Eradicate Capitalism: Support the Right to Arms

April 18, 2007 at 11:34 am (Civil liberties, TWP)

Every time a tragedy befalls the United States in the form of the most recent school shooting, the liberal and conservative pundits (in the UK at least) come out in full force to call for the end of the second amendment to the US constitution, the right to bear arms. The origin of this amendment was in order to ensure that despots could never take power and ensured the right of armed resistance to such despots in a country where the bourgeoisie overthrew the tyranny of a feudal monarch. The bourgeoisie didn’t set up this law out of the kindness of their hearts once taking power, but in order to restrain the revolutionary fervor of the masses. It was a concession won by the masses in the fledgling colonies from the bourgeoisie in order to stave off the type of situation that occurred in France more than a decade later which attempted to carry the initial revolution beyond a bourgeois democratic one.

In my discussions on this subject previously with members of the UK left, I have often been at a loss as they describe their opposition to the ability of the working class to purchase and own weapons and quite frankly, their inability to understand that the second amendment was won by the masses from the bourgeoisie. In fact many people say it is irrelevant for the US working class (or even the UK working class), which has been so defeated and smashed under foot, to have the right to weapons because they would simply be crushed by the superior might of the US military in any case.

Now certainly, one would have to be some kind of fantasist to claim that the working class in the US is anywhere near a situation that would require them to organise trained citizen armies to overthrow the US government, but a vital question remains. Why do liberals and even some socialists call for the eradication of the second amendment in the US?

The argument is usually along the lines that in order to stop such tragedies as occurred earlier this week from occurring, guns should be made illegal for the majority of US citizens and only be allowed in the hands of the state via the army and police or various private security firms.

There are two fundamental problems with this view. First, the state is the ultimate perpetrator of violence, however horrible these individual events of kids shooting up kids in schools may be. It is completely backward and irrational to call for the disarming of the US population while leaving the state, army and police armed. This is clearly evidence by the death tolls coming out of Iraq daily.

Secondly, this view is understandable if one is a liberal and supports the capitalist system but is inexcusable for a revolutionary, who believes in the overthrow of capitalism. The demand for the eradication of the right to bear arms in the US gives support to the lie that revolutions happen peacefully through democratic means.

One might ask why, then, do the conservatives in the US hold on so dearly to this amendment while the more progressive elements tend to call for its eradication? To me the answer is clear. They know that they may not always be in power nor have the majority of the population or even the military on their side. However, the leadership of the conservatives in the US know that it’s better to have armed supporters when the going gets tough. This is by no means to say that people generally outside of a small group at the top think in this strategic manner. For most people, having the right to a weapon has to do with hunting, self-defence or defence of property.

However, if one is looking at the issue from the point of view of a revolutionary socialist, it is clear that calling for only the state to have weapons is entrusting the state and not the working class to make a better society. Notice how the Guardian and the Daily Mail ask the same questions about why US citizens are still allowed to own weapons.

Why, then, do kids walk into schools with guns and shoot up their classmates? Why do kids in London stab one another? These are social problems created by the capitalist system itself, not because these kids have access to guns or knives. Capitalism perpetuates violence by its very nature. It encourages alienation, isolation and individualism. It is this system that must be eradicated and not the right of US citizens to bear arms against tyranny.

13 Comments

  1. Jim Denham said,

    Another thoughtful and provocative post, TWP! I’m genuinely not sure about this issue: after all, even the Second Amendment refers to the citizen’s right to bear arms as part of a properly constituted militia (or something like that: I haven’t checked the precise wording). I think that is also what Marx and Engels meant in their repeatedly-stated support for universal military training as part of a “people’s militia in place of the standing army” (Critique of the Gotha Programme”. 1875): not quite the same thing as allowing any lunatic to simply buy a gun and use it at will. But, I agree: it is a difficult issue.

  2. Southpawpunch said,

    I can’t add much other than to say I agree with every word of TWP

    It surprises me too, when I hear revolutionary socialists say that only the state should have a monopoly on guns.

  3. voltaires_priest said,

    Interesting article TWP, but I think you’re being ultra-left. The reality is that (barring tiny, rich anomalies in certain micro-states), less working class people in western countries get murdered with guns, in countries that have reasonable and rational gun control laws.

    It’s a fairly crude point, but what do you think would happen if we liberalised the law in the UK? I reckon of those stabbings in London would quickly multiply into something of an entirely different order. Not to mention that all it would take is some narcissistic kid with a morbid death obsession to turn my old comp into Columbine.

    Not to mention that a constitutionally enshrined right to bear arms hasn’t led to socialist change anywhere in the world, to my knowledge – indeed the most prominent place where it exists, is the centre of world capitalism and imperialism.

    I do appreciate your political argument on this, but in simple terms it just doesn’t appear to work.

  4. TWP said,

    I understand your point Volty, however Canada is a good example of a country where gun ownership is very similar to the US yet they don’t have the same level of violent shootings.

    I think your point about the UK is important, but my defence of the second amendment in the US as a gain against the original bourgeois democratic revolutionaries isn’t the same as a demand for an increase in weaponry or guns. This is the difference between the US and the UK as it stands. The development of Britain is highly varied from the US experience and there never was a law that allowed citizens (and there are in effect no “citizens” proper but only “subjects”) to own guns and obviously there was no (lasting) bourgeois democratic revolution, but only a constituational monarchy.

    The question is, is it a progressive demand to call for the eradication of the second amendment in the US as it stands and leave the state apparatus and its police and military as the only armed bodies? I don’t believe that it is. This doesn’t mean, however, that I am for increased gun ownership in Britain as this would be a false and ultra-left stance. The second amendment was an organic gain born from demands extracted from the bourgeoisie in the midst of a revolution. I believe the differentiation is clear.

  5. el Tom said,

    “Secondly, this view is understandable if one is a liberal and supports the capitalist system but is inexcusable for a revolutionary, who believes in the overthrow of capitalism.”

    How about a reformist?

    Every weapon legislation decommissions, and every pound in the pocket of the worker represent just one more little success. You might not get loads of armed angries, but you get a fucking big mess of pottage.

  6. voltairespriest said,

    This doesn’t mean, however, that I am for increased gun ownership in Britain as this would be a false and ultra-left stance. The second amendment was an organic gain born from demands extracted from the bourgeoisie in the midst of a revolution. I believe the differentiation is clear.

    I don’t actually see that this makes any practical difference, unless you’re suggesting that the class consciousness of the US populace is in advance of the UK’s?

    Ultimately, it remains the case, does it not, that most prominent gun-rights lobby groups are dominated by rich conservatives, whilst most victims of gun crime are working class. That doesn’t speak well of this hard-won constitutional right having any practical benefit for the people.

    I would also suggest that the difference between the “bourgeois democratic” USA – whose constitution is derived from the UK’s legislative model of the time, with the exception that the “king” is elected by a panel of the great and the good drawn from each state, and that the disproportionate 2 per state elected “lords” are more powerful than the more proportionate “commons” – and the “constitutional monarchy” in the UK, is more semantic and less substantial than you might think. But that’s a debate for another day I suppose! ;)

  7. Jules said,

    “Ultimately, it remains the case, does it not, that most prominent gun-rights lobby groups are dominated by rich conservatives, whilst most victims of gun crime are working class.”

    Hard to argue with that.

    I’m also scepital about TWP’s assertion that “the right to bear arms” was “a concession won by the masses”. The full clause referred to reads;”A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be
    infringed.”

    The American militia movement dates back to 1687. The charter of every American colony included the authority to create militia units separate and distinguishable from troops, and all American colonies passed militia laws under the authority
    granted by their charters.

    All white able-bodied “free males” were required by law to belong to a militia by the statutory law of their colony. The militias provided a ready source of manpower, supplementing the Continental Army.

    So despite the claims of the NRA and various rightwing “libertarians”, the purposes of the “right” to bear arms clause was about the right of the Government to have an indispensable armed mercenary force at its disposal and not the right of the
    citizenship to exert autonomy from the state.

    These militias were used to repress the native population, crush slave revolts and, following the civil war, brake up labour riots.

    In fact the name of the pioneer militia “The Minute Men” has been appropriated by one of Americas most notorious current vigilante gangs. These self styled `Aryan warriors’ patrol the Arizona desert to detain, beat up and murder desperate immigrants that have crossed the Mexican border. It should be noted that these
    actions have won them the praise of another freedom loving gun freak – California’s very only governor Asshole Schwarznazi.

    Instead of the militarisation of civilian populations – most of us prefer to go down than pub than march about with guns in our spare time – I’d like to see the civilianisation of the military. The sort of thing that’s going on in Venezuela:

    http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=1704

  8. Jim Denham said,

    Bob from Brockey’s blog has reminded me that I meant to comment on, and honour, Professor Liviu Librescu. It may be invidious to single out just one victim, but Librescu’s story is so moving that he really must be mentioned. A survivor of Hitler’s death camps who, after the war, was fired from his job in Stalinist Romania when his employers found out he was a Zionist, he died aged 76, blocking a classsroom door with his own body, so that his students could escape. And it was Holocaust day as well.

  9. Clive said,

    Why should the ‘right to arms’, or seeing to it that not only the ruling class is armed, be expressed by the right of any old individual to walk into a shop and buy a gun? Why stop there? Why shouldn’t we all have the right to over-the-counter purchases of Plutonium, or dynamite at least? Why shouldn’t it be a democratic right for groups of people to drive around neighbourhoods with machine guns over their shoulders…?

    The right to bear arms, surely, should be subject to democratic control, exercised through democratic, grass roots bodies, and for a clearly defined aim.

    The right of anyone to own a gun seems a perplexingly individualist notion, from a socialist point of view.

    And I’m not convinced by the echoing of the gun lobby’s “guns don’t kill, people do.” The guy from the shop which sold the guy the gun he used, interviewed on the News, said that the problem was the other students didn’t have guns to defend themselves. Surely this defies the most basic common sense. The fewer guns knocking around in the hands of unbalanced individuals, surely the fewer people they can shoot with them. (And all right, they might use a knife instead. But that’s not an argument, is it?)

  10. twp77 said,

    I think that a number of people have failed to address the point that I have raised with this argument and that is – given that US citizens currently have the right to be armed and have done so since the inception of the country, is it progressive to take that right away? Is it a demand that revolutionary socialists should make? Surely if we demand this then we should also demand that the state be disarmed?

  11. Simon B said,

    Following on from Clive’s comment, this is from the excellent “chase me, ladies, I’m in the cavalry” blog:

    “The idea is that if one of the Virginia Tech students had had a gun with him, he could have come to the rescue like Dick Dauntless, and shot the Korean.

    Well that’s true. But what if 300 students had guns, and they were all on the look-out for a student with a gun? I’m failing to see the genius of this plan, though no doubt I’ve overlooked something obvious. ”

    http://chasemeladies.blogspot.com/2007/04/well-regulated-militia.html

  12. Jason S. said,

    I’m with Clive on this.

    And surely there’s a difference between having the right to own, say, a rifle — something not easily hidden — and having the right to own a handgun? Correct me if I’m wrong, but “gun control” in the US is all about controlling ownership of handguns, yes?

    I’m not calling for the end of the 2nd amendment, and I’m all for dismantling the bourgeois state, but I must admit that I fail to see how even workers’ militias could be of much use against a bourgeois state armed with F-15s, nuclear weapons, etc.

  13. Clive said,

    Twp77 asks: “given that US citizens currently have the right to be armed and have done so since the inception of the country, is it progressive to take that right away?”

    Surely the issue is only whether there should be tighter controls over the purchase of weapons. That a person should have to fulfill fairly stringent criteria before they are allowed the legal ownership of a deadly weapon isn’t really an infringement of their ‘rights’ – is it? It’s a protection of mine not to be shot by them. It seems to me perfectly reasonable, similarly, that very nasty martial arts weapons are not easily sold to any old nutter who asks for them. (Of course if the nutter is determined, they will get one anyway – but why make it easier for them?)

    Unless you argue that it’s an inalienable right for someone to have access to absolutely all means of potential murder currently available – this whole argument does not seem to me to flow from the principle that we are in favour of popular militias, an end to ‘armed bodies of men’ and so on.

    I don’t think anyone argues that there should be a flat ban on anyone except soldiers owning guns at all… do they? Just that it should be relatively hard to get guns.

    And coupling it with demanding the disarming of the state? That seems a bit weird to me. The only way the state will be disarmed is if you overthrow it – defeat it in a revolution. Calling on the state to chuck in all its weaponry is just naive, I think. And to say ‘individual citizens can’t have guns until the state chucks in its weaponry’ doesn’t make sense.

    I don’t see there’s much you can do other than make a general argument for more democratic, people’s militia (or workers’ militia) type bodies. But that’s not an answer to the questions posed by these latest killings.

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