Pluralist Elitist and Marxist Theories of the State
The three disparate theories of the state, namely the Elitist, the Pluralist and the Marxist theories are briefly discussed in the essay. They are also compared and contrasted in detail, highlighting each of their strengths and weaknesses.
There are three positions through which a state can be examined. The Pluralist concept of the state mentions that the state is neutral relatively, and a number of power centers exist in a state. According to the Marxist theory, the state serves as an instrument for the rich and the bourgeois classes, who attempt constantly to suppress the working classes or the proletariat for its own personal interests. On the other hand, the belief of the Elitist theory is that the state contains two different aspects, violence and territoriality. Thus, modern states of the 20th and 21st centuries often resort to violence within its borders. The modern state is like a committee which manages the common issues of the bourgeoisie. (Marx & Engels, 1985)
The proponent of the Marxist theory, Karl Marx, was of the opinion that most of the political power of the society is controlled by the bourgeois class. The modern state is also extremely reliant on credits and taxes. Most of the credits and taxes are also borne by the bourgeois class. What's more, the media such as newspapers or television is also controlled by the bourgeois. This makes it easier for the bourgeois to enter politics and succeed in politics. The bourgeois state serves as a mutual insurance pact which protects the interests of the bourgeois class at the expense of the exploited class (McLellan, 1971)
Marx was also the opinion that the bourgeois was basically using the modern state for enhancing the lifestyle and prospects of the capitalist class of the society. One of the famous quotes from the Communist manifesto, Marx & Engels (1985. p.82) states ‘The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.’ Marx also believed that communism was the best solution for such a capitalist society. The conflict among the classes keeps increasing as the capitalism in the state develops, since the interests of the bourgeois are furthered by the state in capitalism.
Furthermore, capitalism also facilitates the bourgeoisie to give concessions to the proletariat, in scenarios where there is a social instability. The welfare state of the Scandinavian regions is something similar to the Marxist view of the state. Concessions such as unemployment benefits, free education, free health check and pension schemes are given by the bourgeois to the proletariat in certain Scandinavian states.
The Pluralist view of the state is completely different from the Marxist view. The Pluralist does not believe that the state is essentially conflicting in nature, as the Marxist and the Elitist schools of thought believe. Rather, the Pluralist view of the state is that it is neutral in nature; it is also believed that the state is susceptible to a number of influences from various groups in the society. The modern state therefore is not only dominated by one class, that is the capitalist or the bourgeoisie class, which dominates the political power, as believed by the Marxist theory; the modern state is rather a type of framework from wherein a variety of interests of the society can be reconciled.
The concept of the state according to the Pluralist view is also that there can be various sources of political power. Therefore, not a single group can have monopoly of political power, according to the Pluralists. Although the capitalist class can have a very strong foothold in the society, they cannot however have complete dominance over the working class, as proposed by the Marxists. The proletariats can extend their power through labor unions or trade unions. Since the capitalist class cannot do without the labor class, the working class also exerts a strong influence on the capitalist class, according to the Pluralists. The modern state is not actually an instrument by which one class can dominate over the other class. It’s rather a framework which helps in the reconciliation of diverse society interests (Schwarzmantel, 1994; Schwarzmantel, 1987; Dunleavy & O'Leary, 1987).
The pluralist model can easily explain employee organizations and trade unions. Since organizations and trade unions have the power over the government, the politicians, trade unions, businesses and the proletariat have a share in the state power. The power is dispersed among the government, the organizations and the labor unions as well, proving once again that the neutrality of the state according to the Pluralist view is also valid.
The Elitist theory was put forward by Max Weber. In his view, the state is used as an instrument through which some groups of a state control the other groups. Hence, the Elitist view of the state is quite similar to the Marxist view of the state. However, the central difference between the theory of Weber and the Marxist view is that the Elitist believes in the idea of legitimacy. For example, people follow the rules of the government because they believe that the government or the state is legitimate. However, Marxists believe that the state itself should be abolished since it is not legitimate.
The Elitist concept of the state also lays emphasis on bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is one of the most effective methods of organizing the modern state. Weber also believes that the bureaucrats form a group of elites. This group of bureaucrats is extremely political in nature, and has the specialist knowledge which the politicians do not possess. The state symbolizes the relation of men who dominate men. This domination is supported through legitimate violence. If the state has to exist, the ones who are dominated must obey the authority of the dominant group (Gerth & Mills, 1967).
Another contrasting point between the Elitists and the Marxists and Pluralists is that the Pluralists and Marxists believe the state to have specific function. For the Marxists, the working classes are suppressed while for the pluralists; different groups of society are reconciled. However for the Elitists, the state cannot be defined in straightforward terms since the state performs several tasks and has two defining features, territoriality and violence. If certain groups have the right to use force over its territory, it’s because the state has granted the rights. Politics is all about the power struggle, according to Weber. Power is defined by Weber as a tool to make someone perform a task which he otherwise wouldn’t have performed (Lassman, 2000; de Jasay, 1985).
The Pluralist, Marxists and Elitist concept of the state essentially contains a different kind of political conception. Marx believed that politics is actually a class conflict, and further adds that political relations can be transformed into economic ones. The Elitist theory of Weber also has a similar thought process. Marxists propose that politics is about the fight for power, however Weber disagrees with the viewpoint of Marx, since he doesn’t agree that the Marxist view of reducing politics to a class struggle and economic factors. Weber is an elitist since Weber emphasizes the significance of a strong political leadership (Held, 1989; Dunleavy & O'Leary, 1987).
However, the concepts of Weber and the Marxist are quite elitist in nature, which sharply contrasts with the Pluralist view of the state. The Pluralists believe that the state is not exclusively controlled by the bourgeois or the bureaucrats; rather it’s the dynamics of various social groups which ultimately impacts the fabric of the state. Then again, the Pluralist viewpoint has certain similarities with the elitist viewpoints since both of them believe that several sources of political power impact the state, unlike the Marxist view which believes that economic factors determine the political dynamics of the state.
All in all, all the viewpoints of the Pluralist, the Marxist and the Elitist, helped define and understand the true nature of the state more deeply. Although each of them has their own unique way of interpreting the workings of the state, all of them give a true picture of some of the dimensions of the state.