Capitalism and crime are strange bedfellows

The capitalist class possesses a complex relationship with crime, as can be seen from a cursory glance at the mainstream media. Newspapers dutifully condemn criminality, but they also delight in crime stories; television and films suffer from this same contradiction. There must be a thousand shows about law and order for every movie or play that deals with a strike; nor is this simply a matter of boosting sales or ratings. This blatant inconsistency reflects deep-rooted class interests. On the one hand, the ruling class is officially – and in a sense, genuinely – opposed to crime. It needs the “rule of law” to prevent the poor from helping themselves to the property of the rich. Moreover, the smooth running of capitalism requires a degree of order in business transactions, although this doesn’t prevent numerous capitalists from committing all sorts of financial crimes.On the other hand, the ruling class knows that crime doesn’t really threaten it as a class can’t be dispossessed of its wealth by any number of individual robberies. And it knows that it gets benefits from the existence of crime. Every time the state is seen to deal with crime, it reinforces its claims to represent the general good of society against anti-social elements to be the defender of the weak against the strong. There’s nothing like a crime wave, real or imaginary, for giving the state an excuse to strengthen its repressive powers. For the capitalists, crime plays the same role as external “enemies.” If it didn’t exist, they would find it to be a necessary invention. Yet the capitalist system produces crime like running produces sweat. An economy based on competition, greed, exploitation and alienation can’t do otherwise.

Frederick Engels said in an 1845 speech, “Present-day society, which breeds hostility between the individual man and everyone else, thus produces a social war of all against all, which inevitably in individual cases assumes a brutal, barbarously violent form – that of crime.” But what about socialism? In the speech, Engels maintained that a socialist society would “put an axe to the root of crime.” This might seem far-fetched and I can already hear cynical sniggers emitting from some quarters, but actually it isn’t particularly difficult to envision how crime could be abolished. A fully socialist society would be one in which there was an abundance of the necessities of life; something that is quite within the reach of modern technology.

It would be a society where goods were distributed according to need – that is, truly equally. In such a society, economic crime would become progressively pointless and practically impossible. Assume, for example, that everyone who wanted a car could just have one supplied for free and that all cars were designed to be used, not for prestige or status. Any reason to steal cars would in theory dissipate. They couldn’t be sold, and if some strange person wanted to accumulate cars for personal use, it would be both glaringly obvious and not particularly matter much. Alternatively, assume that cars are discontinued, and instead, a free and comprehensive public transportation system that takes everyone wherever they want to go is installed. Again, the opportunity and motive for crime would disappear.

Socialism would mean eventually putting all goods and services on this kind of footing leaving crimes against people, committed not for an economic motive but from anger, passion, jealousy, bitterness – crimes such as murder, rape and assault. Even today, these are a tiny proportion of the crimes committed, but they too have social roots that socialism would destroy. At present, one of the main causes and arenas of such crime is the restrictive structure of the family under capitalism which binds people, through social pressure and economic dependency, in relationships some find truly intolerable. Socialism would essentially abolish this regressive family structure by fairly spreading the responsibility for child care and housework and cutting all ties of dependency. People would be free to live with whoever they want. In fact, a socialist system will serve to humanise and liberate all personal relationships. At the very least, this would greatly reduce, if not eliminate entirely, crimes against people. The conclusion is that the only real fight against crime is the fight against capitalism which is itself the biggest crime of all.

Daniel Pitt

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