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.


Nadia A. said...

thanks for adding me. I'm doing likewise.

good post. I'm actually new to the issue of Marxist Criminology, I've never thought of the change in the criminal justice system with Marxism.

landsker said...

"..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”.

An excellent quote.

In particular, concerning the functions of the judiciary,(and thus the penal syatem), one might also consider the literature of Kafka,(1883 - 1924), in his novel "The trial".
(Like Marx, Kafka was also Jewish, and German speaking, likewise, he had little interest in religion.)

Whereby the functions of the courts are exposed as a sham, a shallow means to feed judges, lawyers, court officials, jailers and politicians , all from the public purse.
Kafka exposes a world, where what really matters is not the crime or guilt of the accused, but that the powers of the courts are infinite and that all those accused, are automatically both guilty and of inferior character.
The theme exposed within the novel is not one of justice, but of maintaing the income of the judiciary and the unquestionable power of the state.