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Which of Pluralist, Elitist or Marxist theories provides the best account of the state in the 21st century?

Marxist Theories

Marxist theories argue that there exist great inequalities in a state due to the differences in economic endowment. The bourgeoisie or the capitalist class are the owners of the factors of productions and are essentially the ones who rule the state. Their influence is significant due to the economic advantage and power that they enjoy. Elite theorists argue that the differences in power between the ruling class and those being ruled is not solely dependent on economic power but also on other factors such as military dictatorship. The pluralists argue that power is distributed across many small groups of people in a state.

Marxist theories were first developed by Karl Marx. The theories have however been revised and modified by modern Marxists. These include Miliband and Poulantaz. The elite theories on the other hand were developed by Pareto and Mosca (Aronowitz 2016). To some extent, the writers were responding to the Marxist theories. The response was that of critiquing the Marxist theories. Although the original developers of the theories were Pareto and Mosca, the theories have been revised and modified by modern theorists such as C. W. Mills. The theories of pluralism attracted huge support in the 1950s and 1960s but have become less popular in the later decades. This assignment is going to focus on these three theories, pluralism, Marxist and eclecticism. The paper is also going to analyse the one that provides the best account of the state in the 21st century.

Marx’s theory mainly focused on the inequalities that exists in a state due to the constructs of capitalism. According to Marx, the bourgeoisie or the middle class are the economically dominant class in a state. This category of people is significant in the economy because they are the ones who own the factors of production. By the virtue of owning the factors of production, they have the ability to influence major activities of a state such as investment, production and employment. In addition to this kind of influence, the bourgeoisie also part of the ruling class due to the kind of influence that they have on a capitalist society (Lichtheim 2015). Although they do not exert their ruling effect directly, they have some influence on the ruling class due to their unique role in owning the factors of production.

Many scholars argue that this theory (Marxist) was popular and applied to the politics of the 19th century (Mouffe 2014). There are several reasons that have been given to support this argument. One these reasons is that during this time, politics was saturated with aristocracy. Secondly, the right to participate in an election was limited to a certain class of people. Thirdly, there were no trade unions to fight for the rights of workers. Lastly, the labor party was not existent and therefore the political influence was the working class was very limited. However, by middle of 20th century, the theory was said to have lost most of its relevance due to the conditions of the time. Just as language is dynamic, so are the political processes. These processes had changed significantly by the mid of 20th century. For instance, at this time, the concept of universal suffrage was widely adopted. This meant that every person including the working class would be allowed to vote if they met the stipulated conditions (Connolly 2017). At this time, trade unions had been developed. This meant that the working class had a union that could air their grievances as well as ensure that the workers are not exploited. In addition to these developments, there was also development of the labor party. At this time, managerial leadership started developing. This meant that the owners of the factors of production were not necessarily the managers (Kamenka 2015). Scholars argued that this has greatly weakened the economic power of the capitalist class. At the time, the argument arose that the best theory that could best give an account of state was the democratic pluralism theory. This theory will be discussed at a later section of the paper.

Elite Theories

It is worth noting that something very interesting happened regarding Marxism in the 1960s. There arose a class of theorist who could be said to have brought revival to Marxism. Most notably was the writer Ralph Miliband. The aim of Miliband was to revive the Marx’s theory of the ruling class (Wahlke 2017). As observed above, the Marxism was becoming less popular. Miliband was convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that there was need to revive the theory as it would apply to what was happening in the political realm at the time. According to Miliband, capitalism had undergone a lot of changes from the 19th century. He further added that the theories that were being used at that time (1960s), for instance the theory of pluralism, were not adequate to explain the current state of affairs (Anderson, 2017). He suggested that the theories were in fact inaccurate and could not be depended on. He argued that the bourgeoisie or the capitalist class did not have total control over the state. He however added that the bourgeoisie class had much greater influence on the state than any other social grouping. This meant that the capitalist class had more influence on the state than the trade unions and the labor party. From this line of argument, it is clear that his move to revive Marxism was necessary and justified.

According to Miliband, there were several elites that were involved in running the affairs of the state. These elites were interconnected. For instance, the political elite, the judicial elite and the military elite (Fernandez 2018). He observed that these elites were very likely to be influenced by the capital class. As a result, the decisions and the policies that were developed by the elites were likely to reflect the will of the bourgeoisie. It follows that the bourgeoisie were the ruling class. If their will could influence the decisions being made by the elites, then they were basically the ones running the affairs of the state. As Miliband argued, there were several mechanisms that the elite used to run the affairs of the state. These are going to be discussed next.

One of the mechanisms was through influence by the elites themselves. Here is how. Some of the elites were also senior business persons. They therefore used their positions as politicians to make decisions that would favor their business. As observed by Miliband however, there were very few politicians who also doubled up as business men. The second mechanism was drawn from the nature of the elites. Most members of the state elites were from upper and middle classes (Kotz 2017). Due to this, most of the elites were educated at private schools and universities. This made them have a pro-capitalist bias in the decisions that they made. Miliband also noted that although some of the elites were from the working class, they were required to drop any radical views that they may have had before occupying their positions (Schiller 2017).

Pluralist Theories

The other mechanism was that of funding pro-capitalist conservative parties. As observed by Miliband, these parties greatly funded (Jackson 2014). With this kind of funding, it became very easy for them to win general elections. The other mechanism was at the operational level. The socialization processes of capitalists take place via family, school and the media. With this in place, the criticism of capitalism is likely to be very low. For instance, when pupils are taught that capitalism is very good in schools, they develop appositive attitude towards it. With this mindset, the society in general will not have any problem with capitalism. The power of capitalism is usually evidenced by the great disparities that exist in wealth distribution.

There was also another proponent of Marxism who expressed his ideas in the 1970s. This was theorist Nicos Poulantaz. Just like Miliband, Poulantaz played a great role in reviving the ideology of Marxism. Although he was supporting Marxism, his approach seems to differ significantly from that of Miliband. According to Poulantaz, the capitalist state had some kind of self-governing qualities (Buchholz 2017). That is, the state had the ability to make some decisions on its own whether the capitalist class were happy with the decisions or not (Anderson 2016). He further argued that such kind of autonomy was extremely essential (Hussain and Tribe 2016). This was in the sense that sometimes the state needed to resolve some conflicts among the members of the capitalist class. In addition, this autonomy would also help the state elites grant the working class some favors or decisions. The capitalist class would not be happy with some of these decisions bet they would be very essential for the optimal functioning of the state. Therefore, the ruling class maintained such kind of autonomy to avoid being in a conflict that would cause the state any negative consequences (Parekh 2015). Although the state has this kind of autonomy, Poulantaz observes that the state officials can only exert their autonomy within the limits of capitalism. That is, they could not use such autonomy in a way that disorients the nature and structure of capitalism. This essentially meant that capitalism would persist despite the autonomy of the ruling class, it is also worth noting that the autonomy was partial (Therborn 2018). This means that the capitalist class still had some influence on the decisions of the state elites.

As seen in the discussion above, one of the key differences between Miliband and Poulantaz was in their view of the influence of the capitalist class on the state elites. Miliband argued that the bourgeoisie controlled the elites while Poulantaz argued that the state elites had relative autonomy. Another key difference between the arguments of the two regarded what influenced the decisions of the sate elites. Miliband argued that the social background was the key factor that influenced the decisions that they made. Poulantaz on the other hand argued that the social background of the elites was an insignificant contributor to the decision that the elites made. Instead, the elites were influenced by the need to work within a capitalist system. Therefore, their decisions had be those that favored the establishment and flourishing of capitalism. For instance, the elite could not make a decision to increase taxes by a large margin as this would elicit an outcry from the electorate. The decisions made had to be well calculated to ensure an optimally functioning capitalist society.

Revival of Marxist Theories

The classical elite theorist was very critical of Marxism. They agreed to the fact that the society was divided in to the ruling class and those that were not ruling or the masses. While appreciating this, they argued that the basis of the power difference between the two was not necessarily economic in nature. Marxist theories emphasize on the importance of differences in economic power in creating inequalities and differences among the different members of the society. The elite theorist argued that there are various sources of power. In other words, one does not have to be necessarily economically endowed for them to be powerful. The political elite could be powerful because of the special set of political skills or organization that they possess. In addition, the political class could also source their power form military dictatorship or from religious leadership. According to the elite theorist, there is no way in which the capitalist class could exert their control at all the levels/sources of power identified above. Due to this, the elite theorists discredit the Marxist theory and render it as having no significance. The elite theorists also argue that the rise of social movements such as the trade unions would not play any significant role in promoting the welfare of the workers. The argument put across is that if the working class presents any grievances to the state elites, the only thing that is likely to happen is replacement of an elite with another. In the long run, the problems being faced by the workers persist with no one to take care of their needs, issues or grievances. The elites considered the working class as having no ability to exercise any kind of leadership. Due to this reason, it can be concluded that both the elite and the Marxist theorists had a consensus when it comes to the fate of the working class.

Elite theory could also be associated with the ideas of Max Weber. Weber argued that the modern society would be highly industrialized (Bachrach, 2017). This would lead to the rise of senior bureaucrats who would have considerable amount of power. He also argued that the senior persons in government (senior government bureaucrats) could use their power to develop their own agendas. He argued that these agendas would not necessarily favor capitalism. Political scientists have often argued that senior civil servants may have more power than government ministers (Dahl 2017). This is despite the fact that the civils servants work under the cabinet ministers. This issue has however elicited great debate with some factors favoring the ministers to be more powerful while others favor the senior civil servants.

Ralph Miliband's Theory

The theory of pluralism differs significantly from the theories of Marxism and elite. In the theory, it is argued that power is greatly distributed within a state. The power is distributed between political parties and numerous pressure groups (Smith 2014). In addition to these divisions, the theory also argues that the citizens also possess some power. This is because they have the power to vote and decide who will represent them in the positions of power. In this theory, the state is considered very neutral rather than pursuing some certain interest. Marxism suggests that the state pursues the interests of the bourgeoisie. According to the elite, theory the state does not pursue such interest. The theory has however received several criticisms. For instance, it is argued that the pressure groups and political parties have very little influence on the leaders and their operations. The theorists have suggested that there are two types of pluralism, democratic and elite.

The theory of pluralism was mainly emphasized by a group of writers in England during the 20th century (Green 2018). The theory suggests that a state is governed by many groups rather than a certain set of people. The people who govern the state are distributed across people groups (Rooney 2016). Most of the pluralists do not believe that democracy works. They argue that it is not even desirable.

It is worth noting that it is not a simple task to determine the accuracy of the three theories or the one that would best give an account of the state in the 21st century. Experts disagree even on the concept of power and what power means. Although this is the case, it would be fair to conclude that power is mainly concentrated in the hands of a few rich individuals who Karl Marx would refer to as the bourgeoisie. In the age that we live in, the individuals who are powerful economically play a great role in influencing the political decisions (Northouse 2018). In the current world, most of the countries have employed a capitalist system which means that competition is key for survival. In these states, there exists great inequalities which are brought about by the differences in economic endowment. The individuals who own the factors of production comprise of a few individuals who are very wealthy and rich (Ritzer and Stepnisky 2017). Due to their economic power, they influence the political processes in many ways. For instance, they might decide to fund a certain candidate vying for an electoral seat. The person is likely to win due to the great economic support that they will receive. Once the person wins, the few rich individuals will influence his/her operations. For reasons such as this, we can conclude that the theory that is best suited to explain give an account of state in the 21st century is the Marxist theory.

Nicos Poulantaz's Theory


Marxism was a theory originally developed by Karl Marx but modified later by modern theorists. Marx argued that the bourgeoisie or the capitalist class was essentially the ruling class in a state. By the virtue of owning the factors of production, this category of individuals could exert indirect control to the ruling class so that their will had significant impact on the decisions that were made by the ruling class. The theory was very popular in the 19th century. This was because the working class had little influence on the capitalist class and had little rights. There were two main reasons why the theory was very popular in the 19th century. One of the reasons was that there was no universal suffrage. The right to vote was for a select few and mainly those belonging to the bourgeoisie. This meant that the capitalist class would have their say in the ruling class. Essentially therefore, it is the capitalist class that ruled the state. The other main reason that made the theory popular was that there were no trade unions to represent the voice/affairs of the working class. The labor party was also not developed at this time. By mid-20th century, the theory had become very popular, especially due to the formation of trade unions, universal suffrage and the labor party. However, there arose a new class of theorist who modified Marxism and revived it in 1960s and 1970s. The two most notable were Miliband and Poulantaz.

The elite theory argued that the Marxist theory was insufficient to explain the affairs of the state. The argument put across by these theorists was that although there existed power differences between the ruling class and those who were being ruled, the difference was not due to economics alone. Marxism argued that the sole cause of such difference was economic endowment. The elite theorists argued that there were many sources of power. For instance, one could acquire power from military dictatorship or even religious leadership. In addition, the elite theorists argued that the trade unions did not have any effect in influencing the affairs of the workers. The pluralists argued that power is vested in many small groups of people in a state. The theory that is best suited to give an account of the state in the 21st century is that of the Marxist.


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