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Political Theory, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Karl Marx (1818-1883) was essentially a revolutionary communist. His moral critique on capitalism. Marx predicted that ultimately capitalism would die and would end up in a revolution where the people would reject this and supplant the system with communism.  Marx was highly influenced by the struggles of the working class and based the rejection of capitalism on moral grounds.

Marx Theory of Alienation – This addressed the separation of items that were deemed should belong together. Marx felt certain things co-existed together in harmony and if they were separated they became alienated from one another.  He viewed alienation as an integral part of the mechanics of the class system in society.  He related this to the employed worker who is denied the right to chart his own life and destiny.  As such a slave to the organization who is denied the right to think.  He sees this as a power play by the bourgeoisie who determine the relationship with the workers as a Master / Servant relationship. In so doing they deny the worker the right of humanity.  This attributable to the Master who sets the worker goals and objectives for production and the creation of personal wealth and as such obtain the maximum amount of surplus vale from the worker. (Meszaros 2006)

Within the context of capitalism the worker becomes alienated because his only expression is in terms of labour.  This creates the loss of individuality and self-identity; in essence stifling personal growth.

Estranged LabourWithin the context of Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 he described a model for estranged labour.  He described four types of alienation: (1) The workers become alienated from the products of their labor- this gives rise to the fact that the products do not belong to the worker and as such the more the worker produces, then the less he has. (2) Workers being alienated from the labor process. Here the labor is forced and this does not provide worker satisfaction as that belongs to another person (3) Workers are alienated from one another (other workers). This is reflected in the type of relationships that are created. (4) Workers are alienated from their being and human potential – In other words the worker is confined to a physical existence as a unit of labor and not allowed the freedom for personal growth and expression. As such the workers life is merely an existence serving no other real purpose. It is perhaps in this sense that Marx homes in on the lack of moral values within the capitalistic system.  He views this as exploitation of the weak by the affluent masters of society. Marx considers this domination over the proletarian working class a factor that will galvanise the working class into rebellion and ultimate revolt against the system.  This action taking place when they become a recognised political force.  It is unlikely in western democratic capitalistic societies that the ideas of Marx will come into fruition.  In the UK the trade unions were crushed by the conservative government of Margaret Thatcher, thus changing the relationship of employer to worker for a very long time.  (Wood 2004)

Marx examined capitalism from the perspective of a class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.  Marx defined class as the ownership of property. Thus power was vested in landowners who used this as a means of exclusion from the working class (proletariat). He defined three main classes within society – The Bourgeoisie, these people control production by owning factories or industrial plants, their main focus being profit; Landowners whose main source of income is rent and the proletariat, those who own their labour and sell this for a wage income.

Marx saw the interests of the bourgeoisie and that of landowners ultimately merging, hence the real class distinctions came between these two groups and the proletariat. This eventually causes a struggle and conflict between the two groups.  The growing disparities between the classes create a struggle for political power.  The division of the classes widens in accordance with the exertion of power by the bourgeoisie and landowners as they exploit the proletariat. Marx felt that this pressure will ultimately lead in revolution where the workers will win and revert to communism. This would essentially eliminate the concept of capitalism and create a classless society. As political power protected those that exerted it, this will also be removed.  (D’Amato 2006)

Marx emphasised that the conflict that was coming was not based upon the dynamics of social change but a revolution based upon conflict of interests.

The subsequent rise of the masses was really demonstrated through the revolutionary struggle in 1917 where Lenin restated the theories of Karl Marx within the tasks of the proletarian revolution.  Within this context Lenin denounced many of the theoretical interpretations of Marx stating that they were outmoded and outdated.  He advocated for the restoration of the revolutionary aspects of Marxism. Lenin was not content to deal with ideological reformation but wanted such ideals translated into actions.  This restoration of Marxism by Lenin led the proletariat class to the first historical victory. (Korsch 1938).

The sociological value of Marx’s theories were very accurate i.e. his emphasis on the differentiation between the classes and how this would give rise to situations of conflict. Unfortunately, both time and historical content has invalidated many of his assumptions and they become more of an ideal as opposed to aspects of practical reality.  Much of the instability in the class structure has been undermined by the rise of the middle classes and the ability for members of the working class to elevate their status to the Middle Class.  With the increase in social justice and revision of politics much of the bourgeoisie power base has been eroded. (Levine 1998)

Marx’s Program of communist revolution –  Marx maintained that it was impossible to transition from capitalism to Communism without first having a political transition. In the interim the state must be that of a revolutionary period. The Communist Manifesto was seen to place revolution and political transition together in the reformation process.  The objective being to raise the proletariat to become the ruling class and to vanquish democracy / capitalism. He sees the ultimate rise to communism must be obtained by the rise of power within the proletariat and obtaining political power in order to resist the exploitation by the capitalist masters.  The chain of events could not be broken in any other foreseeable way.

Only in a communist society can you truly be rid of the discrimination and prejudices that are populated by a democratic capitalistic society.  Only once these are gone can you be rid of state control and consider the concept of freedom. The installation of communism makes the state control apparatus unnecessary as there is no one left to control in the sense of class distinction. This is not deemed to be a utopian society but one where the individual will have freedom of expression  and will work for the benefit of the people and country, as opposed to exploitive masters who are only interested in generating wealth and profit for themselves.  In this sense we move towards that of a more socially aware and moral society which removes the prime causes of exploitation and poverty of the people.

Marx defined the following stages in the developmental process of the revolution:

  • Agricultural Revolution – the acquisition of food and obtaining a stable economy
  • Industrial Revolution – Overthrow of the Factory and Mechanical control in society
  • Bloody Revolution – the proletariat would rise up and defeat their oppressors
  • Initial Government – needed to take early control of society
  • Dissolution of Government – It was not needed in a communist society; alternative administration governed by the people for the people.

A good example being to examine how Cuba transformed into a Marxist state. The revolutionary leaders in Cuba committed to the cause of the working proletariat and they established an administration based upon people power.  This still falls short of the communist ideal because there is still a form of dictatorship in power that remains empowered over the people. Despite the shortcomings Cuba is perhaps the closest example to the Marxist model and has demonstrated capacity to learn from mistakes and act according to its beliefs in the communist party leadership. (Socialist Action 2012).

Arendt’s concept of vita active – Arendt Hannah is a female philosopher noted for her stance on totalitarianism and the term ‘banality of evil’.  Amongst her most important contributions is that of vita active; she uses the premise of taking claims derived from the pre-philosophical Athens to that of the active life and that these are formed into three parts i.e. Labor, Work and Action.

Labour – This considers the repetitive biological needs of life.  This looks at the cycle of life, growth, metabolism and decay.  For example: we expend labour effort to acquire food, the food is consumed and then hunger takes place resulting in the need for more labour and so the cycle continues.  She acknowledges that some happiness may result from the labour but equally states a life that is dedicated to the pursuit of labour is unsatisfactory.  Labour is seen as a precondition of politics

Work   Arendt stated that the result of work leads to the establishment of more permanent things in your life like that of shelter and material objects. This contrasted to that of labour which is cyclical and unending. Work also follows a pattern of logic in terms of how something is built or constructed and as such has a defined start and completion date. Objects produced from work tend to be more durable and last longer and as such derive greater satisfaction.  They are often related to safety or survival needs

Action – Considered being the most important aspect of an active life.  It often has political dimensions. Arendt believed humans have both equality and similarity to one another and as such exist in a state of plurality. There are also unique individuals and each person brings something new into this world that cannot be predicted ahead of time.  It is through the political actions that an individual can express themselves and reveal to the world their true nature of intent and feeling. She considers that through these deeds a person retains a degree of immortality by being remembered by others for the actions taken i.e. Hitler, Churchill etc.

The concept of hierarchy illustrates the cycle of labour that introduces the element of work. It is work that produces something tangible.  The results of this may lead to the taking of certain actions.  For example I need food to be able to work, I need work to build my house, and I need to take action in order to protect my house. To an extent this model still applies to modern day thought.  Arendt stated certain distinctions between the Public and Private sectors. She believed that matters of a private nature should not be included in the political process and as such the ordinary citizen should be focused on decision making that will ultimately benefit society as a whole; as opposed to being selfish and just looking after personal interests. (Fry,K. 2009)

Arendt’s concept of action – The main fundamental features of action is freedom, Plurality and disclosure.   The two central figures to action are that of freedom and plurality. In the context of freedom Arendt meant this to be the ability to commence with something new and with this the ability to do something unexpected.  The concept of bringing original creativity into life from being born. In this regard she has looked at freedom form the lens of natalityand as such the birth of each human represents a new beginning and sense of newness in the world. (The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition 2012).

Arendt considered Action to be one of the basic considerations of human conditioning. She deals with the concept of plurality; this referring where an action can take place but is accomplished in isolation to others. The connection between Action and plurality is established by an anthropological argument. . She considers the concept of life to to correspond with the actions of Labour and worldliness, the latter corresponding to the activity of work. Hence plurality is a condition corresponding to action.  She used the example of the fact that it is MEN who live on the earth and not MAN. This is pointed out to be the condition of a human action i.e. basically we are all the same i.e. human but equally have our own uniqueness from birth to death.

Arendt referred to power as the ability to voice your opinion for public political purpose and distinguished this from strength, brute force or violence. It is not the property of a specific individual but is pluralistic by nature and is the combined effort of a number of people joining together with some common political purpose.  As opposed to violence that is based upon coercion this is more based on the art of persuasion or consent. (The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition 2012).

Arendt defined polis as that of space of appearance.  This being where the space that others appear to me and where I appear to them; this being where men make their appearance in an explicit manner. For example where men gather in a forum for political purpose and action.

The space of appearance nay only exist providing it is continually replaced by actions. This vanishes once these activities have ceased.  These actions normally arise from a state of revolution in which they happen suddenly; equally they may happen very slowly by some effort to change by of legislation or policy.

Arendt’s critique of modernity – Arendt looked at Greek life and divided this into two distinct reals, that of the private and the public sphere.  The public realm was where political activities were located. Hence in the public realm this was where true freedom could be obtained. Equally this is the forum where great deed and glory can be accomplished and the domain of the great orator.  The private realm is more individualistic by nature and concerned with deeds that benefit the household.  Topics in the public sphere normally impact the masses and cover such items as Education, Law, Politics, and War etc.

The Public sphere itself has the very foundations manifested in the individual and that of the private sector. Hence within the context of modern society the expansion of the social sector over the private has had important consequences in terms of fusion between the two. As such the public sphere has become a function of the private one. Hence the distinction between that of public and private spheres is more from the lens of the private sphere that that of a political body illustrating distinctions between items that have to be shown and those that must remain hidden. (Morariu, M.  2012)

Arendt’s conception of the public sphere, as based upon a Greek Athenian political model, is seen to decline with the elevation of modern society, state and economic structures. This based upon the tendency of the modern state to deconstruct Corporate and Estate organizations. (Cohen, J.L. 1994).

The Weak points of marxism –  The main weaknesses of Marxism are based upon two false assumptions  i.e.  humans are educated out of their desire for self interest and that is justified.  One of the key reasons that Marxism did not work in practice is because Marx was basically a visionary with grandiose dreams of revolution and political reform. Lenin decided that much of Marx’s theories were out of date and oumoded and as such in Russia he focused more upon the outcomes of the revolution itself.

The Marxist theories tend to have the lens focused upon social upheavel and the rise of the proletariat that ends of with a bloody revolution before political reform takes place. This ultimately replacing an existing government with a communist regime. This is really a vision of class struggle where the worker wins through to a utopian dream of being in control via communist ideologies.  Such dreams are seldom realised and even the closest attempt i.e. that of Castro and the shaping of Cuban society was far from the ideal model as prescribed by Marx. This despite the best efforts of the revolutionery regime to try and adopt Marx’s concept of communism as a working system for the people.

The collapse of Communism and Marxism is best demonstrated in the re-unification of Germany after the collapse of the Berlin Wall.  This resulted in an offensive against the ideals of marxism that had perpetuated in East Germany through the domination of communism and ideas of marxism.  The attitudes and changes were unprecedented with a world condemnation and rejection . Oddly enough the failure in both Russia and Germany was not really the fault or collapse of communism but a strive towards socialism that requires a degree of democratic reform in order to drive it forward.  The nationalised economies in both Russia and East Germany made remarkable breakthroughs in Science industry, health and techology. The error was undermining the planned economy which led to its collapse and the return of capitalism.  It was the large beurocracy of corrupt officials that were running the Soviet Union and was not influenced by any control from the working class.  We are starting to see some additional parallels in Russia today, despite its democratic reforms, it still has corrupt officials, a black market economy and little regard for the working class as the elite get more affluent at the expense of the working people.  (Woods, A. 2009).

Another problem in East Germany was the intransigence of Erich Konecker who opposed the reformation steps put forward by Russian President Gorbachev.  It was the East German people that became openly rebellious and wanting reform.  They had witnessed the rebuild of West Germany with funds from the Marshall plan whilst the Communist Russian regime led East Germany into a state of decline with no msajor investment programs in order to rebuild Easdty Germany.  The East Germans saw their neihbouring West German people becoming a powerhouse economy in Europe and becoming affluent and living in a luxurious lifestyle by comparison to their own poverty under the Marxist Russian regime.  The Russians themselves were looking to shed communism and move towards democratic reform under the leadership  of Gorbachev and later President Yeltsin.

References

D’Amato, Paul. The Meaning of Marxism. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2006.

Fry, Karin. Arendt, Hannah . 2009. http://www.women-philosophers.com/Arendt.html (accessed 7 18, 2012).

Jean L. Cohen, Andrew Arato. Civil Society and Political Theory. Boston: MIT Press, 1994.

Korsch, Karl. “Marxism and the Present Task of the Proletarian Class Struggle.” Living Marxism #4, (Marxists.org), 1938.

Levine, Rhonda F. Social Class and Stratification: Classic Statements and Theoretical Debates. Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998.

Meszaros, Istvan. Marx’s Theory of Alienation. New York: Aakar Books, 2006.

Morariu, Mihaela. “Public and Private in the Anthropology of Hannah Arendt.” AGATHOS, 2012: 146-150.

Socialist Action. A Marxist Analysis of Cuba. 7 15, 2012. http://www.socialistaction.org/cubaanalysis.htm (accessed 7 15, 2012).

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition. Hannah Arendt. 2012. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/arendt/ (accessed 7 18, 2012).

Wood, Allen W. Karl Marx. London: Routledge, 2004.

Woods, Alan. The fall of the Berlin Wall: 20 years Later. 11 9, 2009. http://www.marxist.com/fall-berlin-wall-20-years-later.htm (accessed 7 18, 2012).

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