Statement on the recent strikes in the Military Police in Brazil

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Introduction to the English translation.

In London, on May 10, while civil servants and university teachers came out for yet another ‘day of action’ around the question of pensions, the centre stage in London was occupied by a 20,000 strong march of off-duty police officers, demonstrating against the government’s proposed 20% cut in the police budget, which will lead to job cuts and inroads on pay and conditions. The following week, Home Secretary Theresa May got a very rough ride indeed when she came to speak at the Police Federation annual conference, explaining why these cuts were necessary.

Does his conjunction between police protests and action by sectors of the working class mean that they are all part of the same struggle? Members of Occupy London certainly thought so, expressing their support for the march through London.

The same question was posed to our comrades in Brazil, although in a much more dramatic way, during the recent strike by the Military Police. The statement that follows aims to make it clear that while police officers may often be recruited from the poorest layers of society, and are also being strongly affected by the crisis of capitalism, the essential role of the police is to defend capitalism from the struggles of the working class. There is thus a fundamental opposition between the interests of the police and the interests of the workers.


The strike by Military Police[1] which took place in several states in Brazil at the beginning of 2012, even though not simultaneously, has had important repercussions. It affected the states of Maranhão, Ceará, and Bahia, and spread to Rio de Janeiro. The movement reached its greatest breadth and strength in the state of Bahia where more than 3000 agents of the National Security Force, the Federal Police and the army were mobilised to deal with it. It was essentially in the Bahia capital Salvador that the mobilisation was at its height. The striking policemen and those supporting them occupied the Legislative Assembly.

The Dilma Rouseff government, following the line of her mentor Lula, condemned the strike movement as an assault on democracy and ordered the mobilisation of the army and the Federal Police in Salvador, Rio and other towns with the very clear aim of repressing the demonstrations. Jacques Wagner, the Workers’ Party governor of Bahia, was given the job of directing operations against the strike movement in this state. 

The top representatives of the Workers’ Party, the Communist Party and PSOL and PSTU[2], as well as other organisations of the left and right, all felt obliged to pronounce ‘for or against’ the movement. The first two parties, which are pro-government, took a position against the movement, condemning it as a grave threat to law and democracy. The leftists of the PSTU and the PSOL gave unqualified support to the striking police, seeing them as ‘public security workers’. The population, given the huge media coverage of the conflict, and given all the fear about an increase in homicides and violence, was also faced with the problem of deciding whether or not to support the movement.

This strike by the Military Police was not the first in the sector and certainly won’t be the last. It expresses the difficulties of the Brazilian state in maintaining order and cohesion within its apparatus of repression, which is being affected by the economic crisis both at the level of its functioning and of its members’ living conditions.

The proletariat and its class organisations has to be as clear as possible about this strike and what it means for the coming struggles of the Brazilian proletariat against the attacks of the bourgeoisie, which are being accentuated by the world crisis of capitalism.

The capitalist crisis: the main cause of the movement

The Brazilian bourgeoisie glories in being part of the elite of ‘emerging’ countries, a position attained mainly under the Lula government. It’s considered to be one of the countries known as “BRICS”[3]. Like its partners, Brazil has managed to gain this position thanks to the exploitation of the proletariat and the growing precariousness of its living conditions. This in turn has been made possible by a climate of ‘social peace’ obtained mainly via the control over the masses by the left of capital, with the Workers’ Party at the fore.

The police, like the rest of the wage-earning population, don’t escape the constant pressure capital exerts on their living conditions: low wages, job insecurity, deteriorating working conditions and social benefits, etc. However, by going on strike, the Military Police, whatever their status in the hierarchy, as members of the apparatus of state repression and thus remunerated by the latter, have highlighted the conflicts and contradictions inside the ruling class. The bourgeoisie needs to be able to count on a repressive body capable of exerting violence against the proletariat when it fights for its demands, even the simplest ones like a wage that could make it possible to satisfy the most basic needs. But at the same time the personnel of these organs is drawn mainly from working class families who, while being in the front line of defending the interests of the ruling class, are also among the lowest paid of all those working for the apparatus of state repression (police, judges, etc). All this provokes a good deal of discontent and has led to the strike.

The recent conflict with the Military Police, the biggest such movement within this sector up till now, has posed real problems for the Brazilian state. The repressive measures taken by the federal government against some of the leaders of the movement, far from calming the situation, have further radicalised it. Moreover, the wage increases granted don’t at all meet the initial aspirations of the movement. Its original demands were: reintegration of the police expelled from the MP after the ‘historic’ strike of 2001, incorporation of bonuses, payment of a risk bonus, a 17.28% increase backdated to April 2007 and a revision of canteen benefits. What was granted: a proposed 6.5% wage increase and a new bonus increasing gradually up to 2014. The imprisoned police were not given an amnesty.

The strike movement is part of the weakening capacity of the bourgeoisie to impose its order in a situation where certain of its repressive forces are becoming less reliable. The deepening crisis of capitalism and the resulting measures of austerity are playing a central role in this.  

The police serve the bourgeoisie against the proletariat

It’s a fact that the great majority of police officers, like the majority of wage earners, don’t possess means of production and can only sell their labour power to survive. They belong to the poorest layers of society and put themselves in the service of the state to receive a wage which allows them to support their needs and the needs of heir families. Because of this similarity in social condition and the fact that they are paid a wage, you could be led to think that the interests and demands of police officers coincide with those of the proletariat, which is obliged to mobilise and struggle against the attacks of capital. But it’s not the case; these are movements situated in opposing camps.

The social origins of police officers should not make us forget that they are working in the service of the dominant order, their function being to repress and terrorise the population, as we can see from the following: “in recent months thee have been many new cases of abuse by the police, of gratuitous aggression against the population, rapes, violent repression of Military Police during the demonstrations, as well as the traditional murders and torture. The Brazilian police murders more people than any other in the world and its daily crimes are never subject to inquiries or manhunts...the Military Police was at the University of Sao Paulo to repress the students, just as it did at the demonstrations in Piaui, Recife, Espirito Santo, etc[4]  We can also see the same thing in the recent evacuation of Pinheirinho[5] and the threat to evacuate the community of quilombos (communities descended from slaves) at Rio do Macaco in Bahia, where the Military Police, which had just been on strike, went back to carrying out its repressive function alongside the Marines.

This is why it is necessary and fundamental for the working class and its revolutionary minorities to be as clear as possible about the class nature of the police and the repressive apparatus in general. The class position of the police is not defined by the fact of working for a wage but by the fact that they represent the first force of repression used by the state, and thus by capital, to confront the proletariat.

This distinction comes from the fact that the proletariat is not made up of a sum of all the wage earners, or even the sum of all the exploited. The proletariat is a social class whose interests are antagonistic to those of the class of capitalists, and its struggles for demands are a link in the chain of struggles for its emancipation, which will lead it to a confrontation with the bourgeoisie and its state. When a sector of the proletariat struggles, it’s not only the exploited worker who is entering into the fight, it’s a whole sector of the revolutionary class which is capable of developing its consciousness through its experience as a social force under capitalism.

The police officer, in deciding to ‘sell his labour power’ to the state and join up with its organs of repression, puts his (or her) capacities at the service of the bourgeoisie with the specific mission of preserving the capitalist system through the repression of the proletariat. In this sense, he or she ceases to belong to the proletarian class. When an unemployed worker or a person looking for a job decides to join the police force, he or she accepts the following ‘contract’: be faithful to the mandate of applying the law and maintaining the established order. This places him or her against any social or class movement which is ranged against the interests of capital and its state. This the police officer becomes a servant of the ruling class, and as such, places him or herself outside the camp of the proletariat.

The recent conflict between the police officers and their bosses is a conflict on the terrain of capital. The members of the police apparatus are asking for better wages and working conditions in order to carry out their tasks better and more effectively, i.e their tasks of repression and maintaining social peace.

In this sense, it is an error to call for solidarity from different sectors of wage earners with a police strike, essentially because the function of the police is the defence of the capitalist state. The fact that police officers are recruited from among the poor population does not modify this function, even if can influence them in other aspects.

The state hypocritically accuses the strikers of being responsible for an increase in crime, of leaving the population at the mercy of criminals. The state thus attributes a ‘social’ and ‘useful’ role to the police: the struggle against criminality. This is indeed the social justification for the necessity of these forces. In this way the workers and the population in general are asked to give their support to the strengthening of the repressive organs, justifying the recruitment of more police officers or giving them better equipment. Criminality and social violence are increasing all over the world because of the contradictions of capitalism and the social decomposition which affects not only the police officers but also the high functionaries of the state and its armed forces[6].   

Only the development of the proletarian struggle can dissolve the organs of repression

There have been circumstances in which the forces of order, mainly the army, have been persuaded to avoid acting in defence of the capitalist state. This can happen during massive struggles of the working class when large sectors of the population are mobilised and when sectors of the military forces refuse to repress social struggles, sometimes even joining up with the struggle and engaging in armed confrontations with the troops who remain loyal to the bourgeoisie. In these cases, there is the possibility and necessity to support and even protect these members of the repressive organs who come out against the orders of the state.

The acceleration of the crisis of capitalism since 2007, which was at the root of the social movements in North Africa and the Arab countries, as well as the movement of the ‘Indignant’ in Europe or ‘Occupy’ in the USA, can give rise to possibilities for fraternisation between the soldiers and the masses in movement. However, such situations have to be analysed with a great deal of political precision to avoid an over-optimistic attitude, as we saw during the movements in Egypt  when the army, feigning sympathy with the movement, allowed the police to do the dirty work of brutal repression. In fact, as we know  - and this is much clearer today – the army is the pillar of the system in this country.

The democratic illusions of these movements and the fact that the proletariat as a class did not take on their leadership allowed them to be taken in by the false sympathy of the forces of order and the bourgeois institutions. It led them to look for solutions which resulted in the strengthening of the bourgeois camp. It’s only in very advanced revolutionary situations, when the balance of forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is favourable to the latter, that we can expect an effective fraternisation with the military forces, as have seen in the past history of the workers’ movement.

There were important episodes of fraternisation during the Russian revolution of 1917. Trotsky gives a brilliant account of this in his History of the Russian Revolution, approving the attitude of the Russian workers in February 1917 towards the Cossacks, who he describes as having “many elements of conservatism” and as being “those age-old subduers and punishers”. He went on:

“But the Cossacks constantly, though without ferocity, kept charging the crowd. Their horses were covered with foam. The mass of demonstrators would part to let them through, and close up again. There was no fear in the crowd. ‘The Cossacks promise not to shoot,’ passed from mouth to mouth. Apparently some of the workers had talks with individual Cossacks...

A worker-Bolshevik, Kayurov, one of the authentic leaders in those days, relates how at one place, within sight of a detachment of Cossacks, the demonstrators scattered under the whips of the mounted police, and how he, Kayurov, and several workers with him, instead of following the fugitives, took off their caps and approached the Cossacks with the words: ‘Brothers-Cossacks, help the workers in a struggle for their peaceable demands; you see how the Pharaohs treat us, hungry workers. Help us!’ This consciously humble manner, those caps in their hands – what an accurate psychological calculation! Inimitable gesture! The whole history of street fights and revolutionary victories swarms with such improvisations[7]

The proletariat and its revolutionary minorities must keep it in mind that, in the long run, there can be no military victory over the bourgeoisie without the disintegration of the repressive forces. This will be the product of several factors:

  • The economic crisis
  • The pressure of the class struggle, the perspective of proletarian power as an alternative to the rule of the bourgeoisie
  • In this context, the fact that the repressive forces are composed essentially of elements from the poor or exploited layers of society makes them receptive to appeals for fraternisation by the proletariat

It may be that a number of workers and even elements belonging to political groups in the proletarian camp in Brazil sympathise with the MP strike, given that they share with the workers the situation of poverty imposed on us by capital, They may even call on the workers to take the police strike as an example of how to struggle. However, such an approach can only be harmful to the development of consciousness in the class and weaken its capacity to confront the enemy, not only because it sees the police strike as something that belongs to the proletarian struggle, but also because it feeds a lack of confidence in the capacity of the Brazilian proletariat to develop its struggle on its own class terrain after decades of lethargy resulting from the activity of the Workers Party, the other parties of the right and left of capital, and their trade unions.

When the ‘Old Mole’ which Marx spoke about begins to shake the foundations of Brazilian capital, the tenacious and persevering struggle of the proletariat on its own terrain will be obliged to confront and ultimately undermine the repressive forces of the state.

ICC 14/3/12

 


[1] In Brazil the police is divided up between the federal branch and the states branch (ie belonging to the different regional states of the country). In the federal branch, you have the Federal Police, the Federal Police for Motorways, and the Federal Police for Railways. In the states sphere you have the Civil Police and the Military Police. The Civil Police is responsible for investigations and the Military Police is the institution responsible for public security and the maintenance of bourgeois order. As well as these police organisations there is the National Guard, which is used in cases of ‘public security’ emergencies. It is formed by trained elements detached from various state organisations.

[2] PSOL: Partido Socialismo e Liberdada, made up of several Trotskyist tendencies; PSTI: Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado, also Trotskyist

[3] BRIC stands for Brazil, Russia, India and China

[4] ‘PCO, the MP strike: the government wants the police to repress the population’ http://www.pco.org.br/conoticias/ler_materia.php?mat=34993

[5] OPOP. We are Pinheirinho: total support and solidarity with the inhabitants of Pinheirinho’,  http://revistagerminal.com/2012/01/24/nos-somos-o-pinheirinho-todo-apoio-e-solidariedade-aos-moradores-do-pinheirinho/

[6] See the article in Revolución Mundial, our publication in Mexico, ‘Social insecurity: another reason for struggling against capitalism’ Revolución Mundial n° 125, November-December 2011. http://es.internationalism.org/rm125-inseguridad

[7] Trotsky: History of the Russian Revolution, chapter 7, ‘Five Days’ http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1930/hrr/ch07.htm