Compare, contrast and evaluate two theories of the distribution of power in modern states.
Power distribution in modern states can come in many forms, from democracies designed to satisfy the entire population to dictatorships where civilians are repressed. The ideologies and theories behind methods of distribution are numerous and vary significantly. This essay will compare the theory of socialist communism to the more totalitarian regime of fascism.
There are many theories relating to power distribution among sovereign states. For the purpose of this investigation we will define a ‘sovereign state’ as a contained geographical area which has a legal supremacy and regarding the governance of its own power. This definition closely matches that given by D.D. Raphael in his work Problems of Political Philosophy (1970) in which he discusses the role of power within a state. Raphael argues that power is the right to act, meaning that distribution of power is shifted depending on what rights are given, or withheld, from the citizens of a state. Although there are several theories of methods used to distribute power this essay will concentrate on only two: the communist theory and theory of fascism.
In the past century communism has been particularly prevalent in modern states. Karl Marx, arguably the father of communist theory, defined communism as the “Abolition of private property” in his Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), although many other definitions have existed over the years (Heywood, 1992). In cases when communism has been used in practice rather than theory, such as in the Soviet Union, Cuba and China, it appears to be a democracy with a disregard for social class, where power is ideologically shared equally under a centralised administration. Fascism, in theory, is almost the complete opposite of this. It first became prevalent under the rule of Mussolini in Italy, when it was taken to describe the practice of using paramilitary armed squads in order to establish and maintain a rigorous method of control of the population (Heywood, 1992). Fascism refers to the repression of civilians and their rights, centralising power under one particular political party, or even one particular person. Fascism is often associated with a dictatorship, such as General Francisco Franco who ruled in Spain from 1939 to 1975 after the Spanish Civil War. It is one of the most modern theories of power distribution to emerge, having only developed as a theory within the twentieth century
In order to successfully compare these two methods of power distribution we must highlight common linear factors which will appear in both ideologies. This essay will examine where power is distributed, the origins of the theory, the implementation of such governments, the ideologies behind such regimes and the effects on the rights of state citizens.
Ideology in theory and practice.
Communism is arguably a visionary ideology. It is an extreme branch of socialism, where equality prevails over individual collectivism and the economic materialistic qualities of capitalism. Socialism is not necessarily defined by state ownership, but by a centralised management of state production and commodity distribution (Held, 1987). The communist theories developed by Marx took this principle and expanded it, concluding that a democratic government would be unable to administer such a system because of the inherent class divisions in society. Communism essentially strips away class values, by valuing personal labour above profit and commodities (McLennan, 1989). This theory is aiming for towards a total equality between individuals in which no one profits at the expense of others, reducing the suffering of the people.
The ideology behind fascism contrasts significantly to that of communism. Whereas communism strives to look after the welfare of individuals within the state, fascism historically tends to view the state as one whole. Individuality and personal rights are regarded as commodities which must be sacrificed in order to benefit the larger community (Finer, 1970). This is essentially a branch of totalitarianism, where the happiness of the greater number of people is given precedent over individual happiness. Hitler’s Third Reich was designed to promote the German volksgemeinschaft, or ‘people’s community’, but the individual rights of the citizens were largely ignored. Individuals were seen to be temporary, whereas the community would live on through generations.
The difference between these theories of governance is substantial. Communism seeks to implement a system where individuality is promoted and happiness is maintained through forced equality. Fascism cares little for the rights of individuals in order to develop the community as a whole. The different level of care is also reflected in how these methods of power distribution are implemented. The way in which a civilisation comes to accept a certain method of state control and power distribution can say a lot about each theory. Most democratic states rely on elections and natural evolutions of government, whereas dictatorships tend to be forced on unsuspecting civilians.
Due to its nature as a people-friendly ideology, communism has often been the result of a revolution. People in political power within a democracy are usually unwilling to implement a socialist society as it reduces their own power and wealth, so an uprising of the people and a seizure of power is the most likely way for a communist party to gain control. In the case of the Bolshevik revolution in the Soviet Union in 1917 an uprising against the Tsar was timed to coincide with the development of the political party, and once power was seized opposition was easily eliminated. Alternatively, fascist governments are often voted into power under false pretences. As in most dictatorships or one-party states the party in question originally appealed to the people and won their confidence, before removing their rights in favour of their own brand of autocracy (Bobbio, 1989).
Power distribution takes into account how political representation and personal rights are implemented. As power rests with those who have the ability to influence change within the state then it is possible for power to be in the hands of the people, even in a state where administration is centralised. However, when power itself is centralised then only those in political power have any authority over making changes within policy.
Communism may be a centralised democracy, but the intention behind it is that all citizens have an equal share of power. Irrespective of class, people have equal rights and shares of the profits and commodities within the community. The existence of the right to vote, the right to run for public office, the right of free speech and other such civil liberties shows that the people are given the change to determine and change the fate of the state. Fascism, on the other hand, withdraws power from the individual and focuses it in a concentrated area. Opposition is discouraged if not abolished, and the individual people are highly repressed. One supreme political party will administer power as they see fit without democracy or any challenge from alternate thinkers. Communism and fascism in theory take opposing methods of power distribution in order to achieve their objectives.
In conclusion, the theories of communism and fascism are two extremely different methods of distributing power within modern states. Communism centralises control but spreads power throughout the full state, allowing all citizens to have access to the same rights and privileges. Fascism completely centralises power, removing individual freedom in order to benefit the state as a whole. Both theories have been put into practice in recent years and have even been successful for a time under rigorous implementation, yet both often fail in favour of the more democratic methods of power distribution.
Birch, A. H. (2007) The Concepts and Theories of Modern Democracy, Third edition Routledge.
Bobbio, N. (1989) Democracy and Dictatorship, Polity.
Finer, S E. (1983) Comparative Government, Penguin.
Held, D. (2006) Models of Democracy 3rd Edition. Polity.
Heywood, A. (1992) Political Ideologies: An Introduction, Macmillan.
Jessop, B. (1990) State Theory: Putting Capitalist States in their Place, Polity.
McLennan, G. (1989) Marxism, Pluralism and Beyond, Polity.
Raphael, D.D. (1976) Problems in Political Philosophy, Macmillan.