Workers Hammer No. 201
10 December 2007
The following may be of some use to you in connection with the Socialist Party’s defence of the line that cops are “workers in uniform”.
While we were protesting the platform given to the official of the prison guards union at the recent Socialist Party weekend, one of the SP’s older hacks shouted that we should read what Trotsky said in 1923 about the significance of the German police force being full of Social Democrats. I have heard the same guy say this at least once before in response to Spartacist interventions against their line that cops are “workers in uniform” and should be part of the trade union movement.
As we all know, SP hacks have a knack for citing usually relatively little-known references of the great Marxists, which are taken out of context and distorted in order to justify whatever the rotten line of the day is to their youth and portray it as authentic Marxism.
So in the interests of combating this and — not least — to refute the really quite offensive association of one of the greatest revolutionary leaders with the disgraceful position that cops and prison guards should be part of the workers movement, I did some research. Here is the passage I think the SP hack was referring to:
“Then there is the state police force of 135,000 men. It is made up of members of trade unions, most of whom are Social-Democrats, with a Menshevik outlook. Few in number, elderly, burdened with families, they are hardly likely to be eager to fight for the cause of Stinnes and capital.”
—Report to the Third Moscow Provincial Congress of the All-Russia Union of Metal Workers, October 19, 1923 cited in the Military Writings of Leon Trotsky, Volume 5: 1921 1923 (Marxist Internet Archive: http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1922/military/ch25.htm)
This speech was given as an analysis of the pre-revolutionary situation and balance of forces in Germany 1923, whilst events were unfolding. The Spartacist no 56, “A Trotskyist critique of Germany 1923 and the Comintern” article cites this speech as an example of where Trotsky incorrectly defended the entry of the KPD into the Saxony and Thuringia coalition governments. And there is probably a case to be made that, corresponding to the disastrous position the Comintern had on entry into the coalition provincial governments with the Social Democrats, Trotsky’s speech was not sufficiently hard and explicit enough on the Social-Democratic cops, leaving the above statement open to distortion.
But nowhere here does Trotsky say that the Social-Democratic cops could be won over to the workers. Rather, he is stressing the weakness of the police force to emphasise a situation that is favourable to a successful workers revolution: “Few in number, elderly, burdened with families” who would be reluctant to risk all and be on the losing side of a revolution. In other words that they could be neutralised by their fear of a powerful, victorious proletarian insurrection. And this is the best Marxists can expect from individual members of the police force in a revolutionary situation: that they will be paralysed by fear and a desire for selfpreservation. And contrary to reformist morons such as the SP, pathetic appeals to the cops/screws as class-brother “workers in uniform” act against producing the vanguard and consciousness needed to carry out the workers revolution resolutely directed against capitalism and its gendarme defenders.
Workers Hammer replies: We thank Olly for his thoughtful letter. Trotsky’s position on the police was generally much sharper and clearer than in 1923 and he was quite categorical that the police are the class enemy, even when they come from a social-democratic background. This can be seen from the following passage:
“The fact that the police was originally recruited in large numbers from among Social Democratic workers is absolutely meaningless. Consciousness is determined by environment even in this instance. The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.”
— “What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat”, January 1932 (The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany)