Marxism: A* Essay Exemplar


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Marxism: A* Essay Exemplar

  1. 1. Using material from item B and elsewhere assess the usefulness of Marxist approaches in explaining crime Marxism is a conflict theory established by Karl Marx. Marxists believe that the capitalist system is just a way in which the ruling classes (the bourgeoisie) control and exploit the workers (the proletariat), and it focuses on the unequal conflict between these two sectors of society. Marxists believe that the capitalist system is criminogenic – which means that by its nature it inevitably causes crime. As item B states, Marxists see crime in the capitalist system as ‘a tool of the ruling class’ where they can control the working class and crime is an unavoidable result because of the oppression the working class are subject to. They also believe that laws are enforced mostly to benefit the interests of the ruling class. (An example of this is 80% of laws exist to protect private property.) NeoMarxists (also known as critical criminology) are another branch of Marxism which was established in the 1970s. They discuss more contemporary ideas of crime and their ideas, such as saying crime results out of political anger. They note that the traditional Marxist perspective is too deterministic and try to implement an element of free will in their theory. Traditional Marxist’s view of crime has 3 key aspects: The Criminogenic capitalism, the state and law making and ideological functions of crime and law. As previously stated, criminogenic capitalism is the Marxist idea that crime is inevitable because of the nature of capitalism. They believe that because of capitalism as the unequal divide between classes, committing crime is sometimes the only way people can live. For example, a young woman who is living in poverty may have to resort to prostitution in order to survive. In addition, sometimes the working class may feel frustrated that they are under the control of the bourgeoisie and act out in crimes such as violence and vandalism as a way of venting their anger at being alienated from society. However, they do state that crime in not just committed by the working class. They claim that capitalism creates the need to ‘win at all costs’ and encourages self-interest and greed. The ruling classes also commit ‘white collar crimes’ such as tax evasion and environmental crimes. However, as item B states, crimes committed by the bourgeoisie often go unnoticed because working-class crime serves as a ‘diversionary tactic’, where attention is taken away from the capitalist inequalities and blamed on minor criminals in the proletariat. The second element of the Marxist viewpoint is how the law making widely supports the ruling class over the working class. They claim that law enforcement is very selective and the repressive apparatus (the police, justice courts etc.) largely ignore crimes of the powerful in society and instead focus on criminalising the powerless groups such as the workers. They also state that laws are passed which clearly benefit the ruling classes. Snider (1993) argued that the capitalist system is reluctant to enforce laws which will harm the bourgeoisie, such as laws that will threaten profit-making of businesses. The third aspect of the Marxist viewpoint on crime is the ideological functions. Marxists claim that sometimes laws are passed that – on the surface – appear to benefit the working class. However Pearce (1976) argues that they are actually a discuses to benefit the ruling classes. An example of this is health and safety laws in the workplace. While it may look as if they are trying to protect the well-being of the workers, the laws actually create a sense of false class consciousness within the
  2. 2. working class. When they’re actually there to ensure that the ruling class have enough workers to maintain profit. Carson (1971) found that these health and safety laws are rarely actually enforced. He found that of 200 firms surveyed, all had broken health and safety laws at least once, however only 1.5% had resulted in prosecution. The media and other social control agencies often use working class criminals as a diversion to claim they are the cause of crime, when it is actually the nature of capitalism which cause crime. Marxist viewpoints often however can generate much criticism for being too deterministic and assuming that everyone who is in the working classes commits crime. In addition, there is critique of the Marxist point which states that it largely ignores the relationship between crime and gender or crime and ethnicity, and focuses too strongly on class. Another criticism of traditional Marxism is that crime is not non-existent in communist or socialist societies, which could prove crime is not a product of capitalism. At the same time, crime in capitalist countries like Switzerland and Japan have a very low amount of crime. Marxists would counter this by stating that that pervious communist or socialist states were actually nothing of the sort. In a genuine state where inequality between classes is abolished and there is no poverty, the social causes of crime would disappear. They also claim that states where welfare provision is low – like the USA - have higher rates of crime than those with more welfare (like Japan and Switzerland.) Left-realists argue that Marxism focuses largely on the crimes of the powerful and ignores intra-class crimes (where the criminal and victim are both of the same class) like burglary and mugging. Neo-Marxism is a variation of the classic theory, while broadly agreeing with traditional Marxism, they are critical of the deterministic aspect of it, and (as item B states) incorporate the labelling theory in their ideals. Some of the most influential neo-Marxist contributors are Taylor, Walton and Young, who wrote ‘The New Criminology’ in 1973. They agree with the traditional Marxists that capitalist society is based upon the inequality and conflicts between the working and ruling classes and that wealth is unevenly distributed. On the other hand, they disagreed with the traditional Marxists because they felt that crimes often have a conscious political motive behind them, and people are committing crime because of their dissatisfaction of the capitalist inequality. They also see socialism as the best realistic solution for society. Taylor, Walton and Young developed the ‘fully social theory of deviance’ which attempts to incorporate every aspect of crime. There are 6 aspects: The wider origins of the deviant act; the immediate origins of the deviant act; the act itself (why they are doing that particular act?); the immediate origins of the social reaction (how do people respond? e.g. labelling); the wider origins of the social reaction and the effects of the labelling. The fully social theory of deviance can be extremely useful when trying to explain the origins of crimes and why they occur. An example of this is trying to explain why people steal. The wider social origins like how society is structured meaning the rich have dominance over the poor could lead up to this crime being committed. You could say that people may steal things from the place in which they work (like money from the cash register) because they resent the fact that their boss has a lot of money while they are doing all the work for them. They see it as a type of revenge and are committing this specific type of crime because they long for
  3. 3. material wealth. Referencing to Item B, another Neo-Marxist Stewart Hall analysed society in the 1970s and found that when capitalism is facing a ‘crisis’ (such as poor economy and social control such as strikes occurring) capitalist leaders will use a ‘diversionary tactic’ to focus attention on a different group in society as a way to maintain control. In the 1970s, a media-driven moral panic emerged when ‘mugging’ in big cities apparently became more common. Hall claimed that there was actually no rise in the number of muggings taking place, but it was created by the media to make the public panic and blame ‘society falling apart’ on young black youths. The ruling classes were then able to use this as a scapegoat to divert attention and weaken the opposition to capitalism that was occurring at the time. The government was also able to use more police force and control under the guise that they were ‘protecting against street crime and violence’ when in reality they were just trying to re-gain social control over a restless society. A contemporary example of this taking place would be the riots of 2011. The media sensationalised the riots to the point that much of society blamed all youths for the violence. This could have been used as a way for the leaders in society to divert attention away from the economic problems at the time and use the youths as a scapegoat to focus anger and frustration at the youths who were rioting instead of the government. Another Neo-Marxist is Mike Brake who in 1980 used subcultural theory to explain the attraction of youth groups. (Item B) He did this buy studying young working class males and found that working class people experience the same frustration (at lack of opportunities and problems like not getting work) generation after generation. They vent this frustration through forming working class subcultures in order to feel good about themselves and is ‘magical’ as they are resisting the bourgeoisie in society. They create their own identity (such as Chavs or Goths) and invert society’s morals as a way of showing their resentment. They develop their own way of speaking, their own type of music to listen to and a distinctive way of dressing to separate themselves from mainstream society. However, this soon ends and people are ‘captured’ back into capitalism when they need material wealth to be able to live and soon the illusion comes to an end. A lot of criticism of Brake’s theory comes from the functionalists who claim that working class subcultures do not hate capitalism but ‘buy into it’ to form their identity such as chavs purchasing trainer and gold jewellery to fit in with their subculture. Therefore, Functionalists believe Brake’s theory is incorrect at assuming subcultures are formed to resist capitalism. While critical criminology does aim to explain every aspect of crime, and is arguably successful at accounting for aspects of crime that the traditional Marxist perspective missed, it does have some weaknesses. Feminists often claim that the critical criminology theory is gender blind and fails to take into account crime committed by females. In addition, left realists claim that neo-Marxism ‘romanticises’ working-class criminals and uses crime to explain their actions and blaming crime on the structure of society rather than on the individual doing it for their own selfish gain. As Roger Hopkins Burke (2005) argues, critical criminology is too general to explain every crime efficiently and also is incapable of tackling crime. Another thing to note is that Taylor, Walton and Young have
  4. 4. all changed their views on crime since ‘the new criminology’ has been published, which could show that the theory has no real merit on explaining or tackling crime. As Marxists do not see the law as a reflection of a value consensus among society’s members – which is the functionalist viewpoint (Item B) - functionalists naturally also have critiques of neo-Marxism. Stan Cohen accuses neo-Marxists of bias and claims they fixed evidence to ‘prove’ their theories. Functionalists also claim that a crime-free society would be dangerous as then the most minor crimes would be severely punished, so disagree with the idea behind the neo-Marxist perspective. To conclude, both Marxism and Neo-Marxism have put forward ways in which crime can be explained. On the whole, they believe that crime is a result of people ‘acting out’ against capitalist societies and the inequality and unfairness which they experience. While these theories are useful at explaining certain types of crime (such as burglary and fraud) the Marxist theories focus too much on social class’s effect on crime, but fail to explain gender and ethnic factors which could influence crime. They can often be accused (in the case of traditional Marxism) of being too deterministic and romanticising working class crime and seeing them as ‘Robin Hoods’ who steal from the rich in society to help the working classes.