Neo-Marxist Theory of the State


In the sixties and seventies of the last century the scholars of the Western world showed renewed interest on Marx’s political ideas, specially his concept of state and this resulted in a reformulation of his theory of state. The background factor of this regenerated interest in many of the writings of Marx and Engels were brought into light by new and enthusiastic scholars and researchers.

Some of his unexplored works, such as The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and Grundrisse, drew the attention of serious scholars. Scholars found that many of the comments of Marx are still valid, particularly his instrumentalist approach or idea of state and class relations.

These scholars further observe that during the last century capitalism—and specifically the capitalist structure of economy— have undergone changes. Also have changed the mode or technique of exploitation, manner of bargaining between the workers and capitalists, nature and functioning of free market economy. In spite of all these changes the class relations have not changed spectacularly.

These scholars believe that the state still plays as an instrument of exploitation though the exploitation is not as grave and harsh as it was century ago. The enthusiastic scholars have based their analysis not only on the writings of Marx and Engels but also the functioning of capitalist economies such as USA and Britain. One analysis is based on an article of Theodore Lowi and Edward Harpham.

Central Idea:

Theodore Lowi and Edward Harpham in their article (Political Theory and Public Policy: published in Contemporary Empirical Political Theory) have made an impartial assessment of Marxist theory of state. They have said, “The starting point of the neo-Marxist theory of the state is Marx’s analysis of class relations and the forms of exploitation found in history. Neo-Marxist theories of the state are built directly upon the class view of society. The state is not an impartial umpire balancing the demands of various groups in society but the vehicle by which one class maintains its rule over another”.

In recent years (particularly after the Second World War) the free market economy is being encouraged as a way of the development of individual’s freedom and acceleration of economic growth. The fall of Soviet regime in 1991 was an additional arm added to the body of capitalism and free market economy.

But it is believed that the free market economy “is simply another arena in which the exploitation of one class by another takes place”. The authors have said that during Marx’s time there was a strong urge of the capitalists to accumulate more and more capital and for this they needed more and more profit. This motive forced the capitalists to exploit workers. As the urge to accumulate savings and capital still persists there is no reason to believe that there shall not exist exploitation.

Model of Class Struggle:

Recent analysts have argued that Marx conceived of two models of class struggle. One model is two-class model developed in The Manifesto of the Communist Party and Capital. According to this model there are two main classes among which one is economically predominant and the other is proletariat or working class.

Since the interests of these two classes are diametrically opposite, conflict among them is inevitable. The dominant class controls the proletariat class and for that purpose it uses the state machinery. His several writings such as The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, the Civil War in France and Class Struggle in France provide abundant hints about another model. “This model focuses attention not only upon other pre-capitalist classes but also upon the existence of class factions within the bourgeoisie and proletariat”.

Both the capitalist and the proletariat are factions-ridden. There are conflicts among the classes and within different groups and factions of classes. The state never remains neutral when it is faced with the conflicts. It must play the role of negotiator. The authors of the above-noted article have pointed out this.

They have said: “This richer theory of class conflict is the linchpin for much for neo-Marxist theorising about the state”. Whenever a conflict arises a state cannot remain fully indifferent. The state knows it quite well that the conflict, if allowed to continue, will destabilise the political system. Apart from this, general law and order may be affected.

New Definition of State:

After thoroughly studying the vast literature of Marx and Engels the recent scholars of the Western world have arrived at the conclusion that Marx viewed the state as an organisation of various institutions. Particularly Ralph Miliband is the supporter of this view. He in his noted work.

The State in Capitalist Society the Analysis of the Western System of Power (1973), Miliband says, “There is one preliminary problem about the state which is very seldom considered, yet which requires attention, if the discussion of its nature and role is to be properly focused. This is the fact that “the state” is not a thing that it does not, as such, exist.

What “the state” stands for is a number of particular institutions which, together, constitute its reality and which interact as parts of what may be called the state system”. Miliband wants to say that in order to understand the real nature of state it is essential to study the institutions which combinedly constitute the bourgeois state. Miliband also calls these institutions the different elements of state.

The elements, according to Miliband, are the following:

The government, the administration, the military, the police, the judicial branch, sub-central government and parliamentary assemblies. All these make up the state. All these institutions are known to us except the sub-central institutions. Sub central government constitutes an extension of central government and administration. In the countries of advanced capitalism sub-central government is rather more than an administrative device.

How does the state act as an instrument in the midst of all these variegated institutions? Let us look at what Theodore Lowi and Edward Harpham say. “In the opinion of Miliband the relationship is an instrumental one. The bourgeoisie channels effectively its class power through state institutions and into public policy by staffing the state apparatus and exerting its influence in the political process”.

The bourgeoisie is quite conscious of its own problem and requirements and it also knows how to solve the problems and meet the requirements. The bourgeoisie utilises every institution to solve the problem and meet the requirements. It also influences, in various ways, the institutions so that its interests are in no way endangered.

Not only Miliband, other scholars also maintain that the bourgeois state acts like an instrument. For example, C. Wright Mills and Domhoff have empirically identified the growing importance and formidable influence of the ruling elite class or group over the state administration.

Domhoff in his The Higher Circles: The Governing Class in America and C. Wright Mills The Power Elite have empirically proved that in capitalist countries the elite rules in one form or another. But there is not one elite group but a number of elite groups and they are involved in conflicts. The state sometimes acts impartially but very often it plays the role of an instrument to support one elite group or to protect its interests.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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