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November 8, 2008 / C H Thompson

Theories of the state (Marxist)

by Sam Cook a former student

Marx saw the state as a mechanism through which the interests of the ruling come first and foremost. For Marx the state is “but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”.

Modern Marxist writers have developed Marx’s ideas even further. Ralph Miliband (yes the father of Ed Miliband)milibands_pa developed an instrumental view of the state. He argues the state is run by a number of elites who ran key institutions. These elites included cabinet ministers, MPs, senior police and military officers. Together they run to protect the ruling-class in order to preserve capitalism and private property.

However , though many of these groups listed are connected by a similar social and educational background, for Marx these groups are best described as a ruling-class (elite) rather than a elites in the classical elite theorist sense. Therefore Miliband argues these groups have an interest in making sure things stay the same (status quo).

Miliband’s point is these elites use the state to make certain private property is defend at all costs in order to preserve the capitalist system, therefore the state is an instrument (tool) of capitalism. Where Miliband differs to Pareto, is he argues it is economic power through which the elites run things, whereas Pareto and C.Wright Miles argue it is the power of social networks and the inherent qualities of these elites which allows them to rule. In contrast Miliband merges C.Wright Miles’ ideas (Elite Theory) with those of Marxism

These ideas are reinforced by Louis Althusser who refers to the dominance of the ruling class as being dependant on numerous state institutions. Althusser is referring to state institutions such as the media, education system, the law, religion which operate as ‘ideological state apparatus’. In his view these institutions transmit the ruling class ideology which the proletariat passively accept.


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