How The Law Protects Property
The foundation of Capitalist society and civilisation is—as its name indicates—the private ownership of property. The state or the organisation of government in Capitalist society exists nominally to preserve the equilibrium—the balance of antagonistic forces within society—and it does this by maintaining with all the power at its command this private property basis.
In the fulfilling of this, its primary purpose, the State acts in the main according to certain rules—rules of its own making— which collectively are known as “the Law.”
The protection of property and the preservation and enforcement of the social forms and observances dependent upon property is thus the essential function of the Law.
These are elementary facts of sociology, well known to Socialists, but, unfortunately, still unrecognised by the majority of our fellow workers. Their minds are so warped by the press, platform and other agencies of mis-education controlled by the property owning class that for them, as for the parasites who live and flourish on them, the Law is the great and wonderful preserver of social order without which all organisation would vanish and anarchy prevail.
The Law thus regarded comes to have a halo of sanctity thrown around it. It becomes a god-like power, beneficent in its ruling but terrible in its vengeance upon the transgressors. As a god it has its own sacred books and ritual, its prophets, priests and tabernacles.
Through all this glorification and mysticism the Socialist must crash with the axe of his logic and show the world’s workers that the Law is one of the most powerful weapons of those who exploit and oppress them—that it is an agent of slave owners for the perpetuation of slavery.
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There is still abundant evidence that the law continues to prefer property to persons. For example, if you assault an ordinary person the maximum punishment is one year’s imprisonment, but if you are a poacher and assault a gamekeeper the maximum sentence rises to seven years’ penal servitude. One might think that a policeman had interests to safeguard as valuable as those of the gamekeeper, but the law holds that if you assault a policeman in the execution of his duty the maximum punishment must not be more than two years’ imprisonment.
On the other hand, forgery affecting the transfer of money or money’s worth can be rewarded by a sentence of penal servitude for life, and so can malicious damage to bridges, railways, and ships, and even such damage to plants in a garden can be punished by five years’ penal servitude. If three or more persons go poaching a sentence of fourteen years may await them, but if a man indecently assaults a woman or a girl two years’ imprisonment is the maximum imprisonment, and if you allow a girl of 14 or 15 years of age to reside in a brothel the utmost indignation of the law is expressed by six months’ imprisonment. (Manchester Guardian, July 26th, 1924).
R. W. Housley