How socialists view cops and prisons


The past three years have seen more hunger strikes, riots, and national prison strikes since the 1960s and 70s, producing a great deal of commentary even in the mainstream media. But through the years, revolutionary socialists have never stopped our participation in defense cases and in prisoner solidarity actions.

Socialists have a knee-jerk response toward these cases, working to build the kind of “united-front” solidarity actions that are needed to free political prisoners or to stop state violence against people of color. We have worked to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, members of the Black Panther Party, water-protector Red Fawn Fallis, hunger striker Cesar DeLeon, and Kevin Cooper—who has languished on death row for almost four decades despite indications that police manipulated the evidence against him.

Since the U.S. has the largest prison, jail, and probation population in the history of the world, campaigns for incarcerated or formerly incarcerated persons are of the highest importance. Arrest and jail time are traumatic, mentally fragmenting, demeaning, and abusive experiences. We must say no to the building or sustaining of jails and prisons.

The police also must be abolished. Both the Republican and Democratic parties, no matter how “progressive” some of their politicians might wish to appear, are responsible for the suppression of working-class, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ people, and their struggles, through police batons.

Police brutality and the murder of people of color by cops are nothing new; they extend back to the early history of police forces. Police in the U.S. sprang from the ranks of slavecatchers, strike-breakers, defenders of white supremacy, members of white supremacist organizations, and instigators of bourgeois law and bourgeois order. While the police ranks include people coming from working-families, when they put on the copper badge, they transcend the blue line as class-traitors (Williams, 2007). And now that police forces have entered a more militarized stage, their potential for violence has become even greater.

Socialist and leftist groups have a wide range of positions on the police. Some socialists characterize police as merely misguided “workers in uniform,” call for “police unions,” and express the desire to have open an dialogue with police, which might induce them to become answerable to the working class and oppressed communities. Similarly, many radicals urge reforms such as “community control of the police,” or petition the police to protect the masses from white supremacists and fascists (Kirby, 2011).

It is important to recognize, however, that the police are hardly neutral referees between social forces in conflict. The major role of police forces is to serve and protect capital and private property, which means repressing any dissent against the capitalist state. There are no good cops and bad cops; there are only cops. Leon Trotsky said it best in 1932: “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”).

It is impossible to merely “reform” the police or any other portion of the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state. Instead, socialists should struggle alongside working people, people of color, people with disabilities, formerly incarcerated persons, LGBTQIA+ people, and all of the oppressed to create alternatives and anti-policing spaces.

Socialist Resurgence is for:

  • Prison abolition! Free all political prisoners!
  • Transformative justice, creating alternatives to jail and prison!
  • No money for jails; an end to the school to prison pipeline!
  • No support or defense of police and prison guards!
  • An immediate end to the detention of migrants!
  • Socialist revolution, to create a society in which we have no police!

References used: 

Davis, Angela Y., “Are Prisons Obsolete?” (New York: Seven Stories Press) 2003.

DeVylder, Jordan E. (2017, July 1) “Donald Trump, the Police, and Mental Health in US Cities,” American Journal of Public Health. Retrieved from

Kirkby, Ryan J. (2011) “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Community Activism and the Black Panther Party, 1966–1971,” Canadian Review of American Studies, 41(1):25.

Marx, Karl, 1818-1883, “The Communist Manifesto” (London & Chicago: Pluto Press) 1996.

Williams, Kristian, “Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America.”  Revised Edition. (South End Press), 2007.



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