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Part 1 Marx and Engels on Crime and Punishment 38 Part 1 Part 1 Although crime was not a central interest for Marx and Engels, they did discuss crime and punishment in some of their writings. Now, when radical criminologists are attempting to reconstruct criminology on Marxian foundations, these writings are of particular interest. To convey a sense of what Marx and Engels had to say about crime, representative selections from these writings are reprinted here.1 Marx and Engels on Crime and Punishment The first three selections concern the relationship between crime and capitalism. The first, extracted from Capital, is part of a larger discussion of the origins of capitalism in early modem England. Marx was particularly concerned with refuting the view-held by economists of his day (as well as oursl-that capitalism was a natural way of organizing human relationships. What could be more taken for granted than the notion that some people are paid to work by other people who own businesses, hire workers, and collect profits? As we grow up in a capitalist society, we anticipate that we will perhaps be a paid wage earner, or an owner of a business that employs wage earners. Some of us may come to disapprove of these arrangements, but we are not surprised that they exist. Yet only a few centuries ago, in Europe and England, few people worked for wages. Most were free peasants, growing food on their own land. Artisans and craftsmen who made and sold things were usually independent workers. Few peasants or artisans were eager to give up their independence to work for wages on farms or in factories owned by others. Yet capitalism could never have developed had not large numbers of people been willing to do just that. A precondition for the establishment of capitalism as a mode of production, then, was the creation of people who had no alternative but wage labor. Wherever people had alternatives, they refused to do wage labor. Marx makes this point in Capital by telling the story of a certain Mr. Peel: Mr. Peel ... took with him from England to Swan River, West Australia, means of subsistence and of production to the amount of £50,000. Mr. Peel had the foresight to bring with him, besides, 3,000 persons of the working-class, men, women, and children. Once arrived at his destination, "Mr. Peel was left without a servant to make his bed or fetch him water from the river." Unhappy Mr. Peel who provided for everything except the export of English modes of production to Swan River! IMarx, 1967:766) Mr. Peel's workers were able to desert him because Australian land was freely available. As long as English peasants had land, they too could avoid becoming employees. Before capitalism could be created, then, peasants had to be separated from land and deprived of other traditional sources of support. This theft was accomplished by force. When it became profitable for large landowners to raise sheep for market, they converted land previ- Marx and Engels an Crime and Punishment 39 ously used for crops into pasturage, at first illegally and then later by Act of Parliament. Villagers were thus deprived of their customary rights to use common lands to graze their own livestock, gather wood, fish, and so on. Many therefore found it impossible to remain on the land, and whole villages were deserted. Then, too, the confiscation of Church lands deprived paupers of their legal right to share in the tithe. The feudal retainers discharged by their lords when private armies were suppressed swelled the ranks of those whose customary incomes were vanishing as economic relationships became commercialized and the state began to centralize. The common lands stolen from peasant use enlarged the estates of rural landlords and created a population that had no source of legal income other than the wage. Capitalism itself originated in larceny of the grandest scale imaginable (yet it was a larceny that was-to use Mark Kennedy's pregnant phrase-"beyond incrimination"). The textbook version of how capital is accumulated-by self-deprivation and saving-is belied, as Marx demonstrated, by the history of how primitive accumulation actually took place. Since the dispossessed could not all be absorbed in agriculture or in primitive industry, many turned to begging or theft. The Elizabethan undmworld of thieves, gamblers, and confidence men had its origins in the same processes that made capitalism itself possible: the massive, forcible restructuring of economic relationships. The...


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