No. 022

Theories of Deviancy and Difference

T. R. Young
The Red Feather Institute

March, 1977
[Revised: September 5, 1994]


Distributed as part of the
TRANSFORMING SOCIOLOGY SERIES of The Red Feather Institute, 8085 Essex, Weidman, Michigan, 48893.



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Theories of Deviancy and Difference

Philosophers have only studied the world
in various ways; the point is to change it.

INTRODUCTION Marxism is a growth industry in the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia, and in Latin America. Given the remarkable accomplishments of capitalism as a system of production one may well wonder how to understand the appeal of marxism to thousands in the U.S., to hundreds of thousands in Europe and to the millions in Africa, Asia and in Latin America. Even in the small, conservative college town in the rich conservative mountain state in which I live and work, there are fragments of four marxist-oriented groups to be found.

I stress the term "marxist-oriented." The various members of the four groups are oriented to many interests and to many theorists on the one side while few of them are actively engaged in revolutionary work. 1 The interest in marxism is an interest grounded on humanism, a quest for community, a critique of capitalism, an interest in self-realization and the competent human being such implies, some firm belief in democracy and participation and assessment. Many non-marxists share many of the same interests. What orients groups in this area to marxism is the conviction that capitalism as a system is hostile to these interests.

No one in DSOC (The Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee), in NAM (The New American Movement), in the loose coalition of Marxist scholars of which I am a part would see a bureaucratic state socialism as a happy replacement for the bureaucratic state capitalism growing in America. The Y.S.A. (Young Socialist Alliance), also found in this university town, is oriented to many tendencies which augment, modify and make marxism a suitable point of departure in these circumstances.

The Reach of Marxist Theory Marxism, during its span of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal political forces than all the preceding generations together. Marxism, gathering its millions together in one huge camp is everywhere threatening the assembled armies of capitalism. The mighty NATO forces are in disarray; the forces of SEATO are scattered, the fortress of European capitalism is under siege, the greatest army in history, the U.S. army, is an ineffectual Caliban. Capitalist governments worry that Italy will vote to throw out capitalism. They worry that Nicaragua will be lost to the multinational corporation. They worry that the unaligned nations will compare India to China. They worry that the youth will read Marx; not to study the enemy but to find the friend to their aspirations for peace and community. 2

The capitalist states rejoice in the grim and dreary reports from the U.S.S.R. They rejoice in the stories of slaughter and vengeance in Cambodia. They delight in drought, disease or famine in China or Cuba. The capitalism camp relishes the ineptitude of centralized planning in Poland. It eagerly snatches at every instance of minority oppression an d gloats over the repression of religion in East Europe. And still marxism thrives. Given the remarkable accomplishments of capitalism, an American lawyer, real estate agent, business person, or police officer might well wonder at the interest in marxism.

In the quest for profits, major publishers turn out marxist tracts in the thousands, in the U.S., Beacon Press, Vintage Press, Prentice Hall, Penguin, Harper, Bantam Books and dozens of other publishers publish every decent work they find to satisfy the market. New journals oriented to a critical appraisal of capitalist economics, cultures, politics, and social relations are thriving. The Monthly Review, The Insurgent Sociologist, The New Left Review, Socialist Review, Radical America, In These Times, Review of Radical Political Economics, Telos, and many more left oriented journals thrive.

Even the conservative, traditional journals are infected with this madness. Marxist articles in sociology, long neglected, find a 1)lace. The American Journal of Sociology, in Sociological Inquiry, in The Sociological Quarterly, in Qualitative Sociology , in The American Sociologist, and in Social Forces. Even the.American Sociological Review will publish an article oriented to marxist critique. In a forthcoming issue, Appelbaum's article on a dialectical approach to social change is scheduled. The last bastion of bourgeois scholarship succumbs.

The Positivities of Capitalism The data of American capitalism are impressive. From 1865 to 1975, economic output increased fifty times over; ten times over on a per capita scale. The American state now employs one-fifth of the workforce. Federal spending has grown from $70 billion in 1950 to $432 billion in 1973. Median family income in 1976 was $14,000. There is wealth in abundance: Over 1 trillion dollars in outstanding stock alone. Televisions, radios, cars, telephones, food, clothing, drugs, houses, and baseballs pour out of the capitalist productive apparatus in waves, in floods, in oceans.

Who could complain about this system? What madness, what folly inspires a critique of capitalism. Things are getting better. The concentration of wealth has declined from 1922 to 1969. The too one percentage had 32 percentage of a smaller pie in 1922 and in 1969, the top one percentage holds only 25 percentage of the wealth of America. For the poor, state and local governments paid out $21 billion in fiscal year 1976 while the federal government paid out $31 billion for food, health, housing and other amenities of life. And there is also social security, medicare and various educational programs to help the poor. If the poor remain poor, it is, in this land of opportunity, their own failings.

Indeed, capitalism has many virtues which commend it to the human estate. It is the most productive system in human history. It is the most flexible, the most inventive and the most dynamic economic system so far invented. Primitive communism, feudalism, slavery and colonialism were, compared to capitalism, stagnant and repressive. Capitalism fails the most active knowledge process in human history overturning the most ancient forms of knowledge and dismissing them as superstitious myth. There are more people studying more things in Europe and the Americans than ever in human history. There are more scientists alive today than died in all of human history. Capitalism has greatly improved transportation, agriculture, communications and housing. Capitalism has sustained a health care system that has lengthened human life and reduced morbidity rates among those societies which enjoy its fruits. There are more doctors in Beverley Hills than in El Salvador or Guatemala.

Is not this the best of all possible worlds. Peace, prosperity, security from foreign enemies, ample opportunity for the best and the brightest: who is to gainsay all this? Unending improvement in soaps, cars, beers, drugs, sports, clothes, houses, office machines, televisions, telephones and, perchance with genetic engineering, the human being itself. Vacations, holidays, weekends to refresh the spirit. Freedom to explore the world. Quiet summer evenings and instant access to cinema, theatre, and music in myriad forms. Jazz, country and western, swing, blues, classical, and religious music to soothe, delight, and to comfort. One must search to know how so many American scholars seek to spoil this picture. In the face of the data, why does marxist scholarship survive and proliferate.

Theories of Deviancy and Difference How is one to understand the resurgence of marxism in the heartland of capitalism? Given the remarkable accomplishments of capitalism, how is it vulnerable? How is it possible for so many thousands of American scholars to betray their mentors, abandon their conservative education, subvert their own disciplines, oppose their colleagues, bring anguish to their friends and family and desert their own interest in career and recognition? What theory, what sensible reasons lay behind so much difference between some five percentage of American sociologists and their more sober, more compatible colleagues.

There are many ways to try to understand the madness and folly of marxism in the U.S. There are several approaches one could use to explain and explore the explosive interest in marxist theory. One could seek biological explanations. Perhaps marxists share some hereditary disease; perhaps a faulty gene or a missing molecule. Theories of deviance could be adduced to explain the behavior of marxist scholars--certainly they are deviants in several senses. Does differential association explain their abnormalities? Does labeling theory help us to know and to cure their troubles? Perhaps body type provides the key to this delinquency. An honest theorist must consider the possibility that marxists live in a culture of intellectual poverty which yields generation after generation of deprivation and with deprivation, apathy. Or maybe marxists are deprived relative to non-marxists.

Most likely, Merton could explain this mischief as a dysjuncture between goals and means. Maybe marxists are rebels because they reject the goals of American culture and lack the institutional means to achieve their own goals. But then one has to inquire why the goals are rejected and why the institutional means won't satisfy these marxists. That is always the problem with Merton's categories...they don't explain why the means are missing or the goals of the majority instituted.

One is forced back to a psychological analysis. Surely marxists as a group have failed to accept cultural goals because of some early childhood trauma arresting normal psychosexual development; resolution of the Oedipal complex; integration of the superego and formation of an adequate ego. Maybe one needs both Merton and Freud to deal with marxists.

Deviancy Detailed That marxist scholarship in America is deviancy is beyond question: Marxists reject the canons of scientific inquiry which inform all normal scholars. Marxist scholars are not value free; they link research and theory to a criticism of all things existent and to a transformation of all existing relations. The notion of academic freedom in marxist circles offends their ideas of freedom. Marxists want freedom to act as well as to think. Cultural marxists scorn objectivity; they have thinly veiled contempt for quantification and statistical inference. Marxist scholars seek not after grants to do market research. They do not stand in line for funds for disaster research nor do they study workers' movements in South America with C.I.A. or Pentagon funds. Marxists are not content to publish: they continually talk of praxis--the unification of theory and action. A final heresy is the insistence on the part of marxist scholars that every research act be interpreted in the context of a historical and societal totality. Studies limited to two variables from a sample is, to marxist scholarship, an exercise in idiocy. The canon of cumulative knowledge is reviled.

Marx on Marxism Failing a satisfactory theoretical accounting of marxist scholarship in the U.S. using conventional theories of deviancy, one could turn marxist theory back on marxism itself and look to concrete changes in the recent history of capitalism to understand the rise of marxist scholarship. One could tie the interest in marxism to the problems of capitalism. This approach suggests that, perhaps, marxists are quite normal and act on the basis of knowledge rather than on psychopathic compulsion. One might wonder whether unemployment, crime, political maneuver, inflation, foreign policy, fiscal policy, the rise of monopoly capitalism and other internal problems of capitalism might not account for the flood of interest in marxism. Perhaps some internal in the marxist camp centering around humanism and a critique of domination in all society offers an explanation of the explosive interest in marxism. All this means that maybe there is a material rather than a genetic, biological, psychological, or socio-pathic basis for marxist scholarship. 3

We can examine the thesis that marxian sociologists simply read the data better than do their conservation, value-free colleagues and, possibly, come to some conclusion about how knowledge and society are linked using marxist scholarship as a case in point. In the section which follows, some of the central problems of capitalism identified by marxist scholarship are set forth. As one goes through this interpretation of deviant scholarship, it will take a good deal of subsequent reading on the part of the interested reader to come to a final judgment. It may take years before a given reader is satisfied that all the evidence is in. Certainly the answer is not found in this investigation. All I mean to do here is to explore the question of why marxist knowledge abounds in capitalist society.

If the points of critique of marxists are, on balance, valid, then the source of socialist knowledge and scholarship is not to be found in genes, faulty socialization, physiological imbalances or differential association. Still less is it to be found in labeling theory, control theory, body shape, the culture of poverty or any other currently valid theory of deviancy.

Problems of Capitalism: A Marxist View

Even as it improves the means of production and distribution, Capitalism creates unemployment (a surplus population) while producing a ever more 'surplus' goods with that improved means.
Even as it requires a false peace in a globalized market, successful capitalist nations require war and/or a huge military apparatus to obtain raw materials, cheap labor, or markets for, its "surplus" production.
Capitalism uses and discards people. Its interest is in labor power not human beings.
For all its productivity, poverty and human need remain unfulfilled since capitalism separates production and distribution. Profit is the wedge with which owners and managers withhold essential goods and services until a profit is forthcoming.
Capitalism tends to destroy community. It produces for private profit rather than for the material and cultural needs of the entire community.
Capitalism tends to produce high profit goods and services which respond to desire of those with discretionary income rather than low profit essentials. Raw materials are wasted; energy is wasted.
State socialism grows as private capital abandons essential but low profit lines of production: health care, education, policing, child care and other labor intensive activity.
In its democratic form, the capitalist state rushes in to supply low profit goods and service: to help small capitalists and farmers, to take care of the surplus population; to guard the interests of capital overseas; to police the excesses of amoral corporations. In its quest for political legitimacy, the state tends to get larger, tax more and spend more as capital moves from low profit lines, regions and nations to higher profit places.
Capitalism and the profit motive leads to food additives which are unsafe; to unsafe toys, automobiles, drugs, and to working conditions in mines, factories, and sports most inimical to the health and welfare of the workers.
Capitalism pollutes the air, the water, and seas. Demand for profit requires avoidance of responsibility for the 'waste' products of industry, commerce, and finance. These toxins concentrate in the areas occupied by poor and marginal peoples at home and abroad.
Capitalism fosters four kinds of crime, corporate crime as markets are lost; white collar crime as employees are exploited; street crime as the surplus population prey on each other as well as organized crime as solidarity supplies, once used in dramas of the Holy, are sold as commodity: sex, drugs, gaming, gambling, money and violence.
Capitalism requires layer after layer of unproductive employees: managers to deal with reluctant. uninspired workers; public relations to deal with a surly public; lawyers to help evade laws; salespersons and advertising firms to realize profits on surplus production and guards to protect itself from the violence it inspires.
Capitalism pushes consumption as central to the good life rather than participation, conservation, interpersonal relations or shared enjoyment of life.
Capitalism buys or rents the means to produce meaning (radio, television, papers and magazines) in order to create meanings which serve capitalist needs.
Capitalism is an irrational system of production in that growth is not predicated on human, social, or communal need but rather on profit, position in the marketplace, or the need to support more and more nonproductive employees.
Capitalism despoils the land; scarring it with strip mines, patching it with an asphalt coat, and saturating it with chemicals. The interactive effects of such insults to the soil and all the biotics in it are unknown.
Capitalism converts the therapeutic process into an impersonal commodity, It creates masses of chronically anxious and depressed people then pushes valium and other drugs to mask the anxiety.
Capitalism massifies education and the knowledge process as it contributes to fiscal crises at local and state levels which fund most of primary and secondary education.
Capitalism gets its highest profits from the poorer nations.
Capitalism is inimical to democracy at home and abroad; buying the electoral process at home and subverting democracy abroad.
U.S. Capitalism imports food from the poorer nations and sells them junk food in return.
Capitalism sustains a liberalism which destroys the ancient structures of privilege however it will use any established social structure to expand markets, lower costs or win political legitimacy: fascism, racism, sexism, patriotism or bigotry--anything which increase profits, maintains legitimacy, weakens its foes or bolsters its friends.
Capitalism has converted the university into a branch office the corporation; displacing the liberal arts, religion and philosophy with the technical skills and capacities helpful to the creation and retention of surplus profit.
Capitalism uses what is known of psychology and social psychology to exploit and to mystify rather than to facilitate self-understanding and self-transcendence. Human consciousness is colonized in order to create ever more desire for ever more goods and services.
Capitalism replaces internal controls; moral principles, personal needs or social values with external controls; rewards, orders, behavioral modifiers, drugs, programs, managers, psychiatrists and police. It has sponsored the most pervasive transformation of social psychology seen in human history.
In that transformation of mind, self and society, the status (stande) of community is replaced by the status (honor) of possession and display of possessions.
Capitalism trains its employees to prey on the consumer by offering commissions, prizes, bonuses, vacations, medals, and a variety of other gimmicks.
Capitalism uses the days and dramas of the Holy to urge a passionate consuming of its products. Christmas and other holy days become vehicles for the sales campaigns of the corporate ad.
Capitalism destroys social relations between workers by forcing them to compete with each other or with other teams and units.
Capitalism destroys social relations between echelons in a bureaucracy by requiring a lower level of functionary to do the dirty work on a still lower level ordered by a higher level echelon. Dirty work is always one or two levels removed from its target.
Capitalism creates poverty and works to transfer welfare costs of its poor to other welfare systems. Older people are discarded and left to public welfare. Diseased workers are discarded and left to family to support. Whole families are discarded and left to churches and charities to find life support. Younger workers are laid-off and left to organized crime to find employment and the means to reunify production and distribution.

The Future of Marxism. Marxism will be a valuable intellectual and political tool as long as capitalism remains the primary mode of production in the world. Marxism speaks to the oppressed and the exploited in ways that conventional theory and conventional politics cannot and will not. The same holds for socialism. It offers a structural solution to a structural problem. It generalizes its solution to the workers of world and argues that all should be workers, at least for the central part of their lives. It excuses no one from the work process and excludes no one from access to the essentials for the production of human culture.

Some form of state socialism will be put forward since socialism is the only governmental answer to the problems of private capitalism. There are, of course, non-governmental answers to the problems above of capitalism.

Religious socialism has and has had a great appeal to Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and others around the world and across history. However, religious sensibility as it appears today is privatized. It defines those who believe and act in ways congenial to other religions and other gods as outsiders thus not to be included in any peaceable kingdom. Should a religious sensibility arise that is truly universal and accommodating to the vast array of cultural differences which mark the human estate, it might well displace state socialism as a solution to the many problems of capitalism.

Banditry, street crime and white collar are much more personalized and much less theoretically informed answers to the problems of poverty, unemployment, anger and despair. More personal solutions are seen as well; alcohol and drug abuse, self blame and suicide, child and spousal abuse as well as other forms in which one sees the use of alienated power.

CONCLUSION. These assertions and more of marxists relative to the successes and failings of capitalism are, for the most part, testable. But a fair test requires that one look beyond one's own situation to that of all persons in a capitalist economy. A fair test requires that one look beyond one's own country to other countries in a globalized capitalist formation. A fair test requires one look at trends across time and around the world. A fair test requires that one examine the negative consequences of capitalism as well as its many successes.

That normal science fails to test these effects of capitalism may well come from the fact that most scholars and academics dwell in a privileged sector of the economy. It may come from the fact that this generation of scholars and academics came to age during the golden years of American capitalism; 1943 to 1973. It may come from the fact that USA has occupied the top of the profit chain in recent times. The reader might want to refer to the marxist journals mentioned and look at the data which transcends such limited views and visions. The Capitalist System by Edwards, et al. or the American Political System by Greenberg offer hard data on these theses. The various NACLA publications give hard data on the theses pertaining to foreign policy and to American corporate activities in poor countries as a means to examine the effects of U.S. capitalism overseas.

After looking at the data, one is in a better position to judge as between the various theoretical perspectives one might use to account for the deviant ideas of marxists about capitalism and about science. Some of the questions to be answered include: Are marxist scholars deviant or simply different from most American scholars? Are ordinary theories of deviancy adequate to handle the rise of marxist scholarship or are marxist scholars quite ordinary people whose analysis is the product of informed, insightful human beings? Are the theories of deviancy used in contemporary sociology value-free and universal analytic tools or are they an ideological form of knowledge suitable for the needs of social control in a capitalist society. And finally, is the sociology of knowledge itself adequately understood in American sociology or is the self-knowledge of sociology lacking such that the majority of American sociologists are largely ignorant of their own society and its place in the wider sweep of history. Until these kinds of questions are answered, it is difficult to know how to understand marxist scholarship in America: as case material and history for deviancy theory, or as praxis. It is difficult to know whether the response of traditional sociology to marxist scholarship is political or value-free. Until such time, the appeal of marxist analysis will continue to be inexplicable to millions of Americans.


Appelbaum, Richard. "Marxist Method." The American Sociologist, V. 13:1, Feb.,pp. 73-81.

Baritz, L., (ed.). 1971 The American Left. New York: Basic Books.

Buraway, Michael. 1978 "Contemporary Currents in Marxist Theory." The American Sociologist, V. 13:1, Feb., pp. 50-64.

Edwards, R., Reich, M., and T. Weisskopf. 1978 The Capitalist System. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

Greenberg, Edward S. The American Political System. Cambridge: Winthrop Press. 1977

O'Connor, James. 1973 The Fiscal Crisis of the State. New York: St. Martins Press.

Sewart, John. 1978 "Critical Theory and the Critique of Conservative Method." The American Sociologist, V.13:1, Feb., op. 15-21.

Seifert, Walter. 1978 "An Encouraging Word." The Reader's Digest, p. 75, March.


Most of those in the Rocky Mountain area were very active in the anti-war movement; some were active in the civil rights movement; many of the women are still active in various dimensions of feminist struggle while a very few are connected to the labor movement and its many problems. The social base for those movements has eroded considerably with the election of Mr. Reagan and the monumental transformations of the global economy. Indeed the Red Feather Institute was founded as a structural support for radical consciousness and education as that social base disappeared. Return

This paragraph was written, of course, before the events of the 1980's which saw the downfall of bureaucratic socialism. While conservative theorists celebrate that fall, it would be a great error to confuse between the collapse of bureaucratic and elitist socialism on the one side and the significance of marxism on the other. Marxism is a critique of capitalism; it's truth value is independent of the failures of socialism. And, since socialism is one of several solutions to the problems of capitalism, new forms of socialism will emerge; forms which perchance will speak to the human project in a more democratic voice than did its Stalinist predecessors. [T.R.Y., September 15, 1994]. Return

I will agree that some of my marxist colleagues are churls, knaves and altogether disagreeable. I will accept that a great many of the most conservative sociologists are genial, open-hearted and generous to a fault. Yet I see no systematic connection between a mean-spirited scholar and her/his professional orientation. Except to say that, perhaps, those in symbolic interactional theory are, on balance, more sociable and tolerant than the usual run of American sociologists. They do have their odd-balls, churls and recluses but all in all, they are a wonderful lot. Perhaps that's why I spent so much time with so many people with whom I have such different views on the truth value of symbolic interaction in a massified, elitist, conflict ridden society. Return

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