Poulantzas

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxx at xxxxxxxxxxx.xxx
Sat Dec 23 14:17:55 MST 2000




>John Nolan wrote:

> I have been reading about Poulantzas theory of the state. It is difficult
> going. Can anyone explain what is special and valuable about his theory? Did
> he believe in revolution?
>
> John

Hi John, I am not quite sure about if Poulantzas believed in revolution or not,
but let me throw my few cents about what P specifically meant by his theory of
the state. You are probably familiar with P-Miliband debate on the nature of the
state in capitalist societies. This debate is important for understanding the
particular conception of the state among Marxists of different persuasions.
Miliband subscribed to the belief that ruling class in capitalist societies uses
the state "as its instrument for the domination of society". According to this
instrumentalist view, state is the instrument of the ruling or dominant class.
The dominant class relies on ideological mechanisms that link ruling class
instruments and state policies. Opposed to instrumentalists,  those who
advocated the structuralist Marxist perspective such as P and Althusser paid
attention to the contradictions of capitalism within the "_structure_ in which
the state is embedded" (Chilcote, p.161). This structure as a whole (which
Althusser calls ideology and ideological state apparatuses such as standing
army, police, education, family, etc..) rather than a struggle by classes is of
central concern. For example, P argued that the bourgeoisie as a ruling class
cannot _dominate_ the state as Miliband suggests  and that the state _itself_
organizes  and unifies the interests of the dominant class and class factions.
By the help of the state not only the class domination is reproduced
economically,  but also the cohesion of the capitalist social formation is
assured ideologically. For structuralist Marxists, instrumentalists downplay the
role of the state in the reproduction of the capitalist system. On the other
hand, critics of the strucuturalist perspective have argued that the
structuralism of  P&A   downplays class activity and cannot explain class action
arising from class consciousness. It has also been criticized for having an
historical conception of the state, lacking to come to grips with the changing
nature of the state&class struggle throughout history--pre-capitalist,
capitalist--post capitalist state--


Rather than seeing the capitaliwsts state in the abstract, I think that it is
important to analyze the capitalist state  in its _historical_ context with an
attention to historical  specificity of  capitalism. This is exemplified by the
works of Baran and Sweezy (Lenin and to a certain extend Hilfeding) with respect
to the emergence of monopoly capitalism. For example, the state, rather than
unifying the interests of the capitalist class let alone resolving the
irreconcilability of class antagonisms in some real sense, obscures economic
contradictions and averts crises related to monopoly capitalism. "If the state
is the product of irreconcilable character of class antagonism, if it is a force
standing above class society  and increasingly separating itself from it, then
it is clear that the liberation of the oppressed class is impossible not only
without a violent revolution, but also without the destruction  of the apparatus
of state power, which was created by the ruling class and in which this
separation is embodied" (Lenin, 1932 Note that, of course, based on Marx and
Engels, Lenin is talking about the capitalist state here. The modern state
arises when the class antagonisms cannot be objectively reconciled).



Xxxx








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Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
PhD Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222



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