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50 Years Ago: Crime and Capitalism

SINCE THE END OF THE WAR a great many speeches have been delivered and a great many articles written on the growth of “crime” and especially of juvenile “crime.” The makers of these speeches and writers of the articles have based their views upon an acceptance of the social rules of Capitalism and, in general, have failed to see that what they accept as crimes can only be explained by the capitalist environment in which we live, and cannot be abolished as long as this system continues.

What comes under the heading of crime came into existence with the development of property. Crime did not appear in early communistic communities because property relations had not developed and sex relations were free. Crime consists of infringements of social rules. With the growth of property the owners of property became the rulers and law makers, and when they later delegated their functions to henchmen the laws continued to be laws based upon propertied society. Infringement of these laws were classified as crimes. But there was a certain elasticity about the laws to harmonise with the interests of property owners at different times. For instance, piracy was a crime, but not when, as in Elizabethan times, it was practised by English sailors and brought maritime wealth to the English ruling class; stealing was a crime, but not when English landowners stole millions of acres of common land; killing is a crime except, as then years ago, when millions of men were trained to strangle, blow to pieces, shoot and maim their fellows. Even to-day, whilst men are brought before the courts accused of the crime of killing, millions of their fellows are being trained and equipped to kill on a mass scale. Again, if a woman is caught selling the use of her body to a man under a contract – marriage – it is quite all right, but if she is caught selling the use of her body without this contract she is guilty of the crime of prostitution. Of course she can sell the use of her brains with perfect freedom.

(From front page article, Socialist Standard, July 1952)