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Bakunin, the death penalty & seeds of the future


Bakunin’s point was, I think, pretty simple. Within the larger society, it is possible to build structures that capture hopes for the future. For example, free schools, or self-managed cooperatives (like South End press, or worker-run factories in Argentina), or innumerable other examples in communities and workplaces, extending as feasible to larger enterprises, such as the very extensive Mondragon complex in Spain (significant, though limited in extent of worker control). And in fact whatever the energies and commitment of participants will make feasible.

The death penalty and incarceration raise completely different issues. The death penalty can be tolerated only by extreme statist reactionaries, who demand a state that is so powerful that it has the right to kill.  It is ironic that proponents call themselves “conservatives.” As for the incarceration generally, a whole range of issues arise.  Why has the US gone off the spectrum of industrial societies since the late 70s, including a 50% increase in incarceration during the Clinton-Gore years — more than enough to have swung the 2000 election?  One very clear element is the drug laws, designed to criminalize the poor and ethnic minorities.  Institute a sane approach to substance abuse, and the prison-industrial complex, as it’s sometimes called, would shrink dramatically.  That doesn’t eliminate all problems.  It will always be the case, presumably, that societies will want to protect themselves from people who are just too dangerous and cannot be dealt with by ordinary means.  That should be done as humanely as possible, and while the problem is not likely ever to disappear, it would be at most a marginal one if the causes of what is called “criminal behavior” were addressed.  I add “what is called,”
because some of the worst criminal behavior is not criminalized, not only state crimes but also corporate crimes.  The history of corporate manslaughter is an atrocity, still continuing.

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