Traditional Marxism

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Traditional marxism sees capitalist society as divided into two classes, the ruling capitalist class who own the means of production and the working class, whose alienated labour the bourgeoisie exploit to produce profit.

Marxism is a structural theory. It sees society as a structure in which the economic base determines the shape of the superstructure, which is made up of all the other social institutions, including the state, the law and the criminal justice system. Their function is to serve ruling-class interests and maintain the capitalist economy.

For traditional marxists, the structure of capitalist society explains crime. Their view of crime has 3 main elements:

  • Criminogenic Capitalism
  • The state and law making
  • Ideological functions of crime and law.

Criminogenic Capitalism.

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

Capitalism is based on the exploitation of the working class - that is, on using them as a means to an end, whatever the human cost of doing so. It is therefore particularly damaging to the working class and this may give rise to 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 utilitarian crimes such as theft.
  • Alienation and lack of control over their lives may lead to frustration and aggression, resulting in non-utilitarian crimes such as violence and vandalism.

Howver, crime is not confined to the working class. Capitalism is a 'dog eat dog' system of ruthless competition among capitalists, while the profit motive enourages a mentality of greed and self-interest. The need to win at all costs or go out of buisness along with the desire for self-enrichment, encourages capitalists to commit white-collar and corporate crimes such as tax evasion and breeches of health and safety laws.

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

The state and law making

Unlike functionalists, who see the law as reflecting the value consensus and representing the interests of society as a whole, Marxist see law making and law enforcement as only serving the interests of the capitalist class. For example, William Chambliss argues that laws to protect private property are the cornerstone of the capitalist economy.

Chambliss illustrates this with the case of the introduction of Enlish law into Britain's East African colonies. Britain's economic interests lay inthe colonie's tea, coffe and other plantations, which needed a plentiful supply of local labour.

At the time, the local economy was not a money economy and so, to force the reluctant African population to work for…


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