Concept of Power and Domination – Karl Marx

Karl Marx has provided a view of power and domination which arises from the distinction of class and possessions. (Marx. Engels : 1998). Thus state gains power from the guarantees it provides to all forms of property be it capital, landholding by feudal lords or slavery. Classes are formed based on the holding of property and domination is achieved through these possessions. (Marx. Engels : 1998). Group and political power create physical strength which determines the extent to which social classes can organize themselves effectively to fight for their interests.

These are the material dimensions of domination. Domination has another facet that of the force of ideas. (Engels. Marx : 1998). This is determined by the means of mental production that are available in the realms of ideology. (Collins: 1974). Marx’s views on power also denote that material circumstances determine the style of life adopted by the class, culture and behaviors. Material conditions for mobilization of power as well as form of domination are said to vary amongst the various social classes.

This is based on organization of communities and the means of communication employed by them.

The means used for mental production are also varied wherein in some cases symbolic structures may be imposed on classes from outside. (Collins: 1974). Thus class struggle is central to Marxian theory of power and domination. Marx has also defined labor power. It is a commodity which the worker is said to sell to the capitalist to secure means of subsistence. The worker then is said to belong to the whole capitalist class.

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The cost of production of this labor power has also been defined as the cost required for maintaining the labor as a worker.

While the wage minimum is the cost production of simple labor power. Value of the work is said to be the labor power expended in production. (Marx : 1999). Thus Marx attempts to define power from its roots and takes it upwards to that of the state. History is denoted as a past narration of class struggles. (Marx. Engels : 1998). This entails domination by one class that is the bourgeoisie who exploit the oppressed class that is the proletariat. The struggle against domination has to be undertaken by freeing the whole society from exploitation.

The aim of Communists as per Marx was political power in the hands of the proletariat. This is achieved not by abolition of property per se but by overthrowing bourgeois domination. The first stage of any revolution as per Marx was to bring the proletariat into power, making it the ruling class and then wrest the capital from the bourgeoisie. Power in terms of instruments of production was to be centralized in the hands of the state which was also tasked to increase the total productive forces as quickly as possible. (Summary: 2006). Thus Marx tends to view power and domination as a history of class struggle.

Each society over the years is seen to have a dominant or a ruling class and a subordinate class based on the means of production. Power was exercised by the class which was dominant. (Burke: 2000). Conflict is also determined by Marx in terms of a class collision. The need for overcoming bourgeois domination was set as the aim of the communist struggle. An essential feature of Marxist ideology also lies in its providing a dual dimension, material and intellectual to dominance. (Burke: 2000). Thinkers as producers of ideas can control what has been called as the common sense of the times.

Dominant ideas are those which are in the interest of the society at large. Ideas as per Marx fluctuate as per interests of the dominant class of society. This class in turn derives power from the flow and acceptance of these thoughts. (Burke: 2000). Marx has thus defined power and domination from the construct of a struggle between the classes, which is a fight for control of the material resources as well as ideas. The class struggle is designed to bring power to the proletariat and ultimately dominate the society. Marx denoted that the power struggle was the culminating point. Collected Works : 1986). Concept of Power and Domination – Foucault Foucault’s development of the theory of power has adopted two different approaches. In his initial works, Foucault denoted power as means exercised by the state to constrain and restrict people. (Gauntlett: 1998. 1).

Thus in his book, Discipline and Punish, Foucault covers how the elite in society continue to dominate and control rest of the people. (Foucault : 1988, 38). This has resulted in domination and imposition of rules. Breaking this domination of society and emergence of the self was thus of essence as per Foucault. Foucault: 1995). In his later years, thus he developed an idea of power which was designed to set free the individual from the shackles of society. It is this developed view which will be discussed herein as it provides a variation to the general trend in determination of power and domination. The second view of power that has been determined by Foucault rests on his belief of the influence of the inner soul of humans over the body.

Thus the soul enables a person to develop successful relationships with others regardless of the power that is vested in either of them at any given point of time. Gutting. Ed. : 1994, 39). Foucault rejects the commonly held belief that some people will continue to dominate in every circumstance over other and that there will be inequity in relationships. In Foucault’s view thus power is exercised rather than possessed. (Gauntlett: 1998. 1) Power as per Foucault is a diffused phenomenon, which is found everywhere, rather than typified in a class as identified by Marx and the Communists. (Foucault : 1994, 166). Foucault feels that power is determined by relationships occurring at a given time.

This implies that every individual is empowered at some time or the other. (Gauntlett: 1998). This is also against the conventional view of power which states that it is held by dominant groups in a society. Domination as per Foucault is determined by the act which is being performed at a particular time, rather than based on pre positioning of authority. This has provided a new ideology for empowerment which have been seized by those traditionally divested of power in human society such as the feminists. Women traditionally are seen to be dominated by men in all human activities over the ages.

However it is also argued that there may not be a singular class created of feminists all over the world as the bond of commonality may not exist between women in the West with those in China or Brazil. Thus each will derive power from varied sources rather than from their feminine identity. (Gauntlett: 1998). The clear cut definition of power which was available in other theories has been abandoned by Foucault. He deems that power can be employed by various people at different times depending on the specific situation.

While this may produce some reactions and antagonisms this is not related to domination by one group or class over the other but a result of temporary superiority obtained by the person wielding power. (Gauntlett: 1998) Thus Foucault believes that identities are not fixed and power can be obtained by different people from varied situations. Gender, class, ethnicity, age and other determinants do not denote the power and it will be varied in different situations. This overcomes the role modeling of power which is determined by the theories of Marxism and other writers. Gauntlett: 1998). Foucault’s theory of power does not impose constraints and is not linked with restricting freedom. The concept of domination does not arise in this theory and there are no subjects created through the use of power. The subject of power or the person dominated through exercise of power as is commonly understood is considered an active participant in the interaction. (Widder: 1995, 730). Concept of Power and Domination – Max Weber Power as per Max Weber is regarded as a nebulous concept hence it has been difficult to categorize.

Domination on the other hand being ordered power is in relation to a command and is more amenable to theorizing. (Armbruster. Atnachev: 2006). Power is defined by Weber as the chance of a man or a number of men to realize their own will in a social activity even against the resistance of others who are participating in that action. Power rests on a variety of bases and can be of differing type as per Weber. Power can also be derived from a number of sources and is valued for its own sake as per Weber. (Weber : 1958, 80). Power is conditioned by the social honor and prestige it contains.

However all types of power does not contain honor. For instance the power wielded by Hitler or Saddam Hussein recently did not contain elements of honor when viewed holistically. Economic power on the other hand can be based on social honor and prestige. Power can be guaranteed by legal order, but legal order per se is not said to be its primary source. Legal order only provides the instrument to enhance the hold on power and enables security. The distribution of power within a community is attained through creation of class, status groups and parties.

Power through money as per Weber was ethically unjustifiable. Weber : 2001, 36) Domination implies a degree of voluntary submission on the part of the acceptor of power based on genuine acquiescence or due to some vested interest. Thus in Nazi Germany in the 1930’s there was ready acceptance of Hitler’s domination which was based on motives which cannot be categorized as genuine agreement. A large number of people were coerced while for some others Hitler provided an outlet for their aspiration of German domination of Europe and the World. Domination and obedience thus need to be put into perspective. Obedience implies acceptance of the content of the command.

Domination on the other hand is based on rational and legal terms of legitimate authority. Authority has been classified by Weber in three types. (Weber : 1978, 244). Rational or legally owned authority is defined as power held by those who have been elevated to high position based on rules made for issue of command. These orders are impersonal and extend to the persons only by the virtue of the office they hold. This is the authority held by Presidents under the Presidential system of governance and prime ministers under the parliamentary system which gives them power to dominate the national agenda.

Legitimate authority based on traditional grounds entails a belief in the sanctity of traditions and the legitimacy of the status that those exercising authority are provided. This is a matter of personal obligation and loyalty within the scope or tradition. Thus Queen Elizabeth II is granted the authority based on traditions which have been long established and are thus a matter of her personal obligation and loyalty to uphold. In case there is any breach of this loyalty, the Queen or the King is traditionally required to abdicate the throne.

Power derived from charismatic authority implies acceptance of domination by a person due to his exceptional qualities and deeds of heroism, character, piety or a specific pattern and order followed by him. The leader is accorded power by the trust that people have in him or her. The belief of the dominated in his charisma gives him power. An example of this power is Mother Teresa derived from her spirituality, piety and selfless service to humanity. In the case of the political field the power derived by Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi will fall in the category of charismatic power.

Domination is maintained by continuous administration which enables obedience to the power bearers by the masses. This requires control of instruments of violence by the authority maintaining dominance. It is also sought through establishment of staff and the material requirements for maintaining administration. This entails the need for a bureaucracy for continued domination. Modern states maintain their control through the authority of bureaucracies, police and armed forces for maintaining order. (Max Weber: 2006). Weber has provided us of a 20th Century view of power and dominance that is increasingly being questioned in the present times.

Comparison of Power and Domination Theories A comparison of power and domination theories of the models discussed above denotes a variation in their ideology, understanding and practical utility. Marx, Weber and Foucault represent the three most influential political thinkers of the modern and the post modern era. Their theories have invited extensive debate as well as led to state and societal revolutions the World over. While essentially these are Western theories of power and domination, Marx as well Weber have been widely accepted in other systems.

The universal appeal of these theories provides them greater credibility and relevance. Foucault on the other hand delves in the social field and has denoted the influence of power in various contexts including gender, gay rights and so on, concepts which have not been openly debated outside the West. To that extent his influence on non western people is limited. This however does not limit the relevance of his postulates to understand the development of power in post modern societies. The theory of power and domination proposed by Marx derives its source from an economic matrix.

Thus it is linked to class and means of production, both industrial and agriculture. (Marx. Engels : 1998). Emergence of two distinct social classes, the bourgeois and the proletariat has been seen through the prism of class differential. Marx also talks of domination through the force of ideas, which is being applied by Marxists over the years but to limited effect for Marxism is essentially a theory of action. (Engels. Marx : 1998, 36). Domination is also explained from a class perspective. Thus over the years one class the bourgeois have dominated the other, the proletariat.

Marx goes to the roots of power and how it is created through labor as a cost of production, thereby establishing a linkage between work and power. In the Marxist view the political struggle precedes the economic. This is an economic centric view of power and domination which has no parallel in the works of other ideologists being compared in the essay. The success of Marxian view of power and domination was seen in the early part of the 20th Century, when Soviet Union saw the apogee of communist power in the World based on the rise of the proletariat.

The followers of Marx failed to adhere to his maxim, that means of production should be enhanced as rapidly as possible, thus leading to collapse of the Soviet state in the 1990’s. Foucault sees power as that exercised by the elites in society over rest of the people or by the state over its subjects. (Foucault : 1988, 39)These views tend to support Marxist views on power except that the division of the empowered and the disempowered is based on a political and state basis rather than the economic differentiation of Marx.

Foucault has progressed beyond this larger context to power of the individual derived from a person’s unique placement in society. Foucault thus grants power to every individual relative to the role that he is performing. (Gutting. Ed. : 1994, 47). Thus there are no universal rights to a specific class as the bourgeois as envisaged by Marx or the state as envisaged by Weber. Power is a thing which can be exercised rather than possessed. Domination too has been provided a unique dimension of time. Thus at a given time, a particular identity would be more dominant over the other due to needs of the hour.

Domination however is not considered absolute. Through this vision of power, Foucault has provided a tool for empowering a vast band of humanity. His views of power are frequently referred to as enlightened, liberal and egalitarian facilitating normalization of human relations. Thus the proletariat is empowered in the view of Foucault as much as the bourgeois and there is no subjectification. This is a unique, post modern distinction variation of Foucault’s theory of power from that of Weber and Marx.

The rise of feminism, rights of gays and supremacy of the individual over the state are said to be a result of espousal of Foucault’s views of multiple locus of power. Weber varies from the other two thinkers in a significant way and provides an ordered view of power. Thus power is viewed by Weber not as that derived from economic strength as denoted by Marx, but is a political phenomenon attained through social honour and prestige. (Weber : 1958, 85). There is an orderly distribution of power through various instruments of the state.

Power enables domination as per Weber through exercise of command by an individual or groups. Weber has also provided the definition of other concepts of modern social interaction such as authority which is derived from legal, traditional as well as charismatic strains. (Weber : 1978, 245). This is a view of power as it is exercised by a modern state and provides much of the legitimacy that states derive from exercise of authority including use of violence and force. All three models of power can be understood with the example of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

It emerged in the turbulent period post First World War as a class struggle, of the Russian proletariat over the Czarist bourgeois. While there were other dimensions to this struggle, the class divide remains its most credible one. On the other hand, rise of individualism in the 1980’s based on the theories postulated by Foucault, was one of the reasons for devolution of power of the state and disintegration of the Soviets. However since power also enables orderly administration, Weber’s theory of establishment of legal authority is engaging the Russian authorities today.

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Concept of Power and Domination – Karl Marx
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