Once more on the IG & ‘Jailing Killer Cops’
Cameron Woodford, who acts as a moderator for the Trotskyoid “Leftist Trainspotters” page, recently took umbrage when a Bolshevik Tendency supporter responded to a Facebook query about differences between various Trotskyist tendencies by posting a snippet of our 3 July 2020 article dealing with the upheaval in the U.S. sparked by the murder of George Floyd. Woodford objected to the following comment:
“The IG is evidently similarly anxious to walk back their previous assertions that to call for ‘Jail[ing] Killer Cops’ is to create illusions in the perfectibility of the capitalist judicial system.
“These perceptible shifts to the left, while limited in scope and, as yet, only tentative and covert, are hopeful portents of a much-needed future process of revolutionary regroupment.”
He responded indignantly in a 10 November Facebook post:
“So evidently there is a BT member spreading misinformation that the IG is anxious to walk back its criticisms on the ‘Jail Killer Cops’ slogan. I am sure the BT has its members under discipline, including when they post online, so this presumably means that people within the BT are operating under this illusion more generally. From where did it come? Certainly not from the IG, whose dozen or so articles on racist cop terror since May have repeatedly condemned this reformist demand.”
In fact, as we pointed out in our July article, the IG’s treatment of the Floyd murder has been slightly more nuanced, with the assertion that “Chauvin [the main perpetrator] and his cronies are all guilty of murder and should spend the rest of their lives behind bars” (The Internationalist, 28 May 2020). We saw this as a potentially positive development. The IG also published a major statement on the Floyd protests on 13 July, ten days after our suggestion that they might be incrementally walking back their previous stupidities on this issue, which appeared to confirm this estimate—it critiqued a broad range of reformist demands advanced by organisers of the “Black Lives Matter” protests, but notably sidestepped the popular call to jail the killer cops.
Floyd’s killers were promptly arrested and fired from the police force as a result of the enormous protests and Chauvin faces a murder charge. At this point it seems that state authorities regard these ex-cops as expendable. This of course contradicts the IG’s original 28 May projection that in the Floyd case “the bourgeois politicians will go all out to protect their professional killers-in-blue” and “that this [jailing killer ops] won’t happen in the capitalist U.S.A”. The presiding judge recently ruled that the trial should be conducted in Minneapolis, rather than in a “less diverse” suburban venue requested by the defence. The judge also ruled that they must all stand trial together:
“All four of the former officers had asked for separate trials, and suggested in court filings that they each place blame for Mr. Floyd’s death onto one another.”
—New York Times, 5 November 2020
The IG, apparently aware that its earlier projections were not being borne out, shifted ground in September and, backing away from its previous insistence that Chauvin et al would enjoy the “all-out” protection of the ruling class, proclaimed:
“We have explained that, while these racist murderers surely belong behind bars, for leftists to promote the illusion that the state will jail and convict its innumerable killer cops expresses confidence in the capitalist courts. How bourgeois rulers can coopt this demand, attempting to defuse protests and direct them into pressuring the state, was shown when the Democratic mayor of Minneapolis quickly ordered the arrest of the cop who killed George Floyd, and the Minnesota attorney general then ordered him tried for homicide.”
—The Internationalist, September 2020
Thus the IG reframed its objection to demanding that killer cops be jailed, from the flat assertion that it was a utopian demand that could never be realised in any instance, to a complaint that if there is enough pressure the bourgeoisie can “coopt” opposition by bowing to popular pressure. Previously the IG had insisted that demanding that particular cops guilty of particular killings (e.g., George Floyd) should be jailed could only create illusions. It has now reformulated its position as objecting to “the illusion that the state will jail and convict its innumerable killer cops.” This is an entirely different proposition—while the bourgeoisie will not indict its “innumerable” killers, it is willing in exceptional circumstances to sacrifice a few of its thugs (usually low-level ones) in order to preserve illusions in the “rule of law.”
In our July statement on the upheavals over the Floyd killing we made this point explicitly:
“The IG is led by intelligent and experienced political people who must know that the American ruling class has often thrown underlings a lot less toxic than Chauvin under the bus when it suited them. The speed with which he and his racist buddies were fired and charged (as a direct result of the unanticipated explosion of popular outrage at their callous crime) suggests that, contrary to the IG’s ‘warning,’ these particular ‘professional killers-in-blue’ are not likely to get much protection from state authorities. In fact, by throwing the book at these disposable murderous thugs, ‘progressive’ bourgeois politicians hope to find a way to restore confidence in the racist judicial system.”
The IG is back-peddling and attempting to abandon its previous erroneous position without openly and forthrightly acknowledging its mistake. While this is typical of those who practice “prestige politics,” it is not how revolutionaries operate.
The IG has not responded to any of the points we raised in our 3 July statement. We consider their acknowledgement that the cops who killed George Floyd “are all guilty of murder and should spend the rest of their lives behind bars” as representing a step forward from their previous position—exemplified by the idiotic refusal to endorse the ILWU’s 2010 shutdown of Bay Area ports to protest the killing of Oscar Grant because the organisers called for jailing the murderous cops responsible for the crime.
Cameron Woodford operates as a sort of online attorney for the IG on Facebook and it is therefore fitting that he was supported by John Holmes, who performs essentially the same function for the comatose Spartacist League (SL). Holmes suggested that “As the BT is essentially a discussion circle, I wouldn’t be too sure that their members, or rather what few members they have left, operate under discipline on the Internet or anywhere else.” I responded by alluding to the fact that while the controversy originated over a passage from our July statement on the historic anti-racist upheavals in the U.S., the SL, having suspended publication of Workers Vanguard in May, has yet to make any comment on these momentous events.
There are three questions we would pose to supporters of the IG (and the SL) arising from the debate over whether it is principled for Marxists to call for jailing killer cops:
- Should revolutionaries not raise demands that they think “won’t happen,” like Karl Liebknecht’s call for “not one penny” for the German military during World War I?
- Is there any chance the killers of George Floyd (who are slated to go to trial next spring) may face serious jail time or is it guaranteed that the ruling class will “go all out to protect their professional killers-in-blue”?
- Were the lawsuits launched by the Spartacist League in the 1970s and 80s against the Secret Service, the Moonie cult and the attorney general of California “valuable contributions to the protection of the democratic rights of the entire left and labor movement” (IG on ‘Jailing Killer Cops’, 1917 34)?
—Alan Gibson (for the BT), 15 November 2020
The following is the portion of our 3 July statement that addressed the demand to jail killer cops:
“At demonstrations called to protest police killing innocent victims (usually black youth) the demand to ‘Jail the Killer Cops’ is often heard. In 2000 the ex-Trotskyist Spartacist League (SL), which had previously raised this demand suddenly repudiated it, claiming that it promoted the illusion that ‘the capitalist state can be pressured to serve the interests of the workers and minorities’ (Workers Vanguard, 10 March 2000). In a statement released a week later we commented:
“’If calling for jailing killer cops only creates illusions in the capitalist state, one might imagine that this would also be true of demands for freeing Mumia Abu-Jamal or abolishing the racist death penalty. Yet Workers Vanguard reprints a March 1st  letter from the SL’s legal arm to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and San Francisco DA Terence Hallinan raising both of these. Go figure.’
– Justice for Amadou Diallo!, 1917 No.22
“This was the first in a series of polemics on this issue with the SL and its 1996 offshoot, the Internationalist Group (IG). We were particularly critical of the IG when it refused to endorse a 23 October 2010 rally by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in connection with a port shutdown to protest the racist cop murder of Oscar Grant, due to its ‘disagreement with the “jail killer cops” slogan.’ We replied:
“’Far from “propagating the bourgeois democratic myth that under pressure, the state can be made to serve the interests of the masses,” [as the IG alleged] organizing widespread opposition to particularly egregious cases—like the cold-blooded execution of Oscar Grant—can provide an opportunity to help militant workers and rebellious youth see that the pervasive and systemic racism of American capitalism can only be ended through socialist revolution.’
– IG on ‘Jailing Killer Cops’, 1917 No.33
“We observed that ‘American capitalism is deeply racist and incapable of operating on a genuinely democratic basis, but Marxists are not indifferent to violations of formal democratic rights,’ and noted that the ‘democratic right not to be executed by racist cops is one of vital interest to working people and the oppressed.’ We received no response on this point.
“We reminded the IG comrades how, prior to the Spartacist League’s complete degeneration (and while the IG founders were still among its leading cadres) it had vigorously opposed violations of bourgeois legality:
“’The SL’s suit against the Secret Service was followed in the early 1980s by successful lawsuits in defense of democratic rights against the anti-communist Moonie cult, California Attorney General George Deukmejian, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney General. We consider all of those initiatives to have been valuable contributions to the protection of the democratic rights of the entire left and labor movement. The opposition of the SL and IG to raising the demand to ‘jail killer cops’ should logically compel them to denounce such lawsuits on the grounds of promoting illusions in the possibility of reforming the capitalist state. The SL has thus far refused comment, and we anticipate that the IG will be similarly anxious to avoid addressing this awkward question.’
“As there is no way to square this circle, the IG did indeed withhold comment, as we had anticipated.
“Following Floyd’s murder, the IG wrote: ‘One demand heard in Tuesday’s [26 May] protests, trumpeted by various opportunist left groups, is the call to “jail killer cops.”’ In an attempt to edge away from its previous stupid assertion that calls to jail killer cops ‘actually serve to legitimize’ police violence, the IG acknowledged that Chauvin and his cronies ‘are all guilty of murder and should spend the rest of their lives behind bars.’ But instead of raising that as a demand, the IG nonsensically intoned that ‘as revolutionary Marxists, we must warn that this won’t happen in the capitalist U.S.A.: the bourgeois politicians will go all out to protect their professional killers-in-blue.’ – The Internationalist, 28 May
“The IG is led by intelligent and experienced political people who must know that the American ruling class has often thrown underlings a lot less toxic than Chauvin under the bus when it suited them. The speed with which he and his racist buddies were fired and charged (as a direct result of the unanticipated explosion of popular outrage at their callous crime) suggests that, contrary to the IG’s ‘warning,’ these particular ‘professional killers-in-blue’ are not likely to get much protection from state authorities. In fact, by throwing the book at these disposable murderous thugs, ‘progressive’ bourgeois politicians hope to find a way to restore confidence in the racist judicial system.
“There is a more general problem with the IG’s proposition that ‘revolutionary Marxists’ should not raise demands that they think ‘won’t happen.’ Since when have Marxists limited their demands to those they think the capitalists are likely to implement? In 1914, when the question of voting for the German defense budget was posed, Karl Liebknecht famously declared:
“’We will not retreat by even an inch from our basic attitude towards militarism. The fraction must be told in no uncertain terms: we remain the mortal enemies of militarism, and not a man, not a penny for this system!’
“Had the IG had deputies sitting alongside Liebknecht in the Reichstag, would they have felt compelled, ‘as revolutionary Marxists,’ to object to ‘not a man, not a penny’ on the grounds that, ‘this won’t happen in the [Kaiser’s Germany]: the bourgeois politicians will go all out to [fund] their professional killers’?”