Monday, 31 March 2008

Environmental Crime

This piece is a look at an article ‘Politics, economy and Environmental Crime’ by Reece Walters on this issue from the Winter 07/08 issue of Criminal Justice Matters.

The idea of environmental crime is a relatively new one and it’s use in official circles far from captures the entirety of the concept. For Walters (and for myself) such a term would encompass “…the destruction of natural habitats and pollution of oceans, waterways and airways…” However, for the Home Office, as Walters points out, it covers things individuals may do such as Fly-tipping, Littering, Grafitti and Vandalism. Now it might just be me, but the actions described there don’t cover the entirety or even most of the former – in a similar way to climate change been tackled by individuals switching off the lights, this attempts to tackle environmental destruction by stopping littering (which is not to say that you should leave the lights on or litter). Why is this so? As Walters points out, the problem of environmental crime as she would define it is not really seen as a crime for the government or multi-national corporations, it’s more of a necessary by-product of making profits.
Walters does point out that the government has defined a term of ‘corporate environmental crime’, but this doesn’t include important transnational offences such as trading in endangered species, illegal waste dumping, deforestation etc.
Walters then goes on to site some examples of corporate environmental crime including the non-payment of tax by corporation, that 3.2 million cubic metres of timber sold in the UK is from protected woodland areas, at least 12,000 tons of illegally fished fish is imported into Britain each year, the nuclear industry has illegally disposed of thousands of barrels of radioactive waste in the Channel Islands and so on.
Her conclusion is somewhat lacking – she correctly points out that the needs of ‘fiscal prosperity’ dominate over those of sustainability – but goes no further than this. I would suggest a few things, firstly that part of the reason why environmental destruction is easy for these bodies is because they do not have to live with the consequences. I do not mean exclusively in terms of global warming where the severest impacts will happen years down the line as feedback effects continually increase, but in terms of physically living with the destruction – the advantages of being a multinational corporation mean that you can exploit anywhere around the world and you only have to live in one part of it. The second point is that tougher environmental laws – which Walters may or may not be suggesting – won’t solve the problem, as Walters illustrates with the sheer amount of already existing laws that get broken.
The solution to the problem of corporate environmental crime is putting these multinationals under the democratic control of the working class – with representatives from workers within the company and from the general community. These representatives would have a much greater stake in stopping environmental destruction than those who are only interested in profits.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

NUS conference - a look two years ago

Given that this next week sees this years NUS UK conference, I thought i'd post up two articles that I wrote about NUS Conference two years ago when I was a delegate from the University of Huddersfield - as I think you can see not much has changed for this years conference apart from the governance review, which would mean a quantitatively different NUS to the one that currently exists - unfortunately not in the direction of creating a representative fighting body, but one cowering behind whatever excuses they can find for challenging the curretn government in a serious manner.

Leaders' timewasting tactics

YET AGAIN, delegates to National Union of Students (NUS) conference were treated to round after round of discussion on essentially meaningless motions. Those motions representing campaigns by grassroots student activists were pushed down the order paper by motions from the NUS executive such as re-introducing the call for means-testing to NUS policy.

On the controversial NUS Extra card the right-wing leaders threatened that if that motion wasn't passed the NUS would cease to exist. They claimed there was no alternative to solving the union's financial problems. But if the NUS put forward a fighting strategy against the many attacks on our education they would not be facing a shortfall caused by disaffiliation of colleges and universities.

Over 80% of delegates were sabbaticals of various universities. NUS elections are poorly advertised or sometimes not even held, so there is a bias towards people already involved in NUS and against students who just want to fight back. These officials also often submit the, often meaningless, motions that stop grassroots student motions being passed.

On top of this they submitted numerous procedural motions to stop debate on important issues and wasted hours of conference time, even asking for a quorum count when conference was full!

Socialist Students campaigns for a fully democratic NUS, organised from the bottom up and not dictated to by the current Blairite leadership. Such a union would be able to organise a national demonstration against top-up fees which the conference has called for repeatedly over the years, as part of a campaign to get a free, public, properly funded education system, with living grants for all.


A voice for angry, debt-ridden students

SOCIALIST STUDENTS took an 18-member strong delegation to NUS conference, and actively campaigned for socialist ideas, including spreading the successful Lambeth college canteens campaign.

Over 40 students were interested in spreading the campaign countrywide to replace private canteens with quality student union-run canteens. We stood Socialist Student and Lambeth College student union president Rob MacDonald in the block of twelve part-time NEC members election and are still awaiting the results.

It was difficult to get in to speak on the conference floor, but Socialist Students made several speeches, explaining our position in a way that connected with ordinary students.

For example we explained our opposition to the motion that said "faith schools are uniquely able to provide support for children from minority backgrounds". While other groups got bogged down in provocative debate, insisting that faith schools were either very good or very bad, we stressed that faith schools were part of the government's strategy to take our schools out of public and accountable hands.

Alongside city academies, they were an attempt to privatise every aspect of our education. As the only group linking the arguments on the conference floor to students' day to day experience we gained some authority.

Socialist Students also counter-demonstrated against Labour Students who condemned the Tories for their right-wing views, by pointing out that they too shared those views, and offered no answers for ordinary students. After all it was Blair's continuation of Thatcher's policies that led to the introduction of top-up fees!

Overall Socialist Students made a big impact at conference, making all delegates take notice of our principled views. Five people filled in joining cards and 17 copies of the socialist were sold. We will keep building Socialist Students and raising a campaigning voice in the campuses and workplaces to reach students who are angry and fed-up with debt, fees and poverty and want to fight back!

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Review – My Life by Leon Trotsky

Having read a year or two ago Issac Deutscher’s three-volume biography of Trotsky, I decided a few weeks ago to get myself a copy of My Life – Trotsky’s autobiography up to 1930.

There are several important differences between Deutscher’s biography and My Life. The first is obviously that My Life doesn’t cover the last ten years of Trotsky’s life. The second and much more important for myself is the different purposes to which they are being written – Deutscher is trying to understand Trotsky’s life from his own position many years later, whilst My Life is an exposition in opposition to the Stalinist slanders that had seen him expelled from Soviet Russia. There are several ways this shows through. Firstly is the constant reference that is made to Lenin at many points, as it was necessary for Trotsky to explain his relationship with Lenin in opposition to accusations about his ‘non-Bolshevik’ past. Secondly are comments on the background of the Stalinist caste at the time of Trotsky’s expulsion, this is not done for the purpose of point scoring, but to contrast them to Trotsky and allow readers to draw their own conclusions.

I don’t know how much point there is in going into the details of Trotsky’s life – most famously he was the chairman of the Petrograd Soviet at points in both the 1905 and 1917 Russian Revolution, the creator of the Red Army. This isn’t to mention the theoretical advances of the Permanent Revolution and the characterisation of the degeneration of Soviet Russia. It’s impossible to do justice to his life here, I’d much prefer to recommend people to read the book to understand for themselves.

But just one last point. In relation to the posts I’ve had on here in relation to human rights I think the last chapter of this book ‘A Planet Without a Visa’ is quite interesting. It tells us of how although the right to asylum formally existed in the countries of Western Europe, the chapter shows how every one of these countries found ways of denying him this ‘right’. I think this illustrates how although rights may exist on paper, the balance of class forces at any one time determines how ‘real’ these rights are.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Carnival of Socialism #20

Hi all, Welcome to Carnival of Socialsim 20 - focussing on crime, criminal justice and socialism. Just like Power to the People with the previous carnival attempt to open people's eyes to internationalism and liberation, I'm intending on doing a similar thing with this topic, however, some of these posts are a little old, but i include them becuase I think they're quite good.

So let's begin

Crime is a relatively under discussed subject on the left - Indeed it's even seen as a weakness, but that shouldn't be so - given the high levels of crime in many places around the world (especially advanced capitalist countries) and the expensive measures used in the attempt to combat this (ie. prison) - this really shouldn't be the case. In this Carnival, we'll look at various aspects of crime from how socialists should approach crime, to criticising capitalist methods of tackling crime to crime in the third world.

Socialists and Crime

For those who haven't been on this blog before one of my pet projects has been coming up with some principles for a Marxist Approach to Criminology. This got quite a good response, and even got a post in response on Law and Disorder. I've recently revisited the issue and plan to do so again. But it's worth thinking about.
Jack Ray also discussed the left and crime in this post and what attitude we should take towards petty crime.

The Police

Obviously an issue that got talked about a lot in the last few months was the police going on strike. Karl Marx Strasse posted with a view from Germany on the situation. Ten Percent has been reporting on the taser trial in the North Wales Police force.


I've had a series of posts on the prison crisis in Britain, the latest being Prisons: Lumbering into Further Crisis.
A while ago, AVPS posted reviewing a Loius Theroux programme on prisons that opened some interesting debates on prisons in the US. Whilst JimJay at The Daily (maybe) posted this recently on foreign prisoners.
The issue of women and young people in prisons and deaths in prisons have been taken up admirably by Louise at Socialist Unity, one of her most recent postings been on restraint of young prisoners. However, I'd urge you to check out the previous articles (of which there are many) in the archive of that blog.
Also, Honorary Proletarian has been posting irregularly for a while now on the detention of immigrants.


There is a heavy race bias in many criminal justice systems. Rise, Resist Revolt took this up in January this year in relation to blacks in the USA. Stroppyblog features a repost of Peter Tatchell's comments on George Galloway's slanders on an Iranian asylum seeker which reveals interesting stuff about gay right and Iran.
There's also a post on aboriginal rights at The Red Wombat Hole.

Human Rights

There's also the question of human rights in general. A crime can be to some extent defined as something that violates those rights. A week or so ago I mused on this problem - The Question of Human Rights. One of the conclusions was that capitalism can't guarantee these rights, a point that Power to the People takes up in relation to South Africa.
Ian's Red Log had a recent post on workplace safety.
I've been debating where to put this piece by JimJay on ASBO's but i think it fits in with these articles the best, as they basically circumvent existing criminal justice.

International Justice and Law

I've recently posted on Truth Commissions and International Justice, but to spell out what these crimes are in practice, take a look at landsker's post on the my lai massacre.
There's also a short post on Argentine crimes against humanity under the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance from the Left News Network, whilst Rebellion Sucks! reports on Venezuela's victory in the courts, Socialist Unity also had another repost on this too.
Finally for this section, a while back Politics in Pieces blogged on the resurgance of whaling (through getting round the law by claiming that it is for research purposes).


A while ago now, Renegade Eye posted on individual terrorism in Nigeria. I also recently posted on how criminologists view terrorism.
From Socialist Unity Blog, Andy Newman recently posted on a meeting about Defending Civil Liberties, whilst Louise has been taking a deeper look into the upcoming counter-terrorism bill. Law and Disorder also had a not too recent post on detention and terrorism.
And on a much weirder note, take a look at what The Nation of Duncan received in the post.

Drink, Drugs and Roads

A while ago I posted on the question of alcoholism, importantly as binge drinking is in the press a hell of a lot here. Further Left Forum has also posted recently on the Use of the Coca Leaf in Bolvia Whilst Andy Newman posted on road safety and the amount of fatal accidents that occur on the roads. JimJay also had a post about a suprising sentence for a drinking and driving offence.

Crime and Revolution

Unfortunately, I seem to be the only person who I can find that's blogged about crime during the russian revolution. It's a shame, but it's something I'd love to see someone else take up (or in relation to any other working class revolution).

Well, that took longer than I thought it would to put together. I apologise for the fact that some blogs (including my own) have been up many times, but unfortunately (at least from my perspective) these issues aren't taken up enough. Hopefully this carnival will do something about that.

Review – Counter-Colonial Criminology by Biko Agozino (2003)

Please note, I have previously commented on a journal article by Agozino. That article forms the basis to the introduction to this book. I feel I should also thank the blog A Very Public Sociologist for helping me come to terms a bit better with theorists like Baudrillard etc. which Agozino discusses and meant I probably understood what he was getting at better. Also, tomorrow the Carnival of Socialism will be hosted here.

Counter-Colonial Criminology: A Critique of Imperialist Reason is an interesting book. For me it has it’s upsides and it’s downsides, and I’ll discuss the latter first as long as you can overcome these the book has an awful lot of interesting ideas within it.

There are two main problems with the book. The first is common to many academic books – an incessant use of jargon and convoluted terms which attempt to portray things in a value-free manner but end up confusing the reader and winding you up a lot. The second is in a review of the history criminology after almost every single theorist he points out that they ignored the experience of the colonial masses – but why do this after every theorist and not just at the end of the chapter pointing out what this missing element would have provided. Both these things are annoying as Agozino’s writing style is pretty good, but these points make some of the chapters a little difficult to get through.

However, leaving that aside Agozino presents some really interesting ideas. The only problems I have here with Agozino in this realm is his somewhat uncritical treatment of the Scraton/Hall school of critical criminology in comparison to left realism – both for myself had weaknesses. Also his understanding of Marxism could do with improving – although he applies Marx’s ideas of primitive accumulation quite well, nowhere does he mention Trotsky and in particular his theory of Combined and Uneven development which I think would be of fundamental use in this subject.

I suppose I’ve been quite critical so far, but only because those points would have improved what is a very interesting work. One interesting idea that Agozino suggests is how accurate is the metaphor of lesbian rape for colonial plunder – after all countries are referred to in the female usually and plunder is often referred to as rape, could things be drawn from feminist theorising in this respect. Another point he makes is the relevance of literature to criminology – particularly in respect of state crime in Africa given that criminology is especially under-developed there – and how this can reflect popular feelings towards crime. Whilst not seeing these as objective measures of crime like some researchers, he does see them as useful indicators and particularly useful for making analogies.

Another idea that Agozino raises is the necessity of not only looking at the punishment of offenders, but also at how innocent people may be punished through the criminal justice system. He devotes a chapter to criticising the death penalty and the number of people sentenced to death in the US who are later proved that either the sentence was unjustified or completely innocent in many cases (between them they make up 60%+).

There are more insightful things in this book too, but that would drag this review out far too long (although I may possibly come back to it at some point). This is a book that is worth reading so long as you can put up with the things I’ve criticised.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Principles of Marxist Criminology - A Progress Report

In the run-up to my hosting of the Carnival of Socialism this Friday, I thought it would be worth looking over the last draft of my Principles of Marxist Criminology and seeing how well I'm covering those principles with posts and whether I need to be thinking about more (as well as updating it in the near future - thanks for the repsonse - especially the post on Law and Disorder about it - very helpful stuff). To see the seocnd draft- go here

1) Marxist Theory Applied to Crime

So far I've posted on the relevance of marxist ideas around Alienation and then a further post relating this to Alcoholism. I've also posted on the Marxist theory of the State too regarding the comments of Marx and Engels on the Paris Commune. However - areas that I've thought of some far include talking about relative deprivation and discussing more on the state (ie. Lenin, Bob Fine).

2) Development of Criminal Justice and Relation to Economy

So far I haven't done all that much here apart from a review of a book on the Emergence of Prisons and a piece on Political Economy and Prisons. I could do some stuff on probation perhaps and also policing too.

3) Class Approach to Crime

Haven't really covered anything here at all - I don't think - perhaps the article on Human Rights fits here

4) Internationalism

This has experienced a sort of boom recently - partly becuase of an upcoming essay. There's been posts on Imperialism and International Criminal Justice.

5) How Crime Affects of Layers of the Population other than the Working Class

I haven't really covered this at all. Perhaps becuase this point is really a restatement of point 3? I'm meaning to do a post on domestic violence at some point

6) Crime in Revolutionary Periods

I've done three posts in this area, one on the Russian Revolution, one on just before the collapse of Stalinist Russia and one on Dual Power in Russia and Portugal. I'm also looking into doing something on Cuba - and there always the series on Venezuela which will have a new post in the next month or so.

7) Role of the State - see 1 where i discussed this

8) Examining Previous Contributions to this Area

I've reviewed several books now on Left Realism and Critical Criminology - the latest was a look at an interductory chapter by Jock Young

9) How To Change Criminal Justice for the Better

I think the pieces I've written on the criminal justice system fit in here - the latest is Prisons: Lumbering Into Further Crisis

I've also done posts on corporate crime, criminal justice workers unions too. I'd also like to do some stuff on environmental crime too. Then there's the question of where do human rights and civil liberties fit - and what about my posts on Wales and Criminal Justice? Also - as was mentioned by the Law and Disorder blog - where does the sociology of law fit in to this. These are questions I'd like help with an will attempt to address in the next draft.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Whats Wrong With Psychology?

Review – Revolution in Psychology: Alienation to Emancipation by Ian Parker - £15.00 – Pluto Press

There is something deeply wrong with psychology. This is the premise with which Ian Parker begins this book. Far from simply understanding how we behave and feel, psychology goes on to try to help people cope and adapt to the problems of everyday life which is where Parker argues the main problems lie. He argues that because life under capitalism is organised around exploitation and alienation, then psychologists that aim to help people adapt to this life are only prolonging these problems. Furthermore, because of this psychologists tend to be inherently hostile to social change. As Parker puts it, “Activists need to know about psychology, and what needs to be done to prevent it from operating only as an instrument of social control” (pg.1).
Parker shows how psychology appeared at a particular point in the development of capitalism. It emerged after the period of capitalist accumulation in the late 19th century, when workers struggles were beginning to materialize, the formation of the second international etc. Psychology was a used to justify that capitalism is the natural state of affairs in the world and located human problems as being due to ‘human nature’ or ‘mental defects’. Parker also notes that psychology’s popularity increased massively under Thatcher.
Thus, Parker explains, poor people became seen as less naturally competent than the rich, those who grew up without the ‘ideal’ nuclear family became predisposed to be hardened criminals and racism became justified due to the ‘essential differences’ between people of different ethnic backgrounds’ genetics.
Furthermore, psychology even falsifies its own history. Parker shows this by citing a book by the appropriately named E.G. Boring. This book argued in 1926 for psychology to be a positivist discipline based on the steady accumulation of ‘facts’ about human beings. Parker notes how false this perspective is by pointing out that Boring’s argument was constructed on the basis of ignoring any parts of the history of psychology thus far that didn’t fit his ideas. He notes how psychology in the US adapted itself to a version of evolutionary theory that fitted capitalist ideology, and how intelligence tests had to be revised when researchers found women and blacks were doing better than they ‘knew’ they should be doing. He also shows how works from outside US-UK mainstream psychology such as Freud’s psychoanalysis was adapted to its ideology, pointing out that Freud was mistranslated with his famous Id, Ego and Superego, actually being everyday German words rather than the jargon we have today.
Crucially he notes that “…psychologists are not consciously dedicated to the survival of capitalism” (pg 30). Rather that psychological ideas act as ideological guardians of capitalism, and he is critical of the fact that many psychologists have not thought through their ideas to their natural conclusions, despite the humanitarianism of many psychologists and the fact that some even came from radical or socialist backgrounds. He does, however, point out some instances where racist psychologists have put their ideas into practise, such as South Africa during apartheid.
Parker then goes on to discuss psychology in relation to work, political dissent and mental health. One of the key points he makes here is that the ‘psychologisation’ of these issues confuses involved rather than clarifies it, and serves to rip problems out of their social, political and economic context, citing the example of recent research in Venezuela that has ignored the huge social transformations there.
He then tackles more recent approaches within psychology that have emerged from criticising mainstream psychology and deals with each in turn, from merely accentuating more positive ideas about psychology to more radical alternatives such as discourse analysis and action research. Parker shows how these approaches have either adapted themselves theoretically back to mainstream psychology, got wrapped up in post-modern ideas about the end of history or transformed into just another branch of psychology.
In a chapter called ‘Psychology and Revolution’ Parker shows how ideas and serious challenges to psychology are bound up with material events. He deals in turn with the 1917 Russian revolution, the May events in Paris 1968, second wave feminism and Latin American in the 1980s, showing how new ideas and concepts were thrown up by each of these events, but points out that this only a glimpse of what could be possible.
He then discusses psychology and the left in a chapter that is full of warnings. One of the main things he criticises is the notion of cultism that has been attached to Marxists and Trotskyist groups by ex-left converts to psychology, including the Militant tendency (forerunner of the Socialist Party).
In his next chapter, Parker draws attention to the struggles against psychologisation in the world. He discusses how people are diagnosed as mentally disabled rather than focussing on what in their environment is disabling them. He continues by discussing the deinstitutionalisation movement in Italy in the name of ‘democratic psychology’ and other anti-psychology and anti-psychiatry movements. Whilst understanding their motives as progressive and emancipatory, Parker also sees their limitation without social change such as how the brunt of responsibility for care could be thrown into the family etc.
Parker concludes by outlining a programme of transitional demands for psychology which he says “…will put social change on the agenda of psychological practise” (pg. 200). These span demands related to democratising psychological treatment and research, questioning psychological ‘knowledge’ and categorisations of people, research methodology and topics, and finally against notions of ‘well-being’ and ‘work-life balance’ (as argued for by Tory leader David Cameron) which stress individualistic objectives that can only be achieved by the ruling and middle classes.
Despite being a Professor of Psychology, Parker is deeply hostile to the discipline and several times calls for an ‘end to it’. Throughout the book you can sense his anger, sometimes I got the impression that he was condemning everything psychology has ‘discovered’, but there may still be useful things that it has found but could (and should) be interpreted differently. His main arguments are correct though, only great social movements and revolutions can inject the notion of change into a-historical psychology. Psychology will either flourish and break through its ideological trappings or sink and get thrown into the dustbin of history as the capitalist version of medieval alchemy.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Review - Getting Away With Murder

This piece is a review from Socialism Today 47, I re-post it here as I only just came across it and think that it is well worth a look at.

Corporate Crime
By Gary Slapper and Steve Tombs, Longman, 1999, £17-99
Reviewed by Chris Moore

CORPORATE CRIME is aimed primarily at students of criminology. It rightly criticises academia for largely ignoring this subject, especially in Britain.

The book gives shocking examples to illustrate how rare it is for corporations to be successfully prosecuted for crimes which often have devastating effects on employees and the general public. Its style, however, is academic, contrasting different theories and research. For readers not involved in criminal law it is, unfortunately, heavy going.

The authors accept that business interests are the driving force of capitalism and that putting profit first encourages corporate crime. But whilst criticising the effects of capitalism, Slapper and Tombs simultaneously defend it: 'Business organisations are legitimate organisations. They perform useful and socially necessary functions'.

In 1949 Edwin Sutherland developed the concept of 'white-collar crime', stating that some white-collar offenders avoid prosecution because of the class bias of the courts. This challenged the stereotype of working-class criminals turning to crime because of pathological criminal tendencies. Sutherland realised that power relations in society affected what people perceived to be criminal, and he pointed out that employers have more power to manipulate legislation than working-class people. For instance, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in the US, introduced to control cartels, was used mainly against trade unions. Slapper and Tombs seem broadly sympathetic to Sutherland's views but offer no solutions which could alter this power imbalance.

Pat O'Malley, an academic who describes himself as a Marxist, argues that criminology is based on the assumption that crime is a violation of the rights of the community and that the state acts on behalf of that community. He says that this is not so and that, therefore, health-endangering pollution and dangerous working conditions, etc, are not necessarily defined as illegal. Although Slapper and Tombs accept this, they put forward what they call 'radical solutions'. However, what effect can 'radical solutions' have on a criminal justice system which is run in the interests of the dominant capitalist class?

They do not recognise that the criminal justice system always tries to protect the interests of big business - unless events outside their control force the judiciary to make compromises. Even then, as soon as the pressure is relaxed, the system will attempt to backtrack. In 1972 five dockers involved in strike action were jailed. A mass movement developed to defend the 'Pentonville Five', as they became known, and a general strike was threatened. Under this pressure they were released - the government and legal system contriving a legal get-out clause.

The authors also show how difficult it is to successfully prosecute companies. The capitalists try to portray corporate crime as being the fault of individual wrongdoers. But companies' structures and policies, such as high profit targets, often pressurise individuals to break the law.

Between 1965 and 1995, 20,000 people were killed in accidents at work or disasters, yet only five cases of corporate manslaughter have been brought. In Britain, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recorded 376 deaths at work from 1994-95. This is a huge underestimate. It excludes deaths due to faulty gas supplies, fishing and merchant shipping accidents, and all driving employment fatalities including those involving coach and bus drivers, as well as deaths from long-term disease, asbestos exposure and occupationally-caused lung cancer. If these are included the figure is 3,018. As a comparison, murder, infanticide and manslaughter accounted for 834 deaths in England, Scotland and Wales over the same period of time.

It is no exaggeration to talk of the slaughter of British workers. According to the HSE, between 1981-83, 73% of 1,186 deaths investigated were the responsibility of management. Despite the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, less than 40% of workplace-accident deaths led to prosecution. Clearly, the law protects companies: the pursuit of profit is more important than the lives of workers and the general public.

There is no official measurement of the cost of corporate crime in Britain. The amount of money involved in 48 cases investigated by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in 1994 was five times the total for all burglaries. The Securities and Investments Board estimated that 1.4 million public-sector workers were advised to cash-in their contribution pension schemes and transfer over to private schemes on the basis of false and misleading information. By 1997 less than 10% of these cases had been resolved. Researchers, Pontell and Calavita, estimated the cost to the US economy of savings-and-loans crimes in 1993 at $1.5 trillion.

Corporate crime is downplayed by the media. It is portrayed in terms of personalities, obscured with the use of terms like, 'scandal', 'accident' or 'a few bad apples'. This implies that they are isolated events which cannot be prevented.

Successful convictions are rare. In the inquiry into last year's Paddington rail disaster, all the witnesses, including rail managers, are immune from prosecution. With the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry disaster, in which 192 people died, it was only pressure from the campaign which forced eight summonses for manslaughter against the company, including two against directors and two against captains. However, the charges against the directors were eventually dismissed and the other cases dropped.

Enforcement of economic crime, as opposed to social regulation (health and safety, etc), tends to be more rigorous - too many Nick Leasons (the broker involved in the Barings share-dealing case) are bad for business. Of course, the capitalist system creates these people in the first place.

The weakest part of the book is the section dealing with solutions. Slapper and Tombs talk of trying to organise business activity differently. The way business operates is, however, a direct reflection of a system based on individual ownership and profit-making. No reforms are permanent. Fines are only effective if corporations believe they will be caught and prosecuted, and even then the price is often paid by workers through redundancies, etc. The authors worry about the effect of fines on shareholders. Corporate probation, introduced in the US in 1987, compels the prosecuted company to carry out specific tasks. But again few offenders are caught. The idea that corporate rehabilitation can force changes in company policy ignores the economic pressures on corporations to break the law in pursuit of profits. Adverse publicity and jailing directors are also put forward. But when one director is jailed, another takes over: nothing has changed fundamentally.

This book is a damning indictment of capitalism. But its approach is too academic. It recognises that the move to the neo-liberal policies of cuts and privatisation has affected the whole environment towards corporate crime. Cuts in public funding for education, for instance, mean a greater reliance on money from business which, in turn, discourages research into corporate crime. At the same time, the business 'values' of individualism and competition encourage criminal activity. Slapper and Tombs see that the interests of the capitalist class are reflected in the criminal justice system and the academic world, which is why there is a relative indifference to corporate crime. However, their solutions revolve around how corporations could be better regulated or prosecuted.

The authors refer to and recognise the importance of the Marxist class analysis based on who owns society's means of production. Unfortunately, they see workers as passive victims rather than as a force able to determine their own future and transform society.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Jock Young and the Decline of Critical Criminology

This piece takes a look at the chapter ‘The failure of criminology: the need for radical realism’ by Jock Young from the 1988 publication Confronting Ctime edited by Young and Roger Matthews.

Young’s opening to this chapter serves as a good introduction to this piece (actually this is the second paragraph). ‘If there has been a measure of the lack of success of radical criminology it has been its failure to rescue mainstream criminology from the conceptual mess in which it has increasingly found itself. It is my contention that the core of this problem revolves around the causes of crime and that this aetiological crisis emerged most blatantly in the 1960s, engendering a period of intense creative development within the discipline including the emergence of radical criminology. However, by the eighties the Thermidor set in and a silent counter-revolution occurred within the mainstream with the emergence of what I will term the new administrative criminology involving a retreat from any discussion of causality…’ (pg4).

Young’s chapter is on the emergence of critical/radical criminology and administrative criminology. Both emerged as groups of ideas within criminology as a result of the collapse of support for positivism. How they emerged is significantly different though, with critical/radical criminology emanating from subcultural and other theories taken from US sociologists and worked up by those around the National Deviancy Conference (NDC). Indeed the story of the National Deviancy Conference could possibly have lessons for those interested in left unity, but that is for another post – the main point for this posting is that it eventually split of into many different groups. One of these was the ‘left realists’ which Young belonged to. Young counterposed himself and his co-thinkers to the ‘left-idealists’ who these are you never really know – but from my reading I take them to be thinkers influenced by the SWP (some of whose members were part of the NDC) and the communist party (which was influenced at this time by the cultural theorists around Stuart Hall).

Administrative criminology, on the other hand, emerged from within the criminological establishment. Two of it’s most prominent theorists were James Q Wilson in the US and Ron Clarke in the UK Home Office. Although as Young notes there were many differences between people who can be classified in this group of thinkers, their main thrust was towards a dropping of the search for the causes of crime (traditionally associated with positivism) and towards situational crime prevention (installation of locks, alarms etc.). Indeed as one of my lecturers has pointed out they were the middle part of the What Works – Nothing Works – Something Works cycle of criminology – this is to do with the role theory plays within trying to do something about crime.

As Young notes later on in the chapter – although outwardly very different “A convergence between left idealism and the new administrative criminology emerged. Bith thought that investigation was fruitless, both agreed that rehabilitation was impossible, both thought that crime control through implementation of programmes of economic and social justice would not succeed, both focussed on the reactions of the state, both were uninterested in past theory, both attempted to explain the effectiveness of crime control without explaining crime and both believed it was possible to generalise in a way which profoundly ignored the specificity of circumstances.”(pg.27)

Moreover, left ‘idealist’ criminology tended to create a functionalist theory that was top-down and explained everything in relation to capitalism’s need to preserve itself. As Young notes, “Central to a Marxist perspective is that capitalism creates the conditions and possibilities for it’s own demise: that is that functional equilibrium is not achieved. It is the assumption that the values and institutions of capitalism obviously aid its equilibrium which is a key weakness of left functionalism.”(pg.18)

So what about Young, self-styled as a left realist? For him, “Realism must navigate between these two poles, it must not succumb to hysteria or relapse into a critical denial of the severity of crime as a problem. It must be fiercely sceptical of official statistics and control institutions without taking the posture of blanket rejection of all figures or, indeed, the very possibility of reform.”(pg.23)

All very good, but for me the place realism found between the poles was the wrong one – they opted for the ‘so-called centre ground’, despite this I think left realist criminology attempted quite a number of useful things – not least local victimisation surveys. Indeed, if ‘left-idealism’ was attached to the ultra-left, and administrative criminology to the bourgeoisie, then rather than being attached to the genuine revolutionary elements, left realism was attached to the ‘soft left’ and the labour bureaucracy.

Scapegoating Students

This letter written by myself was published in this weeks Bangor and Anglesey Mail.

Yet again Bangor councillors try to blame students for all the city’s problems. This time it is for the shortage of affordable accommodation. We’re told in the article in last weeks Mail (12/03/08) that the city is overrun with students and this is the reason that there is no affordable housing for local people. Whilst some developers are clearly targeting students because by cramming students into buildings so they can charge more money per let, this certainly isn’t the fault of the students. Indeed the case of hidden extra charges for students living in Neuadd Willis shows how these developers are ripping students off!

The real way for affordable accommodation can be provided is by the provision of new publicly funded social housing, at affordable rents – what are the councillors doing about that?!

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Imperialism and Criminology

This piece is a look at an article entitled Imperialism, Crime and Criminology: Towards the decolonialisation of criminology by Biko Agozino which appeared in the journal Crime, Law and Social Change.

Why do I like this paper? Because I suppose it addresses a big gap in criminological theory, the question of colonialism – the subjugation of more than half the world to a few imperialist powers and the huge state crimes committed in doing so.

Agozino starts by paraphrasing Lenin on imperialism and commenting on how criminology has by ignoring the crimes of imperialism served it very well. He then comments on a paper by Stan Cohen on attempts to take Western crime control ideas and import them into the third world – noting that criminologists in general either ignore third world countries or look at them in a very primitive manner.

He then goes on to note that in trying to understand crime and violence in Africa, it is essential to understand the conditions created by imperialism in these countries. He critiques the justification of imperialism as bringing enlightenment and development to the colonial world. Additionally he also tries to argue that even Marx argued that imperialism was necessary for countries to develop in an article published in the New York Times ‘The British Rule in India’. However, for myself Marx wasn’t justifying imperialism – rather noting that the imposition of British rule would speed up the likelihood of social revolution in India, a social revolution that would have happened eventually anyway.

He also notes that criminology has hardly developed at all in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and where it has it has only been in terms of western repressive models taught to security services. He also talks about one of the effects of developing criminology in these countries will be in arguing for reparations for the victims of the slave trade, apartheid, the Australian ‘stolen generations’ etc. However, for me, reparations are not likely to a meaningful level under capitalism and it doesn’t solve the ongoing financial imperialism that subjects the third world to the present day.

I particularly like his conclusion though, ‘The major limitation of this paper is that most of the claims in it have not been empirically investigated due to the limitation of funding available at the time of writing. Hopefully, research like this will be more generously funded and more empirically tested in the future. However, it is inexcusable to wait for generous funding before attempting to write something like this.’(pg.356) I heartily agree.

Friday, 21 March 2008

The Question of Human Rights

Is there such a thing as inalienable universal human rights? Are they just a distraction of the capitalists from class struggle? These are questions I’ve been grappling with over the last few weeks whilst I’ve been trying to write an essay.

The most important human rights document is probably the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although this recognises such things as rights to medical care, asylum, and so on, it also includes the right to own private property. Although I agree if this were to be limited to personal property, I don’t this should extend to the right to own the means of production – not only because of being a Marxist and arguing for the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, but also because without the aforementioned measure you can’t provide the facilities to guarantee the initial rights.

I think it’s a damning indictment of capitalism that 60 years after declaring ‘so-called’ inalienable human rights it hasn’t put them in place – indeed it seems to be threatening them ever more and more. Human rights as capitalism has presented them are just a fig-leaf to the oppressed masses around the world. Indeed, the UN is effectively a toothless body when it tries to act to curb the interests of the major capitalist powers. For them human rights are fine so long as they don’t interfere with their interests, and if they do then human rights get thrown out of the picture.

So should the working classes support the idea of human rights, or is it just a capitalist sham? As Marxist have always noted; the most advantageous capitalist regime for workers in the bourgeois democratic state – this of course is opposed to fascist or military-police bonapartist dictatorships which restrict civil liberties and human rights. So we should for my mind be fairly supportive. In the works of Marx and Trotsky, the idea of universal morality (to which the idea of human rights is derived from) is rejected, as it cannot exist in a class ridden society. To paraphrase Lenin (from State and Revolution) it is only possible to talk of real universal rights when class divisions exist no more.

In conclusion, answering my own questions I don’t think human rights are a tool of capitalists, I think they are in general an aspiration of the oppressed everywhere to live a decent life. To that extent they are actually in contradiction to the capitalist system that cannot sustain such rights – just take a look at the advanced capitalist countries where in theory they should be most obtainable but they aren’t. Thus the establishment of inalienable human rights is something Marxists should be fighting for, however, we need a system that can provide the necessary infrastructure to guarantee them, a socialist world.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Break Time

Hi, I'm going to have a few days break to crack on with various things i want to write (essays, articles etc.) However, during this time, I've selected a few pieces I've written over the past week or two that attracted none, or few comments that I think are deserving of a bit more attention, they are:-

Review – War and the International by Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson (1986) Socialist Platform
Security, Civil Liberties and Terrorism
Crime in the Soviet Union
Review - The First Five Years of the Communist International (Vol.1) by Leon Trotsky

Also I'm hosting the Carnival of Socialism a few on friday, I think I may favour crime related articles (hell, I'm hosting it so I might as well encourage people to think about these things!). Anyone with any suggestions of good articles by yourself and others please let me know.


This piece is taken from the Socialist Party Teachers blog see -

Iain Dalton & Ross Saunders (Socialist Party Wales)
Aschool closure is coming to every area of Wales. From Carmarthen to Cardiff, Powys to Gwynedd, the threats of cuts, closures and teacher redundancies are growing.
The root of the problem lies with the Welsh Assembly funding formula which funds each council according to the number of students going to each school, rather than their needs.
Now that student numbers are falling, a new formula is needed to allow smaller class sizes. We say abolish the formula not the schools! But parents, school students, teachers, school workers and local communities are uniting to oppose the threatened cutbacks.
All the parties, Liberal, Labour, Plaid and Tory, accept the argument that schools should close because student numbers have fallen. They claim money is being "wasted on empty places". But falling student numbers are a great opportunity to improve education without spending extra money, through reduced pupil/teacher ratios.
On 13th December, over 600 parents, children and other protesters marched through Caernarfon to protest against the closure of 29 schools and the federalising (one school over several sites) of many others. The march saw banners from many different schools and placards condemning the Plaid Cymru led Gwynedd Council proposing these cuts.
In Cardiff, the Liberal Council's attempt to close 22 schools was defeated last year by a barrage of meetings and demos. But now they have returned with a new closures plan.
School students would be expected to travel across Cardiff, increasing congestion, pollution and carbon emissions, to bigger schools with bigger classes. A united campaign, similar to the one which defeated these plans in 2006, is starting to develop. It could, if focussed on exerting maximum pressure on councillors, repeat the victory of two years ago. If local councillors only oppose closures in their own wards while backing all the others, then all the closures will go ahead. A joined-up Save Our Schools Campaign pledging to fight all attacks on Cardiff schools could extend pressure to all 72 councillors.
What use is the One Wales coalition between Labour and Plaid? Any hope that Plaid entering the government would move things substantially to the left is being snuffed out by these closures. And so much for the Liberal campaign promise in the Assembly election for smaller class sizes!
If councillors refuse to act to save schools, then parents and campaigners are preparing to stand against them in the May elections.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

DWP Strike Reports

On Monday and Tuesday this week, civil servants in the dwp have been taking strike action against their appallingly low pay offer - below are some reports from wales

Merthyr Tydfil

Dave Reid spoke to Aidan Price, secretary of the Eastern Valley DWP branch PCS:

People are really angry about this; it’s not a fair pay deal. I think we have over three quarters of union members backing this strike today and in other offices in the branch about 90%. 40% of our members in DWP would get 1% this year and effectively nothing for two years of this three year pay deal and that’s not acceptable. I think we have got to get over the message that public sector workers should be paid fairly.

The government has also decided that they are going to go 5% above the recommended civil service cuts for the next three years so we’re looking at 12,000 further redundancies within DWP and that is bound to increase the workload on people who are already coping with very high workloads.

We also have a problem with the attendance management policy, a lot of people are being sacked because of sickness, that’s a real area of concern for the union and we have the issue of progression within pay bands. There is also the issue of national pay. We want parity between the different departments so that the same grade in all departments gets the same level of pay.

“PCS is part of the wider trade union movement and we are always looking to put forward the case of hard working public sector people. It’s very important that we are paid fairly and that our pay keeps in line with inflation. Across the board we do very important jobs for the public and I think it should be recognised and we should be paid fairly. You only need to come and see the work that we do to realise how important it is. We’re not pen pushers and we work very hard for our money.”

Swansea - Pension Centre picket line,
Roger Langley, DWP Branch Organiser for the Swansea Pension Centre gave the following angry but determined report to Swansea Socialist Party members:

“We’re out again because the latest is that we forced management back round the table to talk because we’d rather be talking than out. But when we did get back round the table there was no further offer, it was just a smoke screen, but we were willing to talk and enter meaningful negotiations. But they’ve forced us into taking another 2 days of action on Monday which is the busiest day of the week and the Tuesday following.
What is really biting in the department is that the 30,00 job cuts that Gordon Brown previously announced has meant a huge extra workload for the staff remaining. So, with all the extra workload and then being told there’s no pay increase for 25% of our staff this year because of this imposed three year pay deal, we had no option but to go on strike.

Iain Dalton, Bangor Socialist Party reports:

Six members and reps picketed outside Bangor Contact Centre, with some new members joining on the day and some also being turned back too. Anger was very high at the low pay these workers have to accept, with several either working or looking to work two jobs at once to afford to live. .

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Security, Civil Liberties and Terrorism

This piece is some reflections on an article by Lucia Zedner entitled Securing Liberty in the Face of Terror: Reflections from Criminal Justice from the Journal of Law and Society. Although several of these recent posts have and will be discussions based on journal articles – this doesn’t mean that the issues are only intelligible to Criminologists – indeed that would be a very dangerous assumption.

In the so-called ‘war on terrorism’, governments have made many attacks on civil liberties in the name of increasing security. Often there is an assumption of a balance between the two that needs to be met, but that the ‘terrorist threat’ has upset the equilibrium and necessitates it swaying away from civil liberties towards security. Zedner’s article focuses particularly on critiquing this notion of balance as well as the relevance of criminal justice to terrorism legislation.

Zedner asks three questions on this notion of balance; What tips the balance? In whose interests? What lies in the scales? She argues that particularly when we have such an ill-defined threat such as terrorism, then any legislation can be extended fairly easily (she cites the example of legislation for Nothern Ireland being extended to Britain) – especially when you have defined someone where ‘the proof of guilt is a mere formality’. She is also critical of the culture which demands ‘that even the innocent individual must positively welcome surveillance, arrest, or interrogation as being in his or her own (as part of the collective) security interest’.(pg514)

Zedner also points out that such a balancing act is impossible to do in any kind of scientific way, as she notes ‘Precisely because it s unknowlable, prospective risk always threatens to outweigh present interest’.(pg.516) Indeed, with such a ‘threat’ the balance is never stable, as she notes ‘The deployment of security as a pursuit is potentially hazardous therefore because it presumes an endless quest, which must continually anticipate and forestall the next challenge by pre-emptive measures.’(pg.518)

However, there are points I would disagree with Zedner’s analysis. Firstly, she assumes that ‘cases of catastrophic risk, public officials may act extra-legally to engage in preventative interrogational torture (that intend to elicit information with which to avert a catastrophe).’(pg.521) actually exist. As one of the other students in my criminology lectures points out (he is doing his dissertation on the topic), these situations have never really existed – it is just an abstract moral question with no basis in reality. I also disagree with Zedner when she says that ‘These are not normal times…’(pg,522) because of the heightened threat of terrorism, but during the 70’s and 80’s wasn’t there the threat of IRA terrorism in Britain, what about Timothy McVey in the US for example? I must add, she does firmly advocate due process and human rights during all of this, but she should be critical of these assertations and the interests they serve.

Zedner as I have mentioned correctly defends due process and advocates that ‘Measures against terrorist suspects should, as far as possible, be taken within the mainstream criminal justice system’(pg.529), but I would go further and remove the ‘as far as possible’ from that sentence, after all terrorism is multiple acts of grevious bodily harm, murder etc. She also sees judges as the defendants of due process and civil liberties in general. However, she also points out that ‘Judges have a worrisome tendency to defer to the executive in matters of security, particularly in times of heightened threat’(pg.526). This however, is not something someone with a Marxist view of how the state operates should be surprised about at all. I have discussed the judiciary in more detail elsewhere however.

In her conclusion, Zedner notes ‘Instead of accepting security as an end in its own right, asking ‘security of what?’ obliges us to specify the goods to be secured. Liberty is one such good’(pg.532). I think a more pertinent question would be security for whom, for which group in society is this ‘war on terrorism’ being conducted? Although Zedner’s article raises some interesting questions, she is far from supplying the answers.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Review – War and the International by Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson (1986) Socialist Platform

This is to some extent a review in two parts, firstly I wish to give a general feel of the book and criticism and secondly I wish to draw upon a couple of the main lessons from this period.

War and the International is a book aiming to provide a history of the Trotskyist movement in Britain over the period immediately preceding, during and immediately after the second world war. The book is written in a very easily readable style and is littered with footnotes and references to interviews with many of the participants in the movement at this time. For this reason alone I would say this book is worth reading to find out more about this period.
However, I don’t think the book gives as full a history as is possible. Whilst it is very good on giving an internal history of the various Trotskyist currents at the time and their relationships with one another and the Fourth International, as you read it you feel like not enough context is given of the situation in Britain – just enough for the events to make sense is recorded but not enough in my opinion to get a really good feel of the influence of these events.

There are a few key things the book touches upon – firstly is the question of entrism. The book reports the various discussions on this issue and correctly criticises them for missing the boat in terms of not entering the labour party when it became very active in 1944/5, and then entering the party in a manner that effectively liquidated the gains of both the WIL and the RCP. There is also some discussion on the idea that Marxists should be in a reformist party in order to provide a leadership when the radicalised masses enter a party, but as the period shows those groups operating within the labour party during the war stagnated whilst the openly organised WIL made some major gains for an organisation of it’s size – additionally it’s main leaders Jock Haston and Ted Grant also managed to correctly analyse (although a little late) the developments internationally after the war.
The second is the question of left unity (or in this case unifying the sections of the Fourth International in Britain). The main lesson that comes out of this is that unity must be on a principled basis – the failure and time-wasting of fusions attempted by the IS of the Fourth International on a purely organisational basis is testament to this. Indeed, they manipulated sections to reinforce their own lack of authority when their perspectives turned out to be completely wrong. Indeed, these manipulations probably impeded the development of Trotskyism in Britain – I wonder what would have happened if the WIL had continued without being pressured through various fusions?
There are other lessons two, of how the WIL organise struggles during this period and the principled manner internal debates were conducted involving large amounts of the membership without distracting too much from the work of the organisation. This period is more than worth the study – and given the mis-education people get about the second world war and the period surrounding it I think such discussion is very worthwhile.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Transmission Interrupted

I'm having technical problems at the moment - but expect some more posts up this weekend on terrorism, a book review and more on state crimes and criminal justice.

For the time being, why not check out this fortnights carnival of socialism at Power to the People.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Review – The Whistleblower – BBC1 Weds 5th March (8pm)

Recent high-profile child safety cases, such as the disappearance last year of Madeline McCann are the background to this episode of BBC One’s Whistleblower documentaries. The programme features an insider ‘whistleblower’ from OFSTED as well as an undercover journalist taking three different jobs in childcare; one at a local ‘family-run’ nursery, the second at an internationally renowned holiday resort chain and the third at a chain nursery which recently saw a child die in it’s care.
The impression you are left with from all these undercover visits is that childcare is seen by these businesses as just another way of making a ‘quick buck’. High prices are charged to parents for the care, but this certainly doesn’t go towards high quality staffing and facilities. Instead, the money seems to go in the owners back pockets, whilst they employ staff on the cheapest rates, with no training and as a result morale at all the places is really low, with a high staff turnover due to the high stress levels this provokes. At the resort we are shown some of the various tricks the company goes into to cuts costs, where they make staff work illegally on tourist visas rather than paying out for work permits for them.
Safety is also poor. As a result of chronic understaffing, stressed and over-worked staff struggle to keep an eye on all the children. Added to this are unsafe toys and objects, as well as a lack of safety equipment for some activities. We are also shown how one nursery owner denies that children have burnt themselves on radiators whilst simultaneously installing radiator guards ahead of an upcoming inspection (and this work, with power tools and all lying everywhere, is being carried out whilst children are still playing in the room!!)
Ofsted is shown to do next to nothing to protect the children, in the words of the programme’s whistleblower, its inspections ‘barely scratch the surface’. And keeping with the recent sleaze scandals we are told that the nursery where the child died may have been saved from closure to safeguard the career of Michael Falon, a Tory MP, who was the company’s managing director at the time.
What the programme didn’t go into was the need for a socialist solution to these problems. Instead of privatised nurseries with poor safety and low paid staff, there needs to be a publicly owned, fully funded childcare system under the democratic control of parents and workers to provide the care children and parents alike deserve.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Crime in the Soviet Union

This piece is a look at W. E. Butler’s article of the same title in the Spring 1992 British Journal of Criminology.

Discussing crime and the Soviet Union is quite a difficult proposition. Why? Because crime stats which are often the guide for discussing crime in many countries, and in the Soviet Union these were not available for many years. Butler, who has written the article under discussion is from his tone clearly no Marxist, and to that extent is ignorant of the difference between the first few years of the Russian Revolution and it’s development thereafter. Even so, he does comment that in the early years “it is certainly the case that data on the incidence of reported crime, criminal convictions, and sentencing policies were reported and discussed in the press and cumulated in annual statistical yearbooks”(pg.146). However, “from the early 1930s the reporting of this type of ‘negative phenomena’ was prohibited on grounds of official secrecy”(pg.146). He mainly puts this down to “the obvious ideological inconsistency between the declared achievement of socialism by Soviet society and the continued pervasiveness of criminality.”(p146). Obviously, decreeing socialism like Stalin did has nothing in common with real marxism and won’t make crime disappear. But Butler treats this as part of the development of communism rather than spotting the absolute break with marxism that Stalin’s coming to power represented.
One final point on this. Butler also says “Crime by definition was expected to die out, to disappear, under socialism and communism” (pg.146); this isn’t true. Marxists have always said that crime would be near negligible in a genuine communistic society – Lenin even discussed how crime would be dealth with to an extent in his State and Revolution.

The main piece of Butler’s analysis is of crime rates in the last few years of the Soviet Union (from 1987-89). He comments that “The year 1989 was by all accounts a deplorable one… registered crimes had increased by 31.8 per cent over 1988…”(pg.148) He also a bit later discusses the main decrease being in what he terms ‘economic crimes’, suggesting that this is because “the constituent elements of those offences were not consistent with the market economy ethos”.(pg.148) I would argue it is because the are all too consistent with the market that they simply stopped being investigated.

In the data on crimes, Russia and Ukraine within the USSR accounted for usually between 75 and 85 per cent of all crime. Somewhat surprisingly “Only 1-2 per cent of crimes in the USSR are classified as narcotics related.”(pg.154), however as if to make up for this “About one-third of all criminals acted in a state of intoxication…”(pg.155)
However, interestingly for us, he concludes the article with the following comment “Preliminary data released for 1990 showed a still rising crime rate: 2,786,605 crimes were committed, a 13.2 per cent increase over 1989.”(pg.159)

This is only a brief overview of the contents of this article which includes some more fascinating statistical data on crime rates in the various constituent parts of the USSR as well as who committed the crimes as well as some more commentary. Hopefully, I will be able to look again at Russia and the USSR in the near future. In particular interest to myself is both the transition from (well from semi-feudalism really!) and back to capitalism in that country. I would appreciate comments on this piece a lot, as I don't get many chances to talk about these issues.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

The Role of the Individual in History

nA look at the Chapter – ‘From Lenin to Castro’ in George Novack’s Understanding History.

I’ve been meaning to blog on this topic for a while. The question of how much individuals can alter history is an important one. Why? Well, if an individual can have no influence over the course of history then why be an activist? Or if they have a controlling influence over the course of history, then why bother with collective action?

Novack explains that Marxism gives primacy to objective factors in the development of history, for example, the development of the forces of production. But it also recognises there is also the subjective factor of human interaction with these events. Depending on objective factors, the human interaction can have a huge or no effect, or even somewhere in between those two poles. It is of course at the high point of events where the actions of individuals are of the greatest influence.

If we look at the events of the 1917 Russian Revolution, as Novack does, we see that the actions of one individual, Lenin, was quite decisive. Not because Lenin in himself was especially important, but because of the social position of Lenin as the authorative figure within the Bolshevik party, armed with the theoretical ideas to lead such a party. Novack also discusses the role of Trotsky. In my opinion, although Trotsky was more theoretically accurate in the development of the revolution (ie. his theory of the Permanent Revolution), he could not have fulfilled this role because he’d rejected the need for a centralised revolutionary party until he became convinced during the course of the revolution. This is not to say that we want only one person to be decisive. For myself, the value in belonging to a revolutionary party is studying the lessons of history and leading struggles so that when the time comes we have hundreds and thousands of individuals who could play a decisive role.

This can be seen in the development of political, organisations and campaigns. Any of these things has one or several main activists who play the leading roles in these groups, with many other people following their lead. Hopefully some of these other people will gradually get more and more involved, and new activists become created. (Okay that’s a bit simplified but you get the jist). In any campaign, it doesn’t necessarily need to be that individual at the beginning, but especially as they gain people’s confidence specific individuals become more and more important, indeed to an extent they become identified with certain issues or groups.

Novack also discusses Cuba. Here I disagree with him when he says that Castro and the July 26th Movement created the missing revolutionary conditions in the country. The revolutionary conditions already existed, what was missing was a correct leadership. The leadership that Castro and his comrades gave did influence the direction of the struggle in Cuba dramatically, leading to an overturn of the dominance of capitalism in that country, but a movement led by the workers in that country would have been even more dramatic and fruitful.

Friday, 7 March 2008

A Brief Look at the Origins and History of Police Unionism in Britain – Pt1

This is part one of this post - partially becuase I haven't done the other half yet which will cover the period after the 1918-19 police strikes, but also becuase they are two fundamentally different periods in police unionism history. I also would like to do a piece or two on prison officer union, probation officer unions and also court staff as i think these are areas of interest

The formation of unions for police officers came as a result of dissatisfaction over pay and conditions prior to the First World War, although the first recorded instance of collective action dates back to 1872. Most grievances either related to conditions of service (in particular ruthless military discipline practiced within the force) as well as pay disparity between different regions. This led to the formation in 1913 of the Metropolitan Police Union, which soon expanded to have a branch for provincial members and in 1914 became The National Union of Police and Prison Officers (NUPPO).
It is worthwhile noting that the State has always been especially opposed to granting those working for the State the same trade union rights as other workers. NUPPO was no exception. As Rob Reiner notes in The Blue-Coated Worker, “Membership was secret and the Union met in a clandestine way. This was necessitated by the Union’s illegal status… Policemen discovered to be members were suspended.” (pg 20.)
NUPPO began forging links with the labour movement, whom its leaders were sympathetic to. This of course was made more complicated by the role of the police in repressing strikes, but the union became affiliated to the Labour Party, the TUC and many local trades councils.
The deteriorating position of police incomes during the First World War meant that they had gone from being relative to that of a skilled worker to just below that of an unskilled worker. This led to an increase in membership of the union, and importantly leadership of the union passing from ex-police officers to an executive of current police officers, several of whom were committed socialists.
In 1918, an event occurred that led to Sylvia Pankhurst describing it as “The Spirit of Petrograd”. This was the police strike in the late summer. The immediate stimulus for the strike was the dismissal of Constable Theil, a leading member of the union on August 27th 1918. This led to the union resubmitting its previous demands for recognition and a pay increase, as well as now demanding Thiel’s re-instatement, with an ultimatum that the union would strike if these conditions were not met. The deadline was ignored and the strike started on midnight August 29th and was almost total, by the August 31st approximately 12000 Metropolitan police officers were on strike. The government of Lloyd George was quickly forced to concede to the unions demands on pay, conditions and the re-instatement of Thiel. However, the question of union recognition was not completely answered by Lloyd George saying that he could not recognise a union in wartime.
Although not fully recognised, the concessions led to an ease of repression against union activists and also a massive expansion of the union itself. Moreover, both in recognition with it’s loyalty to the workers movement and realising its own strength the union publicly declared that its members would stop repressing workers, and not be used for strike-breaking. The union in London also fought for democratic control of the police force rather than the despotic control of the Home Office appointed Commissioner, General Macready.
A battle emerged over the newly created elected representative board which was to negotiate wages and conditions with Macready. The union made all the officers on the board ex-officio members of its executive and dominated it. It used this board to extend its control over police deployment and refused to pass on orders against the interests of police officers and workers alike.
However, on 24th February 1919, after the board refused to accept one of Macready’s orders he moved against the union and drew up plans for elected three different boards each representing a different ranks of the police force, constables, sergeants and inspectors individually. Union activists were dismissed and the Home Secretary in support of Macready that any policemen who retained membership of the Union would lose their jobs, and on 8th July 1919 starting bring forth a bill to ban police from being members of a trade union. Crucially, however, the government combined repression with concessions that vastly increased pay and used the new three-tier representative structure to establish the Police Federation, a kind of company union that still exists today.
The union had already balloted on strike action over recognition, improvements in pay and the reinstatement of a union activist, getting 44,599 in favour with only 4324 against. However, they blundered when they called off action after reports of Macready bringing in the military to strike-break against them. In fact the government had been planning against them ever since making the concessions the previous year. The union tried to lean on the rest of the labour movement for support, however, a combination of opposition to a strike from the tops of the movement as well as the difficulties of convincing workers who had previously had the police used against to come out in support of the police, meant that the supportive action that took place quickly dissolved away. Most of the police did not come out, when the last ditch strike action took place as the bill prohibiting union membership was read out in parliament. Indeed, only in Liverpool was the strike a success with over half the membership coming out, but it was eventually suppressed, with all strikers dismissed from the force.


Yes, not me but the comments part of the website. But so seems to be many of the comments boxes of websites I have been visiting.
Is there a lot fo activity people are being engaged in? Can people just not be bothered commenting at the moment? I feel I have to say, some of the posts of the last week haven't been the most criminologically focussed, but i think the student ones were quite good, and the report from NUS Wales Conference I think is important. Any please below see a post on the history of police trade unions - something for people to get stuck into

Anyways, I feel i should introduce a few new blogs, they are Campaign for a New Workers' Party blog, Ten Percent and Classroom Teacher.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

NUS Wales Conference- old pals beanfeast.

Please note - i didn't write that title, but i've stuck with it as this is a report from the Socialist Party Wales website of a report from NUS Wales Conference which was last weekend.

Having been to NUS UK Conference a few years back, NUS Wales Conference was completely different experience.
For a start, there were only about 30 delegates, with no-one from Cardiff and Swansea Universities. Ten of these were the Welsh national executive, and many of the others were Student Union sabbatical officers. It was more like a friendly meet up to pat each other on the back for doing such a ‘great’ job.
Much was made of NUS being able to win certain reforms in areas with devolved government, for example fees scrapped in Scotland and free prescriptions for students in Wales. Policies were passed arguing for the vote at sixteen and against a graduate tax with reference to the real fight being to abolish fees altogether. However, the conference also voted for NUS Wales having its own 'governance review' We were bombarded with propaganda favouring the NUS UK Governance review.
Despite this, several FE delegates were interested in building the Campaign to Defeat Fees at their colleges across Wales. Three copies of the Socialist were sold, one student magazine and one copy of Socialism Today.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Solidarity with Chinese Workers

I don't usually do reposts, but I feel like this is an important solidarity appeal from workers in China, please send messages of support.

China: Urgent appeal for support for Dongguan textile workers
Mon, 3 Mar 2008.

Massive anger as Hong Kong-owned company slashes 4,000 jobs

Vincent Kolo, Chen Lizhi and Zhen Fanxi, has been contacted by supporters of workers at a large textile factory in southern China to spread news and generate solidarity messages for a developing struggle for jobs. On Friday 29 February, the Fuan Textile Printing and Dyeing Co., Ltd., in the southern industrial city of Dongguan, Guangdong province, announced sudden layoffs of nearly 4,000 employees, more than two-thirds of the workforce. There has been an increase in factory closures and redundancies in the Pearl River Delta, where Dongguan is situated, as a result of the rise of the yuan against the dollar, stricter enforcement of pollution, fuel efficiency and other controls, and the economic slowdown in the United States. But workers can never accept such arguments as a justification for layoffs or reductions in wages and compensation. If the bosses suddenly plead poverty – while driving to their golf courses in luxury cars – workers must demand to inspect the company books to see where the money has gone!

The staff reductions at Fuan Textile are being imposed in complete disregard for the statutory consultation process with the official, regime-controlled trade unions. This is a grave violation of China’s new labour contract law that came into effect on 1 January this year. The company are also refusing to meet their legal requirements in respect of miminum compensation for retrenched workers, based on years of service. has warned that bosses across China will try to ignore or circumvent the new labour contract law. The law, according to the Chinese government, is supposed to provide a basic level of protection for workers and prevent arbitrary sackings and layoffs of this type. But the law’s main weakness (there are many) is that it does not lift the ban on independent and democratically-run trade unions, which represent the only way to fundamentally improve China’s deplorable working conditions. The struggle in Dongguan could however be a major test of the new law, either by exposing it as a paper tiger or, if significant pressure including international pressure is generated, by forcing the nominally ’communist’ authorities to stage a partial defence of their own law!

Anger at the job cuts announcement led to several hundred, perhaps as many as 2,000 workers, taking part in an unauthorised demonstration on Friday and marching to the offices of the local government in Changan Town, the administrative area where the factory is based. As is common practise in China, the local government in Changan Town owns a minority stake in Fuan Textile, through the Dongguan Changan Enterprise General Co. Such arrangements often involve special treatment for the company in question, allowing it to circumvent factory laws and escape penalties.

On the morning of 1 March, according to the Hong Kong media outlet Wen Wei Po, the workers continued their protest action and this led to small-scale clashes with the police and paramilitary police, resulting in some injuries and the arrest of several workers.

Notorious law-breaking company

The Fuan Textile plant is majority owned by Hong Kong-based Fountain Set (Holdings) Limited, which is listed on the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. Fountain Set notched up worldwide sales worth HK$7.02 billion (US$900 million) in the financial year 2007. The company employs a total of 23,000 people with production facilities also in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, although mainly in China. The Dongguan subsidiary, Fuan Textile, was the second-largest Chinese exporter of fabrics in 2004, according to the International Herald Tribune [2 August 2005]. The factory is described as huge even by the standards of Dongguan, and even boasts the biggest assembly of circular knitting machines in the world.

The company made headlines in 2006 for something far more sinister. It was fined 11.5 million yuan ($1.65 million) for dumping pollution into the local river. According to the South China Morning Post (16 June 2006) the ”factory is alleged to have laid a secret pipe to the river and discharged more than 20,000 tonnes a day, nearly equivalent to its total waste water treatment plant’s capacity. Fountain Sets has denied the existence of the pipe.”

Yet the company’s website ( insists they are ’responsible corporate citizens’ and work to foster ’community awareness and environmental protection; and extend the spirit and sincere in caring and paying attention to the society and people in need.’ The emptiness of these PR slogans is fully exposed by the callous treatment of the Dongguan workforce over recent days.

Letters of protest needed – urgently

On behalf of the Fuan Textile workers, is appealing for urgent letters of protest to be sent to Fountain Set. The company has offices in seven countries outside China, including in London and New York (see their website – – for details).

Workers in China toil under inhuman conditions for miserable wages. A brutal one-party dictatorship which bans unions, strikes and all forms of independent protest, imposes special problems upon workers attempting to fight back against attacks from employers, who, to make matters even worse, are in bed with the government through joint-ownership arrangements as in the case of Fuan Textile. Without a union (one cannot count the puppet official union, ACFTU, whose own leaders describe it as ”virtually helpless”), the workforce at Fuan Textile may not achieve a basic degree of unity between those whose jobs are threatened and those who – for now – have escaped the axe. There are reports that some workers, understandably, are afraid to speak out. Given massive police intimidation and a government that can pull the plugs on media coverage – even blacking out internet and mobile phone messaging if it chooses to – labour disputes usually tend to be of short duration in China, a matter of days. Therefore, if international groups and especially trade unionists want to support this important struggle – please act quickly! Messages of international support can be a huge boost to the morale of these workers and perhaps, with the Olympics just five months away, pressurise the Chinese regime into checking its worst repressive practises.

The following is a draft protest letter that can be faxed or emailed to the company:

To: Chung Fong Ha, Managing Director of Fountain Set (Holdings) Ltd.

Dear Sir,
We protest at the scandalous action of the Hong Kong-based Fountain Set company and its subsidiary, Fuan Textile Printing and Dyeing Co., Ltd., in imposing drastic job losses on its workforce in Changan Town, Dongguan. We note that the company is acting in complete violation of China’s labour contract law, which stipulates that a consultation process is mandatory and enforces certain minimum levels of compensation. We note this is not the first time your company has broken the law, as it also did in 2006 when it received a hefty fine for pollution crimes. We fully support the workforce in their struggle for justice and to keep their jobs. We demand the immediate release of arrested workers, and strongly protest against the use of the police to silence what are justified demonstrations of workers’ grievances. We support the right of workers in China to form their own, independent and fully democratic trade unions. We will follow very closely the outcome of this dispute and the actions of both the company and the local offices [Dongguan Changan Town] of the Chinese government in this Olympic year.

Fax number: +852 2418 1139
Telephone +852-24-851881

Please send copies of all letters and messages of support to
email: cwi.china @

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Go Green joint campaign in Bangor

Here's a report of some activity from a few weekends ago written by a member of Socialist Students.

Bangor Socialist students took part in a go green weekend on Saturday Feb. 22 in conjunction with .Subject to Change (a climate change society), Student Amnesty and the Fairtrade Society.
James Nock
The day consisted of protests in town with Socialist Students holding a stall campaigning against nuclear power. Despite the bad weather there was some interest from the public, reflected by the sale of four newspapers; a copy of ‘Student Socialist’ and the addition of signatures to the petition. The societies involved in the event later held a discussion regarding issues associated with global warming. Socialist Students spoke about the role democratic planning could play in helping to combat the escalation of global warming. The day also consisted of films educating participants on the reasons and effects of global warming. It is hoped that the societies will work together again in the future to campaign on issues regarding global warming.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Review - The First Five Years of the Communist International (Vol.1) by Leon Trotsky

Recently, I read this book. I found it quite interesting, as it re-prints Trostky’s articles, speeches and documents during the first few Congresses of the Third International. In the various documents, you can see how the analysis develops from the huge optimism of the immediate post-war epoch of revolutions, to later on when the analysis becomes more sober, but the fundamental tactics of the movement, such as the idea of the united front and the dangers of ultra-leftism are developed. I would certainly recommend reading it, as the creation of the Third International and it’s subsequent degeneration are even more important in today’s world.
There are some fascinating quotes which I’ve reproduced below too, which give a huge insight into how these congresses and discussions added to the Marxist understanding of the world. In the section ‘On the Policy of the KAPD’, Trotsky says

‘From our standpoint world economy is viewed as an organic unity on whose ground the world proletarian revolution evolves; and the Communist International takes its orientation from the entire world complex, analysing it by means of the scientific methods of Marxism and utilising all experiences of past struggles. This does not, of course, exclude but rather presupposes that the development of each country has its own peculiar features, that specific situations have their peculiarities, and so on. But in order to correctly evaluate these peculiarities, it is necessary to approach them in their international context.’ (pg.175-6)

Or later on the relationship between the economy and revolution is discussed in ‘The Report of The World Economic Crisis and The New Tasks of The Communist International’, he says

‘…Engels wrote that while the crisis of 1847 was the mother of revolution, the boom of 1849-51 was the mother of triumphant counter-revolution. It would, however, be very one-sided and utterly false to interpret these judgements in the sense that a crisis invariably engenders revolutionary action while a boom, on the contrary, pacifies the working class. The Revolution of 1848 was not born out of the crisis. The latter merely provided the impetus…’ (pg.259)

And a little later

‘…It might be asked whether the great struggles over wages, a classic example of which is the miners’ strike in England, will lead automatically to the world revolution, to the final civil war and the struggle for conquest of political power. However, it is not Marxist to pose the question in such a way. We have no automatic guarantees of development…. In general, there is no automatic dependence of the proletarian revolutionary movement upon a crisis. There is only dialectical interaction. It is essential to understand this.’ (pg.261)

Sunday, 2 March 2008

More debt woes

This was published as a letter in last weeks issue of The Socialist.

The Education Guardian (19/02/08) reported that this year a greater proportion of universities are in debt than at any point in the last decade. The report also said that many were banking on the lifting of the £3,145 cap on top-up fees to get themselves out of this debt. University vice chancellors have been aiming to get the cap lifted ever since top-up fees were introduced.

The thing that disgusted me most however, was the comments in an article by NUS president Gemma Tumelty. She rejects raising the cap on fees but says: "Universities should be working within the financial constraints they have and engaging in this debate, rather than surreptitiously counting up student money which is not theirs." No Gemma. Instead of the government wasting £75 billion on Trident nuclear missiles, we should be demanding that money is spent on public services. We should demand that the money is provided to pay for free education, with living grants for all. And rather than letting the current university heads mismanage these funds, universities should be democratically run by students, staff and the community.