Posts Tagged ‘Robert E. Cutler’

Bakunin on the Sociological Origins of Crime

December 28, 2018

Here’s another passage from the anarchist Bakunin that’s still very relevant today, in Tory-run Britain. Bakunin was strongly impressed by sociology, and believed, like the French philosophes of the Enlightenment, that humanity and society were governed by laws. So strong was this belief, that he rejected free will completely. I very much reject this philosophical stance, along with his atheism and denial of divine providence, which he claimed made science impossible.

Humans do have free will and not just meat machines, running according to a set of biological or sociological imperatives, and while sociology is a powerful tool for investigating the basis of society and suggesting solutions to social problems, it’s very different from the natural sciences based on experiment and prediction. People are still responsible for their actions. Nevertheless, sociological influences are a powerful cause of crime. Bakunin discusses this in his piece ‘All Round Education’, quoting the stastician Lambert Queteler on the sociological origins of crime, which he believed were completely responsible for its incidence. Bakunin writes

A science of statistics is possible only because of this natural and social inevitability. This science is not satisfied with ascertaining and enumerating social facts but looks for their links to and correlation with the organization of society. Criminal statistics show, for example, that in a given country, in a given town, over a period of ten, twenty, thirty or more years, the same crime or misdemeanor occurs every year in the same proportion [to the total], if the fabric of society has not been altered by political and social crises. Even more remarkably, a given modus operandi recurs from year to year in the same proportion, for example, the number of poisonings, knifings, and shootings, as well as the number of suicides committed one way or another, are almost always the same. This led the famous Belgian statistician Quetelet to utter the following memorable words: ‘Society prepares the crimes while individuals merely carry them out.’

In Robert E. Cutler, Mikhail Bakunin: From Out of the Dustbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871 (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985), p. 122.

Now I can remember one of the postgraduate archaeological students at Bristol University making much the same point as Bakunin in a talk she gave explaining her research into the physical structure of one of Bristol’s historic hospitals. She said that the total number of prison and mental hospitals tends to remain the same, although the proportions of people going to one or the other changes. She went on to discuss the beneficial effects of natural light and contact with the natural world in healing hospital patients and reforming criminals. Despite pressures from government across the political spectrum to cut costs in the prison service and abolish them, prison farms have remained because of their demonstrably strong influence in reforming convicts.

At present, Britain is suffering a very high incidence of crime and suicide. The media has reported the shocking number of knife crimes in the capital. There has been a rise in hate crime, not just against ethnic minorities, including Muslims, but also against the disabled. Suicides have also increased, and as Mike, Stilloaks, Tom Pride and so many other left-wing and disability rights bloggers have pointed out, these have included disabled people, who were left in misery and starvation due to being thrown off their benefits. Several left notes explicitly stating that they were ending their lives due to sanctions by DWP, or being judged ‘fit for work’ under the Work Capability Tests.

Predictably, the Tories have held up their hands and claimed that there is no absolutely no link between their shabby, degrading and vicious welfare policies and the tragic deaths of these people.

This is a lie. The anti-immigration rhetoric and stance of many of the leaders of the ‘Leave’ campaign, and anti-EU parties and organisations like UKIP has led to an increase in racist hate crime. And the Tories are also responsible for stoking this hostility through their campaigns to get illegal immigrants to turn themselves, their attempt to deport the Windrush generation, despite the fact that they had a perfect right to stay in Britain, and the racist and islamophobic comments of many of their members. Like Boris Johnson and his wretch article describing women wearing the niqub as looking like dustbins and letterboxes. Only a tiny minority of Muslim women wear it, and many pro-Muslim political figures, like George Galloway are opposed to it. But Galloway also believed that women had a right to wear it, and condemned Johnson’s comments as racist. He was also bitterly critical of Johnson’s remarks along with many other people, including Mike on his blog, because after Johnson made them attacks on women wearing the burka increased. At least woman was killed. Despite this, the Tories concluded that BoJo’s article wasn’t racist, but ‘tolerant’ and ‘respectful’.

There have also been vicious attacks on the homeless and the disabled, again due to Tory policies and the rabid right-wing press, which demonizes the poor and the unemployed as scroungers and the disabled as malingerers. Thanks to rags like the Scum and the Heil, people believe that a quarter of all benefit claims are fraudulent, while the reality is that fake claims account for less than 1 one per cent of them.

The crime figures, and particularly the increase in hate crimes, clearly shows that the Tories have had a disastrous effect on British society, making it more suspicious, hateful and violent. Individuals are still responsible for the crimes they commit, but Quetelet’s and Bakunin’s views are correct. Society is a powerful influence in the amount of crime and suicide.

And the conclusion is undeniable: the Tories have prepared these crimes by deliberately creating a society where they are carried out, however much they scream and try to deny it. They have to be got out, before they cause any more attacks and deaths of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

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Bakunin’s Advocacy of Worker Co-operatives

December 28, 2018

The Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin had a strange, contradictory attitude towards co-operatives. In his article ‘On Co-operation’, Bakunin argued that they could actually harm the workers’ movement. He was highly critical of those founded on what he considered to be bourgeois principles for two reasons. Firstly, they could collapse, leaving the workers involved demoralized and poorer than before. And secondly, if they were successful, they elevated a small group of workers to the bourgeoisie while other workers, what he called a fifth estate, were exploited by them. At the same time, he passionately supported co-operatives as a means of empowering the workers and as the beginning of the future socialist society he looked forward to.

In his article ‘Geneva’s Double Strike’ he wrote

Let us organize and enlarge our Association, but at the same time let us not forget to consolidate it so that our solidarity, which is our whole power, may become daily more real. Let us build our solidarity in study, in labour, in public action, and in life. Let us become partners in common ventures to make our life together more bearable and less difficult. Let us form as many cooperatives for consumption, mutual credit, and production as we can, everywhere, for though they may be unable to emancipate us in earnest under present economic conditions, they prepare the precious seedes for the organization of the future and through them the workers become accustomed to organizing their own affairs.

In Robert M. Cutler, ed. and trans., Mikhail Bakunin: From Out of the Dustbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871 (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985), p. 148.

And after laying out his criticisms of ‘bourgeois’ cooperatives and their advocates in ‘On Cooperation’, Bakunin then turns to promoting them. He wrote

We want cooperation too. We are even convinced that the cooperative will be the preponderant form of social organization in the future, in every branch of labour and science. But at the same time, we know that it will prosper, developing itself fully and freely, embracing all human industry, only when it is based on equality, when all capital and every instrument of labour, including the soil, belong to the people by right of collective property. Therefore before all else, we consider this demand, the organization of the international strength of the workers of all countries, to be the principal goal of our great International [Working-Men’s] Association.

Once this is acknowledged, we hardly oppose the creation of cooperative associations; we find them necessary in many respects. First, and this appears to us even to be their principal benefit at present, they accustom the workers to organize, pursue and manage their interests themselves, without any interference either by bourgeois capital or by bourgeois control.

It is desirable that when the hour of social liquidation is at hand, it should find many cooperative associations in every country and locality; if they are well organized and above all founded on the principles of solidarity and collectivity rather than on bourgeois exclusivism, then society will pass from its present situation to one of equality and justice without too many great upheavals.

Cutler, Mikhail Bakunin, p. 150.

I don’t believe in a radical transformation of society like Bakunin, who was an ardent revolutionary. But I would like more cooperatives to be founded, and this to become, with various other forms of industrial democracy, the dominant form of industrial organization. Working people should be able to organize and empower themselves so that they can resist the power of big business and Conservatism, which has stripped them of rights at work and even the promise of secure, well-paid jobs. There is a problem in that cooperatives can be less economical than capitalist enterprises, but the success of the Mondragon cooperatives in Spain shows that this is not necessarily the case. And cooperatives and industrial democracy, if done properly, will empower the workers and help break down the current class system and the increasingly oligarchical nature of business and politics.