Introduction to Political Theory

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other hand, appears to be bleakly negative towards the concept of citizenship,
arguing that it seems to ignore the realities of a class-divided society. The rights of
the citizen, he comments in an oft-cited passage, are simply the rights of the egoistic
man (i.e. the property owner) of ‘men separated from other men and the community’
(Marx and Engels, 1975: 162). Marx’s language is not only sexist, but he seems to
be saying that citizenship is simply the right to exploit others through the ownership
of private property. The possession of citizenship is seen as an anti-social activity.
His argument is not quite as negative as it sounds. Marx comments that in the
possessive individualist society, it is not ‘man as citoyen but man as bourgeois who
is considered to be the essential and true man’ (Marx and Engels, 1975: 164). Marx’s
argument is that classical citizenship is abstract insofar as it implies an equality
of an ideal kind, for this equality is contradicted by the concrete inequalities that
exist in the real world. Even if the male worker can vote, how much power does
he have over his life if his employer can have him summarily dismissed from this
It is important to stress that for Marx, the notion of abstraction does not imply
unreality in the sense that the abstract citizen does not exist. What makes the liberal
notion of citizenship abstract is that it concealsbeneath its benevolent-sounding
principles the reality of class. While the Communist Manifestosees the establishment
of the ‘modern representative State’ (Marx and Engels, 1967: 82) as a crucial
historical achievement, this state cannot be said to be representative of the
community but acts on behalf of the capitalists. The celebrated description of
communism as ‘an association in which free development of each is the condition
for the free development of all’ (Marx and Engels, 1967: 105) could be taken, in
our view, as a description of citizenship in a classless society.
Marx’s concept of abstraction makes it possible to explain why Locke and the
classical liberals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries could imagine that
individuals existed in splendid isolation from one another in a state of nature, while
continuing to trade as market partners. The market involves an exchange between
individuals that conceals their differing social positions.
Marx’s analysis can still be used as a critique of the liberal concept of the citizen,
even though the notion of labour as the source of value is contentious. It is clear
that how we evaluate goods depends upon the activities of numerous people –
managers, workers, supervisors, consumers, entrepreneurs, etc. – and that it would
be wrong to suggest that certain categories of people do not contribute to the labour
process, and therefore, perhaps, should be ‘second class’ citizens. This type of
argument simply turns liberalism inside out: it discriminates against the haves in
favour of the have-nots, whereas it could be argued that the point is to eliminate
the distinction altogether.

Citizenship, Marshall and social rights

Liberalism establishes the formal freedom and equality of all members of society
itself. Those who have no independent property cannot rest content with legal and
political equality but must press on for social equality as well. The Chartists,
although campaigners in the nineteenth century for political rights, were fond of

Chapter 6 Citizenship 121
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