Developing criminological imagination

As the end of my module is in sight and I finish with an end of module assignment, I will have to explain how my criminological imagination has developed over the course of this year.

What does it mean?

The term criminological imagination was coined by the work of the sociologist Charles Wright Mills (1959) and his book The Sociological Imagination. In his book he states: ‘the sociological imagination* includes ‘a quality of mind’ that offers ‘an understanding of the intimate realities of ourselves in connection with larger social realities’ (p. 15). This means placing individuals in their own past but also of the society in which they live. So the issues of an individual are placed in their own daily experiences and social positions as well as in a society with social divisions and inequalities (as cited in Drake and Scott, 2019, p 238-240).

This way of thinking about crime opens up a way that is much more inclusive and open-minded than the way crime is thought about in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) or in public opinion. The criminological imagination consists of 3 components:

  • Considering crime problems from several different perspectives and using critical methods to look at their effects and possible solutions. Approaching them with a sense of scientific interest.
  • It offers a broad based approach to studying crime which places the individual in their social, historical and structural frame of reference.
  • Its goal is to understand the criminological world by making close associations between a person’s experiences.(private troubles) and the wider world (public issues). (Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 242)

This last point really got my interest because when I think about all the blog posts I have written, I have tried to do exactly that: placing my own experiences in a wider context, but also placing particular criminological concepts in a socialist context. By writing my thoughts down every week, I really felt I deepened my understanding and enhanced my learning greatly. I think it has developed my criminological imagination.

The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills

Anchor points

Whilst studying a criminological subject, to really get a good comprehension it is necessary to collect various concepts, evidence and claims. Whilst doing so you can discover the overall scope of this topic through identifying ‘anchor points‘ as Mills (1959) argued. He referred to these as ‘key points that anchor general statements about the shape and the trend of the subject’ (p. 201, as cited in Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 246). Or in a nutshell evidence, a correlation or even a direct opposite that points out a particular subject in a different way or helps to identify its boundaries.

For example when we look at the concept of domestic violence, an anchor point could be that although there has been legislation implemented to define it and prosecute it, there is a disparity in how it is dealt with by the police and also the fact that many victim/survivors don’t press charges against their abuser, or even report it results in 2 women a week being killed by their predominantly male (former) partners in the UK (UKEssays, 2018). By identifying more and more anchor points a criminologist can then pull out powerful outcomes about how a concept is developed in society.

The social harm perspective

Sociologist Paddy Hillyard and colleagues (2004) have concluded after careful examining of various research that instead of only focusing on criminal acts it would be much more helpful to include all social harm including all acts that have influence on someone’s health, wellbeing and wealth during a lifetime. The intention is to enlarge the criminological focus to include these harms instead of minimising criminal acts (Hillyard and Tombs, 2004, p. 21 as cited in Drake and Scott, 2019, p.247).

I think a very good example to examine this idea is the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. This fire has caused unimaginable suffering and death, but still, nearly 4 years on, there have been no arrests, and no crime has been identified. The reason for this is partly because corporate crime is very difficult to prosecute and mostly results in a fine for the company, rather than that an individual or group of individuals is held to account. But, if the idea of Hillyard and colleagues would be applied, all the harms caused by this fire would become crime, and perhaps the parties involved could be held to account. A point I would like to make though, would be that it is great and in my view absolutely correct this widening of the concept of crime, but within the capitalist system it would never become an actual fact, because it immediately affects big business and those in positions of power within the state. Those people create the law and will never allow their interests to be negatively impacted. It would be like turkeys voting for Christmas. But perhaps that is not the point, after all criminologists can only examine, study and draw conclusions and by doing so put pressure on the legislature and society as a whole to change.

My personal development of criminological imagination

As I pointed out before, my End of Module Assessment (EMA) is coming up in which I have to explain how my criminological imagination has developed over this module. I am very excited to see that I have greatly developed it by writing this blog. I did not realise it would help me so much gathering my thoughts and gaining a deeper understanding of the module material. This blog has been a playground and exercise to figure out my understanding of the different concepts and writing down my thoughts of all the theories and standpoints. I would like to thank in particular Derek Marsdon who has commented on most of my posts and given me great confidence to carry on with in particular my series of articles placing criminology concepts in a socialist context. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage more of you readers to do follow his lead.

I would also like to thank all the lecturers and professors of the Open University involved in writing the module material and the extra study material that the Harm and Evidence Research Collaborative (HERC) have provided. This is another blog on WordPress which I can strongly recommend.

Over the coming months I will continue my blog posts but from September I am going to study fulltime so I am afraid it will become a lot less frequent.

Lastly I would like to thank all my subscribers for following me, and I hope you will continue to. Please leave comments to encourage me, as it does sometimes feel like I am talking to myself (lol).

*Sociological imagination: As criminology is part of the social sciences, I will from here on refer to ‘criminological imagination’ as the term refers to each social science subject respectively.

References

UKEssays, (November 2018) History of Domestic Violence and Legislation in the UK. [online]. Available from: https://www.ukessays.com/essays/criminology/literature-review-domestic-violence.php?vref=1 [Accessed 20 April 2021].

Drake, D. H. and Scott, D. (2019) ‘The criminological imagination’, in Downes, J., Kent, G, Mooney, G., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds) Introduction to Criminology 2, Milton Keynes, Open University, pp. 237–257.

Corporate crime – hidden in plain sight

This week I try to answer some pressing questions around corporate crime. Why is there so little attention in the media around these often horrific and large-scale crimes? Why are there so few convictions and so few individuals held to account for harms that far outweigh the consequences placed on ‘street crime’? Is there anything to be done to change these outcomes?

Off course the issues around this concept are very widespread and take more than a simple blog post to discuss. But I just intent to get you thinking around common assumptions and the way corporate crime is dealt with in the Criminal Justice System (CJS). So first of all, what exactly is corporate crime?

  • Crime committed on behalf of an organisation, or in pursuit of its formal goals (cutting costs, increasing market share, profitability, innovation, and so on).

These include:

  • Financial crimes such as bribery of governments officials;
  • Crimes against consumers, such as price-fixing;
  • Crimes associated with employment relationships (including those related to employee safety); and
  • Crimes against the environment, such as illegal emissions from cars.

(Tombs, 2019, p. 196)

Media silence

There are many examples of corporate crime that is reported on in the media in the first instance, but then seem to disappear as time goes on, and because those crimes are often not prosecuted, let alone sentenced like ‘ordinary crime’, there are no events taking place that could draw the attention towards it again. To see the difference in media coverage you only have to do a comparable internet search. When I typed in ‘criminal’ the results showed at the top many video’s, podcasts and TV shows, but when I typed in ‘corporate criminal’ I got a few law firms, government websites and Wikipedia pages.

This difference in media coverage, as well as the lack of prosecutions, has created a false idea about crime in the collective conscience of people. Also in the academic world there is hardly any research done on corporate crime because it is very expensive and who is willing to fund it? Business isn’t, and governments neither, as their capitalist interests match those of the corporations. Besides, big companies have large pockets and anyone who enters into a legal battle with them (using laws in a system which the most powerful have created) will have to match their expensive legal teams.

This could be one of the reasons why individuals are pursued much more, as they are easy targets, for the media as well as for the CJS. By creating stereotypes about criminals, and common assumptions, divisions are made between certain groups of people, which plays into the hands of the state as it is easier to control people when they are divided. The media profit from this too, because sensationalist articles sell.

One law for us, a different law for them

The way crime is looked at for companies is very different from crime committed by individuals. Companies provide an important economic function in offering jobs and revenue which is used as a justification to approach corporate crime on a forward looking basis. With this I mean that prevention of future harm is the aim, instead of punishing past harms which usually counts for the rest of us (Tombs, 2019, p. 204). While individuals are mostly solely seen as criminals after committing a crime, corporate crime is merely portrayed as a side business, apart from their main, legal activities. Therefore, corporations are not seen as real criminals.

This is in contrast with how individuals are seen with a criminal record. It is almost impossible to find a job after you have served a sentence, and even after minor convictions the label seems to stick for the rest of your life. And in particular if you are young, male and from a BAME community, people are criminalised and targeted. But that is not to say that if you don’t fall into those categories, you are not committing crime, it is just less likely that you are caught and prosecuted.

So when crimes are committed in the corporate world, seldom a company and its leadership are prosecuted or punished. It is often worded as ‘accident’, ‘disaster’ or ‘scandal’ but rarely do you hear the word ‘corporate crime’, which is off course what it really is. This in my mind is all part of how the capitalist class defend their system and interests, which has little to do with justice and equality. The CJS, the economic and legal systems are all rigged in favour of the rich and powerful, and against anyone who doesn’t conform, is in a minority or otherwise criminalised.

Reform or system change

Would it be possible to reform this reality of injustice? Well, there have off course been attempts in several countries with different ‘adjustments’ usually based on a social-democratic model, but still this does not address the structural inequality and oppression that is inherent in the capitalist system. I welcome any improvements and reforms that benefit working class people but to think that reforms can radically change this pyramid scheme I think is utopian. That is because exploitation, inequality and competition are the bedrock on which capitalism is built.

I believe only socialist change can achieve true equality for all, as socialism is built on equality, sharing, community and collective action. It is built around the idea that workers have control over the means of production, and production is done on the basis of need instead of profit. Every aspect of society is democratically decided, with every representative subject to immediate recall and only on an average worker’s wage. Environmental protection, health & safety and quality will be paramount, and with the largest industries taken into public ownership everyone’s living standards will be raised dramatically. Average wages will be much higher, and everyone will have work but work less and have access to education throughout life.

If you like to know more about how this is practically possible please visit https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/ in the UK or https://www.socialistworld.net/ for your country elsewhere, or read this book:

References

Tombs, S. (2019) ‘Deconstructing the criminal’, in Downes, J., Kent, G., Mooney, G., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds) Introduction to Criminology 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University pp. 185–208. 

Young offenders – the result of cause and effect

This week I want to reflect on young offenders. Should they be seen and treated as criminals at all, why do some young people offend and how can we change the course of their lives towards a more positive future? I would like to answer those questions by reflecting on my own youth and childhood.

Now, I don’t want to pretend I come from a typical working-class family from a deprived estate in one of the poorest area’s of the country, cause I actually grew up in a middle-class well off family, in a richer part of a new estate in a village in the West of the Netherlands. So straight off, that is not the average type of family for someone who briefly ended up in prison at the age of 18. But what is striking is the circumstances and behaviour prevalent in my family growing up, and that nobody intervened and tried to stop the harm that went on.

Many young offenders have grown up in deprived areas, in single parent families often from BAME communities, have experienced abuse and neglect and have poor academic achievements. After analysing child prison services in England and Wales criminologists Jessica Jacobson and collegues (2010) as cited in Manlow (2019, p. 166) argued that before being imprisoned:

  • 51% lived in deprived households and/or unsuitable accomodation
  • 47% had at some point in their lives run away from home
  • 27% had been in local authority care
  • 12% had experienced the loss of a parent/sibling
  • 48% had been excluded from school

Then a later report from the Ministry of Justice (2013) cited research with the following findings:

  • 50% of 15-17 year olds in public sector young offenders institutions had literacy levels expected of 7-11 year olds.
  • 18% had a statement of special educational needs
  • 27% of young men aged 15-17 had emotional or mental health problems
  • 39% had been on the Child Protection Register or had experienced child abuse or neglect.

Out of all these points I tick four. And I don’t tick more because Social Services didn’t get involved, because nobody alerted them, and nobody died although there were several attempts which could have resulted in death. I did have severe problems at school which turned out was partly due to having dyscalculia (dyslexia for numbers) which was never diagnosed. But I wonder, if those issues would be addressed, how many of those young people and children would still offend?

And that is the interesting question everyone in society should think about. I am absolutely convinced, that if someone had alerted the authorities, social services or the school I went to about the horrific abuse I was witnessing at home, the torture of my adopted sister by my mother, and the neglect we were both experiencing, that I wouldn’t have had the devastating consequences of this. If we would have been taken into care, and placed in a loving family with specialist support to deal with the trauma, I know we would both now been much better equipped to go through life, and support our own children. I would not have gone to prison, or experienced more endless abuse in my teens and adulthood.

I don’t think I even need to give evidence of the positive results of giving children love, compassion and attention, a decent home, food and clothing and especially the opportunity to play, and be heard. It is simply common sense. By locking children and young people up, depriving them from the basics a human need to develop, by treating them harshly and without compassion, what do you expect to happen to that person? What chance does that child have to be a law-abiding, productive citizen? I say none. And most young people and children in prisons in England and Wales have had traumatising experiences before being incarcerated, so by locking them up and depriving them from the basics what will happen to this child when released is to me simply cause and effect; they will be more likely to commit further offenses.

(cited in Manlow, 2019, p. 1

So, why do children and young people commit offenses? Well, this also is a matter of cause and effect. In this capitalist system, where public services like Social Services, local authority care provision for children, mental health services, schools and youth clubs are cut from funding to such a degree that quality service is no longer possible, the safety net for vulnerable children is no longer available. Then also wages are very low, work is precarious for many parents who fall into poverty, and domestic abuse and mental health problems cause many children to get into harmful or deprived situations. And where there is poverty and very few chances of decent work the easy money being made in drugs trafficking or other criminal behaviour is very tempting. Many children and young people are vulnerable to exploitation and get groomed into gangs or prostitution. And that is basically what happened to me too.

I suffered domestic abuse and neglect as a child and got expelled from school age 16. By that time I had already been sexually abused and ran away from home age 17. I was extremely vulnerable, I started to use drugs from age 15 and developed serious mental health issues as a result from the abuse which all was completely undiagnosed. I had psychosis and PTSD by the time I was 18 and still had not received any help, support or diagnosis from anyone. I continued to be sexually abused by men, sometimes I knew them, but often I didn’t. I had no control over my life at all. I got into prison when I took part in a resistant eviction of a squat, together with 6 others. I got sentenced to 3 weeks in prison of which 2 weeks on licence, so I only was in prison for a week, but it was very hard, because I wasn’t allowed to mix with the other inmates, and was locked up 23.5 hrs a day, half hour in the yard by myself. There was no support at all and we were treated very badly by the police and in court, including extreme interrogation techniques. They left the light on for 24 hours a day, and non-stop music in cells so you couldn’t sleep. They beat some of my friends up really badly for no reason, in the cell next to me which I could hear. They followed and monitored my friends on the outside.

All this time I had not received any help, support or intervention from any services, nor were me or my sister taken into care, which should have happened, and my parents should have been charged with child abuse and neglect. Instead my sister was blamed for having behavioural issues and my parents continued to abuse her until finally at 15 she left. I am sure if she had stayed she would have died. All this happened in the 70’s and 80’s when mental health and social services were in its infancy.

As a result my life totally spiralled out of control, and around age 22 or 23 I was addicted, and nearly got groomed and forced into prostitution by a gang of criminals. I managed to escape, but at that time I was so utterly traumatised, ill and skin on bones I felt I had no choice but to go back to my parents, to get off drugs and try to turn my life around. I did that all by myself, because still, I had no help or support. I didn’t know where to turn or what to do, but I got out and started again.

I think, that if the thousands of opportunities were taken by state agencies to interfere and rescue me and my sister at a young age, much of the abuse and trauma that happened even through to my adult life wouldn’t have occurred. I might very well have not got to prison, not been excluded from school and had a successful career. Instead I now struggle with chronic mental health and back pain and have for most of my life had to live of benefits because I can’t hold down a job. I have suffered domestic abuse by 2 partners who are also the fathers of my children. I still can’t deal with relationships and struggle to have a social life. All this could have been prevented.

My point is, that in my opinion many crimes can be prevented if we look after people in society. If people have the means, and I mean this in the broadest sense of the word, to work and sustain themselves in every aspect of life, they generally won’t commit crime. If children, all children, are looked after with love, care and respect, and are listened to, they likely won’t commit crime. Maybe we should give it a try.

References

Manlow, D. (2019), ‘Deconstructing youth justice’ in Downes, J., Kent, G., Mooney, G., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds.) Introduction to criminology 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Political Crime

An inevitable confrontation for revolutionary socialists

In this sixth edition of articles about criminology concepts in a socialist context I will talk about political crime. Admittingly this also is the subject of this week’s study material, but off course as a socialist I can’t ignore this important topic. To be honest, before I started reading about this last Monday I did not even know of the existence of political crime as a concept. Or perhaps it is more that I never considered it, which is strange because I am a political activist and campaigner.

Defining political crime

Anyway, let’s start by explaining what the definition of political crime is. It is, as cited in Kent (2019, p. 129),

politically motivated acts by citizens challenging the state, which are labelled as criminal, and as a consequence acted upon by the criminal justice system’.

I have to add that this concept is contested by many in the criminology field, including myself even though I am only just starting as a student. What is ‘political’ is contested, as well as what is ‘crime’, because both concepts are defined by the state. And the state, as Friedrich Engels (1977) explains, (cited in Head, 2011, p. 5)

“.. is a tool by the ruling class, a tool for the oppression of one class by another; the creation of ‘order’ that legalises and extends the oppression by regulating the conflict between classes whilst stripping the means and methods of struggle from the oppressed class to overthrow the oppressors”.

In most Western societies only a mere vale of democracy is draped over this concoction and really only officially allows freedom of press, freedom of assembly and equality before the law for all citizens but has always possibilities built into its constitution to declare martial law whenever a ‘crisis’ erupts and the people attempt to defy bourgeois rule (Head, 2011, p. 6). Trotsky observed that in times of economic growth and prosperity states can afford to rule democratically, showing leniency towards industrial action and political opposition but as soon as times get tough there would be no room for manoeuvre. He explained that moving to totalitarianism (in the 1930’s) came from the fact that parliamentary democratic institutions could not stand the pressure of tensions internally, and conflicts internationally (Head, 2011, p. 6).

Marxist criminologists Marshall Clinard and Richard Quinney (1973) as cited in Kent (2019, p. 135) divided political crime in two categories:

  • Crimes against government
  • Crimes by government
Socialism in the 21st century, available at LeftBooks

Unfortunately, because crimes are defined by the state, government can still potentially evade accountability for its own harmful actions, simply by not defining them as crimes.

Remaining options of opposition

Keeping this in mind, it is interesting to see current events unfold after the worst economic downturn since the 1930’s. The Conservative government has implemented legislation criminalising trespass, which deeply curtails legal opportunities for the whole of the working class to agitate, protest and oppose their rule, as well as criminalising traveller communities and the homeless. This is, in my mind, because the government fears massive outburst of anger and protest after the latest lockdown ends. Just this week they have announced a measly 1% pay ‘rise’, a pay cut off course in real terms for nurses, only months after the prime minister and his club of chums was clapping for carers and praising the NHS staff for saving his life from Covid-19. And that is only an example of the complete disastrous handling of the pandemic, the looting of public money by handing track & trace contracts to inept private companies (75% Tory donors). There is also a wave of unfair dismissals of union reps across industries and fire-and-rehire tactics by big companies, lowering the wages and T&C’s of staff. I think all this is political crime by the state and big industry to the aim of at any cost maintaining and continuation of the capitalist system.

So far, besides the big protests last year after the murder of George Floyd by police and several similar cases here in the UK, a big eruption of anger is still at large. But it is inevitable that people will start to engage into struggle, as living and working conditions are severely compromised and the unemployment rate soars. The government can’t delay ending the furlough scheme beyond September, and even with that money it is still a 20% cut in wages which few can afford. It is absolutely depressing to see the endless queues for foodbanks and the soaring rise in domestic violence deaths, especially when it is said that the 10 richest have gained $540B since March 2020.

But are there still means by which the working class can legally oppose and protest? I think it is a duty of any citizen that is aware of the threats and murderous regime (and who can say they aren’t in this digital age) to at the very least call out all injustices, corruption and exploitation to as wide an audience as possible. I think we can all join a union and get active organising in workplaces, and educate ourselves. Still the best option we have is organise, in trade unions, in political parties like the Socialist Party or standing in elections in coalitions like TUSC. We need political representation, not to win in a system which won’t allow that, but to find a path to power, to arm us politically and find and educate as many as possible to lead us in the struggle to a socialist society.

The right to rebel

Democracies rely on the concept of the social contract;

  • an explicit agreement among everyone in society to exchange some individual freedoms and uphold certain responsibilities for certain state protections and so we can live peacefully together (Drake and Scott, 2019, p. 59).

The Russian-American Emma Goldman was an anarchist political writer and activist who challenged the US government by publishing ‘A New Declaration of Independence’ in 1909 by claiming:

When existing institutions prove inadequate to the needs of man, when they merely serve to enslave, rob and oppress mankind, the people have the eternal right to rebel against, and overthrow, these institutions.

(Goldman, 1909, p. 1 as cited in Kent, 2019, p. 144)

Additionally, the UN Declaration of Human Rights also gives provision to uphold the right to rebel against tyranny and oppression (UN General Assembly, 1948 as cited in Kent, 2019). But Goldman really raises the question why it is illegal for citizens to rebel in democratic states, when those states don’t hold their end of the bargain, namely the social contract. I think the answer lies in the fact that to the ruling class the gloves are off when it comes to defending the capitalist system. They have purposely created this whole charade of ‘democracy’ to be able to get away with political crimes themselves and in the process criminalise any act of defiance which could jeopardise their power structure. It really is a dictatorial regime with no solutions to social and political conflict. In fact, it doesn’t offer solutions to any of the problems that face humanity at the moment, and that means time is up for capitalism.

Conclusion

Political crime is a construct of the state to defend the capitalist system against the threat of political or social opposition, by criminalising dissent, protest or other acts of defiance and violence. Even though the UN Declaration of Human Rights state that people have the right to protest, and rebel against oppressive states, many capitalist governments don’t acknowledge or accept it in practise by the way they define crime or legislate. This is how they can evade being held to account on their own conduct. In the long term this doesn’t offer any solution to conflicts which arise in society. I think socialist ideas from great socialists like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin offer great potential for solving those massive upheavals we are facing today. I urge you to read their books.

References

Drake, D. H. and Scott, D. (2019) ‘Law and order or harm and disorder?’, in Drake, D. H., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds.) Introduction to criminology 1, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 55-78.

Head, M. (2011) ‘Introduction: what are crimes against the state?’ [Online] Crimes against the state: from treason to terrorism. Available at https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/open/reader.action?docID=714104 (Accessed 12/03/2021).

Kent, G. (2019), ‘Deconstructing political crime’ in Downes, J., Kent, G., Mooney, G., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds.) Introduction to Criminology 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Gendered violence, will it ever end?

In this fifth edition in my series of articles of criminological concepts in a socialist context I am going to discuss gendered violence. The question in the title suggests two different contexts; will it ever end in society and will it ever end for the person on the receiving end of it. Because when you are in a violent relationship it can feel like it can only end one way, with death. And actually, even a survivor of gendered violence outside of the violent relationship can feel like it will never end, as every next relationship seems doomed to go the same way. And off course, also outside of the home gendered violence exist, even just being yourself as a trans or gay person can be enough to encounter violence on the street or in public spaces by complete strangers or the police.

‘It doesn’t have to be like this women and the struggle for socialism’ paperback from Leftbooks

What is gendered violence?

Gendered violence or gender-based violence is abuse that reproduces the dominant social order with regards to gender. In Western societies a binary form of gender is the norm in which 2 ‘natural’ sexes are fixed from birth and are physically identifiable. These are off course male and female with distinct behavioural and physical features like being quiet, caring and pretty for girls, and being strong, loud and independent for boys. Displaying these features for respective girls or boys is rewarded by society with acceptance as being female or male (Downes et. al., 2019a, p. 103). Social scientists West and Zimmerman (1987) argued that gender is something that is actively ‘done’ in every day life, rather than something that is fixed. This then begs the question does gender actually exist? But going back the the question, gendered violence is violence towards people that behave or dress outside of the norm of these two gender identities. Gender violence is disproportionately experienced by women and girls and is a key obstacle to global equality, development and peace (United Nations, 1993, 2017; Council of Europe, 2011). I would add to that people from the LGBT+ community and especially trans gender people. Feminists have argued that this violence is rooted in male entitlement, privilege and the assertion of male control and power over women and girls (Hanmer and Saunders, 1984; Kelly, 1988; Stark, 2007; Romito, 2008; Westmarland, 2015). This leads to the understanding that gendered violence is both the cause and consequence of gender inequality (Downes et al., 2019a, p. 104). However, class, race, disability, immigration status and sexuality also have influence on shaping these responses and experiences.

Domestic Abuse

Since the 1960’s and 70’s some forms of gendered violence have not been taken seriously by the state and police. Only after decades of protest and campaigning gendered violence has been recognised and now includes domestic abuse, rape, violence against family members, honour-based violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and violence in same-sex relationships. The term domestic abuse is now widely used instead of domestic violence to include coercive control, emotional, verbal and financial abuse. Coercive control is a way violent partners control their spouses and children by regulating and manipulating their every day lives. All these little control measures add up to a pattern of violence and abuse which on their own wouldn’t be regarded as abusive behaviour. It can include controlling when and what a person eats, drinks, watches on TV, wears, when and where to sleep, have sex, see their friends and family etc. Only in December 2015 this was recognised in law as a criminal offence. And still, the definition of what is abuse and violence changes. However, criminalisation of gendered violence is contested because it can improve access to justice for some, but can keep justice out of reach for others and create unintended consequences (Downes, et al., 2019a, p. 105-108).

The socialist context

So what would happen to these horrific crimes placed in a socialist context? I think it might take generations to collectively recover from centuries of patriarchy and off course these crimes would not disappear overnight. We would need to develop a programme of education and built collective kitchens, cleaning regimes and childcare facilities to relief women from the drudgery of housework and make bringing up children a community responsibility. We would need a collective recovery programme, and discuss the power inequalities, and try to find ways to prevent these behaviours to take hold in our communities. I think the whole make up of society would be reconsidered, as well as the role of the traditional family, and notions of traditional gender identities. In western societies the traditional family is already changing a lot, with single households increasing dramatically which to me indicates that the divisive character of the capitalist system has penetrated deep into our family lives. In a socialist society this would probably be reversed, with many people developing communal types of living, with a generational make-up, to support our elderly and children, as well as enriching our lives through the inclusive diversity characteristics of socialism.

So when you then as a society go through a revolution and establish a democratic worker’s state, in which each citizen has direct power to influence the way society is run, I believe that slowly, as it progresses, violence will be taken out of the equation purely because people will have real power to live their lives exactly the way they want to. Equality is the bedrock of socialism and as the drive to profit through exploitation is taken away, the way capitalism pitches people against each other, creating competition and individualism and uses division to maintain control, for a socialist society this would not exist. Inclusion, collectivism, equality and diversity are the key words on which society would be run. But to get there, we need a collective discussion on all the problems that exist today, and how we should best deal and recover from them, and most of all we need to work towards a socialist world.

References

Downes, J. (2019) ‘Contesting responses to gendered violence’, in Downes, J., Kent, G., Mooney, G., Nightingale, A. and Scott, D. (eds) Introduction to Criminology 2, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 101–27.

Hanmer, J. and Saunders, S. (1984) Well-founded Fear: A Community Study of Violence to Women, London, Hutchinson.

Kelly, L. (1988) Surviving Sexual Violence, Cambridge, Policy Press.

Romito, P. (2008) A Deafening Silence: Hidden Violence Against Women and Children, Bristol, Policy Press.

Stark, E. (2007) Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life, New York, Oxford University Press.

United Nations (1993) Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, General Assembly, 20 December, A/RES/48/104.

West, C. and Zimmerman, D. H. (1987) ‘Doing gender’, Gender and Society, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 125-51.

Westmarland, N. (2015) Violence Against Women: Criminological Perspectives on Men’s Violences, Abingdon, Routledge.

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.