Wednesday, 28 January 2009

What is Humanitarian Intervention and can it be justified?

I've recently been writing an essay on the morality of humanitarian interventions for my course at uni. I've decided to publish it on the blog because I think it raises quite a few interesting questions. I've basically broken it down into two parts, the first looking at humanitarian iuntervention in general, and the second looking at several case studies (although as a further case study I'd like to refer readers to my article for the Socialist on the congo which briefly discusses the failings of the intervention there I'm going to supplement these parts of the essay with a further piece on Capitalism, Socialism and Humanitarian Intervention. I hope people enjoy reading these, but I'd like people to remember that this was originally written as an essay an thus its style flows from that. Additionally when writing essays I need to justify things that i usually imply in other written pieces on the blog, so I have ignored certain issues or talked about things in a manner that doesn't bring those issues up. That is part of the reason for the additional third section.

When any major internal conflict breaks out within a country which leads to a serious deterioration of human rights, it seems that one of the stock responses of many international organisations is to call for international intervention in that country for humanitarian reasons? Yet should this be the automatic response, is such an act justifiable morally?
This essay seeks to examine that question by first by first discussing humanitarian intervention both in terms of what it is and how we can make moral judgement upon instances of it. We shall then examine a selection of case studies which will allow us to draw some lessons as to when humanitarian intervention can be justified. Finally, a conclusion will summarise the main arguments of this essay.
Before we begin the essay, it is important distinguish between two different judgements of the morality of war. As Walzer (2006:21) explains,

“War is always judged twice, first with reference to the reasons states have for fighting, secondly with reference to the means they adopt…Medieval writers made the difference a matter of propositions, distinguishing jus ad bellum, the justice of war, from jus in bello, justice in war... Jus ad bellum requires us to make judgements about aggression and self-defence; jus in bello about the observance or violation of the customary and positive rules of engagement…”

In this essay we shall mostly be concerned with the former, jus ad bellum, only touching on jus in bello where the relevant actions during the war reflect upon the jus ad bellum.
Given that Human Rights Watch is one international human rights organisation that has called for humanitarian intervention in the past, it is worth examining the definition that the head of that organisation, Kenneth Roth, gives. Roth (2004:1) states that it is “The use of military force across borders to stop mass killing…” Thus, we have the three main principles of humanitarian intervention. It is firstly an intervention of a foreign body (be it another country or a regional/international organisation). Secondly, it is an intervention using military force that moves into the affected country and therefore differentiates itself from force projected from outside a country. Thirdly it is in response to the possibility of mass killing.
Of course, simply defining what events may constitute a humanitarian intervention does not justify a particular intervention that is justified on humanitarian grounds. Indeed the article we have just quoted from goes on to criticise the Iraq war, which some of its defenders sought to justify upon humanitarian grounds. Indeed, Roth goes on further to explain what in his opinion would justify military force for humanitarian reasons,

“Only large-scale murder, we believe, can justify the death, destruction, and disorder that so often are inherent in war and its aftermath. Other forms of tyranny are deplorable and worth working intensively to end, but they do not… rise to the level that would justify the extraordinary response of military force. Only mass slaughter might permit the deliberate taking of life involved in using military force for humanitarian purposes.” (Roth, 2004:4)

However, it is important to note that humanitarian intervention will possibly not be the only objective of a power in intervening for humanitarian reasons, as Walzer (2006:101) notes “Indeed, I have not found any, but only mixed cases where the humanitarian motive is one among several. States don’t send their soldiers into other states, it seems, only to save lives.”
Roth (2004) also argues that it is irrelevant to the judgement of whether a humanitarian intervention is justified if either there are more needy place which haven’t been intervened in or the intervening power has been complicit in repressing the populace.
So the question is posed, given that states intervene for other reasons as well as possible humanitarian ones, how do we work out when such a humanitarian motive for armed intervention is morally justifiable? When can military intervention be justified for humanitarian ends? We would argue that it is only by actually achieving those ends that military intervention becomes justified.
As Trotsky (2001:49) states, “A means can be justified only by its end. But the end in its turn needs to be justified.” He later adds, as regards to what means can be used (it needs to be noted that he is putting forward what he believes should be the morality of the workers movement),

“That is permissible which really leads to the liberation of humanity… Permissible and obligatory are those and only those means, we answer, which unite the revolutionary proletariat, fill their hearts with irreconcilable hostility to oppression... Precisely from this it flows that not all means are permissible. When we say 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…”(Trotsky, 2001:50)

For humanitarian intervention, then, mimicking the arguments in the above quote, we can justify it if it not only stops mass killings from occurring but also leads to a reduction in the possibility of the said population being put in jeopardy again. An intervention which stops an immediate killing, but then led on to much worse brutality would only make the situation worse. The reader should bear this in mind when reading the examples we will later discuss.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Will Israel's Leaders Be Put Before a War Crimes Tribunal?

Details of what some suspected weeks ago are now beginning to emerge from Gaza. Yes, the Israeli regime has used 'illegal' weaponry in its war upon Gaza. James Caspell at La Lutte Continue! has reposted an al Jazeera article with the details of these, but i'll briefly summarise them here. Doctors are reporting that Israel has used Dense Inert Metal Explosives (Dime) weapons which explodes into tungsten dust - the metal in this may possibly be radioactive too. Amnesty International has also confirmed that it believes that the Israeli army has used white phosphorus weapons too, it basically causes really, really bad burns and is very difficult to put out.
Yet despite the clamouring of many around the world for the Israeli government/army to be tried for use of these inhumane weapons on civilians, will this actually happen?

Well Israel isn't a part of the treaty that created the International Criminal Court and Gaza isn't officialy classed as a state, so its unlikely that route would be used. Yet it could potentially be possible to create some sort of special tribunal like was done for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
But the problem is Israel (and it's US backers) are hardly likely to let anyone be tried. In general, people only face war crimes tribunals if they have a) lost power and b) lost internal or international support. The current Israeli government hasn't done either at the present. And if it were to lose the upcoming Israeli elections, it would be to a party further to the right of it, who would hardly likely to give them up of their own accord.
That said, it is theoretically possible that a new government may give up other people if it is put under a lot of pressure - both internationally, but crucially within Israel itself. It may choose to scapegoat them for a crisis it gets itself into at a future point. But as it stands I would say it is highly unlikely at present.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

NUS leadership severs links with students

Socialist Students statement on the passing of the NUS Governance Review. I've been writing an essay for the last week so it'll be business as usual once that's finished.

Build a mass movement for free education

The NUS extraordinary conference on January 20 in Wolverhampton saw the culmination of a campaign by the NUS (National Union of Students) right wing leadership, many of whom are Labour party members, to remove democratic structures in the national student body. This is taking place at a time when students are being threatened with a big increase in tuition fees, but the priority of the NUS leadership is to destroy their own union's democracy, rather than to fight in students' interests.
In order to force through these changes, the student union bureaucracy was mobilised to ensure debate was kept to an absolute minimum. Officers against the removal of democracy were locked out of emails, whilst the NUS leadership 'accidentally' sent emails to all the delegates. Without going through annual conference, these changes have been put through by two extraordinary conferences, one called at such short notice that many delegates were not elected, the most recent in the university and college exam period.
The new NUS constitution will mean that it is virtually impossible for students to propose motions to conference that will then get discussed on conference floor, that the final say on all national campaigns is in the hands of self-selecting bureaucrats, and the obligation to elect delegates to conferences is open to removal for some students unions. NUS is now far more akin to a charity that lobbies for students interests than a trade union, a body that has the potential to carry out mass action through the involvement of its members.
As Socialist Students have pointed out many times, this process has happened above the heads of the vast majority of students. The NUS leadership has rendered itself increasingly irrelevant to students' lives by refusing to take any large-scale action for over two years, and downplaying action that has taken place in order to misrepresent the real feelings of students over issues like university fees and student debt.
But the British government is in the midst of an economic crisis, and is imposing draconian attacks on people claiming benefits; it will also seek to make big attacks on students and young people in the future in order to cover the costs of bailing out the rich bankers and the capitalist system. Already graduates are being asked to work below the minimum wage for wealthy multinationals, as part of the governments National Internship Scheme (see here). A report for the government, quietly published over the Christmas holiday period, recommends big increases in the amount universities can charge students. These attacks will provoke huge opposition and mass movements from young people and students. The NUS will not be in a position to effectively lead these struggles, with new generations of activists looking mostly elsewhere. It will be out of these struggles, and mass action, that a genuine new student movement will be built.
Socialist Students has initiated the Campaign to Defeat Fees, which has won broad support from those beyond Socialist Students ranks. It has led the way in terms of national action against fees, organising days of action over the course of the last two academic years which have involved hundreds of students in over 50 universities and colleges around the country. It has also won support from students in Bangor University in a referendum, against the arguments of the leadership of NUS. In addition to campaigning on fees and debt, Socialist Students have also organised many protests over the recent destruction in Gaza in places like Keele and Bangor, campaigned against privatisation in Sussex, Exeter and Northumbria, and much more. Socialist Students, and the Campaign to Defeat Fees, have an important role to play in building campaigns against raising the cap on university fees and in building a national fightback against attacks.
Unfortunately, there is currently no mass force amongst students that is capable of giving effective leadership to the student struggle and of starting a discussion about building a new national body with serious weight behind it. Socialist Students argues for a broad left to bring together all genuine activists to be built in the coming period.
In the absence of such a broad left the NUS will remain, in the eyes of the government, the media etc, the established voice of students for now. Many students unions view their relationship with the national body as a means of getting discounted beer and other goods, through NUSSL, rather than primarily as a political one. Large numbers of College and FE students unions, largely without the same resources for full time staff as university HE students unions, will not have been aware of the undemocratic changes to NUS. Changes in voting for NUS conference delegates will happen on a student's union-by-students union basis, and will be a gradual process. Without mass developments outside NUS, it is possible that a layer of activists could still even be attracted to the NUS, only to be sorely disappointed once reaching national events. Although extremely unlikely, it is also not impossible that the NUS could still play a role in campaigning for student rights, even organising demonstrations if it feels under pressure and is worried about losing its dominant position as 'the' voice for students. Therefore it is unlikely that these fundamental changes to the NUS will be fully felt immediately. Only as a result of mass action led by activists outside the NUS will the domination of NUS be undermined.
This will not necessarily be a lengthy process however. A march has been called through London on February 25, actively involving a modest number of students unions and campaigning student groups, including Socialist Students. This has been organised outside of the NUS structures, in opposition to the NUS leadership's inactive strategy, although supported by NUS-affiliated students unions. Socialist Students put a motion to the body that is organising this action, calling for it to take on more flesh and become the embryo of a new national campaigning centre. This is opposed by Socialist Workers Student Societies (SWSS) and the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) because of fears they will not be able to dominate it. The AWL state, in a document they distributed at a Socialist Students national council,

"We should use Sussex [Students Union] as a starting base of the new centre [to replace NUS] – Sussex could provide a fraction of its current NUS affiliation fee...
"The Open Planning Meetings for the demonstration should continue after the demonstration... but it is unlikely that they will 'morph' into a new organising centre. They are too loose to form a nucleus or a base, and an attempt to 'firm them up' would be fraught with difficulty. Separate meetings and conferences should be held to create the new body – and when Sussex constitutes it, the new organising centre should be presented to the Open Planning Meetings as a fait accompli"

Amongst student activists, Sussex has an important reputation as a campaigning students union. Activists within the union, who have been involved in organising the march on February 25, will have an important part to play in building a new body. But we do not agree that one union can substitute itself for the whole student body, much less establish a new centre and present itself as a fait accompli to other groups of students entering activity. Because of the methods of the SWP and the AWL, the march on February 25 has been organised in a nebulous manner, one that is open to undemocratic manoeuvres and does not carry as much weight as it could do. A march, even a smaller one, will be a positive step forwards, and a national body that has led this and organised this could be in a significant position. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the open planning meetings will be transformed in order to take full advantage of this. Any steps towards forming new national bodies need to be based on mass action, on a genuinely democratic approach involving new layers of activists as well as bringing together student activist groups and students unions. That may come through local students unions, but many of these bodies have also attacked internal democracy.
New bodies may also develop around and without these local structures as well.
If the loose grouping that has called the February 25 march does not take on flesh, it will be a missed opportunity. Socialist Students will strive to ensure that that does not happen, but it is clear that the end of NUS has opened up a period where there may well be a series of false starts and missed opportunities. We will attempt to ensure that we discuss the situation regularly within our ranks, whilst prioritising campaigning against attacks on students and workers conditions and rights.
We will continue to play a role in the NUS structures, and not abandon any activists that are attracted to it by false hopes, or any possibility of gaining a wider audience of students for our ideas of struggle and socialism. Whilst there is no new national body, we do not call for students unions to disaffiliate from the NUS. But as part of our campaigning, we will raise the idea of building genuinely representative bodies for students, that fight against attacks and for improvements, and endeavour to build the fight back alongside students with the strategy of building mass movements.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Students occupy at Kings College

This report was just e-mailed to me from the Socialist Students national organiser, and I post it here to share the news.

Despite the ceasefire, a number of students are still protesting on campuses against the war and against universities links to the arms trade. Occupations of lecture halls involving 40-50 students have taken place over the last week at Kings, Birmingham, SOAS, Essex and LSE making similar demands to the occupation at Kings below. Socialist Students has also played a key role in organising protests of hundreds in Bangor and Keele.

Today from 10 am, 40 students have occupied a lecture hall at Kings College in London. Socialist Students society members are present.

The students have made various demands on the university management relating to the recent onslaught by the IDF on Gaza.

These include

  • Immediate withdrawal of the honorary doctorate awarded to Shimon Peres the President of Israel who has led military campaigns in the occupied territories and Lebanon
  • That Kings College disinvests from arms companies supplying the IDF and the arms trade in general
  • That Kings College fully funds the studies of 5 students from Gaza
  • That Kings College makes a donation to organisations carrying out medical aid in Gaza
  • That students involved in the occupation are not victimised and suffer no repercussions
Various lecturers have been invited to speak to the occupying students. Socialist Students is arguing for a student led debate and discussion over the political issues involved in conflicts in the Middle East and for links to be made with campus trade unions in pressuring the university to disinvest in arms companies.

Socialist Students
020 8558 7947
PO Box 858 London E11 1YG

Hong Kong: Nepali security staff demand a living wage

Mon, 19 Jan 2009.

Security company G4S has not raised wages for thirteen years

Miu Dak Kit,, Hong Kong

Today, 19 January, a group of about 200 G4S security officers protested outside the Securicor Centre headquarters in Lai Chi Kok, Hong Kong. A high police presence, including many plain clothes officers watched from the sidelines as an angry but peaceful crowd blocked half the street in front of the Securicor Centre. G4S is the world’s largest security company, operating in over 100 countries.

There are about 600 Nepalese working for G4S in Hong Kong, making up one in four of its employees. Hong Kong’s large Nepali community is a legacy of the Gurkha soldiers who served in the British Army here in Hong Kong until 1997. And herein lies the problem: G4S practises a discriminatory employment policy. It grades Nepalis as either GSO (Gurkha Security Officer – one with an army background), or NSO (Nepalese Security Officer – one without an army background) and pays each group differently according to their classification; HK$33 (US$4.25) an hour for GSO and HK$28 (US$3.60) an hour for NSO. Both GSO and NSO do exactly the same job, but this is not why the employees are outraged. Despite their classifications, G4S is hiring ex-Gurkhas and classifying them as NSO, and thus paying them lower wages. This makes a mockery of any classification system they have in place. The Nepalese workers are demanding equal treatment and the abolition of discriminatory, arbitrary classifications.

Their other demands include a basic minimum wage of HK$14,000 per month (US$1,804) and an overtime rate of $50. They are also demanding that contract staff should get a permanent post when they reach the age of 45. As these workers told, they have not had a wage increase in the previous 13 years! These demands could hardly be described as unreasonable.

The workers demands were issued on 12 January with an ultimatum. Today’s protests were in response to the management’s intransigence. Representatives from the Nepalese workers and their union, HKCTU (Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions), presented their demands to the management in front of company headquarters. The next step will depend on the management’s response. At a time when new anti-discrimination legislation is being discussed in Hong Kong, and given the amount of discriminatory practices in all walks of Hong Kong life, protests like those seen today are necessary and likely to increase.

G4S – global giant with anti-union reputation

G4S, formerly known as Group 4 Securicor, is headquartered in Denmark but listed on the London stock exchange. The company employs over 570,000 workers globally and is no newcomer to controversial practises. In the US, its subsidiary Wackenhut won the contract from the Bush administration in 2007 to deport migrants across the Mexican border. While G4S global profits rose 17 percent in 2007 to 312 million pounds (HK$3.6 billion), it has been accused by trade unions of a series of violations including not paying its workforce in Africa a living wage and using “intimidation, instigating police and military forces” in its dealings with unionised workers.
“15,000 jobs are at stake in France and Germany because G4S would prefer to increase its margins by focusing on parts of the world where it is not challenged by strong unions. In some countries G4S doesn’t even increase workers’ pay for overtime. In at least one country, it cuts workers’ pay in half. This is something that our global union can’t tolerate if we are going to raise standards in Europe or anywhere else,” said Lars Lindgren of the Swedish Transport Union in a statement in March 2008.
One of the most famous cases of G4S trampling on workers rights was in Jakarta, Indonesia, two years ago. Even the US State Department Report on Human Rights in Indonesia, published in March 2006, featured this dispute involving G4S. In July 2006 the Indonesian Securicor workers had a substantial win. The campaign group formed to support these workers continues to support other Group 4 Securicor workers. This is an example of working class internationalism and solidarity that is necessary especially in standing up to global giants such as G4S. Workers at other G4S branches around the globe, and other trade unionists, should send messages of support to the Hong Kong Nepali security workers in their fight for an end to discrimination and for a living wage.
see Chinaworker report for more pictures

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Bangor Socialists and local residents stand up and say “NO” to Israel’s attack on Gaza

On the 17th of January, Bangor University Socialist Students, Bangor Socialist Party members and other local residents, trade unionists and college students braved the cold winter wind to take part in a protest against the continued attacks by the Israeli military on the Gaza strip. Socialist Students had been canvassing University Halls of Residence, and doing stalls outside the local college and in the city centre in the days leading up to the protest with vast amounts of support shown towards the demands for an end to the conflict.

Sean Homan, Bangor University Socialist Students

Starting at 11am a stall was erected upon Bangor high street and petitions were signed by many approached by volunteers. At noon, the high street rang with the sounds of “ one, two, three four, stop the bombing stop the war” along with other such chants. The protest was later joined by a march into town from the local mosque by an estimated group of around 70 people, with a further and thus larger rally on the high street. Both rallies were addressed by Iain Dalton, Bangor Branch Secretary of the Socialist Party who called for and end to the blockade of Gaza and united working class struggle in the region and worldwide The turn out throughout the day was over 100, with people from all generations young and old taking part.
Over 30 copies of the Socialist were sold in addition to 20 sold during the previous week and £30 was collected for the fighting fund. 3 people asked about joining the Socialist Party and many others expressed an interest in attending our public meeting on the crisis the following day.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Vote Robbie Segal for USDAW President!

Note: A report of the Bangor Gaza protest will appear sometime tomorrow on this blog. It was a good protest, and from what I've heard so were ones elsewhere.

The ballot opens for the USDAW President and Executive Committee elections on Monday 19th January. Robbie Segal will be standing for the post of President but also for re-election to her current Executive Committee position. I'd like to encourage all members of USDAW to vote for her. To give people a flavour of her campaign I've posted links to a few things below

Stop Job Cuts (Article from this weeks The Socialist on USDAW elections)
No festive joy for shop workers (Article from previous weeks The Socialist on unionising at a warehouse)
Christmas is Over and the Cutbacks Begin (Article on cutbacks at Morrisons from the Activist blog)
The Activist Issue 13 (Newsletter of Socialist Party members and supporters in USDAW featuring New Years greetings from Robbie)

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Protest yn erbyn y lladdfa yn Gaza / Protest against the slaughter in Gaza

If anyone's wondering why I haven't posted for a day or two it's cos i'm helping organise this! (and therefore I probably won't post til after this)

12.00yh wrth y Tŵr Cloc yng nghanol Bangor
Dydd Sadwrn 17 Ionawr
Dewch â phosteri a baneri

12.00 o'clock, by the Clock Tower in Bangor City Centre
Saturday 17th January
Bring placards and banners

Monday, 12 January 2009

50 Protest in Caenarfon Against Gaza Carnage

A report by members of Bangor University Socialist Students on the vigil in Caenarfon this evening.
On Monday 12th January, members of Bangor Uni Socialist Students braved the cold to attend a 50 strong vigil in Caenarfon protesting against the inhuman slaughter occurring in Gaza. This follows a 100 strong demonstration around Bangor on the 3rd of January. We talked to other organisations there to discuss plans for further protests and demonstrations in the Gwynedd area along with advertising our upcoming public meeting about this humanitarian disaster. 4 copies of the Socialist were sold to people wanting to read about our alternative to the capitalist system which has led to this catastrophe.

DVD Review- In The Name of Justice by John Pilger

This DVD is the second set of John Pilger documentaries released over the last few years as a ‘sequel’ to Documentaries That Changed the World. It follows the same layout of 12 documentaries on an array of different topics.

The Mexicans

Despite being somewhat dated, this film conveys the hardship ordinary Mexicans face, in particular those related to the influence of the USA and the reasons that so many Mexicans migrate their illegally each year.

Street of Joy

This documentary looks at the US advertising industry and asks whether it can influence politics? Pilger examines how advertising techniques have been used in presidential elections to boost the ‘image’ of candidates whilst saying nothing about their policies.

Pyramid Lake is Dying

This film takes up the case of American Indians who after being robbed of thbe majority of their land, now face discriminatory policies that are destroying their culture and the environment that it was created in, including the aforementioned Pyramid Lake.

A Faraway Country

Pilger investigates Czechoslovakia almost ten years after the 1968 Prague Spring. Contrary to what many wished to convey then and now, most of the people Pilger speaks to argue for socialism with democracy, rather than the capitalist restoration that eventually occurred

Do You Remember Vietnam & Vietnam: The Last Battle

These two documentaries both look at Vietnam after the war, the first examines the causes of the war, the horrendous conditions endured by those who fought there and how, although under Stalinist rule, it is in much better condition than when it was under thinly-veiled imperialist rule. The second is 20 years after the war and examines in particular the so-called Market Socialism, which Pilger shows is but a stepping stone to full-blown capitalist restoration.

The Truth Game

Pilger looks behind the development of nuclear weapons. Especially interesting is his discussion of the cover-ups surrounding the dropping of nuclear bombs on Japan at the end of World War 2. He also deals with the nuclear weapon build up during the cold war.

Japan Behind the Mask

Made during the 1980’s, Pilger examines the economic ‘miracle’ of Japan’s post-war reconstruction and exposes how the super profits of Japanese corporations are based on the unseen super-exploitation of workers, especially women.

Apartheid Did Not Die

In this film Pilger takes a critical look at post-Apartheid South Africa and analyses the betrayal of the hopes of blacks by the now pro-capitalist ANC government. Rather interestingly for myself, it showed some footage inside the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission proceedings, which gives you a better idea of what one looks like than just sinmply reading about them.

The Last Dream: Heroes Unsung, Secrets & Other People’s Wars

These last three documentaries are a series made for the 1988 Australian centenary. They take a look at the hidden and unmentioned history of Australia, from the untold tales of how Australia was colonised with the forced labour of exiles and natives alike to Australia’s participation in wars at the behest of the major imperialist powers. As well as a critique of the then ‘Labor’ Hawke government, he reflects of the often untold struggles of ordinary people in the country.

All in all, although some of the documentaries are a little out of date today, they are still very watchable. I would recommend that people buy Documentaries That Changed the World before this as it covers a wider array of topics, but this is still worth buying, if only for Apartheid Did Not Die, which I think is one of Pilger’s best documentaries.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Socialists on the Criminal Justice System – Eugene V Debs

This, the fourth in my series examining writings by various famous socialists that relate to the criminal justice system look at an article entitled Prison Labor: Its Effect on Industry and Trade which can be found on the Marxist Internet Archive at http:///, which is a speech given in 1899 in New York.

He starts the article by discussing the conditions in capitalist society for workers and saying that gives rise to “…a thousand streams of vice and crime…” Because of this, “Jails, workhouses, reformatories and penitentiaries have been crowded with victims, and the question how to control these institutions and their unfortunate inmates is challenging the most serious thought of the most advanced nations on the globe.”

He briefly mentions that he would have preferred the title the other way round because “…I am convinced that the prison problem is rooted in the present system of industry and trade, carried forward, as it is, purely for private profit without the slightest regard to the effect upon those engaged in it…”

He then moves on to note that it is universally accepted that prison contract labour undermines ‘free labour’, “…but it should not be overlooked that prison labor itself an effect and not a cause, and that convict labor is recruited almost wholly from the propertyless, wage-working class and that the inhuman system which has reduced a comparative few from enforced idleness to crime, has sunk the whole mass of labor to the dead level of industrial servitude.”

He then goes on to state, what I pointed out in the previous post in this series is a key proposition of a Marxist approach to crime, that the main cause of crime and other problems in society is the economic system of capitalism.

Debs then moves on to the history of prisons where he argues “In the earlier days punishment was the sole purpose of imprisonment. Offenders against the ruling class must pay the penalty in prison cell, which, not infrequently, was equipped with instruments of torture. With the civilising process came the idea of the reformation of the culprit, and this idea prompts every investigation made of the reformation of the culprit, and this idea prompts every investigation made of the latter-day problem. The inmates must be set to work for their own good, no less than for the good of the state.” Debs is wrong on at least one count, the very first sentence is inaccurate as prisons were originally for collect debts, not punishment in and of itself. Whilst I agree that the idea of convict labour does follow from the idea of rehabilitation, this whole paragraph is not the best one in this piece.

After discussing a report of thirty years earlier on prison labour, Debs then goes on to state that “Considered in his most favourable light, the convict is a scourge to himself, a menace to society and a burden to industry, and whatever system of convict labor may be tried, it will ultimately fail of its purpose at reformation of the criminal or the relief of industry as long as thousands of ‘free labourers’, who have committed no crime, are unable to get work and make an honest living”, and then also adds, “Not long ago I visited a penitentiary in which a convict expressed regret that his sentence was soon to expire. Where was he to go, and what was he to do?”

He then discusses another report from about 20 years ago in Ohio and summarises it thus “What a commentary on the capitalist competitive system! First, men were forced into idleness. Gradually they are driven to the extremity of begging or stealing. Having still a spark of pride and self-respect they steal and are sent to jail. The first sentence seals their doom. The brand of Cain is upon them. They are identified with the criminal class. Society, whose victims they are, has exiled them forever…From first to last these unfortunates, the victims of social malformation, are made the subject of speculation and traffic”

He points out in a report from South Carolina that “Out of 285 prisoners employed by one company, 128, or more than 40 per cent, died as the result, largely, of brutal treatment.” And from a report from Tennessee, “Here, as elsewhere, the convicts, themselves brutally treated, were used as a means of dragging the whole mine – working class down to their crime-cursed condition. The Tennessee Coal and Iron Company leased the convicts for the express purpose of forcing the wages of miners down to the point of subsistence.”

Debs moves on to discuss another prison labour system, “The system of manufacturing for the use of state, county and municipal institutions, adopted by the state of New York, is an improvement upon those hitherto in effect, but it is certain to develop serious objections in the course of time. With the use of modern machinery the limited demand will soon be supplied and then what? It may be in order to suggest that the prisoners could be employed in making shoes and clothes for the destitute poor and school books for their children and many other articles which the poor sorely need but are unable to buy.”

“Developing along this line it would only be a question of time until the state would be manufacturing all things for the use of the people, and then perhaps the inquiry would be pertinent: If the state can give men steady employment after they commit crime, and manufacturing can be carried forward successfully by their labor, why can it not give them employment before they are driven to that extremity, thereby preventing them from becoming criminals?”

Debs then discusses how prison labour affects free labour and notes that whilst it can undermine ‘free labour’, “Prison labor is not accountable for the appalling increase in insanity, in suicide, in murder, in prostitution and a thousand other forms of vice and crime which pollute every fountain and contaminate every stream designed to bless the world”

“Prison labor did not create our army of unemployed, but has been recruited from its ranks, and both owe their existence to the same social and economic system.”
He then gets to the crux of issue, “Why is prison labor preferred to ‘free labor?’ Simply because it is cheaper; it yields more profit to the man who buys, exploits and sells it… Prison labor is preferred because it is cheap. So with child labor. It is not a question of prison labor, or of child labor, but of cheap labor.”

What is the effect of this? “The prison labourer produces by machinery in abundance but does not consume… So with the vast army of workers whose wage grows smaller as the productive capacity of labor increases, and then society is afflicted with overproduction, the result of underconsumption. What follows? The panic. Factories close down, wage-workers are idle and suffer, middle-class business men are forced into bankruptcy, the army of tramps is increased, vice and crime are rampant and prisons and work-houses are filled to overflowing as are sewers when the streets of cities are deluged with floods.”

In summary, “Prison labor, like all cheap labor, is at first a source of profit to the capitalist, but finally turns into a two-edged sword that cuts into and destroys the system that produced it.”

Debs explains that this is a castigation of the capitalist system, and outlines an alternative,
“Co-operative labor will be the basis of the new social system, and this will be for use and not for profit. Labor will no longer be bought and sold. Industrial slavery will cease. For every man there will be the equal right to work with every other man and each will receive the fruit of his labor. Then we shall have economic equality. Involuntary idleness will be a horror of the past. Poverty will relax its grip.”

“The army of tramps will be disbanded because the prolific womb which now warms these unfortunates into life will become barren. Prisons will be depopulated and the prison labor problem solved.”

Friday, 9 January 2009

Review – The Kings Depart by Richard M. Watt

What with last November being the anniversary of the beginning of the 1918-19 German Revolution, I was recommended this book as a good introduction to the events of that period.

What this book really is, though, is a book about the treaty of Versailles, that has to spend a considerable portion of its contents explaining the revolution in Germany and also other events, particularly in Poland and Hungary around this time. To be honest though, I actually found the bits on the creation of the treaty interesting too as things which are relevant to my dissertation on Truth Commissions and War Tribunals cropped up here too.

The book is not a complete history of the German Revolution, but rather describes the main events and discusses some of the fundamental driving forces which does serve very well as an introduction to the topic. However, Watt is not a Marxist and there really isn’t a serious discussion of the tactics, and the mistakes of the German Communist Party and its allies.

Nevertheless I would recommend the book as an introduction to the events of the German Revolution, but also for anyone interested in studying the creation of the Versailles peace treaty.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Bob Fine on Law and Class – Pt 2

This section of the chapter by Fine delves a little into the work of Evgeny Pashukanis.

For him one of the most significant features of Pashukanis’ work (apart from his stressing of the necessities of looking at both form and content of law as we previously discussed) is that it was opposed to beliefs associated with Stalinism that the “maintenance of legal forms in the Soviet Union was not a necessary hang-over of bourgeois forms of regulation, destined to disappear with the growth of communism, but the first expression of the development of ‘proletarian law’”(pg.34)

Fine then goes on to compare this to the approach of Durkheim “…who presented law and punishment as the expression of the ‘collective conscience’ of society and as the functional prerequisite of social order. Thus Durkheim idealizes the form of punishment, as a ‘public power’ acting in the name of society, and distinguished from the private will of any individual or group within it. Similarly, crime is presented as a violation of this collective conscience, closely associated with egoism and lack of control.”(pg.34) Fine argues that Pashukanis sees in this approach an ahistoricism and a ‘formalism’ that ignores the content of the law.

He then briefly discusses how this is similar to some so-called Marxist criminologists such as Willem Bonger who’s main criticism was not directed at capitalist law itself but “the intrusion of class distortions into its practice; for example, by the confinement of political prisoners.”(pg.34)

Fine goes on to say, “In contrast, a sociological approach which looks to the economic and political interests behind specific legal and penal measures appears as a significant advance over the high-sounding phrases of formalism. But here again there is a disappointment. For exclusive attention is directed towards the class interests served or the economic functions performed by one or other measure of law or punishment; in other words, exclusive to the question of content. Why these interests or functions should have been served by the legal form of regulation or by penal repression remains a question unaddressed. So that, while a more or less adequate political or economic history may be gleaned, there is no concern with law and punishment themselves as historical forms of domination. For example, it is not sufficient to explain the proliferation of confinement in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by its functionality for the growth of capitalism, through its provision and disciplining of forced labour. Whether or not this is true, it does not explain why forced labour was provided through the forms of punishment, and say slavery, indentured labour, press gangs, direct dependence on the manufacturer, and so on.”(pg.34-5)

To Fine this is the opposite mistake to E.P. Thompson’s of exclusively focussing on form. By talking purely about content, form is either ignored or seen as a ‘mask’. He adds “Since the question of form is neglected, the limits which particular forms impose on the performance of a particular content cannot be conceptualised…”(pg.35) Alternatively, given forms can become eternised with punishment forever existing, but changing in content in different periods.

Fine moves on to discuss some of Marx’s analysis of penal law, as this has been a starting point for some ‘Marxist’ criminologists. He states, “In discussing the emergence of the proletariat, Marx emphasises the role played by law in expropriating and disciplining the available labour force. But Marx is not concerned with law as such, only with its effects on political economy. One cannot jump from a position which analyses the important functions performed by, for instance, penal statutes on vagrancy for primitive accumulation to an analysis of these laws in terms of their functionality for the development of capital. What is legitimate for a study of political economy is not legitimate for a study of legality… It is not sufficient to discover beneath the form of punishment in the sixteenth century a class repression; it is also necessary to work back synthetically and ask why repression should take half the form of law and penalty.”(pg.35-6)

The final position that Fine attacks in this section is “…one which conceives of legality as an ideological fiction, imposed on a social reality…” (pg.36). But as Fine notes, this position has several flaws, including that again it doesn’t explain why law exists if it has no legal basis.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

New Years Blogging Resolutions

1) Hammer your niche – This blog has a bit of a niche that isn’t really filled by any other blog (although there are some that come close). That doesn’t mean only post on these issues as there are people who read the posts about other issues too. Try to keep a good balance between crime posts and other ones roughly 1:1.

2) Try to develop the blog – make the commenting policy more of a welcoming statements, try and develop the links to resources section of the site, try to work on the look of the site to make it more appealing (perhaps even consider moving to Wordpress), and also try to include some pictures with posts.

3) Write a more finalised text based on the Draft Principles of a Marxist Approach to Criminology. Latest draft can be found

4) Reduce the number of articles re-posted from other sites. Whilst these are no doubt often very good articles, surely your readers would appreciate your own commentary and take on the events as well from which you could link to the original article.

5) Try to get some guest posts on the website – these could include articles written by local members of Socialist Students and the Socialist Party. Another source could be encouraging other Socialist Party members to write some articles for blog on crime related issues.

6) Do more ‘cultural’ stuff, ie. more posts on music, TV and films. Okay, you don’t do anywhere near as refined analysis of many things like on A Very Public Sociologist or other blogs but people still read them. Rather you tend to hammer on about one point of them.

7) Do more stuff on previous ‘Marxist’ criminology. Do more posts on the National Deviancy Conference, for example.

8) On a similar note, do some critique’s of more ‘traditional’ criminological theory and ideas.

9) Remember, you are part of a blogging community – you should try to link to more people. On a similar note, weren’t you supposed to do a Carnival of Socialism? You should also comment on crime related posts on other website to encourage discussion of these issues.

10) Try to avoid long gaps between blogging – try not to leave it more than two days if possible. Also, try to see if there is a way of automating posts that you have already written to appear if you know you won’t be able to blog for a while (which would have been useful recently).

By the way, some blogs I've recently linked to are Journeyman, A Socialist Malaysia, Jour de Fete, Seren's Blog, and possibly some others. Check them out.

TV Review – Jonathan Creek, BBC 1, 1st Jan ’09, 9pm

It’s been years since they made the last episode of Jonathan Creek, and as a fan of the series I was quite excited by the fact that another had been made. For those who have never seen the programme before, Alan Davies plays the title character – a man who devises tricks for a magician who gets roped in to use his skills to solve seemingly impossible mysteries.

In this latest episode he is brought in to solve a series of disappearances in a room in a house. The room is an attic room in a house where someone had, in attempt to disprove a superstition, locked themselves in overnight and had disappeared in the morning. So it’s a classic locked room mystery, and therefore the solution shouldn’t be too hard – as if a room is completely sealed the body should still be in the room. Yet there is in my opinion a brilliant piece of mis-direction in the episode as there is something that grabs you as unnecessary the first time you see it, yet story distracts you from it and focuses your attention on both the bed and a painting on the wall. Whilst it’s not an entirely original mystery, it is a rather good one.

Yet the rest of the episode lets it down. There is just too many things going on that seem unnecessary, the magician Creek works for is up to his usual womanising shenanigans, Creek is once more unlucky in love and there’s a whole side mystery to do with a kidnapping that feels somewhat unnecessary. Its like they’ve had to do lots more to fill-up the episode. But also there are some parallels with the previous Christmas special episode, a big house with a deadly secret, a hidden romance between possible suspects. It all just takes the edge off what would have been a decent mystery.