Re: [OPE] The state under capitalism

From: Paul Cockshott <>
Date: Fri Aug 13 2010 - 15:47:21 EDT

I can see that there is something to what you say Dave, but the structrural constraints do not explain the rather different policies
followed by the Swedish Social Democrats and Atlee and Gottwald in the late 40s. Why did these stuctural constraints operate differently in the three countries?
From: [] On Behalf Of Dave Zachariah []
Sent: Friday, August 13, 2010 12:05 AM
To: Outline on Political Economy mailing list
Subject: [OPE] The state under capitalism

On 2010-08-12 15:12, Paul Cockshott wrote:
> What is the difference between a structural and an institutional mechanism?
In this case it was a distinction between how deep the mechanisms that
results in the state's class bias is embedded in the social system. In
other words, if you remove the institutional mechanism, the structural
one remains. Perhaps the analogy of local versus global attractors of a
system is apt.

The personal mechanism that generates the class bias simply means that
the actual people who run the state apparatuses, and the government in
particular, are drawn from the class itself either by formally excluding
others or by elections. While this obviously operated in, say, early
20th century Western Europe and still does so today, e.g. USA with Bush
II among other places, with the implementation of universal suffrage
this mechanism is far too contingent and haphazard to explain the
globally correlated trajectories of capitalist states.

The institutional mechanisms biases the state managers, independently of
their original class positions, towards the interests of the class in
the selection process, e.g. the need for campaign money from donors of
the propertied classes.

These two sets have been taken as sufficient to explain the class bias,
and may indeed have been so. But they are not necessary or ultimate and
accepting them as sufficient explanations of 'the class character of the
state' has lead to an inadequate theorization of the state in capitalism
for two reasons.

Firstly, it doesn't take into account the separation of the political
and economic spheres that is *unique* to capitalism. The state is
thought to act on behalf, or even at the behest, of the capitalist class
in a direct sense. But if the state acts in the *general interest* of
this class, as Marx thought, then this direct mediation would quickly
ruin such strategic goals due to the intrinsic competition between
members of that class. This implicit idea of 'acting at the behest', I
believe, also underpins the orthodox theory of the role of the state in

Secondly, the rise of workers' parties from Austria to Brazil showed how
contingent the two mechanisms were, and that they could indeed be
overridden or offset. Contrary to the axiomatic notion of state as an
'instrument' or possession of the ruling class as a whole. Thus workers'
parties in government were anomalies that could only be explained by
adding epicycles in which they were thought to be 'bought off', and
their failure to transform the system was taken as evidence of this.

The structural mechanism then is independent of the ones above and
biases the state managers to be concerned about the development of the
entire capitalist sector, independently of their specific goals or class
positions. This operates through the state's basic mode of reproduction,
taxation, which it derives primarily from incomes in the capitalist
sector. Hence the need to maintain a healthy sector and business
confidence. Any failure to do so risks weakening the tax base and the
destructive effects of a declining sector, such as rising unemployment
or lower wages, may turn sections of the population against the current
managers of the state.

Thus the ultimate, rather than proximate, cause of the failure of the
reformist workers' parties lies in their lack of strategic and
organizational capacities to overcome or circumvent the operation of
this structural mechanism.

//Dave Z
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Received on Fri Aug 13 15:51:03 2010

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