Thursday, 28 February 2008

Gwynedd - Cuts, cuts and more cuts!

From the Socialist Party Wales website and also being distributed as a leaflet on stalls in Bangor. Although the leaflet focuses on Gwynedd, the gist of it applies to many other Welsh councils at the present time.

Plaid Cymru-led Gwynedd council is howling and raging over the recent low spending increase given to it by the Assembly government. This comes on the back of a low settlement from Westminster to the One Wales (Plaid Cymru and Labour coalition) Assembly government.

The council’s response has been to complain but do nothing to oppose the cuts, and instead has passed them straight on. The council are now making an extra £4-5m worth of cuts on top of already making £4m worth of so called ‘efficiency savings’. Closures and mergers of schools have been the big headline grabber in the area, but so has the ending of funding to the Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery in Bangor. There are also expected losses of 300 jobs and a day centre for the elderly is set to close in September, as well increases in parking charges and a 4.8% rise in council tax.

Local Anger

The cuts have provoked resistance. At the moment it is quite scattered, although there was a 600 strong protest against school cuts outside the Council’s November meeting (see below). Protests and campaigns against some of the other cuts have happened or are being set up. However, some of these are arguing that the cuts should come from elsewhere in the budget.

The Socialist Answer

Socialists however, demand that there should be no cuts to services. The Socialist Party in Gwynedd is calling on the council to set a needs budget. Decide what our communities need, better schools not school closures, better cultural facilities (museums, theatres) etc., and then set a budget based on the needs of the community not the demands of Gordon Brown or Rhodri Morgan. If they can find billions of pounds to bale out Northern Rock then they can find billions to keep community schools open and decent accommodation for the elderly. But the council has to mobilise a mass campaign together with other local authorities in Wales and in England to force them to do it.
Such a campaign would follow the heroic example of the Liverpool Labour Council from 1983-7, who forced Thatcher to return millions of pounds she’d stolen from the city in funding cuts.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Devolution and Justice - a report on a lecture

Yesterday evening I went to hear a public lecture by a Mr Justice Evans on Devolution and Justice at Bangor University. Yes, the man is a senior judge, and their were lots of high officials in the audience including the chief probation officer for wales, assistant police commissioner for north wales, lawyers, politicians and even the High Sheriff of Gwynedd (bet you didn't know we had one of them still!). And myself, sat there in a bright red Socialist Student tee-shirt - in amongst a load of people dressed in tuxedos and suits i felt a little underdressed, but I thought some of the issues raised were worth listening to.

The whole lecture was driven from the point of view of the potential for the assembley to create new laws in Wales, and the potential need for a Wales jurisdiction in response to this with Wales specific legal institutions (Scotland and Northern Ireland already do by the way). He described the moves to form a Wales only legal circuit (before, particularly in the North, had been lnked with Cheshire) and the benefits accrued (in terms of more jobs in Wales - but more importantly from my point of view access to legal services in the Welsh language - important in North Wales where many people are first language Welsh speakers).

He then further went on to talk about the need to expand this to create a welsh high court and court of appeal, as well as making legal services available in Wales. Again (and I can't help feeling this was pandering to Welsh local political interests) the potential job creation was stressed and the language factor also. He discussed this in a gradual way, of having the existing England and Wales court sitting in Cardiff several times a year so that Welsh cases can be heard in Wales, as it would take time for Wales to acquire the expertise to do this on it's own. In fact he liked in to Canadian provinces, and Swiss cantons having their own jurisdictions.

I've written about prisons in Wales before (see A New Prison For North Wales?), and for me this was the most interesting part of the lecture. In Wales there are five prisons (one private), none north of the M4 corridor, and there are no prisons for females. This creates enormous problems, particuarly for those in North Wales who may be held in remand in an English prison and travel up to 8 hours to court hearings. Also they are not permitted to speak Welsh in English prisons, and as I have mentioned given that it is many people's first language in this part of the world. This creates big social problems, it is also a burden on detainees families who struggle to be able to visit those in these situations.

What do socialists say about this. Obviously, we stand for equality and the right of self-determination for nations. That said we do not trust the capitalists (Welsh or not) and their representatives in the State system. Whilst a Welsh jurisdiction may see more localised justice, it will not deliver democraticly accessible justice, or see the eventual withering away of the state and the law that we would wish.
But what do you think?

Friday, 22 February 2008

Students and Politics

Becuase I've posted this piece up so quick, I think yesterdays article may not get a look in on international justice. I would very much like feedback on that article as I still have a write up to do on the subject. Thanks

This piece is a critical look at an article featured in last weeks Weekly Worker on Students and Politics see I find that from time to time this paper produces some interesting articles, although I'm not keen on their politics of orientating themselves towards the existing left rather than the wider working class. I don't agree with quite a few bits underpinning the article, but some discussion of the questions it raises can be useful

The first thing I want to take issue with is his arguement that student politics is centred in 'old universities' and former polytechnics that have made themselves like the 'old universities'. He sees this as being due to large numbers arts/humanities and social science students.

This doesn't bear up to my experience at all, perhaps it might be analogous to 'traditional student politics' but not revolutionary student politics. Our student politics grows up around activists, true perhaps there is a skew towards the area's suggested above, but i think that is due to things I will discuss below, not an inherent feature of the only students who become political. In fact at both universities I've been at (University of Huddersfield and Bangor University are both quite different) we've had people from a range of degree areas including Music, Journalism, Chemistry, History, Psychology, Sociology, English, Languages, trainee Nurses, Marine Biology and even Buisness Studies.

Our politics as I mentioned grow up around activists, usually groups of a few or more people who will organise stalls, petioning, protests etc. These from the core of the group who usually attract other people around them. The more established a group, the more likely it is to have links with local colleges or local universities depending on where the group starts from. True it is easier to organise at university, but this is becuase of the existence of large student unions, freshers fayre, and the ability to get easy funding for your society. But it a society iether won;t exist or go anywhere without activists.

I do agree with the article that events politicise students, ideas are important.. but they are certainly not the only factor as I shall explain. Ideas always have a larger impact on young people becuase generally speaking they are more open to our ideas. And suprise, suprise many students are young people.

Ideas however, in my opinion, seem to be more of a driving force for more middle class layers of students (or perhaps it may be becuase it's the only driving force for them whereas in others layers of students it is one of several). But there is a contradictory nature to students class position. They are drawn from across the various layers in society. Of course the children of the rich go to university, many students are from middle class background and there a sizeable number from a working class background (like me!). I wouldn't want to speculate on the proportions of each, but i'd say that those from a working class background are sizeable and the same from a middle class background.

I would say generally, that the rich students won't be interested, middle class students are interested from an ideological point of view and thus are somewhat unreliable - they turn up to whatever they fancy - whereas working class students have some real bad material obsticles to get over. The biggest one is usually having to work either whilst at uni (like me) or over the summer (like me again!). Then you've got the overpriced and crap accomodation, cuts (which disproportinately affect poorer students as they can't afford to do extra activities or restarting their degree etc. to overcome this) and so on.

I would argue that it is possible to build struggles in response to students material cirumstances - their have been campaigns against cuts, against cuts to halls of residence or their privatisation, and although the fight against fees at the moment hasn't been that big (due to the pernacious role of NUS), it's important to remember that fees were scrapped once before.

Because of the contradictory class nature of students as a whole, they are undoubtedly influenced by workers moving into struggle - the highpoint of the students movement doesn't coincide with the high point of working class struggles in this country for no reason whatsoever.

Although I don't think the article is particularly good, what it tries to discuss is an important question in terms of how we develop a fighting students movement, that is of a sound theoretical base from which to organise from.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Human Rights and International Justice

Yesterday I did a presentation on International Justice in relationship to the Pinochet Dictatorship in Chile, this piece is based on some of the material I discussed in that presentation. This area is, in my opinion, very poorly conceptualized and makes lots of unfounded assumptions, I apologise in advance if any of these have creeped into this piece, and would welcome anyone pointing out any if they spot them.

Putting an end to abuses of human rights is something that most people say they would strive for. The response to mass human rights violations in most cases (this is in most cases where there is one!) is some form of international justice. International justice in these cases can be split into two distinct camps in these cases. Firstly there are International Criminal Tribunals (or the now existing International Criminal Court) and secondly there are Truth Commissions. I’ll describe and discuss each in turn then criticise them both.

International Criminal Tribunals are based on the good old fashioned, cost-benefit, rational choice theories. Thus they aim to punish those who have offended against human rights to restore the universal balance. This is also supposed to deter other world elites from copying them too. However, for me this whole method is based on the idea that the tops of society have absolute control over those below them and manipulate them completely. Now of course, to a certain extent this could be the case, but it’s a far too simplistic understanding of society.
Furthermore, tribunals take an awful lot of time, and very few people end up getting tried by them. Similarly, a lot of the time the courts fail to hold people to account, Pinochet is a good example of this, but what about today’s great warmongers Bush and Blair.

Truth Commissions are all about healing and reconciliation through providing an accurate account of the human rights violations that happened over a period of time. They don’t have prosecutorial powers usually, unlike a the Tribunals, and have more recently been used in conjunction with prosecution of the leading figures in carrying out the human rights abuses. They are also often vested with producing suggestions of how such events can be prevented in future.
However, most Truth Commissions are set-up in a transitional period usually between the regime that carried out the abuses and an incoming ‘democratic’ government. This usually means some sort of compromise on the limits and extent of such a commission.

However, in my opinion there are two great flaws with these methods. Firstly, these methods look at these in a limited national conception, the only perpetrators according to these are those within the national country. Secondly, both methods don’t get to the root causes of these situations, the brutal conditions that people are forced to live in around most of the world.

This is just a short piece on this, but for myself one thing however is clear. In a globalised capitalist world, international justice is only possible if it doesn’t interfere seriously with imperialist aims.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Student Union Funding

This was a short piece that I wrote for last weeks feature article on universities in the Socialist but didn't get published. I published it here, as it discusses issues quite pertinent to the role of students unions.

Over the last few years many Student Unions have held disaffiliation ballots with the argument that the affiliation fees better spent on NUS could be better used on other things, in particular Student Union Sports Clubs and Societies. Most Unions get their money through a block grant usually paid termly from the University to which it represents Students in. As NUS’ own briefing on block grants explains, block grants were introduced in 1981 “to give colleges more control over the affairs of students’ unions”. Prior to this students unions had been given payments directly by the Local Education Authority (who most students get their loans from today) of their student members.
The block grant system gives a university or college a large amount of influence over how a Student Union operates by holding the control over its funding. In addition to this several Student Unions staff (including sabbaticals) are employed directly by the University rather than the Student Union, similarly many Student Union buildings are owned by the University and then leased back to the Union.
All of this means there are a million ties between Student Union officials and University chiefs, which explains many a union bureaucrats run in fear of militant campaigning, especially ones over issues like course cuts which will ruin their cosy relationship with the University.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Film Review – Half Nelson (2007)

I seem to be doing a bit of a run on review at the moment. I suppose it's cos I've been a bit busy putting together a presentation for tomorrow. Hopefully I'll have some stuff on international criminal justice to post up as a result of that though.

Half Nelson is quite an interesting film. It was written at the time of the US and the UK going to war in Iraq and has tinges of the disappointment of some of those who participated in the anti-war movement prior to the invasion. This comes in particularly strongly with Dan Dunne, the main character, an idealistic teacher who tries to inspire kids in the classroom, but outside of this his life is darkened by disappointments and a drug habit.
He strikes up an unlikely friendship with one of his pupils Drey, a 13 year old girl who catches him getting high, and seeks to rescue her from the world of drugs she is getting sucked into courtesy of her imprisoned brother’s friend Frank, a local drug dealer, who she has turned to help her struggling mother’s cash problems.
The film is permeated with dialectics, indeed Dunne spends his time teaching it expressing it giving examples from history. The plot too, however is all about changes, can Dunne and Drey change – kicking drug habits etc., how can you change society – examples such as Chile 1973 and the US civil rights movement are commented on.
This is a film that isn’t too difficult to watch but touches on a lot of interesting things and is quite thought provoking, I’d recommend people watch it.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Review – The State of the Police, Phil Scraton (1985)

This book, comes from the ‘left idealist’ school of critical criminology. (The term left idealist isn’t of their own choosing, but one Jock Young applied to them and which I use for the purpose of differentiation). This approach, around Joe Sim, Phil Scraton, Paul Gilroy and others, argued quite fervently against the realist turn taken by the left realists of Jock Young, Richard Kinsey and John Lea. The book in fact is to an extent a reply to John Lea and Jock Young’s ‘What Is To Be Done About: Law and Order?’
I find parts of the book quite good. Indeed Scraton gives a good history of the police, in particular signling out where they have been used against the struggles of the working class and also attempting to show how (in)effective attempts to subject the police to democratic control had been, particularly in Merseyside and London. He also comments on the use of the police during the 1984-5 Miner’s Strike and the lack of accountability here too.
However, missing from this history, is the struggles of the police themselves. Indeed, the 1918 police strike gets a couple of lines mention in passing. The book as a whole tends to treat police officers as one reactionary mass, which is a dangerous and inaccurate way of looking at the police force.
The other problem that I have with this book is it’s conclusion. After discussing attempts to institute democratic control, it also attempts a critique of the left realist position towards this which doesn’t really go very far at all. However, the ‘left idealists’ then go quite far in the opposite direction, and reject democratic accountability (as being unobtainable rather then unwanted) and instead argue for monitoring of the police as the only form of accountability possible (such groups as Inquest stem from their work). To me, although Inquest and other groups have produced interesting information, pulling back from the struggle to actually do anything to improve the lives of working people is a cardinal sin. Moreover, although the book is as I have mentioned in some respects very informative, it is based on an incorrect perception of the police and thus draws incorrect conclusions.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Birthday Blogging - A Year in Review

Today marks the 1st birthday of this blog, which saw the double post of Socialist Alternative Radio and Reading Materials at Uni.
Back then, the blog was a little more personal I would say. The vast amount of activity I get up to these days, particularly in building a Socialist party branch from pretty much scratch has seen to that, meaning that many posts these days are reports of activity or articles written for the Socialist. The blog has also come more to focus on my study of criminology and putting forward a marxist criminology which has seen me put forward two drafts of The Principles of a Marxist Criminology, as well as many other pieces on crime in variosu times and places (including a series on Venezuela and the popular Crime in Revolutionary Russia.
I've also set up a post archive of some of my posts (which needs updating again), as well as participated in the short lived Militant blog. Anyways, I thought I'd finish up this reminiscence with a post that i did for that blog.

Friday, 13 April 2007:
Elections and the 'Law and Order' cards - How Should Marxists Oppose This

In elections we often hear about the main political parties playing the 'law and order' card of setting out tougher and tougher policies to tackle crime rates. Last years local elections saw the 'foreign prisoners scandal' that led to the replacement of then Home Secretary Charles Clarke by John Reid.'Law and order' ideology arose in the late 70's promoted in this country by Thatcher and the Tories who made crime an electoral issue. It arose as a response to the re-habilitative ideal that collapsed in the 60's and 70's where the penal system (prisons, police etc.) focussed on trying to re-integrate offenders back into society by treating them as if something was wrong with them (like in medicine). The problem wasn't that something was wrong with all offenders, however, it was the capitalist system that can never provide for everyone, as it requires ever increasing concentration of wealth (which underlies many property crimes). Not only this the whole nature of intense competition and struggle for survival under such a system places huge strains and stresses on individuals (which underlies all crime and things such as drug abuse and alchoholism). No matter how much you treat some individuals you are fighting a losing battle as the system is the big problem that causes the others.

As such crime rates were rising and the old rehabilitative system was seen as falling apart. Taking the quasi-religious notion that offenders are evil or somehow implicitly wrong no matter what and also the idea that if you make the penal system scary enough nobody will offend (even though as I've explained the nature of the system means that people will commit criminal offences regardless of this), 'law and order' ideology took the position that one had to have heavy sanctions for offenders and and lots of police officers to appear threatening.

Of course marxists should point out that any bulking up of the penal system is a bulking up of the state of forces that can be used against the working class in struggle, indeed Thatcher used her extra 'coppers' to batter the 1984-85 miners strike. Demands should be posed to counter the grip of the ruling classes on the state forces (such as more openness, democratisation etc.), although ultimately the tops of these forces will side with the ruling class and indecision will help workers struggles.

We also have to understand why 'law and order' ideology appeal to some workers and continues to do so. The reason was that the rehabilitative ideal was failing to reduce or even control crime which threatens working class people. No-one wants to be the victim of a rape, burglary or assault, workers and other people are afraid of crime, they don't want to become victims to it. In this situation saying that you could immediately reduce the crime rate by scaring people out of doing it presents itself as an easy solution to the problem. However, it is a solution that was never going to work and hasn't as is shown by the huge increase in crime and prison population that has occured for the last almost thirty years.

We need to not pose a return to the rehabilitative ideal (although some elements such as giving people the opportunity to access decent education will still be relevant), but to rid ourselves of the capitalist system that breeds mass crime and fight for a socialist world.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Anglesey’s Carbon Surge

This is the one hundreth post on this blog - yay! This is a letter, published in the Socialist this week - i know it's also the green party conference either this week or next, so i thought it was timely to post it. Tomorrow also marks on year of this blog (i think!) so i'll do a special anniversary post

Last week North Wales newspapers reported that goods from a major Anglesey employer, Anglesey Aluminium have been switched from rail to road transport. The move pushed through by Austrian company Metall AG, will add 100 lorries to the already congested North Wales roads and produce 5 times more CO2 than rail transportation.
The incentive for doing this of course is cost, another one of capitalism’s short sighted strategies for profit that are destroying our environment. Big companies like Anglesey Aluminium and Metall AG as well as large haulage firms should be taken into public ownership and their resources should be democratically planned if we are ever going to be able to do anything about the looming climate catastrophe.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Report of the Socialist Party Wales Conference

There is another report of this at

Last Sunday saw the annual conference of the Socialist Party Wales in Swansea. I went to this as part of a three string delegation from Bangor, travelling down on the Saturday to stop overnight in Cardiff before going to the conference the next day. The long journey times had meant that several other people could not come down from Bangor. The Conference, however, provided us a chance to meet with Socialist Party members, and other party supporters from across Wales and learn from each others experiences.
The first session of the conference featured a discussion on Latin America that was introduced by the Socialist Party General Secretary, Peter Taaffe. The introduction focussed on many issues that have been in the pages of The Socialist and Socialism Today over the last few months, particularly on Chile, Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil where the CWI has sections. There were quite a few interesting things raised during the discussion, but most interesting for me was the development of the trade union movement in Venezuela, the creation of the UNT and the roles of various lefts including the most well-known figure, Orlando Chirono, who had (mistakenly in my opinion) campaigned against the recent referendum.
The second discussion was on the world economy, and to some extent what the prospect of recession would mean for workers in Wales. Again, there have been several articles in the publications of the Socialist Party on this matter. In the discussion comment was made on the recent attacks on welfare claimants and the experiences of Tower colliery which recently closed. In this session a short statement of Wales was discussed and agreed upon, with some comment from several delegates as to the consequences of the reduced funding councils are receiving from the Assembly government, which is leading to in particular closures of schools across Wales, but also of libraries, museums and other service cuts.
Finally there was a discussion on building the Socialist Party in Wales and the election of a new regional committee. In particular, myself and other comrades from Bangor were congratulated on our work in establishing a branch here, the first of a likely four new branches the party in Wales is in the process of establishing this year. Other work, will include trying to provide some more Welsh language material as well as improvements to our regional website, where hopefully there will be some footage of this vary conference.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Marx and Engels on Crime, the State and the Paris Commune

Since I wrote this about a week ago, I actually have read a piece by Bob Fine which does talk about some of these issues - and I will comment on this at a later date. None the less the issues in this piece are still well worth discussion.

There have been several groups of criminologists who have purported to be Marxist Criminologists, many of whom have looked to Marx’s economic works, in particular Capital in search of the causes of crime. Some have even looked to some of Marx’s journalistic works. Hence why I find it strange that none (to my knowledge) have looked at Marx’s writings on the Paris Commune, in particular his work The Civil War in France.
It is in relation to this event that Marx and Engels made their one major alteration to the Communist Manifesto, which is, as Marx puts it in The Civil War in France, that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and use it for it’s own purposes”. It’s relevance to the state, and thus to the criminal justice system makes it worth our attention. Moreover, the comments relating to the judiciary and the police in particular are of interest.
We shall start our examination, by first looking at Engels 1891 Introduction to the work. He briefly comments how the power of the state has come about, saying “Society had created its own organs to look after its common interests, originally through simple division of labour. But these organs, at whose head is the state power, had in the course of time, in pursuance of their own special interests, transformed themselves from the servants of society into the masters of society”.
A few paragraphs later, he discussed how the workers involved in the Commune dealt with this, saying “Against this transformation of the state and the organs of the state from servants of society into masters of society – an inevitable transformation in all previous states – the Commune made use of two infallible means. In the first place it filled all posts – administrative, judicial and educational – by election on the basis of universal suffrage of all concerned, subject to the right of recall at any time by the same electors. And in the second place, all officials, high or low, were paid only the wages received by other workers… In this way an effective barrier to place-hunting and careerism was set up…”
This is what Marxists mean by “…shattering of the former state power and its replacement by a new and truly democratic one…” This is extremely relevant in terms of how we see a new society emerging from the ashes of the old, what Engels is describing is a thoroughgoing democratisation of the state.
In Chapter 3 Marx describes the creation of the commune, saying “The Commune was formed of municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time. Instead of continuing to be the agent of the Central Government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes, and turned into the responsible and at all times revocable agent of the Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the Administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workmen’s wages.”
He goes on to say “The judicial functionaries were to be divested of that sham independence which had but served to mask their abject subserviency to all succeeding governments to which, in turn, they had taken, and broken, the oaths of allegiance. Like the rest of public servants, magistrates and judges were to be elective, responsible, and revocable.”
What is the point I am trying to make by quoting at length from Marx and Engels on these matters? It is that they key transformation that the state must undergo to be of use to the working class is a thoroughgoing democratisation. The act of an effective of such democratisation (which will of course the replacement by election of those antagonist to the interests of the majority) would be to create an entirely different state and criminal justice system; this is how we “smash” the bourgeoisie state.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Refreshing student work in Bangor

Bangor Socialist Students society ran two stalls at Bangor Student Union's re-freshers fair.

Eight members of the society took part on the stalls, campaigning against nuclear weapons and nuclear power, and to build the Campaign to Defeat Fees (CDF).

We had several detailed conversations with students as well as some non-students who were interested to find out what we had to say, in particular how they could get involved with the CDF day of action on 21 February.

We sold 18 copies of The Socialist and one Socialism Today. Nine people put their names down to join the society while many others took more information about Socialist Students.

Bangor Socialist Students

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Principles of a Marxist Approach to Criminology (Second Draft)

I will be away this weekend at the Socialist Party Wales Conference in Swansea, so my next post won't probably be until Monday.

Okay, thanks for responses on the previous post, it’s been quite helpful. Below I’ve tried to reformulate the various principles and I’ve also added some that I missed off before. Hopefully you should be able to see I’ve tried to tackle some of these to a great or lesser extent over the past year or so.

1) There should be no seperate marxist theory of crime, rather marxist theory is applied to it. For example we would explain the aetiology (cause) of crime through ideas such as alienation, relative deprivation or as the normal workings of the capitalist system rather than any special causal mechanism.

2) Crime and criminal justice system should be understood in a criminal historical materialist context, we should look at their development to their present conditions. Allied to this would be an understanding that the economic context of a situation would have an impact on what types of crime are prevalent and how these will be responded to.

3) A marxist approach is moreover a class approach and sees crime to an extent as an expression of the conflict between classes in society. This is important in several important ways. Firstly, the ruling class in any each will have more power to define what is crime and to manage responses to crime in their interest. Secondly, crime disprortionately affects the working class, and they are disproportionately punished for this.

4) A marxist approach is also an internationalist approach. We should understand crime ot just in one country, but across the increasingly globalised world.

5) We should attempt to understand the effect of crime and the operation of the criminal justice system, not just on the working class, but on the rest of the oppressed layers in society.

6) As well as studying crime in ‘normal’ capitalist society, we should also seek to study what happened to crime and criminal justice during revolutionary periods and also in states that have claimed to be socialist.

7) The role of the state, which the criminal justice system is part of needs to be examined thoroughly. It’s contradictory aims of upholding the rule of capitalism but also in having to legitimate itself through doing something about crime needs to be explored.

8) We should seek to review how the workers movement has addressed the question in the past, as well as various intellectuals who have tried to put across arguments from a similar perspective (ie. Foucault, Jock Young etc.)

9) As Marx says in his theses on Feuerbach, "Philosophers have hitherto interpreted the world, point is to change it". We should analyse crime and the criminal justice system from the point of the working class. We should put forward ideas of how a socialist/communist society would aim to solve these problems, and fight for these to be adopted.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Stop the Anglesey nuclear time-bomb

I wrote this article (in this weeks The Socialist) based on recent developement on Anglesey and the battle between local politicans over who can be pro-nuclear enough. Also people may have noticed i've said in blogs i was writing this article, anyway here it is. There is also another version at

The pro-nuclear alliance of Anglesey County Council and local Labour MP Albert Owen have launched a new propaganda offensive to win people to the idea of a new nuclear power station at Wylfa on Anglesey.

Iain Dalton
They claim that without it, the island will lose 1,500 jobs. This figure has been inflated by Wylfa taking on temporary workers, and by including 400 jobs at Anglesey Aluminium which the company have publicly stated will not be threatened by closure of Wylfa, although they may use it as a pretext to move production to a lower wage economy.

However, a new nuclear station would employ far fewer people than the current station due to new technologies, and that is before cost-cutting practices of the new station's private owners (Wylfa is presently publicly run).

Local campaign group Pawb are arguing for an alternative employment plan for the island. Much of this lies around the potential for harnassing renewable energy sources, as the island has near ideal conditions for several technologies including tidal, wind, solar and wave. Additionally, based on the experience of decommissioning Trawsfnydd in nearby Gwynedd, decommissioning the current Wylfa station will provide at least 500 jobs for at least fifteen years.

Over a thousand people have now signed a petition organised by Pawb. Socialist Students in Bangor are helping to organise a public meeting.

There are lots of issues the mainstream politicians don't want to talk about. The fact that Wylfa has been shut down several times means that nuclear isn't a sure supply of energy as they argue. Cost-cutting could result in disastrous situations; the memory of Chernobyl still hangs across north Wales as farmers in the region are still affected by restrictions on animal movements as a result of fall-out from that disaster.

Furthermore, a new nuclear power station is seen as carbon neutral, but what about carbon emissions from mining fuel, transportation and construction of the plant itself? Also, the nuclear waste cannot be safely disposed of at present; this is a radiation time-bomb for future generations.

As the government announced the new plants, former Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain, offered his support for them, alongside Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones. Both were prepared to grease the wheels for big business, whilst claiming, like the council, to be fighting for local jobs. Their policies are no solution to the endemic lack of jobs in north west Wales.

Pawb have launched a new website:

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Student elections: Not just a 'beauty contest'!

Here's a piece I worte for last weeks The Socialist. Not sure who it's of interest to, but I would like to get more studetn visitors and I think it's a decent article

Students can't go anywhere in February and March without being bombarded by people handing out leaflets, with 'Vote for Robbo' or 'Sharon for Pres' on their t-shirts, not to mention the odd person dressed as a furry animal.

Yes, it's student elections time. This is a time for student union people to crawl out of their hiding places and attempt to talk to students. Desperate for votes, they try everything from free sweets to outright harassment!

Nonetheless most students don't bother to vote at this stage. Why should they? Many candidates don't talk about the real issues such as tuition fees, rip-off accommodation and course cuts.

Instead manifestos typically consist of pledges to be fair and to listen. But in my experience they all say that and nothing changes.

For Socialist Students, elections are not only an opportunity to challenge for leadership of student unions. We contrast our ideas to those of the right wing and build support for our campaigns.

Our approach is different to that of the careerists who often run student unions. Our manifestos put forward demands that address the real needs of students, emphasising the fight for free education as well as important local issues.

The most important thing for us is to explain our ideas and put forward a strategy for building a student movement which can defend education from cuts and privatisation.

Elections can mean there is an increase in students thinking about how the student unions are run and, on the basis of our leaflets and posters explaining what we stand for, some students will campaign with Socialist Students. We can also put pressure on the union to campaign more when they see our support.

Canvassing halls of residence can be quite scary at first, but it gives you an opportunity to discuss issues with students where they feel comfortable. Holding a public meeting on your main campaign can be useful too.

Make sure the meeting is advertised on your election materials. Hustings or candidate question times are an opportunity to challenge other candidates' ideas.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Blogging & the Blogging Community

Firstly, thanks to everyone for their responses to my previous post on blogging. I think i shall definitely not post anything as long as the 3000 word post recently again. Moreover, I won't be splitting the blog into two or more (although the offer is still open to collaborate on a left & crime blog).

Anyway, I thought with the re-launch of the carnival of socialism (see I'd blog a little about the blogging community. Now as other people have told me, as a blogger if you want to get people to come and visit your site, you need to visit other people's too. I haven't been particularly good at this, but other the last week or so, I've been trying to post more regularly on others sites as well as add some more as links. So (a la AVPS) we will welcome A Bit Like Lenin..., Classroom Teacher, Karl Marx Strasse, Kit Notes, Rebellion Sucks!, The Daily (Maybe), Landsker and Law And Disorder to the blogroll. Hopefully, that makes me doing my bit a little more.

And now for a little bit about this blog. I know several people are fans of visitor stats, so below are my stats since i began recording them

as you can hopefully see, i'm getting about 300 visitors a week, that's probably not that great, but I feel good about it. in terms of days, my lowest has been 10 visitors (during the period when I didn't post for a week) and highest has been 93. As for comments, well I've had plenty over the last week, with different people posting on different things, and given the range of things I post on here, I think that's somewhat healthy, but I try to post things that should make sense to most people - if i get too technical with criminology articles please mention it.

Visitors will also be pleased to know that I've now scored a hit from every continent, with a stream of visitors now from nigeria - I guess looking at the stuff I've posted on the students there.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Political Economy & Penal Policy: A Comparative Approach

As I have stated before, as a Marxist, I believe crime and the operation of the criminal justice system depend upon to a large extent upon the economical development of society. Certain crimes are impossible under certain economic situations (ie theft (from a shop) and communism) and certain modes of dealing with crime fit better under certain economic systems (imagine cognitive therapy under a slave based or feudal society).
James Dignan and Michael Cavadino are some of the leading penal theorists in the United Kingdom. They have published the key text for courses on the penal system (now in it’s fourth edition I believe) as well as recent material on their own comparative approach to penal systems both in a book and recently in an article in the Winter 07/08 Criminal Justice Matters.
The recent material is what I will focus on, a study of penal practices in 12 different countries. The research has led them to devise a four-fold typology of regime types from these twelve. The first is Neo-Liberal countries, free-market orientated with a minimal welfare state, extreme income differentials and limited social rights. The USA is seen to be the archetypal examples, but in this category falls England and Wales, Australia, New Zealand as well as South Africa.
The second group is what they term Conservative Corporatist countries which are status related but have a much more generous welfare state than neo-liberal countries. Income differentials are pronounced, but not as extreme as neo-liberalism. Germany is seen as the archetypal example of this category, but France, Italy and the Netherlands are also covered by this category.
The third group they describe as Social Democratic Corporatism which have a generous welfare state, minimal income differentials and fairly unconditional social rights. Sweden is the archetype for this group but they also include Finland too.
The fourth and final group is termed Oriental Corporatism which is based on a bureaucratic, private sector ‘welfare corporatism’ with limited income differentials. However there is a distinct hierarchy and a ‘sense of duty’ to those higher up. The archetype (and indeed only country in this group) is Japan.
Their argument is that the group type affects the penal policy in operation in each of the countries. This is backed up by evidence that imprisonment rate varies by these types, thus they present the figures I give below (from the Walmsley, 2007 World Prison Population List)

Country & Prison Population (per 100,000)

USA – 736
South Africa – 335
New Zealand -186
England & Wales – 148
Netherlands – 128
Australia – 126
Italy – 104
Germany – 95
France – 85
Sweden – 82
Finland – 75
Japan – 62

As you can see these figures roughly descend from neo-liberal countries, to conservative corporatist, to social democratic corporatist and finally oriental corporatist.
Cavadino and Dignan argue that this correlation is due to cultural attitudes towards offenders embodied in the political economy of each country. They see this as helping to reinforce certain cultural attitudes towards offending.
I’d argue several things are wrong with this thesis. Firstly, the number of countries covered is very small, this is not a typology that will cover all countries. India, Russia, Brazil and China are all quite large countries and not covered at all by this study. Also there are wide disparities between in particular the neo-liberal countries but also within other groups. Thirdly this argument only takes into account the use of imprisonment, what about non-custodial penalties etc. Finally, I’d argue that although there may be a cultural element involved, neo-liberal countries would tend to have a larger criminal justice system anyway so penal responses are likely to be greater in these countries regardless of cultural differences.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Bangor Branch Launch

I'm going to be publishing daily (or near enough) for the next week. Have plenty of material from when i didn't publish stuff for a while (both things i've written and reports of what myself and sp here were up to).

Sunday 27th January saw the launch meeting of the Bangor Branch of the Socialist Party. Socialist Party Wales Secretary, Alec Thraves introduced a discussion on the important role a branch in Bangor can and will play in introducing people to the ideas of socialism. In Bangor, Socialist Party members already there have had a crucial intervention at Bangor University, setting up a campaigning Socialist Students society as an alternative to the inaction of the local student union leadership. The role of organisers in helping to develop the work of the branch was also discussed, particularly the importance of finance and paper organisers in helping us raise the funds necessary to help get our ideas across to workers and students in Bangor.

Iain Dalton, Bangor Branch Secretary

Friday, 1 February 2008

MP’s Pay and Student Funding

Over the last weeks story of Tory MP Derek Conway has been pasted all over the press. On top of his salary (of £60,675) and personal allowances (and paying his wife over £30,000 a year to be his assistant) he has been paying his sons roughly £10,000 a year as research assistants whilst they have been studying at university, all of this from public money. However, a House of Commons standard committee found that it was ‘unlikely’ that his sons had actually done this work, which has seen Conway suspended from parliament and the Tory whip removed from him.
It’s been suggested by some that he paid these allowances because his sons wouldn’t qualify for student loans whilst at university and needed some other money. I suppose this is what Tories and free-market proponents mean when they say people should be able to pay their own way! What is needed is a fully funded education system with living grants for all students.
This isn’t the only story of fraudulent behaviour by MP’s of late either, they seem to be appearing at a rate quicker than one a week at the moment. But fraudulent use of public funds is not the only way this system wastes public money, hospital trusts, local councils, universities and many other organisations have wasted billions on consultants advising them how to cut public services, sometimes spending more on consultants than they wished to save. To end this colossal waste, we need to end the capitalist system that creates it and replace it with socialist planning.