Ellen Meiksins Wood was an ardent believer of Marxist ideologies. The concept of Marxism implied that classes that governed people both politically and economically were supposed to be abolished and be replaced by a system of socialism, which would then be followed by a classless system where people would govern themselves (Raza, 2015). Marxism held the notion that a capitalist system exploited the working class since they only owned their ability to work and not the means of production. Production, distribution, and exchange means were privately held by a few individuals, meaning that they controlled the economy. These people formed the elite class (Raza, 2015). Marxism called for the production means to be socially or publicly owned. According to Marxism, a revolution, where the working class would take over the economy from the few elite was inevitable. A communist system devoid of classes was bound to be created (Raza, 2015). It means that Wood was more of a communist and not a capitalist.
A social property relations approach is aligned with political Marxism. It attempts to explain the shift from feudalism to capitalism historically. Meiksins Wood extensively uses this method to account for the separation of economic and political in capitalism. According to Wood, the economic aspect of capitalism entails production and distribution. The extraction of surplus and how it is used as well as the allocation of labor to the various production means is economical and not political (Wood, 2003). Production and distribution of the different resources used in the process such as labor are achieved through non-political means (Wood, 2003). They are independently controlled by the instruments used in carrying out the exchange function. Political figures do not direct surplus use. Rather, it is controlled by producers not linked to the means of production and an appropriator now connected to the output means (Wood, 2003). On the other hand, the political side implies the structures used to police the producers and appropriators, to ensure that they do not violate the rules. That organ is the state. The state has a monopoly power that directs the exploitation of the factors of production, the production process and the appropriation of surplus. The same government empowers private organs to control the production process as well as individuals who control the process (Wood, 2003). In short, the investors organize and control whereas the political powers enforce. That implies that even though the economic and political aspects of a capitalist society work together, their roles can be separated.
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One of the strengths of the approach as used by wood is its practical point of view rather than theoretical. The way that she tries to show the two by giving explicit examples is more than just theory. She associates the economic aspect to the producers and appropriators. The producers being the people who manufacture and process, control the production process, irrespective of government intervention or not. On the other hand, the appropriators ensure that the resources produced are used wisely. The commercial part of capitalism is explicitly linked to the production and distribution of the resources in a capitalist society (Wood, 2003). She goes out of the way to ensure that the role played by the state is well understood. The state enforces the processes to make sure that rules are not broken, or there are no violations. In a communist society, these individuals who control the production and distribution would not exist (Raza, 2015). The working class themselves would control the practices, but an organ would exist to enforce the undertakings. The clear distinction of the roles played despite the fact that Woods is a Marxist is an achievement.
Another strength of Wood’s approach to explaining the separation of economic and political power is the fact that she sheds light on the concept of feudalism. Feudalism indicates a division of state authority into units (Wood, 2003). She goes on to say that the units have also undergone privatization where power has been awarded to some private organs. Having in mind that Wood is a Marxist, the fact that her article allows her to recognize some of the pros of capitalism should not go unnoticed. She says that capitalism holds that excellent ability to separate the state from the economy (Wood, 2003). This allows the economy to run undisturbed, though the government does intervene at times. She is also quick to point out that feudalism has never been adequately illustrated. Feudalism is usually elaborated for all state power. However, there are different kinds of state power under feudalism, and each type has its particular fragmentation (Wood, 2003).
However, based on the fact that the approach has more to do with Marxism, and the fact that Wood is a Marxist, the explanation may be biased. This fact counts as one of the weaknesses of this article. The article is dominated by criticisms of the capitalist society. Even where there appears to some positivity attached, it is quickly followed by the negativity of the same point. For example, even after praising the reduced state intervention associated with capitalism, Wood immediately after dwells on the negative aspect of the same. She indicates that the state can belong to every individual out there but is still helpless to stop the exploitation by those who manage its resources (Wood, 2003). There are disputable claims that capitalists exercise excessive control over production (Wood, 2003).
The way that Wood tries to unravel everything in the separation of economic and political turns out to be very complicated. Indeed, it has been written that she would have been needed to spend her entire life trying to unravel what she wrote (Brenner, 2016). She mixes up her facts and ideologies in the whole article. For example, she brings out the notion that despite the political and economic forms being independent, the economic part is still politically centered in some way (Brenner, 2016). At some point, Ellen says that exploitation is inevitable in a capitalist system. However, a view that comes out later is that workers themselves pave the way for their exploitation. They make this possible when they decide to sell their labor to the capitalists (Brenner, 2016). They have the bargaining power yet they let it be that way. It is difficult for the ordinary reader to comprehend her exact stand after brushing through the whole article. All this mix up may be down to the fact that she doesn’t want to support capitalism. She may want to ensure that come what; she still tries to champion communism over capitalism.
- Brenner, R. (2016). Ellen Meiksins Wood (1942-2016). [online] International Viewpoint. Available at: http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article4436 [Accessed 22 Aug. 2017].
- Raza, S. (2015). Who are Marxists?. [online] Quora. Available at: https://www.quora.com/Who-are-Marxists [Accessed 22 Aug. 2017].
- Wood, E. (2003). Democracy Against Capitalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.