The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Fear of Crime Justifies More Repression

Nov 7, 2022

The Republican Party is leaning hard on the fear of crime in this election cycle. On the national level, Republicans have spent 157 million dollars on crime-related ads, compared to 105 million dollars on ads related to the economy and inflation.

The Republicans are playing the same game they’ve played for decades, portraying largely black, Democrat-run cities as scary centers of crime. This is an electoral strategy aimed at winning the suburbs back for Republicans, after many middle-class suburbanites voted against Trump in 2020, and it might work. In other situations, they appeal to black voters, who suffer more from crime, posing as “law and order” candidates.

In spite of the small reforms they have passed that the Republicans make a huge propaganda about, most Democratic-controlled cities like Chicago have, in fact, increased funding for their police departments.

All of this debate sidesteps the reality of crime, which is itself defined by a legal system that was set up to serve the wealthy. A mother who steals diapers from the corner store is a criminal. Corporations that don’t pay the wages they owe, or that dump toxic waste in rivers, or that cut back on safety and push workers to the point of injury or death—those don’t count as “criminals”. Not to mention the corporations that drive down wages and drive up prices, or steal money set aside for workers’ retirement, or the money for schools and health care—those crimes are just the ordinary functioning of capitalist society.

For the crimes this system does recognize, it is true that the murder rate has gone up sharply over the last few years. Murders spiked about 30% nationally between 2019 and 2020, and continued to rise in 2021, though they seem to be down slightly in 2022.

On every level, it is the working class that suffers the bulk of the crime. And the same people who are most likely to be the victims of every other part of this capitalist society are also most likely to be the victims of murder, particularly young black men. In Baltimore, for instance, black men between 15 and 39 made up about 10% of the population, but 60% of the homicide victims in 2021. In St. Louis, it was 7% and 58%. Ratios for many other big cities are similar, except that in cities like Los Angeles and Chicago with large working class Latino populations, they also suffer from a large share of murders. In L.A., for instance, between January 2020 and June 2021, 266 Latinos, 192 black people, and 40 white people were murdered, in a city where about half the population is Latino, and less than ten percent is black.

In spite of their rhetoric, Republican-led states have on average higher homicide rates. In 2020, murder rates were 40% higher in states where a majority voted for Trump than in states where a majority voted for Biden. And if all violent deaths are counted, rural areas of the country are considerably more dangerous on average than cities or suburbs. These areas are filled with white workers, who are on average much poorer than the white people who live in an expensive city like Los Angeles.

Underneath, these numbers show what it means to live in a class society. Poorer people are more likely to be victims of every kind of crime—whatever their race or ethnicity, whether they live in the inner city, or in a trailer park in a rural small town. This society’s roots in slavery, and its aftermath of Jim Crow, mean that poverty and violence fall most heavily on the black population.

But whatever the official crime rate, for working class people in particular, society feels increasingly like it’s falling apart. Homeless encampments have always been around, but now they seem to be everywhere. Young people have always been anxious about their prospects, but now they seem more hopeless than ever. In line at the grocery store, or getting gas, everyone seems to be angrier. People even seem to be driving crazier. It seems obvious that society is out of control. This is true wherever we live, and whichever party runs our city or state. And so, the Republican crime-mongering touches a nerve, and the Democrats’ arguments that crime isn’t really going up all that much, or that they haven’t reformed all that much, fail to convince anyone.

This society in decay can only demoralize and reject increasing numbers of people. That is the real driver of crime, for which this ruling class can give no answer, whichever party is in power. Repression is the only answer capitalist society offers in response to its own disintegration. Both parties say it, the Republicans openly, the Democrats by the policies they implement. More policing, more cops on the street, more immunity for those cops to carry out violence, longer sentences—these are the answers they hold out for the problem of crime. These policies have been proven time and again not to stop murder, and they certainly can’t stop homelessness, or rage, or hopelessness. Nonetheless, the politics of the two parties can only reinforce support for these policies, including among those most likely to be the victims of that repression.

There is only one answer in this situation—for the working class to put itself forward to run society itself, to address the problems of poverty, desperation, and the crime they produce directly, by taking back the wealth the corporations have stolen for centuries and using it to meet the population’s needs.