Crime is an inevitable outgrowth of capitalism. The ideology of the cash nexus between man and man are the prime social incentives to crime.
Criminality continues to grow, and the punishments inflicted, though they can neither protect nor indemnify the honest, only succeed in corrupting and degrading. Crime is mounting, bred by the miseries of capitalism and the great majority of crimes are motivated by inferior economic position, by elementary need. Crime policy has little to do with reducing crime or protecting the public, and much more to do with controlling economically deprived sections of the population, providing an ideological diversion from more serious problems.
There are criminals and there are criminals. Society rests on private property. Go to the county estate owner and listen and you will soon think the poacher is the embodiment of all diabolical vices while the poacher invariably and rightly regards the land-owner as the emissary of the evil one! In the past the land was held in common and there is abundant evidence that all early human communities were communistic in character. The man who attempted to retain for himself land or goods, or who fenced off a portion of the common ground was a criminal of the deepest dye. Nevertheless these criminals have clawed their way to the top and have become the respectable members of modern society. The poacher asserting a right belonging to a past time is condemned as anti-social! A poacher may be an outside the law but he preserves the mentality of honest people.
The gangsters of the Al Capone type merely expresses the dominant power, afflicted with the drives of the capitalist but without the sanction of social superiority and acceptance. Anti-social behavior remains anti-social, whether it be called the individual initiative of the millionaire or the racketeering of a mobster. “This American system of ours, call it Americanism, call it capitalism, call it what you will, gives each and every one of us a great opportunity if we only seize it with both hands and make the most of it” Al Capone has been quoted as saying and elsewhere he said “Capitalism is the legitimate racket of the ruling class” Al Capone
It cannot be denied, of course, that the causes of crime are many and varied. But to lump all possible factors together indiscriminately is to obscure an elementary truth. Broken homes, family tensions, slum areas, gang activities, unemployment and insufficient income, lack of recreational facilities, poor educational methods and opportunities – all these things are indubitably involved in the creation of the criminal. This is just another way of saying: Capitalism causes crime. For what are all these “complex” factors but aspects of our bourgeois culture? What are they but illustrations of an outmoded system of private property?
The materialist viewpoint is invaluable because it shows us the interrelation of causes; it makes clear which factors are primary, which derivative; it explains how various elements are intertwined in a dynamic cultural pattern. The Marxist does not insist that all crimes are economic in character (although the evidence indicates that the great majority of crimes are such) ; we do, however, make it plain that the economic structure of society determines the cultural facts which orthodox theorists hold are non-economic in essence. Is the broken home a contributing factor in the origin of crime? Very well, but is not the broken home a manifestation of the conflict of capitalist culture, particularly prevalent in those unprivileged areas where unemployment, etc., inevitably disrupt normal family relations? Are slum clearance and housing projects important? Quite so: but the slum is an inevitable product of capitalist development, and the utopianism of hoping to achieve adequate housing under an outmoded system of private property is evident from what has come out of the none-too-laudable housing schemes. Poor educational opportunities, lack of recreational facilities – what are these but proof-by-example of class oppression? Mere enumeration of possible causes is not enough; what is necessary is a social theory which indicates which factors are basic, which of a reflex or secondary nature. The Marxian analysis, which relates cultural factors to the economic bedrock of society, makes it clear that the social scientists who enumerate multitudinous factors as isolated causes are guilty of the therapeutic error of symptom treatment: they are attempting to cope with factors (education, housing, unemployment, etc.) which are on the periphery of social reality. The primary fact is capitalist class society, organised on the basis of private property and private profit; from this basic economic fact flow the surface evils with which muddled sociologists are preoccupied.
The socialist recognises that in our class society, with the controlling social stratum enabled through its monopoly of the means of production to exploit the non-owning groups in the interests of its own material profit, there exists a fundamental clash of interests, which takes overt form in such phenomena as strikes, revolutions – and criminal acts. All of these expressions of class conflict represent, more or less directly, an attack upon the right of private property by the non-owning, or working class. Individual criminal acts are products of direct economic oppression, or of attitudes and sentiments engendered by class divisions, or of both. Crime and organised revolt, then, are but two expressions, the former primitive and futile, the latter conscious and purposeful, of the same fundamental class conflict. This conflict grows out of the the competitive principle of private property, exercised in the interests of a minority. The development o capitalism has produced the widest extremes of wealth and poverty; created enormous slum districts and underprivileged areas; wars in every generation; and formulated a most elaborate system of checks and restraints upon individual and social conduct and all the time while lawlessness and crime have been ever increasing because the sacred interests of private profit is leaving people in a condition of insecurity which sooner or later resolve themselves in revolt, or assert themselves in criminal behavior. More and more repressive laws have been created, more and more agencies of enforcement established. Criminal threats upon property rights must be prevented by the principle of deterrence through fear. Capitalist society necessitates an ever-increasing degree the policing of the lower class by the agents of the ruling class.
The socialist movement has the power to put an end to the system responsible for the deprivation and poverty which give rise to crime in the first place. Socialists seek to abolish the present machinery of so-called justice, with all its painful and inhuman aspects, but we do not want to replace it with either total individual liberty to do as one wishes or the crowd’s summary justice of the lynch-mob. Socialists are usually blamed for the vagueness of our proposals to solve the most painful social problem as soon as it comes to dealing with the problem of reconstruction and practical life in the future society. However, it is not up to the Socialist Party to fix the future beforehand, but rather to simply guarantee the conditions of freedom necessary for the social evolution to eventually secure the greatest well-being and the greatest material, spiritual and intellectual development for all. We do not boast that we possess absolute truth, good for all times, universally applicable, or determinable in advance, but that instead, once freedom has been secured, mankind will go forward discovering and acting gradually with the least number of upheavals and with a minimum of friction. Thus our solutions always leave the door open to different and, one hopes, better solutions. In the interest of public safety it is useful that railwaymen, for instance, specialise in their job and doctors for example entirely devote themselves to their skills. But we need not permit someone to be a judge by profession. Everybody should take care of social defence, in the same way in which everybody promptly helps when disaster strikes. If people do not feel sufficiently protected by the public, no doubt they immediately call for the policeman. Therefore, the only way of preventing the policeman from existing is to make him useless by replacing him in those functions that constitute a real protection for the public.
Let people remember that among the most hideous crimes are the millions of deaths by slow starvation during the first years of a child life.