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Dialogue of the Deaf: Some Reflections on the Poulantzas-Miliband Debate


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The state is such a complex theoretical object and so complicated an empirical one that no single theoretical approach can fully capture and explain its complexities. The resulting aporia was reflected in the debate between Nicos Poulantzas and Ralph Miliband on the nature, form, and functions of the state and, a fortiori, on the best way to analyse these issues. Indeed their mutual critiques became a key reference point in anglophone discussions on the state during the 1970s and 1980s and were also taken up in many other contexts (for an intellectual history of the debate and its context, see Barrow, 2002). The main state theory agenda later turned to other methodological issues, such as the benefits of a society- rather than state-centred approach to the state, and towards substantive topics, such as the future of the capitalist state in an era of globalization, the nature of the European Union, and ‘empire’ as a new form of political domination.1 Interest in state theory was also weakened by fascination with the apparently anti-state-theoretical (or, at least, anti-Marxist) implications of Foucault’s work on the micro-physics of power and on governmentality.2 My contribution revisits the PoulantzasMiliband debate, clarifies its stakes as far as its main participants were concerned, and offers a new reading of its significance for theoretical and empirical analyses of the state.
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Dialogue of the Deaf: Some Reflections on the Poulantzas-Miliband Debate
Bob Jessop
Pre-copyedited version of chapter 7 in in P. Wetherly, C.W. Barrow, and P.
Burnham, eds, Class, Power and the State in Capitalist Society: Essays on Ralph
Miliband, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 132-57.
The state is such a complex theoretical object and so complicated an empirical one
that no single theoretical approach can fully capture and explain its complexities. The
resulting aporia was reflected in the debate between Nicos Poulantzas and Ralph
Miliband on the nature, form, and functions of the state and, a fortiori, on the best
way to analyze these issues. Indeed their mutual critiques became a key reference
point in anglophone discussions on the state during the 1970s and 1980s and were
also taken up in many other contexts (for an intellectual history of the debate and its
context, see Barrow 2002). The main state theory agenda later turned to other
methodological issues, such as the benefits of a society- rather than state-centred
approach to the state, and towards substantive topics, such as the future of the
capitalist state in an era of globalization, the nature of the European Union, and
‘empire’ as a new form of political domination.1 Interest in state theory was also
weakened by fascination with the apparently anti-state-theoretical (or, at least, anti-
Marxist) implications of Foucault’s work on the micro-physics of power and on
governmentality.2 My contribution revisits the Poulantzas-Miliband debate, clarifies its
stakes as far as its main participants were concerned, and offers a new reading of its
significance for theoretical and empirical analyses of the state. For the issues in
dispute were seriously misunderstood, including by its two key figures, who seem to
have engaged in a dialogue of the deaf. Moreover, in clarifying these issues, we can
better understand the state’s recent restructuring and reorientation.
Possible Objects of State Theory
Everyday language sometimes depicts the state as a subject the state does, or
must do, this or that; and sometimes as a thing – this economic class, social stratum,
political party, or official caste uses the state to pursue its own projects or interests.
But how could the state act as if it were a unified subject and what could constitute its
unity as a 'thing'? Coherent answers are hard because the state’s referents vary so
much. It changes shape and appearance with the activities that it undertakes, the
scales on which it operates, the political forces acting towards it, the circumstances in
which it and they act, and so on. When pressed, a common response is to list the
institutions that comprise the state, usually with a core set of institutions with
increasingly vague outer boundaries. Miliband took this line in The State in Capitalist
Society (1969). This began with an ostensive definition of key governmental
institutions as ‘the government, the administration, the military and the police, the
judicial branch, sub-central government and parliamentary assemblies’ (1969: p. 54);
and went on to explore the role of anti-socialist parties, the mass media, educational
institutions, trade union leaders and other forces in civil society in securing the
hegemony of the dominant classes (180-211, 220-7; cf. 1977, 47-50). He adopted a
similar approach in Capitalist Democracy in Britain (1982), which illustrates his
general arguments about the state in capitalist society from the British case. Because
of the vague outer limits of the state and its agents, such lists typically fail to specify
what lends these institutions the quality of statehood.3 Miliband solved this problem
by identifying the state’s essential function as defence of the dominant class (1969: p.
3; 1977: 55, 66-7) and specifying four functions that must always be performed, even
if the manner of their delivery may vary (1977: 90-106).
One escape route from functionalism is to define the state in terms of means rather
than ends. This approach informed Weber’s celebrated definition of the modern
state in terms of its distinctive constitutionalized monopoly of coercion within a given
territorial area. This does not mean that modern states exercise power largely
through direct and immediate coercion – this would be a sign of crisis or state failure
– but rather that coercion is their last resort in enforcing binding decisions. For, where
state power is widely deemed legitimate, it can normally secure compliance without
force. Yet all states reserve the right – or claim the need – to suspend the
constitution or specific legal provisions in exceptional circumstances (Poulantzas
1978, 76-86) and many states resort to force, fraud, and corruption to pursue their
goals (cf. Miliband 1969, 88-94, 169-71; 1983, 82-94; Poulantzas 1978, 29, 80).
Moreover, as Gramsci emphasized, not only do states exercise power through
intellectual and moral leadership but coercion can also be exercised on its behalf by
forces that lie outside and beyond the state (e.g., paramilitary gangs of fascisti)
(Gramsci 1971, passim).
Building on Weber and his contemporaries, other theorists regard the essence of the
state (pre-modern and modern) as the territorialization of political authority. This
involves the intersection of politically organized coercive and symbolic power, a
clearly demarcated core territory, and a fixed population on which political decisions
are collectively binding. Thus the key feature of the state is the historically variable
ensemble of technologies and practices that produce, naturalize, and manage
territorial space as a bounded container within which political power is then exercised
to achieve various, more or less well integrated, and changing policy objectives. A
system of formally sovereign, mutually recognizing, mutually legitimating national
states exercising sovereign control over large and exclusive territorial areas is only a
relatively recent institutional expression of state power. Other modes of territorializing
political power have existed, some still co-exist with the Westphalian system
(allegedly set up by the Treaties of Westphalia in 1648 but realized only stepwise
during the 19th and 20th centuries), new expressions are emerging, and yet others
can be imagined. The changing forms of the state were important themes in the later
work of Miliband (1975, 1983) and Poulantzas (1978).
An important approach to the complexity of the state is the argument that the state is
polymorphous (Mann 1986) or polycontextual (Willke 1992). It changes shape and
appearance with the political forces acting toward it and the conditions in which they
act. Polymorphy means that the state’s organization and capacities may be primarily
capitalist, military, theocratic, or democratic in nature according to the balance of
forces, especially as these affect the state ensemble and its exercise of power. Its
dominant crystallization is open to challenge and will vary conjuncturally. Much the
same point is made when Taylor distinguishes between the state as a capitalist state
(‘wealth container’), a military-political apparatus (‘power container’), a nation-state
(‘cultural container’), and a welfare state (‘social container’) (Taylor 1994). To this, we
could add the state as a patriarchal state (‘the patriarch general’).
This approach implies that not all states in a capitalist society can be described as
capitalist states, i.e., as states that are primarily organized to promote accumulation.
Indeed, it suggests potential tensions between alternative crystallizations of state
power in modern societies. There is no guarantee that the modern state will always
(or ever) be essentially capitalist and, even when accumulation is deeply embedded
in their organizational matrix, modern states typically consider other functional
demands and pressures from civil society when promoting institutional integration
and social cohesion. Whether it succeeds in this regard is another matter. Adopting
this approach entails looking at actually existing state formations as polyvalent,
polymorphous crystallizations of different principles of societal organization. State
power networks can crystallize in different ways according to the dominant issues in
a given period or conjuncture, with general crystallizations dominating long periods
and more specific crystallizations emerging in particular situations. It is on this basis
that one can distinguish the capitalist type of state from the state in capitalist society.
This distinction is already present in Marx and Engels and is most starkly expressed
in the first major state-theoretical texts of Poulantzas and Miliband with the former
focusing on the historical specificity of the capitalist type of state and Miliband on the
political sociology of the state in capitalist society.
Marxist Approaches to the State
Marx’s and Engels’s work on the state comprises diverse philosophical, theoretical,
journalistic, partisan, ad hominem, or purely ad hoc comments (cf. Miliband 1965;
and 1977, pp 2-6; Poulantzas 1973, 19-23). This is reflected in the weaknesses of
later Marxist state theories, both analytically and practically, and has prompted many
attempts to produce a more comprehensive and systematic Marxist theory of the
state based on more or less selective interpretations of their writings and those of
other classical Marxists. Miliband and Poulantzas both made such efforts (Miliband
1965, 1977; Poulantzas 1973, 19-28, and 1978). Their work was part of the general
revival of Marxist interest in the state during the 1960s and 1970s, which arose in
response to the state’s apparent ability to manage the postwar economy in advanced
capitalist societies and to the ‘end of ideology’ that allegedly resulted from postwar
prosperity. Thus Marxists argued that the state retained its class nature as a crucial
factor in securing economic, political and ideological class domination and that,
despite the postwar boom, contemporary states could not suspend capital’s
contradictions and crisis-tendencies. Poulantzas (1973) and Miliband (1969) both
contributed to the first line of argument and Poulantzas’s later studies also played an
important role in the second current (especially 1975, 1978).
Some indications for developing a Marxist theory of the state are found in Marx’s
1857 Introduction and Capital. Both works pursue a dual movement from abstract to
concrete and from simple to complex analyses with the intention of reproducing the
‘real-concrete’ as a ‘concrete-in-thought’. The former movement involves a stepwise
concretization of abstract concepts, unfolding their full implications as he moves
towards ever more concrete analyses; the latter movement involves the articulation
of concepts drawn from different axes of abstraction so that the analysis, whilst
remaining integrated, becomes more multi-dimensional. Marx applied this approach
in the first instance in his form analysis of capital as a social relation. Such an
analysis studies social forms as modes of organizing social life. Marx focused
primarily on the commodity form and value form in capitalism but also offered hints
about the state form, especially in his earlier critique of Hegel’s philosophy of right
and his later comments on the Civil War in France (Marx 1975a, 1975b, 1986b). His
work in this regard can be described as form-analytic because it addresses the
principles of statehood (Staatlichkeit), the generic form of the state (Staat als Form),
particular state forms associated with different modes of production (Staatsformen),
and the formal, material, and functional adequacies of specific forms and types state.
Linking this approach with the analysis of forms of life would provide a good account
of the social formation (an ensemble of social forms) and its accompanying social
order (considered as an ensemble of forms of life).
Marx often deploys the notion of formal adequacy in his critique of political economy.
Formal adequacy refers to the correspondence among different forms of the capital
relation such that different forms are mutually compatible and together provide the
best framework for realizing the overall dynamic of capital accumulation. A well-
known example is Marx’s analysis of machinofacture as the adequate form of the
capitalist labour process in contrast to simple or complex cooperation within
manufacture. For, whereas capital can secure nominal control over labour-power in
the manufacturing division of labour, in machinofacture the worker becomes an
appendage to the machine and is really subsumed under capitalist control. Thus
Marx concludes that machinofacture is the labour process that is formally adequate
to the capitalist wage relation. In the same way, he examined money both as the
adequate form (or medium) of expression of value in exchange in contrast to ad hoc
barter relations and, further, as the most adequate form of capital insofar as money
capital is available for investment in any activity as opposed to particular assets that
must be valorized according to specific temporalities in specific places. For present
purposes, we may also note that Marx regarded bourgeois democracy as the
adequate form of political organization in consolidated capitalist social formations.
For Marx, the form of the modern (capitalist) state is distinguished above all by its
institutional separation from the economy. The former is the world of the citoyen and
national interest, the latter of the bourgeois and the primacy of private profit. He adds
that the modern representative state based on rational bureaucracy and universal
suffrage is formally adequate to capitalist social formations. The capitalist type of
state has a distinctive, form-determined strategic selectivity with major implications
for the organization and effectiveness of state intervention. This is reflected in
Moore’s aphorism that brilliantly distils the essence of the Marxist theory of the
capitalist type of state: ‘when exploitation takes the form of exchange, dictatorship
tends to take the form of democracy’ (Moore 1957, p. 85; cf. Lenin’s claim that the
bourgeois democratic republic is ‘the best possible political shell for capitalism’, 1970:
p. 296). The liberal democratic state form corresponds to the value form of the
capitalist mode of production and provides a suitable extra-economic support for it.
The freedom of economic agents to engage in exchange (belied by the factory
despotism within the labour process) is matched by the freedom of individual citizens
(belied by the state’s subordination to the logic of capital) (Marx 1975b, 1978; cf.
Artous 1999; Jessop 1990). Nonetheless, the absence of direct control by the
capitalist class over the state means that the development of state projects and
policies that favour capital is subject to complex mediations. This means that the
normal (or bourgeois democratic) form of capitalist state serves both to promote the
interests of capital and to disguise this, rendering capitalist political domination
relatively intransparent. When a normal type of capitalist state is established, political
class domination is secured through the dull routines of democratic politics as the
state acts on behalf of capital, but not at its direct behest (cf. Miliband 1983: 64).
Open class struggle (or, as Miliband puts it, ‘class war’) is less evident in such states
and democratic political legitimacy is correspondingly stronger (contrast Miliband’s
accounts of the coup in Chile, 1983, 82-94, and of fascism, 1977, 56, 171; cf.
Poulantzas 1978, 80-82).
Nonetheless formal adequacy does not guarantee the material adequacy of the
capitalist type of state in the sense that the mere presence of this state form ensures
that it secures the economic and extra-economic reproduction demands of the
capitalist mode of production. On the contrary, extending the argument that form
problematizes function (Offe 1984; Jessop 1982), we can say that formal adequacy
problematizes functional adequacy. Because forms are the strategically selective
medium through which the contradictions and dilemmas of the capital relation
develop, there is a permanent tension between form and content. This tension calls
for action to ensure that form and content complement each other and are thereby
functional for capital accumulation and political class domination. This excludes any
quasi-automatic reproduction of the capital relation. This problem may be overcome
in the short term through trial-and-error experimentation; and it may be solved in the
medium- to long-term through the mutual selection and retention of complementary
forms and contents. Those policies will be selected that correspond best to the
dominant forms; and forms will be selected that are most adequate to the overall
logic of capital accumulation. In short, content is selected by form, form is selected by
content. Gramsci makes a similar point regarding the development of historical blocs,
where 'material forces are the content and ideologies are the form, though this
distinction between form and content has purely didactic value' (1971, p. 377). In this
process, form and content are transformed from arbitrary elements into solid
moments of a relatively coherent social formation. The resulting contingency in the
nature of the state and its operations requires more concrete, historically specific,
institutionally sensitive, and action-oriented studies. A formal analysis is not a
superficial analysis: it is an analysis of social forms and their material effects – form
really does make a difference! But it makes a difference only in and through its
articulation with a social agency that can overflow, undermine, and overthrow forms.
Formal adequacy can be contrasted with functional adequacy. Whereas the former is
more relevant to the analysis of the capitalist type of state (defined by its formal
adequacy even if its form renders its immediate functionality problematic), the latter is
more directly relevant to the analysis of the state in capitalist societies (where form
itself is problematic and more emphasis is given to how the political process defines
and secures the functional needs of capital). In this context, functional adequacy
concerns the capacity of a state in capitalist society to secure the economic and
extra-economic conditions for accumulation in a given conjuncture. Here the
emphasis falls less on form and more on how policies come to acquire a particular
content, mission, aims, and objectives that are more or less adequate to the
reproduction requirements of the capital relation. This does not mean that the state
form is irrelevant but rather that its strategic selectivities do not directly serve to
realize the interests of capital in general. Analyses of the state must therefore pay
more attention to the open struggle among political forces to shape the political
process in ways that privilege accumulation over other modes of societalization.
Table 1 about here
An alternative and equally venerable approach to state theory is found in Marx’s
more concrete-complex analyses of political class struggle. Exemplary texts here are
his comments on Class Struggle in France (1976) and, more importantly, the much-
cited but frequently misunderstood Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1979),
which analyzes class struggles on the terrain of a changing state in a still emerging
capitalist social formation. These studies combine a critical theory of the state, a
critique of class power, and a periodization of the state and political domination. In
this context they dissect the state as an institutional ensemble and offer conjunctural
analyses of the prevailing balance of forces, demonstrating thereby the variability of
the state’s relative autonomy and its functional adequacy in promoting class
domination and securing capitalist reproduction in the face of class struggles. These
studies also explore the nature and significance of exceptional regimes and the limits
of the state’s relative autonomy. Such analyses are far closer to studies of the state
in capitalist societies than the capitalist type of state. For, while Marx shows how the
changing form of the French state and different political regimes privilege one or
another class fraction or social category, he focuses on efforts to refashion its
instrumentality and functionality. These may occur on behalf of capital and other
dominant classes or be made by a political elite that manages to play different
classes off against each other in order to enhance its own autonomy and to promote
the state’s interests against the wider society (in addition to the Eighteenth Brumaire,
see especially Marx 1986a).
A further line of theoretical inquiry in Marx’s texts on France is the historical
constitution of the state, i.e., the process of state formation or state-building. A
formally adequate capitalist state does not emerge automatically or immediately from
the development of bourgeois relations of production. On the contrary, the state
forms through which the political interests of capital are initially pursued are formally
inadequate and must be conformed to its changing economic and political interests
through open political struggles aimed at achieving a modern representative state.
This is stated especially clearly in the Communist Manifesto:
Each of these stages of the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a
corresponding political advance. From an oppressed class under the rule of feudal
lords, to armed and self-administering associations within the medieval city, here an
independent urban republic, there a third estate taxable by the monarchy, then in the
era of small-scale manufacture a counterweight to the nobility in the estates-system
or in an absolute monarchy, in general the mainstay of the great monarchies, the
bourgeoisie with the establishment of large-scale industry and the world market
has finally gained exclusive political control through the modern representative state.
The power of the modern state is merely a device for administering the common
affairs of the whole bourgeois class (Marx/Engels 1976, p. 486).
This suggests that the study of the historical constitution of the state in capitalist
societies and its instrumentalization for capitalist purposes is far from identical with
the study of its formal constitution as a capitalist type of state with structurally-
inscribed strategic selectivities that quasi-automatically privilege the interests of
capital. It has taken many economic, political, and ideological struggles, extensive
trial-and-error experimentation, and the mobilization of many different social forces to
develop the modern representative state. Unsurprisingly, given the contradiction at
the heart of the democratic constitution, this is also a fragile political regime. For its
stability depends on the continued willingness of the dominated classes to accept
only political emancipation rather than press for social emancipation and/or on the
willingness of the dominant class(es) to be satisfied with social domination (i.e., with
the de facto subordination of the exercise of state power to the imperatives of capital
accumulation) rather than press for the restoration of their earlier monopoly of
political power (cf. Marx 1978). Rejection of this compromise creates fertile ground
for the growth of exceptional forms of state, i.e., states where the electoral principle is
suspended and some part of the state apparatus exercises power without the need to
take account of the bourgeois democratic process.
Poulantzas’s Analysis of the Capitalist Type of State
Having considered some basic approaches and concepts for a Marxist analysis of
the state, we can now sketch the background of the Poulantzas-Miliband debate. In
his first major contribution to Marxist state theory, Political Power and Social Classes
(published in French in 1968, in English in 1973), Poulantzas introduced the notion of
the capitalist type of state, which is formally adequate to capitalism and thereby
routinizes and disguises economic and political class domination. He implicitly
distinguished this normal type of state from states in capitalist societies, which are
formally inadequate and therefore depend far more on constant political
improvisation and on force-fraud-corruption to secure such domination. Poulantzas
also distinguished between historical and formal constitution in his account of the
transition to capitalism, where he analyzes a number of state forms that function
more or less adequately to effect that transition but do not themselves have a
capitalist form (e.g., mercantilist and absolutiststates or, later, Bismarckism) (1973,
157-83). His later work will develop sophisticated analyses of the different
institutional and political logics of normal and exceptional states and political regimes
(cf. Jessop 1985).
His first major state-theoretical analysis had four main objectives:
(1) To systematize the studies of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Gramsci and their
implications for revolutionary strategy. This involved an active ‘symptomatic reading’
in which texts are not read literally and superficially but for their underlying
conceptual innovations, ambivalence, lacunae, and so forth and for their theoretical
as well as empirical adequacy.
(2) To criticize other Marxist approaches to the state. Chief among these were: (i)
economic reductionism that emphasized the logic of capitalist development or
economic class struggles at the expense of the specifically political dimensions of the
state and state power; (ii) the 'historicism' (or history-making voluntarism) of those
who emphasized the transformative potential of an autonomous political class
struggle without regard to the strategically selective institutional legacies of political
structures; and (iii) 'state monopoly capitalism' views, which claimed power in the
contemporary state was exercised exclusively by monopoly capital at the expense of
other capitalist groups as well as the subaltern classes.
(3) To ground a new, separate Marxist science of capitalist politics in basic Marxist
philosophical and theoretical principles; and
(4) To develop this new Marxist political science in three steps by moving from more
abstract to more concrete analyses and, to a lesser extent, from the simple to the
These aims are all reflected in the division of his book into three parts, which,
respectively, present general theoretical considerations about the state and politics,
analyze the institutional form of the capitalist state, and examine the dynamics of
political class struggle. Each part drew in turn on different theoretical sources in the
Marxist literature and in broader studies of the modern state.
First, drawing on Althusser’s so-called structural Marxism, he argued that an
autonomous theory of the political region was possible for the capitalist mode of
production because it was marked by an institutional separation between economics
and politics. Second, given this possibility, he drew on basic concepts of juridico-
political theory to describe the distinctive institutional matrix of the capitalist type
of state. He described it as a hierarchically organized, centrally-coordinated,
sovereign territorial state based on the rule of law and, in its ideal typical normal form,
combined with a bourgeois democratic form of government. This state form facilitates
capital accumulation and political class domination but obscures this fact by
disguising this economic exploitation and the exercise of class power. Third, in the
final part of his book, he drew on Gramsci to argue that, in such a state, political
class domination could not rest on a legal monopoly of class power but would
depend on the dominant class’s capacity to promote a hegemonic project that
identified the national-popular interest with the long-term interests of the capitalist
class and its allies in the power bloc. Such hegemonic projects were premised on the
individuation of the political subjects (citizens) of a state based on the rule of law and
would aim to link individual interests with the national-popular interest.
In developing this analysis, Poulantzas moved from abstract-simple to concrete-
complex concepts. Thus, beginning with general concepts of dialectical materialism
as presented in structural Marxism, he successively deployed the basic concepts of
historical materialism, concepts concerned with historically specific aspects of the
capitalist mode of production (CMP), concepts for describing key features of a social
formation that was dominated by the CMP, concepts appropriate to the political
region within capitalism, concepts to identify the distinctive features of the capitalist
type of state and the manner in which its distinctive form problematized its
functionality for capitalist reproduction, and, finally, concepts to explore how this
problematic functionality could be overcome through the successful adoption of
specific forms of political action. For only when the state’s narrow economic, political-
administrative, and ideological functions are subordinated to its global political
function (i.e., securing social cohesion in a class-divided society) can they contribute
effectively to creating and maintaining capital’s long-term domination. This global
political function depends in turn on the successful pursuit of specific political
practices concerned with organizing the power bloc and disorganizing subordinate
classes, with the struggle for national-popular hegemony in democratic conditions
having a vital role in this regard. Only by moving to this more concrete-complex level
could Poulantzas turn from discussion of the formal adequacy of the capitalist type of
state to a critical assessment of its functional adequacy and the latter’s mediation
through political practices undertaken by specific social forces.
Implicit in Poulantzas’s analysis are two crucial state-theoretical concepts: ‘formal
adequacy’ and ‘strategic selectivity’. The first concept is premised on form analysis
(see above) and, for Poulantzas, involves the adequacy of a given state form for
securing political class domination in specific circumstances. A preliminary form-
analytical account of the capitalist type of state is presented in table 2, which is
based on the work of Poulantzas and other form-analytical studies (see also Jessop
2002). Nonetheless form analysis cannot exhaust analysis of structures there are
emergent structural properties that can-not be reduced to the properties of any one
form or combination of forms and there is a constant tendency for action to overflow
any given form and its associated constraints. This is reflected in Poulantzas’s
subsequent claim that the state is a social relation. This elliptical phrase implies that
the exercise of state power (or, better, state powers in the plural) involves a form-
determined condensation of the changing balance of forces in struggle. The same
claim is implicit in his first major work with its stress on the institutional separation
and relative autonomy of the political region, the specificity of the sovereign territorial
democratic state as an institutional matrix for the organization and mediation of
politics, and the need for a distinctive form of political class struggle in normal
capitalist states that would be oriented to securing political hegemony. This implies
that the state qua institutional ensemble has a specific, differential impact on the
ability of various political forces to pursue particular interests and strategies in
specific spatio-temporal contexts through their access to and/or control over given
state capacities capacities that always depend for their effectiveness on links to
forces and powers that exist and operate beyond the state’s formal boundaries.
Whether these links would be effective enough to secure hegemony would affect the
stability of the capitalist type of state and, where the latter experienced a crisis (or
crises), an exceptional regime was likely to emerge. Moreover, as Poulantzas later
argued, if an overall strategic line is discernible in the exercise of these powers, it is
due to strategic coordination enabled through the selectivity of the state system and
the role of parallel power networks that cross-cut and unify its formal structures. Such
unity is improbable, however, because the state is shot through with contradictions
and class struggles and its political agents must always take account of (potential)
mobilization by a wide range of forces beyond the state, engaged in struggles to
transform it, determine its policies, or simply resist it from afar (1973; 1978).
Although Political Power and Social Classes did not examine exceptional regimes,
i.e., those that suspend the principle of electoral representation as the basis for
legitimacy, he did go on later to discuss their forms, the variation in their formal
adequacy (fascism was more adequate than military dictatorships, for example) and
Table 2 about here
their functional limitations. Nonetheless his failure to extend his analysis in this way in
his first major state-theoretical text was one of the key criticisms subsequently
leveled against him by Miliband (see below). Equally neglected were dependent
capitalist states – a topic he later discussed in relation to Southern Europe’s military
dictatorships (1976a). Finally, for all his interest in the formal adequacy of the
capitalist type of state, there is a residual functionalist aspect to Poulantzas’s work at
this stage. For his analysis of the capitalist type of state was primarily concerned to
show how it was possible for an institutionally separate, relatively autonomous state
to secure the long-term political interests of capital rather than to show the problems
that this separation must inevitably reproduce. This residual functionalism is
reasserted in Poulantzas’s response to Miliband’s review of Political Power and
Social Classes (Miliband 1973; Poulantzas 1976b).
Miliband’s Analysis of the State in Capitalist Society
Miliband’s contribution to Marxist state theory draws more on the second approach to
the state developed by Marx and Engels, that is, a concern with the historical
constitution of the state in capitalist societies and the changing modalities of class
struggles concerned to capture the existing state and use it to promote particular
class interests. His most famous state-theoretical work (1969) shares the concern of
his earlier work on the limits of parliamentary socialism (1961; cf. 1982: 20-53) with
theoretically-informed empirical analysis rather than pursuing the sort of theoretical
reflection and conceptual elaboration typical of Poulantzas’s early work (for
Miliband’s motives in starting his work on the state and his subsequent reliance on ‘a
mixture of history and political experience and analysis’, see Newman 2002, 186-88).
Thus the four main goals of The State in Capitalist Society were:
(1) To develop a new Marxist approach to the state in capitalist society without much
explicit or detailed reference to earlier Marxist work, its strengths, or limits.
(2) To criticize bourgeois political science, especially its recent claims about the
separation of ownership and control produced by the managerial revolution and its
continuing claims about the open, pluralistic, and democratic nature of government in
the modern democratic state.
(3) To develop his own account of the state through a critique of bourgeois common
sense and/or bourgeois social science based on detailed examination of empirical
data and a more general presentation of a theoretically-informed (but markedly
‘theory-light’) alternative account of how different government institutions and actors
are deeply embedded in a capitalist market economy and a civil society dominated
by institutions and forces imbued with capitalist values and more or less committed to
capitalist interests.
(4) To present this critique of bourgeois political science and common sense in a
revelatory manner that starts from surface appearances and moves progressively to
more basic underlying factors and forces.
This approach is reflected in the overall organization of Miliband’s cathartic text. His
critique moves from empirical analysis of managerial and political elite recruitment
through an account of the actual functions of specific parts of the state apparatus to
more basic material and ideological constraints on the state’s autonomy regardless of
elite backgrounds and the aims and objectives of the elected politicians and state
managers nominally in charge of the state. In this sense, while Poulantzas tends to
move from the most abstract determinations of the capitalist state to its more
concrete form and dynamics, Miliband tends to move from more 'visible' aspects of
capitalist societies to some of their more hidden ('behind the scenes' or 'behind the
backs') aspects and/or to some fundamental structural constraints on the exercise of
state power in a capitalist society, whatever the state’s specific institutional form.
The basic political assumption informing Miliband’s analysis is that there cannot be a
parliamentary road to socialism because the bourgeois democratic state (and, by
extension, other types of political regime in capitalist social formations) will remain
inherently unreformable as long as radical movements continue to work only in and
through established political institutions. His aim is to reveal the flaws in such a
reformist approach and to develop theoretical ideas useful for a more radical
democratic socialist movement. Nonetheless, in developing this analysis, he tends to
reproduce some of the instrumentalist fallacies of parliamentary socialism even as he
seeks to show the limits of a simple instrumentalist analysis of the state apparatus.
Thus he is quite clear that the state is a ‘special institution, whose main purpose is to
defend the predominance … of a particular class’ (1969: p. 3) that extends well
beyond the executive and legislative branches of elected government (1969: p. 49-50,
54). And he proposes to ‘examine the state in light of concrete socio-economic and
political and cultural reality of capitalist societies’ (1969: p. 6) in order to reveal the
basic limits to reformist attempts to use legislative powers alone to transform the
basic structures of capitalist exploitation and domination.
On this basis he first describes the linkages between economic elites and the
dominant class, showing that managers are not so much salaried employees as key
members of the dominant economic class. He then explores the composition of the
state elite (state managers in contemporary jargon) and state servants, paying
special attention to their class background and current class interests and class
consciousness. His next step is to show that, while democracy certainly involves
elections and opposition, the political system in contemporary capitalism is marred by
imperfect party and class competition. He then studies the bases of legitimation in
the political system and the pressures on state managers to seek re-election and
continued legitimacy on the basis of criteria that are biased towards capitalist
interests. And his analysis of the state in capitalist societies ends with a broader
analysis of the bases of political authority in a civil society dominated by capitalist
values in the family, school, mass media, and many other institutions. In all these
analyses, Miliband focuses on how the embedding of a formally democratic state in a
substantively capitalist society limits the apparent autonomy of elected governments
and thereby promotes the functional adequacy of the exercise of state power for and
on behalf of capital. This is far from a simple instrumentalist account of the state
because it emphasizes a wide range of constraints on any voluntarist exercise of
power but it is nonetheless one that starts from the existence of historically
constituted political regimes in actually existing capitalist societies. This involves a
different theoretical object and different lines of argument from those in the work of
his protagonist in the ensuing Poulantzas-Miliband controversy.
The Poulantzas-Miliband Non-Debate
The relative autonomy of the state was much disputed in the 1970s and
1980s. Essentially this topic concerned the relative freedom of the state (or, better,
state managers) to pursue policies that conflict with the immediate interests of the
dominant economic class(es) without becoming so autonomous that they could also
undermine the long-term economic and political interests of the latter. This was one
of the key themes in the Poulantzas-Miliband debate, which took place between a
purported structural determinist and an alleged instrumentalist respectively. Neither
characterization is accurate but it remains to explain why the two protagonists were
unable to grasp and depict their opponent’s stance within the controversy. I suggest
that this was because they conceived the capitalist state in such radically different
and fundamentally incommensurable terms that they were actually discussing two
different types of theoretical object. This misunderstanding was reinforced because
the two men also adopted different strategies for presenting their respective objects.
Poulantzas was essentially concerned with the formal adequacy of the capitalist type
of state and Miliband with the functional adequacy of the state in a capitalist society
(for an alternative reading of the debate, see Barrow 2002). Paradoxically, without
recognizing these differences or admitting the impact of this non-debate on their
subsequent state-theoretical analyses, both figures later redefined their respective
theoretical objects and developed new accounts that not only broke with their earlier
views but even produced a limited bilateral convergence.
Poulantzas initiated the debate with an extended critique of Miliband’s book in New
Left Review (1969). His five main criticisms were that: (1) Miliband was mistaken in
his belief that a Marxist approach could be based on a critique of non-Marxist
approaches that focused on revealing their factual errors this placed Miliband on
their terrain and trapped him into a debate on their terms; (2) Miliband had adopted a
‘problematic of the subject’, i.e., a concern with individual agents and their motives
rather than with classes and their interests; (3) these epistemological and theoretical
errors are evident in Miliband’s critique of the managerial revolution thesis and the
alleged neutrality of the state bureaucracy; (4) Miliband neglected the distinctive
class unity of the state apparatus and therefore also failed to inquire into the sources
of this unity; and (5) Miliband had neglected the key role of the ideological state
apparatuses' (ISAs) in securing social cohesion in a class-divided society. The main
problems with this critique was that it criticized Miliband for failing to accomplish
something that he did not aim to achieve and that it ignored the polemical value of
what he did intend to write. This misunderstanding is rooted in part in the different
theoretical and political contexts of their work, with Poulantzas writing in a context
marked by relatively abstract theoretical debates and Marxist polemics on state
monopoly capitalism and Miliband writing in a context dominated by Anglo-American
empiricism and debates on pluralism.
Miliband replied to this critique twice. The first response was immediate and written
hastily over a weekend. It made four main points: (1) Poulantzas was preoccupied
with his own problematic to the exclusion of other approaches and ignored the
importance of empirical material in developing a critique of the state; (2) he was guilty
of ‘structural superdeterminism’ in his exaggerated concern with the structural
constraints on state autonomy; (3) given his claim that the capitalist type of state
tends to be ‘Bonapartist’, i.e., to acquire a certain independence from the social
forces in the wider society, Poulantzas could not distinguish between fascism and
democracy and therefore could not appreciate the virtues of a democratic regime for
democratic struggle; (4) he was mistaken in treating ISAs as part of the state in its
narrow sense as opposed to the political system more generally (Miliband 1970).
This reply shows signs of haste in being more concerned to rebut Poulantzas’s
specific charges than ask about the appropriate object of a Marxist state theory.
Thus, in focusing on the structural Marxist language in which Poulantzas phrased his
criticisms, Miliband ignored the more fundamental difference of theoretical and
empirical object in their respective approaches. This initial exchange set the tone for
the broader reception of the debate and its misrepresentation (including by its main
protagonists) as a conflict between structuralist and instrumentalist accounts of the
same analytical object. Yet, as argued above, Poulantzas was concerned with the
capitalist type of state, Miliband with the state in capitalist societies.
Miliband’s second reply critically reviewed the English translation of Poulantzas's
book in the context of their earlier exchange. Thus he still failed to identify the
specific theoretical object of Poulantzas’s text and its implications for the latter’s
distinctive method of presentation and resulting tripartite theoretical structure. Instead
Miliband comments on the importance of the anti-economist intention of Poulantzas’s
book, accuses him of a ‘structuralist abstractionism’ that has little contact with reality
and produces little more than a 'formalized ballet of evanescent shadows', and claims
that economism re-enters Poulantzas’s analysis through the backdoor in the guise of
the inevitable class character of state power. Miliband also returns to the theme of
normal and exceptional states by noting that Poulantzas exaggerates the unity of the
state and cannot deal with the role of political parties or the variability of regimes
especially as this is seen in the distinction between democracy and fascism. This
critique still bears the imprint of the first exchange between Miliband and Poulantzas,
focusing on only one aspect of Poulantzas’s theoretical matrix (the use of Althusser’s
structural Marxist terminology to justify an autonomous theory of political institutions
and practices) to the neglect of its substantively more important utilization of juridico-
political concepts and Gramsci’s analysis of hegemony. This reinforces the unfortun-
ate polarization in the debate around structuralism versus instrumentalism and
reproduces the failure to distinguish between an abstract theoretical concern with the
capitalist type of state and an empirical analysis of the state in capitalist society as a
real-concrete phenomenon. Poulantzas had criticized Miliband for not taking the
capitalist type of state as his theoretical object and for situating his critique of the
state in capitalist society on the theoretical terrain of pluralism. Miliband now
criticized Poulantzas in turn for not examining actually existing states in capitalist
societies and for his ‘hyper-theoretical’ concerns with the essence of the capitalist
state, neglecting its variant forms and the ways in which class struggles shape state
The different presentational strategies adopted in the two books also contributed to
the excess of heat over light in this polemic. As we have seen, Miliband began with
the social origins and current interests of economic and political elites and then
turned to more fundamental features of actually existing states in a capitalist society
and the constraints on their autonomy. Conversely, Poulantzas began with the
overall institutional framework of capitalist societies, defined the ideal-typical
capitalist type of state (a constitutional democratic state based on the rule of law),
then explored the typical forms of political class struggle in bourgeois democracies
(concerned with winning active consent for a national-popular project), and
concluded with an analysis of the relative autonomy of state managers. In short,
whereas Miliband moved from elites as social categories to broader social forces and
only then to structural factors, Poulantzas moved from structural factors to the
struggle among social forces and then to specific social categories. Such
presentational strategies encouraged a polarized view of the debate that did little
justice to the two texts because it drew attention to their starting points rather than to
the full set of arguments and their implicit as well as explicit theoretical logic.
The next round was initiated by Ernesto Laclau, an Argentinian social theorist familiar
with Althusserian structuralism who was also aware of the complexities of political
struggles. He attacked both writers on the grounds that they had made
complementary methodological errors. While Miliband had erred in not constructing
his own theory and testing it against other theories, Poulantzas had constructed his
own theory but neglected to demonstrate its superiority on empirical grounds. This is
correct as far as it goes but Laclau himself did not identify the very different
theoretical objects that would have been constructed and tested if Miliband and
Poulantzas had followed his own protocols of theory construction and empirical
evaluation. Laclau made some additional points about the autonomy of the political
and its relation to the economic that need not concern us here (Laclau 1975).
This prompted the final round in the debate as Poulantzas replied to both Laclau and
Miliband. He agrees in part with Laclau’s critique and then focuses on Miliband.
Poulantzas denies the charge of abstractionism, as well he might, given his concern
to move from abstract to concrete, but does plead guilty to using difficult language, to
formalism (in this context, not a concern with forms but the use of terms that lack
immediate empirical referents), and to ‘theoreticism’. This last deviation involves an
emphasis on the conditions of theoretical production to the neglect of how the 'real'
world is reflected in theory. He also concedes that this leads him to use empirical
analysis for illustration rather than for systematic testing of arguments. After these
concessions, Poulantzas went on the attack. He claims to analyze the relative
autonomy of state in terms of the institutional separation of economics and politics
and the state's key role in organizing a 'power bloc' and disorganizing the popular
masses; and he rejects the charge of structuralism on the grounds that he also
examines class struggle. Both points are valid and derive from the form-analytic,
strategic-relational approach implicit in Political Power and Social Classes. Indeed,
he then introduces his innovative view of the state as a social relation to emphasize
even more the role of class struggle in the constitution of state power. In this context,
he also notes the basic internal contradictions and tensions within the state
apparatus that render its unity deeply problematic and how these are shaped by
struggles within the state, over the state, and at a distance from the state. He also
concedes the need to investigate the state’s economic functions. Nowhere does
Poulantzas recognize, however, as he had implicitly done earlier, that the state in
capitalist societies may not be a capitalist type of state; and, for the latter, he insists,
against his concession that systematic empirical testing is needed, that the logic and
interests of capital will always prevail in the long run (Poulantzas 1976b).
A Possible Reconciliation?
In a provocative comparison of the popular impact of Marx and Darwin, Marsden
notes that both men published their key scientific work in 1867 and that Darwin’s
work was an instant success whilst Marx attracted little attention. He suggests this is
due to Darwin’s mode of presentation in his Origin of the Species, which was written
as the history of a tentative discovery, expressed the author’s own doubts, and
implicitly invited the reader to help solve unresolved questions. In contrast, Marx's
Capital failed because it was written as a definitive scientific treatise without
adequately explaining how Marx had arrived at the truth. This discouraged readers
from engaging with Capital quite so enthusiastically as they read Origins (Marsden
1999, 113-114).4
A similar comparison can be made with Poulantzas and Miliband. Each published his
first major state-theoretical work just over a century later, with similar results.
Miliband achieved far greater popular success because of the revelatory, cathartic
impact of his state-theoretical detective story, unmasking the capitalist nature of the
apparently democratic, class-neutral state in capitalist societies. In contrast,
Poulantzas’s analysis of the capitalist type of state appears more like ‘a triumph of
German Wissenschaft’ insofar as it is modelled on Marx’s movement from the most
abstract determinations towards the concrete-in-thought and aims to be a definitive
scientific treatise. In this sense, while Miliband’s text was immediately accessible
(and remains so, even if it is now dated), Poulantzas’s text required considerable
intellectual capital on the part of its readers and has become less accessible as the
language of structural Marxism appears more alien. But this language is not an
essential feature of his approach, as shown by its absence from Poulantzas’s last,
and most definitive, text on the state as a social relation.
Following the first round in their debate, Poulantzas, having initially focused on the
pure form of the capitalist type of state at a high level of abstraction, took more
account of forms of state, varieties in political regime, changes in class composition
and forms of struggle, the crucial distinction between normal and exceptional forms
of state, and the value of democratic institutions in the struggle for democratic
socialism. This brought him closer to Miliband. The latter in turn went on to provide
interesting comments on the formal adequacy of liberal democracy for securing
bourgeois hegemony and for enabling reorganization of bourgeois class domination
on behalf (but not necessarily at the behest) of capital in a relatively flexible manner
(1977: 87-88). There is also an interesting parallel between Poulantzas’s relational
turn and Miliband’s later interest in a ‘wider theory of domination, based on infra- and
superstructural elements’ with a primacy of class over state power (Miliband 1977,
43-44). Moreover, reflecting major conjunctural shifts in the capitalist and soviet blocs,
Poulantzas and Miliband did converge on a positive evaluation of democratic
socialism, pluripartisme, the valuable role of new social movements, the importance
of human rights, and the critique of authoritarian statism.
Given this, the Poulantzas-Miliband debate can be seen as an unnecessary diversion
in their own theoretical trajectories as well as an unproductive debate for a
generation of state theorists more generally. This is indicated in Miliband’s later
remarks that, ‘taken as a whole’, Poulantzas’s work ‘is without question the most
creative and stimulating contribution to a Marxist political sociology5 to have been
made in the sixties and seventies’ (1983: p. 27); and, further, that Poulantzas
provided ‘the most thorough exploration of the concept of the autonomy of the
state [and] coined the formulation which has remained the basis for most
subsequent discussion of the subject, namely the “relative autonomy of the state”’
(1983: p. 64). Such remarks might have provided a fruitful basis for discussion if
made earlier, especially if Poulantzas’s first critique had been less anxious to assert
his structural Marxist credentials at Miliband’s expense and more interested in the
underlying theoretical logic and presentation of The State in Capitalist Society.
This does not mean that Poulantzas and Miliband converged fully in their analyses of
the state. On the contrary, fundamental differences remained in their approaches to
the philosophy of social science and the methodology of theory construction, with
Poulantzas more concerned with abstract questions and theoretical coherence and
Miliband more concerned with political relevance and empirical evidence. Important
differences also remained in their approach to the object of state theory, with the
Greek developing a form-analytic, strategic-relational perspective and the Belgian
sticking to institutional analysis focused on the changing balance of forces. These
differences are also reflected in their respective approaches to class analysis, to the
political influence of state managers, and to other politically-relevant social forces
(see especially Miliband 1983: 63-78); and in their relative sensitivity to potential
disjunctions between economics, politics, and the ‘ideological’ and their impact on the
relative unity of capitalist social formations (see especially Poulantzas 1974).
Conclusions: an Emerging Agenda?
This contribution starts from the distinction between the capitalist type of state and
the state in capitalist society. This is radically different from the distinction that has
conventionally framed this debate including its perception and presentation by its
chief protagonists as well as in subsequent interventions and comments. This is a
common observation and has been explained in various ways (cf. Barrow 2002).
Whatever the reasons, this misperception produced a dialogue of the deaf that not
only proved sterile in its own terms but has also misled later generations about the
best way to study the state. My own view, which has emerged from my reflections on
Poulantzas and other advocates of a form-analytic, strategic-relational analysis, is
that two analytical strategies must be adopted and combined. On the one hand, there
is a definite place for theoretical reflections on the type of state that corresponds best
to the capitalist mode of production; and, on the other, the most appropriate starting
point for empirical analysis are various states in capitalist societies. Whereas the first
approach is concerned with the formal adequacy of the capitalist type of state, the
latter examines the functional adequacy of the state in capitalist society. Given that
states are polymorphous and can operate with very different logics of societalization,
there is no guarantee that a given state in capitalist society will have a capitalist
character. This must be established theoretically and empirically on the basis of its
specific forms, institutional architecture, and political practices – an exercise that
requires both types of analysis. Such research must examine the outcome of
practical struggles over the historical and formal constitution of the state, its
institutional design, and the nature and purposes of government. Two
complementary analytical strategies can be adopted in this regard: (a) how does the
exercise of state power by the agents of the state in capitalist society overcome the
problems of lobbyism, particularism, short-termism, fragmentation, etc., so that it can
develop, if at all, policies that are consistent with the expanded reproduction of
capital; and (b) how does the exercise of power in and through the capitalist type of
state overcome the problems posed by the institutional separation of the economic
and political through specific accumulation strategies, state projects, and hegemonic
visions. The former strategy requires concern with formal adequacy (cf. Miliband
1977, 74-83); the latter requires concern with functional adequacy (cf. Poulantzas
1978, 25, 53. 124-6, 132, 140-3, 190-4). Combining these approaches would avoid
the state-theoretical pitfalls of both structuralism and instrumentalism by focusing on
the contingently necessary nature of state power in the modern state. Its importance
lies in its ability to bridge the distinction between the capitalist state and the state in
capitalist society and to provide a basis for critical work on actually existing states in
actually existing social formations.
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Capitalist Type of State
State in Capitalist Society
Focus on historical specificity
(distinction between capitalist
type of state and types of state
associated with other modes of
Potential historical continuity
(focus on how inherited state
forms may be used in new
historical contexts)
Dominant axis of
Dominance of logic of capital
Another axis of crystallization
or none dominates
Key approach to
its development
Focus on formal constitution
(how state acquires ‘formal
adequacy’) and on how ‘form
problematizes function’
Focus on historical constitution
(how state building is mediated
through the changing balance
of forces oriented to different
state projects)
Measure of
Formal adequacy
(Correspondence between
state form and other forms of
capital relation such that state
form is a key element in its
overall reproduction)
Functional adequacy
(Focus on capacity of state in a
capitalist society to secure
various conditions for capital
accumulation and political
Class vs State
Class power is structural and
obscure. Capitalist type of state
is more likely to function for
capital as a whole and depends
less on overt class struggles to
guide its functionality
Class power is instrumental
and transparent. There is a
stronger likelihood that the
state is used to pursue the
interests of particular capitals
or other specific interests
Phases in formal development,
crises in and of the capitalist
type of state, alternation of
normal and exceptional periods
Phases in historical
development, major shifts in
institutional design, changes in
governments and policies
Table 1: Capitalist type of State versus State in Capitalist Society
Institutional separation of
market economy, sovereign
state, and a public sphere
(civil society) that is located
beyond market and state.
Economy is organized under
dominance of capitalist law
of value as mediated through
competition between capitals
and economic class struggle
Raison d'État (a specialized
political rationality) distinct
from profit-and-loss market
logic and from religious,
moral, or ethical principles.
Legitimate or constitutional-
ized claim to a monopoly of
organized coercion within
territory controlled by state.
Role of legality in legitimation
of the state and its activities.
Coercion is excluded from
immediate organization of
labour process. Value form
and market forces, not force,
shape capital accumulation.
Specialized military-police
organs are subject to
constitutional control. Force
has ideological as well as
repressive functions.
Subject to law, state may
intervene to compensate for
market failure in national
‘Tax State': state revenues
derive largely from taxes on
economic actors and their
activities and from loans
raised from market actors.
State lacks own property to
produce goods and services
for its own use and/or to sell
to generate profits to support
state apparatus and
activities. Tax capacity
depends on legal authority
and coercive power.
Taxes are deduction from
private revenues but may be
used to produce public
goods deemed essential to
market economy and/or for
social cohesion.
Bourgeois tax form: general
contribution to government
revenue levied on continuing
basis that can be applied
freely by state to legitimate
tasks – not specific, ad hoc
taxes levied for specific
Subjects of the state in its
territory have general duty to
pay taxes, regardless of
whether they approve of
specific state activities.
National money is also means
of payment for state taxes.
Taxation capacity acts as
security for sovereign debt.
Tax as one of earliest foci of
class struggles.
Specialized administrative
staff with own channels of
recruitment, training, and
ésprit de corps. This staff is
subject to the authority of the
political executive. It forms a
social category divided by
market and status position.
State occupies specific place
in general division between
manual and mental labour.
Officials and political class
specialize in intellectual
labour with close relationship
between their specialized
knowledge and their power.
Knowledge becomes major
basis of state's capacities.
Official discourse has key role
in exercise of state power.
Public and private
intellectuals formulate state
and hegemonic projects that
define the national and/or
'national-popular' interest.
State derives its legitimacy by
reflecting national and/or
'national-popular' interest.
State based on rule of law:
division between private law,
administrative law, and
public law. International law
governs relations between
states. No formal monopoly
of political power in hands of
dominant economic class(es)
but 'equality before the law'.
Economic subjects are
formally free and equal
owners of commodities,
including labour-power.
Private law developed on
basis of property rights and
contract law.
State has a key role in
securing external conditions
for economic exchange.
Formal subjects of state are
individuals with citizenship
rights, not feudal estates or
collective economic classes.
Struggles to extend these
rights play a key role in the
expansion of state activities.
Public law organized around
the individual-state, public-
private, and the national-
international distinctions.
Formally sovereign state with
distinct and exclusive
territorial domain in which it
is free to act without inter-
ference from other states.
Substantively, states are
constrained in exercise of
sovereignty by balance of
international forces.
Conflict between economy
as abstract 'space of flows' in
world market and as sum of
localized activities, with an
inevitably politically-
overdetermined character.
Particular capitals may seek
support in world competition
from their respective states
Ideally, the state is
recognized as sovereign in
this territory by other states
but may need to defend its
territorial integrity by force.
Political and military rivalry is
conditioned by strength of
national economy.
Table 2. Some Key Features of the Capitalist Type of State
This table presents key formal features of capitalist type of state, starting from the
basic institutional separation of the economy as a profit-oriented, market-mediated,
socially disembedded sphere of activities and the political system as a collective goal
attainment-oriented, juridico-politically mediated, and socially disembedded sphere of
political activities. This separation is both real and illusory. There are distinct
economic and political systems, with own operational logics that can prove
contradictory, etc.; but the two systems are interdependent, structurally coupled, and
co-evolving. The main point behind the table is, then, to note differences, tensions,
and points of convergence.
Source: Jessop (2002) pp 38-39.
1 On the consequences of this for the impoverishment of state theory, see Aronowitz
and Bratsis (2002) and Panitch (2002).
2 For an argument that Foucault’s work on governmentality was strongly state-
theoretical, see Jessop 2004; see also Foucault 2004
3 This is made even harder because, as Max Weber (1948) noted, there is no activity
that states always perform and none they have never performed.
4 Of course, the fact that Darwin wrote in English and Marx in German may also have
shaped these outcomes!
5 While Miliband might well be described as a political sociologist, Poulantzas would
have rejected this identity for himself.
... Due to personal reasons, he quit the project at the height of 2020's pandemic events, and with him, the designated general introduction into Critical Realism as a meta-theory and research programme was lost. We can, at this point, only refer to notable scholarship on this issue that is accessible elsewhere (see Jessop 2002Jessop , 2008 for a state-theoretical perspective and Archer et al. 1998 for a general introduction). Maybe not exactly a failure, yet a certain biased perspective is apparent when we look at the composition of the empirical research applications. ...
... With his explicit articulation of the state as social relation, Poulantzas (1969) spearheaded a relational approach to the state in political sciences, a view that Bop Jessop (2008) developed into his 'strategic-relational approach'. This and similar perspectives in sociology and political sciences usually look at nation states and international relations. ...
... For a critical appraisal(Jessop 2008). ...
The article gives a general overview over different approaches to research ethics, discussing their respective potentials and shortfalls, while highlighting the varying relevance of different dimensions of research ethics when analysing the state from different perspectives. After an overview of the political and theoretical context of research ethics, three major approaches to ethics in general are discussed and their implications for research ethics in particular is explained. Next, issues of concrete research situations are presented as well as ways of practically negotiating the ‘complex mess’ that such situations imply. From the positional reflexivity that is a common demand for such negotiation, a broadening of the scope of research ethics to more general theoretical and political considerations is argued for. Such considerations are entangled not only in activist research, but generally in any research project. The conclusion shows how, while the different approaches presented in the text contradict each other in some terms, they also can complement each other or simply can help answer different questions. In order to arrive at a more comprehensive approach to research ethics as called for above, the standard, narrower accounts of research ethics need to be amended and adapted. Crucially, a dialogue among different dimensions and perspectives must help navigate the contradicting realities of concrete research contexts.
... Aunque se encuentra relacionada con los cambios culturales, demográficos y tecnológicos que se acentuaron a partir de la década de los setenta del siglo XX, la globalización neoliberal representó la transición de un régimen fordista a uno post-fordista de producción, caracterizado por la deslocalización de los procesos productivos y la implementación de políticas de desregulación e internacionalización de los mercados (Jessop, 2002a(Jessop, , 2007(Jessop, , 2015Robinson, 2007). Las medidas adoptadas a escala internacional tras el shock petrolero de 1973, entre las cuales destacó el representado el periodo de mayor crecimiento económico desde la posguerra (Ocampo & Bértola, 2013). ...
... A propósito, cabe señalar que uno de los antecedentes relevantes respecto al problema del tipo de Estado capitalista y su abstracción respecto de la sociedad civilcon la cual se alude a la disolución de las formas medievales del poder político y su concentración en un aparato formalmente independiente de las clases sociales -, tuvo como escenario la New Left Review a finales de 1960 (Jessop, 2007). El debate Milliband-Poulantzas (Tarcus, 1991), logró captar la atención del público al poner en evidencia la dificultad de hallar una definición unívoca del Estado en la obra de Marx, que pudiera ser identificada claramente como una teoría materialista del mismo. ...
... Lenin o Gramsci, se detuvieron con más detalle sobre el problema (Barrow, 2000;Jessop, 2007). ...
Resumen // El presente trabajo es una Economía Política Cultural (EPC) que da cuenta de la interacción ideológica entre el Estado colombiano y los organismos multilaterales de crédito en el contexto de la crisis de la deuda latinoamericana. En él se exploraron alternativas teóricas para la comprensión de las transformaciones que la globalización ha supuesto para los Estados capitalistas en su variable periférica, especialmente los aportes recientes de la teoría marxista y el pensamiento social crítico latinoamericano. Partiendo del presupuesto metodológico que privilegia los factores internos en el análisis de los cambios estructurales de las formaciones sociales, se hizo un recorrido histórico en torno al auge y declive de la estrategia de Industrialización por Sustitución de Importaciones (ISI). Seguidamente se incorporó un diseño metodológico de corte cualitativo basado en los presupuestos de la EPC planteados por Bob Jessop, a fin de identificar en la producción discursiva un punto de entrada para el análisis de la realidad social en el capitalismo global. De esta forma, se reconstruyó el proceso de interacción discursiva entre los organismos multilaterales de crédito y el Estado colombiano, enfatizando el carácter complejo y evolutivo de la recepción de dicho marco ideológico por parte del bloque en el poder en el periodo que va de 1983 a 1991. Finalmente, si bien dicha interacción ideológica desempeñó un papel importante en la reforma del Estado, esta no tuvo lugar de manera lineal e implicó tensiones en torno al grado de desmantelamiento del modelo anterior en un escenario de creciente desigualdad e inestabilidad social en la escala doméstica e internacional. Palabras clave: Teoría Marxista del Estado; Economía Política Cultural; Globalización; Neoliberalismo // // Abstract A Cultural Political Economy of the neoliberal State project in Colombia: narratives of the crisis and future projections This work is a Cultural Political Economy (EPC) that accounts for the ideological interaction between the Colombian state and the multilateral credit institutions in the context offered by the Latin American Debt Crisis. Theoretical alternatives were explored to comprehend the transformations that globalization has meant for capitalist states in their peripheral variable, especially recent contributions from Marxist state theory and Latin American critical social 10 thought. Recurring to the methodological assumption that privileges internal factors in the analysis of the structural change in social formations, a historical context was made which depicts the rise and decline of the import substitution model in Colombia. Subsequently, a qualitative methodological design was incorporated based on the assumptions of the EPC proposed by Bob Jessop, in order to identify in the discursive production an entry point for the analysis of the social change in global capitalism. In this way, the process of discursive interaction between both the multilateral credit institutions and Colombian state was reconstructed, emphasizing the complex and evolutionary nature of the reception of the neoliberal ideological framework by the Colombian power bloc in the period that goes from 1983 to 1991. Finally, although this ideological interaction played an important role in the neoliberal state’s reform, it did not take place in a lineal manner and implied tensions around the degree of dismantling the previous model in a scenario of increasing inequality and social unrest on the domestic and international scale. Key words: Cultural Political Economy; Marxist Theory of State; Globalization; Neoliberalism
... En 1990 Laclau publica las Nuevas reflexiones sobre la revolución de nuestro tiempo como corolario de los desarrollos posteriores a Hegemonía y estrategia socialista, y en un contexto histórico signado por la caída del Muro de Berlín y el desmoronamiento soviético. 44 El ensayo central de esta obra hace foco en dos de los nudos problemáticos identificados que son centrales en el libro: la cuestión del sujeto y del orden, ya en un terreno posmarxista y en una perspectiva posfundacional. Sobre la primera cuestión -la del sujeto-hay un desarrollo de nociones como decisión, subjetividad y antagonismo que serán claves. ...
... En el primero habría una contradicción sin antagonismo; en el segundo, un antagonismo sin contradicción. Aquí es importante seguir el 44 La publicación de esta obra coincide con la asunción de la dirección del Centre for Theoretical Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences; luego promovió el Ideology and Discourse Analysis Research Programme. Esto le permitió crear programas de maestría y doctorado y albergar a investigadores que constituyeron lo que se conoce como la escuela de Essex. ...
... Por otro lado, esta recepción se dio en el marco de una fuerte crítica a Althusser y los althusserianos (Nield y Seed 1979; Thompson 1978). 27 Para una aproximación al debate Miliband-Poulantzas, véanseHall (1980);Jessop (1985Jessop ( , 2008; yBarrow (2002). ...
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Objetivo/contexto: este artículo analiza el tránsito desde el marxismo al posmarxismo, y de allí a la perspectiva posfundacional en la obra de Ernesto Laclau, a partir de establecer cuatro temas permanentes a lo largo de toda su obra y que son escenarios de este desplazamiento: la pregunta por la constitución de la sociedad, una teoría del sujeto político, el asunto de la estrategia política y la cuestión del proyecto. Metodología: la estrategia de investigación contempla una arqueología genealógica. Por un lado, la arqueología permite un procedimiento analítico sincrónico para el estudio de las distintas etapas en la obra del autor. Por otro, la genealogía posibilita un estudio diacrónico del tratamiento de los cuatro grandes temas en las sucesivas intervenciones teóricas. Conclusiones: se muestra el modo en que la ruptura ontológica tiene efectos en la teoría del sujeto, la concepción estratégica y la posición de futuro. Las categorías de hegemonía y de discurso intervienen en una nueva matriz conceptual que admite la infinitud de lo social como condición histórica y teórica. Originalidad: el artículo aporta al conocimiento de la propuesta de Ernesto Laclau, a explicar las condiciones de su devenir posmarxista y establecer condiciones para un diálogo en el campo de la teoría política.
... The overall antagonism of classes is limited by representative democracy, which has a general pacifying effect but still leaves space for struggle within the 8 For a critical appraisal, cf. (Jessop 2008). state. ...
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This introduction provides an overview of major themes and debates in the development of Marxist state theory—from Marx's own forays into conceptualizing the capitalist state up until the closing of the last major wave of theory construction in the 1970s. The individual chapters comprising the volume are then introduced and situated with respect to the thematic and conceptual linkages across them, as well as the tensions and disagreements between them. What unites them is their rejection of a rigid dichotomy between economistic reductionism, on the one hand, and thinking of the state as unmoored from class conflict, on the other. The introduction concludes with considerations on the urgent tasks for Marxist state theory in the present moment, with an eye toward encouraging future research and discussions.
This chapter gives a general and theoretical introduction to materialist perspectives on the peripheral or post-colonial state. It first introduces a categorical distinction between interest-oriented and form-analytical materialist approaches and elaborates the ontological difference of both alongside the work of Nicos Poulantzas on the one hand and the German State Derivation debt on the other hand. It then touches upon relevant political-economical contexts in the debate like world-system dynamics, imperialism and depedencia in order to advance the relevant particularities of a materialist take on the state in the south. A reappraisal of older debates around authors like Hamza Alavi, John Saul or Tilman Evers is still crucial for the understanding of today’s problematics, that is why they are considered in depth in the following part. The chapter ends with a discussion of the (few) recent advancements in the field of materialist state theories of the periphery and an outlook on relevant open research agendas.
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Business is commonly regarded as one of the powerful actors in the world today. However, this position is neither as straightforward as often believed nor particularly new. Nevertheless, business historians have not focused on the topic of business power to date, often leaving it as something lurking in the background of their analyses. There are signs that this may be beginning to change with the growth of studies on the history of capitalism, but this revised presidential address encourages business historians to engage more fully and explicitly with the concept of power and to recognize the different ways in which the concept can be used to enlighten the study of business history.
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The issue of indigenous community revivalism is crucial related to identity problems and cultural practices in sustainable development. Capital accumulation through cultural commercialization becomes a means to create a cultural creative sector based on tourism. The case of Osing communities in Banyuwangi, East Java, explained and highlighted the cultural practices of indigenous identity to a political-economic agenda. The research used a discursive analysis method with the findings of several issues. First, there were discrepancies between the indigenous and village institutions over the vision of village development. Second, the emergent forms of elite domination in an indigenous village. Third, the economic profit which is introduced by the market system did not align with the constructed narratives of indigenous people as generous and selfless. Fourth, the revival of cultural tourism is followed by an improvement in the infrastructure as a development indicator. And fifth, the government did not effectively represent the will of the indigenous community. Those emerged the contradiction between maintaining and innovating the tradition as a challenge in cultural tourism projects. The conditions were examined as a politics of culture which is formulated by the state. Hence, cultural practices of indigenous community turned into festivals; notwithstanding, indigenous sustainability is still uncertain.
This paper considers the relevance of Nicos Poulantzas’ theory of the state to debates about hydrocarbon extraction and environmental assessment in Canada. I begin with a brief summary of Poulanztas’ work, followed by an overview of the politics of hydrocarbon extraction in Canada. Next, I examine recent public policy debates about the assessment and regulation of energy extraction in Canada. These debates, which focus on the concept of “regulatory capture,” fall victim to many of the problems Poulantzas identifies with instrumentalist approaches to the state. Critical accounts of regulatory capture have helped expose the fact that oil companies exercise an incredible degree of control over the Canadian state. However, it offers limited guidance for long-term strategies to confront extractive capital. In the section on “Environmental assessment and extractive hegemony,” I draw on Poulantzas to examine recent academic debates about the role of environmental assessment in the reproduction of extractive capitalism in Canada. Scholars have shown a more nuanced understanding of the power dynamics at play in the assessment and regulation of energy projects in Canada. Nevertheless, engagement with Poulantzas’ work can help deepen and expand these critiques, especially his emphasis on the role of state-organized material concessions in producing consent to capitalism.
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Across the whole of our modern world, territory is directly linked to sovereignty to mould politics into a fundamentally state-centric social process, so much so that conflicts not involving the state are often seen as outside politics as generally conceived. The State's "capture' of politics, and much else besides, in the modern world is premissed upon territoriality. When we look at the 20th-century state in the core of the modern world-system we are immediately impressed by the sheer magnitude of functions it has acquired. They can be reduced to just four basic tasks: states wage war, they manage the economy, they give national identity, and they provide social services. As strategies of territoriality these amount to containment of power, wealth, culture and society. -from Author