The Afghan Crisis and the
Transformation of Bourgeois Law
"For the abolition
of moral fetishes can only be accomplished in practice simultaneously
with the abolition of commodity fetishism and legal fetishism."
Pashukanis, Marxism & Law, 1929
The September 11th massacre,
the Afghan 'war' and the seemingly inevitable world economic recession
will catalyse various dynamics that were already beckoning capital toward
a 'paradigm shift'. Below we will analyse some of the ramifications
for proletarians in Britain and Europe (Middle East and USA will be
treated in future leaflets).
Justice & The Law
As proletarian atheists we
may feel inclined to despair of a world where bourgeois religious imbeciles
brazenly insult our intelligence and use every trick of the trade to
postpone a classless world human community. For instance, all this talk
of 'vengeance' and 'retribution', emanating from the White House, seems
to us very strange indeed. On the face of it, it seems that political
discourse has been hijacked by 'Fundamentalists' with a panacea for
blood and guts. An Old Testament 'god of vengeance' has temporarily
sided with the New Testament 'god of love' in order to launch a crusade
against the Koranic 'god of hate'. No doubt in the near future a star-studded
Hollywood production will depict the antagonism in precisely these terms.
A closer examination, however, suggests a more complicated pattern emerging
with new areas of proletarian activity being criminalized and mini-moral
crusades being launched in order to create a state of permanent emergency,
imbued with a sense of fear and loathing.
Paul Lafargue's periodisation
of the concept of justice is a useful starting point. In the pre-capitalist
world the law of retaliation ruled supreme. Justice was, by and large,
retributive. Exodus (XXI, 23, 25) puts it succinctly: "Life for
life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning
for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." Lafargue claims
this "alone could give full satisfaction to the sentiment of equality
of the primitive communist tribes, whose members are all equal?[However]
private property once established, blood no longer demands blood; the
law of retaliation is transformed...and the idea of justice, which at
its origin is but a manifestation of the egalitarian spirit, goes on,
under the action of the property which it helps establish, to sanction
the inequalities which property engenders among men." Lafargue
called this new concept of justice, distributive justice.
Perhaps we are now shifting
towards a period where distributive justice has lost its hegemony and
needs to be reinforced by a 'post-modern' version of retributive justice.
This hybridisation will provide the state with more flexibility in dealing
with proletarian insubordination. If so this would be part of a wider
strategy to redefine citizenship in terms of more duties and fewer genuine
'rights'. Gradually and in small incremental stages we have all become
suspects. In the 'good old days' of capitalist barbarity, we were all
innocent until proven guilty. Even when found guilty we could plead
extenuating circumstances and relativize our 'sins'. Today, an increasingly
absolutist faceless machinery assumes our guilt until we have gone out
of our way to legitimise our existence. The planned large screens connected
to face recognition software proposed for the London underground is
a manifestation of this new phase of bourgeois law. Members of society
with past convictions will, henceforth, be actively targeted in public
places, their 'shame' will be displayed for all to see. The integrated
spectacle has reintroduced mediaeval branding. Likewise, the mindful
thugs who had wormed their way into an anti-capitalist/anti-war march
at the Labour Party Conference at Brighton were circled and 'taken-out'
even before the march had got off the ground. Significantly, this was
done with the connivance of the leftist organizers. We still do not
know who exactly was responsible for this counter-revolutionary manoeuvre.
If the stewards consisted mainly of the zombified cadre of the 'Socialist'
'Workers' Party (SWP), then we are faced with a manageable tactical
(i.e., one-off) problem. We can expose the SWP's collaboration with
the state in the same way the Militant Tendency was attacked after they
threatened to "name names" and "hold a public inquiry"
following the anti-poll tax riot. However, if our 'betrayers' were a
combination of SWP and TUC bureaucrats, then we should tread more carefully.
The TUC may not call for general strikes and the overthrow of capitalism
very often nowadays (!) but unlike the paper tigers of SWP they still
represent a substantial power base. We will not allow liberal-progressive'
scum (whether the SWP, the TUC, or the leeches around Naomi Klein and
George Monbiot) to marginalize revolutionaries.
Proletarian Law or The
Abolition of Law?
Pashukanis writes: "The
withering away of certain categories of bourgeois law ? in no way implies
their replacement by new categories of proletarian law, just as the
withering away of the categories of value, capital, profit and so forth
in the transition to fully-developed socialism will not mean their emergence
of new proletarian categories of value, capital and so on." He
is right. We do not desire the replacement of bourgeois law with proletarian
law or for that matter bourgeois morality, equality, rights and justice
with their working class equivalents. The judicial way of looking at
life is the "secularisation of the theological", in which
"human justice takes the place of dogma and divine right, and the
state takes the place of the church" (Engels). Saint Antonio of
Rebibbia (a.k.a. Antonio Negri) may welcome this shift from the 'plane
of transcendence' to 'the plane of immanence' as a gain for the proletariat
(see Empire by Negri & Hardt, 2000). We know better!
The law works in tandem with
morality. In fact they are each other's mirror image. For whilst the
law creates an artificial separation between public law and private
law, morality in its Kantian expression of the categorical imperatives
('thou shalt?'), re-connects the public and private spheres lest the
fissure becomes a chasm. The law encourages this dualism because if
its offensive is to be successful it needs to treat proletarians as
individual subjects. Morality attacks proletarians by bringing them
together under false pretences (e.g., nationalism, religion, etc). The
recent moral panics initiated by the British bourgeoisie have all targeted
sub-sections of the proletariat. The AIDS panic blamed homosexuals,
prostitutes, heroin addicts and (in the USA) Hispanics. The anti-travellers
campaign targeted western 'untouchables'- the gypsies. The anti-mugging
campaign was clearly directed at Afro-Caribbean proletarians whilst
the anti-paedophilia campaign concentrated on white British proles.
The recent anthrax scare has 'Asian' proletarians in its sight. However,
the significant thing about all these moral crusades is how rapidly
they are generalised to include all. We must not allow the bosses to
pick us off one by one, as they did so successfully with miners, printers
and steel workers in the eighties.
In a sense whether compulsory
ID cards are introduced by the government or not is a moot point. The
real aim in this case is probably not increased surveillance (which
can be achieved more efficiently by employing more sophisticated mechanisms
than the clumsy ID card) but the reduction of the proletarian social
wage by restricting access to welfare services and the perpetuation
of a state of fear/distrust. They will begin with asylum seekers and
soon reach the rest of us. The 'voluntary' nature of the cards will
gradually give way to compulsion. When these attacks are combined with
further restrictions on our ability to criticise reactionary mystifications
such as religion, more electronic snooping and the marginalization of
jury trials, the contours of the new social contract become evident.
More duties, fewer 'rights'. In the next few years, the legislative
and judiciary may become temporarily more powerful in absolute terms
(since the transformation of national sovereignty to a European sovereignty
entails new institutions and regulations) but in the long term it is
the executive branch of the state that will reign supreme.
As our relationship with the
law becomes transformed we need to re-evaluate the function of the judge,
the lawyer, the increasing number of arrests, and our response. Those
lawyers (and many of them are becoming proletarianised) who side with
us must do so not as specialists who 'know better' but as comrades willing
to help us get off the hook and whenever possible to turn the tables
on the accusers and transform the trial into an attack on capitalism.
In brief we must reject the first two tendencies listed below in favour
of a new approach towards the law:
The first tendency, the 'anti-Perry
Mason' tendency, believes we must have no truck with the law. Sadly,
the moment one of their members is invited to put his/her feet up courtesy
of Her Majesty's prison services, they crack and are completely overwhelmed
by the judiciary's aura. Then there is the 'Ally McBeal' tendency, who
see themselves as courtroom warriors and who may in the short term help
a few individuals beat the rap. However, in the process bourgeois law
is reinforced, as none of its political underpinnings are put under
erasure. Finally, the 'very-very-clever' tendency, understands that
as soon as demonstrators are arrested, the working class has entered
the realm of bourgeois law, whether we approve or not. However, this
tendency also understand that the legal defence of our comrades must
never overshadow the struggle but must become an extension of it. Thus
far we have only attacked the executive and legislative branches of
the state. If the state decides to break us through long and arduous
legal battles, then the judiciary too must become a focus of our anger.
This must be done through laying bear the mechanisms of liberal 'justice'
without jeopardizing arrested comrades. Our approach must show the anti-working
class nature of 'Zero Tolerance Policing', and how what began as an
assault on refugees is now being extended to the whole class. In short,
our attitude towards the law must be neither conformist nor anti-conformist
but on-conformist. The 'rules of the game' must be altered even in the
(Afghan Series, Number 2)
Address for Correspondence:
Melancholic Troglodytes, c/o 56a Infoshop. 56 Crampton Street, Walworth,
London SE17 3AE, United Kingdom
Email: meltrogs1(at)hotmail.com .