Marxism: A* Essay Exemplar 2

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  • 1. Item B Marxists do not see the law as a reflection of a value consensus among society’s members. Instead they see the law as a tool of the ruling class, the police and other social control agencies as paid agents of the ruling class, and crime as an inevitable outcome of the dog-eat-dog nature of the capitalist system, and the inequalities it generates. Crime also serves as a diversionary tactic, it diverts attention away from the exploitation and inequalities within the capitalism system and focuses the minds of the proletariat on deviants and criminals who are then mistakenly blamed for being the real cause of problems in society. However there are several variations in Marxist ideas on crime. Neo Marxists have developed critical criminology which has attempted to incorporate labelling theory and Brake has used subcultural theory to explain the attraction of youth groups. Assignment 2 – Using material from Item B and elsewhere assess the usefulness of Marxist approaches in explaining crime The traditional Marxist belief is a structural one as they see society as being based on a structure, this structure being determined and controlled by one of the two groups that they believe society is divided into. These two groups are the ruling capitalist class (bourgeoisie) who own the means of production, and the working class (proletariat) whose alienated labour the ruling class exploit to make profit. Item B draws on this point as it says “they see the law as a tool of the ruling class.” There are several variations in Marxist ideas on crime (Item B). Traditional Marxists talk more about the criminogenic nature of capitalism and the way the state makes and enforces laws in the interest of the ruling class and the way crime is used in an ideological way to support the ruling class’ power. However Neo-Marxists have developed critical criminology which has attempted to incorporate the labelling theory and Brake also uses subcultural theory to explain the attraction of youth groups (Item B). The traditional Marxist view of crime consists of three elements these being criminogenic capitalism, the state and law making and ideological functions of crime and law. Firstly drawing on criminogenic capitalism, Marxists believe that the exploitation of the working class may encourage them to commit crime because they feel trapped. Crime may be the only way the working class can survive if they are in poverty and can’t afford the means to survive; crimes associated with this may be shop lifting. Additionally our society is a materialistic society, everyone wants the latest phone or the top branded clothing as this is what is advertised all the time. Taking this into consideration as well as the working class’ lower income, crime could be the only way for the working class to possess the same material goods that the upper class do which could result to utilitarian crimes such as theft. Thirdly alienation and lack of control over their lives could lead to frustration and aggression leading to non-utilitarian crime such as violence. Despite the constant mention of the working class, traditional Marxists argue that not all crime is confined to the working class; they state that capitalism is a ‘dog eat dog’ society system of ruthless competition amongst capitalists which encourages them to commit white-collar and corporate crimes e.g. tax evasion and breaches of health and safety laws, an example illustrating this could be the Bhopal disaster. Secondly is law and state making and unlike the functionalists who claim the law to reflect the value consensus, Marxists see the law making and law enforcement as only serving the needs and interests of the ruling class. Chambliss (1975) takes this further; Chambliss argues that laws to protect private property are the cornerstone of capitalist economy. He gives evidence of this in the case of the introduction of English law into Britain’s east African colonies. In this study the law served the economic desires of the capitalist plantation owners rather than the Africans themselves. Lastly is the ideological functions of crime and law. Marxists argue that the law, crime and its criminals perform an ideological function for capitalism. Laws are passed occasionally which seem to benefit the working class rather than capitalism for instance health and safety laws within the workplace. However Pearce (1976) argues that these laws regularly serve the needs of the ruling 1
  • 2. class for instance using this example of health and safety laws benefitting the working class, this could be enforced to ensure the workers perform better at work and can work for a longer period of time thus the ruling class are benefitting. This whole idea gives capitalism a ‘caring’ face which distracts the workers from the truth, creating a false class consciousness. Item B also relates to this as it says “Crime also serves as a diversionary tactic, it diverts attention away from the exploitation and inequalities within the capitalist system”. Despite this these laws are not rigorously imposed for example Carson (1971) found in his sample of 200 firms, that they had all gone against health and safety laws at least once but only a small amount (1.5%) of these reports concluded in prosecution. Overall this theory that the traditional Marxists give is very useful in explaining crime as it illustrates a clear relationship between crime and capitalism. It shows the relations between the law and the enforcement of law and the desires of the ruling class and by doing so it puts the insights of labelling theory in terms of the selective enforcement of law, in a wider structural context. In addition to this these views have influenced recent theories to the causes of crime and the powerful for instance Gary Slapper’s and Steve Tombs’ (1999) argument that corporate crime is under-policed and people are rarely punished and prosecuted appropriately. Alternatively there are also many criticism to this approach in how it explains crime as it greatly ignores the relationship between crime and non-class inequalities for instance ethnicity and gender. Also this approach is argued to be too deterministic and could be over exaggerating the amount of crime the working class commit as not all working class people commit crime as an answer to escape poverty. And lastly is the fact that not every capitalist society has high crime rates such as Japan and Switzerland who have a less amount of crime than the USA. Neo-Marxism builds on this approach whilst combining other theories also such as the labelling theory. One of the most significant contributions from Neo-Marxists in understanding crime and deviance is the New Criminology (critical criminology) put forward by Taylor, Walton and Young (1973). Taylor et all agrees with the traditional Marxists that capitalist society is based on exploitation of the working class which could cause crime as well as the point made that says the state and its laws are in the interests of the ruling class thus criminalising members of the working class, but his view also differs from the traditional Marxist approach. Taylor et al claims that the approach is too deterministic for instance it presumes that workers commit crime for economic benefit or because of biological or psychological factors which isn’t true for everyone. Taylor et al has a more voluntaristic approach – we have free will. They view crime to be a conscious choice and rather than an economic motive for them to do it like the traditional Marxists say, they believe it’s more of a political motive e.g. to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor. They also argue that people shouldn’t be labelled deviant because they are different; they want to create a society with individual liberty and diversity which links into the traditional Marxist view. Taylor et al want to create a ‘fully social theory of deviance’ which would help change society for the better. This theory would consist of traditional Marxist ideas about the inequalities within society and its laws and also ideas from interactionism and labelling theory such as the meaning of deviant acts for the individual committing them, and society’s reaction to it and the effects of this deviant label on the individual. For them a complete deviance theory needs six aspects that are interrelated, these being: The wider origins of the deviant act, The immediate origins of the deviant act, The act itself, The immediate origins of social reaction, The wider origins of social reaction, and The effects of labelling. Taylor et al’s theory is very useful as Hall et al’s ‘Policing the crisis’ illustrates. Hall et al talk about the ‘moral panic’ and how the mugging that caused this was associated with black people. They argue that the occurrence of the ‘moral panic’ and the capitalism crisis happening together wasn’t a 2
  • 3. coincidence and that they were linked. They believe the black people being accused of mugging was just a myth to distract people’s attention away from the real cause of the problems e.g. unemployment. Hall et al however are criticised on some grounds for instance left realists argue that inner-city residents’ fears about mugging aren’t panicky but realistic. Taylor et al’s theory’s usefulness is also criticised on many grounds. A first criticism is that of the feminist approach; feminists criticise the theory for being gender blind as it concentrates excessively on male criminality and at the expense of female criminality. Left realists also criticise the theory as they state that it romanticises working class criminals as ‘Robin Hoods’ who are fighting capitalism by re-distributing wealth from the rich to the poor. However in reality these criminals are preying on the poor. They also argue that they don’t take crime seriously thus ignoring the effects it may have on working class victims. Lastly is the functionalist perspective which would largely criticise both the traditional Marxist approach and the Neo-Marxist approach. Unlike these approaches which claim that capitalism should be replaced by a classless society which would then greatly reduce the extent of crime or even completely rid society of crime, the functionalists argue that laws are a reflection of a value consensus (Item B). Durkheim argues that no crime would result in a disaster as society needs crime to function. She argues that crime creates social solidarity and helps to sustain conformity and stability. Also she claims that it encourages social change and that the committing of crime only strengthens the commitment of the law-abiding majority to the existing moral consensus. Despite these criticisms Taylor et al also criticise themselves and have all changed their views since The New Criminology was published. However Walton (1998) and Young (1998) still defend some aspects of the book’s approach for instance the book was a foundation for later radical approaches that seek to discover a more just society, such as left realist and feminist theories. Disagreeing with the functionalists Neo Marxist Brake talks about the subcultural theory (Item B). He argues that subcultures develop in young people, especially the working class. Brake claims that each generation of working class youths face similar issue e.g. they have few opportunities and are stuck in dead-end jobs and maybe they’re jobs that the individual doesn’t want to do. He blames this on the capitalist system, arguing that the system is only offering them a life of drudgery and exploitation. To Brake the subcultures are resisting capitalism and this is ‘magical.’ He claims it gives young people a sense of freedom, identity, excitement, and the security and comfort of group membership inside the subculture, but it does not threaten capitalism in anyway. Brakes theory is a useful theory and illustrates a realistic picture of our society as just because someone dresses a certain way and hangs around with a certain group of people who dress, speak and act the same, doesn’t mean that they have any intention of being deviant as the labelling theory would also argue. However in some ways his theory lacks in usefulness as Brake ignores the fact that a lot of people found guilty of crimes are those of certain subcultures e.g. chavs meaning it isn’t as magical as he makes out. Many people would see this as rebelling against the laws of society and going against the social norms and values shared in the mainstream and that it has nothing to do with rebelling against capitalism. He’s also criticised for saying that youths are just rebelling against capitalism as some people see subcultures as being very good business because they need to buy clothes and the other materialistic things that are representative of their subculture. These items are often branded and so expensive therefore they’re not resisting capitalism, they’re feeding it. In conclusion the Marxist approach, both traditional and the Neo-Marxist, offer some very useful theories explaining crime which are backed up with significant evidence that still applies to today’s society. The traditional Marxist theory about capitalism and class conflict and how this causes crime could have been a potential cause of the London riots which is recent evidence supporting this approach. Also the Neo-Marxist theory by Taylor et al could be illustrated in todays as there are 3
  • 4. people in society who commit crime showing no economic motive for instance the child abuse of baby Peter. Despite this there are ways in which the approach and its theories could be improved for example Taylor et al’s theory was gender blind thus it fails to explain crime committed by women and why they do commit crime. Additionally whilst Taylor et al agree on the traditional Marxist views they also criticise them on many grounds, a common one being that it is too deterministic because they only see workers as driven to commit crime out of an economic necessity. All in all it is clear that there is not one theory but all the theories put together that help to explain crime in the most effective and representative way. 4