Harry Baldwin

Law and what?

Source: Socialist Standard, March 1971.
Transcription: Socialist Party of Great Britain.
HTML Markup: D. Whitehead
Copyleft: Creative Commons (Attribute & No Derivatives) 2007 conference "Be it resolved that all material created and published by the Party shall be licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs copyright licence".

Socialism would break down in universal chaos, because without law there would be no order; without the coercive apparatus of the state to keep us in check, no police, law-courts or prisons, we would all run amok; nothing and nobody would be safe; all kinds of crime and violence would everywhere abound — so the argument runs.

This ‘objection’ to Socialism in fact has a lot in common with the ‘human nature’ objection. It assumes that human beings are by nature aggressive and anti-social. It further assumes, that present-day patterns of social behaviour are static and have always existed. And, since the police, politicians, lawyers and judges are also human beings, and therefore as inherently ‘anti-social and violent’ as the rest of us, it begs the question, who or what makes them behave in a ‘lawful’ and ‘orderly’ manner?

Far from being a profound argument against Socialism, as soon as one starts to examine it, it is seen to be superficial and absurd. Most members of the working class uncritically accept the shallow ideology of capitalism’s apologists.

This ideology consists of a series of excuses which seek to explain away all that happens in the modern world of capitalism. If, as the ideology tells us for example, the ‘powers of freedom’ must stand up to the ‘powers of tyranny’, the amassing of H-Bombs and even a third world-war must be accepted. Should the outcome be the total extinction of life on earth, this is sanity — this is normal. But, by token of the same ideology, should a petty crook with a gun or a cosh steal £10,000 from a bank, he must be caught and locked in a cell. He is wicked and abnormal.

Internationally, the order of modern capitalism is the order of the H-Bomb, the ‘order’ of a global war strategy with a liberal sprinkling of Korea’s, Vietnam’s and Middle-East situations.

It must not be thought, that in condemning the lawful military violence of world capitalism we are condoning armed attacks by individuals. We maintain that both arise from the way society is organised and that both will only disappear when society is changed.

It is the private-property basis of capitalism, whereby a minority class monopolises the productive forces of society, that give rise to crime. A crime is by definition a violation of a law. Over 90 per cent of crimes in this country are crimes against property. This means they are cases of people who are have-nots trying by illegal means to acquire property from people who own it. 

At this point we can hear the indignant objection of our opponents that the ‘people who own it’ are often workers whose gas-meters are broken into or even old-age pensioners who are coshed for a few paltry shillings, and of course, this is perfectly true. But whether it is the miserable few shillings of a worker or several thousand pounds from a capitalist, acquisition remains the motive. The fact that under ten per cent of the population own 90 per cent of the wealth, shows in whose interests the legal machinery works, and whose social dominance is served by private property institutions.

This is where the apologists of capitalism are thrown into a tailspin. They have to explain how the capitalist class came to own 90 per cent of the wealth, if not by robbery? This is the rub. Private property in the means of production, land, factories and so on is itself the result of the legal plunder by the capitalist of the working class. The wealth produced by the workers is systematically acquired by the capitalists. Anything the workers produce over and above their wages belongs to their employers. By means of this confidence trick, the world’s capitalists have accumulated many thousands of millions of pounds. Compared to the scale and scope of their operation the Mafia gets peanuts and it’s all perfectly legal because either they, or their muscle-men the politicians, make the laws.

Now let us return to the argument that we must have law and order. There is one further assumption made by our opponents. Namely, that law and order co-exist; where there is law there is order, and vice versa. It is only necessary to look at the soaring crime figures to conclude that the reverse is much nearer the truth. A succession of governments in this and other countries have promised to fight crime. Both Nixon and Heath fought their elections as “law and order” men. A better equipped and full-strength police force, with all the aids of modern science, was to enforce the law and establish that elusive thing called order. Alas, the crime figures continue to rise.

What then, can capitalism do? The answer is, nothing. As with the other major social problems, crime and violence are an integral part of capitalist society. While private property remains, society cannot even get beyond the primitive concept of punishing people, which today takes the idiotic form of locking them in cells in the vain hope that being dehumanised will make better people of them.