Marxist theories of crime

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  • Marxist theories of crime
    • Crime, capitalism and the legal system
      • Marxists believe that capitalism causes crime through a number of basic processes:
        • Capitalism legitimises greed and selfishness, so some people will do anything to accumulate wealth and power.
        • People are encouraged to prioritise their own needs over those of the whole of society, so the rich are admired for their wealth/greed.
        • Because capitalism is competitive, people are encouraged to hurt and exploit the weak rather than support them.
      • The basic principles of the Marxist approach to the study and understanding of deviance and crimes are that:
        • There can be no overall ‘theory of crime’ because it needs to be considered in terms of the social context in which it takes place.
        • Social order is necessary for society, but under capitalism it operates to control the working classes and benefit the wealthy.
        • Crime and defiance among the working class can be understood in terms of how the poor respond to a social situation in which they are relatively powerless.
        • Laws reflect the wishes and needs of the capitalist classes and often operate to protect property at the expense of the person.
        • People have unequal access to the law, so the wealthy can avoid being held accountable for their crimes and the poor will receive harsh punishment for theirs.
        • The legal and criminal justice systems operate to enforce capitalist ideologies on society.
      • Marxist sociologists tend to focus on specific areas of study:
        • Inequalities in who benefits from the legal system; laws often appear to favour property over the person, and large corporations over individuals. (Lauren Snider)
        • Inequalities in the cases of the process of creating laws; it is difficult for poorer groups to get representation or access to law makers. (Stephen Box)
        • Inequalities in the application and enforcement of laws; tax evasion prosecuted whereas benefits fraud almost always results in prosecution.
          • This concept is known as ‘selective law enforcement’. (Gordon)
    • Marxist approaches in criminology.
      • Bonger was a Dutch sociologist who believed that the powerful are able to define crime as anything that threatened their interests, such as property crime. There will be more focus on the crime that is committed by poor people on the rich than on the crimes of the rich.
        • Poor people commit crime for one of two reasons:
          • A sense of frustration and injustice caused by deprivation.
          • Physical needs and wants
      • Snider is a Canadian sociologist who suggests that States are reluctant to pass laws that offend the interests of big business because of the power of y companies
      • Chambliss wrote that the ruling classes are able to define what is or is not morally or socially acceptable; for example, there may be huge media coverage of benefits fraud, buy few media reports of tax evasion.
      • Neocleous argues that the police have been a tool of capitalism since they were first established, so that they created social order by criminalising the traditional customs of workers, such as grazing cattle by roadsides.
        • Thus the concept of law and order is an acceptance of capitalist modes of thinking.
    • Assessment of Marxist views on crime.
      • Marxism is over-reliant on class as an explanation of criminal behaviour.
        • As feminists such as Kelly and Radford point out, this overlooks the nature of personal crime, such as ****, and gender differences in crime rates.
      • Marxism can sometimes appear to be on the side of the offender, without regard to the victim, who is often of the same class but weaker and more vulnerable, as official statistics show.
        • Left realists work from a Marxist perspective but see working-class crime as a problem for victims.
      • Marxism sees the solution to the problem of crime as being a socialist revolution, but crime rates appear to be high in socialist states as well.
        • One of the lowest crime dates is in Switzerland, a capitalist country.


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