The following article was originally published in Proletarian Revolution No. 46 (Spring 1994). (Follow the link for ordering information on the whole magazine issue.) The piece attacked the liberal gun control pap which is now in high gear among Democrats. In 1994 the ostensible motive was the fight against “crime,” which is a code word for Blacks and Latinos. In 1999, the ostensible motive – in the wake of Littleton, Chicago, Los Angeles and elsewhere – is to get the guns away from crazed racists who target innocent children and people of color. Yet whatever tune the rulers play, we should make no mistake about one thing: gun control is not about protecting the working class and oppressed. Rather it is a means toward increased repression, as our statement explains.
For months the ruling class has subjected the American people to an unrelenting propaganda barrage about the dangers of crime and especially guns in U.S. cities. Right-wing politicians and tabloid media have been in the forefront – not surprisingly, since a major purpose of the campaign is to scapegoat Blacks for the ills of the system and justify increasing repression. But liberal leaders, starting from Bill Clinton with his vindictive crime legislation, have gone along, as have Black spokesmen from Jackson to Farrakhan.
Crime in the cities is indeed mounting, bred by the miseries of decaying capitalism. The ruling class, society’s biggest criminals, foster misery and the plagues of drugs and violent crime in poor communities. The favorite panaceas of liberals of all hues is gun control: take weapons away from everyone but the cops and the military, plus a handful of “respectable” (i.e., upper middle-class) types.
At the time of its revolutionary origins, the U.S. had to grant its citizens the right to bear arms. Now in its epoch of imperialist decay, it tries to remove that right. By using the crime campaign to hide its own, far greater violence, it denies the right of the oppressed masses to defend themselves.
In the absence of proletarian leadership that provides a real answer, the initiative has been handed to reactionaries. The National Rifle Association, a right-wing outfit, takes the lead in defending the Second Amendment, while left, union, and Black leaders go along with the gun-control mania.
Working-class revolutionaries recognize the need for measures of self-defense – not only against crime in the streets but also against the violence of the ruling class. It will take revolution to achieve a socialist world, the only answer to capitalism’s horrors. Yet the working class needs to survive today to fight in the mass struggles on the horizon.
For starters, we say to working people: defend your constitutional right to bear arms! The NRA says that individual gun ownership is the answer. But what’s needed is organized, mass, self-defense. Another article in this issue, “Black Struggle Arms Itself,” sketches the history of Black self-defense efforts and details the reasons why a class-based strategy is crucial.
At the moment the U.S. ruling class is trying to build support for a major attack against the working class at home. But unable to take on the whole class frontally yet, it uses the old divide-and-conquer tool of racism. It first heats up its crusade against Blacks and Latinos who have fought capitalist immiseration through rebellions against capitalist police and property from Los Angeles to Washington Heights.
It is no surprise that the anti-gun campaign in New York originated against the rebellious Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights and then moved to the seething Black community in Brooklyn. The media hero of the day is a Dominican businessman, Fernando Mateo, who started the “Toys for Guns” program. Owners of illegal guns were encouraged to bring them in to the local police station in exchange for a $100 gift certificate at their local “Toys ’R’ Us” store. That program has become a permanent “Goods for Guns” program across the country.
A few facts show that the program is pure deception. The $100 incentive will obviously not persuade big-time criminals to throw down their guns and adopt pacifism. Nor will it attract the drug gangs who shoot bystanders in the streets. Sure, some will turn in a spare peashooter or two, but they know the value of real weapons. According to the New York press, many gun traders admitted to owning other guns; some even planned to use the cash reward toward the purchase of better weapons!
Even Mateo, the founder of Goods for Guns, said that he had no intention of giving up his gun. People with legal connections can get guns; people with illegal connections can, too. But not if you are a working woman or man liable to be mugged on the street, robbed at home or subject to unprovoked attacks by the cops (see our article on the James Frazier case). The media won’t admit that many people who are not criminals need to keep guns for self-protection.
At the other end of the scale, Clinton, accurately described by the Boston Globe as the “Earth’s top pusher of arms,” has no intention of surrendering his guns. Those he needs for future mass slaughters, as in Panama and Iraq. Nor do the capitalists’ cops and National Guard ever disarm themselves.
The gun-control program is not about protecting the honest working person. Clinton and his cops and phony programs like “Toys for Guns” do nothing to deter the petty criminals who plague us. That is not their intention.
The aim is to reinforce the lie that working and oppressed people must rely not on themselves but on the cops to protect them. That way we will be deluded into supporting a further buildup of the state’s armed forces. The cops say they will protect us. But as the ruling class has itself documented, cops more often than not protect (and join) the drug dealers and do nothing to protect ordinary people, especially Blacks and Latinos, from petty criminals. (See “Race, Class and Cop Brutality,” PR 45.)
The capitalist classes of all countries defend their power through their states, institutions holding a legal monopoly of armed force. The liberal’s remedy for crime is to rely on the state to prevent it. Most working people know that doesn’t work – especially Blacks and Latinos, who more often than not see the state’s agents, the cops, fighting against them.
The far right-wingers have a different answer. They see Blacks, Latinos and other militant workers as the real (or at best potential) criminals and don’t trust even the bosses’ state to keep them down. They will look to armies of fascists when the time is ripe. Even with gun-control laws, these thugs will get weapons (plus quite a few members) from the cops. This has always been the case when fascism rises.
For all sections of the bourgeois class, the notion of working people, especially Blacks and Latinos, arming themselves is a great threat. Capitalism wouldn’t last a moment if working people were armed and organized. That is why the right to armed self-defense today is a working-class demand.
Certainly the working class is concerned to get rid of the criminal elements in our communities once and for all. We will stop these elements most effectively through a mass struggle to build a revolutionary movement and leadership to do away with the criminal system altogether.