公 法 评 论 惟愿公平如大水滚滚,使公义如江河滔滔
et revelabitur quasi aqua iudicium et iustitia quasi torrens fortis


Andy Blunden

Giddens’ Policies on Crime and the Police

The focus of Giddens’ policies on crime and policing is the phenomena of petty street crime, vandalism, threatening behaviour, break-ins, muggings and so on, which significantly impact on people’s quality of life and “public space” and account for the majority of the prison population, rather than on organised crime, white-collar crime and unusual pathological killers, and so on.

With some justice, he takes the issue of crime in close connection with that of “civility” and the breakdown of community. “Preventing crime, and reducing fear of crime”, he says, “are both closely related to community regeneration”. Crime degrades public space, causing people to withdraw from interaction with strangers, leading to weakening of community, while decay of day-to-day civility leads in turn to increased criminality.

The response to this cycle is thus directing police to give more emphasis to “collaborative policing”, involving the community in crime prevention. “In order to work, partnerships between government agencies, the criminal justice system, local associations and community organisations have to be inclusive — all economic and ethnic groups must be involved”. Rewarding businesses offering employment in depressed areas is among a range of policies of collaboration.

Giddens’ policy towards crime and policing is of a piece with his approach to social justice, poverty and inequality which emphasises “inclusion”. It highlights the problem the Left has always had in this area of policy wherever it finds itself outside the ghetto of left politics, namely, everyone wants the streets, their homes and their daughters to be safe, and in poor working class areas, this is always a hot issue. At some future time, a community may be sufficiently strong and in control of its own fate, to deal with criminality in its ranks and even that coming from outside, but in the meantime, in conditions of modern society, it is difficult to conceive of dealing with crime without recourse to the police and the criminal justice system. But this very same state machine which must be called upon the provide safe public space and ensure that “crime never pays”, is the instrument which protects the power of money and is relied upon to suppress workers’ opposition whenever it may seriously threaten the rule of capital. But if the leaders of the community actively collaborate with the police and encourage everyone else to do the same, does this not then exclude any possibility of attacking the state? Is this not “collaboration” in the connotation given to this word during the Nazi occupations in Europe?

In The Third Way and its Critics, Giddens quotes Blair’s slogan approvingly: “Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime”. “Third Way politicians want to defend the traditional family, while placing more emphasis than most on the left have done upon personal responsibility, and hence on firm policing”, he says.

But how is it possible to discuss crime today without mentioning drugs and the issue of de-criminalisation of drugs of addiction? How the hell is a community supposed to deal with crime, while the drug war is being fought out in its midst? Does Giddens value NATO and the confidence of the US police/military establishment more than social peace?

I agree with Giddens that the Left can be accused of ignoring the issue of crime or in reducing it to the issue of poverty. While there have been isolated instances in recent decades of successful actions by the ultra-left in defending ethnic communities from politically motivated violence by means of community-organised counter-violence, I can’t see this approach having broader application. One is also reminded of the IRA policy of taking responsibility for punishing criminals along with collaborators and of the policy of the Algerian revolutionaries, depicted in the film The Battle of Algiers of clamping down on crime in the kasbah. But again, outside of conditions of foreign occupation, or the operation of indigenous justice systems in the settler countries, it is difficult to see this policy having application in modern conditions.

The issue of crime seems to be one in which the Left has never found a “third way” between Giddens-style class-collaboration and “bad utopia”, that is to say, the counterposing to existing social conditions of an imagined Utopia of a socialist society in which the problem of crime would not arise.

It is also difficult to see how to approach a critique of Giddens’ position on crime without having a counter-policy.

I think one of the problems with the kind of approach taken by the Left in the past has been to treat the institutions of bourgeois society — the state, the police, the unions, companies — as functional elements having a fixed and “impermeable” role within society as a whole, whereas, it is generally necessary and certainly more productive, to regard all these institutions as arenas of struggle, without necessarily harbouring illusions that the nature of any of these institutions may be fundamentally changed.

For Giddens, certainly there is an issue of the relation between communities and the police; “The isolation of the police from those they are supposed to serve often produces a siege mentality, since the police have little regular contact with ordinary citizens”; but there is no question at all of conceiving of a fundamental change in this relation. Policing will remain the responsibility of a professional body of state officials, the citizens may be included in policing, but they will remain the citizens, objects, not subjects of policing.

Such a position is of course essential to Giddens, and for that matter to social democracy as a whole. For as There Is No Alternative to capitalism in the sphere of civil society, there remains the requirement for a class of professional state officials to manage it all and protect bourgeois property relations, only hopefully with active consent of the propertyless citizens.

While in principle a policy of inclusion ought to go a long way to abating the causes of crime (and I think Giddens is right to emphasise this “spiritual” aspect of the causes of crime as against poverty as the “material” aspect), as has been agreed elsewhere, Giddens’ concept of inclusion is really a fraud, akin to the psychological concept of “adjustment”, the active acceptance of a person of their own social conditions.

Community policing is a vital component of this program of reconciling the working class to capitalism. Rejection of capitalism poses problems in this area. It is not viable to simply reject the police as instruments for maintenance of civil order, but there must be a policy of active engagement of the police by organised communities, demanding resources which make it possible to accept responsibility for keeping order, and with the objective of pushing the responsibility of the police back to one of “last recourse”.

At the same time, communities must actively fight against the criminalisation of drugs (at every level) and other removable sources of criminality.

The Police, the MUA, S11 and the Police Federation

The only force capable of either standing up to the police or acting effectively against crime independently of the police, are the trade unions.

Recent interactions between the trade unions and the police in Victoria from the M.U.A. dispute up to S11 and the admission of the police federation into the Trades Hall Council have been rich in experiences around the issue of the relation between the police and the working class. On the trade union side, the players include people like John Cummins, who is I believe is genuinely hated by the police and has spent a time behind bars for his activities on building sites, and Brian Boyd, who is widely known as the representative of the police within the Victorian trade union movement.

The police-unions relation in the MUA dispute was established by raw arm-wrestling outside the dock gates that Saturday morning (in other states the outcome was more along the usual line of police-protecting-scabs) and the current police wage-dispute and particularly the WorkCare dispute were factors; in S11 we had dirty deals being done to allow the police to get their pay-back for their humiliation at MUA at the expense of the youngsters with the connivance of trade hall, being thwarted by the Alliance unions who set up the “first aid kiosk” south of the river; there were clearly (to my mind) divisions within the police as to how to react to the S11 protesters with hard-line groups within the police acting independently; while ALP Premier Bracks made his sickening praise of the police violence, the rift has been opened again over pay and police numbers with Trade Hall accepting the Police Federation into the union movement.

A sharp line cannot be drawn between the police as public servants alongside fire-fighters and nurses, and police as the enforcers of capitalist property relations, breaking picket lines and rounding up revolutionaries. Consequently, Giddens’ policy of inclusion, community policing, collaborative policing, which seeks only to strengthen the capacity of the police to act and reduce the capacity of working class communities to act independently on the police, is antithetical to socialism. However, it would be wrong to rule out the police force as an arena of struggle, even though it is quite a different arena from other areas of the public service.

Many police clearly have a capacity to see themselves as wage-slaves, alienated from their own labour in just the same way as other wage-workers.

Does anyone know of an article of any kind summing up these experiences?