Marxists believe that political power has its origins in economic power. Therefore those who own the means of production (wealth, factories, businesses, money) - the bourgeoisie have both economic and political power over the non owners (the working class or proletariat).
Government and the State therefore exist to maintain the class divisions in society.
How do the ruling class maintain this power?
Marxists acknowledge that in capitalist societies there sometimes appears to be consent for the authority of the capitalists from the workers, but argue that this is "false consciousness" - capitalist ideas and attitudes are imposed on the working class through ideological manipulation.
The dominant capitalist ideology is said to be imposed on workers in schools, through the media and through organised religion. For example children in schools are "taught" how to compete for scarce qualifications, the media manipulates the news to show capitalist interests in a good light, and religion "teaches" the poor to put up with their conditions and wait for the after life.
“ Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
“ The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.”
“ Christian Socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat.”
The Italian modern or neo-Marxist Gramsci develops the idea of ideological dominance considerably. Ideological leadership of society by the capitalists is described as 'hegemony'.
Gramsci was put in prison by the fascist Italian government in 1926.
Here he wrote his Prison Notebooks and he developed his theory of cultural hegemony.
Cultural hegemony is the dominance of one social group over another, i.e. the ruling class over all other classes. The ideas of the ruling class come to be seen as the norm; they are seen as universal ideologies, perceived to benefit everyone whilst only really benefiting the ruling class.
Can you think of examples of hegemony?
Peston - 2007
Peston states that 54 billionaires paid just £15 million in tax on earnings of £126 million in 2007.
The gap between the super rich and the rest of the population is ever widening
Shows an increase in power for the business and financial sectors and incredibly high rewards for a small minority of individuals.
Peston - 2007
For example in 2005 retailer Phillip Green, who awarded himself a £1.2 mbillion return from his stores empire (paid to his wife who resides in Monte Carlo) was given a knighthood by Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Hugo Chavez – Venezuela
Chavez was an army officer who led a coup in 1992 because he was fed up with government corruption and kleptocracy. He was also shocked by the government use of violence against the poorest people who lived in Los Barrios.
Chavez was put in prison for 2 years.
When he came out he developed a political party that stood up against the interest of big business and American companies. He represented the wishes of the poorest sectors of Venezuelan society.
In the 1998 elections Chavez won the presidential elections with enormous support amongst the poor.
He introduced radical ideas of participatory democracy with his ‘Bolivarian Circles’
In 2002 Chavez survived a coup led by the recently ousted elite group.
They controlled the army, kidnapped Chavez and tried to take him out of the country. They tried to force him to resign.
However when news of this broke out in Los Barrios of Caracas thousands of Chavez supporters flooded on the streets and to the airport