Marxist and Anarchist theories
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Published: Thu, 12 Oct 2017
Compare and contrast Marxist and Anarchist theories in relation to the welfare state and one public sector/ voluntary role.
There is considerable overlap in the criticism from Marxism and from Anarchism on the welfare state. However, there are also considerable differences within these two ideologies; there are different kinds of Anarchists and different kinds of Marxists and they express different positions on issues, including the welfare state. Despite the intuitive classification of the welfare state as a positive phenomenon by the Left, more radical elements such as Marxism and Anarchism view the welfare state as a merely another aspect of the evil capitalist state.
Welfare State Theory and Concepts
Welfare theory is best understood within the framework of social policy, in terms of identifying ways of establishing policies aimed at achieving ‘welfare’. Fitzpatrick provides a useful definition of welfare theory as “a means of gaining both a transcendent and an immanent knowledge of the concepts and principles that underpin the design and delivery of social policies in order to understand the ways in which those policies affect the well- being of individuals and society as a whole” (Fitzpatrick, 2001,p.4).
There are six main perspectives of welfare: happiness, security, preferences, needs, desert and relative comparisons. Happiness can be classified as either “shallow”, referring to an identifiable and temporary mental and physical experience, or as “deeper”, referring to a general state of mind/ experience and satisfaction/ contentment. Security can be defined as the knowledge that one’s circumstances are not going to deteriorate in the foreseeable future. This notion becomes somewhat problematic if one considers issues of dependency e.g. does a marriage to a wealthy spouse imply security? Welfare can also be viewed in terms of preferences i.e. if the wants and needs of an individual have been achieved. This perspective is also problematic because people’s preferences may be misguided e.g. if an individual feels they need cigarettes and alcohol to feel good- have they really achieved ‘welfare’ when they acquire/ consume these? Also, there is the possibility that one’s preferences may trespass on another person’s welfare (Fitzpatrick, 2001).
Welfare can also be viewed from the perspective of needs, which is more highly regarded than preferences in social policy, mainly because of the egalitarian implications of need- fulfillment and also because need is a more objective form of measurement and definition. The problem however, lies in defining and identifying basic human needs. The perspective of desert “implies equivalence between contribution and reward” (Fitzpatrick, 2001, p.8). However, the problem here is to identify who is deserving. Finally, relative comparisons are significant, based on views like ‘poverty is a relative concept’ i.e. we know that we are poor because we do not possess the things which more affluent people possess. As noted by Fitzpatrick: “in reality, the level of wellbeing that I experience is dependent on the level of well-being experienced by those with whom I make comparisons” (Fitzpatrick, 2001, p.8).
Citizenship is another concept of central importance in welfare theory. Fitzpatrick identifies two preconditions to citizenship: a plural and democratic state and an open and free civil society (Fitzpatrick, 2001).There are various models of citizenship, often in conflict with each other. Jenkins and Sofos identify these as three models that are interwoven with the concept of the nation, which is however more ‘exclusive’ than citizenship. The three models are: the exclusionary/ethnic model of citizenship, the republican/civic model of the nation, and the multicultural model of citizenship and the nation (Jenkins and Sofos, 1996). The exclusionary/ethnic model defines the nation in terms of ethnicity and characteristics such as culture and language. In this model, minorities are excluded from citizenship or allowed only limited legal and social rights. Citizenship is acquired at birth, depending on the nationality of one’s parents; immigrants cannot become citizens and can never be accepted as part of the nation.
The republican/ civic model on the other hand, claims that citizenship, or membership of the nation does not depend on ethnicity, religion or language. This model presents members of the nation as free and equal citizens who claim citizenship depending on residence and not on ethnic or other primordial characteristics. Naturalisation is relatively easy and immigrants can become ‘full’ citizens, if they agree to adopt some local customs and cultural traits. In other words citizenship comes at the price of cultural assimilation, following the dogma “When in Rome do as the Romans do”. Nevertheless, this model is more inclusive than the ethnic model (Jenkins and Sofos, 1996).
The multicultural model of citizenship differs from the above as it enables the co-existence of cultural and ethnic differences and diversity. Naturalisation is relatively easy, and does not require cultural assimilation. Immigrants are allowed to practice their customs and beliefs freely within the law (Jenkins and Sofos, 1996).
There are four types of citizens’ rights in liberal democracies: civil rights, political rights, economic rights and social rights. Civil rights include freedom of movement, right to privacy, freedom of religion, and the freedom from torture. Political rights include the right to association, freedom of speech, the right to vote in elections, and the right to stand as a candidate in elections. Economic rights are: the right to private property, freedom to work, the right to trade, and the right to provide and receive services. Social include equality of opportunity, equality in determining outcomes, the right to education and health care, and the right to employment (Hix, 1999).
Equality is another central concept in the discussion on welfare. There is an important distinction between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. Liberal democracy’s provision of equality of opportunity does not imply equality of condition/ outcome. Another important distinction is that between welfare and resources. Welfare is the state reached when needs and preferences are fulfilled, while resources refer to material resources (income, wealth etc) as well as internal resources (talents, training and so forth). (Fitzpatrick, 2001). Liberty, like equality, is both a concept and a principle. Aristotle defined liberty as freedom – the exclusive right of citizenship; Nietzsche argued freedom lies in the transcendence of moral systems, while Spencer saw freedom as self- interest within free- market capitalism (Fitzpatrick, 2001).
A dominant debate in the discourse on social welfare is that of public goods. Both the Right and the Left of the political spectrum agree that public goods include clean air, street lighting, national defense, as well as law and order. The Left, however, also includes health care, education and minimum income maintenance in the definition of public goods. The Right argues that these are not public but private goods and the market alone should allocate their provision. In reply, the Left argues that it is the role of the welfare state to provide these goods: “The welfare state is a system of collective action that facilitates the production and distribution of public, lumpy  and merit goods designed to increase the sum of social welfare” (Fitzpatrick, 2001, p.14).
The Right criticizes the welfare state and argues that it invites free riders such as benefit fraudsters and therefore a system is created whereby the hard working are exploited by the lazy. The Left has two recorded positions on this “free rider” phenomenon; either free riding is the necessary price to pay in order to establish a welfare system, or free riding is actually an indication that welfare systems should be more extensive (Fitzpatrick, 2001).
The different interpretations of equality are significant in understanding the Left- Right debate on welfare. Whereas Right- wingers view equality of opportunity as sufficient, Left- wingers argue that because of inequalities in resources equality of opportunity in a free- trade liberal economy cannot be sufficient. Fitzpatrick clarifies that social equality does not imply absolute equality of income, but a degree of equalization. In response to the argument that we cannot all be equal because we are different, Fitzpatrick clarifies that we should not confuse equality with uniformity: “An egalitarian can easily acknowledge that there are some qualities in respect of which humans are different from each other, in addition to some qualities in respect of which we are the same” (Fitzpatrick, 2001, p.22).
Marxist Theory and the Welfare State
According to Carling Classical Marxism combines the theory of society with the politics of emancipation. The theory of society encompasses the theory of history, centering on the relationships among markets, property systems and levels of technology. The politics of emancipation involves adherence to a set of values (equality, self- realization and community) and the identification of a social vehicle (the proletariat) and of a political process (class struggle). Marxism shares a number of beliefs with Leninism (communism), but it rejects the communist belief of the vanguard party leading the revolution and the revolutionary states, as well as rejecting the idea of central planning (Carling 1997, p.768). Ultimately, class struggle will replace capitalism with a higher and better system- socialism.
Marxists view the welfare state as another form of capitalism, and prefer to refer to it as ‘welfare capitalism’: “For many Marxists the term ‘welfare state’ is a form of mystification because it misleadingly presents a caring face of capitalism and thus distorts the real functions of state welfare in society” (George and Wilding, 1993, p. 102). For this reason, Marxists explain the development of the welfare state in terms of the development of capitalism. The main thesis is that the capitalist mode of production is both exploitative and conflict- ridden. These negative features are natural and inevitable results of the private ownership of the means of production. The only positive aspect of the class conflict is that it is the driving force for political change and will eventually bring about the overthrow of the capitalist system and the establishment of a socialist society (George and Wilding, 1993).
According to Marxist thought, the economic base of a society determines the nature of society’s institutions. The aim of capitalism is to maximize profit and production, but in the process it creates problems such as overproduction, inflation and unemployment. Therefore, the state must intervene constantly to regulate and protect the economy. Thus, “the development of the welfare state could be seen as the result of three inter-related reasons: state action to promote the needs or requirements of capital; a response to class conflict; and a state pre- emptive action” (George and Wilding, 1993, p.104).
The ultimate aim of Marxism is to achieve a socialist system, but this should not be done by reform, but by revolution. Marxists reject social reform as a way of achieving socialism because it only brings limited short- term benefits to the working class and long- term benefits to the capitalist class: “Marx’s general view that the capitalist system with some exceptions, could only be replaced through working- class revolutions inevitably marginalized his discussions on reform” (George and Wilding, 1993, p.104).
Marxist thinker Ginsburg argued that the social security system merely reproduced capitalist social relations by: fixing the level of benefits at a low level and pulling down the level of wages; ensuring that the able- bodied unemployed are readily available for employment when needed; viewing married women and pensioners as potential cheap labour; designing regulations to maintain and strengthen industrial discipline (Ginsburg, 1979 in George and Wilding, 1993).
O’Connor is a Marxist thinker who deviates from classical Marxism in his discussion of the dysfunction of the welfare state to capital profitability. According to O’ Connor, the capitalist state has two basic but contradictory functions: accumulation and legitimation. If a state fails to perform either task, the threat to its survival would grow. Welfare provision performs the legitimation function: “Thus, social services are an integral part of the capitalist system: they grow out of it and they are essential to its economic and political survival” (O’ Connor, 1973, quoted in George and Wilding, 1993, p.115).
O’ Connor also points out to the fiscal crisis which comes as a result of the public’s demand for government services, coupled by its unwillingness to pay adequate taxes: “Every economic and social class and group wants government to spend more and more money on more and more things. But no one wants to pay new taxes or higher rates on old taxes” (O’ Connor 1973, p.1 quoted in George and Wilding, 1993, p.116). This argument deviates from the traditional Marxist view of the welfare state and has some overlap with New Right positions on the subject. Nevertheless, O’Connor contributes to the discussion by presenting the welfare state as “not simply a trusted guardian but also a structural adversary of capitalism” (O’ Connor 1973, p.1 quoted in George and Wilding, 1993, p.116). Other Marxist thinkers such as Offe are also in agreement with New Right arguments on welfare such as that it reduces incentives to invest and work, arguing that welfare gives benefits to the working class, but it does not reduce social inequalities George and Wilding, 1993).
There is a disagreement among Marxist thinkers on whether the welfare state is an enduring institution or one that is bound to wither away. Those who believe the welfare system will persist as long as capitalism prevails base their opinion on the fact that a great number of different groups benefit from the welfare system. Others, such as Offe, argue that the welfare system is losing political support. This is because users/ beneficiaries are encouraged to take private insurance programmes and only the poor will continue to benefit from welfare provisions. As a result a ‘minimalist welfare state’ will emerge (Offe 1987, quoted in George and Wilding, 1993, p.119).
Anarchist Theory and the Welfare State
The term ‘anarchism’ derives from the Greek ‘without rule’, and the defining feature of anarchism is the opposition to the state: “anarchists do advocate the abolition of law and government, but in the belief that a more natural and spontaneous social order will develop” (Heywood, 1992, p. 186). The main anarchist ideological positions are antistatism, natural order, anticlericalism and the free economy. Just like Marxism, anarchism would be intuitively placed on the Left spectrum of political thought, but certain types of anarchist views may (somewhat ironically) overlap with Right Wing ideology: “Anarchism itself thus has a dual character: it can be interpreted as either ‘ultraliberalism’ or ‘ultrasocialism'” (Heywood, 1992, p.188).
As mentioned above, the defining feature of anarchism is antistatism. Anarchists believe that authority goes against the principles of liberty and equality. Human beings are free and autonomous and the power of one over others oppresses and limits human life: “To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated, regimented, closed in, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, evaluated, censored, commanded: all by creatures that have neither the right, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue” (Marshall, 1993, p.245 quoted in Heywood, 1992, p. 189).
Anarchists view the state as having supreme authority over people; Wolff defines the state as: “a group of persons who have and exercise supreme authority within a given territory. Strictly, we should say that a state is a group of persons who have supreme authority within a given territory or over a certain population” (Wolff, 1998, p.3). Authority is defined as the right to command and be obeyed. Wolff examines both a descriptive and a prescriptive view of the state. Descriptively, the state is defined as a group of persons acknowledged to have supreme authority over a territory. Prescriptively, the state is a group of persons with the right to exercise supreme authority within a territory (Wolff, 1998).
As noted by Wolff, Jean Jacques Rousseau argues that the social contract gives the state absolute command over all matters whereas John Locke argues that the state’s supreme authority extends only to the matters which it is proper for the state to control i.e. less than absolute command. However, Wolff questions the reasons why people obey the state, and his conclusion is that in essence it is out of habit: “my duty to obey is a duty owed to them, not to the moral law or to the beneficiaries of the actions I may be commanded to perform” (Wolff, 1998, p.6). Wolff concludes that people obey the state for the following reasons: due to the prescriptive force of tradition, people believe the charisma which some leaders possess gives them the right to command authority, people have been conditioned to obey signs of officiality such as badges and uniforms and also because of legalistic claims to authority e.g. elected officials are said to be people’s representatives (Wolff, 1998).
This distaste for the state is coupled by a utopian view of human nature. Anarchists believe that human beings should be autonomous and free of control by others. Autonomy requires freedom of choice and search for knowledge. Human beings have an obligation to take responsibility for their actions: “Every man who possesses both free will and reason has an obligation to take responsibility for his actions, even though he may not be actively engaged in a continuing process of reflection, investigation and deliberation about how he ought to act” (Wolff, 1998, p.13). The autonomous person should not be constrained by others, any constraints on one’s behaviour should be self- imposed.
Therefore, as a body with authority that is absolute, unlimited and compulsory, the state is robbing people from their freedom and autonomy. Anarchists reject the view that the social contract is voluntary, but argue that it has been imposed on people. The state is a coercive body as failure to obey its laws is punished. The state is also exploitative- it takes people’s wealth through a system of taxation. The state is also destructive; war I necessary to preserve its existence. In short: “the state, as a repository of sovereign, compulsory and coercive authority is therefore nothing less than a concentrated form of evil” (Heywood, 1992, p.191). Anarchists even go further than this argument and assert that the state is not only evil but also unnecessary. They present a sort of inverted social contract theory, arguing that it is actually the state that creates instability and corruption: “government, in other words, is not the solution to the problem of order, but its cause” (Heywood, 1992, p.192).
Just as there are different types of Marxists, with often conflicting views on certain issues, there are different types of anarchists, and this is displayed by the difference in opinion among anarchists on the free economy. Michael Bakunin believed there are three social groups in a capitalist system: the vast majority of poor who are exploited, a minority who are exploited but also exploit others, and a ‘supreme governing estate’- a small minority of exploiters and oppressors (Heywood, 1992).
Collectivist anarchists believe that the economy should be based on cooperation and collective ownership. The philosophical roots of collective anarchism are in socialism, but anarchists of this type push collectivist ideas to their limits: “Collectivist anarchism stresses the human capacity for social solidarity, that human beings are naturally sociable, gregarious and cooperative. The natural and proper relationship amongst people is therefore one of sympathy, affection and harmony” (Heywood, 1992, p.196). Individualist anarchists believe the economy should revolve around the market and private property.
Collectivist anarchists argue that state intervention merely replaced class exploitation and has given capitalism a human mask. Individualist anarchists, too, criticize state intervention, but for another reason; they argue it has distorted the competitive market and created economies dominated by monopolies both public and private. Therefore, anarchists disapprove of state socialism and the welfare state: “state socialism is seen as a system of exploitation in which a ruling class of capitalists has simply been replaced by a new ruling class of state and party officials. Anarchists of all kinds have a preference for an economy in which free individuals manage their own affairs without the need for state ownership or regulation, whether through a system of ‘anarcho- capitalism’ or one of ‘anarcho- communism'” (Heywood, 1992, p.196).
According to Anarchist thought, when the state is abolished, the rule of law will be replaced with a more just and decentralized application of voluntary law, deriving from civil associations. Voluntarist anarchists thus believe that associations should be entered into voluntarily. Some types of anarchists do not share the utopian view of human nature which other anarchists have and believe that human beings are essentially self- interested. Therefore, civil associations must be in a position to enforce rules. Liberationist anarchists, on the other hand, believe people have the ability to cooperate without external regulation:
“What the voluntarist anarchist may see as necessary, even benign, forms of social pressure and sanction, the liberationist will rebel against. The voluntarist may very well have no problem with hierarchical families, firms churches etc so long as adults are free to leave such arrangements. He may even agree with sociologist Robert Nisbet that these institutions provide a necessary bulwark against the growth of the Leviathan state. The liberationist, on the other hand, believes that all hierarchical institutions must be overturned to achieve real freedom” (http://www.anti-state.com/article.php?article_id=400).
In general, anarchists are in favour of voluntarism, meaning the abolition of the state and its replacement by a system of free and voluntary associations. However, voluntarism under a capitalist regime is ‘not enough’. Anarchists argue that contracts under capitalism, even if entered into voluntarily, require subordination by one party (e.g. the employee) and prevent liberty. Therefore, voluntary acts under capitalism actually contradict the whole justification of voluntarism:
“This can be seen from capitalist society, in which workers sell their freedom to a boss in order to live. In effect, under capitalism you are only free to the extent that you can choose whom you will obey! Freedom, however, must mean more than the right to change masters. Voluntary servitude is still servitude.” (http://www.diy-punk.org/anarchy/secA2.html).
Brief Outline of Comparison between Marxism- Anarchism
There is considerable overlap between collective anarchism and Marxism as both reject capitalism as a system of class exploitation and injustice. Both ideologies prefer collective in contrast to private ownership of wealth and resources and the communal organization of social life. In addition, both ideologies agree that a fully communist society would be anarchic, and that human beings have the capacity to organize themselves without political authority (Heywood, 1992).
However, there are also a number of differences and disagreements. Anarchists disagree with Marxists on a number of issues: they dislike the scientific pretensions within Marxism e.g. the idea of historical materialism; Marxists give a central role to economic life, but anarchists view this Marxist tendency as economic determinism. Anarchists also reject the Marxist idea that the proletariat is the revolutionary class because anarchists see class exploitation as just one form of many and thus see revolutionary potential in other oppressed groups such as ethnic minorities, farmers and students (Heywood, 1992).
Anarchists also disagree with Marxists on political organization and in particular with the idea that a ‘vanguard party’ will lead the working class to revolution: “Anarchists, in contrast, place their faith in the spontaneous instincts of the masses and see the idea of a revolutionary party as elitist and a recipe for dictatorship” (Heywood, 1992, p.197). The two ideologies also disagree over conceptions on the transition between capitalism to communism. Marxists advocate the temporary ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, where the ‘proletariat state’ will arm to protect itself from counter revolution and will stay in power for as long as necessary. Anarchists, however, draw no distinction between a bourgeois and a proletariat state (both are evil and the state must be abolished). (Heywood, 1992).
The Marxist view on the welfare state can be summed up by the following statement: “Marxist explanations of the development of the welfare state insist that the welfare state is a contradictory social formation. It involves concessions to the working class and hence it is to be welcomed; but it also involves protection and support for the capitalist class and hence it is unacceptable” (Heywood, 1992, p.114). Anarchists are even more uncompromising and view the welfare state as another embodiment of the evil state which must be abolished.
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