Editorial from the January 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard
The recent murder of 10 year old Damilola Taylor on a south London housing estate has shocked and outraged the public, the politicians and the press alike. The manner of his death–slashed with knives and bottles and then left to bleed to death in the stinking stairwell of a condemned council housing scheme–serves as a metaphor for the current state of modern capitalism. Not that the press and politicians realise this of course, but it is worth us pointing it out all the same.
Capitalism is a sick society and we do not hesitate to say so. Nor do we hesitate to say that Tony Blair and Jack Straw (or alternatively William Hague and Ann Widdecombe) could double the number of police on the streets and quadruple the number of people “stopped and searched” under current legislation without it having any noticeable effect on the violent crime and disorder eating away at the fabric of society. New Labour came to power famously promising to be “tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime” but if you are seemingly unaware of what the causes of crime really are how can you be “tough” on them?
It does not take a leader-writer for the Daily Mail to know that serious crime is at the highest levels it has been in living memory, and pretty much right across the “developed world” too. Neither do you have to be a seasoned criminologist to be aware that where the lawless American inner cities and ghettos have led, so have London, Manchester and a whole host of other cities followed.
Catching criminals in modern capitalism is like the labours of Sisyphus, a never-ending task. This is because crime is overwhelmingly committed by the poor, the disenfranchised, and the cynical, in short the people without a stake in society. And it is capitalism–the system which commands the unwavering support of Blair and Hague alike–which creates such people by the bucketload.
All social systems adopt a code of morals, laws and regulations commensurate with the economic structure of that system and capitalism was no different. The codes that developed alongside the market economy were those entwined with notions of the sanctity of private property, the value of “enterprise”, and the importance of a stable hierarchy in society. Unfortunately for the system, it is the spread of the competitive buying and selling relationship into every aspect of human existence together with the “every-man-for-himself” culture that this promotes that has undermined the basis of the social stability that capitalism has previous been able to claim for itself. Nowhere is this expressed more obviously than in the nihilism and lack of respect for “authority” and “convention” in all its forms that has been a developing feature of youth culture, in particular, over recent years.
When community relationships break down, when individuals treat one another as stepping stones to social advancement rather than as equals, and when drugs to numb the pain of the daily rat race become the norm, then society is in serious trouble. Indeed, as it eats away at the fabric of its own existence, capitalism is in especially deep trouble because it knows no other way out of this problem other than more of the same. This means more competition, more rampant individualism, more big sticks and gang warfare (of both the legal and illegal varieties) and more social dislocation as a result.
The dispossessed youth of the inner cities and sink council housing estates are right to think there is no hope within the present system, but wrong to sit back and wallow in its excesses. Socialists say that society can be better than it is. The Damilola Taylors of this world needn’t be its unwilling and repeated victims. But to change things people have got to organise and organise with a purpose–to overturn the relationships and values that capitalism so ruthlessly and cynically promotes.
In other words we need to create a society where a real community exists once again that is truly fit for humans to live in. That can only mean a society of equality, built upon participation and mutual respect. And we contend that in turn that can only mean socialism, where a real community of interests based upon common ownership and democratic control can be established to eradicate most crime and anti-social activity at root, to be established with agreed rules and regulations necessary for resolving any hangovers from the destabilising and dehumanising days of capitalism.
We argue that today we stand at a juncture in history where only socialism can provide the framework for the eradication of the current malaise society finds itself in. For without socialism, tackling the “causes of crime” will mean nothing other than more empty words and broken promises, fuelling another, destructive, cycle of cynicism.