Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part 8: The Police and the Political Economy of Capitalism

Introduction 

The following provides many quotes from Mark Neocleous’s book The Fabrication of Social Order:A Critical Theory of Police Power (2000), with short comments. The author argues that there is an inherent connection between the emergence of the modern police and the emergence of a society dominated by a class of employers.

The issue of the abolition of the police is thus intimately connected to the issue of the abolition of a society dominated by a class of employers–along with the associated economic, political and social structures.

The Primary Function of the Police is to Maintain Order–Within a Society Dominated by a Class of Employers

According to Neocleous, the primary function of the police is to maintain order (not to serve the law but to use the law after the fact to justify actions to maintain order)–and the order which the police maintain is essentially a society where people produce their lives by working for an employer via an implicit or explicit contract (whether the contract is individual or collective in the form of a collective agreement).

In his book, Neocleous refers to two authors—the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel and Patrick Colquhoun. Both implicitly or explicitly criticized Adam Smith’s characterization of the emerging capitalist society as a society guided by the hidden or invisible hand of the market, with individual interest leading to the satisfaction of social interest.

Hegel and Colquhoon on the Police in Modern Class Society

Hegel saw modern capitalist market society as insecure and thus required the intervention of “the police” (which for him did not just mean the modern police but also welfare functions) to maintain the security of property against the necessary existence of those who lose out in the market system—the poor or the rabble. Colquhoon also saw the issue of security of a particular kind of property—capitalist property–to be central to the modern functioning of police. Page 44:

As the working class were gradually incorporated into the body politic so the question of security became a class issue. I shall develop this argument by pushing to its limits Marx’s suggestion that security is the supreme concept of class society. The recognition of the insecurity of the class system of private property meant that security came to be thought of as something to be achieved rather than merely conflated with liberty and property and left at that. Writers who recognized this, such as G.W.F. Hegel and Patrick Colquhoun, did so because they understood that security is imposed on civil society by the state through the exercise of police power. In some fundamental sense then, security is the concept of police, as Marx puts it. Security is part of the rationale for the fabrication of order. In terms of the demand for order in civil society, it is under the banner of ‘security’ that police most often marches.

Colquhoun in particular argued that the problem of crime—and therefore insecurity of property—was intimately connected to the issue of working for an employer—he saw crime and insecurity as mainly a function of not working for an employer. Those who did not work for an employer were suspect since they were on the margin, suspiciously teetering into committing acts of crime. The modern police were to ensure that those who were the working poor did not fall into the indigent (idlers and those incapable of working for an employer). Page 45:

The insight made by Hegel, but developed more fully by Colquhoun, is that ‘police’ must be understood in the context of wider questions concerning property and commerce on the one hand and poverty and indigence on the other. Put simply: a massive and intensive police operation on the part of the state is
a necessary feature of civil (i.e. class) society for the simple reason that the class of poverty and the indigent rabble generated by civil society in turn pose a threat to private property and commerce, rendering civil society insecure. Civil society therefore needs to be policed – to be made secure –
by the state.

Hegel on Poverty, Wealth and the Police

What Hegel called civil society is capitalist society—the society where workers sell their capacity to work to employers, and employers purchase that capacity for impersonal purposes not defined by the workers themselves. In other words, civil society is a society of markets (purchase and sale, buying and selling) and a society of production for employers (subordination of workers to the class structure dominated by employers in general and, in the first instance, subordination of workers to a particular employer). Workers work for both a particular employer and, indirectly, the class of employers (I elaborate somewhat in the posts Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part One: A Limitation of Some Radical Left Critiques of Capitalist Relations of Production and Exchange (A.K.A. Capitalism) and Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part Two: Critique of Unions and the Social-Reformist or Social-Democratic Left).

This society necessarily generates poverty (since wealth is concentrated at the opposite pole). Poverty is not some accidental feature of capitalist society; it forms a necessary feature of such a society and cannot be eliminated without abolishing the class power of the class of employers. Page 48:

The background to this is Hegel’s understanding of the insecurity brought about by the existence of a class of poverty, which is a necessary condition of civil society. ‘The emergence of poverty is in general a consequence of civil society, and on the whole it arises necessarily out of it.’ As such, there is no solution to it:‘The important question of how poverty can be remedied is one which agitates and torments modern societies especially.’

The problem, however, is not poverty per se, but the fact that from the class of poverty a further, more dangerous ‘class’ can emerge.

Poverty as such, from the point of view of the wealthy and powerful, is no problem. The problem with poverty is the potential threat such poverty may lead to—a threat to the security of the property and lives of the ruling class. Hegel had this to say on the topic: Pages 48-49:

When a large mass of people sinks below the level of a certain standard of living…that feeling of right, integrity, and honour which comes from supporting oneself by one’s own activity and work is lost. This leads to the creation of a rabble … Poverty in itself does not reduce people to a rabble; a rabble is created only by the disposition associated with poverty, by inward rebellion against the rich, against society, the government, etc.’

While charity may offer some help, it is no solution. The state’s police power is the main mechanism for overseeing poverty. But the crucial point here is this: the police is equally no solution. Since it cannot abolish poverty,because to do so would abolish civil society, all the police can do is to prevent the poverty-stricken class from becoming a criminalized and pauperized rabble. It is at this point that the work of Patrick Colquhoun becomes pertinent.”

Colquhoun On the Poor Working Class and the Police as an Organization of Order and Security for the Class of Employers

The idea that the police mainly function to enforce laws (such as it is) is an ideology—it has some truth, but overall it hides the real nature of the police. As asserted above, the real nature of the modern police system is the maintenance of a particular kind of social order. Page 51:

Colquhoun’s emphases are significant here. Like Hegel, Colquhoun sees civil society as something to be ordered, and this is the project of police. ‘The Criminal Police’ is one aspect or branch of this project. It is essentially this aspect or branch (or something like it) which became institutionalized as the police from 1829.

Colquhoun categorized the poor into different subgroups in order to identify those who would most likely commit crime (as defined by the property system based on the employer-employee relation), and the function of police was to ensure that the poor, as far as possible, maintained its status as wage workers: police and political economy were wedded to each other. Page 51:

Given the five classes of the poor identified by Colquhoun–useful poor, vagrant poor, indigent poor, aged and infirm, and poor infants– the ‘great art’ is to establish a system whereby those verging on indigence may be kept in the class of useful labour and those who are able but not willing to work (vagrants) be compelled to do so. At this stage in his work then, Colquhoun’s criticism that in the present system ‘the Police…has provided no place of industry in which those who were disposed to reform might find subsistence in return for labour. 

The problem for Colquhoun was not poverty as such; his distinction between poverty and indigence pointed the way to his approach in defining the political economic/police problem. Poverty is not a problem since it is by being poor that people seek to work for employers. What is a problem is indigence—not working for an employer. Page 52:

…he [Colquhoun] begins to recognize the importance of labour to the production of wealth, and thus the importance of poverty, and starts to separate poverty from indigence. ‘Labour is absolutely requisite to the existence of all Governments; and it is from the Poor only that labour can be expected…It is not Povertytherefore, that is itself an evil.’ Instead ‘the evil is to be found only in Indigence, where the strength fails, where disease, age, or infancy, deprive the individual of the means of subsistence, or where he knows not how to find employment when willing and able to work.

More explicitly, Colquhoun links poverty and working for an employer, on the one hand, and indigence and crime on the other. Page 53:

Poverty is that state and condition in society where the individual has no surplus labour in store, and, consequently, no property but what is derived from the constant exercise of industry in the various occupations of life; or, in other words, it is the state of every one who must labour for subsistence. Poverty is therefore a most necessary and indispensable ingredient of society, without which nations and communities could not exist in a state of civilization. It is the lot of man – it is the source of wealth, since without labour there would be no riches, no refinement, no comfort, and no benefit to those who may be possessed of wealth. Indigence therefore, and not poverty , is the evil…It is the state of any one who is destitute of the means of subsistence, and is unable to labour to procure it to the extent nature requires. The natural source of subsistence is the labour of the individual; while that remains with him he is denominated poor; when it fails in whole or in part he becomes indigent.

Modern police function to maintain workers, citizens, immigrants and migrants in a state of poverty–not in the sense of a level of consumption below a defined poverty line, but in terms of a state of dependence on having to work for a class of employers. Those who form the edges of this kind of poverty–who are almost teetering into indigence–are particular targets of the modern police since they represent a more likely direct threat to the premises of that state of poverty and dependence on employers.

Already within the capitalist factory, idleness was being dealt with through disciplinary measures of the owner and managers and through the division of labour. Page 55: 

For Colquhoun, then, the major police problem is the tendency to idleness, immorality and depravity among the indigent working class. This problem was already being overcome inside the factory through the discipline brought about by the division of labour and specialization.

Idleness outside the factory was to be dealt with by the police. Page 55: 

Colquhoun’s interest lay in the problem of idleness outside the factory. The task of police is to employ a whole panoply of measures and techniques to manage idleness, extending well beyond the administration of relief into the morality, profligacy and propriety of the working class. The working class need to be taught the morality of work and thus the immorality of idleness and related activities such as drinking, gambling, cohabitation, prostitution, political subversion, trade unionism and, a point which will become important in the following chapter, appropriation of property from the workplace, as well as ‘crime’ more generally.

Ultimately, the indigent need to be put to work for an employer, and the police are there to prevent them from engaging in activities that make them independent of that dependence. Pages 55-56: 

The general idea, then, is to put the poor to labour, to make the working class work. ‘Indigence’ is merely coda for any attempt to avoid wage labour, to refuse exploitation. As Peter Linebaugh has noted, if a single individual could be said to have been the planner and theorist of class struggle in the metropolis it would be Colquhoun.

The accumulation of wealth requires the security of property, and the security of property requires the police. Page 57: 

Since for Colquhoun the acceleration of wealth can only be achieved ‘by establishing a correct system of police’, political economy must concern itself with this. Yet the science of wealth has failed to grasp this point. ‘In all the branches of the Science of Political Oeconomy, there is none which requires so much skill and knowledge of men and manners, as that which relates to this particular object [the poor].’ Thus the main concern of his proposal for a Pauper Police Institution and a Board of General Internal Police should be seen as his contribution to the political economy of the wealth of nations, and the set of measures which Colquhoun subsumes under the police idea should also be seen as, in a roundabout way, his contribution to the science of political economy, but in the form of a science of police. This in turn consists in showing not just the necessity of police to the prevention of indigence and thus crime, but to the security of property: ‘where Property is exposed, a preventive Police must be resorted to, in order to be secure’. Far from the discourse of police being displaced by the discourse of political economy and the system of natural liberty, in Colquhoun’s work ‘police’ and ‘political economy’ are two sides of the same discursive coin. Police is a complement to the political economy of commercial society, rather than its opposite.

The police arise to secure what is inherently insecure–a society of “free” contract, where some will win at the expense of others–and therefore there will be losers–potential and actual–who threaten the system of property and the accumulation of capital. Page 59: 

…because the foundation of the modern system of liberty is itself insecure it requires state
power. On this reading the police of the poor is a mechanism for securing the insecure.

The insecurity of capitalist property is inherent in its very nature since it is founded on the dependence–and hence the lack of security–of the working class. Page 61: 

The history of security is a history of the state seeking an impossible security from the terror of the death of civil society. Civil society, after all, generates its own enemies; the bourgeoisie produces its own gravediggers. In class terms this means that police is necessary because capital, as the modern master, is forever at risk of losing control of the class of which it is master. The economic inactivity of the class of poverty is the heart of the insecurity of the system, the resistance of this class to the social domination of private property is its next step, and the political mobilization of the class its highest form. Thus security involves not just the prevention and detection of crime but, more importantly, the imposition of a form of social police. The history of police as a security project is a history of private
property’s fear of its most radical ‘other’.

The police has to assist in making a working class that corresponds to the needs of the class of employers. Page 69: 

The forms of policing being traced here were a political force for the making of the working
class in that the ultimate aim of the police project was the commodification of labour through the consolidation of the wage form. As such, the project of social police has historically been central to the function of political administration in fashioning the market.

Thus, traditionally workers appropriated all kinds of “left-over” products related to work despite working for an employer–such as spare wood or scraps of iron that carpenters and metal workers used to take home. The criminalization of such activities went hand in hand with the increasing exclusion of workers from obtaining their means of livelihood except through the wage–and the police were there to prevent and enforce such “crimes.” Page 72: 

The increasingly dominant bourgeois class felt that the customary rights in question jarred with
the fundamental purpose of labour, which was to earn a wage, and raised a fundamental question: are those who labour entitled to appropriate the products of their own labour, other than through the wage received? The answer given by capital was increasingly a firm ‘no’. What had previously been seen as custom was gradually being reconceptualized as crime.

Theft was redefined in order to accommodate the employers’ definition of absolute private property: ownership of the means for workers to produce their own lives (ownership of such produced things as spinning machines, power looms, furnaces and so forth) was to go hand in hand with ownership of the commodities produced by workers (as when I worked at a brewery in Calgary, where the beer that we produced was owned by the owners of, at first, Carling O’Keefe and then Molson). 

The function of the modern police as agents of security or order is of course security and order based on wage labour and not security or order in general. Page 74:

The net effect of the first preventive police system was thus not just a defence of property, but the
creation of a social order founded on private property via the consolidation of the money wage and
commodification of labour. This pattern was followed in the development of policing elsewhere in the nineteenth century. It is clear from Philips’s study of crime in the Black Country that there was a concerted effort on the part of industrial capital, police and magistrates to impose the money wage on the worker class, while in Liverpool merchants complained of the way the ‘secondary economy of the streets’ threatened the power of private property and money, not just in creating alternative points of sale but also in draining the wages and time of those who should more properly be engaged in wage labour.

Any Movement for the Abolition of the Police Requires Integration of the Working Class 

For those who aim to abolish the police (or even defund it), it is necessary to take into consideration that the police are a central component in the formation and maintenance of a working class dependent on the class of employers. Resistance by the class of employers and their representatives to the abolition of the police (or just partial defunding) will be fierce; it is vital that the working class form part of the movement for the abolition of the police and not be unrelated or tangential to it. If the working class does not form part of such a movement, it is highly unlikely that such a movement will achieve its goals since the police and the class interests of employers are intimately related. Pages 75-76: 

one should see the street powers granted to the police as an expression of the state’s contribution
to class formation as well as class domination. The new forms of police operation coming into existence were fundamental to the imposition of the money wage as a means of making the working class, and thus need to be seen in the broader context of the role of police in the fabrication of
a new, bourgeois, order. The attack on the non-monetary form of the wage and its transformation into a fully-fledged money form meant criminalizing a range of traditional working-class activities, bringing them into the orbit of police power and thus legitimizing their oppression, a project
designed to stamp the authority of private property over the living conditions of the majority of the population and confirm the power of capital as the new master. In other words, the order of the new industrial workplace was brought about in part by the ordering power of police.

Any movement that seeks to abolish the police must take into account the close relation between the maintenance of a class of workers dependent on a wage or salary–wage or salary labour–and the function of the police to maintain security of absolute private property grounded in the market in general and the market for workers in particular. Page 77: 

The problem is thus not just to use the police to prevent crime, but that crime is committed as a means of earning a living without succumbing to wage labour. The way to prevent crime is thus to enforce wage labour.

The police function of maintaining order should not be seen in the narrow sense of preventing overt acts of behaviour newly defined as criminal but of producing acceptance of the new form of absolute private property, where workers produced commodities but no longer owned anything except through the mediation of the wage form. Page 78: 

When writers talk about the fact that the new police emerged as a means of maintaining
‘public order’, the argument generally rests on a narrow and somewhat misleading vision of disorder (the typical example is riots). ‘Order’ should be understood not just as the absence of riots or generalized peace and quiet on the streets, but as the acceptance of the capital–labour relation, the domination of capital over the working class.

The maintenance of such order cannot usually be effected through military means on a permanent basis–hence the police function and its penetration into “civil society” or the market system. 

The function of forming and maintaining order of a special kind–employer order–involves separating off working for an employer from those who obtain their means of subsistence otherwise. Those who obtain their livelihood otherwise are, in turn, classified as either criminals or the indigent (claimants). Page 79: 

In this sense discussions of ‘crime’ are frequently barely veiled discussions of disorder, a point to which we shall return in the following chapter. It was only with the development of the new police and bourgeois order that ‘crime’ acquired the kind of meaning which it had only dimly possessed in the eighteenth century but which it has possessed ever since. One of the major historical achievements of the bourgeois class was to simultaneously incorporate the working class as part of the new bourgeois conception of order and impose an ideological separation on the class by distinguishing the working class from the ‘criminal class’ on the one hand and ‘claimant class’ on the other.

Before, many obtained their subsistence through various means: theft, working on their own, working for an employer for a time, or begging. However, as the new class of employers and the new working class emerged, crime and the indigent became identified as the “other” of wage labour. Page 81: 

But the key issue in each case is how the distinction in question is related to the working class. Both criminal and claimant are understood as engaged in the refusal of wage labour – the criminal steals and the claimant claims in order to avoid work – and both claimant and criminal are viewed through the lens of idleness. This is a constant feature of bourgeois order…. But both criminal and claimant became one of the mechanisms of power by virtue of being an ideological by-product of the wage as a mechanism of power. The making of the working class was simultaneously the making of a claimant class and making of a criminal class. Both claimant and criminal have failed to achieve the dizzy heights of respectability by failing to be a bona fide proletarian; as such, they fall outside of the social pact. In both cases, the threat to the order of property is apparent; and for much of the time, the bourgeois class cannot even distinguish between the two ‘threats’.

The distinction between the citizens who accepted their status as wage worker and those who did not became increasingly characteristic of police work. Page 81:

Yet the distinction between a ‘criminal class’ on the one hand and the rest of the population on the other became increasingly commonplace in the nineteenth century. Indeed, the distinction as it developed focused almost entirely on separating the ‘criminal class’ out from the ‘poor but respectable’ working class.

Once the distinction arose and became somewhat fixed, though, the category of “criminal class” became reflected back onto the working class as potentially falling into the criminal class and hence suspect. Page 82: 

But such differentiation has a paradoxical effect. As Gertrude Himmelfarb has noted, the sharper the differentiation between the subgroup and the larger group and the more dramatic the image of the former in contrast to the latter, the more inevitable it is that the dramatic image will be transposed to the larger group. The image of ‘pauperization’ and ‘criminalization’ was so dramatic that it spilled over to the image of poverty itself, and thus the image of the working class. In the case of pauperism, the poor become saddled with the worst attributes of the pauper; as such they are always potentially
the pauper-claimant. In the case of criminality, the working class get saddled with the worst attributes of the criminal; as such they are always potentially criminal. It is for this reason that discussions of crime are often barely veiled discussions of class. The point is not that any particular group is police
property, however true that may be, but that because it is workers who are always seen to be on the verge of becoming criminal or claimant (or both), it is the working class which is the object of police power. The military metaphors within which both criminal and claimant are conceptualized within the bourgeois mentality – the perpetual ‘war on crime’ mirrored in the equally perpetual ‘war on scroungers’ – disguise the social characteristics of the enemy in question, which if revealed would show the battle to be no more than coda for the permanent low-intensity warfare against the working class. And it should be added that this is a war which the state cannot win, for to win it would mean abolishing the condition of private property that gives rise to it, and thus abolishing itself as a state.

I will end this post with this assertion by Neocleous–since the issue of the lack of criminal proceedings against the class of employers deserves more detailed treatment. Pages 83-84: 

In fact, one could argue that the institutions of the criminal justice system are geared to conceal rather than reveal the crimes of the powerful, and this despite the much higher cost, in both human and financial terms, of corporate crime. Such ‘costing’ would have to take into account the following: first, the phenomenal scale of income tax fraud compared to the fraud perpetrated by social security benefit claimants. Taking one year as an example, ‘there were only 17 prosecutions for false income-tax returns (as against some 80,000 cases settled without prosecution). But there were 12,000 prosecutions over that period by the Department of Health and Social Security for fraudulent claims by its (largely working-class) clients. The amount recovered in these 12,000 cases amounted to less than 15 per cent of the amount recovered by the Inland Revenue in its seventeen income tax prosecutions.’ Second, the deliberate cost-cutting measures ignoring health and safety standards at work, resulting in the injuries and deaths – some in ‘accidents’, some over a prolonged period of poisoning –of countless numbers of workers. As Engels commented in 1845, a social order which allows companies to place workers in such a position that they inevitably meet an early and unnatural death should be considered to have committed the deed of murder just as much as murder may be the
deed of the individual – ‘disguised, malicious murder against which none can defend himself, which does not seem what it is, because no man sees the murderer, because the death of the victim seems a natural one, since the offence is more one of omission than of commission. But murder it remains.’ And third, the placing of products on the market which are known to be dangerous. To give but one example: in 1970 Ford released their new Pinto car, which tests had shown would explode from a rear-end collision. A cost–benefit analysis told them that installing the appropriate safety measures would cost $135 million, while prospective law-suits resulting from fatalities and injuries would be unlikely to top $50 million. It is estimated that between 500 and 900 people lost their lives as a result. The indictment for reckless homicide in 1978 failed.

By treating corporate ‘crime’ as mere failure to follow regulations and procedures and thus not ‘crime’ at all, the ruling class has defined itself as beyond incrimination. Those with social power by definition cannot be members of the criminal class. Being for the order of private property, the ruling class is by definition on the right side of the law.

Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Two

This is a continuation of an earlier post on the issue of reforming the police versus its abolition.

Mr. Rosenfeld, a self-declared radical and Marxist living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in an article published in the social-democratic magazine Canadian Dimension on April 20, 2020, Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking), responded to another article published on April 12 in the same magazine, written by James Wilt,  Abolishing the police is the only reasonable response to Winnipeg Police killings. Wilt argues that the police cannot be reformed but must be abolished since their function is essentially repressive, and that essential function is sufficient for demanding its abolition

Mr. Rosenfeld has the following counterargument:

How can a class society such as ours, wrought by contradictions, which often manifest themselves in the form of criminal activity, and in which working class and socialist political agency are virtually non-existent, manage without some kind of policing institution? Shouldn’t that institution be thoroughly transformed, by political struggle, into a more humane, limited and less autonomous one? How can this happen if it is simply abolished, or if criminal activity such as murder and theft, that often targets working class people (yes, working class people have personal property that can be stolen), is no longer illegal or goes unprosecuted?

Mr. Rosenfeld, in his haste to oppose what he perceives to be left-wing extremism, fails to inquire whether his assumption that the police actually do engage mainly in activity that either prevents “murder and theft” or at least investigates it after the fact. I have already referred to a quite different view of the nature and function of the police (see , for example, Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One).

Mr. Rosenfeld removed himself from this blog in May 2020 (see the comments to the post Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Three, and the above post was posted in August 2019, so there is no excuse for his ignoring what I wrote in the above post. I will quote, once again, from that post, in addition to providing a couple of further references. Mr. Rosenfeld has a responsibility to workers and to community members that he failed to fulfill.

From Mark Neocleous, The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power, pages 112-113:

Since, as we have seen, law-enforcement is merely an incidental and derivative part of police work, and since, as Lustgarten has noted, the police invariably under-enforce the law, the equation of policing with law enforcement is clearly untenable. The police enforce the law because it falls within the scope of their larger duties of regulating order which, in an ideological loop of remarkable ingenuity, is then justified in terms of crime control and the need to ‘uphold the law’. In other words, law enforcement becomes part of police work to the same extent as anything else in which the exercise of force for the maintenance of order may have to be used, and only to that extent. Police practices are designed to conform to and prioritize not law, but order, as the judges and police have long known.69 Law-enforcement is therefore a means to an end rather than an end in itself, as witnessed by the fact that, for example, police often prefer to establish order without arrest. The assumption central to the rule of law that people should not take the law into ‘their own hands’ reminds us not only that the law is meant to be used and controlled by chosen hands, as Bauman puts it,70 but that police do in fact handle rather than enforce the law. The law is a resource for dealing with problems of disorder rather than a set of rules to be followed and enforced. The kind of police behaviour which offends the sensibilities of civil libertarians or which seems at odds with the assumptions in the liberal democratic conception of the rule of law in fact turns out to be within the law and exercised according to the need to deal with things considered disorderly. The police follow rules, but these are police rules rather than legal rules. Thus when exercising discretion, the police are never quite using it to enforce the law, as one might be led to believe. Rather, officers decide what they want to do and then fit their legal powers around that decision. Hence the main ‘Act’ which police officers purport to enforce is the ‘Ways and Means Act’, a set of mythical powers which they use to mystify and confuse suspects, and the question of whether an officer should detain a suspect on legal grounds is displaced by the question ‘which legal reason shall I use to justify detaining this person’. Exercised according to police criteria rather than specific legal criteria, the rules are rules for the abolition of disorder, exercised by the police and enabled by law.

“Murder and theft” form a minor part of what the police actually do. Mr. Rosenfeld’s own fears perhaps are expressed when he refers to “murder and theft.” Furthermore, given the number of murders in Canada per year is around one half the number of workers who die in Canada (with over 600,000 injuries a year)–and the police do little to address this problem–Mr. Rosenfeld’s ignoring of these facts likely expresses his own biases and fears.

Mr. Rosenfeld also ignores the fear that the police often instill among some sections of the working class–a fear that he simply fails to address. How such fear can be overcome with his reforms he never says.

From Mark Neocleous, The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power, page 113:

‘We fear the policeman’ then, as Slavoj Zizek comments, ‘insofar as he is not just himself, a person like us, since his acts are the acts of power, that is to say, insofar as he is experienced as the stand-in for the big Other, for the social order.’ And it is because the police officer is the stand-in for social order that order is the central trope [something such as an idea, phrase, or image that is often used in a particular work] around which even the smallest police act is conducted. As a number of ex-police officers have testified, the police themselves are obsessed with order, being institutionalized to
achieve order at all times and in all contexts. Malcolm Young has commented on how one folder containing a record of the Orders by a range of senior officers reveals ‘how everything in this world had an ordained place and could therefore be controlled, ordered, disciplined, checked, scrutinized’.
Likewise ex-police sergeant Simon Holdaway has pointed to the way prisoners are treated as ‘visible evidence of disorder’. Needing to detect and end disorder among citizens, the police cannot cope with ambiguity in any way. In dealing with any particular situation a police officer makes a decision about what, if anything, is out of order and then makes a decision about how to overcome it. Because each individual officer is institutionalized to achieve order at all times the police institution must have a strong sense of the order they are there to reproduce, reflected in the activities they are taught to pursue, the techniques they use in pursuit, and compounded by a unitary and absolutist view of human behaviour and social organization.

The police as the representative of “order” entails not only fear but a need for the expression of deference. From Mark Neocleous, The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power, pages 113-114:

So for example, failure to display deference to an officer significantly increases the probability of arrest, for it is understood as a failure to display deference to an officer’s demand for order. Any hostility directed to them is treated as an attack on their authority and power to order, and thus an attack on authority and order in general, mediated by a supposed hostility to the Law. Antagonistic behaviour is a symbolic rejection of their authoritative attempt to reconstitute order out of a disorderly situation; it is this which may result in more formal (i.e. legal) methods of control. Regardless of the legal issues pertinent to the situation, the failure to display deference is therefore likely to make one an object of the law as an arrested person as a means of reproducing order.

I have already referred to my personal experience with a social worker who was connected to the legal system through providing a written document to the court (see, for example, A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and its Representatives, Part Three). Since I did not show deference to his authority, he retaliated by, among other things, lying in his document to the court.

Another critical theorist argues that the criminal justice system fails in its overt claim to protect citizens from what really threatens them, and in so failing it actually justifies its continued existence. From  Jeffrey Reiman and Paul Leighton (2017), The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, page 31:

Ultimately, American criminal justice policy makes more sense if we look at the system as wanting to have high crime rates—there are groups for whom “crime pays” and for whom the system’s failure is a success.

This may seem paradoxical, but such is the nature of a social order characterized by the dominance of employers as a class and their corresponding economic, political and social structures and relations.

From pages 39-41:

Although many Americans are confused about whether crime rates are increasing or decreasing, the overall pattern since 1992 has been one of declining crime rates. This reduction in crime only constitutes a “success” for the criminal justice system to the extent that the system caused the decline. A review of criminal justice literature, however, shows that prisons and police played a quite limited role in the national crime decline. The drop in crime rates is better explained by non–criminal justice factors, such as the decline in use of crack, an improved economy in the 1990s and continued low inflation, and the removal of lead from gas and paint. In this section, we examine the factors linked to the declining crime rate to assess their importance. We’ll start with the criminal justice response.

POLICE Another popular theory is that police contributed substantially to the decline in crime rates. Bear in mind that we are not here talking about the effect of police arresting people and putting them in prison. (That was discussed in the previous section.) The claim to be evaluated now is that changes in the number of police or their strategies—such as policing crime “hot spots” and aggressive enforcement of gun-control laws—lowered crime rates. Strategies that temporarily suppress crime at a hot spot or that displace it into another area cannot be responsible for a long-term, geographically widespread crime decline.

The National Academy of Sciences panel on policing (quoted earlier) found weak or no evidence that standard policing or widespread variants contribute much to declining crime rates. John Conklin in his book Why Crime Rates Fell concurs that there is little evidence to support a general link between policing and crime rates.86 A 2005 report by the General Accounting Office found that between 1993 and 2000, President Clinton’s COPS plan for 100,000 officers “amounted to about 5 percent of the overall decline.”87 The Brennan Center analysis of the crime decline suggests that the increasing number of police had a “downward effect on crime in the 1990s, likely between 0 and 10 percent”—but the effect did not continue into the 2000s because the number of police leveled off and then declined.

It is true that there may be some evidence that the use of the police, combined with other strategies, may reduce crime. From Reiman, pages 41-42:

The National Academy of Sciences panel and more recent reviews of the literature note that policing hot spots can reduce crime when combined with a problem-solving approach that tries to change underlying conditions.89

However, there are others considerations here, from a political point of view. Firstly, who defines what actions are a crime? Mr. Rosenfeld does not even ask the question. He does not even consider the filtering process that eliminates the harmful actions of employers in various ways on our lives from consideration as a crime. Secondly, he does not factor into the account the general function of the police to maintain order–order characterized by the daily subordination, oppression and exploitation of millions of workers in Canada and billions in the world–in order to prevent “theft and murder.”

Mr. Rosenfeld’s focus on “murder and theft” expresses more his biases rather than any real analysis of the situation which members of the working class face vis-a-vis the real dangers of working for an employer, on the one hand, and the nature and functions of the police, on the other.

As for theft, let me provide a personal anecdote. In 1996, I believe, I was doing my practicum for my bachelor of education degree with the French university in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, the College universitaire de Saint-Boniface. They lent me a fairly expensive video camera (with  tripod) so that I could have someone film my classroom practice. At the time, I was living in the north end in Winnipeg, on Machray Street near St. John’s High School, an inner city school. The north end is relatively poor in terms of income level. My daughter at the time was around one-year old. I had her carriage and other things in the trunk and the video camera and tripod in the back seat.

I woke up early to prepare for the day. I went out to the car–and the window was broken and the video camera and tripod were gone. I phoned the police–and all they asked me was what the serial number was. They did not even bother sending a police person for further details. No one came. No one investigated further. Is this a good example of how the police deal with “personal theft?” If so, Mr. Rosenfeld’s reference to “theft” as justification for the non-abolition of the police sounds more like an expression of his own social-democratic biases rather than an analysis of the real nature of the police in a society dominated by a class of employers.

Another author provides further proof of the real nature of the police and not Mr. Rosenfeld’s social-democratic fantasy. From Alex Vitale (2017), The End of Policing: 

The police exist to keep us safe, or so we are told by mainstream media and popular culture. TV shows exaggerate the amount of serious crime and the nature of what most police officers actually do all day. Crime control is a small part of policing, and it always has been.

Felony arrests of any kind are a rarity for uniformed officers, with most making no more than one a year. When a patrol officer actually apprehends a violent criminal in the act, it is a major moment in their career. The bulk of police officers work in patrol. They take reports, engage in random patrol, address parking and driving violations and noise complaints, issue tickets, and make misdemeanor arrests for drinking in public, possession of small amounts of drugs, or the vague “disorderly conduct.” Officers I’ve shadowed on patrol describe their days as “99 percent boredom and 1percent sheer terror”—and even that 1 percent is a bit of an exaggeration for most officers.

Even detectives (who make up only about 15 percent of police forces) spend most of their time taking reports of crimes that they will never solve —and in many cases will never even investigate. There is no possible way for police to investigate every reported crime. Even homicide investigations can be brought to a quick conclusion if no clear suspect is identified within two days, as the television reality show The First 48 emphasizes. Burglaries and larcenies are even less likely to be investigated thoroughly, or at all. Most crimes that are investigated are not solved

Mr. Rosenfeld, in his haste to oppose really radical proposals (such as the abolition of the police), merely asserts the liberal view of the nature of the police. It is certainly possible that many members of the working-class believe the same thing, but a Marxist has an obligation to question such an ideology. Mr. Rosenfeld, though, not only indulges such beliefs but reinforces them.

He may reply that he had pointed out in his article that

I will start with a disclaimer: I am no expert on policing, criminal justice, the sociology of Winnipeg or police and community relations. I am a 70 year-old Marxist and democratic socialist, who has lived and worked in Toronto for the past 44 years, and have been organizing, doing education and writing for and about working class politics and public transit.

I too am not an “expert on policing, criminal justice, the sociology of Winnipeg or police and community relations.” However, as a Marxist, I have an obligation to at least do some research on topics before I write about them. Besides, so-called “experts” often ignore issues that are relevant to the working class.

Mr. Rosenfeld is retired, so there is no justification for his lack of engagement in at least preliminary research concerning the abolition of the police. However, there is no evidence that Mr. Rosenfeld did any research concerning the nature and function of the police. He merely expressed his unwarranted bias. Mr. Rosenfeld, perhaps, watches too many Netflix crime movies or programs.

As a result, he panders to the prejudices of the working class rather than criticizing their views and enlightening them about the real nature of policing. This should surprise no one. The social-democratic left, in general, pander to the prejudices of the working class in various ways (by, for example, not criticizing such cliches as “fair contracts,” “fair collective agreements,” “fair wages,” “The Fight for $15 and Fairness,” “decent work” and the like.

Mr. Rosenfeld claims that we live in a liberal democracy and not in a fascist society. Since he does not elaborate on what he means by these terms, I will assume that by “liberal democracy” he means that in Canada we live by the “rule of law”:

In reality, though, bourgeois democratic institutions are not simply a façade for a bloody and murderous dictatorship over the poor and colonized. Yes, there are instances of state acts of murder and even terrorism. The liberal democratic state and institutions facilitate private capital accumulation and are structured in ways which seek to repress, diffuse and co-opt alternative political and social movements, but these are mediated by the necessities of legitimating capitalism. The relative power, political ideology and organization of the working class and colonized Indigenous peoples also affect the character of liberal democracy (and in the subordinate strata, there are forms of class differences and other contradictions that also matter). We don’t live in a fascist dictatorship.

Of course, “bourgeois democratic institutions” need to legitimate their rule, and the level of legitimization required relates, in part, to the level of “relative power, political ideology and organization of the working class and colonized indigenous peoples.” Any abolitionist can agree with this. And? Is Mr. Rosenfeld, though, implying that, since the capitalist state attempts to legitimate the rule of the class of employers that the general and essential function of the police to maintain class order is somehow unimportant? That the iron fist does not support the legitimating function of the capitalist state? Furthermore, the legitimating function of the capitalist state hides the real nature of the lives of the working class, does it not? (See the series of posts on this blog about the silence of the history curricula in various provinces in Canada concerning the nature and origin of the class of employers in Canada.. See, for example, A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees).

Mr. Rosenfeld, however, is little concerned with the legitimization function of the capitalist state in its negative aspect; his real concern is with the positive aspects of that function, such as civil liberties. By all means, let us appreciate and fight for these limited rights that we do have that protect us from the iron fist of the police–but let us not idealize them. They modify but do not negate the primary function of the police–to maintain the order of a society characterized by the dominance of the class of employers and the associated economic, social and political structures and relations.

Furthermore, Mr. Rosenfeld does not even consider the importance of the capacity of the capitalist government or state for combining  the iron fist (the stick) and the carrot (reforms) in many, many different ways; this capacity to combine the two is one thing that gives the government or state dominated by employers its power and makes it very difficult to overcome. I already pointed out the following in another post:

From Doreen McBarnet, Conviction: Law, the State and the Construction of Justice, page 2:

The whole flavour of the rhetoric of justice is summed up in the idea that it is better for ten guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to be wrongly convicted. Why then the paradox that the vast majority of cases processed through a criminal justice system so geared to favouring the accused results in a finding of guilt?

For they do. According to the criminal statistics for 1978, conviction rates were as follows: 8o per cent of Scottish cases involving crimes, 95 per cent of Scottish cases involving offences, 84 per cent of English Crown Court cases, 93 per cent of indictable cases, 95 per cent of non-indictable cases, in the English magistrates’ courts. Some samples show even higher rates-a 98.5 per cent conviction rate for magistrates’ courts in Sheffield (Bottoms and McClean, 1976). Conviction depends in court on the plea or the verdict. If the accused pleads guilty to the charge against him, conviction follows as a matter of routine. If he pleads not guilty, a contested trial follows. According to Bottoms and McClean, 72 ·5 per cent of those contesting the case in magistrates’ courts, 55 per cent of those choosing jury trials, and 71 per cent of those allocated to the higher courts were convicted on some or all counts (pp. 106, 209). In the rhetoric of justice everyone is entitled to a fair trial; yet most defendants plead guilty. In the rhetoric of justice any reasonable doubt should result in acquittal; yet for the clear majority of cases the court is convinced beyond reasonable doubt, despite all the rhetorical hamstrings on police and prosecution, that the accused is guilty. Why?

One answer might be quite simply that the defendants are guilty; the case against them is too strong to be plausibly disputed; the facts speak for themselves. Sir Robert Mark has suggested indeed that the very limitations placed on police and prosecution bringing a case to court make it highly probable that only the indisputably guilty come through the process at all….

Mr. Rosenfeld probably has been indoctrinated into the ideology of law, which presents courts as areas where legal due process is dominant–whereas the opposite is the case.

From Doreen McBarnet, Conviction: Law, the State and the Construction of Justice, Page 153:

Legal policy has established two tiers of justice. One, the higher courts, is for public consumption, the arena where the ideology of justice is put on display. The other, the lower courts, deliberately structured in defiance of the ideology of justice, is concerned less with subtle ideological messages than with direct control. The latter is closeted from the public eye by the ideology of triviality, so the higher courts alone feed into the public image of what the law does and how it operates. But the higher courts deal with only 2 per cent of the cases that pass through the criminal courts. Almost all criminal law is acted out in the lower courts without traditional due process. But of course what happens in the lower courts is not only trivial, it is not really law. So the position is turned on its head. The 98 per cent becomes the exception to the rule of ‘real law’ and the working of the law comes to be typified not by its routine nature, but by its atypical, indeed exceptional, High Court form. Between them the ideologies of triviality and legal irrelevance accomplish the remarkable feats of defining 98 per cent of court cases not only as exceptions to the rule of due process, but also as of no public interest whatsoever. The traditional ideology of justice can thus survive the contradiction that the summary courts blatantly ignore it every day-and that they were set up precisely for that purpose.

The real world of courts (and the police) needs more than “transformation”–it needs abolition since they function at the level of real law and not at the level of the rhetoric of justice. From Doreen McBarnet, Conviction: Law, the State and the Construction of Justice, pages 154-155:

The rhetoric of justice requires incriminating evidence as the basis for arrest and search; the law allows arrest and search in order to establish it. Justice requires that no-one need incriminate himself; the law refuses to control the production of confessions and allows silence as a factor in proving guilt. justice requires equality; the law discriminates against the homeless, the jobless, the disreputable. Justice requires each case be judged on its own facts; the law makes previous convictions grounds for defining behaviour as an offence and evidence against the accused. Justice places the burden of proof on the prosecutor; the law qualifies the standard and method of proof required and offers the prosecutor opportunities for making a case which the accused is denied. Justice proclaims the right to trial by one’s peers; the legal system ensures that 91 per cent of all defendants plead guilty, and of the rest most are tried without a jury.

If, then, the process of conviction is easier than the rhetoric of justice would have us expect-and easier still the lower the status of the defendant-it is hardly surprising. A wide range of prosecution evidence can be legally produced and presented, despite the rhetoric of a system geared overwhelmingly to safeguards for the accused, precisely because legal structure, legal procedure, legal rulings, not legal rhetoric, govern the legitimate practice of criminal justice, and there is quite simply a distinct gap between the substance and the ideology of the law.

This conclusion has two direct and immediate implications. First it places the contemporary policy debate over law and order in a new light. The police demand for more powers, for the removal of the hamstrings of the right to silence, the limitations on arrest and search-and indeed the civil liberties camp’s agitated response that the legal checks of British justice must be upheld-begin to appear rather odd. Both sides of the debate are framed in terms of the ideology of civil rights, not in terms of the realities of legal procedure and case law which, as I hope this analysis has amply shown, have all too often already given the police and prosecution the very powers they are demanding. The law does not need reform to remove hamstrings on the police: they exist largely in the unrealised rhetoric.

Second, more theoretically, this analysis has implications for the explanation of law-enforcement and its outcomes. A whole range of excellent sociological studies has pointed out situational, informal, non-legal factors in police-citizen encounters and courtroom interaction to explain who is arrested or convicted, and to explain why the system so often seems in practice to be weighted against the accused. Their answer lies essentially in the complex nature of social interaction and motivation; in the fact that people do not merely administer the law but act upon and alter it as they do so. This study offers a supplementary perspective, making the law rather than the activities of its administrators problematic. The conclusion is quite different. Given the formal procedures and rules of the law and the structure of arrest, investigation, plea and trial, one could not–even if human beings acted entirely as legal automatons–expect the outcomes to be other than they are. If the practice of criminal justice does not live up to its rhetoric one should not look only to the interactions and negotiations of those who put the law into practice but to the law itself. One should not look just to how the rhetoric of justice is subverted intentionally or otherwise by policemen bending the rules, by lawyers negotiating adversariness out of existence, by out-of-touch judges or biased magistrates: one must also look at how it is subverted in the law. Police and court officials need not abuse the law to subvert the principles of justice; they need only use it. Deviation from the rhetoric of legality and justice is institutionalised in the law itself.

Mr. Rosenfeld implies that we need the police. He asks:

Shouldn’t that institution be thoroughly transformed, by political struggle, into a more humane, limited and less autonomous one? How can this happen if it is simply abolished, or if criminal activity such as murder and theft, that often targets working class people (yes, working class people have personal property that can be stolen), is no longer illegal or goes unprosecuted?

Note the assumption that the courts and the police are somehow very effective in protecting personal property and preventing murder.

Racism exists in our society, and it certainly can serve the short-term interests of some sections of the working class by reducing or eliminating competition from other workers. Should we aim at transforming racism “by political struggle, into a more humane, limited and less autonomous” social institution? Or should we aim at abolishing it?

In any case, some members of the working class do steal the personal property from other members of the working class–and they should not (although there are undoubtedly many mitigating circumstances that need to be taken into consideration here). And some do murder some members of the working class–and they should not. Do these facts legitimate the continued existence of the police as a social institution designed by its very nature to maintain the order of oppression and exploitation characteristic of the domination of employers (see Employers as Dictators, Part One)?

The police, whether armed or not, have the legal right to use force–they have a monopoly of this force. Mr. Rosenfeld assumes that the call for abolishing such a monopoly is absurd. That, however, is what a socialist society would involve–a return of the power of doing things to people in their own hands. A movement to achieve this can arise in the present and not in some distant future.

Mr. Rosenfeld denies this:

It is one thing to envision what a future socialist and decolonized society might look like in 100 years and strive to move in that direction. But to talk as if the necessary political and social conditions of such a society exist at this moment is to fly in the face of reality. And, once again, it takes the struggle to transform or democratize these institutions off the agenda.

I wonder how it would be possible to “transform and democratize” racism? Mr. Rosenfeld seems more of a defender of the police than a critic.

In any case, what kinds of alternatives to the police might arise in the present? A further post will explore this issue.

Another post will address the issue of the way in which we conceive the future and its relation to the present. Mr. Rosenfeld gives away his own social-democratic bias by referring to “what a future socialist and decolonized society might look in 100 years and strive in that direction.” The end is shifted into a distant future as something to be aimed for–in 100 years. This issue has philosophical or more general implications–and political implications as well.

Supplement

One of the good things about blogs is that you can return to a post and add to it (or change something)–unlike emails.

Mr. Rosenfeld, in another article that addresses the implications of a possible victory of Trump or Biden  (https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/us-election-what-could-it-mean-for-canada-and-the-canadian-left).  He briefly refers to the police and his continued advocacy for the their reform rather than their abolition–without argument:

Of course, the push from below includes the movements in cities across the US demanding radical reforms of the repressive apparatuses represented by policing and criminal justice, and directly attacking systemic racism, as well as the on-the-ground movements against fossil fuels and pipelines.

He fails to refer to “the movements in cities across the US demanding” the abolition of the police due to “the repressive apparatuses represented by policing and criminal justice.”

This neglect and indeed probable conscious omission of references to more radical demands–what do you think it expresses?

Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part Two

This is a continuation of a previous post. It is a response to Mr. Sam Gindin’s article, We Need to Say What Socialism Will Look Like , where he argues that under socialism the government or state will not “wither away” but will expand as public services expand. Mr. Gindin’s conception of the expansion of public services is, however, largely quantitative and has little to do with fundamental qualitative changes in public services.

The issue has to do with the idea of a “transitional socialist society.” Mr. Gindin assumes that such a society will come into existence through the expansion of public services that already exist. Compare his assumption with the following (from Rob Bryer, Accounting for History in Marx’s Capital: The Missing Link, pages 279-280):

…he [Andrew Kliman] makes a helpful suggestion: “except to say that I have increasingly come to suspect that the very idea of ‘transitional society’ is incoherent, and seems to stand in the way of thinking things through clearly” (Kliman 2004, 11). Rather than opting out, or making a transition from capitalism to socialism, Kliman
(2004, 12) argues “what requires explanation is the essential character of the change, which is not gradual quantitative decrease, but [quoting Hegel’s Science of Logic] the ‘abstract transition of an existence into a negation of the existence,’” Kliman (2004, 14) therefore suggests, “Capitalism . . . cannot ‘become’ a new society; it cannot gradually cease-to-be as the new society comes-to-be. Is it not the case, then, that revolutionary transformation can only be comprehended as absolute liberation that begins the day after the revolution, rather than as gradual transition?”

A transitional mode of production is incoherent, but history shows pre-capitalist transitional societies in which different modes co-existed, where class conflict was driving change in which one became dominant. Changes in the dominance of pre-capitalist modes—slavery over primitive communism, feudalism over free peasants, and capitalism over feudalism— were transitions. In his early work, Marx used the idea of transitional societies, changing from one ‘mode of commercial intercourse’ to another to explain history and, particularly in The Communist Manifesto, argued for a transition to socialism. However, from Grundrisse onward he argued that the
change to socialism was unique because, rather than an unconscious change in dominance from one form of exploitation to another, socialism results from consciously changing the social relations of production, and creating the necessary superstructure, to abolish it. Socialism becomes possible only if all (or the vast majority) of workers understand Marx’s theories of value and history and, when they do, they ‘inevitably’ change society’s social relations of production on Day 1 to abolish all exploitation.

There can, therefore, according to the mature Marx, be no transition to socialism, no ‘transitional society,’ part capitalist, part socialist, but only a once for all, immediate and comprehensive, qualitative change in the social relations of production.

Although history will undoubtedly be much messier than this “once and for all, immediate and comprehensive, qualitative change,” the basic idea of a vastly different kind of society emerging from capitalism than the emergence of capitalism from earlier kinds of society is something which Mr. Gindin ignores. The need for a conscious and organized effort to eliminate classes needs to be explicitly put on the agenda from the beginning in order to make a qualitative change in our lives.

Mr. Gindin does speak of the “transformation” of the capitalist state into a socialist democratic state, but his complete neglect of the repressive aspects of the government and his insistence that “scarcity” and “external motivation” will necessarily characterize socialism means that such a transformation will continue to possess repressive features.

Many members of the working class (especially the precarious members of the working class in Canada since many unionized members of the working class no longer engage in illegal strikes), however, experience the capitalist government or state as repressive. Mr. Gindin simply ignores this feature of working-class experience when he refers to the “transformation” of the capitalist state. The need to abolish a separate police power was formulated long ago, when the Paris Commune emerged in 1871 in France.

Let us continue with the issue of the repressive power of legal system. Last time, we looked at the police. Let us now look briefly at the criminal courts. An accused is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty–so says the rhetoric (rhetoric characterizes much of a society dominated by a class of employers). Is this really the case, though?

From Doreen McBarnet, Conviction: Law, the State and the Construction of Justice, page 2:

The whole flavour of the
rhetoric of justice is summed up in the idea that it is better for ten
guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to be wrongly
convicted. Why then the paradox that the vast majority of cases
processed through a criminal justice system so geared to favouring
the accused results in a finding of guilt?

For they do. According to the criminal statistics for 1978,
conviction rates were as follows: 8o per cent of Scottish cases
involving crimes, 95 per cent of Scottish cases involving offences, 84
per cent of English Crown Court cases, 93 per cent of indictable
cases, 95 per cent of non-indictable cases, in the English magistrates’
courts.3 Some samples show even higher rates-a 98.5 per cent
conviction rate for magistrates’ courts in Sheffield (Bottoms and
McClean, 1976). Conviction depends in court on the plea or the
verdict. If the accused pleads guilty to the charge against him,
conviction follows as a matter of routine. If he pleads not guilty, a
contested trial follows. According to Bottoms and McClean, 72 ·5
per cent of those contesting the case in magistrates’ courts, 55 per
cent of those choosing jury trials, and 71 per cent of those allocated
to the higher courts were convicted on some or all counts (pp. 106,
209). In the rhetoric of justice everyone is entitled to a fair trial; yet
most defendants plead guilty. In the rhetoric of justice any
reasonable doubt should result in acquittal; yet for the clear
majority of cases the court is convinced beyond reasonable doubt,
despite all the rhetorical hamstrings on police and prosecution, that
the accused is guilty. Why?

One answer might be quite simply that the defendants are guilty;
the case against them is too strong to be plausibly disputed; the facts
speak for themselves. Sir Robert Mark has suggested indeed that the
very limitations placed on police and prosecution bringing a case to
court make it highly probable that only the indisputably guilty
come through the process at all….

Mr. Gindin probably has been indoctrinated into the ideology of law, which presents courts as areas where legal due process is dominant–whereas the opposite is the case.

From Doreen McBarnet, Conviction: Law, the State and the Construction of Justice, Page 153:

Legal policy has established two tiers of justice. One, the higher
courts, is for public consumption, the arena where the ideology of
justice is put on display. The other, the lower courts, deliberately
structured in defiance of the ideology of justice, is concerned less
with subtle ideological messages than with direct control. The latter
is closeted from the public eye by the ideology of triviality, so the
higher courts alone feed into the public image of what the law does
and how it operates. But the higher courts deal with only 2 per cent
of the cases that pass through the criminal courts. Almost all
criminal law is acted out in the lower courts without traditional due
process. But of course what happens in the lower courts is not only
trivial, it is not really law. So the position is turned on its head. The
98 per cent becomes the exception to the rule of ‘real law’ and the
working of the law comes to be typified not by its routine nature, but
by its atypical, indeed exceptional, High Court form. Between them
the ideologies of triviality and legal irrelevance accomplish the
remarkable feats of defining 98 per cent of court cases not only as
exceptions to the rule of due process, but also as of no public interest
whatsoever. The traditional ideology of justice can thus survive the
contradiction that the summary courts blatantly ignore it every
day-and that they were set up precisely for that purpose.

The real world of courts (and the police) needs more than “transformation”–it needs abolition since they function at the level of real law and not at the level of the rhetoric of justice. From Doreen McBarnet, Conviction: Law, the State and the Construction of Justice, pages 154-155:

The rhetoric of justice requires incriminating evidence as the
basis for arrest and search; the law allows arrest and search in order
to establish it. Justice requires that no-one need incriminate himself;
the law refuses to control the production of confessions and allows
silence as a factor in proving guilt. justice requires equality; the law
discriminates against the homeless, the jobless, the disreputable.
Justice requires each case be judged on its own facts; the law makes
previous convictions grounds for defining behaviour as an offence
and evidence against the accused. Justice places the burden of proof
on the prosecutor; the law qualifies the standard and method of
proof required and offers the prosecutor opportunities for making a
case which the accused is denied. Justice proclaims the right to trial
by one’s peers; the legal system ensures that 91 per cent of all
defendants plead guilty, and of the rest most are tried without a
jury.

If, then, the process of conviction is easier than the rhetoric of
justice would have us expect-and easier still the lower the status of
the defendant-it is hardly surprising. A wide range of prosecution
evidence can be legally produced and presented, despite the
rhetoric of a system geared overwhelmingly to safeguards for the
accused, precisely because legal structure, legal procedure, legal
rulings, not legal rhetoric, govern the legitimate practice of criminal
justice, and there is quite simply a distinct gap between the
substance and the ideology of the law.

This conclusion has two direct and immediate implications. First
it places the contemporary policy debate over law and order in a new
light. The police demand for more powers, for the removal of the
hamstrings of the right to silence, the limitations on arrest and
search-and indeed the civil liberties camp’s agitated response that
the legal checks of British justice must be upheld-begin to appear
rather odd. Both sides of the debate are framed in terms of the
ideology of civil rights, not in terms of the realities of legal procedure
and case law which, as I hope this analysis has amply shown, have
all too often already given the police and prosecution the very
powers they are demanding. The law does not need reform to
remove hamstrings on the police: they exist largely in the unrealised
rhetoric.

Second, more theoretically, this analysis has implications for the
explanation of law-enforcement and its outcomes. A whole range of
excellent sociological studies has pointed out situational, informal,
non-legal factors in police-citizen encounters and courtroom
interaction to explain who is arrested or convicted, and to explain
why the system so often seems in practice to be weighted against the
accused. Their answer lies essentially in the complex nature of social
interaction and motivation; in the fact that people do not merely
administer the law but act upon and alter it as they do so. This study
offers a supplementary perspective, making the law rather than the
activities of its administrators problematic. The conclusion is quite
different. Given the formal procedures and rules of the law and the
structure of arrest, investigation, plea and trial, one could not–even
if human beings acted entirely as legal automatons–expect the
outcomes to be other than they are. If the practice of criminal justice
does not live up to its rhetoric one should not look only to the
interactions and negotiations of those who put the law into practice
but to the law itself. One should not look just to how the rhetoric of
justice is subverted intentionally or otherwise by policemen bending
the rules, by lawyers negotiating adversariness out of existence, by
out-of-touch judges or biased magistrates: one must also look at how
it is subverted in the law. Police and court officials need not abuse the
law to subvert the principles of justice; they need only use it.
Deviation from the rhetoric of legality and justice is institutionalised
in the law itself.

Mr. Gindin’s implicit contention that the “withering away of the state” is utopian expresses his own middle-class experiences and bias. He probably has not experienced the repressive nature of the police and the court system. He vastly underestimates the importance of that repressive apparatus and implicitly idealizes the current state system.

To what extent, for example, is the modern welfare state not only the provision of needed public services but also oppressive? Mr. Gindin has nothing to say on this score. Yet if we consider how social workers are linked to the police and to the courts, then we can see that the modern welfare state is itself often repressive and needs not just transformation but substantial reconstruction as the repressive apparatus of a hierarchy of managers is abolished and work is democratized. What of faculties of education and schools? Would they not need substantial reconstruction as their repressive aspects are abolished in conjunction with the repressive apparatus of employers? And so forth.

For those oppressed by the police, criminal court systems and various social agencies, there is a need for the abolition of such structures and the “withering away” of such structures as workers and the community finally develop processes that enable them to control their own life process.

Mr. Gindin’s article, then, ultimately serves as a reminder of just how distant “real socialists” (actually, social-democratic reformers) are from the daily experiences of billions of workers and community members.

Mr. Gindin’s “realistic” socialism, then, fails to address either the nature of modern capitalist society or the qualitatively different kind of society which would characterize a socialism without a repressive government apparatus.

The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part Two

The following is the second of a two-part series of posts, providing a critical assessment of some of the views expressed in the 2019 British Labour Party’s Manifesto, It’s Time For Real Change.

The section on public services is typical of the social-reformist or social-democratic left: what is needed is mainly a quantitative expansion of existing conditions rather than a qualitative change in such conditions. For example, in education it is proposed (page 38):

We will reverse cuts to Sure Start and create a new service, Sure Start Plus,
with enough centres to provide a genuinely universal service, available
in all communities, focused on the under-2s.

Labour will radically reform early years provision, with a two-term vision
to make high-quality early years education available for every child.

This is the dream of all social democrats–provision of equal opportunity (especially in education), so that all can compete on an even-level ground. Of course, such competition will lead to inequality, but such inequality, it is implied, is healthy and justified.

Nowhere does the Manifesto address the question of whether the education system itself is adequate to the task of providing quality education on a different basis than the typical academic curriculum. Indeed, in a typical reformist fashion, it proposes to merely add on to the existing curriculum arts and other programs to supplement the existing curriculum (page 39):

The narrowing curriculum is denying many children access to modern languages, arts and music, or technical and engineering skills that will be essential in a world shaped by climate change.

The proposed educational system might then look like what the Chicago Teachers’ Union proposed–an inadequate model for the educational needs of students (see my publication “A Deweyan Review of The Chicago Teachers’ Union’s Publication The Schools Chicago Students Deserve, found on the Publications and Writings link on this blog).

On the issue of social justice, the Manifesto is vague and contradictory. It states (page 64):

For Labour, the true measure of fairness is not social mobility but social justice.

Implicit in the notion of social mobility is the idea that poverty and inequality are acceptable provided some people can climb the social ladder.

Social justice, on the other hand, demands that we end poverty, reduce inequality and create a society in which the conditions for a fulfilling life are available to everyone.

It is claimed that it is possible to end poverty. What is meant by poverty remains unclear. It probably is measured by level of income, with those below a certain level of income being in a state of poverty and those above it not being in a state of poverty. Hence, if everyone had a certain level of income that was above a defined poverty line, then poverty could be eliminated–according to social democrats.

I criticized the adequacy of such a view before (see “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function” (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty: OCAP)), so I refer the reader to that post.

The issue of inequality, in all likelihood, also refers to level of income rather than the source of that income. The same problem arises with such a definition of inequality as the definition of poverty.

In addition to the problems with such a definition of poverty (and inequality) as pointed out in a previous post, the following demonstrates the limitations of the Manifesto (pages 60-61):

We will give working people a voice at the Cabinet table by establishing
a Ministry for Employment Rights.

We will start to roll out sectoral collective bargaining across the economy, bringing workers and employers together to agree legal minimum standards on a wide range of issues, such as pay and working hours, that every employer in the sector must follow. Sectoral collective bargaining will increase wages and reduce inequality. This will also stop good employers being undercut by bad employers.

This distinction between “good employers” and “bad employers” is a typical social-democratic tactic of avoiding to address the power of employers as a class. I have addressed this issue, briefly, in another post (see The Contradictions of Unions: Reformist and Radical Assessments), so I will not belabor the point here.

The Manifesto’s social-democratic message also becomes clearer when it refers to the police. On page 42, we read:

The primary duty of government is to keep people safe. Our communities were
endangered when the Conservatives took 21,000 police officers off our streets.

If the primary duty of government is indeed to keep people safe, the Canadian federal government should commit suicide–in 2010, there were about 550 murders and 1000 workers who died at work (in addition to over 600,000 injuries).

On page 43, we read:

A Labour government will invest in policing to prevent crime and make
our communities safer, and we will enforce the laws protecting police
and other emergency workers from violent assault.

We will rebuild the whole police workforce, recruiting more police officers, police community support officers and police staff. We will re-establish neighbourhood policing and recruit 2,000 more frontline officers than have been planned for by the Conservatives. We will work with police forces to invest in a modern workforce to tackle the rise in violent crime and cybercrime under the Tories.

There is little recognition that police themselves are sources of oppression and violence in the context of a society characterized by the dominance of a class of employers (see my post Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One) for an elaboration of this point.

It is unnecessary to further analyze the Manifesto. The purpose of the Manifesto, evidently, was designed to gain votes by jumping on the bandwagon of climate change, anti-neoliberalism (not anti-capitalism) and the fear of personal crime and the idealization of the police.

Such are some of the limitations of the social-democratic left not only in the United Kingdom but in Canada, the United States and elsewhere.

What is needed–and what has been needed for a long time–is a political party whose aim is to free workers from the power of the class of employers. What is needed is a class party that addresses directly the power of the class of employers as a whole by challenging its power in its various forms, whether at work, in schools, in hospitals, at home, in the malls and in government.

What is not needed is just more of the same–the skirting of the power of employers as a class, the domination of that power in the associated economic, social and political structures, and the creation of solutions that never question the basic power of employers to dictate to workers what to do, how to do what they do, how much to produce and whether what they do is satisfactory or not.

Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Three

The attitude of much of the left in Toronto (and I suspect elsewhere in Canada and the world) is that working for an employer is not all that bad. Why else would the left not object to references to “decent work,” “fair contracts,” “economic justice,” and so forth by union reps, or the coupling of some needed labour-law reforms and an increase in the minimum wage in Ontario with the concept of “fairness”? (All these terms are used by the social-democratic left in Toronto.) This attitude of treating working for an employer as really not that bad is something they share with their bourgeois counterparts.

Personal crime is considered to be real crime–but corporate crime is not really treated as something as bad or worse than personal crime. This can be seen when comparing the attitude of Canadian federal legislation towards personal crime and the attitude of that government and other participants when formulating legislation that was supposed to protect workers from acts deemed criminal in nature by corporations following the Westray mine explosion. The first quotation relates to the government’s attitude towards personal crime. From Steven Bittle, Still Dying for a Living:
Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster,
doctoral dissertation, page 2:

Consistent with the cultural obsession over crime control, in the fall of 2003, the Canadian government introduced stringent new anti-violence legislation aimed at some of Canada’s worst offenders – those with a well documented track record of reckless behaviour and responsibility for multiple and egregious acts of violence. The legislation had all-party support (Archibald, Jull and Roach 2004: 367), signalling a consensus for the need to better protect Canadians from violent crime. The government characterized its legislative initiative as a significant step towards ensuring that offenders are held criminally responsible for their harmful behaviour (Department of Justice Canada 2003). Legal observers suggested that it represented a fundamental change, perhaps even a revolution, in assigning criminal liability (Archibald, Jull and Roach 2004: 368). News items cautioned would-be criminals that they were in for a wake-up call once the new law took effect (Mann 2004: 29). It thus appeared that if violent crime was the problem, then harsh new penalties were the solution.

The proposed legislation for corporate crime expressed a different attitude in various ways, such as the time elapsed between the Westray mine explosion (May 9, 1992) and the proposal for legislation for corporate crime, or the attitude of participants in the legislative process concerning the seriousness of the crime. From Little, page 2:

However, peeling back the veneer of the federal government’s so-called crackdown on violent crime reveals a much different story. To start, it took more than ten years to introduce a new law in response to a single and violent mass killing in which twenty-six Canadians died. What is more, despite widespread political support, many politicians – particularly those with an affinity for law-and-order policies – cautioned against going too far in terms of holding offenders criminally responsible for their harmful acts (Bittle and Snider 2006). Also curious was that both the media and general public expressed little interest in the new law, hardly the status quo for issues of violent crime. Moreover, since its enactment, there have been only two charges laid; a particularly worrisome trend given that recent research reveals an increase in the forms of violence that the legislation was intended to address (Sharpe and Hardt 2006). In fact, it would appear that the most significant development associated with the new legislation is the emergence of a crime (un)control industry, one in which lawyers offer for-fee courses that potential offenders can take to learn about the new law and the steps they must follow to avoid criminal responsibility (for example, see Gonzalez 2005; Guthrie 2004).

The focus on violent personal crime that leads to injury or death and the absence of such focus on corporate crime that leads to injury or death is tantamount to a form of silent indoctrination. Such silent indoctrination parallels the silent indoctrination of school history curricula, which do not permit students to come to understand how and why employers (and employees) arose (see previous posts on this silent indoctrination in schools).

This focus on violent personal crime, of course, forms the regular diet of many television programs. Similarly, the silence concerning violent corporate crimes (if indeed they are considered crimes at all) also forms the regular diet of most television programs and documentaries.

Should there not be constant discussion concerning this silent indoctrination within the labour movement? Is there? If not, why not? Or is the macro problem of around one thousand workers dying every year at work and hundreds of thousands of injuries (and diseases) not a problem that is to be immediately addressed but only “in the long run?” For those who die or who are injured, there is no “long run” since the problem which they face is immediate and due to ignoring the macro problem in the past.

Where is the left that is bringing out these issues? Or is the left busy formulating platitudes, such as “decent work,” “fairness,” “economic justice,” and so forth? ]

Does not the left have an attitude that working for an employer is really not all that bad? Do they not share the same attitude as the politicians, who did not want to go too far in the legislation? Or those on the left who talk of “decent work,” “fairness,” “economic justice,” and so forth while all the while assuming that decent work, fairness and economic justice can somehow be realized while the class power of employers still exists.

What do you think?

Getting Away with Murder and Bodily Assault: Employers and the Law

Steven Bittle, in his doctoral dissertation, Still Dying for a Living: Shaping Corporate Criminal Liability After the Westray Mine Disaster (Kingston, Ontario: Queen’s University argues the following (from page ii):

Overall, the dissertation suggests that the assumptions that animated Canada’s corporate criminal liability legislation and the meanings inscribed in its provisions throw serious doubt on its ability to hold corporations legally accountable for their harmful, anti-social acts. There is little reason to believe that the Westray bill will produce a crackdown on safety crimes, or seriously challenge corporations to address workplace injuries and death. While it will hold some corporations and corporate actors accountable – and thus far it has been the smallest and weakest – the primary causes of workplace injury and death (e.g., the tension between profit maximization and the costs of safety and the relative worth of workers/employees versus owners and investors) will continue.

The typical presentation of what is dangerous in our society is–crime. You merely have to look at the different tv shows (or Netflix shows) that have as their theme murder (one person or serial) compared to the number of shows that show how serious corporate actions lead to death and injury.

However, this focus on individual crime and violence goes hand in hand with a lack of focus on social crime and social violence–the violence of a class of employers and the violence of the social structure that supports that class.

This lack of focus on the violence of the class of employers and the violence of the social structure is reflected in the social democratic left’s general attitude towards “accidents” at work. Undoubtedly, at particular work sites, and with particular union representatives, there is a sustained effort to reduce the possibility of injury and death. However, such efforts are inadequate because they do not address the systemic impact of the pursuit of profit on shifting the burden of danger towards workers (and, it should be said, consumers).

If the labour movement in general and the union movement in particular took seriously the violence perpetrated by the class of employers and the violence of the social structure that supports that class, would they not begin a movement for the abolition of the class of employers and the social structure that supports that class? Is there any such movement in Canada? Perhaps there is, but I am unaware of such a movement.

In a previous post, it was pointed out that about double the number of workers die each year on the job when compared to the number of murders in Canada (The Issue of Health and Safety in the Workplace Dominated by a Class of Employers) . Should this fact not be a constant topic of discussion for workers, for citizens, for permanent residents and for non-status immigrants?

What do you think of the health and safety of workers who work for an employer? Should it be a topic for constant discussion?