Friday, 31 October 2008

Socialists on the Criminal Justice System – Rosa Luxemburg

This is the first in a series of pieces about writings by various Socialist thinkers that I keep seeming to come across. This pieces is a commentary on Rosa Luxemburg’s ‘Against Capital Punishment’ which can be found
(Please note, my quotes are from the text published in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks from Pathfinder Press)

‘Against Capital Punishment’ is an article of Rosa Luxemburg’s from when she was newly released from her imprisonment during the First World War. She had been imprisoned under an administrative order which meant that she wasn’t released during the earlier amnesty of political prisoners and had to wait until the masses of Breslau opened the prison gates.

Suprisingly, given the title, Luxemburg doesn’t actually talk about capital punishment all that much apart from calling for it’s abolition on the basis it is barbaric. What I found more interesting in the article were some of her more general comments on criminality and the criminal justice system.

Her view of criminals is of people barbarised under capitalism, stating that they are “victims of the imperialistic war which pushed distress and misery to the very limit of intolerable torture, victims of the frightful butchery of men which let loose all the violent instincts.”(pg.525)

And she adds that “The justice of the bourgeois classes has again been like a net, which allowed the voracious sharks to escape, while the little sardines were caught.” (pg.525) In her opinion the main criminals did not get caught, whilst it was only those who were plainly guilty or those who got dragged into the criminal justice system for minor incidents who had to face the full force of the capitalist criminal justice system.

They are sentiments I agree with, and I’m sure many of the readers of this blog will. But what she states should be done about it could to a large extent have been written about the criminal justice system today. She believes “The proletarian revolution ought now, by a little ray of kindness, to illuminate the gloomy life of the prisons, shorten Draconian sentences, abolish barbarous punishments – the use of manacles and whippings – improve, as far as possible, the medical attention, the food allowance, and the conditions of labour.”(pg.526)

Although it is a very short piece, it states in clear terms some of the main problems that socialists have with the criminal justice system under capitalism alongside some observations of Rosa’s as to the conditions that criminals endured in prisons at that time. If you are interested in this area it is worth a minute or two of your time to read.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

New Labour caps new university places at 10,000 for next year

Socialist Students statement on today's government announcement.

When Gordon Brown took over as prime minister in July 2007 part of his fanfare was that he increased the grants available for students.
Now the government has capped university places to 10,000, due to a budgeting crisis and the cost of borrowing to bail out the banks.
An expansion of grants came into effect with this year's intake of students. Students from families with incomes of up to £25,000 are supposed to be entitled to the maximum grant of £2,825 a year (in reality bureaucratic, unfair means testing means many students miss out on money they are entitled to). The previous threshold was a family income of £17,500.
This year a third of students (showing what a low wage economy we live in) were entitled to the full grant. A further third of students with family incomes up to £60,000 a year receive a partial grant on a sliding scale, although this is has been cut to £50,020.
It appears New Labour have drastically underestimated the amount of poorer students who need to claim grants.
The money made available for these grants isn't enough to meet the demand of by rising admissions which were up by 9.7% this year (for the first time this year UCAS figures included nursing students).
The government claims it is short of £100 million and that with a national debt piled up to £685 billion it can't borrow anymore for public spending.
John Denham the Universities minister has devoted whole sections of his department's website to lecturing students about managing their finances, perhaps some of his minions should take a look.
The admissions rise clearly reflects the aspirations of young people from poorer backgrounds to have the benefits of higher education. Many of whom will have had their fears about the cost of university and debt eased this year by New Labour's promises of grants that may now prove to be empty.
Socialist Students has consistently warned that while we supported any increase in grants for students that these limited reforms would not be enough to meet the demand that exists, and that what New Labour promise or give to gain popularity for election purposes they soon try to take away.
If the number of university places is cut, or students find out they can't get the money they were promised they were entitled to the government can expect huge anger.
Students will be asking what right the government has to take away the money that it promised them or stop them going to a university they want to go to because the government has bailed out rich bankers?
The NUS has stated its opposition to any cuts in grants or university places.
Good, but lets have some action! The NUS should follow the example of the USI (students union in Ireland) and the pensioners in Dublin who met the Irish governments budget cuts with a national demonstration.
Socialist Students says No to cuts in student grants and university places, For an immediate increase in public spending to meet levels of demand, Scrap all university fees and write off all student debt, for the introduction of a living grant for all and for a free, publicly funded good quality education system.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

On Means and Ends

Yesterday after a lecture on utilitarianism and morals I found myself comntemplating one of the key concepts of utilitarianism - that the end justifies the means. Now, personally I don't think this is necessarily the case - i think one has to be much further sighted than the immediate end for instance. Anyways, to get to the point, I found myself re-reading Trotsky's pamphlet Their Morals and Ours and what he has to say on the matter - part of which I reproduce below
(Taken from Marxist Internet Archive

Dialectic Interdependence of End and Means

A means can be justified only by its end. But the end in its turn needs to be justified, From the Marxist point of view, which expresses the historical interests of the proletariat, the end is justified if it leads to increasing the power of man over nature and to the abolition of the power of man over man.
“We are to understand then that in achieving this end anything is permissible?” sarcastically demands the Philistine, demonstrating that he understood nothing. That is permissible, we answer, which really leads to the liberation of mankind. Since this end can be achieved only through revolution, the liberating morality of the proletariat of necessity is endowed with a revolutionary character. It irreconcilably counteracts not only religious dogma but every kind of idealistic fetish, these philosophic gendarmes of the ruling class. It deduces a rule for conduct from the laws of the development of society, thus primarily from the class struggle, this law of all laws.
“Just the same,” the moralist continues to insist, “does it mean that in the class struggle against capitalists all means are permissible: lying, frame-up, betrayal, murder, and so on?” Permissible and obligatory are those and only those means, we answer, which unite the revolutionary proletariat, fill their hearts with irreconcilable hostility to oppression, teach them contempt for official morality and its democratic echoers, imbue them with consciousness of their own historic mission, raise their courage and spirit of self-sacrifice in the struggle. Precisely from this it flows that not all means are permissible. When we say that the end justifies the means, then for us the conclusion follows that the great revolutionary end spurns those base means and ways which set one part of the working class against other parts, or attempt to make the masses happy without their participation; or lower the faith of the masses in themselves and their organization, replacing it by worship for the “leaders”. Primarily and irreconcilably, revolutionary morality rejects servility in relation to the bourgeoisie and haughtiness in relation to the toilers, that is, those characteristics in which petty bourgeois pedants and moralists are thoroughly steeped.
These criteria do not, of course, give a ready answer to the question as to what is permissible and what is not permissible in each separate case. There can be no such automatic answers. Problems of revolutionary morality are fused with the problems of revolutionary strategy and tactics. The living experience of the movement under the clarification of theory provides the correct answer to these problems.
Dialectic materialism does not know dualism between means and end. The end flows naturally from the historical movement. Organically the means are subordinated to the end. The immediate end becomes the means for a further end. In his play, Franz von Sickingen, Ferdinand Lassalle puts the following words into the mouth of one of the heroes:
... “Show not the goalBut show also the path. So closely interwovenAre path and goal that each with otherEver changes, and other paths forthwithAnother goal set up.”
Lassalle’s lines are not at all perfect. Still worse is the fact that in practical politics Lassalle himself diverged from the above expressed precept – it is sufficient to recall that he went as far as secret agreements with Bismark! But the dialectic interdependence between means and end is expressed entirely correctly in the above-quoted sentences. Seeds of wheat must be sown in order to yield an ear of wheat.
Is individual terror, for example, permissible or impermissible from the point of view of “pure morals”? In this abstract form the question does not exist at all for us. Conservative Swiss bourgeois even now render official praise to the terrorist William Tell. Our sympathies are fully on the side of Irish, Russian, Polish or Hindu terrorists in their struggle against national and political oppression. The assassinated Kirov, a rude satrap, does not call forth any sympathy. Our relation to the assassin remains neutral only because we know not what motives guided him. If it became known that Nikolayev acted as a conscious avenger for workers’ rights trampled upon by Kirov, our sympathies would be fully on the side of the assassin. However, not the question of subjective motives but that of objective expediency has for us the decisive significance. Are the given means really capable of leading to the goal? In relation to individual terror, both theory and experience bear witness that such is not the case. To the terrorist we say: it is impossible to replace the masses; only in the mass movement can you find expedient expression for your heroism. However, under conditions of civil war, the assination of individual oppressors ceases to be an act of individual terror. If, we shall say, a revolutionist bombed General Franco and his staff into the air, it would hardly evoke moral indignation even from the democratic eunuchs Under the conditions of civil war a similar act would be politically completely expedient. Thus, even in the sharpest question – murder of man by man – moral absolutes prove futile. Moral evaluations, together with those political, flow from the inner needs of struggle.
The liberation of the workers can come only through the workers themselves. There is, therefore, no greater crime than deceiving the masses, palming off defeats as victories, friends as enemies, bribing workers” leaders, fabricating legends, staging false trials, in a word, doing what the Stalinists do. These means can serve only one end: lengthening the domination of a clique already condemned by history. But they cannot serve to liberate the masses. That is why the Fourth International leads against Stalinism a life and death struggle.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Socialist Students beat NUS leadership!!!

In Bangor Student Union referendum!

After a hard week of campaigning by Socialist Students and other supporters of the Camapign to Defeat Fees, our hard work clearly paid off when 271 students voted YES to supporting the Campaign to Defeat Fees, whilst the no campaign only received a 104 votes, a clear majority supporting our clear policies of opposing ever increasing stduent debt and fees as well as our strategy of the need for a mass camapign to be built. A longer report will follow...

So if anyone's wondered why i've not posted not for the last week, as you can see I was otherwise occupied - and I certainly think I spent my time profitably.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Journal Watch: Criminal Justice Matters, June 2008

I know I’ve stolen this idea from AVPS, but I liked the idea and it’s much easier than just talking about individual articles from this magazine/journal.

This issue of the CJM kicks off with a topical article on the government’s policy on violent crime, exposing it as yet another bureaucratic document of the administrative criminological school which avoids questions of the wider causes of violent crime. Following this is an article on the decline of the “hang ‘em and flog ‘em” brigade in the Tory party under Cameron. Well, apparently that’s what its about but what the author of this writes seems more to me like Cameron trying to make tough on crime a little cuddly! Next is a piece on the Flanagan police review which expresses support for the idea of expanding civilian members of the police force (apparently on 10% of what the police do requires fully trained officers) whilst being opposed to mergers of police forces which it perceives as reducing local accountability (like there’s much of that at the moment!) Finally, in the last of the topical articles, is a piece on the Probation Service which I’ve already looked at.
The themed section is all about ‘Influencing Policy’ whilst there are some interesting articles by Reece Walters about Home Office covers up and Jan Berry on the relationship between the Home Office and the Police Federation, the whole section is angled around how can criminologists get influence in a Home Office that doesn’t want to listen to them? Various people note that research commissioned is most likely to be along the mines of ‘given the system we have, how do we change the outcomes’ as opposed to ‘given the following outcomes we want, how do we change the system’. But to me, if you’re doing research from a perspective different to that of the party in power, perhaps you shouldn’t be focussing all your efforts on them and perhaps you should be talking to somebody else, ie. another party with views similar to yours, or creating one.
Finally there is an ‘In Focus’ article on knife crime, which notes that despite the increasing attention on knife crime there is no evidence to suggest it is either increasing or decreasing. The 2006/7 BCS (British Crime Survey - a victim survey conducted in Britain) estimates that there were 148,000 to 198,000 knife incidents, which although large is small compared to the 2,471,000 violent incidents it estimates to occur each year. Government solutions such as knife amnesties, increased sentencing and stop and search all have a very limited effect and it is suggested that educational and awareness campaigns are necessary, but the effectiveness of these haven’t been examined. The article correctly (in my opinion) concludes with an argument that any policies will be superficial until the deeper structural causes such as inequality and poverty are tackled.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Review - McMafia: Crime Without Frontiers by Misha Glenny

This review of this recently published book was written by myself and featured in this weeks The Socialist.

As the title indicates, this book is a penetrating insight into the close co-existence of big business and organised crime throughout the world.
Glenny, a former BBC correspondent during the break-up of Yugoslavia, starts his journey through worldwide organised crime with where he knows best, the Balkans. He interviews law enforcement agencies and current and ex-criminals and describes the web of corruption in these newly capitalist states that have allowed smuggling to establish itself so strongly. He goes on to trace the explosion of organised crime worldwide.
Unlike other authors discussing the relation between organised crime and the break-up of the USSR, he doesn't see the rise of the mafiya in Russia as an aberration on its path to transforming into a full-blown free market economy. He demonstrates that the rise of the mafiya and the gangster capitalist society it brought with it were linked.
Mafiya bosses transformed themselves into 'legitimate' businessmen who would then cut and run with their new money and status to the west.
Glenny then examines the effect this transformation of the former Stalinist states had on other countries. He demonstrates how globalisation, in particular the deregulation of financial markets, has led to a bonanza for organised crime as the boundaries between legality and illegality have blurred.
He points out that the main recruiting sergeant for organised crime gangs and syndicates is capitalism's inability to provide even the hope of a decent future for many people, whether it be the street gangs in Mumbai, the Yakuza in Japan, drug mules in South Africa or coca growers in Colombia.

Maintaining 'order'

He also notes the role that organised crime plays in helping to maintain capitalist society in many countries - not just by occasionally doing big business' dirty work but also in maintaining 'order' through their own rule of terror that law enforcement agencies co-exist with rather than tackle.
An extreme example was when the boom in the Japanese economy ended, leaving several financial institutions with bad debts owed to the yakuza. To reclaim these debts the yakuza made an example of one leading banker by murdering him. To stop a crime wave setting off, instead of punishing the yakuza for this act, the government underwrote all the financial institution's bad debts, effectively buying the yakuza off.
The book offers no serious way forward. Instead Glenny is rather despondent, understanding that the financial and other loopholes that organised crime exploit are the same that benefit big business.
He says in the conclusion that: "The need for strong, well-equipped law-enforcement agencies to combat organised crime is axiomatic. But appeals like this, which offer solutions based on the greater engagement of the police or military alone, betray a profound abdication of political responsibility."
Getting halfway there, he then adds that these appeals "are the product of unimaginative politicians who lack either the vision or the interest to address the great structural inequalities in the global economy upon which crime and instability thrive."
Glenny explains that it is not in the interests of the major capitalist countries to do this but at this point he reaches his limits.
It is socialists who have both the vision and interest to tackle inequality and really begin a fight to eradicate crime.