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A Journal of Crime, Conflict & World Order
Crime and Social Justice Vol. 31, No. 2 (2003)

Editorial Overview: "Race, Crime, and Culture"

Gregory Shank

This issue of Crime and Social Justice is markedly different from past ones. Most noticeably, our format has changed so that issues of the journal will more conveniently fit on bookshelves. However, the significant change is that Paul Takagi has stepped down as Co-Editor so that he will have more time to write, and consequently, to make even more contributions to criminology. We are delighted that he has agreed to continue as a Consulting Editor, to give advice and to review articles.

Contributions to this issue address some of the most profound relationships with which criminologists must come to terms: the respective roles of race, class, ideology, and culture. If we are serious about discerning the roots of crime to understand the ideological use to which it is put, and more importantly, to move toward its eventual elimination, then we must squarely confront certain key questions. At the most general level, how do we account for the close identity of race and class at the world scale, while racial, ethnic, and national consciousness predominates over class-consciousness? Why have the clearly fallacious culture conflict theories of crime causation continually reemerged as a theme along with that of racism? One reason is that racism is critical ideologically to the day-to-day reproduction of areas in the world-economy characterized by high profits, high technology, high wages, and diversified production processes (cores) and areas with precisely the opposite characteristics (peripheries), which are united through the mechanism of unequal exchange. Further, what do we make of the fact that victimization resulting from street crime has an interclass and intraracial pattern?

The articles in this issue raise complex concerns that we must deal with more fully in the future. Many of the contributions take controversial positions that we hope will spark debate and thought, as is currently the case with the debate on the relationship of race and crime taking place in England. The general framework is usefully set forth in Rod Bush's article on "Racism and Changes in the International Division of Labor." Fundamental to his argument is that racism -- an ideology that exists throughout the capitalist world-economy for the purpose of justifying the payment of sub-subsistence wages -- is constitutive of the capitalist world-economy, integral to its functioning from the onset of the 16th century and to its constant reproduction. The location of different groups along a continuum of inferior to superior is absolutely central to the operation of an unequal division of labor through an allocation of work forces that is structured in such a way that capital accumulation is maximized. Gradations in this continuum conform to patterns dictated by the central anchoring distinction between white and nonwhite throughout the world. This has everything to do with the history of capitalism, wherein it took root as a self-expanding system for the first time among the fair-skinned Northern Europeans for whom the rest of the world constituted peripheries to be exploited. This initial core, and later the United States which escaped the periphery, had work forces that were increasingly proletarianized; in the periphery, however, racism justified a non-fully proletarianized work force. In this system, the ideology of racism becomes the central organizing theme of the world bourgeoisie.

In the United States, as in the world generally, nonwhite households tend overwhelmingly to receive lifetime incomes beneath that deemed by capital to be appropriate for fulltime working-class households. Generally this is called "poverty"; in the United States it is a factor not positively associated with crime rates per se, but rather with imprisonment rates and in the statistics on the police use of deadly force against civilians. The disproportionate representation of nonwhites in these statistics, as well as in the probability of being arrested is well known. It is also well known that the political mobilization of ethnic and racial minority communities reduces the crime rate substantially. While for some youth even this changed ambiance is insufficient to counteract a legacy of lifelong marginalization, the history of the United States shows that fundamentally antisystemic mobilizations such as the Civil Rights Movement are met with surveillance and assassination of its leaders, and the infiltration of its organizations by the state despite the reduction in crime rates, which is ostensibly a goal of the state apparatus itself.

In examining the rise of the Right, the selective use of repression in the United States has been a constant, with minorities, women, and oppositional groups of all kinds the primary targets. A major political danger perceived and acted upon by the constitutional democratic state in capitalist countries resides precisely in the low-wage, superexploited nonwhite population, and the majority of women, along with their representatives in socialist and other oppositional organizations (especially when they are effective).

Several articles exemplify the complexities of these themes. Mike Brake's article, "Under Heavy Manners" speaks directly to the overt repression of the underclass in Britain, which consists primarily of black youth. Britain, once a hegemonic power in the state system that governs the work forces of the world-economy, experienced economic decline and loss of political influence.

Yet in the process, Britain brought into being a transnational labor force that was and still is drawn from the Commonwealth, bur has begun to be repelled with the onset of economic crisis in the late 1960s. Nationalist, explicitly racist and anti-Semitic currents gained force to the point that the Thatcher government explicitly underwrote this development through reactionary immigration legislation. The competition for jobs within Britain formed the basis of intraclass conflict, while the emergence of cultures of resistance in the form of Rastafarianism and West Indian culture was met with a heavy police presence and attacks from the mobilized Right, which adamantly defended the predominant capitalist ideological framework that rests on racism and class inequality.

The United States is in many ways similar to Britain given its current state of decline from hegemony and the rise of the Right. Defenders of racism come in sophisticated garb as the critique of culture conflict theories of crime by Groves and Corrado makes clear. Its epitome is found in Edward Banfield's book, The Unheavenly City, written at the end of the major ghetto riots in American cities and at the beginning of the current structural crisis in world capital accumulation. Groves and Corrado provide a service both in unveiling Banfield's ideological use of the concept of "class culture" and its relation to deviant behavior, and in disproving him on theoretical and methodological grounds. Indeed, they show that it is absurd to assert that certain groups harbor a distinctive behavior that supports or condones criminal behavior. If this has any truth, it is not the "lower class" or minorities that condone crime as Banfield would have it, but rather the ruling strata, the judicial system, and practical norms that vilify blue-collar offenders while white collar offenders are grudgingly envied or even pitied as suggested in Helm's "modest proposal" to formalize the current two-class system of criminal justice.

Bernard Headley's article makes a broadside attack on the conventional notion that "black on black" crime represents the greatest threat to the physical survival and well-being of the black community in America. While not denying that intrarace and intraclass directed "street crime" is a significant social problem that must be solved, he argues that a middle stratum of white, and increasingly more black, politicians, academics, journalists, and law enforcement personnel ideologically exploits the issue of "black on black crime" out of economic and bureaucratic self-interest. In short, black Americans on the whole suffer proportionately far less from street crime than they do from the institutions upon which capitalist society is based -- from structural unemployment to health and safety hazards at work -- and in truth, it is only a very small minority of the entire black community that engages in predatory criminal behavior.

A very significant article on the anti-Semitism and criminal actions and policies of the Argentine military and ruling elite raises the need for criminologists to expand the definition of crime beyond traditional concerns, and points out the contradictory nature of ethnic consciousness as opposed to class consciousness. Mauricio Schoijet's timely article details the way in which anti-Semitism serves as an analog to racism that is intensified by the international crisis in capital accumulation. One of the unique features of this article is that it highlights the intra-bourgeois nature of ethnic conflict in Argentina that has historical parallels in the anti-Semitic thrust of ascendant fascism in Europe in the 1930s. In the Argentine case, that part of the dominant classes tied to agricultural exports (the most important Argentine economic sector, although a peripheral process in relation to the world-economy) and much of the military developed an extreme right-wing ideology with anti-Semitism as a centerpiece. After their successful seizure of power in a coup, selective repression was unleashed against Jewish businessmen clustered in the consumer goods industry -- which promoted an alternative national development model to that of the agrarian export sector -- and against an unprepared Jewish community as a whole, which was seriously impaired from defending against the attack by virtue of ethnic and nationalist consciousness, entwined with an ideological anti-Sovietism. The vindictive intraclass struggle was far surpassed by the pogrom unleashed against the Left, including unions, which resulted in the transformation of the entire Argentine working class into a low-wage work force in the international division of labor. A closely related feature of the Argentine tragedy was the attempt to articulate a policy in which economic crimes and subversion were equated to facilitate anti- Semitic policies.

In contrast to Argentina, the United States serves as a home base for transnational corporations that dominate the world-economy. Yet the transnationals work through both states to realize their policies. This becomes very clear in the articles by Davis, Calavita, Messerschmidt, and Fox in this issue. Davis' contribution speaks generally to how the ruling class rules, and specifically to the ideological closure that characterized the process by which the recommendations of the 1981 Attorney General's Task Force on Violent Crime were reached. The set of ideas included in these recommendations are the common stock of the New Right, which dominated the Task Force: the use of preventive detention, restrictions on the rights of habeas corpus, more money for prisons, etc. The overall thrust of the recommendations fits well with the Trilateral Commission's concern with reducing the dangers of "too much democracy." The implicit racism in the recommendations is as manifest as is its "state-of-siege" mentality. Calavita argues that a clear parallel to the Task Force's and similar "get-tough-on-crime" legislation is found in the Extradition Act of 1983, which its supporters refer to as the "Anti-Terrorist Bill." This chilling legislation would in effect validate preventive detention and increase the possibility that U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike would be prosecuted for political conduct.

Jim Messerschmidt details the massive violations of due process in the case of Leonard Peltier, a Native American leader who organized against corporate exploitation of the sacred Black Hills in South Dakota. A target of the FBI, Peltier's case represents the de facto implementation of the selective dismissal of defendants' rights, resulting in two consecutive life sentences for his role in a firefight with the FBI. James Fox also comments on the success of the Right in implementing its repressive crime policies, and calls for a revitalization of the prisoners' movement on a new foundation, providing specific programmatic points. We have coupled it with Gomez's description of the Peoples College of Law as different aspects of today's struggles.

A few final comments on the contributions that round out this issue are in order. Among the most significant contributions to the literature on prisons in recent years is Heinz Steinert's critique of Michel Foucault's influential work Discipline and Punish. Many have criticized Foucault's work, but Steinert takes it upon himself to empirically refute the premises and methodology employed by Foucault.

Finally, in our Book Review section, which we are expanding, an important book on the life of a people's lawyer, Arthur Kinoy, is included; the police, state, and class relations are discussed in a review of Michael Brogden's excellent new work on the British police; and Werner Einstadter scrutinizes Tom Ryan's view of penal reform at Bridgewater State Hospital. Two works on the state and right-wing repression add to the overall theme of the issue in Hamalengwa's review of Deadly Deceits, and Miles Wolpin's review of Herman's work on the real terror network.

We are pleased to conclude our tenth year of publication with an issue that contains so many real contributions to these sadly neglected issues. In the future, we plan to continue to raise and analyze many other timely, if controversial, topics in the complex area of crime and justice.

Citation: Gregory Shank. (1983). "Editorial Overview: 'Race, Crime, and Culture.'" Crime and Social Justice 20 (1983): 1-4. Copyright © 1983 by Social Justice, ISSN 1043-1578. Social Justice, P.O. Box 40601, San Francisco, CA 94140. SocialJust@aol.com.