Mick Fuller, the NSW police chief who tried to ban the #BlackLivesMatter march in Sydney on June 6, recently had his pay raised by at least $86,850 (which is more than the median family income) to $649,500 by the NSW government.
Meanwhile, the same government wants to freeze nurses’ and other state public servants’ wages. It was blocked by Legislative Council, but will still be pursued by the government through state industrial tribunals.
So why is this government willing to give such a huge pay rise to its top cop, even while it cries pandemic poor?
The reason is because of the role the police play in a society sharply divided between a super rich minority and the majority, who is expected to work for the former’s greater enrichment, or stay out of the way.
While the role of the police might be officially described as “upholding law and order” or even protecting citizens, we all know that they don’t protect the rights of the poor as much as the rights of the rich.
Australia’s shocking record of Aboriginal deaths in custody is one proof of this, but there is also the daily experience of bullying, intimidation and violence that people from the poorest and most marginalised sections of society suffer at the hands of the police.
In 1884, the famous German socialist Friedrich Engels published The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State in which he shared an insight he had developed together with his lifelong friend and political collaborator Karl Marx on the role of the police in the modern capitalist state.
The police, together with the army, are the sharp end of a state apparatus (which includes the courts and the civil service). Engels explained that its main function is to protect the property interests of a minority ruling class and to enforce its systematic exploitation of the rest of society.
While the army is called out in emergencies to use its weapons against people, it is the police who play this role on a day-to-day basis. Hence the police have to be ideologically conditioned to exercise repression, without hesitation and without conscience.
Without such a repressive instrument, such permanent inequality and exploitation would not be tenable. People would rise up.
“The ancient state,” Engels wrote, “was, above all, the state of the slave-owners for holding down the slaves, just as the feudal state was the organ of the nobility for holding down the peasant serfs and bondsmen, and the modern representative state is the instrument for exploiting wage-labour by capital.”
The “democracy” we live under today is very limited.
We might all have the right to vote every few years, but the super rich have the right to buy election results and ultimately ignore or even dismiss a government that goes against their interests.
Engels used an example from ancient Greece. About 90,000 Athenian citizens constituted a privileged class that exploited about 365,000 slaves. They were a minority, so how did they sustain this?
“The people’s army of the Athenian democracy confronted the slaves as an aristocratic public force, and kept them in check; but to keep the citizens in check as well, a police-force was needed, as described above,” Engels explained. “This public force exists in every state; it consists not merely of armed men, but also of material appendages, prisons and coercive institutions of all kinds…”
Any movement that seeks to end the systematic exploitation of the many by the few has to confront the police at some time or another. Ultimately, it is forced to defeat the police and then abolish it.
This might seem a tall order, but all living revolutions have sought to do just this. In the process, they have discovered that keeping communities safe does not require a repressive machine like the police.
An article by Kurdish activist Hawzhin Azeez in this issue explains how the Rojava Revolution in north-east Syria abolished the police, replacing it with democratic community self-protection. Other revolutions have also sought to pioneer similar institutions, and future revolutions will do so as well.