Wm. Paul

Book Review

What is Crime?

Source: Labour Monthly, March 1923, Vol. IV, No. 3.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Crime: Its Cause and Treatmenty, by Clarence Darrow.
Cloth covers. 292 pp. 10s. 6d. net.

CLARENCE DARROW, the prominent American lawyer, is well known in the international Labour Movement because of the splendid part he played in defending socialists and industrial unionists who were criminally persecuted by their 100 per cent, democratic Government. These people were marched, tried, and imprisoned because they spoke and wrote against the propertied system. They were criminals according to the legal and moral standards of propertied society. What then is a crime? It is, according to our author, “an act forbidden by the law of the land.” And what is the law, and who defines it? “All laws are naturally and inevitably evolved by the strongest force in a community, and in the last analysis made for the protection of the dominant class.” This means, if it means anything, that law has not been evolved to protect society; it is rather an important weapon developed through the class struggle and relentlessly used to protect that class which dominates the State. Darrow, at this point, cuts right through a great deal of humbug prevalent in the Labour Movement regarding the democratic and communal function of law. Within propertied society the law’s most important task is to protect the right of possession; that is why, as our author admits, “by far the largest class of crimes may be called crimes against property.”

Darrow is not very clear in his handling of the relation of crime to economic conditions. He seems to imagine that this means that poverty is the cause of crime. It is a pity he has not studied that famous Marxian work on Criminality and Economic Conditions, by Professor W. A. Bouger (published by the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology). There he would have found it clearly stated: “He who writes upon the connection between crime and economic conditions must analyse the whole present economic system, and not stop with one of the consequences of that system, the poverty in which the proletarians find themselves.”

Crime: Its Cause and Treatment is an eloquent plea on behalf of those who, as a result of complex factors, get within the clutch of the law. It does not claim to be a specialist study of the subject, and that is why Bouger’s work still remains the greatest book on crime.

W. P.