Jun 30, 1981
Crime has continued to rise in the United States in recent years at a very dramatic rate. This is especially true in the working class and poor neighborhoods of the urban centers, where crime most often takes place. Against this background of rising crime, we often hear, from a section of the working class, the call for reactionary solutions: the call for more police, for harsher courts, and for the death penalty.
These proposals, however, accomplish nothing for the population: not only are they inhuman, but they are also very inefficient. Such methods have been used for years, and yet they have not prevented the steady escalation in the crime rate. And they could not, for they do not address the root causes of crime.
Crime is a reflection of the nature of the society we live in. It is a society which itself is
based on theft – the theft of the workers’ labor by the capitalists. It is a society of injustice, where rights exist only for those who can afford to pay for them. It is a society under the control of the rich, where the search for profits is put above all. Human needs are pushed to the side and trampled on. The poor are robbed of hope, for today or for the future.
Crime is a reflection of the dehumanization and demoralization of this society. Is it any wonder that in a society which drives people to brutalize themselves with drug-filled needles or with alcohol-filled bottles, that the brutalization of others through crime would go on as well?
No wonder, then, when the situation for poor people worsens during periods of economic crisis, we see an increase in crime. The government’s own crime statistics from the period since the mid-1970s reflect the changes in the economy. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports on the number of crimes reported to the police show that violent crimes of murder, rape, robbery, and assault rose 31 per cent since 1976. Crimes against property, such as burglary, larceny, and theft rose by 16 per cent for the same period. The government, itself, acknowledges when it discusses the fluctuation in the crime rate that one of the main causes for these fluctuations is the changes in the economy.
These are the general causes of crime. As long as there remains a society based on exploitation and oppression, a high level of crime will remain as well.
It will not be the bourgeoisie, nor the state apparatus which it controls, that will attack the
basic causes of crime, rooted as they are in bourgeois society itself. Neither will it alleviate even the worst aspects of crime. Certainly, the bourgeois state fights against crime. For one thing, this fight gives it a means to legitimize its existence. But the fight against crime is not its primary role. The police and the FBI, the courts, the jails and the prisons – all of these apparatuses of the state which are put forward as the means to reduce crime – were created by the bourgeoisie as the means to maintain the rule of the bourgeoisie.
Even when the state fights crime, it does it in ways which reflect the primary role of these institutions. Why is it that the businesses of the capitalists, and the homes and personal safety of the rich are more protected than the neighborhoods of the poor? Why is it that the police will accuse, try, and execute poor suspects right on the street; yet when it is proven that a boss kills a worker by forcing him or her onto an unsafe job, there is never even a charge of murder? Why is it that the owners of J.P. Stevens, who for years have violated laws and refused to follow court orders, are never thrown in jail?
Why is it that when workers go on strike for their rights, dozens of police will show up at the call of the boss, in the name of protecting property? Yet when a worker calls the police because someone is stealing some of his belongings, it takes days for the police to arrive, if they ever come at all? Why is it that when the Ku Klux Klan tries to attack the civil rights demonstrators, it is the demonstrators who are most often arrested? Why else, other than the fact that these institutions are not impartial; they serve only certain interests.
The state claims not to have enough resources to fight neighborhood crime, yet it is able to commit large amounts of resources to other things, such as keeping track of the small radical groups in this country. In Detroit, the police agency known as the Red Squad managed to maintain files for decades on over 130, 000 people. They recorded the movement of individuals in many political organizations to know exactly where they went, who they met with, what their personal lives were, and even what they threw out in the garbage. Just how many agents, how many hours of time, and how much money was spent doing this kind of work?
We can see from such examples that these so-called crime fighting institutions exist primarily not to protect the population, but to protect the bourgeoisie and its rule. It is why these institutions in bourgeois society must be kept separated from the population, in such a way that the population has no way to exert a control over them. This way the bourgeoisie has means to use these apparatuses against the population when needed.
In order to eliminate crime as a social problem, the root causes of crime have to be
removed. That is, capitalism itself will have to be eliminated, and a new society which puts an end to exploitation and oppression will have to be built. It is a socialist society which holds out the promise of eliminating crime. Because it is in such a society that the material wealth, which today is plentiful, will finally be shared by all. It is in such a society that poverty, that hopelessness and demoralization can be overcome. When people will be able to create and develop with each other instead of fighting against each other; when people will be able to control their own lives and their future, we will no longer need to talk of crime.
Certainly even after capitalism is overthrown, crime will remain. The population itself will not change all at once, and neither will the problems deriving from capitalism be eradicated completely.
When the working class holds state power, the mass of the population will be organized to run its own society and it will control every aspect of the society and every apparatus they need to carry out their interests. This means first that to the extent that a separate police force is still needed, it will be under the control of the population. The members of the police force will be chosen by the people themselves. And just as they are chosen, they can also be removed, at once, if they don’t carry out the wishes of the population. To the extent that a police remain, they will be a reflection of the population and able to carry out their wishes.
Moreover, the population will have its own organization and will be able to mobilize to deal with crime directly, itself. This means that in each neighborhood, in each area of the city, people would look out for each other. The eyes and the ears of the mass of the population would keep watch.
Often crimes can be prevented simply by people speaking out or stepping in against them. Today people just turn their heads, for fear of getting involved. But in a collective society, such a denial of other people would seem aberrant. Often just social pressure alone can alter someone’s behavior. In the cases where this is not enough, a group of people can forcefully stop someone from committing or from repeating a criminal act against other people.
If the mass of the population builds its own society in its own interests, certainly it will also be able to deal with the different social problems that stand in their way, such as crime.
While crime will never be eliminated in this society, it doesn’t mean that today the
workers and the poor have to remain victims of crime. But if the population is to defend itself, it cannot count on the police. The way the population could defend itself will be found only through popular organization and mobilization.
Today people could organize in their neighborhoods. They could begin to watch out for each other, to speak up and to step in for each other.
A recent example of the possibility of neighborhood organizing took place in the very particular situation in Atlanta. In response to the murders of black children, some black people of one neighborhood in Atlanta decided to protect their own children. They began to organize armed patrols of their community.
This is exactly what needed to be done. The best chance there is to possibly prevent further murders would be for the black people of Atlanta to be mobilized and patrolling their own neighborhoods. Who is it that knows the neighborhoods better than the people who live there? Who is it that knows the children, knows who belongs and who doesn’t? Who is it that knows when something is strange and out of place?
This neighborhood patrol didn’t last very long, however, because the police quickly arrested the leaders and threw them in jail. At this date, the neighborhood patrols appear to have been stopped, at least for now. But nonetheless, in a small way, the example of Atlanta points to the fact that such an organization of the population is possible.
Certainly we know that when the population begins to create its own organizations to fight for its interests, the bourgeois state tries to prevent this. We saw this in Atlanta. Undoubtedly the government officials would like to put an end to these murders, if for no other reason than to prevent any further erosion of their credibility in the eyes of the population. But the fact that the government was not willing to allow the organization and the mobilization of the population, even while the murders continued, is an indication that the authorities feared something else more than the continuation of the murders: they feared the mobilization and organization of the people of Atlanta.
The example of Atlanta is not an isolated case. We saw the same reaction by the police in New York City toward the Guardian Angels. In December of 1980, there were 4 racist murders of black and Puerto Rican people in Manhattan in one day. Outraged by these murders, a group of young people began to organize other youth and to patrol some of the subways themselves.
The authorities, who also claimed they were appalled by the murders at first, denounced the Guardian Angels and tried to push them aside. When that didn’t work, and when the patrols didn’t just disappear, the police finally announced a “memorandum of understanding” with the Guardian Angels. The city now officially recognizes the Guardian Angels, so long as they register with the police department; that is, the city would like to turn the Guardian Angels into a simple extension of the police force, under the control of the state.
No matter what finally happens, the reaction of the authorities to the Guardian Angels is indicative of what the bourgeois state fears. Their attempts to either destroy or to integrate the Guardian Angels into the state shows clearly that the state is unwilling to allow an independent organization of the population.
Above all, the bourgeoisie fears an organization of the population, even on such issues as crime, because once the organization has been created, it holds other possibilities as well. If the population organizes in its neighborhoods to fight against crime, these same organizations, and the knowledge of organization can be used elsewhere as well. If the working class fights on other problems, on another level, against the bosses, for instance, this organization could also be used: for example to oppose the bosses’ goons, or even the police, on the picket lines and even inside the factories.
Although there certainly are no guarantees that the development will go this way, it is clearly this potential that the bourgeoisie fears. They understand that even if the original intent of an organization of the population is very limited, this independent organization holds the potential for other fights, including even the fight against the bourgeoisie, or its state.
The organization and mobilization of sections of the population against crime carries
certain dangers for the population especially because this kind of organization most often means the mobilization of one of the poor layers of the population, against another.
Today there are many prejudices within these layers, including within the working class itself. Quite naturally, their organizations are likely to reflect these prejudices. There is the racism in much of the white working class. Most often housing and neighborhoods are segregated. Organizing in a white neighborhood could be realized in a racist way. We know that this danger exists; in fact we have seen right wing groups use the pretext of an organization against crime to attack black people.
Another potential danger is that groups of lumpenized youth who at one point organize themselves, could at another point in time come under the control of the state apparatus and be used against the working class. Possibly this could happen to the Guardian Angels. We saw for example, in Chicago, the Blackstone Rangers evolve from being a street gang of black youth which in some ways opposed the police, to become a Mafia-like organization which terrorized the large housing projects in Chicago, at the same time that they allied themselves with Daley’s machine and even attacked civil rights demonstrators. We have seen these types of lumpen youth organizations used by the fascists against the working class.
Yet despite all the dangers there are with such organizations, they still remain preferable to no organization and to no mobilization of the population. And if such dangers exist, it’s not because they are the products of the organizing of the population. They are the products of capitalism; and if they are to be combated, it is only through the mobilization of the population that we have a chance to do it. Finally, we know that the organization and mobilization of the poor layers of the population remains the only way for them to defend themselves today, and for them to change their lives as well as the society tomorrow.