rosenfeld has a responsibility to workers and to community members that he failed to fulfill.

From Mark Neocleous, The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power, pages 112-113:

Since, as we have seen, law-enforcement is merely an incidental and derivative part of police work, and since, as Lustgarten has noted, the police invariably under-enforce the law, the equation of policing with law enforcement is clearly untenable. The police enforce the law because it falls within the scope of their larger duties of regulating order which, in an ideological loop of remarkable ingenuity, is then justified in terms of crime control and the need to ‘uphold the law’. In other words, law enforcement becomes part of police work to the same extent as anything else in which the exercise of force for the maintenance of order may have to be used, and only to that extent. Police practices are designed to conform to and prioritize not law, but order, as the judges and police have long known.69 Law-enforcement is therefore a means to an end rather than an end in itself, as witnessed by the fact that, for example, police often prefer to establish order without arrest. The assumption central to the rule of law that people should not take the law into ‘their own hands’ reminds us not only that the law is meant to be used and controlled by chosen hands, as Bauman puts it,70 but that police do in fact handle rather than enforce the law. The law is a resource for dealing with problems of disorder rather than a set of rules to be followed and enforced. The kind of police behaviour which offends the sensibilities of civil libertarians or which seems at odds with the assumptions in the liberal democratic conception of the rule of law in fact turns out to be within the law and exercised according to the need to deal with things considered disorderly. The police follow rules, but these are police rules rather than legal rules. Thus when exercising discretion, the police are never quite using it to enforce the law, as one might be led to believe. Rather, officers decide what they want to do and then fit their legal powers around that decision. Hence the main ‘Act’ which police officers purport to enforce is the ‘Ways and Means Act’, a set of mythical powers which they use to mystify and confuse suspects, and the question of whether an officer should detain a suspect on legal grounds is displaced by the question ‘which legal reason shall I use to justify detaining this person’. Exercised according to police criteria rather than specific legal criteria, the rules are rules for the abolition of disorder, exercised by the police and enabled by law.

“Murder and theft” form a minor part of what the police actually do. Mr. Rosenfeld’s own fears perhaps are expressed when he refers to “murder and theft.” Furthermore, given the number of murders in Canada per year is around one half the number of workers who die in Canada (with over 600,000 injuries a year)–and the police do little to address this problem–Mr. Rosenfeld’s ignoring of these facts likely expresses his own biases and fears.

Mr. Rosenfeld also ignores the fear that the police often instill among some sections of the working class–a fear that he simply fails to address. How such fear can be overcome with his reforms he never says.

From Mark Neocleous, The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power, page 113:

‘We fear the policeman’ then, as Slavoj Zizek comments, ‘insofar as he is not just himself, a person like us, since his acts are the acts of power, that is to say, insofar as he is experienced as the stand-in for the big Other, for the social order.’ And it is because the police officer is the stand-in for social order that order is the central trope [something such as an idea, phrase, or image that is often used in a particular work] around which even the smallest police act is conducted. As a number of ex-police officers have testified, the police themselves are obsessed with order, being institutionalized to
achieve order at all times and in all contexts. Malcolm Young has commented on how one folder containing a record of the Orders by a range of senior officers reveals ‘how everything in this world had an ordained place and could therefore be controlled, ordered, disciplined, checked, scrutinized’.
Likewise ex-police sergeant Simon Holdaway has pointed to the way prisoners are treated as ‘visible evidence of disorder’. Needing to detect and end disorder among citizens, the police cannot cope with ambiguity in any way. In dealing with any particular situation a police officer makes a decision about what, if anything, is out of order and then makes a decision about how to overcome it. Because each individual officer is institutionalized to achieve order at all times the police institution must have a strong sense of the order they are there to reproduce, reflected in the activities they are taught to pursue, the techniques they use in pursuit, and compounded by a unitary and absolutist view of human behaviour and social organization.

The police as the representative of “order” entails not only fear but a need for the expression of deference. From Mark Neocleous, The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power, pages 113-114:

So for example, failure to display deference to an officer significantly increases the probability of arrest, for it is understood as a failure to display deference to an officer’s demand for order. Any hostility directed to them is treated as an attack on their authority and power to order, and thus an attack on authority and order in general, mediated by a supposed hostility to the Law. Antagonistic behaviour is a symbolic rejection of their authoritative attempt to reconstitute order out of a disorderly situation; it is this which may result in more formal (i.e. legal) methods of control. Regardless of the legal issues pertinent to the situation, the failure to display deference is therefore likely to make one an object of the law as an arrested person as a means of reproducing order.

I have already referred to my personal experience with a social worker who was connected to the legal system through providing a written document to the court (see, for example, A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and its Representatives, Part Three). Since I did not show deference to his authority, he retaliated by, among other things, lying in his document to the court.

Another critical theorist argues that the criminal justice system fails in its overt claim to protect citizens from what really threatens them, and in so failing it actually justifies its continued existence. From  Jeffrey Reiman and Paul Leighton (2017), The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, page 31:

Ultimately, American criminal justice policy makes more sense if we look at the system as wanting to have high crime rates—there are groups for whom “crime pays” and for whom the system’s failure is a success.

This may seem paradoxical, but such is the nature of a social order characterized by the dominance of employers as a class and their corresponding economic, political and social structures and relations.

From pages 39-41:

Although many Americans are confused about whether crime rates are increasing or decreasing, the overall pattern since 1992 has been one of declining crime rates. This reduction in crime only constitutes a “success” for the criminal justice system to the extent that the system caused the decline. A review of criminal justice literature, however, shows that prisons and police played a quite limited role in the national crime decline. The drop in crime rates is better explained by non–criminal justice factors, such as the decline in use of crack, an improved economy in the 1990s and continued low inflation, and the removal of lead from gas and paint. In this section, we examine the factors linked to the declining crime rate to assess their importance. We’ll start with the criminal justice response.

POLICE Another popular theory is that police contributed substantially to the decline in crime rates. Bear in mind that we are not here talking about the effect of police arresting people and putting them in prison. (That was discussed in the previous section.) The claim to be evaluated now is that changes in the number of police or their strategies—such as policing crime “hot spots” and aggressive enforcement of gun-control laws—lowered crime rates. Strategies that temporarily suppress crime at a hot spot or that displace it into another area cannot be responsible for a long-term, geographically widespread crime decline.

The National Academy of Sciences panel on policing (quoted earlier) found weak or no evidence that standard policing or widespread variants contribute much to declining crime rates. John Conklin in his book Why Crime Rates Fell concurs that there is little evidence to support a general link between policing and crime rates.86 A 2005 report by the General Accounting Office found that between 1993 and 2000, President Clinton’s COPS plan for 100,000 officers “amounted to about 5 percent of the overall decline.”87 The Brennan Center analysis of the crime decline suggests that the increasing number of police had a “downward effect on crime in the 1990s, likely between 0 and 10 percent”—but the effect did not continue into the 2000s because the number of police leveled off and then declined.

It is true that there may be some evidence that the use of the police, combined with other strategies, may reduce crime. From Reiman, pages 41-42:

The National Academy of Sciences panel and more recent reviews of the literature note that policing hot spots can reduce crime when combined with a problem-solving approach that tries to change underlying conditions.89

However, there are others considerations here, from a political point of view. Firstly, who defines what actions are a crime? Mr. Rosenfeld does not even ask the question. He does not even consider the filtering process that eliminates the harmful actions of employers in various ways on our lives from consideration as a crime. Secondly, he does not factor into the account the general function of the police to maintain order–order characterized by the daily subordination, oppression and exploitation of millions of workers in Canada and billions in the world–in order to prevent “theft and murder.”

Mr. Rosenfeld’s focus on “murder and theft” expresses more his biases rather than any real analysis of the situation which members of the working class face vis-a-vis the real dangers of working for an employer, on the one hand, and the nature and functions of the police, on the other.

As for theft, let me provide a personal anecdote. In 1996, I believe, I was doing my practicum for my bachelor of education degree with the French university in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, the College universitaire de Saint-Boniface. They lent me a fairly expensive video camera (with  tripod) so that I could have someone film my classroom practice. At the time, I was living in the north end in Winnipeg, on Machray Street near St. John’s High School, an inner city school. The north end is relatively poor in terms of income level. My daughter at the time was around one-year old. I had her carriage and other things in the trunk and the video camera and tripod in the back seat.

I woke up early to prepare for the day. I went out to the car–and the window was broken and the video camera and tripod were gone. I phoned the police–and all they asked me was what the serial number was. They did not even bother sending a police person for further details. No one came. No one investigated further. Is this a good example of how the police deal with “personal theft?” If so, Mr. Rosenfeld’s reference to “theft” as justification for the non-abolition of the police sounds more like an expression of his own social-democratic biases rather than an analysis of the real nature of the police in a society dominated by a class of employers.

Another author provides further proof of the real nature of the police and not Mr. Rosenfeld’s social-democratic fantasy. From Alex Vitale (2017), The End of Policing: 

The police exist to keep us safe, or so we are told by mainstream media and popular culture. TV shows exaggerate the amount of serious crime and the nature of what most police officers actually do all day. Crime control is a small part of policing, and it always has been.

Felony arrests of any kind are a rarity for uniformed officers, with most making no more than one a year. When a patrol officer actually apprehends a violent criminal in the act, it is a major moment in their career. The bulk of police officers work in patrol. They take reports, engage in random patrol, address parking and driving violations and noise complaints, issue tickets, and make misdemeanor arrests for drinking in public, possession of small amounts of drugs, or the vague “disorderly conduct.” Officers I’ve shadowed on patrol describe their days as “99 percent boredom and 1percent sheer terror”—and even that 1 percent is a bit of an exaggeration for most officers.

Even detectives (who make up only about 15 percent of police forces) spend most of their time taking reports of crimes that they will never solve —and in many cases will never even investigate. There is no possible way for police to investigate every reported crime. Even homicide investigations can be brought to a quick conclusion if no clear suspect is identified within two days, as the television reality show The First 48 emphasizes. Burglaries and larcenies are even less likely to be investigated thoroughly, or at all. Most crimes that are investigated are not solved

Mr. Rosenfeld, in his haste to oppose really radical proposals (such as the abolition of the police), merely asserts the liberal view of the nature of the police. It is certainly possible that many members of the working-class believe the same thing, but a Marxist has an obligation to question such an ideology. Mr. Rosenfeld, though, not only indulges such beliefs but reinforces them.

He may reply that he had pointed out in his article that

I will start with a disclaimer: I am no expert on policing, criminal justice, the sociology of Winnipeg or police and community relations. I am a 70 year-old Marxist and democratic socialist, who has lived and worked in Toronto for the past 44 years, and have been organizing, doing education and writing for and about working class politics and public transit.

I too am not an “expert on policing, criminal justice, the sociology of Winnipeg or police and community relations.” However, as a Marxist, I have an obligation to at least do some research on topics before I write about them. Besides, so-called “experts” often ignore issues that are relevant to the working class.

Mr. Rosenfeld is retired, so there is no justification for his lack of engagement in at least preliminary research concerning the abolition of the police. However, there is no evidence that Mr. Rosenfeld did any research concerning the nature and function of the police. He merely expressed his unwarranted bias. Mr. Rosenfeld, perhaps, watches too many Netflix crime movies or programs.

As a result, he panders to the prejudices of the working class rather than criticizing their views and enlightening them about the real nature of policing. This should surprise no one. The social-democratic left, in general, pander to the prejudices of the working class in various ways (by, for example, not criticizing such cliches as “fair contracts,” “fair collective agreements,” “fair wages,” “The Fight for $15 and Fairness,” “decent work” and the like.

Mr. Rosenfeld claims that we live in a liberal democracy and not in a fascist society. Since he does not elaborate on what he means by these terms, I will assume that by “liberal democracy” he means that in Canada we live by the “rule of law”:

In reality, though, bourgeois democratic institutions are not simply a façade for a bloody and murderous dictatorship over the poor and colonized. Yes, there are instances of state acts of murder and even terrorism. The liberal democratic state and institutions facilitate private capital accumulation and are structured in ways which seek to repress, diffuse and co-opt alternative political and social movements, but these are mediated by the necessities of legitimating capitalism. The relative power, political ideology and organization of the working class and colonized Indigenous peoples also affect the character of liberal democracy (and in the subordinate strata, there are forms of class differences and other contradictions that also matter). We don’t live in a fascist dictatorship.

Of course, “bourgeois democratic institutions” need to legitimate their rule, and the level of legitimization required relates, in part, to the level of “relative power, political ideology and organization of the working class and colonized indigenous peoples.” Any abolitionist can agree with this. And? Is Mr. Rosenfeld, though, implying that, since the capitalist state attempts to legitimate the rule of the class of employers that the general and essential function of the police to maintain class order is somehow unimportant? That the iron fist does not support the legitimating function of the capitalist state? Furthermore, the legitimating function of the capitalist state hides the real nature of the lives of the working class, does it not? (See the series of posts on this blog about the silence of the history curricula in various provinces in Canada concerning the nature and origin of the class of employers in Canada.. See, for example, A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees).

Mr. Rosenfeld, however, is little concerned with the legitimization function of the capitalist state in its negative aspect; his real concern is with the positive aspects of that function, such as civil liberties. By all means, let us appreciate and fight for these limited rights that we do have that protect us from the iron fist of the police–but let us not idealize them. They modify but do not negate the primary function of the police–to maintain the order of a society characterized by the dominance of the class of employers and the associated economic, social and political structures and relations.

Furthermore, Mr. Rosenfeld does not even consider the importance of the capacity of the capitalist government or state for combining  the iron fist (the stick) and the carrot (reforms) in many, many different ways; this capacity to combine the two is one thing that gives the government or state dominated by employers its power and makes it very difficult to overcome. I already pointed out the following in another post:

From Doreen McBarnet, Conviction: Law, the State and the Construction of Justice, page 2:

The whole flavour of the rhetoric of justice is summed up in the idea that it is better for ten guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to be wrongly convicted. Why then the paradox that the vast majority of cases processed through a criminal justice system so geared to favouring the accused results in a finding of guilt?

For they do. According to the criminal statistics for 1978, conviction rates were as follows: 8o per cent of Scottish cases involving crimes, 95 per cent of Scottish cases involving offences, 84 per cent of English Crown Court cases, 93 per cent of indictable cases, 95 per cent of non-indictable cases, in the English magistrates’ courts. Some samples show even higher rates-a 98.5 per cent conviction rate for magistrates’ courts in Sheffield (Bottoms and McClean, 1976). Conviction depends in court on the plea or the verdict. If the accused pleads guilty to the charge against him, conviction follows as a matter of routine. If he pleads not guilty, a contested trial follows. According to Bottoms and McClean, 72 ·5 per cent of those contesting the case in magistrates’ courts, 55 per cent of those choosing jury trials, and 71 per cent of those allocated to the higher courts were convicted on some or all counts (pp. 106, 209). In the rhetoric of justice everyone is entitled to a fair trial; yet most defendants plead guilty. In the rhetoric of justice any reasonable doubt should result in acquittal; yet for the clear majority of cases the court is convinced beyond reasonable doubt, despite all the rhetorical hamstrings on police and prosecution, that the accused is guilty. Why?

One answer might be quite simply that the defendants are guilty; the case against them is too strong to be plausibly disputed; the facts speak for themselves. Sir Robert Mark has suggested indeed that the very limitations placed on police and prosecution bringing a case to court make it highly probable that only the indisputably guilty come through the process at all….

Mr. Rosenfeld probably has been indoctrinated into the ideology of law, which presents courts as areas where legal due process is dominant–whereas the opposite is the case.

From Doreen McBarnet, Conviction: Law, the State and the Construction of Justice, Page 153:

Legal policy has established two tiers of justice. One, the higher courts, is for public consumption, the arena where the ideology of justice is put on display. The other, the lower courts, deliberately structured in defiance of the ideology of justice, is concerned less with subtle ideological messages than with direct control. The latter is closeted from the public eye by the ideology of triviality, so the higher courts alone feed into the public image of what the law does and how it operates. But the higher courts deal with only 2 per cent of the cases that pass through the criminal courts. Almost all criminal law is acted out in the lower courts without traditional due process. But of course what happens in the lower courts is not only trivial, it is not really law. So the position is turned on its head. The 98 per cent becomes the exception to the rule of ‘real law’ and the working of the law comes to be typified not by its routine nature, but by its atypical, indeed exceptional, High Court form. Between them the ideologies of triviality and legal irrelevance accomplish the remarkable feats of defining 98 per cent of court cases not only as exceptions to the rule of due process, but also as of no public interest whatsoever. The traditional ideology of justice can thus survive the contradiction that the summary courts blatantly ignore it every day-and that they were set up precisely for that purpose.

The real world of courts (and the police) needs more than “transformation”–it needs abolition since they function at the level of real law and not at the level of the rhetoric of justice. From Doreen McBarnet, Conviction: Law, the State and the Construction of Justice, pages 154-155:

The rhetoric of justice requires incriminating evidence as the basis for arrest and search; the law allows arrest and search in order to establish it. Justice requires that no-one need incriminate himself; the law refuses to control the production of confessions and allows silence as a factor in proving guilt. justice requires equality; the law discriminates against the homeless, the jobless, the disreputable. Justice requires each case be judged on its own facts; the law makes previous convictions grounds for defining behaviour as an offence and evidence against the accused. Justice places the burden of proof on the prosecutor; the law qualifies the standard and method of proof required and offers the prosecutor opportunities for making a case which the accused is denied. Justice proclaims the right to trial by one’s peers; the legal system ensures that 91 per cent of all defendants plead guilty, and of the rest most are tried without a jury.

If, then, the process of conviction is easier than the rhetoric of justice would have us expect-and easier still the lower the status of the defendant-it is hardly surprising. A wide range of prosecution evidence can be legally produced and presented, despite the rhetoric of a system geared overwhelmingly to safeguards for the accused, precisely because legal structure, legal procedure, legal rulings, not legal rhetoric, govern the legitimate practice of criminal justice, and there is quite simply a distinct gap between the substance and the ideology of the law.

This conclusion has two direct and immediate implications. First it places the contemporary policy debate over law and order in a new light. The police demand for more powers, for the removal of the hamstrings of the right to silence, the limitations on arrest and search-and indeed the civil liberties camp’s agitated response that the legal checks of British justice must be upheld-begin to appear rather odd. Both sides of the debate are framed in terms of the ideology of civil rights, not in terms of the realities of legal procedure and case law which, as I hope this analysis has amply shown, have all too often already given the police and prosecution the very powers they are demanding. The law does not need reform to remove hamstrings on the police: they exist largely in the unrealised rhetoric.

Second, more theoretically, this analysis has implications for the explanation of law-enforcement and its outcomes. A whole range of excellent sociological studies has pointed out situational, informal, non-legal factors in police-citizen encounters and courtroom interaction to explain who is arrested or convicted, and to explain why the system so often seems in practice to be weighted against the accused. Their answer lies essentially in the complex nature of social interaction and motivation; in the fact that people do not merely administer the law but act upon and alter it as they do so. This study offers a supplementary perspective, making the law rather than the activities of its administrators problematic. The conclusion is quite different. Given the formal procedures and rules of the law and the structure of arrest, investigation, plea and trial, one could not–even if human beings acted entirely as legal automatons–expect the outcomes to be other than they are. If the practice of criminal justice does not live up to its rhetoric one should not look only to the interactions and negotiations of those who put the law into practice but to the law itself. One should not look just to how the rhetoric of justice is subverted intentionally or otherwise by policemen bending the rules, by lawyers negotiating adversariness out of existence, by out-of-touch judges or biased magistrates: one must also look at how it is subverted in the law. Police and court officials need not abuse the law to subvert the principles of justice; they need only use it. Deviation from the rhetoric of legality and justice is institutionalised in the law itself.

Mr. Rosenfeld implies that we need the police. He asks:

Shouldn’t that institution be thoroughly transformed, by political struggle, into a more humane, limited and less autonomous one? How can this happen if it is simply abolished, or if criminal activity such as murder and theft, that often targets working class people (yes, working class people have personal property that can be stolen), is no longer illegal or goes unprosecuted?

Note the assumption that the courts and the police are somehow very effective in protecting personal property and preventing murder.

Racism exists in our society, and it certainly can serve the short-term interests of some sections of the working class by reducing or eliminating competition from other workers. Should we aim at transforming racism “by political struggle, into a more humane, limited and less autonomous” social institution? Or should we aim at abolishing it?

In any case, some members of the working class do steal the personal property from other members of the working class–and they should not (although there are undoubtedly many mitigating circumstances that need to be taken into consideration here). And some do murder some members of the working class–and they should not. Do these facts legitimate the continued existence of the police as a social institution designed by its very nature to maintain the order of oppression and exploitation characteristic of the domination of employers (see Employers as Dictators, Part One)?

The police, whether armed or not, have the legal right to use force–they have a monopoly of this force. Mr. Rosenfeld assumes that the call for abolishing such a monopoly is absurd. That, however, is what a socialist society would involve–a return of the power of doing things to people in their own hands. A movement to achieve this can arise in the present and not in some distant future.

Mr. Rosenfeld denies this:

It is one thing to envision what a future socialist and decolonized society might look like in 100 years and strive to move in that direction. But to talk as if the necessary political and social conditions of such a society exist at this moment is to fly in the face of reality. And, once again, it takes the struggle to transform or democratize these institutions off the agenda.

I wonder how it would be possible to “transform and democratize” racism? Mr. Rosenfeld seems more of a defender of the police than a critic.

In any case, what kinds of alternatives to the police might arise in the present? A further post will explore this issue.

Another post will address the issue of the way in which we conceive the future and its relation to the present. Mr. Rosenfeld gives away his own social-democratic bias by referring to “what a future socialist and decolonized society might look in 100 years and strive in that direction.” The end is shifted into a distant future as something to be aimed for–in 100 years. This issue has philosophical or more general implications–and political implications as well.

Supplement

One of the good things about blogs is that you can return to a post and add to it (or change something)–unlike emails.

Mr. Rosenfeld, in another article that addresses the implications of a possible victory of Trump or Biden  (https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/us-election-what-could-it-mean-for-canada-and-the-canadian-left).  He briefly refers to the police and his continued advocacy for the their reform rather than their abolition–without argument:

Of course, the push from below includes the movements in cities across the US demanding radical reforms of the repressive apparatuses represented by policing and criminal justice, and directly attacking systemic racism, as well as the on-the-ground movements against fossil fuels and pipelines.

He fails to refer to “the movements in cities across the US demanding” the abolition of the police due to “the repressive apparatuses represented by policing and criminal justice.”

This neglect and indeed probable conscious omission of references to more radical demands–what do you think it expresses?

Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One

In at least two posts, I will explore the issue of reforming the police versus its abolition. Conveniently, there are a couple of articles that address the issue.

Mr. Rosenfeld, a self-declared radical and Marxist living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in an article published in the social-democratic magazine Canadian Dimension on April 20, 2020, Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking), responded to another article published on April 12 in the same magazine, written by James Wilt,  Abolishing the police is the only reasonable response to Winnipeg Police killings. Wilt argues that the police cannot be reformed but must be abolished since their function is essentially repressive, and that essential function is sufficient for demanding its abolition:

Unlike what many liberals claim, police cannot be reformed with better training, oversight, or diversity. Nor can police violence be eliminated by following the victim-blaming advice from (mostly) white social media users like “improved parenting” or “better decision-making.” Both of these supposed solutions reflect deeply naive and ahistorical understandings of what it is that police do—and how police actively harm communities, especially those of Indigenous peoples and racialized minorities.

The left’s response to the police killings of Eishia Hudson and Jason Collins must be to recommit to the only just solution: abolishing the police and reallocating the massive resources currently committed to policing to measures that actually keep our communities safe, like housing, harm reduction, strong public services, non-carceral crisis response, food security, income supports, returning land to Indigenous peoples by acknowledging existing sovereignty, and a whole lot more. At the root of this demand is resistance to the call for a “better balance” of policing and social services. On the contrary, policing must be dispensed with entirely.

Mr. Rosenfeld argues against abolition. Mr. Rosenfeld, however, not only argues against abolition; he finds the idea of the abolition of the police absurd–as his subtitle says. Indeed, Mr. Rosenfeld’s subtitle: “Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking,” reflects the hostility that I faced here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, when I questioned the ideology of “fair contracts,” “fair wages,” and “decent work” expressed by some trade unionists and social democrats.

I will try to show, in at least two posts if not more, that Mr. Rosenfeld’s view that the proposal of the abolition of the police is not absurd and that the proposal of the reform of the police as the rational solution–is absurd.

But let us first listen to Mr. Rosenfeld:

Having heard some of the younger activists with whom I work in the free transit movement muse about getting rid of the police force, I often found that most were not really serious about it as an immediate demand but were expressing their vision of how we might do things differently in an imagined future [my emphasis]. There are other activists, many of whom are passionate defenders of the rights of the homeless, the poorest and those most targeted by the system and its repressive apparatus, who argue that police budgets need to be radically trimmed in order to pay for the kinds of social programs and services that could contribute to addressing some of the most glaring forms of inequality and injustice. Few of them seriously demand the complete elimination of policing, but some do.

The issue of the reform of the police versus its abolition has become a focal point of controversy  since the murder of George Floyd has now come to light. Mr. Rosenfeld’s social-democratic casual dismissal of the abolition of police has been challenged practically as millions protested against the police throughout the world. Mr. Rosenfeld’s claim that the proposal that the abolition of the police involves sloppy thinking has been practically refuted as some who protested did propose abolishing the police.

Indeed, even before the mass protests against the murder of George Floyd, there have arisen movements for the abolition of the police in the light of systemic racism among the police. Why does Mr. Rosenfeld not refer to such movements?

For example, Meghan McDowell and Luis Fernandez published an article in 2018 about the movement for police abolition, titled “Disband, Disempower, and Disarm’: Amplifying the Theory and Practice of Police Abolition,” in the journal Criminal Criminology: 

In July of 2016, the popular Fox News program “Kelly File,” hosted by conservative T.V. personality Megan Kelly, held a town hall style forum to discuss race and law enforcement. The forum brought together what Fox News considers a diverse cross-section of the U.S. public: former FBI agents, retired NYPD officers, conservative Black pastors, community organizers, and “regular” Americans whose views spanned the ideological spectrum. The recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of law enforcement, uprisings in Ferguson, Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Charlotte in the past year, and Micah Johnson’s targeted assassination of five Dallas police officers earlier in July, not only formed the backdrop for the conversation, but also set the conditions of possibility for such a conversation to air on a mainstream media outlet in the first place.

At one point the conversation turned toward an indictment of the Black Lives Matter
(BLM) movement. Many forum attendees began to condemn BLM, reiterating racial tropes [a figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression] about Black-on-Black crime and “personal responsibility.” In a clip that has now gone viral, Jessica Disu, a Chicago-based community organizer and artist, tried to reframe the conversation: “Here’s a solution,” Disu interjected with conviction, “we need to abolish the police.” The Chicago Reader, a weekly alternative newspaper, described the ensuing reactions  to Disu’s comment:

“Abolish the police?” came [host Megan] Kelly’s incredulous response, as a clamor of boos and protests rose from the forum. “Demilitarize the police, disarm the police,” Disu pushed on, undeterred by the yelling. “We need to come up with community solutions for transformative justice. Can we all agree that a loss of a life is tragic?” [Disu] asked the forum, attempting to explain her vision. “Who’s gonna protect the community if we abolish the police?” Kelly asked, a this-must-be-a-joke smile spreading across her face. “The police in this country began as a slave patrol,” Disu managed to squeeze in before being engulfed by the noise.

I suppose Mr. Rosenfeld would also consider Disu’s view of the need  for abolishing the police to be “sloppy thinking” and “absurd.” Mr. Rosenfeld shares the same view–and attitude-towards the abolishing of the police as do those who defend the status quo. Not a very good beginning for a person who considers himself to be “a 70 year-old Marxist and democratic socialist.”

McDoowell and Fernandez continue:

In her call for police abolition, on Fox News no less, Disu challenged the hegemonic idea that the police are an inevitable fixture in society, and moreover, that the police are analogous to community safety. Disu’s presence on a national mainstream talk show illustrates that crises are also opportunities (Gilmore 2007). The uprisings, and corresponding organizing that expanded alongside or formed as a result of the rebellions, enabled Disu, and others, to publicly challenge law enforcement’s right to exist. That is, activist and movement organizers had already been pushing toward police abolition, but the difference is that this time there was an audience more willing to accept the challenge. In this article, we examine abolitionist claims aimed at law enforcement institutions in the aftermath of Ferguson and other subsequent rebellions. [In Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown Jr. was murdered by the policeman Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014].

Mr. Rosenfeld’s evidently lacks a  concern with researching the issue in at least a preliminary manner.

McDowell and Fernandez note that the movement towards the abolition of the police gained ground after the Ferguson murder:

Under the headline “the problem”, the anonymous collective For a World Without the Police (2016) argues, “The police force was created to repress the growing numbers of poor people that accompanied the rise of industrial capitalism, while on plantations and in agricultural colonies, [the police] formed in response to the threat of slave revolt.” Their analysis outlines the core functions of policing under racial capitalism [my emphasis]: protect the property of the capitalist class; maintain stable conditions for capital accumulation; and defend against any threats to these unequal conditions of rule (For a World Without Police 2016; see also Williams 2015; Whitehouse 2014). [see the website For a World Without Police].

The police undoubtedly has other functions, but its core function is to maintain the power of employers as a class so that they can continue to use human beings as means for obtaining more and more money (see  The Money Circuit of Capital).

The abolitionist movement against the police, as McDowell and Fernandez indicate,  involves the slogan “disband, disempower and disarm the police”:

The call for police abolition gained national traction soon after the 2014 Ferguson rebellion and is encapsulated by the slogan: “disband, disempower, and disarm the police!”8 This is more than a slogan however. The over-arching strategy is to eliminate the institution of policing, while disarmament and disempowerment are two inter-related tactics used to achieve this goal (Vitale 2017).

The recent call for defunding the police, therefore, can express a reformist position or an abolitionist position. The reformist position does not aim to “disband” the police but rather only to decrease funding for the police and, often, increase funding for social programs. The following question posed by Mr. Rosenfeld expresses this reformist view:

Shouldn’t that institution be thoroughly transformed, by political struggle, into a more humane, limited and less autonomous one?

The abolitionist stance, by contrast, sees defunding (disempowering and disarming) as means to the end of abolishing the police institution altogether–along with a society characterized by the dominance of a class of employers. Social reformers like Mr. Rosenfeld, on the other hand, at best see disempowering and disarming as ends in themselves–while preserving the existence of the police as a repressive institution and hence preserving its core function.

Historically, the abolitionist movement has a long history that was not restricted to the abolition of the police. The idea of abolition includes the movement for the abolition of slavery in the United States and elsewhere, the abolition of child labour, the abolition of prisons and the abolition of capitalism.

In relation to capitalism, I first became aware of the idea of proposing the abolition of prisons when I read Thomas Mathiesen’s works The Politics of Abolition and Law, Society and Political action: Towards a Strategy Under Late Capitalism. Mathiesen argues that the capitalist state has become particularly adept at co-opting or neutralizing more radical movements so that it is necessary to emphasis the abolition of structures rather than their reform in order not to contribute to the continuation of repressive structures. From page 73:

In the fourth place, we have seen that legislation which breaks with dominating interests, legislation which in this sense is radical, is easily shaped in such a way during the legislative process that the final legislation does not after all break significantly with dominating interests, as the examples from political practice of trimming, stripping down, the creation of pseudo alternatives, and co-optive co-operation, show.

I have referred, in another post, to the whittling down of the criminalization of employer actions following the murder of the Westray miners in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1992 (see  Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Three). Co-optation is a real danger for the left–and Mr. Rosenfeld minimizes the power of the capitalist state to co-opt movements through reforms. This minimization of the danger of co-optation can be seen from the following:

In reality, though, bourgeois democratic institutions are not simply a façade for a bloody and murderous dictatorship over the poor and colonized. Yes, there are instances of state acts of murder and even terrorism. The liberal democratic state and institutions facilitate private capital accumulation and are structured in ways which seek to repress, diffuse and co-opt alternative political and social movements, but these are mediated by the necessities of legitimating capitalism [my emphasis] The relative power, political ideology and organization of the working class and colonized Indigenous peoples also affect the character of liberal democracy (and in the subordinate strata, there are forms of class differences and other contradictions that also matter). We don’t live in a fascist dictatorship.”’

I will address in another post Mr. Rosenfeld’s trivialization of the brutality and terrorism of the American government in other countries (“instances” makes it look like American murder and terrorism is an isolated event).

Let us limit ourselves to the question of the relevance of Mr. Rosenfeld’s reference to the need for the capitalist state to legitimate the rule of  employers over the daily working lives at work. He separates the diffusion and co-optation of alternative political and social movements from the need for “legitimating capitalism.” However, one of the major ways of “legitimating capitalism” is through diffusing and co-opting alternative political and social movements.

Mathiesen saw this danger to which Mr. Rosenfeld is blind. He calls the state absorbent when it has a refined capacity for neutralizing radical and revolutionary movements and demands. Mathiesen calls being co-opted “being defined in” and being shuffled to the side as irrelevant extremists “being defined out.” He calls “finished” the impossibility of contributing to the overcoming of the economic, political and social structures that characterize the dominance of the class of employers. Page 252:

The strongly absorbent late capitalist society has in fact managed, by the process of defining in, to absorb large parts of the Left into political work of a structure maintaining kind, while at the same time, through the process of defining out, it has managed to neutralize the remaining part of the Left as so-called extremists. By an interchange of the forces which define in and define out, on the one hand, and internal organizational reactions to these forces on the other, the parties of the Left have to a large degree either become ossified organizations which are defined in, or ossified organizations which are defined out. In any case they are, in our sense, finished.

Mr. Rosenfeld, however, fails to distinguish between reforms that form part of a movement to abolish a social institution and specific social relations and reforms that emerge as co-opted and that do not lead to questioning the oppressive and exploitative social institutions and social relations characteristic of the society in which we live.

Thus, Mr. Rosenfeld accuses Mr. Wilt of advocating immediate revolution–as if that is the only alternative:

Is he saying that reforms do not matter and that short of an immediate social revolution, nothing can change?

Abolitionists will take any reform that improves the lives of working-class communities–but there is a condition attached to such a view. Reforms that limit the capacities of workers and community members to think and act critically to oppressive and exploitative social relations and social institutions, without any positive change, are regressive. But most reforms can be simultaneously defended and criticized if some aspects are positive, while other aspects are regressive., such as the movement for a $15 minimum wage, which in Canada is coupled with the concept of fairness. Let us indeed fight for a minimum wage of $15 an hour (and other reforms associated with the movement, such as paid sick leave), but we should never link such a movement with the idea that there is “fairness: in receiving the minimum wage and other needed reforms. Coupling the fight for a minimum wage of $15 with “fairness” freezes the movement–rather than indicating that the achievement of the $15 minimum wage is a temporary resting place (given the balance of class power) that is inherently unfair since the wage system is itself inherently unfair and needs to be abolished. No “minimum wage” that involves the need for workers to work for employers is fair–and the idea of coupling the fight for the $15 minimum wage with the idea of “fairness” must be criticized constantly if any gained reforms are to go beyond contributing to the maintenance of the power of the class of employers.

Thus, Mr. Rosenfeld did not raise any objection to the pairing of a fight for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour with the term “fairness.” I have raised that issue often enough on this blog, and Mr. Rosenfeld had ample opportunity to criticize my position–but he chose not to do so. Why is that? I certainly support an increase in the minimum wage and other “reforms,” but they should never limit the capacities of workers and community members in their critical questioning of the system characterized by the class of employers.

Mr. Rosenfeld creates a straw person when he asks whether there should be reform or immediate revolution. Calling for abolition does not mean immediate revolution: it means making explicit the need to aim for abolition of an oppressive or exploitative institution from the very beginning. If we do not have the power–for now–to abolish a repressive or exploitative situation, that does not mean that we should not aim to do so  when we have more power. It also does not mean that we should reject all reforms out of hand merely because we cannot, for the moment, abolish the repressive or exploitative institution or social structure.

A further, personal example. I worked as a bilingual library technician at the District Resource Center for School District No. 57 in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada,from 1990-1992 (before I moved to Winnipeg). We had a collective agreement between support staff and the district that was coming up for negotiations. I volunteered to be part of the negotiating team because I wanted to learn about the process first hand (I was also the union steward for the board office). We bargained in the usual way, with a small group of union negotiators engaging in demands in the context of meetings with the negotiating team of the employer.

When our bargaining team was ready to present the results of negotiations to the members, I volunteered to draft the list of demands that we had made in a two-column set of papers, with an x beside the demands that we did not get and a check beside the ones that we did get. The union business manager was obliged to read this out during a public ratification meeting (she, however, noted that my presentation was very negative). When she sent out the ballots for voting to those who were not able to attend (School District No. 57 is a large school district geographically), she only sent out the demands that we obtained. The agreement was ratified.

The point is that I wanted to demonstrate the limitations of collective bargaining (and the corresponding collective agreement) while not rejecting any changes in the collective agreement. Furthermore, the demonstration of the limitation of reforms–or the politics of exposure as Mathiesen calls it–forms an essential element of the politics of abolition. From The Politics of Abolition Revisited, page 143:

Here lies the significance of the exposing or unmasking policy which the
above-mentioned sequence of events illustrates. Let me repeat: By unmasking
the ideology and the myths with which the penal system disguises itself – for
example through political work of the kind described here – a necessary basis
for the abolition of unnecessary and dangerous systems of control is created. The
example illustrates the struggle involved in such a work of exposure. The system
continually tries to adopt new disguises. We must continually try to unveil them.

Given the predominance of social democrats or social reformers–among the left here in Toronto–my prediction is that, unfortunately, the movement for the abolition of the police will be overshadowed by the movement for merely defunding the police. This will, in turn, result in further watering down of such a movement to a form acceptable to economic and political conditions dominated by the class of employers.

However, at least we can expose the limitations of the political position of the social-democratic left or the social-reformist left so that, when further murders by the police arise, we can point out the limitations of their political position and prepare the way for a more adequate politics–a politics of abolition.

I will continue the issue of reform versus abolition of the police in another, later post.