Law enforcement and prison: their origin during the Great Expropriation and their role in the return to primitive accumulation. – By Mal Content.

C.W. racism, slavery.

To put law enforcement and the prison-industrial complex in their historical and social context, these are very recent innovations, hastily constructed by the ruling class in response to a crisis.

This is the way ruling classes have worked pretty much since records began. They create a disastrous state of affairs and introduce drastic measures, then persuade their subjects it was unavoidable.

What is striking about these institutions is their absolute continuity of purpose since their inception during the Great Expropriation. We had been ripped from the land that supported us from prehistory, robbed of our means of subsistence and forced into alienated labour in the factories, workhouses, and prisons.

Factories and prisons developed in parallel for the same purpose, to use our bodies for the augmentation of capital.

Look at a Victorian prison, workhouse or factory and spot the difference. Workers who had hitherto been disciplined only by the sun and the seasons were chained to the clock and the machine, forbidden to speak or associate freely, housed in overcrowded, unhealthy slums.

One of the consequences of the creation of ‘free proletarians’ was that the iron discipline of the machine age ended at the factory gates. A mass of very unhappy people were being trained to think and act as a unit rather than as individuals then turned loose every night; how would they react when threatened?

There were no prisons in late mediaeval society.

There were dungeons for political prisoners and captured soldiers. There were local lock-ups for unruly characters, those awaiting trial or held hostage pending payment of a debt or fine. By far the most common reason for incarceration was debt, and this was a simple extortion racket.

The first state prison was Millbank, built in 1816, in the white heat of the Great Expropriation, three years after the Luddite insurrection. The land enclosures were a fait accompli but there were revolutions on the continent. Across the Atlantic there were slave uprisings in the Caribbean and the plantation states.

Law enforcement came first.

Anglo-Saxon communities were protected by the concept of frankpledge (frith-borh) or collective accountability, based on the tithing, a voluntary association of ten households, grouped into hundreds, then into shires. Members of the tithing swore to be responsible for each other’s good conduct and to offer up or stand surety for any member accused of an offence. Each was obliged to raise hue and cry and to assist in the pursuit and apprehension of the offender. Mutual responsibility was ultimately underwritten by the hundred’s land holding. The Norman Conquest turned land into property held in feudal title by lords; so serfs could not offer surety, making the lords responsible for justice on their Manors, administered by constables and sheriffs (shire-reeves).

The system of mutual social obligation gave way to the values of one class being imposed on the other by force.

Prompted by the French Revolution and threats of invasion, yeomen cavalry were raised, low-grade gentry who were given a uniform, a horse and free grog then turned loose on the Working Class, as in the Peterloo massacre of 1819. In the cities there were hired ‘thieftakers’ and professional perjurers called ‘strawmen’, and stipendiary magistrates, petty bourgeois dispensing summary punishment.

The architect of modern law enforcement was Napoleon Bonaparte’s police minister Joseph Fouché, the ‘butcher of Lyons’, former enforcer for the revolution’s National Convention.

What the butcher gave Napoleon was his innovation of ‘high and low’ policing. On the one hand political surveillance by a network of undercover cops, paid informers and agents provocateurs. On the other what he contemptuously called “the policing of prostitutes, thieves, and lamp posts” which was best left to the lower orders. ‘Workers in uniform’ who were explicitly not to be selected for their intelligence, initiative or integrity. With the uniform comes a baton, a foolish swagger and a fantastic sense of entitlement.

The Peterloo massacre led to outcry even amongst the petty bourgeoisie. The class interest of the yeomanry was too obvious. Robert Peel introduced Fouché’s system lock, stock and barrel with the formation of the Metropolitan police in 1829.

Peel wanted the Working Class complicit in its own oppression.

Peel said things like: “workingmen (sic) must be disciplined by workingmen”. “The police are the public and the public are the police” But what exactly did Peel mean by the public? He was opposed to the people’s charter and universal suffrage, and only about nine percent of the population of England and Wales had any say in the laws that made crime a matter of survival for the rest.

The Met was used as a de-facto riot squad from the start, even being dispatched to Birmingham to take on the Chartists. In February 1832 it inserted Sergeant William Popay under a false identity into the National Political Union, as a spy and agent provocateur. It was more than a year before he was unmasked, in a routine that will be familiar to the reader, Popay was dismissed as a ‘loose cannon’ and it was business as usual for the rest.

In 1819, the year of the Peterloo massacre, the government of South Carolina established mandatory slave patrols.

These were a form of yeomanry. Since 1671 there had been slave patrols that brought back runaway African-Americans to be tortured and killed. Once a plantation worker had escaped they were considered worthless as a slave so the agenda was to inflict on them grotesque punishments from which they would inevitably perish.

Prompted by two attempted insurrections, the new law compelled all white, adult males to serve in the patrols, so that the whole of white society was deputised into the subjugation of the majority (in the Carolinas) African-American population. Patrols were given carte blanche to enter dwellings, detain slaves and dispense summary justice.

Carolina’s constitution, the first document to enshrine human chattel slavery in law, had been co-written by the philosopher John Locke, ‘father of Liberalism’ and originator of the ‘Social Contract’, whereby citizens consent to be governed in return for a measure of security and utility. Locke’s theory of property derived from ownership of the ‘self’. He managed to work justifications for conquest and slavery into his philosophy, as he had a great deal of money invested in them.

The constitution defined the slave as one who could not own property. In Locke’s terms, this applied to a slave’s own flesh, time, their productive and creative abilities. Other articles created hereditary nobility and serfdom, and a hierarchical voting system based on land ownership.

When the United States government ‘abolished’ slavery in response to the Civil War, it left itself a loophole. The Thirteenth Amendment allows for the enslavement of prisoners “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted”. All that was necessary then, to retain people as slaves was to get them duly convicted. The remainder would be proletarianised with incarceration as a penalty for refusal.

The US plantation to prison-industrial system evolved smoothly from the Louisiana Purchase to the present day – we all know the Parchman Farm blues. Even the Civil War was barely a shudder. Modern US prisons are full of black and brown bodies generating surplus-value at maximum efficiency.

Proletarianisation is incarceration.

Simply because it makes the survival of our bodies dependant on their availability to augment capital and reproduce capitalist power relations.

The indignity of wage labour, of submission to command, of maintaining a pretence of deference and servility in return for not much more than the reproduction cost of your labour-power, is a gross violation. It sits on a sliding scale that leads logically to prostitution and enslavement. It forces you into complicity, not only with the reproduction of capitalist power relations, but with the maintenance of racial, gender and class roles written for you by the hegemonic group.

The line between legal slavery and legal freedom is in the subtle distinction between power based on a right to take life, and the capacity to restrict access to the necessities of life. The advocates of chattel slavery understood this all along, perhaps even better than their opponents:

“Mr. President, if we recognize no law as obligatory, and no government as legitimate, which authorizes involuntary servitude, we shall be forced to consign the world to anarchy; for no government has yet existed, which did not recognize and enforce involuntary servitude for other causes than crime. To destroy that, we must destroy all inequality in property; for as long as these differences exist, there will be an involuntary servitude of man to man. … Your socialist is the true abolitionist, and only he fully understands his mission.”

– Virginia Senator Robert M.T. Hunter, March 25, 1850

My italics.

The modern state maintains social relations by putting the means of production, and thus all the products of social labour, behind the barrier of private property. All citizens have the same rights to acquire and dispose of property, but having the legal right to do something does not give you the means to do it. The state decrees that the barrier may only be accessed by exchanging its currency for the property-right, and that its subjects must compete for this social access by excluding others. The state would be buggered if people stopped competing for its currency.

The money economy is not concerned, as economists often claim, with allocation of scarce resources, but with the regulation of human activity by limiting access. We are all, for practical purposes incarcerated; there are no exceptions. In the modern prison-industrial system you are either a cog in the machine or the grease, you are a generator of surplus-value or raw material to the industry that profits from managing your inability to do so. A raw material that, if carefully managed, need never be consumed.

As technology makes wage labour ever less profitable and more futile, bourgeois society relies increasingly on fictitious capital, that which augments itself without the medium of commodity exchange, threatening to force us all into precarity, pauperage and prison. Capitalism returns inevitably to primitive accumulation, as wealth inequality reaches Pharonic proportions, slavery is back with a vengeance.

We are ceasing to be productive forces and becoming raw materials. The cohorts of petty managers, the DWP, cops, courts and probation, security firms and private mental hospitals that charge a grand a day, all have a vested interest in keeping you on their books. Yet another industry is dedicated to making us fear one another, creating suspicion and hostility among our Class, and feeding off the resulting misery. Now the media make us complicit in our own oppression.

If you’ve even been locked up, even briefly, subject to the whims of guards and warders, part of you remains incarcerated; for as long as there are locks and turnkeys, your agency is on loan to you. Once you’ve looked down the barrel of a gun you understand viscerally that the state stands always ready to kill, that the gun was at your head since the day you were born. The rich slaughter us in droves but the prisons are full of poor people.

Either side of the prison walls the engine runs on material inequality and imbalance of power, white supremacy, ableism and patriarchy. The violence bred by poverty and exclusion, and the fear of it, the jealousy and hate that are the inevitable companions of status and hierarchy give rise to every malevolent act, legal or illegal.

Without these aberrations, the only cause of ‘crime’ would be a malfunction of the brain, a grave misapprehension, a temporary loss of control. No law or penal system ever stood a chance of preventing or remedying such an event.

Justifications for prison fall into four categories, in no particular order:

Deterrence, Rehabilitation, Punishment or Removal for public safety. However, there is no consensus among prison advocates/apologists on the validity of any of these concepts or their relative importance.

Deterrence is a preposterous idea that flies in the face of everyday experience, most of us learn early in life that the people you’re afraid of aren’t afraid of you. If crucifixion and scaphism didn’t put them off, prison isn’t going to do it either.

Rehabilitation is demonstrably ineffective, wishful thinking.

Punishment is a metaphysical concept, a sort of abstract revenge; the law actually calls it ‘retribution’. However, the state can’t take revenge because it doesn’t represent any people, only a mode of production. Crimes against the person are merely breaches of the state’s monopoly on violence so the victim is not a protagonist but a witness and/or a piece of physical evidence. Retribution is reserved for the ruling class, unless you’re a member of that class it offers you nothing but a pathetic schadenfreude.

The last one applies in a vanishingly small number of cases and only defers the problem.

It’s a weird kind of argument to say “one or more of these propositions must be true but we’re not sure which ones”

The abolition of wage labour and the abolition of incarceration are inseparable.

Transaction and coercion are two sides of the same coin. Coercion is a negative transaction; it makes no sense to do away with one and keep the other. Where free people associate voluntarily to their mutual benefit, they will agree codes of conduct and remedies for transgression. They will reserve the right of self-defence against predation, but such actions will be mandated by the entire community, not by a select cadre of bureaucrats or professional thugs.

It will be an issue for the autonomous community how it arranges these matters, but I have not the slightest doubt that a free association of liberated, self-confident individuals, will come up with better solutions than the bourgeoisie. Especially to problems created by the residue of bourgeois values. The left may love their gulags, but there will be no prisons in a real communist society, for none may be free until all are free.

Senator Hunter can spin in his grave, we’ll consign the world to anarchy.

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A reply to the blogger kittysjones: “The ultimate aim of the “allthesame” lie is division and disempowerment of the Left.”

Allthesame

What a fucking cop out!

What follows was posted as a reply to the blog post here: twice; we then asked the blogger whether our comment had been censored, as we could see other, more sycophantic comments had since been approved by the admin; that reply didn’t appear either. It doesn’t auger well for a future under labour if even their supporting bloggers seek to stifle mild dissent.

From the anti-capitalist point of view of course they’re all the same, – should the turkey vote for Christmas? The Chartist and suffragette campaigns were not primarily about the right to vote, that was just a means to an end. They were an attempt to bring the selfish and greedy ruling class to heel, and they weren’t afraid to fight. But it was too late, they let us have the vote once they had completed the theft of our means of production, and condemned every single one of us to wage labour, which however you dress it up, is an abusive relationship; an abomination. The labour party gave the working class someone to vote for that could speak politely for it in the corridors of power then take its seat again without ever altering the balance of that power.

The worst thing about voting is that it’s an excuse for not doing anything, it reinforces the idea that someone, somewhere, is in control and it’s up to them to solve the problems they created, it isn’t, it’s up to us. People waste their time and energy campaigning in an election and then sit back on their arses as if they’ve done something worthwhile. What a fucking cop out. The working class has power, governments claim to have it; government is a conspiracy between rulers and ruled. Your reward for allowing yourself to be governed is absolution from responsibility for the misery created by the society you inhabit. Recent history has shown that whilst elected governments must bend to corporate interests a handful of determined militants can thwart their best laid plans. An example of the futility of parliamentary democracy can be found here: yet generations of leftists have defeated themselves in this arena. Read how the labour member respects our enemies for their ability to frustrate us.

What if labour do get elected? A thinly-veiled corporatism is sold to us on the basis that it will be slightly kinder; and to the bourgeoisie on the premise that it will be more stable than their cut-throat piracy (in other words we will be persuaded to collaborate in our own exploitation). When we start kicking off, wildcatting, blockading fracking sites, stopping evictions and deportations, closing down exploiters, actually hurting our capitalist enemies, they’ll tell us to stop rocking the boat or we’ll let the tories in again, just like they did in the 70’s. Anyway, here’s our original reply:

“All three parties are fighting this election under false pretences, the idea that countries must balance their books like petty bourgeois households and that abstract debts created in computer programmes exert some moral obligation over real people – much less the working class, who even built their wretched computers for them. The idea that there is a shortage of work and money when in fact there is too much of both. There is plenty to do; to be sure, saving the bloody planet for a start, but the only activity that will earn you a qualified right to exist in their world is one that adds value to someone else’s capital thereby enhancing the fetishised status of the socially useless. A true socialist would have the courage to say so.

Of course the tories are despicable and wish to enslave the working class, but need I remind you the last labour government introduced workfare and lied to the United Nations to start a war in which a million people died, despite an unprecedented and inarguable level of active public opposition. Short of taking up arms against the state the British people were powerless to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe engineered by Tony Blair on behalf of his sponsors in the oil industry – Halliburton – who were at the time running the United States. They’ve got form for this; the Wilson government took a solemn decision in cabinet to lie to the U.N. over Diego Garcia which it had sold to the U.S. for a military base, had the population forcibly removed and left to stave to death on a rock.

Now Miliband will pander to the moral panic painstakingly created by the corporate media over immigration; curiously the public service broadcaster has led the way in this. The BBC incessantly prompts callers for reactionary comments, reassuring wavering racists that it’s understandable to be scared of foreigners. Any fool knows that economic migration is not controlled by governments but by the bourgeoisie, who use it to lower the wages and conditions at the bottom, whilst ‘quality immigration’ – importing I.T. specialists from India or doctors from the Philippines is just a shameful pillage of the education systems of the poorest countries by the richest – primitive accumulation. National borders are of no use to us, being only necessary to maintain differentials in prices and wages to the benefit of the employing class. A true socialist would have the courage to say so.

A ‘Labour’ party would stand for the working class regardless of nationality and expose the concept of national interest for the scam it has always been. It would stop lying about the realities of economics, stop apologising for the excesses of global capitalism, stop trying to fix the economy, stop polishing the turd. If we want an end to capitalism we have to stop trying to make it work. The economy is the mechanism that maintains the dominance of the few over the many and we must push it until it breaks.

We don’t want a different government we need expropriation of private property and to take control of the infrastructure to institute sustainable demand-led production. No political party is going to do that for us, the emancipation of the exploited is the task of the exploited themselves, not some lily-livered apologist for the exploiters.”

Mal C x

AN OPEN LETTER – TO JD WETHERSPOON

This is going viral on social media, we have no connection with the author but thought it was worth sharing.

AN OPEN LETTER – TO JD WETHERSPOON

I have dined in your establishments many times but I write to inform you that I will never do so again and nor will any of my friends or family.

The reason for this is that my stepson has the misfortune to work in your Thomas Sheraton bar in Stockton and I am now aware of the basis upon which you operate and profit.

He is “employed” on a zero hours basis and earns barely enough to feed himself. Not long after joining your establishment he got into trouble with his rent due to the extremely low wages and was evicted from his home. I blame the basis of his employment with you for this. He now lives 2 miles away from your bar and is obliged to walk this distance to and from work as he does not earn enough to afford public transport. Yesterday my wife was obliged to buy him new shoes as he had worn holes in his existing ones. I think it is appalling that you do not provide your kitchen staff with appropriate footwear. If you feel that this communication is becoming a stream of negative comments then I urge you to read on as I have more to say. This 4 mile round trip trudge is sometimes made to attend a one hour shift. Unbelievable, a day’s work of just ONE HOUR. Furthermore, if he attends expecting a longer shift this is sometimes not the case as he is sent home if trade is slack. He, your employee takes all the risk, you the employer take none. You’ll note that I do not mention his name. This is for fear of reprisals. Before you scoff, let me tell you this: When he first joined you, after two months of working every single weekend he politely enquired if he might have a weekend off. He was given the weekend off but worked no other hours either. A genuine ZERO hours. This was clearly a reprisal and he has never asked for the weekend off again.

The only way he can survive on such grindingly low wages is by getting benefits top ups. In order to do this he must provide pay slips which you do not provide. He is obliged to download them and print them himself and given that he will never be able to afford a computer and printer so long as he works for you, he must go to the library. I put it to you that it takes him more effort to work for you for a pittance than it does me to fulfill a full time job.

Clearly your business model requires that the public purse subsidise your employee’s wages. This to my mind makes your firm and others like you one of the benefit scroungers we hear so much about these days.

Yours sincerely
STEVE THOMPSON

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