1. ) Using material from item A and elsewhere briefly examine some of the sociological arguments put forward by pluralist authors to challenge Marxist views on the role of the state expressed in item A. (12 Marks) The Pluralists believe that the state is democratic and, unlike Marxists, that it is fair objective and neutral. There is ‘one man one vote’, everyone has their vote and they can therefore choose their government and have influence over the decisions made in society. If they don not like how a particular government is running the country then they have the right to vote them out at the next election.
Marxists, however, argue that the state is not fair, it is biased towards the ruling capitalist class. Instrumentalist Marxists believe that the state is controlled by the capitalist class. Whereas Structuralist Marxists say the state is most influenced by the capitalist class. Either way the state will act, through laws and legislature, in the interests of capitalism and exploit the masses of the working class. Marxists consider all three of Lukes’ dimensions of power: the first (who has the power over decision making), second (the power to stop decisions being made), the third (the power to manipulate and shape preferences).
The Pluralists will only accept the first dimension of power. The state makes the decisions, but the masses have influence over how the decisions are made through voting and interest groups. Robert Dahl carried out a study in a small town in the USA called New Haven. He found that no one group of people has all the power in their society. He found that different groups of people shared the power and influence in the different decisions that had to be made. This disproves the Marxist theories because the state isn’t controlled by one group and that is neutral and not biased towards any one group in society.
However Marxists would say that all of the decisions would have been made in favour of the capitalist class or as concessions to keep the working class happy and to stop them revolting. The Pluralist view has been criticised for ignoring and disregarding the unequal distribution of power in society. Some critical Elitists accept that the state is controlled by a few groups of the Elite and that it mostly serves the interest the Elite ruling class. They say that the masses couldn’t run the state because they don’t know enough about what decisions have to be made, but the Elite do because they have been doing it for decades.
So in the long term it is for the best because if the masses had total power then they would probably make some poor decisions. Feminists use similar arguments, but obviously say that the state and society is biased towards men and that it needs to change. Women have little power in society and influence over the decisions that have to be made at any level. They also find it more difficult to get into positions of power and influence because of discrimination and the power men have over women. The Pluralist view on the role of interest groups has also been because most citizens are not part of the interest/pressure groups.
Those that have very little influence over politics because their group has no power in politics e. g. scouts. Even the groups that are related and involved in politics are usually very specialised and focused on one topic e. g. Greenpeace. Leadership of these groups is also an issue because the leaders and senior members will not necessarily represent the interests of the members but themselves. So Marxists would argue that even if someone is part of an interest group it will not stop the inequalities and biased.
No one group and their approach is without its critics but some, e. g. ritical Elitist and Marxists, are more realistic if not totally accurate in the views of power and politics. 2. ) Assess the relevance of elite theories to an understanding of the distribution of power in modern Britain. (40 Marks) There are four main theories regarding power and its distribution within western societies such as modern Britain and these are Pluralism, Elitism, Marxism and the Feminist approach. There are two main kinds of Pluralism: Classical and Elite. Classical Pluralism acknowledges the fact that very few citizens in western societies have any direct involvement in political decision making.
But this doesn’t make it undemocratic: they think that society it is representative, because it is made up of different groups with different interests and this is reflected in the decisions that are made. There are two types of organisation or group: political parties who seek to gain power by getting voted into government and pressure groups which try to exert influence over those in power to follow polices they favour. So no one group dominates the power or influence over power, it is shared amongst a range of groups.
They think that a democracy is only possible in a multi-party system with an opposition to represent those who disagree with the governing party. This approach has been criticised for ignoring the Lukes’ second and third dimensions of power and concentrating on the first dimension of power. They measure power by who makes and ignore the power of non-decision making (managing the agenda so certain issues do not reach the point of decision making). The also ignore the manipulation of the wishes of others, Marxists argue that most people have been persuaded to accept the capitalist system even though it is against their real interests.
Classical Pluralists also ignore the unequal and non-representation of interests, the Elite Pluralists and Feminists argue that it can be shown that some groups exercise more power than others and many aren’t represented at all. The Elite Pluralists accept that power isn’t evenly distributed and that many political interests are under-represented, e. g. the unemployed. But these groups have enough votes to make the government take notice of their interests in the future. They also acknowledge that some groups have greater access to government and policy making than others.
They point out that governments and their departments must consult with a range of interest groups to minimise conflict. It has been criticised for undermining the Pluralist position that power is widely dispersed in capitalist societies. And that interest groups don’t always work in the interest of their members, they can work in the interests of their leaders and senior members. Marxists point out that it also disregards the third dimension of power, the ability to shape the desires of others. Elitists believe that power in modern Britain and other developed countries is concentrated to a small minority, the Elite.
The Classical Elitists think that the rule of the elite is inevitable and desirable. The elite are rationale and well educated whereas the masses are ignorant, apathetic, not very intelligent and easily manipulated. They are not capable of ruling themselves which is why the rule of the elite is essential. The elite have been running societies, like Britain for centuries so they know what has to be done and how to do it. Pareto and Mosca said that a real democracy can’t exist in liberal or socialist societies. And that each elite is eventually replaced by another.
Pareto classified the elites in to two types: ‘lions’ who gain and retain power through force, e. g. military leaders, and ‘foxes’ who relied on cunning and intelligence to gain power, e. g. politicians. His view has been criticised for being to simplistic and lacking distinction between different political systems. And some elites have remained unchanged for hundreds of years, e. g. the ruling Brahmin caste in India. These criticism lead to the Critical Elitist approach, they accept that the rule of the elite is inevitable but not favourable because it is undemocratic, unfair and manipulative.
One critical Elitist Charles Wright Mills said that There is a disproportionate portion of power is held by a few individuals who occupy command posts in key institution: the power elite. It is made up of the key people in three major institutions: the economy (business), government (politics) and the military (army). They are well coordinated and connected because they have similar backgrounds and educations. They have the same interests and they form a single power elite that does not involve the masses in decision making and, consequentially, the masses can, make a little difference in the political processes.
Wright Mills and other Critical Elitists have been criticised by Pluralists, such as Dahl, for ignoring the many other elites around the world such as interest groups and trade unions. They say that power is spread around and not concentrated into the hands of the few. Marxists reject the power elite, they believe that the owners of the means of the production have the real power in capitalist societies not the people in the top position in the institutions. Feminists and Marxists say that they fail to identify real bias of power in society.
Marxists believe that society is structured by it economy and means of production, so the owners of the means of production have most of the power in Britain. The political system is part of the superstructure so it is shaped to meet the requirements of the infrastructure (economy) which meets the needs if the ruling capitalist class. Marx and Engels disagreed that capitalism serves the interests of society as a whole. They agreed that a “Bourgeois Democracy” state relies less on coercion to enforce its power, since citizens were more likely to feel it was serving their interests.
However for Marx and Engels this is an illusion, they claimed that “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”. Gramsci, another Marxist, believed is a concept he called “hegemony” which meant intellectual and moral leadership. The bourgeoisie exercise hegemony in capitalist societies because their ideas and values are dominant and through that they are able to persuade society to consent to their rule. This focuses of Lukes’ third face of power: because the bourgeoisie are influencing the masses to obey their rules in society when they may not always be in their interests.
The ruling class can only maintain its hegemony by creating alliances or power blocs between different groups. Similarly the subject class can only challenge the ruling class hegemony by forming similar alliances. In this way the working class can occasionally force the ruling class to make concessions since they are not all that powerful. They were occasionally prepared to make concessions in order to maintain the consent to their rule. Ralph Miliband, an Instrumentalist Marxist, said that the state is controlled by small number of elites including business elite.
The members of these elites are often related by kinship and marriage, they have similar educations and backgrounds and they share similar interests. They wish to defend private property and preserve the capitalist system. Therefore the state operates in the interests of the wider capitalist class. Milibands’ approach was criticised by Structural Marxist Nikos Polantzas for over emphasising the importance of social background on the members of the ruling class. He said that the state acts in the interests of capitalism regardless of who is running the state.
This is because in a capitalist society the nature of economic relationships and the ideological dominance of the capitalist class constrain the choices the state can make. So they are forced to protect and promote capitalist interests. Therefore even left wing governments must compromise with business and financial interests in order to ensure stability in capitalist societies. However, he was criticised by Miliband for over emphasising the degree to which capitalism act as a structural determinant on the state.
For Miliband to suggest that every action taken by the state is determined by the state is going too far. The Marxist approach has criticised for saying those who own the means of production hold the power, because in an advanced industrial society there has been a separation between ownership and control. Control of businesses is passing increasingly from owners to mangers so there is little justification to say that a ruling class both owns and controls the means of production. The existence of ownership being reserved for only the ruling class is doubtful.
This has now spread from a small capitalist class to other groups in society through share. More than half the shares in private companies are now held by institutions such as pension funds and insurance companies rather than individuals. In this situation identifying a capitalist class becomes increasingly difficult. They were criticised for giving too much importance to the economic differences between people by Shulamith Firestone, a radical feminist. For her gender differences are more important and it is them that define modern society.
The Feminists, like the Marxists, believe the state is unfair, but unlike the Marxists they believe it is male dominated, it is patriarchal. There are many different Feminist theories, however they share several arguments. According to Feminists such as Oakley, Firestone and Millett this means that the state is controlled by men, it serves the interests and power of men and it legitimises the dominance by making it the norm and the social ideology. Feminists, such as Millett, challenge the narrow definition of politics that concentrates on the state and the government and neglects the “private” sphere, such as the family.
Consequently the inequalities experienced by women in the private sphere are not recognised as a political issue but rather as a personal one. She said that politics is also about the relationships between people where one person is controlled by another, for example women being controlled by their partners, fathers brothers etc. In this respect politics is evident in almost all aspects of society. Therefore the inequalities faced by women at home and work are legitimate political struggles.
Silvia Walby claims that patriarchy exists in six spheres of society: paid employment, violence, culture, the state, the household and sexuality. For her all these structures work together to oppress women. Firestone published “Dialect of Sex” where she explains that sexual oppression is the most fundamental form of oppression in society. She believes in a “sexual class system” where classes are based on gender differences and not economic ones. These sexual differences were in place long before class differences and are therefore more significant.
She regards differences between men and women as biological rather than social in nature. Patriarchal ideology stresses a distinction between the private domain (home and the family) and the public domain (the economy and politics) where women are expected to concentrate on the private domain. Whereas the public sphere is male dominated, needless to say this distinction is regarded by feminists as artificial and sexist. This ideology is followed by both men and women and as a consequence women are under represented in parliament (both houses) and in the cabinet.
The UK did not have a female Prime Minister until 1979 and none since. The US has never had a female President, Vice President or even a candidate for presidency. Women are also underrepresented in other positions of power such as top civil servants, top judges and leadership of the powerful pressure groups. The hours that are required to work in these institutions do not suit women with family considerations. Government budget allocation of resources to female issues, such as childcare, is lower than male issues.
Policies on childcare are regarded by the government as low priority, mainly because they are areas of female concern. There are many perspectives concerning the distribution of power in modern Britain, each with their own theories to who has the power, why they do and whether this is a good thing. The actual distribution of power is almost impossible to discover because everyone has different opinions and theories. The majority (Elite Pluralists, Elitists and Marxists) believe that the people who run the state or key institutions have the most power, this is because they have the most influence over what happens in our society.
They can make the most difference to how we live our lives. But the masses to have some power in a democracy because they can in theory choose who governs a country and how they govern it through voting and interest groups. How much power is hard to find because much of the parties have the same manifestos, once they get in to power they often don’t have much choice over what they can make because they wish to preserve and protect their power.