What makes crime an integral part of capitalist society? For an answer we must consider larger questions: how capitalism developed; the material basis of crime (including both crime control and criminality); class structure under advance capitalism; the capitalist states role; and the political economy of criminal justice. Eventually our task is to document how policies of control grew in the World, as the nations economics and politics took shape.  But theoretical questions have to be considered first.


The contradiction in capitalist society today is that the state must provide a framework for continuing capitalist accumulation and at the same time legitimize the social order. It is increasingly difficult to provide resources for these services. The surplus population produced by the political economy of advanced capitalism is growing, populations that must be serviced and controlled, but financial resources are more and more limited. The criminal justice policies of recent years are attracted by this contradiction.  Criminal justice has traditionally been one part of the policies of the welfare state.  But as the liberal welfare state fails to resolve its own contradictions, its demise becomes imminent and criminal justice takes on new forms.  A new model of criminal justice, based explicitly on punishment reflects the economic and political crisis of late capitalism. It all takes on further meaning as the class struggle heightens and grows more political.


Furthermore criminal justice will be determined by changed conditions in the last stages of capitalism and by rising political consciousness in the working class, especially by the expanding portion of that class now relegated to a surplus population. Currently we are developing a theory and a practice for a transitional society, one that is moving from late capitalism to early socialism. In the transition, popular forms of action, beyond the state-sponsored programs of criminal justice, are appearing. Popular justice is the immediate alternative to criminal justice. Forms of the future will become evident only as we move to a socialist society. To understand criminal justice is to join in the struggle for a new society (Refer: Karl Marx. A contribution to the critique of Political Economy ed. M. Dobb, New York: International Publishers, 1970 pp.20-21).



A Marxist understanding of crime, as developed he begins with the recognition that crime is a material problem. The necessary conditions for any society, according to the materialist method and conception of reality, is that its members produce their material means of subsistence. Social production is primary in all social life.  Moreover, in this social production we enter into relations appropriate to the forces of production (Refer: Karl Marx: A contribution to the critique of Political Economy, ed. M. Dobb, New York: International Publishers, 1970 p.20).  It is this economic structure that provides the foundation for all social and political institutions, for every day life, and for social consciousness. Our analysis begins with the material conditions of social life.


The dialectical method allows us to comprehend the world as a complex of processes, in which all things contentiously come into being and pass away. All things are studied as part of there historical development. Dialectical materialism allows us to learn about things as they are in their actual connections, contradictions and movements. In dialectical analysis we critically understand our past, informing our analysis with the possibilities for our future.


A Marxist analysis shares in the larger socialist struggle. One commitment is to eliminating exploitation and oppression. Being on the side of the oppressed, only those ideas are advanced which will help transform the capitalist system. The objective of the Marxist analysis is change a revolutionary change. The purpose of our intellectual labors is to assist in providing knowledge and consciousness for building a socialist society. Theories and strategies are developed to increase conscious class struggle; Ideas for an alternative to capitalist society are formulated: and strategies for achieving the socialist alternative are proposed. In this intellectual political work we engage in the activities and actions that will advance the socialist struggle.


With these notions of a Marxist analysis encompassing a dialectical historical analysis of the material conditions of capitalist society looking forward to socialist revolution- we begin to formulate significant substantive questions about crime. In recent years, as socialists have begun to study crime, the outline for these questions has become evident. At this stage in our intellectual development the important questions are about the meaning of crime in capitalist society. Furthermore, we realize that the meaning of crime changes as capitalism develops.


The basic problem in studying the meaning of crime is integrating the two sides of the phenomenon named crime: that is placing in one frame work  (1) the defining of behavior as criminal (crime control), and (2) the behavior of those who are defined as criminal (criminality). Thus far our analysis of crime has been focused on one side or the other, failing to integrate, them into one scheme. In pursuing a Marxist analysis, however, the dual concept of crime is resolved by giving primacy to the underlying political economy.


The basic question in the Marxist analysis of crime is this: What is the meaning of crime in the development of capitalism? Approaching this question, we must consider several related processes: (1) development of capitalist political economy, including the forces and relations of production, formulation of the capitalist state, and class and class struggle between those who do and those who do not own and control the means of production: (2) the system of domination and repression established as capitalism develops, operating for the benefit of the capitalist class and secured by the capitalist state;  (3) the forms of accommodation and resistance to the conditions of capitalism, by all people oppressed by capitalism, including the working class : and (4)  the relation between the dialectics of domination and accommodation to patterns of crime in capitalist society, producing the crimes of domination and of accommodation. All these are dialectically related to the developing political economy. Crime is to be understood as part of capitalist development.




Crime is a manifestation of societys material conditions.  The failure of conventional criminology is to ignore, by design, the material conditions of capitalism.  Because the phenomena of crime are products of the sub-structure and themselves part of the super-structure, any explanation of crime using other elements of the superstructure is no explanation at all. What we need is a general materialist framework for understanding crime, beginning with the underlying historic process of social existence.


Production as the necessary requirement of existence produces its own forces and relations of social and economic life. The material factors (such as resources and technology) and present factors (most important, the workers) present at any one time from the productive forces of society. During production the people form definite relations of production with one another. These and the forces of production are the mode of production of a society at any time. It is the economic mode of production that furnishes society with its substructure, on which the social and political institutions (including control of crime) and supporting ideologies are built. This whole complex is the political economy of capitalism (Refer L. Afanasye al:  The Political Economy of Capitalism (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1974) pp. 9-16).


The political economy of capitalism gives rise to a class society, in which the system of production is owned and controlled by one segment of the society to the exclusion of another. All social life in capitalist society, including everything associated with crime, is subject to the economic conditions of production and the struggle between classes produced by these conditions. The basic division without capitalist society is between the capitalist class that owns and controls the means of production and the working class that labors.


Therefore, it is the problem of labour (as the foremost human activity) that characterizes the nature and specific relationship of the classes. For the capitalist system to operate and survive, the capitalist class must ex-pilot the labor (surplus labor) of the working class.  The capitalist class extracts from the worker the labor over and above that consumed by the actual producer (Refer: Maurice Dobb: Studies in the Development of Capitalism: New York International Publishers, 1963, p.15). The relationship is dialectical; the capitalist class survives by appropriating the surplus labour of the working class and the working class, as an exploited class exists as long as surplus labour is required in production. Each class depends on the other for its character and existence.


The amount of labour appropriated, techniques of exploiting labour conditions of working class life, and working class consciousness have all been an integral part of capitalisms development (Refer; Burgen Kuczynski: The Rise of the Working Class; New York; McGraw-Hill, 1967).  Likewise, antagonism and conflict between classes have varied at different stages in the development. It is still the basic contradiction between the classes, generalized as class conflict, which typifies the history of capitalism. Class conflicts permeates its whole development, represented in the contradiction between those who own property and those who do not, and by those who oppress and those who are oppressed. (Refer; Robert Heiss, Engells, Kierkegard and Marx (New York; Dell. 1975).  All history involving capitalism is the history of class struggle. Capitalism as a system of production based on exploitation by the ruling capitalist that owns and controls the means of production is a dynamic system that goes through its own stages of development. In fact, capitalism is constantly transforming its own forces and relations of production. As a result the whole of capitalist society is constantly being altered with the capitalist political economy.


The Marxian view stresses the qualitative changes in social organization and social relations as well as (or in relation to) the quantitative changes in the economic system.  (Refer; Paul M. Sweezy; The Theory of Capitalist Development; New York Monthly Review, Press pp 92-95).  Capitalism transforms itself, affecting the social existence of all who live under it.  This is the basic force in capitalist development interdependence among production, relations of production, and social superstructure of institutions and ideas. For it is a requirement of all social production that the relations which people enter into carrying on production must be suitable to the type of production they are carrying on. Hence, it is a general law of Economic development that the relations of production must necessarily be adapted to the character of the forces of production (Refer; Maurice Corn forth, Historical Materialism; New York International Publishers, 1962; p. 59).


Our analysis of the meaning of crime in capitalisms development necessarily involves investigating the relation between the concrete stage of capitalist development and social relations at that stage. This is not to argue, however, that the superstructure of social relations and culture is an automatic (directly determined) product of the economic substructure. After all, people may enter into relations of production in various ways to employ the forces of production; and it is from these relations that they create further institutions and ideas.  Because human social existence is in part a product of conscious activity and struggle, conscious life must be part of any analysis.


Furthermore, the more highly developed the productive forces under capitalism the greater the discrepancy between productive forces and capitalists relations of production.  Capitalist development, for which economic expansion is fundamental, exacerbates rather than mitigates the contradictions of capitalism (Refer; Erik Olin Wright; Alternative Perspectives in the Marxist Theory of Accumulation and Crisis; The Insurgent Sociologist, 6 (Fall 1975), pp 5-39). Workers are further exploited, conditions of existence worsen, and the contradictions of capitalism increase. Capitalist development, from another vantage point, creates the conditions for transforming and abolishing capitalism, brought about in actuality by class struggle.


The periods of capitalist development, for our purposes, differ according to the ways in which surplus labor is appropriated. Capitalism itself, distinct from other modes of production, has gone through periods of utilizing various methods of production and creating social relations in association with these productive forms. Each new development in capitalism brings about its own forms of capitalist social reality and related problems of human existence. How crime- control and criminality has its part in each stage of capitalist development is our interest in investigating the meaning of crime.



The capitalist system must continuously reproduce itself. Most explicit it is the state that promotes the capitalist order. Bu its coercive force, embodied in law and legal repression, the social and economic order of capitalism has been traditionally secured (Refer; See Richard Quinney, Critique of Legal Order; Crime Control in Capitalist Society; Boston; Little Brown, 1974, pp 95-135).  The legal system continues to be the means of enforcing the interests of the capitalist economy. The states coercive force however is but one means of maintaining the social and economic order. A subtler way of reproducing capitalist society is to perpetuate the capitalist conception of reality, a non-violent but equally repressive means of domination. Alan Wolf explains below that in manipulating consciousness the social order is legitimated and secured:  

The most important reproductive mechanism, which does not involve the use of state violence is consciousness-manipulation. The liberal state has an enormous amount of violence at its disposal, but is often reluctant to use it. Violence manipulates consciousness to such an extent that most people would never think of engaging in the kinds of action that could be repressed. The most perfectly repressive (though not violently so) capitalist system, in other words, would not be a police                           state, but the complete opposite, one in which there were no police because there was nothing to police, everyone having accepted the legitimacy of that society and all its daily consequences. (See Alan Wolf, Political and the Liberal State Monthly Review, 23; December, 1971, P-20)


Those who rule in capitalist society, with the assistance of the state, not only accumulate capital at the expense of those who work but impose their ideology as well. Expropriating consciousness legitimizes oppression and exploitation; Labour is expropriated, consciousness must too (See Alan Wolf, New Dimensions in the Marxist Theory of Politics Politics and Society, 4 (winter 1974) pp. 155-157).  In fact, the legitimacy of the capitalist order is maintained by controlling the populations consciousness. A capitalist hegemony is established.  

Moreover, a society that depends on labour exploitation for its very existence must not only control that situation but must cope with the problems that kind of economic system naturally creates. The capitalist state must therefore provide social services education, health, welfare and rehabilitation programs to deal with the problems that could be dealt with otherwise only by changing the capitalist system. These state services are a means of securing the capitalist order.


Capitalism systematically generates a surplus population, an unemployed sector of the working class either dependent on fluctuations in the economy or made obsolete by new technology. As the surplus population grows, population builds for the welfare system to expand. Growing welfare with its host of services is designed to control the surplus population. Moreover, James O Connor observes, Unable to gain employment to the monopoly industries by offering their labour power at lower power at lower than wage rates (and victimized by sexism and racism), and unemployed, under-employed, or employed at low wages in competitive industries, the surplus population increasingly becomes dependent on the State (See James O Connor:  The Fiscal Crisis of the State,  (New York: St. Martins Press, 1973), P. 161).   An unsteady alliance is formed between the state and the casualties it naturally produces. Only a new economic order could wipe out the need for a welfare state.


Repression through welfare is in part the history of capitalism. The kinds of services have carried with the development of economic conditions. Likewise, relief policies have changed according to specific tensions produced by unemployment and subsequent threats of disorder. (See Francis Fox Piven and Richard A> Cloward, Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare (New York: Random House, 1971) pp-3-4). Control through welfare can never be a permanent solution for a system based on appropriation of labour. As with all forms of control and manipulation in capitalist society, welfare cannot completely counter the basic contradictions of a capitalist political economy.


Although the capitalist state creates and manages the institutions of control (employing physical force and manipulation of consciousness), the contradictions are so great that this control is not absolute and in the long run, is subject to defeat.  Because of the contradictions, the capitalist state is more weak than strong (See Wolf, New Directions in the Marxist Theory of Politics p. 155).  Eventually the capitalist state loses its legitimacy, no longer able to perpetuate the ideology that accumulation of capital for capitalists (at the expense of workers) is good for the nation for human interest. The ability of the capitalist economic order to exist according to its own interests is eventually weakened. (See Stanley Aronowitz, Law, Breakdown of Order and Revolution, in Robert Lefcourt. Ed. Law against the people:  Essays to Demystify Law; Order and the Courts. (New York: Random House, 1971) pp. 150-182; and John H. Schaar, Legitimacy in the Modern State,

In Philip Green and Sanford Levinson, ed. Power and Community: Dissenting Essays in Political Science (New Yorks Random House, 1970) pp 27). 


The problem becomes especially acute in periods of economic crisis, unavoidable under capitalism. As the capitalist system reproduces itself, crimes are committed. One of its contradictions is the some of its own laws must be violated in order of secure of crime. Not only are these heightened in times of crisis, increasing crimes of domination, but the crime change with further development of capitalism. Control of crime and the crimes of domination are necessary features and natural products of a developing capitalist economy.