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Essay: Marxist Feminism and Marxism on state (draft)

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  • Subject area(s): Sociology essays
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  • Published: 15 November 2019*
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  • Words: 994 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)
  • Tags: Marxism essays

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State is perceived as an abstraction (Edelman, 1964: 1). There is no exact concept about definition of state. However, this conceptual abstraction of state merely can be interrogated using different theoretical approaches in order to explain the role of the state (Hay, Lister, 2006: 4). Dunleavy and O’Leary (1987) divided the definition of state into two forms which are organizational definition and functional definition. Organizational definition explains state as a set of institutions which is controlled by the government. In this sense, government is regarded as the process of making rules, controlling, guiding or regulating. The other form, functional definition depicts state as an institution which possesses goals, purposes or objective and it functions to maintain social order (Dunleavy and O’Leary, 1987: 1-4).

This essay attempts to compare Marxism and Feminism theories in regard to depict the definition and role of the state in a further description. Both Marxists and some feminists exemplify states as social relations. When Marxists see it as class relations between bourgeois and proletariat, Feminists identify it as gender – class relations between male and female (Kantola, 2006: 123).

In further account, based on Colin Hay in His writing “(What’s Marxist about) Marxist State Theory”, Marx and Engel had never explicitly developed a single unified concrete conceptual framework about state (Hay, 2006: 65). However, their ideas about the state can be traced and developed. In his work, referred to Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas, Hay talks about the different ways of thinking about the nature of the state, instrumentalism and structuralism. Instrumentalist Marxism which is denounced by Miliband perceives state as a neutral body which is controlled and manipulated by dominant class in capitalist society in order to serve their interests. In other way, in structuralism, state is demonstrated as an objective structure which is imposed by mode of production (Hay, 2006: 71-76)

Moreover, due to the attempt to investigate more about the theory of the state in comparative way, this essay will focus on the instrumentalism to analyse the state in Marxism and compare it with state concept in feminism. Nonetheless, the relevancy of the comparison will also depend on the pertinent element of feminism theory. In feminism, there is a typology that divides the theory into several main elements which are liberal feminism, radical feminism, and Marxist-feminism. Moreover, concerning about bringing a compatible outcome for this essay, a proportional element that is perceived as a suitable element to be compared with instrumentalism in Marxism theory is liberal feminism which indicated the first wave of feminism. As an outcome, this essay is expected to be able to provide a proper argument about which theory is deemed to be a relevant thought to explain the concept of state.

The History of State Concept

The term “state” was first used in Mesopotamia era around 3000 BC to indicate the systems and processes of political governance. Somehow, the concept of state had not appeared until seventeenth century when the transition epoch from hunter-gatherers to an organized agriculture. The emergence of state concept in organized agriculture era was triggered by the absence of systematic control and adjustment of agricultural production. The need to compose a new strategy to control using an organized system in order to produce a valuable outcome in agricultural system forced state to utilise a coercive power. In this organized agriculture, state was delineated to have control over certain territory and legitimacy to exercise power over its population (Hay, Lister, 2006: 5).

The concept of state was frequently developed from the ancient era of Mesopotamia to western Europe era when the concept of modern state appeared. The modern state is defined as institutional complex which claims for sovereignty and political supremacy over delineated territory in which the control is handled by the government in charge. Moreover, the very first written concept of state was conducted by Machiavelli in ‘The Prince’. Machiavelli depicts state as a characterized body in which there is a political regime that claims and preserves certain geographical area and this regime is required to perpetuate such authority. Furthermore, in the next development in Renaissance era, state was perceived as distinct apparatus of government who had role to maintain the rules that they made in order to retain their position. In the other version, Thomas Hobbes defined state as the body that has absolute and singular authority in which either rulers or ruled have obligation to put their fidelity upon the state (Hay, Lister, 2006: 5-7).

To make it clear about the definition of state, it is appropriate to look at it from Marxism and Feminism approaches

Instrumentalism Marxism

In general, state in Marxism is perceived as social relations between bourgeois and proletariat in the mode of production context which is more focus on economic view. Despite this definition is derived from Marxism point of view, Hay argues that the definition of the state offered in Marxism theory is more likely to be unclear or implicit (Hay 2006: 60). This condition then lead to an uncertainty about the definition of state rendered by Marxism theorists. However, many Marxists have attempted to develop state concept in advance way. One of the prominent works that brings understanding about concept of the state in Marxism is Instrumentalism. Instrumentalism which was promoted by Ralph Miliband sees the state as an instrument which is under ruling class control. Instrumentalist identify state as a neutral body that can be manipulated by the dominant class or in this class ruling class.

This control had by ruling class is achieved because ruling class can maniplatedInstrumentalists identify state as a neutral body

Provide the definition of state in Marxism theory.

Instrumentalists recognize state as neutral

Liberal Feminism

Judith Allen: “where feminists have been interested in the state their ideas on its nature and form have often been imported from outside (hay, Lister, page 13)


These theories also focus on class struggle in which explain the relationship between exploited and exploiter. As Marx and Engels ever mentioned in Communist Manifesto: “the history ever exists in society is the history of class struggle”.

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