50 Years Ago: Mail Train Robbery

The two-and-a-half million pound mail train robbery was audacious and glamorous enough to have come from the pen of the most imaginative crime fiction writer.

In that, it was typical of a recent strengthening trend in crime. The big, well planned robbery is becoming increasingly profitable for the crooks and so more and more of a headache for the police.

This is hardly surprising. The existence of private property elevates money into the key to a secure life. The moneyed man is always the privileged man and he does his best to make sure that he keeps both the money and the privileges.

There are plenty of such privileged— and honoured—men whose wealth has been amassed from the exploitation of the other class in society. Or perhaps they inherited it from their ancestors’ historical equivalent of the Cheddington hold-up.

This sort of wealth is respectable—it has come from what has been well called legal robbery, which conforms to capitalism’s needs and so its moralities.

Robbery, forgery, embezzlement, and so on, do not conform and the men who try to get rich by practising them are anything but honoured.

Be that as it may, crime is inevitable as long as capitalism lasts; offences against property make up the overwhelming majority of crimes today. Capitalism without crime, in fact, is simply impossible.

Ironically, it is capitalism itself which asks for some of its crime. Do not the armed forces, so essential to capitalism, encourage just the sort of knowledge and the mental attitudes which are useful in a desperate, quick-fire robbery?

The driver of the Cheddington train said that one of the gang advised him to keep quiet because there were some ‘right bastards’ there. Well, it is the ‘right bastard’ who makes an excellent Commando or bomber pilot.

All of this is not to justify nor to condone the criminal. Indeed, any one who tried to take away from the Cheddington gang any of the money they have stolen would soon find that, in their own unmistakeable way, they are as firm in their support of property rights as any bank boardroom.

Capitalism is an unpleasant social system and crime is only one of its many excrescences.

(From ‘The News in Review’, Socialist Standard, September 1963)

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