1920s >> 1922 >> no-213-may-1922

Capitalism and Crime

 

If we as workers make a critical analysis of capitalist society, we find that it does not appear to contain many redeeming features. The class in whose interests the present system of society is maintained, care little who is crushed and become its victims, so long as the development assures to them profits and the security of their position as a ruling class.

The fundamental feature of modern society is the private property basis, production and distribution of wealth for profit, and the maintenance of that position by the resort to force.

We have stated that society is based upon private property, i.e., the private ownership of land, raw materials, machinery of production and distribution, by and in the interests of a relatively few people.

The overwhelming majority of the people of each capitalist country are divorced from their means of livelihood, or, in other words, cannot claim a right to the food, clothing, and shelter necessary to sustain life. Although food and clothing exist in abundance, capitalist papers record almost daily either people dying of starvation or millions just obtaining a bare subsistence.

When wealth has been produced in such huge quantities that it chokes the markets of the world, we have the vast majority of the workers suffering most acutely at the very time they should be enjoying life to the full. Even if workers are successful in obtaining employment, the wages they receive in exchange for the expenditure of their labour power is only just sufficient on an average to sustain life and generate enough energy to go on working if profitable to their masters.

The housing accommodation is of the worst, millions existing in wretched hovels or in one or two-roomed tenements. The food they obtain for themselves and dependants is of the poorest, often adulterated to such an extent that it is almost unfit for human consumption. The clothes and boots are usually of the shabbiest and shoddiest kind.

In fact, many thousands of workers go through life, even when in employment, and are never “lucky” enough to put a new suit upon their backs or new boots upon their feet.

But if that can be said with truth of those employed, what must be the experience of those more frequently unemployed than employed?

Obviously, their conditions must on the whole consist of a far more bitter struggle for existence. If those able-bodied men and women are ready, willing, and prepared to expend their quota of energy in producing the world’s wealth for the sustenance and comfort of the human race, and the capitalist class refuse them the opportunity of so doing, then can it be wondered at that many of them are driven to crime?

These victims of capitalist society resort to countless ways to obtain the wherewithal to live.

The vast majority seemingly resign themselves to their wretched existence, easily fall a victim of apathy and despair, usually awaiting death as the only way out of their troubles and anxieties.

But an ever-increasing number, many of whom are exceptionally intelligent men and women, prefer to commit offences against the laws of private property and so to obtain a modicum of comfort or even to live in luxury on a lavish scale. Almost daily we see reported in the Press accounts of daring coups and great robberies running into thousands of pounds of wealth ; likewise countless numbers of petty thefts from working-class houses, shops, docks, and railway sidings, etc. It requires but little intelligence for any discerning and enquiring person to see that crimes are the outcome of the ever-worsening struggle for existence.

The latter statement is amply borne out by the following quotations from the “Evening News” (14/2/22).

“Falling prices, the prolonged stagnation of trade, and the money tightness are responsible for the ever-increasing number of fake burglaries and fake fires in London : and the insurance companies are having a by no means happy time.”

Writing of the assessors engaged by insurance companies, they say :—

“Theirs is a different profession now-a-days, for assessors are finding that each year thieves are becoming more ingenious and more scientific. The old type of cracksman is fast disappearing, and the new type is a subtle-minded Raffles rather than primitive Bill Sikes. Among them are ex-officers and educated men who have given up the search for work in favour of an exciting and remunerative life, whereby three or four jobs a year provide them with an excellent income. They dress well, frequent the best hotels and restaurants, often mix in good society, and remain unsuspected by the police unless their crimes are exceptional enough to attract investigations by Scotland Yard’s Special Branch.” (Italics mine.)

The capitalist system produces the “criminals” as it produces other social features. If men cannot obtain employment and therefore obtain a means of subsistance, what alternative is there for them but to beg, borrow, or steal, or in the last resort commit suicide? Even in the latter instance if the individual fails to accomplish the desired end—extinction of life—he is hauled before a defender of private property and punished.

The system produces its own “criminals” and then proceeds to punish them. There are generally more workers in the market than actually required by the employers. This fact alone is sufficient evidence that unemployment will continue. With the wonderful improvements in machinery, and scientific applications to industry, the tendency will be in the direction of rendering more and more workers superfluous; this will probably bring a further increase in “crime” against the laws of property. Every year competition in the world of finance and industry becomes more keen, crises occur more rapidly, and bankruptcies stare in the face large numbers of one-time well-established businesses. Just recently in the financial world two very large firms closed their doors, and practically the whole of the staff are cut off for the time from the means of obtaining their livelihood.

A newspaper reporter appeared at the offices of the firms to obtain information of the crash, and he reports as follows : —

”The staff at the City Equitable numbers about 80, and they are still at work at the office. But it was said to-day that all but 6 or 7 would have to be dismissed in a week or two.”

At the offices of the other firm only one of the staff was left, and he was alleged to have made the following statement : —

“Many of us had entrusted our savings to the firm, and all of them have gone in the crash. It will be a hard time for us, especially the middle-aged men who have been here for so many years. There seems to be little prospect of our finding other employment.” Evening News, 17/2/22.

Here is an instance of modern society being responsible for the production of its potential “criminals.” If there is little prospect of them obtaining other employment, what can they do to obtain food, clothing, and shelter in the future for themselves and families?

But capitalism allows but little room for excuses from its victims. If they do not obtain their sustenance by legal means, then they must pay the penalty. Even the most trivial offence against the law is sufficient for the watchdogs of law and order to lay their hands on the offender, as the following will serve to show : —

” Found snaring chaffinches, an ex-service man was charged to-day at Tottenham with cruelty and was fined £5. “I was out of work,” he said, “and was chancing my arm.” (Italics mine.) Evening News, 16/2/22.

On numerous occasions cases have been reported in the Press of proceedings in the police courts against individuals charged with manslaughter, robbery with violence, and murder. It is seldom urged on behalf of the police by counsel conducting the case that the prisoner has destroyed human life or inflicted grievous injury merely as a lust for blood or wanton desruction. As a rule, lurking in the background are the ugly facts of poverty or starvation.

The writer commenced this article by saying that capitalism could hardly claim one solitary redeeming feature. And so he will conclude it. Rack your brain as you will, almost every social evil and disease you can name arises out of and through the maintenance of a system of society wherein the wealth producers, i.e., the working class, are robbed of the wealth they alone produce.

With Socialism established, it will be in the interests of ALL to see that every able-bodied man and woman contributed their quota of energy necessary for production of wealth, and so lighten the task and make possible a happy, contented race of people.

THE SETTLER

(Socialist Standard, May 1922)

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