Death Penalty: Beyond the Discourse of Legality 

Rajesh Tyagi

George W. Bush, was shown on a T.V. show laughing and mocking the face of a woman who was doomed for the gallows and who was seeking a pardon from him when he was holding the post of Governor in Illinois. This demonstrates the apathy and the kind of enjoyment the bourgeois rulers take in executing those who do not belong to their own class, whether they are Blacks and Asians in the developed countries or the poor in general all over the world. The real craze of the bourgeois rulers for the extreme penalty has virtually turned into a social phobia. In the U.S. and many of the western societies, the ‘civilised world’, the demand for the extreme penalty to be retained and extended for more and more offences, has become part of election campaigns which are capable of attracting certain sections. Political parties and leaders demonstrate their ardent support for the death penalty. And this is not without reason as the decaying bourgeois societies are really rendering all-out support for this ‘pious cause’.

Bourgeois intellectuals all over the world painstakingly continue to debate the merits and demerits of the extreme penalty, about its abolition or the elimination of some more outdated forms of it from the statutes books in various countries, about its deterrent effect upon crime and society in general. Under the heap of these arguments in the bourgeois press the most relevant aspect is marginalised and obscured i.e. that the death penalty had remained and still continues to be almost the exclusive ‘privilege’ of the underprivileged, whether they were the serfs in medieval civilisations, the low castes and outcastes in India, or the poor in the modern world, while Blacks and Asians take the lead in the U.S. and Europe, the so-called civilised parts of the modern world. The debate in the bourgeois media obscures this the most important aspect of the matter.

No abstract debate, no data, no statistics refute the hard fact that the main casualties of this order of our times remain the proletarians and the working people, either as a class or as individual members of these class.

The majority of bourgeois intellectuals mention the French guillotine with a special hatred which they regard as a ‘scar’ on the face of justice and humanity. They stoutly argue in favour of the maintenance of the extreme penalty on the statutes book in various countries, with only a negligible minority of them, frightened by dreams of the ‘guillotine’, assail it on abstract moral grounds.

Executions were bad for all moral and legal reasons when the same were committed in history by the predecessor classes of our bourgeoisie, by the ‘holy inquisition’, the same was bad when it was practised by the victorious proletariat in Paris and in all subsequent revolutions, because in these cases the bourgeois itself was the casualty, but the same is ‘fully justified’ and valid for all moral, social and legal reasons when practised by our bourgeoisie to put down the enemies of the society governed by it. Still they claim – the question has no class angle!

In support of retaining the extreme penalty on the statute books the bourgeoisie argues that it is the last line of defence of their ‘civil society’ against the onslaught of criminality. They see it as the most effective deterrence against the gradually rising graph of crime in bourgeois societies the world over. There remains almost a consensus among bourgeois jurists regarding the indispensability of the weapon of capital punishment, ostensibly to put crime under control. This arrogant response of the official bourgeois jurists, intellectuals and the press to ‘criminality’ meets with a positive response from the ‘timid and coward’ bourgeois societies all over the world, forgetting that such criminality in its turn is not generated from any vacuum, but from the socio-economic dynamics of capitalist society itself. These societies which know no better weapons than jails, police and penal laws for their defence against criminality which is generated and nurtured by themselves, voluntarily permit their rulers to practise the extreme penalty as an opportunity not only to tackle the criminality but to sober down the civil society in general and the proletariat in particular.

Insensitive and intolerant, as most of the bourgeois societies emerge against the common people, are ready to retain the ‘weapon’ of death penalty in defiance of even all legality and morality in bourgeois law. The U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down the death penalty in 1972, from the statute book, being violative of 8th Amendment of the Constitution, once again put the clock back by declaring the penalty to be valid in 1976.

While the Church, the United Nations – the international headquarters of the bourgeois world – continue with all hypocrisy to ‘convince’ and ‘persuade’ the ‘states’ to abolish the death penalty, the ‘states’ continue to execute the people, poor in general, in hundreds and thousands, all over the world.

This all continues in the name of justice, in the name of protecting the civil societies against the menace of crime. The justice, in its turn is dispensed to the people through the law courts acting upon the investigations conducted by the police. The cost of this cumbersome legal process, including the hefty fees of competent bourgeois lawyers, remain a distant dream for the majority of the populace, rendering the entire process of justice dispensation completely illusory for the vast majority and becoming a monopoly of few. This ‘justice’ remains in peril for the majority for other well-known and widely practised reasons too. In these societies, where everything from body to soul and nature to god, is already converted into saleable commodities, justice remains no exception. Bribery of the investigators and the judges, purchase of witnesses and expert evidence, perjured testimonies, etc. are not a rare phenomenon in these societies. There are thousands of ways money penetrates the process of justice in bourgeois societies. This apart from the fact that the entire process is inherently imbued with class, caste, creed, racial and other prejudices. It is thus not without reason that in all these bourgeois societies it is the deprived, the poor, the underprivileged and those belonging to ‘inferior’ nations races and castes, which are the principal casualties of the elimination through legal means.

The death penalty, in consonance with the entire process of justice in bourgeois legal systems, is like a cobweb in which the mighty slip through while the weak are trapped. Those who are not fortunate enough to possess money power are easy prey for prosecutions, true or false, resulting in the extreme penalty.

The class complexion embedded in the process of bourgeois justice, can be well conceived by measurement of the time consumed in the trial and appeal in case of a poor man as compared to an affluent one. Courts themselves do not deem it appropriate to ‘waste’ much time while dealing with the cases of the poor and hardly appreciate the fineries of evidence and contradictions therein, going to the benefit of the accused, while the same does not hold good in the cases where persons with a bourgeois background are accused of similar or even more heinous offences.

Even in societies like the U.S. and Britain, which claim to retain a fair, efficient and reliable system of justice, it is not very uncommon for the judge and the jury to act with a bias towards the accused having regard to the colour of his skin apart from the size of his pocket. If he is affluent or a white, ‘human considerations’ would be the underlining feature of judgement, while in the case of a Black or an Asian, and if unfortunately he is poor also, not only the intensity of the crime alleged to be committed by him, but the general rise in the crime graph, would become very relevant. This remains true not only for ‘more civilised’ countries but for all the bourgeois societies, the world over. Whether it was the Botha regime in South Africa or the British in India, the main features remain the same. So deeply entrenched are these prejudices in bourgeois societies, that it seldom makes any difference if the judge himself is a white or black or an Asian. The discretion, wherever the same is available, is exercised with essential bias and prejudices, which unfailingly weigh heavily against the weak and poor making them the perpetual victims of this ‘weapon’ of extreme penalty, available for not so good reasons in the armoury of bourgeois judicial systems.

Anyway, our bourgeoisie maintains that it would in any case retain the extreme penalty on the statute book, irrespective of all opposition and against all uproar. The proletariat must answer this arrogance and remind the world bourgeoisie of the French guillotine which weapon once again would be turned against it, to ‘execute the executors’, with the same vigour with which it has been used by the victorious proletariat everywhere following the footsteps of the Paris Commune.

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