Critically evaluate Marxist approaches to crime and deviance Essay

Marxism became increasingly influential in sociology during the 1970’s, partly due to the failure of functionalism that promised to provide answers that functionalists failed to provide.

Marxism sees society based on an economic infrastructure that incorporates the relations of production and means of production. The other aspects of society, known as the superstructure is based on top of this infrastructure and are determined by it. They see society containing basic contradictions, which means that they cannot survive in their existing form. (Which involves the exploitation of one social group by another.) They see this exploitation to disappear once a revolution occurs, where everyone will be liberated and will be free from oppression.

Classical Marxism, being a structural approach, shares common assumptions with functionalists such as they accept official statistics and that the working class become criminals, but see capitalism as brutalising the working class and for this reason has changed them from the normal.

Classical Marxists see crime as to be an automatic process and not problematic. Nor do they see agencies of social control as problematic, but automatically serving the ruling class. Since the law and courts are agencies in the superstructure, it will automatically further the interest of the ruling class, because they are embewed with false consciousness.

Bonger saw agencies of social control as not being neutral, but operating automatically in the interest of the ruling class. He didn’t see crime as dysfunctional and as a reflection of social disorganisation, but due to the “contradictions of capitalism”- as the contradictions get worse, it leads to the breeding of working class criminality.

The positivist analysis in showing the correlation between crime and unemployment shows that as unemployment increases, so does crime along with it, therefore Bonger saw crime and deviance as a reaction to capitalist exploitation. These inherent contradictions such as unemployment, poverty and brutal working conditions are seen as a direct consequence of capitalism, which then forces the working class to engage in acts that are deemed illegal by the ruling class.

Such an example can be seen through medieval times, where the law saw hunting to be illegal, even though peasants were starving to death. People lived by begging labour shortages, so begging became illegal.

The solution that classical Marxists see to crime is to wait for the communist revolution, where capitalism will be erased and hence will be no exploitation. The law will then reflect the interest of everyone; therefore will result in there being no crime.

However, it can be seen that crime still exists in communist societies; therefore crime cannot simply be seen as a tool of the ruling class.

According to Bonger, only certain people commit crimes, i.e. the working class, however the rich also commit crimes. It is just that the statistics do not show this, e.g. Maxwell robbed millions from pension, tax evasions etc, so it can be concluded that statistics are unreliable.

Being a structural theory, it is overly deterministic, whereby it sees crime as an absolute phenomenon, and doesn’t acknowledge its socially constructed nature. It gives no causal status to human agencies and sees individuals as passive products that are determined by the structure of society.

The interactional processes aren’t highlighted i.e. what constitutes as a crime or a criminal. As a result of these interactional criticisms, the Neo-Marxist perspective was developed by Tailor, Walton and Young, where they looked at Marxism and linked crime to the wider society.

The new criminology was intended to provide an alternative to existing theories of crime and deviance, and its objective was to synthesise structure and action theory. They argued that how can resistance occur when we’re all supposed to be falsely conscious.

They looked at why are the relatively powerless become criminalized and are seen to threaten the values of society and if reality is created here and now, then why is it to suit the powerful?

Neo Marxists do not see structure in determining behaviour, like Marxists say or that action on the ground determines the structure like interactions say, but each has an effect on one other. Their assumptions include the following:

1. If you want to understand crime, you have to look at the material base of society

2. If you look at capitalist societies, the fundamental characteristic is that of massive inequality of wealth and power

3. It supports the radical transformation of society to a more socialist society, which then developed into the FULL SOCIAL THEORY OF DEVIANCE. This saw:

a) You have to understand how power and wealth are distributed in society

b) Sociologists must consider the conditions surrounding individuals who chooses to commit a crime

c) To consider the meaning behind the act

d) To then look at the social reaction to the act

e) Then link the social reaction to the wider society and explain it in terms of this

f) Then the consequences of the label on the individual so labelled has to be looked at

g) And finally, a full explanation of deviance requires a fusion of all six points.

Jock young acknowledged points (c), (d) and (f), however failed to explain why the teenagers took the drugs in the first place. To answer this question, we have to refer to the other points.

If we look at the nature of society, it can be seen that the globalisation of music took place. Black music was associated with smoking marihuana, and became diffused into white culture. The loss of community, the increase divorce rates etc increased the tendency for individuals to become more anomic. The older generation, who struggled to live from week to week, appreciated material assets, whereas the younger generation took them from granted, since they grew up with them.

The social reaction to hippies was severe, but why was this the case? Neo Marxists see this associated with the concept of hegemony, not brainwashing, as Marxists would say, but making us give consent. Hippies threatened consumerism (being judged on ones material possessions.) Therefore it had to be made sure that this never spread and therefore, the mass media depicted hippies badly.

Stuart Hall, another big name in neo Marxism, looked at “policing the crisis”, who disagreed with the fact that the new criminology put forward, that criminals are political activists, hence do not commit crimes to liberate themselves.

He took issue with the idea that criminals are “robin hood” type figures, since they do not rob from the rich to give to the poor, but steal from the rich and give to themselves.

Hall looks at the phenomenon of the black mugger (violence with the intention to rob). In august 1972-1973 there became a moral panic of mugging- 60 events were reported as mugging in national daily newspapers. Between 1955-65, official statistic showed muggings to have risen each year about 33.4%. Logic tells us that there should have been a moral panic then and not in the 1960’s where the rise in mugging was only 14% a year.

Hall looked at capitalism of that time and saw that in the early 70’s, Britain experienced the first post war recession, which was caused by the intensification of foreign competition. E.g. the Japanese industry kicked off; therefore Britain had to start competing globally.

In order to cope with the recession and make the same profit as they used to, Britain to had to decrease wages and to worsen the working conditions. At the time, there was a strong military situation that resisted. It wasn’t taken for granted that unemployment was wrong, and that it was the government’s duty to provide money for health and education.

Gilroy looked at the myth of black criminality and saw that ultimately, black crime was an extension of colonial rule; that blacks lifestyle represented a threat to capitalism; therefore their criminalisation is a way to negate this threat.

Steve Box used the concept of hegemony and saw the law as a repressive agency of control. I.e. the murder law is present for avoidable deaths, but this acts in a hegemonic way in the way it is define by the law. It only covers some deaths, and doesn’t see such things as killing in wars as illegal.

It can be seen that the new criminology can be credited in that it synthesises structure and action together. It focuses on moral panics and links this to the wider society. It also shows how we give consent to things we normally wouldn’t such as the murder law.

However, the new criminology is idealistic. It suggests that crime is socially constructed and that it doesn’t exist, and trivialises everything that people DO actually experience in increased crimes.

It also suggests that criminals are freedom fighters; that they are only rebelling against the powerful. Most crimes are committed against the powerless not the powerful, therefore doesn’t consider the victims of the crime unless they are talking about the crimes of the powerful.

Its policy as to how to solve crime isn’t realistic. They say that in order for crime to disappear, they have to wait for the revelation, BUT this has never happened in any society, communist or not.

Lastly, it focuses on male behaviour only and is male streamed. It renders women invisible, but women are more prevalent as victims. It is out of these criticisms that the realist criminology was developed whereby it argued against the idealism of new criminology.