Crime and Capital
Any community has to have an agreed set of principles concerning the behaviour of its members. As a social species we depend on each other to exist. Our interaction, therefore, provides the cohesion necessary for our survival. Historically these rational principles of behaviour have been subverted by the powerful to serve their needs. In a class-divided society these principles are used to rationalise the wealth and power of the minority. Socialists recognise this and exhibit the relevant contempt for the implicit hypocrisy in trying to rationalise rules that enforce inequality and the social injustice that it represents.
Rational rules of behaviour have been replaced by laws that are enforced by the state. But there still have to be definitions of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour within any community and, given the anachronistic political structures of capitalism, how should a socialist approach this anarchy of social rights and duties? We have to live within this sick culture but should we respect and internalise any of its laws and rules; do we have the right to reject them all as merely exercises in bourgeois hypocrisy?
It may be claimed that since the state has the power to enforce the law and its constraints upon socialists that it is of no importance how they feel about it. Socialists are realists and, unlike liberals, we do not loudly articulate a sense of personal injustice when it is our time to suffer the consequences of a system that speaks of justice whilst imposing its antithesis. What is important to us is that when the great majority individually encounter the ‘justice system’ and its failures, inadequacies and hypocrisies that they should understand the manifest underlying political realities which this represents rather than simply rely on accusations of corruption or incompetence regarding individual members of this system.
Some attempt to legitimise ‘The Law’ in terms of democracy. They claim that our ‘representatives’ in parliament only legislate in the name of their voters and if this is rejected by the wider community then they will be removed in the next election. What is ignored within this idealistic portrayal of the contemporary political structure is the obvious fact that it is the system itself (of which parliament is a vital component) that is the cause of the very injustices it attempts to legislate against. Happily socialists do not have to resort to the silly quasi-religious theories of a violent and greedy ‘human nature’ to understand crime; we know that where institutionalised inequality, and the consequent innumerable injustices this maintains, exists so will individual ‘immorality’ and criminality. That we can subvert parliament by sending socialists there as delegates of mass consciousness to destroy it will represent one of the greatest moments in political history.
It may come as quite a surprise to many that the ‘justice system’ represents injustice to socialists. In the hope of deterring the usual dismissal of this perspective, which typically involves references to our so-called utopian dream of a ‘perfect society’ or, as mentioned earlier, some half-baked theory of a destructive element within ‘human nature’, let us take a cold hard look at some of the realities of the symbiotic nature of the relationship between the justice system and the criminals it persecutes. Without criminal activity there would be little or no need for today’s lawyers, judges, court functionaries, silly wig makers, police, police cars, forensic scientists, prisons, police dogs, cell cleaners, justice software, police radio technology, specialist helicopters… the list is endless. That the state finances a great percentage of all this is testament to how desperate the ruling class is to hold onto their wealth and power. It is a grotesque spectacle to perceive how the state feeds parasitically on the criminals it creates.
And what are some of the laws that all of this effort and expense go into imposing; arbitrary and irrational prohibition of some stimulants, strike breaking, enforcing homelessness (evictions), prosecuting the poor for illegal benefit claims, persecuting ‘illegal immigrants’, breaking up demonstrations, enforcing traffic violations, curtailing rights of access, arresting the hungry for ‘shoplifting’ and the weary and dispossessed for ‘vagrancy’. But, I hear you ask, what of the violent bullies of organised crime and the fear and corruption they create? Can no one take moral responsibility for their own actions? If we accept the stupidity and injustice of the activities of the state listed above can we allow it some credibility for opposing so-called organised crime? We might be able to understand violent crime in its capitalist cultural context but can we ever accept that its perpetrators are not morally culpable?
At this point some readers will become aware that we are entering the philosophical realm; specifically the timeless debate between the proponents of determinism and those who believe in ‘free will’. Philosophy has the ability to both inspire and intimidate; we read the works of the great minds that have pondered on such questions with a mixture of awe and frustration. Frustration because there seems to be no definitive answer; we may reach personal conclusions but these cannot be subjected to scientific experiments which will decide which hypothesis is correct. Socialists are committed materialists and this implies a belief in a level of determinism. As already described we think that criminality exists primarily because of the capitalist culture of institutionalised social injustice – in short, it is because of the way society is organised.
But can we really just shake our heads with sadness when the likes of Hitler and Stalin are put on trial by history? We all need the guilty to be made to recognise their responsibility for the cruelty and subsequent suffering that they have been complicit in creating. Not to punish in the name of revenge but to impose consequences for acts that the community deplores. We know that the two individuals mentioned could not have committed the crimes they did without the complicity of thousands, sometimes millions of others. We are also aware that such mass complicity is a product of a terribly sick human political culture but we need to insist on individual moral culpability. Why? Because the answer: ‘I did what I did because I was ordered to’ cannot excuse the individual of responsibility. No healthy human community can function with such an immature moral vacuum at its heart. Does this imply that by imposing moral values on society we are forced to live an illusion? This is an uncomfortable situation for socialists because we pride ourselves on our realism; but not to grant individuals a level of moral integrity seems to dehumanise them. It’s hard to retain compassion for others (and yourself) if you regard our species as merely deterministic machines.
Will socialism be able to resolve or ‘bring to a synthesis’ (as we Marxists would say) this profound social contradiction? It is an intriguing possibility; but don’t wait until that inevitable day comes when you or someone you love finds themselves a victim of crime before you contemplate these questions. Such things are not just esoteric philosophical distractions; they are at the heart of who you are and what kind of society you wish to live within. Join us in our revolutionary activity which alone can transform justice from an intellectual aspiration into a political reality.