The article in Solidarity 3/78 (“Should socialists support gun control”) suggests that socialists should be in favour of the right for individuals to carry guns because the working class needs to be able to defend itself against both police violence on an everyday basis and against state violence during a future revolutionary situation. But supporting workers’ right to self-defence should not immediately lead us to demand that the UK should follow the US in making guns freely available to every consumer.
Socialist endorsement of revolutionary violence must surely be conditional on self-defence being democratically organised and controlled. In the absence such controls, when young men feel the need to carry guns to prove their macho status, and women start carrying them to protect themselves on the streets, it is working-class communities who are the victims. The idea that carrying guns would enable oppressed groups to protect themselves against police harrassment is ridiculous; the police will always have access to bigger and better guns and would welcome an excuse to crack down even harder.
If socialists and the labour movement are to prepare for a situation in which they are able to defend themselves against the capitalist state during a revolutionary situation or major class struggle, the first step is not to glorify the right to carry arms but to support working-class self-organisation in the community and workplace. A workers’ militia emerging within this context is something quite different from individuals being allowed to own guns.
Furthermore, socialists need to do a bit of soul searching on the question of revolutionary violence in general. Any kind of violence inevitably creates a power- hierarchy, with those physically weaker (women, children and older people) at the bottom. I am not so niave as to believe that the capitalist class will ever give way peacefully in a revolutionary situation nor that the working class should roll over submit to their own destruction in the name of peaceful protest.
However, socialists need to face up to the fact that even the most “justifiable” violence would place serious obstacles in the way of building the equal and free society that they are fighting for. The historical experience of even genuine workers’ revolutions demonstrates this, and it is not something we should shy away from discussing.