Argentina: The Bonaerense and Other Police Forces Must Go

The conflict in the Bonaerense (Police of the Province of Buenos Aires) reopened debates on the role of the police and what changes are needed. What role do the police and security forces play in this social system? To what extent do they guarantee public safety? Are they workers or not? What alternative security model do we propose in the MST?

By Pablo Vasco

“Your police. As it should be,” says the motto of the Buenos Aires Police. “At the service of the community,” says the motto of the Federal Police…

Nothing farther from the truth. No police, gendarmerie or security forces are yours, nor are they as they should be, nor are they at the service of the community. They are all armed state bodies, which present themselves under the false ideology that they “take care” of you and all citizens. But their true function, their main function in this socio-economic system, is quite different: to take care of the private ownership of the means of production and the privileges of the bourgeoisie, which is the ruling class under capitalism.

Whenever a popular struggle or mobilization arises in society, be it trade union, environmental, student, for the right to housing, gender issues or any other, when the police and security forces intervene, they always do so, without exception, to defend the same side: the powerful. That is its nature, its reason to exist: to maintain “the established order,” the bourgeois order. They never repress a businessman, a landowner or a governor.

Because all of them, as well as the armed forces, the prison guards and the intelligence agencies, are part of the repressive apparatus of the State at the service of defending the economic and political interests of the capitalist class. This, which is a numerically minimal segment of society, can only maintain its political power and its exploitation of the working class and the people by force, through its armed police and military arm.

They are not workers

Police officers, gendarmes, and soldiers receive a salary, work on a schedule, and their employer is the State. Often, at least in the lower ranks, its members come from working-class and poor sectors. In some areas of the country, joining one of these forces is sometimes almost the only possibility of employment and of achieving some level of social improvement.

But none of this should confuse us. We do not judge or refer to its members as individuals, nor to their social origin, nor to the fact that the State pays their salaries: we are talking about the police institution. As such, its primary “public service” in this system consists of repressing workers and the people when they come out to fight and question capitalist interests in some way.

Leon Trotsky explained it this way: “Here, once again, it is existence that determines consciousness. The worker, converted into a policeman at the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois policeman and not a worker”.[1]

They are part of the problem of insecurity

In 2019 there were 2291 intentional homicides in our country. That same year, the cases of police assassination on the streets and in the custody of the State – in police stations and prisons – totaled about 450.[2] That is, the repressive apparatus is the executor and directly responsible for 22.5% of all murders: more one in five.

The most recent brutal act committed by the Bonaerense, of forced disappearance followed by death, is that of Facundo Astudillo Castro. Those are the highest levels of police violence, which of course includes thousands of abuses, beatings, arbitrary detentions and torture, as well as operations to repress social struggles.

In addition, there is any number of other criminal activities, from bribes for transit to “liberating” areas for crime, from recruiting minors to commit crimes to direct armed robberies. More serious is the police complicity or collusion with so-called economically organized crimes: drug trafficking, human trafficking and sexual exploitation, clandestine gambling, smuggling, arms trafficking. No scrap yard, human trafficking ring, or cocaine kitchen functions without mob intervention and police approval.

And be careful, it´s not just officers, but also high-ranking officials, especially those in areas such as Dangerous Drugs and Internal Affairs. Examples abound in the City of Buenos Aires and throughout the country. In addition, it is widely known that prisoners are organized from the prisons to steal and share the loot with the prison bosses.

In such a scenario, what police “security” can they talk about?

Dissolve this police

So, if the fundamental role of this police is social control and repression of struggles, and if they do not guarantee security and are part of the crime, the obvious conclusion is that it is not enough to carry out this or that reform. The problem is not one or two bad apples, but the whole case. It is not one police officer, it is the entire institution. So what is needed is a much more radical measure: the dismantling and dissolution of the police.

In the first place, the safety of all persons should include the State guaranteeing safety at work, in wages, housing, education, health, and the elderly. Assuring that they will have a plate of food, a decent roof and other basic rights. Even political leaders who are not from the left, such as the Peronist Alberto Fernández or even the macrista Florencia Arietto, recognize that the central cause of crime is growing social inequality, not poverty. But then they do not attack or propose to attack those causes with economic policies that reduce that gap, instead of widening it. As part of these alternative economic measures, an educational and employment inclusion plan for young people, which opens up real perspectives, would help discourage many criminal behaviors.

Second, and in line with the above, we flatly reject the security “megaplan” for the Buenos Aires suburbs launched by Fernández and Kicillof with the agreement of all the mayors. Allocating $ 37 billion to train 10,000 more Buenos Aires agents, deploying 4,000 more gendarmes, building more prisons and buying more weapons will not solve the insecurity but will exacerbate police violence and assassinations. What would help combat insecurity in the neighborhoods is the self-organization of neighbors, who know better than anyone where the niches of crime and its accomplices are.

And third, along with applying an economic plan opposite to the current one, we propose to dissolve this police force and form a new, totally different, democratic, communal security body, with an absolute prohibition on repressing social protest. This new body must have an essentially preventive and deterrent character; a civil leadership and recallable mandates in case of poor performance; control of their actions and of the police stations by human rights organizations and social organizations; and the right of its agents to unionize. In short, a completely and radically different project.

Among other points, the recent police conflict reactivated the debate on whether or not to unionize. But in the case of this Bonaerense, with its current structure, formation and composition – and the same is true of the Federal Police and other provincial forces – a union would play a negative, corporate role and cover up for police impunity. Let us not forget that the reactionary point 14 of their petition was to put an end to investigations, transfers and arrests. And they did not refer to the sanctions derived from the demand itself, since that was their point 1. That is why the proposal of police unionization is not appropriate for all times and places.

The general trend of the police, as part of the global authoritarian turn of governments, is towards greater elitization and repressive harshness. In this context, for example, in the face of the Black and people´s rebellion in the US, the police unions pressured for their medical records to not be made public and thus preserve their impunity. Furthermore, the largest US police union, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), unanimously supports the reelection of the racist and imperialist repressor Trump.

We do not rule out that in other concrete, extraordinary political circumstances, the unionization slogan may contribute to dividing and weakening the repressive apparatus. But this is not the case. That is why today our clear proposal for the Buenos Aires Police and other police forces, we repeat, is its dissolution and its replacement by a new and qualitatively different force.

[1] And now? Vital problems of the German proletariat, 1932.

[2] Correpi Report 2019.