State, Marxist perspective

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Summary

A state is an organized community living under one government. States may be sovereign. The term state is also applied to federated states that are members of a federal union, which is the sovereign state. Some states are subject to external sovereignty or hegemony where ultimate sovereignty lies in another state. The state can also be used to refer to the secular branches of government within a state, often as a manner of contrasting them with churches and civilian institutions.

Details

Marx and Engels were clear in that the communist goal was a classless society in which the state would have "withered away". Their views are scattered throughout the Marx/Engels Collected Works and address past or the then extant state forms from an analytical or tactical viewpoint, not future social forms, speculation about which is generally anathema to groups considering themselves Marxist but who, not having conquered the existing state power(s) are not in the situation of supplying the institutional form of an actual society. To the extent that it makes sense, there is no single "Marxist theory of state", but rather many different "Marxist" theories that have been developed by adherents of Marxism.Flint & Taylor, 2007: p. 139

Marx's early writings portrayed the state as "parasitic", built upon the superstructure of the economy, and working against the public interest. He also wrote that the state mirrors class relations in society in general, acts as a regulator and repressor of class struggle, and acts as a tool of political power and domination for the ruling class. The Communist Manifesto claimed that the state is nothing more than "a committee for managing the common affairs of the bourgeoisie.

For Marxist theorists, the role of the non-socialist state is determined by its function in the global capitalist order. Ralph Miliband argued that the ruling class uses the state as its instrument to dominate society by virtue of the interpersonal ties between state officials and economic elites. For Miliband, the state is dominated by an elite that comes from the same background as the capitalist class. State officials therefore share the same interests as owners of capital and are linked to them through a wide array of social, economic, and political ties.

Gramsci's theories of state emphasized that the state is only one of the institutions in society that helps maintain the hegemony of the ruling class, and that state power is bolstered by the ideological domination of the institutions of civil society, such as churches, schools, and mass media.

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