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Are Marxist Criminologists Right to See Crime Control as Class Control?


As one among the several criminology schools, Marxist criminology is comparable to functionalist theories, which tends to emphasize the production of continuity and stability in any one given society. However, Marxist criminology also embraces a political philosophy that is often predefined. Just like in conflict criminology, it usually focuses on the reasons behind the change of things, describes the power divisions in society, and reveals forces that are disruptive in a society, world’s perceptions, prestige, and power (Moore 1996).

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While Marx may not have delved deep into crime, he nevertheless opines that in generally terms, laws are a codified ways through which the ruling class can maintain the masses in check (Wincup & Griffiths 1999). For a better understanding of the approach made by Marxists towards studying crime, perhaps a hypothetical setting of such an approach would suffice.

For starters, no one type of human behavior has been depicted as being intrinsically deviant. Crime conceptions therefore, are founded on prejudiced explanations of how humans react to the different kinds of behavior.

The thought that the less privileged members of a society are normally motivated to commit crime powerfully supports the theories that have been proposed by Marxist criminologists (William 2000).

According to these theories, deviance is in part due to inequality in the distribution of power, and poverty in general. These Marxist theories also view power as being in the hands of the members of the society owning production factors. As per the theories of Marxist criminologists, crime comes about when the owners of the production factors give demeaning work to the society, and leave little room for creativity (William 2000).

This is in line with the alienation theory that Marx has argued about. Moreover, the laws that are passed by the state, according to the Marxists criminologists are only a reflection of the ideologies and wishes of the powers that be. Besides, accessibility to law is not equal for all people (Pearce & Snider 1992).

On the other hand, the theory posits that the laws often passed by the state tend to be more inclined towards preserving the interests of the ruling class, so that they hold onto power, control and coerce the working class (Taylor et al 1988). The act of depicting some forms of crime as belonging to the “working class” while also portraying this as a reaction to being oppressed could be regarded as problematic.

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In this regard, the outlook of the Marxist criminologists could be seen as a selective labeling of the various crimes that are committed by individuals in line with the various social classes that they belong to, without as much as trying to engage the victimology perspective, as a way of identifying if any specific group or class could be labeled as being more of victims of certain crimes (Moore 1996).

Seeing that a majority of the criminals are unwilling to travel for long distances to accomplish their ill motives, crimes committed to the working class often gets directed at the member of such a class who resides in similar neighborhoods. Social differentiation with regard to crime may experience variations based on class, age, gender, ethnicity, as ell as locality (Taylor et al 1988).

As long as one has money, they could hire the bets lawyer money can buy, and this could mean a great deal of difference, in terms of being declared either innocent, or guilty. From the perspective of Marxists therefore, being punished for crime reasons shall usually vary and be dependent upon the social class to which the perpetrator of the crime belongs to (William 2000).

Crime could be regarded as a structural response to such pressures as unemployment, poverty, as well as social deprivation. Furthermore, crime could as well be termed as a rational reaction as a result of being legitimately prevented from the attainment of the goals that the masses desire to achieve (Pearce & Snider 1992).

Given that the haves in the society is also at a disposal to create jobs (since they own the industries anyway), and the fact that they are also influential in the corridors of justice, is it any wonder then, that only the poor rots in jail, while those who have the means finds their way to freedom quite easily?

Marxists criminologists have argued that crime normally flourishes in those areas which are characterized by a breakdown in social control (Taylor et al 1988). More often than not, we tend to feel inclined to commit small crimes that may be regarded as ‘incivilities’ such as the dropping of say, litter. However, we are prevented from doing this by the comments of the members of our community.

As such, our fellow neigbours ensures that we do not commit crimes. Should such kind of ‘incivilities’ go on without being addressed, this could lead to the rise of crime levels. Given that individual tends to be irrational generally, the mere knowledge of the fact that crime never pays act as a deterrent factor to their committing it.

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Consequently, de-marginalization or even the elimination of poverty per se shall not prevent crime from happening. This can only be solved through the cultivation of values, and the implementation of policies and laws that do not favor anyone (Pearce & Snider 1992).

Some Marxist criminologists have also argued that various male groups usually engage in a variety of crime as a way of proving their masculinity. For instance, boys in the middle class conform to class to attain success. However, they may engage in vandalism, pranks, and crime when they are outside their social class and this could

be seen as a way of creating room for their masculinity.

One could argue that Marxist criminologist do not take into account the issue of norms with regard to criminology in a society. In any case, if the erosion of norms is a basic reason for crime, then there ought to be a theory that explains as to why only certain groups of members of the working class get themselves involved in committing crime.


Perhaps there ought to be more research conducted on certain individuals or even groups that get themselves alienated from the conventional society, as well as the impact of this on a society in general. On the other hand, Marxism lays more emphasis on the forces of a society, as opposed to individual motives, as well as their dualistic capability to be moral or otherwise, wrong or right.

Nevertheless, there is an element of truth as regards the Marxist criminology perspective on crime control being class control. This is because when there is inequality in a society, social alienation comes in, and the distribution of power gets uneven, thus precipitating the emergence of a conflict. Crime thus, comes about as a result of social alienation, be it in terms of resources, or deviance to oppressive laws.


Moore, S, 1996, Investigating crime and deviance (2nd ed). Oxford: Collins Educational.

Pearce, F & Snider, L, 1992, “Crimes of the Powerful”, The journal of human justice, Vol. 3, No.2, Spring.

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Taylor, I Walton, P & Young, J, 1988, The new criminology for a social theory of deviance. London: Routledge

William Chambliss, W, Mankoff, M, Pearce, F & Lauren, S, 2000, Traditional Marxist perspectives on crime”, Sociology themes and perspectives”. Haralambos (4th Edition): 414-419. Web.

Wincup, E & Griffiths, J, 1999, Crime, deviance and social control. London: Hodder Arnold.

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