Criminology: Marxist approach to crime

Marxist approach to crime is based on conflict theory. Unlike the functionalist approach, it does not assume there is consensus over a common core of norms and values.
Marxism see deviance in terms if a critique of capitalist society. It questions who defines what crime is and who makes the law. The basis of the argument is that the ruling class,or capitalist class, exploit the working class because power is held by those who own, and control the means of production in society. The superstructure reflects the relationship between the powerful and the relatively powerless.
The agencies of social control, the law and definitions of deviance reflect and serve ruling class interests.
The law is a tool of the capitalist ruling class, and the state uses the law to support their own class interests while exploiting and controlling the working class. The law is capitalist law and favours the capitalist system.

Manipulation of the law
Many sociologists point out that in a capitalist society much of the law concerns the protection of property.
‘The history of criminal legislation in England and many other countries, shows that excessive prominence was given by the law to the protection of property’
[Hermann Mannheim, 1960]
As a result of this excessive need to protect property, the capitalist state is often reluctant to pass laws which regulate capitalist concerns which would affect their profitability.
‘The state is reluctant to pass – or enforce – stringent laws against pollution, worker health and safety; or monopolies. Such measures frighten off the much sought-after investment and engender the equally dreaded loss of confidence.’
[Laureen Snider, 1993]
Even where laws appear to be designed to protect the consumer (anti-pollution laws, unfair contract terms, health & safety), theses laws are, in fact, shaped by the ruling class to promote their own interests while giving the impression that they protect the working class.
‘The majority of laws in Britain and America work in favour of the capitalists, yet many laws do also benefit the other social classes, not only because the system needs a healthy, safe population of producers and consumers but also because it needs their loyalty.’
[Pearce, 1976]
Corporate crime
Snider argues that ‘Many of the most serious anti-social and predatory acts committed in modern, industrial countries are corporate crimes’
Snider claims that corporate crime costs more in terms of money and lives than street crime such as burglary. In the USA she points out that annually about 20,000 people are murdered. Compare this figure to the following: 14,000 deaths (industrial accidents & breach of safety regulations), 30,000 consumer deaths due to unsafe consumer products, 100,000 deaths from occupationally induced diseases.
In Britain, workplace accidents account for 600 deaths and 12,000 injuries annually.
Despite the costs of corporate crime, the penalties and chances of prosecution are very small. Prosecution is usually a last resort.

Capitalism and crime
Marxists argue that the capitalist economic system generate crime as:
  1. The economic system is the major influence upon social relationships and values. Capitalism stresses maximisation of profits and wealth.
  2. Economic self-interest rather than public duty motivates behaviour.
  3. Personal gain rather than collective well-being is encouraged.
  4. Capitalism is a competitive system. Mutual aid and cooperation for the betterment of all are discouraged in favour of individual achievement at the expense of others. Competition breeds aggression, hostility and frustration on the part of losers.
William Chambliss (1976) argues that greed and self-interest motivate many crimes at all levels in society.

Selective law enforcement
According to Marxists, the occasional prosecution of a member of the ruling class is only done to perpetuate the myth that the law operates for the benefit of society as a whole. In other words, it is a smokescreen to hide the truth that it is designed to protect the rich and powerful and used against the working class.
Selective law enforcement also diverts attention from the exploitation of the working class. It also directs the attention of the working class on to criminals within their own class which acts as a safety valve. This is also a way to divide the working class.

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