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Chapter 6 Class Struggle, Political Power, and the Capitalist State
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Monopoly Capitalism and the Interventionist State

The development of monopoly capitalism demands more and more government intervention in the interests of capital. The growing importance of the state is considered so significant by Poulantzas that he describes the shift from a "nightwatchman" to an "interventionist" state as nothing less than a "displacement of dominance" from the economic to the political instance—a profoundly misleading statement since control over the means of production, that is, the function of economic ownership, remains firmly within the economic apparatuses—and as the definitive structural distinction between competitive and monopoly capitalism. Of course, the nightwatchman state of classical liberalism was a capitalist state, and despite the formal separation of the political and economic instances characteristic of competitive capitalism, it performed significant economic functions, among them taxation, factory legislation, customs duties, and the construction of economic infrastructure such as railways. "The capitalist separation of state and economy," Poulantzas maintains, "was never anything other than the specifically capitalist form of the state's presence in the relations of production" (Poulantzas 1978, 167). Still, the role of the liberal state was restricted largely to reproducting the general conditions of the production of surplus value, enforcing the rights of property and the "freedom" to sell labor power, and providing representative government for and by the propertied classes.

With the emergence of monopoly capitalism, however, the liberal nightwatchman state becomes economically and politically dysfunctional. Mass participation in politics becomes unavoidable for regimes seeking social stability, and popular-democratic institutions provide


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at least a formal veneer of social legitimacy for rapid, state-promoted capitalist industrialization. The emergence of mammoth industrial enterprises employing intensive production techniques, involving the integration of expensive and complex production units and seeking international markets and materials as well as economic protection and stability at home, means increasing intervention of the state in the process of capitalist accumulation. With the development of Fordism, the interventionist state becomes actively involved in the extended reproduction of capitalism as a "way of life" with a concomitant increase in state intervention at all levels of social existence. The Keynesian welfare state, in other words, evolves directly with the needs of monopoly capital for a Fordist regime of accumulation that coordinates mass production and mass consumption under conditions of social and economic stability.

The internationalization of monopoly capital demands ever-increasing government intervention in the interests of capital, thereby threatening to undermine the formal "independence" of the state from the economy. International capital complicates the role of the interventionist state by rendering internal or "national" relations of domination and dependency that extend across the national boundaries of even the advanced industrial countries. State power, by definition national, no longer corresponds to a capitalist mode of production that has become international in scope, yet the interventionist state remains, now more than ever, necessary for capitalism. The interventionist state must organize the domination of monopoly capital over other modes and forms of production not only nationally, as before, but internationally as well. At the same time, it must manage domestic economic and political contradictions to facilitate the expanded reproduction of monopoly capital and increasingly intervene directly in the economy to manage crises and use public funds to maintain the valorization of capital at an acceptable level.[10]

The induced reproduction of an international mode of production by means of national political structures introduces an entirely new set of contradictions between the fractions of domestic monopoly capital and imperialist capital, contradictions that must be added to those already existing between domestic monopoly and non-monopoly capital and the various fractions of both. "The national state thus intervenes, in its role as organizer of hegemony, in a domestic field already structured by inter-imperialist contradictions and in which contradictions between the dominant fractions within its social formation are already


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internationalized" (Poulantzas 1975, 74-75). The problem of keeping the contradictions of this new articulation in check, however, devolves on the previously existing apparatus of the nation-state, which appears increasingly obsolescent and incapable of managing forces that are beyond its control. The configuration of the power bloc is scarcely located at the national level anymore. Foreign capital does not participate directly as a relatively autonomous social force in the power bloc, yet its presence is overwhelmingly felt via restructured financial markets, deindustrialization, migrations of labor and capital, fiscal crises of government at all levels, increasing regional and urban competition for scarce investments, and above all, in the destruction of the Fordist compromise between labor and capital.

The internalization of the new global mode of production has profound consequences for the political place and function of the capitalist nation-state, consequences made dramatically clear by the accumulation crisis of Fordism and the global economic restructuring it has triggered. As Poulantzas predicted, the contemporary capitalist state is increasingly caught up in growing contradictions between international and national developments. On the one hand, as a class state organizing and reproducing the domination of the bourgeoisie, the capitalist state finds itself intervening more often and more directly in the interests of international capital (as reflected through the interests of its own domestic bourgeoisie and their place in the international division of labor). On the other hand, as a popular-democratic state, it must act in the interest of "the people" as a whole, a task it is increasingly unable to perform because of international economic pressures over which it has little or no control. The result is a new "crisis of democracy" whose resolution Poulantzas fears may lead away from democratic participation, perhaps even representation, toward a more authoritarian, pseudo-democratic regime increasingly dominated by managerial technocracy and plebiscitary politics. The shift from the Fordist to the neo-conservative state in the eighties is scarcely reassuring in this regard.

The interventionist state, whether Fordist-Keynesian or neo-conservative, remains a class state. "The task of the state is to maintain the unity and cohesion of a social formation divided into classes, and it focuses and epitomizes the class contradictions of the whole social formation in such a way as to sanction and legitimize the interests of the dominant classes and fractions as against the other classes of the formation, in a context of world class contradictions" (Poulantzas 1975,


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78). However, the function of unity and cohesion is especially difficult (yet all the more necessary) given the crisis of Fordism and the international, national, regional, and urban restructuring it has set in motion. The ideological impact of the restructuring, for example, is truly staggering. Poulantzas insists that the internationalization of capitalism is transforming our very concepts of time and space. "Transformations of the spatio-temporal matrices," he points out, "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' representations of space-time" (Poulantzas 1978, 26). Through technological developments in communication and transportation, capitalism is not only creating a global mode of production and an international class struggle but is also creating, simultaneously, a globally homogenized commodity culture and a deep nostalgia for a vanishing individuality. Such developments have potentially serious political implications and require unprecedented intervention by the state in the field of ideological practice as well as in the economy.

The national interventionist state persists precisely because it is neither neutral nor technical. It is the nexus where repressive and ideological power is centered, and it is inconceivable to Poulantzas that its economic and ideological functions could be delegated to a supranational or super-state apparatus without destroying the illusion of representative government which sanctions and legitimizes the entire process. Of course, the persistence of the nation-state and the continuing predominance of politics must not be misconstrued as incompatible with the power of international capital, much less antagonistic to it. The national state has no power of its own; it is assigned a place and function by what is now an international mode of production. The growing power of both the state and multinational capital is perfectly consistent with the extension and reproduction of capitalism. Furthermore, the neo-conservative revolt against "big government" during the eighties, which Poulantzas did not live to see, in no way signifies a reduction in the power of the state. Far from an attack on state power per se, the Reagan-Thatcher effort to "roll back the state" involved a massive application of state power against Fordism, Keynesianism, and the welfare system. Privatization and deregulation are real enough, but they proceed hand in hand with undiminished government intervention directed, as Poulantzas would have expected, by the exigencies of capitalist accumulation and in the interests of international capital. The


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interventionist state is not withering away: it is, like capitalism itself, restructuring.

The interventionist state, whether Fordist or neo-conservative, retains its relative autonomy vis-à-vis monopoly capital. Poulantzas rejects the notion that a "fusion" of the state and monopoly capital is taking place. The state, he argues, takes responsibility for the interests of monopoly capital as a whole, but it does not concretely identify itself with any one of its components. Monopoly capital is the dominant class fraction; but it is the bourgeoisie as a whole that is the dominant class. The state serves the long-term interests of the hegemonic fraction, but only in the context of the reproduction of capital as a whole. "Today as always the state plays the role of political unifier of the power bloc and political organizer of the hegemony of monopoly capital within the power bloc which is made up of several fractions of the bourgeois class and divided by internal contradictions. The relation between the state and the monopolies today is no more one of identification and fusion than was the case in the past with other capitalist fractions. The state rather takes special responsibility for the interest of the hegemonic fraction, monopoly capital, in so far as this fraction holds a leading position in the power bloc, as its interests are erected into the political interest of capital as a whole vis-à-vis the dominated classes" (Poulantzas 1975, 157).


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