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Marxist Criminological Paradigm

Marxists’ attitude towards the concept of criminal punishment cannot be discussed outside of how Marxist paradigm theorizes crime. In its turn, this theorization reflects the conventions of the Marxist theory of a class struggle. According to Marxists, the pace of a historical progress is being defined by an ongoing process of representatives of underprivileged social classes (workers and peasants) struggling with the representatives of bourgeoisie to gain ever more social rights and freedoms, and to ensure fair salaries. On their part, the representatives of a ruling class actively resist proletariat and peasantry’s socio-economic aspirations.

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Given the fact that in societies, where people are being divided along class lines, the representatives of a bourgeoisie enjoy an undisputed socio-political dominance and also the fact that maintaining such a dominance represents bourgeoisie’s foremost existential agenda, it does not come as a particular surprise that in capitalist societies, the law’s foremost function is being concerned with the preservation of bourgeoisie’s ability to continually exploit workers and peasants. Therefore, in capitalist societies, crime is nothing but the extrapolation of socially underprivileged people’s strive to attain socio-economic prominence, “(According to Marxists) crime is the ideological rejection or political insubordination of the lower classes who act against the social norms of the ruling class” (Ferrajoli & Zolo 1985, p. 75). Alternatively, the system of criminal punishments, provided by the capitalist society’s law, is nothing but a tool of preventing the representatives of underprivileged social classes from being able to challenge bourgeoisie’s dominance, “Punishment is nothing more than (capitalist) society’s means of self-defense against all violations of the conditions of its existence” (Hazard 1938, p. 161). What it means is that the very criminological premise of the ‘war on crime’ paradigm, associated with the concept of retributive punishment, is being deprived of any rationale, whatsoever. After all, according to Marxists, people are being forced to commit crimes by the very fact that the class-stratified society denies them an opportunity not to commit crimes, in the first place, as their underprivileged social status is being often regarded as the implicit proof of their ‘guilt’. Hence, the essence of Marxists’ attitude towards the very concept of capitalist penology, “Penal policy is one strategy amongst others to control the poor and it is aimed at those who, because of their lack of means, of training, of education or because of their demoralization, have a tendency to commit crimes” (Falcón & Jose 2006, p. 52). Therefore, Marxists never ceased pointing out to the fact that subjecting convicted criminals to a variety of different punishments will not result in these individuals being freed of their criminal-mindedness, which in turn implied that subjecting criminals to a criminal persecution is morally inappropriate. Moreover, they also believed that such a practice is being inappropriate in the utilitarian sense of this word, as well. This is because the very existence of an artificially maintained inequality between citizens creates objective preconditions for more and more socially underprivileged people to consider committing crime – while being deprived of any legal means to pursue happiness; they naturally resort to the illegal ones.

Hence, the essence of Marxist criminological paradigm – instead of striving to reduce the rates of crime in a particular society, policy-makers should aim to eliminate crime completely (Marx & Engels 1848). However, in order for crime to be completely eliminated, the very principles of capitalist societies’ functioning must be thoroughly revised. That is, the pathway towards the elimination of crime is overthrowing bourgeoisie, as a ruling class, and establishing the so-called ‘dictatorship of proletariat’ form of political governing (Reiman & Headlee 1981). In its turn, this explains why in USSR, unlike what it used to be the case with ideologically committed ‘counter-revolutionaries’, petty criminals, thieves and ‘accidental’ murderers have always been treated with a particular leniency. The reason for this is apparent – these individuals’ criminal-mindedness was believed to be nothing but the rudiment of their (or their parents’) historically predetermined societal oppression.

Marxists theorized that, once the representatives of bourgeoisie are being deposed, as a particular society’s rulers, the rate of crime in this society would be effectively reduced. This is because this would mean that in this society there will no more strongly defined socio-political antagonisms, the existence of which in capitalist societies prevents law enforcement agencies from being able to tackle crime in any effectual manner. In fact, within a matter of few years, following the Great October Revolution of 1917, Communists seriously believed that the functioning of Soviet penal system would be solely concerned with keeping only the one All-Soviet jail fully operational, where the active resisters of the new Communist regime would be getting ‘corrected’. Back then, it was assumed there would simply be no need in paying much of an attention to the problem of crime. After all, Communists never ceased openly proclaiming that they aimed at the physical elimination of ‘exploiters’, which is the reason why it is now being assumed that at least 10 million people were killed through the years 1917-1920. Apparently, Communists seriously expected that the physical elimination of ‘exploiters’ would pave the way towards building of a fair and crime-free society.

Nevertheless, it did not take too long for the Marxist criminological paradigm to prove its conceptual fallaciousness. After all, after Communists took over the political power in Russia, the crime rates in this country never ceased increasing in an exponential progression to the flow of time – contrary to the provisions of Marxist theory. Evidently enough, the Marxist conceptualization of crime was innately wrong. There were two reasons to that.

First, Marxist view on a class-struggle process, as such that was dialectically predetermined to result in the building of a truly classless society, has proven absolutely unjustified. After all, the main principle that Marxists believed would represent the foremost precondition for the Communist society’s proper functioning (‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’) simply does not make any sense, whatsoever. This is because; whereas, there are a number of objectively predetermined limits to one’s ‘ability’, which means that it can be adequately measured, one’s ‘need’ simply cannot be rationally calculated. It is in people’s very nature to have their needs assuming qualitatively new subtleties, as time goes on. In fact, as practice indicates – the more people have, the more they need. What it means is that the establishment of a truly egalitarian society is impossible, by definition – the continuous existence of such a society would violate the most fundamental laws of nature. Consequently, since there can be no such a society, there can be no rationale to expecting the effective elimination of crime – the Marxist criminological theory itself presupposes such a conclusion.

This is exactly the reason why, during the course of eighties, USSR was turned into the one of world’s most socially stratified countries, with the skyrocketing rates of crime. Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that in the Soviet Union, it were specifically the representatives of Communist ruling elite, which hated Communism more than workers and peasants, on which behalf they were supposedly acting. As it was noted by Pipes, “Soviet elite had lost faith in Communism, as it watched the outside world overtake the country in every field of endeavor except military expenditures and alcohol consumption” (2003, p. 87). Since the continuous functioning of a Communist/Socialist society presumes the existence of the whole class of individuals that are being in charge of ‘distributing’ goods and services, this automatically presupposes such a society being thoroughly corrupted – pure and simple. In its turn, corruption has traditionally been considered a breeding ground of crime.

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Second – Marxists denied the existence of biological determinants of crime. Yet, even as early as during the course of late 19th century, people’s endowment with criminal-mindedness has been proven to be nothing but the side-effect of their evolutionary underdevelopment. Hence, the notion of ‘natural born criminals’, conceptualized by the founder of Positive Criminology Cezare Lombroso. According to Lombroso, people’s likelihood to commit crimes can be well measured in relation to the extent of their visually observed anthropological atavism, “Many of the characteristics of primitive man are also commonly found in the born criminal, including low, sloping foreheads, overdeveloped sinuses, overdevelopment of jaws and cheekbones, prognathism, oblique and large eye sockets” (1911, p. 22). What it means is that, even though that the particulars of one’s social upbringing do affect his or her ability to act as the society’s productive member, they do not define the extent of such an individual’s criminal viciousness – genes do. The latest breakthroughs in the field of genetics substantiate the validity of Lombroso’s criminological insights. As it was pointed out by Williams, “He (Lombroso) first hypothesized that the tendency to commit crime was mirrored in the physical characteristics of the criminal… As gene research advances, some behavioural traits that were designated as learned are being cast into doubt and reclassified as innate” (2007). This is exactly the reason why, as it was mentioned earlier, the Marxist theory of crime sustained an utter fiasco – Marxists never ceased remaining thoroughly ignorant of a simple fact that one’s criminal mindedness is not being environmentally but biologically predetermined. In other words, even if Marxists did succeeded in establishing a truly egalitarian society, there would be still individuals in such a society, naturally predisposed towards committing crimes.

The validity of this statement can be well illustrated in regards to the fact that, as today’s criminologists are being well aware of, regardless of the qualitative nature of how one or another national ‘war on drugs’ strategy is being implemented, the prison–population of violently-minded drug-abusers in Western countries continues to account for 5%-7%, for example. The same can be said about the percentile subtleties of a prison-population of rapists, child-molesters and violent offenders – there are no percentile dynamics to it (Roberts, Stalans & Indemaur, 2002). Apparently, there is nothing ‘societal’ about these people’s tendency to commit most horrific crimes – such their tendency is being reflective of their sub-humanness. This, of course, means that subjecting natural-born criminals to a particular punishment may never result in their rehabilitation. In its turn, this implies that natural-born criminals should be simply sterilized and locked away in cages – the very fact that these criminals do not qualify to be considered fully human, suggests that the ‘presumption of innocence’ principle does not apply to them. Just as it is being the case with mentally inadequate defendants, they cannot be tried, in the classical sense of this word.

Therefore, there is nothing too surprising about the fact that the Marxist approach to punishment sustained an utter fiasco, as well. After all, treating natural born criminals as the victims of social circumstances can only result in one thing – prompting these criminals to grow ever more vicious. Yet, it is not only that the practical implementation of Marxist criminological strategies effectively prevented natural-born criminals from being apprehended and isolated from the society, but it resulted in their selection as the Soviet police’s top-officials. For example, a mere glance at the photos of such NKVD’s heads as Yagoda, Yezhov and Beria, who were responsible for murdering millions and millions of Russians, reveals them as natural-born sadists. Apparently, they used to derive a sadistic pleasure out of torturing and killing innocent people.

Just as it being the case in today’s politically correct Western countries, in which ‘progressive’ politicians never cease blaming ‘society’ for the outbreaks of different kinds of crime, committed by the ‘underprivileged’ representatives of racial minorities, Soviet Communists never ceased referring to crime as the by-product of ‘social oppression’. Moreover, they stubbornly persisted with doing that well into the late eighties, when the fallaciousness of Marxist approach to crime and punishment became clear to just about anyone.

The irony lays in the fact that, while formally proclaiming their adherence to the principles of Marxist criminology, during the course of seventies and eighties, Soviet leaders never skipped an opportunity to make a practical use of Lombroso’s theory – whatever improbable it may sound. For example, during the course of a few days, prior to the opening of 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, the police had simply gathered up all the city’s anti-social residents, with clearly defined atavistic traits to their appearance (as defined by Lombroso), and expelled them out of Moscow, for Games’ duration. As a result, during the course of Moscow’s Olympic Games (2 weeks), not even a single incident of criminal activity has been reported in this city of eight million (Edwards 1984).

This once again points out to the sheer wrongness of a Marxist approach to crime and punishment. Although, there can be few doubts to the fact that, in order for the law enforcement officials to be able to significantly reduce the rate of crime in a particular country, they should preoccupy themselves with crime-preventing, rather than the crime-combating, the effective crime-prevention policies can never be concerned with blaming society for its failure to accommodate natural-born criminals. Instead, these policies should be concerned with eliminating societal preconditions that encourage people to conceive and to give birth to children that would be innately endowed with criminal-mindedness. For this, the concept of eugenics must be once again recognized socially valuable, especially given the fact that, as it was pointed out earlier, in the light of recent discoveries in the field of biology, this concept appears thoroughly legitimate.


Edwards, H 1984, ‘The free enterprise Olympics’, Journal of Sport & Social Issues, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 1-4.

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Falcón, T & Jose, M 2006, Punishment and culture: A right to Punish? Martinus Nijhoff, Leiden, NLD.

Ferrajoli, L & Zolo, D 1985, ‘Marxism and the criminal question’, Law and Philosophy, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 71-99.

Hazard, J 1938, ‘Reforming Soviet criminal law’, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 157-169.

Lombroso, C 1911 (2006), Criminal man, Duke University Press, Durham.

Reiman, J & Headlee, S 1981, ‘Marxism and criminal justice policy’, Crime & Delinquency, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 24-47.

Williams, I 2007, Criminal man rediscovered, Humanities & Social Sciences Online, Web.

Marx, K & Engels, F 1848 (1998), The Communist Manifesto, Verso, New York.

Pipes, R 2003, Communism: A history, Random House Adult Trade Publishing Group, Westminster, MD.

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Montefiore, S 2004, Stalin: The court of the Red Tsar, Alfred A. Knopf Incorporated, Westminster, MD.

Roberts, J, Stalans, L & Indemaur, D 2002, Penal populism and public opinion: Lessons from five countries, Oxford University Press, Cary, NC.

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