Marxist and Critical Criminologies/ Crime 1.3


The traditional Marxist approach

  • This approach is based on the Marxist analysis of society, which argues that society is best understood by examining the process whereby the majority of the population are exploited by the owners and controllers of businesses.
  • The Marxist approach includes analysis of the criminal law and why certain acts are passed but not others. It also looks at law enforcement. Not all laws are enforced with equal vigour and not all offenders are pursued by the authorities. Marxists also discuss the motivations of individual criminals.

The basis of the criminal law

  • All laws are essentially for the benefit of the ruling class, and that criminal law reflects their interests. It is generally agreed that violent crime is dangerous and needs to be socially controlled but Marxists argue that the ruling class aim to control and monopolise the right to legitimate and use violence through state apparatuses such as the law, the police and the army
  • Jeffrey Reiman (2009) argues that the law of theft appears to be neutral and to protect everyone regardless of their background. However, it is "  a law against stealing what individuals presently own. Such a law has the effect of making the present distribution of property a part of the criminal law"
  • Laureen Snider (1993) claims that in capitalist societies laws that threaten the interests of large corporations by undermining their profits are rarely passed. Indeed the state often spends large sums trying to attract inward investment in corporations. Reiner (2012) very few banks were punished for economic crime in 2008
  • Andrew Sayer (2015) believes that the rich largely shape the law so that they are unlikely to end up in prison. For example, they make sure that governments do not close down loopholes that allow the rich to avoid tax
  • Ruling class ideology - a dominant pro-capitalist belief system. Capitalists promote beneficial to themselves values through a number of ideological agencies. For example, the constant emphasis on "benefits scroungers" distracts attention away from law-breaking by the rich and produces a distorted view of social reality. The public are encouraged to believe that laws about welfare payments are over-generous and poorly enforced so that it is easy to scrounge illegally off the state.

Law enforcement and harm

  • Marxists believe that the law has the potential to benefit the majority of the population if it is applied fairly. However, they point out that the interpretation and enforcement of the law is biased in favour of the ruling class. The much stronger enforcement of laws against benefit fraud than those against illegal tax evasion is a case in point.
  • Corporate crimes are not committed by individuals but by large companies in the pursuit of profit. 
  • Laureen Snider argues that crimes committed by corporations in the USA do far more harm than "street crimes". One example is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico with over 4 million barrels of oil leaked into the sea before it was controlled.
  • Between 1890…


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