Marxism and Crime
Marxists believe that crime is inevitable in a capitalist society because there is a basic conflict of interests between the ruling and subject classes.
Capitalism is based on private ownership and the pursuit of profit and this shapes how deviance is defined, law making and law enforcement.
Traditional Marxists argue laws in a capitalist society benefit the ruling class: e.g. laws about private property only protect those with private property – i.e. the ruling class.(see Chambliss) The ruling class also have the power to prevent laws that could threaten their interests (see Graham’s study of amphetamine production).
Furthermore, laws that appear to benefit the subject class also benefit the ruling class (see Pearce).
Traditional Marxists believe laws are enforced selectively e.g. ruling class crimes such as corporate crime are rarely prosecuted but subject class crimes such as benefit fraud are, even though the sums of money are much less than for corporate crime. (see Pearce).
1. The colonial rulers required cheap labour to generate higher profits.
2. They introduced a tax which could only be paid by working for wages on the plantations.
3. Non-payment of the tax was a criminal offence, punishable by fines, corporal punishment and imprisonment.
4. Wages were kept low since higher wages would enable the Africans to pay the tax and return to their villages, without working throughout the growing season.
5. This example provides strong support for the Marxist theory because the ruling class are exploiting the subject class in order to generate larger profits and create laws to do so.
1. Health and safety laws benefit the subject class because it protects them from physical harm. It also benefits the ruling class because they need a healthy population of workers who will continue to work there. It also creates a false class consciousness for the subject class, who think their employers are looking out for them.
1. Amphetamine is more commonly known as ‘speed’: a stimulant which if taken in large quantities can do considerable harm.
2. Attempts to place stricter controls on amphetamine manufacture and illegal distribution failed because the manufacturers are ruling class; and thus were pressuring the government to not make any new laws concerning the manufacture of their product. Ergo, they maintained profits.
Pearce claims that the criminal activities of the working class are a drop in the ocean compared with the huge sums illegally pocketed by private enterprise. For example, in 1968, robbery accounted for some fifty-five million dollars compared to the detectable business frauds amounting one billion dollars.
Chambliss argues that the key features of a capitalist society are greed, self-interest and hostility.
2. This leads to crime because members of each class use whatever means and opportunities their class provides to commit crime. Thus in lower income areas the mugger, the petty thief, the push, the pimp and the prostitute use what they’ve got to get what they can. In higher-income brackets, businessmen, lawyers and politicians have more effective means at their disposal.
Evaluation of Marxism
- It recognises which groups have the power to define actions as deviant, and who has the power to make and enforce laws
- It draws attention to crimes committed by the ruling class e.g. corporate crime
- It cannot explain crimes committed where the offender and victim are both working class (see left realism)
- It is too deterministic: not all capitalist countries have a high level of crime, and not everyone in poverty will turn to crime
- The criminal justice system does take action against the ruling class e.g. prosecutions for corporate crime.
Neo-Marxism (critical/radical criminology)
Neo-Marxists argue traditional Marxism is too deterministic and ignores that individuals have free will that shapes their actions. Neo-Marxists use interactionist ideas (e.g. labelling, societal reaction) and apply these to a Marxist analysis of crime in a capitalist society to create a “fully social theory” of deviance (i.e. a more comprehensive understanding of crime.)
Neo-Marxism: Hall et al ‘Policing the crisis’
Hall is interested in how the ruling class maintain power when capitalism appears to be in crisis.
In the early 1970s the British government had all sorts of problems which threatened their ability to keep power.
However, the media created a moral panic about the Black mugger and this helped the government because it took attention away from the mess the government was in and onto the fear of the Black mugger. Also, it divided the subject class, weakening opposition to the government.