State, prisons, capital
It is fortunate that the left is now addressing the prison question in a renewed way. Indeed, if all sorts of critiques of prisons and of repression more generally have existed since there are radical tendencies that propose to think of a world where the violence of the State is no longer necessary (from the strikers and communards who saw, as early as the 19th century, the downfall of the State on them), it is only natural that the left should be concerned with the question of prisons. From the strikers and communards who saw the whole apparatus of state repression fall upon them in the 19th century to Artaud and Breton's critique of the psychiatric institution, and all sorts of utopianism and anarchism, it seems that the problem of justice has (re)taken on a very concrete character in the left since the proliferation of discussions about restorative justice and the abolitionism of prisons and the police. Our problematic is quite simple: it seems that sometimes these discourses aiming at rethinking the relations of a society to the repression that it subjects to some of its members, whose attitude is considered reprehensible by its codes of law, become relatively autonomous from the critique of the capitalist, white supremacist and heteropatriarchal system in order to articulate solutions that negotiate a place for themselves within it. We would like to briefly explore what seems to us to be the pitfalls of such a detachment of the critique of the repressive police-prison system from that of the social system under which it has been perpetuated until now.
If the role of prisons seems at first sight to be to separate individuals from the social whole, because of their behavior that would be incompatible with the proper conduct of living together, or even that would put other members of society in danger, nothing explains why such a function is fulfilled in such a way. Indeed, the isolation of violent elements and the rehabilitation of individuals who demonstrate abusive behavior do not explain, on their own, the construction of armed fortresses where offenders are sent to lose years of their lives, or to make new contacts in the world of organized crime. Restorative justice strategies developed in communities, networks and scenes influenced by the most advanced feminist thinking seem to us to be a much better response to these difficulties that any social formation encounters. However, these are responses that have so far been marginal, and which require strong and real community links. It is to other forms of life that the imperatives of the repressive apparatus of the state respond.
Indeed, the critical theory of the capitalist mode of production allows us to better clarify the particularity of the violence of the bourgeois state. Every society is organized in such a way that its economic activity can take place and continue to take place (production, reproduction, distribution); now, the capitalist economy is centered around wage exploitation: the only way to earn one's pittance is to go and sell one's time and strength, day after day, to whoever has enough to buy bread and rent a roof, without which the unequal exchange in which the labor contract consists can no longer take place. Thus, the capitalist state needs force to prevent the theft of the said bread; it needs force to break the strikes that remind the bosses that the labor power of the working masses is the only condition of production; it needs force to prevent the traffic of goods that it cannot tax; it needs a force to prevent the proliferation of competing modes of appropriation and production, which do not allow it to profit (think of the armies and police forces that act and act as properly colonialist entities, aiming to undermine the possibility of existence outside of colonial society, and therefore of the capitalist economy in the process of globalization; or to police forces that act and act as entities of an imperialist from within, undermining the autonomy of ethnic minorities tempted to secede from the majority social life, thus from the dominant capitalist economy). Also, it needs places to sequester the individuals thus repressed.
Asylums were an example of such a place, especially for those who violated the order of the reproductive economy. Gays, lesbians and transgenders pose a problem to sexual reproduction, and consequently to the reproduction of productive forces, as well as to the ideology that has been built on dominant patriarchal reproductive relations. Sex work, too, in a different way, undermines the assurance of a patrilineal descent unified around marriage. No matter, all these beautiful people were sent to the asylum until very recently. That such repressive practices can no longer exist informs us about the capacity of bourgeois society to transform itself: reproductive imperatives, for example, no longer make it necessary to criminalize non-heteronormative relations in imperialist countries, and patriarchal violence against LGBTQI+ people and communities has been partly relegated to ideological (familialism, ambient queerphobia, etc.) and extralegal (crimes against women, etc.) dimensions. ) and extralegal (hate crimes, homophobic and transphobic terrorism) dimensions of the dominant's control of minority sexualities. Nothing allows us to exclude that in a different demographic situation, the bourgeois states of what has been called the first world would act as Stalin did in front of the demographic decline of the USSR, and would find a way to reverse the progressive advances in the recognition of marginal sexualities (homophobic discrimination and the criminalization of abortion had disappeared from Russian law under Lenin, and were reinstated to encourage births - homosexuality was decriminalized from 1917 to 1933, and abortion was legalized from 1920 to 1936)
All the salt of our problem is there: bourgeois society is, to a certain extent, capable in its good times, of relaxing the grip of repression. Nevertheless: 1) we can't be sure of a return to the past as long as capitalist governance is regulated by representative democracy, which, as everyone knows, runs on campaign funds, so that the ruling class is always able to regain the upper hand and implement a plan that will serve it if it is not forced, by other means, to do otherwise; 2) the relaxation we are talking about has never taken the form of a profound transformation of the repressive machine in use (prevention, rehabilitation through reparation), and we have no reason to believe that this will ever be the case. Moreover, it is not said that anti-capitalism sums up our whole answer to these problems: real socialisms have shown us that state domination poses problems relatively independent of the reproduction of capitalist conditions of production. We say: in the face of the police and the prisons, anti-capitalism is necessary; it is not sufficient. We can argue that the same is true for opposition to patriarchy and institutional racism (although we should point out the major contributions of feminism in terms of a non-repressive theory of justice and of movements associated with African American nationalism on the issue of prisons).
In fact, the problem of state repression is a problem that concerns the organization of any social formation: how does a community ensure that 1) the tasks it decides to accomplish are accomplished without abuse; 2) that the conflicts that emerge that do not concern the economy are resolved. This second difficulty has already been mentioned as a possible solution: refocusing judicial proceedings on a smaller scale, around the communities where the conflict occurs. The first one is certainly partly answered by the production of forms of life that make solidarity necessary; but the next step seems more uncertain. We want to contrast, in order to show that this difficulty lies before us, two expressions with which Marx described this society that was to succeed capitalism. For indeed, communism is a classless society, that is to say, simultaneously without money and without the State (this duo, which we have seen to be central to our problem of repression). We understand this simultaneity better now that we have underlined the role of state repression in the reproduction of relations of production. But communism is also and above all "the real movement that abolishes the present state" of things. Strong communities, which make processes of economic solidarity and restorative justice work, are not only a bit of communism lived today; they are also the condition of the exit from capitalism, and participate without being limited to it in this real movement that we hope will raze not only the banks, but also the prisons.