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.

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