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.

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.

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

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

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 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:

  1. There must be laws – if there are no laws society could not be governed.
  2. People need to understand what the laws are.
  3. When laws are made, they should only apply from the time they are made, not retrospectively.
  4. In order to meet the demands of the law, it must be clear what a person can or cannot do.
  5. 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.
  6. It has to be possible for a person to obey the law.
  7. The law must not change too much.
  8. 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.

Change

Today I took a physical step towards my transition. I cut my long hair to a more male look. It took a long 2 hours to get rid of my enormous amount of hair. It is also very thick and dense which is great but takes a lot for the hair stylist. This is the result:

Before
After

I love my new hairstyle and next week I am going to add colour and a piercing! So I’m not finished yet!

This morning I went for a walk with my daughter and dog and I felt so happy. Since I have started to really take steps to open up and try to express my identity I feel different, better, healthier and above all happier. I start to realise that I have kept hidden a big part of myself. Not only have I tried to conform to my birth gender, also my sexuality and my creativity have been oppressed. For about 20 years I have not properly made any art, writing or other creative expressions and I feel totally liberated now I am sharing it here on my website. It feels as if by coming out I can also allow myself to be creative again, to grow again.

As I am questioning my gender, I am also questioning my sexuality and I think this exploration will take longer. I have experienced some serious traumatic events happening to me over the years, and I think that has made me so closed up. I was literally hiding myself away, to keep safe. But now I feel I can take some steps to open up and I will do it gradually and slowly, because I am still apprehensive and anxious to expose myself. I am still worried I will choose the wrong people to hang out with, to form relationships with. And to be honest, I am a little worried about what kind of responses I will get to what I post here.

But I do feel very strongly that I don’t want to hide away anymore. I want to get out there and meet others like me. I am very excited about that. I want to get a discussion, a conversation about being transgender with others. Because it needs to be normalised. I want for younger people to be anyway they identify with and for gender as a concept to disappear. Cause it does not matter at all. It shouldn’t matter what sex you are, what your sexual preference is, or what the colour of your skin is, or your political views. Every unique person should be able to express their identity in any way they choose, in any situation, without fear of discrimination or adversity of any kind. Because it is nobody else’s business but your own.

That idea is at the base of my political view; revolutionary socialism. In a socialist society there is no place for discrimination, racism or sexism because it is based on a democratically planned economy in which the main goal is to achieve the highest level of quality of life for everyone. This means there is no place for profiteering or monetising every aspect of life like capitalism does. Capitalism is build on the idea of profit and private property at the expense of the working class. It is based around exploitation and competition. This places groups of people against each other, it divides the working class in which minority groups are always disadvantaged. And being trans or gay in a capitalist society is challenging the idea of competition, because normalising gender would place everybody on an equal footing which goes against the concept of division and competition. Being trans is like being free, free of the shackles of the limitations gender puts on people. Being trans means you can express your identity any way you like. And that is threatening the status quo. Capitalist society needs women to be insecure about their weight and looks so they will keep buying beauty products and services and they can be kept under control. It needs the sexes to be put against each other, male and female so they can be controlled.

Going back to my own journey, I want to also make another small change. From now on I would like to start using the prefix Mx. and the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’.

I’ll sign off for now, speak again soon!

By Mayola 24/10/2020