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Crime & Punishment--Some Brief Notes on Communist Justice November 5, 2003 by RedStar2000


There's a lot more on this subject that needs to be written than is contained in this collection of posts.

But I hope it will give you an idea of how communists "look" at a problem like this.


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I don't think that there's much doubt that the entire existing legal system would be instantly abolished. A general amnesty would probably be issued, releasing everyone.

What should we put in its place?

In the early days, I expect criminal justice would be "rough & ready"--that is, local communities would handle crimes of violence with a quick "trial" and summary execution.

Property crimes might best be dealt with by exile. Even the dumbest jerk should learn something after three or four times of being put out on the highway without food or water and told to start walking.

As time passed, some norms would be gradually established about what would be considered a "fair trial", the rights of the accused, etc. Juries, I expect, would be much larger than they are now...perhaps consisting of everyone in the community who wanted a part in the decision of guilt or innocence.

The "legal code" would be far simpler, negating the need for "specialists"...lawyers. But there might be folks of particular eloquence who would volunteer to accuse or defend in a particular case.

It would take some time to set up, but I expect forensic evidence would become far more important than human testimony...in the long run.

Just a few thoughts on the subject...
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 8, 2003
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quote:

1st we set every murderer, rapist, paedophile, and other menace loose upon the people who have just spontaneously revolted and overthrown their oppressor.


The overwhelming majority of people in prison now are there for possession of illegal drugs and crimes against property. A general amnesty in real revolutions is customary because it is assumed that nearly all who are in prison under the old regime are there unjustly.

That's probably pretty close to the truth of the matter.

quote:

2nd we let kangaroo courts hang anyone who upsets us at all; in the name of a free, and fair society which holds all human life and dignity including that of criminals sacred.


They will be "kangaroo" only in the sense of being new while procedures are still in the process of formation and societal conditions generally are pretty disorganized.

And some life is not "sacred", not now and not then either.

quote:

3rd Everybody stops working and devotes themselves full time to judging others.


Don't be any sillier than you already are.(!) The only trials liable to bring out a "full house" are the same kinds that attract enormous media attention now. And, in the long run, I'd rather have a jury of 500...if I were innocent, of course.

quote:

4th WE make the legal code simpler (how? you don't say of course).


I thought it would be obvious--though not to you, of course. My guess is that 90% of the legal code exists for the purpose of maintaining the privileges of property or attempting to impose religious morality on the population. It will all be gone with the wind.

What will concern people in the early years after the revolution will likely be personal safety from violent criminals, the ethical behavior of those chosen to carry out public functions, and revenge on the officials and security personnel of the old regime.

The first "criminal codes" of the new society will probably fit on two or three pieces of paper. And I don't anticipate that they will ever evolve into the baroque monstrosity that we have now. There'd be no need for such idiocy.

quote:

What are you trying to do? win a personal following of the young and uninformed at any cost? It seems you will promise them every one of their heart's desires and assure them that there is no cost or difficulty in any of it. All they have to do is believe in Redstar and even contradictory wishes will be granted.


Whatever you say, squire.
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 8, 2003
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quote:

I definitely think there would still be a need for lawyers, anyone that says that there isn't is a fool or hasn't really thought about it with any depth.


That's probably because you're still thinking in terms of class society.

Start by asking yourself: what would lawyers DO in a communist society?

In particular, what could they do that ordinary people couldn't do just as well or perhaps even better?

Think different.
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 8, 2003
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quote:

A jury is 500 is unnecessary and also unfair because it's a lot harder to find 500 unbiased people than 12.


I'm afraid you have been fooled by the myth of the "unbiased juror". There's no such thing.

The functional purpose of a "small" jury is so that they can argue the merits of the evidence with each other. The functional purpose of a "large" jury is to simply vote on the evidence, guilty or innocent.

But do not think for a second that any potential juror is "innocent of bias"...no living adult meets that qualification or ever will.

quote:

Laws need to cover EVERY SINGLE SITUATION that could possibly arise...


You sound like someone who aspires to a career in the law.

No, I think in communist society there will be broad principles of acceptable and unacceptable behavior and communities will work out the details in practice (or what is called "case law" now).

When a problem arises, the first thing people will do is go to the internet and look up all the relevant cases that have already been decided...which will probably give them a pretty good idea what to do. If it is something that really is completely new, then they will innovate...possibly provoking a regional, "national", or international debate.

quote:

OK, so the judge would appoint the lawyers, good idea.


What judge? You mean that pompous, narrow-minded asshole that sits up on a kind of throne in the front of the room and browbeats the crap out of people?

We won't have those.

There will, no doubt, be someone in the front of the room to chair the meeting--that's what "trials" will really be, meetings--but he won't be a "judge" in any current sense of the word.
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 9, 2003
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quote:

Redstar, in no situation is the death sentence necessary, that makes the state as bad as the criminal. Also what happens if there is a miscarriage of justice? You will have just sent an innocent person to the gallows. They should be imprisoned for violent crimes, in a caring environment, so as to rehabilitate rather than punish.


Well, there won't be a "state" in the contemporary sense of that word.

As to your general recommendation, things might work out that way, but I'm pretty skeptical.

For example, if you have prisons, then it follows that you must have guards. What kind of mind-set does someone have or develop over time in order to be able to cage humans and still live with himself?

Nothing even close to communist, that's for sure!

Then, there is also the public safety to consider...why should we tolerate the violently anti-social element in our midst? True, we could all carry weapons and turn our homes into fortresses, etc....but that seems like a pretty shitty way to live. Just ask the folks in Baghdad or Kabul these days.

I don't think that sort of "atmosphere" makes much of a contribution to communism either.

I reluctantly conclude therefore that when people violently attack others, commit forcible rape, or murder...that the rest of us are better off if those individuals are executed.

As I noted earlier, I think that in the long run forensic evidence (rather than human testimony) will come to be used to ultimately determine guilt or innocence...and thus sharply reduce the chances of sending an innocent person to death. There's a marked trend in that direction even now.

Finally, and this is difficult to measure, humans do seem to have a basic sense of justice that they want to see happen. Those who injure, rape or kill others "should" be made to suffer or die. Since I am opposed to making people suffer, I prefer the death penalty. I think it's actually more humane than what we do now...imprisonment for decades.

And it costs a lot less.
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 9, 2003
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I can't imagine how I missed this "gem" the first time through the thread, but it's too "good" to pass up.

quote:

But anyone you suspect of wanting to achieve anything beneficial for themselves by working within the rules of established society is labelled a 'Capitalist' and you will declare that he/she is fair game for random murder (as in RS's statement of what he would happily see done to an American worker in Iraq).


The reformist refers, of course, to a post I made suggesting that it was perfectly legitimate for the Iraqi resistance to kill American civilian construction workers in Iraq...as their presence there was in furtherance of the aims of U.S. imperialism.

Beyond that, however, note carefully this language and what it implies: "...anyone you suspect of wanting to achieve anything beneficial for themselves by working within the rules of established society is labelled a 'Capitalist'..."

First, it's inaccurate. I don't label a worker who tries to get a better job "a capitalist".

But what do you think he really means by the phrase "working within the rules of established society"? Not engaging in criminal behavior as currently defined by law? Participating in bourgeois electoral politics? Starting a business? Becoming a cop? Joining an imperialist army?

Calculated ambiguity is the last refuge of a reformist.
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 9, 2003
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quote:

You advocate killing American citizens who are merely doing their job. I don't.


Although English, the reformist has an admirable mastery of the American vernacular.

Remember the Nuremberg trials...when the Nazi defendants would get up in court and say they were "only obeying their orders"?

"We" Americans scoffed at such "Prussian" servility. The reason for "our" scorn is that "we" have a much nicer way of saying the same thing.

Whenever any American does something foul and disgusting and is called on it, this is what you'll hear...

"Hey, I was just doing my job."

Cops say it. Mercenaries say it. Corporate executives say it. Even politicians say it.

They ought to put it on the fucking currency...it's the national excuse for being a turd.

Naturally, the reformist likes the expression...he probably plans to use it himself.

quote:

'working within the rules of established society' means exactly what it says. It means that if someone today decides that he want to be a currency speculator because the rules of society allow him to do so and also believes in changing those rules, then he is a socialist by my reckoning.


And a curious form of "reckoning" it is. We are to concentrate exclusively on what people say and ignore completely what people do.

That makes sense, not!

quote:

You apparently condemn people for what they do, applying the rule of your post communist society to them. I assume (since you condone murder of people who work for a force that you disagree with) that your communist society of free dignified equals will also be allowed to top anyone they happen to think is not perfect. Great society.


Yes, just as we applied anti-Nazi standards to Nazi behavior, we will apply communist standards to anti-communist behavior.

What else would you expect?
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 9, 2003
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quote:

...you are a master at saying someone is saying what they are not saying...Terrorist groups (which is what you are suggesting we become) who target civilians...


Yeah, tell me about it.

Tell me how my statement saying that it is perfectly legitimate for Iraqi resistance fighters to target American civilians in occupied Iraq is the same as suggesting that "we should become a terrorist group that targets civilians".

You and the sheepherder make a terrific pair; I wish you every happiness together.

quote:

But the rules of the wider society to which Germany and they belonged forbade Germany from writing such rules.


What platonic realm does this come from? What country broke off diplomatic relations with Germany because of its vicious anti-semitic legislation? What country intervened to stop the Germans from breaking "international law"? The record clearly shows that up until the moment of Nazi surrender, Germans who carried out the mass murder of the Jews "were acting legally" according to the laws of their country and well within the limits of toleration of the "international community".

The Germans, in fact, were quite careful to "observe the rules"...a Jew in German-occupied Hungary with a Swedish passport was not murdered. The Swedish Embassy in Budapest handed out thousands of passports and thus saved thousands of Jews from the death camps.

So the answer is no, squire. The German "excuse" was just as good as the American "excuse" is now...not worth a shit.

And, by the way, your example of carburetor repair is particularly ill-chosen. They had to do that in the early days of the death camps too...since they used truck engines and carbon monoxide poisoning prior to the use of poison gas.

quote:

Nor by the way was arbitrary murder even of Nazi torturers ever condoned by anyone. Execution after trial is a somewhat different proposition.


I'd condone it.

Shall I trouble your sleep this evening with red nightmares? I'm of the firm opinion that every person above the level of ordinary member in the Nazi party should have been summarily executed. In other words, every Nazi official should have been shot upon capture...including all personnel in the regular SS (and all officers in the SS military units).

Ain't I just awful?
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 10, 2003
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quote:

How many jury members again RS? ANYONE can be on it? HAHAHAHA


You have a problem with that idea?

If I'm not mistaken, it was actually used for several centuries by the ancient Athenian Republic.

Their juries consisted of 500 citizens drawn by lottery.

In fact, most of their public offices were filled by lotteries, not elections.

They had the "funny idea"--you can laugh here now, if you want--that all citizens were capable of discharging governmental functions.

(No, that doesn't mean that Athens was a "classless society"; non-citizen residents, women, the young, and slaves were all excluded from their "ruling class".)

It "worked" pretty good.

In communist society, we will have no slaves, of course, and probably won't bother making distinctions between "natives" and "aliens".

Probably the minimum age for jury "duty" will be around 13 or so...not that many kids would be interested in being on one.

And what do you have against a "big jury" consisting of people who "want" to be on it?
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 11, 2003
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I hate to be the one who brings you the bad news but...

There are no "unbiased" humans on the face of the earth; not now, not ever.

What you see in "jury selection" now is theater...it's a pretense. Most jurors are biased--not necessarily against this particular accused but against the accused in general. "If he hadn't done something, he wouldn't have been arrested", etc.

The real burden of proof is always on the accused--forget those bourgeois formulas in high school text books.

A "big jury" would hopefully consist of a lot of biased folks whose prejudices would cancel each other out...giving the accused at least a reasonable opportunity to make a case for his/her innocence.

Because that's the only thing that has a chance of saving your ass...particularly in trials that take on "political" overtones.

Let the people decide!
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First posted at Che-Lives on September 12, 2003
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While I respect the opinions of those who are opposed to the death penalty under any circumstances, I still think you folks haven't really thought about the implications of your recommendations.

We have seen in late capitalism what an elaborate prison system actually accomplishes: inmates degraded to the level of predatory beasts, sadistic prison guards making (in California) close to $75,000/year, an enormous drain on social resources--perhaps tens of billions of dollars per year, perhaps more than one-hundred billion dollars per year.

Indeed, it's not far from the truth to suggest that prison is a death sentence...of a long and particularly torturous type. I've read that if you have spent any time in prison, it reduces your life expectancy by 20 years...even the most hysterical anti-tobacco puritans suggest that smoking cigarettes results in six years reduction in life expectancy.

Of course, it can always be argued that post-capitalist prisons will be much more humane, not over-crowded, not staffed by over-paid sadists, gang-rapes and sexual predation won't be permitted, racial gangs will be suppressed, etc., etc., etc.

I think such arguments are wishful thinking. If you have prisons, you will inevitably develop a "prison culture"...the organized, conscious, and deliberate degradation of one group of people by another.

And it won't just stay "out of sight" and "out of mind"--unless, perhaps, every sentence is a life sentence. The prison culture will "seep" into society at large...as, in fact, it has in America, the U.K., and elsewhere as inmates are released. Even if there is no centralized state apparatus, the people involved in maintaining and expanding the prison culture--like the California Prison Guards' "union" now--will come together and argue for the creation of a "proto-state" to "protect us" from this "on-going menace".

I've said elsewhere that for minor crimes, I favor jails and brief sentences--the "jail" would have the "look and feel" of an apartment building except that you can't leave, and sentences would be one-three years maximum. Inmates would be treated with dignity and encouraged to rehabilitate themselves.

For serious violence against people and for politically-motivated sabotage, I advocate execution as the most humane response. Exile might be an even more humane alternative...but it would probably be impossible to find other countries that would want to accept such people.

The Leninists on this board favor "labor camps"...the reduction of criminals to slave laborers and, inevitably, the creation of a massive police and guard apparatus to make that kind of thing "work". Does any sensible person here agree with that?

Every human society is going to have a small minority of sociopaths...murderers, rapists, spouse-beaters and child-beaters, etc. Post-revolutionary society will also have an unknown minority of people who engage in counter-revolutionary sabotage. Communism is not "Heaven".

The demands of justice are severe and cannot be set aside indefinitely. Sooner or later, you will be forced to meet these challenges.

Your response will shape the new society.
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 4, 2003
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I am in favor of execution for serious crimes of violence.

I favor this option for three reasons.

Long prison terms are inherently dehumanizing...you've actually taken someone's life by centimeters, and painful ones at that. Insofar as popular opinion is unlikely to "tolerate" decent conditions in prisons, they will inevitably become hell-holes of suffering. Execution is more humane.

Long prison terms are resource-intensive. You have to build the prisons, maintain them, staff them with guards, feed and clothe the prisoners, etc. It may well be cheaper to send someone to Harvard or Oxbridge than to keep them in prison over the same period of time. It is far cheaper to execute a violent sociopath than it is to warehouse him for fifty years or more.

The consequence of a prison system is that society develops a "prison culture". Prison guards are the same in every country...brutal fascist thugs who will support brutal fascist thuggish politics.

This would be an ideological disaster for communist society.

I'm in favor of short jail sentences for minor crimes...no more than three years at the most. In my view, jails should have the "look and feel" of ordinary apartment buildings except that you cannot leave. Inmates would be treated with dignity and encouraged to rehabilitate themselves.

I am leery of "community service" schemes; it seems to me that they would have the potential of gathering a lot of cheap labor to do shitty jobs that no one else wants to do. In such a situation, there would be considerable incentive to create artificial "crimes" to increase the labor pool...that would be a bad thing, in my view. It would be a "mild" version of slave labor.

Since prison "reform" under capitalism is just as fundamentally meaningless as any other kind of "reform", my suggestions are made in the context of communist society.

Under capitalism, no matter what they do, it will be horrible.
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 18, 2003
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quote:

False, go up to a prisoner and ask them which they would consider more humane, death or prison, I guarantee they will choose the latter. It also defeats the entire object of rehablilitation... and it doesn't work, because people still commit crimes.


Yes, prisoners in prison would probably choose "life"...since they have been effectively dehumanized to a bestial level (if they weren't in that condition already), they choose life in the same way and for the same reason that animals do...to prey and to avoid becoming prey.

If you think there is anything genuinely human about life in prison, then you've read nothing written by prisoners.

There are no known techniques of rehabilitation for violent sociopaths that work with 100% efficiency. Once a person has shown the willingness to commit unprovoked violence against another person, you release such a person back into the community at your peril.

You are "rolling the dice" for some innocent person who is not even aware that s/he is now being placed at deadly risk.

I did not make an argument regarding "deterrence". I actually have no idea whether any particular penalty actually deters a crime or not. I want the known violent sociopath permanently stopped from doing it again.

quote:

Yes, but what if there has been a miscarriage of Justice?


Indeed, this argument has been raised before. And it carries weight. Certainly under capitalism we have seen many people sent to prison for long terms for crimes they did not commit.

Hopefully, we will make better use of forensic tools (DNA analysis, etc.). We will not have people who make their careers by "obtaining convictions" at any cost. In fact, the whole "criminal justice system" that we suffer under now will largely be a thing of the past in communist society.

But will it be certain that we will "never" execute an innocent person? No. We will be as careful as we can and we will still make mistakes.

We are humans, not gods.

quote:

The community service schemes in place in Britain are hardly slave labour, I would suggest a similar system for all minor crimes.


Compulsory labor for others is always a kind of slave labor...and note that I did use the world "mild".

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As to the figures and links posted, I do not dispute them in the least.

But they are all predicated on the assumption of the existing and enormously bloated "criminal justice system" with literally hordes of judges and attorneys and lackeys that "need to be fed" from the process.

I don't think we'll have anything like that under communism.

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quote:

This is true. But it is not a bad thing. They have committed crimes, therefore as well as rehabilitation, they should repay the community. By doing "shitty jobs", they provide a necessary service at a low cost; are punished; and fewer law abiding citizens have to do "shitty jobs".


This essentially says that slave labor is "ok" provided the community as a whole is the "master".

No, that will not do. With the abolition of wage-slavery, we will have abolished compulsory labor. If we re-introduce it for convicted criminals--especially for minor offenses--we have put the worm back in the apple.

And it won't stay there; the "potential for abuse" will be realized.

quote:

Prisons should certainly be reformed, they need not be "de-humanising". But your point about public opinion not tolerating "decent" conditions also applies. Prison life should not be comfortable...


The more "uncomfortable" prison life is, the more dehumanizing it is. You cannot have it both ways. If prisons are humane, then people will be pissed. If prisons are hell-holes, then prisoners will be reduced to animals...and vicious animals at that.

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I note that no one has responded to the point that I made about a prison culture that would gradually "seep" into communist society and the effects it would inevitably have.

Who will guard all those huge prisons? What kind of people will they be? What will they turn into as a consequence of their job? What political views will they articulate?

You had better really think about that. To paraphrase something I read once: the problem with prisons is that it turns people into animals...and not just the prisoners.

What would an elaborate prison system make us?
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 19, 2003
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quote:

...I find it hard to single out a capitalist system in regards to sentencing people for crimes they did not commit. This is for the most part...an honest mistake.


I must disagree. Aggressive prosecution of "crime" seems to be more of a feature of modern capitalism than of pre-capitalist social orders.

Property casts an "ideological shadow" (for want of a better phrase) in capitalism that it didn't do in previous times. It's at the very center of what is "right" and "wrong".

I believe the first formal police force in London (late 18th century/early 19th century) was begun at the very time of the rise of corporate capitalism.

The political "reputation" of being perceived as "tough on crime" is one that is advantageous in bourgeois politics. The pursuit of convictions "at any cost" has led to many clear and obvious injustices...and I don't think they were "just mistakes".

Since we will probably not even have lawyers in communist societies (or judges either)...there will be no "pressing imperative" to convict somebody, anybody, of a particular crime.

I rather envision a modern version of the Athenian trial (for serious crimes of violence or counter-revolutionary sabotage). Either the victim and/or the victim's family, friends, and neighbors will be the accusers; the defendant and his/her family, friends, neighbors, etc. will speak for him/her. Forensic experts will deliver "neutral" evidence on "what actually happened". A large jury, perhaps 500 or so people (chosen by lottery), will vote on guilt or innocence and, if guilty, then vote on a sentence (probation for a first offense, short jail term, exile--if practical--or execution). The entire process will be overseen by temporary judges (perhaps 3 in number), chosen by lottery (demarchy).

If the verdict is guilty and the sentence is execution, it might be well to give the victim or those close to him/her the option of being the executioner.

There will be no appeals. The people have spoken.
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First posted at Che-Lives on November 19, 2003
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