Sociologists who favour the Marxist approach to explanations of crime concentrate on the exploitative nature of the capitalist society in which we live and how it propels individuals into a life of crime. Marxism is criticised by other theories who do not share their opinion on capitalism – this therefore means they do not share their opinion on crime and deviance. The traditional Marxist view on crime is that capitalism is a system based on greed, competition, materialism and consumerism and that this creates the conditions for crime.
They say that capitalism drives people to commit crime – crime is motivated by financial gain which is logical in a capitalist system, they also explain non-utilitarian crimes by saying they are caused by frustration with an unjust system. They believe that the capitalist system creates laws that seem to favour the working class and make them think the system is just but these are only put in place to placate them and give the appearance of fairness. Traditional Marxists also recognise that crime happens across all social strata’s and challenge the view that crime is a working class phenomenon.
However, corporate crimes are often ignored or treated more leniently even though they are actually more harmful and costly than street crime. Still, this take on crime can be criticised. There is too much emphasis on class inequalities in policing and law enforcement – they fail to recognise racial biases/discrimination. Their theory is also very deterministic, believing that criminals are driven to crime as victims of the corrupting capitalist system. This ignores real victims of crime. NeoMarxism is an approach that extends the Marxist theory.
They share the view that capitalist societies are characterised by inequalities in wealth and power between individuals and that these inequalities lie at the root of crime. However, NeoMarxists say that criminals are not passive victims of capitalism – they make a choice to commit a crime. NeoMarxists say that capitalism makes people choose to be criminal, that criminals are expressing their frustration at capitalist society by breaking the law. They also show a broader analysis than traditional Marxists that recognises gender and ethnicity inequalities as well as class.
Taylor, Walten and Young were NeoMarxists who created ‘a fully social theory of deviance’ which contains seven aspects that combine and build upon each other to create a fully social theory of deviance. Stuart Hall, a neomarxist, applied this theory to a study of mugging. He argued that the state manufactured a crime problem, justified strengthening its control over the population and certain groups such as young black men were heavily criminalised so they could be heavily controlled.
The NeoMarxist perspective on crime has been criticised for seeing the actions of the state and the agents of social control as solely serving the interests of the capitalist class, they ignore the ways in which the law works to protect the vulnerable. It also downplays the significance of crime and ignores the real victims of it. Left Realists describe themselves as socialists as they support the reform of society. They criticise Marxist perspectives on crime in the way that they present law and order policies/solutions.
They say that they are not realistic with the ‘proletariat revolution’ focus. Left Realists think that crime can be solved by improving policing, tackling the social causes of crime and by taking a multi-agency approach. Left Realists also argue that Marxists have focused too much attention on white-collar and corporate crime and by doing this have excluded other forms of crime. Left Realists think that all types of crime should be considered as serious and that street crime especially is a damaging and serious form of crime.
Lastly, Left Realists criticise Marxists focus on capitalism and say that while it is a factor, relative deprivation and individualism also cause crime. In conclusion, the greatest strength of this theory is that they recognise crime is present across all social strata’s. However, the theory focuses very much on capitalism and doesn’t take into account anything else. The theory has strong evidence supporting it such as Hall’s study of mugging. All in all, Marxism does provide a good understanding of crime and deviance.