Marxists’ Explanation of Crime Essay

Examine some of the ways in which Marxists explain crime (12 marks) Marxists idea of crime is strongly linked to capitalism and the way it creates conditions for crime through exploitation and competition. There are two branches of Marxism; traditional and Neo-Marxism. They both focus on the idea of criminogenic state, however Neo-Marxist theory links in with the labelling theory to explain crime. Traditional Marxists such as David Gordon (1976) argues that crime is a conscious, rational response to the capitalist system and can be found in both middle and working class cultures.

Others argue that the law itself is what causes crime in order to protect capitalist economy and serve the ruling class. For example , Chambliss (1975) says that introduction of English law into East African colonies is due to Britain’s economic interests tea, coffee and cocoa beans. Britain introduced taxes which could be paid in cash, non-payment of which would result in punishment and considered a crime. In order to pay that cash many had to work on plantations which created more working power and therefore profit for the capitalist plantation owners.

Furthermore , traditional Marxists argue that the ruling class have the power to prevent some laws being introduced if it didn’t serve their capitalist interests. Laureen Snider (1993) points out that there aren’t many laws that prevent the unequal distribution of wealth. She argues that the state is cautious of introducing such laws as it would affect its profit and the economy. A number of laws seem to be introduced in order to favour the working class, such as health and safety laws.

Marxists argue that in reality those laws give capitalism a ‘caring’ face which in effect makes the quality of work better and therefore boosts the profits. Crime as a whole appears to be a working-class phenomenon due to selective reinforcement and mass media. Traditional Marxists argue that the state often ignores ‘white collar crimes’ such as fraud and focuses on ‘street crimes’ which is mainly committed by working class. Courts tend to be more forgiving to cases concerning tax evasions while being harsh to those who commit burglary and/or assault.

Neo-Marxists support traditional Marxist in the way they see capitalist state and the purpose of law. However Taylor et al criticise Traditional Marxism and other approaches and consider them to be ‘critical criminology’. For example Neo-Marxists also look at subcultures and labelling while traditional Marxists ignore such external factors and can therefore be considered a deterministic approach. Even though both approaches share the goal of a classless social society, Neo-Marxists emphasise the importance of individual liberty and diversity.

Taylor et al created a ‘fully social theory of deviance’ combining the labelling theory and the ideas of traditional Marxists. According to them , people should be free to act as they will and not be labelled as deviant as a consequence, as well as be punished for it and considered a criminal. Taylor et al argue that labelling issues should be questioned and dealt with, as well as capitalist state which in their opinion could have caused the crime itself.

Overall Marxists agree that Capitalist state in effect leads to crime, especially working class. Although the state and mass media also exaggerate this ‘phenomenon’ and let white collar crimes slide through the court system with no or minimum punishment. The main difference between Traditional Marxism and Neo-Marxism is that the latter looks at other factors and includes the labelling theory in their approach. Both views can be criticised for ignoring gender differences and ignoring the reality of crime, as it is indeed an actual issue in society.