Guns and gun control laws are once again a topic for discussion following the news of yet another mass shooting in the United States, this time at a high school in the state of Florida. It is a topic that sparks a wide range of responses from various perspectives.
For Marxist-Leninists it is imperative to understand that the most basic element of a correct revolutionary approach to the gun question is that of organisation.
Marxism recognises that fundamentally the State is the instrument for the rule of one class over another. In capitalist society that means the rule of the capitalist class (or bourgeoisie) over the working class (or proletariat). In a superficial democracy, like Australia, the ruling class may first try to maintain its rule through deception via institutions like parliament, but ultimately this rule of the bourgeoisie rests on force and violence. It relies on the police, the law, the courts and the jails. Always backing up this force and violence in case it isn’t enough is the central component of state power: the army. The armed force of the capitalist class can only be overthrown by the armed force of the ideologically and organisationally prepared working class. This is a historically proven universal truth and a basic principle of Marxism-Leninism.
This is one reason why some communists and revolutionaries often argue against the call for legislation to prohibit and restrict the ability of ordinary civilians to acquire firearms. In short, they argue it renders the working class unarmed and leaves the state and its agents with a monopoly on armed force. While this is partially true, it still neglects the most decisive factor in the question of armed struggle between the classes; the ideological and political preparation and organisation of the working class into a fighting force under the leadership of the Communist Party.
Failure to understand and give this most decisive factor its due importance often means falling in to the trap of bourgeois legalism and overemphasising the importance of this or that particular legal reform in order to defend the working class. From a revolutionary perspective, the legality of the working class owning guns is largely irrelevant. The arming of the organised working class in a revolution will not be dependent on any legal right to do so and acquiring arms will mean doing so by any means available. Sufficient preparation and organisation, as well as correct leadership from the proletarian party, will solve these problems at the appropriate time.
Marx on arming the proletariat
There is a quote by Marx that is often used by those who argue against the introduction of laws to restrict the sale of firearms to ordinary people to give their argument a ‘Marxist’ justification.
“Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary.” – Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, March 1850
This cherry-picked quote taken out its historical context, and indeed the context of the surrounding text, seems to justify the arming of the working class under any pretext.
Revolutionary women - Paris Commune 1871
In 1850, the working class of Europe had already experienced two years of revolutionary upheaval against the remnants of feudalism. In France, the revolutionaries were successful in abolishing the monarchy, but in Germany the revolution was mostly defeated. By 1850, the seizure of power by the petty bourgeois democrats in Germany was imminent, and Marx foresaw that they would turn on the workers’ movement the moment they achieved power. Marx was calling for the workers’ party to “go into battle with the maximum degree of organization, unity and independence, so that it is not exploited and taken in tow by the bourgeoisie as in 1848.”
He was not arguing for the spontaneous and haphazard arming of the working class masses regardless of historical context, or arguing in defence of any existing bourgeois legality to keep and bear arms, but was calling for the maximum organisation of the working class to defend its own independent agenda in a volatile revolutionary situation.
The centrality of the element of organisation to Marx’s argument is clear if we read the quote in full.
“To be able forcefully and threateningly to oppose this party , whose betrayal of the workers will begin with the very first hour of victory, the workers must be armed and organized. The whole proletariat must be armed at once with muskets, rifles, cannon and ammunition, and the revival of the old-style citizens’ militia, directed against the workers, must be opposed. Where the formation of this militia cannot be prevented, the workers must try to organize themselves independently as a proletarian guard, with elected leaders and with their own elected general staff; they must try to place themselves not under the orders of the state authority but of the revolutionary local councils set up by the workers. Where the workers are employed by the state, they must arm and organize themselves into special corps with elected leaders, or as a part of the proletarian guard. Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary.”
Armed struggle and Australia’s revolution
The debate over gun control laws has largely been settled in Australia for the time being, and there is little desire among the Australian people to see the sort of lax gun laws or gun culture that exists in the US.
Although notable exceptions exist such as the war of resistance by First Nations people to British colonisation (known as the Frontier Wars) and the Eureka Stockade, historically speaking armed struggle has not been a major form of struggle in Australia. One of the main reasons for this has been the strong hold of the illusions of bourgeois parliamentary democracy and the faith of the people in the forces of social democracy and the trade unions which have time after time been used to defuse and funnel the anger of the people back into the peaceful and legal struggle of the ballot box.
Despite this, the people’s movement is continuously met with the force and violence of the state. We see examples of this with draconian legislation against civil liberties, police assaults, the increasing militarisation of the police force, and the deployment of increasing numbers of riot police and their willingness to deploy non-lethal chemical weapons at otherwise peaceful rallies and protests.
Sooner or later, the people will need to confront this state violence. The fact remains that the highest form of revolution is the seizure of political power by armed force. This is a universal truth and Australia is no exception.
Following our theory of a two-stage continuous revolution, the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) analyses the current stage of Australia’s revolution to be the anti-imperialist struggle for independence under the leadership of the working class as the first stage on the road to socialism.
To overthrow imperialist domination will require intense revolutionary struggle by Australia’s working class and its allies, and will inevitably be met by the counter-revolutionary force and violence of the reactionary ruling class. To defend against this counter-revolutionary violence the Australian people will need to be well organised for armed struggle.
The question of arming the anti-imperialist forces will inevitably arise as the cause of anti-imperialist independence and revolution becomes a mass question. Firstly, this requires the Australian people to be convinced by their own experiences that such a revolution is necessary. But it also requires the Party to be organised deep in the heart of the working class and among other progressive strata of the people, learning from them and in turn teaching them, step-by-step raising their ideological and political understanding. It means building organisations and institutions that can serve their immediate needs and further their struggles, directing them against the main enemy of imperialism in Australia.
It is with this spirit of serving the people that our Party and its members approach the revolutionary tasks that lay before us.