Philosophy / Issue Of Power: Marx, Foucault And Sillitoe
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Autor: anton 01 November 2010
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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 aren't 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’â€“ 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 Marx's 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. Smith was not assigned to a prison but to a Borstal, designed especially for young offenders and intended to rehabilitate them for a useful life upon release. The essence of the system is, "that the young person under training is to be regarded as a living organismÐ’â€¦with a life and character of his own. The task is not to break or knead him into shape, but to stimulate some power within to regulate conduct arightÐ’â€¦It follows, therefore, that the men and women engaged in his training have first to know him, outside and inside, learning a little more each day about him." And yet this practice falls short as the interests of the officials are clearly self-serving. The governor in charge of the Borstal tries to promote his own professional prestige using Smith's ability as a long-distance runner. From Smith's point of view, it is like stealing a man's wealth. Can we not perhaps parallel this relationship with the one Marx describes as the bourgeoisie exploitation of the proletariat? Both Marx and Sillitoe work for a radical alteration in the class structure, in order to eliminate inequities and injustices formed by the abuse of power.
Sillitoe also reflects Marx's belief of ideological control when Smith describes himself as "the first and the last man on the world." He addresses the matter of choice or will. He understands his position and his own convictions but he isn't clear about the rest of mankind. He believes the rest of the world is so easily pushed into the conventionalities and mindlessness of the social order. The reform school is just one example of an institution implemented for the pure sake of making people first contrite and then obedient and lawful to the present organization of society.
We now focus our attention to Michel Foucault, who is seen as a postmodern microtheorist. Rather than constructing grand theories and models of social order as Marx had done, Foucault searches for first principles and to ask instead how power actually operates in our society. He believes in the idea of power relations, an action which influences another action by determining a field of possibility for it. "The exercise of power is not simply a relationship between partners, individual or collective; it is a way in which certain actions modify others." In this manner, Foucault insists on creating a discourse which rides on multiple perspectives and details of social phenomena. He does not limit the use of power to class-relations as does Marx, but rather uses it as a point of departure in which he elaborates on the existence of other various theoretical standpoints. It allows him to use the self as a tool of power, a product of domination, rather than as an instrument of personal freedom. Foucault explains that "the soul is the prison of the body," or a phantom imposed by "methods of punishment, supervision and constraint." If this is accepted as true, then there can be no binary division between the dominator and the dominated, rather it circulates between them and is diffused. We are all subjected to power. It also allows him to see power in a different perspective, not only as a repressive but productive force that allows one to respond and react to domination. Resistance is one avenue that can be taken against power.
Unlike Marx, Foucault had no belief in a deep underlying truth or structure. There was no objective viewpoint from which one could analyze the order of society. Therefore, there was no form of continuity or progress in history. The ideal society for Marx was nonexistent to Foucault. Foucault rather asserts a new perspective on truth, which he calls the "games of truth." Truth is identified in the same light as the Marxist conceptualization of ideology. Truth is no more than the result of this world. In other words, the institutions and schools of thought all collaborate together to create a context in which something is established as "true." Foucault was extremely critical of beliefs that claimed to give an exclusive objective explanation of reality. We come to the conclusion that there are many truths for many times in history. This is a deviation of Marx, where there was but one truth and that was the idea that power only serves for injustice. Through this perspective of multiplicity, Foucault opens up new fields and gives us a broader context for the understanding of the way other foreign cultures may function.
We had previously compared Sillitoe's work with the theory of Marx. We can also find important connections with the theories of Foucault, which has just been observed. Colin Smith becomes caught up in several ways of looking at the world that is available to him, which was provided ever since he was a kid. Yet he rejects all concepts of family, education and institutions of society. Rather he develops more and more the sceptical and disenchanted attitude of a man of rebellion. He abandons everything by creating his own system, a code of life that denies him any joy of life and ordinary human pleasures. Rebellion at first suggests that he is a very alive and actively seeking person, but we find that it becomes constraining as much as the forces he chose to runaway from. In a way, we find Foucault's theory to be true. Smith has become subject to the self, a product of domination. There is no realm outside of power and we find that Smith is no exception. He can never escape the conditions of his environment. Smith's rebellion is corroborative of power and procedures used in the modern world. Rebellion is tied into a whole different tradition of discourse that gives rise to new forms of disciplinary practice.
Sillitoe brings us to the point of the story which is simply nihilistic. There is no objective ground of truth that can bring a solution to society's problems. "They don't see eye to eye with us and we don't see eye to eye with them, so that's how it stands and how it will always stand." Smith comes out of the Borstal unreformed and constantly living the lonely life of rebellion.
By comparing the rationale of these theorists through a micro and macro perspective, we see that they reveal limitations and expose new constructs of analysis. They force one to continually study and clarify the basis of their doctrines, allowing for greater insight into the nature of theory, discourse and their relationship to society.
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