Marxism, Class and Crime


Criminogenic Capitalism

  • Marxists; crime is inevitable in capitalism, as capitalism is criminogenic- by nature it causes crime.
  • Capitalism= exploitation of working class (based on to make profit, dont care how they exploit them).
  • Capitalism is a rise of crime through, Poverty, Crime being the only way they can obtain consumer goods (utilitarian crime) and Alienation and the lack of control resulting in non-utilitarian crime.
  • Capitalism= 'Dog eat dog' system, profit motive encourages mentality of greed and self-interest.
  • Self-enrichment and going out of business, encourages capitalists to commit white collar and corporate crimes (tax evasion etc).
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The State and Law Making

  • Marxists see law making and enforcement as only serving interests of capitalist class- *William Chambliss argues laws protect private property are the meaning of capitalist economy.
  • Relate to case of English Law in Britain's East African Colonies 9 colonies tea, coffee etc, plentiful supply of local labour.
  • Ruling class have power to prevent introduction of laws that threaten interests.
  • *Sidner capitalist state reluctant to pass laws that regulate actiivities of businesses/threaten profit making.

Selective enforcement-

  • Agree with labeling theorists, that there is selective enforcements when specific classes commit crime.
  • Courts and Laws ignore the crimes of the Powerful.
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Ideological functions of crime and law

  • perform ideological function for capitalism.
  • Laws passed on for benefit of w/c rather than capitalism.
  • *Pearce; such laws often benefit ruling class 'keeping workers fit for work'.
  • Capitalism a 'caring' face, false consciousness among workers.
  • State enforces law selctively, crimes are w/c phenomenon. Divides w/c by encoruaging workers to blame criminals rather than capitalism.
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Evaluation of Marxism

  • Ignores relationship between Crime and Non-class inequalities (Ethincity and Gender).
  • Too deterministic, over-predicts amount of crime in w/c, not all poor people commit crime, despite pressure of poverty,
  • Not all capitalist societies have high crime rates ( homocide rate in Japan and Switzerland is only a fifth in USA) but Marxists point out USA have low state welfare provision, do have higher crime rate)
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  • Been influenced by ideas of Marxism but combine with labelling theory.


  • Taylor et al; Marxism is determinsitic (workers driven to commit crime out of economic neccessit, Marxists reject this.
  • *Taylor et al; voluntaristic view (free will), crime is a meaningful action and conscious deciison by the individual.
  • Argue crime has political motive, redistribute wealth from rich to poor.
  • Criminals strive to change society.
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A fully social theory of Deviance

  • *Taylor et al created fully social theory of deviance (comprehensive understadning of crime and deviance that changes society for the better).
  • Theory has 2 main sources; Marxist ideas about unequal distribution of wealth, who has power to enforce law. And ideas frmo interactionism and labelling theory. About the meaaning of deviant act and effects on individual.
  • Complete theory of deviance needs 6 united factors-
  • 1) Wider origins of deviant act (unequal wealth in society)
  • 2) Immediate origins of deviant act (cotext which individual needs to commit act)
  • 3) Act itself (meaning for actor)
  • 4) Immediate origin of social reacction (actions of those around the deviant, Police etc)
  • 5) Wider origins of social reaction (structure of capitalist society, the issue of who has power to define actions of the deviant).
  • 6) Effects of labelling (deviant's future actions)
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Evaluation of critical criminology

  • *Taylor et al criticised by being 'gender blind', focusing on male criminality and expense of female criminality.
  • Left realisits criticise by, critical criminology romanticises w/c criminals as 'Robin Hoods' who fight capitalism by re-distributing wealth (rich to poor) In reality they prey on poor.
  • *Taylor et al doesnt take it seriosuly, ignore effects of w/c victims.
  • *Burke argues critical criminology is too general to explain crime and too idealistic to tackle crime.


  • call for greater intolerance of diversity in behaviour.
  • Showed later radical approaches that establish more than society (left realists and feminist theories.
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White Collar and Corporate Crime

  • *Sutherland defined White collar crime as 'A crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation'.
  • Aim was to challenge stereotype that crime is a l/c phenomenon.
  • Occupational crime; Committed by employees for own personal gain (stealing from company or customers)
  • Corporate Crime; committed by employees for their organisation in pursuit of its goals.
  • Harms caused by powerful do not break criminal law.

Scales and Types;

  • *Tombs-corporate crime is high in costs due to physical injuries and deaths, pollution and economic (consumers, workers and governments)
  • Corporate crime is widespread, routine and is pervasive.
  • Covers many acts and ommissions-

1) Financial crimes- Tax evasion, bribery and illegal accounting.

2) Crimes against consumers- False labelling and selling unfit goods.

3) Crimes against employees- sexual and racial discrimination, violation of wage laws, right to join union etc.

4) State-corporate crime- harms committed when government institutions and businesses cooperate to pursue goals.

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Invisibility of Corporate Crime

  • The media- very limited coverage to corporate crime, corporate criime as technical infringments rather than a real crime.
  • Lack of political will- tackle corporate crime, politicians rhetoic of being tough on crime is focused instead of street crime.
  • Crimes often complex- law enforcers under-staffed, under-resourced to investigate properly.
  • De-labelling- corporate if filtered out from process of criminalisation (cases descirbed as civil not criminal).
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Explanations of corporate crime

  • Strain theory- argues deviance results from inability of people achieving their goals that society gives them by using legitimate means.
  • *Merton uses innovation concept for explaning w/c crime, but others use it to explain corporate crime. *Box company cant ahcieve goals by maximisng profit they will have to perform illegitmate means instead.

Differential association-

  • *Sutherland- crime as a behvaiour learned from others in social context, less we assosciate with people who have attitudes favourable to the lawand more we assosciate with people with criminal attitudes, more likely to become deviant ourselves.
  • Deviant subcultures- groups who share set of norms and values at odds of wider society, offer deviant solutioins to members' shared problems.
  • Techniques of neutralisation- *Sykes and Matza- individuals deviate more eaisly if they can produce justifications to neutralise objections to misbehaviour. An example is white collar crime, carrying out orders from above, blame the victim or normalise deviance by claiming everyones doing it.
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Labelling theory

  • *Cicourel, m/c more able to negotiate non-criminal labels for their misbehaviour.
  • De-labelling- Businesses and professionals have the power to avoid labelling. Can afford expensive experts such as lawyers, to help them to avoid activities that they are involved in. Sociologists who rely on offical records and statistics will in-evitably under estimate extent of these offences. *Clinard and Yeager- criticised for law enforcement agency records for true meaures of extent of corporate crimes.

Marxism- Corporate crime is result of normal fucntioning of capitalism.

  • successfully created 'mystification' *Box. Corporae crime is less widespread or harmful than w/c crime.
  • *Box, corporations as criminogenic because they find legitmate opportunities for profit are blocked, they will trun to illegal techniques which are aimed at consumers or the public.
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Evaluation of Corporate Crime and Topic summary

  • *Nelken argues, unrealistic to assume that all businesses would offend awere not the risk of punishment.
  • If capitalist pursuit of profit is a cause of corporate crime, it doesnt explain crime in non profit making state agencies such as police or civil service.
  • White collar and corporate crime are committed by high status individuals and businesses, are widespread and cause harm. Yet are invisible are not known as 'real' crime.
  • Critical criminology combines elements of Marxism and labelling theory is a fully social theory of deviance.
  • Law performs ideological function by giving capitalism a 'caring face'.
  • Marxism is criticised for ignoring non-class inequalities thata ffect crime and for determinism.
  • Working-class are criminalised whislt escaping punishment for own corporate crimes, as ruling class make and enforce the laws.
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