death and the Death Penalty

rc-am rcollins at
Fri Mar 5 08:22:08 PST 1999

>Mix this social democracy index with race, and you
>get an argument that death penalty is a method that
>benefits the ruling class by turning the white working class into a
>Lynch Mob and away from Organized Labor & Social Welfare.
>Capital Punishment is a punishment of Labor by Capital.


well put. a couple of comments/questions on the previous analysis:

is support for the death penalty a result or a cause of the shift against social democratic politics? it would make sense to me as a result, but not as a cause; but if you have any details one way or the other, I'd be interested in looking at them.

if we can explain the support of white workers for the death penalty through racism, how do we go about explaining the support of many black people for it, especially in the case of James Byrd's killers? yes, their support may be ambivalent and dependant upon the particular case; it may also be that the death penalty is regarded as the final judgement on what is or is not socially validated as a horrendous crime (so that it becomes a matter of recognition within these perverse terms) - all of this is of course only possible within a racist framework, but it is not racism which compels many people to call for these killers deaths.

it may also be that, like white workers, there is a commitment to revenge and punishment - as recompense for suffering and deaths and pain - which cannot be so easily solved or evaded by reducing the discussion to whether or not a few leftists have the right line on the death penalty.

I.e.., if we can't comprehend the inchoate anger which would find a perverted expression in support for the death penalty, then I think we would weaken the battle against the death penalty itself, since our efforts against the death penalty would be read as a denial of the validity of that anger, if not anger per se. the left here tends to be conflated, sometimes very accurately, sometimes not so, with a lecturing to workers to 'be reasonable, forget any pain you might feel, all this is irrational'.

I want people to hold onto the anger without attaching it to support for the death penalty, among other things. how do we speak to this anger at the same time as strengthening the battle against the death penalty?

what struck me about peter linebaugh's essay "gruesome gertie at the buckle of the bible belt" (new left review, 209) was not so much that it showed the racism and class character that is the death penalty in the US, though this is patently true and still shocking; but this: the need to "conduct the struggle against the capital punishment in the context of the struggle against the capitalist thanatocracy as a whole". linebaugh recognises the anger without conceding to the form that anger is allowed to take (the settling of accounts) in capitalism. more importantly perhaps, linebaugh presents us with the possibility for an expression of class anger and hatred WITHIN the context of an argument against the death penalty.


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