Marxist explanations of crime and deviance are based on conflict and lie on the foundations on their belief that there is a class struggle in society between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Marxists believe that law is part of the superstructure that is used to socialise people as the law’s definitions of deviance in general, reflect and serve ruling class interests. This maintains the ruling class’ power and coerces and controls the subject class. Therefore if members of society commit to these laws it is an aspect of ‘false class consciousness’, since these laws only benefit the ruling class. Marxists argue that social control of the population is maintained through threat and socialisation, and threat is the fall-back if socialisation fails. The result of this is a society in which the basic values guiding action support the capitalist political and economic system. The definition of what is criminal reflects the dominant social values. Chambliss (1976) suggests that capitalism encourages values such as greed and materialism which are conducive to all classes committing crime. Such values promote non-economic crimes such as violence and vandalism as inequalities in wealth and power lead to frustration and hostility for some members of the working class who may commit crime in an attempt to retrieve power and status.
On the other hand, criticisms to this, point out that such a view is rather vague as the entireties of the working class are not revolt or criminal. Viewing all crime as a rebellion against the capitalist system ignores individual motivation and the fact that many people are law abiding and choose not to break the law. Marxist explanations of crime and deviance may also be criticised for concentrating exclusively on the social class dimension of crime and neglecting issues of gender and ethnicity. Snider (1993) argues that the effects of robberies and petty theft are much smaller than the losses created by big businesses engaging in corporate crimes which are criminal acts committed by companies to increase their profits. Despite the enormous amount of corporate crime, the penalties and the chances of prosecution are very small. Frank Pearce argues that the reasons for why there are so few prosecutions is ideological because the ruling class want to maintain the idea that crime is concentrated mainly among the working-class and ethnic minorities.
However, Left realists argue that Marxist theorists put too much emphasis on corporate crime at the expense of other forms of crime. Left realists state that robberies and burglaries can cause greater harm to working class and ethnic minority communities as it affects them directly. Law according to Marxists is enforced selectively. So certain types of crime such as theft and assault would be pursued by the police much more seriously than ‘white collar crime’ such as fraud. Crime is regarded to be most common with the working class; therefore there is a much greater police presence amongst this population.
Sentencing is also said to be selective as minor crimes are more likely to be punished with long prison terms than financial swindles which are not necessarily punished with imprisonment at all. To conclude, Marxist theories have moved emphasis further from the influences on the individual and their motivations and further towards the things which effect society and the influence that has on criminals and crime. Sociologists now explore the wider social, economic and political factors which shape society. On the other hand, Marxist explanations of crime and deviance focus too much on the criminal act itself, whilst ignoring the experience of the victims and any possible solutions to crime there may be.