Saturday, 9 February 2008

Principles of a Marxist Approach to Criminology (Second Draft)

I will be away this weekend at the Socialist Party Wales Conference in Swansea, so my next post won't probably be until Monday.

Okay, thanks for responses on the previous post, it’s been quite helpful. Below I’ve tried to reformulate the various principles and I’ve also added some that I missed off before. Hopefully you should be able to see I’ve tried to tackle some of these to a great or lesser extent over the past year or so.

1) There should be no seperate marxist theory of crime, rather marxist theory is applied to it. For example we would explain the aetiology (cause) of crime through ideas such as alienation, relative deprivation or as the normal workings of the capitalist system rather than any special causal mechanism.

2) Crime and criminal justice system should be understood in a criminal historical materialist context, we should look at their development to their present conditions. Allied to this would be an understanding that the economic context of a situation would have an impact on what types of crime are prevalent and how these will be responded to.

3) A marxist approach is moreover a class approach and sees crime to an extent as an expression of the conflict between classes in society. This is important in several important ways. Firstly, the ruling class in any each will have more power to define what is crime and to manage responses to crime in their interest. Secondly, crime disprortionately affects the working class, and they are disproportionately punished for this.

4) A marxist approach is also an internationalist approach. We should understand crime ot just in one country, but across the increasingly globalised world.

5) We should attempt to understand the effect of crime and the operation of the criminal justice system, not just on the working class, but on the rest of the oppressed layers in society.

6) As well as studying crime in ‘normal’ capitalist society, we should also seek to study what happened to crime and criminal justice during revolutionary periods and also in states that have claimed to be socialist.

7) The role of the state, which the criminal justice system is part of needs to be examined thoroughly. It’s contradictory aims of upholding the rule of capitalism but also in having to legitimate itself through doing something about crime needs to be explored.

8) We should seek to review how the workers movement has addressed the question in the past, as well as various intellectuals who have tried to put across arguments from a similar perspective (ie. Foucault, Jock Young etc.)

9) As Marx says in his theses on Feuerbach, "Philosophers have hitherto interpreted the world, point is to change it". We should analyse crime and the criminal justice system from the point of the working class. We should put forward ideas of how a socialist/communist society would aim to solve these problems, and fight for these to be adopted.


Jim Jay said...

This is good stuff. I have something itching at me which may turn into a criticism... but I haven't got to it yet - hopefully I'll say something more constructive on that soon - but just wanted to say good piece.

Charlie Marks said...

Only thing missing from an otherwise superb piece is explicit reference in the 6th thesis to state crime and, perhaps, imperialism - for example, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the unequal exchange inherent in "free trade". Perhaps a mention of the suplus value taken by capitalists being a kind of theft?

Leftwing Criminologist said...

@ charlie marks

This is what I mean by the normal workings of the capitalist system in part 1. It is based on inequality and appropriation of surplus labour - for me things like large scale fraud and genocide are part and parcel of the capitalist system

There's a discussion of this piece at

btw feel free to comment here at a later date, I do come back and check these things.

Alan said...

Is it capitalism or class society that causes crime and "deviant behaviour" and how we respond to it?

Leftwing Criminologist said...

I'd say class society - obviously crime didn't just start with capitalism - similarly reactions to it have changed from feudalism to capitalism in particular (ie the use of prisons)

Charlie Marks said...

To add to LC's comments, it's worth noting alan, that under feudalism usury was regarded as a criminal activity - not only because of Christian/Jewish/Muslim theological opposition but because it threatened the order of the day.

In those societies without class divisions, there still exist taboo behaviour - rape and murder still exist as far as small, low-tech examples of class societies that have or do exist, tell us.

Highlander said...

Glad I persevered. Would dearly love to see this topic expanded because, as you point out, criminality is a topic not covered often enough by Socialism/Marxism.