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Marxism Crime & Deviance

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This essay will evaluate the Marxist theory that the ruling class in society decides the law and enforces it, to reflect their own interests. Marxism is a political and social system based on the ideas of Karl Marx (1818-83). Marxist criminology theories began in the 1970’s. According to Marxists, society is controlled by the ruling capitalist class.

They believe that in a capitalist society, a small group of wealthy people (the bourgeoisie), own the means of production, such as; factories, businesses, land, etc and that they exploit the working class people (the proletariat), so that they can enjoy a huge profit and personal gain, either legally or illegally.

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Marxists believe that the ruling class therefore decide the law help their own personal interests and needs. Reflecting this Marxist theory, P. Self states that “crime is an inevitable feature of a capitalist economy which promotes self interest and greed”.

So Marxists argue that working-class people are more likely to break the law because of exploitation and poverty.

Crimes of the rich and powerful bourgeoisie can frequently go undetected because of the state and large businesses help each other. Individuals may also be labelled as ‘deviant’, simply because they might be involved in political acts that challenge the social order. Marxists believe that laws cannot be ‘neutral ‘, because they are made by the powerful to maintain their own privileged positions.

Marxists therefore argue that capitalism is crimogenic – it is the single over-riding cause of all crime and deviancy in society due to poverty, unemployment and lack of opportunity. A poor underclass is formed who have to rely on crime to exist. However they also say the ruling classes themselves are deviant, by committing crimes that protect their power and wealth. Capitalist led governments turn a blind eye to this. William Chambliss’ study in 1976 illustrated this when he described organised crime in Washington, U. S. A.

He concluded that individuals in the police force, the business world and the local government, worked together to make money in gambling and prostitution, however, critics of Marxism would question how frequent this corruption was throughout the country and on its own, proves nothing without a lot more evidence. Marxists always see working class criminal types as victims of the capitalist state. They are ‘forced’ into it simply to survive. The prison system is also a source of cheap labour, believing that there is a connection between the use of workers in factories and in prisons.

Those who go along with capitalism have been persuaded from early childhood to conform to the capitalist mentality, due to consistent messages and brainwashing, especially from the media and education. If capitalist ‘brainwashing’ fails, then threat of punishment is the result. For example, the General Strike in Britain (1926) and in the Coal Miners’ strike during 1984-5 saw workers and union leaders being used as scapegoats and being branded as criminal threats to a civilised society. The police used violence, under orders from their superiors, who in turn had the tacit approval of their political masters.

This scenario can also be applied, under Marxist theories, to any other so called deviant groups perceived by the authorities, or government, to be a threat, for example, black young male gangs, inner city groups, ‘new age’ travellers , immigrants, student protesters, and so on. Marxists would point to Margaret Thatcher, who in her role as Prime Minister stated, ‘There is no such thing as society’ In other words, there is no coherent community, and the government has no responsibility for helping out with any group or social class in moral or actual terms.

Individuals have a responsibility to take action for their own economic and social wellbeing. Marxists say that it’s the rich that have most influence amongst the decision makers at the expense of the less fortunate. But in their way, they would also organise and manipulate the basic values and morality of a society. The legal system would be arranged to eliminate opposition, backed up by tough law enforcement, this time against capitalist deviants. In their theories, Marxists say that certain types of crime are more likely to be punished compared to others.

Street crimes (brawls, binge drinking, theft, muggings, social unrest and disorder) are more likely to be pursued than white collar crime (fraud, tax evasion, ‘insider training’ and even gambling and prostitution). This is because the capitalist governments who have run the country are sympathetic to those who are of the same belief and class, but have just got carried away with their search for wealth. In this society of greed, the working class have to turn to crime just to stay alive and to obtain the materialistic goods or lifestyle, which is typical to a capitalistic state, and that general tandard of living and attitude to life, is enforced on them, when living in this type of society. Money and personal gain, and the ‘every man for himself’ attitude is what life is like in an unfair, and socially unequal way of life under a capitalist government. In another example, in their search for high profits, employers may not enforce health and safety regulations. For example, low paid, sometimes illegal immigrant workers have been exploited in this manner in recent times, such as the Morecambe Bay incident in …

Marxists would say that was as a typical example of exploitation by capitalist tendencies, although it could be due to individual bosses, and individual greed. Many deaths occur in the work place each year, and this is often because the owners/bosses have over-worked, exploited, or exposed their employees to dangerous environments, so that they can simply use them to do all of the hard work, in order so that they can more money and profit. They use the poorer and lower and working classes to fuel their greed, most of the time without any consideration for their workers.

It also known that these deaths that occur in the workplace, are often only punished by a fine, even though in theory, that death has occurred due to another person. A death at the hands of a street fight for example, caused by a youth, or a member of the ‘underclass’ or someone from a poorer background, is much more likely to be faced with a heavy punishment, such as imprisonment. A fine to a business that already makes enough money, and where a ‘crime’ can easily be committed again, is let off lightly, and is another example of unfair ness in a society where the rich and powerful rules.

Another example of this exploitation is the large and powerful chemical business ‘Allied Colloids’, which was fined for ?17,000 for breaching health and safety regulations. Companies that avoid taxation are examples of the capitalist’s misappropriation of wealth. According to Marxist theorists, they would also say that capitalist regimes would go out of their way to make it difficult for the working class to fight back against this exploitation and such things as the recent proposal to cut back on legal aid in the U. K would be proof of this.

Stephen Box in his ‘Power, Crime and Deviance’ (1983) states, “In terms of harmed caused to individuals and losses to public in unpaid tax revenue, environmental costs and costs in health and welfare benefits, corporate crime is more serious than street crime/burglary. Estimated ?16billion lost. ” However, there are many counter arguments and criticisms of Marxist theories on crime. Marxist theories ignore the factors of individual motivation, whilst stressing too much emphasis on capitalism and economic forces that are forcing people into crime.

The idea of people’s individual personality and greed is not taken into account. The Marxist tries to blame a particular social class because they themselves want to overthrow them. The supposed high rate of crime amongst the working classes, young people and ethnic minorities cannot just be the consequence of one sided policing. Isn’t it true to say that the laws that are respected and obeyed by most people come from a consensus, and have been built up over many years, often agreed by all shades of political opinion, which leads to laws that establish rights of everyone in society?

The majority of ordinary working class people are law abiding. Marxist theories are quite politically driven, one sided and too simplistic to explain crime and capitalism. Marxists believe their argument, is that laws which supposedly benefit all sections of society, are really a rouse for the true one-sidedness of the legal system that supports corporate interests against the working class. Mishra (1981) calls the Marxist theories, ‘left functionalism ‘, arguing that any laws can be seen as functional to the supposed control by capitalists.

In light of this, Marxists are unable to debate meaningfully, as they believe in an aggressive political system and are quite happy to manipulate statistics, sources, and facts for their own cause. Official figures on crime are collated and published by the government themselves. A lot of it from the police. The government then decides on likely trends and pass laws, but it can be very choosy on what figures to use. Statistics can be used to fit any argument.

Other statistics come from the Inland Revenue, Department of Social Security, the military, local authorities and independent bodies. These are not always used, so how can they be an accurate look at deviancy in thinking about Marxist theories? Most importantly, according to Stephen Moore ‘ Investigating Crime and Deviance ‘ (1988) , there is just as much crime amongst working classes, minority groups, and young people in Marxist run countries, as there is in capitalist countries so this can conclude that Marxist theories on crime are highly uestionable. It is more accurate to say, as in the U. K. in 2011 that the effects of a recession, with rising unemployment rising inflation and a lack of opportunity for young people and the poorer classes, are the main factors which lead to increased levels of crime across all social groups. One knows that some capitalist type governments, including the UK, do try to deal with big business and high level corruption and illegal dealings, such as M. P’s going to prison for expenses scams.

There are also lots of company laws and rules which stop illegal activities by large businesses that would harm the general public. Marxist theories have now been disproved by many criminal sociologists for being over simplistic and politically driven.


‘Power, Crime and Mystification ‘ Steven Box Tavistock Publications 1983 ‘Investigating Crime and Deviance Stephen Moore Collins 1988 ‘Understanding Occupational Crime’ Hazel Croall OUP 2001 ‘On Analyzing Crime’ Sutherland Univ. of Chicago Press 1973.

Cite this Marxism Crime & Deviance

Marxism Crime & Deviance. (2017, Mar 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/marxism-crime-deviance/

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