Prison And The Stain Of Populism
"There is a class of people in this world who have fallen into the lowest degree of humiliation, far below beggary, and who are deprived not only of all social consideration but also, in everybody's opinion, of the specific human dignity, reason itself - and those are the only people who, in fact, are able to tell the truth. All others lie."
"What grounds a truth is the experience of suffering and courage, sometimes in solitude, not the size or force of a majority."
The rise of far right popularist nationalism throughout Europe and the U.S. And now manifested in England by the recent general election result evidences fundamental shift in the political centre of gravity to the extreme right and and the irrevocable demise of Social Democracy as the balance of social and political power tips massively in favour of the wealthy and privileged. Inevitably, as poverty and the material deprivation of the poor massively increases so too will the number of the imprisoned, especially as social unrest and the struggle for basic survival intensifies, and already the Tories have pledged to increase police numbers and prison places as the carceral state increasingly replaces the welfare state, camouflaged by the rhetoric of "getting tough on crime" and maintaining "Law and Order". As microcosms of the wider society prisons reflect the hard-edged reality of the power relationship between the state and the most dis-empowered and marginalised group in that society, and conditions within most British jails, which are now brutalising ghettos surrounded by high walls, are a physical prophesy of conditions for the increasing poor in a society now dominated by the jungle law of unrestrained neo-capitalism.
Malcolm X once described prisons as "universities of revolution" and the state itself has described them as "sites of radicalisation", and within the enclosed totalitarian society of prison the seed of political consciousness in some prisoners is nourished daily by the direct experience of repression and powerlessness. And this is an experience that will increasingly characterise the lives of the poorest and most dis-advantaged groups in the wider society as the social and political climate in Britain becomes increasingly more repressive and control-orientated. The criminalisation of the poor, already apparent in the treatment of state benefit claimants as virtual offenders on probation or parole, and the racial targeting by the police of deprived ethnic-minority communities, will increasingly dissolve the walls between prisons and poor communities, and create a relationship of power between the state and poor almost identical to that which exists between jailor and jailed. And it is amongst the most disadvantaged and marginalised that resistance to that state will originate and grow. The recent re-election of a hard right tory government who for the last decade has focused its austerity policy on the working class, many of whom actually voted for the continuation of that government, reveals that the class struggle in a traditional sense no longer exists and it is now amongst the "Lumpen Proletariat" and criminalised that the class war will be fuelled.
From Victorian times and the birth of modern capitalism the factory and prison system were always the two basic life choices of the poor and dispossessed, and it was the former that the organised working class was born and developed, and shaped the contours of Social Democracy. Meanwhile the undeserving and criminalised poor were disappeared into the prison system and de-humanised in the interest of "Law and Order". And it was this most marginalised and scapegoated group of the poor who witnessed and experienced the true nature of the capitalist state and were deeply alienated from "ordinary society" as a result. Meanwhile, the balance of class power established in Britain following the Second World War reached its definitive end during the 1980s when the trade union movement was effectively destroyed and the era of unrestrained neo-capitalism begun. The de-industrialisation of Britain and casualization of labour removed the backbone of organised labour and working class power, and established a total monopoly of ruling class authority and the re-shaping of its state from Welfare orientated to a naked instrument of social control and repression. The experience of the imprisoned poor is now being shared by an increasing number of the ghettoised poor, and it is amongst these that a new resistance will grow and transcend the boundaries of the traditional class struggle.
HMP Warren Hill
More of John Bowden's writings are available here.