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April 2004 • Vol 4, No. 4 •

Karl Marx on Capitalism, Crime and Women

By Jurriaan Bendien

Marx scribbled in his 1844 Paris Manuscripts that “In the relationship with woman, as the prey and handmaid of communal lust, is expressed the infinite degradation in which man exists for himself—for the secret of this relationship has its unambiguous, decisive, open and revealed expression in the relationship of man to woman and in the manner in which the direct, natural species-relationship is conceived. The immediate, natural, necessary relation of human being to human being is the relationship of man to woman. In this natural species-relationship, the relation of man to nature is immediately his relation to man, just as his relation to man is immediately his relation to nature, his own natural condition.

“Therefore, this relationship reveals in a sensuous form, reduced to an observable fact, the extent to which the human essence has become nature for man or nature has become the human essence for man. It is possible to judge from this relationship the entire level of development of mankind. It follows from the character of this relationship how far man as a species-being, as man, has become himself and grasped himself; the relation of man to woman is the most natural relation of human being to human being. It therefore demonstrates the extent to which man’s natural behavior has become human or the extent to which his human essence has become a natural essence for him, the extent to which his human nature has become nature for him. This relationship also demonstrates the extent to which man’s needs have become human needs, hence the extent to which the other, as a human being, has become a need for him, the extent to which in his most individual existence he is at the same time a communal being.”

The aggregate number of violent crimes against women in the world appears to be increasing, but in some countries they are decreasing, and in others increasing disproportionately. The difficulty however is that a very significant proportion of violent crimes against women are unreported, i.e., there is underreporting, hence there is no good statistical proof for the purpose of international comparisons.

The formation of a world market for industrial goods had the effect of causing upheavals in the existing social structures leading to a continual series of violent wars, in fact there is almost no year in the 20th century when there were no violent wars going on somewhere on the planet. This is actually the most important reason why imperialism (the economic, political-military and cultural domination of one nation or people by another, within a framework of international competition) is such a terrible thing. The more violent wars, the more violence against women.

I would say that, to the extent that particular categories of violent crime against women have decreased in the richer industrialized countries, this is due primarily to (1) the fact that more women have an independent source of money income, which has strengthened their position overall and (2) stronger cultural sanctions and changing sexual habits. Even so, it is generally accepted that overall world crime rates are now between two to three times as high as they were in the 1960s.

Two basic sources for international comparisons are: UN World Crime Surveys and UN WHO mortality statistics. In general, you can say that:

(1) if GDP per capita rises, the overall incidence of crime goes down and if GDP per capita shrinks, the overall incidence of crime goes up;

(2) if income inequality between social classes and between nations increases, overall crime incidence also burgeons, and if income inequality between social classes and nations declines, overall crime incidence also shrinks.

(3) If the hard drugs trade increases, violent crime goes up; and when the hard drugs trade decreases, violent crime falls.

(4) The incidence of robberies does not really seem to be affected very significantly by the amount of police or by the scope of the drugs trade.

(5) If ethnic and linguistic fractionalization increases, the overall crime rate rises, and if ethnic and linguistic fractionalization is reduced, the overall crime rate decreases.

(6) Even though the biggest part of all crime, including violent crime, is perpetrated by young men, the total demographic structure of a country doesn’t appear to have a very significant effect on the overall crime rate.

(7) Fear of violent crime is more frequently expressed by women, even if in reality, the risk of assault has decreased, and thus, women’s fear is often exploited by the “law and order” lobby to regiment the working class. Conversely however, if women are not afraid anymore, this doesn’t necessarily lower crime.

(On violence against women in the USA, see http://www.eurowrc.org/06.contributions/1.contrib_en/27.contrib.en.htm.)

I think the problem of crime provides the very strongest case for socialism, because the incidence of crime happens to be the most basic and the simplest indicator we have of immoral behavior. Quite simply, a more egalitarian society is a more morally healthy, civilized society, and in part, this is purely attributable to higher economic growth rates in a more egalitarian society.

One observable historical effect of capitalist “deregulation” or “liberalization” (removing restrictions to capital mobility) is an increase in the overall crime rate. The bourgeois classes respond to this by increasing the number of police and military, but while this has a positive effect in reducing some categories of crime, it has no significant effect on the overall crime rate. “Because the old bourgeois classes have a specific ethos of individualism, they tend to view ‘society’ as an ‘externality’ and hence cannot recognize the relationship between individual demeanor and aggregate social trends, and recipes for social change are mainly limited to trying to change social values.” This is a largely idealist philosophy, because social values are disconnected from the objective conditions which create and shape social values in the first place. Hence, the traditional bourgeois answer to crime is just containment and limitation.





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