Saturday, 5 July 2008

Crime and the 1923 German Revolution

As I have said before, for a Marxist criminology we cannot just be content in analysising crime in the here and now, we must also examine what would happen to crime during and after a successful socialist revolution. This is what I am trying to do once more here. The conclusions I draw in this piece are based upon reading Witness to the German Revolution by Victor Serge.

What was crime like in Germany during 1923 – soaring! And it should be no surprise – the German economy was collapsing under the weight of reparations from the Versailles Treaty, France was occupying the Ruhr, inflation was spiralling out of control, there was also food shortages. Thus it wouldn’t surprise you that Serge reports “A hundred or so cases of poisoning from bad flour…and several cases involving rotten horse meat. There have been several deaths.”(pg26), he also reports a increase of a homelessness of a third in a year and troops killing people in the occupied Ruhr.

On July 27th he notes of how a potato seller increasing his prices every time someone bought them (there was a shortage of potatoes) was set upon by an angry crowd. On September 22nd he reports how hoarding food has led to the looting of shops.

On 13th October he reports on the case of a Prussian landlord who had assaulted, battered and finally killed peasants scavenging for wood and wild mushrooms on his land over a period of time. Defending himself saying “I don’t shoot at respectable people, but I am not afraid of shooting at scum.”(pg104), Serge reports that he was acquitted.

20th October see Serge reporting that “Hunger riots are becoming daily events.”(pg118) Interestingly, on 27th October Serge reports that “An eyewitness told me about one of these instances of looting. He was astonished at the sense of order of the starving people. Methodical looting, no unnecessary violence against property or people. They didn’t take luxury items. They took bread, fat, shoes. Suddenly achieving a primitive awareness of their right to life, men condemned to die of hunger took what they needed to live. It was only when the police intervened that the expropriation degenerated into a riot.”(pg.127) Interestingly in a later article he compares this ‘non-violent’ crime of working people with that of the capitalist class, the police and the Nazis who had attacked and threatened workers and Socialists all across the country.

What Serge’s comments do show is the material causes of crime – in this case the spiralling inflation causing hunger and leading people to looting in order to stay alive. Sure the link is never so directly causal when it not in times of capitalist crisis, but then there is nothing like a crisis to exposure the real nature of the system.

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