The Capitalist State: Illusion and Critique by Werner Bonefeld

Johannes Agnoli has reminded us of the need to complement Marx’s critique of political economy with the critique of the political, of the state. Marx never wrote his projected book on the state. This has let generations of Marxists to argue over "the" Marxist theory of the state.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on July 11, 2009

Would Marx’s book on the state really have been a theory of the state—and not a critique of the state? Yet, it was a theory of the state that was sought. Whereas Marx, if he taught us anything at all, taught us to think independently and that is critically, his work was, in the guise of Marxism-Leninism, now appearing merely as a school of thought under the name of analytical Marxism, canonised and jealously guarded against heterodox deviations. Fearful of heresy and blinded by faith, Marx’s business of destructive critique was abandoned in favour of a rhetorically radicalised bourgeois research project. Instead of "Marx the destructive critic," Marx was endorsed as a theoretician "of" this and that.2 Furthermore, since there was not much to find in Marx in terms of a ready theory of the state, Marx’s work was seen to amount merely to an economic theory—Marxian economics. The subtitle of Kapital, "A Critique of Political Economy," was put aside, transforming Marx’s critique of political economy into a mere critique of bourgeois economics.3 This made Marx a much-less-destructive figure and moderated his revolutionary cunning and reasoning. In fact, Marxian economics rejects Marx’s understanding of labour as the constitutive power of social existence, and reduces human relations to something that is merely attendant upon economic laws. Economics is what Marx called the relationship of the things between themselves.4

The assumption that Marx’s work amounted to a "Marxist" economic-science leads naturally to the demand for a Marxist theory of the state. This can either be done in terms of the so-called state derivation debate of the 1970s, or in terms of a Marxist political theory associated with the work of Poulantzas. The derivation debate sought to "derive" the category state from Marx’s Kapital. The economy was seen as the base from which to "derive" the categories of the political "superstructure." This was not a "derivation" of categories from human social relations—but a derivation of the political from the economic; the economic was presupposed and the political appeared as a mere derivative of economic categories.5 The Poulantzerian offer of a Marxist political theory amounted to a highly complex theoretical maze which externalised structure and struggle, separated the economic from the political, leading to the characterisation of living labour as a structural agent capable of reproducing those same structures that rendered the agent an exploitable resource. Poulantzas (1973) saw his work as a contribution to Marxist political theory that corresponds to so-called Marxist economics.6 In short, "Marxist" political theory accepted the bourgeois separation between the political and economic; rendering Marx’s enunciation of "critique" harmless and without bite.

The net result of a "Marxist" political theory was a division between abstract theory and a descriptive—or higher journalistic—account of "social reality." Political theory—whether Marxist or not—deals with constitution in terms of state-building and political emancipation. There is no need here to review at length Marx’s critique of political emancipation. He equated political emancipation with the integration of labour into the capital relation as a labouring commodity, as wage labour. This integration entails the suppression of human emancipation. This is the classic quotation:

All emancipation is a return of the human world and human relationships to humans themselves. Political emancipation is the reduction of man, on the one hand, to a member of bourgeois society, an egoistic and independent individual, on the other hand, to a citizen of the state, a moral person. Not until the real individual man has taken the abstract citizen back into himself and, as an individual man, has become a species-being in his empirical life, in his individual work and individual relationships, not until man recognises and organises his ‘forces propres’ as social forces and thus no longer separates social forces from himself in the form of political forces, not until then will human emancipation be completed. (Marx, 1964, p. 370).

The notion, then, of a Marxist political theory amounts to the renewal of the apoprias of bourgeois political thought and, because of its espousal of the state as a subject in its own right, the suppression of human emancipation. Marx’s destructive critique is thus replaced by a constructive critique7 which aims, in its reformist guise, at a fairer integration of labour into the capital relation and, in its revolutionary guise, the central planning of economic resources, including the "resource" of human labour. Whereas Marx (1983, p. 447) argued that "to be a productive labourer is...not a piece of luck, but a misfortune," the proclamation of the socialist republic of labour presented this misfortune as history’s inner most aim.

There is no doubt that a critique of the political is needed. There is no doubt also that this critique cannot be enunciated as a theory of the state. Marx did not have an economic theory nor a theory of crisis as opposed to a "theory of accumulation" or a "theory of something." Marx supplied a critique of political economy, including a conceptualisation of the category "state." His project was not to offer analytical tools for the fine-tuning of a perverted world but, rather, to negate capital, including its state. This negation does not amount to a "closed" dialectical analysis that culminates in the negation of the negation, and therewith the reconciliation with bourgeois relations of power (Herrschaftsverhältnisse). His critique is negative and destructive. As Agnoli (1992, p. 45) puts it, "Marx wanted neither to construct nor affirm. He wanted primarily to negate." This critique is of course not a critique for critique’s sake. It criticises the perverted forms of capital in order to bring to the fore their social foundation, that is the human basis of their existence. Marx’s critique, then, is subversive: the critique of the perverted forms entails their conceptualisation as forms of human existence and thus as forms through which human dignity subsists in the mode of being denied. In short, it seeks to make visible what is hidden behind the so-called structures and their apparent incestuous relations with themselves, their self-relations, and to reveal the human being which stands condemned as a mere resource or as a factor of production, as the basis of human existence. The foundation of human existence can only be the human being herself.8

In contrast to Marx’s radical conception of Man (Mensch), economic theory, and with it all theory that announces a project of analytical derivation, is forced to accept the world of capital as a world where the human being obtains as a factor of production that requires more fine tuning to improve its effective, efficient, and economic usage. The analytical derivation of human existence from the presupposed world of hypothesised structures not only accepts without question the deadly slogan that work is liberating. It also accepts the commodified existence of human social practice as history’s finest achievement. The circumstance that these structures presuppose the bloody grimace of exploitation, is either quietly overlooked or prudently forgotten. In short, the derivation of the human being from presupposed structures is not only traditional in its theoretical approach and perspective but, also, politically reactionary. The derivation of the human being from hypothesised structures does not inquire about the foundation of the human world and instead presupposes that this foundation is beyond comprehension—it is said to reside in the invisible whose hand makes the world go round. The acceptance of the invisible hand as the administrator of exact justice does not really lead to a vicious circle of metatheories. It leads, in fact, to the return of traditional theory’s most pressing concern, that is to legitimate existing relations of power. The "original position" of political theory is that of an ancilla constitutionis [servant to existing powers].

The weapon of critique shows that the world we inhabit is our world, rather than the world of capital, a world created by human practice, dependent upon human social practice and open to the constitutive power of human practice. Thus the Marxian notion that the emancipation of the working class can only be the work of the working class itself. This emancipation can not rely on the wage relation. The category of wage labour is already a perversion; it is premised on human social practice as a commodified practice. However "real" this perversion, it only supplies an understanding of the movement of fetishised forms. It does not provide an understanding of the constitution of these forms. Marx’s critique of fetishism shows the absurdity of a world in which humans exist, and exist so with necessity, in the form of personified conditions of production, i.e., the personification of things. The standpoint of critique shows the other side—i.e., the social constitution—of this strange, and murderous, personification. It shows human sensuous activity, an activity which exists against itself in the commodified form of wage labour. Thus the critique of capital amounts to a critique of "labour," of individualised, alienated labour, a labour whose social existence confronts the individual producers as an external and independent thing. Capitalist social relations rest on the divorce of the mass of the population from the means of production. This divorce was the result of primitive accumulation and it is the presupposition on which the capitalist exploitation of labour rests. Capital, as Marx (1972, p. 492) argues, is "the form assumed by the conditions of labour" and that is, of labour that is free from her means: "object-less free labour" (Marx, 1973, p. 507) "under the command of capital" (ibid., p. 508). Marx’s critique of political economy reveals the human basis of capitalist forms. This content exists in a mode of being denied and that is, it obtains in the form of a labouring commodity. Thus "the absurdity of a mode of production on which bourgeois purposive-rationality, profitability, and respectability feed, was exposed. It stood naked" (Agnoli, 1992, pp. 45-6). Marx’s critique vindicated the negative role of philosophy according to which humanity is not a resource but a purpose.

In sum, Marx’s call for revolution stands in sharp contrast to "Marxian" attempts of supplying a theory of the state. Political theory—whether couched in Marxist language or not—amounts to an attempt of making labour’s presence in the capital relation more agreeable. Any desire for communism is rendered redundant in favour of a more favourable regulation of the labour question. Favourable to whom? The risk run by Marxism as a theory of society, or as a theory of the state, is that of becoming complicit in the alienation and domination to which it is officially opposed.

The human being is inseparable, that is, it can not be separated, unless through force and violence, into an economic factor of production and, separated from it, a political being endowed with the rights of citizenship. In bourgeois society however this separation is real in practice: the separation of the human being from the means of production and the constituted existence of these as capital, underlies the separation between the political and the economic. The "logic of separation" is the "real generation process of capital" (Marx, 1972, p. 422) and "the whole system of capitalist production is based on the fact that the workman sells his labour-power as a commodity" (1983, pp. 405-6). It is this separation of labour from her means that supports the conventional view of the state as a structure which is separate from the "economic." In other words, while the economist treats human purposeful activity as a factor of production, the focus of the political scientist falls on the democratic and legal constitution of the social and political rights and duties of the citizen. However, the so-called human factor of production is no less a citizen as a person endowed with equal rights and conversely the citizen is no less a factor of production as a wage-labouring commodity. Political theory, the theory of the state, is fundamentally an affirmative theory of separation, and that is a theory of power as constituted power. It presupposes the existence of labour as object-less labour, as a labouring commodity and, because of this presupposition, contributes to the containment of labour as a human factor of production.

The separation of labour from her means is constitutive of the apparent relative autonomy of the political from the economic and, conversely, the relative autonomy of the economic from the political. In bourgeois society, the emancipation of the political from society amounts to the creation of a political system that administers the common concerns of bourgeois society and supervises the proper conduct of bourgeois exchange relations. The political emancipation of the state entails its role to guarantee the relations of abstract equality. The emancipation of the state from society rests on these relations and that is, it is based on the separation of living labour from her means and secures the continuous reproduction of this separation through law and order. Hence, the attempts of political theory to construe the state as a distinct form of political organisation that resides outside social relations and that merely intervenes, from the "outside," into society to secure and guarantee the foundations upon which the society of burghers rest: the rights of private property. Everybody is equal before the law and as equals, all are treated identical as abstract citizens endowed with standardised rights. The state, in sum, guarantees the equality of rights in the inequality of property. The state then supervises the commensurability of the relations of inequality with the relations of equality—the reduction of difference to equality in law and money. The specific character of human beings is thus denied and their existence as mere character-masks of exchange relations is affirmed as if these were a person apart. Auschwitz, as Adorno reminds us, not only confirmed the violence of the bourgeois relations of abstract equality and abstract identity. It also confirmed the bourgeois exchange relations of pure identity as death.

In sum, the critique of political economy amounts to the critique of the form of the state: the form of the state does not stand outside history but it is rather the organisational form of a capitalistically producing and bourgeois (bürgerlich) constituted society. The form of the state, as Marx put it in the Grundrisse, is the concentration of bourgeois society. The state, then, is the political form of bourgeois society; it is the form in which the safeguarding of the equality of rights is focused politically. The law of the (labour-) market presupposes, as its conditions, the capitalist state that protects the inequality in property through the safeguarding of the equality of rights, of abstract equality.

Every social crisis which upsets the political sounds the death warning of this separation of the human being into, on the one hand, an economic factor of production, and citizen on the other. The constitutive basis of bourgeois society is the inseparable essence of human existence: living labour. While, in other words, "the subdivision of labour is the assassination of a people" (Urquhart, quoted in Marx, 1983, p. 343), it consolidates the "original" separation of labour from its conditions through further and further fragmentations of the social labour process. Yet, however much social labour is fragmented, divided and subdivided, human cooperation remains "the fundamental form of the capitalist mode of production" (Marx, 1983, p. 317). Without human cooperation, their would be neither production nor exchange. This cooperation exists against itself in the commodity-form that integrates the "assassination of a people" with the respectful forms equal and free exchange relations that are protected and safeguarded by the state.

The capitalist state is the first in human history with no direct access to the material product of labour. The subordination of social relations to the capitalist state is characterised by impersonal or abstract forms of dependency in terms of law and money. Within the framework of bourgeois freedom, "individual" freedom is the freedom of contract between equals regardless of their inequality in property. The law in its abstract majestic form treats poor and rich as equals. It treats the owners of the means of production and the free labourer as identical subjects, as legal subjects. The law is blind to privileges. It is a law of equality. Contractual relations represent the form in which, according to law, freedom obtains in the form of a legally bound recognition of private individuals in their relation to one another. The contract is the juridical form of freedom—the master of the contract is the state. Neither does the law "announce" itself as if it were a force in its own right. Nor does the law "enforce" itself. The law requires the maker of the law to fill it with material force, that is to implement it indiscriminately, imposing upon social relations the abstract quality of their existence as personifications of formal equality. The capitalist state rests on the social constitution of these rights and protects them through the regulation of law and money. This, then, is the subordination of social relations to the law of private property, that is equality, freedom and Bentham. The treatment of all as equals before the law characterises the form of the state as an "illusory community" (cf. Marx and Engels, 1962). It treats the real existing individual as constituted "character-masks" or "personifications" (on this: Marx, 1983), and espouses the interest that is common to all character-masks: their universal existence for each other as a resource, as a utility.

The capitalist state posits the political form of the separation of human social practice from her means. The abstract citizen endowed with human rights and the wage-labourer endowed with the freedom of contract are two sides of the same separation. Each individual is treated as an equal in law. Instead of despotism, the state imposes order through law; instead of relations of conflict, the state administers contractual relations of social interaction; instead of privileges, the state imposes upon social relations the free and equal market relations, that is, the political organisation of the working class in the form of the wage relation. The form of the state entails—or, rather, it just is—the coercive suppression of social emancipation in favour of the legal standardisation of abstract equality. This guarantee of the rights of private property entails the coercive character of the state; it forbids poor and rich equally to steal bread.

The political relations do not primarily correspond to, or reproduce, economic relations, as if both relations merely followed their own separate laws of development. Rather, the political complements the economic as, together, different forms of the same fundamental class antagonism. The political guarantee of contract amounts to the containment of labour in the perverted form of wage labour, that is the commodity form through which human productive power subsists. The capitalist state is a capitalist state not because the bourgeoisie has occupied the good offices of the state. It is a capitalist state because of its form: the separation of the political from society. This separation rests on the original separation of the mass of the population from the means of subsistence and production. The separation of the state from society entails the violence of the original accumulation of capital: as the master of the law, the state monopolises the violence of the original separation in terms of law and order, that is it imposes the condition of separation, of expropriation, upon social labour power through the enforcement of the law of abstract equality. The content of the state is thus expressed in its form, that is the emancipation of the political from the economic. This emancipation is a mode of existence of the separation of labour from her means and their existence as capital. The form of the capitalist state entails its function to guarantee the separation of labour from her means through the protection of the rights of private property. The existence of the capitalist state rests on this separation. The other side of this separation is labour’s existence as a labouring commodity whose rights are protected through law and order. The law does not discriminate. It treats all owners of commodities as equals. The separation of the political from the economic entails the state as an apparently "impartial" regulator of the rule of abstract equality, protecting the owner of labour power and the owner of the means of protection equally against theft: the state guarantees the rights of contract between capital and labour and thereby safeguards the property rights of capital as rights of exploitation and appropriation. This, then, is what Marazzi (1995) refers to as the imposition of work through the commodity form, an imposition that is politically focused in the form of the state as the master of the law of abstract equality.

The law of capital consist of the expanded reproduction of the divorce of the mass of humanity from the means of production. This can be achieved only through the progressive exploitation of living labour, the substance of value and therewith surplus value. The individual capitalist has constantly to expand "his capital, in order to preserve it, but extend it he cannot, except by means of progressive accumulation" (Marx, 1983, p. 555). The risk is bankruptcy. Thus, mediated through competition, personified capital is spurred into action. "Fanatically bent on making value expand itself, [the personified capitalist] ruthlessly forces the human race to produce for production’s sake," increasing "the mass of human beings exploited by him" (ibid.). Capital depends on "object-less labour." Each individual capital has not only to produce, but to increase relative surplus value in order to avoid bankruptcy. Thus living labour has to be expelled form production so as to reduce necessary labour, the constitutive site of surplus labour, to its utmost. The relationship between necessary labour and surplus labour is that of the constituent parts of the working day and the class relation which constitutes it. Capital exists only in anti-thesis to living labour as the substance of value. Yet, this anti-thesis is asymmetrical in that capital can not liberate itself from labour. This is only possible on labour’s side. Capital has to reduce necessary labour to increase surplus labour and at the same time impose necessary labour upon the world’s working class so as to assert itself as a "perennial pumping-machine of surplus labour" (Marx, 1966, p. 822). Labour, in short, does not stand external to capital. Rather, it is a presence—a constitutive presence—in capital. Labour is the substance of value.

Let us recap. The state enforces the norms of private property and therewith safeguards the social recognition of these norms. This relation of the state to society implies that private individuals exist as abstract individuals endowed with standardised rights and, as such, treated as abstract citizens. The political regulation of law and order denies the existence of class. At the same time, behind the sanction of the right of property there lies the doubly free labourer and the concentration of the means of existence in the hands of capital. Behind formal equality and formal freedom lies social reproduction in the form of capital. The formal safeguarding of rights entails the substantive guarantee of exploitation, rendering the state inseparable from the economic and vice versa. The guarantee of exploitation through law and order obtains through the guarantee of contract, that is the legal form through which the exploitation of labour subsists. The form of the state inverts hence from its exalted transcendental position as the incarnation of political emancipation, to the political master of the law of abstract equality, safeguarding exploitation through the guarantee and protection of the commodity form, including the commodity form of labour’s productive power, that is her wage-labouring existence. The form of the state entails its content as the political organiser of the "republic of the market."

In short, the political guarantee of contract, the provision of law and its enforcement, involves the state in the containment of labour’s constitutive presence in the capital relation not only through the legalisation of the social relations of production but, also, their stratification. The legalisation of social relations presupposes their stratification, and vice versa. The state, then, does not "intervene" into bourgeois society. Rather, it is the organised force of bourgeois society and as such seeks to secure the reproduction of the social relations of production in politically supervised, legally controlled, non-conflictual forms; in short: in civilised forms of violence.

The bourgeois separation, then, between the political and the economic, the so-called relative autonomy of the political, is real—it has a real existence. It is real in terms of the formal mode of existence of the political. It is, in other words, as real as the fetishism of the value form which reports a human world that obtains merely as a derivative of the relations between the things themselves. The critique of fetishism shows a different world, a disenchanted world that rests on human social practice however perverted or enlightened this practice might be. The acceptance of the constituted fetishism of the state as an independent power, as a power in its own right, merely espouses the bourgeois identification of the state as an indispensable protector of private property. The form of the state thus indicates formal freedom and formal equality as "community," the content of which is the "perpetuation of the labourer"—the "sine qua non of the existence of capital" (Marx, 1983, p. 536). The "autonomised power of the state" (cf. Marx, 1974, p. 882) entails its content of upholding the rights of contract. This puts the state right back into the society of burghers. The state and economy, then, do not exist as two different form of social organisation. Rather, the state is a bourgeois state. It is inseparable form bourgeois society. It is, as Marx (1973, p. 108) put it the "concentration of bourgeois society." In conclusion, in contrast to Poulantzas’ attempt at a political theory of the state, Marx’s critique of the state as the "concentrated and organised force of society" (Marx, 1983, p. 703) entails the critique of the fetishism of the state form as something that guarantees the universal rights of Man and whose power is such that, given the right conditions, it can be used to implement and secure these rights against the special interests of capital. The state no doubt appears as an impartial administrator of political space and impartial upholder of the right of property independently from each commodity owner. However, the circumstance that labour is "object-less" and because of this is condemned to perform as a commodity under the command of capital, gives the game away. The "concentration of the coercive character of bourgeois society in the form of the state" (Agnoli, 1990) posits the state, in regard to labour, as an instance of oppression (containing labour as wage labour) and, at the same time, an instance of her wage-labouring existence in capitalism. The political guarantee of private property includes the guarantee of the wage relation, that is, it guarantees the property rights of the worker: labour power and its reproduction. In short, the "purpose of the state is the perpetuation the slavery of the worker" (cf. Marx, 1969, p. 33) In conclusion, the treatment of the state through political theory and political philosophy lenses—whether couched in Marxist language or not—amounts to an unquestionably useful, and that is consensus creating and therewith pacifying, or peace-making, deceitful publicity.

Marx argued in the 18th Brumaire, that all political upheavals have perfected the state instead of smashing it. There is no doubt that "political upheavals" are quite incapable of realising Marx’s ideal of "the society of the free and equal" (cf. Agnoli, 2000). The existence of the "political" as an apparently distinct form of social organisation presupposes the notion of bourgeois revolution. Bourgeois revolutions allow merely for the political emancipation of the individualised individual as a bearer of the universal rights of abstract equality. Capital’s perpetual requirement for new beginnings connotes a no-less perpetual new beginning for labour, for labour’s productive and destructive power upon whose containment capital depends. Within the established relations of the class antagonism between capital of labour, bourgeois revolutions merely allow for a history with a bloody and grotesque grimace—a grimace whose violence is as elementary as it is meaningless (begriffslos). In short, they manifest the delusions of bourgeois freedom—better: the freedom to accumulate abstract wealth for accumulation’s sake. In these revolution, the promise of a better world, a human world, where human dignity obtains as the condition of the society of the free and equal, where humanity is a purpose, is endorsed as the freedom of private property, a freedom where humanity obtains as an exploitable resource.

The political guarantee of abstract equality, freedom and Bentham imposes upon social relations the conditions of their existence as mere personifications of the accumulation of abstract wealth. The guarantee, then, of the property rights of capital involves the attempt to bind the present to the future, safeguarding the validation of monetary claims on the future exploitation of labour in the present through force. In this process, the self-contradictory form of the state is the "harmonies’ last refuge" (Marx, 1973, p. 886),—harmonies of formal equality and formal freedom upon which exploitation rests. The state as the harmonies’ last refuge represents thus "communal interest" (cf. Marx and Engels, 1962), imposing formal exchange equality through the sacrificing of social relations to the meaningless (begriffslose) form of money.9 The imposition of money involves the political safeguarding of economic freedom as the abstract average of equality, the incarnation of which is money. The state attains existence as the collective representative of "money" as the most elementary form of private property, involving law and order control as its precondition, premise and result. The imposition of the value form involves not only the subordination of social relations to money capital’s impossible, but no less and necessarily violent, quest of making money out of money but, more fundamentally, the monetary decomposition of class relations on the basis of the wage relation.10 Capital has to contain labour as the condition of its own existence. The antagonism between capital and labour involves, as already reported, the contradiction that capital has to impose necessary labour upon the world’s working class and at the same time reduce necessary labour to the utmost so as to increase surplus labour. The other side of the exploitation of labour’s productive power is the crisis of capitalist overaccumulation—better: overaccumulation is the false name that is given to overexploitation. From labour’s perspective, then, the exploitation of her productive power leads not only to the overaccumulation of capital. The development of her productive power is also limited by capital. Full employment is intelligible as the ideal state of affairs only in a society where humanity does not exist as an exploitable resource but as a purpose. For labour, then, her freedom, the free development of her productive power, entails the transformation of the means of production into means of human emancipation. Such emancipation stand in direct contrast to the surrogate community that the state presents.

The perpetual increase in labour’s productive power is based on the capitalist requirement to produce exchange value, ie. money, at the same time as abstract labour, in the form of money, transcends its capitalist form. The other side, then, of labour’s productive power is the potentially irredeemable accumulation of unemployed capital, of debt. Marx (1966, p. 438) characterised this situation as "the abolition of the capitalist mode of production within the capitalist mode of production itself." Within capitalist society, this contradiction can only be contained through force (Gewalt) including not only the destruction of productive capacities, unemployment, worsening conditions, and widespread poverty, but also the destruction of human life through war and starvation. "Force" is as meaningless and elementary as money. Labour’s antagonism to, its constitutive social power against capital is the other side of money’s "transcendental power." "Money is now pregnant" (ibid., p. 393) with a future which threatens to push it into the museum of history. The politics of money is intrinsically oppressive. Everybody is equal before money. Money knows no special privileges. It treats poor and rich as equals. The imposition of the abstract equality of money involves the imposition of inequality because "the power which each individual exercises over the activity of others or over social wealth exists in him as the owner of exchange values, of money. The individual carries his social power, as well as his bond with society, in his pocket" (Marx, 1973, p. 157). The subterranean use of force that the reproduction of the inequality in property through the imposition of abstract equality entails, is not the exception but, rather, lies at the heart of the politics of money. In other words, the normality of the seemingly equal character of the form of money reveals itself as coercion. The form of the state is charged with upholding the law of abstract equality; it is the social foundation upon which the state rests. The violence of capital’s original beginning is not abandoned in the imposition of abstract equality upon social relations. Rather, it subsists through the "civilised" forms of law and order, of equality and freedom. These forms are the constituted forms of violence—violence as civilised normality.11 The state of money is the state of law and order.

With Marx, we might wish to argue that "theoretical mysteries ... find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice" (Marx, 1975, p. 5). The productive and destructive power of labour needs, then, to be made manifest theoretically and practically. Without such a manifestation of labour’s power, history will remain a history of bourgeois revolutions, revolutions that deny human dignity in the name of freedom—the freedom of capital. For social practice to be free and equal, another revolution is required—a revolution where humanity leaves behind its self-imposed immaturity and becomes a subject in possession of her own affairs. Such a future rests on the abolition of the conditions that render human existence a resource, exchanged and accumulated in the form of money and guaranteed by the state.

The core "problematic" of Marx’s critique is this: how is it possible to understand the circumstance that human social practice is constitutive at the same time as human beings appear to be ruled by already existing abstractions.12 From within political philosophy, this question is posed, at best, in terms a critical gap between a less than perfect political reality and the pleasant norms of equality and freedom.13 This project allows merely for a moralising criticism which does not comprehend that the pleasant norms are adequate to their content, the bad reality of exploitation. The "attitude of the bourgeois to the forms of his existence expresses itself through universal forms of morality" (Marx and Engels, 1962, p. 164). In this section of The German Ideology, Marx sketches the character of the bourgeois relations of reproduction as follows: everyone is dependent on everyone else, and each person can only reproduce himself inasmuch as all others become means for him. Furthermore, each individual can only pursue and realise his own particular interests when his conditions of reproduction, which are identical to those of everyone else, are accepted, respected, and recognised by everyone else. The particular will of the individual obtains thus through a will in which all individuals are united, which is common to all that is, is universal. This universal "interest" denotes the bourgeois condition of existence through which particular interests are realised.

The individuals who rule in these conditions—leaving aside the fact that their power must assume the form of the state—have to endow their will, which is determined by these definite conditions, with a universal expression as the will of the state, as law, an expression whose content is always determined by the relations of this class, as the civil and criminal law demonstrates in the clearest possible way. Just as the weight of their bodies does not depend on their idealistic will or on their arbitrary decision, so also the fact that they enforce their own will in the form of law, and at the same time make it independent of the personal arbitrariness of each individual among them, does not depend on their idealistic will. Their personal rule must at the same time assume the form of average rule. Their personal power is based on living conditions which in their development are shared by many individuals, and the continuation of which they, as ruling individuals, must preserve in opposition to others while at the same time maintaining that they hold these conditions to be for the good of all. The expression of this will, which is determined by their common interests, is the law. It is precisely because individuals who are independent of one another assert themselves and their own will, and because on this basis their attitude to one another is bound to be egotistical, that self-denial is made necessary in law and right (ibid., p. 311)

and assumes the form of the state—the master of the law.

Marx’s work focuses on forms, at first on forms of consciousness (i.e., religion and law), then later on the forms of capital. The focus on forms was identical with the critique of the inverted forms of social existence, an existence constituted by human social practice. All these forms obtain as inverted forms of a "community" that is external to the individuals, and from which they must emancipate themselves in order ever to be able to interact with one another "as individuals" (ibid., p. 70f). This central idea is presented most emphatically inThe German Ideology: "The reality [das Bestehende], that communism creates, is precisely the real [wirkliche] basis for rendering it impossible that any reality should exist independently of individuals, in so far as this reality is only a product of the preceding intercourse of the individuals themselves" (ibid., p. 70). It is thus a matter of deciphering the appearance [Schein] of independence that this "surrogate of community" posits (ibid., p. 74) in order to reveal its "human basis" (cf. Marx, 1983, p. 94) and then of abolishing it practically from the world, allowing human beings to enter into relationship with one another, not as character-masks, but as social individuals.

Marx sees this new figure of society anticipated in the

community of revolutionary proletarians, who extend their own control over the conditions of their own existence and those of all members of society. It is as individuals that the individuals participate in it. It is exactly this combination of individuals (assuming the advanced stage of modern productive forces, of course) which puts the conditions of the free development and movement of individuals under their control—conditions which were previously abandoned to chance and had won an independent existence over and against the separate individuals precisely because of their separation as individuals" (Marx and Engels, 1962, p. 74).

In sum, the critique of the state is not satisfied with a "critical" comparison between a less than perfect political reality, on the one hand, and the pleasant norms of equality and liberty, on the other. Instead, it scrutinises these normative rights and reveals them as rights which presuppose exploitation and expropriation. There is no place for the form of the state in a communist society or in a revolutionary movement. The state is a capitalist state. Its role is to secure the rights of private property through law and its enforcement.

In conclusion, the form of the state presupposes the separation of the mass of the population from the means of production. This separation is the social basis on which the form of the state rests. A society where the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all, can not rest on this separation. It is this separation that renders human productive power a commodity. The determination of the state as the "concentrated and organised force of society" is based on the insight that the idea of "equal rights" is in principle a bourgeois right. In its content, it is a right of inequality (see Marx, 1968). Hence Marx’s judgement that all who live from their labour and the sale of their labour power "find themselves directly opposed to the form in which, hitherto, the individuals, of which society consists, have given themselves collective expression, that is, the State; in order, therefore, to assert themselves as individuals, they must overthrow the State" (Marx and Engels, 1962, p. 77).

1. Many friends supplied comments. I would like to acknowledge in particular Ana Dinerstein’s useful advice. The usual disclaimers apply.

2. On this see Gunn (1992).

3. On this see Bonefeld (2001).

4. See Backhaus (1997) for a succinct account on Marx’s work as a critique of economic categories sans phrase.

5. It would be wrong, however, to view the state derivation debate in this wholesale way. While some contributors derived the state from the anatomy of bourgeois society and its so-called objective laws of capitalist development (Altvater, 1978), others rejected this economic reductionism and analysed the state as a form of class struggle (Holloway and Picciotto, 1978). The argument of this chapter builds on this critical contribution (see also Bonefeld, 1992). On the state derivation debate, see Clarke (1991); Holloway and Picciotto (eds) (1978).

6. The state derivation debate and Poulantzas theory of the state overlap in Hirsch’s (1978) contribution.

7. Political theory, Marxist or not, views conflict in essentially constructive terms. The characterisation of conflict as a constructive conflict is intrinsic to the notion of a pluralist society and has been influential in the study of a variety of fields such as industrial relations and theories of parliamentary democracy. The understanding that conflict is endemic in a pluralist society does not mean that conflict should be provoked. It means that rules, procedures, and laws are invoked which regulate conflict and through which conflict can express itself in constructive forms. A theory of the functionality of conflict is presented, for example, by Coser (1956) and has been developed within the Marxist framework by Poulantzas (1973). See also Agnoli’s contribution to this volume.

8. On this see especially his "Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law. Introduction," esp. p. 182, in Collected Works, vol. 3, Lawrence & Wishart, London.

9. On this see Bonefeld (1995a); and Neary and Taylor (1998).

10. On this see Marazzi (1995) and Bonefeld and Holloway (1995).

11. On this see Benjamin (1965).

12. Space forbids a lengthy discussion of this point. For accounts see especially Bonefeld (1995); Holloway (1995) and Negri (1991, 1999). This part draws on Reichelt (2000).

13. For a recent endorsement of this see, Callinicos (2000).

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