Sunday 24 January 2016

Poulantzas on Studying the State

Be afraid. There is a strong possibility State, Power, Socialism by Nicos Poulantzas is going to get the Lukacs/Mill/Gramsci blogging treatment. Consider yourselves warned. In the mean time, here's one of Poulantzas's notes on studying the state.
... [capitalist] relations constitute the initial scaffolding of the state's institutional materiality and of the relative separation from the economy that stamps its framework as an apparatus: they are the only possible starting point for analysis of the state's relationship with classes and class struggle. Changes in the state themselves refer above all to the struggles of social classes. These constitute the framework of modification in the role and economic activities of the state, each of which has particular effects upon the state.
- Nicos Poulantzas 1980, p.53


Anonymous said...

A common criticism of Poulantzas is that he has no theory of capital-in-general, and so no theory of money, in the absence of which he simply offers a descriptive and ad hoc pluralism (albeit couched in Marxian terminology).

Like Jessop, he often seems to argue that lots of complex things have lots of complex effects on lots of other things. Which, at the level of description, is difficult to disagree with.

It also helped to make him a respectable figure within mainstream pluralist political science.

This, as will know as a fan of Ellen Wood, helped to provide a theoretical rationale for de-classing the state as part of emerging Eurocommunism.

If you find the basis for a defence of his work, it would be interesting to read.


Phil said...

Cheers for the comment, Mike.

I don't think he declasses the state, but when you're talking about a complex institution with myriad relations to the ruling composition of capital, and one that also is traversed by, affected by, and manages class contradictions it's difficult to see how some of this discussion cannot bu proceed at a high level of abstraction. This is how I've approached my reading of Poulantzas - I've taken its rooting in a Marxian critique of political economy as granted.

Anonymous said...

Hi Phil

I think the crux of the criticism is that Poulantzas's analysis tends to suggest that the state is capitalist to the extent that it is populated and dominated by pro-capitalist groupings/fractions.

To the extent that this domination can be weakened, then the state becomes less capitalist - and potentially anti-capitalist.

Critics respond by saying that the class nature of the capitalist state is not determined primarily by the extent to which pro-capitalist interest groups exert influence and control over it - but by its form and its subordination to money.

Because Poulantzas has no theory of money as the most potent and pervasive form of class power in a capitalist society, he joins pluralist social science in viewing class domination in terms of being the outcome of contingent interest-group competition.

If Marx's critique of political economy is understood primarily as a theory of money as a form of class power, then it could be argued that Poulantzas does not really root his analysis in that critique at all.

All highly arguable of course. I wrote an unpublished paper on it a while back - so it is all fresh in my mind.

You can tell where my sympathies lie. But am open to being corrected.