the state

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Thu Apr 19 19:34:11 MDT 2001

Amanda wrote:

>I am doing some work on Marxist theories of the state, and I am planning to
>launch a critique on Marxian visions of the state (ie. Gramsci, Lenin,
>Poulantsaz, Hirsch, et al) on the basis that many of these persepctives are
>infected by an overemphasis on the base/superstructure metaphor, and as such
>their vision of the state tends to separate a vision of the state from civil
>society, separate the political from the economic, and have an overarchingly
>hegemonic (ie. ideological) appreciation of the state, rather than a
>materialist (and class conflict perspective.

Well, one of the chief characteristics of capitalism *is* the formal
separation of economic and political power.  Ellen Meiksins Wood deals with
this quite well, albeit fairly briefly, in 'The Retreat from Class'.

The point here is that in a feudal society political and economic power are
combined, held by monarchs and aristocrats.  In capitalist society
political and economic really are separated *at the formal level* and it is
this formal separation which provides the material basis for the state to
appear to be independent and stand above the classes.  This also gives some
credibility/intellectual coherence to reformism.

However, at a deeper level, in capitalist society the state represents the
interests of *capital in general*.  Thus Marxists have referred to it as
the board of directors of capitalism.  And it is because the state
represents the interests of *capital in general* that it can and does take
action against individual capitalists - eg when their activities get in the
way of the overall interests of capital.

There was a very good exposition of the Marxist view of the state in issue
#4 of 'revolution'.  The whole issue is available by going to and the back issues section, then 1997, and you can
click into #4, which can be opened in Acrobat.  There are a few hiccups
with Acrobat, which makes the odd headline word and a few other things
disappear, but the article is still quite readable.  The article is pp26-28
or 29.  As well as drawing on Lenin and Luxemburg, it draws on the work of
a number of German Marxist theorists in the 1970s, a selection of whose
works appears in Sol Picciotto and John Holloway, eds, 'Capital and the

Philip Ferguson

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