State and capital: a Marxist debate - John Holloway and Sol Picciotto

State and Capital cover

First published in 1979, this book contains a collection of texts from the German 'state derivation' debate. The introductory essay by John Holloway and Sol Picciotto is below along with the full PDF.

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1 Introduction: Towards a Materialist Theory of the State
John Holloway and Sol Picciotto

2 The ‘Welfare-State Illusion’ and the Contradiction between Wage Labour and Capital
Wolfgang Müller and Christel Neusüss

3 Some Problems of State Interventionism
Elmar Altvater

4 Some Comments on Flatow and Huisken's Essay ‘On the Problem of the Derivation of the Bourgeois State’
Helmut Reichelt

5 The State Apparatus and Social Reproduction: Elements of a Theory of the Bourgeois State
Joachim Hirsch

6 On the Current Marxist Discussion on the Analysis of Form and Function of the Bourgeois State
Bernhard Blanke, Ulrich Jürgens, Hans Kastendiek

7 Class Conflict, Competition and State Functions
Heide Gerstenberger

8 On the Analysis of the Bourgeois Nation State within the World Market Context
Claudia von Braunmühl

Introduction: Towards a Materialist Theory of the State
John Holloway and Sol Picciotto

The present crisis of capitalism appears, more than ever before, as a crisis of the state. Attention has been focused, in Britain and elsewhere, not just on the usual failure of the state to ‘manage the economy’ but on the need to reduce and restructure state expenditure and consequently to restructure the state apparatus itself. For the first time since the War, the usefulness of large parts of the state administration has been seriously called into question. Faced with these developments, people are being forced to modify their views on both the strength and the weakness, the possibilities and the limitations of the state and many of the widely held views of a few years ago have been shown to be illusory. Those who believed in a ‘new capitalism’ which might still be oppressive, but in which the problem of economic crisis had largely been solved by state intervention, are now confronted by the return of high unemployment, wage cuts and the reduction of state expenditure. Those, on the other hand, who believed that a return of high unemployment and a general fall in living standards would pose a mortal threat to the political system should be no less embarrassed by the actual course of development: for the crisis has brought to light not only the limits of state activity, but equally the remarkable ability of the state to weather crises.

In short, the present crisis has shown the urgent need for an adequate understanding of the state and its relation to the process of capitalist accumulation and crisis. In the past, Marxist theory, in so far as it has dealt with the state at all, has too often confined itself to showing that the state acts in the interests of capital and to analysing the correspondence between the content of state activity and the interests of the ruling class. For an understanding of political development and the possibilities of political action, however, such an analysis is inadequate. In a period characterized on the one hand by the serious questioning of state interventionist policies and on the other by the rise of communist parties in some countries of Western Europe, the whole question of the limits to state action becomes crucial: limitations on the ability of the state to solve the problems of capital, on the one hand; limitations on the possibility of using the state to effect a transition to socialism, on the other. At the same time, the decline of parliament and the erosion of civil liberties in even the most stable democracies raise the question of the development of state forms: is parliamentary democracy to be seen as the ideal norm for the capitalist mode of production as a whole, individual deviations from which should be seen as such, or was liberal democracy merely the ideal counterpart of a certain stage of accumulation which has now passed? In a period which has just witnessed the extraordinary success of the state in Britain in persuading the workers to sacrifice their interests for the good of ‘society as a whole’, it is essential to analyse why, if the state is a class state, it is nevertheless seen by so many as a neutral instance acting for the good of society. In a period in which it has become commonplace for the leaders of capitalist industry to inveigh not only against particular decisions but against the state in general, the whole question of the capitalist nature of the state’s activity is posed afresh, and more particularly the question of the necessary ‘functionality’ of state actions for capital. It is our argument and the argument of this book that all these questions can be answered only by developing a materialist theory of the state, i.e. by analysing the relation between the capitalist state and the form of production in capitalist societies.

This book is intended as a contribution to the development of a materialist theory of the capitalist state. In the Federal Republic of Germany (and West Berlin), the last few years have seen a new departure in the Marxist theory of the state in an intense and coherent debate generally referred to as the ‘state derivation’ (‘Staatsableitung’) debate. The aim of this debate — which is part of the general resurgence of interest since the late 1960s in elaborating the scientific categories developed by Marx for an analysis of modern capitalism — has been systematically to ‘derive’ the state as a political form from the nature of the capitalist relations of production, as a first step towards constructing a materialist theory of the bourgeois state and its development. In this book we present some of the major contributions to the German ‘state derivation’ discussion; but we present them not simply as an interesting phenomenon, not simply as a ‘German school’ to be ranged beside other ‘schools’, but as a fundamental critique of those theories often considered in Britain to represent the Marxist theory of the state.

One of the aims of this introduction is to make that criticism more explicit. We shall start by looking at the way in which the state is analysed by those authors, political theorists and economists, who currently exert influence on Marxist discussion in this country. In our view, there is a dichotomy underlying the debate in Britain. Some analyses pay little or no attention to the specificity of the political and argue (or more often assume) that the actions of the state flow more or less directly from the requirements of capital: such analyses are sometimes accused of ‘reductionism’ or ‘economic determinism’. Other analyses, in over-reaction to this approach, have insisted on the ‘relative autonomy’ of the political, denying (or more often overlooking) the need for theorists of the political to pay close attention to the conditions of capital accumulation: this tendency may perhaps be termed ‘politicist’.1 What both poles of this dichotomy — which does not, of course, always present itself as more than an underlying tendency — have in common is an inadequate theorization of the relation between the economic and the political as discrete forms of capitalist social relations. The only way forward, we shall suggest, is to break out of this dichotomy by developing an adequate theory of this relation, a theory which founds both the specificity of the political and the development of political forms firmly in the analysis of capitalist production. This is precisely the aim of the current German debate. After elaborating our critique of state theories current in Britain, we shall go on to outline the course of this debate, explore some of its weaknesses and suggest ways in which the analysis should be carried further.

‘Marxist political theory’ and the analysis of the state:

The discussion in Britain of the Marxist theory of the state has tended to become stuck in the rather infertile rut of the Miliband-Poulantzas debate. This debate has given rise to an illusory polarity between the approaches of these two authors, between what has sometimes been called the ‘instrumentalist’ and the ‘structuralist’ approach (cf. Gold, Lo and Wright 1975; Poulantzas 1976a), a false polarity which has done much to delimit and impoverish discussion. The ‘state derivation’ debate presented in this book falls outside this constricting framework and makes clear that it is quite wrong to regard Miliband and Poulantzas as representing polar alternatives in the Marxist analysis of the state, that, for all their real differences, that which Poulantzas and Miliband have in common is at least as significant as that which separates them. In contrast to the German debate, which focuses on the analysis of the inter-relation, the unity in separation of the different spheres; and insists that such a focus is central to a materialist understanding of the political, both Miliband and Poulantzas focus on the political as an autonomous object of study, arguing, at least implicitly, that a recognition of the specificity of the political is a necessary pre-condition for the elaboration of scientific concepts. To some extent this difference in focus is a question of emphasis: clearly neither Poulantzas nor Miliband denies the validity of Marx’s famous dictum that ‘political forms’ can be understood only when related to the ‘anatomy of civil society’ (Preface to the Critique of Political Economy, MESW vol. 1 p. 503), but neither of them considers it important to analyse this relation with greater precision. An important consequence of this is that neither tries to build systematically on the historical materialist categories developed by Marx in his analysis of that ‘anatomy’ in Capital in order to construct a Marxist theory of the state. On the contrary, for Poulantzas (explicitly) and for Miliband, (implicitly), Capital is primarily (although not exclusively2 ) an analysis of the ‘economic level’ and the concepts developed there (value, surplus value, accumulation, etc.) are concepts specific to the analysis of that level. In the same way as Capital analysed the economic as an ‘autonomous and specific object of science’ (Poulantzas 1973, p. 29), the task of Marxist political theorists, in this view, is to take the political as an ‘autonomous and specific object of science’ to elaborate new concepts specific to the ‘political level’ (concepts such as ‘hegemony’, ‘power bloc’, ‘governing class’, etc.). In so far, therefore, as these authors base themselves on Marx’s writings, they consider it necessary to develop not the ‘economic concepts’ mentioned above, but the ‘political concepts’ developed in fragmentary fashion in Marx’s ‘political writings’ and the more ‘political’ parts of Capital (the discussion of the Factory Acts, etc.). This project, referred to by Poulantzas as the attempt to construct a ‘regional theory of the political’, is justified by reference to the ‘characteristic autonomy of the economic and the political’ in the capitalist mode of production (1973, p. 29). The assumption that the political can be constituted as an ‘autonomous and specific object of science’ — more fully theorized by Poulantzas, but shared equally by Miliband — and the interpretation of Marx’s Capital on which it is based stand in sharp contrast to the approach elaborated in the debate presented in this book. The ‘state derivation’ debate, receiving much of its inspiration from a revival of interest in Capital in the late 1960s, sees in Marx’s great work not an analysis of the ‘economic level’ but a materialist critique of political economy, i.e. a materialist critique of bourgeois attempts to analyse the ‘economy’ in isolation from the class relations of exploitation on which it is based; consequently the categories elaborated in Capital (surplus value, accumulation, etc.) are seen not as being specific to the analysis of the ‘economic level’ but as historical materialist categories developed to illuminate the structure of class conflict in capitalist society and the forms and conceptions (economic or otherwise) generated by that structure. From this it follows that the task is not to develop ‘political concepts’ to complement the set of ‘economic concepts’, but to develop the concepts of Capital in the critique not only of the economic but also of the political form of social relations. To this we shall return later; for the moment we are concerned only to contrast the two approaches and to argue that the assumptions common to both Miliband and Poulantzas have the effect of cutting these authors off from any possibility of elaborating a materialist analysis of the development of the state, of its possibilities and limitations.

Miliband’s book, The State in Capitalist Society, is useful in providing a clear introductory critique of bourgeois sociological and political thought; but it is too deeply rooted itself in the British empiricist tradition. Miliband’s principal fault, as indeed Poulantzas has pointed out, is that, in combating bourgeois theory, he does little more than show that the bourgeois theorists have got the facts wrong. Thus, defending himself against Poulantzas, he relates that ‘having outlined the Marxist theory of the state, I was concerned to set it against the dominant, democratic-pluralist view and to show the latter’s deficiencies in the only way in which this seems to be to be possible, namely in empirical terms’ (1970, p. 54). While it is certainly important to show that bourgeois theory cannot give an adequate account of empirical development, a Marxist critique must surely go beyond exposing its ‘deficiencies’ in empirical terms: to understand the genesis and development of the bourgeois conceptions and to understand the development of the capitalist state, it is surely necessary to develop a materialist analysis of the relation between state, society and bourgeois ideology. One consequence of Miliband’s approach is that, since he does not found his critique in a systematic analysis of capitalist society, he is unable to develop an analysis of the state which would show the relation between its development and the developing contradictions of the capitalist mode of production. Thus, when in the final chapter of his book he comes to the ‘largest of all questions about Western-type regimes . . . how long their “bourgeois-democratic” framework is likely to remain compatible with the needs and purposes of advanced capitalism’ (1969, p. 267), his answer to this important question remains necessarily speculative and vague, since he has no theoretical approach which can relate the process of accumulation to the development of the form of the state.

Poulantzas rightly criticizes Miliband for neglecting the essential structural links between the bourgeoisie and the capitalist state. What makes the state in capitalist society a capitalist state is not the class composition of the personnel of the state apparatus but the position occupied by the state in the capitalist mode of production:

The relation between the bourgeois class and the State is an objective relation. This means that if the function of the State in a determinate social formation and the interests of the dominant class in this formation coincide, it is by reason of the system itself: the direct participation of members of the ruling class in the State apparatus is not the cause but the effect, and moreover a chance and contingent one, of this objective coincidence. (1969, p. 73.)

The task of state theory, therefore, is to analyse this ‘objective relation’ or, returning to Marx’s dictum, to analyse the relation between political forms and the anatomy of civil society: to analyse how and to what extent the nature of ‘the system’ (Poulantzas refers presumably to the capitalist mode of production) brings about an ‘objective coincidence’ between the ‘functions of the state’ and the ‘interests of the dominant class’ and how and to what extent changes in the system affect both, the interests of the dominant class and, hence, the function of the state. Poulantzas fails, however, to focus on the relation between political forms and the ‘anatomy’ of civil society. His view, stated at the beginning of his first major book (1973, p. 29), that capitalist society is characterized by a relative autonomy of the economic and political ‘instances’ which allows one to make each instance a separate and specific object of study leads him to neglect the all-important question of the nature of the separation of and relation between these instances. Naturally he accepts that the separation of the two instances is not total, but he relegates their unity to a problematic ‘in the last instance’, never dealing with the relation between them in more than an allusory and cursory fashion.

As a result, the central problems of the Marxist theory of the state, the problems of the development of the state form, of the structural limitations and possibilities of state action, which can be approached only through an analysis of the relation between the state and the contradictions of capitalist accumulation, are necessarily passed over in Poulantzas’s work, in the interests apparently of greater scientific rigour. The implications of the structuralist acceptance of the surface fragmentation of bourgeois society into relatively autonomous structures, which in this view can be examined in relative isolation, become clear. Not only does it mean that the question of the inter-relation between the structures (and hence the source of movement within the structures) is neglected, but the structuralist starting point has a fatal immunizing effect. On the one hand, the laws of motion of capital and the tendency for the rate of profit to fall are accepted, or, more accurately perhaps, they are taken for granted; on the other hand, taken for granted and relegated to the economic sphere, the analysis of the political can proceed in isolation from the necessities and limitations imposed on the political by precisely those laws of motion. The ‘anatomy of civil society’ being taken for granted, the ‘political forms’ can be examined, pace Marx, in their relative autonomy. This insistence on the ‘relative autonomy’ of the political may reflect a partly justifiable reaction against ‘economism’ or ‘reductionism’, i.e. against the common over-simplification of the relation between the economic and the political which presents the political as a mere reflection of the economic. But the ‘reductionist’ approaches have the merit of trying to provide an answer, however crude, to a real problem, the problem of how we come to a materialistic understanding of political development, of how we relate political development to the contradictions of capitalist production: it is no improvement at all simply to sidestep the problem.

How important is this concept of the ‘relative autonomy of the political’ for Poulantzas’s work and what are its consequences? It seems to us that Poulantzas’s false point of departure imposes severe limitations on his analyses. The principal consequence is that, by severing his study of the political from the analysis of the contradictions of accumulation, that is to say of the relations of capitalist exploitation, he cuts himself off from the principal source of change in capitalist society — the development of those contradictions, powered by the revolutionary struggle of the working class. It follows that, although he is able to give penetrating insights into particular features of the bourgeois state, his analysis does not rise above the level of perceptive description. There is no analysis of the development of capitalist society, of the changing forms of state—society relations and of the state itself. Because there is no systematic analysis of the relation between the capitalist state and its basis, capitalist exploitation of the working class in the process of accumulation, so too there is no analysis of the constraints and limitations which the nature of capitalist accumulation imposes upon state action. Further, his failure correctly to problematize the nature of the separation of the economic and the political leads to his identification of the economic with production relations,3 and even, despite statements and formulations to the contrary, to a continual tendency to identify class struggle with the realm of the political.

The merits but also the weakness of Poulantzas’s analysis can be seen in his treatment of European integration. One of the main purposes of his essay on ‘The Internationalization of Capitalist Relations and the Nation State’ (1975, p. 38) is to criticize the over-simplified, ‘economistic’ view exemplified by Mandel’s thesis that the success or failure of European integration depends on the form taken by the international centralization of capital. Poulantzas correctly points out that:

the state is not a mere tool or instrument of the dominant classes, to be manipulated at will, so that every step that capital took towards internationalization would automatically induce a parallel ‘supra-nationalization’ of states . . . The problem we are dealing with . . . cannot be reduced to a simple contradiction of a mechanistic kind between the base (internationalization of capital) and a superstructural cover (national state) which no longer ‘corresponds’ to it. (1975, p. 78.)

While this criticism of Mandel's over-simplification undoubtedly has some force, Poulantzas fails totally to give us an alternative analysis of the material basis of European integration. His emphasis is on showing that the internationalization of capital merely has the effect of transforming national political structures, on denying that it creates pressures for political organizations on a European level. This view stems from his emphasis that ‘the task of the state is to maintain the unity and cohesion of a social formation divided into classes’ (1975, p. 78) and his implication that there must therefore be a necessary congruence between state organization and the form of the class struggle. Since ‘it is still the national form that prevails in these struggles, however international they are in their essence’ (1975, p. 78), he comes to the conclusion that ‘the current development in no way encroaches on the dominant role of the state in the monopoly capitalist stage’ (1975, p. 81). We are thus left without any explanation at all of the impetus to European integration, of the tensions between new forms of capital accumulation and existing state structures.

The same failings can be seen even more clearly in Poulantzas’s treatment of fascism. In his book on that subject (Fascism and Dictatorship, 1974) he is again concerned to attack the over-simplified ‘economistic’ interpretations of 'fascism which attribute fascism simply to the over-ripeness of monopoly capitalism. The book has many critical insights to offer, but Poulantzas again avoids the fundamental question of the relation between fascism and the contradictions of capital accumulation. To understand the origins of fascism and its relation to the continued existence of capitalism, it is surely necessary to examine the reorganization of social relations, and particularly of relations of exploitation, which takes place under fascism, to ask to what extent such a reorganization is made necessary by the contradictions of accumulation as the basic form of class struggle in capitalism, and to ask why the reorganization was carried out in this particular manner. Given that we live in a capitalist society characterized by the same contradictions of accumulation and by the consequent periodic and often violent reorganization of social relations in the interests of the continuation of accumulation; these are surely the questions that are politically important. Without assuming a priori the functionality of fascism for capital, the problem is surely to locate the phenomenon in the social process of accumulation and crisis, i.e. of the ‘expanded reproduction of capitalist contradictions’ (Bukharin 1972a, p. 264). Mandel poses the problem clearly, if sketchily and assertively, when he writes:

The rise of fascism is the expression of a severe social crisis of late capitalism, a structural crisis which can, as in the years 1929 to 1933, coincide with a crisis of over-production, but which goes far beyond such conjunctural fluctuations. Fundamentally, it is a crisis in the very conditions of the production and realization of surplus value . . . The historical function of the fascist seizure of power is to change suddenly and violently the conditions of the production and realization of surplus value to the advantage of the decisive groups of monopoly capital. (1975, p. xix.)

This is clearly not a complete analysis of fascism, but it has the great merit of posing very clearly the question of the relation between the rise of fascism and the contradictions inherent in capitalist class exploitation (i.e. accumulation) and of the function of fascism in relation to that process of exploitation. It is extraordinary that in all his long analysis of fascism, Poulantzas does not even pose the problem in these terms. Where he discusses the economic contradictions underlying fascism, he does so only in the context of the dominant classes — contradictions between big and medium capital, capitalists and land-owners etc.; to isolate the discussion of these contradictions is in any case very strange when one bears in mind that in Marx’s analysis (cf. e.g. Capital vol. 3, ch. 15) the intensification of conflicts between individual capitals or groups of capitals can be understood only in relation to a general crisis of the extraction of surplus value, i.e. only on the basis of the fundamental contradiction of the capital-labour relation.4 But when Poulantzas comes to talk of the relation of fascism to the working class, the contradictions of the relation of exploitation and the attempt to overcome those contradictions through fascism are hardly mentioned at all: the whole question is discussed in terms of a ‘politico-ideological’ crisis. Poulantzas thus performs the most extraordinary feat of writing a long ‘Marxist’ analysis of fascism and class without relating fascism to the fundamental core of class struggle in capitalism, the process of accumulation and exploitation. No doubt this is because the contradictions of accumulation are supposed to operate on a different level and can thus be ‘taken for granted’.5

It seems in many ways to be due to its very limitations that Poulantzas’s theory has provided a framework seized upon by a growing band of ‘Poulantzians’. In place of theories based on the analysis of accumulation and class struggle, they utilize the political concepts of Poulantzas — ‘power bloc’, ‘hegemony’, ‘governing class’, etc. — like pigeon-holes which can be filled with the relevant contents from a political analysis of the class structure of any given state. The relation of general theory to political practice is seen as something very similar to bourgeois ‘model-building’ — the ‘abstract’ theory is ‘concretized’, resulting in a prescription for political intervention. The result is a kind of political pragmatism, since the prescription depends on the ‘content’ supplied by the analysis of political class relations, and this is: often dictated by the tactics and expediency of the political moment as directly experienced. Since the relationship to the ‘economic’ is always ‘in the last instance’, too little attention is paid to basing the analysis of class struggle on the actual dynamic of capital accumulation. It is also very characteristic of a ‘Poulantzian’ approach that, as we have seen, the global patterns of capital accumulation are either ignored or granted no real effect on the political, so that the bourgeois nation-state is always accepted as the de facto political field.

We have concentrated our discussion in this section on Poulantzas because of the present influence exercised by his writings, but similar criticism might have been made of some of the writings of Gramsci, who has also become influential among ‘Marxist political theorists’ and ‘sociologists’ in recent years. He too speaks of ‘politics as an autonomous science’, he too is sharply critical of Rosa Luxemburg’s ‘economistic’ identification of economic and political crisis without providing any alternative analysis of the relation between the economic and the political, he too concentrates his attention on classes, class fractions and class hegemony. His general emphasis is also on playing down the problem of the relation between political forms and the conditions for the accumulation of capital, on dissociating the concept of political crisis from that of economic crisis.6

It is characteristic of the authors we have looked at so far that they start with ‘political’ categories, most notably with what they see as the central ‘political category’ of class. This is in stark contrast with the German debate presented here, which starts from an attack on those (in this case Offe and Habermas) who try to construct a specific theory of the political, and insists on the need to start from the materialist categories developed by Marx in Capital. Thus, Hirsch criticizes Engels’s treatment of the state in ‘The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State’ for just such a ‘class-theoretical’ approach:

The failure to take as the starting point of his analysis the laws and historical development of the capitalist process of accumulation and reproduction leads Engels inevitably to a restricted ‘class-theoretical’ determination of the state, in which the state appears as a power standing above society and regulating class conflict. (1973, p. 207.)

Perhaps we can parrot and extend this by saying that the failure to take as the starting point of their analysis the laws and historical development of the capitalist process of accumulation and production leads authors such as Miliband, Poulantzas and Gramsci inevitably to a restricted ‘class-theoretical’ determination of the state, which has two consequences of fundamental importance: first, they are unable to analyse the development of political forms; secondly they are unable to analyse systematically the limitations imposed on state by the relation of the state to the process of capital accumulation.

‘Marxist economics’ and the State:

The political theorists are, of course, not the only ones concerned with the analysis of the capitalist state. In view of the increase of ‘state interventionism’, it is hardly surprising that a growing number of Marxist economists have turned their attention to the analysis of the state. It would be wrong to assume that the economists (i.e. those who take the analysis of the economic as their starting point) necessarily take an economically determinist or reductionist approach to the state. The distinction between the two tendencies which we mentioned at the beginning of this introduction (the ‘economically determinist’ and the ‘politicist’) depends not on the starting point of the analysis but on the conception of the social totality which underlies the analysis. Thus, the controversy which has so sharply divided Marxist economists in Britain in recent years, that between the so-called Fundamentalists and the Neo-Ricardians,7 divides them also in the general principles of their analyses of state action. The Neo-Ricardians have generally taken a positivist view of the separate spheres of politics and economics which has led them into many of the same failings as the theorists we have examined already: starting from an acceptance of the fetishized surface forms of politics and economics, they are unable to develop an analysis of the interrelation of the two spheres. The Fundamentalists on the other hand correctly take the category of capital as their starting point, but short circuit the whole problem of the specificity of the political and the role of the political system.

On the Neo-Ricardian side, the problem of the role of the state makes its appearance in a totally unproblematic and simplistic manner. In Glyn and Sutcliffe’s book (1972) British Capitalism, Workers and the Profit Squeeze, and particularly in their chapters on ‘The role of policy of the government’, the state is portrayed quite simply as the instrument of the capitalist class in its fight against workers’ militancy, as ‘a central element in capitalism’s fight to survive the profit squeeze’. In many ways, their analysis is the economic counterpart of Miliband’s political analysis. The emphasis is on showing empirically how the state has acted in the interests of capital. The problem of the development of the state and the problem of what makes the state take particular actions is not raised, or is explained simply by reference to the class struggle. Most extraordinary of all, the problem of the limitations on state action and the contradictory effect of state expenditure in relation to the present crisis is not even mentioned.

Ian Gough, in his article on ‘State Expenditure in Advanced Capitalism’ (1975), focuses more centrally on the nature of the capitalist state and illustrates more clearly the similarity of approach between the ‘Neo-Ricardians’ and Poulantzas.8 The Neo-Ricardian approach is characterized above all by an emphasis on surface categories such as price, profit, wages, etc. The materialist categories developed by Marx to explain the movement of these phenomenal forms are either rejected completely or considered to be ‘mere abstractions’, of no practical significance for concrete analysis. Following from this, they reject also the view that capitalist development can be explained as the outcome of any ‘fundamental tendencies’ and dismiss in particular the tendency for the rate of profit to fall.9

Starting as they do from surface categories, it is not surprising that the Neo-Ricardians accept as a positive datum the distinction between economics and politics. It is symptomatic that Gough begins his article with an economic analysis of state expenditure and then turns for an analysis of the general character of the state to the expert political theorists, Miliband and Poulantzas. He quotes them as authority for emphasizing the autonomy of the state:

For both Poulantzas and Miliband the capitalist state is a relatively autonomous entity representing the political interests of the dominant classes and situated within the field of class struggle. (1975, p. 64.)

Since the state is thus liberated, on the authority of the experts, from the exigencies imposed by capital accumulation, Gough is thus also liberated from the need to analyse the limits imposed on state action by its structural relation to the processes of capitalist production. For him (and for the Neo- Ricardians in general), the limits of state action arise not from the logic of capital but from class struggle. For them, as for Poulantzas (e.g. 1975, p. 78), capitalist development is to be explained not in terms of the unfolding of the contradictions of capitalist production through class struggle, but by reference to class struggle even as a political process exogenous from economic relations.

While it is axiomatic that ‘the history of all? hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’ (Communist Manifesto), it is of decisive importance for understanding that history to realize that the form of class struggle, the form of class antagonism varies from one society to another, and that the form of class struggle has a central role in determining the dynamic of that struggle. The form which class antagonism, the form which class exploitation takes in capitalist society was the object of Marx’s analysis in Capital. It is only on the basis of an understanding of the specific form of capitalist class exploitation, based on the extraction of surplus value, that we can understand the dynamic of class struggle in capitalism and hence of the social and political development of capitalist societies. To say that capitalist development is determined by class struggle is certainly true — indeed we could go further and say it is itself a process of class struggle. But first, it is wrong simply to counterpose this to an explanation of capitalist development in terms of the ‘fundamental tendencies’ of capitalist accumulation; and secondly, in so far as such a counterposition is implied, or in so far as the ‘fundamental tendencies’ are dismissed as irrelevant or peripheral, the statement is no more than a misleading banality which overlooks the decisive importance of the form of class struggle and which leads inevitably to an ahistorical view of capitalism and hence a utopian view of the transition to socialism.10

If we reject these approaches which start from the autonomy of the political, does this bring us back to the ‘iron economic determinism’ (Gramsci 1971, p. 233) which these authors criticize? If we insist on starting with the category of capital because it is the contradictions of the capital relation (as the basic form taken by class antagonism in capitalist society) which provide the basis for understanding the dynamic of social and political development in capitalism, the problem of the nature of the relation between the actions of the state and the accumulation of capital remains. Or should this problem simply be dismissed as being no problem, the autonomy of the political denied, the correspondence between the actions (and structure) of the state and the requirements of capital accumulation taken for granted? Certainly this assumption is present in the work of many Marxists, among them the so-called Fundamentalists. Thus Yaffe, for instance, has correctly laid great stress on the role of state expenditure in the present crisis; in criticizing the Neo-Ricardians, he has correctly pointed out that state expenditure is not a panacea which will cure the ills of capitalism, that there are limits to the extent and effect of state expenditure which result from its unproductive nature and hence the requirements of accumulation. All this is important and a great advance on the common ‘leftist’ view which gets no further than pointing to the capitalist content of state action. What is significant, however, is that, although he attributes great importance to state expenditure, Yaffe does not find it necessary to consider further the analysis of the state. What results is a rather monolithic view of the state, in which the growth of the state apparatus is attributed simply to the state’s postwar commitment to full employment, and in which the effect of state expenditure is seen as being adequately grasped by its classification into the categories of ‘productive’ or ‘unproductive’ expenditure.

While Yaffe’s analysis may be valid in crude outline, it leaves many problems unsolved. The problem of the way in which the interests of capital are established through the political system is not even posed. For him, ‘the intervention of the bourgeois state arises directly from the needs of capital’ (Yaffe and Bullock 1975, p. 33). But then how are we to understand the role of bourgeois democracy, and how are we to see individual state actions which apparently do not correspond to the interests of capital? Again, the problem of contradictions within the state apparatus is not posed: ‘This apparatus is simply an increase of unproductive expenditure’ (1975, p. 34). Yaffe’s great advance on the analyses of the Neo-Ricardians is to point out that, although the actions of the state favour capital in their content, certain limitations are imposed on state action by the nature of its relation to the process of accumulation. However, Yaffe focuses exclusively on one aspect of these limitations, namely on the fact that state expenditure represents a deduction from total social surplus value and is thus limited by the competing claims of private capitals on that surplus value which must be met if accumulation is to continue. Within these limits it is assumed that the state acts rationally in the interests of capital. It is the argument of the essays in this book that this is only one aspect of the limitations on state action, that for a fuller understanding of the state it is necessary to analyse the other limitations on state action which arise from the nature of the structural relation between capital and state — limitations which greatly restrict or render impossible state action in the rational interests of capital, irrespective of the limits of state expenditure. These objections to Yaffe’s analysis are not just academic quibbles: they may affect the interpretation of individual state actions, the assessment of contradictions within the capitalist class and of vital questions such as state expenditure cuts: simply to oppose state expenditure cuts without more ado implies a view of the state as being at least potentially beneficial to the working class rather than as a form of capitalist domination, a form impregnated through and through by its place in that system of domination.

Fine and Harris attempt to transcend the Neo-Ricardian — Fundamentalist debate and to take the analysis of the state a step further in their discussion of Gough (1976a) and their review of recent debates (1976b). Correctly they criticize Gough for not starting from the category of capital; correctly too they nevertheless emphasize the specificity of the political and the importance of developing a materialist theory of the state. They do not progress very far, however, in analysing the relation between capital and the state, basically because they appear to see capital simply as an economic category and adopt a simple base-superstructure model of society in which the economic base is determinant. Capital and the economic are thus posited a priori as being separate from the political, so that it is not clear how the unity (and interrelation) of the separate spheres is to be analysed. We shall argue that this starting point is incapable of yielding a solution: what is required is not an economic but a materialist theory of the state. The economic should not be seen as the base which determines the political superstructure, but rather the economic and the political are both forms of social relations, forms assumed by the basic relation of class conflict in capitalist society, the capital relation; forms whose separate existence springs, both logically and historically, from the nature of that relation. The development of the political sphere is not to be seen as a reflection of the economic, but is to be understood in terms of the development of the capital relation, i.e. of class exploitation in capitalist production. It was on the basis of capitalist production in general that Marx developed his critique of economic forms; and it is also on the analysis of the development of relations of production as class relations that the critique of bourgeois political forms must be based.

Implicit in our account of the analyses of the state currently influential in British Marxist discussion has been a contrast between these analyses and the German debate which we present in this book and which we shall now go on to examine in greater detail. It may be helpful to reiterate our main points in order to underline the advances which we feel the German discussion has made in the analysis of the state. We have argued that the inadequacy of the theories current in Britain stems from a failure to focus on the relation between state and society, or, put more generally, a failure to analyse the articulation of the totality of capitalist social relations. On the one hand we have seen the acceptance of the fetishized categories of bourgeois thought, the acceptance as a positive given of the fragmentation of bourgeois society into the economic and the political: this, we have argued, leads inevitably to an a-historical and therefore utopian analysis of capitalism and the possibilities of socialism. Here the separation of the economic and political spheres is emphasized, the unifying totality neglected. At the other extreme we have seen the reduction of politics to a mere reflection of the economic, an overemphasis on the unifying whole which overlooks the real, though historically conditioned particularization of the generality of capitalist relations into political and economic forms: the result is an over-simplified view of the relation between the actions of the state and the requirements of capital accumulation.

The starting point of the whole German ‘state derivation’ debate is the critique of those theorists (Offe and Habermas) who divorce the study of politics from the analysis of capital accumulation. Instead of simply reiterating the connection between capital and the state, however, the contributions to the debate have accepted the separation of the economic and the political and have tried to establish, logically and historically, the foundation of that separation in the nature of capitalist production. In other words, the aim has been to derive the state (or the separation of economics and politics) from the category of capital. This was the essential departure made by the seminal essay of Wolfgang Müller and Christel Neusüss. In the course of the debate much criticism has been heaped upon this article, but the basic starting point, the emphasis on the need to found the separation of the political from the economic in the analysis of capital, has been universally accepted, has indeed come to be taken for granted as a commonplace. In our view, this simple step, which emphasizes simultaneously the unifying totality of capitalist-social relations and the historically conditioned fragmentation of those relations into fetishized forms, is an important step in creating the framework for a materialist analysis of the state. In the rest of this introduction it will be necessary to analyse the German debate to see what progress has been made in developing such a theory, and how the progress made might be developed further.

The State Derivation debate

Since the ‘state derivation’ debate often appears to be so abstract, it is good to emphasize from the beginning that it is a response to practical political problems. Events in the Federal Republic of Germany in the late 1960s presented political problems for which previous Marxist analyses provided no ready answers. There were three developments which pointed forcefully towards much the same question. First, the recession of 1966—67, the first major break in the West German ‘economic miracle’, had brought the Social Democrats (SPD) into office for the first time since the War, as minority partners in the Grand Coalition with the Christian Democrats; the governmental change was accompanied by the completion of an ideological shift from the post-war liberalism to an emphasis on state intervention and planning, and it was this change in policy which was accredited with the successful economic recovery in 1967 and 1968. Secondly, the elections of 1969 brought the SPD into office as the major partner in a socio-liberal government pledged to bring in sweeping social reforms. Thirdly, the intervening period had seen the rise and decline of a powerful student movement which, although theoretically more developed than the French or British movement, had yet never succeeded in establishing real contact with the working-class movement. All these three developments raised in slightly different form the same question — the question of the limits (and possibilities) of state action. The first development raised the question of whether the state could go on ‘managing’ crises and planning social development indefinitely, whether the state could continue without apparent limit to mould society in the interests of capital (as was implicit in the writings of Marcuse and others influential in the late 1960s). The second development, the coming to power of the socio-liberal coalition, posed the problem of the ability of reformist governments to achieve meaningful reforms, i.e. the problem of the limits of reformism. Thirdly, the failure of the student movement to establish links with the workers posed the problem of understanding the material basis of the widespread faith in reformism. These are the main problems with which this German debate on the state is trying to grapple. Certainly there are other problems which play a role: as the crisis grows deeper in the mid-seventies and the state’s policy becomes more repressive, the problems of the functionality of state action and the repressive nature of the state come more to the fore, but most of the debate which we reproduce here is concerned with the limits to state action and the basis of illusions in the power of the state.

For this task the existing Marxist theory of the state was found inadequate. The literature which had been politically important in the late 1960s (most notably Agnoli and Brückner’s Transformation der Demokratie) had focused on the critique of bourgeois democracy. After underlining the political importance of this critique, Müller and Neusüss, in the article which started the whole debate in 1970, point out that it is not adequate to solve the problems with which they are faced:

This critique, if it is taken seriously, must become a critique of the development of the various functions of the modern state . . . and of its concrete limits and contradictions. For by explaining and criticizing state institutions as the instruments of manipulation of the ruling class, it is not possible to discover the limits of that manipulation. These can only be revealed by an analysis which shows in detail the needs for and the limits to state intervention, arising from the contradictions of the capitalist process of production as a labour-process and a valorization process. (Below, p. 33.)

To understand the limits to state action it was necessary to analyse the relation between state and society; to understand this relation, it was seen to be necessary to analyse the source of the relation, the source of the particularization (Besonderung) of capitalist society into apparently autonomous spheres of state and society. Just as Marx’s analysis of the relation between commodities and money was based on the analysis of the source of this relation or, in other words, on the derivation of the money form from the contradictions of the commodity, so, Müller and Neusüss argue (below, p. 35), the analysis of the relation between state and society must be based on the derivation of the state form (as a ‘particular existence standing alongside and outside bourgeois society’ (German Ideology, MECW, vol. 5, p. 92)) from the contradictions of capitalist society.

This approach rests on a certain understanding of the Marxist method, as exemplified most notably by Capital. Marx’s great work as a ‘critique of political economy’ in which Marx sought to penetrate behind the categories of political economy to discover the social relations which they concealed, to show that categories such as exchange value, price, etc., are not objective eternal reality, but merely represent historically determined forms assumed by social relations in bourgeois society:

The categories of bourgeois economy consist of such like forms (value, money, etc.). They are forms of thought expressing with social validity the conditions and relations of a definite, historically determined mode of production. (Capital, vol. 1. p. 80.)

Moreover, Marx did not simply seek to decipher those forms, his aim was to provide a materialist critique of the economic forms, i.e. to show why bourgeois social relations assumed the forms expressed in the categories of value, price, money, etc. Indeed he distinguishes his own theory from bourgeois political economy on precisely those grounds:

Political Economy has indeed analysed, however incompletely, value and its magnitude, and has discovered what lies beneath these forms. But it has never once asked the question why labour is represented by the value of its product and labour-time by the magnitude of that value. (Capital, vol. 1, pp. 845.)

In his critique of the economic forms, therefore, Marx does not simply analyse one form after another: starting from the basic form of value and the social relations it expresses and from which it springs, he ‘derives’ the other forms from those social relations. For Marx, to analyse a form is to analyse its (historical and logical) genesis and development.11

In this perspective, it is clear that Capital is in no way an attempt to examine ‘the economy in isolation’ (Fine and Harris (1976a, p. 109); still less does it constitute the economic ‘into an autonomous and specific object of science’ as Poulantzas (1973, p. 29) would have it. It is an historical materialist critique of the forms of political economy which attempts to show the social relations which are concealed by, and give rise to, those forms. It follows that a study of the political must not be an attempt to develop some autonomous ‘political science’, but should rather be a critique of political science which attempts to decipher the political categories as forms of social relations. Since the object of study is bourgeois society, the social relations which are concealed by and give rise to these political forms will be essentially the social relations uncovered by Marx in his critique of political economy, the social relations of the capitalist mode of production. Logically, therefore, the German debate, which is concerned with the analysis of the form of the political, draws its inspiration less from Marx’s overtly political writings than from Capital and the Grundrisse. And this does not stem from a position of economic determinism but, on the contrary, from a view which sees in Capital not an economic analysis but a materialist critique of the economic form. Just as the social relations of the capitalist mode of production have given rise to the economic form and the categories of political economy, so they have given rise to the political form and the categories of political science. Thus the investigation of the relation between the economic and the political begins not by asking in what way the ‘economic base’ determines the ‘political superstructure’ but by asking: what is it about social relations in bourgeois society that makes them appear in separate forms as economic relations and political relations?

This way of approaching the state was not entirely new: the problem had already been posed in those terms in 1923 by Pashukanis, whose masterly essay on ‘The General Theory of Law and Marxism’, although translated into English, has been very sadly neglected by Marxists in Britain.12 Pashukanis, whose relevance to the German debate was realized only after the debate was under way, was concerned to derive the form of law and the closely related form of the state from the nature of capitalist commodity production. Although abstract in formulation, his argument aimed at making an important political point. Writing in the Soviet Union of 1923, he argued that the law and the state were forms which arose from the nature of social relations in bourgeois society; that, while it was undoubtedly necessary for a transitional society to use those forms in the interests of the proletariat, it was a travesty of Marxist theory to argue for the development of ‘socialist law’ or a ‘socialist state’. He inveighed against Marxist theorists who had hitherto criticized the class content of the law and of the state without seeing that the form of the law and the form of the state were equally determined by the nature of capitalist society and could not simply be transposed to a new form of society. (The parallels with the modern critique of state monopoly capitalism theories should be clear.) Thus, he says of Stuchka’s rival theory:

It discloses the class content comprised in juridic forms, but fails to explain why this content takes such a form. For bourgeois legal philosophy — which regards juridic intercourse as an eternal and natural form of every sort of human intercourse — such a question does not arise at all. For Marxist theory — which strives to penetrate into the secrets of social forms and to reduce ‘all human relationships to man himself’ — this task must occupy first place. (1951, p. 140.)

In like vein, when he comes to the analysis of the state, he points out that it is not sufficient to indicate the class nature of the state: the state must be analysed as a specific form of class domination. Having traced the emergence of the separation of public and private, state and society, with the growth of capitalist production, he criticizes Engels’s characterization of the state in The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, which relates the state simply to class conflict, and then he continues:

Behind all these controversies one fundamental problem lies concealed: why does the dominance of a class not continue to be that which it is — that is to say, the subordination in fact of one part of the population to another part? Why does it take on the form of official state domination? Or, which is the same thing, why is not the mechanism of state constraint created as the private mechanism of the dominant class? Why is it disassociated from the dominant class — taking the form of an impersonal mechanism of public authority isolated from society? (1951, p. 185.)

This is perhaps the clearest formulation of the question tackled by the German debate: the question of the form of the capitalist state. Rather than look immediately at the answer which Pashukanis gave to this question, we shall go on to look at some aspects of the debate itself.

What progress has the ‘state derivation’ debate made in analysing the form of the state? Since most of the important contributions are presented in this volume, it is hardly necessary to give here a blow-by-blow account of the debate with all its nuances and points of controversy. We shall here follow the discussion only in so far as it is necessary to elucidate the main points at issue and thus the main problems that have arisen in the attempt to derive the form and the function of the state. The reader will find that a small number of important but seemingly obscure problems criss-cross the debate: the problem of just what the starting-point for the derivation of the state form from society should be, and particularly whether the derivation should be based on an analysis of the surface or of the essence of capitalist society; the problem of the relation between the derivation of the form and the derivation of the function of the state; and the problem of the relation between logical derivation and historical analysis. Finally — and this problem comes increasingly to the fore in the later contributions — all these questions throw up the problem of the limits of ‘state derivation’, of just how far this approach can usefully be pursued. Clearly any attempt at classification is an over-simplification which does injustice to the nuances of the different positions taken; nevertheless, for the sake of simplicity, certainly two, and possibly three, general orientations — though not clear-cut positions — can be distinguished.

First13 — and this may perhaps be seen as the ‘mainstream’ approach to the problem — there are those who derive the necessity of the form of the state as a separate institution from the nature of the relations between capitals. Starting from the fact that capital can exist only in the form of individual capitals, these authors focus on the question of how the reproduction of capital as a whole — total social capital — is ensured. In general terms, they conclude that it is only due to the existence of an autonomized state standing above the fray that the social relations of an otherwise anarchic society are reproduced and the general interest of total social capital thus established.

Thus, Müller and Neusüss, basing themselves on Marx’s analysis of the Factory Acts in Capital, deduce the necessity of the state as a particular form ‘alongside and outside bourgeois society’ from the self-destructive character of capitalist society: capital, with ‘its unrestrainable passion, its werewolf hunger for surplus labour’ (Capital, vol. 1, p. 252), would destroy its own basis, the labour power of the workers, if it were not for the necessary intervention of the state, acting in the interests of capital in general (although under pressure from the working class) to protect the health of the workers (see below, p. 37). Stressing the welfare aspect of the state’s activity as a necessary condition for the reproduction of labour power, Müller and Neusüss derive from the inability of the individual capitals to perform this function both the necessary autonomy of the state and also the material basis of the reformist belief in the socially benevolent nature of state activity.

The argument of Altvater in his essay on state interventionism, from which a short extract is printed here, takes a similar approach, although he puts the point in more general terms. He derives the state from the inability of capital, as a result of its existence as many mutually antagonistic capitals, to reproduce the social nature of its own existence: to secure its reproduction, capital requires a state which is not subject to the same limitations as individual capitals, and which is thus able to provide the necessities which capital is unable to provide (see below, p. 41). It follows from this derivation of the form of the state that the state functions derived by Altvater (and by all the authors who adopt a similar approach) are concerned with making good the deficiencies of private capital and with organizing individual capitals into a viable body. Thus the four general functions of the state which Altvater arrives at are all of this nature:

1 the provision of general material conditions of production (‘infrastructure’);
2 establishing and a guaranteeing general legal relations, through which the relationships of legal subjects in capitalist society are performed;
3 the regulation of the conflict between wage-labour and capital, and, if necessary, the political repression of the working class — not only by means of law, but also by the police and army;
4 safeguarding the existence and expansion of total national capital on the capitalist world market. (Below, p. 42.)

The essay by Blanke, Jürgens and Kastendiek is the most refined and most developed version of this approach. They too start from the fragmentation of social production into commodity production carried on by individual producers and derive the form and the function of the state from the need to regulate the relations between commodity producers by means of law and money. Regulation by these means is necessary to maintain relations of exchange between commodity producers and this regulation can come only from a body standing outside the relations of commodity production. In arguing thus they are following closely in the footsteps of Pashukanis who also related the development of the state as a separate form to the emergence of commodity exchange:

Factual dominance takes on the distinct juridic character of publicity with the appearance — side by side with it, and independently of it — of relationships associated with the act of exchange: that is to say of private relations par excellence. Coming forward as guarantor of these relationships, force becomes social force, public force - force pursuing the impersonal interest of order. (1951, p. 183.)

Blanke, Jürgens and Kastendiek’s development of Pashukanis’s argument brings out clearly the close relation between the questions examined here and the concerns of Marxist legal theorists.14

This first line of approach has much to commend it and has thrown considerable light on the relation between the state and individual capitals. In particular, it offers a clearly elaborated alternative to the ‘state monopoly capitalism’ thesis of the fusion of monopoly capital and the state, an alternative which emphasizes both the capitalist nature of the state and the essential distinction between capital and state: it is this critique of state monopoly capitalism which lies behind such statements as Altvater’s insistence that ‘the state is . . . never a real material total capitalist, but always only an ideal or fictitious total capitalist’ (see below, p. 42).15 This approach has also contributed much to the analysis of nationalization and the public sector and the function of that sector in its discussion of state provision of the ‘general conditions of production’.16 Finally, the authors who share this broad line of approach have had much of interest to say on the central question of the limits to state action: see in particular Altvater’s discussion of the relation of state activity to the accumulation of surplus value, and Blanke, Jürgens and Kastendiek’s discussion of the limitations arising from the necessarily indirect or mediate nature of state action. We are thus being in no sense dismissive of these contributions when we point out that there are nevertheless three strong objections to this line of approach. First, in so far as17 they present the state as the institutionalization of the interests of capital in general or as coming into being to satisfy the requirements of capital, they attribute to it a power and a knowledge which it cannot possess. In so far as the state is derived from the need to fulfil a function which cannot be fulfilled by private capital, the state’s ability to perform this function is already presupposed. This means, as Hirsch points out (below, p. 187), ‘that the central problem of state analysis, namely the question whether the state apparatus is at all able — and if so, under what conditions — to carry out certain functions and what consequence this has, is conjured out of existence’. Hence the insistence of this school’s critics that it is necessary to derive the functions of the state from its form, and not vice versa. The second objection goes more directly to the heart of this approach: starting from the fragmentation of social capital and the antagonistic relations obtaining between individual capitals or individual commodity producers, this approach has very little to say about the state as a form of class domination, about the relations of repression and legitimation existing between the state and the working class. It is in fact a remarkable feature of the German discussion that, with one or two exceptions, it has so far placed very little emphasis on the repressive nature of the state. In part this reflects the general orientation of the debate which sees itself as a critique of crude analyses which present the state simply as the tool of the ruling class; in part it probably represents a generalization from the West German experience in the early 1970s, when the working class was relatively quiescent and ‘public discussion’ centred on the problems of planning economic development. This leads us on to a third, and possibly the most basic objection, namely that this approach is fundamentally a-historical. It is a-historical because the motive power of capitalist development lies not in the antagonistic relations between individual capitals or individual commodity producers, but in the antagonistic relations between capital and labour, in capital accumulation seen as a process of class struggle. Consequently, in approaches of this kind, although historical analysis is of course admitted to be important, the history is always brought in from outside as something external to the analysis: a distinction is made, implicitly or explicitly, between logical and historical analysis; The distinction is implicit in all these analyses, but is raised explicitly by Blanke, Jürgens and Kastendiek: having defined ‘form analysis’ as the derivation of the state as a necessary form in the reproduction of capitalist society, they continue:

On this level of abstraction, however, we can only give the general points of departure for the development of ‘functions’ of the reproduction process which must take form in such a manner that they stand outside the system of privately organized social labour. The question of how this process of formation actually occurs, of how it is translated in structure, institution and process of the state, can no longer be answered by form analysis. This question must be made the object of historical analysis. The precise demarcation and mediation between form analysis and historical analysis raises difficult problems, however. It depends on how one understands the historical determination of Marx’s concept of capital in general. (Below, p. 119.)

Without wanting to deny the difficulty of the problem — and to this we must return — it does not seem to us correct to make such a rigid distinction between form analysis and historical analysis. If form analysis is to be understood as purely logical and historical analysis as empirical, this will not help us to develop an historical materialist theory of the development of the state. It is no coincidence that, when Blanke, Jürgens and Kastendiek come at the end of their essay to a sketch of the different phases of the development of state activity (below, pp. 142—146), their sketch is rather unconvincing and bears little relation to the analysis that has gone before.

A second line of approach, far less well defined than the first, is to be found in those essays which place their emphasis on the need to base the analysis of the state not on the essential nature of capital but on the forms of appearance of capitalist relations on the surface of society. This approach is best exemplified by the article of Flatow and Huisken — here represented only by Reichelt’s criticism of it.18 Pointing out that Altvater’s ‘society’ appears to have no place for the working class, Flatow and Huisken argue that it is necessary not only to analyse the question why the state is not immediately identifiable with the capitalist class, but to ask how it is possible for the state, a form of class rule, to appear nevertheless as an institution standing ‘alongside and outside bourgeois society’. In thus insisting on the importance of deriving not only the necessity of the form of the state but also its possibility, they return to one of the problems raised by Müller and Neusüss, the problem of the material basis of the acceptance by the working class of the state as a neutral instance. The answer must be, so argue Flatow and Huisken, not in the analysis of the ‘essence’ of capitalist society, of the essential relations of class exploitation, but in the analysis of the ‘surface’ of that society:

It is the central thesis of our argument that it is only from the determinations of the surface of bourgeois society that those interrelations arise, which allow one to grasp the essence of the bourgeois state. (1973, p. 100.)

It is on the surface of society that the community of interest not just of capitals but of all members of society appears. Referring to the ‘trinity formula’ (‘capital: profit, land: ground-rent, labour: wages’ (Capital, vol. 3, 1 p. 814) discussed by Marx [at the end of volume 3 of Capital] , they argue that all members of society have a (superficially) common interest by reason of their common status as owners of a source of revenue. It is this community of interest (albeit superficial) which makes the existence of an autonomous, apparently neutral state possible. When it comes to deriving the necessity of the autonomization of the state, however, Flatow and Huisken’s answer is very similar to Altvater’s. An autonomous state is necessary because the relations of competition existing between the different classes of ‘property owners’ (i.e. owners of the different sources of revenue) makes it impossible for them to realise their common interest other than through the state.

This second line of approach is even further from providing us with an historical materialist analysis of the state. By starting, not from one aspect of the structure of social relations (as did the first approach), but from the fetishized appearance presented by the surface of bourgeois society, such authors necessarily cut themselves off from an historical understanding of the state. The merit of Flatow and Huisken’s article lies in drawing attention to the primary importance of an analysis of commodity fetishism, of the relations between essence and surface appearance, in any study of the problem of legitimation, of how it is that the state is able to appear as a neutral instance acting in the general interest. But the extent to which they carry their analysis and to which they separate the analysis of the surface from the analysis of the essential relations of society, does indeed suggest (as Reichelt argues) that they too fall prey to fetishist illusions, that they lose sight of the nature of the surface as a mere form, the development of which can be understood only through an analysis of the class relations which it conceals.

The third approach — in fact the major counterweight to the first approach19 — is represented here principally by Hirsch (although Reichelt’s discussion of Flatow and Huisken has much in common with Hirsch’s approach). This approach again starts from the analysis of the basic structure of capitalist society — but focusing now not on the relations between commodity producers but on the nature of the capital relation, the relation of exploitation of labour by capital. Paradoxically, this approach too can be traced back to Pashukanis and his question:

Why does the dominance of a class not continue to be that which it is — that is to say the subordination in fact of one part of the population to another part? Why does it take on the form of official state domination? (1951, p. 185.)

The answer to this question must surely lie in the nature of the relation of domination itself. Hirsch argues that the particular form of the state must be derived not from the necessity of establishing the general interest in an anarchic society, but from the nature of the social relations of domination in capitalist society. The form which exploitation takes under capitalism does not depend on the direct use of force but primarily on the dull compulsion of uncomprehended laws of reproduction. Indeed, the form of the appropriation of the surplus product in capitalism requires that relations of force should be abstracted from the immediate process of production and located in an instance standing apart from the direct producers. Thus, both logically and historically, the establishment of the capitalist process of production is accompanied by the abstraction of relations of force from the immediate process of production, thus constituting discrete ‘political’ and ‘economic’ spheres (below, pp. 61—64). In contrast to the other two approaches examined the emphasis is placed on the coercive, class nature of the state from the very beginning; but the state is not presented crudely as an instrument of class rule but as a specific and historically conditioned form of the social relations of exploitation, a discrete form which cannot simply be identified with the economic form, the realm of competition.

Two things follow from this derivation of the state. First, whereas it is implicit in the approaches which derive the necessity of the state from the organizational deficiencies of private capital that the state is in some sense the institutionalization of the ‘general interest’ of capital, this does not follow from Hirsch’s approach. On the contrary, Hirsch quotes Marx (German Ideology, MECW vol. 5, pp. 46—7) to the effect that, far from being the institutionalization of the general interest, the state is ‘divorced from the real individual and collective interests’ (see below, p. 62). The limits to state activity thus pose themselves at a much earlier stage for Hirsch than for the early contributors to the debate. The earlier contributors assume that, within the scope allowed it by the exigencies of capital accumulation, the state can act in the interests of capital in general. For Hirsch the structural relation of state to society makes even this extremely problematic, for he sees the contradictions of capitalist society as being reproduced within the state apparatus, thus making it questionable whether the state can ever act adequately in the interests of capital in general. But if state actions are not to be identified with the interests of capital in general, this breaks the logical link between the laws of motion of capital and the content of state activity. Hirsch is thus the first of our contributors who, without questioning its value, seriously raises the question of the limits of the logical ‘state derivation’ approach.

Secondly, it nevertheless follows from this derivation of the capitalist state from the relation of capitalist exploitation that, even although the state does not represent an institutionalization of the general interests of capital, its continued existence as a particular form of social relations depends, on the reproduction of the capital relation, depends on accumulation. This means that the state’s activities are bounded and structured by this pre-condition of its own existence, by the need to ensure (or attempt to ensure) the continued accumulation of capital. Because of its form as an instance separated from the immediate process of production, the state is essentially restricted to reacting to the results of the process of production and reproduction; the state’s activities and its individual functions (but not its form) thus develop through a process of mediated reaction to the development of the process of accumulation. Although one cannot derive directly the content of state activity (i.e. the particular shape which this reaction takes) from the process of accumulation, the starting point for the analysis of this activity, of the development of the state and its limitations, must be the analysis of the process of accumulation and its contradictory development. It is the contradictions inherent in accumulation (as the capitalist form of class exploitation), contradictions most cogently condensed in Marx’s analysis of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, which constitute for Hirsch the dynamic force behind the development of the process of accumulation and hence the development of the state itself. The tendency of the rate of profit to fall and the counter-tendencies which it calls forth thus emerge as the key to the understanding of the development of the state. It will be clear from a reading of Hirsch’s analysis that he sees the tendency of the rate of profit to fall not as an economic law which has some necessary statistical manifestation, but as the expression of a social process of class struggle which imposes upon capitalism the necessity of constantly reorganizing its own relations of production, a process of reorganization which Hirsch relates to the mobilization of the counter-tendencies to the fall of the rate of profit:

The mobilization of counter-tendencies means in practice the reorganization of an historical complex of general social conditions of production and relations of exploitation in a process which can proceed only in a crisis-ridden manner. Thus the real course of the necessarily crisis-ridden process of accumulation and development of capitalist society decisively depends on whether and in what manner the necessary reorganization of the conditions of production and relations of exploitation succeeds. (Below, p. 74.)

For a rigorously theorized historical analysis of capitalist economic and political development, it is therefore necessary to focus on this process of constant reorganization by struggle and through crisis of capitalist social relations, economic and political.

This approach, which takes as its starting point the antagonistic relation between capital and labour in the process of accumulation, thus provides us with a framework for an historical and materialist analysis of the state. The process of constantly renewed reorganization of social relations inherent in the concept of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall is an historical process which does not start completely afresh each time, but in which each cycle of reorganization is moulded by the ever-intensifying contradictions springing from the previous reorganization. Although the reorganization takes on different shapes in specific conjunctures, the fundamental forms have everywhere been shaped by the contradictions of the process of accumulation. It is thus possible to distinguish different phases of (economic and political) reorganization which take place on a global basis. In this approach, the actual history of the development of state functions and state institutions is therefore not something which has somehow to be added after the logical derivation has been completed, it is already implicit in the ‘logical’ analysis. In other words, the analysis is not only logical but also historical.20 As Hirch puts it:

the investigation of state functions must be based on the conceptual analysis of the historical course of the process of capitalist accumulation; it must be borne in mind, however, that this is not a question of the logical deduction of abstract laws but of the conceptually informed understanding of an historical process . . . (Below, p. 82.)

This point seems to us of central importance. The purpose of the Marxist critique of political and economic forms is not simply to analyse a given society. It makes little sense to talk of the capitalist ‘forms’ of social relations at all unless one has other forms in mind, unless one regards these forms as transitory. Implicit in the very concept of ‘form’ is the idea that it is historically determined and historically developing. It is precisely this critique of capitalist forms as transitory forms which provides the basis of Marxist analysis. As Rosa Luxemburg put it:

The secret of Marx’s theory of value, of his analysis of the problem of money, of his theory of capital, of the theory of the rate of profit and consequently of the entire economic system, is found in the transitory character of capitalist economy . . .. It is only because Marx looked at capitalism from the socialist’s viewpoint, that is, from the historical viewpoint, that he was enabled to decipher the hieroglyphics of capitalist economy. (1899, p. 58.)

Consequently, the categories developed by Marx to criticize the forms of capitalist society were designed not to describe a static society but to conceptualize these forms as expressions of an historical process:

Marx’s logical mode of conceptualizing the economy, as Engels says, is ultimately a historical one, stripped of its historical form and disturbing accidents. It provides therefore — albeit abstractly — a mirror image of the real historical process, ‘a corrected mirror image, but corrected according to principles which permit us to grasp the real historical processes so that every moment can be viewed at the developmental point of its full maturity, at the moment of its classical perfection’. (Rosdolsky 1974, p. 65.)

It is therefore surely wrong to draw a clear distinction between form analysis and historical analysis, as do Blanke, Jürgens and Kastendiek. Form analysis is analysis of an historically determined and historically developing form of social relations, and it is hard to see how an adequate form analysis can be anything other than historical.

The problem, however, is not simply to see Marx’s categories as simultaneously logical and historical categories, for the difficulty still remains of relating the ‘corrected mirror image’ to ‘the real historical process’, of relating capitalist accumulation and its formally derived tendencies to the actual development of class struggle, of understanding class struggle not just in its form but in its interaction of form and content. In this respect it is possible to raise doubts about Hirsch’s development of his own analysis. The focal point of Hirsch’s article seems to us to lie in his analysis of the mobilization of the counter-tendencies to the falling rate of profit as a necessary (form-determined) economic, political and ideological process of class struggle to restructure the social relations of capitalist production. This struggle (the struggle to maintain or restore the conditions for accumulation) is subject to certain formal constraints and goals which can be derived logically from the nature of surplus value production. The outcome of the struggle, however, cannot be derived from its form, but can only be analysed in terms of the concrete contents of the struggle, the organization and strength of the various classes and class fractions, the manner in which the struggle is waged on the economic, political and ideological fronts, etc. This struggle, the struggle to accumulate, in which capital is confronted continually by its own immanent barriers and seeks to overcome these barriers while remaining within the framework of its own (restructured) existence, is surely the core of class struggle in capitalist society. This point, central to his analysis of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, tends perhaps to slip away from Hirsch in the subsequent development of his argument. The second part of his article is concerned with giving an historical outline of the principal phases of the reorganization of capitalist social relations and its relation to the development of state functions. While this outline provides an invaluable framework within which to analyse the concrete process of the reorganization of the ‘historical complex of general social conditions of production and relations of exploitation’, the emphasis on this reorganization as a process of class struggle tends to become submerged. Operating on this level of abstraction, there is a tendency to suggest that the development of the state corresponds grosso modo to the requirements of capital accumulation, but that the analysis of the manner in which and extent to which these requirements express themselves and are (or are not) satisfied would require a theory of class struggle. There is perhaps a subtle shift from arguing that accumulation must be seen as a form-determined and crisis-ridden process of class struggle (and hence that class struggle must be seen as being focused on and formed by the struggle to accumulate) to suggesting that the relation between accumulation and state activity must be seen as being mediated through class struggle. Subtle though the shift may be, the consequences may be marked: whereas the former emphasis would lead on to an analysis of the separation and inter-relation of the economic and the political in the concrete processes of struggle to restructure capital, the latter emphasis is liable to suggest the need for the analysis of the (political) ‘missing link’ between the (economic) process of accumulation and the activity of the state. It seems to us more fruitful to pursue the first course, the analysis of accumulation as class struggle.21

In this perspective, Heide Gerstenberger’s insistence in her contribution on the importance of concrete historical research in any analysis of the development of the state is opportune. This emphasis on the historical analysis of the concrete course of class struggles in particular societies reveals of course the specificity of the development of particular states and brings to the fore the problem of the extent to which one can talk of the capitalist state. At the same time, however, the universalizing and socializing effects of the capitalist mode of production means that a general theory of the capitalist state is both possible and necessary. The global domination of the capitalist mode of production means that, in contrast to previous modes of production, there are not just a multiplicity of particular states whose forms reflect and result from the particular history of each society. The generalization of capitalist production relations produces a generalization of the conditions of reproduction of those relations. Furthermore, as Gerstenberger remarks, the increasing domination and extension of the capitalist mode of production produces a convergence in the structure and shape of individual states. However, a general theory of the capitalist state must base itself on the particular forms taken by the accumulation of capital and the actual history of the struggles through which the capitalist mode of production developed and spread on a global scale. Thus, Claudia von Braunmühl stresses in her contribution the importance of relating the economic and the political not just in the context of the nation state but on an international scale. Viewed from this perspective, the very fragmentation of capital into national capitals and of the political organization of international capital into nation states (as well as their relations within the imperialist system) must be established from the actual historical growth of capitalist production and the specific historical conditions which established national capitals and their relations in the world market. As she argues, not only the existence, but also the particular shape and historical development of particular nation states can be understood adequately only through an analysis of the relation between the state, the national capital and the international development of the contradictions of capitalist accumulation.

The three last-mentioned contributors to the book (Hirsch, Gerstenberger, Braunmühl) raise in different forms the question of the limits of the form-analysis of the state. To raise the problem of the limit of the approach is, however, quite different from questioning the value of the approach. The aim of the ‘state derivation’ debate has been to come to an understanding of the state as a particular form of social relations in capitalism and of the impetus to and limitations on state activity arising from that form. We suggested earlier that in Marxist discussion of the state in Britain, there has been an underlying tendency to counterpose the ‘logic of capital’ to ‘class struggle’ as alternative starting-points for an analysis of the state. We have argued that to counterpose these two approaches is to create a false polarity: the ‘logic of capital’ is nothing but the expression of the basic form of class struggle in capitalist society. It is wrong to think that social development can be understood by an analysis of class struggle which is indifferent to the question of form of class struggle: such an analysis cannot do justice to the nature of the constraints and the impetus arising from that form. This indifference to the problem of form seems to us to be the essence of reformism, and this has also been the focal point of our critique of Poulantzas, Miliband and Gramsci, and of the Neo-Ricardians. If an analysis indifferent to form is to be rejected, however, it is equally mistaken to think that the analysis of the state can be reduced to the analysis of its form, to mere ‘capital-logic’. It is quite possible that at times — especially in the early contributions to the German debate — too much has been expected of the analysis of form. The problem, however, is to analyse social development not simply in terms of the ‘form’ of class struggle (for this tends to lead to an over-determinist view of social development), nor simply in terms of its ‘content’, but to see that social development is determined by a dialectical interaction of form and content:

According to the dialectical approach which Marx adopted, the ‘content’ and the ‘form’ to which it gives birth exist in constant interaction and in constant struggle with one another, from which result, on the one hand, the casting off of the forms, and on the other, the transformation of the contents. (Rosdolsky 1974, pp. 66-7.)

This, then is how we must understand the major theoretical advance made by the German debate. It is not that ‘form analysis’ represents some ‘royal road to science’ on which no obstacles to an understanding of the political will henceforth be encountered: if the reader finds the debate at times too formal and too abstract, these criticisms are partly justified. The very major advance of the ‘form analysis’ approach is not to have solved all the problems of the Marxist theory of the state, but to have established the essential prerequisite for an understanding of the state based on the dialectic of the form and content of class struggle. Form analysis alone is not enough, but as long as the problem of form is ignored, an adequate approach to the state is just not possible.

It is very important that the contributors to the ‘state derivation’ debate should themselves understand the theoretical advance that results from the debate, that a realization of the limits of the approach should not lead to scepticism about its value. As the limitations of form analysis have become clear, there have been signs of disillusionment with the formal ‘state derivation’ approach in some of the more recent essays.22 Instead of moving forward by elaborating the actual historical struggles which have mediated and formulated the development of the contradictions of the capital relation, there has been a temptation to short-circuit this process by using the political categories of Marxist political theorists such as Gramsci and Poulantzas. Without wishing to belittle the value of the work of these theorists, it seems to us, however, that their analyses cannot simply be ‘grafted on’ to the state derivation approach, but would need very careful re-working in the light of the theoretical advances made. As the ‘state derivation’ debate moves into a new stage in which, partly as a result of political developments within West Germany, partly as a result of the dynamic of the debate itself, more attention is being focused on the analysis of the current political conjuncture, it is important that ‘concrete’ analyses should be seen not as a departure from the state derivation debate but as a development of that debate, that the content of the class struggles should always be analysed in its relation of dialectical tension to their form.

The aim of this introduction has not been to summarize or do justice to the individual contributions to this book: such a task would in any case have been impossible within the scope of a short introduction. The aim has been rather to situate the debate presented here, to outline some of the issues and problems which have arisen and, above all, to explain why we consider the articles which follow mark a major advance on the arduous road towards a materialist theory of the state.

  • 1It should be clear from our definitions that ‘economic determinism’ cannot be identified with the work of ‘economists’, nor ‘politicism’ necessarily with the work of ‘political theorists’. We develop this point later in the Introduction.
  • 2It is seen also by Poulantzas as a more general work embracing the overall articulation of the capitalist mode of production and the development of basic concepts such as mode of production, relations of production, etc. Our point of criticism, however, is that the categories developed specifically in Capital (value, surplus value, accumulation, etc.) are seen as being concepts specific to the analysis of the economic level.
  • 3Cf. e.g. Poulantzas 1975, p. 15. In our view developed below, production relations or relations of exploitation, are neither economic nor political; in capitalism they appear as distinct economic and political forms of social relations, but the task of Marxist theory is precisely to criticize and transcend these forms.
  • 4It is significant that in his treatment of fascism, as in his other works, Poulantzas deals with the various classes in separate chapters on the ‘dominant classes’, the ‘dominated classes’, etc. This allows him to pass over the systematic analysis of the all-important conflict between the classes which is the source of all historical movement. The political implications of this emphasis on the contradictions within rather than between the classes is particularly evident in his treatment of Greece and the fall of the military junta in his most recent book (1976b). For a discussion of this, see the paper presented by Loukas Politikos to the Conference of Socialist Economists’ working group on European integration, ‘Internationalization of Capital, European Integration and Developing Countries’ (December 1975).
  • 5It is true that Poulantzas has repudiated to some extent his earlier views on method, criticizing his first book for conveying ‘a certain view of instances as being to some extent partitioned from and impermeable to each other’ (1976a, p. 81), and now emphasizing more the unity of the two separate ‘instances’. It may well be that Poulantzas, partly under the influence of the German debate, is groping his way towards a dialectical and materialist theory of the relation between economics and politics, but his recent books (1975, 1976b) do not show very much progress in that direction. As we have seen in his treatment of European integration, there is still no analysis of the historical development of the relation between political and economic forms. Poulantzas is unable to develop a theory of the unity-in-separation of politics and economics precisely because he rejects the task of historical materialist theory to grasp as a totality the capitalist development which provides the basis for that unity.
  • 6Cf. Negri’s treatment of both Poulantzas and Miliband as ‘neo-Gramscians’: Negri 1976.
  • 7For a recent full account of the controversy, see Fine and Harris 1976b.
  • 8For a fuller discussion of Gough’s article, see Holloway and Picciotto 1976; Fine and Harris 1976a.
  • 9In view of their stress on surface categories, it is perhaps not surprising that their work, like Poulantzas's, is characterized by a general hostility to what they regard as ‘historicist’ or ‘Hegelian' interpretations of Marx: see in particular Hodgson 1976.
  • 10The problem of form analysis is further complicated by the need to grasp the essential nature of social relations which present themselves in certain phenomenal forms. On this see Blanke, Jürgens and Kastendiek, below ch. 6 footnote 21.
  • 11The problem of form, the understanding of Marxist analysis as the materialist critique of bourgeois categories as forms of social relations, has been greatly neglected by Marxists in this country. In West Germany, however, the analysis of form was given central importance by a number of influential studies which appeared in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Thus Rosdolsky, in his excellent commentary on the Grundrisse stresses that: ‘It is thus the specific social forms of production and distribution which constitute in Marx’s eyes the proper object of economic analysis.’ (1968, p. 105.)
    Thus Backhaus talks of ‘the central theme of Marx’s analysis of the value form: why does this content take this form’ (1969, p. 132). Thus Reichelt introduces his work by stressing that: ‘the critique of political economy differs from all — even present-day — economic theory in the question it asks: what. . . is concealed in the categories themselves; what is the particular content of the economic form determinations, i.e. of the value form, of the money form, of the capital form, of the form of profit, of interest, etc. While bourgeois political economy is generally characterized by the fact that it takes up the categories externally, Marx insists on a strict derivation of the genesis of these forms.’ (1970, p. 16, emphasis in the original.)
  • 12It is a great pity that Päshukanis has been so neglected by Marxists in Britain: this is perhaps partly due to the relative inaccessibility of the existing translation (see bibliography) and partly due to the appalling quality of the translation (which speaks of ‘goods’ for commodities, ‘worker strength’ for labour power, etc). In citing Pashukanis here we have therefore retranslated where appropriate.
  • 13It would be wrong to personify the debate, but the proponents of this first approach are generally associated with Berlin and the journal Probleme des Klassenkampfs.
  • 14For references to recent developments by Marxist theorists of law, see Blanke, Jürgens and Kastendiek’s essay.
  • 15One interesting aspect of the German debate is the fruitful stimulation it has received in the critique of theories of state monopoly capitalism: for a specific treatment of these theories, see particularly Wirth 1972; 1973.
  • 16For a very full discussion of the general conditions of production see Läpple 1973.
  • 17Blanke, Jürgens and Kastendiek also make this criticism: see below, p. 132.
  • 18It was originally intended to include the article by Flatow and Huisken, but the authors subsequently withdrew permission.
  • 19If the first approach can be loosely identified with Berlin, then this approach can be associated with Frankfurt and the journal Gesellschaft.
  • 20The term ‘capital logic’ has been rather loosely applied in Britain to any analysis which bases itself upon the contradictions of capital; it should be clear from this Introduction, however, and certainly from a reading of the book, that it would be extremely misleading to apply the tag ‘capital logic’ to the whole of the debate presented here; that, although all the authors do start from the analysis of capital, there are very great differences in their approach to the ‘derivation’ of the state and their understanding of the ‘logic’ of capital.
  • 21The pursuit of the second course (the analysis of the ‘missing link’) is to some extent foreshadowed in the last pages of Hirsch’s essay, and articulated in his more recent work: Hirsch 1976.
  • 22See in particular Gerstenberger’s (1977) discussion of Hirsch 1976.



12 years 3 months ago

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Submitted by Spassmaschine on March 22, 2012

Thanks for posting this!


12 years 3 months ago

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Submitted by georgestapleton on March 23, 2012

Wow brilliant! Its great to have this online.


12 years 3 months ago

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Submitted by Android on March 23, 2012


Thanks for posting this!

No worries, when I get some free time over the summer there is some more stuff I'll posted up.


11 years 7 months ago

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Submitted by Arbeiten on November 1, 2012

the pages on this pdf all seem to be blank....


11 years 7 months ago

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Submitted by Android on November 1, 2012


the pages on this pdf all seem to be blank....

It worked fine for me when I clicked on it now. Not sure what the issue could be really.


10 years 10 months ago

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Submitted by Nate on August 7, 2013

The Elmar Altvater chapter is a short excerpt of a longer article, the whole version is here:
(I haven't read it yet.)