Letter: Gun Reform and Revolutionary Violence

Date: 2023-05-23T07:01:09+00:00

Location: cosmonautmag.com

I’m writing this in response to conversations happening among leftists on whether or not to support common-sense gun reform in the United States. I also aim to critique distortions of the meaning of Revolutionary Violence by a few leftists who appear to be fetishizing gun ownership and who are romanticizing any necessitated violence that accompanies revolution. 

My support for common sense gun reform comes not from idealistic hopes that the violence we are subjected to in America will suddenly and completely disappear with a few new regulations, but comes from what I believe to be a reasonable and necessary position, given the current moment in our fight against the far right and where the masses of American people are at in their political development. It is clear that most Americans, including people who own guns, are in support of common sense gun regulations including background checks, red flag laws, safe storage laws, age restrictions, and bans on semi-automatic weaponry. These regulations are in place in nearly every majorly developed country across the world, where gun violence is not as rampant. Even accounting for the US’s larger population in comparison to some of these other smaller countries, our gun level of violence still significantly outweighs that of other countries

For years across the US, students, parents, and teachers have been fighting for gun reform and have been doing the tedious work of building long-term networks of political power. This is where I believe our support should lie. Our support certainly should not align with the likes of the arms-industry, the NRA, or conservative gun owners who spew conspiratorial nonsense about “those crazy communists who want to take away all our guns!!!”. It’s concerning to me the level of hard-headedness some leftists have displayed at the thought of common sense gun regulations. It’s concerning that even though those fighting for gun reform are not fighting for complete disarmament, that so many are covering their ears, clinging onto their toys, and deflecting with over-simplifications of our complex circumstances. “Under no conditions… “ Seriously? People fighting for common sense gun reform are not trying to disarm the working class, they are trying to protect their families from being murdered. Regardless, I’d like to hear you so brazenly spout Marx quotes at traumatized students who have seen their classmates murdered with semi-automatic weapons, and then expect them to trust you with protecting their life. The fact of the matter is that today, leftists who claim to want to protect people against fascists with guns are not doing so. I think of those Uvalde cops who sat and did nothing with their guns even though their argument for safer schools is always “more guns = more safety”. To me, fanatic communists hold a similar logic to these cops, because they are those who claim that arming more people = more safety. They also both hold the “good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns” mentality… In actuality no one has been stopping anyone, mass shooters still regularly massacre people so much so we barely make a fuss about it anymore. Maybe because mass shootings aren’t the only shootings we are dealing with. People are shooting their neighbors over small disputes, shooting at teenage cheerleaders who accidentally got in the wrong car, shooting teenage black boys for knocking on the wrong door… What is the armed left doing to stop these trigger happy fascists? Not only do these pro-gun leftists seem to be unorganized in a formal sense, but which communities are they speaking for? Do they know what their communities are asking for?

The left will not achieve legitimate power, and furthermore will not be ready for a revolution, without the support of the community at large. I want to address and take note of some moments in history where displays of violence and gun ownership were indeed and truly revolutionary, and see how they differ from the situation today. Many people’s first thought when it comes to guns on the left is The Black Panther Party, a revolutionary organization that created community defense against police brutality and other violent attacks on black people in the 1960s and 70s. I would say that from the situation I have seen today, this small section of leftist gun enthusiasts are a part of no armed organized effort as the Black Panthers were. Individuals of various different orgs, some in no organization or group at all, acquiring AR-15s for a future civil war at some unknown date, are not of the same vein as The Black Panther Party of the civil rights era. The BPP were responding to the violence black people were facing from the police, and organized in response to defend people in their neighborhoods with community patrols, challenging state power. The BPP as a part of its political program, invoked the second amendment and the right for self-defense, to organize defense groups

We believe we can end police brutality in our black community by organizing black self-defense groups that are dedicated to defending our black community from racist police oppression and brutality. The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States gives a right to bear arms. We therefore believe that all black people should arm themselves for self defense. (x) 

The Mulford Act, which banned open carry in California, was a response by the state and the NRA to prevent black people from delivering their radical political messaging and also aimed to disarm them. This was a completely racist act and a double standard for gun ownership no one could deny. It should also be noted that the NRA in several cases, not just in the case of the BPP, has not always been anti gun-reform, highlighting just how different the gun industry of the past was compared to today, where the modern NRA doesn’t support reform of any kind. Today, gun ownership falls along partisan lines that are way more defined than in the 60s. Overall household gun ownership in America has declined, and conservatives are more likely to own guns than other groups. Gun sales increased after 9/11, and again after Obama was elected, by the same people who spew racist talking points about the “Great Replacement”. Today, the mainstream rhetoric surrounding the pro gun movement is largely not about collective defense against a tyrannical government- but about an individual’s right to self-defense, private ownership, and protection of property. Fighting for the right to buy semi-automatic weapons while grieving parents are begging for reform is not the pathway to revolution. We must ask ourselves who is benefiting from these lax laws, and who is suffering? What should be prioritized is the larger collective of people who are vulnerable and who want gun reform. How can we as communists take the same position of the far right, against the people who we say we are here to protect? 

In learning from historical applications of Revolutionary Violence, I must reference the immense struggle of the people of Algiers and the FLN’s fight against the French colonists. I think of the collective organization, planning, and execution of their acts of violence, with an aim not just to kill but to act as a force that put Algerian humanity on the world stage and galvanized the

Algerian people together for political struggle- creating a better world. Frantz Fanon, speaking on the violence of the oppressed, said: 

…For the colonized people this violence, because it constitutes their only work, invests their characters with positive and creative qualities.The practice of violence binds them together as a whole, since each individual forms a violent link in the great chain, a part of the great organism of violence which has surged upward in reaction to the settler’s violence in the beginning. The groups recognize each other and the future nation is already indivisible. The armed struggle mobilizes the people; that is to say, it throws them in one way and in one direction. 

For the FLN, their political strategy included staging a successful and internationally supported 8 day strike. In Gilo Pontecorvo’s docu-style film Battle of Algiers, Ben M’hidi, a founding member of the FLN, addresses a fellow fighter’s concerns about the moment saying, “Terrorism is useful as a start. But then, the people themselves must act.” Their violence was not reactionary, it was a necessity and had a purpose that extended beyond spilling blood. Romanticized fantasies of war and murder, is the exact line of thinking of gun fanatics on the far right who dream of killing ‘wokes’, but are we surprised that western culture, with all its glamorization of war and violence, has produced these sociopathic tendencies? While we recognize that the acts of the FLN were just in their cause, we do not fool ourselves into thinking that because we know we are acting on the right side of history, that violence is easy- nor should it be. I hope to see more consideration of the seriousness of war, violence, and the death/devastation that would accompany it, especially in the situation we are in today where there may be a few of us individually armed, but we are not organized or orientated towards a collective goal. Throwing people into a war-like situation when they are not ready or organized, is irresponsible at best and inhumane at worst. Our violence is different from that of our oppressor, and we should approach it as such. 

“Marxism assumed that revolution would always be an act of change in society carried out violently, but with the support of immense popular majorities. It assumed revolution in an industrialized West carried out by working classes committed to socialism, supporting the revolution with all their heart…” Isaac Deutscher, said in a conversation on Marxism and non violence. Even though we as Marxists advocate for an overthrow of the ruling class which will necessitate violence, there is a fundamental non-violent spirit to Marxism that must be championed, and without it we become lost. Deutscher again: 

Then comes the great tragedy of the isolation of the Russian Revolution; of its succumbing to incredible, unimaginable destruction, poverty, hunger and disease as a result of the wars of intervention, the civil wars, and of course the long and exhausting world war which was not of Bolshevik making. As a result of all this, terror was let loose in Russia. Men lost their balance. They lost, even the leaders, the clarity of their thinking and of their minds. They acted under overwhelming and inhuman pressures. I don’t undertake to judge them, to blame them or to justify them. I can only see the deep tragedy of this historic process, the result of which was the glorification of violence.

Walter Rodney, wrote in Groundings With My Brother, “Violence aimed at the recovery of human dignity and at equality cannot be judged by the same yardstick as violence aimed at maintenance of discrimination and oppression.” Again, for me, this emphasizes how the violence of the oppressed is not the same as the violence of the oppressor. Though revolutionary violence may arise from righteous feelings of anger, its goal isn’t meaningless revenge or reactionary destruction, its goal is liberation. Rodney also understood the relationship between politics and violence. Writing on Amilcar Cabral and the nationalist struggle in Guinea he said, “Armed struggle was the unavoidable path to the liberation of Guinea. Yet, Politics has remained in command throughout. The PAIGC has constantly involved itself in the cadre formation, mass mobilization and the creation of democratic Socialist structures and attitudes.” In the instances of the BPP, the FLN, the PAIGC, and others no doubt, violence was accompanied with political struggle. Without it violence is fruitless and destructive. 

To end with a few more points of concern, I’m confused with arguments that talk of the police state’s advanced war weapons as reason for the necessity of the AR15 and other semi-automatic weapons specifically, as if these guns alone would save us from the technologically superior military arms and billions of dollars the police already have in their possession. Additionally, there are also arguments that the police themselves are the ones who really want gun reform- to take away the people’s means of protecting themselves. I can understand this line of reasoning, but after some investigation it’s clear the police have a strategic interest in lax gun laws. I argue that police see these gun owning conservative civilians as allies; the more guns out there the better. The more civilians shooting each other and policing each other the better. The police put money into the pockets of the NRA and the NRA in turn spreads pro-police propaganda. In fact, since 1960 one of the NRA’s biggest programs is its law enforcement training, and its website boasts that it currently has 13,000 law enforcement training instructors across the country. Additionally it has several special benefits for officer membership including $35,000 life insurance, access to grant funds, and even police-officer-only shooting competitions! Michael Cargill, a Texan and black gun store owner said, “The NRA is always going to stand with law enforcement, right or wrong…Cops are a political ally, their foundation, the people who put money in their pocket.” All this is not to say that racist police officers wouldn’t or don’t already have different standards concerning civilian gun ownership for black and brown people, as we know they only ever have a problem with civilian gun ownership when it serves their own interests and when it comes to controlling “superpredators” in urban neighborhoods. The Atlantic reported on this phenomenon saying, “These dynamics, in fact, reinforce each other—the easy availability of firearms in the United States serves as justification both for police misconduct and for private gun ownership.” The cherry on top of all of this is the FBI’s recently released dystopic “how-to” video on how to survive a mass shooting. It terrifyingly sends the message out to civilians that it’s their individual responsibility to learn how to survive these war-like circumstances, as opposed to the government’s responsibility to take meaningful action that would curb these attacks. I think it’s been made clear that the police state has no interest in seeing gun reform, they have interest in more violence.

I share concerns of people being left defenseless and at the mercy of the police in the wake of growing fascist violence. And I want to emphatically iterate that I am not against Revolutionary Violence and that I want people to be able to defend themselves. What I am concerned with is our current lack of organization, and how in the meantime so many seem so content with just letting mass shootings continue to happen. I am concerned about Marxists who seem to be too focused on “how to make a revolution” instead of starting from where we are at and building off of that. Shooting after shooting we sit by with no plans, no organization, watching as innocent people are terrorized, waiting for a revolution that will never come- not without political power present. 

-Brooklyn Crawford

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