Traditional Marxist Theories

  • Created by: Oohla
  • Created on: 14-05-15 10:57

Criminogenic capitalism..

For Marxists, crime is inevitable in capitalism because capitalism is criminogenic- by its very nature it causes crime.

Poverty may mean that crime is the only way the working class can survive.

Crime may be the only way they can obtain the consumer goods encouraged by capitalist advertising, resulting in theft. For some who are obsessed with achieving, breaking the law seems a minor barrier to success.

Alienation and lack of control over their lives may lead to frustration and aggression, resulting in non-utilitarian crimes such as violence.

The need to win at all costs or go out of business, along with the desire of self-enrichment, encourages capitalists to commit white collar and corporate crime e.g. tax evasion.

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Snider: 'Corporation Crime'..

Snider (1993) argues that corporation crime is the most serious crime in modern industrial countries. She showed this by carrying out research and found out that street crime in the USA cost $4 billion to fix whereas corporation crime cost $80 billion to fix.

She also argues that the state wants to attract and protect investment, hence that is why they fail to regulate with laws such as health and safety in the workplace. Capitalist state are reluctant to pass laws that regulate activities of business or threaten their profitability.

Finally she argues that there is little prosecution of corporation crime due to it being costly and there being little chance of success.

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Gordon: Causes of Crime..

Gordon (1976) argues, crime is a rational response to the capitalist system and hence it is found in all social classses- even though the official statistics make it appear to be largely working-class phenomenon.

It's working class rational response to inequality to turn to crime - not their fault.
As capitalism encourages crime, our society feel the 'need to win'.


- Economic infrastructure influences social relationships, values (max profit and wealth).
Economic self interest above collective well being.
- Competition encourages individual achievement at expense of others e.g. aggression.

How does law enforcement support capitalism?

- By punishing the w/c, blaming them and drawing attention away from the 'system'.
- Imprisoning the w/c neutralises opposition 'legitimately'.
- Defining criminals as enemies of the state justifies to keep them hidden- if made public they could question the whole 'system'.

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Chambliss - The state and law making..

Marxists see law making and law enforcement as only serving the interests of the capitalist class.

Chambliss (1975) argues that laws to protect private property are the 'cornerstone of the economy'. E.g. private property laws appeared on statue books for 200 years.

EX) Chambliss illustrates this with the case of the introduction of English law into Britain's East African colonies. The British introduced a tax payable in cash to force the African population to work for them. Since cash to pay the tax could only be earned by working on the plantations, the law served the economic interests of the capitalist plantation owners.

Law enforcement?
Law is enforced selectively, there is favour for those on top. Crimes of the ruling class (corporate crime), if discovered are rarely prosecuted. Those at the bottom of the class system who are caught are regulary prosecuted. Cicourel (1976) found police officers held image of typical deviant that fell under the w/c.

EX) Badger hunting (w/c activity) is against the law but fox hunting (m/c activity) isn't.
"The rich get richer, the poor go to jail".

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Ideological functions of crime and law..

Pearce (1976) argues that laws that appear to benefit the working class often benefit the ruling class too

e.g. by keeping workers fit for work. Furthermore, because the state enforces the law selectively, crime appears to be largely a working-class phenomenon. This divides the working class by encouraging workers to blame the criminals in their midst for their problems, rather than capitalism.

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White collar crime examples..

- Exploitation of the environment - BP oil diaster in GULF of Mexico.

- Corporate crime not regarded as serious, they are warned not punished. e.g. parliment members just step down.

- Jordan Ross Belfort - The real wolf of wall street..
Founded brokerage firm 'Stratton Oakmont', which marketed penny stocks and defrauded investors with stock sales. Involved in stock issues totalling more than $1 billion.

HOWEVER, only served 22 months paying back $110.4 million.

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Evaluation of traditional Marxism..

  • Traditional Marxism shows the link between law making and enforcement and the interests of the capitalist class. By doing so, it puts into a wider structural context the insights of labelling theory regarding the selective enforcement of the law.

  • It istoo deterministic and over-predicts the amount of crime in the working class; not all poor people commit crime despite the pressures of poverty.

  • Not all capitalist societies have high crime rates; Japan and Switzerland have lower crimes rates than the US.

  • Left realists argue that Marxism focuses largely on the crimes of the powerful and ignores intra-class crimes (where both the criminal and victim are working class) such as burglary, which cause great harm to victims.
  • Prosecutions for corporate crime do occur E.g. Bernard Madoff is an American swindler convicted of fraud and a former stockbroker, investment advisor, and financier.

Functionalists would agrue crime acts as a social solidarity - as society we unite against the wrongdoer, which reinforces our norms & values. Durkheim suggests crime is inevitable.

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