Gun Control and Self Defense: A Radical Left Perspective
An interview with Alex of the SRA
Recently with events such as mass shootings and the rise of far-right militia groups, the question of how the left should view self-defense, gun control and the use of violence in general has been a major debate. I asked Alex a self-described “revolutionary communist”, a firearms instructor with the Socialist Rifle Association and a member of the Socialist Party USA for their opinion on these questions and more broadly a leftist perspective on the topics of self-defense and gun control.
Alex is from Central Texas and has extensive firearm knowledge; they had their own rifle at age 8. “I started off as an instructor at age 18 for the Izaak Walton League, which is an apolitical nature conservation society.” Alex was a member of the Izaak Walton League since the age of “13 or 14.” Alex emphasized that they “hold no NRA certifications” and has “never wanted to give them a single cent out of my pocket if I could avoid it.” Alex has participated in a number of marksmanship competitions and currently teaches firearm safety and training for the Socialist Rifle Association (SRA). I asked Alex what made them decide to join the SRA, and what was the difference between the two separate Socialist Rifle Associations. Alex explained that the SRA was founded about 4-5 years ago, the split between the two SRA’S came after a former member decided to create a new SRA under incorporated LLC and “began charging dues and issuing membership cards.” Nobody knows exactly the motives behind the creation of the new SRA. They explained that the SRA is not a militia group but focuses on education and training. The SRA’s emphasis on education and training “for the poor, working class, racial minorities, people with disabilities and LQBTQ+ people” was of major interest to Alex. They continued to explain that the SRA is a multi tendency organization with members “ranging from Anarchists to Marxist-Leninists and everything in between.” Alex stated that they have never witnessed any infighting between different tendencies and everyone gets along with each other very well. In my opinion, the SRA and other leftist gun clubs kick against the mainstream media narrative of a so-called left seeking gun control and a right wing in strong support of the “right to bear arms.” This false mainstream narrative should be rejected. I asked Alex their opinion on how the radical left should view the gun control debate and the right to self-defense.
In Alex’s opinion “ People have the right to own arms for whatever reason they desire, especially their personal protection and the protection of their community.” They further explained that in a capitalist society the left should see gun control as an attempt of the ruling class to “strip away power from the lower and marginalized groups.”
Alex stated that even in a transitional socialist society no entity “should have a monopoly on arms and the legitimate use of violence.” There is indeed a historical precedence in former and current socialist countries to support this viewpoint. “For Marxist tendencies gun control has been anathema in pre-revolutionary state.” Take for example in Cuba “the right to mass armed struggle is actually enshrined in the Cuban constitution to defend the socialist project.” Fidel Castro stated in speech from September 29th 1969 “ For every little bomb the imperialists pay for, we arm at least 1,000 militiamen.” Also in Albania under Hoxha, there was “massive distribution of small arms and firearms.” Hoxha stated in a speech before the ratification of the Albanian constitution “our people are armed in every sense of the word.” Mao Tse-Tung was also skeptical of disarming the people. He called for the creation of people’s militia to protect regional communes. In 1959 Mao’s people’s militias reached a membership of upwards to 220,000,000.1
In regard to Anarchists, “who do not deal with a transitional state, it is pretty straight forward, no restrictions” on the ownership of firearms. It is clear that The Socialist Rifle Association is following the radical left tradition of the necessity of the working class to posses’ firearms. This legacy dates back to Karl Marx; the SRA’S emblem is enshrined with words “under no pretext.” The quote is attributed to a speech Marx gave in 1850 to the Communist League of London, which Marx stated “Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated by force if necessary.” Which is a message that no radical leftist should soon forget.
At this point it is clear that socialists of all stripes ranging from Marx, Mao and beyond have been and should be opposed to the notion of gun control. The reason as Alex further explained, gun control “strips power away from the proletariat and concentrates it in the bourgeoisie.” Allowing the poor, working class and marginalized groups to possess firearms can level the playing field. “Even if we can’t make movement towards a revolution, we can at least defend ourselves against the state, and hopefully be able to back up our short term demands with more than harsh words and banners.”
Liberal proponents of gun control protest that firearm ownership and training is futile, because armies have access to drones, tanks and far more superior firepower. Surely a rag tag bunch of socialists would stand no chance at defending themselves. Which at face value is a compelling argument.
However, Alex is not so convinced. “We’ve seen the incredible abuse of police and state power in American history against so many people, people of color, strikers, the poor, the disabled and indigenous peoples. Unfortunately our last resort may have to be to use violence in self defense.” During our chat I was reminded of a quote from Lenin on the notion of freedom. Lenin wrote “Freedom in a capitalist society always remains the same as it was in ancient Greek republics: Freedom for the slave owners.”2 With Lenin’s skepticism of bourgeoisie freedom in mind we should also be skeptical of the notion of gun control. As Alex put it “Gun-control for who? Because what we have here and now is gun control effectively only for the proletariat.” As socialists we should familiarize ourselves with firearms and not allow the far right and the state as the only entities with firearms. However, we on the radical left should also reject the use of violence for violence’s sake alone. “I personally prefer to exercise as much discipline as possible, even in life threatening circumstances. Violence for me is an absolute last resort when everything else has failed, and I never seek out confrontation.”
Alex made many compelling and persuasive arguments against gun control and the necessity of self-defense. It seems to me that many other leftists’ agreed with Alex viewpoints. I inquired if there has recently been an upswing in the number of leftist gun clubs throughout the US. They replied, “There’s definitely been a huge growth in leftist circles around guns and self/communal defense.” They attributed the reason for this growth to “the emboldening of violent right wing groups after the 2016 election.” Also, to the toxic culture surrounding the NRA and mainstream gun culture in general. “Mainstream gun culture is extremely reactionary, full of lots of toxic masculinity, it isn’t welcoming towards anyone but white men.”
The “Toxic culture” of the NRA forced many leftists to seek out alternative sources for firearm training and education. Socialists should always keep in mind that training and education is paramount for a beginner shooter. For those who might be interested in joining a firearm club the SRA has 9 chapters in 8 different states and is always accepting new members. If a socialist firearm club is not available in your area, Alex recommends several associations that may be in your area. There is Trigger Warning which is a club for queer and trans people. Also Alex recommends the John Brown Gun Club and the Liberal Gun Club. I asked what kind of firearm should a beginner look into? “The first steps are to identify what you want to do with a firearm,” Alex said. “Do you want to just have fun shooting at the range, do you want to hunt, do you want to compete, do you want to defend your self?” Also what kind of budget are you on. For novice shooters Alex recommends the .22 because “ it’s very mild and pleasant to shoot and you can burn through a lot of ammunition without feeling the hurt in your wallet.” For someone who is interested in receiving more training and information check out the Socialist Rifle Association (link below) for more information.
In closing, we as radical leftists should think of gun control in class terms rather than individualistic terms. We should remember “the essential role armed leftists have played throughout history, and how even non violent revolution or civil rights movements were at least implicitly backed up with the threat of force.” After all, the far-right has no hesitations on the use of violence. We as radical leftists should at least be prepared to defend our comrades and ourselves. Regardless of your own personal view on gun control and self defense remember “Stay strong, stay safe and be kind to yourself and others, we’re all in this together.”
A very special thank you to Alex for being so generous with their time.
Link to the SRA
- Meisner, Maurice. Mao’s China and after: a History of the People’s Republic. third ed., Free Press, 1999.
2.Lenin,Vladimir The State and Revolution
Additional sources on Cuba:article 3 of the Cuban constitution: “Article 3: In the Republic of Cuba sovereignty lies in the people, from whom originates all the power of the state. That power is exercised directly or through the assemblies of People’s Power and other state bodies which derive their authority from these assemblies, in the form and according to the norms established in the Constitution and by law.
When no other recourse is possible, all citizens have the right to struggle through all means, including armed struggle, against anyone who tries to overthrow the political, social and economic order established in this Constitution.”
Fidel Castro’s speech https://www.marxists.org/history/cuba/archive/castro/1960/09/29.htm
Hoxha speech https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hoxha/works/1968/10/21.htm