GV4G7 - week 5

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These are my notes from February 06 for GV4G7 at the London School of Economics for the 2017-2018 school year. I took this module as part of the one-year Inequalities and Social Science MSc program.

The usual disclaimer: all notes are my personal impressions and do not necessarily reflect the view of the lecturer.

Marx’s theory of the state and the role of social classes


An introduction to Karl Marx by Jon Elster (chapters 7, 8)

Chapter 7: trying to define classes. The list below is criticised later on.

There are some fifteen groups that Marx refers to as classes: bureaucrats and theocrats in the Asiatic mode of production; freemen, slaves, plebeians, and patricians under slavery; lord, serf, guild master, and journeyman under feudalism; industrial capitalists, financial capitalists, landlords, peasantry, petty bourgeoisie, and wage laborers under capitalism. (p124)

Having rejected income, occupation, and status as criteria of class, four more plausible definitions must be considered: property, exploitation, market behavior, and domination. All have been seriously proposed by followers or scholars of Marx. With the exception of exploitation, all turn out to be necessary elements in the final, reconstructed definition. (p125)

Most frequently, class membership is defined by the ownership or lack of ownership of the means of production. For Marx’s purpose, this definition cannot be the whole story, although it surely is an important part of it. (p126)

on being forced to sell your labour-power as a decent def (thought: how do women, most of whom could easily marry and thus be free from the need to sell their labour-power, fit into this?)

[…] there is transfer of surplus from below; on the other, transfer of commands from above. Note that transfer of surplus is not the same as exploitation. Surplus is transferred from the capitalist tenant to the landowner, but the latter does not exploit the former. They are both exploiters, living off the labor of the workers they exploit. (p128)

[…] Since Tocqueville, the following two propositions have been widely accepted. First, collective action is more likely to be generated by small inequalities than by large ones, because the latter are usually seen as immutable, quasinatural facts of the society in which one is living. Second, revolutions are more likely to occur when conditions have begun to improve than when they are stably bad, because expectations about further improvement tend to outrun the actual possibilities and thus to generate frustration. (p133)

Chapter 8: on why the bourgeoisie doesn’t take power

There are two perspectives on politics in Marx’s writings. On the one hand, politics is part of the superstructure and hence of the forces that oppose social change. The political system stabilizes the dominant economic relations. On the other hand, politics is a medium for revolution and hence for social change. New relations of production are ushered in by political struggles. To see the relation between the two functions of politics, they must be seen in the wider context of historical materialism. This theory affirms that new relations of production emerge when and because the existing ones cease to be optimal for the further development of the productive forces: This is the ultimate explanation of a change in the economic relations. In this transition, political struggle has no independent causal force. It acts as a midwife, bringing about what is doomed to come about sooner or later. (p141)

[…] Revolution is more likely to occur in a society where the level of development has not reached the stage where widespread concessions to the workers are affordable - but at that stage a communist revolution will also be premature, as far as the ability to develop the productive forces is concerned. These problems were at the root of the controversy between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks in the Russian socialist movement. The former wanted the workers to pull their punches in the struggle with the capitalists, so that capitalism could have the time to reach the stage at which a viable communism could be introduced. The latter argued, more realistically, that by postponing the revolution one would take it off the agenda for good. (p161)

Karl Marx: selected writings, edited by David McLellan


Political Philosophy: Marx and Radical Democracy

Marx’s views on the state as building on Aristotle, Hegel, Kant

Marx is often thought to offer two distinct theories of the state in exploitative, class-divided societies. In the first conception, he saw it as an alien body over and above society (On the Jewish Question, The Eighteenth Brumafue of Louis Bonaparte, The Civil War in France); in the second, he interpreted it primarily as the servant of a ruling class against workers, peâsants, and other oppressed groups (Communist Manifesto). In fact, Marx ioined these conceptions, recognizing the partial autonomt given specific social conflicts, of government policies yet capturing their generally repressive core. (p173)