Tombs and Whyte: The Cost of Health and Safety Infringements

Marxist Criminologists argue that the costs of elite crime are greater than the costs of street-crime, yet the elite are more likely to get away with their crimes. The piece of research below strongly supports this view (refs to follow!)

In the UK Safety Crime has been studied extensively by Professor Tombs, and Dr Whyte (2008). To look at just one example from recent press releases of the Health and Safety Executive: 2.2 million people work in Britain’s construction industry, making it the country’s biggest industry. It is also one of the most dangerous. In the last 25 years, over 2,800 people have died from injuries they received as a result of construction work. There were 77 fatalities last year; many more were injured or made ill.

In March 2008 the HSE reported that over one in three construction sites visited put the lives of workers at risk and operated so far below the acceptable standard that inspectors served 395 enforcement notices and stopped work on 30% of the sites. That followed the report of the HSE on over 1000 spot checks of refurbishment sites across Great Britain during February this year as part of its rolling inspection programme. Work was stopped on site immediately during approximately 300 inspections because inspectors felt there was a real possibility that life would be lost or ruined through serious injury. The inspectors were appalled at the blatant disregard for basic health and safety precautions on refurbishment sites across Great Britain. Basic safety precautions were being flouted. Last year over half of the workers who died on construction sites worked in refurbishment, and the number of deaths rose by 61 per cent.

Tombs and Whyte analyse the causes of such high rates of death and injury in the construction industry: the casualised, sub-contracted and increasingly migrant workforce; the long and complex supply chains; aggressive management; market pressures; industry norms; and problems in regulatory processes.

Weak or non-existent trade unions add to the dangers. An instructive example is a comparison between Norwegian and UK offshore oil industries. The North Sea, while an inhospitable environment, is not inherently dangerous in the sense that it necessarily produces high numbers of worker deaths and injuries. Research has shown that the improved offshore safety in Norway compared to the UK is due to rights for union representatives to stop work when they think that safety is jeopardised, as well as “the maintenance of strong offshore unions with a comprehensive network of trade union-appointed safety representatives; this is in marked contrast to the strident anti-trades unionism of the UK sector”

Tombs and Whyte also looked at the use made of powers under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 to disqualify directors for health and safety failures in the management of companies. Despite the HSE’s spot checks revealing that 30% of construction sites did not meet safety standards, they were able to identify just ten directors who had been disqualified for health and safety reasons between the date when the 1986 Act took effect and the end point of their study in 2005.

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Evaluating Marxist Theories of Crime Part 2 – Kweku Adoboli

In 2013 Kweku Adeboli was jailed for 7 years for committing the biggest White Collar fraud in UK history. This case study can be used to selectively criticise aspects of the Marxist theory of crime. 

A City trader recklessly gambled with illicit trades to boost his bonus, and ran up potential losses of more than £7bn at one point, a sum big enough to sink his employer, the global bank UBS, a court has heard.

Kweku Adoboli, a trusted and experienced member of UBS’s exchange traded fund (ETF) desk in London, risked ever-greater sums in an attempt to conceal his losses over two and a half years before he was caught in September 2011, Southwark crown court was told.

Sasha Wass QC, prosecuting, said “Mr Adoboli’s motive was to increase his bonus, his status, his job prospects and his ego. Like most gamblers he believed he had the magic touch. Like most gamblers, when he lost, he caused chaos and disaster to himself and all of those around him.”

The total losses to UBS were eventually calculated at $2.3bn, or just over £1.4bn. Wass told the jury: “This colossal loss rose purely as a result of Mr Adoboli’s fraudulent deal making, which amounted to naked gambling.” However, she added, at one point the scale of Adoboli’s liabilities to the bank through vast trades, reached almost $12bn which risked the very existence of the bank itself.

Adoboli racked up the giant losses undetected through three means. First, he often exceeded the official daily trading limit per employee of $100m. He also failed to hedge trades by making balancing trades to mitigate potential losses, an insurance method that also caps potential profits. Finally, he falsified data so as not to record his trades properly, often inventing false clients and trades for hedges.

But on 14 September, under intense scrutiny and aware a number of trades were “about to hit the buffers”, Adoboli panicked and walked out of the UBS office, saying he had to see a doctor. Using his home email account he sent his bosses a message which, Wass argued, admitted his guilt.

In the email, read to the court, Adoboli said he had tried to suppress losses from “off book” trades, a number of which were, he warned, still “live”. It continued: “I have now left the office for the sake of discretion. I will need to come back in to discuss the positions and explain face to face but for reasons that are obvious I did not think it was wise to stay on the desk this afternoon.”

Adoboli, a former public schoolboy, denies four counts of fraud and false accounting between October 2008 and September 2011.Adoboli became a trader in December 2005, was promoted to associate director in March 2008 and then director in March 2010. His salary rose dramatically as his career progressed. In 2007 he earned £40,000 and a bonus of £55,000; in 2008 he earned £50,000 and a bonus of £15,000. Then in 2009 he earned £100,000 with a £95,000 bonus; and in 2010 his salary was £100 000 and bonus £200 000

What aspects of the Marxist theory of crime does this support or criticise?

Evaluating the Marxist Perspective on Crime (part 1)

All of the material below takes you to evidence that broadly supports two ideas held by Marxists about Crime – you could also use the examples from the ‘data response exercise – no.2 above.

 Are the crimes of the capitalist class more costly than street crime?

To what extent is Capitalism Crimogenic?

The theory of crimogenic capitalism suggests that Capitalism encourages selfishness, materialism and non-caring attitudes, it breeds a dog-eat-dog society. The link below takes you to an example of some of the worst cases of Corporate harms. To what extent do you think Capitalism breeds crime in society?

Is law enforcement selective?

There are quite a few case studies of members of the elite classes seemingly getting away with crime. NB All of the material below is also backs up the Marxist idea that all classes commit crime (part of point 2).

Marxist Theories of Crime – A Summary

Revision notes for A-level sociology, written with AQA sociology A level paper 2: crime and deviance with theory and methods (7192/3) in mind.

If you need to read over this in more depth then check out this long form version of the Marxist Theory of Crime here

Introduction/ The basics

  • Traditional Marxist theories explain crime in relation to power inequalities created by the capitalist system

  • The inequalities and injustices within Capitalism generate crime.

  • Class based analysis – both classes commit crime, the crimes of the elite are more harmful

  • The Bourgeoisie h- have economic power and because of this control the criminal justice system – they defined their own harmful acts as legal and are less likely to be prosecuted for the crimes they commit.

  • Historical Period (for Marxist Criminology) The 1970s

Crimogenic Capitalism

  • Crime is a consequence of the economic structure of capitalism
  • Capitalism is harsh, exploitative and breeds inequality, materialism and selfishness, which combined make crime in Capitalist societies inevitable.
  • See David Gordon’s work on the ‘Dog eat Dog’ society

The Elite Make the Law in Their Own Interests

  • William Chambliss: At the heart of the capitalist system lies the protection of private property
  • Laureen Snider – Many nation states are reluctant to pass laws which restrict the freedom of Transnational Corporations to make profit
  • There is unequal access to the law – the more money you have, the better lawyer you can get
  • Harmful and exploitative acts in capitalist systems are not formally labelled criminal if these harmful activities make a profit – e.g. Colonialism/ Numerous Wars/ Pollution.

All Classes Commit Crime and the Crimes of the Powerful are of particular interest to Marxist Criminologists

  • White Collar Crime = Individual middle class/ elite crime within a company , Corporate = Institutional crime

  • Typical e.g’s include various types of fraud and negligence regarded health and safety at work.

  • The economic costs of Corporate Crime are greater than street crime (Laureen Snider/ Corporate Watch.

  • High profile Corporate Crimes = Bernie Madhoff, the Enron $100bn fraud and the 20 000 dead people as a result of Union Carbide’s corporate negligence in Bhopal, India.

  • Despite being more costly to society, the crimes of the elite tend to go unpunished – As research by Tombs and Whyte suggests

The ideological functions of selective law enforcement

According to Gordon ‘selective law enforcement’ benefits the Capitalist system in three major ways:

  • we ignore the failings of the system that lead to the conditions of inequality which generate crime.

  • The imprisonment of selected members of the lower classes neutralises opposition to the system.

  • sweeps out of sight the ‘worst jetsam of Capitalist society’ such that we cannot see it.

Overall Evaluations of Marxist Theories of Crime

Postitive 

  • Dog eat Dog explains both WC and Elite crime
  • TTIP is good supporting evidence for point 2not lone individuals
  • Lots of case studies and stats support the view that Corporate Crimes are harmful – Bhopal!
  • Tombs and Whyte’s research – strongly supports point 3

Negative (criticisms) 

  • X – Crime has been decreasing in the UK in the last 20 years, yet we’re increasingly ‘neoliberal’
  • X – Crime existed before Capitalism and in Communist societies
  • X – Consensus theories argue most people today have private property, so most people are protected by the law
  • X – It’s unfair to compare corporate crime such as Fraud to street crime, the later has a more emotional toll.
  • X – Some Corporate Crminals are punished (e.g. Madhoff)

The Marxist Perspective on Crime

Focuses on how crime is a ‘natural outgrowth of the capitalist system and how the criminal justice system works for the benefits of elites and against the lower social classes.

Marxist criminologists see power being held by the Bourgeoisie and laws are a reflection of Bourgeois ideology. The legal system (lawyers, judges and the courts) and the police all serve the interests of the Bourgeoisie. These institutions are used to control the masses, prevent revolution and keep people in a state of false consciousness.

For the purposes of A2 Sociology, the Marxist perspective on crime may be summarised into four key points:

  1. Capitalism is Crimogenic –This means that the Capitalist system encourages criminal behaviour.

  2. The Law is made by the Capitalist elite and tends to work in their interests.

  3. All classes, not just the working classes commit crime, and the crimes of the Capitalist class are more costly than street crime.

  4. The state practices Selective Law Enforcement – The Criminal Justice system mainly concerns itself with policing and punishing the marginalised, not the wealthy, and this performs ideological functions for the elite classes.

Key Sociologists associated with this perspective are William Chambliss (1978) and Laureen Snider (1993). Examples of more contemporary theorists include Professors Tombs and Whyte (See later).

Read the following two pages and summarise the four key points your own words under four headings

Capitalism is Crimogenic

crimogenic capitalismMany Marxists see crime as a natural ‘outgrowth’ of the capitalist system. The Capitalist system can be said to be crimogenic in three major ways –

  1. Capitalism encourages individuals to pursue self-interest rather than public duty

  1. Capitalism encourages individuals to be materialistic consumers, making us aspire to an unrealistic and often unattainable lifestyle.

  1. Capitalism in its wake generates massive inequality and poverty, conditions which are correlated with higher crime rates.

The first reason that Capitalism is Crimogenic is because it encourages individuals to pursue self-interest before everything else.

Marxist Sociologist David Gordon says that Capitalist societies are ‘dog eat dog societies’ in which each individual company and each individual is encouraged to look out for their own interests before the interests of others, before the interests of the community, and before the protection of the environment. If we look at the Capitalist system, what we find is that not only does it recommend that we engage in the self-interested pursuit of profit is good, we learn that it is acceptable to harm others and the environment in the process. Please see KT’s blog post – ‘On The incredible immorality of corporate greed’ for referenced examples of Corporations acting immorally in the pursuit of profit.

Marxists point out that in a Capitalist society, there is immense competitive pressure to make more money, to be more successful, and to make more profit, because in a competitive system, this is the only way to ensure survival. In such a context, breaking the law can seem insignificant compared to the pressure to succeed and pressures to break the law affect all people: from the investment banker to the unemployed gang member.

Marxists theorise that the values of the Capitalist system filter down to the rest of our culture. Think again about the motives of economic criminals: The burglars, the robbers, and the thieves. What they are doing is seeking personal gain without caring for the individual victims.

Secondly, Capitalism is Crimogenic because it encourages us to want things we don’t need and can’t afford

Companies such as Coca Cola and McDonald’s spend billions of dollars every year on advertising, morphing their products into fantastical images that in no way resemble the grim reality of the products or the even grimmer reality of the productive processes that lie behind making their products. Advertising is a long way beyond merely providing us with information about a product; it has arguably become the art of disinformation.

It is doubtless that corporations benefit through advertising, and modern Capitalism could not exist without the culture of consumerism that the advertising industry perpetuates, and activities have pointed to many downsides. One of the most obvious is that the world of advertising presents as normal a lifestyle that may be unattainable for many people in British Society.

For those millions who lack the legitimate means to achieve the materialist norm through working, this can breed feelings of failure, inadequacy, frustration and anger at the fact that they are working-but-not–succeeding. In short, Advertising creates the conditions that can lead to status frustration, which in turn can lead to crime.

Merton and Nightingale have pointed out that for some the desire to achieve the success goals of society outweigh the pressure to obey the law, advertising only adds to this strain between the legitimate means and the goal of material success.

Thirdly, Capitalism is Crimogenic because it creates inequality and poverty

The Capitalist system is one of radical inequality. At the very top we have what David Rothkopf calls the ‘Superclass’ , mainly the people who run global corporations, and at the very bottom we have the underclass (in the developed world) and the slum dwellers, the street children and the refugees in the developing world.

The Sociologists Zygmunt Bauman points out that the super wealthy effectively segregate themselves from the wealthy, through living in exclusive gated communities and travelling in private jets and armoured vehicles with security entourages. If people can afford it, they move to a better area, and send their children to private schools. However, this doesn’t prevent the poor and the rich from living side by side.

Marxists argue that this visible evidence of massive inequalities give people at the bottom a sense of injustice, a sense of anger and a sense of frustration that they are not sharing in the wealth being flaunted in front of them (the flaunting is the point is it not?) As a result, Capitalism leads to a flourishing of economic crime as well as violent street crime.

William Chambliss even goes so far as to say that economic crime ‘’represents rational responses to the competitiveness and inequality of life in capitalist societies”. As we have seen from previous studies. Drug dealers see themselves as innovative entrepreneurs. So internalised is the desire to be successful that breaking the law is seen as a minor risk.

Marxists hold that more egalitarian societies based on the values of the co-operation and mutual assistance, have lower crime rates, as can be evidence from Bruce Parry’s visit to the extremely egalitarian Island of Anuta

Discussion Questions:

  • Does Capitalism encourage competition over co-operation?
  • Does exploitation lie at the heart of the Capitalist system?
  • Does Capitalism encourage us to be selfish consumers?
  • Does Capitalism cause crime?

The Law benefits the elite and works in their Interests

Basic Marxist theory holds that the superstructure serves the ruling classes, thus the state passes laws which support ruling class interests.

Evidence for this can be found in the following:

  1. Property rights are much more securely established in law than the collective rights of, for instance, trade unions. Property law clearly benefits the wealthy more than those with no property. William Chambliss has argued that ‘at the heart of the Capitalist system lies the protection of Private Property. Consider the fact that there are roughly 100, 000 people recognised as homeless in the United Kingdom1, and 300, 000 houses lying empty2. The rights of the property owners to keep their properties empty are put before the rights of the needy to shelter.

  1. Laureen Snider (1993) argues that Capitalist states are reluctant to pass laws which regulate large capitalist concerns and which might threaten profitability. Having tried so hard to attract investment the last thing the state wants to do is alienate the large corporations. The state is thus reluctant to pass – or enforce – laws against such things as pollution, worker health and safety and monopolies.

While the lack of regulation in these areas is obvious in the third world, in most of Europe, there are many laws protection the environment and health and safety, but fines for them are relatively low, and, until 2007, no individual member of a corporation could be prosecuted for damaging the environment or endangering worker safety through corporate practise.

A further recent example which could be used to support this is the deregulation of financial markets prior to the financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent ‘credit crunch’ and economic recession. The activities of the vast majority of bankers and financiers were not seen as illegal and, far from being prosecuted, many grew rich through the payments of large bonuses.

  1. People have unequal access to the law. Having money to hire a good lawyer can delay trials, meaning the difference between being found not guilty or guilty, and influence the length of one’s sentence and the type of prison one goes to. Thus for Marxists, punishment for a crime may depend and vary according to the social class of the perpetrator. Poorer criminals tend to receive harsher punishments than rich criminals. As evidenced in one of the examples above, Mark Thatcher received only a suspended sentence for assisting mercenaries in a military coup against a democratically elected government.

Discussion Question: Can you think of any other ways in which the law works in the interests of the elite?

White Collar Crime and Corporate Crime

Marxists argue that although they are hidden from view, the crimes of the elite exert a greater economic toll on society than the crimes of the ‘ordinary people’. Laureen Snider (1993) points out that the cost of White Collar Crime and Corporate Crime to the economy far outweighs the cost of street crime by ‘typical’ criminals. Two contemporary organisations: Multinational Monitor3 and Corporate Watch4, specialise in documenting the illegal activities of corporations.

In the section below we look at two types of white collar crime – Fraud and Health and Safety infringements. Both of these sound either terribly complex or terribly unexciting (or both) which means people are generally uninterested in hearing about them, and this general lack of public interest is something which helps the elite get away with an incredibly high level of criminality.

Key Concepts

White Collar Crime: Crimes committed in the furtherance of an individual’s own interests, often against the corporations of organisations within which they work.

Corporate Crime: Those crimes committed by or for corporations or businesses which act to further their interests and have a serious physical or economic impact on employees, consumers and the general public. The drive is usually the desire to increase profits.

The Cost of Financial Crime (Fraud)

Organisations such as Corporate Watch and…. Multinational Monitor, suggest that Corporate Fraud is widespread. The General Accounting Agency of the USA has estimated that 100s of savings and loans companies have failed in recent years due to insider dealing, failure to disclose accurate information, and racketeering. The cost to the taxpayer in the USA of corporate bail outs is estimated to be around $500 billion, or $5000 per household in the USA.5

Case Study – Bernie Madoff’s $65 billion Fraud

In 2009 the disgraced financier Bernie Madoff was sentenced to the maximum 150 years in prison for masterminding a $65bn (£38bn) fraud that wrecked the lives of thousands of investors.

The US district judge Denny Chin described the fraud as “staggering” and said the “breach of trust was massive” and that a message was being sent by the sentence. There had been no letters submitted in support of Madoff’s character, he said. Victims in the courtroom clapped as the term was read out.

Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 counts of fraud, theft and money laundering. The sentencing, in what has been one of the biggest frauds ever seen on Wall Street, was eagerly anticipated. Described by victims in written testimony as a “thief and a monster”, Madoff has become an emblem for the greed that pitched the world into recession. Nearly 9,000 victims have filed claims for losses in Madoff’s corrupt financial empire.

Madoff masterminded a huge “Ponzi” scheme. Instead of investing client’s money in securities, it was held with a bank and new deposits used to pay bogus returns to give the impression that the business was successful. At the time of his arrest in December, he claimed to manage $65bn of investors’ money, but in reality there was just $1bn left.

Corporate America has suffered a series of massive frauds during the past decade, including scandals at Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and more recently the financial empire run by Texas billionaire Allen Stanford. Former WorldCom chief Benrard Ebbers is serving 25 years for accounting fraud. Former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling was sentenced to more than 24 years in prison although the sentence was overturned. He remains in prison awaiting resentencing.

Discussion Question: Are crimes such as fraud more harmful to society than violent crime?

The Ideological Functions of Selective Law Enforcement

Marxism crime

David Gordon argues that the police mainly focus on policing working class (and underclass) areas and the justice system mainly focuses on prosecuting working and underclass criminals. By and large the system ignores the crimes of the elite and the middle classes, although both of these classes are just as likely to commit crime as the working classes.

Gordon argues that the disproportionate prosecution of working class criminals ultimately serves to maintain ruling-class power and to reinforce ruling class ideology (thus performing ‘ideological functions’ for the ruling class.)

According to Gordon ‘selective law enforcement’ benefits the Capitalist system in three major ways:

  1. By punishing individuals and making them responsible for their actions, defining these individuals as ‘social failures’ we ignore the failings of the system that lead to the conditions of inequality and poverty that create the conditions which lead to crime.

  1. The imprisonment of selected members of the lower classes neutralises opposition to the system.

  1. The imprisonment of many members of the underclass also sweeps out of sight the ‘worst jetsam of Capitalist society’ such that we cannot see it.

  • We may also add a fourth benefit, that all of the police, court and media focus on working class street crime means that our attention is diverted away from the immorality and greed of the elite classes.

Revision Bundle for Sale 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Crime and Deviance Revision Bundle

Crime Deviance A-Level Revision.png

It contains

  • 12 exam practice questions including short answer, 10 mark and essay question exemplars.
  • 32 pages of revision notes covering the entire A-level sociology crime and deviance specification
  • Seven colour mind maps covering sociological perspective on crime and deviance

Written specifically for the AQA sociology A-level specification.

Related Posts

Marxism is one of the main perspectives taught within the crime and deviance part of the AQA’s A-level sociology course.

Evaluating the Marxist Perspective on Crime (part 1)

Assess the Contribution of Marxism to our Understanding of Crime and Devianceoutline essay plan

Selected Sources 

5 The Documentary: The Corporation has a very good section on the extent of corporate crime

Related Quote…

‘The real criminals in this society are not all the people who populate the prisons across the state, but those people who have stolen the wealth of the world from the people’ (Angela Davis, former leader of the Black Panthers).

Evaluate the Contribution of Marxism to our Understanding of Crime and Deviance (30)

An essay plan on the Marxist Theory of Crime and Deviance – starting with an introduction outlining the Marxist conception of social class and then covering 4-5 key points such as the costs of corporate crime, selective law enforcement and crimogenic capitalism, with some overall evaluations and a conclusion to round off. 

Brief intro outlining key ideas of Marxist Theory (links to Theory and Methods):

  • Conflict Perspective
  • Class Structure (Bourgeoisie/ Proletariat)
  • Capitalism/ Economic Power = other forms of power (Private Property)
  • Exploitation/ extraction
  • False consciousness/ ideological control
  • Political Perspective supports working class struggle and revolution

Point One – The law is made by the elite and supports their interests

  • William Chambliss said this
  • Against the consensus view of the law
  • Most of the law is protection of Private Property
  • The whole history of Colonialism supports

Point Two – All classes commit crime, the crimes of the elite are more harmful and they are more likely to get away with it

  • Laureen Snider said this
  • High profile case studies support this – Bernie Madhoff/ Bhopal
  • Statistically supported by Tombs and Whyte

Point Three – Selective Law Enforcement and Ideological Functions

  • Working class crime more likely to be punished and criminals jailed
  • NOT interactionism, although their work supports this
  • 3* ideological functions – e.g. neutralisation of opposition

Point Four – Crimogenic Capitalism

  • Crime is a natural outgrowth of Capitalism
  • David Gordon ‘Dog Eat Dog society’
  • Capitalism breeds desire, selfishness, materialism

Bonus Point Five – Add in Neo-Marxism – The Fully Social Theory of Deviance

  • Taylor, Walton and Young – Moral Panics against WC crime = a tool of social control
  • Stuart Hall – Policing the Crisis – good illustration of the above
  • See criminals as a ‘revolutionary vanguard’

Best Overall Evaluations

Positive 

  • + Better than Consensus Theory – doesn’t ignore power and inequality
  • + The law does benefit the rich more because the poor have no significant property
  • + Highlights the cost of Corporate Crime and the injustice (links to Victimology)
  • + On the side of the many victims of Elite Crime

Negative 

  •  – Economically Deterministic – Evidence that crime exists in non-capitalist societies and crime is going down in the UK
  • – Postmodernism – Doesn’t explain recent changes in crime – causes are more complex
  • – Realisms – Not pragmatic – offers not immedate ways of controlling crime
  • – Realisms – out of touch with working class victims of crime

Conclusion – How Useful is this theory?

  • + Useful if you’re a victim of elite crime and think long term political change is required to end this problem.
  • – Not useful if you’re a victim of ‘ordinary working class crime’ and want immediate solutions to your problems.

Eight Reasons Why We Should All be Marxists

The third of three posts on Marxism for A2 Sociological Perspectives – Arguments and evidence for the continued relevance of Marxism 

Contemporary Marxists argues that Marxist analysis is still relevant to an understanding of modern society. A considerable amount of contemporary Marxist thought focuses on how Capitalism has become globalised and emphasises the injustices of the global capitalist system; another strand of contemporary Marxist theory focuses on how the values of capitalism (in the form of ‘neo-liberal hegemony’) have penetrated Western culture to the detriment of us all.

You might like to think about what Marxist concepts are illustrated by these cartoons

  1. Some Sociologists argue that a class based analysis of global society is still relevant.

Leslie Sklaire argues that recent decades have seen the emergence of a ‘Transnational Capitalist Class’. These are the leaders of global corporations, certain politicians and their bureaucrats who control billions of dollars of assets and financial flows. They wield their power through undemocratic international economic institutions such as the World Bank, The International Monetary Fund and the G20. These institutions were established after World War Two to help co-ordinate the expanding global economy and facilitate redevelopment after the war. However, many left wing theorists such as Joseph Stiglitz argue that since the 1970s these institutions have forced dozens of developing countries to adopt neo-liberal economic policies. Neo-Liberal policies include such things as privatising public services, cutting taxes and regulating industry less, thus allowing Transnational Corporations to open sweat shops, pollute local areas, and take all the profits away without giving very much back. The basic idea here is that the global economy is run by Corporations and Politicians for the benefit of Corporations and their high powered political supporters (One of whom is ‘Gideon’ Osborn)

  1. There is considerable evidence that exploitation still lies at the heart of the Capitalist system.

Corporations are frequently criticised for exploiting workers and the environment – through sweatshop labour and pollution, where they can get away with it. Some of the most obvious examples include Shell and oil pollution in Nigeria; Coke’s legacy of draining water local water supplies in India to produce Coke, which results in drought in local areas and Apple’s use of sweatshops in China to produce the ipad.

  1. There is some evidence that those with economic power still have disproportionate influence over the superstructure.

Marxist Theory is still relevant because…. There is some evidence that those with economic power still have disproportionate influence over the superstructure.

I should just point out that the point of this post is to provide soundbites that you can use in an exam (or an arguement with a Tory supporter of the neo-liberal state apparatus) rather than a comprehensive or balanced account of evidence for or against (the variety of) Marxist theory.

Evidence of Elite control over the government

By far the best example of state putting the interests of Capital before the interests of the majority of people is how the government has responded to the present ‘economic crisis’. 

Simply put, the state is making the poor pay for the economic problems caused by the Transnational Capitalist Class. The average guy on the street is getting poorer while the rich are still getting richer! Consider also the recent case of Ireland, where the minimum wage is being cut by one euro, VAT is being increase, and public sector jobs axed, while Corporation Tax remains at an incredibly low 12.5%  

Getting back to the cuts in Britain, this is no surprise if you actually look at the characteristics of those who make up the cabinet and the wider Tory Party; you actually find that many of them are themselves extremely wealthy. The prime minister, deputy prime minister and Chancellor are all millionaires – They are the Transnational Capitalist Class – and they are hardly likely to hurt themselves.

Evidence of Elite control over the Criminal Justice System

Another example of the elite class having control over the superstructure lies in the differential treatment of white collar crime and street crime. Even though White Collar Crime costs more to the economy than street crime, White Collar Criminals are still less likely to get punished. According to Tombs and Whyte, this is partly because the government invests fewer resources into investigating fraud and health and safety crimes (the types of crime Corporations are most likely to be guilty of) than it does into working class street crime.

Evidence of Elite Control over the mainstream Media

Greg Philo argues that it is simply crazy it is that the agenda in the media is about ‘what services should the government cut’ rather than ’should we tax the wealthy or make cuts.[1] Philo points[2] out that there are other solutions to the current economic crisis – there is enough property wealth in the country – we could just take it off them, but the government is making the average man on the street pay instead. In his film, 

Evidence of Elite Control of the Education system

Evidence for elite control of the education system lies in the fact that if you are wealthy, you can buy your children a private education, which gives them a much greater chance of getting into a top university and high getting a highly paid, prestigious job.  The statistics make for extremely uncomfortable reading… Intelligent children from the 20% of richest homes in England are seven times more likely to attend a high-ranking university than intelligent children from the poorest 40%’.Looked at another way, of 80,000 15-year-olds who’d been on free school meals in 2002, only 45 had made it to Oxbridge- compared to the high-end private Westminster school which averages 82 successful applicants every year.[3]

People from upper middle class, public school backgrounds dominate every economic sector except those – such as sport and hard science – in which only raw ability counts. Through networking, confidence, unpaid internships, most importantly through our attendance at the top universities, we run the media, politics, the civil service, the arts, the City, law, medicine, big business, the armed forces, even, in many cases, the protest movements challenging these powers. The Milburn report, published last year, shows that 45% of top civil servants, 53% of top journalists, 32% of MPs, 70% of finance directors and 75% of judges come from the 7% of the population who went to private schools.’[4]

  1. There is evidence that we are still under ideological control – but we don’t realise it.

Antonio Gramsci, A humanist Marxist writing in the early twentieth century first pointed out that what he called ‘Hegemonic Control’ plays an ever important role in advanced Capitalist societies. Hegemonic control occurs when the intellectual and moral leadership provided by the dominant class provides the fundamental outlook for the whole of society.

Greg Philo points to one very good recent example of this in recent years – the fact that we are so willing to accept cuts to public services when the richest ten percent of the country own so much wealth that if we just took one fifth of their wealth we would clear the national deficit, yet this idea doesn’t not even appear in the media. Agenda Setting has removed it and so we do not even consider it.

  1. Capitalism is kept going by creating ‘false needs’

Successful companies today spend billions on advertising campaigns to convince us that we need the products that they make. Looked at objectively much of what we buy we don’t need, yet the Capitalist class invests billions convincing us to buy things that we do not need.

Worse that ideological control – More generally, numerous Sociologists such as Richard Wilkinson and David Garland point out that the more unequal a country, and the more a country has adopted neo-liberal policies – the higher the prison population. It would appear that the closer a country is to ‘pure capitalism’ the more punitive the elite class is.

  1. Alienation and Commodity Fetishism

We in west have become so obsessed with consumer culture that we end up defining ourselves through the products we consume, and how we ‘pick and mix them’ (this means fashion, holidays, houses, cars, mobile phones). From a Marxist point of view this is incredibly shallow – Marx believed that we are only fully human when we are fully engaged with the political and economic processes of our society. From the Marxist point of view, Capitalism just encourages us to be childlike and define ourselves through our styles and our hobbies and to forget about politics and economics. In the truest sense we are alienated from our productive base while our identities become more and more dependent on material goods.

  1. David Harvey argues that economic crises are inherent to the Capitalist system and that in recent years these crises have become more severe and more frequent.

Harvey argues that any sane person should join an anti-capitalist movement because the root problems of Capitalism are the same as they were in Marx’s day – click here for his analysis of the problems of Modern Capitalism

  1. Capitalist exploitation is so bad in some parts of the world that there is vehement resistance to it – especially in Latin America – President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, for example, perceives himself as an anti-Capitalist, as do many people of Latin America. The Zapatistas in Mexico is another good example and the World Development Movement also has Marxist undertones.

  • See the first 20 mins or so of John Pilger’s ‘War on Democracy’ to here Hugo Chavez talk in Marxist terms – on stream

  1. Although you don’t see it in the media there are tens of thousands of people who call themselves Communists and who sympathise with Marxism and the wider anti-capitalist movement. Left Wing criticisms and the anti-capitalist movement are still very much alive today.

Related Posts

The Traditional Marxist Perspective on Society – Eight Key Ideas

Eight Criticisms of Traditional Marxism

Eight Criticisms of the Traditional Marxist View of Society

  1. The class structure today is more complex than Bourgeois-Proletariat. In most Western Nations and increasingly in developing nations there is an extensive middle class who have stocks and shares invested in Corporations run by what Marxists would call the ‘Capitalist Class’. Also in Britain 70% of people own their own homes and see these homes (our private property) as ‘economic assets’ so many of us are, in a sense, petit-capitalists.

  1. Capitalism today is less exploitative – Two historical examples of this are when Henry Ford, the famous car manufacturer, realised that paying his workers good wages would generate demand for the cars he produced – a process which lead to workers being less exploited and ‘buying into’ the Capitalist system. A second example is the move towards ‘Keynsian Economics’ in which the state came to play a more central role in regulating Capitalism to ensure that worst excesses of exploitation, inequality and insecurity that pure Capitalism generates were minimised. Part of this involved the introduction of the welfare state in many European Countries after the Second World War. In the United Kingdom the state now provides universal health care, education, pensions and social security, as well as guaranteeing a minimum wage. All of these things acts as a safety net to ensure that the worst excesses of Capitalist exploitation are ameliorated.

  1. Marx argued that those who control the economic base controlled the economic superstructure – yet many of our institutions today have at least relative autonomy from Bourgeois control – it is quite obvious, for example, that huge sections of the press are critical of the Elite and many popular music artists are extremely critical of the Capitalist system.

  1. Given the above three points, it seems ludicrous to argue that the superstructure is controlled by the Bourgeoisie and is used to create false consciousness. Firstly, post-modernists argue that culture (mainly the media) exists independently of Bourgeois control and is used by people in different for a variety of different purposes. If institutions are not controlled by the Bourgeois, then there can be no False Consciousness. What we really have in post-modern society according to Post-Modernists is free individuals who correctly see class as irrelevant and who do not feel exploited and who are happy to identify themselves through the products they buy – products that are themselves the final outcome of a successful Capitalist system of production.

  1. There is much less Alienation in modern companies. Workers have a lot more say, partly due to unionisation and partly due to enlightened management techniques. In addition, there are four million self employed people who directly control the terms and conditions of their working lives.

  1. Classic Marxist theory has been criticised for being economically deterministic. Marx argued that ‘economic laws’ determined not only the shape of society but also the direction of history itself. On reflection, however, it is clearly the case that other factors shape history too – different societies have responded differently to the global spread of Capitalism – some have pushed neo-liberalism (America and Britain under Thatcher and Bliare) others have taken a social democratic line and used the state as a buffer to protect citizens from the worst excesses of Capitalist exploitation (Scandanavian countries); China has developed a form of autocratic- capitalism and other countries (Cuba and more recently Venezuala) have rejected it in favour of a Socialist dictatorship.

  2. The Communist Revolutions in Eastern Europe did not lead to greater equality and freedom as Marx would have hoped. Given the failures of communism it is difficult to see what the alternative to Capitalism might be. NB – As a counter critique, contemporary Marxists would argue that the state communism of Eastern Europe was hardly true communism.

  3. Finally, many sociologists today would argue that Marx’s ‘grand theorising’ about the world is no longer relevant – rather than researching with the intention of creating the perfect society, we should really be focussing our attention of much more specific and localised social issues.

Related Posts

The Traditional Marxist Perspective on Society – Eight Key Ideas

Eight Ways in Which Marxism is Still Relevant Today

The Marxist Perspective on Society

Includes some of the Key Ideas of Karl Marx, including Bourgeoisie/ Proletariat, exploitation, false consciousness, ideological control, and revolution.

This is a simplified version of Marxist Theory designed for second year A level students

In order to fully understand Marxism, you need to understand the work of Karl Marx, who produced most of his writing between 1840 and 1870.

  1. Under Capitalism there are two basic classes- The Bourgeois and The Proletariat

  1. The relationship between these two classes is exploitative because the amount of money the employer pays the worker is less than the total value of goods that worker produces. The difference between the two is called surplus value. Marx thus says that the capitalist extracts surplus value from the worker. To Marx, Profit is basically the accumulated exploitation of workers in capitalist society.

  1. Control of the Economic Base means control of the superstructure… According to Marx those who have economic power control all other institutions. During Marx’s day there was some evidence to suggest this was true – Voting was restricted to men with property; Press Barons used their papers to spread propaganda; and only the children of the wealthy could get to university.

  1. The Bourgeois use their control of institutions to keep the masses ignorant of their exploitation – this is known as ideological control. According to Marx this was mainly done through the Mass Media and Religion. Ideological control results in False Consciousness – individuals not being aware (conscious) of their true class position or their exploitation by the ruling class. They are in a state of illusion.

  1. Capitalism causes alienation- Under Capitalism the worker becomes alienated from the process of production, from the people he works with and from the products they produce. This is because he lacks control over his work and becomes a ‘machine’, and thus work appears as ‘alien’ to him.

  1. Marx’s ideas on Capitalism and social change – Competition leads to increasing levels of exploitation – Marx argued that the Capitalism had within it the seeds of its own destruction – it would eventually create the social conditions that would lead to its downfall. In order to stay competitive, Capitalists would have to sell goods at lower prices, which would mean reduced profit. This would then encourage Capitalists to seek to reduce wages and increase efficiency– making the working conditions of the proletariat ever worse. Marx theorised that increasing numbers of increasingly exploited proletarians crammed into ever expanding cities (where factories were based) would eventually lead to a violent revolution – in which the proletariat would throw off their oppressors.

  1. Revolution and Communism – Marx argued that following the overthrow of the Bourgeois – society would eventually organise itself along Communist lines – where the means of production are collectively owned (no private property) and everyone has equal wealth. Marx was vague about exactly what the Communist society would look like but argued that in this society ‘each would give according to their ability and take according to their needs’ and that there would be a lot more free time for all.

  1. The point of ‘Social Research’ according to Marx – Marx spent the last decade of his life sitting in the British Library analysing how Capitalism worked and discovered that over time, the degree of exploitation of workers increased. He thus theorised that Capitalism would gradually lead to an increasing amount human misery and exploitation and that it must, one day come to an end.

As far as Marx was concerned, he had realised the truth, and he believed that political action was necessary to ‘wake up’ the proletariat and bring them to revolutionary class consciousness. He spent much of the middle and later parts of his life engaged in efforts to bring about revolutionary change.

Related Posts (for A2 Sociology – criticisms and counter-criticisms)

Eight Criticisms of Traditional Marxism

Eight Ways in Which Marxism is Still Relevant Today

Related Posts from other Topics Within Sociology

One way to approach Marxist Theory in second year Sociology is to look at what Marxists say about specific areas of society such as the family and education.

The Marxist Perspective on The Family

The Marxist Perspective on Education

Dependency Theory

World Systems Theory

Find out more about Marxism – Good external sites

The Marx and Engels Archive – This is a comprehensive site which provides access to Marx’s major works, as well as biographies and articles about Marx, and a picture gallery!

The Communist Manifesto – Published in 1848 this is Marx’s most famous work – the one which contains the classic line ‘Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains’.

Marxism 2016 – Ideas for Revolution – This is the homepage of the latest Marxism festival, which is held in London every year over several days, where you can go to hear contemporary Marxists speak and argue amongst themselves.

The Victorian Slum is a BBC recreation of slum life from the 1860s, which was one of the decades when Marx was writing and conveys some of the privations working class slum dwellers had to endure – basically wages just about covered lodging and food. NB – According to this article, the level of squalor was almost certainly worse than in the video. There’s a good level of sociological commentary running through this.

Sociological Perspectives on Education Summary Grid

A Level Sociology – Perspectives on Education Summary Grid

A summmary of the Functionalist, Marxist, New Right, Late Modern/ New Labour and Postmodern Perspectives on the role of education in society – focusing on Key ideas, supporting evidence and criticisms. (Scroll down for ‘test yourself’ link)

Key Ideas about Education

Supporting Evidence

Criticisms/ Limitations

Functionalism

  • Education performs positive functions for the individual and society.

  • It creating social solidarity (value consensus) through teaching the same subjects.

  • Teaching skills necessary for work – necessary for a complex division of labour.

  • Acting as a bridge between home and soceiety – from paricularistic to universalistic values.

  • Role Allocation and meritocracy

  • School performs positive functions for most pupils – exclusion and truancy rates are very low.

  • Role Allocation – Those with degrees earn 85% more than those without degrees.

  • Schools do try to foster ‘solidarity’ – Extended Tutorials – (‘cringing together’?)

  • Education is more ‘work focused’ today – increasing amounts of vocational courses.

  • Schooling is more meritocratic than in the 19th century (fairer).

  • Marxists – the education system is not meritocratic (not fair) – e.g. private schools benefit the wealthy.

  • Functionalism ignores the negative sides of school –

  • Many schools fail OFSTED inspections,

  • Not all pupils succeed

  • Negative In school processes like subcultures/ bullying/ teacher labelling

  • Postmodernists argue that ‘teaching to the test’ kills creativity.

  • Functionalism reflects the views of the powerful. The education system tends to work for them. (because they can send their children to private schools) and it suggests there is nothing to criticise.

Marxism

  • Traditional Marxists see the education system as working in the interests of ruling class elites. The education system performs three functions for these elites:

  • Reproduces class inequality.

  • Legitimates class inequality.

  • The Correspondence Principle – School works in the interests of capitalist employers.

  • Neo- Marxism – Paul Willis – A Classic piece of Participant Observation of 12 lads who formed a counter school cultur. Willis argued they rejected authority and school and just turned up to ‘have a laff’ (rejecting the correspondence theory). However, they ended up failing and still ended up in working class jobs (so supports the reproduction of class inequality).

  • To support the reproduction of inequality – Who gets the best Jobs. And there is no statistically significant evidence against the FACT that, on aggregate, the richer your parents, the better you do in education.

  • To support the Legitimation of class inequality – pupils are generally not taught about how unfair the education system is – they are taught that if they do badly, it is down to them and their lack of effort.

  • To support the Ideological State Apparatus – Surveillance has increased schools’ ability to control students.

  • There are many critical subjects taught at university that criticise elites (e.g. Sociology).

  • It is deterministic – not every child passively accepts authority (see Paul Willis).

  • Some students rebel – 5% are persistent truants (they are active, not passive!).

  • Some students from poor backgrounds do ‘beat the odds’ and go on to achieve highly.

  • The growth of the creative industries in the UK suggest school doesn’t pacify all students.

  • The nature of work and the class structure has also changed, possibly making Marxism less relevant today.

Key Ideas about Education

Supporting Evidence

Criticisms/ Limitations

Neoliberalism and The New Right

  • Created an ‘education market’ – Schools were run like businesses – competing with each other for pupils and parents were given the choice over which school = league tables.

  • The state provides a framework in order to ensure that schools were all teaching the same thing – National Curriculum.

  • Schools should teach subjects that prepare pupils for work: New Vocationalism!

  • Their policies seem to have raised standards.

  • Their policies have been applied internationally (PISA league tables).

  • Asian Countries with very competitive education systems tend to top the league tables (e.g. China).

  • Competition between schools benefited the middle classes and lower classes, ethnic minorities and rural communities ended up having less effective choice.

  • Vocational Education was also often poor.

  • There is a contradiction between wanting schools to be free to compete and imposing a national framework that restricts schools.

  • The National Curriculum has been criticised for being ethnocentric and too restrictive on teachers and schools.

Late Modernism and New Labour

  • Government needs to spend more on education to respond to the rapid pace of change brought about by Globalisation.

  • People need to reskill more often as – government should play a role in managing this.

  • Schools are also necessary to keep under surveillance students ‘at risk’ of future deviance.

  • New Labour Policies – the purpose of school should be to raise standards, improve equality of opportunty, and promote diversity and equality.

  • See Evaluation of New Labour Policies

  • All developed economies have governments who spend large amounts of money on education, suggesting more (not less like Neoliberals suggest) state education is good.

  • It is difficult to see what other institution could teach about diversity other than schools.

  • There did seem to be more equality of opportunity under New Labour rather than under the 2015 Neoliberal/ New Right government.

  • Postmodernists argue that government attempts to ‘engineer’ pupils to fit society kill creativity

  • Marxists argue that whatever state education does it can never reduce class inequalities – we need to abolish global capitalism, not adapt to it!

  • Late-Modern, New Labour ideas about education are expensive. Neoliberalists say that we can no longer afford to spend huge sums of money on education.

Postmodernism

  • Stand against universalising education systems.

  • See Modernist education as oppressive to many students – especially minority groups

  • Believe the ‘factory production-line mentality of education kills creativity

  • Ideas of education which fit with a postmodern agenda include – Home Education, Liberal forms of education, Adult Education and Life Long Learnin and Education outside of formal education (leisure)

  • Many people agree that schools do kill creativity (Ted Robinson, and Suli-Breaks)

  • Sue Palmer – Teaching the test has resulted in school being miserable and stressful for many pupils.

  • Do we really want an education system more like the Chinese one?

  • The National Curriculum has been criticised as being ethnocentric (potentially oppressive to minority groups).

  • Late-Modernists – we need schools to promote tolerance of diversity.

  • Neoliberalism – we need a competitive system to drive up standards in order to be able to compete in a global free market!

  • Marxists would argue that home education would lead to greater inequality – not all parents have an equal ability – if we leave education to parents, the middle classes will just benefit more, and working class kids will be even further behind.

  • Liberal forms of education may result in the survival of the fittest’

 

Test yourself:

Functionalist or Marxist? (Quizlet Test)