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Marxism Essay, Research Paper

Karl Marx was born in 1818, in Germany. During his education he was greatly influenced by the social philosophers such as Hegel, Feuerbach and Hess. He earned his Ph.D. degree at Jena in 1841. By 1942 he became the editor of the Rheinische Zeitung, but his commentary calling for radical reforms led to its banning in 1843. Shortly following this, he move to Paris where he met Friedrich Engels, who proved to be one of the most influential associates Marx had. At this time Marx became a socialist. By 1847 Engles and Marx had joined the Communist league and together wrote the essay upon which communist philosophy is based, Communist Manifesto (1948). This essay openly expressed his views on the class struggle that would inevitably occur in capitalistic society (Marx, 1993).

Karl Marx’s theory attempted to explain the conflict between the growth of economy and the changes that occur in society, politics and history. His main theory explained how society’s ability to produce knowledge, technological equipment and other material goods, struggled against the creation and sustenance of relationships among people which determine how resources dispersed. When social forces (relationships) are first created they assist in economic growth and development, however as they age, they begin to impede the economic development until a new social force is created (Vold, Bernard and Snipes, 1998).

Spurred on by the shift Marx saw from feudalism to capitalism during the European Industrial Revolution, Marx theorized the same stagnation of society that held back the feudal economy would eventually hold back the development of the capitalistic economy until it experienced a predicted shift to socialism. Capitalism’s end was to come from a shift in the distribution of wealth into fewer and fewer hands and poverty’s growth among the masses. Thus a labor force would be created of those working for others, mechanization and the replacement of workers, creating unemployment and low wages because workers are so easily replaced. The frustration resulting in the working class would bring rise to social change. This is what Marx refers to as the “contradiction”, a shrinking power class and growing labor class struggling to survive (Vold, 1998).

Marx further states that those in the position of power have the ability to control the formation of the social contract/composition. Those without the wealth are left to live in the situation those with economic and political power create, for they have little to no influence. Therefore, what little Marx mentions on crime in his studies centers on this idea that crime is just the rebellious struggle of the economically disadvantaged against those in power, arising from frustration and feelings of inequality (Vold, 1998).

There are two classifications of Marxist theories.

When the state and its law are the tool of the power class to control the working class and production, while protecting capitalist economic order, it is referred to as instrumental Marxism. Structural Marxism, the more popular of the two divisions of the theory, states criminal law is explained via socio-economic origins. Laws don’t always support the ruling class but support the capitalist system, overall.

As earlier stated, crime is the result of the demoralization of the working and unemployed. Demoralization is a result of lack of self-worth and productiveness. This demoralization breads resentment and results in deviant behavior against the power system.

William Bonger acknowledged the natural human characteristics of greed and selfishness and their effects on crime in capitalist society. Greed of the lower classes is criminalized (the use of illegitimate means to obtain wealth), whereas the same desires and means of achieving those desires, of the upper class are legally supported. If a socialist society were in practice, concern for the masses would lead to removal of biases within the justice system allowing each member equal access to the satisfaction of their greed.

Lynch and Groves have developed their own explanation of crime based upon Marxist philosophies. First, capitalism is based on a long history of inequality. Second, as a result of this inequality, society becomes stratified in to economic and power classes. Thirdly, the opportunities or lack thereof are the determinants of criminal behavior for people. Finally, engaging in one of the opportunities one may choose could result in criminal behavior.

Marxism would fall under the classification behavior of criminal law theories. Economic interests can served by criminal law or business can be moved elsewhere where a legally friendly environment can be found to aid in economic interests. Those that have enacted laws that harm economic interests, in the end only hurt themselves by driving moneymakers out. Therefore the owners of the economic system have power over the criminal law (Vold, 1998).

In the first article reviewed, “Marxism and Western intellectuals in the Post-Communist Era” by Paul Hollander, the modern Western intellectuals’ views on Marxism are reviewed. With a modernizing world, particularly that of the 80s and 90s, Western intellectuals have begun to seriously consider Marxism as an alternative to the cold, unfeeling and unfair capitalistic system. First, modern intellectuals do not support the militaristic and bureaucratic systems such as that of the former USSR, but rather the ideologies of pure Marxism often found in practice in socialist settings. The stage for this debate has been set, in recent years the stigma that was once placed upon discussion of Marxist ideas has been lifted, and many Western Societies as a whole have become open to the idea of socialism. The source of the attraction is

a respectable and sophisticated tool of analysis of social and economic structures; a theory of historical development highlighting the interdependence of various social phenomena; [and] most popular was its use as an instrument of social criticism aimed at capitalism (Hollander, 2000, p. 23).

Intellectuals further explain their desire for Marxism via discontent with modernity, or a shift to explanations of social phenomena using economics and politics.

In Western capitalist democracies it is no longer poverty and economic exploration, which are the major problems but meaningless and the loss of social solidarity. Present-day conflicts tend to be ethnic (or religious) rather than class-based. A variety of social problems (crime, escapism, family disintegration) are connected to the decline of the community and of widely and deeply held beliefs (Hollander, 2000, p.24).

Intellectuals found Marxism appealing because it provides for social justice in conjunction with material progress and lacking social alienation of bonds. Bad social relationships are a result of a bad social system (capitalism) and once it is changed those social problem would remedy themselves.

The author, while thoroughly explaining the benefits Western intellectuals see in Marxism concludes his article by pointing out some serious problems with Marxist communist and socialist theories. That is, “Marxism neglects fundamental problems of human existence” (Hollander, 2000, p.27). Gottleib states the human optimism ingrained in Marxism is the same aspect that is its downfall. Greed, envy, insecurity, boredom, competition and fear are natural emotions and drives of human behavior regardless of human’s optimism for equality and fairness. The inability for Marxist socialism to follow through on its promise of social justice to override human aspirations is the reason the author sees the need for Western intellectuals to

finally detach themselves from the remaining appeals of Marxism and conclude from the historical record that it is not a theory which can be relied upon to build either substantially better societies or to improve the character of human beings (Hollander, 2000, p.28).

The second article “The Emergence of the Communist Perspective on the ‘Negro Question” in America: 1919-1931″ by Oscar Berland, explains how the communist organizations in America during the early 1900s helped bring about Negro civil rights into the American political arena.

As of 1919, the communist parties present in America (the Communist Party of America and the Communist Labor Party) viewed the black struggle for justice as inconsequential to their overall party goals. They recognized the problem the black Americans faced and explained it as economic bondage and oppression, with one intensifying the other. The Negro movement on the other hand was in such need of support from any organized group publicly announced

“We would not for a moment hesitate to ally ourselves with any group if by such alliance we could compass the liberation of our race and the redemption of our Fatherland” (Berland, 1999, p.413).

In 1920, Lenin made it a point to include the American Negro in classification calling for communist assistance, the “oppressed nation”. The blacks in America were rioting against oppression, and this resistance of the American political and social system caught the attention of Lenin. During the next few years the American communist parties also recognizing the potential for setting the stage for overthrowing capitalism via the ultra-sensitive race issue. By supporting various racism resistance strategies by organized Negro groups, such as the “Scottsboro Boys” trial (nine black men charge with the rape of a white woman), the communist party felt they had made progress toward showing the injustices of the capitalist system while earning new members in the black population.

Marxist communist and socialist theories look good on paper, but when put in practice there are ingrained failures. As in the first article, human desires interfere with the ideal of a Marxist utopia society, and will always do so. The intellectuals referred to in the article by Hollander are themselves beneficiaries of the capitalistic structure in which they have live their entire lives. They complain about the immoral state they emerged from, however it was that state that gave them the opportunities to educate themselves (both scholastically and via real world experience) to a point where they can comment on another form of economic and political ideals.

Contemporary Western intellectuals belong to the educated and leisured strata who display the most unease and discomfort with life in their societies wit the experience of living in modern – that is secular, pluralistic, wealthy and technologically advanced – societies and they are routinely articulating such discontent (Hollander, 1999, p.23-4).

Crime can be explained in both articles as a result of modern views of material economic and political structures. The measure of wealth is defined by a society that hoards the available wealth breading aggression and increasing the potential for crime. As in the Berland article, the Negro’s “Red Summer” (one summer in the early 1900s during which large numbers of riots were occurring) showed how aggression could lead to violence when an economic system leaves some of it’s members without necessary resources to compete on a equal playing ground, be it political, economic, or social.

Communism and socialism have also made their way into capitalist societies by supporting causes which are unpopular or burdensome to the ruling class. As a result, as in the case of the support of the ultra-sensitive black rights movement, Marxist theories can work their way into the minds of those finding themselves at a disadvantage. When people are so disgruntled with the current political and economic system (in this case capitalism), communist theories and organizations are quick to pick up the causes to show they aid those who are in need and struggle to find them equality with the ruling class.

As Paul Hirst said

There is no Marxist theory of deviance, either in existence or which can be developed within orthodox Marxism. Crime and deviance vanish in to the general theoretical concerns and the specific scientific object of Marxism The objects of Marxist theory are specified by its won concepts: the mode of production, the class struggle, the state, ideology, etc (Pearce, 1976, p.62).

Crime and deviance are not a part of Marxist theory, but Marxist theory does show the interdependent relationship social institutions (religion, law, economy, politics, sociology and criminology) have on one another. The police and state act as a protector of the capitalists and secure the status of the labor class. Furthermore, because crime is defined by the state and punished by the state the economic and political influence on the government are going to be enforced on the people. Marx describes the state as an “instrument of class oppression on the behalf of the ruling class” (Pearce, 1976, p.62). What Marx leaves out of this theory is that American and British legal systems support both the capitalist and laborer, even though some laws may benefit one class more than another. It does so in order to maintain the loyalty of its population, for that population is composed of the producers and consumers essential to capitalism (Pearce, 1976).

Modern Marxist criminologists have set aside the ideas of rebellion and the instrumental view of Marxism and now use a “left realism” view. Theories that fall under this classification state that the criminal problems created by the working class can be responded to without throwing away capitalism. Enforcement of laws penalizing the upper-class, prison reformation, addressing social issues such as housing, health care and education, and control of a nation’s drug problem can result in equal enforcement and contentment within the capitalistic economic structure. (Vold, 1998).

It is also important to mention that there is little doubt that individual level social relationships are affected by the overall political economy. Family and acquaintance relationships change when resource deprivation occurs. Within Marxist political and economical structures there is equal access to wealth and resources for all members of a community. There is no need to compete for the resources one needs to survive; resources are overwhelming available or shared. Within capitalist political and economic structures there is unequal access to resources and therefore a struggle to maximize what resources are available to an individual. Family structure is a perfect example of this phenomenon. In socialist or communist structures extended family units are common. Many generations of families share in the wealth each member brings in. There are resources available so no one must struggle to achieve their share. While in capitalist structures the nuclear family is the most effective means of maximizing wealth and rising in the economic strata. One only has to support immediate members of the family. Capitalism also promotes consumerism, and a nuclear family is in need of more products than an extended family (they share products).

Variations of crime Marxist theories address can include property crime, robbery, burglary, and white-collar crimes such as embezzlement. Forgery of checks, and counterfeiting would also classify as illegitimate means of achieving wealth for those who lack it. Violent crimes may also result from discontentment in capitalist systems. Aggression of the underprivileged may be expressed through violence on any available victim (perhaps a source of domestic violence) or on those in power over the governing political and economic system.

Small factions of communism, and in particular socialist have been present in the United States even before the death of Karl Marx. Recently though it seems there is growing support for implementation of these policies. With the New Left (the Marxist political organization), the American standpoint on Marxism and the American view on the capitalist economy, Marx’s ideas are being tossed around. It is important to remember, though, that history and human nature have continually shown a disagreement with socialist and communist practices, whether they be via military violence or economic frustration. Capitalism may leave some if its members at a disadvantage but they are none the less important in the overall function of a strong, stable economy (McLellan, 1979).

Berland, O. (1999-2000, Winter). The emergence of the communist perspective on the “negro question” in America: 1919-1931. Science & Society, 63, 4, 411-432.

Hollander, F. (2000, Jan./Feb.). Marxism and western intellectuals in the post-communist era. Society, 37, 2, 22-28.

Karl Marx. (1993). In The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition [Online]. Available: www.infoplease.com/ce5/CE033130.html [2000, May 9].

McLellan, D. (1979). Marxism after marx. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Pearce, F. (1976). Crimes of the powerful: Marxism, crime and deviance. London: Pluto Press.


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