1980s >> 1987 >> no-989-january-1987

Running Commentary: Beating the wife

Beating the wife

It seems that domestic violence or wife beating is to become a priority concern for the Metropolitan Police. Hitherto they have not been noted for their sympathy towards the plight of women who approach them because they are being abused by their husbands. Generally they prefer “not to get involved” in disputes involving domestic violence — tacit endorsement, in fact, of the sanctity of the family and a husband’s “right” to do what he likes with “his property” especially when the wife has, in the judgement of the police, contributed to the incident by causing aggravation to her husband through nagging.

Now there are demands for a change in the law to enable the police to bring prosecutions against husbands who beat up their wives. Up till now the woman herself had to prosecute the husband and, understandably, many women were reluctant or even scared to press charges. So is the new attitude on the part of the Met. an indication of a new, more enlightened attitude towards women?

Not if these remarks by Walter Easey, police advisor to the Association of London Labour Authorities, are anything to go by. He said: “It has been a puzzle why there has not been more movement in the past. Wife battering is often an indicator of serious problems with drinking or drugs”. In other words it fits into an overall pattern of deviant behaviour which might be of more interest to the police than wife beating. But wife beating is also an indication of serious social and sexual problems that are not confined to a small minority of deviants but are typical of a sick society. And neither changes in the law and policing policy, nor more prosecutions against men who beat up their wives will cure it.

Look at it this way, Sid

As is well known to everyone who cooks on a gas stove, privatisation is now the name of the game. Another might be How to Win The Next Election. For the Tories are obviously hoping that every applicant for shares in concerns like British Gas will believe the publicity which tells them that they can be a capitalist for £150. The Tories hope that this will be enough to so change their ideas about class society that they will stop voting for capitalism to be run by the Labour Party and start voting for it to be run by the Tories.

Of course if the shares’ price goes up anyone who has bought them will be able to make some profit by selling them quickly; whatever they make will probably come in handy to pay the next gas bill or to clear up some other debt. That is how the working class live. On the other hand investment — the sinking of capital into an industry, buying land, materials, machinery, buildings, labour power in order to make profit — is the exclusive function of the capitalist class. They monopolise the means of wealth production and distribution and their position allows them to exploit the workers whose labour power they buy.

The workers live by the sale of their labour power and their position is unchanged by temporary and insignificant variations in their income. Having money in the bank, winning a few pounds in the betting shop, selling some shares for more than they cost, all help to stretch the pay packet for a few workers but do not lessen their reliance on it. None of this changes how we get our living, our class position under capitalism, where our economic interests lie. It does not. in other words, remove the need to get up in the morning and go to work, to submit ourselves to the exploitation process.

Meanwhile, it is worth asking one important, but neglected, question. British Gas was a nationalised concern and we have always been told that nationalisation was public ownership — ownership by us. How then can we buy something which we already own? The answer is simple and also neglected. We didn’t own it in the first place. Nationalisation. with its claim to give us all a stake in industry, was as much a confidence trick as privatisation is now.

Surely even Sid is not so daft that he can’t see that?

Crime going up

Although its practitioners never produce any figures of profit or loss, crime is still, amid the recession, a growth industry. For England and Wales, 1985 was a boom year for crime: more offences were committed than ever before. The figure recorded by the police — 3.6 million offences — was a three per cent rise on 1984.

Some of the biggest increase was in sexual offences, statistics for which are notoriously prey to subjective influences. Rape, for example, went up by 29 per cent but this did not mean that nearly a third more women were being raped in 1985, rather that some changes in police practice resulted in more of the cases which were reported to them being recorded as rape. (What did these “changes” amount to? Presumably some women once came to the police station after being raped only to find the incident regarded as something less horrible).

The same might be said for some of the figures for violence against the person, some people, in some circumstances, would not dream of going to the police after being assaulted whereas other people would; all manner of factors can influence the decision either way.

But whatever allowance we make, however the statistics are weighted, it seems clear that the social disfigurement which is crime continues to flourish. This is happening after more than seven years of a Tory government who assured us. when they came back to power in 1979, that they had the answer to the problem. It was, apparently, a matter of more police — higher pay for them — and tougher punishment for the criminals — short, sharp shocks for the youngsters, longer stretches behind bars for the adults. Well there are more police but they are clearing up proportionately less crime now than when the Tories came to power — 35 per cent in 1985 as against 42 per cent in 1978.

Is there, then, no answer to crime? (we are referring, of course, to the illegal sort, not the offences which the capitalist system constantly commits on the majority of the human race and which are legally sanctioned as essential to this society’s stability). Reformers, including those who want hanging and flogging, treat the problem in isolation from the social situation which gives rise to it. This is a society of private property and property is not just possession: it is also the denial of possession to others who, in some circumstances, will try to penetrate that denial through force or subterfuge. Poverty and all it means — stress, hunger, slums, a sub-standard existence — breeds frustration, and relief is often seen in terms of “get-rich-quick”. The worker on the factory production line dreams of winning the pools; the criminal of the big, once-for-all, haul.

Whatever the Tories, or any government, may do will not affect the cause of crime. For that we must look a long way beyond the promises, if we are to have a society of harmony, a world safe to be alive in.