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Chapter 6 Class Struggle, Political Power, and the Capitalist State
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Therborn: The Organizational Technology of the Capitalist State

More than any of Poulantzas's previous books, State, Power, Socialism focuses on the structured effectivity of the capitalist state and its internal contradictions. However, even in this his last work, Poulantzas fails to provide a concrete analysis of the bureaucratic organizational forms of the state apparatuses, nor does he attempt to explain the mechanisms by which such organizational forms insure representation of the interests of dominant classes sufficient to mask the contradiction between domination and representation within the popular-democratic state. In short, Poulantzas lacks a theory of the state apparatus as a formal organization. Thus Göran Therborn's What Does the Ruling Class Do When It Rules? (1978)—an ambitious comparative study of the feudal, capitalist, and socialist states from the perspective of organizational


theory—fills an important gap within Structural Marxist political theory. Only by studying the state in terms of its organizational tasks, personnel, resources, and organizational technology, Therborn insists, can we lay any claim to an explanation of its class character. "If we conceive of organizations as processes formally structured by specific mechanisms of input, transformation and output, we can relate them directly to the ever advancing social processes of reproduction and change which provide the inputs and receive the outputs. The class character of an organization may then be determined by the way in which the input, transformation, and output processes are traversed and shaped by the class struggle" (Therborn 1978, 38).

While agreeing that Poulantzas correctly identifies the class basis of the capitalist state, Therborn maintains that he understates the contradictory effects of the distinction between class power and political power in capitalist social formations. In contrast to Poulantzas, Therborn emphasizes the "disjuncture" rather than the correspondence resulting from the condensation of class power into state power.

In the historical course of the class struggle, the state apparatuses come to crystallize determinate social relations and thus assume a material existence, efficacy, and inertia which are to a certain extent independent of current state policies and class relations. It follows that, although the variance between state power and the state apparatus is limited by the fact that they express the class relations of the same society, at any given moment significant disjunctures appear between the two. The possibilities of variance are substantially increased by the coexistence within a particular state system of several apparatuses, in which different sets of class relations may have crystallized. (Therborn 1978, 35)

According to Therborn, the national popular state apparatus exists as both the expression of class domination and as the representative of society as a whole executing necessary social tasks. The contradiction between these two functions generates the bounded yet open-ended organizational dynamic specific to the capitalist state. "The new tasks and problems confronting the state basically derive from the changing social totality in which it operates. But the successful organization of class domination in the state apparatus itself generates new problems of government, administration, judicature and repression—problems which call into question the existing organizational forms of domination" (Therborn 1978, 47). Because it cannot be finally resolved within the context of the dominant mode of production and its antagonistic class relationships, the contradiction between domination and representa-


tion constitutes the ongoing motive for change within the apparatus of the capitalist state. Therborn also identifies the presence of contradictions between the four distinct functional apparatuses of the capitalist state (the rule-making or governmental, administrative, judicial, and repressive apparatuses). Each of these apparatuses has its own internal rhythms and contradictions, which create contradictions within the political instance as a unified whole: "It cannot be taken for granted that they [the state apparatuses] share a common class character. . . . Even though the state is, in a fundamental sense, always one, the level of integration of its apparatuses varies considerably" (Therborn 1978, 41).

We cannot follow Therborn's discussion of the inputs, processes of transformation, and outputs of state apparatuses within capitalist (let alone feudal and socialist) social formations in its entirety. However, his concept of "organizational technology" and his discussion of "formats of representation" and "processes of mediation" within capitalist forms of the state are particularly relevant to our present analysis. By the term organizational technology Therborn refers to "a particular technique of getting things done within productive organizations"—the organizational dynamic that governs the handling of tasks, the patterning of personnel, and the use of incoming material resources. While all tasks, personnel, and material resources are products of class struggle (they are described by Therborn as "crystallizations of class relations"), organizational technology is considered the strategic variable because "it is applied in the process of transformation and affects the regulation of all other inputs and outputs" and because it "directly involves institutionalized social relations of command and compliance, leadership and execution" (Therborn 1978, 40-41). Roughly speaking, organizational technology may be said to constitute the "relations of production" within the state apparatus.

Therborn is particularly interested in the relationship between prevailing class relations on the one hand and two sets of relations, "leadership and execution" and "command and compliance," which constitute organizational technology, on the other. Relations of leadership and execution refer to external relations between the state apparatus and the rest of society and denote what Therborn calls a "directive dynamic," that is, "a mode of orientation and a basis of leadership." Relations of command and compliance refer to internal organizational hierarchies, the "mode of activation of the members of the organization, whereby their contribution to its orientation is insured" (Ther-


born 1978, 62). These concepts permit Therborn to develop an interesting contrast between the organizational technologies of feudal and capitalist modes of production and a suggestive account of the emergence and evolution of the latter.

Therborn characterizes the organizational technology of feudal societies as relatively unified and non-contradictory. He sees no fundamental conflict between the directive dynamic of feudal organization, based on aristocratic privilege and personal loyalty, and its seigneurial relations of command and compliance, based on the economic self-sufficiency of the manor and the need to defend it militarily. Bourgeois revolutions, however, split the relatively unified organizational technology of feudal societies into two distinct technologies, each congruent with the two distinctive characteristics of bourgeois class rule: (1) a "liberal-individualist" technology that combines personal freedom and equality with forms of domination inherent in the relations between capital and labor; and (2) a "rational-bureaucratic" technology that separates mental from manual labor and subordinates the latter to the former.

In its initial period, characterized by competitive capitalism and factory despotism, bourgeois organizational technology takes the bifurcated form of a "formal-legal" directive dynamic, signifying the stratified monopolization of intellectual knowledge, and a "representative" dynamic, which adjudicates and mediates the relationship between the state apparatus and the nation. These new directive dynamics engender new modes of command and compliance that Therborn labels "impersonal bureaucracy" and "parliamentary politics." In contrast to Weber, for whom bureaucracy is an ideal-typical combination of specialization, hierarchy, and knowledge, Therborn stresses the class basis of the "formal rationality" of bureaucracies, which always accept as "given" not only the content of the rules they apply but their enforcement as well. "The market sets the rules of bourgeois society and provides the economic constraint for their enforcement, even if ideological socialization proper, and in the last instance coercive violence, are also necessary. This social dynamic is located in the realm of private enterprise and capital accumulation, and it is the common public needs of these that are insured by the 'calculable rules' of the state" (Therborn 1978, 52).

We have already introduced the mechanisms by which parliamentary politics represents the ruling class while mediating the divisions that exist between it, the state apparatuses, and the dominated classes. Ac-


cording to Therborn, the predominant formats of representation in bourgeois parliamentary politics center on "the links of unity-division manifest both between different fractions of the ruling class and between the class of economic agents and its specialized political personnel," while its processes of mediation "concern primarily the strength of the ruled classes" (Therborn 1978, 181). Therborn contends there has been a profound shift in the forms of both representation and mediation within bourgeois organizational technology in the twentieth century, a shift that corresponds to the transition from competitive to monopoly capitalism. During the period of competitive capitalism and parliamentary politics, leadership devolved on politicians who owed their position to personal abilities (although, Therborn hastens to add, to possess any political ability at all, the individuals concerned had to be members of the ruling class, its allies, or its clientele). "The parliamentary politician governed above all by skillful mediation between fellow MP's of his class, each with his idiosyncrasies and immediate economic and social preoccupations: by playing them off against one another, creating heteroclite and shifting coalitions, and by persuading and cajoling with a particular kind of abstract oratory" (Therborn 1978, 53).

Under parliamentary politics, the masses could be either excluded from the legal nation (restricted franchise) or encapsulated by local bosses or notables (patronage system, machine politics, and other systems of "captive populations" controlled by landowners, company towns, and the like). As the pressure of popular struggles intensified, however, and as capital shifted to its monopoly phase, the classical form of parliamentary politics was no longer an adequate instrument of representation or mediation: it had to be supplemented or replaced by an original form of leadership able to take hold of the increasingly (if only partially) emancipated masses and keep them in a position of subordination. This new kind of bourgeois leadership, which Therborn (following Weber) calls "plebiscitary politics," operates by a combination of increased executive autonomy from the parliamentary process and an intense program of political propaganda designed to substitute emotional manipulation and identification for genuine political participation. "By means of mass appeals, the politician's message, and above all his image and attractive personal qualities, are conveyed to the people through public posters, mass-circulation newspapers, loudspeakers, and the television screen" (Therborn 1978, 53).

The transition from parliamentary to plebiscitary politics is accom-


panied by a shift in the other mode of command and compliance characteristic of bourgeois societies, the impersonal bureaucracy: the formal-legal directive dynamic of the latter is gradually replaced by a "substantial-technical" dynamic within a new organizational form that Therborn calls "managerial technocracy."

In the twentieth century and particularly the last few decades, a new mode of organizing the bourgeois state has developed alongside the legal bureaucracy. Like the latter, it is characterized by specialization, impersonality and stratified monopolization of intellectual knowledge by professionals. But it does not rely to the same degree upon calculable rules and fixed hierarchies. We may term this form managerial technocracy . Its rationality is substantive rather than formal; and, instead of juridical knowledge, it promotes technical and scientific expertise, applied with discretion and consideration of actual effects, rather than with calculable legal precision. The state hierarchy [of impersonal bureaucracy] is broken up by ad hoc committees, working parties, and special enquiries. (Therborn 1978, 54)

The new organizational technologies of plebiscitary politics and managerial technocracy emerge above all in connection with the increasingly social character of the productive forces under monopoly capitalism, the rising challenge of the working classes, and the increasing need for state interventions in the economic sphere. It is at this point that Therborn's discussion of organizational technology, mediation, and representation rejoins Poulantzas's analysis of the interrelation of the state and the economy and the shift in that relation from competitive to monopoly capital.

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