Marxist theorists began to make new and challenging claims about the cause of crime and deviance. They focus on the link between those in the ruling class and their involvement with crime. However, they never really managed to prove their ideas on the link between crime and capitalism upon which all their theories are based. US Marxists, including William Chambliss and Frank Pearce took over from the labelling theory and began to develop their own theories of crime. They have made four specific criticisms of labelling theorists work believing that they themselves could do a far better job.

One criticism is that the labelling theory fails to explain why people actually break the law; they gave no explanation of primary deviation. A second criticism is that when Cicourel uses the term ‘typical delinquent’ to explain the type of person the police are ore likely to arrest and charge he does not explain where this stereotype came from in the first place. It is also pointed out that the labelling theory only deals with ‘minor’ crimes, giving explanations for such things as marijuana smoking, stuttering, paranoia etc. and gives no consideration of more major crimes such as robbery or murder.


A final criticism is that it fails to provide a systematic explanation of where the law comes from which is one thing Marxist focus on in particular. Marxists believe that crime is the product of capitalist society and base their theory on answers to several pairs of questions, starting with who makes the law and who benefits? William Chambliss argues “the entire history of colonial law legislation is that of a dominant social class defining as criminal those acts which is served their economic interests so to define”. He is suggesting that it is the ruling class who make the laws and therefore enforce laws from which they will benefit.

An example to support this claim would be the tax laws in East Africa where the British established tea and coffee plantations. The owners required a large, cheap work force to work on their plantations and looked to the native Africans to fill this role. In order to force the Africans to work colonial rulers put in place a tax which could only be paid by working on the plantations for wages. Non-payment of the tax was punished and the wages of the workers was kept low as a higher pay would have enabled the Africans to pay the tax and return to their home villages.

There are also aspects of the modern law in favour of the ruling class, such as private education and private health, things which only the wealthy can afford and which provide far better services than those available from the state. However, the simple claim that the law benefits the ruling class is a contentious one as there are several which benefit the wealthy in no way at all. For example unemployment benefits are no use to the ruling class as they obviously will not be claiming them or the NHS which provides a free health service for all and is paid for out of the taxes which members of the ruling class have to pay.

Another pair of questions used as the basis of the Marxist theory are, who breaks the law, and who gets caught? It is argued that although it is often implied that the working class are the main committers of crime it is in fact the ruling class, who make the largest amount of illegal money, through corporate crime. In Frank Pearce’s book ‘Crimes of the Powerful’ he quotes the US Federal Trade Commission who estimated that in 1968 robberies accounted for $55 million whereas detected business fraud accounted for an impressive $1 billion.

Corporate crime, however is very complicated and therefore hard to detect, often in the case of fraud it is never reported as no one realises they are the victim of a scandal. It is therefore impossible to state the extent at which corporate crime is committed it is only possible to make an estimate. Corporate crime is not only an issue in the US; there are many UK based cases. For example the i??400 million pension fund theft by Robert Maxwell. Maxwell, head of the Maxwell empire took money from the funds which were to provide pensions for his employees and used them to put back into his companies.

In total 32,000 people were effected by his theft. The investigation into the crime took 9 years to complete and cost a total of i??8. 5 million. This indicates just how complex corporate crimes are. However, although there are obviously a vast amount of corporate crime taking place there are very few prosecutions of people involved, in 1962 there were just 92. Marxists believe that the purpose of these prosecutions was to create a myth of equality before the law and to produce the belief that corporate crime is minimal. However, it is not explained how these 92 convictions were decided on and came about.

One explanation would be that there is a conspiracy involving many organisations including the police. It would have to be decided at some point who was to be convicted and who wasn’t, how many convictions were to take place etc. However, there is no evidence implying that any such conspiracy is taking place and therefore it is unsound to give this as an explanation. Another criticism of the Marxist claim that there were a few convictions of the ruling class because they created a myth of equality before the law is that it is a teleological statement.

They are saying that the effect (the myth of equality) is what causes the few convictions when in fact the myth is created by the few prosecutions and comes after they have taken place, therefore it cannot be their cause. The final pair of questions the Marxists answer are, why break the law and why enforce the law? They believe that capitalism is the reason for people committing crime. They argue that it makes everyone greedy for material success and keeps them ever wanting more than they have already got.

Capitalism causes individuals to want for themselves personally rather than for society therefore causing them to want to take from society for their own personal gain. Marxists believe that the law in enforced in the way that it is (so as to ‘pick on’ the proletariats) in order to emphasise the stereotype that it is the working class who commit crime. This therefore takes the emphasis off the bourgeoisie allowing them to carry on committing their corporate crimes out of the lime light. Another reason for enforcing the law is because the proletariats could cause a threat to capitalism.

The ruling class wish to remain the ruling class and therefore keep the working classes subordinate to them. They therefore turn society’s anger against the working class by blaming them for crime. In effect this prevents society from being angry at ‘the system’, when it is in fact the system which has put the working class individuals in the position where they had to commit crime. This however is forgotten with the ruling class continually insisting the working class is to blame for crime. In the 1970’s radical criminology emerged in Britain.

It attempts to apply the Marxist perspectives of crime but in a slightly different way to existing theories due to discontent with the more traditional Marxist approaches. Like the labelling theory radical criminology particularly focuses on the process by which certain groups are convicted. However, unlike the labelling theory it takes the theory behind criminalisation and relates it to the state. They investigate the way in which the state defines certain activities as illegal therefore criminalising certain groups of people especially those in the lower part of the social structure and through this protect the capitalist system.

Radical criminologists aim to develop ‘fully social’ theories of crime. These are theories which are neither structuralist nor interactionist but instead aim to be both. It was recognised that it was important to focus on both the interactions between agents of social control and potential deviants as well as the social structure within which the interactions took place. An example of such a theory is Stuart Hall’s “Policing the crisis”. In 1976 Hall investigated the apparent claim that mugging was on a dramatic increase and needed urgent control, a statement that was causing a moral panic amongst society.

Hall realised that by 1972 society was no longer able to offer the full employment, rising standards of living etc. which it had previously been able to; the ‘good times’ were coming to an end. Unemployment was about to hit society hard, especially those who were poorly educated and least qualified. A group falling under this description being the black afro-Caribbean’s who in general had very low achievement levels. Hall states that it was realised that such groups would start to rebel against authority due to their decreasing standards of life and therefore methods of controlling them would need to become stricter i. . military policing would have to be introduced.

However, the British public were used to consensus policing and wouldn’t be keen on this new harsher method; therefore a moral panic was created in order to prepare people for military policing. Several agencies were involved in creating the moral panic; the police who delivered stories to the media, the media who published the stories publicising the apparent rise in muggings, politicians who included the subject in their speeches and judges who gave exemplary sentences to those found guilty.

They all contributed to softening up the British public by scaring them into thinking the military policing was a necessary change. However, again there are problems with this theory. In order for it to be true at some point it must have been decided that it was necessary to create a moral panic, therefore implying there must have been some form of conspiracy between all the agencies involved; the police, media, politicians and judges. However, there is no evidence of such a conspiracy and therefore it isn’t valid to say one took place.

Also, like the Marxist statement that there are a few convictions of the ruling class because they create a myth of equality before the law, Halls claim is teleological. Hall argues that the moral panic happened because it prepared the public for military policing; however preparing the public for military policing is the effect of the moral panic and happens afterwards. It is therefore not accurate to use the effect as the cause of moral panic. As you can see Marxists have developed new and thought provoking theories on crime and the way in which they believe the ruling class are heavily involved.

They do not however fully succeed in proving this link between capitalism and crime with any evidence and therefore there are many criticisms to be made of their work. Their use of teleological statements shows their lack of evidence as they resort to using the effect of the event being described as its cause. They also fail to give any evidence of conspiracy between leading agencies which must be in practice in order for many of their theories to be true. It makes you wonder if it could even be possible that such large conspiracies are going on all around us undetected.