The end for capitalism, the end for punishment?

This is the fourth episode in a series of articles about Criminology concepts in a Socialist context and this week I will be talking about what the future holds for capitalism and the way it’s dealing with crime by punishment of offenders. If we would choose Socialism as a system to organise society, would there still be need and necessity for a penal system and prisons? How would we deal with crime and criminals? How safe would we be?

The end for capitalism

To answer these questions I have to explain why I see the end for the capitalist system. The short answer is that it just doesn’t provide any solutions for the many problems it has created. Inherent to capitalism is inequality and competition, and without it it can’t function. But, as we increasingly found out during this current Covid-19 pandemic, it doesn’t function with it either. Capitalism has exploited our natural world for its resources and created global warming because of it, but because of its relentless drive for more short-term profit it doesn’t have any interest in investing those profits in developing long-term tactics to sustain itself. The pharmaceutical industry is competing with itself to develop the best and quickest Covid vaccine but because those companies want to make a profit, only sell it to the richest countries. In the poorer countries the illness keeps mutating and eventually outmanoeuvres the vaccines, defying the objective and eventually everyone including the richest are going to suffer the consequences. This is only one small example, but fundamentally this is how capitalism creates its own gravediggers (Marx and Engels, 1848).

So what has the penal system to do with capitalism? Hasn’t it evolved by itself regardless of the system it is embedded in? No, I don’t think so. It is a fact that most corporate and state crime is not prosecuted because it is embedded in capitalism. The rich and most powerful in society produce the laws, which they write in their own interests, they pass the laws through parliament and enforce the laws. They have seats in all the pillars of the justice system, so that in itself makes that most corporate and state crime is not ending up in court, let alone prison. Capitalism is inherently inequal, the justice system is too. The poor, working-class and BAME communities are disproportionately represented in prisons and therefore one can argue that the Criminal Justice System is just a Criminal System without the justice. In my view, if justice is not applied equally it is not justice. The capitalist state uses the Criminal Justice System (CJS) to control the poor and most disadvantaged in society, as those groups are the biggest threat to capitalist power. If those groups, which lets face it are the majority, discover their collective power the ruling class will be gone forever. So this system is designed to pitch people against each other, compete, divide and encourage individualism, because the opposite, collectivism and socialism is a threat to the status quo.

A better result for society

A better result for society

The penal system is based on punishment and retribution because if it would actually look at the causes of crime and violence it would inevitably have to conclude that the whole capitalist system of exploitation and profit making was at the root of it. And off course that is not an option. So instead the whole penal system is now driven to the pursuit of profit by exploitation as well. And any subversive attempts to rejection or protest is met by state violence.

So lets imagine our society would transition to a socialist state. Every aim would be directed by how society as a whole would benefit to the maximum possible result. So lets say a man had murdered his wife. In the current system he would be facing 20-30 years in prison, which literally means he’d be locked up without much effort to rehabilitate him, let alone look at why he did this heinous act. I can imagine in a socialist society every effort would be undertaken to first assess why he did this and what led up to this act, then work with this man to see how he can firstly accept and face up to the fact of his murder and once he accepts he did this, then steps can be taken to work on why he did it, and how he could be rehabilitated. At the same time every effort needs to go into working with the family of the victim, to go through a process of mourning, and support them in every way to process and deal with this traumatic event. In all of this central should be to eventually reach the best possible outcome for everybody involved, and ultimately for the wider society. Because at the end of the day, society is best served by making sure people feel safe, and can be themselves to the best of their ability. At the moment the central aim of society is to make a few very rich people even richer at the expense of the majority and to keep it that way at any cost. Punishing people is not and is proven not to change anyone. It is counterproductive as it creates more violent and disturbed people. So rehabilitation and education is the way forward I think. Imagine if all the resources that are put into prisons and keeping people locked up go towards investing in people, in mental health care and research, in education and rehabilitation. In quality youth services, and support for parents in raising children, better and cheap housing for everyone, shorter working days so people have time to spend with their families and do things they love. I believe it would lead to less crime and happier people.

Transition

But would it actually eventually lead to a complete abolishment of the prison system? Maybe not, but if it would be necessary to keep people away from the rest of society for a time, it would be much more open and aimed towards integration into society. Off course we would have to deal with the results of capitalism for a long time, so a gradual transitional programme would be implemented. And the bottom line would not be based on punishing people for crimes, but on rehabilitation and integration. This is I think based around the idea that punishment, retaliation and retribution is eventually exacerbating the cause and only inciting further violence.

I think if the Criminal Justice System would be based on a community led, democratically run system justice could be actual justice, where the plight of the criminal would be just as important as the recovery of the victims and intrinsically linked, however difficult this would be for both parties. This is not an easy answer, or an easy way. I think it is very complex and difficult, but in the end society would be better off because it would deal with the actual causes of crime, instead of constantly creating more.

Because the whole of society would be involved in the creation of this new system, the world would slowly become safer and a happier place to live in for everyone. There are no guarantees or assurances, and it is a very difficult road, hence why a lot of people would say this is inherently utopian. To those I say: “is trying to reform this cruel and dystopian monster of a system we live in today, with all its injustices and inequalities, which only profits a handful in the short-term but makes this planet inhabitable for all of us within 2 or 3 generations not the definition of utopian?”. Trying to change something by doing the same thing over and over again is insane, so trying the opposite might actually result in the biggest rescue operation of our habitat and species and security of our future. Marx, Engels and Trotsky were not utopians but realists, their theories and strategies are based on everyone’s lived experience, they recognised that everything is constantly in motion, moving and changing and to influence these processes you need to analyse events and apply the lessons of the past to problems we face in the present to create a new future. Their version of socialist theory is called ‘dialectic materialism‘ which means that in essence matter is constantly moving, changing and evolving, and the old system already has the seeds of the new in it, as the new system will contain some of the old too as it is ever changing.

Conclusion

For decades now statistics show clearly the Criminal Justice System is not contributing to bringing down crime rates and the rehabilitation of convicted criminals. If anything the situation is worsening. The whole capitalist system is in crisis as it seems to be in a downward vortex of a profit driven debt mountain, which causes economic instability, exploitation of natural resources to the point of global environmental collapse, and all of it causes mass movements of people on the run for economic, environmental and social disasters. A pretty dystopian picture. Socialism on the basis of Marx’ and Engels’ dialectic materialism offers a genuine alternative with hope on a better future for everyone. This is not an easy or even guaranteed route to success. It is a very complex and difficult fight but one that is very positive and forward looking. I find that very appealing compared to the dead end road we are on now, with none of the people in power at present offering a genuine alternative or even a glimmer of hope. If I have to imagine how safe we would be in a socialist world, I think the answer is that we would be as safe as the most vulnerable person would be safe. We all have the responsibility to work towards making it safer everyday for that person, by paying attention, by listening, by investing in our children and young people, by investing in ourselves.

There is absolutely no point locking people away, punishing people, killing people in name of the state because all it does is making the situation worse. The children of convicted offenders won’t have a dad or a mother to guide them away from crime, all they have is anger and frustration, guilt and shame which can only lead to negative outcomes. The family of the victims also don’t have any positive guidance and support, only anger, grief and loss which can only lead to a negative outcome for them. We have tried prison, punishment and deprivation, with no real positive results so why not try the alternative. Rehabilitation, restoration and reconciliation, truly investing in people with positive action. But this is only possible if the whole system is transformed by the majority in a democratic, planned economy for a socialist future for everyone.

A fair trial in a Socialist state

In this third edition of my series of articles discussing Criminological concepts in a Socialist context, I am looking at what a fair trial would be like in a Socialist society. What does a fair trial consist of today, who makes the decisions of guilt or innocence and how would that be different under socialism? Is the justice system just, and if not, how would a Socialist justice system do better?

Roles within the justice system

To start with lets explore the different roles within the justice system today. The police‘s role is to investigate alleged offences by following all reasonable lines of enquiry to make sure the wrong person is not charged. A prosecution is the act of charging someone with a breach of the criminal law. A prosecutor is a person presenting the case in court, and must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused has committed a crime (Bloom, 2019, p. 54). The role of the court is to test state accusations of guilt and asks the tribunal of fact (the jury): ‘Are you sure of guilt?’ (Secret Barrister, 2018, pp. 155-6). The defence are the defendant (before they are charged they are called the ‘accused’ or the ‘suspect’) and their lawyers who will represent them in court (Bloom, 2019, p.57). The witnesses are those giving evidence in court and can include both the defendant and victim. The judge decides which laws to apply and how the jury should be directed to apply them, for example the judge will decide what evidence the jury is allowed to hear (Bloom, 2019, p. 59).

In a Socialist society the different roles will change, for instance the police will be community-led and will slowly turn its attention to threats to the socialist system; pro-capitalist forces trying to undermine the basis of socialism, corruption and cronyism. Off course it might take generations before other crime as we know it is eradicated or at least significantly reduced. As for the prosecution, this should be possible to anyone, not just the state and also the judge and jury might change to justice committees.

Elements of a fair trial

Within the Capitalist justice system there are two basic elements of a fair trial:

  • The judge and jury are impartial
  • Both sides of the dispute are heard, as cited in Bloom (2019a, p. 55).

Although the right to be afforded a lawyer to UK citizens who are accused of having committed a crime exists since 1949, austerity measures and severe cuts to the Department of Justice have meant that this right has been hollowed out (Bloom, 2019, p. 58). Between 2010 and 2023 the budget for the Department of Justice has decreased by 48% (Falconer, 2018) as cited in Bloom (2019, p. 58). On top of that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a backlog of more than 457.000 court cases awaiting trial, which is a 100.000 more than it was before the pandemic struck in the UK. As the crown court backlog grew, so did the number of prisoners on remand awaiting a trial. They now represent more than 15% of the prison population (Casciani, 2021). It can be argued that legal aid cuts reduce the possibility of a fair trial and increase the risk of miscarriages of justice. And let’s be honest, that is putting it mildly!

The elements of a fair trial in a socialist system might still include the above points but I can imagine that accountability to the whole of society would take centre part. This might be in the form of justice committees for both parties or instead of a judge. The whole point of socialism is that the working class collectively decide democratically how this legal system would look like. And off course that all starts with making appropriate laws. If the law is much more focussed on serving the interest of the working class, instead of the ruling class the tables will be turned but this does not automatically mean that justice will become more equal or just. It will mean that it is in the hands of you and me to decide.

I would also like to highlight the fact that the jury nowadays is cloaked in secrecy in the UK. They are only allowed to give a ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ verdict, but can’t comment on the reasoning or process behind that decision. I think in a socialist society that can never be allowed. Transparency and accountability towards the working class is paramount, so that part needs to change too.

Socialist justice

If I imagine a socialist world I think the justice system would be transformed through the methods of Leon Trotsky’s Transitional Programme. As for all other parts of society, the working class would form committees, through debate and discussion decisions would be made collectively on how the new justice system would look like, and then send representatives to congress who will vote on their behalf. As I said before, those representatives would be subject to immediate recall and mandatory reselection, so at all times they will be accountable to the working class. Any state official will be subjected to that and will only be rewarded an average worker’s wage. Mind you, that wage would be significantly higher than you can probably imagine today.

Book cover of the Committee for a Worker’s International’s (CWI) new publication about the ideas of Leon Trotsky.

Another aspect is that I think sentencing has to be proven to be beneficial to the whole of society, so rehabilitation and restorative justice has to be paramount in equal measure to the benefit of both the victim and the perpetrator but above all society as a whole. I think it is needed that answers to this incredible difficult and complex problem are researched and found. I think that in that process criminologists and other independent specialists and experts can play a vital role, as they should have an objective view as academics.

Off course in a Socialist society all parts of the justice system would be nationalised and no aspect would ever be run for profit or privately owned. Big investments need to be made to transform it and make it accessible to anyone and not, as it is now only the State and rich and powerful people are able to afford to prosecute a case. Lawyers and barristers will be freely available to anyone who needs legal assistance, they will be independent and paid an average worker’s wage.

Accountability

I think to start with the biggest excesses of miscarriages of justice and evasion of justice has to be dealt with. The reason the current system allows this to happen is the entanglement of corporate interests and political power which are all in the hands of a few people. So opening the justice system up to being accountable to the working class instead of a few judges and a capitalist state effectively run by big corporations will already change the outcome dramatically I suspect. Also the fact that in a Socialist system the biggest companies and banks will be nationalised will mean that accountability will change from private hands to public hands. Each individual in society will have to be accountable to the whole of society. So when a group of people together act in a harmful way, they all have to account for that to the whole of society. At the moment under capitalism this is very difficult to pursue. For instance in the case of the Grenfell Tower Fire and the aftermath with a 100.000 buildings still clad in flammable material it seems near impossible to bring all the different guilty parties to justice. In a Socialist society there would be a big independent public inquiry run by a community committee, but I think such disasters wouldn’t take place as there would be stringent health and safety laws and regulations, and high rises like Grenfell would be replaced with safe, spacious, quality public housing.

Conclusion

In the process of the transformation of society towards socialism, the roles within a court trial might change dramatically to reflect accountability to the whole of society, which requires much more transparency and impartiality than the justice system has now. The fairness of trial and protection against miscarriages of justice has been seriously eroded by decades of austerity and cuts to public services like the Department of Justice. In a socialist society accountability to the whole of society would take centre stage, as well as equality before the law, fairness and the possibility for rehabilitation for the offender and recovery for the victim. The long-term outcome for society has to be positive in deciding the sentence. The whole justice system would be a public service, with no aspect of it in private hands, and free on the point of use to anyone. Many crimes will cease to exist as poverty, inequality, competition between people and the race for profit will be eradicated.

So how would it look like? To begin with the whole aim should be that equal and fair justice can be done to anyone, that nobody is above the law, and that every single part of the system is directly accountable to the working class as said above. At no point should it be possible for any participant within the justice system to gain any kind of advantage above the other party in the case. It goes without saying that the law should be written, enforced, tested and applied by the working class, through democratic processes like everything else has.

References

Bloom, T. (2019) ‘The prosecution on trial’ in Downes, J., Kent, G., Mooney, G., Nightingale, A., and Scott, D. (eds.) Introduction to Criminology 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 51-74).

Casciani, D. (2021) ‘Covid and the courts: ‘Grave concerns’ for justice, warn watchdogs’ [Online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-55712106 (Accessed on 01/02/2021).

A Socialist Police Force

In this second edition in my series of articles about Criminology concepts in a Socialist context I will discuss the concept of a Socialist Police Force. What would that look like? What would the main aim be? How can trust between the community and the police be guaranteed? Would racism, sexism and trans/homophobia within the police be a thing from the past? To answer these questions I will first unpick the concepts mentioned in this title.

By Socialism I mean socialism as a system in society in which the working class is in control of the means of production, the economy is planned democratically to the need of the people instead of profit, and overall a Marxist approach is applied. In this sense the term ‘police force‘ means a democratically accountable organisation which defends and safeguards the interests of the working class within a socialist society.

To move from the situation now towards a socialist police force we in the Socialist Party would argue for a transitional programme which would only come to the fore when the working class take steps towards that direction. Conditions for that to happen have to emerge through struggle, in which working class people will develop consciousness and confidence that through collective action and organisation victories can be won. But those victories can only be permanent through a socialist transformation of society. To quote the article in the last link above:

“If the working class is to preserve the economic gains and the democratic rights that it has wrested from the capitalists in the past, it must carry through the socialist transformation of society. Past gains cannot be preserved indefinitely within the rotten framework of a crisis-ridden capitalism. In transforming society, it is utopian to think that the existing apparatus of the capitalist state can be taken over and adapted by the working class. In a fundamental change of society, all the existing institutions of the state will be shattered and replaced by new organs of power under the democratic control of the working class. While basing itself on the perspective of the socialist transformation of society, however, the labour movement must advance a programme which includes policies which come to grips with the immediate problems posed by the role of the police” (The State.., 1983, pp53-54) as cited in Marxism and the State: an exchange (2006).

Black Lives Matter protester, June 2020

So, what would such a police force look like? Well, it would be acting in the interests of the working class, and be accountable to the working class. Officers would be subject to immediate recall and accountable to a democratically formed workers committee with its base firmly in the trade union movement. But as the conditions of most people will have dramatically changed for the better in a socialist society, over time crime will dramatically change and possibly even disappear. A lot of crime happens as a result of poverty, desperation, unemployment, and inequalities in society. Over generations this can improve dramatically when society turns its attention to the problems causing it. Also the legislation will change as we start to evaluate our values and start to focus on the improvement of health and wellbeing of everyone, as opposed to the all consuming pressure of chasing profit for the few.

I think the police will be tasked with the protection and defence of those values and the working class as a whole from counter attacks by people clinging on to capitalism, and other threats to the socialist state. Trust from the community in the police can only be guaranteed when the police is directly accountable to the community and subject to immediate recall. The community has to guide and lead by debating and making decisions regarding the police’s actions through a dedicated democratically elected committee. Every workplace, so also the police force, will be organised by the workers, so in this case police officers will be in a officers committee who are then accountable to a community committee. But the officers committee would have to defend their rights at work, and make decisions about the work they do and will be part of a national trade union, like every other trade or profession will be.

Within the police force debates will take place about problems and crime and how best to deal with them. I would think this has to happen in cooperation with many other organisations like mental health care, social care, schools, neighbourhood committees etc. and as a lot of legislation will have to change, a larger debate in the whole of society needs to take place. Questions will arise like ‘what is crime’, and how to deal with ‘criminals’. Criminologists will play an important role in this debate and I think society should ask itself, is the penal system as it is today effective and leading to positive outcomes for society?

I think the answer is that it is not effective. There is a whole array of evidence to prove that. I would go as far as to say that a lot of crime happens because of the capitalist system, and that even the penal system is used to make profit (A big part of the US penal system is privatised). I think the whole penal system has to be scrapped and a debate has to take place on how and with what to replace it. The answer is probably a whole cocktail of different approaches, and a lot of additional research needs to be done. Obviously it is not a good idea to just release all prisoners and demolish all prisons. So here also the Transitional Programme will have to play an important role.

But going back to the police force, how do we create a force that is not riddled with racism, sexism and trans/homophobia? In a socialist society any form of discrimination will be fought and the rights of minority groups of any kind will be protected. Malcolm X said : “You can’t have capitalism without racism”. That is because capitalism is build on divisions and individualism. Socialism is build on collectives, sharing and communities. So the very essence of socialism will counter racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.

Malcolm X banner ‘You can’t have capitalism without racism’

I personally think that socialism is build on the idea that we are as strong as the weakest link, so it’s very important to look after the most vulnerable in society because the stronger they are, the stronger we are as a whole. Another great slogan I love is ‘One for all, all for one’, which points to a similar idea. Maybe serving in the police in a socialist society should be rotated, so the majority of people have a turn to work in it and help shape it, or maybe alongside a permanent core.

In conclusion I think the society would look very different under a socialism and the police would change with it. Undoubtedly a lot of actions and crimes today would not exist in that case and racism, sexism and other forms of oppression will not be tolerated, and in time hopefully disappear. As under socialism the police would be run by and for the working class, and be accountable to it, it would transform to an organisation working towards a very positive and supporting role. I think it would strengthen the foundations of society and protect it from capitalist and other ideological threats, making it a much safer place to live in than the world is today.

What would the rule of law look like in a socialist society?

This post will be one in a series I am planning to write about how socialist1 and ultimately communist2 ideas could provide answers to basic concepts in society; in other words this week, I will talk about what in practice would the rule of law look like in a socialist society. I will use concepts I come across in my study Criminology and Psychology and connect them to a socialist viewpoint and compare it to the current situation in the world.

What is the rule of law?

To start unpacking this question I will start with explaining what the rule of law is. The rule of law is the principle that society should be governed by predictable laws that are enforced fairly and that nobody is above the law (Bloom, 2019, p.1). A socialist society is based on a democratically planned economy characterised by public ownership of the means of production. A short explanation of what this means in practical terms you can read in this article by Hannah Sell, General Secretary of the Socialist Party of England and Wales.

Lady Justice

At the moment, under a capitalist for profit system the rule of law is everything but equally applied to all. The most powerful in society which often are also the richest are the people defining the law, executing it and also occupy the seats in the judiciary. Legal philosopher Lon Fuller thought of 8 principles which can test ‘the inner morality of the law’ as he put it (Fuller, 1969) as cited in the Open University (2019, p. 5-6). These 8 principles are:

  • There must be laws – if there are no laws society could not be governed.
  • People need to understand what the laws are.
  • When laws are made, they should only apply from the time they are made, not retrospectively.
  • In order to meet the demands of the law, it must be clear what a person can or cannot do.
  • The set of laws must be internally consistent – for example a person should not simultaneously be forbidden from earning money and be required to pay a fine.
  • It has to be possible for a person to obey the law.
  • The law must not change too much.
  • Laws must be implemented as they are written (there must be ‘due process’) – there must be an impartial process to determine guilt and what has to happen as a result according to the law.

These principles can also test a system to see if it is governed by the rule of law. That being said, it is in many states the case that the law is unjust and even a whole system of laws are unjust, like in the case of ‘apartheid’ in South Africa (Bloom, 2019, p. 17). It can be argued that the rule of law can never be just in a capitalist system which is run in the interest of a few by exploiting the many. In a socialist society the situation would be very different. Socialism is based on equality and to develop society for everyone to be the best of their ability. There would be no profit to be made, production would be to meet the need of society and to the best quality possible. Every aspect of life would be approached to reach the best possible result for everyone.

Social murder – social injustice

Friedrich Engels (1845) wrote in his first book ‘The condition of the working class in England’ about the concept of social murder, which he argued is the result of the conditions in which people are forced to live resulting in inevitable premature death – social murder by the state. If you think about this in relation to the rule of law, a similar situation can be noted. If the power to occupy the seats of the 3 branches of law – legislative (people writing the law), executive (people executing the law), and judicial (people deciding upon disagreements in the law) lie largely by a small, rich and powerful group in society, it is not very likely the law will be just and equally applied to all. So to convert it to Engels example, the working class are forced to live in conditions which disadvantage them to have the law applied fairly, simply because the poorest, least powerful don’t usually occupy seats in those 3 branches of the law. And additionally, this also means that the most powerful in society often don’t get prosecuted, or held to account by the law, and even get away with murder. Actually, it is likely that those with the power to create the law, will do so in their own interest.

Working class rule

In a socialist society I can imagine that everything, including the rule of law are subjected to the scrutiny of the people, and that the people will collectively debate them and vote for or against them. The working class will rule and every position of power is subjected to immediate recall and mandatory reselection on the basis of collective democratic debate, amendments and discussion. Every workplace and community will have committees in which everyone can take part, and who will elect representatives who will go to regional and national congresses where decisions will be made through democratic votes. The representatives will vote according to what their committee has democratically decided on. So law will be made this way, and the three pillars of the rule of law, legislative, executive and judicial will be organised like this too. Judges will be replaced by justice committees, lawyers will be replaced by advocacy committees and their members will be democratically elected on expertise and experience by the community and be subjected to immediate recall and mandatory reselection.

Criminal law has long been used by the state to control its population, especially its poorest and most disadvantaged citizens argues Hall (et al., 1978) as cited in the Open University (2019, p. 134). But when the state is run by the working class and society is no longer dominated by a capitalist, for profit economy but run in the interest and to the benefit of the people according to their needs, every aspect of life will change, including the rule of law. People will no longer have to compete for the necessities of life or for work. People will only be required to work 3 or 4 days a week and have more time for family, hobbies and study. More emphasis will lie on enhancing everybody’s life and immediately living standards will be raised. And as lots of research shows, poverty and inequality are the main drivers of crime. As Messner and Rosenfeld (2013: 4) observe, ‘Whether we look at official statistics on arrest and incarceration, self-report studies of criminal offending, or surveys of crime victims, the same pattern emerges: lower socioeconomic status is associated with greater involvement with the criminal justice system, higher rates of criminal offending, and higher rates of various forms of victimization as cited in Newburn (2016).

Permanent revolution

In the process of realising a socialist society the biggest threats are posed by corruption and counter revolutionary elements in the first phases of the socialist revolution. ‘Although the [German] workers cannot come to power and achieve the realization of their class interests without passing through a protracted revolutionary development.. Their battle-cry must be: The Permanent Revolution‘ (Marx, K. and Engels, F., 1840) as cited in Blain (2006). This concept of permanent revolution is key, as people need constant education on how to maintain a successful society in the interests of the working class, and a socialist revolution can only be successful if it is international.

Yes, it certainly is hard work, and no easy shortcuts can be made to achieve it. Human beings always try to take the way of least resistance, hence why first all other options need to be tried and tested out, before the road to socialism will be taken.

References

Bloom, T. (2019) ‘Contesting the rule of law’, in Bloom et al. Introduction to Criminology 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 1-127.

Engels, F. (1845) The Condition of the Working Class in England, Oxford, Oxford University Press (this edition 2009).

Hall, S., Critcher, C., Jefferson, T., Clark, J., and Roberts, B. (1978) Policing the Crisis, London, Macmillan.

Newburn, T. (2016) ‘Social Disadvantage, Crime and Punishment’ [Online] Available at: https://eprints.lse.ac.uk/68133/1/Newburn_Social%20Disadvantage%20and%20Crime.pdf (Accessed 21/01/2021).

Blain, A. (2006) ‘Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League’ [Online] Available at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/communist-league/1850-ad1.htm (Accessed 21/01/2021).

1) Socialism is the pre-stage of communism which can be achieved using the Transitional Program (Trotsky L., 1938) after the taking of power and control over the means of production by the working class through revolution. It is not possible to achieve socialism in one single state, so in its core it is internationalist. When I write about socialism/communism I refer to the ideas of Marx K. (1818), Engels F. (1820), Trotsky L. (1879), and Lenin V. (1870).
2) Communism is the ultimate dictatorship of the working class in which a democratically planned economy based on the public ownership of the means of production is established and the highest form of living standards for its people is achieved. Communism is only achievable after a socialist state is established and is at its core internationalist. 

The death penalty

In the last week before Christmas I am still a week ahead of schedule with studying. This week, the topic is the death penalty. Obviously as a revolutionary socialist I am firmly against the death penalty, hell I am against the whole penal system. In this last blogpost before the new year, yes I am also taking a break, I will explain my thoughts and theory on this topic.

I will start off with an interesting view on murder by Friedrich Engels (1845), who is for those of you who don’t know, the financial force and co-author of Karl Marx’s ‘Communist Manifesto’. He personally wrote ‘The Conditions of the Working Class in England’ in which he made this statement about the concept of ‘social murder’:

“..they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live – forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence – knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual” (p.126). 

I would go as far as saying that all crime is a consequence of the material conditions people live in, which means that the capitalist state is ultimately creating crime. The capitalist state then punishes its citizens for committing these crimes, but doesn’t acknowledge its role in creating them nor does it have to face scrutiny or consequences for committing ‘social murder’ itself. This is because the state decides what is crime and has the power to legislate. When I say that the capitalist state creates crime, I mean it creates the conditions in which people are forced to commit crime, or are driven to commit crime. I know the causes of crime are very diverse and complicated but I think a lot of crime is caused by inequality, exploitation and deprivation which are the components on which capitalism thrives. Okay, yes, this is just my own personal opinion, I am not going to delve into it further and back it up with evidence.

Now the arguments in favour of the death penalty fall into two categories (Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 197):

  • Arguments around preventing future harm
  • Arguments based on morality

The first argument has two components:

  • 1. deterrence – the threat of death will deter people from committing a similar crime.
  • 2. incapacitation – by executing the death penalty a person will be permanently removed from society and thus does no longer pose a threat to society. This then suggests there is no hope for change within the offender.

Resulting from this line of thinking (deterrence), one has to conclude that capital punishment should result in clear reduction of murder rates (Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 197). Unfortunately this is not the case. In the US the states with the highest murder rates account for around 80% of all state executions (Drake and Scott, 2019, p.193). So you can’t say it actually works as a deterrence, as evidence suggests otherwise.

Then there is the arguments based on morality. This includes retribution so that the death of the perpetrator can somehow provide ‘closure’ to the victim’s family. Unfortunately, this argument also is based on a sense of morality rather than evidence (Camus, 1957; Pojman and Reiman, 1997).

‘Stairway to Hell’ | Graphite on paper | Mayola | 2020

Arguments against the death penalty are also divided into the same 2 categories, based on morality and around preventing future harm. In case of the latter, the death penalty does not prevent future harm as a general deterrent, meaning that in places where the death penalty is applied as a threat for specific crimes, these crimes still happen at similar rates to places that don’t have the death penalty. It does however obviously work as a specific deterrent; a person killed through the death penalty will not commit any crime ever again Bedau, 2001). Another point is that often people legally killed by the state like this turn out to be innocent of the crime. It is also impossible to determine if someone would kill again in future (Zimring, 2004).

The moral arguments against the death penalty are for instance that it can be argued to be an act of hypocrisy that allows the state to commit legal murder on a person accused of the same act. Critics also question that it is mainly poor people who are sentenced to death, which undermines the application of the death penalty (Culbert, 2001). International human rights bodies like the UN argue for the importance of the ‘right to life’, and highlight the way that the state has power to take life, questioning the right of the state to have such powers (Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 201).

I think after reading all this, that there are much better arguments against the death penalty, with evidence to back it up. It really makes me wonder how society would develop if we would live in a much more equal society, based on the common interest of improving living conditions for everyone on this planet. If life was not based around competition and producing the most profit and private property for a few extremely rich individuals over the backs of the billions of workers who are exploited for their labour.

Imagine if every aspect of life was based on the idea of improving everyone’s living conditions equally to the maximum possible. That is what socialism and ultimately communism is. There would be no competition, because we would all work towards this common goal. The death penalty does not belong in that picture. Yes, we would still have generations of extremely disturbed murderers we have to deal with, but because the whole outlook would be different, we might discover ways to rehabilitate most criminals and even murderers. If we would collectively look at solving those problems, I am confident we can find a way that works much better for both the victims of crime and their families, and the criminals and their families.

And living in a world that has to improve all life equally, the causes of crime would slowly disappear. To give an example, I once read about an experiment with rats. One rat was put in an empty cage with two bottles. One filled with water, and one filled with water laced with heroin. Very quickly the rat would start drinking from the laced water because it would feel better dealing with its surroundings and become addicted.

Then the same rat was put in a cage but this time it was filled with lots of fun activities, bedding, food and a few rat friends to accompany him. Both bottles were still there, but the rats hardly touched the heroin laced water. Conclusion, having company, warmth and activities to do making the rat feel comfortable and safe meant that it wouldn’t get addicted. Off course the same counts for humans.

In this capitalist society where individualism is encouraged, and communal activities are discouraged, there is lots of competition for necessities like food, water, housing etc. which places people against each other. Every aspect of life is made a commodity and love, care and empathy are rare and often also made a commodity for sale. This is extremely unhealthy behaviour and leads to addiction, loneliness, crime and deprivation. Communism is the opposite of that, it encourages working together, diversity, respect and love. I always have to think of the motto of the three musketeers: ‘One for All, All for One!’.

References

Engels, F. (1845) The Condition of the Working Class in England, Oxford, Oxford University Press (this edition 2009).

Drake, D.H. and Scott, D (2019) ‘The Death Penalty: state-sponsored murder?’, in Drake, D.H., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D (eds) Introduction to Criminology 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 183-208.

Camus, A. (1957) Resistance, Rebellion & Death (including Reflections on the Guillotine) (Trans. J. O’Brien), New York, Alfred A. Knopf (this edition 1961).

Pojman, L. and Reiman, J. (1997) The Death Penalty: For and Against, New York, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

Bedau, H. A. (2001) ‘Abolishing the death penalty even for the worst murderers’, in Sarat, A. (ed.) (2001) The Killing State: Capital Punishment in Law, Politics, and Culture, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Zimring, F. (2004) The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Culbert, J. L. (2001) ‘Beyond intention: A critique of the “normal” criminal agency, responsibility and punishment in American death penalty jurisprudence’, in Sarat, A. (ed) (2001) The Killing State: Capital Punishment in Law, Politics and Culture, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Drake, D.H. and Scott, D (2019) ‘The Death Penalty: state-sponsored murder?’, in Drake, D.H., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D (eds) Introduction to Criminology 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 183-208.

Denial and Acknowledgement

Many aspects of my study of Criminology remind me of the abuse and behaviour surrounding abuse in my own life. This week I am studying the violations of human rights by states and how some regimes behave in ways to avoid, deny or dismiss accusations of human rights violations, and every person’s responsibility in addressing this issue.

So I want to start off by quoting a few passages in my study book which deal with the concepts of denial and acknowledgement.

To be ‘in a state of denial‘ is to block out or repress or to simply avoid acknowledgement of, in this case, human suffering (Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 175).

The opposite of denial is acknowledgement: recognising what is taking place and trying to intervene to make a difference. This can involve all sorts of different actions, but key among them is the act of questioning a situation wherein other human beings are suffering, being harmed or killed (Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 175).

Cohen (2001) identified 3 main ways people deny knowledge of suffering:

  • Literal denial: atrocities are not acknowledged to have happened at all.
  • Interpretive denial: a harm is reinterpreted so that it appears as less serious.
  • Implicatory denial: when people recognise the reality of human suffering but deny any personal responsibility.

Cohen (2001) then identified 7 forms of implicatory denial, which he referred to as ‘techniques of denial’.

  • Denial of responsibility: A person denies they are fully or even partially responsible for human suffering they have directly witnessed or caused, but did nothing to stop. It was not their fault, it was an accident, or it was not intentional. The perpetrator, or observer, claims ignorance of what has occurred.
  • Denial of injury: What happened did not hurt. There was no or only limited damage caused. The action was harmless or the suffering created insignificant.
  • Denial of victim: There is no identifiable victim of the action. The sufferer has lost their claims to being a victim by precipitating the action themselves or undertaking an action that led to them being harmed: ‘They brought it on themselves’.
  • Condemnation of the condemners: The person who is complaining should be condemned. They may be hypocrites, liars or not seen as a respectable person or an authority who can make such accusations.
  • Appeal to higher loyalties: That the harm was done for the greater good. The suffering serves wider purposes, personal commitments, ties, bonds and beliefs. Somebody else is a more deserving person to be labelled a victim.
  • Denial of knowledge: This is when people claim they have no knowledge of certain events. There are gradations of knowing, and there is a fine line between knowing and consciously not knowing.
  • Moral indifference: The suffering of the other is acceptable. There is nothing to be explained away. Moral indifference arises when people become desensitized to suffering, emotionally overloaded, or when they distance themselves from others, seeing ‘the other’ as a lesser being.

In cases of domestic violence and also rape and sexual abuse all the above ‘techniques’ are being used by the perpetrator, and also by witnesses, family members or others with knowledge of the abuse. After reading this I was struck by the behaviour I recognised of some of the perpetrators, family and also of myself.

If you have read some of my former posts you will know I mentioned that as a child I was talking a lot, and also in a raised voice. I also questioned everything. At school, but also at home. So when my father came home from work I bombarded him with facts that happened that day between my mother and my sister, but also with questions. I wonder if I was always told to shut up because I was asking too many difficult and confrontational questions about my mother’s but also my father’s behaviour. As it says above, a key part of acknowledgement is the act of questioning.

‘Denial’ | Graphite and ink on paper | Mayola | 08/12/2020

Then all the different techniques of denial mentioned above make me think too. I recognise lots of different bits from all of the 7 points that I have seen in the perpetrators in my life. I think it is possible that perpetrators find all sorts of excuses, depending on the accusation and moment in time to defend their action or in-action. I think the human mind will always desperately try to avoid the confrontation with the reality of their behaviour, when challenged but also in case they are unchallenged. Over time their mind shapes a convenient memory they can live with, which often is not how it really happened.

Take point 1: Denial of responsibility: A person denies they are fully or even partially responsible for human suffering they have directly witnessed or caused, but did nothing to stop. It was not their fault, it was an accident, or it was not intentional. The perpetrator, or observer, claims ignorance of what has occurred. This is a point my parents keep making, they didn’t mean to do it. So that’s alright then, because they didn’t intend it. We still love you. And that is all in the past now. Well, no. It isn’t in the past, it keeps happening. And you keep saying you didn’t mean to. So no.

Another point I want to make is that a lot of feedback I get from others about my behaviour is the fact I have mental health conditions which are ‘probably partly to blame’. That sounds a lot like point 4 about condemnation of the condemners. Well, I know exactly what I am saying and doing, and why I am saying it and I take full responsibility for every word and action. I am writing this blog to question and bring into the open traumatic events that have happened to me, my sister and to what I have witnessed. But I am also honest about my own role in events and I want to question myself too. Because I believe, and this is what I think the text in my study module is referring to, that the only way to recover as a victim, and rehabilitate as a perpetrator is by facing up to the reality of what happened. By covering it up, staying silent, not discussing it openly and denying events, perpetrators will feel empowered to continue their sick behaviour, and the harm will continue.

I have decided that whenever I encounter harmful behaviour from anyone I have to protect myself, and my children. When I kicked out my ex-husband years ago, I only did that then because of the threat of my children being taken away from me if I did not act. But now, years later I have learned that I have to protect myself and my children by taking us out of the situation as soon as it’s clear that other options are exhausted, like setting boundaries, talking, confronting and ultimatums. I would like to take a quote from a Narcotics Anonymous pamphlet (1981):

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results“.

Point 6 I also find very interesting. ‘Denial of knowledge: .. there are gradations of knowing, and there is a fine line between knowing and consciously not knowing’. Off course in my module material the famous example of German citizens claiming ‘Ich habe es nicht gewußt’ (I didn’t know it) after the war and the atrocities of the Holocaust committed by the Nazis became clear. This is a devious act of denial; consciously not knowing. What is that? Pushing your acts to the back of your mind, to somewhere so obscure even you yourself can’t find it. Or pushing it so violently away in your memory it seems to be gone, until one day 35 years later you suddenly start to get nightmares about it. And there it is. Or like most murderers knowing to have done it, but because they decide from the offset to deny it, at whatever cost, until they themselves believe they are innocent because by denying it they have pushed themselves over the thin line between knowing and consciously not knowing.

In point 7 dehumanising the victim is mentioned. Well, my sister was definitely dehumanised by my parents, by humiliation, denying her food and entry to the house, locking her up or out etc. Also point 3 denying of victim. Because always her ‘bad’ behaviour needed to be punished, like wetting the bed (a sign of emotional distress in children) refusing to eat, or do as was told.

But the bigger point I want to make, is about rehabilitation, reconciliation and recovery of harms. To even start with these processes one has to begin with acknowledgement, and then recognising the behaviour in real time, then stopping the behaviour and lastly changing the behaviour. Depending on how seriously ingrained the behaviour is, this process can take a lifetime. And a big chunk of people never even start let alone finish this process. It needs a level of self awareness, openness in case of the victim and also ability to feel remorse and guilt in case of the perpetrator.

References

Drake, D.H. and Scott, D. (2019) ‘Dangerous States’ in Drake, D.H., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds) Introduction to Criminology 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 157-182.

Cohen, S. (2001) States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering, Cambridge, Polity Press.

Narcotics Anonymous Pamphlet(1981)(Basic Text Approval Form, Unpublished Literary Work), Chapter Four: How It Works, Step Two, Page 11, Printed November 1981, Copyright 1981, W.S.C.-Literature Sub-Committee of Narcotics Anonymous], World Service Conference of Narcotics Anonymous. (Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20121202030403/http://www.amonymifoundation.org/uploads/NA_Approval_Form_Scan.pdf; website has been restructured; text is available via Internet Archive Wayback Machine Snapshot January 1, 2013 link PDF of pamphlet link. Accessed on: 10/12/2020.

Victims and perpetrators

In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator’s first line of defence. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim“.

Herman (1992*, p. 8)

These are the first lines of a chapter in my learning materials I was studying this morning. And they hit me like a brick. To me, this is so recognisable in my life. Most of my abusers, including my parents, have done exactly that, secrecy and silence and attacking my credibility.

In fact, since starting this blog I have received an angry email from my father blaming my personality disorder and accusing me of publicly slandering his good name and venting lies about them on social media. Then he went on to say I had to delete it and how and what I could say instead.

Since I was a child he has been telling me to shut up, be quiet and let others speak. I had a big mouth and was always exaggerating everything. He was always telling me how things should be done and what was best. And now, nothing has changed, he still thinks he knows best. Well, I am an adult now, and in my experience people learn by example. He might have told me many times over what was best, but he didn’t show me in his actions. His actions are that of a coward, hiding behind his infantile wife who bullies him and her children around. And even now, 40 years on he denies facts and tries to silence me.

I think it is absolutely crucial to let others know about the abuse, to talk about it and bring it out in the open. As long as it’s hidden, and nobody talks about it or knows who commit these crimes it will continue and perpetrators will know they are safe. By saying here, publicly, what happened and who did it I hope somehow I can find a way to stop history repeating itself, and it also is an opportunity to learn. I imply here, that I am not merely a victim, but also a potential perpetrator. Because the sad truth is, because this is my example I find myself in similar situations with my own children. I feel incredibly lucky to have a sense of self reflection, which allows me to change my behaviour. I have to work hard for it, because it doesn’t come natural to me to be a warm, loving mother. I have made mistakes, I have been unable to give my children the emotional safety and care they need many times, but I recognise it now and I can start to change it.

So perpetrators are often themselves victims too. Because of this it is often extra hard to admit, recognise and work on breaking the chain. But there are always opportunities both for the victim and the perpetrator to start recovery. There are lessons for both.

Breaking the chain

At the bottom of all of this is a deep lack of love. There is probably a long line of loveless parents before me, my parents, my grandparents and so on. If you are victim of domestic violence you learn you are not worth love, you are worthless. And because you don’t love yourself, you can’t be around people who show you love, and you can’t show it yourself. You will be on the roundabout of looking for confirmation of that self-loathing. And so the cycle continues into eternity. Except, you can do something to stop it. By owning up to it, to your own faults, by starting to recognise how you can’t be vulnerable to others, even your own children, you can try practise and face that deep fear. Be uncomfortable, feel anxious, be brave.

Surely that is less hard than see your children turn their backs on you, see your children suffer like you did, see them try and run away from it all, see them in unhealthy relationships, see them lose themselves in addiction and sometimes even kill themselves. I am determined to let the buck stop with me. Or at least as much as I can. Cause I know I have already passed on some of the bad stuff. But at least I don’t want to be a coward and stick my head in the sand pretending it isn’t there. It IS there. My own daughter is afraid of me, at least sometimes. But that is one moment too many. She shouldn’t feel afraid of me even one moment. I need to make her feel safe, I need to protect her. I need her to love herself. And that can only happen if I learn to love myself.

So, facing the facts is important, but also accepting that the way you experienced something might be different to somebody else’s. In my opinion a perpetrator is not allowed to devalue the experience of the victim, their feelings, nor their way of expressing those feelings about it. As a perpetrator you can only accept the facts and live with it, own up to it and do whatever is in your power to not repeat it. This is off course not even possible or feasible for a lot of people, because they simply lack the ability, deny it and continue their abusive behaviour. The consequence is this endless cycle of violence, passed on from generation to generation.

Reference

*Herman, J. (1992) Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, New York, Basic Books.

Defining the concepts of race, gender, social class and youth

As a criminology student I am looking at the definitions of crime but also more general concepts of race, gender, social class and youth.

Today I was asked in my study material how my own definitions of these concepts compare to the ones in the chapter. And then, as I thought about it I realised that I can’t accept any of those concepts or their definitions. Because as soon as one does, divisions are created and from that stems inequality. As a socialist there is no place for those concepts as socialism sees every individual as an equal and unique part of humankind.

But maybe the only exception might be youth or age (in relation to crime and the law). Because children and adolescents have not fully developed they can’t be treated like an adult for the law. I think this is correct. The debate should always be there about where the line should be drawn though, and this is different in each society, and through time.

As for race, class and gender I think they are social constructs that are in place for the ruling class to maintain control over people. If those concepts would loose their meaning because people no longer identify with them, the whole capitalist system could be undermined. I will explain this a bit further. Let’s take gender. This system is build upon the notion that there are male and female gender roles, of which the male role is valued more and given more power. The power, equality and independence of women is undermined, curtailed and oppressed in lots of ways. For instance in marriage, childcare and parenting responsibilities, work, financial and educational opportunities and also in a sexual and physical way. When women are starting to protest and challenge their roles in society, this would mean that men have to give up some of their power and take on some of the tasks previously done (often unpaid) by women. This would undermine the basis of capitalism which monetises every aspect of life and needs constant growth and profit being made for it to flourish. Many of the tasks done by predominantly women are unpaid, and time consuming like looking after children and housework.

As men are in power under this system it is not difficult to understand that anyone challenging or stretching the definitions of being a man is immediately facing adversity, discrimination and oppression. This is probably why gay and transsexual people are facing more of this adversity than gay women.

But imagine a world where none of these concepts exist. Imagine that every person can express their identity in any way they want without the threat of violence, oppression and adversity because the basis of society is founded on the principle that all people are equal and the first priority is not profit and private property but to achieve the highest possible standard of living for everyone. That is what a socialist society would be like.

Under capitalism this equality is not possible because the essence of it is based on inequality, exploitation and division. It is a pyramid system, where a handful of people reap the rewards of the labour of the majority.

By Kahlo 28/10/2020