Marxism and Crime


Traditional Marxism

  • Marxists understand crime in terms of capitalism and class struggle 
  • Capitalism is criminogenic 
  • there is a strong emphasis on coercion and control
  • structures and institutes determine our behaviour 
  • individual gain is wanted more than collective wellbeing 
  • the competitive system encourages aggression and exploitation, therefore crime is inevitable 

1. poverty causes crime as it is the only way to survive

2. crime allows people to obtain consumer goods 

3. alienation and lack of control leads to frustration 

Gordon (1976) Crime is a rational response to the capitalist system and is found in all social classes 

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Traditional Marxism: The State and Law Making

Chambliss (1975) The Introduction of British Law into East African Colonies 

  • interests lay in tea, coffee and other plantations
  • introduction of taxes only payable in money
  • money could only be earnt in plantations 
  • this meant it served the interests of plantation owners 

Laws protect the ruling class 

  • few laws challenge the unequal wealth distribution
  • Snider (1993) the government is reluctant to pass laws that regulate the activity of businesses or threaten profitability 
  • e.g. fox hunting is legal but badger bating is 
  • law enforcement is selective and is ignorant to the crimes of the wealthy 
  • laws are occasionally passed to benefit the working class, e.g. health and safety laws
  • however, cynically, these are just an ideological tool to keep people fit for work 
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Evaluation of Traditional Marxism

  • explains crime in all social classes, with variety in nature 
  • shows the relationship between crime and capitalism
  • has wider structural context and reinforces labelling theory 
  • largely ignores other inequalities such as gender and race
  • overpredicts the amount of working class crime 
  • not all capitalist societies have high crime rates 
  • prosecutions for corportate crime do occur 
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Radical Criminology

  • most influential attempt to apply Marxist theory to crime and deviance 
  • focuses on how the state defines crime and deviance and therefore criminalises certain groups 
  • criminals choose to break the law
  • crimes are often conscious, deliberate and politically motivated 

The 7 Dimension Model - A Fully Social Theory of Deviance 

  • 1. the wider origins of the act - need to locate the deviant act in the wider social system
  • 2. the immediate origins of the act - why did the individual choose to act deviantly 
  • 3. the actual act - what does the act mean to the individual 
  • 4. the immediate origin of social reaction - need to consider the reactions of others
  • 5. wider origins of deviant reactions - who has the power to define what is deviant and mass media reactions 
  • 6. the outcomes of social reaction on the deviants further action - how does labelling affect the individual 
  • 7. the nature of the whole deviant process as a whole - everything put together 
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Taylor, Walton and Young (1973)

  • capitalist society is based on exploitation and class conflict, understanding this helps understand crime 
  • the state makes and enforces laws to serve the ruling class 
  • capitalism should be replaced by a classless society, they would reduce crime vastly 
  • rejects marxism in the sense that crime is not caused by extenal factors 
  • they suggest crime is more voluntarialistic 
  • crime is instead a meaningful action 
  • criminals strive to change society 
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Evaluation of Radical Criminology

  • it combines different perspectives and uses labelling theory along side Marxism
  • it is a gender blind, focusing only on male crime
  • Burke (2005) it is too general to explain crime and too idealistic to be useful in tackling crime 
  • left realists suggest critical criminiologists ignore the impact of crime on the victims
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