Discussion questions: Defund, Abolish… but what about Overthrow?

The following are discussion questions for Defund, Abolish… but what about Overthrow?

Study Questions for “Defund, abolish… what about overthrow”

Background readings

  • “The Tinderbox and the Tourniquet: Voices from Baltimore in the Wake of the 2015 Rebellion and Bourgeois State Intervention,” in kites #4.
  • “From the Masses, To the Masses: A Summation of the October 22 Coalition’s Resistance to Police Brutality in the Late 1990s,” in kites #1.

Concepts covered

the State; communist conception of / abolitionism / post-modernism

Study questions

1. Contextualizing questions:

  • What even happened during the 2020 summer of protest and rebellion? Discuss.
  • During the 2020 summer of rebellion and protest against police violence, what sectors of society in your region did you see leading “calls” to defund or abolish the police? Who were these calls directed at? What became of the personalities that emerged during this period of time? What’s happened to policing since then?

2. Study questions for the main reading:

  • What is the mainstream—“woke”—understanding of why police violence happens? What’s “Foucauldian” or postmodern about this view? Why do communists think that this way of conceiving of things is wrong, and what is the communist’s conception of the State and the police?
  • Can you abolish the police within bourgeois society? Critically discuss.
  • Does a the shift in municipal spending or other state funds from policing to social services represent a shrinking of the repressive apparatus1, or not? Critically discuss.

3. Local conditions (requires participants to elaborate on local conditions)

A role play: You hear you aunty—a working class woman, mind you—is complaining to her friend that the incidents of shootings, robberies, and drug dealing in your city is worse than ever before, and she’s demanding that there be increased police presence and tougher policing. How do you respond to this? [Take turns within your study group role playing your response to this scenario. Don’t use any Marxist jargon and try to be as concrete as you can in relation to your local conditions.]

4. An historical (materialist) question:

  • What are some ways in which defunding the police can be manipulated by the state—or even the cops directly—to increase the oppression of Black and Indigenous people and undermine people’s struggles against police violence? What are some of the historical examples given in this article (or in the background material) where a withdrawal of police presence had this effect?

5. Political questions:

  • For those reading with a collective of comrades: If there was an egregious police shooting in your city or region tomorrow, what would you and your comrades do about it? If nothing, why? What would it take to get you your comrades to react immediately and move collectively to link with the family, friends, and fellow community members of the victim?
  • How should communists intervene within or take up struggles against police brutality in a way that doesn’t feed into depoliticizing civil lawsuits or lead into reformist dead-ends?

1Note that the concept of the repressive apparatus is not openly treated in the main article, and is only touched on in passing in the background reading on the 2015 rebellion in Baltimore. Therefore, the kean student will have to do a little extra research on this concept.