This essay delves into the Marxist theory, which asserts that the ruling class shapes and exploits the law to benefit their own interests. Karl Marx (1818-83) formulated Marxism, a political and social framework that underlies these criminology theories emerging in the 1970s. According to Marxists, society is controlled by the prevailing capitalist class.
In a capitalist society, the bourgeoisie, a small group, owns the means of production (including factories, businesses, and land) and exploits the proletariat to gain profits and personal advantages through legal or illegal methods. According to Marxists, this ruling class uses their power to establish laws that benefit themselves. P. Self concurs with this theory by asserting that “crime is an inevitable part of a capitalist economy that encourages self-interest and greed.”
Marxists believe that the working class, experiencing exploitation and poverty, are forced to commit more crimes. Meanwhile, the bourgeoisie, who are affluent and influential, often evade punishment for their actions through a collusion between big corporations and the government. Additionally, individuals can be deemed ‘deviant’ simply for engaging in political activities that challenge the existing social system. According to Marxists, laws favor those in power as they are established by authorities to maintain their privileged status.
According to Marxists, capitalism serves as the primary cause for all crime and deviance in society. This stems from the poverty, unemployment, and lack of opportunity that capitalism generates. As a result, a marginalized underclass emerges who turns to criminal activities in order to survive. Moreover, Marxists argue that those in power and possessing wealth – the ruling classes – engage in deviant behavior by committing crimes to safeguard their social status. Furthermore, they contend that governments influenced by capitalists disregard these criminal acts. William Chambliss’ 1976 study illustrated this phenomenon through his investigation of organized crime in Washington, U.S.A.
According to his findings, collusion among individuals in the police force, business sector, and local government contributed to profiting from gambling and prostitution. However, critics of Marxism would doubt the pervasiveness of this corruption nationwide. They argue that a single instance of corruption does not prove anything without substantial evidence. Marxists perceive working class criminals as victims of the capitalist state, compelled to engage in illegal activities for their survival. Moreover, they believe that the prison system serves as a supplier of inexpensive labor, linking the utilization of workers in factories with those in prisons.
From an early age, those who subscribe to capitalism are indoctrinated to adopt the capitalist mindset. This persuasion is facilitated through a constant bombardment of messages and manipulation, predominantly perpetuated by the media and education system. In cases where this capitalist “brainwashing” proves ineffective, punishment becomes a consequence. Instances such as the General Strike in Britain (1926) and the Coal Miners’ strike in 1984-5 exemplify this, as workers and union leaders were unjustly targeted and portrayed as criminals threatening the foundations of a civilized society. The authorities, with implicit support from their political superiors, sanctioned the use of violence by the police in these situations.
Marxist theories posit that this scenario can be expanded to encompass other factions labeled as deviant by those in power or the government, who perceive them as a potential danger. Among these groups are black youth gangs, inner-city collectives, ‘new age’ travelers, immigrants, and student demonstrators. Marxists frequently allude to Margaret Thatcher, the ex-Prime Minister renowned for asserting that “There is no such thing as society.” This remark implies the absence of a cohesive community and absolves the government from any responsibility towards aiding specific groups or social classes in moral or tangible aspects.
Marxists believe that individuals should strive for their own economic and social well-being. They argue that the wealthy have too much influence over decision makers and often ignore the less privileged. Marxists also claim that the affluent control societal values, morality, and the legal system in order to suppress opposition to capitalism through strict law enforcement. Additionally, they contend that certain types of crimes are more likely to be punished than others.
The imbalance in attention given to different types of crimes is evident when comparing street crimes, such as brawls, binge drinking, theft, muggings, social unrest, and disorder, with white-collar crimes like fraud, tax evasion, insider trading, gambling and prostitution. The reason for this difference lies in the sympathetic treatment capitalist governments afford individuals who share their beliefs and class while having an excessive focus on accumulating wealth. In a society driven by greed, the working class resorts to criminal activities as a means of survival and achieving materialistic possessions and lifestyles that align with the norms of a capitalist state. This overall standard of living and mindset is enforced due to living in an unequal and unfair society under a capitalist government. Another example highlighting this prioritization is employers prioritizing high profits over implementing health and safety regulations. Recent incidents involving the exploitation of low-wage workers including illegal immigrants can be observed in cases like Morecambe Bay…
According to Marxists, the given scenario exemplifies typical capitalist exploitation, although it may also be attributed to specific bosses and their personal greed. Every year, numerous fatalities occur in workplaces, primarily due to owners or bosses overworking, exploiting, or subjecting their employees to hazardous conditions. They do so in order to make the employees carry out strenuous tasks while they themselves receive higher financial gains. The wealthy and privileged classes employ the impoverished and lower working classes to fuel their insatiable greed, often disregarding the welfare of their workers.
Workplace deaths are frequently punished with only a fine, even though someone else is technically accountable for the death. Conversely, if a death occurs in a street fight involving a young person or an individual from a lower socioeconomic background, the likelihood of facing severe consequences such as imprisonment is higher. A financially stable business, capable of easily committing the same “crime” again, receives lenient penalties through fines. This further illustrates the inequality within a society that is dominated by the wealthy and influential.
Another instance of this exploitation can be seen in ‘Allied Colloids’, a significant and influential chemical corporation, which was penalized a sum of ?17,000 for violating health and safety laws. Companies that evade taxes are further examples of capitalists misusing wealth. According to Marxist theorists, they would also argue that capitalist governments intentionally create obstacles for the working class to resist this exploitation. For instance, the recent British proposition to reduce legal aid would serve as evidence of this claim.
Stephen Box argues in his 1983 book ‘Power, Crime and Deviance’ that corporate crime has a greater impact on individuals and society than street crime or burglary. He claims that the harm caused by corporate crime, including unpaid tax revenue, environmental costs, and expenses related to health and welfare, is estimated to be around ?16 billion. However, Marxist theories on crime face criticism for overlooking individual motivation and placing excessive emphasis on capitalism and economic forces as drivers of criminal behavior.
The concept of personal individuality and avarice is disregarded. Marxists attempt to hold a specific social class responsible because they desire to overthrow them. The alleged prevalence of criminal activity within the working class, youth, and ethnic minorities cannot solely be attributed to biased policing. Could it not be argued that the laws, which are respected and followed by the majority, are the result of collective agreement and have evolved over many years through the consensus of various political perspectives? These laws consequently protect the rights of all individuals in society.
The majority of ordinary working class people are law abiding. Marxist theories, which are politically driven and simplistic, cannot fully explain crime and capitalism. According to Marxists, laws that are meant to benefit society actually serve the interests of corporate entities and oppress the working class. Mishra (1981) refers to Marxist theories as “left functionalism,” suggesting that laws can be seen as tools for capitalist control.
In view of this, Marxists struggle to engage in constructive discussions due to their endorsement of a forceful political framework and inclination to manipulate statistics, sources, and facts to further their own agenda. The government itself gathers and releases official data regarding crime, much of which is obtained from the police. Subsequently, the government determines probable patterns and enacts legislation, but it has the prerogative to selectively utilize certain figures. Statistics have the potential to corroborate any given argument.
The accuracy of deviancy statistics from various sources such as the Inland Revenue, the Department of Social Security, the military, local authorities, and independent bodies is questionable when considering Marxist theories. According to Stephen Moore’s book ‘Investigating Crime and Deviance’ (1988), crime rates are equally high among working classes, minority groups, and young people in both Marxist and capitalist countries. Therefore, Marxist theories on crime can be highly questioned. In 2011, the UK experienced a recession which resulted in rising unemployment, inflation, and limited opportunities for young people and lower socioeconomic classes. These factors were the main contributors to increased crime levels across all social groups. It is worth noting that some capitalist governments, including the UK, make efforts to combat corporate corruption and illegal activities, as seen when Members of Parliament were imprisoned for expenses scams.
Many criminal sociologists have disproved Marxist theories as being over simplistic and politically driven. Additionally, there are numerous company laws and rules in place to prevent illegal activities by large businesses that could harm the general public.
‘Power, Crime and Mystification’ by Steven Box was published by Tavistock Publications in 1983. Another book on the topic of investigating crime and deviance is ‘Investigating Crime and Deviance’ by Stephen Moore, which was published by Collins in 1988. Hazel Croall’s book ‘Understanding Occupational Crime’ was published by OUP in 2001. Lastly, ‘On Analyzing Crime’ by Sutherland was published by the University of Chicago Press in 1973.