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Marxism

Marxist Theory Of State

About Karl Marx

Karl Marx(1818-1883) was a philosopher, social theorist and economist. He was called the father of modern socialism,communism and conflict theory. Marxism is a western intellectual tradition spanning 150 years, consisting of three components:

  1. A political doctrine
  2. A philosophy (Anti-philosophy) of history
  3. An analysis of the functioning of the economy


According to Karl Marx the society is divided into two parts, Bourgeoisie( Capitalists) and Proletariat (workers). Bourgeoisie would own the production, the haves and Proletariat would be workers who own nothing and provide labour,the have-nots. This division will eventually lead to inequality and this in turn will cause imbalance in the society.

Class conflict would lead to a classless society which will welcome the idea of communism. Marx with Friedrich Engels, published The Communist Manifesto in 1848. Later he wrote Das Kapital which discussed the labor theory of life. Marx�s ideas left a huge impact on communist projects of the USSR, China and Cuba. Another theory by Karl Marx is known as historical materialism. According to this theory, society is mainly governed by the type of technology used in the production. All objects,living or inanimate, are subject to continuous change.

Origin Of Marxist Theory Of State

As we have already read in the article, Karl Marx gave rise to the very famous theory of Marxism. Marxism is a social, political, economical theory. Marxist focused on the relationship between capitalists and workers which was exploiting the workers and creating class conflicts. Marx, Engels and Lenin believed that the origin of the state comes from a materialistic viewpoint and there is no emotion. In order to get a better understanding they divided the development of the society into 4 parts.

Old Communist Social System:

  • Slave Society
  • Feudal Society
  • Industrial Society

In this part there was no state because there existed no private properties. So according to them private property was the potential cause of the rise of the state. As soon as private property came into existence it automatically divided the society into two classes of people,one was the owner of property and other was without property. The conflict then became prominent. Marx and engle beleived that the state for all practical purposes was set up in slave society.

In this society there were mainly two classes, one was the owners of the slaves and the other was the slaves themselves. Friedrich Engles in one of his books �The Origin of Family, Private Property and State'' has quoted that:
�The state is, by no means, a power forced on society from without; rather it is a product of society at a certain stage of development.�

Marx and Engels have paid special attention to the importance of ideology. Why? If we try to put it in simple words, the purpose of the ruling class is to exploit the other vulnerable sections of the society. And this would lead to destabilisation.

The ruling class want to prove that it's not just for their own benefits but for an ideology and in the garb of an ideology the exploiters justify their actions as they cannot declare their real motives. That's why they have said that ideology acts as a weapon. In the German Ideology they have mentioned that for each new class which replaces the one ruling before it, presents its interest as the common interest of all the other members of the society�.if it fails to convince the general mass, agitation is bound to arise.

What does the theory say:
As we have already discussed Marxism is a social, economic and political theory by Karl Marx. This theory discusses the struggle between capitalists and the working class. He believed this conflict would lead to inequality and ultimately a revolution where the working class would overthrow the capitalist class and seize control of the economy.

Models of Marxist theory of state

There are two models of the Marxist theory of state:

  1. The instrumental model (Marx, Lenin, Ralph Miliband)
  2. Relative autonomy model (Marx, Gramsci, Althusser, Nicos Poulantzas)


The Instrumental Model:

Marx and Engels believed that the state was created to protect the economic interest including others interests but economic interest was primary. And eventually the state was an instrument used by the property owners. The prime idea of this model was to fulfil the interests of a particular class or section of the society by using society as an instrument.

Ralph Miiband, Sanderson, and Avineri are the chief spokespersons of this model. This approach also holds an important place in The German Ideology(1846). This approach has also faced much criticism. One being that neither Marx nor Engels has stated clearly this concept. It was merely the interpretation of their followers.

The critics argued that the state sometimes acts in favour of the bourgeoisie or the capitalist but not necessarily all the time. And when it acts in the favour of the capitalists, the capitalists use the state for other purposes also and not just for exploitation of the other class of the society, unfortunately Marx has overlooked it. The followers of Marx and Engels singled out a particular role of the capitalists dominating the working class and have over emphasised it which is not correct.

Relative Autonomy Model:
This was the opposite of the previous model. According to this model even though the capitalists work as a dominant class the state exercises its power independently.

State is not always dictated by the capitalists and nor does it discharge its functions on the command of the bourgeoisie. Now it's very interesting to note that the word relative means that sometimes it acts without being influenced by the dominating class of the society and not every time. Like the previous model this model also did not find its place in the writings of Marx and Engels though the eighteen brumaire by Karl Marx between 1851-1852 contain several hints about it.

So far we have discussed two models. The conflict between them cannot be denied. Subsequently the instrumental approach did not lose its importance as it was quite valid. But only, under the second bonaparte does the state seem to be completely independent. The question to which model should be accepted has no definite answer to it. Mark and Engels haven�t started anything clearly.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Cass struggle is a characteristic of which philosophy?
  1. Capitalism
  2. Marxism
  1. Only I
  2. Neither I nor II
  3. Both I and
  4. Only II
Answer: (D)


According to Karl Marx, which class of the society will end the capitalist system?
  1. White Collar Class
  2. Proletariat Class
  3. Elite Class
  4. Royal Class

Answer: (B)

Written by Divya ,a student of New Law College, Pune.

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