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

1. Poulantzas found in Althusser's concept of structural causality the key to the problems of political power and hegemony raised by Lenin, Gramsci, and Weber. Take away Althusser's problematic and Poulantzas's entire work becomes incomprehensible. The tendency of certain commentators (Carnoy 1984; Jessop 1985) to depict Gramsci and Foucault as the "true" references for Poulantzas—thereby reducing his Althusserian "phase" to a temporary aberration of no real significance—is a preposterous misrepresentation and insupportable from Poulantzas's own remarks (see Poulantzas 1980; 1976a; 1979). The names of Gramsci and Foucault have become traces of the erasure of Althusser's impact on social theory—and Poulantzas, unfortunately, has been used frequently as an instrument of this process. As I have already argued, Foucault is something of a bastard child of Structural Marxism; Poulantzas accepted in Foucault only what they both took over from Althusser. We have also seen how Poulantzas wholeheartedly rejected the neo-Nietzschean, post-modern, post-Marxist tendencies of Foucault. I am not attempting to minimize the importance of Gramsci for Poulantzas (or for Structural Marxism generally, for that matter). For the important interaction between them, see Buci-Glucksmann 1980; Macciocchi 1974; Mouffe and Sassoon 1977; Anderson 1976. For Poulantzas on Gramsci, see Poulantzas 1965; and on Althusser in relation to Gramsci, see Poulantzas 1966. The importance of Weber for Poulantzas has been overlooked in the secondary literature. There is a need for a systematic comparison of Althusser and Poulantzas in relation to Weber. [BACK]

2. The subtlety of Poulantzas's concept of the matrix effect of a mode of production—the fact that it denotes the intransitive moment of structural cau-

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sality in opposition to the transitive moment of a particular practice—eludes most of the commentators, who throw up their hands in despair over the "circularity" of Poulantzas's thought (see, for example, Milliband 1973; Connell 1979). Ernesto Laclau's writings on Poulantzas (Laclau 1977) are superior to the rest of the literature in this respect, but even Laclau sees Poulantzas's framework as "unilateral," thus grossly misrepresenting the subtle indirect determination of the matrix effect as "class reductionism" and willfully dismissing the distinction between intransitive and transitive moments as merely "abstract formalism." While Laclau has a point—Poulantzas, like Althusser, assumes the determinant place of the economic function in all social formations and the dominant role of the instance which exercises the ownership function within the mode of production—to call this reductionism or formalism makes sense only if one is seeking to defend pluralist indeterminacy, irrationalist relativism, and political voluntarism. Laclau's hidden agenda, revealed by his subsequent intellectual development, is a post-Marxist, postmodernist attack on scientific realism and economic determination. Laclau's views on Poulantzas are taken over and developed by Jessop 1985. [BACK]

3. See, for example, Bridges 1974 and Milliband 1973. This criticism misses the central point, namely, the fact that the limitation of the political by the economic is both historical and structural (the matrix effect of a mode of production and the concepts of social class and political practice) as well as conjunctural. The well-known exchange between Milliband and Poulantzas regarding the class nature of the capitalist state is rather sterile since Milliband's subject-oriented view of class power and Poulantzas's structure-oriented approach lack any common ground, neither party being able (or willing) to bring up the concepts of ideological interpellation, pertinent effects, or social class, which might bridge the distance between their respective positions. For the exchange, see, in addition to Milliband 1973, Poulantzas 1969; Poulantzas 1976; and Milliband 1970. [BACK]

4. Briefly, Poulantzas argues that the accumulation of contradictions in Germany and Italy accounts for the emergence of fascism. Within the power bloc of Germany the primary source of contradictions was the rapid expansion and concentration of capital in a country where political hegemony still resided with the landed aristocracy—the Prussian Junkers—who carried out the Prussian "bourgeois" revolution of the nineteenth century. German monopoly capital required mass state intervention in its favor in order to compensate for the disproportionate political weight of the Junkers, yet the structure of the power bloc and the relative strength of the various non-monopoly groups within it were obstacles to such intervention. In Italy the situation was even more accentuated. The power bloc consisted of the industrialists of the north and the landowners of the Mezzogiorno, with the former establishing their hegemonic position by maintaining the feudal character of southern agriculture.

The rise of fascism also involves a political confrontation between the forces of the working class and the bourgeoisie, of course, but it is the petty bourgeoisie that plays the essential role in the coming to power of fascism. Political and economic crises dissociate the petty bourgeoisie from liberal capitalism, and "status quo anti-capitalism" becomes a dominant oppositional ideological

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theme. This ideological sub-ensemble "replaces" the dominant bourgeois ideology and "cements" the social formation back together (this is the decisive element of a fascist takeover, as opposed to Bonapartism or military dictatorship). The function of fascism, according to Poulantzas, is to bring into existence a form of the state capable of establishing and organizing the hegemony of monopoly capital in this particular set of historical circumstances and political-economic crises. Under these particular crisis conditions, the petty bourgeoisie is able to climb to the highest levels of political life, yet the crisis is finally resolved only by the neutralization of the petty bourgeoisie and the establishment of the hegemony of monopoly capital—the latter being the essential component of the nationalist military power desired by the petty bourgeoisie themselves.

According to Poulantzas, the formal separation of the state and the economy is characteristic of all capitalist social formations, not simply parliamentary democracies. Poulantzas has written two books about "exceptional" or non-parliamentary forms of the capitalist state, including military dictatorship in The Crisis of the Dictatorships and fascism in Fascism and Dictatorship (Poulantzas 1976a; 1974). He examines a third form, "Bonapartism," in Poulantzas 1973. For the best discussions of Poulantzas's views of fascism, see Laclau 1977; Jessop 1985; and Faye 1973; see also Caplan 1989. Abraham 1986 is a suggestive and stimulating attempt to extend Poulantzas's line of investigation into the political dynamics of the rise of German fascism. The revised edition corrects certain controversial errors of quotation and includes a retrospective defense of the original argument and a response to critics. See also the important collection Dobkowski and Wallimann 1989. From an immense literature, I will mention only two brilliant works of synthesis that independently corroborate and complement Poulantzas's analysis, Wehler 1985 and Broszat 1981. [BACK]

5. Poulantzas's work only suggests the fruitful potential of an application of Althusserian concepts of ideology, ideological interpellation, and habitus to the study of nationalism. They assimilate and transcend the cultural functionalism of Geertz 1973 and Gellner 1983. See, in particular, B. Anderson 1983; Nairn 1981; Howell 1986. For overviews of traditional Marxist views of nationalism, see H. Davis 1980, 1967. [BACK]

6. For the creation of the post-war "American Century"—the European recovery, the Cold War, the Fordist state, and so on—in relation to the development of global capitalism, see Kolko and Kolko 1972; Block 1977; Pijl 1984; Mandel 1986; Mandel 1970; and Schurmann 1974. [BACK]

7. Aglietta, Christian Palloix, Alain Lipietz, and others are all French economists and members of the so-called école de régulation concerned with capitalist regimes of accumulation and the global economy. Students of Althusser who have been significantly influenced by the Structural Marxist concept of a mode of production, the authors of the Regulation School are gaining increasing recognition as an alternative to the banalities of postmodernism and the shortcomings of dependency theory. In addition to Aglietta 1979, see Palloix 1972; Palloix 1976; Lipietz 1977; Lipietz 1983; Lipietz 1987; and Aglietta 1982. For a critical evaluation, see Brenner and Glick 1991. [BACK]

8. For global restructuring and its effect on the uneven development of me-

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tropole and periphery, see Mandel 1975; Lipietz 1987; Warren 1980; Amin 1980; and J. Kolko 1988. [BACK]

9. For a lucid and systematic analysis of the present condition, see J. Kolko 1988. Lash and Urry 1987 is illuminating in its historical survey of the "organized" capitalist states, but its Habermasian thesis that capitalism is becoming "disorganized" is unconvincing; more persuasive is D. Harvey 1989, which analyzes postmodern culture in relation to global economic restructuring and the transition from a Fordist to a "flexible" regime of accumulation. Mention may perhaps be made here of the influential work of Structural Marxist urban geographers such as David Harvey and Manuel Castells, who have done much to clarify the importance of urbanization for capitalist accumulation and the significance of social space for capitalist domination; see, in particular, D. Harvey 1989a; and Castells 1977. [BACK]

10. Of course Poulantzas's work hardly exhausts the field of Marxist and neo-Marxist analysis of the state in contemporary capitalism. At the very least, mention must be made of Wolfe 1977; O'Conner 1984; Offe 1984; Offe 1985; and Gross 1982. For the important work of Joachim Hirsch and the German "state derivation" ( Staatsableitung ) debates of the seventies, see Holloway and Picciotto 1979. Useful surveys of new theoretical developments include Carnoy 1984 and Jessop 1982. [BACK]

11. The phrase is Stuart Hall's. Hall 1988 and Leys 1989 are superb analytical accounts of the ideological and social-structural basis of Thatcherism. For Reaganism, see the equally perceptive analysis of Mike Davis 1986. [BACK]

12. Poulantzas justifies this designation by arguing that the "middle class" of white-collar workers, technicians, supervisors, and civil servants is a recently emerged fraction of the petty bourgeoisie. His argument is based on the concept of social class—the fact that today's class relations bear the mark, via the matrix effect, of yesterday's ensemble of political, ideological, and economic relations. He argues that "certain groupings which at first sight seem to occupy different places in economic relations can be considered as belonging to the same class [the petty bourgeoisie] . . . because these places, although they are different, nevertheless have the same effects at the political and ideological level" (Poulantzas 1975, 205). In effect, Poulantzas maintains that despite having different positions in the forces and relations of production, the new traditional petty bourgeoisies have similar political and ideological positions, and these similarities justify defining them as fractions of the same social class.

At first sight, Poulantzas appears to have reversed the causal relationship between social classes and their pertinent effects in order to assert the predominance of political and ideological effects over economic relations. While similar ideological and political positions today will participate in the constitution of the matrix effect of tomorrow, Poulantzas has apparently lost sight of the fact that these political and ideological positions will not constitute the matrix effect by themselves, but only in their articulation with economic relations whose modes of determination are dominant within the capitalist mode of production. The apparent confusion of pertinent and matrix effects is corrected in a later article in which Poulantzas forcefully reasserts the primacy of economic relations: "What are social classes in Marxist theory? They are groups of social

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agents . . . defined principally but not exclusively by their place in the production process , i.e., by their place in the economic sphere. The economic place of the social agents has a principal role in determining social classes. But from that we cannot conclude that this economic place is sufficient to determine social classes . . . the political and the ideological also have an important role" (Poulantzas 1973a, 27).

Poulantzas's attempt to incorporate political and ideological relations into the matrix effect constituting social class should never have been construed as a denial of the primacy of economic relations for the simple reason that such a reading renders the entire body of his work incomprehensible. Unfortunately, however, it is precisely such a reading that opened the door for a post-Althusserian, post-Marxist misappropriation of the concept of social class such as that of Laclau 1977, who criticizes Poulantzas's "economic reductionism" while developing a concept of social class based on the autonomy of ideology and the primacy of politics with respect to economic relations. This approach reaches its logical conclusion in Laclau and Mouffe 1985, who treat history as a "story of liberty" with the discourse of "democracy" as its historical motor. Laclau and Mouffe advocate a new ideological offensive "cutting across" class lines and deploying "democracy" as a neo-Sorelian, populist myth of "liberty as well as equality." Laclau and Mouffe assert an irrationalist individualism combining the most specious aspect of Saussurean linguistics (there is no social reality, only the differential reality of discourse) with a perverted form of Lacanian psychology. Lacan's concepts of the Real (desires, needs, and feelings of the individual), the Imaginary (the psychological process of identification), and the Symbolic (the discursive codes and practices of society) refer to an objectively existing tension between the psyche of a determinate individual and a determinate social reality. Laclau and Mouffe transmogrify Lacan's problematic in order to assert a free-floating relationship between the Symbolic and the Imaginary from which the Real of the individual psyche and the reality of social structures are equally absent. From here it is a simple matter for them to reduce political theory to an arbitrary dispersion of equally inadequate ideological positions and political power to a random pattern of "nodal points" condensing willy-nilly in social space. Thus the "socialist strategy" of Laclau and Mouffe is little better than a defense of Madison Avenue huckstering, and their view of democracy reduces it to yet another commodity to be mass-marketed without regard to its substance.

Poulantzas compounds his problems by attempting to distinguish the "new petty bourgeoisie" from the working class by means of the distinction between productive and unproductive labor. Productive labor is defined as "labor which produces surplus value while directly reproducing the material elements that serve as the substratum of the relation of exploitation: labor that is directly involved in material production by producing use-values that increase material wealth " (Poulantzas 1975, 216). Insofar as I understand the distinction in Marxist theory between productive and unproductive labor (see Gough 1972), it seems to be increasingly unhelpful when large proportions of "unproductive" workers sell their labor power to capitalist firms and when the production and realization of surplus value increasingly depend on the integration of produc-

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tion and distribution, on scientific and technological services, and on a vast array of governmental activities. In any case, Poulantzas never successfully reconciles his ad hoc use of economic criteria as a principle of distinction in one case and political and ideological criteria in another.

These errors, I hasten to add, do not vitiate the general thrust of Poulantzas's argument. A common ideological "sub-ensemble" (reformism, individualism, power fetishism) does exist between the traditional and the new petty bourgeoisie and for precisely the reasons Poulantzas specifies: both fractions are caught in a contradictory class position between the hegemonic class interests of the capitalist class and its antithesis, the class interests of the working class. Given the primacy of the capitalist-working class contradiction, the position of the new petty bourgeoisie is necessarily contradictory and oscillates with varying degrees of instability between capitalism and socialism. One can hardly argue with Poulantzas's contention that historically the new petty bourgeoisie has, with rare exceptions, gravitated toward the capitalist pole of the ideological spectrum. Even less can one refute his contention that the mere fact that the new petty bourgeoisie and the working class are both employed by capital has produced little ground for a viable anti-capitalist political alliance.

I believe that the confusion engendered by Poulantzas's attempt to deploy the concept of social class for purposes of clarifying the class position of the new petty bourgeoisie can be salvaged by the rather obvious device of considering the distinction between mental and manual labor from an economic rather than an ideological perspective. Poulantzas, of course, recognizes the vital significance of the mental-manual labor distinction, but he assigns it to the realm of ideology and not to the forces and relations of production. I would argue the reverse: credentials, degrees, organizational positions, and skills are personally owned economic assets, and as such they correspond, roughly, to the personal property of the traditional petty bourgeoisie. The new petty bourgeoisie can never be hegemonic in any capitalist social formation—functionally, their assets, like the personal property of the traditional petty bourgeoisie, are subsumed by the requirements of monopoly capital—but they can and do wage a fierce struggle to preserve their symbolic capital from devaluation by capitalists (deskilling, mechanization) and by the working class (equal opportunity, equality).

Thus similar economic relations (personal ownership of economic assets) account for similar pertinent effects (a common ideological sub-ensemble) shared by the traditional and new petty bourgeoisie. While recognizing the effectivity of political and ideological positions within the ensemble of social relations that constitute the matrix effect and social class, we must also acknowledge the primacy of economic relations within the ensemble. Such an approach demonstrates the essential validity of Poulantzas's contention that the "middle class" is a class fraction of the petty bourgeoisie. But even here the significance is not so much in the name as in the careful elaboration of the phenomenon.

Finally, the Structural Marxist view that the political spectrum is defined, in the last instance, by its capitalist and working-class poles and not the contradictory class position of the petty bourgeoisie is certainly more persuasive than

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the universe of "free-floating" signifiers devoid of class determinations and class values posited by postmodern, post-Marxist social theorists. This later position is at the very least guilty of peddling wish fulfillment to the middle classes; at most it may be justly condemned for facilitating the ideological legitimation of global capitalism and relegating the Left to the degrading and hopeless position of "loyal opposition" and chief whipping boy of the New Right.

My own views on the problem of the new petty bourgeoisie are heavily indebted to Wright 1985 and Larson 1977. For alternative perspectives from within a Structural Marxist perspective, see Baudelot, Establet, and Malemort 1981 and Carchedi 1977. For a brilliant sociological analysis of ideological distinctions between the various class fractions of the bourgeoisie and the working class using the concepts of habitus and symbolic capital, see Bourdieu 1984. For discussions of Poulantzas's conception of the new petty bourgeoisie, see Wood 1986; Connell 1979; Ross 1979; and Jessop 1985. [BACK]

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