Young J 'Left Idealism, reformism and beyond: from the New Criminology to marxism'
[The rather odd structure of this chapter might be explained if we are prepared to see it as a brief reply to the criticisms of critical criminology offered by Downes -- see file].
It is necessary for a critical criminology to debate old theories, and reconstruct them, because they are embedded in reformism. It is important to critique them, and some examples follow:
(1) Left idealism. Here, any crisis indicates a problem of hegemony. All struggle is revolutionary activity, especially feminism, Black Power and so on. There is an odd alliance between marginal proletarians and marginal bourgeois -- academics. Control seems to operate via mystification, leading to a critique of education for example. Thus deviancy and rebellion are rational. All institutions alike mystify -- which is really a functionalist analysis! Happily, there is a voluntarist underlife, so crime and deviancy are also alike, and normal. This perspective plays down crime, especially its tendency to involved the working class as victims, and it maximises the anti-working class elements of ruling class crime. Positivism is the real enemy, however, and the main strategy to pursue is expose, which will lead to the abolition of repressive institutions and their replacement by proletarian institutions. Overall, this approach is far too general and is unable to distinguish among important categories.
(2) Reformism. A patchwork of reforms follow the discovery of discrepancies between law and practice. The idea is to capture the State and to control institutions, and then to achieve certain ideals -- and this is only possible through socialism. Crime arises either from egoism or from social pathology, which occurs with the decline of proper limiting and moderating social relations: crime is therefore a symptom of the need for social reform.
Official statistics are biased, for example, they are over represent street crime. This happens for a number of reasons:
This leads to a discussion of ideology, as in Mepham and Lefebvre. The argument is that reality is contradictory, which makes ideologies credible: thus notions of formal equality on not just propaganda or a sham, even though they do reproduce inequalities. In a similar vein, the law is not just a simple reflection of ruling class interests. It is independent to some extent, as well as functional for capitalism. Abstract equality does only favour the rich, but some bourgeois forms of equality are still worth defending: they have some political mileage, they help us participate in the law and order debate, and they can lend a legal dimension to political struggles. This must, of course, be a matter for some calculation, rather than some principled rejection or acceptance.
As examples of the usefulness of bourgeois law:
(a) we might be able to develop new categories of mitigating circumstances, perhaps even class categories [ actually, categories that mitigated the crimes of females seemed more promising at one stage]Picciotto S ' The Theory of the State, class struggle and the law'
We need to engage in new struggles over law-and-order, resisting dismissals by the Left. There is a general problem of the legitimacy of the State, as seen in its stance on terrorism. A crisis has arisen from the need to restructure capitalism after a period of affluence. Left analysis often involve seeing law and coercion as connected, mostly in terms of how the law justifies State coercion -- but the law can be invoked against the State too. The law is therefore ambiguous: the State must continue to act legally, but it is then open to critique by the same standard. This is consistent with Gramsci's views, who saw the source of the old power as aimed at consent rather than coercion, and thus as open to struggle. However, even this is too limited, operating with a simple binary, rather than looking at specific ways in which the law has been used historically. We should examine forms of coercion, or how exactly consent has been won.
We need some new conceptualisations. The idea that law appears neutral, while arising from class social relations leads to some familiar debates about the State and its connections to social class -- whether it has been captured by a class, or whether it must be an organ of class rule. Concepts of neutrality, and autonomy are specific notions in capitalist social relations, offering the following possibilities:
(a) a Sociology of Knowledge - type approach, where groups are seen as represented in a legal process [that is, as far as I can recall, where social groups of all kinds, not just classes, have their typical world views represented in areas such as the law)We need a complex analysis of the development of legal forms. Law has developed in parallel with wage labour and employment contracts, and actual social relationships have been framed in an legal context. It is possible to see this as instrumental, as a matter of a class dominating this context: or to see law as operating with relative autonomy, and determined in the last instance by the economy, while form-derivation theories would see legal relations as a part of the characteristic social relations derived from capitalism [as somehow embedding notions of the individual and their responsibilities, perhaps, or notions of the individual body as private property, or whatever?]
However, actual relations depend on a prior fetishism -- forms are fetishised, as relations can between 'employees'', for example. Such fetishism and separation lies behind the autonomy and separation of the economic and political levels -- thus legal categories arise from characteristic forms of accumulation. To take a recent example, the Labour Party promoted the notion that individualised 'rights', which were to be extended to workers, were an attempt to defuse collective struggle, and to break solidarity. When they were opposition, however they had problems in attacking Conservative proposals which trampled on the notion of individualised rights. We need to transcend this notion of social relations, rather than just rattling between the poles like this. We should not dismiss the notion of legal rights but try to surpass them, for example by emphasising that they enshrine a fetishised individual, and a notion of property, which are all in a commodity form.
The legal trial, as a form of rationality, is itself historical, emerging in parallel with the notion of formally free and rational labour, which was itself grounded in highly unequal relations of production. Formal equality lead to universal extension of the law, which was possible only after bourgeois control of Parliament, based on the mythical separation of powers [between the law and politics]. There still are contradictions in this, such as when specific groups are entitled to exempt themselves from universal provision.
These woolly areas require us to develop new categories, beyond the simple binaries such as those of coercion or consent. At the moment, professionals mediate and apply laws, so we need to deprofessionalise the issues. Some restructuring is needed too -- both bureaucratisation and the flexibility of private property can challenge the State. The laundries to be revitalised, but then it becomes policy, which reveals the State as partisan, which then leads a new space for struggle.