Marxism, the Left and Gun Control

(Black Panthers Protesting Gun Control at the California State Capital)

The school massacre in Connecticut has re-opened the debate about gun control in the United States and put the question of ‘safety’ and the disarmament of US civilian life at the front. It’s a debate which is shaped by fear, manufactured and amplified by the media which seeks to capitalize on that fear for revenue. It is a debate which also presents particularly unfavorable terrain for the revolutionary left; a left caught between the principles of armed mass insurrection ultimately at the core of Leninist politics and the stampede of popular and in particular ‘progressive’ opinion towards gun control.

While the response on the left has been varied, the following ideas are fairly indicative of the trends in the left. Jesse Hagopian of the ISO in an article for Common Dreams (See ) titled “Tec-9’s for Teachers? Arming Educators Gets a Failing Grade” focuses on ridiculing the suggestion from a section of the far-right that the answer to the massacre is to arm educators. The article does an excellent job of pointing out the clear connection between events like the massacre and the daily massacres US Imperialism and the US Police State commit every day. However it only addresses the issue of guns in American society in the context of condemning the ultra-right, a position which leaves the implication of if not a direct statement of support for measures of gun control.

An earlier article from before it went on break, ‘How does this Happen?’ ( ) makes many of the same points.

“Easy access to guns–one-third of Americans own a gun, and the U.S. as a whole has half the world’s guns in civilian hands–may provide the means for committing certain types of crimes, but the roots of Adam Lanza’s actions go deeper. They lie in a profoundly alienated society in which violence in general is sanctioned by the most exalted American institutions–as long as it is carried out for “legitimate” purposes, like U.S. wars abroad or police at home defending law and order…Socialists believe guns are a symptom, rather than a cause of violence–but no one should ignore what this symptom tells us about a sick society where people can purchase thousands of rounds of ammunition off the Internet, including the kind of high-volume clips apparently used at Sandy Hook, whose only possible purpose is to “hunt” human beings.”

The quote above, stating that part of what makes this a sick society is the capacity to purchase high volume rounds of ammunition off the internet, contains implicit support for efforts to end the possibility of buying ammunition off the internet. The only way ending that is going to come about short of a revolution, is precisely through liberal gun control measures.

In fact the criticism of those advocating gun control, Mayor Bloomberg and Dianne Feinstein in particular, is limited only to pointing out their obvious hypocrisy. There is no significant criticism of their proposals for gun control themselves. A google search of the archives of Socialist Worker and the International Socialist Review also reveals no articles or statements opposing gun control.

So what would be the arguments in support of either ambiguity towards or even support for measures of gun control by the revolutionary left? While even fewer have taken an openly pro-gun control position then have taken a principled stand against gun control, one can attempt to construct a socialist argument for gun control. The historically grounded argument is that gun rights exist in the United States specifically because they have been there to serve the interests of settler-colonialism, the policing of slavery and white vigilantism. Gun rights were not a democratic victory won by the working class or a left-over gain of an American sans-culotte, but a privilege granted to poor whites to tie them to the ruling class as local enforcers of racial (and with racial, economic) hierarchy and privilege. Those who own and benefit from lax gun control right now are mostly racist crackers in the countryside/suburbs and the right wing racist, capitalist crackers whose interests they serve. The emblem of the role of armed whites and the 2nd amendment here is the racist vigilantism of George Zimmerman, and the disarmament of white vigilantes, the undermining of their capacity to arm themselves, would be a historically progressive achievement. Even a position less sweeping then that, a more ambiguous position covering any which does not explicitly oppose gun control, accepts that this weakening of the fascist and populist right-wing’s capacity to arm itself would be the likely result of gun control.

The fundamental problem with this position is that gun control itself has its own rich history of racism and the capitalist state and politicians have no intent to disarm the right-wing. If you want to talk about the racist distribution of weapons, lets also talk about the racist implementation of gun control, we have gun control in California because they wanted to take guns away from the Black Panthers. If you think that the state is going to enforce gun control laws by taking away weapons from rural right-wing white people you’re living in a liberal fantasy world. The state isn’t neutral, the state isn’t going to disarm the ultra-right for the left. The state isn’t going to bust into homes and take weapons from members of the KKK and right wing fanatics, they’re going to use stricter control to put another 15-20 years on the sentences of latino and black gang members. What gun control would do even if it was complete, even if it disarmed the right (which it wont), is ensure the only people with weapons are the police; we just have to look to Greece and the Golden Dawn to know what side gets all the guns the police have control over.

Yet the question remains, how do most workers benefit from not having gun control? When the people armed under the status quo are racist right-wingers, how does defending ownership of guns help us? Why should we not be ambiguous but instead speak out against and combat the coming attempts to regulate, control and criminalize weapon ownership, especially when workers ownership of guns isn’t likely to bear fruit any time soon?

There are two intertwined answers to this.

One, the reactionary, racist role of the capitalist parties and the capitalist state mean that efforts to regulate gun ownership won’t disarm the racist right or the police, but will instead further criminalize black and brown people and working class militants. The extremely harsh bans on assault weapons and guns in general in urban areas are clear examples of this, and the history of gun control in California is one of the biggest historical testaments to the danger of this. Gun control will be made by even further criminalizing ownership of guns by black and brown people, not the racist white ones, and black and brown people who are found with weapons will be thrown in prison and locked away for longer sentences.

Two, as revolutionaries we face political events in the present with our eyes firmly upon the revolutionary future, both in terms of how we get there and how we fight for political conditions that will be conducive to our success in a revolutionary period. The fact is, even in non-revolutionary periods like the 70’s, working-class ownership of guns and weapons has actually been useful to the militant sections of the class. Anyone whose seen the classic strike documentary of the period, Harlan County USA, can’t possibly forget the militant spirit of the workers who, with guns drawn, secure their blockade of the mine and use that as leverage to move the strike forward. For those on the left for whom the Panthers focus on arming themselves was ‘ultraleft’ (a debatable position), they would do well to look up the history of the Deacons of Defense in the civil rights movement who played a central role in protecting the supposedly non-violent movement by having guns ready to fire at white supremacists who attempted to do the same. (See for a basic introduction, )

Armed Workers Defending the Picket Line in Harlan County USA


Guns are tools, they are a weapon, and to invoke the central spirit of Lenin in his polemic against Left-Wing Communism, “any army which does not train to use all the weapons, all the means and methods of warfare that the enemy possesses, or may possess, is behaving in an unwise or even criminal manner.” An army which not only does not train to use all its weapons, but which campaigns to surrender one of its ultimately most important weapons to the capitalist state, is helping the state and not the movement’s efforts to conquer power from that state.

With an eye on the future, on a future revolutionary situation, our capacity to arm ourselves and disarm the right is central. In a revolutionary situation, if workers are able to acquire weaponry, workers militias will be far more capable of disarming and seizing the weapons that the right wing possesses. If we can’t get a hold of weapons and have no idea how to use them, they’ll have a much easier time holding us down, terrorizing us and murdering us. This is a point which Leon Trotsky made well in his article Whither France?

“In addition to other sources, the workers can arm themselves at the expense of the fascists by systematically disarming them. This is now one of the most serious forms of the struggle against fascism. When workers’ arsenals will begin to stock up at the expense of the fascist arms depots, the banks and trusts will be more prudent in financing the armament of their murderous guards. It would even be possible in this case — but in this case only — that the alarmed authorities would really begin to prevent the arming of the fascists in order not to provide an additional sources of arms for the workers. We have known for a long time that only a revolutionary tactic engenders, as a by-product, “reforms” or concessions from the government. But how to disarm the fascists? Naturally, it is impossible to do so with newspaper articles alone. Fighting squads must be created.”

Fighting squads will have to be created, and fighting squads of workers will have to be armed with whatever we can get a hold of if we’re to take arms away from the racist crackers who will form the social and military base of the reaction, a reaction that will be more brutal and more racist then probably anywhere else in the world.

There is one more central aspect of the debate around gun control, the discussion which has been opened up in the media, which needs to be emphasized and stressed. One which should be what the left is focusing in on and directing all its efforts to oppose. This is the liberal reaction to the massacre. A liberal reaction that wants to respond by putting more police in schools, a reaction by people like California’s Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer who has called for the National Guard to be armed and in schools. See her own website for the terrifying details.

Yet the left is going along with the liberals in seeing the far more horrifying and out of touch statement being that of a section of the right who claimed that the solution is arming teachers. We are witnessing the tragedy being used to ramp up the powers of the Police State and the militarization of our schools, a militarization that is in touch with the fears of the middle class, crime fearing liberals of the types that are most likely to have been shocked by the tragedy. If they were the people the Police State was oppressing, it wouldn’t be a rogue killer that woke them up to the reality of violence in America today.

What is required of the Left in this period, confronted with the reality of the massacre being used to ramp up police powers and to secure the state’s monopoly on force, is to call out and fight against all attempts to ramp up police powers. Police powers of which gun control is a central part. Police powers which you may hope are used against the right, but will in reality be used directly and overwhelmingly against the Left and workers. It is not a politically popular position to oppose gun control from the left, but revolutionary politics have never been popular until revolutions have become a reality, our task is to defend, elaborate, and patiently explain those revolutionary politics. Our responsibility is to fight all attempts, however ‘progressive’ they are passed off as, to disarm the people and secure the police as the sole executors of violence.

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