Thursday, January 19, 2017

A working-class approach to crime

‘Solidarity is strengthened by social struggle’

The Militant received the following letter from reader August Nimtz in Twin Cities, Minnesota, commenting on the article “Does ‘Broken Windows’ Policy Cause Police Brutality?” in the Feb. 23 issue.

The Militant is right on in its article on police brutality and what it will take to eliminate it as well as the daily “crime and gang violence” working people have to live with. “Ties of solidarity among working people are strengthened in times of growing social struggles” — the beginning of a real answer to the latter. At the height of the Black rights movement 50 years ago, the Feb. 1, 1965, Militant reported on a study on how crime in the Black neighborhood dropped during the most intense moments of the mass mobilizations in one of the movement’s sites. Militant readers, anti-police brutality fighters in particular, would also benefit in knowing more about how the Cuban Revolution was able to dismantle the police force and replace it with one that serves the interests of working people.

Below we reprint the article Nimtz refers to, with the original headline.

How to Cut the Crime Rate: Mobilize People for Rights

A Johns Hopkins and Howard University study of crime patterns in Cambridge, Md., showed a clear link between “direct action” civil rights activity and a reduction in crimes among Negroes. The study showed that in the months of May through September in 1962 and 1963, during which there was considerable civil-rights activity in Cambridge, the Negro crime rated dropped to 25 per cent of the 1961 rate.
There was no corresponding difference in the crime rate of Cambridge whites.

According to the Jan. 15 Baltimore Sun, the university researchers drew the following conclusions:

“1. Aggressions built up by the system of segregation, instead of being dammed up or unleashed against other Negroes, were channeled into the nonviolent protest movement …”

“2. All levels of the Negro community were affected by the movement. Even Negroes who took no active part in the protests were deterred from crime by a spirit of unity and common concern for the movement.”

The civil-rights movement in Cambridge, led by the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee under the direction of Gloria Richardson, was one of the most militant in the country. For several months in the summer of 1963 the National Guard was called into Cambridge to maintain martial law.

Despite this the CNAC won a number of demands in Cambridge, embodied in a July 23, 1963 five point program. These included integration of the Dorchester County schools, appointment of a bi-racial city committee, integration of all public places of accommodation, and the proposal for the building of low-rent public housing.

The university investigation of the effects of the Cambridge movement put its finger on a key point when it concluded: “The most important single fact is that [the Cambridge movement] was conducted almost entirely by lower class Negroes.”

A working-class approach to crime, cops, and capitalist ‘anticrime’ campaigns
(As I See It column)


WASHINGTON—One issue Democratic and Republican candidates use to try to drum up votes is “the fight against crime.” Whether crime rates are up or down, capitalist politicians try to convince us that they are the best ones to address the problem, and that the solution is more cops and more jailings. That these appeals get a hearing from working people shouldn’t be underestimated by those who want to end the economic and social system that breeds the conditions for crime.

Here in Washington, D.C., homicides declined steadily from a high of 262 in 2002 to 169 in 2006. Last year they spiked upward to 181. The increase led politicians on the city council to upstage each other in grilling police chief Cathy Lanier as to what the department was doing wrong.

“The Police’s Excellent Year” trumpeted a New York Times editorial at the end of 2007. “The nation’s largest city is among the safest,” it stated, noting that homicides in New York in 2007 dropped below 500, the lowest number ever recorded. By contrast, more than 4,000 murders occurred in the city in 1990-1991.

Nationwide, both violent crimes and property theft and damages fell substantially from 1993 to 2005, according to the federal National Crime Victimization Survey. They are at the lowest level since the data began to be recorded in 1973.

Workers obviously support the decline in murder rates. They hate the petty muggers and gangs who prey on them.

The Socialist Workers Party candidates explain that the role of the police is to protect the wealthy ruling class and its property. This rings true to many workers who have been on strike and had their picket lines attacked by the cops. Or to those who have been stopped, harassed, abused, or jailed while going to work, shopping, or out for an evening of entertainment.

The capitalist rulers’ “anticrime” campaign means workers, especially those who are Black and Latino, getting shot by killer cops. It means more working people thrown in jail and given longer sentences —today more than 2 million are locked up nationwide. It means the chipping away of constitutional rights such as the presumption of innocence and due process. 

Police can’t be reformed

Class-conscious workers don’t advocate “improving” the police through “sensitivity training” or by hiring more Black cops or “community” cops. The police are a repressive institution of the capitalist state and can’t be reformed into something different. Cops are not workers—they voluntarily accept their role as enforcers of capitalist rule, and in doing so become declassed and stripped of human solidarity.

But what do socialists say about crime?

In 1844-45 a young Frederick Engels, cofounder with Karl Marx of the modern communist movement, wrote down his observations about the impact of the manufacturing system on workers in England, the leading capitalist country at the time. In The Condition of the Working Class in England he cited examples of the violence of everyday life in capitalist society, where “every one stands for himself, and fights for himself against all comers.”

“This war of each against all,” he wrote, “need cause us no surprise, for it is only the logical sequel of the principle involved in free competition.”

Engels explained that the dog-eat-dog values and alienation bred by capitalism are the source of crime. To finally rid the world of crime, working people must organize to rid the world of the criminal system that produces it, capitalism.

The biggest thieves and murderers, of course, are the super-rich propertied classes who expropriate the wealth created by the labor of workers and farmers around the world. Their system also breeds small-time criminals, those who have lost any sense of solidarity and prey on people on a smaller scale.

In countries where capitalism has been overturned, revolutionary leaderships have had to confront the problem of crime. In Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War, 1956-58, Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto Che Guevara described how the leadership of Cuba’s Rebel Army, led by Fidel Castro, brought criminal elements to justice, executing those who tortured, raped, and murdered peasants.

They took harsh measures to prevent petty thieves and cattle-rustlers from becoming mixed up with the Rebel Army. No abuse of the peasants or theft of their animals or crops was tolerated. These measures had deep popular support.

After the 1959 victory of the revolution, workers and farmers mobilized in their millions to transform society, carrying out a literacy campaign, land reform, and the nationalization of capitalist industry, banking, and agriculture. The capitalists’ army, police, and extralegal thugs were dismantled and replaced by a new state based on workers power.

Cuba marked by solidarity

Cuban working people organized themselves into trade unions, neighborhood committees, and popular militias. They defended themselves against counterrevolutionary attacks, stopped petty criminals, and combated corruption. Cuba’s revolutionary police have been part of these struggles, such as the heroic role they played in the defeat of the 1961 U.S.-backed mercenary invasion at the Bay of Pigs. The Cuban Revolution has been marked by the prevalence of solidarity and combating the predatory, antisocial values of capitalism.

That’s what a workers and farmers government will begin to do and what a socialist revolution can accomplish. To end crime, working people need to put an end to the criminal system of exploitation.

That means building a revolutionary movement of working people that can take on the ruling rich, their cops, and courts, and win. That’s what the Socialist Workers campaign is about.


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