Issue Of Power: Marx, Foucault And Sillitoe
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Issue of Power: Marx, Foucault and Sillitoe
The relationship between modern and postmodern theorists has been a largely antagonistic one, creating much debate over theories such as the notion of power. Rather than focusing on the clear contrasts of these theorists, we take a different approach by finding connections within the disparities of their viewpoints. In examining the philosophy of power through the perspectives of Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, and Alan Sillitoe, it becomes subtly apparent that they are in actuality derivatives of each other. They form a network of micro and macro theory, which allows for a reestablishment of thought and greater insight. Karl Marx gives primacy to the macrosphere, dealing with the major socio-historical change and universal truths. Michel Foucault emphasizes the need for microtheory dealing with the nature of difference and games of truth. Alan Sillitoe can be seen as a combination of both visionaries.
Karl Marx presents the theory of world history as a succession of class-struggles for economic and political power. He believes in the universal idea that power is found primarily through this relation. He concerns himself with the modern capitalist society where there exists the conflict between the exploiting bourgeoisie and the exploited proletariat. He defines the proletariat as the class which consists of people who are shut off from direct access to the means of production and are forced to live through their power to produce wealth by laboring upon machines and materials which arent their own. They live off of their “labor-power.” The bourgeoisie on the other hand, lives off of “surplus value” which arises from the exploitation of labor. They are the owners of those resources of production which the proletariat work on for their survival. It is interesting to note how Marx places the individual into a broader scheme and through this process, creates a social theory. Marx asks us to see the relation between certain social groups on the model of certain relations of dominance between individuals Ð- master and slave, ruler and ruled. The decaying class of the proletariats are bound to their prescribed roles, unable to form a radical policy of their own because they are powerless. It wants to depart from slavery but at the same time, its supreme desire is to preserve conditions of economic progress.
Marx continues to expand on this idea of power in terms of the political sphere. As the conflict of class relations continues to grow, “the state power assumes more and more the character of the national power of capital over labor, of a public force organized for social enslavement, of an engine of class despotism.” The state which is controlled by the capitalists brings on increasing misery and despair as the working class standards are continually forced down. Through this idea of class-struggle, Marx was able to form an arbitrary framework of how capitalism arose and how it uses the mechanism of power to function as a working capitalist system. Marx forms a generalization that power can only be used to serve the means of injustice.
Marx continues to use his macro theorist approach by constructing a grand theory of the ideal communist society. Marx lists four stages of development that trace the historical model of change: primitive communism, antique slavery, feudalism and capitalism. Through this progressive evolutionary process, society is inevitably led to the advancement of a classless society. He believed that this was a part of the natural socio-historical change, or the last phase of the chain of developments. The proletariat goes through various stages of growth. In the beginning, they struggle with the bourgeoisie through the use of force, seeking to restore their status as a workman. At this point, these laborers are still broken and unorganized to bring any amount of change. But with the development of the industry, they not only increase in numbers but also become more concentrated. As their strength grows, they form unions and permanent associations which work to keep up the rate of wages. Local struggles become one national struggle. Finally, the process of destruction going on in within the ruling class becomes permanent as a small section joins the proletariat revolutionary class. “Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of Modern Industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product.” Though many theorists challenge the viability of a permanent socialist society, it does not in any way affect the validity of Marxs general theory of history, which states that historical epochs do succeed one another in a certain order.
Another central theory of Marx, which gives a holistic perspective on power is the
notion of ideological control by the dominant class bourgeoisie.
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: ie., the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.
Due to the overruling power of the bourgeoisie, forms of literature, art and other forms of culture reflect the class ideology. It penetrates all forms of discourse in society and allows the ruling class to maintain its power over the people. Marx believes that men are limited by the products of their consciousness and therefore, they are chained to the limitations that the ruling class ideology places on them. The only way to destroy the limitations of consciousness is by exchanging the present consciousness for “human, critical or egoistic consciousness.”
In analyzing the works of Alan Sillitoe, namely “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” we can identify various connections with the thoughts of Marx. Sillitoe concerns himself with the idea of seeking the truths of man, particularly interested in exposing the social injustices of our society and creating reform. In this manner, he reflects Marxist thought of power struggle and rebellion. The story is related in the first person by Colin Smith, who tells of a theft which he has committed, his imprisonment in Essex Borstal, his decision to lose deliberately in a long-distance race, and his hatred of prison officials.
The prison officials and in essence, the government are a representation of what Marx would consider as the bourgeoisie class.