Crime and Punishment : A non-solution to an endemic 

JUSTICE IS a great concept ..but it has little place in 
capitalist society.  Once you start to question this economic 
system you find that so much of what we are told is lies.  
The very attributes which capitalism boasts: Law, Order 
and Justice, are like props on a film set.  The closer you 
examine them the more hollow and fake they prove to be.

In order to enforce justice you first of all have to decide 
what's criminal.  The French sociologist Emile Durkheim 
in the 1890's wrote "What confers a criminal character on 
an act is not the nature of the act but the definition given it 
by society.  We do not reprove certain behaviour because it 
is criminal; it is criminal because we reprove it."  In other 
words what society deems a crime is a crime.  

The people who have always defined what is and isn't 
criminal have been the ruling class.  In pre-industrial 
Europe crimes fell into two major categories 

1) against the Church

2) against the aristocracy

The rulers, those in power at the time, were the Church 
and the aristocracy.  Heresy, Sacrilege, and Blasphemy were 
all punishable by death.  It was also a capital offence to pick 
fruit, hunt or fish on the lands of the King or the nobles.

After the industrial revolution the only thing that changed 
was who decided what was or wasn't criminal.  The new 
ruling class replaced the Church and aristocracy as the 
authors of laws.  They moved the goal posts and set the 
laws to protect their own property.  Property and wealth is, 
afterall, what differentiates the ruling class from the 
working class.

Victorian Values still alive

The Victorians, those beloved moralists, decided to add a 
new dimension to how to deal with criminals.  
Punishment (an idea as old as the Bible) was the way to 
ensure that lessons were learned.  Huge institutions were 
built to house the mad and confine the criminal.  They 
would be locked up and forgotten about.  The ruling class 
would institutionalise those who did not conform to the 
norms set down by them.  In the field of medicine, 
advancements have been made which led to a rejection of 
these primitive views.  Unfortunately the same cannot be 
said for the judicial system.  We have Mountjoy (Dublin) 
and Strangeways (Manchester), prisons still in use in the 
1990's even though they were built in the 1800's .  

Paper Versus Mary Jane

The laws have changed with the times but still seem to be 
weighted towards protection of profit and property.  
Cannabis and marijuana were outlawed in the United 
States in 1937 after William Randolph Hearst led a 
campaign against them to protect his paper manufacturing 
industry.  Five years later during World War II the United 
States department of agriculture released a film called 
"Hemp for Victory" which encouraged farmers to grow 
hemp for the greater good for the war effort.  

Murder Versus Industrial Death

In the USA they have come up with a new definition for 
murder which depends on who commits it.  A boss who 
saves money by not providing safety equipment for his 
workers is responsible for what is termed an "industrial 
death".  This happens if a worker dies at his place of work 
due to a work related task.  This is not a criminal offence.  
The American public are bombarded with the latest 
homicide statistics but are not so well informed about how 
many "industrial deaths" occur in  North America each 

It's not what you do it's who you are that counts

In the excellent pamphlet by Fr. Peter Mc Verry entitled 
"Spike Island - the answer to what"  he highlights an 
exemplary couple of cases.

* A low-paid worker stole a television worth #400.  He was 
sentenced to a year in prison and lost his job.

*A property speculator bought land for #350,000.  He later 
sold it for #2,500,000.  His earnings amounted to #21,500 per 
week and his search for profit added #400 to the cost of each 
house.  Officially no crime was committed.

This example really brings home to us the fact that justice 
is also defined by what class you belong to: working class, 
i.e. the low paid worker, or the ruling class, i.e. the property 

The State Versus the Working Class

Last year John Lonergan, the governor of Dublin's 
Mountjoy prison, admitted that 50% of the prison 
population come from a few deprived areas of Dublin.  
75% of the prisoners are under 30 years old and 30% are 
under 21.

The State, including all the various governments, has 
changed little in the last 30 years.  Regularly we read in the 
newspapers how the politicians are waging a war against 
crime.  In all reality, they are simply preying on people's 
fears.  The war is mainly being waged by the police against 
the poorer working class areas.  

The police in larger towns and cities are viewed by some as 
the enemy.  The police are waging the war against crime.  
The ruling class have defined the crimes.  The police seek 
the criminals in working class areas.  Their search seldom 
takes in the upper echelons of society.  In Cherry Orchard 
they send in the riot police, when corruption is revealed in 
the beef industry they have a tribunal and manage to find 
nobody guilty.

Who do the police protect ?

Childish notions that the police are there to protect and 
serve the community soon disappear upon experience.  
Their primary purpose is to serve and protect the state and 
it's ruling class.  Their use, over many years, to smash 
picket lines during strikes illustrates that point.  

Capitalism continues to open the chasm between rich and 
poor.  The poorer people get, the less facilities are provided 
for them.  The councils and government ignore the 
problems, hoping that nothing will happen or blow up 
before the end of their term in office.  

The police are often the only representatives of authority 
in these places.  They are there to keep a lid on a growing 
discontent.  Last year over 900 complaints were dealt with 
by the Garda Complaints Commission, this resulted in just 
three suspensions from the force.  Justice for the police 
appears more lenient.  The state preferrs not to punish it's 
foot soldiers.  It does not want demoralisation among men 
and women who do their bit for the class system by dealing 
with those who will not conform.

  "The  sin  of property we do disdain, 

 no man has any right to buy and sell

 the earth for private gain.

 By theft and murder they took the land,

 now everywhere the walls spring up 

 at their  command."

Dermot Sreenan
Check out  WSM  for texts on anarchism and Irish Politics.  

Updated to include material on the Paris Commune of 1871

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