What should the Socialist Alliance say about crime?

Submitted by martin on 4 June, 2002 - 10:51

In the May 2002 local government elections the Independent Working Class Association won a seat in Blackbird Leys, Oxford, and did well elsewhere (Hackney, Havering, Islington). The IWCA was initiated by a socialist group, Red Action, which is not in the Socialist Alliance. The IWCA campaigns on a local community-based level. Here members of the Socialist Alliance discuss the IWCA's approach to campaigning and to issues such as anti-social elements within the working class (drug dealers and so on) and crime.
How should the SA tackle issues such as crime? Do you have a view? Email us short contributions to this discussion.
Do not emulate!
Credit to the IWCA people for their sustained hard graft in the council estates. However, the IWCA's focus on crime and "anti-social behaviour" and its refusal to address the issues of racism, asylum rights, the war, etc. is not something the Socialist Alliance should even contemplate emulating.
Mike Marqusee

Focus on crime
I agree that we wouldn't want to emulate the IWCA's exact policies on these issues, but I think that we should contemplate emulating their focus on crime and anti-social behaviour. It is a very important issue in many working-class communities - and one which much of the left has stayed silent on for too long. We can and should offer socialist answers, and stop avoiding the question because it is complex or "difficult". We have left this territory open to the right for too long.
Janine Booth

Re-inforcing prejudice
By reflecting back to the voters their concern about crime and disorder through the dialogue of anti-social behaviour etc. the IWCA simply re-inforced prejudice on this issue. Their programme was sharply right wing on this point: on crime and disorder they supported reaction. The fact that the bourgeois press drummed up a crime wave in advance of the local elections and the three year comprehensive spending review should come as no surprise to us. The fact that some people who think they are on the left reinforced it and got good votes on the back of it should warn us about the vote they got and about the real nature of their politics.
I do think we need to discuss crime but in an entirely different way. "Anti-social behaviour" is a term which we must distance ourselves from as it can lead to local and national witch-hunts against families and individuals. It reinforces all kinds of prejudices and will leave some vulnerable people open to shunning on estates when in fact what they need is social support. We deal with drugs through the legalisation of cannabis and by smashing the free market in hard drugs through state control and supply.
Will McMahon

No tolerance for bad behaviour
While I agree with Will on how we argue against illegal drugs, I really don't know where he is coming from by asking for another term other than "anti social behaviour". Will "a bunch of arseholes" do? Unless you have lived amongst such behaviour it is difficult to understand the misery they inflict on a community. Shitting and pissing in the lift, loud music all night, rubbish chucked without a care out of windows, drunken brawls. Labour Councils have not given a damn about many of the estates they are responsible for, often deliberately, due to their wish to hive them off to housing associations. The majority of working class people live respectable decent lives, often under difficult circumstances: they can do without this element amongst them. If these hooligans are prepared to change their ways, great. If not, our responsibility is with the class.
Mick Hall

Where will they go?
I could not disagree more with Mick's description of people who behave in these ways. If you kick them off your estate where do they go? What about the children who live in families or households that are making life miserable? What about the gender relations in the household? If you simply say, as Mick does, "if necessary target such people and drive them out", then you are not addressing what is going on and simply sending the household outside someone else's door - another part of the working class who happen to live down the road. I am not sure that is very communally minded.
Will McMahon

Side with the victims
There is a straight choice between where our first loyalty lies - either the "anti-social elements" or their victims. I know which side I'm on. And so should we all.
Clearly the root problem is one of underfunding, lack of interest and the usual shit we proles are forced to endure, which results in people who are unable/unwilling to live independently being dumped in inadequate housing and left to inflict their lack of social skills on their neighbours. We all know that - but it is no help in dealing with the current situation where people are literally driven out of their homes by what most of us have no problem describing as anti-social behaviour. Try going round a few estates with this situation and telling people that the idiot who has deprived them and their kids of sleep for a week deserves our help/support/protection and they will (rightly) tell you that you are taking the piss.
Heather Downs

We can't be neutral
Although we can explain why some people are bad tenants, noisy neighbours, anti-social etc, we cannot be neutral on it. There are issues with nuisance neighbours of just moving them on elsewhere. However some people need to be evicted from their homes for their behaviour.
Lawrie Coombs

Social solutions
I think we need to address (fear of) crime more than we have done to date as these are real issues for many of our potential supporters, but I wholeheartedly agree that we should be advocating social/class perspectives on these issues rather than giving a left cover to the socially conservative measures advocated by all of the mainstream parties.
Gavin Brown

Immediate answers needed
Our main job is to indict the ruling class for creating the conditions that lead to breakdowns in decent standards of behaviour. But that does not offer an immediate answer to people whose lives are being made a misery. Evictions are not an ideal solution. But eviction may sometimes be the only way of getting some relief for the victims. Other interventions will be needed to prevent a repeat performance in another area.
"Where will they go?" comes up as an issue in other situations too. If a man seriously sexually harasses women at work, I think he should be sacked. But where will he go? To a counselling course and a new job with less opportunity to harass women, hopefully. But whatever, the women he is harassing at the moment are entitled to get shot of him.
The human race is a social species. People exist in societies and interact with each other, and socialists (should) believe that people should behave decently toward one another. If we believe in "social" behaviour, then we oppose "anti-social" behaviour. The examples given - verbal harassment, pissing in lifts etc - are objectionable precisely because they damage people's social relations with each other: they are anti-social behaviour.
Maybe this sounds moralistic, but it is the moralism of human solidarity, not the hypocritical, reactionary moralism of governments and Daily Mail editorials.
Janine Booth

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