What is crime?
Emma Goldman once said that a society gets the crime that it deserves. It is not surprising, therefore, that in our society – where property rights are considered a central guiding principle of law – that 90 percent of crime is currently motivated by evils stemming from private property such as poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and alienation. Nor that between 1979 and 1992, when Britain was governed by a government firmly comitted to the free market the crime rate more than doubled, exceeding the 5 million mark in 1992, thanks to the social disruption, atomisation of individuals, and increased poverty caused by unregulated capitalism.
So, if we accept the principle that crime does not stem from “human nature,” or the “evil gene,” and is in fact determined by root causes in society, and that by tackling the underlying causes of such problems we make 90% of crime redundant, what do we have left? What is the remaining 10%?
In my opinion, that remaining 10% all boils down to one thing – removing the liberty of others. This may vary in method and extremity (such as personal violence or incitement to such, sexual assault, enslavement, oppression, or murder) but the underlying wrong remains the same. All other “crimes,” such as drugs, are not crimes at all but syptomatic in the victims of the single crime I have mentioned above. Eric Fromm puts this better than I can:
It would seem that the amount of destructiveness to be found in individuals is proportionate to the amount to which expansiveness of life is curtailed. By this we do not refer to individual frustrations of this or that instinctive desire but to the thwarting of the whole of life, the blockage of spontaneity of the growth and expression of man’s sensuous, emotional, and intellectual capacities. Life has an inner dynamism of its own; it tends to grow, to be expressed, to be lived . . . the drive for life and the drive for destruction are not mutually interdependent factors but are in a reversed interdependence. The more the drive towards life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive towards destruction; the more life is realised, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life. Those individual and social conditions that make for suppression of life produce the passion for destruction that forms, so to speak, the reservoir from which particular hostile tendencies — either against others or against oneself — are nourished.
So, how do we deal with it? One thing is for sure – police and law enforcement are not the answer. They are a part of the problem. Therefore this problem should not be entrusted, as it is today, to a special, official body because, as Peter Kropotkin said, “when we imagine that we have made great advances in introducing, for instance, the jury [or the police], all we have done is to return to the institutions of the so-called ‘barbarians’ after having changed it to the advantage of the ruling classes.”
What, then, is the solution? Who shall be in charge of justice if not the police? Simple: the people. As Errico Malatesta suggested, “when differences were to arise between men, would not arbitration voluntarily accepted, or pressure of public opinion, be perhaps more likely to establish where the right lies than through an irresponsible magistrate which has the right to adjudicate on everything and everybody and is inevitably incompetent and therefore unjust?”