More on Marx Opposing the Death Penalty

Gallows on the River Thames

Marx was opposed to the use of the death penalty by the Bourgeois State. He made a study of the use of the death penalty in England and opposed it on the grounds that a) it was a violation of personal sovereignty (as the State had no right or power to commit any harm against the body of the individual), and b) the death penalty only encouraged – and did not deter crime. These assessments were based upon empirical evidence with Marx making a study in the UK press of dates of executions, the rise in copy-cat suicides that followed executions, and how over-all crimes rates either stayed exactly the same or increased with no deterrent being observable through the act of the (Bourgeois) State taking the life of a convicted criminal. Furthermore, Marx understood that it was by far more frequent for the poor, destitute and the vulnerable to be subjected to the judicial death penalty than it was for a more affluent member of society who could afford a better class of legal representation, although European countries did not start using a police force in support of the Courts until the 1800s. Furthermore, status decreed the manner in which the Courts dealt with an offender, with the notion of a fair trial and legal defense yet still to properly develop. A Court was a place where Bourgeois Society passed judgement on its malcontents – and that judgement was often harsh. The Judge represented ‘god’, the Jury the 12 disciples, and being ‘took down’ was to descend into ‘hell’, etc. The judicial death penalty was an aspect of the Old Testament used within Western society for the social elites to retain power. It is a religious myth made physical through the Courts. Executions were originally public to ‘scare’ people into behaving, but were eventually switched to behind closed doors when the Bourgeois Establishment realized that the masses were taking the side of the condemned, and on occasion attempting to rescue those about to be executed. This is the religiously based Bourgeois death penalty that Marx protested against.  

Of course, the Bourgeois apologists try to create contradictions and paradoxes where none exist. For instance, although Marx opposed the religiously justified death penalty, he also supported the right of the working class to defend itself from any and all attacks imposed upon it by the Bourgeois State and its allies. Far from being a ‘contradiction’ this is a logical extension of his opposition to the Bourgeois death penalty simply because the Bourgeois death penalty is an ‘attack’ upon the working class! It is no different from attacking the working-class using soldiers, cavalry, police or unjust and draconian laws. What Marx is saying is that instead of passively accepting the fate of being tied-up and hanged by the neck, a worker should fight with all his or her might (both singularly and collectively) to oppose the tyranny being enforced upon their bodies in the name of a religious myth! Those of a Bourgeois mentality want to oppress and oppose the working-class, and for that working-class to passively acquiesce to this treatment like lambs to the slaughter. Marx says ‘no’ to this, because this is a class war within which the Bourgeois hold all the power and the working-class hold none! 

As a consequence, a Socialist State, defined as a sovereign entity controlled by the workers, within which the workers have seized the means of production (i.e. a ‘Marxist-Leninist’ State), seek to move away from the routine application of the death penalty, and not toward its normalization and continuation. This is not an easy situation to predict, as every country possesses a different socio-economic history. Lenin agreed with Marx, and extended the notion of ‘self-defense’ to include the use of the judicial death sentence against ‘class enemies’ – although only in times of terrible unrest or outside pressure being applied to the Soviet State. The death penalty was never applied to civil society in the USSR prior to 1959, but only used for political crimes, and even then, was abolished for long periods of time. Nikita Khrushchev, being a duplicitous Trotskyite, sought to copy the United States he so admired and shocked the Soviet Union by contradicting Marx and Lenin by inflicting the very death sentence upon the civilian population of the Soviet Union that Marx (and Lenin) had rejected! The problem Khrushchev had was that Soviet juries were reluctant to pass this ‘death penalty’ as everyone knew of its ‘bourgeois’ essence… 



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