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Ideas and Ideologies Formative Essay 1989 Words Tara Subba

What is the Marxist approach to politics, power and the state?

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. 1 These words of Karl Marx in the opening lines of The Communist Manifesto directly address a fundamental concept of the Communist doctrine and Marxist theory: the idea that class antagonism, or the exploitation of one class by another , are the fundamental forces behind all societal developments. This essay will examine the concepts of Politics, Power and the State from a Marxist perspective and will begin with analysis of the most overarching and elusive concept of Marxist political thought, followed by the Marxist theory of the State.2 An analysis of the notion of Power will be interwoven throughout examination of the two main ideas due to the fact that Power is an essentially contested concept; its definition is interdependent with definitions of the political and theoretical perspectives on power are, to an extent, theoretic perspectives on politics itself.

In the 19th century, the intellectual tenets of Marxism were inspired by two German philosophers: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marxism derives the aim of the communist ideology and is a socio-economic and political world view based on historical materialism. 3 This concept holds that societal development is determined by changes in the material conditions of society (i.e. its technology and productive capacity), and is derived from the proposition that that condition for the existence of any human society is the social production of material means !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Marx K. , and Engels F., The Communist Manifesto. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967, P.11. P., Comparing Economic Systems in the Twenty-Frist Century : Marxs Theory of Change, George Hoffman , 2003, P.62. 3 Campbell M., Communism and Philosophy, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1980. P. 21.
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Ideas and Ideologies Formative Essay 1989 Words Tara Subba

of livelihood. Moreover, Communism may be perceived as an ideal state in which genuine human dignity will be realized. Marxists assert that Communism is the ultimate stage, the final form of socialism and that it is to be achieved only after the destruction of the remnants of capitalist institutions and ideas. To the Marxist, human dignity may be seen as a state of being in which 1) political power is shared under a system of participatory democracy, 2) respect is given to all individuals, 3) well-being is provided equally to all people on the basis of need, and 4) enlightenment is to be granted to all so that everyone will have the opportunity to become a wellrounded, and productive citizen.4

Communist politics as the allocation of values The first value, Power, refers to the ability to influence public policy and concerns the distribution of policy-making rights and responsibilities to the socialist state.5 Power is the most significant of the four values because it is of great importance in determining the ways in which other values will be allocated. Joseph Stalin held dictatorial power as leader of the Soviet Union and according to traditionalists, governed a totalitarian regime (involving state control over almost all aspects of Soviet life). He made personal choices that determined the distribution of power, respect, well-being and enlightenment in Soviet society and exerted control through both repressive and democratic means. On one hand, the use and maintenance of power by the state may involve violent methods , for example, Stalins orchestration of the Great Purge (19341939) - a campaign of political repression - which was motivated by the desire to remove dissenters from the communist party, and which involved large scale purges of individuals !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Bertsch G., Power and Policy in Communist Systems, New York: Wiley, 1978. P. 2-3. Bertsch, P.2.

Ideas and Ideologies Formative Essay 1989 Words Tara Subba

regarded as enemies of the state.6 On the other hand, the means by which power is maintained (or gained) may be through the spreading of communist ideals and state influence.7 Communist parties have had some success in shaping homogenous value systems through censorship and the control of mass media, schools and a variety of different organization that mould common expectations and values amongst citizens.

The second value stated is Respect which refers to the desire of most people to enjoy secure and supportive relationships with others, including political authorities.8 Respect concerns the status, honour and prestige given to different individuals ; the Marxist doctrine suggests that the workers revolution and the establishment of socialism would halt the historical exploitation of class over class.9 In The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels argue that the history of preexisting societies (e.g. capitalism) was this history of class struggle. To them, a capitalist state is incapable of promising the value of respect due to their economic structures and resultant class divisions. On the other hand, Communist states are supposed establish the basis for social equality by eliminating class differences.

The third value refers to Social well-being and as Marx expected Communism to establish in capitalist countries that had already experienced the process of industrialization. He envisioned a developed socio-economic setting in which there would be an abundance of good, clothing and basic material goods which would be accompanied by certain social services such !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Figes O. , The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia, London: Allen Lane, 2007. Handy C., Understanding Organizations, Oxford University Press, 1993. 8 Bertsch, P.2. 9 Bertsch, P.5.

Ideas and Ideologies Formative Essay 1989 Words Tara Subba

as health, welfare and comfort. 10 To Marxists, the state was excepted to contribute more to the well being of their populations , and in turn, the basic principle guiding social relationship would be from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs . However, this principle presupposes an economic system in which there are no shortages, and where the members of society do not have to pay for foods , goods or services.11

The final value : enlightenment, refers to the process by which individuals cast off their bourgeois mentality , are re-educated in Marxism-Leninism, and are trained to contribute to Communism.12 Individuals are to be ideologically committed, knowledgeable about worldly affairs, and loyal to their state involving sacrifice that would serve the construction and spread of Communism. However, critics argue that Marxists underestimate the capacity for the

socioeconomic reform of capitalism by liberal democracy which may be conducted through welfare state provision and state regulation of the free market.

In Politics, the State may be defined either by its policies or the ways in which its policies are implemented. Marx defines the state as the provider of public goods, notably law and order, but also economic goods that could not be provided efficiently by individuals.13 Marx and Engels provided a Marxist theory of the state, which places emphasis on the dictatorship of the proletariat. Although it is totalitarian in practice (whereby the state is perceived as the chief weapon in the struggle to establish communism), !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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its authoritarian nature is not so easily

Bertsch, P.10. Bertsch, P.39. 12 Bertsch, P.2. 13 Elster, J., Making Sense of Marx. Cambridge University Press, 1985. P. 399.

Ideas and Ideologies Formative Essay 1989 Words Tara Subba

identified. There is a paradox in the conception of the dictatorship; on one hand, Marx and Engels advocate the abolition of the State, whereas on the other hand, the vast majority of Marxist organizations advocate the authoritarian role of the state in society. In order to analyse this contradiction of the state, one should have awareness of three most fundamental concepts of Marxist theory of the State which, at the risk of simplification, are as follows :

The notion of Relative Scarcity Engels stated the State is a product of society at a certain age of development.14 The concept of relative scarcity is a condition in which the productivity of labor enables a group of people to produce a surplus of goods and services that is, an amount that is more than enough for survival, but is inadequate to allow a life of abundance. When productivity reaches this point, class distinctions in society can be determined as either 1) the working class who spend most of their time working and yet have low earnings (the majority) , or 2) the ruling elite who exploit power over the working and survive without performing productive labor (the minority). The Marxist theory of the state views that the division of society into class gives rise to the state. Indeed, the dictatorship of the proletariat is the instrument of the vast majority to suppress the exploiting minority; its establishment represents victory in the battle for democracy.

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Engels F., The Origin of the Family Private Property and the State, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 2004, p. 280.

Ideas and Ideologies Formative Essay 1989 Words Tara Subba

State as an instrument of the Ruling Class This concept is reflected in the words of Marx when he states that The ruling ideas of any epoch are the ideas of the ruling class".15 In the Marxist perspective, the class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force , and therefore holds great power in shaping the states ideology. The view implies however, that the state can be taken over by the working class as it is merely an instrument of the capitalist class rather than an intrinsic part of the class structure. However, this proposition implies that the state is passive, and that it has little independence and restricted power , which is not always the case ( as illustrated by the communist autocratic states of Mao and Stalin) . One should also note that conflicting interests may counter-balance each other such that the state becomes an independent institution.16

The expropriation of the Capitalists by the Capitalist State Furthermore, Engels stated that the development of capitalism would result in the states greater exertion of power in order to undertake the direction of production.17 In the interests of stabilizing the system and defeating capitalism as a whole, the state intervenes in the

economy ; its capitalist mode of production forces out the workers, and eventually expropriates the capitalists. Nevertheless, apart from former and current Communist countries, the state has failed to carry our the amount of nationalization that Engels proposed. It is evident that even in European countries in which the state manages public utilities, the bourgeoisie has been far from expropriated. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Festenstein M., and Kenny M., Political Ideologies: Oxford University Press, 2005. P. 15. Engels, The Origin of the Family Private Property and the State, P.283-4. 17 Engels, F., Socialism : Utopian and Scientific Strife, Progress publishers, 1970. P.95-151.

Ideas and Ideologies Formative Essay 1989 Words Tara Subba

Ultimately, this essay has explored the Marxist approach to politics, power and the state. When comparing the political performance of Communist states, one can ask : How well are the various Communist systems performing in terms of their goals, action and outcomes related to the values and the cause of human dignity? This is an ambiguous area as the Marxist theory of the state is paradoxical ; the capitalist state promises to represent the interests of all society , as well as to defend the ruling elite. As capitalism develops and the working class expands, class struggle becomes more intense and this political development is met by an increase in economic state intervention and the expropriation of capitalists in the interests of defending capitalism as a whole.

It should be noted, however, that the abstract nature of Marxism has led to varying interpretations of its social and political values ; this provided communist leaders (namely Lenin, Stalin and Mao) the flexibility to adopt and carry out policies to suit their own purposes and the needs they perceived for their countries.18 Indeed, the Communist Party states of Eastern Europe, Asia and Cuba will continuously search for policies to meet the needs of their people and to improve the quality of life under socialism. Unfortunately, states will always face opportunity costs; a high level of centralization, with its emphasis on efficiency may limit individual freedom and initiative whilst on the other hand, an expansion of more humanistic values and increasing personal choice may threaten the centralized coordination of the system. Ultimately, it is how leaders deal with political choices which shapes the great diversity of politics one finds among Communist states in our World today. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Bertsch, P.7.

Ideas and Ideologies Formative Essay 1989 Words Tara Subba

Bibliography
Bertsch G., Power and Policy in Communist Systems, New York: Wiley, 1978. Campbell M., Communism and Philosophy, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1980. Elster, J., Making Sense of Marx. Cambridge University Press, 1985. Engels, F., Socialism : Utopian and Scientific Strife, Progress publishers, 1970. Engels F., The Origin of the Family Private Property and the State, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 2004. Festenstein M., and Kenny M., Political Ideologies: Oxford University Press, 2005. Figes O., The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia, London: Allen Lane, 2007. Gregory P., Comparing Economic Systems in the Twenty-Frist Century : Marxs Theory of Change, George Hoffman, 2003. Handy C., Understanding Organizations, Oxford University Press, 1993. Marx K. , and Engels F., The Communist Manifesto. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967.