Nicolous Powantaz: Political Power and Social Classes State, Power and Society N. Bobbio: Which Socialism? Marxism and Democracy Lenin: State and Revolution Engels: Socialism, Utopian and Scientific Origin of State, Family and Private Property

Different Views of Marx and Engels:

Karl Marx :

1. “An executive committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” 2. “National power of capital over labour.” 3. “An engine of class despotism.

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” 4. “Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another.”


1. “An organization of a particular class to forcibly keep the exploited class in the conditions of oppression.

” 2. “Essentially a capitalist machine.”

View of Marx and Engels:

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote extensively. They developed a scientific theory of society explaining how the present social order had come about, and how it would be transformed into a better one in the course of history. They made attempt to discover laws of historical changes. Wherein they showed that social development was inevitably moving in the direction of social revolution which would ultimately lead to the establishment of a communist society but, what is most surprising is that they do not offer a clear cut theory of state. Their ideas are sketchy.

It is fragmented and unsystematic one. Same is true of other classical Marxists such as Lenin, Trotseky and Gramci. As Bob Jessop observes “Although they offer various acute observations on the state in general, specific historical causes and the nature of ideological domination, they do not confront the crucial questions of the differential forms of the capitalist state and their adequacy to continued accumulation in different situations.” Marx’s view on the state are largely determined by his perceptions and analyses of the French State, the Revolution of 1848 and Coup d’ etat of Napoleon III, he wrote extensively in Rheinische Zetung” against the authoritarian state. In the Eighteenth Drumaire of Louis Bonaparte, he denounced the bureaucratic and all powerful state. Marx and Engels present a class theory of state. So to them “History of all hitherto society is the history of class struggle” (with the exception of primitive communism). In every class divided society there are two classes, viz; a dominant and a dependent or oppressor and an oppressed class while the dominant class own the private property in the means of production; the dependent classes are closely clung with property relation.

Class in itself and Class for itself:

It expresses the historical role for the proletariat in Marxist scheme of thing. A class in itself means that the working class in capitalist societies is aware of the need for co-operative effort to promote their own interest. They work together and realize that they constitute a particular segment of the society. They also become conscious of their conflicting interests with that of the bourgeoisie or the capitalist.

However, a class can become a class for itself only when it becomes aware of its historic role and revolutionary potential. It realizes that it has an additional mission of transforming the present set up i.e. the capitalist mode of production through a proletarian revolution, paving way for classless society.

Origin and Forms:

Marx and Engels reject the liberal view that the state is a natural institution and that it exists to promote the well-being of all the people. Rather, they hold that the state is a product of society at a certain stage of its development.

It is a historical entity. It emerged out of the class division of the society and out of the need to hold the class antagonism in check. State has not been there in the primitive society, where the institutions of law, government and politics were totally absent. Engels in his “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” remarks that “The State…has not existed from all eternity there have been societies that did without it, that had no idea of the state and state power.

At a certain stage of economic development, which was necessarily bound up with the split of society into classes, the state became a necessity owing to this split.” In the early societies of primitive communal life, the relations of production were those of co­operation as their material basis were largely dependent upon hunting, fishing, fruit gathering and cattle-grazing. Thus, societies existed prior to the state. They maintain that the institution of state originated for the first time as a result of the dissolution of the primitive communities. It gradually evolved when certain changes took place in the early economic forms of primitive society. State was actually necessitated at a particular stage of economic development when certain members of the society acquired control over the productive forces. This development in the field of economic production inevitably led to the division of society into classes—those who owned and controlled the means of production and those who did not.

Lenin in his State and Revolution says “The State is product and manifestation of irreconci­lability of class antagonisms. The state arises where, when and insofar as class antagonisms objectively cannot be reconciled.” State thus, originated out of the class division between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.’ It came into existence in order to serve the interests of the former and continues to exist as an instrument for the exploitation of the latter. Accordingly, different mode of production corresponds to a different form of state.

There exist five different modes of production in Marxists scheme of things.

Primitive Communism:

Also referred to as Stateless Societies or prostate societies according to Marx and Engels, the primitive tribal societies existed much before the origin of the state. The groups were organised on the basis of blood relationship, common language and traditions. Though there was no established authority in terms of law, some rudiments of power did exist there. The primitive communal body generally functioned on the basis of full co­operation of its members as there was no clash or competition among them.

Tools were held in common ownership and things were produced by common labour. There was no surplus since men could produce only for the subsistence of each member of the community. There was no private property and no exploitation of man by man. The common affairs were managed collectively or entrusted to the elders. There was no distinction between ruler and the subjects. Hence, there was no need for a special apparatus of the state. The change in the material basis and the development of productive forces on account of settled agriculture led to new division of labour and gave way to new socio-economic formations. The Slave System: It is characterized by private ownership not only in the means of production but even workers are treated as property of their master.

It arises with the emergence of private property and division of labour, is new and more complex socio-economic formations. As Engels describes it, “the breakup of tribal authority involves a change in the system of property, and this transformation is accompanied by the rise of groups with reconcilable interests.” The society split up into two antagonistic classes-slaves and slave owners; the former as producers and the latter as non-producers who owned former are production conditions. The slaves were regarded as a form of property on the ground that they belonged wholly to the master. They had no social or legal existence independent of their masters. Their own labour power was an important factor of production, but the fruits of their labour wholly went to the master. Thus, in the slave mode of production, slaves stood in opposition to the slave owning classes.

Subsequently, large-scale agriculture becomes chief mode of production, giving way to another system.

Feudal System:

In the medieval feudal society, land was the sole source of economic life. The landlords, therefore, enjoyed certain special status, privileges, authority and political rights.

The relations between the primary producer and the landlord were such that the former remained subordinate to the latter, and the latter’s superior position and authority was an established fact of living. The society was divided into the landlord and serfs. With the mechanized production Marx and Engels say: “the factory system began to develop alongside the guild structure; but the primitive factory where one man hired a dozen or so helpers and worked alongside them on his own premises, was only a beginning”.

Capitalist System:

It is characterized by the private ownership of the means of production in few hands. The society is split into two classes’ capitalists and workers (proletariat).

The hallmark of this system is freedom of contract that creates impression of a free society. However, it is marked by exploitation of workers. Workers, who do not own the means of production, only sell their labour power to the capitalists for wages. The means of production are owned by the capitalists who alone regulate the labour process. The labour produces surplus values because the worker is paid only a part of his produce as wages and the rest of the labour which remains unpaid is wholly appropriated by the capitalists. In such a society, the capitalists being the dominant economic class influence the political and social system in numerous forms. Ralph Miliband in his Marxism and Politics has identified four functions of capitalist state.

1. Repressive: by maintaining law and order. 2. Ideological: Cultural: – to secure legitimacy 3. Economic: by developing capitalism 4. International: by serving ruling classes across the borders.

Socialist System:

This system is also referred to as crude communism. It is coterminous with the dictatorship of the proletariat and an interim stage of transition to Communism.

Marx says, Socialism “is the declaration of the permanence of the revolution, the class dictatorship of the proletariat, as the necessary transition stage to the abolition of all class distinctions, the abolition of all conditions of production which correspond to that condition of production.” The bourgeoisies state is still retained but without bourgeoisie, as Lenin observes “only the guns are turned to the opposite direction.” It will be governed by the principle, “from each according to his ability and to each according to his work.

” Marx and Engels held the view that the communist society is the final goal of Socialist revolution. Wherein, the State will either away. The guiding principle of social interaction will be voluntary association of individuals. The industrial technology would be put to maximum use and the forces of production and the relations of production will remain in perfect harmony.

Contemporary View:

Bob Jessop in his “Marxist theory of state identifies” six approaches through which classical Marxists deal with the state: Firstly, Treating state as a parasite institution that plays an important role in production and reproduction activity modern State was an expression of the irreconcilable conflicts rooted in the egoism of civil society. Its officials oppress and exploit civil society on behalf of a particular sectional group. As Marx argues that the corporate organisation enables the bourgeoisie and modern craftsmen to defend their material interests, the state become the private property of officials in their struggle for self advancement. Secondly, Treating state and state power as epiphenomena (i.

e. simple surface reflections) of the system of property relations and the resulting economic class struggles Thirdly, Treating state as the factor of cohesion in a given society Engels views the state as an institution that emerges with economic exploitation. Its function is to regulate the struggle between antagonistic classes through repression and concession and thus moderate class conflict without undermining the continued domination of the ruling class and reproduction of the dominant mode of production. Fourthly, Treating state as an instrument of class rule this is the most common approach. Fifthly, Treating state as a set of institutions without making some general assumption about its class character the state is seen as a public power that develops at a certain stage in the division of labour and that involves the emergence of a distinct system of government which is monopolized by officials who specialize in administration. Sixthly, Treating state as a system of political domination with specific effects on the class struggle as more or less adequate to securing a balance of class forces that is favourable for a class” The socialist state was brought into existence after proletariat revolution in erstwhile Soviet Union, was guided by Lenin. He was Marxist in approach.

He used state as an instrument for the suppression of bourgeois class. This change was sought to be brought about by the vanguard of the proletariat, the workers party. Mao, dealing with a comparatively different mode of production in China, espoused a different version of class struggle. He talked about permanent revolution so as to consolidate the gains of socialist revolution.

In his opinion the state will have major cultural function and dismantle the capitalist political and ideological structure and put in new ones. Autonio Gramsci concedes the autonomy of state, politics and ideology. It explained way the capitalist state has survived for so long in western societies.

In particular he emphasized on the role of civil society in generating beliefs and thought conducive to the existence of capitalist state. He explained in terms of conception of ideological hegemony. As Bob Jessop remarks “the ability of the power bloc to maintain its hegemony depends on its success in articulating ‘popular democratic struggles’ into an ideology that sustains the power of the dominant classes and functions, rather than working to reinforce the revolutionary movement.” The debate raged between Ralph Milliband and Nicolas Ponlantzas in 1969 brought out a new impression of Marxist view on state. While Milliband concedes the classical Marxist notion of political power as handmaiden of economic power, Ponlantzas supports the notion of relative autonomy of state.

While Milliband sees unity between state power and class power, Ponlantzas treats state as a forum of class struggle. It performs many functions that could not be simply relegated as class functions.


1. Contrary to assumptions of Marxists that there will be polarization of society into two classes, there has emerged a powerful middle class playing significant role in the political process. 2.

The optimistic vision of Marxism Socialism has failed and ‘there is no escape’ as “Fukuyama argues from liberal democracy.” 3. The dictatorship of the proletariat has no democratic institutional mechanisms. It is party rule and bureaucratic centrism. This point has been highlighted by Rosa Luxamberg.

4. The conception of socialist state is ambiguous and incomplete. That is why Milovan Djlas points out Marxism do not offer a theory of political liberty. Despite severe lacunae it cannot be denied that Marxism offers a transparent analysis of capitalist state.

Its scientific rigor in tracing the origin and evolution of state is noteworthy for social scientists. However, as a practical predisposition it has failed to live up to expectations. Nevertheless, its optimistic vision of classless society continues to inspire millions of people. What matters however, is to devise a systematic mechanism for its realization that is both; democratic and legitimate.