A Glimpse of The Liberal and Marxist View of Politics

Liberalism and Marxism are two cardinal and polar concepts in Political Science. Both have their own views of Politics. Both these ideologies perceive politics in a different manner. Whereas liberalism evolved after the breakdown of feudalism and nurtured by the Renaissance era, it gives primacy to the ‘individual’. Liberalism views individuals as the macrocosm of political activities. Classical liberalists believe in the concept of ‘abstract individualism’ where individuals are thought to be autonomous, atomic, asocial, self-reliant and self-sufficient beings. 

Marxism vs. Liberalism - An Interview eBook: Wells, H. G., Stalin, Joseph:  Amazon.in: Kindle Store

On the other hand, developed through the writings of Marx and Engels, Marxism view class as the basic unit of the socio-political community. Marxism prioritizes class/community over individuals and is critical to the liberal concept of abstract individualism./ Marxists are of a view that the prevailing political ideology, the institution of State and individual notions, emotion and intellection are controlled and nourished by the economic base formed by the nature and mode of production. They believe that individuals live under a ‘false conscience’ where the means of production influence human behaviour, thoughts and actions, thus refuting the claim of autonomous individuality. They believe that there exists no autonomous individual and the substructure or the economic base force them to make choices. This idea further developed into the concept of ideological hegemony by Gramsci and the concept of ‘soft power’ by Joseph Nye. 

Whereas liberals view politics as an instrument of reconciliation and conflict settlement, Marxists use politics to politicize conflicts. According to liberals, self-interested individuals constitute the society and are prone to conflict of opinion and choices. On the other hand, Marxists view conflicts as the beginning of social change. According to them, conflicts mirror the fact that the oppressed, suppressed and the depressed became free from the ‘false consciousness’ by gaining ‘class consciousness’ of themselves being exploited by the elites. They become aware of their exploitation and reverts to revolution. The revolution alters the economic base and consequently, changes the superstructure. 

Moreover, Liberals view the institution of State as an anthropogenic product or created by human beings similar to roads, buildings and billboards. They believe that a balanced and free society will never develop as the individuals are self-interested and a sovereign state is required to protect them and their rights. John Locke once remarked that ‘where there’s no law, there’s no freedom’. Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau further developed this concept of State and devised a social contract theory explaining the origin and function of the State constituted by the people. Thomas Paine calls State a ‘necessary evil’. While classical liberals or hardcore libertarians argue for a non-interventionist state confined to maintaining law and order and defence saying that the government that governs the least is the best, the welfare liberals are in favour of affirmative actions and welfare State empowered to and obliged to ensure social good by protecting individual rights. Hobbes is of the view that the State is required to prevent a state of war between self-interested, crooked and violent individuals. Locke argues for a State that protects three basic rights of its citizens: life, liberty and property. Rousseau is of the view that a sovereign State is necessary to bring social harmony. 

On the other hand, the Marxists have a dual opinion on the role of a capitalist State. It is well-reflected in the legendary Miliband-Poulantza’s debate. Marxist view the capitalist State as the oppressor of the proletariat. While Miliband proposed an instrumentalist view of the capital State arguing that the State functions to serve the capitalist class owing to the social origins of the members of the government and their personal and familial ties with the capitalist bourgeoisie. Poulantzas proposes a structural model of the Capitalist State where it is argued that the State is an objectively capitalistic entity that will serve the interests of the capitalists irrespective of the personal ties or familial relations with the bourgeoisie. It’s further argued that the institution of State strives to protect capitalism. In addition to that, Poulantzas are of the view that if the members of the Government coincide with the bourgeoisie, it’s nothing but sheer coincidence. 

The fifth stage in dialectical materialism as proposed by Marx is called ‘communism’. Whereas he gives two stages of communism- the first phase or lower communism and the second phase or higher communism. The lower communism is characterised by workers governing themselves through democratically elected communes. Marx considers this as a temporary stage that will be replaced by higher communism. Lower communism is associated with socialism by Lenin and the communes took the form of the Communist party. Although the Communist party was supposed to be a temporary one in the original view of Marx and even Lenin, it became a permanent, totalitarian and repressive police state under Stalin. However, Marx claimed that the communes are temporary bodies and will cease to exist when higher communism is achieved. According to Marx, the State will ‘wither away’ and he envisages a classless, stateless, moneyless and ideology less society. Hence, Marx views the State as an ‘unnecessary evil’. 

While liberals argue for a capitalist economy with private ownership in line with the famous aphorism, ‘laissez-faire is the only fair’, Marxists envisages a socialist economy with collective ownership of the means of production. Also, the higher communism urges for a money-less society. 

Sl.noMarxismLiberalism
1Class as the lowest unit of political communityIndividual as the lowest and the cardinal unit of political community
2Individuals are constrained and conditioned by the economic baseAbstract individualism
3The politicization of conflict leading to a revolution that alters the economic baseReconciliation of conflicts through discussions, deliberations, debates, arguments and compromise
4State as a capitalist entityState as a product of social contract
5State as an unnecessary evil that will wither away when higher communism is achievedState as a necessary evil
6Socialist means of productionlaissez-faire is the only fair
7common property resourcesPrivate property