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Evaluating Classical Marxist Approaches to Crime

Level:
AS, A Level, IB
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AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 13 Nov 2017

The existence of crime in non-capitalist societies, especially communist societies, for example, the Soviet Union in the 20th century or modern-day Cuba has been used to challenge the concept of capitalism being criminogenic.

Marxists would counter that crime in Cuba, for instance, might still be capitalist in origin because it continues to cause poverty in non-capitalist countries; that capitalism is criminogenic does not mean that there are no other causes of crime.

In contemporary society, property law does not protect the ruling class alone. The vast majority of people in a society like the UK own some property; therefore laws about theft or burglary are not only bourgeois laws. However, Marxists would counter this proposition by arguing that the criminal justice system would take property crimes against the rich more seriously than property crimes against the poor, both in terms of the rigour with which the police would investigate the crime and the sentence handed down.

While there is significant debate within Marxism about the extent to which the state serves the interests of the ruling class, non-Marxists would point out that in modern democracies, law-makers are elected by everyone (over 18) and include people from a range of political positions and social backgrounds. Furthermore, most criminal laws are not controversial: there is a real consensus about the vast majority of crimes.

Also, the state has also created lots of laws that protect workers.  While Marxists like Pearce (1976) argue that such laws still help employers (see above), laws governing minimum wage or rights for trade unions were clearly introduced in the interests of the proletariat, not the bourgeoisie.  While some Marxists might suggest that such laws are in the long-term interests of capitalism because they prevent revolution, it is clear that employers can be contained by the law too.

These theories seem to present working-class criminals as passive: people who cannot help but commit crime because of their economic circumstances. Neo-Marxists challenge this idea, arguing that crime is a conscious choice.

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