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The Political Economy of Law-and-Order Policies: Policing, Class Struggle and Neoliberal Restructuring

The Political Economy of Law-and-Order Policies: Policing, Class Struggle and Neoliberal Restructuring
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  THE POLITICAL ECONOMYOF LAW-AND-ORDER POLICIES:POLICING, CLASS STRUGGLE,AND NEOLIBERAL RESTRUCTURING Todd Gordon Introduction  Emerging as a prominent feature of state policy in manyadvanced capitalist countries over the last couple of decades, law-and-order  policing has been the subject of criticism in both community activist and •academic literature. Offering a different perspective than that commonlyfound in both of those forms of literature, this article provides a political-economic analysis of the emergence of law-and-order policing in the 1980sand 1990s in advanced capitalist countries such as Canada, Britain, and theUnited States, with a focus on Canada. Employing the theoretical frame-work of the "Open Marxists" and their theories of state power, it exploresthe central role that public police, under the guise of law and order, play inmonetarist and neoliberal  restructuring.'  It argues that law-and-order  policing, following the historical development of modern policing in thecontext of industrial capitalism, has very little, if anything, to do with crime-fighting, but is aimed at the recomposition of the working class into acheaper and more flexible labour force. This is pursued by police through,among other things, anti-vagrancy policies and strategies like zero-tolerance policing, which serve to diminish for the working class and poor any alter-native to the wage form for subsistence. Thus law-and-order policing should be properly understood as one component of a broader monetarist andneoliberal state strategy geared towards inhibiting working peoples' oppor-tunities to avoid the worst forms of wage labour and, concomitantly,diminishing their expectations with respect to wages and job security. Atthe heart of the neoliberal project is the re-imposition of market relations, Studies in Political Economy  75  SPRING  2005 53  Studies in Political Economy and thus the wage form, on people as their principle means of subsistence.Policing is at the core of this project.Further, employing the "Open Marxist" theory of state and police power,and considering the pervasiveness of aggressive law-and-order policies amongseveral of the advanced capitalist countries that have played a leading rolein neoliberal restructuring, this article suggests that law-and-order policiesare not simply the coincidental product of various Right-wing governments.Rather, these coercive policies are part of the form of capitalist states under neoliberalism. This analysis, in turn, also contributes to our understandingof contemporary state power by demonstrating concretely that neoliberalrestructuring has not resulted in less state, as is fashionable to argue in somecircles today, but in a different, often more coercive, role for the state.The essay begins with a critique of some of the more commonly heardexplanations for law-and-order policing. It then pursues a brief OpenMarxist-inspired interrogation of the capitalist state form. This provides thetheoretical framework for the discussion of the shift from Keynesianism tomonetarism and neoliberal state restructuring. Having looked more broadlyat the emergence of monetarism and neoliberalism in advanced capitalistcountries, including Canada, the paper then focuses on the developmentand role of law-and-order policing in this context. A Couple of Comments on Commonly Heard Explanations for Law-and-Order Policing  The argument advanced in this article provides a different perspective on law-and-order policing than that of most commonplace criti-cisms. A typical explanation for law-and-order policing views it as a bulwark for gentrification. Another is the fear-of-the-other syndrome: the poor arean unsettling reminder, especially to the affluent, of the darker side of economic restructuring, and need to be removed from sight.While they contain some insights, these arguments are insufficient for fully explaining law-and-order policing. It is indeed the case that gentrifi-cation has been a significant social force affecting the landscape of manyurban centres in the United States, as well as Canada, and wealthy residents'associations, supported by local police, have sought to remove panhandlersand other "undesirables" from their neighbourhoods. But if this is the 54  Gordon /   POLITICAL ECONOMY OF LAW-AND-ORDER POLICIES  principal reason for law-and-order policing, how do we explain the factthat it is not limited to gentrified neighbourhoodsr-' Clearly neoliberalstates have a broader interest in their policing initiatives than simply the promotion of gentrification.At the same time, law-and-order policing is not so much about the target-ting of a certain socioeconomic condition embodied in another, such as poverty, as it is the targetting of forms of behaviour. It is useful to note that,in their efforts to establish a capitalist labour market and thus a class of wage labourers, in Nineteenth Century Britain the concern of the designersof the new poor laws and the "new" police was not poverty but indigence-the condition of the able-bodied poor who sought to avoid wage labour.And it was indigence, not poverty, which was criminalized by vagrancy lawsand public order policing (a point referred to below)." This same pattern is being expressed today in the neoliberal restructuring of the welfare stateand law-and-order policing. It is much more acceptable to the state and police for someone to be poor if they are working or actively looking for work. The poor being targetted under law-and-order policing are oftenseeking an income outside the wage form. At a place of legitimate employ-ment, the poor are less at risk of being targetted by police.This point becomes clearer by noting the way in which wage work isintimately bound up with a person's moral standing in capitalist society. Thisis important to remember for our considerations of law-and-order policing.Today the poor on welfare or begging are often derided as undeserving,dependent on hand-outs, and lazy, and the solution is always seen as wagework, which has historically been a sign in capitalist society of self-disciplineand respectability" Thus this moralism surrounds not poverty but indigence,and it has become a deeply embedded feature of our society, such that signsof it are treated as automatic expressions of disorder that must be targetted,whether or not the police officer on patrol is consciously seeking to producecapitalist social relations. As we will see, this dynamic is very much at playunder neoliberalism. Law-and-order policing in this respect cannot be reducedto attempting to remove "the other" from sight. It is, rather, an important part of the capitalist state form, an expression of the struggle over the wagerelation between capital and labour which lies at the heart of capitalist society. 55  Studies in Political Economy Capitalist State Form  The state in advanced capitalist countries has under-gone significant changes over the last two decades. To properly understandthe character of these changes and why law-and-order policing is integralto the neoliberal state form, it is helpful to first explore theoretical perspec-tives that treat state power and human struggle as internal to one another.Policing is intimately connected with (both shaped by, and, in turn, shaping)the struggles of working people against the wage labour relation. This articletherefore adopts the position of the heterodox (or "Open") Marxist theoriesof the capitalist state where state power is understood to both constitute, and be constituted by, human practice.Werner Bonefeld, a key theorist writing within the heterodox frame-work, argues that the capitalist state is the political form, or mode of existence, of the contradictory nature of capital, that is, its dependence onwage labour," Labour exists contradictorily "in and against capital;" it is both the source of wealth and, through struggles for better wages, jobsecurity, health, and safety, or even against the wage labour relation itself,an impediment to wealth's creation. Wage labour in itself, and in a formconducive to capitalist accumulation, is not simply self-reproducing, but isa product of struggle, and it is through this struggle that the capitalist stateform develops. The disruptive presence of "labour in and against capital,"Bonefeld argues, is the "material constitution of the state form."6 This contra-diction, and the struggles deriving from it both shape, and in turn are shaped by, the development of the state.Following Marc Neocleous, the state has been shaped historically bymovements from below, but, in turn, has absorbed and reshaped those samestruggles. Through workers' struggles against the wage form or for variouscitizenship entitlements, for example, the state historically developed the power, via laws protecting the right of property or various administrativemechanisms (including policing), to decompose class relations on the basisof the market, and thus impose on the working class dependency on thewage form for its own self-reproduction." The state is thus a "distinct momentin the class antagonism between capital and labour, a moment within whichthe contradictory unity of surplus value production exists as a politicalrelation, complementing the economic."B In this respect, Bonefeld notes, the56  Gordon /   POLITICAL ECONOMY OF LAW-AND-ORDER POLICIES state is engaged in class struggle, responding to, and shaping the strugglesof, labour through its historic role of enforcing capitalist reproduction.Crisis, Struggle, and the End of Keynesianism  Keynesian State Form  Keynesianism was a particular historical means of responding to the disruptive potential of labour that emerged after theSecond World War on the basis of the organizational strength of the workingclass and the US's leadership in the international economy? "Keynesianism,'Bonefeld suggests, "was an attempt to integrate labour into the capitalrelation on the basis of full employment growth policies and institutional-ized forms of redistribution of wealth."  10  The organized working class won,among other things, the right to collectively bargain, a commitment fromthe state for monetary policies conducive to low levels of unemployment,and a significant increase in the social wage. Capital and the state, absorbingworking-class struggle through the formalized administration of the unionmovement, achieved greater social peace with the working class, guaran-teed the limiting of wage gains to the level of or below productivity increases,and established the ability to contribute to "the partial nationalization of social reproduction" of the working population via more standardized social policies.  I I  Together, these developments contributed to a period of historiclevels of economic growth for most advanced capitalist economies, sustained by unprecedented secular profit rates and productivity increases, leading tothe long-term prosperity and stability of capitalist  economies.F Crisis and the Shift from Keynesianism  By the late 1960s, cracks in theKeynesian foundation of the advanced capitalist economies began to appear.The mechanisms designed to keep capital's tendency to overaccumulationfrom expressing itself, and thus to ensure long-term profitability, had runtheir course. Overaccumulation of capital, driven by "the unfettered devel-opment of the productive power oflabour," continued to worsen, contributingto a secular decline in the rate of profit, which increased capital's dependencein a Keynesian monetary regime on relatively cheap and easily accessiblecredit to sustain accumulation and thus contributed to growing inflationand mounting  debt." 57
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