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Chapter 6 Class Struggle, Political Power, and the Capitalist State
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The Political Deflection of Class Struggle

Poulantzas concedes that the capitalist state, despite its ultimate appeal to violence, works its separation of workers from the struggle for economic power through processes that are not overtly repressive. In State, Power, Socialism , he discusses four of these processes: individualization, the law, the nation, and the division between manual and intellectual labor. The concept of individualization adds little to Poulantzas's earlier notion of the isolation effect. It is the process by which the capitalist state separates individuals from their production-based class identities in order to constitute them as "free and equal" citizen-individuals and unify them again under the aegis of the state. The capitalist state remains, as before, the source and guarantor of the very existence of its citizens and therefore the essential precondition for totalitarianism and democracy alike. There is, however, one very significant modification to his earlier framework: Poulantzas now recognizes the fact of the existence of citizen-individuals as a "decisive limit" to the hegemony of the power bloc and the development of a totalitarian capitalist state. This limitation occurs because the process of individualization produces, sooner or later, irresistible pressures toward representative democracy.

Although the individual-private [sphere] has no intrinsic essence opposing absolute external barriers to the state's power, it limits that power through being one of the privileged modern representations of the class relationship within the state. The nature of this limit is well-known: it is called representative democracy . However truncated by the dominant classes and by the materiality of the state, it still constitutes a mode whereby popular struggles and resistance are inscribed in that materiality; and while not the only limit to the power of the state, it is nevertheless decisive. (Poulantzas 1978, 73)

The idea that the political power of the dominant classes is limited, at least to some extent, by representative democracy reflects a heightened awareness of the contradictions created when the dominated' classes and their struggles are inserted into the political scene. A similar tendency is observable in Poulantzas's discussion of the law . Poulantzas retains his earlier view, which linked law and repression: "law in every state is an integral part of the repressive order and the organization of


violence and . . . there is no fundamental opposition between law and repression in the capitalist state" (Poulantzas 1978, 77). He also insists that the legal separation of economic property from political power serves the interests of the dominant classes by codifying the process of individualization. However, State, Power, Socialism explicitly recognizes the fact that the law, by the mere fact of its existence, opens up a struggle for power within the state—a struggle which, if it cannot be won within the state, at least provides some possibility of limiting the formal exercise of power against the dominated classes.

Modern law does not intervene against violence; rather, it organizes the exercise of violence, taking into account the resistance of the popular masses.

It is precisely through a system of general, abstract and formal rules that law regulates the exercise of power by the state apparatuses, as well as access to these apparatuses themselves. . . . By thus giving order to their mutual relations within the state, it allows a changed balance of forces in the ruling alliance to find expression at state level without provoking upheavals. Capitalist law, as it were, damps down and channels political crises, in such a way that they do not lead to crises of the state itself. . . . However, the capitalist legal system also takes the dominated classes into account in regulating the exercise of power. Faced with working-class struggle on the political plane, law organizes the structure of the compromise equilibrium permanently imposed on the dominant classes by the dominated. . . . [W]e need to stress the fact that this juridical system, these "formal" and "abstract" liberties are also conquests of the popular masses. In this sense and this alone does modern law set the limits of the exercise of power and of intervention by the state apparatuses. (Poulantzas 1978, 91-92)

The nation (as opposed to the state) is a third mechanism for separating political and economic practices within capitalist social formations. The capitalist state actively seeks to establish ideological identifications that are "national." In contrast to the traditional Marxist argument, which views nationalization in terms of the historical process of unifying internal markets to facilitate capitalist economic development, Poulantzas views nationalization as a massive reconstitution of social subjectivity and a process of ideological integration.[5] The traditional economistic argument is inadequate because it stops short of explaining why the economically determined process of unification takes precisely the form of a nation. For Poulantzas, the development of the nation stems from a social-psychological need to unify new individualistic social relations and new conceptions of space and time


that are separated, controlled, broken down, and rendered discontinuous by the transition to capitalism.

This need for unity is political and economic as well as ideological. The modern nation redefines "inside" and "outside" and imposes a new "historicity" of linear, progressive time to provide a goal and a meaning to human existence fractured and segmented by capitalist relations of production. The dramatic transformation of space and time characteristic of capitalism is not simply a matter of thinking and representation. "In reality . . . transformations of the spatio-temporal matrices refer to the materiality of the social division of labor, of the structure of the state, and of the practices and techniques of capitalist economic, political and ideological power; they are the real substratum of mythical, religious, philosophical or 'experiential' representation of space-time" (Poulantzas 1978, 26). The national state redefines territory and time as part of the process of individualization, realizing the "historical" unity of individuals by the very act of separating them from their real history—older identifications with family, village, religion, and so forth, which are modified or destroyed. The historicity of nationalism is a thus a kind of temporal homology of the law that functions to abstract individuals from their traditional social space and reunify them in terms of the contemporary social space of the nation.

Poulantzas's insights into the social nature of space and time provides yet another perspective on the significance of the nation-state for the capitalist mode of production:

To be sure, the state is not the subject of real history: for this is a process without a subject, the process of the class struggle. But we can now understand why the modern nation-states constitute the focal points and basic moments of that real history. This becomes clearer if we bear in mind that the state establishes the peculiar relationship between history and territory , between the spatial and the temporal matrix. In fact, the modern nation makes possible the intersection of these matrices and thus serves as their point of junction; the capitalist state marks out the frontiers when it constitutes what is within (the people-nation) by homogenizing the before and the after of this enclosure. National unity . . . becomes historicity of a territory and territorialization of a history . . . the markings of a territory become indicators of history that are written into the state. (Poulantzas 1978, 114)

The fourth mechanism by which economic class struggle is deflected by political means is the separation of mental and manual labor . Poulantzas contends that this separation is a direct result of an organic relation between knowledge and power in capitalist societies. Capitalist


relations of production, he argues, separate intellectual work from manual work not out of technological necessity, the commonly accepted rationale, but as a way of permanently keeping the masses at a distance from the centers of decision making. This separation is accomplished by the various state-supported institutional devices that monopolize the transmission and certification of knowledge in such a way that the popular masses are effectively excluded from it and thus from the ranks of the professional middle class. The educational system is, of course, primary in this regard, but Poulantzas also calls our attention to the fact that the division of mental and manual labor is incorporated into all of the apparatuses of state, not simply those associated with education:

It is within the capitalist state that the organic relationship between intellectual labor and political domination, knowledge and power, is realized in the most consummate manner. . . . In their capitalist forms of army, law-courts, administration and police (not to mention the ideological apparatuses) these state apparatuses involve the practical supremacy of a knowledge . . . from which the popular masses are excluded. . . . In fact, these functions are centralized through their specific separation from the masses: in this way, intellectual labor (knowledge-power) is materialized in state apparatuses, while at the other pole, manual labor tends to be concentrated in the popular masses, who are separated and excluded from these organizational functions. It is equally clear that a number of institutions of so-called indirect, representative democracy (political parties, parliament, etc.), in which the relationship between state and masses is expressed, themselves depend on the same mechanism. (Poulantzas 1978, 56)

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Chapter 6 Class Struggle, Political Power, and the Capitalist State
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