ONTD Political

Getting to the roots of crime

10:52 pm - 06/08/2012

Is it possible, as Frederick Engels said, to "put an ax to the root of crime"?

THE CAPITALIST class has a love-hate relationship with crime, as can be seen from a glance at the mainstream media.

Newspapers dutifully condemn crime, but they also delight in crime stories. TV and movies are the same. There must be a thousand cop shows for every film or play that deals with a strike--nor is this just a matter of boosting sales or ratings.

The inconsistency reflects deep-rooted class interests. On the one hand, the ruling class is officially--and in a sense, genuinely--opposed to crime. It needs the "rule of law" to prevent the poor from helping themselves to the property of the rich.

Moreover, the smooth running of capitalism requires a degree of order in business transactions--though this doesn't prevent numerous capitalists from committing all sorts of financial crimes.

On the other hand, the ruling class knows that crime doesn't really threaten it--a class can't be dispossessed of its wealth by any number of individual robberies. And it knows that it gets benefits from the existence of crime.

Every time the state is seen to deal with crime, it reinforces its claims to represent the general good of society against anti-social elements--to be the defender of the weak against the strong. There's nothing like a crime wave--real or imaginary--for giving the state an excuse to strengthen its repressive powers.

For the capitalists, crime plays the same role as external "enemies." If it didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent it.

Yet the capitalist system produces crime like running produces sweat. An economy based on competition, greed, exploitation and alienation can't do otherwise.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"PRESENT-DAY society," Frederick Engels said in an 1845 speech, "which breeds hostility between the individual man and everyone else, thus produces a social war of all against all, which inevitably in individual cases assumes a brutal, barbarously violent form--that of crime."

But what about socialism?

In the same speech, Engels maintained that a socialist society would "put an ax to the root of crime."

This might seem far-fetched, but actually, it isn't hard to see how crime could be abolished. A fully socialist society would be one in which there was an abundance of the necessities of life--something that is quite within the reach of modern technology.

It would be a society where goods were distributed according to need--that is, truly equally.

In such a society, economic crime would become progressively pointless and impossible. Assume, for example, that everyone who wanted a car could have one supplied for free and that all cars were designed to be used, not for prestige or status.

There would be no reason to steal cars. They couldn't be sold, and if some strange person wanted to accumulate cars for personal use, it would be both glaringly obvious and not matter much.

Alternatively, assume that cars are discontinued, and instead, there's a free and comprehensive public transportation system that takes everyone wherever they want to go. Again, the opportunity and motive for crime would disappear.

Socialism would mean eventually putting all goods and services on this kind of footing. That leaves crimes against people, committed not for an economic motive but from anger, passion, jealousy, bitterness--crimes such as murder, rape and assault.

Even today, these are a tiny proportion of the crimes committed, but they too have social roots that socialism would put an ax to. At present, one of the main causes and arenas of such crime is the restrictive structure of the family under capitalism--which binds people, through social pressure and economic dependency, in relationships some find intolerable.

Socialism would abolish this family structure by spreading the responsibility for child care and housework and cutting all ties of dependency. People would be free to live--or not live--with whoever they want.

In fact, socialism will humanize and liberate all personal relationships, At the very least, this would greatly reduce, if not eliminate entirely, crimes against people.

The conclusion is simple. The only real fight against crime is the fight against capitalism--which is itself the biggest crime of all.


yeats 9th-Jun-2012 08:03 am (UTC)
except for the fact that the concept of transgressions against moral or social order existed in pre-capitalist societies.

also, even if you accept the feasibility of implementing a fully socialist system and even if you accept his rationale that such a system would get rid of economic crimes (which is a tall order), the final section completely falls apart. like, i'm super sure that rape is caused by "the restrictive structure of the family under capitalism" as opposed to "men who fucking rape women." thank you for explaining that to me, male writer.

Edited at 2012-06-09 08:04 am (UTC)
sesmo 9th-Jun-2012 09:08 am (UTC)
Is this a troll trying to sound like a political theorist?
yeats 9th-Jun-2012 10:10 am (UTC)
Paul D'Amato is managing editor of the International Socialist Review and author of The Meaning of Marxism, a lively and accessible introduction to the ideas of Karl Marx and the tradition he founded.

man, there are few groups of people who i have less time for than throwback unreconstructed marxists.
pluckedflowers 9th-Jun-2012 12:47 pm (UTC)
What's an unreconstructed Marxist? I can't say I'm impressed by the article, but if the simple fact that the guy writes books about Marxism makes him an "unreconstructed Marxist," it sounds like your problem is just with Marxism simpliciter.
yeats 9th-Jun-2012 03:28 pm (UTC)
sorry, i should have been clearer -- i think this article is bullshit and i don't have time for people who act like marxism ends with marx. the author's book is available on amazon, so i browsed it last night, which is how i drew my conclusion: no mention at all of Althusser, a single passing reference to Gramsci that misconstrues his work, nothing about Adorno, Horkheimer or the Frankfurt School at all, etc etc. i don't mean to seem like i'm name-dropping, but i just get impatient with the idea that marxism is some perfect concept that sprang straight from marx's brain onto the page and perfectly explains the contemporary moment without any adjustments. it doesn't seem helpful or productive to me.
pluckedflowers 9th-Jun-2012 06:22 pm (UTC)
Ah, I understand. Yeah, the article's lame and I found it especially glaring because I had just read this much more interesting article on a similar subject the other day. I think the idea of having a newspaper to put out a Marxist take on current affairs is a valuable one, but the SW always tends to fall flat.
entropius 9th-Jun-2012 01:23 pm (UTC)
My first thought upon reading this is that, if he saw our modern age, Engels would be flummoxed by the "abundance of the necessities of life" -- even the poor in developed countries have wealth and prosperity beyond Engels' wildest dreams, I imagine. Free access to nearly all the world's useful knowledge on Wikipedia, ironically including his own writing; an overabundance of food; cures for tuberculosis that cost less than a day's wages (and which are available for free to the poor); nearly universal literacy; the list goes on and on and on.

We aren't perfect, but we're doing pretty well.
fatdancinmonkey 9th-Jun-2012 01:55 pm (UTC)
Wait, what?
Are you serious?
1. """"Digital divide""""""
2. Famine persists in many developing countries and semi-developed countries. In fully industrialized/developed countries, like the US, there are still a lot of people who go to bed hungry.
3. Tuberculosis is just one of the many diseases that exists in the world, some of these other diseases have cures that cost a lot of money and that people aren't able to afford or obtain.

Edited at 2012-06-09 01:56 pm (UTC)
entropius 9th-Jun-2012 03:11 pm (UTC)
Yes, the whole world isn't as well off as some, but vast swaths of it are, including Engels' Europe.

1. While this "digital divide" no doubt exists, even the poor people in Anacostia can take a trip to their local library and have, at their fingertips, access to more information than the wealthy in Engels' Europe had in their lifetimes. Yes, it's not as convenient as me sitting down at my compute rand reading in my own room, but the point is that it is a shitload better than 1800's Europe (or America).

2. I'm talking about the developed and semi-developed world: I know that famines still happen, and are a real problem especially in Africa. (Sadly, too many of them are brought about by their own governments: see North Korea and Zimbabwe.) Yes, folks in the US sometimes don't have all the food they need. But this is a far cry from conditions that persisted in Europe and the US in Engels' time. There's a reason there are lots of Irish people in the US.

3. I mentioned tuberculosis because it was a great unconquerable scourge of even upper-class life in the time I'm comparing to.

The fact that there are some sorts of medical treatment that are financially out of reach of many doesn't change the fact that even the poorest people in the developed and semi-developed world have access to cures for terrible diseases that would have been impossible to get for any amount of money in Engels' time.
fatdancinmonkey 9th-Jun-2012 04:08 pm (UTC)
Um, ok?
The author of this article is talking broadly about crime without specifying countries and yet you are invalidating his argument because the country/class of the guys whom he is referencing is better off than before?
fatdancinmonkey 9th-Jun-2012 02:21 pm (UTC)
Yeah, this article oversimplifies the situation and gives a less than satisfying answer to the problem.
Yes, the capitalist state is obsessed with crime/criminals, in so far as they allow the state to assert its legitimacy and its monopoly on power. Yes, the neoliberal state somewhat exacerbates the gap between the very rich and the very poor.
But, it's sort of naive to think that just implementing socialism will fix the issue of crime, because the problem is more than just economical, it is cultural . Before any alternative to capitalism can be seriously discussed (much less implemented) there needs to be a change in the hearts of people. Consumerism and the abandonment of the public space have created a situation where individuals don't see each other as united by their common humanity, but as competitors in a race to see which person has more than the other.
Plus, I mean there's the whole issue of whether true socialism can ever be implemented, since, to me at least, it is more of a ideology than a viable economic system. Meaning that the revolution that should erupt should lead to a change in perspective more than of wealth. We should see ourselves as equals and help each other out. People of different genders should be treated equally, same goes for people of different races, sexual orientations, economic classes, and religions.

Edited at 2012-06-09 02:22 pm (UTC)
tabaqui 9th-Jun-2012 02:48 pm (UTC)
I was kind of nodding along going 'yeah, okay, that's interesting', until we suddenly get to how *family* creates crime. Uh. No.

Well, maybe, if you're trying desperately to feed and house and clothe your family and so resort to crime to do so, but just *being in* or *having* a family does not make one a criminal. Yeesh.
apostle_of_eris 10th-Jun-2012 01:51 am (UTC)
Marx has his good points, his bad points, his personal emotional baggage, and so on.
Marxism and Mraxists, pfui.
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