Academic journal article Social Justice

Georg Rusche and Otto Kirchheimer: Punishment and Social Structure

Academic journal article Social Justice

Georg Rusche and Otto Kirchheimer: Punishment and Social Structure

Article excerpt


PUNISHMENT AND SOCIAL STRUCTURE WAS MAINLY THE CONCEPTION OF GEORG Rusche, one of its two authors. In order to shed some light on the quite knotted origins of this book, it is necessary to begin with a biographical account of Rusche, the less-known collaborator in the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research during the 1930s. (1)

Georg Rusche was bom in Hanover on November 17,1900, the son of a physician (also named Georg Rusche). In Hagen (Westphalia), Rusche spent his childhood and completed his early education. Subsequently, he studied law, philosophy, and social science abroad (in Paris and London), (2) and attended several German universities, including Munster, Gottingen, Cologne, and Frankfurt. Among his teachers were Leonard Nelson, Max Scheler, and Erwin von Beckerath. In 1924, he graduated from Cologne University with a degree in philosophy, having written his thesis on legal philosophy. (3) Again in 1929, he completed a course of study at the same university in economics and social science, with a thesis on the fundamentals of economic theory. (4)

At the same time, he had gained experiences in prison work and social work. It is highly probable that Rusche conceived of the very project of Punishment and Social Structure (hereinafter P&SS) during this period, in the course of rethinking these experiences and connecting them with the wide theoretical background he had previously acquired. (5)

In 1931, he submitted a research proposal concerning the relationships between punishment and the labor market for the consideration of the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research. (6) The initial fruits of Rusche's research were published in the Institute's journal in 1933, (7) wherein all of the theoretical milestones of P&SS were articulated in an essay that may well be considered a programmatic writing.

But in this very period, Hitler seized power in Germany. The Institute was obliged to close down and set out on that twisted pilgrimage that ended some years later at Columbia University in New York. (8) The various members of the Institute were forced to migrate, and some embarked for the United States at once. Others took refuge in European countries such as Great Britain and France. Although between 1937 and 1938 most of these joined the others in New York, Rusche was not among them. He experienced years of difficult exile as he was driven first from Paris to London, then to Palestine, and finally back to London. (9)

While in London, Rusche led a tenuous existence; his efforts to obtain financial help came to naught in the harsh economic conditions of the war. He received no assistance for his pressing needs from the New York Institute either, with the exception of some letters of recommendation from Max Horkheimer. (10) In his correspondence with Horkheimer, Rusche writes of his intention to continue his research, the investigation of Nazi criminal policy and, more broadly, the relationships between German monopoly capital and dictatorship.

Rusche left Palestine and when the war broke out in 1939, he was interned in a camp in Great Britain (probably due to his German citizenship), where he was compelled to stay until the beginning of 1941, as we discover from his letter to Horkheimer cited above. As he was being transported to Canada, the ship on which he was traveling was torpedoed and he was consequently brought back to Great Britain. He remained there until at least March 15,1941 (the date on the last of his letters, six weeks after his release from the internment camp). In the torpedoing, he lost all of his belongings, but it was the loss of a manuscript, a sort of personal and intellectual autobiography, that he regretted the most. At this point the information I have obtained on Rusche's life comes to an abrupt halt. (11)

Before going to Palestine, he had completed the manuscript of P&SS. However, the New York Institute decided that it must be reworked and expanded to cover the contemporary situation. …

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