the state

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Fri Apr 20 07:41:55 MDT 2001


>And of course it has always been difficult, even under capitalism, to
>say precisely wher the state ends and the economy begins. Was the
>British East India Company part of the economy or part of the State?
>Both of course. For some purposes one studies it as an 'economic'
>player; for other purposes it is an arm of the British state.
>
>Carrol

I think that the reference to British East India Company points us in the
right direction. I sense that Amanda's paper is for a political science
course, which tends to be top-heavy in theories of the state. Much of the
Marxist literature arising from within the academy (Poulantzas,
Panitch/Miliband, Erik Wright, et al) tries to engage with bourgeois social
science on its own terms, which is to define a Marxist theory of the state
on its own terms. This tendency toward abstraction is particularly
pronounced with the Analytical Marxism current that Wright is associated
with. History, or specific state structures in the here and now, hardly
ever enter their calculations.

It is probably a mistake to look too carefully for a Marxist definition of
the capitalist state. Instead it makes sense to look at how Marxists have
analyzed specific state structures in their specificity. For example,
Marx's 18th Brumaire is about as nuanced as you are going to get in terms
of avoiding "base-superstructure" simplicity:

 "Driven by the contradictory demands of his situation, and being at the
same time, like a juggler, under the necessity of keeping the public gaze
on himself, as Napoleon's successor, by springing constant surprises --
that is to say, under the necessity of arranging a coup d'etat in miniature
every day -- Bonaparte throws the whole bourgeois economy into confusion,
violates everything that seemed inviolable to the Revolution of 1848, makes
some tolerant of revolution and makes others lust for it, and produces
anarchy in the name of order, while at the same time stripping the entire
state machinery of its halo, profaning it and making it at once loathsome
and ridiculous. The cult of the Holy Tunic of Trier, he duplicates in Paris
in the cult of the Napoleonic imperial mantle. But when the imperial mantle
finally falls on the shoulders of Louis Bonaparte, the bronze statue of
Napoleon will come crashing down from the top of the Vendome Column."

Is Marx saying that the bourgeois state is simply the executive committee
of the ruling class? Then, why does its delegated ruler throw "the whole
bourgeois economy into confusion"?

The reason is obvious. The bourgeois state is forced not only to mediate
between different sectors of capital, but--except during extreme
conditions--give the impression that it represents the entire nation as
well. This includes workers and peasants. Thus you end up with figures such
as Argentina's Peron or Chavez in Venezuela. Obviously these are bourgeois
states, but does it make sense for "Leninists" to call for their overthrow?
Obviously they have to be superseded by socialism, but quoting "State and
Revolution" as if it were a catechism simply will not do.

Louis Proyect
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