In order to be treated as state several elements are required and sovereignty is perhaps the most important element. But it is one of the most controversial topics. The liberals, conservatives, socialists—all types of thinkers view it in their own respective ways and this finally has resulted in different concepts about it. The interesting fact is that large number of scholars and political scientists disapprove sovereignty of state as it curtails the liberty of individuals and they are called pluralists.
Their belief is that instead of arguing for concentration of power at a single centre it is better to decentralise it. Sovereignty means centralisation of power and it runs counter to the progress of civilisation and progress. In this spirit Laski once said it would be of lasting benefit to political science if the whole concept of sovereignty were surrendered.
But the same author in the same book has offered us another view which says that the theory of sovereignty is the theory of political organisation. Now, if we decide to surrender sovereignty the only alternative left to us is to dismantle political organisation which is an impractical proposition.
We are of opinion that since we are not in a position to dismantle state we must not surrender sovereignty. Dissolution of state means to go back to the state of nature. Human progress and civilisation always advance.
Classification of Sovereignty:
1. Legal and Political Sovereignty:
Legal theory of sovereignty, in modern times, was first propounded by Jean Bodin (1530-1596) in his famous book Six Books of a Commonwealth published in 1576. In Bodin’s account sovereignty is the untrammelled and undivided power to make laws. This power we call absolute power of the state.
Bodin designated law as the command of sovereignty. In his view sovereignty is not only absolute power of the commonwealth but also the legal authority and naturally none has any claim against such authority. Legal sovereignty is based upon the contention that ultimate and final authority resides in law-making power and since the sovereignty is law-making power it is the legal sovereignty.
Another great exponent of legal sovereignty is Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679). His Leviathan (1651) fully analyses the legal aspect of sovereignty. In this book Hobbes says monopoly of coercive power is vested in the hands of sovereignty who is a single person. Though he made an option that sovereignty might be vested even in the hands of a group of persons his clear preference was for single person.
There is practically no difference between Bodin’s untrammelled and undivided power and Hobbes’ supreme coercive power. Both indicate something and lead to same consequences. Both Bodin and Hobbes propounded a legal and absolute power of sovereignty.
Absoluteness of Bodin’s sovereignty can be illustrated by the following observation made by him in his Six Books on Commonwealth. “There is none on earth, after God, greater than sovereign princes, whom God establishes as- his lieutenants to command the rest of mankind”. Besides God only the prince enjoys sovereign authority.
The sovereign power is not subject to the command of another person and he is the ultimate law-making power. The interesting aspect of Bodin’s theory of sovereignty was since he was political philosopher of sixteenth century he mixed politics with religion by making God as part of sovereignty.
Like Bodin, Hobbes believed that the sovereign authority was the only or ultimate law-making power. He was the only power to see that the law made by him was properly implemented. The main aim of law and its proper implementation was to ensure “peaceful and commodious living”. Hobbes’ writing also contains that people erected an absolute sovereign power for the maintenance of security.
In the state of nature there lacked peace, security, tranquility and commodious living and in order to get all these they created absolute sovereign power. We thus find that legal aspect of sovereignty largely focuses on the law making and law implementing power of sovereign authority.
Both Bodin and Hobbes were profoundly influenced by the prevailing circumstances in their respective countries. In Bodin’s France religious strife made life of common people unbearable and destroyed peace in society. In England social and political disorder heavily told upon the normal life of people. Bodin and Hobbes believed that absolute power was the only remedy to this situation and this belief led them to argue for the undivided and unlimited power of the sovereignty.
We shall now deal with political sovereignty. Defining it Heywood says: “Political sovereignty is not in any way based upon a claim to legal authority but is concerned simply about the actual distribution of power that is de facto sovereignty. Political sovereignty, therefore, refers to the existence of a supreme political power, possessed of the ability to command obedience because it monopolises coercive power”.
This type of sovereignty generally means that exercise of political power is of prime importance. Very often people do not want to see whether the sovereign power is sanctioned by law or not; political sovereignty is the holder of monopoly coercive force and by virtue of that the sovereignty exercises power. It may be that people show obedience to such sovereignty but the obedience may not be spontaneous.
However, to the political sovereignty that does not matter anything. It will see whether people are obeying the laws promulgated by it. In this connection it may be noted that it is not true that political sovereignty is always based upon coercive force. In order to build up confidence in the minds of the people such sovereignty sometimes adopts constitutional, legal and democratic methods.
It also poses before the people that it is democratic and respects the constitution and all legal procedures. It has been found that political sovereignty is vested in the hands of a person or group of persons who are closely related with the politics and less with legal affairs. Political sovereignty is de facto sovereignty.
De Jure and De Facto Sovereignty:
Another classification of sovereignty is de jure and de facto. The distinction between the two is like that between power and authority. Legal sovereignty means power is exercised in accordance with law and the sovereignty’s claim to obedience is also legal. It means that the claim to power and obedience is based on law.
The de jure sovereignty is legal sovereignty. The sovereign power is sanctioned by law. The actions and character of the de jure sovereignty are sanctioned by law and naturally none can challenge it on the question of legality on the other hand, de facto sovereignty cannot claim any legal sanction since it is not based on legality.
The de facto sovereignty exercises power and performs most of the normal duties of the sovereignty. Citizens can challenge the power and functions of the sovereignty.
But the distinction between the two is not always stable or far-reaching. If the power of the de facto sovereignty is sanctioned by the people, it becomes de jure. The de facto sovereignty may call for an election where people vote and if the de facto sovereignty receives majority support the power is converted into authority. But in this process there remains few “ifs” and “buts”.
If the election is not free and fair, suspicion remains and people will not accept the results of the election. The suspicion is not always unfounded. The military power by employing military and administrative authority ensures support of the electorate.
2. Internal Sovereignty:
Definition and Nature:
An internal sovereignty is one which enjoys ultimate, supreme and independent power within the geographical area of the state. The order, directions etc. are carried out by the citizens of the state and the policies and decisions are binding on all citizens. The internal sovereignty may be both de jure and de facto.
The internal sovereignty also may be political and legal. The internal sovereignty exercises its power over all citizens, groups and institutions and it has the power to settle all disputes. But the sovereignty does not do this job itself; it has other agencies who perform this task on behalf of the sovereignty. The concept of internal sovereignty is said to be confined within a limited geographical area and it cannot exercise power over the people of other places.
Though the internal sovereignty is assumed to be absolute and undivided, in practice the opposite is found. Undivided internal sovereignty is really a misnomer. Particularly in a federal state, the power is divided between the federal authority and state authorities and both the types of government are to abide by the rules of the constitution. Naturally, it is believed that the constitution is sovereign.
This is also a polemical issue. Because Barker thinks that not the constitution but the justice is sovereign. Our point is, in any state there are many groups and organisations who function independently and the sovereignty cannot on every step interfere with their functioning. The mere fact is that internal sovereignty, though theoretically absolute, in practice is not absolute.
Location of Internal Sovereignty:
Internal sovereignty may be located in a single person as it was in Middle Ages. In the middle Ages the monarchs were sovereigns and they claimed absolute power.
Because of this reason the monarchs were called absolute monarchies. Absolute monarchs ruled the state autocratically. They also claimed to be the direct descendants of God and had been sent by God to rule. In order to establish, the absoluteness the kings very often declared them as direct descendants of God. They also declared that they ruled according to wishes of God.
This however did not make a permanent place in society. Autocratic rule of the monarchs was strongly resented by the people and a compromise was finally found out. It was far short of popular sovereignty advocated by Rousseau. (We shall turn to Rousseau very soon). The British legal philosopher John Austin (1790-1859) enunciated a theory of sovereignty which is known as legal theory of sovereignty.
He said that in Britain sovereignty is vested neither in monarchy nor in, parliament. The exact location of sovereignty in Britain is king-in-parliament. The idea of parliamentary sovereignty came from this concept. The term king-in-parliament means neither king nor parliament alone is sovereign. Both of them combinedly exercise the sovereign power. The decision of parliament needs to be sanctioned by the king.
Another location of internal sovereignty is people themselves and it is known as popular sovereignty or people’s sovereignty. Rousseau was the chief exponent of this doctrine. He suggested that all the adult men of the body politic will assemble in an open space and decide the policy through deliberation. Out of the deliberations will come out the “general will” which will be the guiding force of the body politic. Rousseau clearly stated that general will would act as sovereignty.
But his sovereignty, though apparently popular, in ultimate analysis, is absolute because all the members of the body politic were forced to follow the directions of the general will. Nevertheless in Rousseau’s account, the people were given the power to exercise sovereign authority.
It is difficult to say exactly where the sovereignty in modern state resides. In the USA, we have already noted sovereignty resides in the constitution. But the constitution can be amended by an amending body and we can say that this body is the sovereign. Some may even say that the Supreme Court in the USA can interpret the constitution and by doing so it can change the constitution.
If so, the highest court can be said as sovereign power. But in rational judgment this cannot be said. In UK the King-in-Parliament is sovereign. But in the general election the wishes or plan of the parliament can be changed by the electorate. In that case should we say that electorate is sovereign? Partially our contention bears truth. Partially because electorate’s view is expressed through public opinion. But there is considerable doubt about the real character of public opinion.
This leads us to propound a new concept of sovereignty and this is polycentric sovereignty. The term polycentric sovereignty denotes that there is no single centre of sovereign power in a democratic state, rather more than one centres. For example, constitution, electorate king-in-parliament etc.
3. External Sovereignty:
Definition and Nature:
There is an international society or system and all the sovereign states are members of this society. External sovereignty of any member state refers to its positions in the international society. If a member state is subservient to another state and is directed by other states in regard to both national and international policies this is reverse to the sovereign status of the state. If a state remains out of control of another state in international sphere we can call it external sovereignty. Every state will however, obey the international code of conduct and that does not entail the loss of sovereignty.
Such sovereignty is recognised by international law and United Nations. In article 2(2) of the U. N. Charter we find the following declaration: The organisation is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members. This recognition by the U. N. makes it abundantly clear that no state in the international society shall be deprived of its sovereign status. For the settlement of disputes between the states the U. N. Charter has prescribed certain procedures which will not hurt the sovereignty of member states.
In conclusion we observe that in the arena of international society every state is entitled to enjoy sovereignty. But the convention that has developed in this regard is that the exercise of sovereign power shall not, under any circumstances, threaten peace, security and sovereignty of other states.
Criticism of External Sovereignty:
In the present day international situation the concept of external sovereignty is fully incongruous because no nation can live alone and she cannot claim that she is not dependent on any other nation. Long ago (in the thirties of the last century) Prof. Harold Laski said, “the notion of an independent sovereign state is, on the international side, fatal to the well-being of humanity…. England ought not to settle what armament the needs, the tariffs she will erect, the immigrants she will permit to enter”.
The argument put forward by Laski is that common life is impossible without common agreement and a common agreement cannot be effected in an atmosphere where every nation demands absolute sovereign status. What Laski said in the 1930s is still valid today.
In fact, in international sphere there is hardly any scope for any nation to exercise sovereign power. Even a super power will think twice before exercising absolute power. Political, economic and other factors are limiting the sovereign power.
Heywood says that there are sinister implications in granting sovereignty to each state and allowing each state to exercise exclusive jurisdiction “within the geographical area of the state. Heywood concludes, “There is abundant evidence of the capacity of states to abuse, terrorize and even exterminate their own citizens”. It has been suggested by almost all that the states must conform to certain international standards, principles and norms. If this is not implemented there will not only prevail chaos in international society, normal life will be impossible.
Sovereignty in the World System:
The world is rapidly changing, so also the thought system, basic concepts, and people’s attitudes to these concepts. Sporadic attempt have been made here and there to protect the old ideas, but they have proved their near futility. Old order change yielding place to new. The old has been forced by the circumstances to make space for the new. This generalisation is particularly relevant for political science in general and doctrine of sovereignty in particular.
The nineteenth century was the flourishing period of the monistic theory of sovereignty and this continued up to the Second World War. But after that devastating war there was a perceptible decline in the theory of sovereignty. In the thirties and forties of the last century Prof. Harold Laski in a roundabout way predicted that the absolute sovereignty cannot be the permanent feature of nation-state because the nation-state in the present day world situation (in Laski’s time) cannot be able to survive.
Laski died in 1950 just five years after the end of Second World War. Today the world situation has radically changed from what it was in Laski’s time. Particularly the globalisation has occupied every corner of the globe, has influenced every aspect of political thought and touched nook and corner of all social systems. Naturally sovereignty cannot remain away from this wave of change. The politicians have no ability to stall this change.
Some Forces are Active:
A very common argument is being advanced now-a-days by many that the world situation is not only rapidly changing, but the forces which are behind these changes are also beyond the control of politicians and political scientists. The international forces are so much powerful and aggressive that the individual politicians and the authority of the nation state are practically powerless in the face of these forces. Held says, “It is international forces which limit the choices facing a state or mark it impossible for a particular national policy to be pursued”.
These forces, which are quite active, are of different types such as economy legal, political and organisational. The nation-states are under the strong influence of world situation and in such a situation the authority of the nation-state is quite unable to control the world political situation. In other words, the nation- states are helpless onlookers of the new developments.
The economic condition of the world is also rapidly changing and the domestic policy-makers are unable to withstand the forces of economy. During the last five decades, in various parts of the globe a large number of institutions of different categories have been formed and they are controlling the internal situation of nation-states. There is international law which is sometimes found to be active and tremendously influence the concepts of politics, especially sovereignty. We shall briefly discuss them.
Domination of Economic Force:
An important onslaught has come from the economic force. Economic forces and economic institutions are progressively becoming internationalised and the tremendous impact of that tendency has fallen on the sovereignty of the nation-state.
Regarding production, distribution, management, funding the technological improvement, development of communication etc., are being internationalised. “New technology has radically increased the mobility of economic units and the sensitivity of markets and societies to one another. There is considerable evidence to support the claim that technological advances in transportation and communication are eroding the boundaries between hitherto separate markets”.
It is obvious that the progress in transport, communication markets, production and in other related fields there is practically very little or no importance of the nation-state. This aspect has been elaborately discussed by Keohane and Nye—their Trans- National Relations and World Politics have highlighted this aspect. The authority of the nation-state to decide economic policies is considerably reduced.
The monetary and fiscal policies of the individual national governments “are dominated by the movements in international financial product markets”. Not only this, even the level of employment, investment and other related issues are controlled by multinational corporations. In this background one can say that the concept of sovereignty is a myth.
Domination of Power Blocs:
Immediately after the Second World War several power blocs were formed at the head of which there were two superpowers of the then world. At the head of the communisbloc there was erstwhile Soviet Union and the Anglo-American bloc was headed by USA. One such power bloc is NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation).
The NATO, in one way or other, dominated the national, foreign, military and other affairs of the member states. In other words, the members of the NATO had very little freedom to decide their national and foreign policies. Every policy of the member states must be in conformity with the objectives, terms and conditions laid down in the constitution of the NATO.
The hegemonic influence of the NATO tremendously eroded the power and independence of the member states, the impact of which fell on the sovereignty. NATO was primarily concerned with the collective security concept which meant that in case of any decision regarding military and foreign affairs the state alone could not decide anything. Thus, the sovereignty and independence of the members of the NATO were decisively qualified.
This means that the members of the military organisation (NATO is chiefly a military treaty) could not enjoy the liberty and this led to the precariousness of sovereignty. Needless to say that the members of the NATO were forced to accept this.
Similar was the situation with the members of the Soviet bloc. Very few powers today are controlling the economic and political affairs of almost all the nations of the Third World. Before the collapse of Soviet Union this domination (of Anglo-American bloc) was in subdued from and the collapse of USSR has made the domination prominent.
An important area of disjunction between sovereignty and the world system has been a potential factor of the erosion of sovereignty. In recent years there is a mushroom growth of international organisations and these are progressively playing vital role in international politics. David Held provides some statistics which show that between 1909 and 1984 there has occurred manifold increase of both international and non-governmental organisations.
In 1909 the number of the former was 37 and the number of the same rose to 365 in 1984. Again, the number of the non-governmental organisations was 176 in 1909 and the number of the same an enormous figure 4,615 in 1984. During the last more than two decades the number of both has increased considerably. There are multiple centres of decision-making and though these are within the national boundaries of some states they are not within the geographical areas of the Third World states.
The consequence is the authorities of the Third World states are deprived of their basic rights—the rights to determine their foreign and domestic policies and this has practically led to clear deterioration of sovereignty. Some states are playing crucial role in the policy making affairs of almost all the nations of the world. Foreign aid, transfer of technologies, improvement of communication and in many other important issues these states are all in all.
There are transnational pressure groups and these are the key policy-making instruments, Most of the international and non-governmental organisations have been found to be exceptionally active in their behaviour and relation to the developing nations. This tendency has considerably eclipsed the proper functioning of sovereignty.
Influence of International Law:
Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) was the first to enunciate the basic principles of international law which will guide the relations among the nations. His great work On the Law of War and Peace was published in 1625. Grotius was a legal luminary and not a political scientist. He said that as the individuals are subject to certain laws and regulations within the nation-state, the states are also subject to laws and regulations in the international field.
But the operation of international law bestows upon individual’s both rights and duties. Held writes, “There is a gap between the idea of membership of a national political community that is, citizenship which bestows upon individuals both rights and duties, and the development of international law, which subjects individuals, governments, and nongovernmental organisations to new system of regulation. Rights and duties are recognised in international law which transcend the claims of nation-states”.
In the last few decades it has been observed that unprecedented emphasis on human rights heavily tells upon the sovereign power of the nation-states. The nation-states cannot wishfully deprive their citizens declared by the Universal Declarations of Human Rights (1948) and the European convention for the protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950).
All these declarations are supported by international law. A particular state may not be willing to recognise and implement the rights but the international law and world situation force them to act accordingly.
Crisis in National Sovereignty:
During the last half century the concept of sovereignty (both internal and external) has undergone changes. A very few of them may be cited in order to throw light on the nature of sovereign power. Take the plight of internal sovereignty. No sovereignty of any modern state can claim undivided obligation from all sections of the body politic irrespective of religious and caste foundations. Look at the doctrine of post-modernism. It poses a challenge to most of the aspects of political theory.
It is not satisfied with the doctrine of absolute sovereignty. Terrorism, religious fundamentalism, group politics, growing importance of pressure groups etc. are about to put curbs in the authority of state. Even these groups and movements are not willing to give any credence to the sovereignty.
The motives, if clearly interpreted, will lead to the division of sovereignty. It has also been found that different linguistic and cultural groups in many countries of the world are demanding autonomy. They are eager to confederalise the political system and if this is implemented the sovereignty will be lost.
The neo-liberalists are advocating for the minimal state doctrine which implies that the powers of the state are to be drastically curtailed. Individuals will enjoy more freedom. Dr. Amartya Sen in his recent work Development as Freedom has maintained that freedom is an important criterion of economic development. More freedom means less importance and less sovereign power of the state. All these collectively are making sovereignty less important.
Crises in External Sovereignty:
If sovereignty means independence in political and economic affairs in both national and international matters, many people question whether such definition is at all meaningful today.
This question cannot be ignored, because in modern times a state cannot claim complete independence. Even the most powerful state of the world falls within this. This is because of the interdependence among the states and the progress of economy, trade, commerce and the progressive internationalization of transport and communication. This interdependence is increasing day after day.
We very often say that before 1991 (in that year Soviet Union disintegrated) there were two superpowers—USA and USSR. But this designation is partially true, because both the superpowers were checked by each other. None had absolute freedom. The catastrophic incident of September 2001 (known as 9/11 incident) is a testimony of the fact that sovereignty is a willful delusion.
The most powerful nation of the world could not foresee or resist the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre. Hence the so-called superpower is nothing but a myth. USA does not enjoy complete political, economic and military sovereignty. Her powers are extremely limited.
Her war against Iraq has evoked worldwide resentment. US policy-makers suspected that Iraq had deposited large amount of weapons of mass destruction. But investigation has proved it false. This has lowered her prestige and to some extent USA’s importance in international field. From this analysis we can conclude that the sovereignty of all states today passes through crisis and the end of this crisis is in no sight.
Two Opposite Views:
In recent years number of thinkers have investigated the trend of sovereignty and from their investigations two opposite views have come out. The first view can be presented in the words of D. Held: “The evidence that transnational relations have eroded the powers of modern sovereign state is certainly strong…. Some observers have concluded that sovereignty is fundamentally weakened”. In the 1970s and 80s many scholars found that internationalisation of political and economic issues, the progress of globalisation etc. were the causes of the erosion of sovereignty.
On the other hand Michael Mandelbaum (The Ideas that Conquered the World) says : “The new world’s driving force, cultural diffusion, violates the heart of sovereignty, the sanctity of borders, post Cold War states could keep out foreign armies but almost everything else—ideas, products, technologies—crossed their frontiers with increasing ease”.
Moreover, there was meteoric rise of liberal philosophy which intended to keep the power of the state within limits. People gave more importance to liberty and to leave alone doctrine. But “despite these developments the global triumph of liberalism did not herald the state’s disappearance”.
Mandelbaum wants to say that in the post Second World War period limited attacks were thrown upon sovereignty. But all these could not succeed to reach the goal—to chain the state power or to help the disappearance of state.
Proliferation of Nation-States:
During the last few decades the number of nation-states has proliferated beyond any comprehension. At the outbreak of the First World War there were only 62 independent states in the world. The number rose to 74 in 1946. Today there are 193 states (present membership of the United Nations).
This figure does not disclose everything. Most of the states are very small. 87 states have population less than 5 million, 58 countries have population below 2.5 m. The population of each of the 35 countries is under 5,00,000. There is no halt of the division of old states into smaller ones, rather the process is continuing.
In 1991 the former Soviet Union was divided into 15 independent republics (today there are 12 such republics) and all were created on ethnic grounds. On the same ground Yugoslavia broke into Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia.
The Palestinians are fiercely fighting for a separate homeland. The same tendency is gathering momentum in several parts of Africa. The proliferation of sovereign states proves beyond any shadow of doubt that the concept of sovereignty is no longer a matter of history or demand for it has faded away.
Let us quote Mandelbaum again, “The sovereign state held universal sway in the twenty-first century because it was indispensable. It was the equivalent of the operating system of a personal computer, without which no program of any kind can be done”.
Marxist Theory of Sovereignty:
Elements of Marxist Theory of Sovereignty:
It is very difficult to state precisely the Marxist approach to the doctrine of sovereignty. It is difficult because neither Marx nor Engels has analysed it. From Marx’s political philosophy we can single out certain elements of sovereignty.
Some of these are:
(a) In capitalist society the state is an instrument of exploitation,
(b) The instrument is used by the capitalist class and this class is economically dominant class,
(c) In the Western concept of political theory political sovereignty is located in the state,
(d) Since the capitalist class uses and controls the state, in real situation, the sovereign power is exercised by the capitalist class,
(e) The capitalist class does not directly rule and control the state machinery,
(f) It sends its representatives to the various branches of government such as legislature, judiciary etc. Even the large section of bureaucracy is recruited from the capitalist class. So it is obvious that all these agencies act on behalf of the capitalist class. This, however, is not the solitary case of USA and UK but all the capitalist countries possess the same features. All the elements combinedly formulate the concept of sovereignty.
It is further to be noted that all the above-noted issues constitute the fabric of Marx’s political philosophy and the theory of sovereignty is its part. Apart from his political philosophy, sovereignty hardly carries any weight. It is evident from Marx’s analysis that in any mature capitalist state, the sovereign power is, in fact, exercised by the economically dominant class. Miliband in his recent studies has corroborated it.
How the State Exercises Sovereign Power:
The implementation of sovereignty in a capitalist state runs through several stages. Apparently the state is the real actor. The policies, laws, administration etc. are promulgated either in the name of state or by the state itself. The state is the repository of the supreme coercive power and this power is applied by the state to ensure obligation from the citizens.
The sovereign power of the state is absolute. Although in a capitalist state there are many institutions and organisations who act independently the application of coercion has different dimension. It is primarily used by the capitalist state to suppress the agitations or demands of the working class and common people.
Moreover, the institution and organisation mainly represent the interests of the ruling class or elite groups or powerful pressure groups and these do not have any relationship with the interests of the common people.
Thus, we can hold and express the view that according to the Marxists the sovereignty in a capitalist state closely resembles the Hobbesian concept of sovereignty and not the popular one as explained by Rousseau. It is also legal sovereignty because the sovereignty is constituted according to the constitution or law.
The chief concern of the Hobbesian sovereignty was to maintain law and order and to ensure peace and security. The sovereignty of the capitalist state, Marx believed, aimed at ensuring law and order and to suppress popular agitation.
Relative Autonomy of State and Sovereignty:
In our analysis of the Marxist theory of state we have seen that the capitalist class plays the most crucial role in the manifold activities of the state and the state is to same extent an umpire or acts as an instrument. It has also been said that the state has least freedom in its activities.
It cannot normally go against the dominant class. But the relative autonomy of state explained by many and largely popularised and strongly advocated by Poulantzas (1936-1979) offers us a variant role of state which throws some light on sovereignty.
Poulantzas observes that within a capitalist state there are many organised and disorganised groups who frequently struggle amongst themselves. Even the economically dominant class is not homogeneous; rather it is faction-ridden. In such a situation the state is to act as an umpire and it must show, at least outwardly, that it is neutral. This induces the state to exercise its power to a certain extent independent of all groups and factions and at the same time get the scope to exercise sovereignty.
The state maintains a social cohesion in a class-divided capitalist society and under such circumstances the possibility of exercising sovereign power gets additional encouragement. So it is not true that in a capitalist society the state is a puppet and everything is done by the dominant class in the name of state. Poulantzas has explained it in his famous book Political Power and Social Classes-(1968).
Sovereign State is an Illusory:
David Held gives the following considered opinion: “For Marx and the subsequent Marxist tradition, the very idea of sovereign state is to a large extent illusory” (emphasis mine). We believe that this estimation about Marxist doctrine of sovereign state is perfectly correct. Marx and his orthodox followers had no intention to analyse the theory of sovereignty in a methodological way.
It is not the state that controls the socio-economic order, that is, politics is not the determiner of economic and other affairs of the state. Rather the reverse is true. The socio-economic order determines everything (including political affairs) of the state. This aspect has in recent years been thoroughly investigated by many and amongst them Keohane and Nye are prominent.
Their book Power and Interdependence: World Politics is Transition (1977), explaining Keohane and Nye’s viewpoint Held observes that there is a clear ‘gap between the political authority and the actual economic system of production distribution and exchange which in many ways serves to limit or undermine the actual power or scope of national political authorities”.
Keohane and Nye have reached this conclusion after thoroughly studying the working of world’s several capitalist states. Ralph Miliband also has said that in a capitalist state the economy exercises the supreme power. We are thus confronted with two views about Marxist theory of sovereignty—one by Poulantzas and the other by Miliband.
But in ultimate analysis it is illusory. Illusory in the sense that it is very difficult to form any definite idea about the concept of sovereignty from the vast literature of Marx and Engels. If we look at the views of Gramsci and Poulantzas (Poulantzas is a new Gramscian thinker) we shall find that state plays an important role and it can be interpreted as sovereign power.
But large number of recent thinkers is of opinion that economic forces settle everything in the state and if anything is to be called sovereign power, it is the economically dominant class. But here again we are faced with a dilemma. Defined and explained properly, economic system cannot be called a sovereignty. Moreover, this class has never been found to declare that. Hence what about the sovereign power? It is no doubt an illusion. Even if the view of Poulantzas is accepted the illusory aspect of sovereignty remains unaffected.
When the different groups and factions of the powerful class are at loggerheads the relative autonomy of state opens the way for exercising sovereign power. It is, again, a very weak argument. When the dominant class is free from conflicts, sovereign power is exercised by this class. Hence there is a confusion about the exact location of sovereign power in Marxism.