Introducing Marxist Theories of the State

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1 In the following presentation I shall assume that students have some familiarity with introductory Marxist Theory. Students requiring an introductory outline may click here. Students requiring additional information on the definition and measurement of Power may click here. In the presentation I concentrate primarily on the Marxist Theory of the State as outlined by Ralph Miliband. Toward the end of the presentation there is also information on the so-called Miliband- Poulantzas debate on the State. 1

2 The following presentation is intended as an introduction but if you require more detailed information you may find the following books useful. Models of Democracy David Held 3 rd Edition 2006 The State: Theories and Issues Colin Hay, Michael Lister and David Marsh Eds Theories of the Democratic State John S. Dryzek and Patrick Dunleavy 2009 Power: A Radical View Steven Lukes 2 nd Edition 2005 State Power Bob Jessop

3 Marxism: a very brief summary [1] Marxists argue that capitalist societies are unequal, exploitative, undemocratic and unjust. They focus especially upon the relationships between the property owning Bourgeoisie and the property-less Proletariat which are based upon exploitation and conflict. Intermediate strata are considered in more detailed Marxist theories.. The key elements of the superstructure include the institutions of the state but also the family, the Church, the education system and the mass media. Marxists also focus on relationships between the economic base and the superstructure and argue that the economic base heavily influences the organisation and operation of the institutions of the superstructure although some Neo-Marxists, especially those influenced by Gramsci, assert that the superstructure operates to some extent independently of the economic base. According to Marx the inequalities and instability associated ith capitalism would lead ultimately to the transitions to Socialism and then Communism possibly via revolution although Marx also suggested that a Parliamentary road to Socialism might be possible in Western European capitalist societies 3

4 Marxism: a very brief summary [2] In Marxist theories the State is defined to include the Government, the Civil Service, the Judiciary, the Police and Military and the institutions of Regional and Local Government. Louis Althusser defines the family, the Church, the education system and the mass media as Ideological State Apparatuses. [ISAs] Antonio Gramsci defines the State as consisting of Political Society plus Civil Society and the above mentioned ISAs are seen as part of Civil Society. Within the Marxist theoretical framework there has been an important debate about the nature of the State between Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas who are said to adopt Instrumentalist and Structuralist approaches respectively to the analysis of the State. This debate is considered briefly toward the end of this presentation 4

5 Theories of Post-Capitalism By the 1950s and early 1960s it was argued widely that Western capitalism had changed very significantly to such an extent that modern Western societies could better be described as Post- Capitalist rather than as Capitalist. Consequently even if Marx theories of capitalism had been relevant to the analysis of 19 th Century capitalism they were decreasingly relevant by the Mid 20th Century and Marx predictions as to the future development of capitalist societies appeared increasingly inaccurate. According to the Post-Capitalist theorists the immiserisation of the proletariat and polarisation of classes had not occurred and Marxist-inspired socialist revolution was entirely unnecessary and therefore very unlikely to occur. 5

6 The Claims of Post-Capitalist Theorists [1] The economic power of the UK Capitalist Class had declined as a result of the nationalisation of several basic industries such as Coal, Gas, Electricity and the Railways. The increased technological and commercial complexity of modern industry meant that decision making power had been transferred from the Capitalist owners to skilled managers who were likely to take into account objectives such as worker satisfaction and public corporate image as well as profitability in their decision making whereas the Capitalist owners had been much more concerned with profitability. This element of Post-Capitalist theory was known as the Managerial Revolution or the Divorce of Ownership from Control. Consequently the Bourgeoisie [the owners of the means of production] could no longer be regarded as the dominant economic class. 6

7 The Claims of Post-Capitalist Theorist [2] Significant changes in social class structure were occurring in post-capitalist societies. The relative sizes of the middle class and the skilled working class were increasing. The relative sizes of the semi-skilled and unskilled working classes were declining There was a general trend toward greater income and wealth equality and more widespread ownership consumer durables. Full employment, economic growth and the expansion of the Welfare State were improving average working class living standards and reducing poverty. Increased Welfare State expenditures were beginning to improve health and equalise educational opportunity. 7

8 The Claims of Post Capitalist Theorists [3] Universal adult suffrage combined with the growth of the Labour Party and the Trade Union Movement coupled with the continued existence of full employment in the post-2nd World War era had increased the potential political influence and the economic power of the working class. Increasing numbers of diverse pressure groups were formed all of which sought to influence government policy in various ways. Theories of Classical Pluralism were developed which suggested that the above developments had caused political power to be more widely and equally distributed rather than monopolised by an economically and politically dominant Bourgeoisie [as in Marxist Theory] of by a political elite [as in Elite Theories]. 8

9 The State in Capitalist Society: The Analysis of the Western System of Power : Ralph Miliband 1969.[1] In this study Ralph Miliband, a Marxist academic, sought to refute the already mentioned conclusions of the Post-Capitalist theorists and to reassert the validity of the Marxist Theory of the State. He sought also to demonstrate that even by the 1960s the economic dominant class [the Bourgeoisie] still wielded not total political power but disproportionate political power. There was indeed some political competition for political power and influence between competing political parties and pressure groups but this was an Imperfect Competition in which the Bourgeoisie held the dominant [position so that it could still reasonable be described as an economically and politically dominant Ruling Class. 9

10 The State in Capitalist Society [2] Ralph Miliband denies that post-2 nd World War nationalisation programmes significantly reduced the economic power of the capitalist class. He denies the validity of the Managerial Revolution /Divorce of Ownership from Control He claims that changes to the UK class structure have been less significant than suggested by Post-Capitalist theorists. He denied that affluent sections of the working class were experiencing a process of Embourgeoisement. The redistribution of income and wealth has been mainly from the rich to the comfortably off with little redistribution to the poor; affluent working class members are significantly worse of than most members of the middle class; relative poverty and social class differences in health and educational opportunity remain despite the expansion of the Welfare State. 10

11 The State in Capitalist Society [3] Ralph Miliband rejects the methodology and conclusions of theories of Classical Pluralism. In his study Power: A Radical View [1974; Second Edition 2005] Steven Lukes distinguishes three Faces of Power. Ralph Miliband distinguishes explicitly between the first two faces of power and his emphasis on the ideological dimensions of power indicate that he also recognises the importance of what Steven Lukes would subsequently call the Third Face of Power. On this basis we may conclude that in 1969 Ralph Miliband was using a concept of power very similar to that employed by Steven Lukes He therefore rejected the Classical Pluralist measurement of power in terms of the outcome of actual decisions as inadequate. 11

12 The State in Capitalist Society [4] Continuing from the previous slide students may feel that they need additional information on the concept of power and particularly on the three faces of power which can be found here. You can discuss this with your teachers! Ralph Miliband did not claim that there were no aspects of Classical Pluralism in contemporary capitalist systems but that Capital was by face the dominant influence on State decision making and that it was engaged in an imperfect competition with the Labour Party the Trade Unions and other pressure groups all of which had far less political power than the dominant economic class. 12

13 The State in Capitalist Society [5] The dominant economic class has disproportionate political power for several reasons. Business pressure groups are especially well financed and well organised and their lobbyists have easy access to governing politicians. A pro-business ideology is shared especially by Conservative politicians but also by relatively moderate Labour politicians and Trade Union leaders. Business spokespersons and politicians alike are very prone to define the interests of business as equivalent to the national interest. As someone once said What is good for General Motors is good for the USA. 13

14 The State in Capitalist Society [6] More on the political power of the dominant economic class The British Conservative Party was especially electorally successful in the first 70 years of the 20 th Century [and after a brief Labour interlude between 1974 and 1979 would form governments continuously from 1979 to 1997] during which time it could pursue essentially pro-business policies. The electoral success of the Conservative Party occurred because despite substantial class inequality it nevertheless attracted support from significant numbers of working class voters. The leadership of the Labour Party and of the Trade Union movement mostly espoused a very moderate form of social democratic ideology which did not challenge the continued existence of capitalism and the dominance of the capitalist class.. The political power of the capitalist class derives also from the structural position of capital within the economy: the government is dependent upon the private sector for the provision of employment, economic growth, rising living standards and taxation revenue. Therefore governments re-election are dependent to a considerable extent of the profitability of industry which explains governments pro-business policies 14

15 The State in Capitalist Society [7] The institutions of the State are controlled by a series of State elites whose members share similar ideological views and will govern in the interests of the Bourgeoisie for the following reasons. A large proportion of Cabinet Ministers have been involved in business and business people are heavily involved in many government advisory groups and in the governing of the Central Bank [the Bank of England. Administrative, Judicial and Military elites are drawn disproportionately from the higher reaches of the middle and the upper classes. They will often have been educated at prestigious private schools and elite universities. Miliband assumes that this pattern of recruitment results in a powerful, pro-capitalist ideological consensus within the State elites in which the national interest is defined in terms of the interests of capitalism. 15

16 The State in Capitalist Society [8] When talented working class people are recruited to State elite positions they will soon recognise that their promotion prospects depend on the willingness to discard any radical views which they may have had. It is argued that the recruitment of working class candidates to State elite positions is evidence of substantial social mobility and meritocracy. However according to Ralph Miliband the real extent of social mobility in the UK is limited and the Uk is far from being a meritocratic society. 16

17 The State in Capitalist Society [9] Miliband argues that a ruling class ideology supportive of the continued existence of capitalism and the dominance of the Bourgeoisie is widely disseminated especially via the mass media and the education system.. This ideology is accepted by Conservative Parties, the members of the State elites and also, to a considerable extent, by leaders of Social Democratic Parties such as the Labour Party and by Trade Union leaders. Many working class people also accept this ideology or at least accommodate passively to it although, according to Marxists, it is not in their interests to do so. They are said to be subject to False Class Consciousness. 17

18 The State in Capitalist Society [10] Finally Miliband and other Marxists argue that Political Power is visible in its consequences. The continued existence of great inequalities of wealth, income and opportunity is seen as a consequence of inequality of political power. How otherwise could inequalities of income, wealth and opportunity be sustained?. Furthermore the unequal distribution of political power is also seen as a consequence of the unequal distribution of income,wealth and opportunity so that a vicious cycle is clearly in operation. 18

19 Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas: Instrumentalist and Structuralist Marxism.[1] In the late 1960s and early 1970s a significant theoretical debate ensued between Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas around differing Marxist interpretations of the State. It is argued that whereas Ralph Miliband has devised what has been called an Instrumentalist Theory of the State in Capitalist Society Nicos Poulantzas has devised so-called Structuralist Theory of the Capitalist State. What does this mean? 19

20 Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas: Instrumentalist and Structuralist Marxism.[2] Ralph Miliband Miliband s theory has been seen as evolving from the statement by Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto[1848] that the Executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the Bourgeoisie. It has been described as an instrumentalist theory in the sense that the capitalist class is seen as having the power to ensure that state elites have the power to ensure that the state elites operate in the interests of the Bourgeoisie or capitalist class. Effectively, therefore, the state is seen as an instrument which is under the control of the Bourgeoisie or capitalist class. Miliband argues also that state elites do have considerable freedom of manouevre to decide upon particular policies but that their actual decisions are to a considerable extent influenced by their own privileged social class background. Consequently the state elites take decisions which overwhelmingly support the interests of the Bourgeoisie 20

21 Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas: Instrumentalist and Structuralist Marxism.[3] Nicos Poulantzas Nicos Poulantzas theory is seen as evolving from Marx study entitled The 18 th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon and is regarded as a Structuralist Marxist theory of the State. Poulantzas emphasises that the capitalist class is itself divided into fractions [e.g. finance capitalists and manufacturing capitalists and/or large scale and small scale capitalists] which although they all support the continued existence of capitalism as a system, may nevertheless have conflicting interests within that system. According to Poulantzas the capitalist state must be accorded the autonomy to resolve these conflicts of interests and also to grant occasional concessions to the working class which, although they may be opposed by the capitalist class, are actually necessary to ensure the continued survival of the capitalist system as a whole. Consequently the capitalist state operates with some autonomy : it is not the simple instrument of the capitalist class.. But now read on 21

22 Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas: Instrumentalist and Structuralist Marxism.[4] Nicos Poulantzas However the autonomy of the state can only be relative. In seeking to resolve conflicts within the capitalist class or to reduce the grievances of the working class the state can introduce only those policies which are viable within an ongoing capitalist structure. For example the state might attempt to resolve working class grievances via moderate expansion of the welfare state but not via large scale nationalisation or the introduction of very high taxation of profits. The relative autonomy of the state is therefore a key concept within Nicos Poulantzas theory 22

23 Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas: Instrumentalist and Structuralist Marxism.[5] Nicos Poulantzas Nicos Poulantzas theory is described as Structuralist Marxist theory because Poulantzas argues that the decisions of state elite members are influenced far more by the structural position of the state within capitalist societies than by the social backgrounds and political values and attitudes of state elite members themselves. Here is seen one of the significant differences between the theories Poulantzas and of Miliband although Miliband did argue that he had actually acknowledged the importance of structural constraints but that Poulantzas had overstated them. Thus, in one of his books Miliband stated that, Poulantzas had fallen prey to structural super-determinism. General issues of structure versus agency are clearly at work here. 23

24 Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas: Instrumentalist and Structuralist Marxism.[6] Nicos Poulantzas In Poulantzas theory a state within a capitalist system can further its own objectives only by facilitating the continued development of the capitalist system as a whole. For example: the maintenance of full employment, economic growth and rising living standards is dependent upon the success of the capitalist system; government spending plans, for example on Health and Education are dependent upon taxation revenues which in turn depend upon the effectiveness of the capitalist system; Governments electoral prospects are to a considerable extent dependent upon the health of the capitalist economy. 24

25 Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas: Instrumentalist and Structuralist Marxism.[7] Nicos Poulantzas It follows that all governments in capitalist societies are obliged to pursue policies which are consistent with the continuation of capitalism and therefore with the interests of the capitalist class. For Example. They ensure that rates of corporation tax and rates of income tax on high income earners are relatively low. They ensure that environmental and health and safety regulations do not impose costs which capitalist firms consider excessive. They introduce industrial relations legislation which may be seen as restricting the power of trades unions to defend workers living standards 25

26 Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas: Instrumentalist and Structuralist Marxism.[8] Nicos Poulantzas Without such policies capitalist profitability would fall; economic competitiveness would be reduced; some capitalist firms would relocate to other countries; employment would fall; government revenues would be reduced; governments would be more likely to suffer electoral defeat. At the same time, however, the state uses its relative autonomy to make occasional moderate concessions to the working class which reduce the dangers of political stability which would also undermine capitalist viability. In all cases,,according to Poulantzas, government policies are influenced far more by the structural position of governments within capitalist societies than by the social backgrounds and political attitudes of those in state elite positions. On the other hand Ralph Miliband gives greater emphasis to the importance of the social backgrounds of those in state elite positions. However he does not entirely neglect structural factors although he does claim that Poulantzas has overstated their importance. As mentioned Miliband believes that Poulantzas has been prey to structural super-determinism! 26

27 Conclusions[1] You may like to discuss with your teachers the extent to which Marxist theories of the State help to explain the developments of UK government policy in the post-2nd World War. For example it could be argued from a Marxist perspective that in the era of the post-war consensus the political conditions were such that the State did make substantial concession to working class interests without fundamentally altering patterns of class inequality. In the subsequent era of relative neo-liberal dominance Marxists would argue that state policies reflected even more closely the interests of capital and that class inequalities have consequently hardened. In this context the Blair-Brown Governments would be seen as essentially continuing the neo-liberal policy agenda, a view that would be rejected, for example, by Third Way theorists. 27

28 Conclusions [2] In any case of course Marxist theories of the State have been criticised from differing theoretical perspectives such as those of Elite Theory and Competitive Elitism [where you will find the ideas of Max Weber and Joseph Schumpeter], Functionalism, Pluralism [which itself contains the differing approaches of Classical Pluralism, Elite Pluralism and Neo-Pluralism], Corporatism, New Right Theory, Feminism and Post-Modernism. In order to evaluate Marxist theories of the state detailed familiarity with these competing perspectives is of course necessary and I wish you every success in your study of these perspectives 28

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