Printer Friendly

Class and criminality.


Our concern in this article is to sketch out a perspective on the relationship between crime and class structure. It does not offer a comprehensive theory of crime per se, but is directed at explicating the class character of crime under capitalism. To do this we will explore typical patterns of crime associated with specific classes and discuss attempts by the state to regulate and control capitalist marketplace activities and working-class life. To illustrate our general theoretical argument, the article refers to empirical indicators of class criminality in the Australian context.(1)

An important theme outlines the dynamic and contradictory relationship between the structural conditions producing crime (especially working-class crime) and the structural reproduction of the capitalist system through the crime-control efforts of the state. Put simply, the cyclical and long-term deterioration of the social and economic conditions of life for the majority in capitalist society generates a subsistence-based criminality that requires ever-expanding control measures (fiscal and coercive) by the state. However, the same structural conditions underpinning subsistence-based criminality also increasingly undermine the fiscal capacity of the state to utilize expanded social control measures in addition to coercive ones. The combination of fiscal contraction and coercive expansion operates as a feedback loop that exacerbates rather than alleviates the conditions that generate subsistence criminality.

1. Crime, the State, and Class Society

Definitions and patterns of criminality are historically and structurally specific. By this we understand that the specific character and content of "criminality" are contingent upon definite and specific social relations upon which a society is based - the patterns of social relations in the economy, institutionalized forms of state or political power, and associated forms of culture and ideology. Modes of behavior or activity and their definition as "criminal" vary according to the class interests dominant in a given historical period. Different types of class society give rise to different types and conceptions of "criminality," which (epochal nuances aside) relate fundamentally to the needs of the dominant minority class to control the laboring majority that directly produces the social wealth, but only receives a subsistence share of the surplus produced by that labor.

Economic exploitation and class struggle over the distribution of the social surplus are central features of class society. Criminality is simply one expression - an endemic feature - of the basis upon which class divisions are founded. As such, crime is neither functional nor dysfunctional for class-divided societies. The generation of crime and its control is the natural outgrowth of a disproportionate allocation of wealth and power whereby the advantage of a ruling minority is predicated upon the structural disadvantage of a subordinate majority. Differential access to the resources necessary for material well-being and the asymmetrical relations of power flowing from the ownership/non-ownership dichotomy underpin the "criminalization" process and ascribe a class character to modes of criminality. The more extensive the exploitation across the spectrum of particular class societies, the more extensive the consequent definition and practice of criminality and the modes of control exercised by the ruling class, which depends on class exploitation for its power and privilege. Thus, criminality is both defined by those who have the power to impose master definitions of behavior and generated by the specific circumstances and conditions of a particular society.

Property crimes within and between classes are the most distinguishing and core manifestation of a criminality that is structurally specific to the capitalist mode of production, incorporating and superseding the causality of comparable property crimes in precapitalist modes of production (see Fine, 1984). The centrality of private commodity ownership and exchange in the economic sphere is mirrored in bourgeois rights and law, which are premised upon notions of legally free and equal individuals (White, 1986; O'Malley, 1983; Pashukanis, 1989). Yet the formal legal equality of economic exchange between commodity owners is overturned by the unequal conditions, resources, and capacities that commodity owners bring to capitalist marketplace transactions - not only between capital and labor (with the latter possessing only their labor power as a commodity), but also within and between capitalists and other propertied classes under structural market tendencies to monopolization. Hence, increasingly interventionist state forms emerge in the social and economic development of capitalist societies. The paramount importance of capital accumulation is reflected in the construction of an expanding range of detailed and increasingly complex laws designed to govern economic relations, protect private property interests, and regulate and adjudicate marketplace disputes to facilitate the capital accumulation process.

Thus, criminalization in relation to propertied classes fundamentally reflects the regulative requirements of managing the capitalist economy. By contrast, criminalization in relation to non-propertied classes relates fundamentally to control of the class struggle and the problem of order. Order and control are central management imperatives for capital accumulation because of the actual and potential consequences of having society's non-propertied majority live at or below relative subsistence (depending upon their individual success in selling their labor power) owing to their disadvantaged position vis-a-vis capital in labor-market transactions.

The criminalization of certain types of behavior and activity and their control is part of the overall management imperative undertaken by the state to ensure the reproduction of the class structure and the conditions for capital accumulation and wealth distribution. The state is actively engaged in the criminalization process because of its guardianship over private property relations, its regulatory and management role in the capitalist economy, and the modes of authority and legitimation it seeks to discharge to maintain the social order, particularly in relation to challenges to the rights and privileges of the private ownership of wealth and property.

A substantial measure of the state's capacity to maintain the conditions for the reproduction of the class structure and institutional framework of capitalism over time rests on achieving the necessary political and ideological conditions of legitimation and authority. Thus, while predicated on fulfilling the specific class interests of capital, the state is necessarily accorded a certain autonomy relative to any particular capitalist or sector of capital to ensure that the broader requirements of capitalist development and control are met. This means that the state intervenes in cases of capitalist-class and working-class criminality.

The state's partial "autonomy" in acting against criminality across all classes reflects not only the ideological requirements of even-handedness, but also that of burgeoning criminality across all class sectors. In relation to the working class, cyclical periods of capitalist economic crisis highlight the limited reproductive role of subsistence welfare and of legitimation ideologies regarding the "sanctity" of private property and the "class neutrality" of the legal-judicial structure given persistent structural and intergenerationally reproduced inequality.

The inexorable widening of the gulf between rich and poor, the increasing social and economic marginalization of larger sections of the working class, and the expansion and consolidation of permanent underclass strata foreshadow a progressively diminishing capacity of the state to achieve social reproduction fiscally and ideologically, because of the scale of subsistence criminality generated by this class polarization process.

2. Class Patterns of Criminality

Within the context of institutionalized definitions of crime, there are substantively different class-based patterns and experiences of criminality. As a structural relation, class embodies people's diverse material circumstances and capacities to marshal economic and political resources as engendered by their relationship to the means of production. Relative power and powerlessness reside in the capacity to secure outcomes in one's personal or collective interest. Forms of class criminality, particularly economic, are extensions of the capital-wage labor relationship that constitutes the core of the class structure in capitalist societies.

Working-class crime is fundamentally a subsistence-based criminality.(2) Subsistence is the objective in criminal activity and the parameter (scope and scale) of activities that powerless individuals manage to pursue, as well as the condition under which non-economic criminality occurs. In economic terms, the income generated has a limited supplementary or survival character and is highly geared toward immediate consumption, rather than as a base for personal inter-class mobility (e.g., start-up capital for investment).

This contrasts with the corporate criminality of various sectors of capital, and of individual members of the capitalist class and the affluent middle layers (the petty bourgeoisie).(3) The crimes of the capitalist class and petty bourgeoisie are linked both to augmentation of existing personal wealth and to corporately securing advantage in the capital accumulation process. These forms of criminality are fundamentally driven by the opportunities and capacities offered by economic and legal advantage, by individual authority and control positions in an enterprise to "bend the rules" as part of the normal means of transacting business (given the structural imperative to minimize costs and maximize economic return in a competitive capitalist market environment), or by a desire for personal gain.

Ideologically, the "rule of law" portrays each citizen as an equal (i.e., the abstract legal subject) and restrictions on criminal behavior as universalized across the classes. Thus, shoplifting or tax evasion are crimes for the rich and poor alike. In practice, class circumstances dictate what (or whether) you need to steal, the scale of what you can get away with, and what comes to be considered as crime in the first place.


Some sections of the working class are relatively affluent; other sections are decidedly poor. Unemployment (and the threat thereof) is one of the conditions of the working class, given the importance of the wage for economic survival and a general dependence on capital to provide work in return for a wage or salary. The working class includes unemployed workers, who constitute a "reserve army of labor" as an available pool of surplus labor that expands or contracts according to the production requirements of capital.(4)

Within a national economy, the more active reserve labor component of this relatively surplus stratum of the population coexists with other layers that have a more latent and stagnant role vis-a-vis the requirements of the capitalist labor market (see Marx, 1954: 600-606).(5) The more stagnant layers of the surplus population consist of those who have an extremely residual and virtually inactive reserve labor role and whose economic and social conditions of life have, as a consequence, sunk well below that of the average member of the working class. Members of these marginalized underclass strata generally lie outside the normal boundaries of the labor market as permanently discarded, injured, obsolete, or unusable labor power or, as a consequence of not having any foreseeable opportunity to commodify their labor power, have socially and culturally removed themselves from the parameters of capitalist production relations.(6) Underclass strata become dependent for lengthy periods of time, or permanently, on the state's welfare apparatus, on charities, and on subterranean activity in the underground economy to scratch out a meager subsistence. This has several implications for the specific relationship these social layers of the working class have with regard to crime, criminality, and the forces of social control.

There is a commonality of experience between poorly paid members of the working class and members of its more active unemployed and underclass strata to which the bulk of laws relating to criminal activity is effectively directed. These activities are distinguished by being highly individualized. In the case of interpersonal crime (such as shoplifting, breaking and entering, or assault), the impact is relatively discrete, having an individual one-on-one impact (e.g., a particular shop, person, or household). The distinguishing feature of relative powerlessness is that the consequences of one's actions are limited in relative terms to the immediate firm, person, or household.

"Crimes" involving activities directed against institutions (such as welfare fraud or workplace theft) do ultimately have a cumulative effect beyond specific individuals. Here, however, the low level of economic harm is reflected in prevailing notions that the "system" can afford it (e.g., minor thefts or pilfering) and that overall nobody is seriously harmed by the activity. The limited scale of such offenses is indicated in figures that show, for example, that whereas the Australian government spent around $28 billion on social security payments in 1991 to 1992, less than half of one percent, or less than $130 million was identified as new overpayments, and the majority of these were the result of administrative error or genuine mistake rather than fraud (McCulloch, 1994). Individual defrauding of the social security system tends to involve very small amounts of money, sometimes spread over long periods of time. The economic generating force for much of this crime is to supplement one's income relative to subsistence levels.

For employed workers, supplementary economic crime includes stealing from job sites, avoiding taxes through payment by cash-in-hand, and low-level social security fraud (e.g., receiving family income and child-support payments after children have left). Its supplementary nature generally means such crime is less likely to shape the overall psychological make-up of the offender as being "criminal."

In the underclass strata, crime has more of a survival component and plays a greater part in basic economic subsistence. Typical crimes include theft, burglary, fencing of stolen goods, prostitution, and drug dealing. The extreme economic and institutional marginalization experienced by members of underclass strata translates into a greater dependency on alternative survival measures to that of the formal labor market, including crime. Furthermore, this often means a far greater chance that this will be "serious" crime linked to a "criminal career" and generally a "criminal economy." Underclass strata are mainly composed of those people living by illegal or criminal activities (e.g., theft, drag dealing, gambling, prostitution), those living off subsistence welfare (both government and non-government), those significantly dependent on non-waged income generation in the underground economy (e.g., busking, hawking, begging), and their dependents.

Parenthetically, the professionalized criminality emanating from the subsistence criminality of the working class (particularly its underclass strata) may pattern itself along the lines of the class relations of capitalism, ranging from petty bourgeois enterprises (e.g., street drug trade and stolen goods) to full-scale capitalist enterprises involving the production, distribution, and exchange of, for example, drugs, gambling, and prostitution services, complete with owner, manager, exploited labor, profit margins, and monopoly control.

The criminalization apparatuses of the state and the media reflect concern over the prospect of increased subsistence criminality driven by an expanding layer of the long-term unemployed, a precondition for growth of distinct underclass strata, which have emerged out of the recent recession (White, 1995). The long-term unemployed (over 12 months) and never-likely-to-be employed have become a permanent feature of the Australian economy. The capitalist political program is to realign the national economy to global economic and political restructuring. The core picture includes permanent structural unemployment and underemployment, a reduction in relative wage levels, an increase in contract labor and part-time jobs, privatization of state services and contraction of state income support relative to need, shrinking capital's contribution to the tax base as well as reducing overall state revenue as a proportion of gross domestic product, and internationalization of the economy (e.g., the removal of protectionist barriers in traditional manufacturing sectors).

State financial resources are even more tightly focused on facilitating capital accumulation and on the state apparatus defending the system against threats to private property, profit generation, and public order. Tendential declines in profit rates and conjunctural shifts in the political balance of class forces, domestically and internationally, have prompted capital to curtail the system of welfare services created in the expansionary postwar period (1950 to 1970). The social impact of capitalist restructuring is manifest both in cyclical and long-term structural immiseration of large numbers of people and in the polarization of income. These processes are comparable to other advanced capitalist economies and to the historical and structural factors promoting underclass conditions in their respective national boundaries. Capitalist restructuring, and consequent immiseration, has placed increased pressure on widening layers of the most marginalized sections of the class structure to pursue subsistence criminality. Accordingly, this has widened fears among the ruling class, the political and repressive apparatus of the state, and particular sections of the petty bourgeoisie (who see themselves as front-line victims and targets) over the need for increased control of the "crime problem."

The various layers of the working class are not affected uniformly or in the same ways by the restructuring process. The conditions of the capitalist mode of production that structurally unite workers as a class of wage-labor are also the very basis for conditions and measures promoting their internal fragmentation as a class economically, socially, culturally, and ideologically. As the bearers only of the commodity labor power, the livelihood and consequent self-worth of the worker under capitalism are reduced in essence to his or her capacity to sell labor power at a price adequate to his or her needs. The atomization, powerlessness, and insecurity of job dependency, subject to the cyclical fluctuations of the capitalist marketplace as an omnipresent force beyond their individual control, generate (and enable the introduction of) competitive separation and division between individuals and groups of workers in their struggle for subsistence (e.g., between indigenous and immigrant workers, employed and unemployed, men and women, youth and senior sections of the work force). This forms an important backdrop to the various alienations experienced by members of the working class.

In criminological terms, alienated behavior may take the form of crimes of violence and anti-social behavior. It includes vandalism, rape, gang violence, mugging, brawling, and various property and personal offenses. A clear distinction must be drawn between behavior that is socially oppressive in nature (e.g., gay bashing), linked to the immediate economic alienations of one's workplace (e.g., damage to business property), or culturally an ingrained part of working-class traditions and life arising from economic circumstance, but which may be criminalized nonetheless (e.g., public order offenses consequent to simple presence on the street, homelessness).

Economic alienation is at the heart of the capitalist mode of production. The capitalist labor process separates workers from control in and over their labor, their means of production, and the fruits of their labor. Patterns of economic alienation emerging from this separation of control over work manifest themselves in the form of, for example, people working to live rather than finding value and meaning in their work as a creative, self-affirming exercise. The consequences of economic alienation may consist of ameliorating the conditions under which one labors on an individual basis (e.g., theft from a job site, "sickies," work vandalism, time-sheet fraud) or engaging in collective action to assert greater workers' control in and over the labor process (e.g., strikes, work bans, work stoppages). Economic alienation as a worker in the production sphere flows directly into alienation in the consumption sphere as wage levels, or whether one even has a job, dictate not only the relative level of subsistence, but also the range of social, institutional, and cultural relationships and psychological feelings of self-worth associated with the economic basis of one's life circumstances.

Socio-cultural alienation flows from and is bound up with the forms of economic alienation under capitalism and is marked by relations of powerlessness, lived as forms of domination, control, and exclusion. Powerlessness and lack of control over the labor process extend to the forms of state services and control apparatuses (e.g., schools, health-care systems, legal/judicial system, police) with which the working class is forced to interact. The dynamics of these apparatuses translate into loss of rights, inadequate provisions, forms of hostile control, and unaccountable decision-making. The welfare system, for example, manifests itself in the form of scrutiny, economic dependency, intrusion, and loss of self-esteem. The very structure and process of the education system aim to differentiate, inculcate, condition, and in essence to prepare individuals behaviorally, attitudinally, and skills-wise for their place in the capitalist production system, as well as to individualize relative success or failure as part of this process. The consequence of socio-cultural alienation may be exemplified as behavior that is seen as "anti-social" or "rebellious" - for example, truancy in relation to schooling, the "donkey vote" in relation to voting, or cheating on the welfare system.

Economic and socio-cultural alienation may manifest socially and politically backward or reactionary tones, and generate and sustain individualistic or class-fragmenting behavior in response to a collective condition. For instance, sociocultural alienation may coalesce with economic subsistence criminality to take the extreme form of mugging "soft targets" like the elderly. Powerlessness is mirrored in such crime. Crimes perpetrated without any apparent economic motive are another reflection of powerlessness.

Socio-cultural alienation may also be present as perceptions and activities that are of a highly individualized or subcultural nature, where powerlessness and exclusion become a basis for ideological and physical violence. This form of alienation runs across the broader forms of racism, sexism, and homophobia to more acute forms of behavior, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, gay and lesbian bashing, racist violence, and other forms of violence and thuggery that target the personal integrity of individuals. Such violation of personal integrity for its own sake is linked, for example, to the assertion of power by particularly disenfranchised sections of the working class, predominantly young males, over those perceived as vulnerable. Although certain subcultural forms may simultaneously contain elements of class resistance to oppressed and repressed circumstances (e.g., gangs of people of color, nationality, or territory), they can also assume more sinister organized political dimensions such as the prefascist forms of skinhead culture.


In contrast to the subsistence-level criminality of various strata of the working class, capitalist criminality is directly connected to ownership and control in the capital accumulation process, in which criminality aids the accumulation process from a business point of view or augments one's personal wealth. Accumulative and augmentative forms of criminality are closely linked aspects of class position and cover both capitalists (owners and controllers) and the petty bourgeoisie. Accumulative criminality refers to corporate or organizational crime - as a direct link and natural outgrowth of the capital accumulation process (i.e., profit enhancement and cost minimization). Augmentative criminality refers to the closely connected but distinct personal wealth enhancement component in the criminality process flowing from one's access and advantage gained from an ownership and control position in the capital accumulation process.

With the owners of capital, personal augmentation of wealth through criminality may be the basis for accumulating capital or for hiding accumulative capital and vice versa. For the managers of capital, accumulative criminality (as a necessary feature of corporate business success or to stave off failure) may be the basis for expanded personal wealth (e.g., bonuses) or a calculated necessity in job retention or advancement.

Petty bourgeois criminality, while generally incorporating features indicative of capitalist criminality, reflects the diversity of circumstances arising from their ambiguous location between capital and labor in the class structure. As such, petty bourgeois criminality would in some sectors or circumstances shade toward resembling the subsistence-level criminality of the working class (i.e., the supplementary or survival strategies of poor farmers, small shopkeepers, and independent tradespeople), while others would be more indicative of the criminality of capitalist sectors, albeit on a reduced scale (i.e., enhancing existing levels of relative personal affluence through fraud, bribery, etc., among, for example, doctors, lawyers, or construction engineers).

The scale of structural power conferred by the ownership and control of production means that crimes committed by capitalists have a structural impact and are often more diffuse throughout the social structure, influencing a vast number of people in a less than transparent manner (e.g., large-scale tax fraud, dangerous working conditions that maim or kill over time, or fraudulent advertising that affects millions of consumers). Because power is tied to economic resources and is concentrated in the hands of those with capital, members of the capitalist class have the individual and collective capacity both to commit crime on a grander scale and to influence the definition of what is or is not a crime.

The capacity to commit crime and to protect the institutional basis of the commission of crime are illustrated in individual and company activity in areas such as health care. For instance, it has been conservatively estimated that medical fraud constitutes about seven percent of total health expenditures. On this basis, it has been calculated that almost $500 million was lost in 1992 through fraud and overserving from Medicare, Medibank Private, and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (Germov, 1994: 7). Significantly, only 50 doctors were prosecuted for fraud between 1985 and 1991 (McCulloch, 1994). In part this reflects the power of the medical profession and associated corporations to prevent concerted state intervention in and community regulation of their "professional" (read "commercial") affairs.(7)

This highlights the difficulty of discussing capitalist criminality in the same terms as working-class criminality. If laws reflect the interests of the capitalist class, then many types of social harm may not be incorporated into criminal law if they go against capitalist interests - just as a wide range of activities arising out of the material and socio-cultural conditions of existence of various strata of the working class becomes criminalized because it is in the interests of the capitalist social order to do so.(8)

Definitions of "crime" aside, under capitalism most of the socially harmful activities of capital are not fully criminalized, particularly accumulative criminality. Corporations may be fined, or at best sued, for the consequences of profit mongering, illegal activities that inflict social harm. Yet corporations are not incarcerated and one struggles to find examples of owners, executives, or board members who have received jail terms from the criminal justice system for worker-safety violations, unsafe products, or cases of pollution that cause injury or death. Research into workplace fatalities, for example, consistently demonstrates that negligent corporations and their agents enjoy relative immunity from prosecution, and that where prosecution does occur, it is seldom done under criminal law (see Perrone, 1994). More generally, even when criminal proceedings are undertaken, corporations have the capacity to have particular activities or consequences sanitized via prolonged legal proceedings to delay or subvert financial retribution.

The biggest perceived "crime" committed by capital (as individuals or corporate entities) generally consists of violations against the normal operating rules of the marketplace, or instances of such brazen superexploitation of workers or consumers that some kind of public action must be taken by the state to ensure that the perception of evenhandedness in the legal system is maintained. Corporate crimes are portrayed effectively as "in-house" crimes against other corporations and/or powerful individuals and the government. Structurally speaking, what is dealt with as "crime" tends to be infractions committed against fellow capitalists, a process that merely redistributes the surplus value extracted from labor in the production process.(9)

The public image is one of a "misdemeanor" rather than of an activity that is antisocial, exploitative, socially damaging, or generalizable across large numbers of the ordinary population. The violation is generally tied to the rules of the financial game, which may demand action in the overall interests of capital. Predictably, standard regulation and control of the capitalist class' activities are not in the hands of the uniformed police. Rather, issues relating to tax fraud and insider trading, for example, are relegated to specialist agencies such as the Tax Department, the Trade Practices Commission, and the Australian Securities Commission. Even the limited intervention of these agencies in capitalist economic affairs has been dogged by non-enforcement of existing laws (Grabosky and Braithwaite, 1986) and legal and institutional difficulties in employing criminal and civil law remedies (Tomasic, 1994; Farrell, K., 1994).

The state's response to the criminal activities of individual capitalists seeking to augment their personal wealth parallels the response to corporate criminality, which reflects their privileged economic, political, and social position. As with corporate entities, powerful individual capitalists have massive political and economic resources at their disposal with which to defend their interests, including the capacity to flee boundaries of national judicial control. For example, a major Australian corporate figure, John Elliot, was able to delay prosecution proceedings for several months by contesting charges in court that had not yet even been laid against him. Elliot and other recently prosecuted Australian capitalists such as Alan Bond and Christopher Skase have an enormous capacity to defend themselves by hiring the top legal defense teams and playing out the courtroom process to its limits through the corporatization, lawyerization, and medicalization of defenses against prosecution.(10) This is on top of the myriad factors involved in assessing the "character" of the offender, as well as the offense, when guilt has been proved and sentencing is to take place (Freiberg, 1992).

The public image of the Elliots, Bonds, and Skases seems to indicate a more "serious" concern with allegations of corporate wrongdoing than is generally suggested above. However, the profile accorded to a few prominent corporate prosecutions provides a political and ideological expediency that supplants examination of and action taken on the more systemic, routine criminal practices of the corporate sector as a whole. The loss of shareholder money through individual misappropriation is one of the reasons behind recent prosecutions. Nevertheless, even though the public media treatment of these selected individuals implies a "crackdown" on corporate crime, the legal process itself embodies substantial differences in criminalization compared to working-class crime.

For example, the Elliot case is noteworthy since in an alleged fraudulent transaction involving some $66.5 million, the maximum penalty for a proven offense is only a five-year sentence, a $20,000 fine, or both for the key players. In a revealing example of the scale, normality, and unexceptional nature of augmentative criminality (and the response of the legal-judicial system), a chief executive of Australia's retail giant Coles-Myer, Graeme Lanyon, was convicted in 1994 for defrauding the company of $4.5 million in goods and services and supplying them to the then chairman and chief executive, Brian Quinn, for use on his private home. The offenses occurred between 1982 and 1988 (i.e., six years prior to conviction) and were disguised as legitimate company expenses. The defense submitted that Lanyon's motive had been to keep his comfortable job and to "gain the preferment of the chairman for his future in the organisation." Because of the "enormous fraud" and to send a message to the "commercial community," the judge declined a defense request for a noncustodial sentence for the two-year conviction, setting a stem four-month non-parole period. This "get tough" message will surely compel the commercial community to mend its ways (see Canberra Times, July 29, 1994). In contrast, the state of Victoria sent 143 people to jail in 1993 for using indecent language in a public place. They spent an average of one month there for this "offense" (Victorian Department of Justice, 1994).

Fraud (i.e., fundamentally capitalist/petty bourgeois criminality) has been estimated to constitute between 39.9 and 51.1% of the total costs of crime and justice (including police and courts) in Australia (Walker, 1994: 21). Correspondingly, nearly two-thirds of the financial loss caused by crime results from fraud, forgery, and false pretenses - at an annual estimated cost of $14 billion. Yet this has received comparatively little academic analysis or sustained discussion by the media or government.

Where large-scale fraud and mismanagement have been subject to public scrutiny - as, for example, in the inquiries into the collapse of Australian banks Tricontinental and Rothwells, the Victorian-based Building Society, Pyramid, and in the personal actions of Alan Bond, John Elliot, and other high-profile capitalists - the character of the alleged crime is often seen to reside in "tragic" personal faults or flaws in the main players (who are, in turn, usually portrayed as endowed with a special genius or charismatic quality). The systemic and routine nature of criminal activity on the part of capital generally tends to be minimized or ignored. Furthermore, the outcry against the protagonists stems partially from the losses suffered by shareholders and from the fiscal price paid by taxpaying workers who, more often than not, are forced to pay directly (via "special levies" as in the state of Victoria household property tax) and indirectly (via reallocation of welfare spending) when the state socializes the consequences of capitalist entrepreneurs' "misdeeds." Meanwhile, the actual wrongdoers rarely suffer penalties greater than those received by many low-level welfare fraud cases.

The generally prohibitive costs associated with investigation and court proceedings represent a significant factor deterring even genuine police or prosecutor interest in, and scrutiny of, corporate crime given existing budget allocations and policing priorities. Offshore tax havens, unsafe products, and corporate bribery are set up in an extremely complex manner, requiring considerable expertise, experience, and resolve (political and organizational) to track down the relevant facts. Structurally and procedurally, capitalist criminality is pursued in relation to a system of rules that operates in their behalf, serves their interests, and grants them an advantaged position - all of which facilitate their successful pursuit of criminal activity.

In this context, it is important to resist the notion that capitalist criminality is governed simply by the rapacious greed or moral turpitude of individual capitalists - that if it were not for the "few bad apples," or with more efficient and effective policing, capitalist criminality would be contained or neutralized. The quantitative increase in legal regulations in the economy over the last century has ensured that capital will necessarily operate on the margins of the law, if not in actual contravention of it (Mandel, 1975: 512). Just as the subsistence criminality of various strata of the working class is an extension of their conditions of existence in the capitalist mode of production, capitalist criminality flows from, and is an extension of, the structural configuration of capital accumulation. Moreover, the ranks of capital itself have long considered this condition to be unalterable, as illustrated by the observation in the Harvard Business Review of some 25 years ago:

A business that defined "right" and "wrong" in terms that would satisfy a well-developed contemporary conscience could not survive. No company can be expected to serve the social interest unless its self-interest is also served, either by the expectation of profit or by the avoidance of punishment.... Even the compulsion of the law is often regarded in corporate thinking as an element in the contest between government and the corporation, rather than as a description of "right" and "wrong." The files of the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, and other government agencies are filled with records of respectable (!) companies that have not hesitated to break or stretch the law when they believed they could get away with it. It is not unusual for company managements to break a law, even when they expect to be caught, if they calculate that the fine they eventually must pay represents only a fraction of the profits that the violation will enable them to collect in the meantime (Carr, quoted in Mandel, 1975: 512, fn. 32).

The cut-throat competitive conditions of capital accumulation domestically and internationally compel the owners and managers of capital to use all the means necessary to secure advantage over competitors, to minimize costs and maximize profits. As noted, most of these activities are either not controllable, not criminalized, or are effectively ignored by the political, legal/judicial, or regulatory bodies of the state. This is what ascribes capitalist criminality as a normal part of the very structure and logic of capitalism rather than as some peripheral disease.

3. The State and Crime Control

The criminalization process is largely directed at the comparatively powerless and most marginalized sectors of society. The law, and definitions of crime, maintain class relations through a process of universalizing rules of behavior that protect the overall interests of the ruling class (e.g., laws relating to private property, public order, etc.) and that serve to legitimate the legal system (e.g., through appeals to "justice"). Although specific laws may give the appearance of being weighted against particular business interests, this belies the concrete use of such laws against the capitalist class.

Lacking access to resources that would secure outcomes in their own interests, subordinate class sectors consequently commit specific types of crimes and are heavily exposed to the behavioral control measures of the custodians of class power in the state apparatus. The law ostensibly applies equally to all wrongdoers, regardless of class background. However, in practice, only the less powerful are subjected to the full force of the state and their activities are more liable to law-enforcement intervention, judicial prosecution, and social penalty; the prosecution of an occasional business person is the exception that makes the (class) rule.


The state's attempts to regulate and control working-class life are apparent in the way it intervenes in and criminalizes the activities of the economically and socially marginalized strata of the working class. In Australian society, for example, the lack of employment is a key variable in who actually ends up in prison. National figures on the employment status of male and female prisoners at arrest/charge show that approximately two-thirds were unemployed at the time (Walker, 1992). A recent analysis of empirical evidence regarding socioeconomic status (SES) and court outcomes has confirmed the crucial role of employment status in sentencing practices. In particular, it was shown that "employment status seems to carry more weight than occupation or educational level in determining outcomes and that SES appears to be more relevant to decisions on type of sentence than to decisions on quantum" (Douglas, 1994: 113). In other words, if you are unemployed, there is an even greater chance of being sentenced to prison than otherwise might have been the case.

The experiences of alienation, in association with unemployment and poverty, are indicated in figures showing a significant rise in both violent and property crime since the onset of the recessionary wave in the early 1970s, which signaled the end of the postwar boom.(11) As Walker (1994: 4) points out:

Total property crimes reported to police (including burglary, motor vehicle theft, fraud, and stealing) increased from 385,453 in 1973/4 to 1,168,423 in 1990/1 (an increase of 203%) before falling in 1991/2 to 1,024,569, while total violent offenses rose from a mere 7,056 to 36,909 in 1991/2 - an increase of 423%.

Over the same period, police numbers increased nationally from 178 per 100,000 population in 1973-1974 to 244 per 100,000 in 1991-1992 (Ibid.: 21).

The link between criminality, marginalization, and state repression is starkly illustrated by the position of indigenous people within the criminal justice system (see, especially, Johnston, 1991). Aborigines are overrepresented across virtually all types of offenses, and it has been estimated that "in terms of rates per 100,000 adults, Aboriginal people (including Torres Strait Islanders) are over 18 times more likely to be in prison and over 26 times more likely to be taken into police custody than non-Aborigines" (Walker, 1994: 32). These figures reflect the impact of genocidal colonization policies over the past 200 years.

A sizable number of full-time workers now "officially" live below the poverty line in terms of income levels (Saunders, 1994). The reasons for this relate to factors such as low wages, job insecurity, lack of union protection, and the pressures of contract labor - all of which signal and are part of a general deterioration in the wage position of workers relative to corporate profits and the share of general community resources (Eaton and Stilwell, 1993). Inevitably, the persistence of declining living standards and gross inequalities in wealth will have an impact on the livelihoods of working people. This will translate into various "criminal" activities that take place in relation to the workplace (e.g., taking office supplies), shoplifting, or tax avoidance through transactions in the underground economy - as low-level ways to supplement subsistence incomes.

The major problem for the state, however, relates to the large number of people who are either unemployed or outside the formal labor market as a result of the latest recessionary wave and subsequent capitalist restructuring. Nearly one million people (10% of the work force) are officially unemployed. Of these, over 300,000 have been unemployed for longer than 12 months. Moreover, most mainstream economists predict that unemployment is unlikely to dip below eight percent even under conditions of "full recovery." The state therefore faces the reality of having to provide for the ongoing welfare costs of a substantial permanent section of the population that, demographically speaking, will be dependent upon state assistance for 20 to 30 years or more.

Policy directions for the state's welfare apparatus reflect the growing dilemma of a fiscal crisis for all state-funded services at the federal, state, and municipal tiers of government in the context of burgeoning demand, escalating costs, and large government budget deficits. Much of the fiscal crisis resulted from policy choices aimed at reducing the tax base for government, particularly that portion historically contributed (although in progressively diminishing form) by capital and the wealthier sectors of the population. This is part of the larger process of restoring profit rates, which underpins the restructuring process. The disjuncture between increased demands for welfare provision (particularly in relation to income support) and the diminished capacity for welfare delivery due to reduced state tax revenues, privatization of state functions, and revenue retrieval for remaining services through "user fees" will heighten pressure on the working poor and the long-term unemployed to engage in alternative means of economic survival. This further exacerbates the existing economic basis for "street crime" brought on by the recession and capitalist restructuring.

The nature of state financial allocations and social-control imperatives form part of the emerging dynamic and contradictory relationship between the structural conditions producing crime and the structural reproduction of the capitalist system through crime control. Not only is criminality embedded in the logic of the capitalist mode of production - i.e., as an everyday aspect of the struggle between labor and capital for a greater share of the social surplus - but the cyclical and long-term deterioration of the laboring majority's social and economic conditions of life also generates an expanding criminality that correspondingly requires ever-expanding state control measures. Fundamentally, however, the state has at its disposal only two core measures to effect crime control:

1. Fiscal measures via the welfare and social service sectors of the state and civil society to maintain a relative level of subsistence for those unable to work at adequate wage levels; and

2. Coercive measures via the police and legal/judicial apparatus to contain criminality or to force a rough compliance with the existing structure of the social order.

The economic deterioration underpinning increased criminality has produced a relative fiscal crisis in the provision of state welfare and social services, progressively inhibiting the state's capacity to utilize fiscal measures to control the conditions generating criminality and compelling the state to increasingly rely on coercive measures to meet the imperatives of social reproduction. The contraction of welfare provision relative to need becomes another factor in the expanding immiseration of the most marginal sectors of society, thus exacerbating the conditions of criminality. Growing reliance on coercive measures in response to the consequences of deteriorating conditions across the various working-class strata increasingly undermines the cross-class consensus basis of the ideological, political, and legitimation structures of the social order.

The state welfare apparatus is premised on the idea of securing a "safety net" for those who have been effectively squeezed out or excluded from the labor market. In short, part of welfare's historic role in reproducing the capitalist mode of production is to provide a cyclical and long-term strategy for managing the class struggle. Given the fiscal dilemmas faced by the state in assisting capital accumulation while legitimating the system as a whole through allocating some material assistance to the "disadvantaged," welfare itself has increasingly taken on a more overtly coercive character (see White, 1995, forthcoming).

Indeed, welfare provision involves an implicit criminalization of the target population. That is, welfare recipients are subject to increasing scrutiny by the repressive side of the welfare apparatus owing to pressures to reduce the overall welfare bill. In some instances, it is actually assumed that the recipient is "guilty" until proven "innocent" - as, for example, in the case where the burden of proof is on sole parents to demonstrate their solitary status. The same is true of unemployment provisions. Enormous hurdles are placed by welfare officials, who dictate that recipients must demonstrate enthusiasm for job search and retraining and subservience to conformity (in appearance and behavior) as a condition of income support. In 1991 and 1992, the Australian Department of Social Security undertook more than 2.5 million reviews, while the annual prosecution rate for people on social security increased from fewer than 200 cases in 1976 to more than 2,000 in 1992 (McCulloch, 1994: 11). Between 1989 and 1993, moreover, some 814 women (many of whom are sole parents with very limited financial resources) were sentenced to prison for social security fraud.

The emergent culture of the over-policed welfare recipient, which involves a mixture of complete long-term dependency and endless scrutiny of all facets of one's lifestyle and livelihood, shapes their immediate social environment. Any attempt to augment one's meager subsistence level puts one's core economic support at risk of being withdrawn. Any attempt to assert one's autonomy is repressed by the process of welfare subsistence itself. In this context, most initiatives to supplement income (either to pursue subsistence objectives or to respond to the pressures of frenzied consumer imagery) will acquire an immediate subterranean quality. Hence there is impetus to engage in activity on the fringes of the formal economy and of an illegal nature. A subterranean survival culture is one consequence of an over-policed system that generates its own forms of resistance. The more you police daily activities and conditions of life, the more you delegitimate those activities. However, rather than cease, the subsistence imperatives and activities of a survivalist culture simply acquire a criminalized social character.

A spiral of welfare policing and resistance strategies exists vis-a-vis the social security system. Those formally dependent upon the state as the sole source of income are compelled by subsistence imperatives and opportunity to supplement their diminishing welfare benefit through illegal activities. This spiral is not reducible to individualistic factors, such as personality or inherent criminality. It is structurally embedded in the system of welfare relations as institutionalized under capitalism.

Strategies for economic well-being and personal control also include detachment from the formal welfare system. The "informal" or "cash" economy may offer greater economic return and enhanced real or perceived control over one's work and life. Similarly, criminal activity per se (such as theft, dealing in drugs or stolen goods) may be economically and psychologically more self-fulfilling and easier at a personal level than being dependent on, and an object of, the welfare apparatus. These people become subject to the street police rather than the welfare police and are a particular focus of the ideological, political, and repressive forces of "law and order."


According to "public perception" and political emphasis, working-class crime is sharply increasing. This contrasts with attention directed to the crimes of the capitalists/petty bourgeoisie, which constitute a major growth sector and entail huge financial costs and social impact.

The economic impact of street crime as opposed to that of capitalist/petty bourgeois criminality indicates that the media and political hype about crime concerns the control of "dangerous populations" rather than economics in general or "community impact" in particular. The economic and social impact of capitalist criminality far outweighs that of subsistence criminality. The focus on "street crime" rests not simply on the capitalist media (though it is a significant factor) or on a conspiratorial agenda of the political Right, but on the general class bias in the control structure of social relations. Working-class crime is the most conspicuous because of the relative powerlessness of individual workers' circumstances, because the limited means at their disposal to effect crime are invariably direct, personal, and physically coercive, because they are the most easily detected and controlled, and because of the class focus embedded in the very setup and functioning of the policing system as an important component in the reproduction of the class structure.

It is not an historical accident that police forces are fundamentally structured to deal with "street crime" rather than with "white collar crime." Capitalist marketplace policing bodies fundamentally patrol the rule parameters governing the wheeling and dealing of capitalists, with formal state sanctions used only as a last resort. In contrast, police forces have been historically organized as a domestic army to control class warfare (see also Farrell, 1992). The class role of the police in maintaining a coercive buffer on behalf of the propertied classes is clearly evidenced by those instances where they are temporarily unable to perform their role - i.e., police strikes, power blackouts, or cases of mass social unrest, like the Los Angeles riots, where they are neutralized by overwhelmingly superior numbers. The surge in subsistence criminality (e.g., looting of businesses) resulting from this lifting of the blanket of powerlessness (albeit apolitical) underlines the antagonistic dimensions of the class struggle that the coercive apparatus of the state is designed to suppress. Subsistence criminality, though generally apolitical, individualistic, and socially negative, is but a flip side of politically organized class struggle.

Explosive social circumstances such as "riots" highlight the potential collective power across various strata of the working class. Ruling-class strata most fear that the working class will take matters into its own hands, whether through mass strikes or civil unrest. This fear lurks beneath the "law and order" mentality and "crime wave" paranoia. Beyond this, enormous and growing disparities in wealth and income on top of increasingly embittered social divisions provide a context within which orchestrated panics over "crime" become important means to assert capitalist hegemony through cross-class appeals to unity against a common enemy.

Repressive measures to contain working-class violence and attacks on property, especially those to protect the personal integrity and private property of the rich and the corporate and petty bourgeois business sectors, are legitimated by appeals to notions that working-class crime (particularly by underclass strata) affects everyone the same way, while casting the state as neutral and impartial in the pursuit of the "criminal element" in society. Fundamentally, however, the underlying causes of working-class crime, and the structural effects of capitalist class crime, are glossed over in the popular and official portrayals of these crimes. The "societal" imagery of "crime" is basically designed to engender fear of "street crime," to overemphasize the social consequences of such crime, and to instill a broad cross-class consensus regarding the central features and concerns of the "law and order" debate.

The political thrust of building a cross-class consensus on "law and order" is twofold. First, it is part of a necessary ruling-class strategic objective of building cross-class support for their rule given that they comprise only a small numerical minority. Second, it reflects the diversity of cross-class interests and material circumstances vis-a-vis the impact of street crime, which can be mobilized in accordance with this strategic imperative. In this respect the position of the petty bourgeoisie is a pivotal consideration.

As a class, the petty bourgeoisie is extremely heterogeneous. The lower margins shade into economic conditions comparable to those of the working class, while the upper echelons extend into conditions comparable to those of the lower ranks of the capitalist class. What characterizes the petty bourgeoisie as a class is that whether through their traditional propertied status or as economically advantaged middle layers of employment in the technical organization and management of capitalist enterprises or various state apparatuses, they have deep organic links to the structural and ideological basis of the capitalist system. Simultaneously, however, as a class they generally receive only residual advantage from the capitalist system and may be particularly ravaged by its developmental tendencies and cyclical crises. This comparative structural marginalization in relation to capital ascribes an ideology of vulnerability to their conditions of existence as a class based upon their relatively advantaged position vis-a-vis the working class. Such vulnerability is born from the struggle to avoid being cast into the ranks of the working class, especially its underclass strata, and to avoid being victimized by them.

The "law and order" theme strikes a deep chord in the psyche of the petty bourgeoisie. Their material circumstances as a class locate them in close physical proximity to working-class life and culture and, by extension, to subsistence criminality. Consequently, their deep and pervasive perception - supported somewhat by practical experience - is that their businesses, personal property, and physical integrity are front-line targets for street crime (e.g., armed robbery, breaking and entering, shoplifting, mugging, etc.). For them, the visibility of working-class street culture, particularly that of various underclass strata, is a source of anxiety for their own persons, their property, their customers, and trade. Thus, the rubric of public order offenses to "clean up the street" is used to target marginalized sections of the working class (e.g., Aborigines, the unemployed, and young people) by the police simply for being visible in public domains such as streets, parks, and shopping centers. Their very presence is viewed as intruding on the conduct of business in a formally public space, not necessarily for what they may or may not actually be doing (see White and Alder, 1994; Johnston, 1991).

Beyond being a critical social base for the generation and receipt of a law-and-order theme regarding working-class criminality, the petty bourgeoisie also constitutes a critical political base for the rule of capital and its custodians in the state apparatus. The continuing cross-class consensus on the legitimacy and modes of authority of the social order is an indispensable strategic component of the continued rule of a numerically small ruling class. The strategic social and political role of the petty bourgeoisie is reflected in the orientation of the main Australian political parties (Labour, Liberal, National, and Democrats) in crafting their management program for the ongoing social and economic development of capitalism generally and the interests of particular sections of capital specifically. Reflecting and securing the support of various petty bourgeois sections is a continuous, indispensable, and daily element in procapitalist political party electoral success. This explains the genuflection (at least verbal) to other "universal" and sectorally targeted petty bourgeois themes, such as the "family farm," "owning your own home," "middle class" tax cuts, "family values," and "support for small business."

In these respects, the petty bourgeoisie both as a social class base and, more broadly, as an ideological framework also serves as a cross-class conduit for capitalist political and ideological support in the working class (particularly its more well-off sections). Thus, "law and order" notions to the effect that the streets are unsafe places, that subsistence criminality has an impact across the social spectrum, and that more police, prisons, or lengthier sentences are needed to control the breakdown of social order have received a hearing in the relatively more well-off sections of the working class and among those victimized by the subsistence criminality capitalism generates.

The fear of crime among working-class people stems from concerted media campaigns and from particular experiences of vulnerability and victimization. Characteristic of working-class crime under capitalism is that the main crime victims are also members of the working class. The most vulnerable sections of the working class economically, especially the poor and the unemployed, are also more vulnerable to crimes against the person and to threats to their personal possessions (see, for example, Sarre, 1994: 40). Working-class neighborhoods, where the most marginal sectors of the petty bourgeoisie also live or have established businesses, tend to be greater targets for property crimes such as "breaking and entering" than is the case with more affluent suburbs. Factors such as the offenders' residential location and their capacity to blend into their surroundings to avoid police detection partly account for this. However, it also reflects the differential policing of particular neighborhoods and the greater capacity of the rich and powerful to protect their persons and property from street-crime activities (e.g., through fortified residences and private security services).

Working-class people live in fear of economic insecurity as a matter of course, i.e., it is a structural condition of working-class life. Hence, crime that impinges upon their relatively meager personal property is particularly threatening. Especially vulnerable groups like the elderly react to and fear the threat posed by street crime to their personal integrity and property. Women, gay men and lesbians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and ethnic minorities are especially subject to anti-social acts and oppressive behavior, which are manifestations of historically constructed inequalities and profound contemporary social alienation. The structural vulnerability of various strata and groups within the working class (economically and socially) means that campaigns promising more coercive "safety" strategies, as promulgated by the dominant political forces in society, will have a strong resonance, especially if no other voices or alternatives are given credence, access, or prominence in the public arena.(12)

In many cases, members of the petty bourgeoisie play a key leadership role in local "grass-roots anticrime" campaigns. This reflects both their vested economic interests in such campaigns and their ability to marshal material resources, including access to local "community" newspapers. The petty bourgeoisie's willingness to clamor for increased law-and-order expenditures does not extend, however, to expenditures on social and economic measures aimed at improving the conditions of existence of the poor they so fear. In this respect, the egotistical calculation of their balance sheets and personal income tax returns always prevail.


We have argued that crime under capitalism is endemic to the system. It involves working-class criminality and crimes perpetrated by members of the capitalist class and petty bourgeoisie. The causal source of class criminality is immediately and inextricably linked to the logic of a system geared to capital accumulation and private profit, rather than to meeting social needs. The criminality associated with economic marginalization and social alienation stems from the subordinate position of the working class in society. Alternatively, the crimes of the capitalist and petty bourgeois classes are linked to the efforts of these propertied/moneyed classes to enhance their competitiveness and profit margins within the context of market transactions, as well as to their ability to use their resources to further their individual and collective social and material interests through a wide variety of illegal and formally legal means.

The response of the state's political and law-enforcement apparatuses to crime broadly centers on working-class crime, insofar as conventional crime is defined as the "street crimes" affecting personal property and crimes against the person. The prevalence of "law and order" campaigns, expressing the propertied and moneyed classes' anxieties via their political and media amplification of certain types of crime, has established a popular resonance for "get tough" crime policies. This has compelled some sections of the social-democratic Left to focus their work on responding to "working class" crime within a policy framework of containment and situational prevention (see Lea and Young, 1984; Young, 1991). Where the Left buys into ostensibly class-neutral, program-based approaches to crime, they also buy into the logic of crime control, which seeks better ways of managing the effects of economic crises on the working class on behalf of the propertied classes. In effect, such "realistic" strategies as "better policing" leave begging the deeper structural questions of class inequality and exploitation. Implicit in such a perspective is the acceptance of deteriorating conditions of existence for larger sections of the working-class population, particularly those on the margins of the labor market or those who have been excluded from sufficient income sources.

Cross-class consensus campaigns for making "safer communities" effectively serve as ideological instruments for the coercive reproduction of the class structure - both in terms of protecting property and privilege and of containing the reaction of the dispossessed to social and economic marginalization. Enhancing the power of the state (through greater police powers and numbers, for instance) secures social control at a lower cost than that offered by the welfare option, with its concomitant greater disbursement of the social surplus via taxes. Again, such strategies only exacerbate the political isolation, socio-cultural alienation, and economic immiseration of the marginalized layers of the working class, thus causally feeding the very criminality the campaign for enhanced coercive control is designed to overcome.


1. Although the primary focus of this essay is to conceptually outline a class perspective for analyzing criminality, the discussion is grounded in our immediate familiarity with and experience of Australian conditions. Australia has a population of around 17 million people and is an advanced capitalist country with a substantial level of industrial development and a history of universalistic provision of social welfare (i.e., education, health care, and income support). All money figures referred to in the text are in Australian dollars, which equate to approximately 75[cents] to the U.S. dollar.

2. The working class (wage-labor) consists of those who live by selling their labor power to those who own capital (but also the majority of workers in various state apparatuses), including high- and low-waged, skilled and unskilled, full- and part-time workers.

3. The capitalist class is composed of the owners of capitalist enterprises and those who control and manage the capital accumulation process on their behalf (who themselves overwhelmingly own shares in the enterprises they manage). It is the dominant class economically, but the smallest numerically.

The petty bourgeoisie is a diverse class grouping that traditionally is made up of small-scale owners of capital (e.g., family farmers, small landlords, small business), self-employed professionals (e.g., doctors, lawyers), and now also includes new middle layers of employment at the management and technical levels of capitalist enterprises and various apparatuses of the state. The petty bourgeoisie form an intermediate layer poised between the capitalist class and the working class proper. It constitutes a relatively advantaged class grouping compared with the working class, but does not hold decisive social or economic power.

4. The role of this pool within the labor market as such is to serve as a human ballast against the rising price of labor power and to facilitate enforcing the political discipline of employed labor by constituting an additional or alternative labor supply to help cushion the effects of cyclical changes in the capitalist economy and the demand for labor. A reserve army of labor is a necessary and permanent feature of capitalist economies and is indispensable to the capital accumulation process. As such, in periods of general or sectoral reduction of labor reserves, capital either reconstructs the reserve army (e.g., the immigration mechanism) or capital itself migrates to areas where the surplus labor arrangement (and hence price) is more favorable to accumulation.

5. For example, the large number of women in domestic circumstances constituted a latent labor reserve that was activated in the context of severe labor shortage during World War II and in the rapid postwar capital expansion.

6. We use "underclass strata" as an equivalent to the traditional but archaic term "lumpenproletariat." Of course, the conditions of the lumpenproletariat or underclass in the advanced capitalist countries have changed since Marx' day with the advent of state involvement in welfare provision.

7. Medicare is the Australian government's universal health insurance scheme. Medibank Private is the government's private health insurance arm, which competes with other private health insurers. The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is a government subsidy program that caps the cost of prescription drugs.

8. Naturally enough, this class bias pervades the ideological and political discussions of the public "crime problem" debate in the capitalist media and is also particularly evident in the criminology discipline. For an important exception, see Schwendinger and Schwendinger (1975).

9. The "normal" exploitation of labor by capital is, of course, not considered in a "criminal" framework and the superexploitation of particularly vulnerable sections of the working class (e.g., immigrant women outworkers) is only rarely considered as such.

10. Both Bond and Skase have delayed and avoided legal sanction on the basis of a medical condition - Bond for stress and Skase for a lung complaint. In the Skase case, his medical condition appeared to improve markedly after the Spanish Court ruled that he was unfit for extradition to Australia. In the Bond case, allegations have surfaced that he had been negotiating multimillion dollar property deals (he is a declared bankrupt) while in the middle of a court delay to allow treatment for depression.

11. Official crime figures derived from police statistics must be treated cautiously and seen in the light of alternative methods of crime measurement. For example, the third major survey on crime victims in Australia was recently completed. It found a lower level of both violent and property crime than is suggested by official police statistics. In fact, there was a reported decline in serious assaults; on the other hand, there was a 51% increase in the proportion of households reporting breaking, entering, and stealing offenses between 1975 and 1993 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1994). Conventional crime, especially property crime, is on the increase, but is nowhere near the proportions suggested by the media.

12. The dominant constructions of criminality and victimization also feed into a large and growing "private security" industry, where particular kinds of "fear" translate into a wide variety of profitable "crime prevention" commodities.


Australian Bureau of Statistics 1994 April 1993 Crime and Safety Australia. Canberra: ABS.

Douglas, R. 1994 "Social Class and Court Outcomes: Making Sense of the Empirical Literature." Law in Context 12,1: 97-128.

Eaton, M. and F. Stilwell 1993 "Ten Years Hard Labor." Journal of Australian Political Economy 31: 89-105.

Farrell, A. 1992 Crime, Class, and Corruption: The Politics of the Police. London: Bookmarks.

Farrell, K. 1994 "Corporate Crime: Complex Criminal Trials: The ASC Perspective." Current Issues in Criminal Justice 5,3: 256-263.

Fine, B. 1984 Democracy and the Rule of Law: Liberal Ideals and Marxist Critiques. London: Pluto.

Freiberg, A. 1992 "Sentencing White-Collar Criminals." In Sentencing of Federal Offenders. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Judicial Administration.

Germov, J. 1994 "Bulk Billing Indeed: The Rise of Medifraud." Arena Magazine (April-May): 7-8.

Grabosky, P. and J. Braithwaite 1986 Of Manners Gentle: Enforcement Strategies of Australian Business Regulatory Agencies. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Johnston, E. 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Volumes 1 to 5. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

Lea, J. and J. Young 1984 What Is to Be Done About Law and Order? London: Penguin.

Mandel, E. 1975 Late Capitalism. London: Verso.

Marx, K. 1954 Capital (Volume One). Moscow: Progress Publishers.

McCulloch, J. 1994 "Bleeding the System: Comparing Medicare Fraud and Social Security Fraud." Health Issues 39: 11-15.

O'Malley, P. 1983 Law, Capitalism, and Democracy. Sydney: George Allen and Unwin.

Pashukanis, E. 1989 Law and Marxism: A General Theory. London: Pluto.

Pertone, S. 1994 "Workplace Fatalities and the Adequacy of Prosecution." Department of Criminology, University of Melbourne.

Sarre, R. 1994 "Violence: Patterns of Crime." D. Chappell and P. Wilson (eds.), The Australian Criminal Justice System: The Mid-1990s. Sydney: Butterworths.

Saunders, P. 1994 Welfare and Inequality: National and International Perspectives on the Australian Welfare State. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Schwendinger, H. and J. Schwendinger 1975 "Defenders of Order or Guardians of Human Rights?" I. Taylor, P. Walton, and J. Young (eds.), Critical Criminology. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Tomasic, R. 1994 "Corporate Crime in a Civil Law Culture." Current Issues in Criminal Justice 5,3: 244-255.

Victorian Department of Justice 1994 Sentencing Statistics: Magistrates' Courts, Victoria 1993. Melbourne: Department of Justice.

Walker, J. 1994 "Trends in Crime and Criminal Justice." D. Chappell and P. Wilson (eds.), The Australian Criminal Justice System: The Mid-1990s. Sydney: Butterworths.

1992 Australian Prisoners 1992. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.

White, R. 1995 "The Poverty of the Welfare State: Managing an Underclass." H. Emy and P. James (eds.), The State in Question. Sydney: Allen and Unwin (forthcoming).

1986 Law, Capitalism, and the Right to Work. Toronto: Garamond Press.

White, R. and C. Alder (eds.) 1994 The Police and Young People in Australia. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Young, J. 1991 "Left Realism and the Priorities of Crime Control." K. Stenson and D. Cowell (eds.), The Politics of Crime Control. London: Sage.

ROB WHITE lectures in Criminology at the University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia 3052. JOHN VAN DER VELDEN is a socialist writer/activist with a research background in immigrant communities, ethnicity and class structure. He lives in Canberra. Thanks are due to Tom O'Lincoln, Rick Kuhn, Paul Kringas, and Alistar Greig for their comments on various drafts of this article.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Crime and Social Justice Associates
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:White, Rob; Velden, John van der
Publication:Social Justice
Date:Mar 22, 1995
Previous Article:Critical criminologies and the reconstruction of Utopia.
Next Article:Organizational crime in NASA and among its contractors: using a newspaper as a data source.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters