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A Marxist Approach to Global Crime Essay

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Updated: Dec 10th, 2019


Global crime is one of the most important problems facing the world and most governments have taken steps to deal with it. These form of crime results in enormous costs to the society and the economy. An understanding of the causes of global crime can be helpful in mitigating this detrimental practice.

Criminologists have made use of many theories and approaches to explain crime and propose ways of reducing crime. One such approach, which can be used to provide a better understanding of global crime, is the Marxist approach.

This approach emphasizes socio-political as well as economic factors in explaining crime. This paper will apply the Marxist view on crime to global crime and proceed to discuss what this reveals about power, deviance, and social control.

Overview of Global Crime

Global crimes occur across multiple national borders and organized criminal groups are the main participants in this transnational crime. Crimes that fall under the global crime category include drug trafficking, people smuggling, arms dealing, prostitution rings, and money laundering to name but a few.

Global crime is economically driven and most participants seek to make the greatest amount of profit from their criminal activities.

Marxists Approach to Global Crime

The Marxist approach is derived from the theories of Karl Marx who is best known for his critique of the capitalist system. Marx asserted that the social institutions such as law, politics, and education, in a capitalist society “legitimize existing class inequalities and maintain the superior position held by the upper classes” (Kendall 2012, p. 175).

Capitalism produces haves and have-nots and encourages people to engage in crime and different forms of deviance. While crime was not a central feature of Marx’s theory of society, many academics and researchers have been able to use Marxist theories in the analyses of crime.

In addition to this, Marx did investigate the issues of crime, which makes his approach applicable to issues of crime. The Marxist approach to global crime is based on conflict with class power being of core importance. The relationship between the classes is one of conflict since it is based on the political domination of the labour providing class by the capital owning class.

Global crime is encouraged by the capitalistic system that promotes individual achievements at the expense of other members of the society. The capitalistic economic system fosters most of the global crimes by encouraging the exploitation of one group by another and promoting the self-interest of the individuals who engage in these forms of crime.

This thought is corroborated by McGuire and McQuarie (1994) who argue, “The competitive nature of capitalist society promotes social conditions that generate individualism and self-interest” (p. 261).

For example, Corruption of public officials is a necessary component of many global crimes. The Marxist approach suggests that these public officials are corruptible due to the capitalistic mindset that puts individual prosperity ahead of the society good (Zastrow 2009).

The Marxist approach focuses on crime as the product of law-enforcement policies (McGuire & McQuarie 1994). Law-enforcement policies are responsible for labelling certain global activities as crimes.

While society has grown to think of crime as a well-defined phenomenon and have a stereotyped view about who the criminals are, the fact is that criminal offences and crime is not well defined and criminals are diverse. In most cases, global crime seeks to provide people with desired goods and services that cannot be obtained through legal means. Such products include; drugs, fake visas, and weapons to name but a few.

In some cases, the ruling class encourages global crime since it provides “goods and services which ease the hardships and deflect the energies of the underclass (Spitzer 1975, p. 508). The Marxist approach further notes that there is selective enforcement of laws with regard to global crime.

While the law deals with people smuggling and drug smuggling by small criminal groups harshly, the same activity by powerful crime groups goes on unabated. International arms smuggling done by powerful actors is largely ignored by the police and the courts.

The Marxist approach proposes that crime is inevitable since capitalism, which is based on exploitation, causes crime. The approach suggests that crime is the only way through which the poor working class can make a living and therefore ensure their survival. This assertion holds true for global crimes that are mostly motivated by economic considerations.

People smuggling can trace its origin to the desperation of individuals in developing nations. From this desperation, they are forced to engage the services of people smugglers who take them to countries where they can have better economic prospects.

Most participants of global crime come from poor backgrounds and they are incentivised to participate in these crimes in order to afford the luxuries that the capitalistic society promises.

Implications of the Marxist Approach to:

  • Power

The Marxist approach argues that criminal law protects the interests of the rich and powerful often at the expense of the poor. Those with power are able to use their resources to avoid criminal prosecution and even having their activities labelled as crimes (McGuire & McQuarie 1994).

In addition to this, the ruling class is in a position to prevent the implementation of laws that threaten their self-interest. Kendall (2012) observes how the capitalistic state avoids introducing laws that regulate business activity or impose huge penalties on large corporations. Corporate crimes are the most serious anti-social acts and they affect millions of people worldwide.

However, little attention is given to this predatory act and the government is more interested in curbing crimes such as drug trafficking and smuggling; crimes which cost significantly less in terms of money and lives than corporate crime.

The Marxist approach points out that the affluent and powerful are able to protect their own interests and shield them from prosecution even when they commit crimes. Jewkes (2004) observes that those in power manipulate the media agenda to harness support for policies that criminalize those with less power in society.

The media is able to manipulate reporting to create an impression that the interests of the ruling class are the same as those of the whole nation and violating the ruling class interests poses a threat to the whole nations well being. With regard to global crime, the media mostly ignores crimes done by the rich and powerful with corporate wrongs seldom being reported.

The media either ignores the crimes of the powerful or misrepresents them and consequently, news reporting remains attached to state definitions of crime and criminal law (Jewkes 2004). On the other hand, crimes perpetrated by less powerful actors are given a lot of media attention. This reflects a pervasive bias in the labelling of criminals.

The ruling class decides on which activities should be criminalized and the sanctions that to be imposed on the offenders. This criminalization is not uniform and it is done for the convenience of the ruling class. The selective criminalization is best elaborated by the 18th century trade between China and European states.

The main product offered by the West to China was opium and when China banned the sale of opium in her territory, Britain retaliated by attacking China and forcing her to open up her ports for trade (Bickers 2011).

The European ruling class was able to impose its will due to its economic and political might. Today, the international trade in opium is criminalized by all Western powers since such trade is not in their best interest.

The political and economical powers of the country set the agenda for public debate on crime and the implementation of criminal justice. These agendas shape public perceptions of crime and justice.

Kendall (2012) suggests that the picture of crime painted by the ruling class is manipulated so that the crimes of the working class and unemployed are over-concentrated on. On the other hand, crimes of the well-educated upper and middle classes are all but ignored.

  • Deviance

The Marxist approach views deviance as a function of the capitalist economic system. Deviance according to the Marxist approach is created by social control agencies such as the police and the criminal justice system, which label people as outside the typical law-abiding community. Becker (1963) illustrates that specific behaviour is not in itself deviant or normal and it only becomes so when people start applying labels to it.

The individuals who label behaviour as normal or criminal are therefore responsible for creating the deviance class. Hester (1992) elaborates that the ruling class has economic dominion and from this base, the class erects the legal and political superstructure.

Through these institutions, the ruling class imposes its values, ideas, and beliefs that comprise the social consciousness. Deviants are therefore created by the upper class since its economic and political power enables it to make its views heard and enforced.

Attributing the label of deviant to an individual or a group makes them outsiders. This increases the level of crime since the label of criminal might last for a lifetime. Once a person is identified as a member of an international smuggling group, his/her chances of engaging in this activity are increased (Zastrow 2009).

This phenomenon is explained by the labelling theory, which illustrates that the deviance label makes it likely that a person will join the deviant group or subculture that society assumes he belongs to and consequently engage in further deviant acts.

  • Social Control

The ruling class is able to promote a stable society by encouraging conformity and adherence to societal values (Merton 1938). The Marxist approach emphasizes that the alleged societal values are not a reflection of a shared value system but rather the imposition of the ruling class on the rest of the society.

While laws purport to be a reflection of value consensus, they are in actual sense an expression of ruling-class ideology imposed on the working class. These laws primarily protect the interests of the ruling class therefore enabling it to keep its power and influence over the lower classes.

The Marxist approach declares that criminal sanctions are put in place to protect the property owners and ensure that their ability to generate wealth in future is guaranteed. McGuire and McQuarie (1994) note that the law and the administration of justice views global crime as a serious offence since it threatens those that possess the property.

International drug trafficking increases the levels of crime in the cities as drug addicts engage in robbery to finance their addiction or fail to engage in meaningful economic activity since due to the effects of the drugs. Smuggling of counterfeit goods across borders denies rich corporate of their market dominance and therefore decreases their profits.

The media is the most potent tool used by the upper class and the socially privileged to exert social control. The media constructs global crime and violence in such a way that it encourages populations to accept increasingly repressive forms of social control all in the name of dealing with global crime (Jewkes 2004).

While all classes of the society engage in crime, the types of crime differ and the media predisposes society to focus on the crimes of the lower classes since the higher classes are the ones who control the media apparatus.


This paper set out to apply the Marxist approach to global crime. It began by documenting that the Marxist approach blames economic factors and social structures for criminal activity. The paper has discussed systematic class bias in the criminal justice system and how power and inequality affect criminal labelling processes.

This approach has explained the relationship between crime and the socioeconomic realities of individuals and given insights into labelling. By using the approach, it is clear that capitalism is the root of crime.

As such, global crime can only be eradicated by replacing capitalism with an egalitarian society, which does not divide people into classes. Until this is done, the world will continue to be plagued by global crime and the harmful effects it causes in society.


Becker, H 1963, Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance, Free Press, New York.

Bickers, R 2011, ‘China’s Age of Fragility’, History Today, vol. 61 no. 3, pp. 29-36.

Hester, S 1992, A Sociology of Crime, Routledge, Sydney.

Jewkes, Y 2004, Media and Crime, Sage, New Jersey.

Kendall, D 2012, Sociology in Our Times, Cengage Learning, NY.

McGuire, P McQuarie, D 1994, From the Left Bank to the Mainstream: Historical Debates and Contemporary Research in Marxist Sociology, Rowman & Littlefield, London.

Merton, RK 1938, ‘Social Structure and Anomie’, American Sociological Review, vol. 3 no. 1, pp. 672-682.

Spitzer, S 1975, ‘Towards a Marxian Theory of Deviance’, Social Problems, vol. 22 no. 5, pp. 495-512.

Zastrow, C 2009, Introduction to Social Work and Social Welfare: Empowering People, Cengage Learning, NY.

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