An Exchange on Abolition

The following reply was part of an exchange with another student organization on the topic of police abolition and the arguments we’ve made in previous articles published on that topic. The other group wishes to remain anonymous, so we are publishing our reply here in isolation, given that these questions come up often in conversation with students and activists, and our reply is an expansion and clarification on our previous articles. We always welcome exchange and debate with other student groups around the programmatic positions of the student movement.

Our previous article “Abolition: A Third Way Between Reform and Revolution?” analyzed the demands of the 8toAbolition campaign and explains why their demands for “non-reformist reforms” in fact rely on the state itself to transform the institution of the police and prisons. Regardless of abolitionists’ radical phraseology, the actual programs and demands do not call for the total abolition of the bourgeois state (which would require a revolution).

History tells us that revolution is a seizure of state power from one class by another. To say that abolition of the police goes hand in hand with a revolution, without proposing a program for and an organization to carry out that revolution, is deceptive to the people you are organizing.

We support the demand to remove police from college campuses because it is an important condition for building a revolutionary student movement. But we have to be realistic: it is a democratic demand which does not traverse the boundaries of the capitalist system.

To abolish the current bourgeois criminal justice system, we must grasp the class antagonisms which are embodied in it. Idealist solutions like “transformative justice” in the interest of “healing communities” are distortions of reality. In actuality, the struggle is between the conflicting interests of classes rooted in definite relations of exploitation and domination. Class interests are what give concreteness to every system of penal policy.

As long as the fundamental capitalist production relation – the separation of the workers from the means of production – remains intact, the capitalist class will always require a special force like the police for making war against the toiling people.

Black people in the US constitute an oppressed nation. In the MDSO, we actively fight for full democratic equality and the right to political self-determination – up to and including the establishment of independent states – for all oppressed nations and national minorities within the borders of the US state. Racist ideology reinforces national oppression, and it is our duty to struggle against it in a determined fashion. 

Revolutionary students work for the complete unity of the working class of all nations under the banner of proletarian internationalism. National oppression presents a fundamental obstacle to this unity by raising national frictions to the level of antagonism. The solution to the national question is to struggle for equality and full national rights. 

However, resolving the Black national question would not in itself destroy capitalism. We see this clearly in the history of decolonization following WWII, which resolved the national question across the world by creating new, independent capitalist states. Although these struggles had a bourgeois-democratic class content, they represented tremendous progress. Resolving the democratic national question is what allows us to concentrate and organize our forces to resolve the proletarian class question. And participating in democratic struggles allows us to form alliances against our common enemy: US imperialism.

This understanding of Black liberation as part of the broad politics of the working class is absent from the liberal perspective which dominates the mainstream movement for racial equality today. This is painfully obvious when we see political representatives of the “progressive” bourgeoisie make use of identitarian ideology. The limits of treating identity as the decisive political criterion are revealed by President Biden’s own “diverse” administration. Beginning with the inauguration, the flexibility of the ruling class was on full display, as they put on a show of “inclusiveness” to give illusions of progress after a year of mass protests against state violence.

Abolishing the police will not transform (let alone abolish) racist ideology or national oppression. Attacking a particular institution of the bourgeois state does not change the fundamental production relations of capitalism that allow workers of all nationalities to be exploited by capital. Again, you need a revolution to do that. As we state in our program, only when the working class has seized political power can we demolish the capitalist system and eliminate exploitation and oppression.