A Marxist History of the Police, Part 4. Building the New Institutions of Class Rule – Crime and Imprisonment

By Stephen James Kerr

Today we are publishing the fourth part in a series “A Marxist History of the Police” which 

Part 1: Repression in the face of revolution, examined how the birth of the industrial working class and the tumult of the bourgeois revolutions drove the need for new forms of repression.

Part 2: Experimenting on the Irish, examined how the experiments towards a police force in Ireland by Sir Robert Peel, up to the infamous Peterloo Massacre in 1819.

Part 3: the crisis of the English Bourgeoisie, examines the relative positions of the aristocracy, bourgeoisie and working class in British society after Peterloo in relation to why the police were necessary.

Introduction

It’s received wisdom today that ‘police exist to fight crime.’ But before police existed, crime was fought. But by the early 19th century, traditional definitions of crime and the way they were prosecuted had been rendered outdated and inefficient by the growth of new means of production – the factory system. Before the police were created to control the working class, the legal and punitive framework for such control was firmly established. The police came later. Thus the emergence of the legal framework in which police could operate effectively deserves careful study. Surprising relationships are revealed.

Rationalizing the Law – the better to ensnare the working class

Much is made by some historians of Peel’s sweeping legal reforms of the 1820s. Many have taken them as marking an era of ‘liberalization’ – a word which they lift out of context to imply some sort of socially beneficial progress. There is certainly progressive content in ending the death penalty for petty crimes, for example. But that’s not the whole story. We need to critically examine the reasons which the legal reformists themselves gave for their own campaigns. They are not what one would expect.

The early 19th century legal reformists such as Romilly and Peel speak very plainly about their aims. The English bourgeoisie was with these legal reforms simply acting in its own class interests, creating a legal framework for its rule under a new, industrial system, to which the old ‘bloody code’ constituted just one more fetter on the accumulation of capital. There was absolutely nothing beneficent about it. Rather, the bourgeoisie was further refining its own particular barbarism, just as the factory had refined it, just as the steam engine had magnified it.

Capital crimes during the early phase of bourgeois rule

From the year 1688 to 1800, English law increased the number of capital crimes from 50 odd to more than 200. This period also coincides exactly with the period which we have identified as the ‘primitive’ form of the rule of the bourgeois class. The material basis of this rule was handicraft production under a capitalist system. The political basis of this rule remained under the traditional constitution and the landed gentry. The legal basis of this rule was accumulated ancient precedent. The punitive basis became the death penalty.

The spirit of Puritanism is evident in of some of the crimes for which the death penalty was mandated prior to 1823 – ‘being in the company of gypsies for more than one month’ and ‘strong evidence of malice in a child aged 7-14.’ Surely such moral corruption could not be countenanced to live.

But most capital crimes punished theft of the property of the rich by the poor. In 1723, after the collapse of the South Sea Bubble, Parliament passed “An Act for the more effectual punishing wicked and evil disposed Persons going armed in Disguise and doing Injuries and Violence to the Persons and Properties of His Majesty’s Subject, and for the more speedy bringing the Offenders to Justice.” This became known as the ‘Black Act’, as it was ostensibly drawn up to combat a campaign of game poaching by displaced peasants who blackened their faces with soot to escape identification. The Act added 50 new capital crimes to the statute books.

Portrait of Jeremiah Brandreth, one of the “Petntrich Martyrs” and one of last men in England sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered for treason.

Most infamous among all of the capital offenses was that of ‘Grand Larceny’ which at that time referred to any theft of an item worth more than 12 pence – a shilling, which was a trifling amount. This was the average price of two loaves of bread during the 1700s. [i]

In 1823 the death penalty was removed for various offenses of theft, after a failed attempt in 1810 motivated by Romilly in the House, but which did not pass The Lords. The 1823 reform gave judges discretion as to how to apply the death penalty. It remained mandatory for the offences of treason, murder, counterfeiting, and setting fire to the property of the British Navy.

Readers new to this material might rightly ask – if in 1823 the British government was reacting to various uprisings, conspiracies to assassinate the Cabinet, and the constant threat of a revolution a la Francaise breaking out, how did have time, and why was it inclined to reduce the number of capital crimes? Should it not have increased them instead?

Traditional Loopholes

The key to understanding lies in the traditional practices by which these extreme laws were actually executed. Between 1780 and 1820 there were approximately 33,000 death penalty convictions, but only 7000 executions. Juries and judges found all kinds of ways to either avoid or else commute a death sentence. For an example of avoidance, in cases of Grand Larceny the Jury might demur as to the actual value of the stolen property. A value of 11 pence as opposed to 12 would secure clemency, and save the judge from having to pronounce the death sentence, which could easily spark a riot if the public were outraged by it.

One legal device to grant clemency was something called ‘benefit of clergy.’ This ancient concept exempted clergymen from the rule of secular courts and the common law, in favour of their judgement in ecclesiastical courts under canon law. It dated from the Middle Ages. But as the ecclesiastical courts declined it evolved into a legal loop hole by which first time offenders under threat of the death penalty could be let off in the secular courts. It was widely applied.

The abolition of the ancient and outdated punishments as well as the traditional loopholes was NOT an attempt to make English laws more lenient, but only to make them more efficient and rational, in the service of a new mode of production, and on its emergent system of class rule, which were dependent upon reason, and not upon tradition. The intent of the reforms was not to ‘spare the rod’ but that the laws which actually remained in the books should in fact be applied uniformly, and with all due severity. The bourgeoisie simply required a new and improved rod, as the old one had been broken upon the backsides of the working class over the centuries, and it no longer stung.

Efficiency in punishment

And so we read in the Hansard of 17 February 1813, in which the early attempt at legal reforms of 1810 were being debated. Sir Samuel Romilly stated: (note that in Hansard convention, the recorder describes the speaker in the third person as ‘he.’)

“It would be in the recollection of the House, that in 1810; he had proposed to bring in three Bills; one of which was to repeal the act of king William, which rendered it a capital offence to steal property to the amount of five shillings privately in a shop; another to repeal the act of queen Anne, which pronounced it a capital offence to steal to the value of 40s. in a dwelling-house; and the third, to repeal the act of George II, rendering it a capital offence to steal property to the same amount, from on board a vessel on a navigable river…. he alluded to that which related to stealing property of the value of 5s. in a dwelling-house: and the principle upon which he should propose to introduce this Bill was precisely the same as that which he had before stated, namely, the inexpediency of penal laws existing, which were not intended to be executed…. During these few years it appeared, that the number of individuals committed for this offence, amounted to 188, of whom 18 only had been convicted, and of these not one had been executed. This he trusted would be admitted as a pretty accurate criterion to shew that it was not intended to carry the law into effect against individuals who were found guilty under this statute. The consequence of the law not being executed, as was already stated, was, that where some punishment was deserved, no punishment was at all inflicted, and the offender escaped altogether with impunity. This was an evil which could not exist if the laws were less severe, and a certain but mild, although effective punishment, was substituted.” [ii]

by Sir Thomas Lawrence,painting,circa 1806-1810

The debate in the house moved on to the question of the punishment for high treason, which consisted of “that the criminal shall be drawn upon a hurdle to the place of execution, that he shall be hanged by the neck, and being alive shall be cut down, that his entrails shall be taken out of his body, and, he living, the same shall be burnt before his eyes, that his head shall be cut off, his body be divided into four quarters, and head and quarters shall be disposed of at the pleasure of the king.” It was noted that though this was indeed the official punishment, it had only rarely been carried out to the letter in recent times, with the usual practice simply being that the victim was hung up by the neck until dead, and the corpse was decapitated, as were the Cato Street Conspirators. The law dictated one thing – tradition quite another. Such a brutal execution to the letter of the law was last applied in 1782, to a Scottish republican rebel. It led to a mob scene in which the victim’s ‘quarters’ were themselves hacked to bits by an enraged crowd, a shocking act of barbarism.

The drawing and quartering of François Ravaillac, the assassin of Henry IV of France, 1610.

The Solicitor General, rising to respond to the Honourable Member, stated, quite revealingly,

“…if the obligation of strictly interpreting and literally enforcing the provision of the criminal law were imposed on the judges, no one man would accept an office which would convert the assizes (courts) into shambles.” [iii]

Here we have the bourgeoisie fighting, not for any kind of justice except the justice of their particular class.

The accumulated legal dross of 700 years, and also its ancient barbarism stood in the way of the efficient and effective dispensation of bourgeois justice, which required a rational system which could be universally applied in all cases. Human sensibilities had long shrunk from the application of the grotesque penalties prescribed in the ‘Bloody Code.’ The bourgeoisie longed to rationalize the beheading of their class enemies, even as they feigned horror at the memory of the execution of King Louis of France. This basic schema has informed their political position on most every subject ever since.

In the Parliamentary debate of May 24, 1830 on the subject of the repeal of the death penalty for the crime of forgery, Peel, speaking against the repeal, declared that he “…had endeavoured first to simplify the law, with a view to its mitigation afterwards.” [iv]

Further, he gave an account of the relationship between his legal reforms and the resulting decline in executions which is revealing.

“He found that in the seven years previous to 1822, when he came into office, the number of executions, in England and Wales, was 731, while the number of executions since 1822—that is up to December, 1829—was 433, showing a considerable diminution. The number of executions in London and Middlesex in the former seven years, was 192; in the latter seven years, or during the period that he had been in office, it was 120, showing a diminution of seventy-two. He was afraid that this diminution could not be laid to the account of the diminution of capital offences, as they had been rather on the increase. Perhaps, indeed, the mitigation of the severity of the laws might have encouraged and facilitated prosecutions, and so more capital crimes had been prosecuted, but he did not believe that the diminution of executions could be accounted for by the diminution of capital offences.” [v]

Brougham pointed out the reluctance of the general public to aid English prosecutors, out of revulsion at capital punishment. “One great difficulty was, to induce juries, under the existing law, to convict for Forgery. But the grand difficulty was, to prevail on prosecutors and witnesses to come forward. Even if prosecutors were callous themselves, which was rarely the case, they were surrounded by persons who were not so, and who would dissuade them from prosecuting, lest, in the event of a conviction, the Judge should happen to lean towards severity.” [vi]

The Rate of Capital Accumulation and the Rate of Punishment

The bourgeois class leaned quite heavily ‘towards severity.’ But it was a severity of an altogether novel type.

Fortunately for posterity, and for scientific socialism, the English bourgeoisie became suddenly enamoured with statistics and measurement in the first decades of the 19th Century. It is in part to this new craze for statistical measurement that we owe the existence of documentary evidence for our thesis – that the foundation of the police was in fact, a novel institution of class rule, whose rise coincides with the ascendency of the English bourgeoisie to full enfranchisement and political power.

In 1815, Parliament passed An Act to procure Returns of Persons committed, tried, and convicted for Criminal Offenses and Misdemeanors. This Act required all prisons to submit annual surveys back to the Home Office. The first of these became available in 1818. It’s revealing that before this date, we don’t even know how many prisons there were in England, and neither did the Ministry, as they hadn’t a system to even count them!

The collective ‘Communicating with Prisoners’ has gathered a fascinating set of statistics documenting the ‘prevalence of punishment’ in 19th century Britain. The have measured the number of persons ‘absent in punishment’ in terms of number of persons so absent per 100,000 people, including those transported, imprisoned, and executed. They explain their methodology thus:

“Quantitatively analyzing the composition of punishment benefits from having an encompassing measure of persons absent in punishment. Persons in prison provides a direct, available measure of persons absent in that type of punishment. Executions convert to absence of persons by estimating that an execution creates personal absence for the person’s expected remaining life-years. Banishment (transportation) similarly converts to absence via the length of the sentence of banishment. Absence of persons can then be aggregated across imprisonment, execution, and banishment. The number of persons absent in punishment is larger and less volatile than the flow of persons (executed, banished, imprisoned) into positions of absence (dead, in exile, in prison).” [vii]

And so we can see using the collective’s data that the prevalence of punishment escalates dramatically just as the death penalty falls out of favour, and as British laws are rationalized. Transportation and incarceration rise dramatically, out of proportion to what one would expect if there had been simply a one to one exchange of the punishment of execution for transportation or imprisonment. If such were the case, transportation and incarceration would simply track execution proportionally. Instead, they skyrocket. Here we can see the results of the bourgeois policy of the 1820s and 30s to rationalize the law and the penal system to ensure more convictions, not fewer. The dramatic increase in the prevalence of punishment shows the bourgeoisie ‘flexing its new muscles’ against the rising working class below it – without a police force. This is what class warfare looks like.

Police in their modern form would not be widespread until the 1860s in England. And so we see that police are not some sort of a-historical social ‘requirement’ to prosecute crime, which was prosecuted extremely aggressively long before police were widespread in Britain. Quite the opposite in fact. As the police institution grows, the prevalence of punishment falls for 50 years until the outbreak of WWII. Why this is so we will explore in upcoming chapters.

Profits and Repression – mere coincidence, or coincident relation?

This tremendous rise in incarceration antedates the formation of the London Metropolitan Police, but it coincides directly with a dramatic increase in capital accumulation and the growth in inequality over the same period.

The rate of profit of British industry begins a dramatic rise at the beginning of the 19th century. This is directly attributable to the application of steam power to mechanized industry. But there is another factor at work which most economists do not examine – the enforcement of new relations of production – a political question. First the data:

[viii]

At the same time, labour’s share of GDP begins to fall, even though real wages are rising during the same period.

[ix]

[x]

Despite rising real wages, labour’s share of GDP fell during the same period, and the prevalence of punishment increased. During this period, mechanized production expanded dramatically in England, despite working class resistance.

Could the requirement for a new, more intensified capital accumulation by the capitalist ruling class, arising out of the availability of new techniques of production, also require as a general rule, intensified repression of the working class, by whatever means this could be implemented – to enforce those new techniques – police or no police? Could the requirement for the application of new, labour displacing technological innovations in the economy such as steam power, electrification of production or computerization / automation under capitalism also engender similar effects? Could the police institution constitute a kind of institutional buffer between the ruling class and the ruled, (which had prior to the development of the police been required to face each other directly) to both enforce the extraction of surplus value from the working class as a whole, while at times mitigating the effects of such extraction?

The comparison with US incarceration figures from the later 20th century into the 21st century is suggestive in this regard.

US Corporate Profits

To be clear, the coincidence of these two phenomena does NOT imply causation of one by the other. It would be absurd to claim, for example that mass incarceration is the cause of rising corporate profits, or that the steep rise in corporate profits are the cause of mass incarceration.

Rather both coincident tendencies point to something else. They are actually not causes but rather effects, which point to a third factor, which is more difficult to display as a single line on a graph – the class war waged by the ruling class on the working class, across multiple spheres. The class war is not the result of a mechanical process. It is above all a political struggle, and in the 19th century as today, it was waged by bourgeois politicians and industrial capitalists. The subjective factor – the political action of the bourgeoisie – was decisive. It remains so today.

This class warfare develops historically, acquiring different forms, based upon the development of the productive forces and the balance of class forces, the level of political development of the contending classes, on the specific cultures in which these forces play out, in each period and in each place. Straight line comparisons of conditions in 19th century England and late 21st century America require multiple qualifications. But a case can be made that similar phenomena are at work.

What we can say at this point is that in 1820s England, the emergent bourgeois class was able to generate a massive increase in its profits and also repress the working class – without a police force organized on a mass scale for the repression of the working class. But by late 20th century America, police forces had evolved into one of the primary means by which the working class was disciplined and repressed.

How do we explain the historical development of this phenomenon?

What we can say so far, definitively is this: police as a form of social organization, as a novel institution of class rule, arise historically. The police are not an a-historical phenomenon existing in all societies, above the historical process. Further, the role played by police forces in capitalist society has itself undergone a process of historical development. In 19th century England, the proliferation of police coincides with a 50 year reduction in the prevalence of punishment. Since police are charged with prosecuting crime, and because crime results in punishment, there must necessarily be some relationship between the spread of police forces, and the decline of punishment prevalence. We must therefore separate the fact of the existence of police from the fact of what they actually do, in a given historical and social context. Police roles have evolved, their effects in different historical periods vary, while the police as an institution remain. For example, the racist content of much of American policing today is less prevalent in other historical periods, and absent in many other locales. And yet today there is no shortage of commentators who are keen to tell us that the police constitute ‘a racist institution’ or are ‘founded upon racism.’ Historical materialist analysis refutes such claims as impressionistic and mostly counterfactual.

We have demonstrated that, in part, the social role played by police today was once played by very different people, and answerable to a different social class. Before the police, their ‘social role’ was assumed by various different groups, the yeoman, the night watch, and the army.

Likewise, we now observe that the effect which the police today have upon the working class, and upon the class struggle, was achieved in early 19th century England without the police. The question is how the police developed historically as an institution of class rule peculiar to modern capitalism, and now necessary to it, and of course, why they so developed.

We will explore the relationship between the prevalence of punishment, the class war, and the profitability of capitalist production further as we describe the evolution and development of the police institution in subsequent periods. Before that we need to describe additional measures the early English bourgeoisie was taking to deprive the working class of its traditional means of living. What use would police be without new crimes to prevent and detect?

Criminalizing the Poor

In his rationalization of British law, Peel devised new offences which his improved police would be able to prosecute. Such offenses could only be committed by the working class.

The Vagrancy Act of 1824 criminalized the very existence of the poor and unemployed, or rather the material basis of the existence that the working class had enjoyed prior to industrialism. It is worth quoting at length.

“Every person committing any of the offences herein-before mentioned, after having been convicted as an idle and disorderly person; every person pretending or professing to tell fortunes, or using any subtle craft, means, or device, by palmistry or otherwise, to deceive and impose on any of his Majesty’s subjects; every person wandering abroad and lodging in any barn or outhouse, or in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or in any cart or wagon, not having any visible means of subsistence and not giving a good account of himself or herself;every person willfully exposing to view, in any street, road, highway, or public place, any obscene print, picture, or other indecent exhibition; every person willfully openly, lewdly, and obscenely exposing his person in any street, road, or public highway, or in the view thereof, or in any place of public resort, with intent to insult any female; every person wandering abroad, and endeavouring by the exposure of wounds or deformities to obtain or gather alms; every person going about as a gatherer or collector of alms, or endeavouring to procure charitable contributions of any nature or kind, under any false or fraudulent pretence ; every person being found in or upon any dwelling house, warehouse, coach-house, stable, or outhouse, or in any enclosed yard, garden, or area, for any unlawful purpose; every suspected person or reputed thief, frequenting any river, canal, or navigable stream, dock, or basin, or any quay, wharf, or warehouse near or adjoining thereto, or any street, highway, or avenue leading thereto, or any place of public resort, or any avenue leading thereto, or any street, or any highway or any place adjacent to a street or highwy; with intent to commit an arrestable offence; and every person apprehended as an idle and disorderly person, and violently resisting any constable, or other peace officer so apprehending him or her, and being subsequently convicted of the offence for which he or she shall have been so apprehended; shall be deemed a rogue and vagabond…” [xi]

The law was a legal catch-all with which to ensnare and criminalize anyone from whom surplus value could not be extracted. Workers would be dragooned into the factories, or later into the workhouse.

This Act, as quoted above, remains in force of law in England and has been used for 180 years to oppress the poor, gays and lesbians, prostitutes, artists, actors and political protestors. Any person just “milling about” on the street without being able to “give a good account of himself” in the opinion of a police officer risked and still risks arrest as a criminal, or at the very least a body search and interrogation. It’s difficult for moderns, accustomed to being watched, accustomed to obeying authority, to comprehend how oppressive and offensive was this Act to early 19th century English sentiments. It was considered an outrage.  

In 1827 the Malicious Trespass Act created a new class of criminal in “trespassers.” Under English common law, trespass could not be punishable by imprisonment. The 1827 Act changed that. The Act was used to prosecute for damages caused by peasants who strayed onto enclosed lands and knocked down fences to permit their herds to pass through closes between common lands. [xii]

‘An Object of Real Terror’

Transportation to New South Wales and then to Van Diemen’s Land begins to rise exponentially with the return home of soldiers from the Napoleonic Wars. These were founded as penal colonies, instead of prisons for British convicts. This punishment separated workers from their friends and family forever in most cases. Prisoners were first warehoused in ‘the hulks’ rotting ships in harbors where conditions were horrific and unsanitary. Conditions on the transport ships were little better. Many died en route. Once in Australia, the sentenced became indentured servants, first of the government, and then of private landowners. The character of transportation as punishment changed markedly in 1822, with the Report on the Conditions of the Colony of New South Wales by John Thomas Bigge.

Before 1822, Transportees lived better than did the English working class in many instances. They could own property, land, and were free to work for a wage or else for themselves after their ‘government hours.’ Word of this got back to Great Britain, where Lord Bathurst instructed the civil servant Bigge in his commission.  Bathurst: ‘transportation to New South Wales is intended as a severe punishment, applied to various crimes; and as such must be rendered an object of real terror to all classes of the community’.

Bigge set about designing the architecture of such a terror. His report resulted in the sacking of the pervious Governor, Macquarie, whom the British judged to have ‘gone native.’ He was replaced by Brisbane, who implemented all of Bigge’s recommendations. From 1822 to 1834, when slavery was finally abolished in the British Empire, transportees were let out by the government to private farmers as indentured labour. They were no longer allowed to work for themselves. Harsh physical punishments such as flogging and solitary confinement were introduced. And in addition to this, a system of internal transportation was developed. Convicts who could not be pacified were re-transported to penal colonies even further afield, at Moreton Bay or Norfolk Island.

A ‘Salutary terror’

It was during this time of the repeal of the death penalty that some of the most offensive and degrading punishments were devised in English prisons. The traditional punishments were gruesome enough.

Women picking oakum in an English workhouse

One such was ‘picking oakum’ or ‘picking junk.’ The punishment arose in the British Navy, and it was also the work of the poor in seaside villages. Oakum consists of the broken-up fiber of old hemp ropes mixed with tar. ‘Picking oakum’ involved beating these old ropes with a wooden mallet, and then unravelling the twisted rope fibers, embedded in tar, with the bare fingers, and then with the fingernails. It was tedious, dirty work which resulted in bloody fingers, tendonitis, bursitis and repetitive strain injuries. The toll on mental health was also immense. The oakum was used as waterproofing in wooden ships, and as the world’s first naval and seaborne commercial empire, Britain needed a lot of waterproofing. Prison labour provided much of this material.

By the 1820s, oakum picking in prisons began to be supplanted by mechanized punishments, modelled on factory labour.

Primary among these was the tread-wheel. Prisoners were forced to drive a large fan, or rotate a drum, often to no useful purpose, though sometimes the tread-wheels became tread-mills, and prison labour was rented out to mill grain. The main purpose was to degrade and exhaust the prisoner. Many preferred to be flogged.

Sir Robert Peel was a keen supporter of both the tread-wheel and of corporal punishment. In the debate on the Gaol Laws Amendment Bill on Feb 19th, 1824, Peel declared that “I consider the treadmill as an admirable contrivance, and think that no system of labour could be devised so little liable to abuse.” On the subject of corporal punishment, Peel felt that it “produces a salutary terror” which deterred crime. [xiii]

Peel was yet done ‘deterring crime.’


[i] http://www.johnhearfield.com/History/Breadt.htm

[ii] UK Parliament. Debates. 17 February, 1813. In Hansard : https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1813/feb/17/sir-samuel-romillys-criminal-law-bills

[iii] ibid

[iv] UK Parliament. Debates. 24 May, 1830. Forgeries Punishment Bill . In Hansard. https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1830/may/24/forgeries-punishment-bill#S2V0024P0_18300524_HOC_91

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Op. Cit. Brougham, speaking the same debate.

[vii] https://www.acrosswalls.org/section/gender-imprisonment/punishment-sex-ratio/punishment-trends/

[viii] Allen, Robert C. Capital Accumulation, Technological Change, and the Distribution of Income

during the British Industrial Revolution, Nuffield College New Road, Oxford OX1 1NF

Department of Economics Oxford University, 2005. https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:ee5e13de-74db-44ce-adca-9f760e5fe266

[ix] Allen, Robert C. Capital Accumulation, Technological Change, and the Distribution of Income during the British Industrial Revolution, Nuffield College New Road, Oxford OX1 1NF

Department of Economics Oxford University, 2005. https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:ee5e13de-74db-44ce-adca-9f760e5fe266

[x] Allen, Robert C. Capital Accumulation, Technological Change, and the Distribution of Income during the British Industrial Revolution, Nuffield College New Road, Oxford OX1 1NF

Department of Economics Oxford University, 2005. https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:ee5e13de-74db-44ce-adca-9f760e5fe266

[xi] http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/content.aspx?activeTextDocId=1029462

[xii] Cases in the King’s Bench, Looker vs. Halcomb, 1827.

[xiii]  The Opinions of Sir Robert Peel, Expressed in Parliament and in Public, page 287.




No more appeals to the fascist Trump! The Assange campaign must turn to the working class!

by Davey Heller 19th September 2020

As the outrageous show trial of Julian Assange continued at London’s Old Bailey several developments highlighted the political crossroads facing the Assange campaign. Will elements of the campaign continue to foster the dangerous and self-defeating illusion that Assange can be saved by appeals to Trump, the fascist political thug responsible for his persecution? This reactionary dead end was personified by Glen Greenwald’s recent interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. Or will the campaign turn to the only social force that can free Assange, the international working class?

The harsh truth is that the middle class forces dominating the Assange campaign continue to believe that only appeals to one faction or another of the ruling class can save Julian. In the US context this has been disastrous. Due to the almost universal hostility of the Democrat/liberal faction wing of the US ruling class to Assange, illusions were developed that Trumps MAGA movement could be a counter balance to this and his supporters could be a tool to lobby Trump for a pardon.

 Classconscious.org has been warning against this self-defeating strategy since at least August 2018, when we published an article slamming the inclusion of alt-right speakers among progressives on the #Unity4J platform. At the time #Unity4J was virtually the “official” arm of the solidarity campaign. To see this strategy still being pursued whilst Julian is literally facing off with Trump’s own DOJ in a London courtroom shows the level of desperation and disorientation of the petty-bourgeois “leadership” of this campaign.

Perhaps the most high profile, recent example of this trend comes from Brazil-based US journalist Glen Greenwald, who writes for the Intercept. He appeared on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox news on September 10th on The Tucker Carlson Show. Carlson uses his platform on Fox to support Trump’s fascist agenda. Carlson recently justified the murder of two anti police violence protestors by a fascist gunmen with the statement, “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?” Greenwald appeared on this far right demagogue’s platform to make the following direct appeal to Trump, who watches Fox News religiously:

Obviously this isn’t coming from President Trump! He praised WikiLeaks in 2016 for informing the public. He knows, firsthand, how these spying systems that Edward Snowden exposed can be abused and were abused in 2016. This is coming from people who work in the CIA, who work in the Pentagon, who insist on endless war, and who believe that they’re a government unto themselves, more powerful than the President. I posted this weekend that there’s a speech from Dwight Eisenhower warning that this military industrial complex — what we now call the Deep State — is becoming more powerful than the President. Chuck Schumer warned right before President Obama — President Trump — took office that President Trump challenging the CIA was foolish because they have many ways to get back at anybody who impedes them. That’s what these cases are about Tucker, they’re punishing Julian Assange and trying to punish Edward Snowden for informing the public about things that they have the right to know about the Obama Administration. They’re basically saying to President Trump, “You don’t run the country even though you were elected. We do!” And they’re daring him to use his pardon power to put an end to these very abusive prosecutions.”

Tucker Carlson interviewing Glenn Greenwald about Assange.

Here we see yet another so called “progressive” element of the Assange campaign regurgitating the ludicrous idea that it’s not Trump but “Deep State” actors opposed to him, who are responsible for the prosecution of Assange! For starters this completely contradicts the main tenet of Assange’s legal defence, that the prosecution of Assange is being directed by the highly politicized U.S. Department of Justice, which under Trump, essentially takes it’s orders from the President.

Max Blumenthal has revealed evidence of how the biggest single donor to Trump’s election campaign in 2016, Sheldon Adelson acted as a conduit between the company who spied on Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy and the CIA. Testimony from alt-right fascist Cassandra Fairbanks in the extradition hearing further proves the orders for the arrest of Assange came straight from Trump.

The “Trump versus the Deep State” narrative also somehow posits a billionaire developer from New York, whose cabinet is full of billionaires and the former head of the CIA is somehow an “outsider” fighting and taking on the “establishment’! This is the narrative that underpins the MAGA movement and the Q Anon conspiracy theory.

In reality, the US ruling class is currently locked in vicious internecine warfare between the liberal faction working through the Democrats, and the fascist wing working through the far right Republicans/Trump. Whilst both wings of the ruling class are reactionary servants of Wall St, they rest for their support on different social forces, backed by different elements of the military-industrial-complex, and different networks of billionaires. They represent different strategic approaches of the ruling class as to how to best divide and suppress the working class at home, while pursuing imperialism’s interests abroad under conditions of deepening social crisis. For Greenwald, however, to appeal to the fascist wing to pardon Assange is not only deluded, but dangerous. This appeal occurs in a context where Trump is openly planning to steal the election and crush resistance on the street with military force!

However It is not too late for the Assange campaign, despite Julian’s dire situation. Julian himself has called from his prison cell for workers to organise themselves in his defence. In a letter from Belmarsh in late 2019 he wrote to a supporter

Dear Anne-Marie, You ask what you can do to fight for my freedom? Use your strongest skills, friends, resources and associations. If you are a nurse, gather nurses, create a bloc in the nurses union, etc! http://defend.wikileaks.org JPA

Julian Assange’s letter written on an envelope from Belmarsh Prison

Julian Assang’es letter written on an envelope from Belmarsh Prison

This reflects the fact that despite signs of some disorientation prior to his arrest in appealing to, and attempting to maneuver between different factions of the ruling class, Julian too has now turned politically to the working class.

This approach took a step forward with two recent developments. Firstly,  South Africa’s largest trade union federation (COSATU) issued a joint statement with the influential South African Communist Party (SACP) calling for an end to the US persecution of Assange..

COSATU is a Federation of over 30 unions, representing 1.6 million workers. Along with the Communist Party of South Africa which has over 200,000 members, they form the tripartite political alliance with the ANC that has dominated South African politics since the fall of Apartheid. The joint statement issued on September 15th stated:

“Assange has become a target because he did what journalists are supposed to do—expose the truth. The WikiLeaks publisher exposed the crimes that emerged out of wars launched based on lies, which have led to the deaths of more than one million people.

 We stand firm on the belief that it is the working class, the broad mass of the population, that must be mobilised to defend Julian Assange, and all class war prisoners. The demand for their freedom must be a rallying cry for the global working class. We therefore call on all workers and young people, and all those who uphold democratic rights, to come forward.” (The full joint statement is reproduced below the article.)  

Since the end of apartheid rule both the Communist Party (SACP) and COSATU  have worked tirelessly to suppress the growth of a revolutionary socialist movement in South Africa. The SACP is a Stalinist party that embraces the political perspective of the “two stage theory” of revolution. The “two stage” theory demands that the class interests and struggle of the workers must be subordinated to the so called “progressive” wing of the bourgeoisie, in this case the ANC. Rather than fight independently for the overturn of capitalist property relations, the workers movement is forced into the dead end of giving parliamentary support to the ruling bourgeois nationalist ANC, thus propping up South African capitalism and the domestic ruling class. The Stalinist “two stage” theory has led to repeated disasters in country after country in the 20th century.  From Spain and China to Indonesia and Chile, untold thousands of revolutionary workers and leftist militants have gone to their graves in the name of the Stalinist two-stage theory.

However, this political perspective does not change the significance of this development. Such a call-out is a crucial break in the chain of betrayal by all the reformist, social democratic organisations around the world. It is a statement made in the name of the political forces which help run a country of almost 60 million people. In contrast, the Australian union movement in Julian Assange’s home country has remained virtually silent as his extradition hearing kicks off again. One can hardly imagine such a statement coming from any of the political groupings associated with the Democrat Party in the US! It should be welcomed by the broader Assange campaign, but as yet it has received very little promotion within the campaign, and no news coverage outside it.

The statement also states  “COSATU and the SACP call for an all-out campaign in South Africa, and internationally to defend Assange, oppose his extradition to the US, and secure his freedom, with guarantees against any future prosecution”. Currently there is no evidence beyond publishing this statement that the unions and the Communist Party are working to activate their membership on this campaign in a concrete way. Time will time whether this statement is left cover for the bureaucracy or a genuine statement of intent to organise for Assange. Once again though, the issuing of the statement has objective significance for the Assange campaign and should be utilised in efforts to build on the campaign amongst workers not just in South Africa but globally.

Another development occurred in London when a newly formed London Bus Drivers Rank and File Safety Committee, initiated by the Socialist Equality Party of Britain, passed a motion condemning the state frame up and persecution of Assange

The motion read:

We call on all workers everywhere to come to Assange’s defence. At stake are basic democratic rights, including free speech and freedom of the press. The defence of Assange is the spearhead of the struggle against militarism and war abroad, and the mobilisation of the state against the working class at home

The SEP is a Trotskyist socialist party. Trotsky, co-leader with Lenin of the Russian Revolution fought for decades against the degeneration of the USSR under Stalin.

The safety committee is one of several rank and file safety committees initiated by the Socialist Equality Party, who publish the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS). The motion should be welcomed as a reflection of the deep well of support and internationalism that exists within the working class. However it is worth noting that classconscious.org has a principled difference with the SEP in regards to only organising with workers on Assange outside the structure of unions by insisting workers must “break” with the unions altogether and form new worker committees. We believe this severely limits the capacity of united front work with the best layers of workers still trapped under the control of the reactionary trade union leadership. By working only outside the unions, promising developments such as the safety committees motion, risks withering on the vine as other committee initiatives of the SEP have done over recent years.

Classconscious.org has long argued that only a campaign that did not appeal to any faction of the ruling class but sought instead to independently mobilise the international working class. This is the only social force capable of forcing a backdown by US imperialism in its obsessive campaign to crush Assange as part of its efforts to stop ordinary people from learning about its crimes.

The Assange campaign must once and for all step back from the cliff. No faction of the ruling class will save Julian, not the liberal/social democratic, or the fascist wing. The British ruling class and its kangaroo court do the bidding of the war mongers in Washington. The working class is the only international force with the social power to free Julian. It is the working class that has the most to lose, because at its heart the prosecution of Assange by the Trump administration is designed to prevent ordinary people from learning about, and therefore, being able to intervene politically to stop imperialism’s war crimes.

Statement from COSATU website

Statement on the wsws.org




“Three socialists walk into a job interview….and other jokes they told

by Stephen James Kerr, 19th September 2020

In my first report on the subject of the attempt by three ‘socialists’ to hijack a capitalist political party – the Green Party of Canada – by intervening in its leadership race, I noted that these ‘socialists’ were really applying for a job, that of “policy wonks to the ruling class.”

I was roundly criticized for this, and other observations by those who are themselves waiting in the wings with their own job applications for lesser positions in the ‘independent’ capitalist state of the Green’s imagination. Unfortunately for them, their political idols were not done arguing for my case.

During the Green Party’s leadership debate on ‘Canada’s Place in the World’ the ‘socialist’ trio provided mountains of evidence that whatever ‘socialism’ they might profess is pasted on.

There they debated the appropriate ‘independent foreign policy positions’ for an aggressive imperialist capitalist state run by middle class idealists in conditions of encirclement by a much larger and even more aggressive imperialist, capitalist state whose institutions are collapsing. How would our middle class idealists cut a deal with capitalism which would enable their continued survival as middle class idealists?

If only they had been so clear. My task, gentle reader, is to clarify the muddy waters they stirred up so that you may see and avoid the sharp-toothed Canadian nationalists which are lurking just beneath the surface. Careful. They bite.

This was no debate. It was a job interview conducted over Zoom where every candidate – ‘socialists’ included, addressed themselves to the Canadian ruling class, with their impressive CVs clutched firmly to their breasts. Who would be the safest pair of hands to manage the ‘independent interests’ of the Canadian state, and thus of the capitalist ruling class whose state it is? Whose breast beat truest north, beat strongest, beat most free?

Our purpose here is not to name winners, but losers. Loser number one was the working class. To be fair, the working class was never notified, was not invited, didn’t participate, was never mentioned, not a single time in this debate featuring three ‘socialists.’ The independent class interests of workers are international in nature, and thus run directly contrary to the ‘independent interests of Canada.’

This was an exercise in political presto-changeo, on the part of the ‘socialists’ who conflated the interests of the Canadian state with those of the working class, a class without a country.

Bankrupt Canadian Nationalism

If the international working class had managed to get a word in, no doubt any one of the debaters would have rushed to smother it with a Canadian flag.

Andrew West

The political tone of the discussion was set by at the open by the leadership candidates on the political right. Ottawa lawyer Andrew West, and Annime Paul, a former government bureaucrat from Canada’s Ministry of Global Affairs. West: “The Green Party is in a position to show the world that we can take strong action on climate change. To do that, we need to get elected. Green Party must be a governing party, not an activist party. We need to care about the economy…” Correction – the capitalist economy, which he never mentions is the source of the climate change he claims to want to fix. No intervention seriously questioned this general line of political opportunism, in service to Canadian nationalism and Canadian capitalism. The Green Party is preparing itself to govern the Canadian capitalist state, in light of the ongoing collapse of the NDP.

The foreign policy debate was entirely structured around how to solve what has ever been the ‘big question’ for the Canadian capitalist ruling class. This question is a two-part question. For the big capitalists the question is always how to deal with the United States, the biggest export market for their capital. For this section of the ruling class, a dirty deal must be done which will pit American and Canadian workers against each other.

For the smaller capitalist operators, the dream has always been one of ‘independence.’ This assumes that the United States – the only country aside from Denmark and France with which we share a border – just wasn’t really there, sort of like Demark and France. [i] How to chart an ‘independent foreign policy’ is the pipe dream of the Canadian middle class, who see their own fortunes tied to such fantastic notions. They imagine Canada to be ‘oppressed’ by the United States. In reality, they resent their status as small-time operators. The historical record of their total failure in this enterprise never made it into the Green Party debate.

And so in the discussion of how a Green Party government would deal with either President Donald Trump or President Joe Biden, we are told by the non-binary ‘socialist’ Dr. Amita Kuttner: “There is a large difference between whether you have Donald Trump as leader or Joe Biden.” – a difference which they never explain… “We need to make sure we stop following their lead. We need to make sure we don’t continue to sponsor state sponsored violence or coups in other countries. We differentiate ourselves, or separate ourselves. Make sure we’re not economically tied. With Biden it’s going to be easier…”

This is the doctrine of Canadian left nationalism, frozen since the Waffle movement of the 1970s. It’s still inedible, no matter how much maple syrup they pour over it.

Cartoon about the The Waffle movement, a wing of the NDP,  in late 1960s/early 1970s that espoused nationalism and solidarity with Quebec’s sovereignty.

Who are ‘ourselves’? Who is the ‘we’ who is sponsoring coups in Venezuela? Which Canadians are behind the ‘state sponsored violence’ and which are not? Here Kuttner’s blind acceptance of Canadian nationalism renders her incapable of the most elementary socialist political conclusions.

The working class in Canada has nothing to do with, and no responsibility for, the sponsorship of coups in Venezuela. It is not responsible for Canadian imperialist foreign policy. This is the policy of the Canadian ruling class. Why doesn’t the ‘socialist’ Kuttner say so? To frame the question in nationalist terms is to equate the responsibility of workers and their ruling class, when workers have zero control over the policy of the Canadian state. And Kuttner wants us to imagine that somehow it will be different if only we vote for Kuttner, at the head of a capitalist party?

Further, let’s imagine what would happen if the Canadian ruling class decided to ‘differentiate itself’ and no be longer ‘economically tied’ to the United States, as Kuttner and others in the debate advocate. The economic relationship between Canada and the USA is the largest foreign trade relationship in the whole world. What socialist would want to destroy that economic relationship? Kuttner hasn’t even considered this position beyond the opportunistic utility of phrase mongering.

Dr Amita Kuttner

But let’s take Kuttner’s notions for a moment on their own terms. Where would the Canadian capitalist ruling class turn for an alternative trading partner, under Kuttner’s leadership? In their other pronouncements, Kutner, whose family is from Hong Kong, is all for confronting the second largest economy on earth, China. They also state: “We must be so clear on standing up to the expansionism and the imperialism that China is causing across the entire world right now.” Is this not also the policy of the United States, from whom ‘we’ also must ‘differentiate ourselves’? Here is an object lesson in how the pseudo-left lines itself up behind American imperialism.

And further, how is China ‘imperialist’? Is Kuttner even acquainted with Lenin’s definition of imperialism? “Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.” [ii] How much capital is China exporting? China is a net capital importer. It is the United States which is the world’s largest exporter of capital, and also the country with more than 1000 military bases in foreign countries. China has one. The largest exporter of capital to China is – the United States. And yet Kuttner wants to line up behind the United States (independently) to go after China? The mind reels.

As if attempting to provide more evidence for my argument, Kuttner continues: “I think we also need to stand up for everyone’s right to self-determination… Be ready to take on refugees from across China, but leave open all of our diplomatic channels so that we can even with the clarity of our stances, so we can work together on climate action” – so Kuttner stands ready to use the power of the Canadian imperialist capitalist state to break up China, presumably by supporting Tibetan and Uighur separatism, (though Kuttner doesn’t state this explicitly) create a massive Chinese refugee crisis, and also simultaneously ‘work together’ with China to stop climate change?

One wonders how a future Prime Minister Kutner would handle the US announcement of a massive new expansion of its navy fleet to confront China. Which contradictory ‘principle’ would they abide by? Steer an ‘independent course’ and not participate, or contribute Canadian warships? Kuttner’s appeal to human rights is the thinnest veil for Canadian imperialism. Perhaps before launching a crusade to liberate Tibet – independently of the USA of course – Kuttner might want to take a few deep breaths.

The biggest enemy confronting the Canadian working class is not China. It’s not an administration of either Donald Trump or Joe Biden. It’s not Russia, as Glen Murray avers. It is Canadian nationalism, and all of its manifestations. It is the Canadian ruling class. It is the role of socialists to mobilize workers against nationalism. These three wallow in it.

Meryem Haddad

Meryem Haddad, the Montreal immigration lawyer also frames her ‘socialism’ in exclusively nationalist and identity politics terms which would be amenable to Justin Trudeau. Witness her statements on a response to climate change: She declares that “the climate crisis is a continuation of colonial violence.”  Let’s unpack this statement. This type of moralizing against ‘settler colonialism’ has usurped any analysis of the role of capitalism in the Canadian discourse of the pseudo-left, framing contemporary problems in terms of racial conflict, between ‘white settlers’ and ‘First Nations’ not class conflict. We are asked to be morally appalled by ‘settler colonialism’ but not capitalism, by ‘socialists.’ Today’s workers are thus commanded to share an equal burden of guilt and moral responsibility for the very real crimes of colonial conquest along with capitalists and 19th century imperialists, the better to pave the way for moralizing middle class social climbers to ascend to positions of power – within the existing capitalist state. Never mind the fact that socialism is premised upon the conquest by the world working class of all of the accumulated capital and technique built up in all previous stages of historical development. By the low level of the debate, one imagines that neither Haddad, Kuttner or Lascaris have heard of this basic concept. They would rather workers feel guilty for those previous stages of development over which the working class had zero control. We are supposed to deeply regret the previous stages of development, wishing they had never occurred, never mind the fact that these provided the only material foundation upon which the working class could possibly build socialism! And of course there is the idealist longing on the part of many Greens for a return to pre-industrial conditions of life, which they mystify, absent all understanding of the extremely unequal social relationships which such relations of production must necessarily engender.

And so Haddad declares that “The people at the forefront of climate change are not the ones responsible for climate change.” And she’s right. But she only refers to indigenous peoples while implying that all ‘Canadians’ are culpable. Working people feature exactly nowhere in her statements.

This ‘socialist’ doesn’t mention the responsibility of corporate polluters, who are actually responsible for the majority of GHG emissions originating in Canada. 8% of emissions come from ‘leaks’ from the oil and gas industry, which is more than all the emissions from heating and powering the homes of the Canadian working class, which account only for 6%. 14.5% of emissions come from mining and oil and gas exploration. [iii] But she lumps workers and capitalists together – under the Canadian flag, when she declares next that “It’s countries like ours who are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gasses who are responsible. If we don’t act on climate change, there is going to be a sea of climate refugees and blood on our hands. Canada must take responsibility for its role in this crisis. We have the wealth, we have the technology and we have the means of production to phase out fossil fuels.”

Who exactly has ‘the means of production’? A curious choice of words for a ‘socialist’ who never once mentions the working class or its interests. Who exactly ‘has the wealth’? She doesn’t say. A curious omission for a ‘socialist’ in a country where 1% of the population owns 25 % of the total wealth, and the bottom 40% have only 1.5%. [iv] Canadian nationalism obscures these realities.

Uncritical Idealism vs Historical Materialism

Dimitri Lascaris is widely hailed as the most ‘socialist’ of all candidates for the GPC leadership. But his ‘socialism’ is framed by idealistic appeals to concepts such as ‘the rule of law’ – laws made by and for the ruling class. He is a very successful lawyer. The law pays his bills. But he errs when he imagines that lawyers can bring about ‘socialism’ from comfortable leather seats in national parliaments.

Dimitri Lascaris

Many of Lascaris’ stated policy goals are developments socialists would warmly welcome.

Lascaris: “I think that our foreign policy is a combination of extraordinary and frankly disgracefully deference to US government foreign policy, but also it is heavily influenced by the extractive sector…. We aren’t going to deal with the climate emergency without confronting the fact that the capitalist system is at the core of this crisis. And that means that we’re going to have to deal with corporate power, and with the billionaire class, we’re going to have to break up monopolistic organizations, we are going to have to put serious constraints on corporate power, and ensure that our regulators are independent and sufficiently resourced to hold them accountable, and we’re going to have to reform our legal system so that ultimately the Canadian government is not pursuing foreign policy which caters to the needs of big business while sacrificing the people and the planet.”

Nice speech. But how possible are such reforms as he imagines, under a capitalist system in serious crisis? In my previous article, I pointed out how capitalism in its current stage of development requires a higher rate of exploitation of labour power, not the lower one he promises, so we will not explore that question here. But what social force could bring Lascaris’ dreams into being? Lascaris never mentions the working class. But our collective agency is the ONLY force which could possibly bring about the changes he promises. And further, we could only do so on an internationalist basis.

Lascaris’ idealism is bound in national fetters. And so he gives the Canadian ruling class the quarter they require to maintain themselves. Instead of overthrowing capitalism – necessary if we’re to solve the climate crisis – he’d ‘deal with corporate power.’ How exactly? He’d only deal with ‘the billionaire class’ and not the multi-millionaire class? That would leave the capitalist ruling class – and thus the exploitation of the working class and the natural world completely untouched and in place, despite any ‘serious constraints on corporate power’ that one might imagine. Such constraints as he promises would inevitably be negotiated away as a blood sacrifice in the service of some parliamentary compromise or other.

Fortunately, we don’t have to do a thought experiment to consider what would be the likely results if Lascaris were to lead the Green Party, and further, if he were to come even close to power. We merely have to look to the failed Corbyn experiment in the UK.

Corbyn was elected leader of the Opposition by fostering illusions in social reform, but without the participation of the working class.  His ‘progressivism’ was always wrapped in the Union Jack, and organized around identity politics, and appeals to ‘decency’ across the class divide, and across the aisle of the House of Commons. These fell on predictably deaf ears. Yet the Stalinists at the Morning Star and the various pseudo-left liberal tendencies were agog. Now, they have a fist full of nothing, just as socialists predicted.

Corbyn’s politically bankrupt strategy could not advance a single one of its professed aims, and its spectacular defeat – via an internal party coup d’etat justified by completely fraudulent accusations of anti-semitism, pushed the entire spectrum of British politics, not to the left, but to the hard right.  Much can be made of Corbyn’s personal fecklessness and cowardice. But the root of the failure of Corbynism lies in its bankrupt, nationalist and reformist perspective – the same one shared by the Green Party’s ‘socialist’ fraction.

If one were in any doubt that a similar fate would befall Dimitri Lascaris, should he be elected leader, one only had to follow the heated discussion around the GPC’s party of sanctions on Israel, of which Lascaris is the author. He noted: “When Elizabeth May came back from the West Bank in 2018, she said that what Israel is doing is much worse than the Apartheid in South Africa. This is not a political judgement. Apartheid has a specific definition in international law. This is a legal judgement which must be based on international law. We are the only party today that calls for economic sanctions on Israel.”

This statement was followed by vehement denials from the right wing candidates that such was even the adopted policy, even though it in fact IS the policy, which 91% of GPC members supported. One is reminded of all of the fine sounding policies of the Labour Party which went up in flames under Corbyn. The failure of Lascaris’ policies can be predicted by the political idealism with which he describes them, and the nationalism which frames them. He declares that Israeli apartheid is ‘not political’ but rather a technical definition, based on law. As if the law were apolitical! As if the state and the law ‘stood above society.’ As if the United Nations, as if the International Criminal Court – to which he appeals, and which specializes in the criminal prosecution of the enemies of western states, were not the political tools of imperialism.

Socialists know that the state and the laws, and yes international laws are merely tools for the rule of one class by another. We are happy to use those laws to advance the cause of socialism, but with open eyes, and not based on what are ultimately moral appeals to the ruling class to ‘obey the law.’ The ‘rule of law’ has a class character, and has developed historically. What Lascaris fails to realize is that the rule of law is now a barrier to the further accumulation of capital for a growing section of the ruling class, and this is why it is being abandoned. Yet Lascaris wants to run a capitalist party?

The Squad – to which Lascaris appeals as political allies, cannot guarantee the rule of law. The only force capable of defending the rule of law is the organized international working class. And there is another aspect which is critical to the struggle for socialism. Laws are neither a political or moral absolute. One merely needs to point out how many such laws have had to be broken when injustice wore the mantle of the law. And that is where the struggle against Israeli apartheid is being waged – in the Occupied Territories by Palestinian resisters. Israeli Apartheid is perfectly legal – in Israel, and also in the United States, and pretty much every other capitalist state which accepts it. The question is therefore NOT one of legal technicalities, but of political power. It is Israel’s political power and its military violence which enforces its unjust laws. A countervailing power must be applied. This is exactly the opposite of what Lascaris avers. Power makes laws. Laws do not make power. Lawyers are merely power’s uppity stenographers.

Just once during the debate, Lascaris offered a faint hope that perhaps he might appeal to the working class. Such hopes were dashed immediately. After listing the many war crimes of Joe Biden and the Obama administration, and bemoaning the Trump administrations attack on the International Criminal Court, he states “At the same we have to realize that we have allies in the United States. People who want to see a humane foreign policy. People like Bernie Sanders, people like Alexandra Ocassio Cortez,  people like Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib,  Senator Merkely, and we have to reach out to them and build alliances and make clear that the American people are not our enemies. The problem here is the US Government, which oppresses people in the United States just as it does in developing countries.” Yes it does. But what kind of ‘allies’ can Lascaris imagine, in the fight against US imperialism? Only the political enablers of Joe Biden. Not the working class. Further, he calls for an “alliance of non-belligerent countries.” His notions would contain the working class inside obsolete national borders.

Working Class Political Independence

After my initial critique, some of the easily impressed drew the erroneous inference that I was advocating that socialists should abstain from electoral campaigns, and this was a ‘Left Wing Communism / Infantile Disorder’ type affliction. Nothing could be further from the truth.  

Socialists welcome electoral political contests, but not for the reasons and not using the means and methods deployed by Kuttner, Haddad and Lascaris. Where these three use such a campaign to promote their CVs as policy wonks to the ruling class, socialists use electoral campaigns to build the class consciousness of the international working class.

A socialist election campaign would therefore look and sound completely different from the campaign of these three middle class radicals. Firstly, it would not be focused on a parlour coup inside a capitalist political party. Following on from that, it would be founded on a Marxist historical materialist analysis which raised the consciousness of the international working class of its own aims. It would be politically independent from all factions of the ruling class. One could refer to the campaign of Joseph Kishore and Norissa Santa Cruz in the United States for an example. It’s a campaign based upon socialist principles.

Unlike the campaigns of Lascaris, Haddad and Kuttner, a socialist campaign would not foster illusions in the reform of capitalist social relations – a lower rate of exploitation, a ‘nicer’ capitalism. All such illusions are just that, illusions. A socialist campaign might use very similar demands to those Lascaris suggests – cut military spending by 50% immediately – fund climate change mitigation! Stop Canadian interference in the Lima Group! for example. But it would use such demands not to foster illusions in the working class that they could be achieved under capitalism, by a reformist government, but precisely in the opposite way – to educate the workers that they can never be achieved on such a basis.
(Further reading: A. Badayev. The Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma)

Lascaris, Haddad and Kuttner need to confront the socialist tradition, and also the history of political bankruptcy in which they have chosen to stand. So far, no sign of that. In the meantime, socialists will continue to speak the uncomfortable truth.


[i] Canada shares a border with only three countries, the United States, Denmark via Canada’s border with Greenland, and France, which still owns the Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Canada does not share a border with Russia, which is separated from Canada in the Arctic via international waters.

[ii] https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/ch07.htm

[iii] http://prairieclimatecentre.ca/2018/03/where-do-canadas-greenhouse-gas-emissions-come-from/

[iv] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/06/30/ineq-j30.html




A Marxist History of the Police, Part Three: the crisis of the English Bourgeoisie

By Stephen James Kerr, 14th September 2020

Today we are publishing the third part in a series “A Marxist History of the Police” which examines the balance of class forces in 1820 Britain. To understand the emergence of the police, an appraisal of the relative positions of the working aristocracy, bourgeoisie and working class in British society after Peterloo is necessary.

Part 1: Repression in the face of revolution, examined how the birth of the industrial working class and the tumult of the bourgeois revolutions drove the need for new forms of repression.

Part 2: Experimenting on the Irish, examined how the experiments towards a police force in Ireland by Sir Robert Peel, up to the infamous Peterloo Massacre in 1819.

“I have never seen a class so deeply demoralised, so incurably debased by selfishness, so corroded within, so incapable of progress, as the English bourgeoisie. and I mean by this, especially the bourgeoisie proper, particularly the Liberal, Corn Law repealing bourgeoisie.”

FRIEDRICH ENGELS

“Such were the difficulties of the bourgeoisie, even at the beginning of its career; it needed the people yet feared them, and wanted to keep the Monarchy as a check against democracy…”

CHRISTOPHER HILL

The Aristocracy – A Portrait of a Rotten Class

England. 1820. “The King is dead. Long live the King.”

George III, mad, bad and unable to rule since 1795 has finally passed away and left the Crown to his eldest son. George IV is fat, gluttonous, a lecher, drug addicted, and deeply unpopular. He inherits an unstable political situation smoldering with insurrection. He will expire ten years later on the eve of a social and political revolution like the social class he led— bloated, blind and broken.

A Voluptuary Under the Horrors of Digestion 1792: Jame’s Gillray’s brutal caricature of George, Prince of Wales encapsulates the effects of uncontrolled self-indulgence upon the heir to the British throne.

Immediately beneath the corpulent King rested a mostly idle aristocratic layer of inherited rank. The aristocracy could sense that it’s once unquestionable social position was now socially questionable. Its once immense wealth was now less immense. Its former potency was declining into limp impotence. Where once the country rang out with cries of ‘Church and King’ it now rang out with ‘Equal Representation.’ Where once its thousand-acre estates were the finest in the county, some were now dwarfed by a merchant’s tacky pile. Where once the peasants and workers had bowed down, they now rose up. This reality was too much to bare.

It was thus in the 1820s that the British aristocracy slowly began its retreat from life, which continues to the present day, into a senescent fantasy world, cultivating its own specially accented English, refining its already fine manners to sharp points only to be cut by them, gazing at its self-inflicted wounds with innocent astonishment. Yet, the aristocrats still clung to their arrogance, as it floated, suspended in mid-air. It held them up, above the real world which was thriving, but dirty.

While the merchant classes could read, invest the money of the landed aristos in their joint stock companies and return fat profits, the bourgeois would never be able to speak properly. And so, in the 1820s, the landed gentry began to float away, above society, powered by elongated vowels, crisp consonants, and daddy’s money. Yet this dead social class maintained its grip upon Parliament, the Lords, the Church, the growing bureaucracy, and upon political legitimacy.

Beneath this old crust of ‘old corruption’ there was not one, but two vital, powerful social forces rising up. The first of these was the bourgeoisie.

The Unfinished Bourgeois Revolution

The fraud of social position allocated by birthright had been debunked by Thomas Paine‘s “The Rights of Man” two generations previously. But the hereditarian lie was being written into history by the bourgeois class itself. Through their subordination of the emergent working classes in the factories, the capitalists ‘created’ the new wealth of the industrial revolution. At least they controlled it. Britain had become the world’s first capitalist empire, even if most capitalists had no vote in 1820. But they lacked complete control of the statewhose traditional forms of organization were no longer suited to advancing the growth and productivity of the new industrial system. This is the key to understanding the emergence of the police as a social institution of modern bourgeois rule.

English Civil War recruitment wooden print

The initial, primitive forms of the rule of the English bourgeoisie had been established after the English Revolution of the 17th century. For a time, the institutions established by this first revolution, occupying the space created by the smashing of the old institutions, permitted the emergent capitalist class to expand its wealth, power and influence. It’s important to note that the economic transformations which gave birth to the first English bourgeois revolution and the Civil War, were “changes in land ownership, and in the volume of production rather than in the technique of production. So the changes had no revolutionary effect on society as a whole.” [i] It was the expansion of trade and industry “within a given system of technical equipment” [ii] which first propelled the English bourgeoisie towards political power in 1642. But it could not go all the way. The bourgeois revolution was unfinished, to the extent that the economic basis for the bourgeoisie as a politically independent social class was only then emergent. Production was limited by technique to the level of handicrafts. The low level of the productive forces at this time necessitated that the English bourgeoisie make a political accommodation with the traditional ruling class, which it did when it invited Charles II to return as King. The results of this accommodation remain with us to this day.

It was the industrial revolution of the 1700s which formed the material basis for the rule of the bourgeoisie as a politically independent social class, which required new institutions of class rule. These new institutions would serve the ends of the bourgeoisie – the accumulation of capital and maximization of profits.

There were many obstacles in the way of the most optimal social conditions for the maximization of industrial profits. These took the form of various ‘traditions.’ Workers and peasants had too many traditional holidays, and these varied regionally. The enclosure of the common lands was still incomplete, though ongoing. By 1820, the rapidly growing government bureaucracies were traditionally run and staffed based on a patronage system; and responsible variously to the King, to local gentry, or else to a government Minister. Local customs and traditions meant that methods applied to managing the same task in one county, might be completely alien to those applied in the next. The traditional allocation of seats in Parliament meant that industrial towns producing much of Britain’s wealth had no representation. The wealthy shopkeeper or factory owner had no vote. In terms of police functions, the local yeomanry traditionally assigned the task of keeping the peasants and workers in line owed their allegiance to the local squires who were their landlords, though by 1820 the Yeomanry in the industrial towns were shopkeepers. But the shopkeepers made poor horsemen compared to the landed aristos. The military regiments tasked with repressing riots owed their allegiance exclusively to the Crown. This leant policing a local, particular, and simultaneously political character.

In contrast to this traditionalist localism, industrialism in production cut across all traditions, creating social and economic conditions of a universal character. The universal signifier of value was now money. The universal arbiters of technique in production were now the laws of physics and chemistry. It is absurd to consider ‘local tradition’ in the smelting of iron, or the spinning of cotton, or the manufacture of pins, for example. The scientific rationalization of production, combined with the price mechanisms of the market, destroyed the material basis for all such local, irrational practices; and this market rationalism destroyed the practices themselves. Anyone who stuck to ‘the traditional means of manufacturing pins’ for tradition’s sake, was destined to be stuck on the pin of economic ruin.

Despite their inefficiency, forms of social and political organization conducted outside of the industrial process, hung on ‘long past their sell-by date.’ It was the escalating conflict between the drive for bourgeois profits, and the dead weight of the traditional political / social organization, which shaped class conflict of late Regency England, to the Great Reform of 1832 and still later. The systems of political organization which had liberated the emergent capitalist class in 1640, had by 1820 come to be known by the epithet, ‘Old Corruption.’ They were no longer suited to a new economy that produced not only a mountain of new wealth, but a novel social class with its own emerging set of interests—the working class. The Bourgeois were themselves driven to create their own novel institutions of class rule because there was a new and powerful force rising up below their feet, and they wished to suppress and control its power. The profitable accumulation of their own capital depended upon it.

The Working Class emerges: into the ‘dark satanic mills”

Lancashire Cotton Mill 1835

Imagine the sheer horror that the first displaced cotton weavers must have felt when they entered Noah Arkwright’s steam powered industrial cotton mill in 1790.

They would have been formerly semi-independent producers, working in the relative comfort and security of their own home under the ‘putting out’ system, where a tradesman supplied them with the raw material to spin and weave into cloth, for which he then paid them on a piece rate basis. Having at least a measure of control over the terms of their own labour, they would have felt relatively secure in their small cottage, perhaps cultivating a garden on lands held in common. They had once taken pride in their craft, the work of their own hands, over which they had control and of how and when to deploy their skills. They occupied a relatively secure, although low social position, the same one occupied by their ancestors. People so situated could feel themselves to have a ‘stake in the country’ and were not motivated to question the established order, of which they felt themselves a part.

Potato Planters by Jean-Francois Millet

But no more. New machinery combined with capitalism and steam power to put an end to that way of life by rendering its economic basis obsolete.

Crossing the factory gates, once proud people were reduced instantly to the condition of slaves. What ‘pride’ could they feel in the work of standing at a machine loom for 12 to 14 hours per day, repeating a single step in the production process fifty thousand times? How horrifying was the dark, dusty and dangerous factory, where one could lose a finger, a hand or be burned to death by steam? The constant anxiety of the industrial worker of 1790 can scarce be imagined.

And yet the factory was also the worker’s only means of subsistence. Hell was also salvation. Outside the factory gates lay starvation, and there was in 1820 a lot of starvation. A surplus of workers waited to take the place of anyone injured or dismissed from factory labour. When we try to imagine this reality we get some sense of one of the meanings of the English word ‘reduced.’ One is reduced from something else to the status of a ‘worker.’ One is transformed from a feeling human being into an interchangeable cog in an immense and impersonal machine which spat out not only immense amounts of cotton, iron and other goods, but fabulous monetary profits. The whole purpose of their work and thus their life had been transformed. People could be set to work at anything at all on this new basis.  Cotton cloth, iron or ceramics – the very things in which the workers once took pride – were likewise reduced. They became just the ‘thing in the middle’ of a mechanical process that converted a small pile of money into a far larger pile of money. They now labored to produce not cotton cloth, not pig iron, not coal, not ceramics but only money – for the industrial capitalist. The skills of their hands were useless. They experienced raw alienation.

The factory owner – the first cop on the beat?

Acceptance of these new, unimaginable conditions of work, also required the application of force against the workers in the factory itself. The first generation of industrial workers were accustomed to a far more leisurely pace of work in handicrafts or in the fields. The old habits were sometimes literally beaten out of them by overseers. Failure to follow ‘the rules’ could result in instant dismissal and impoverishment. There was always another starving wretch eager  to step in to take their place. Thus were formerly peaceful people set at war against each other, and against their own will.

It was also the participation of the workers in the new work process itself which transformed their consciousness. The discipline of the machines set the pace of work for each worker. If a single individual were to stop work or slow their pace, the whole line of production might be stopped. The machines might ‘jam up.’ Workers thus became the servants of machines, which were the first targets of their outrage. The penalty for ‘machine breaking’ was death.

The other aspect of this process was that early individual capitalists became the direct enforcers of ‘timed labour discipline.’ The standardization and rationalization of the worker’s labour time was entirely novel, and fiercely resisted, and so required that the workers be supervised and watched over at every turn. The first ‘cop’ in history was thus not one of the Bow Street Runners, nor was he a Yeoman. The first real beat cop was a bourgeois factory owner, walking the rows between machines with his eyes peeled for any delinquency.

In this sense the bourgeois factory owner or his overseers directly took on a policing role of every aspect of the worker’s productive life: what time they arrived and what time they left, if they spoke or not, if they took a break, how they moved and performed their tasks. Where previously, labour hours had been under the craftsman’s own control, now their behavior was dictated to them on a timed schedule.

For the first time, working people came face to face with their ‘rulers’ on a near constant basis. Previously the craftsman only rarely, if ever, had to endure face to face dealings with the nobility, who would never have dreamt of standing over the worker, telling him or her how to do their job.

Cartoon by Robert Cruikshank of children being beaten entitled “English factory slaves: Their daily employment”.

As the social bonds of tradition and locale were broken, new bonds were forged. A factory might employ hundreds of people from many different counties, speaking with different local dialects. People who would never have met or related to each other before now shared a common social experience of extreme exploitation, brutality and oppression.

A working class movement with bourgeois demands

This shared experience of industrial production in the ‘Satanic Mills’ transformed what had once been groups of strangers from the verdant hills of different counties, and later from different countries, into a single social class. But this process took many decades. By 1820 the differentiation of the workers as a social class was still in its development. The working class was not yet truly advancing its own demands.

The Peterloo demonstration was powered by the anger of the emergent working class, but mostly took up the political demands of the bourgeoisie. The demonstration was supposed to take the form of the mock election of Henry Hunt as MP for Manchester, a borough unrepresented in Parliament. A successful farmer turned orator and an advocate of radical democratic reform during the Napoleonic Wars, Hunt was a talented speaker who regularly appealed for annual parliaments, universal suffrage, and the reform of parliament’s ‘rotten boroughs.’ In all of these demands, the specific interests of the working class were submerged. The efforts of the demonstration’s organizers to keep the action within the bounds of the existing laws – the law they were protesting – was famously noted.

Samuel Bamford, one of the organizers, wrote,

“On the bank of an open field on our left I perceived a gentleman observing us attentively. He beckoned me, and I went to him. He was one of my late employers. He took my hand, and rather concernedly, but kindly, said he hoped no harm was intended by all those people who were coming in. I said “I would pledge my life for their entire peaceableness.” I asked him to notice them, “did they look like persons wishing to outrage the law? were they not, on the contrary, evidently heads of decent working families? or members of such families?” “No, no,” I said, “my dear sir, and old respected master, if any wrong or violence take place, they will be committed by men of a different stamp from these.”” [iii]

Immediately after the Peterloo Massacre, middle-class Radicals circulated a petition to display solidarity with the protestors. The petition publicly declared that the protest was peaceful and condemned the violence exercised by the yeomanry. After collecting the signatures the petition was printed in this pamphlet form, shown here, in 1820.

Despite the many outrages of industrialism, the unfinished nature of the bourgeois political revolution had the effect of keeping working class demands confined to the fulfilment of that revolution. It would not remain so.

The crisis of the bourgeoisie – caught in a vice between two classes

The bourgeois of 1820 understood his own situation more clearly than did the worker. With the benefit of a classical education, and an historical perspective informed by a reading of the scholarship of antiquity, the bourgeois factory owner judged even a little democracy to be a very dangerous thing indeed. Cicero, Thucydides and Plato all agreed: Plebeian power had been the destruction of Athens and Rome. So the English bourgeoise was placed in the grip of a political vise. Faced with a more powerful social class aspiring to power beneath it, and a decadent social class above it, the English bourgeoisie joined forces with the landed aristocracy. This was a social layer with whom the bourgeois had longstanding, deep economic relationships. Thus the English bourgeoisie took its place as the managerial head of the English mixed constitution, leaving in place the superstitious majesty of ‘The Crown’, all the better to befuddle the workers.

And so we read in a history of British Conservatism that, “The predominant Conservative strategy since the Revolutionary Wars may be characterized as ‘Peelite’ – that is to say a cautious adaptation to change, an eschewance of hard reaction…” [iv]  Why the seeming ‘eschewance of hard reaction’? It is because the bourgeoisie transformed ‘hard reaction’ into a permanent social institution in civil disguise.

 We call that institutionalization of ‘hard reaction’ the police.

 While the class standing at the head of production in 1820 found itself still politically disabled, a new class was rising below it, demanding its own power. The class standing at the head of the state was no longer the economically productive class. Such a situation could not be long maintained.

 The rising British capitalist class was not driven to overthrow and smash the old aristocracy of blood, as the far less developed French bourgeoisie had done. Whereas the French bourgeoisie was compelled to overthrow the absolutist order which excluded it from access to state power, the English bourgeoisie became the vital aspect of the traditional state, over a period of 200 years. It is this crisis of the English bourgeoisie which leads directly to the development of the police.

 The bourgeoisie was politically dependent upon the aristocrats, but economically dependent upon the labour of workers. The workers were accustomed to riot in the streets in defense of their economic and political rights. They were accustomed to far friendlier conditions of life. The aristocrats were accustomed to cut the workers down in the street with swords if they rebelled. The bourgeoisie had no direct control over the means of repression of the new working class outside of the factory system, where they exercised total control. Further, the kind of worker they required – disciplined, and devoted to their employer’s betterment, was a rare commodity. Real human beings with unpredictable, inconvenient needs and wants got in the way of the production of profits. These would have to be disciplined into the kinds of workers the bourgeois class required to produce profits. Finally, the constant agitation of the working class for equal representation such as American and French workers enjoyed, threatened to erupt into revolt which could displace the bourgeoisie from its position. This had to be stopped.

 As a result of this economic, political and social crisis, the English bourgeoisie thus came to require a novel institution of class rule – police.

 Peterloo had put the whole problem of how to manage the rising working class into stark relief.

1819 print depicting the Peterloo Massacre

The traditional means of violent repression had backfired, creating mass outrage, which threatened not only the peaceful accumulation of profits, but the constitutional political order which facilitated such accumulation.

 The traditional means of organizing such repression was not responsible to the bourgeois class. The traditional means reported to the aristocratic land-owning class and the King.

 The traditional means of repression were also a patchwork beyond the control of any central agency, unlike a factory, in which all means were directed towards a single end and by a single owner.

 Finally, the bourgeois owner needed a social institution to discipline the worker outside of the factory gate, in a manner similar in form, if lesser in degree and frequency, to that power which disciplined his own workers inside of those gates. They needed not just to create new piles of money, but also new piles of men; men who would be perfectly suited to creating new piles of money.

 The bourgeoisie found its fortune in the factory by rationalizing craft skills on a scientific basis into a system of mechanized production, thus creating a universal pattern which could be replicated elsewhere. It took a similar approach to the creation of its institutions of class rule.

 The bourgeoisie wanted to create a means of social organization and class rule that could be replicated based upon formulas analogous to the plans for an industrial machine. They sought to create new institutions of class rule which could be assembled from a set of plans, just like a machine, in order to pump out the norms of bourgeois class rule anywhere on earth, like filthy water sprayed out of a hose. A combination of laws, both representational administrative and punitive, were developed with one aim – to solidify the rule of the English bourgeoisie. But this class rule would function within the political framework of the traditional constitution, which stood by, mostly harmless and neutral, above the real action. This was ‘hard reaction’ institutionalized with a civil veneer.

 This form of class rule would also have a profoundly conservatizing effect on the political orientation of the English working class, to the advantage of the bourgeoisie.

 The bourgeoisie was faced with a political and organizational question – how to maintain their rule, once they assumed their proper place as the co-managers of the English mixed constitution? What social institutions would need to be established that would give bourgeois rule over the workers full expression? More than any other single figure, Sir Robert Peel set about creating the institutions of bourgeois rule in the United Kingdom. These included various legal reforms, Catholic emancipation, reform of the bureaucracy, a reformed Parliament which granted the vote to the bourgeoisie, and the creation of the police. All of these will be explored in the next chapter.

And finally, one further thought….

 This analysis has political implications for our own age. The English bourgeoisie had staged an abortive revolution in the English Civil War. The economic accomplishments of that revolution were realized in the war and subsequently, while the political conquest of the English state by the bourgeoisie took another two centuries to realize. We must now ask, what are the political implications following from the economic transition from the outmoded nation-state system to that of a globally integrated social production driven by the coordinated labour power of working people? What political and historical tasks are yet to be realized? The answer is all of them. The potential leap forward in social development by the political realization of the existing economic power of the working class on a world scale is staggering to imagine.

It is our task to complete the revolution.




Support the Leon Trotsky House Museum Appeal

8th September 2020

An appeal for funds has been made by Leon Trotsky’s grandson, Estaban Volkov, to support the Leon Trotsky House Museum. The Museum requires urgent funds because it has been closed to the public since March because of measures taken to limit the spread of Cov-19.

A significant part of the museum’s income (from ticket sales, the cafeteria and the giftshop) has dried up, putting a large strain on its ability to remain open.

Esteban in an audio message stated:

Comrades and friends, warm greetings from the Museums general director, Esteban Volkov. We’re going through difficult times with Covid-19, and we need the support of all our comrades and friends, to preserve this valuable historical site where 80 years ago the great Marxist Lev Davidovich Bronstein was struck down in the revolutionary struggle. Luckily, many comrades continue to carry forward his valuable teachings and ideas, which are today more alive than ever.

The Leon Trotsky House Museum is a unique institution dedicated to preserving the legacy of the great Russian revolutionary in the house where he lived and worked, with his wife Natalia and his grandson Esteban until his assassination in 1940.

The appeal is being conducted through the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) who launched the “Support the Trotsky House Museum!” appeal on August 21st on their “In Defence of Marxism” website. A week later they published an update “Great Success for the Trotsky Museum Appeal” stating over seven thousand euro’s had been raised but more funds were needed to ensure the ongoing survival of the museum.

Both Stalinist and capitalist forces have been united in their desire to obliterate Leon Trotsky’s ideas and political legacy from the consciousness of the working class, through a combination of slander and omission for almost a century. This appeal is part of the ongoing efforts of Marxists to ensure that not only is Trotsky’s Museum House preserved but that the living struggle of Trotskyism is maintained. Trotskyism is indeed the Marxism of the 21st Century! Classconscious.org is proud to do what we can to support this important appeal.

Donate to the appeal at the IMT website here.




The plot to take over the Green Party and other delusions of the Canadian middle class

By Stephen James Kerr , 5th September 2020

The campaign by a group of so-called ‘eco-socialists’ to take over the Green Party of Canada by nominating allegedly ‘socialist’ candidates to the party’s leadership race is a bankrupt exercise in middle class political delusion.

Three candidates are running for the leadership as ‘socialists’: Toronto class-action lawyer Dimitri Lascaris, Montreal law graduate Meryem Haddad and Dr. Amita Kuttner, an accomplished astrophysicist.

The campaign has captured the limited imaginations of those who accept that merely identifying oneself as a ‘socialist’ makes one a socialist. The affair poses in stark terms the political disorientation and bankrupt perspective of Canada’s pseudo-left.

The words ‘working class’ ‘socialism’ and ‘capitalism’ appear nowhere in Dr. Kuttner’s policy statement. Neither do they appear in the brief policy statement of Mereyem Haddad. Lascaris, refers to capitalism a couple of times in his more extensive platform papers. The term ‘class struggle’ appears exactly nowhere. In his ‘socialist’ economic platform, the word socialism is marked by its absence.

What does appear is a great deal of left-sounding rhetoric, couched in policy sound bites. But is it socialism? Lascaris’ ‘worker’s rights’ platform is revealing in that regard. Witness the following, frankly astonishing passage:

“We have come a long way from the wage slavery and subjection to employer whim of the early Industrial Revolution.  Today, we expect workers to have a shared relationship with management.  It is the combination of management and workers that will determine the success and sustainability of Canadian firms.”

Have we in fact come a ‘long way from wage slavery’? Today’s wage slaves slaving away for the super-profits of Amazon, Apple and many other firms would beg to differ! No, it’s no longer the wage slavery of the ‘early industrial revolution’ but rather the wage slavery of the twenty first century. What exactly is a ‘shared relationship’ between workers and management? It means nothing. Lascaris the ‘socialist’ is here openly advocating not socialism – a new society where the working class is the ruling class – but rather its opposite – a cease fire in the class struggle, for “the success and sustainability of Canadian firms.” How can a ‘socialist’ advocate a cross-class alliance between workers and management to boost capitalist profits and not be laughed off the stage? Lascaris’ effrontery is the measure of the political degeneration of the Canadian middle class. He can get away with it because his audience knows nothing better.

What is the Green Party of Canada?

What is the Green Party of Canada? What is its history? To understand the folly of the ‘eco-socialist’ coup attempt, a short history lesson is required.

The Green Party has never, since its founding in 1983, been a working-class political party. It was founded by a group of middle class intellectuals and business people who were either complete strangers to the socialist tradition, or in reaction against it. These elements, who still dominate the Green Party’s ideology, are more influenced by the idealist utopianism of E.F Schumacher than the historical materialism of Karl Marx. Former Green Party Elizabeth May first ran for the ‘Small Party’ inspired by Schumacher, who explicitly rejected Marxist economic thought in favour of a religious formulation based on his concept of an idealized ‘human nature’ which determined the forms of economic organization which should prevail. He looked backwards to small scale industry and craft production, essentially a reaction against industrialism and all of its socially progressive implications.

Schumacher’s concept of ‘Small is Beautiful’ is central to Green Party ideology, which although it nods to such vague terms as ‘social justice’ undertakes no serious critique of capitalism. It embraces capitalism instead.

The Green Party platform declares that “Canada needs to support entrepreneurs” and small business who are “hampered by red tape.” They call for a new “Green venture capital fund” and to “hold taxation at no more than 9 percent.” What socialist could say no?

At its most absurd, green ideology imagines small-scale economic ‘alternatives’ to industrial capitalism based on an idyll where the class struggle has been papered over. The history of the Green Party on its official page hints at the ideological roots of this fantasy:

“The modern green movement started in Canada and around the world in the 1960s when the counter-culture movement launched the first mass rejection of consumer culture. Five decades later, the 60s values of peace, love and understanding have become the founding Green Party values of non-violence, social justice and ecological thinking. While the end of the 60s saw the decline of many grassroots movements, their life-affirming values didn’t go away. In the ’70s, the green movement re-emerged in isolated, small-scale enterprises such as health food stores, women’s and environmental groups, renewable energy programs and organic farms.”  

Indeed, the 1960s saw a mass uprising by the working class all over the world. American workers rose up against the Vietnam War and against segregation. France, Portugal and other countries came close to socialist revolution, only to be betrayed by the nationalist policies of the Communist Parties and trade union bureaucracies. A brief overview of this history is beyond the scope of this article.

The defeat of these mass working class movements caused many in the middle class to reject socialist thought, which they falsely conflated with Stalinism and its betrayals. From this they drew reactionary political conclusions. In their eyes, the working class was not capable of changing society, and so they adopted a political position combining extreme cynicism and pessimism with various shades of idealism. Their cynicism they directed at workers. Their idealism they projected onto capital.

For the agency of the working class, they substituted various other agencies, of the oppressed, of various identity groups, of third world liberation movements. These could liberate themselves, for themselves, without the need for a socialist revolution, under capitalism. And some decided that it wasn’t even capitalism that was the problem with society at all, but rather decided to reject the industrial revolution itself. A simpler capitalism was what they sought. Not an end to exploitation, but exploitation at a lower rate. Not worker control of industry, but ‘partnerships’ between labour and management, leaving exploitation, and their source of income, safely intact. Not an end to injustice, but only as much injustice as they could stomach on a full stomach.

The Green Party arose precisely out of this rejection of socialist struggle, in favour of a retreat into personal issues, religiosity, hippie communes, and small business etc. Rather than struggle to overthrow capitalist social relations, the ‘counterculture’ and the green movement adapted themselves to those relations.

This combination of uncritical idealism and political opportunism is the source of every moralizing campaign to ‘Buy Local’ or ‘Shop Organic’ and has a definite class character.

Caught between the capitalists and the industrial working class, two classes who are at war with one another, the middle class imagines there is some alternative to class conflict, between capitalism and revolutionary socialism, one that will allow them to hold fast to their illusions in peace and quiet, and most importantly – maintain their privileged lifestyle. But it’s socialism, and Marxism which the Green Party and green ideology rejects most vehemently. It wants a small-scale capitalism where it can provide wise ‘policy solutions’ to the ruling class, and thus ascend to positions of influence within the bureaucracy and capitalist corporations. This is the limit of its ambitions. And they dare call it socialism!

Elizabeth May has stated many times that the Greens are ‘not a left-wing party.’ She is correct. It’s an establishment, capitalist political party based on its ideology and the class composition of its membership.

And yet somehow, a group of self-styled ‘eco-socialists’ – with zero political or organizational connection to the working class – believe that their palace coup within a capitalist political party, founded upon the rejection of socialism, can achieve ‘socialism’? One doesn’t know where to begin.

The true role of “The Justice Greens

The coup plotters call themselves ‘The Justice Greens’ modelled after a similar caucus – the ‘Justice Democrats’ within the US Democratic Party, which is the world’s oldest capitalist political party. This group includes Alexandra Ocassio Cortez, (The political role of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ) who passes herself off as a socialist with some success, largely because both the media and the public have been led to believe that ‘socialism’ means merely the adoption of a few progressive, social reforms by otherwise capitalist governments. Never mind the fact that such reforms as she promises are themselves a hopeless fraud.

The net effect of this political card trick is to keep the working class dragooned behind a capitalist political party, lured by empty promises that cannot possibly be kept. This was the effect of the totally fraudulent Bernie Sanders phenomenon, which only served to shepherd workers behind Biden and Hillary Clinton, both avowed enemies of socialism.

And indeed, the role of ‘policy wonks to the ruling class’ seems to be exactly the job for which the Justice Greens are applying – they come to manage workers, not to lead them.

In an interview in The Canada Files , Justice Green leader John Connor Kelly stated that “their long term objective of bringing in an eco-socialist leader is to create sustainable policies and provide ecological justice for communities of colour, Indigenous and low-income communities.” Kelly also noted that “All these issues have the same root cause which is the economic system that we live in.” Indeed they do. Yet an analysis of that economic system – capitalism – in its present development exposes the delusional notion that a Green Party or any other capitalist party could enact such reforms as the Justice Greens imagine.

The capitalist system is based on the exploitation of wage labour by capital. As the only thing the worker has to sell in the market is his labour power, he sells this power as a commodity to the capitalist. Labour power is a commodity with a special character. In its consumption by the capitalist, new value is created, surplus value, which the capitalist appropriates as profits. Thus the labour of the working class is the source of all economic value, and of all capitalist profits. The special position of the working class in capitalist production is also the source of its immense social power, when it comes into conscious political activity. This is why socialists address themselves to the working class – because theirs is the only social agency on the planet powerful enough to bring about socialism, by collective action. Yet the Green ‘socialists’ nowhere address themselves to the working class, nor do the terms ‘working class’ or even ‘class’ appear in their campaign literature! They imagine ‘socialism’ to be their vague policy ideas, which they offer meekly to the capitalist ruling class as friendly advice.  

Nowhere do they mention the immense crisis of capitalism under way at present. Nowhere do they address the crisis faced by the working class in the face of the ruling class response to the COVID19 pandemic – the back to work campaign and the campaign to force working class children into unsafe schools. Nowhere do they denounce imperialist war for what it is – the bloody child of nationalism and capitalism. Nowhere can one find an analysis or perspective document of any seriousness, only vague policy sound bites, floating above the maelstrom of current events as if in a dream.

Nowhere do the Green ‘socialists’ ask ‘Where will tomorrow’s capitalist profits come from?’ when they conjure their vague, imaginary reformist fantasies of happy life in some indefinite future powered by small business.

The financialization of the economy on central bank credit has grave implications for the working class under capitalism. Today’s sky-high stock valuations are a claim on the labour power of future generations of workers. Today’s trillions of dollars of speculative stock bets will be extracted from the working class by the hyper-exploitation of their labour, decades into the future. This is one reason why the bets are being waged in the first place. The only way these can be paid is by increasing the level of capitalist exploitation. If capital will be busy extracting super-profits from workers into the indefinite future to pay for today’s speculative binge, how will capital simultaneously create the happy valley imagined by the Green ‘socialists’? They haven’t imagined the question, let alone the answer.

We have reached a point where working people are now having to defend social and economic gains won 100 years previously. Global capitalism is not interested in the ‘progressive reforms’ touted by the Green ‘socialists.’ It is busy arming right wing militias and far right political parties in the USA, in Germany, in Mexico, Chile, in Spain and Greece, in the Philippines, Brazil, Ukraine, Hungary, Sweden etc. The ruling class is turning not towards the next Bernie Sanders, but towards the next Augusto Pinochet. Who exactly do the Green policy wonks to the ruling class hope to advise?

This begs the question of the true political role of this group. The ‘Justice Greens’ are not an isolated phenomenon. They replicate, belatedly, a pattern of middle class political development that has been already played out, in Greece with the SYRIZA government, in Spain with PODEMOS, and in the UK during the Jeremy Corbyn experiment. The result each time has been a record of complete betrayal of all of their fine sounding promises. SYRIZA came to power based on promises to reject the austerity demanded by the EU. They spent their time in power implementing an even more brutal austerity regime than the one they were elected to reject. The result was mass demoralization and the growth of fascist influence in Greece. PODEMOS was launched on the back of the 2011 mass demonstrations, and is now a partner in the coalition government of Spain with the PSOE. It has rejected all of its early ideas, and now poses as a ‘safe pair of hands’ to manage Spanish capitalism, and repress Catalan nationalism. The political retreat of PODEMOS has coincided with the advance of the openly fascist VOX party. Likewise in Britain, the refusal of Corbyn to fight for his espoused principles in the face of attacks from the right led directly to the election of the most right wing government in British history under Boris Johnson, thanks to the confusion and demoralization engendered by his political capitulation.

The true role of the Green Party, and of the Justice Greens, whether they know it or not, is the containment of working-class political aspirations behind the façade of a capitalist political party, deferring those into the indefinite future, and the opening up of a political space, not to the left, but to the right, using the lever of empty promises and the disillusionment these ultimately create once betrayed.

The Greens cannot seriously imagine that the capitalist ruling class will take them or their reform ideas seriously.

The danger is that the working class will.  

It is only through and open and robust discussion scientific socialism, ie Marxism has developed. Classconscious.org would like to play its role in developing such a culture again. We are attempting to foster debate by publishing articles that may not fully align with the position of our editorial collective.