Marxism, class and crime

Marxists agree that the law is enforced mainly against the WC and that official statistics are flawed. However, they criticise the labelling theory for ignoring the structure of capitalism within which law making, enforcement and offending take place. Marxists explanations of crime flow from their analysis of the nature of capitalist society. Marxism sees capitalist society as divided into the ruling class and the working class. Marxism is a structural theory; society is a structure whose capitalist economic base determines the superstructure, ie. All the other institutions, including the state, the law and criminal justice system. Their function is to serve ruling class interests.

Criminogenic Capitalism

Crime is inevitable in capitalism, because it is criminogenic. Its very nature causes crime.

Working class crime is due to the exploitation of the working class for profit. This leads to poverty which means the only way to survive is to result to crime. Crime may be the only way of obtaining customer goods encouraged by the capitalist advertising, resulting in utilitarian crimes such a theft. Alienation may also cause frustration and aggression which leads to violence and vandalism.

However, Marxism is too deterministic. Not all working class people commit crime, despite poverty and alienation. Furthermore, not all capitalist societies have high crime rates. For example, Japan have much less crime than America.

Ruling class crime involves corporate crimes such as tax evasion and breaking health and safety laws. This is because capitalism is a win at all costs system of competition, meaning huge amounts of profits encourage greed.

The state and law making

Marxists see law making and enforcement as serving the interests of the ruling class. Chambliss argues that laws to protect private property are the basis of the capitalist economy. The ruling class also have the power to prevent the introduction of laws harmful to their interest, few laws challenge the unequal distribution of wealth.

Selective enforcement

White all classes commit crime, there is selective enforcement of the law. Reiman shows that crimes of the powerful are much less likely to be treated as criminal offences and prosecuted. This links with labelling theories differential enforcement.

Ideological functions of crime and law

Crime and the law perform ideological functions for capitalism. Some laws benefit workers (health and safety). However, Pearce argues that these also benefit capitalism by giving it a ‘caring face’, creating a false class consciousness. Because the state enforces the law selectively, crime appears to be largely WC. This divides the WC, encouraging workers to blame them for their problems, rather than criminals. Selective enforcement distorts crime statistics by making it appear largely WC, it shifts attention from more serious ruling class crime.