Dorner, Shootings, and Socialism

by Pham Binh on February 13, 2013

“Going postal.”

It’s a truly American expression born of America’s gun culture, one that simultaneously captures the overblown dysfunction of the U.S. Postal Service and the predominance of individualist violence over collectivist action by  working people fed up and pushed to the brink.

The mass shooting in Columbine, Colorado in 1999 during NATO’s air war on Serbia marked a turning point in what has become the history of mass shootings in the U.S. What made Columbine different was the killers’ demographic (well-off white males) and the setting (a suburban school instead of a workplace), a pattern repeated at Sandy Hook in 2012. The Postal Service could not be blamed, so new villains were found: Marilyn Manson, outcasts wearing trenchcoats to school, video games like Mortal Kombat, and Hollywood.

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Conservatives used the shooting to go after these targets while liberals aimed for more gun control. Neither side had anything to say about the bullying and peer orientation that created the context in which a Columbine could happen. Both took the easy route by fighting over how to treat the symptoms of a deeper social malaise rather than exploring the human psyche’s darker, more sinister dimensions in the cultural context of modern-day capitalism.

sandyhook

The far left’s reaction to the mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in 2012 suffered from the same basic failing. Within days of Sandy Hook, Republican Mike Huckabee disgraced himself by claiming that the ban on officially sanctioned prayer in public schools was to blame while an equally beside-the-point reaction took hold on the far left as memes appeared on Facebook mocking President Obama for pontificating about the preciousness of children’s lives while authorizing the assassination of Rahman Awlaki, a 16-year-old boy in Yemen.

For both the right and the left, these grisly killings became fodder for political warfare rather than an occasion for thoughtful reflection or heartfelt solidarity with the victims.

pakistankids

There is a world of difference between the genuine expression of empathy by victims of the American empire pictured above in Karachi, Pakistan, and the left’s point-scoring even though they involved the same political issues. The former related their own suffering to the families in Sandy Hook who lost loved ones; the latter used the former’s suffering to assume the mantle of moral superiority over Obama. Obama’s murderous hypocrisy is what mattered, not the lives of children and teachers cut short by gunman Adam Lanza.

This phenomenon was even more pronounced when the Sandy Hook shootings were discussed by the news outlets of the International Socialist Organization and Socialist Alternative in their respective articles, “How Could This Happen?” by Nicole Colson and “Tragic Events in Newtown — The Corrosive Effects of a Declining Capitalism” by Marty Harrison and Tony Wilsdon. Both articles mentioned the for-profit health care industry and spending cuts to mental health services as if Lanza would have been impeded by either, given that he lived in a mansion with his mother and that his father is a General Electric executive. Both articles informed us that we live in a horribly violent society controlled by a horribly violent ruling class, that politicians of this horribly violent ruling class would use the shootings to make hypocritical speeches about the sanctity of human life, and, last but not least, that horrible violence is built into the very fabric of the capitalist social order.

In essence, these articles treated mass shootings as a case for socialism, as if snuffing out capitalism should be at the forefront of political discourse when the lives of innocent men, women, and children infants are snuffed out by heavily armed mentally ill gunmen.

The tens of thousands of dollars that strangers donated to pay the Aurora and Sandy Hook survivors’ exorbitant medical bills and funeral expenses was more of a socialist act than the crass, reductionist condemnations of capitalism that these shootings elicited. How many socialist groups organized fund drives or collections at their weekly or monthly meetings to help the victims pay these bills? How many embedded click-able donation links to funds for the victims in their articles discussing the shootings?

Capitalism puts profits over people and deserves to be scrapped for that reason; a socialist movement that puts politics over people does not deserve any better. A heartless left is a worthless left.

What separated Christopher Dorner’s shooting rampage from the Aurora and Sandy Hook massacres was the shooter’s motivation. His 11,000-word diatribe, two parts declaration of war on his former employer, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and one part suicide note, with heartfelt last words to friends, mentors, politicians, and celebrities, is worth reading in its entirety.

Trotsky famously said, “the worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.” This was a case of an honest bourgeois cop going postal.

What  Trotsky could not have foreseen is how class and racial contradictions have created fissures within the modern police force. In the past two years, retired Philadelphia police captain Ray Lewis joined Occupy Wall Street, officer Christopher Rorey begged Occupy Atlanta for help fighting foreclosure, the austerity drive obliterated the police officers’ union in Camden, New Jersey, and now we have Dorner’s damning indictment of the entire LAPD, from its rank-and-file officers all the way up to the top of the chain of command. Not only did LAPD personnel punish whistleblowers like himself, they routinely let civilians bleed to death in the street for the sake of collecting overtime pay and taking cell phone pictures and shake down drug dealers to pocket petty cash. Dorner noted the complex way special oppressions play out inside the force, with Hispanic officers deriding “wetbacks,” black commanders exacting “retribution toward subordinate [sic] caucasians officers,” and “lesbian officers in supervising positions who go to work, day in day out, with the sole intent of attempting to prove your misandrist authority (not feminism) to degrade male officers.”

The effectiveness of the far left’s anti-police propaganda pales in comparison to Dorner’s no-holds-barred exposé of the dirt that goes down behind the thin blue line on a regular basis. Facebook pages sprang up touting him as a hero (“like” at your own risk; Facebook is a law enforcement agency’s best friend). His supporters felt that he had the moral high ground against the LAPD despite his heinous, murderous actions, and there are many who would never “like” a pro-Dorner Facebook page who were nonetheless sympathetic to his underlying motives and personal plight.

Dorner enjoyed surprising sympathy and support precisely because he was no ideologue, he was not of the left or the right, and he was certainly not “proto-fascistic” as claimed by a comrade at the Fire Next Time blog. He supported feminism, gay and lesbian equality (both the right to get married and serve openly in the armed forces), denounced the ease with which he legally acquired silencers and other instruments of death, and had warm words for the likes of Chris Matthews, New Jersey Republican governor Chris Christie, and future Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. None of this adds up to fascism, “proto” or otherwise.

Dorner’s politics, insofar as he has any, are decidedly mainstream. He is not a politico with an agenda to push but a regular guy who lost his career, his name, his everything for trying to do the right thing, the honorable thing, inside an organization that incentivizes criminality, dishonesty, and wanton abuse at every turn and at every level in the name of “law enforcement.”

Dorner’s story resonated with millions because it was not about left versus right but right versus wrong.

While Dorner is wholly responsible for his actions, it was the LAPD that chewed him up and spit him out, and they reaped the resulting whirlwind. Worse yet, Dorner’s extreme cynicism about the LAPD was vindicated when they nearly killed two women as they hunted him down. His actions and the renewed media scrutiny forced the LAPD to fire seven deputies who formed what amounts to a lawless gang of enforcers and re-open internal investigations. (Like the British Socialist Workers’ Party, the LAPD’s attempt to draw a line under their scandalous behavior has blown up in their faces.)

Criminals in Action: Jonathan Cuevas Gunned Down in Cold Blood by LAPD on Oct. 20, 2010

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8rnOlhZslI?feature=player_detailpage&w=640&h=360]

Dorner’s criminal behavior shone a spotlight on the LAPD’s criminal behavior and may trigger much-needed police reform. The fact that his individualist violence may lead to more policy changes than all the anti-police brutality marches of the past decade put together should serve as a wake-up call for progressives, both reformists (who mistakenly believe that the socioeconomic system is sound and just, and that tinkering is all that is necessary) and revolutionaries (who talk about overturning a social order they are too weak to wrest reforms from) that our methods are insufficient for the tasks at hand.

As John Halle noted in his article examining how grassroots organizing successfully stemmed the tide of attacks on academic freedom by local New York City politicians, “the left only becomes active in opposition to some particularly egregious capitulation.” Replace “capitulation” with “outrage” or “abuse,” and his point is equally valid with respect to police brutality, corruption, and criminality, which protests alone have done little to abate in Los Angeles. Successfully policing the police starts in the streets but must extend into the halls of government. Civilian review boards armed with subpoena power and radicals in city hall to purge police departments of criminals and promote honest bourgeois cops like Dorner before they go postal are long overdue.

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Jess Spear February 13, 2013 at 8:07 pm

“In essence, these articles treated mass shootings as a case for socialism, as if snuffing out capitalism should be at the forefront of political discourse when the lives of innocent men, women, and children infants are snuffed out by heavily armed mentally ill gunmen.”

Capitalism also caused global warming, which has caused the intensity of storms to rise, which means that capitalism is generally to blame for Hurricane Sandy, which killed people, too, and left many homeless. Should we not discuss how capitalism is to blame and socialism is the answer, and instead take up donations for the victims of Hurricane Sandy?

Capitalism also causes war, which obviously results in the brutal deaths of innocent children. Should we not discuss how capitalism is to blame and socialism is the answer, and instead take up donations for the victims of war? What about unemployment? What about homelessness? What about hunger? What about malnutrition? These may not register as loudly as the brutal massacre of children, but they are just as violent in their consequences.

You can call it “heartless” to enter into the debate over gun control and from where this violence comes, but I would say that it is our duty to use every possible opportunity to put forth the case for socialism in a manner that takes into consideration the public sentiment about the event. By your logic we wouldn’t be able to use any event where people were killed as a case for socialism, and we’d simply be a charity organization, not fighters for a better world.

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Aaron Aarons February 21, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Perhaps because you make your points somewhat more nicely than I make similar points, Pham Binh and, especially, Brandy Baker have chosen to ignore you rather than attack you. I’m not sure if that is an argument in favor of your style or in favor of mine. But keep up the good work.

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Mike B) February 13, 2013 at 9:39 pm

from the article: ‘Trotsky famously said, “the worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.” This was a case of an honest bourgeois cop going postal.’

Kind of put me off considering Trotsky’s role when the Bolsheviks went postal at Kronstadt in the name of defending the socialist revolution. I don’t think Dorner was ‘bourgeois’ anymore than I think Trotsky knew was wage-slavery actually meant. Nevertheless, I think Binh makes a moral point or two.

One thing I’ve noticed about Australia is that the cops aren’t nearly as trigger happy as the cops in the USA. Frightened men with loaded rifles often shoot them and more often than not at the wrong people. I learned that in the Marines. Combine fright with the inevitable power of others draw card in cop work and you have a sadist magnet. Anyway….Australians don’t see many workers going murderously berserk. Why? My answer is: THE SAFETY NET. In Australia, workers enjoy Medicare from birth to death and an unemployment scheme via Centrelink which allows them some dignity while they search for some employer to buy their skills on an always oversupplied market for labour power–natch, it’s the capitalist system. In the USA, the safety net has been continually shredded in the name of ‘freedom’, getting BIG GOV’MINT and bureaucracy off ‘our backs’ and so on with the litany of conservative economic twaddle. The upshot is a more violent society, especially at the bottom strata of the working class, including, of course, the ever expanding lumpen proletariat. Mix in the ‘freedom’ to purchase lethal weaponry and you get: Going Postal.

Common ownership of the collective product of labour is socialism, in my book. There is no socialism as such in the world, nor has there ever been more than attempts to establish it, beginning with the Paris Commune of 1871. With wage labour, the producer sells his or her skills on the labour marketplace for a price over an amount of time. In this sense, labour power, just like any other commodity, is sold for a price. The difference is that commodified labour power produces more wealth, when at work, than it is bought for in wages. This social relation of product and its producer is obscured by the vast division of labour necessary for industrial production; still it applies.

As a class, those who work for wages in order to make a living and their dependents make up 90% of the population and produce 100% of the wealth. The resulting fact is that 10% of the people in the world own and control 71% of the wealth produced. A system of common ownership of the collective product of labour would see 100% of the people owning/enjoying and controlling 100% of the product of their labour.

Here’s Marx playing with the topic:

“Let us now picture to ourselves, by way of change, a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common, in which the labour power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labour power of the community. All the characteristics of Robinson’s labour are here repeated, but with this difference, that they are social, instead of individual. Everything produced by him was exclusively the result of his own personal labour, and therefore simply an object of use for himself. The total product of our community is a social product. One portion serves as fresh means of production and remains social. But another portion is consumed by the members as means of subsistence. A distribution of this portion amongst them is consequently necessary. The mode of this distribution will vary with the productive organisation of the community, and the degree of historical development attained by the
producers. We will assume, but merely for the sake of a parallel with the production of commodities, that the share of each individual producer in the means of subsistence is determined by his labour time. Labour time would, in that case, play a double part. Its apportionment in accordance with a definite social plan maintains the proper proportion between the different kinds of work to be done and the various wants of the community. On the other hand, it also serves as a measure of the portion of the common labour borne by each individual, and of his share in the part of the total product destined for individual consumption. The social relations of the individual producers, with regard both to their labour and to its products, are in this case perfectly simple and intelligible, and that with regard not only to production but also to distribution.”

from CAPITAL volume I, chapter one

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Richard Estes February 14, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Hurricane Sandy, Sandy Hook and Dorner are all part of a puzzle where people who thought they were safely integrated into the social order discovered otherwise. The parents of Sandy Hook experienced the unimaginable trauma of burying their children just like parents in Chicago do. The wealthy homeowners of the Rockaways discovered that they were as vulnerable to climate change as the residents of the Ninth Ward. The unifying principle for the left in this emerging social environment of inescapable peril must be, as you say, one of compassion and support. Occupy, at its best, understands this, hence Occupy Sandy. I do believe, however, that Obama was fair game, because of his exploitation of Sandy Hook. I’ve always found these presidential comfort tours after tragedies tiresome.

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Patrick A. February 14, 2013 at 2:42 pm

There are literally hundreds of articles just like the following one from ABC if you simply google “mental health” and “Newtown.”

Here’s what you will find:

“It has not yet been confirmed whether Adam Lanza had been diagnosed with mental illness, but the 20-year-old who murdered his mother, then drove to a Newtown, Conn., elementary school and gunned down 20 first-graders and six adults has again shined the spotlight on care for the mentally ill in the United States, and has many asking whether yet another mass shooting could have been prevented.” http://abcnews.go.com/Health/newtown-shootings-put-spotlight-mental-health-care/story?id=18001556

It did not matter that Lanza was a rich kid. As the ABC article (from Dec 19) shows, before his identity was even clear, the shooting sparked a real discussion in literally hundreds of articles and millions of homes and workplaces about the country’s growing mental health crisis, along with gun control, and the roots of the crisis, and many other questions. Literally millions of people failed to take Binh’s advice of starting and stopping the discussion at compassion.

The mass shooting did not just effect the victims of the tragic events – anybody who doesn’t live in a bubble would know that from their own experiences after Newtown. These events raised fears in millions of people about the future. Binh wonders if socialists actually care about the victims of Newtown. We do. Both articles expressed compassion for the victims and their families quite clearly. But, we also care about the millions of people who were also impacted by these events, and are searching for answers to many questions that are causing them worry about the future.

Leaving aside gun control, if we are serious about building a movement that can deal with the unprecedented mental health crisis in the U.S., I think comrades should familiarize themselves with the ideas of Dr. Gabor Mate (a favorite of Amy Goodman). His revolutionary research points to the social environment as a key cause of the unheard of mental health crisis in North America. The human brain grows four times in size between infancy and adulthood. Trillions of connections in the brain will be made in that time. How the brain develops is greatly affected by the stressful environments created by the conditions of capitalism. Then kids and adults don’t get the care the need.

Compassion should not just be a one-off event after a tragedy. It should be the basis of our entire society. Socialism is not just a good idea, it is necessary for actually dealing with the mental health crisis. If we are serious about fighting for a world where children can grow up in a happy joyful environment, free from stress and worry, why would we waste any opportunity to make the case for socialism?

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Richard Estes February 14, 2013 at 4:08 pm

“The human brain grows four times in size between infancy and adulthood. Trillions of connections in the brain will be made in that time. How the brain develops is greatly affected by the stressful environments created by the conditions of capitalism. Then kids and adults don’t get the care the need.”

If you believe that Sandy Hook is more than an instance of localized crime that should be left to city or county law enforcement, it is important to have a thoughtful political discussion about it. I agree that a more rigorous examination of social conditions and their influence upon mental health is essential. From a different perspective, Nancy Scheper-Hughes reached similar conclusions many years ago after Columbine massacre:

http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/02/06/no-magic-bullets/

Significantly, she observes that, while it is generally assumed that Lanza was mentally disordered, there was never any evaluation of him that came to this conclusion. This leads to the frightening recognition that the universe of people capable of such violence is likely to be substantially greater than the population of mentally disordered people as the term is medically understood. Indeed, there may not even be a statistically accepted correlation between these acts of violence and diagnosed mental disorder. I am not making a case against gun control and more funding for mental health services, as I consider each to be desirable, but I consider them elliptical, incremental measures.

Accordingly, we need to resist the tendency prevalent among conservatives and liberals to respond to the tragedy by means of easily applied categories, liberals, the need for gun control, conservatives, the need to arm people to protect themselves, with both supporting the imposition of social controls upon people deemed to be “dangerous”. Both constitute examples of the prohibitory ethos that so permeates life in the US today. If we just criminalize it, or empower the police to detain and confine the people considered likely, whether rightly or wrongly, to perpetrate such acts, the problem will go away. Both enable the existing social order to persist without challenge, with repeated acts of seemingly senseless mass killing. The sadness and unease that many expressed in the aftermath of the shootings is indicative of the fact that many people understand the inadequacy of these responses.

For the left, or anyone else for that matter, to sincerely engage this situation, it requires, first, as emphasized by Pham, a compassionate response, an identification with the victims and the emotional trauma of the survivors, with the provision of mutual aid, and, second, a candid evaluation of the primacy of violence in this culture and the sources of it. And that requires something other than Campbell’s Soup Marxism about Sandy Hook. I don’t think that it was inappropriate to comment politically upon the tragedy, but it requires something more regurgitating the old, capitalism is bad because it puts profits before people and treats health care and mental health as opportunities for capital accumulation. Such responses are worse than heartless, they suggest that old tendency of some left groups to piggyback upon a tragedy to get public attention that they wouldn’t otherwise get.

For this reason, I have been careful in my remarks about it. But the failure of the left to emphasize mutual aid in this instance, through the payment of medical expenses and burial costs, is a perplexing feature of the response to Sandy Hook, particularly when contrasted with Occupy Sandy. Mutual aid can open the door into a more engaged, communal response to individual problems that might, in appropriate circumstances, prevent future mass killings.

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Patrick A. February 14, 2013 at 4:54 pm

I don’t disagree with mutual aid, but I also don’t think the idea about mutual aid was the decisive issue in the *discussion* about mental health, gun control, the roots of growing violence in America and other issues peoples that are being discussed after Newtown.

That people donated in such large amounts, as Binh reported, is an inspiring thing, no doubt. The willingness of working people to donate to victims of horrible tragedies has been incredible, not just in tragedies in the U.S., but in response to horrible events all over the world over the last decade. It’s a sign that people feel connected, and it’s another good discussion point we should definitely raise, contrasting it to the response by corporations who tend to not be so generous, as was shown in the Tsunami crisis at the end of 2004 (http://foundationcenter.org/pnd/news/story.jhtml?id=165300011)

Another issue is leadership versus commentating. OWS did not just comment on events and raise ideas for discussion. They took leadership in New York City after Sandy. They provided an inspiring example of what a revitalized mass left wing movement could do in an event like a hurricane. Their actions stood in sharp contrast to the response by the corporate politicians. On this score, the response to Newtown and Sandy by the left it is not comparable. The small isolated groupings of the left was not in a position to provide that sort of leadership.

Here is an example of socialist in Sri Lanka, who were in a position to lead to some degree, providing and example of mutual aid after the Tsunami disaster in 2005: http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/1542

Here is an example of socialists in Pakistan after an earthquake: http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/2014

Without compassion, nobody will get a hearing. That was a lesson of 9/11, it is not a new point. None of the groups on the left that welcomed the bombing on 9/11 have gotten a hearing since then.

But, the fact is there is now discussion on gun control, mental health and other issues. Public opinion has shifted significantly. What should Marxists stand for in the debate about gun control that has opened up following the events in Newtown? Should we ignore it? Should we take a position? Should we boldly defend socialist ideas?

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Aaron Aarons February 20, 2013 at 2:26 am

I’m not clear which groups on the left “welcomed the bombing on 9/11”, and therefore haven’t a clue as to whether or not they “have gotten a hearing since then.” Maybe Patrick A. can enlighten us.

My own early public reaction to the 9/11 incidents was to show up at demonstrations, starting with one in Oakland, CA, the next evening, with signs to the effect that “the United States is still the world’s greatest terrorist” and to later add the slogan, “Hundreds of innocents died for what ‘America’ had coming.”

It was only after a couple of years that I started taking seriously the idea that the attacks were a false-flag operation — an idea I still lean towards. But I don’t believe that those of us with limited resources and no subpoena power should try to come up with a definitive account of the attacks and what governments and agencies might have organized, instigated, and/or facilitated them. Rather, we should be putting the U.S. government on the spot by pointing out the inconsistencies and implausibilities in their accounts and their actions to conceal information about the event and avoid a real investigation. In other words, put the U.S. government and its supporters, with all their resources, in the position of a prosecutor that has to prove their case, rather than create a situation where the burden of proof is on those, usually with minimal resources, who doubt the government,

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Pham Binh February 19, 2013 at 9:25 am

The more we find out about Lanza, the harder it is to serve up that Campbell’s Soup Marxism:
http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/photos-details-emerge-newtown-mass-shooter-adam-lanza-124951161.html

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Brandy Baker February 22, 2013 at 1:21 am

I would have to disagree with one assertion that you made, Binh.

“What happened at Sandy Hook simply does not lend itself to condemning the system on this basis. If anything, it was a missed opportunity to get into why Lanza was never properly diagnosed and cared for despite his family’s status and wealth, which is a problem that gets into the limited nature of modern brain science and psychology as disciplines.”

It appears that he was diagnosed with Asperger’s and sensory deprivation disorder, but we do not really have enough information to determine if brain science and psych treatment failed him.Was he in treatment? Based on this account, his mother took him shooting and tried to get him to be more independent, but did she get him treatment? Did she think that he did not need it? Was she in denial? Those with means, yes, they can afford quality psych care, but often do not seek it for their loved ones because they may want to hush up past or present abuse, they may have the American individualistic, “we can do it on our own” mentality. Also, legally he was an adult, unless she had guardianship over Adam, she could not have compelled him to get treatment. We would need more info to see if the mental health establishment failed him,which further illustrates your point about left sects rushing in to analyze the situation to gain cred.

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Pham Binh February 22, 2013 at 10:58 am

Lanza’s mother’s decided to get him treated by institutionalizing him after she became overwhelmed with being responsible for his care:
http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2012/1219/Sandy-hook-shooting-Was-Adam-Lanza-lashing-out-against-treatment-video
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/lanza-psychic-break-article-1.1243602

He was on medication at one point before the shooting although it’s not clear if that continued or not. The investigation is ongoing, so new information continues to dribble out, but none of it corroborates “the profit-driven health care system failed” story line.

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Brandy Baker February 22, 2013 at 5:14 pm

No, none of it ever did, but IMO, wiser to analyze later when we have a complete picture.

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Pham Binh February 28, 2013 at 9:51 am

This is somewhat off topic, but I wonder what your reaction is to this?
http://socialistworker.org/2013/02/28/the-violence-in-oakland

“As residents demand action [to curb violent crime], City Hall and the pundits come out with more of the same answers: more cops and more legal leeway to pursue suspects. …”

“WHILE ACTION is absolutely necessary, the conventional wisdom that hiring more cops will curb the violence in Oakland is probably the worst way to deal with the crisis. More cops can only result in increased racial profiling and brutality. The Oakland Police Department is still plagued with a record of violence and racism. Its record is so bad that it is under threat of being taken into federal receivership–something that has never happened to a police department in the history of the U.S. …

“Recently, Robert Warshaw, a court-appointed monitor who is supposed to oversee the reforms, reported that the department was backsliding. He wrote that within the OPD, there continue to be major failures in the responsibility of officers ‘to report misconduct by other officers’ and the ability of supervisors ‘to critically evaluate the use of force by the officers they supervise.’

“The lack of oversight regarding misconduct effectively means the racism and corruption that runs rampant in the OPD has not been stopped, nor will it be brought under check under the current system. … Nor will more police will be effective in stopping crime.

“Adding more heavily armed and nervous rookie cops to the streets of Oakland as part of a police force that is infamous for its corruption will do nothing to curb violence on the streets.

“In desperate times, radical solutions are necessary to get to the root of problems. The root of violence in Oakland is related to a number of deep-seated factors: Unemployment, racism, mass incarceration, underfunded schools, and a violent and racist police force. These are the typical features of what Michelle Alexander calls the New Jim Crow–and as bad as the system is everywhere, it’s generally worse in Oakland. …

“ONE MEASURE that would do much more good than more cops is a major jobs and education program to undercut the despair that runs through the streets of Oakland. But how would an undertaking like this be funded in a city that struggles with budget problems every year? …

“So what if the Oakland City Council and Mayor Jean Quan fired all the cops? What if Oakland liquidated the OPD and exchanged badges for jobs? Redirect the $200 million the cops absorb to hire 2,500 to 3,000 community workers at a living wage of, for instance, $50,000 plus full benefits. These workers should be free to join the union of their choice.

“What would this army of community workers do? First, it could be composed of thousands of young people from the neighborhoods suffering the worst effects of poverty, racism and crime. This would inject millions of dollars into the pockets of the people who need it most, as well as their families–and immediately lift approximately 10,000 people out of poverty.

“Second, these young workers could work with schools, churches, unions and community organizations to develop recreation and art programs in our poorest neighborhoods.

“Third, repression and prosecution of young violent offenders only reinforces a permanent underclass that has to resort to the crime economy to survive. Politicians talk endlessly about ‘breaking the cycle of violence.’ This peace army, trained to counsel and support and care for young people, would do a world more good than hiring another 30 cops from Walnut Creek to come into the community with dogs, searchlights and shotguns. A peace army could have a chance at organizing a gang truce, following the precedents laid out by Stan ‘Tookie’ Williams before he was murdered by the state of California in 2005.

“All this would be just a first step. Even this peace army of 2,500 would only be a small portion of the jobs and social spending we need to heal Oakland. It could not solve the problems of racism and poverty that create violence in our community. But it would be a start.”

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Thomas Barton February 15, 2013 at 12:53 am

Pham Binh writes “A heartless left is a worthless left.”

This applies no less to the liberation that comes with understanding the source of our miseries.

It is a tendency of our left to approach our class like preachers intent on saving souls, by preaching at the unsaved who have not yet accepted and come to have faith in our Word as revealed to some particular church.

Perhaps it would be more successful to approach people who have gone into organized motion against social wrong as loyal friends, no less outraged, and who may have a useful general view of where a particular social wrong comes from.

Perhaps Dorner would have been open to talking about that, and perhaps he might have chosen a different path.

One thing is for sure. There are many other people thinking what he thought and feeling what he felt, with all its confusions.

What can be more isolating, and maddening, than to have some nasty piece of Capitalism 2013 bearing down on you alone, and not understanding why?

Marx considered historical materialism a liberating gift to our class, bringing clarity to understanding of the world as it is.

Every word he wrote was to bring light.

The pontificating churchly left is too much obsessed with political sin and heresy, and not enough about the giving the gift of light.

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Pham Binh February 15, 2013 at 9:36 am

Preach, brother, preach!

Just kidding.

One thing I’ve always admired about your GI Special is the way you use emotionally charged rhetoric to enlighten military personnel as to who their real enemies are. You’ll never find the phrase “Soldier-Killer-in-Chief” in a party-line publication with a picture of Bush or Obama next to it; the party-liners have too much respect for them and don’t know how to capture the sound and the fury that is revolution (in fact, they are afraid of that sound and fury). Dorner’s manifesto, like GI Special, is brimming with both.

As you say, these publications talk down to working people like they are stupid, irredeemably backward and alternate between insulting their intelligence and boring them. When they comment on complex and multi-faceted human tragedies like Aurora and Sandy Hook, the result is a disastrous mish-mash of emotionally empty platitudes and opportunistic ambulance-chasing, and “Campbell’s Soup Marxism,” none of which advances the cause of ending capitalism.

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Brandy Baker February 15, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Also, people need to grieve and process such a tragedy. The sects, whenever something like this, or anything else happens, think, “cha-ching!” They immediately rush forth to put the best analysis forward to win recruits and so they can have the best analysis for the sake of having the best analysis.

We need socialists who act in the interests of justice and put people over sect-building. The individual socialist in these sects are compassionate, big-heart people. The sect and its actions, ironically, are heartless, and put ideas over people.

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Ben Campbell February 15, 2013 at 2:02 pm

As one of the editors around here, I received a complaint from an ISO member about Pham Binh’s piece. There are a few points to make here:

1. Our standard disclaimer is that “the articles posted here reflect only the views of the authors, not necessarily those of the editors or other participants”.

2. This is true even when the author in question is another editor (e.g. Pham). Indeed, just last week we solicited a sharp critique of Binh’s views that we published. We welcome and encourage further disagreement and response to the pieces we publish. We will occasionally actively seek out views that the editors strongly disagree with.

3. The purpose of this site is eventual left “unity”, but we believe that left “unity” can only be achieved through open disagreement, debate, and hopefully, resolution.

4. Having said that, disagreement and debate can only be productive if done in a certain fashion. This is not to say that all polemic is destructive; polemic can be constructive in drawing out real differences for debate. Polemic becomes destructive when it does not represent real differences and degenerates into point-scoring.

5. In this case, Binh’s general point is reasonable enough. That anti-capitalists should not resort to a knee-jerk condemnation of capitalism when faced with tragedy. Binh’s does appear to have a valid disagreement with the Socialist Alternative comrades (regardless of whether you agree with his argument), as can be seen in Jess Spear’s response.

6. However, when it comes to the article by Nicole Colson of the ISO, Binh does not appear to do her argumentation justice. I found nothing “crass, reductionist” or “heartless” in Colson’s article. Rather, it is a serious exploration of the structural contributors to this sort of mass violent crime. And yes, many of the contributing factors do arise from capitalism — there is nothing wrong with acknowledging and exploring that. Of course one does not want succumb to political point-scoring, wherein every tragedy becomes another reason to attack your opponents. But I did not get that sense at all from Colson’s article.

7. In this sense the charge of “political point-scoring” could be leveled both ways. And in neither case is accusing one’s opponent of “political point-scoring” particularly helpful. If the response of SA/ISO/Binh to recent events isn’t strategically wise, then I suggest we critique their response on those grounds, rather than accusing them of “political point-scoring”. The problem isn’t that the anti-capitalist left is trying to score points — we desperately need points! — it’s that we’re not always going about it in the best possible way.

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Brandy Baker February 15, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Ben, I think that you are using the term “point scoring” in a different fashion than Binh. You seem to be using it as a tactic to move the anti-capitalist left along to fulfill its purpose, Binh seems to be using the term to describe those who are using the anti-capitalist argument to run their own agendas.

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Pham Binh February 15, 2013 at 8:38 pm

One of the reasons why we have a comments sections is so that disagreements and corrections can be aired openly. If there’s anything the ISO should learn from the British SWP, it’s that hushing up disputes and disagreements is ultimately self-destructive.

The problem with Colson’s article in my view is the following:

1) The title, “How Does This Happen?” is misleading because Colson never actually tries to answer it. She even says, “As this story was being written, however, little was known about Lanza and nothing at all about his actual motivations in planning and carrying out the mass killings.”

So even though at this time we knew next to nothing about Lanza, his personal situation, or the context in which the shooting happened, we can already safely say capitalism is to blame regardless of what the facts may be.

2. The rest of the article after that quote discusses the violence of the ruling class, capitalism, and imperialism in general and she writes, “Whatever answers we eventually learn or don’t learn about this one individual, a broader discussion needs to take place about why such terrible acts take place–seemingly with more and more regularity–and the roots of the violence that is rampant in U.S. society.”

Evidently, every act of violence that happens in the context of capitalist society is attributable to capitalism.

This is a textbook example of reductionism.

3. Colson correctly criticizes capitalism for providing “next-to-no resources to support” to the mentally ill and/or their families; the problem is that Lanza’s family is part of the 1%, and as such they had tremendous financial resources to get that support.

What happened at Sandy Hook simply does not lend itself to condemning the system on this basis. If anything, it was a missed opportunity to get into why Lanza was never properly diagnosed and cared for despite his family’s status and wealth, which is a problem that gets into the limited nature of modern brain science and psychology as disciplines.

4. From there, Colson discusses the availability of guns, the hypocrisy of politicians, imperialist wars, racism, and asks, “How could the enthusiasm for such violence by those at the top of society have no effect on those at the bottom?”

Again, the problem was that Lanza’s family wasn’t at the bottom. This was yet another political point totally irrelevant to what went down at Sandy Hook.

5. The article closes denouncing imperialist violence, with a quote from MLK Jr. on Viet Nam (of all things), and the words, “That basic sense of humanity and solidarity–the compassion for fellow human beings who are suffering–shows the real way forward.”

OK, but actions speak louder than words, and most of the article’s words were devoted to things other than Sandy Hook’s victims as well as the gunman.

Why not put a hyperlink here to a fund to help pay victims’ medical or funeral bills? Where was the solidarity in action?

6. Given all of the above, if I was the father, husband, or brother of someone who died at that school and I read this article, I would have been less than thrilled. Brandy I think nailed this one better than I did.

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Aaron Aarons February 21, 2013 at 12:26 am

Your points (1) and (2) are quite valid, which is why I don’t see any more reason for leftists to focus on the Sandy Hook massacre than there is for leftists to focus on the meteor that caused lots of devastation in Russia last week. There are lots of situations in the world where leftist commentary is useful, including the Chris Dorner case, but we should resist the temptation to intervene in discussions where we have nothing special to say.

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Thomas Barton February 16, 2013 at 12:53 pm

North Star readers may be interested to know that on Friday I received an email from a subscriber to the Military Resistance Newsletter demanding his immediate, unconditional removal from the Newsletter distribution list.

This was accompanied by bitter fulmination condemning Pham Binh, Louis Proyect, and another person. (Having hit the delete key too quickly, the third name is lost forever.)

It seems that having posted a comment on this article, [February 15, 2013 at 12:53 am] I am therefore associated with Satan, or these particular Satans, and all their works, and so must be punished by decisive anathema.

The delicious irony was that my comment posted to this list included an appeal to moderate a tendency on the left to become obsessed with rooting out political sin and heresy, rather than devoting predominant effort to engaging in analysis of today’s events and movements brought on by events through the application of the methodology of historical materialism.

Although my comment mentioned no particular organization or individual as an example of left religious primitivism, the response of the former subscriber appears to provide a useful example.

His response was certainly unexpected.

But to borrow from Monty Python, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.”

Choosing between North Star and left religious primitivism is a no-brainer.

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Brandy Baker February 17, 2013 at 10:38 pm

I’ll sub, then you’ll break even.;)

Talk about proving your point!

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Aaron Aarons February 20, 2013 at 2:01 am

Sorry, but, unless one is personally or geographically connected to the people affected by the Sandy Hook massacre, there is no reason to single out those people for support, mutual aid, or whatever. And unless one can use it to illuminate the society we need to overthrow, I can’t think of any reason for leftists to make more than a passing reference to that particular massacre.

I believe that the best reaction whenever the topic of Newtown does come up is to point out that, however horrible that massacre was, more children are killed every minute of every day by imperialist capitalism than were killed at Sandy Hook, and that those invisible children deserve as much attention as the ones killed at the school, and therefore a lot more attention from the left.

BTW, this article appears to be just another of Pham Binh’s attempts to disassociate himself from any serious, principled left opposition to actually existing capitalism while still claiming to be some kind of ‘leftist’.

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Brandy Baker February 20, 2013 at 2:46 pm

You seem to be using the comments section as a platform for calling North Star writers and its supporters faux leftists because they dare critique what you consider to be “serious, principled left opposition” to capitalism. You do not have to agree with anything written here by Pham or anyone else, and you are free to disagree with anything written, but your bombarding the comments section with insults saying that we are not real leftists is petty and childish and frankly, ultra-left.

There are more internet forums now than there are people on the planet. You have options. You really should go somewhere else if you think that we are not real leftists. However, I do not think that is the issue. The issue seems to be that the internet is a free and open forum for anyone to start a blog of discussion space anywhere and that is a threat to those who do not want the spotlight shone on their methods. I think that is the true issue.

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Aaron Aarons February 20, 2013 at 6:48 pm

You, Brandy Baker, object to one sentence in my comment in which I respond to the fact that Pham Binh, while he calls for ‘left unity’, spends a lot more time attacking ‘the left’ and, at times, specific leftists, than he does attacking the U.S. or global ruling class. It’s true that I have pointed that out a number of times in various ways, but, in most cases, that observation is only one part of my comment.

Moreover, IIRC, Pham Binh and other North Star moderators have — following the lead of the neocons Arthur Dent, Patrick Muldowney, Anita/’anitah’/’Informally Yours’, and Byork — labelled their left opponents as pseudo-left.

In any case, I put forth, in the bulk of my comment, an argument for how the left should respond to situations like the Sandy Hook massacre, which is different from the approach of pandering to the sense of self-importance of ‘Americans’ vis-a-vis the rest of humanity.

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Brandy Baker February 20, 2013 at 7:03 pm

One sentence in more than one post, it is a running theme with you.

According to you, we should use the Sandy Hook massacre only to point out that other children elsewhere are killed by capitalism in greater numbers, and that is the only contribution we should make to the dialogue? How about the fact that any children, killed anywhere, is horrific? That paying any attention to Sandy Hook is “pandering” to American nationalism?

You are way too far gone.

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Aaron Aarons February 20, 2013 at 8:23 pm

I did not argue that “we should use the Sandy Hook massacre only to point out that other children elsewhere are killed by capitalism in greater numbers, and that is the only contribution we should make to the dialogue”. Rather, I wrote that “unless one can use it to illuminate the society we need to overthrow, I can’t think of any reason for leftists to make more than a passing reference to that particular massacre.’

You write, “How about the fact that any children, killed anywhere, is horrific?” But somehow, that fact (value judgment, actually) hardly ever gets brought up, at least on this web site, in relation to the ongoing, massive killing of children by the ordinary workings of capitalism, mainly but not only in the oppressed nations. So, devoting a web page to the Sandy Hook massacre without using it to advance a subversive understanding of the world we live in (and, in fact, opposing such use of it) is, in fact, pandering to ‘American’ self-centeredness, not to mention anti-political sentimentality.

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Brandy Baker February 20, 2013 at 8:44 pm

A site like North Star that is devoted to moving socialists away from dogmatic, knee-jerk thinking that has driven many potential revolutionaries away from socialist ideals and organizing I guess is going to attract those who are hell-bent to hold on to such, rigid, outdated politics. Yet another example of putting ideas over people and using events to run one’s own agendas.

The nonsense that we are seeing uttered here is likely the shrill, outgoing death cry of the sect mentality. We’ll probably see a bit more of it, like with those who seek to pattern themselves after the Spartacist League (Christ!).

Just because the ruling class prioritizes one group of slaughtered children over another does not mean that we should do the same. The Left has rightfully compared Obama’s tears over Sandy hook to his indifference to droned children in Afghanistan. However, the idea that we cannot have an article on this page that looks at the socialist left’s response of Sandy Hook without using Sandy Hook as a tool to point to other childrens’ deaths because focusing on SH is “anti-political sentimentality”? That is fucked.

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Pham Binh February 20, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Use/using are the key words for AA and the central problem I pointed to in this piece.

Twisting these horrors to fit a “left” political agenda and denigrating the suffering of survivors and surviving family members by engaging in what-about-ery is left in form, right in essence. If the far left wants the people it claims to support to give a damn about the far left, it needs to give a damn about those people first. Shamelessly exploiting people (and their suffering) to advance “the cause” or “the greater good” is a recipe for failure; the pro-choice movement did that with Norma McCorvey of Roe v. Wade fame and she ended up on the pro-life side. That might not bother some like AA but it should.

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Brandy Baker February 20, 2013 at 10:18 pm

A heartless left is a worthless left.

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Aaron Aarons February 20, 2013 at 11:42 pm

I suppose it’s ‘heartful’ to express sympathy or empathy for those whose suffering is plastered all over the media while totally ignoring the suffering of the overwhelmingly larger number of people in the world whose very existence is not made known to us unless we actively seek out the information, and sometimes not even then.

Call me heartless, but I think it is correct to resist manipulation by avoiding, to the extent possible, exposing oneself to the images and accounts of suffering that the ruling class and its allies choose to expose us to. And I think it’s almost obscene to ask leftists, who need to be donating more to leftist causes like defense cases, to make donations to a non-political charitable cause that has, thanks to the media, enormous support from large sections of the population, including the bourgeoisie. As for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, I would donate to a militant political campaign to demand resources from the government. I would also gladly donate (and will do so if somebody knows how to do it directly, and not through imperialist intermediaries) to help the Cubans who are suffering from that natural disaster while also being under perpetual attack by the United Snakes government.

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Aaron Aarons February 21, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Here’s an attempt by me to deal with a big chunk of the original post at once, with apologies for the repetition of points I made elsewhere on this page. If Louis Proyect is right about me, my head might explode if I put any more into a single text, so I’ll save the rest for later.

Both [conservatives and liberals] took the easy route by fighting over how to treat the symptoms of a deeper social malaise rather than exploring the human psyche’s darker, more sinister dimensions in the cultural context of modern-day capitalism.”

So maybe our not-quite-liberal soft leftists like Pham Binh can do that exploration for us?

The far left’s reaction to the mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in 2012 suffered from the same basic failing. Within days of Sandy Hook, Republican Mike Huckabee disgraced himself by claiming that the ban on officially sanctioned prayer in public schools was to blame while an equally beside-the-point reaction took hold on the far left as memes appeared on Facebook mocking President Obama for pontificating about the preciousness of children’s lives while authorizing the assassination of Rahman Awlaki, a 16-year-old boy in Yemen.”

So, for Pham Binh, pointing out the hypocrisy of the chief executive (or maybe just chief front man) for mass-murdering U.S. imperialism and global capital in order to weaken, at least in a small way, his ability to influence events is somehow equivalent to promulgating reactionary, obscurantist religious ideas. He’s got to be kidding — either here or when he claims to be a ‘leftist’!

For both the right and the left, these grisly killings became fodder for political warfare rather than an occasion for thoughtful reflection or heartfelt solidarity with the victims.

And why are these particular killings more “an occasion for thoughtful reflection or heartfelt solidarity with the victims” than are any of the thousands of direct or indirect killings by capitalism and imperialism each day around the world?

[…] Obama’s murderous hypocrisy is what mattered, not the lives of children and teachers cut short by gunman Adam Lanza.

Adam Lanza is dead. He is no longer a danger to anybody. Obama and the persons and institutions he represents, OTOH, are a continuing threat to life around the world.

In essence, these articles treated mass shootings as a case for socialism, as if snuffing out capitalism should be at the forefront of political discourse when the lives of innocent men, women, and children infants are snuffed out by heavily armed mentally ill gunmen.

Attempts to treat this particular mass shooting as a case for socialism may have been a stretch, but “snuffing out capitalism”, or at least weakening its ideological hegemony, “should be at the forefront of political discourse” whenever political discourse is engaged in.

The tens of thousands of dollars that strangers donated to pay the Aurora and Sandy Hook survivors’ exorbitant medical bills and funeral expenses was more of a socialist act than the crass, reductionist condemnations of capitalism that these shootings elicited. How many socialist groups organized fund drives or collections at their weekly or monthly meetings to help the victims pay these bills? How many embedded click-able donation links to funds for the victims in their articles discussing the shootings?

If people have enough caring for others to donate money to help them, our job is to channel that caring into the struggle against capitalism and the capitalist class, not to encourage people to give to charity. If we are going to solicit donations, let us do it for causes that put us in opposition to the ruling class, not to reinforce the ruling class’ program of substituting volunteerism and charity for the capitalist state’s unpaid social wage.

Capitalism puts profits over people and deserves to be scrapped for that reason; a socialist movement that puts politics over people does not deserve any better. A heartless left is a worthless left.

What an absurd analogy. Capitalism puts capitalists’ desire for riches above the needs of the majority of the population, while revolutionaries put the struggle to meet, through social change, the needs of the majority of the global population, including those yet unborn, ahead of the diversion of resources to meeting the immediate needs of particular sectors of the population whose neediness happens to be brought to our attention. Heartless? I suggest a reading of Brecht’s The Measures Taken.

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Pham Binh April 17, 2013 at 10:46 am

A good overview of why Seattle’s police resigned (unfortunately it does not advocate or flesh out any measures for police reform):
http://socialistworker.org/2013/04/17/why-diaz-got-dumped

A Seattle cop’s virulently anti-socialist rant, the anti-Dorner so to speak:
http://mynorthwest.com/646/416027/SPD-officers-view-of-Socialist-Seattle

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David Berger April 17, 2013 at 11:17 am

PHAM BINH: A good overview of why Seattle’s police resigned (unfortunately it does not advocate or flesh out any measures for police reform)

DAVID BERGER: Do you really think that it’s the responsibility of the Left to put forth measures for police reform? Why? Do you think that the police can be reformed, or are you criticizing the piece for a lack of transitional demands?

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Pham Binh April 17, 2013 at 12:02 pm

I guess you didn’t actually read the article you’re commenting on? What else is new.

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David Berger April 17, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Yes, I read it. Now what do you have to say for yourself? Let me repeat my questions:

Do you really think that it’s the responsibility of the Left to put forth measures for police reform? Why? Do you think that the police can be reformed, or are you criticizing the piece for a lack of transitional demands?

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Pham Binh April 17, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Why would we oppose police reform? Opposing police reform means supporting the status quo where cops kill without consequences. No thanks.

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Aaron Aarons April 17, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Opposing police reform means supporting the status quo where cops kill without consequences.

I’m not sure if this statement is demagogic or an honest indication of the lack of any depth in the thinking it manifests. If it is an honest statement, it demonstrates an inability to distinguish between forcing change in police behavior by, inter alia, exposure and protest of police criminality, and campaigning for “police reform”. The latter, unlike the former, involve ‘leftists’ in express or implied support for a “reformed” police department, rather than in continuing opposition to the armed thugs of the capitalist state.

To make things clearer by analogy, it is like the difference between opposing the death penalty unconditionally and, OTOH, arguing that the death penalty should be replaced by, e.g., ‘life without possibility of parole”. The latter, but not the former, implies support for the capitalist state’s punishment institutions.

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David Berger April 17, 2013 at 12:45 pm

PHAM BINH: Dorner’s criminal behavior shone a spotlight on the LAPD’s criminal behavior and may trigger much-needed police reform.

DAVID BERGER: Do you really believe that significant police reform is possible? No wonder you’re willing to run candidates in the Democratic Party.

PHAM BINH: The fact that his individualist violence may lead to more policy changes than all the anti-police brutality marches of the past decade put together should serve as a wake-up call for progressives, both reformists (who mistakenly believe that the socioeconomic system is sound and just, and that tinkering is all that is necessary) and revolutionaries (who talk about overturning a social order they are too weak to wrest reforms from) that our methods are insufficient for the tasks at hand.

DAVID BERGER: Let us know when those “policy changes” (what a milk-toast liberal term) take place, Comrade.

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Pham Binh June 3, 2013 at 12:25 pm

This is what I was talking about:
http://www.socialistalternative.org/news/article15.php?id=2130

*Demand an independent, community-led investigation into the police killing of Terrance Franklin and the apparent cover-up.
*Build a movement against racial profiling and police brutality. Create an elected Civilian Review Board with full powers over the police.

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