[Marxism] The Power of the State (was: Hate crimes, again)

Jeff meisner at xs4all.nl
Sat Sep 12 14:52:37 MDT 2009

     We've both expressed our views and I don't want to drag this out
repeating ourselves. However I do want to address one conceptual error
which you express and which others have expressed in regards to this and
other issues where legislation is involved. But first let me emphatically
agree with your disgust for demagogic "anti-crime" campaigns and calls for
greater punishment of criminals which are frequently whipped up by
opportunistic politicians who stand to gain from such hysteria. Those
politicians will never address the root problems behind street crime but
can easily claim to be "cracking down on crime" by increasing sentences.
Your example in New Zealand is pertinent but hardly a lone example. In
cases where the hysteria conveniently involves a hate crime (bias crime)
their exploitation of that incident is equally reprehensible.

But there is one conceptual error that you repeat regarding our approach to
proposed or existing legislation. That is your statement (that others in
our ranks have used):
>Well I oppose it [hate crimes legislation]
> on principle because it hands more power to the
>bourgeois state 

I absolutely do NOT think that the power of the bourgeois state is derived
from laws written on paper! I think the power of the bourgeois state is
determined by:
1) The existence and (potential) use of repressive forces, aka bodies of
armed men, as elucidated by Engles and Lenin (contrary to theories favored
by social democracy). That is the source of the state's power: physical
intervention and intimidation to force their will and crush resistance.
2) As Frederick Douglas eloquently described, the power of the state is
LIMITED by what the ruled population will accept without rebelling. In
other words, there are areas in which the repressive power of the state
will lead to more damage to the system than what is be gained, so that the
interests of the ruling class are no longer served by the state acting in
such ways.

So because of (2), the power of the state strongly depends on the
consciousness and organization of the oppressed, and of course this is
exactly OUR area of involvement! So if a law is passed that is widely
viewed as legitimate, then the state will be successful in acting to
enforce that law. But it is not because of the law per se. What's more, for
the state to adopt ONE law which is popular doesn't mean that they have
gained power in other areas, or even in using that law in ways that would
never have been acceptable with those who favored that law as originally

So I do not accept that the existence of laws which assign extra powers to
the police, say, have actually given the state (and its enforcement arm,
the police) more power. They only have that power insofar as that law is
accepted by the population, in which case it means that the state had that
power all along, the new law just formalizing it.

Let me take an extreme example, one which should, at face value, hurt my
own argument. Hate crimes laws may very well be applied to Palestinian
activists using the repeated accusation that opponents of Israel are
"anti-semitic." Thus our comrades in struggle could well be persecuted (and
prosecuted!) under the guise of protecting a vulnerable population (right!)
against the "intolerance" of Moslem fanatics. Should we try to overturn
hate crimes laws to protect them from facing such prosecution?

Again, I say NO. The state has any number of laws it can use and has used
to repress Palestinian revolutionaries. If they feel they can justify that
repression by yelling "Hate Crime" that doesn't give them extra power to
repress. If anything it just shifts our defense to explaining (as we must
do anyway!) that the cause of Palestine has nothing to do with racism
(which we always oppose) and that such charges are as baseless as any other
charge they would equally be tempted to fabricate (such as "planning a
terrorist attack" according to the lying testimony of some police informant).

To take an opposite example -- and this may sound silly but the logic is
the same -- should we oppose the law against murder? I mean, that law was
used to jail Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal, right? Should we say that
the LAW was the source of their persecution? That the state had the "power"
to frame them up only because there was a law against murder? Of course not.

Or to take an even different example: there is legislation proposed to ban
Formula 79X which causes cancer and birth defects. The yellow widget
industry is strongly opposed, because using it saves them lots of money.
Currently they use Formula 79X with impunity as there is no law pertaining
to it, and they want to keep it that way. But all the environmentalists are
campaigning FOR this new law. Now you're going to tell the environmental
activists that "Formula 79X is a really bad thing that the working class
should try to eliminate, but we must NOT pass any new LAW, because that
will give the state NEW POWERS that it doesn't currently have." Again, this
is a law that could send someone to jail (like the hate-crimes laws) and
COULD be misused (for instance, they might find some Formula 79X in the
garage of some activist). But wouldn't opposing that law that be silly? (to
put it mildly!)

Also, you are slightly wrong about the context of this discussion:
>Actually racist crime was not the original focus, it was homophobic
Well no I believe you're wrong. In the US these laws began with respect to
"hate" motivated by race/ethnicity/religion. According to Wikipedia, hate
crimes laws in 32 (out of 45) states include wording regarding sexual
orientation. This discussion on the list began because someone (whose name
I won't mention) is opposing the extension of the laws to include sexual
orientation (his issue), as well as opposing the laws in general. He is
wrong, and his position puts him in tactical alliance with the right wing,
on the basis of the same argument about "giving increased powers to the
state" that you (and others) have unfortunately repeated.

No, the state doesn't get its powers through laws. When we take a position
on laws (which we don't always have to), our position can only refer to
what the law is actually intended to do, not what we can imagine that it
could possibly be used to justify. Our struggle must be against the actual
state, not the legal framework it uses to explain its actions.

- Jeff

At 14:52 12/09/09 +1200, John wrote:
>On Fri, 2009-09-11 at 16:27 +0200, Jeff wrote:
>> At 17:48 11/09/09 +1200, John wrote:
>> >The article David posted is odious....
>> >. But the issue of hate crimes is a separate one.

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