Post-Fordism and Social Form: A Marxist debate on the Post-Fordist State - Werner Bonefeld and John Holloway

post-fordism and social form cover.

1991 collection edited by Open Marxists Werner Bonefeld and John Holloway on state theory.

This is a follow up to the 1978 book State and Capital on the German state derivation debate. This collection brings together proponents and critiques of the post-Fordist thesis. The debate focuses on the relation between crisis and societal as well as political restructuring. The volume includes, alongside the original debate between Bonefeld, Bob Jessop and Holloway, unpublished material by Simon Clarke, Kosmas Psychopedis, Richard Gunn, Eloina Peláez, and Joachim Hirsch.
The introduction by Werner Bonefeld and John Holloway is below followed by the full PDF.

Submitted by UseValueNotExc… on January 19, 2024


1. Introduction: Post-Fordism and Social Form
Werner Bonefeld and John Holloway

2. Fordism and Post-Fordism: The Present Social Crisis and its Consequences
Joachim Hirsch

3. The Reformulation of State Theory
Werner Bonefeld

4. Regulation Theory, Post-Fordism and the State: More than a Reply to Werner Bonefeld
Bob Jessop

5. The Great Bear: Post-Fordism and Class Struggle. A Comment on Bonefeld and Jessop
John Holloway

6. Overaccumulation, Class Struggle and the Regulation Approach
Simon Clarke

7. Learning to Bow: Post-Fordism and Technological Determinism
Eloina Peláez and John Holloway

8. Polar Bears and Class Struggle: Much Less than a Self-Criticism
Bob Jessop

9. Capital is Class Struggle (And Bears are not Cuddly)
John Holloway

10. Crisis of Theory in the Contemporary Social Sciences
Kosmas Psychopedis

11. Marxism, Metatheory and Critique
Richard Gunn

Introduction: Post-Fordism and Social Form
Werner Bonefeld and John Holloway

In the last few years, the focus of attention in Marxist discussion has shifted from the issue of capitalist crisis to the question of the restructuring of capitalism.

The argument that the international crisis which began in the late 1960s and early 1970s was a crisis of a pattern of capitalist social relations referred to as ‘Fordism’, and that we are now on the way to a new pattern called ‘post-Fordism’ (or sometimes ‘neo-Fordism’) has gained widespread acceptance, both in Marxist and non-Marxist circles. The old pattern is generally seen as having been characterised by mass production based on the assembly-line principle adopted so successfully by Henry Ford, by rising wages which provided the basis for a new articulation between mass consumption and mass production, by large factories, and by a high degree of state intervention based on Keynesian principles, the development of the welfare state and a central role for the trade unions both in institutionalising collective bargaining and in the formulation of state policies. The new pattern of post-Fordist capitalism is said-to be characterised by new methods of production based on microelectronics, by flexible working practices, a much reduced role for trade unions in society, a new individualism, a reduction of state intervention, and a new relation between production and consumption.

This argument, which we may call the ‘Fordism thesis’, originated with the work of Palloix, Aglietta and other authors in France in the mid-197Os, but it has since been taken up in many parts of the world and has acquired the status of an international theoretical movement, with its own regular newsletters and international conferences. Most of the work done in this area has been done by people who have been trained as, and regard themselves as, economists. Although the issue of state intervention and the nature of the Keynesian and post-Keynesian state is of central importance to the whole development analysed by the Regulation theorists, little attention has been devoted to the systematic discussion of the state by the main stream of regulationist analysis.

The issue of the state and of the relevance of the concepts of Fordism and post-Fordism for our understanding of the state has been developed not by the French Regulation School but by a theoretical current with a rather different theoretical tradition. The concept of the ‘Fordist state’ was first developed by Joachim Hirsch in West Germany in the early 1980s, but the approach has since been developed by other authors in West Germany and elsewhere, notably by Bob Jessop in Britain. Despite the richness of these contributions, the specific debates on Fordism and the reformulation of state theory have not received the same international attention as the main stream of regulationist analysis.

The purpose of this book is twofold: to introduce the debates on the reformulation of state theory around the notions of Fordism and post-Fordism and also to develop a theoretical and political critique both of the specific reformulation of state theory and of the regulation approach in general.

The Reformulation Approach has its theoretical roots in the state derivation debate, which originated in West Germany in the early 1970s, but has had considerable influence in international Marxist discussion.
The basic aim of the state derivation debate was to understand the limits and determinants of state action through an analysis of the relation between the state and capital, or, more precisely, to understand the state as a particular form of the capital relation. This approach has often been criticised as being functionalist, as a ‘capital-logic’ approach, which effectively interprets state action as a simple expression of the requirements of capital. While this is true of some of the contributions to the state derivation debate, other authors, such as Hirsch, were concerned to emphasise that the fact that the state was a particular form of the capital relation meant that state actions could not be understood as a direct response to the requirements of capital: both capital accumulation itself and the development of the state could only be conceptualised in terms of class struggle (Hirsch 1974/78; Holloway 1980).

One implication of the conclusion that the development of the state could only be understood in terms of class struggle was that the discussion of the capitalist state had to proceed beyond theoretical generalities and become more historically specific. This does not mean, of course, that theory was abandoned or that the nature of the relation between state and capital ceased to be central. The question was rather how to develop a theoretically informed understanding of the development of the state. It is this issue which has been at the heart of discussions of the state in recent years.

For Hirsch, moving on from the state derivation debate meant in practice an effort to refine the tools of conceptual analysis. This involved firstly a turning towards concepts developed by Gramsci and Poulantzas to discuss the different types of state apparatus and the constitution and process of state power, particularly in his contributions to the debate on the development of the West German state and the so-called ‘Modell Deutschland’ at the end of the 1970s. The turn towards Poulantzas might be considered surprising considering Hirsch’s rejection of the idea of the ‘relative autonomy of the state’ in his contribution to the state derivation debate: however, it can be argued that a tension between functionalism and the historical process of class antagonism was already built into Hirsch’s contribution to the state debate (Holloway/Picciotto 1978 and Holloway’s contribution in ch. 5 of this volume), and that the attempt to incorporate Poulantzas’ concepts into his analysis merely reinforced functionalist tendencies that were there from the beginning. In Britain, Jessop followed a fairly similar development, seeking to combine the conclusions of the state derivation debate with some of the ideas of Poulantzas, and trying to approach the study of the state through a process of conceptual refinement: this led, for example, to his analysis of corporatist strategies in Britain during the 1970s as comprising a ‘corporatist state’ (Jessop 1978).

A different line out of the state derivation debate was taken by others, such as Holloway and Picciotto, who sought to go beyond the prevailing functionalism and structuralism by emphasising that the development of capitalism and the capitalist state does not follow pre-given objective laws of capitalist development, but rather that these laws are themselves forms through and in which class antagonism exists. The London Edinburgh Weekend Return Group (1979, 1980) discussed the development of the state in terms of the changing patterns of class struggle and class domination. Thus, the state at any particular time could be understood as part of a specific, form-determined mode of domination, a specific pattern of defining, repressing and integrating the working class. The institutional form of the state was thus seen as the historical mode through which and in which the class struggle was expressed within the state (Holloway 1980, 1982).

There are thus two different lines of development out of the state derivation debate: one seeking to proceed through the refinement of general concepts and the development of intermediate concepts which would provide a basis for operationalising the general theoretical framework, the other emphasising the importance of understanding capital as a relation of class struggle, and the state as moment of a mode of domination.

The article by Hirsch included in this volume is a good example of his work on the reformulation of state theory and development of the concept of the Fordist state. The article was written under the impact of the conservative shift to power in West Germany in 1982. Its aim is to understand conceptually the significance of this shift as a new departure in the way in which the social relations of production are politically regulated within the overall pattern of the crisis-ridden development of capitalist accumulation. He develops the regulationist analysis of Fordism in his analysis of the Fordist state, as the political form appropriate to the Fordist regime of accumulation. The crisis of Fordism is thus also the crisis of the Fordist political system: as the development of capital accumulation undermines the social relations appropriate to the previous forms of reproduction, it leads to social instability and the rise of new social movements, destroying the class compromise institutionalised in the Fordist form of the state. Hirsch sees the state as responding to the social distintegration inherent in the crisis of accumulation by penetrating even more deeply into civil society in order to restructure social relations into forms appropriate to the emergence of a new, post-Fordist regime of accumulation. This ‘statification’ of society in the crisis is expressed in the concept of the ‘Fordist security state’, which is seen as giving way to the ‘post-Fordist state’, in which state regulation is achieved not through Keynesian-inspired modes of political integration appropriate to Fordism, nor through directly repressive mechanisms of the transitional phase, but through the state-regulated commodification of civil society. According to this approach, the post-Fordist state does not involve a withdrawal of the state from economic regulation, but offers new, highly differentiated and flexible forms of state regulation, appropriate to the segmentation of the working class and the greater flexibility of production characteristic of post-Fordist accumulation.

The rest of this book is concerned principally with the discussion of the theoretical bases of the theories of post-Fordism and the post-Fordist state. The two principal critiques are contained in the articles by Bonefeld and by Clarke. While Clarke concentrates on the general critique of regulation theory, Bonefeld‘s article is a presentation and critique of the reformulation of state theory. Both articles argue that the approaches criticised disarticulate the internal relation between ‘structure’ and class struggle and that they reduce the class struggle to a ‘but also’ position quite separated from the ‘objective laws of capitalist development’. Both articles argue that what is needed to achieve an understanding of capitalist development is a Marxist analysis which dwells on the historical and conceptual priority of class struggle.

The issue of the relation between struggle and structure is taken up by Jessop in his reply to Bonefeld. Jessop argues that both the regulation approach and the reformulation of state theory do give proper weight to class struggle and criticises Bonefeld for having an ‘essentialist’ and ‘workerist’ approach. The argument is then taken one step further in Holloway’s reply to Jessop, in which he relates the disarticulation of structure and struggle criticised by Bonefeld in the theory of the Fordist state to Hirsch’s earlier work in 1970s. In a second contribution, Jessop takes issue with Holloway’s reply and Clarke’s critique of the regulation approach. On the basis of an analysis of Capital, Jessop criticises Holloway’s assertion that capital is class struggle. He contrasts Holloway’s allegedly ‘workerist approach’ with Clarke’s critique of the regulation approach which, he argues, rests on a ‘form-analytical account of class domination’. Jessop argues that the regulation approach shares the same conceptual starting point and that the criticisms by Holloway and Clarke are misplaced. In his response to Jessop, Holloway reasserts that capital is class struggle. He argues that Jessop reifies structures by dismissing the power of labour in and against capital and emphasises the political implications of Jessop’s approach, in particular the theoretical suppression of struggle in Jessop.

The selection of articles included in this volume is completed by three articles criticising other aspects of the post-Fordist thesis. Peláez and Holloway focus on the issue of technology and suggest that there is a technological determinism underlying the assumptions of the post-Fordist argument. The article by Psychopedis assesses critically the methodological assumptions of structural Marxism and the reformulation of structural Marxism in the regulation approach and the debate on (post-)Fordism. He suggests that the regulation approach and the debate on (post-)Fordism pursue a ‘pre-critical’ analysis of capital and its development. He argues that the regulation approach and the debate on (post-)Fordism signify a crisis in theory which, in turn, is to be seen as a moment of the crisis of capitalism. The book concludes with an article by Gunn which relates some of the themes of the Fordism debate to other recent theoretical developments, most notably the theory of critical realism associated with Bhaskar, which has a number of points in common with the concerns of the reformulation of state theory, particularly in the notion that theoretical understanding can proceed through the elaboration of ‘intermediate concepts’ as a half-way house between theory and practice.

From this brief presentation of some of the issues discussed in the articles collected in this book, it might appear that all that is at issue is the definition of concepts with little practical importance. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

There are two crucial issues in the discussion of Fordism and the Fordist state. The first is the nature of the present crisis. ls capitalism already on the way to overcoming the international crisis and to establishing a relatively stable basis for a new period of prosperity, as the post-Fordism thesis suggests, or are we still in the middle of a prolonged and quite unresolved crisis of overaccumulation, as Clarke suggests? The answer given to this question affects dramatically how one sees the prospects of world development and the urgency of the socialist destruction of capitalism. It is important to remember that the last major crisis of capitalism was resolved only through the destruction of millions of workers, and that the possibility of this recurring, but on a far greater scale, is a very real one. While it is undoubtedly true that the working class has suffered important defeats internationally over the last ten years, it may be that these are nothing like the defeats which capital needs to inflict if it is to reestablish itself on a stable basis.

The second issue is how one understands the driving force of capitalist development. Given that there are major changes taking place in the pattern of capitalist social relations at the moment, how is one to understand these changes? As the replacement of one model by another, driven forward by the objective tendencies of capitalist development, or as a process taking place through constant, hardfought struggle? If the former, we are confronted by a new reality, a closed structural—functionalist world which we are powerless to change. and all we can do is adapt or cry out in despair. But if the latter, we are faced with no ‘reality’ other than the reality of a constant struggle, a struggle of which we are inevitably part.

Hirsch, J . (1974 and 1978), ‘The State Apparatus and Social Reproduction: Elements of a Theory of the Bourgeois State’, in Holloway/Picciotto (1978).
Holloway, J . (1980), ‘State as Class Practice’, Research in Political Economy, Vol. 3 (Jai Press, 1980).
Holloway, J . (1982), Fundarnentos Teóricos para una Critica Marxista de la Administración Publica (Mexico: Institute Nacional de Administración Publica).
Holloway, J. and S. Picciotto (eds) (1978), [/i]State and Capital[/i] (london: Edward Arnold).
Jessop, B. (1978), ‘Capitalism and Democracy: The Best Possible Political Shell?’, in Littlejohn (ed.), Power and the State (London: Croom Helm).
London-Edinburgh Weekend Return Group (1979), ‘Working For and Against the State’, CSE Conference Papers, 1979 (London: CSE). London—Edinburgh Weekend Return Group (1980), In and Against the State (London: Pluto Press).