Sunday, April 2, 2017

No need for cops and robbers (1997)

The Last Word column from the October 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Policing is a feature of a society at war with itself. The police, far from being the agents of stability, are the guardsmen of iniquity. The vast majority of their time is spent defending property and attacking those who dare to violate it. Just as the Law is principally the rule-book of property relationships, so the police are the relationship counsellors for an enforced marriage between the possessing, oppressing minority and the productive majority which must be kept in its place.

A society which needs police is immature: a playground culture in which the principles of adult cooperation are abandoned and people are encouraged to settle their conflicts by running crying to the prefects. The bullies and the cowards are content to be policed; the co-operative simply want the freedom to be allowed to enjoy their lives in peace.

There are those who say that without the police there would be no peace. Society would be a nightmarish world of predatory rapists on every other street corner, gangs of hooligans roaming the precincts looking for elderly victims to taunt and rob, and endless thievery. Only the police save us from such a fearsome scenario. But we have plenty of police and still these crimes occur. In fact, they occur precisely because we live within a social order of aggressive competition and possessive exclusion which requires police to uphold it. The police are not the solution to antisocial behaviour, they are guard dogs of the system which creates it.

Most violence or other forms of aggression which face the vast majority of people are of absolutely no concern to the police. For instance, try going into a police station to complain that you are being robbed on a daily basis (by your boss who exploits you by robbing the fruits of your labour) or that you are being threatened with murder (by the defence industry which has millions of weapons and uniformed thugs standing in readiness for international slaughter for the protection of profits) or that you are the victim of fraud (by politicians) or poisoning (by environmental pollution, in pursuit of profit) or defamation (by the commercial media which stops at no vicious insult in its attack upon workers who stand up for themselves). In any one of these cases the police would not only do nothing but may well arrest you for the crime of wasting their time.

So what about that anti-social behaviour which is against the law? Go into a police station and tell them that your house has been burgled and, in the vast majority of cases, they will simply refer you to your insurance company and tell you that they stand next to no chance of finding your possessions or the people who took them. (Their statistics bear this out.) The same goes for street robberies and other acts of petty theft. As far as the police are concerned, the measly possessions of wage slaves, usually stolen as acts of opportunism by other even more impoverished wage slaves, are of no practical consequence. The same is true for domestic violence or aggression, the police want to keep well away from the seedy conflicts bred in the impoverished environment of a class frustrated by lack of money, opportunity and self-respect.

The police are not to be blamed. They are just workers in uniform. They can no more eradicate the consequences of class deprivation than can teachers in schools.They are there to do their best to keep some order—or, at least, the appearance of order—in a society which causes the offensive behaviour which it then institutionalises as crime.

Crime is no more a part of the human condition (“human nature”) than poverty or the aggressive violence of militarism. Yet each is depicted by the apologists for the profit system as exactly that. Army generals, responsible for untold deeds of callous slaughter, defend “Defence” as a protection against precisely the behaviour which they engage in. Welfare providers defend their role as “providers” because otherwise the impoverished would starve. It does not occur to them, perhaps, that without socially-created poverty welfare would be redundant. And police chiefs award themselves glittering medals in self-praise for attending to problems which will exist for as long as an outdated system which needs to be policed is allowed to survive.
Steve Coleman

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