State Violence, State Control: Marxist State Theory and the Critique of Political Economy

Joachim Sperl, 2014.
Joachim Sperl, 2014.

In the wake of the 2008 finan­cial cri­sis, a num­ber of move­ments arose which in dif­fer­ent ways, opposed the sta­tus quo.1 At the time, many of us in our exu­ber­ance thought these events sig­naled the end – or at least the begin­ning of the end – of cap­i­tal­ism. Yet from Lon­don to Oak­land to Madrid to Athens to Cairo, each of these move­ments were met and out­ma­neu­vered by an insti­tu­tion which was gen­er­al­ly neglect­ed in analy­ses of the final cri­sis, and the calls to com­mu­nize every­thing by abol­ish­ing the val­ue-form: the state.

This was dou­bly sur­pris­ing, for the cri­sis was also said to be a cri­sis of neolib­er­al­ism, a new regime of finan­cial­ized accu­mu­la­tion that had emerged in the 1970s and had trans­formed cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety through what Jamie Peck, Nik Theodore, and Neil Bren­ner have described as “post-1​970s ​patterns​ of ​institutional​ and​ spatial​ reor­ga­ni­za­tion” con­sist­ing in “the ten­den­tial ​exten­sion ​of ​mar­ket-b​ased​ competition​ and ​commodification​ processes​ into​ previously​ relatively​ insu­lat­ed ​realms ​of ​social​ life.”2

While many expla­na­tions of how and why this process of neolib­er­al­iza­tion occurred abound, Philip Mirows­ki per­cep­tive­ly notes that “many authors of a Marx­ist bent want to por­tray neolib­er­al­ism as the sim­ple deploy­ment of class pow­er over the unsus­pect­ing mass­es, but encounter dif­fi­cul­ty in spec­i­fy­ing the chains of causal­i­ty stretch­ing from the elu­sive exec­u­tive com­mit­tee of the cap­i­tal­ist class down to the shop­per at Wal-Mart.”3 As Mirows­ki indi­cates, much of this explana­to­ry gap in promi­nent “tra­di­tion­al” and “crit­i­cal” Marx­i­an accounts of neolib­er­al­ism thus cen­ters on the lack of sophis­ti­cat­ed analy­ses of the cap­i­tal­ist state.

Chris Har­man, for instance, pro­vides a “Clas­si­cal Marx­ist” inter­pre­ta­tion of the state in Zom­bie Cap­i­tal­ism.4 For Har­man there is lit­tle need to con­sid­er the struc­ture of the cap­i­tal­ist state, how it relates to the cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my, its pecu­liar capac­i­ties, its means or its ends, or to pro­vide a detailed inves­ti­ga­tion of how the state par­tic­i­pat­ed in regimes of accu­mu­la­tion; for him, the state is a form­less instru­ment of cap­i­tal, which the rul­ing class uses to stall the Law of the Ten­den­cy of the Rate of Prof­it to Fall. In this view, the state’s “auton­o­my” does not con­sist in its sep­a­ra­tion from the cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my or its sep­a­rat­ed inter­re­la­tion with it, but in “a lim­it­ed degree of free­dom as to how it enforces the needs of nation­al cap­i­tal accu­mulation, not in any choice as to whether to enforce these or not.”5 Con­se­quent­ly, a polit­i­cal class is not sep­a­rat­ed from the cap­i­tal­ist class, nor is it behold­en to a par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal ratio­nal­i­ty impli­cat­ed in the over­all social log­ic of cap­i­tal; rather, “state appointees behave as much like cap­i­tal­ists – as liv­ing embod­i­ments of cap­i­tal accu­mu­la­tion at the expense of work­ers – as do pri­vate entre­pre­neurs, or share­hold­ers.”6 Har­man thus argues that the cri­sis of the 1970s rep­re­sent­ed “the lim­its of state capitalism’s abil­i­ty to main­tain accu­mu­la­tion” in the face of this ten­den­cy, lead­ing to a new phase of accu­mu­la­tion in which indi­vid­ual states act in the inter­est of glob­al cap­i­tal.7 Con­se­quent­ly, Harman’s expla­na­tion of neolib­er­al­ism treats the cap­i­tal­ist rul­ing class as the prime mover and the state as its mere instru­ment, while his def­i­n­i­tion of neolib­er­al­ism is pre­cise­ly the one that Mirows­ki crit­i­cizes: “Neolib­er­al­ism is an ide­ol­o­gy pri­mar­i­ly used to jus­ti­fy attacks on work­ers.”8

Despite their oppo­si­tion to these tra­di­tion­al inter­pre­ta­tions of Marx, some of the most promi­nent pro­po­nents of “val­ue-form the­o­ry” who address neolib­er­al­ism echo Harman’s analy­sis, albeit in a dif­fer­ent reg­is­ter.9 Moishe Postone’s “The­o­riz­ing the Con­tem­po­rary World” par­al­lels Har­man by char­ac­ter­iz­ing the his­tor­i­cal tra­jec­to­ry of neolib­er­al­ism as “the weak­en­ing of nation­al, state-cen­tered eco­nom­ic sov­er­eign­ty and the emer­gence and con­sol­i­da­tion of a neo-lib­er­al glob­al order.”10 Postone’s inter­ven­tion – which con­sists of crit­i­cal remarks on how analy­ses of neolib­er­al­ism by Robert Bren­ner, David Har­vey, and Gio­van­ni Arrighi fail to grasp Marx’s the­o­ry of val­ue – makes the case that prop­er­ly under­stand­ing Marx’s the­o­ry of val­ue can pro­vide a full pic­ture of the dynam­ic of cap­i­tal­ist, and thus neolib­er­al, soci­ety. Although Pos­tone remarks in pass­ing that the state should be ana­lyzed as a his­tor­i­cal­ly-spe­cif­ic form, he does not say why this is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant, how this would change his analy­sis, or how it relates to his inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx’s the­o­ry of val­ue. Like Har­man but on a dif­fer­ent the­o­ret­i­cal basis, he ulti­mate­ly reduces the state to an inci­den­tal instan­ti­a­tion of cap­i­tal.

Tak­en togeth­er, Har­man and Postone’s analy­ses are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the type of Marx­ist the­o­ry that has under­laid approach­es to the cri­sis. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, they can also be said to rep­re­sent the gen­er­al the­o­ret­i­cal pauci­ty of state the­o­ry in much of the Marx­i­an tra­di­tion, where the state is often treat­ed as a form­less instru­ment or a suprain­di­vid­ual form that mere­ly reflects a giv­en char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the dynam­ic of val­oriza­tion. The explana­to­ry capac­i­ties of these approach­es are called into ques­tion not only by the quash­ing of these post-cri­sis move­ments by the state, but also by the under­ly­ing char­ac­ter of the neolib­er­al project itself, which Mirows­ki and Peck both show to be a state-dri­ven enter­prise that became more exten­sive in the wake of peri­od­ic glob­al eco­nom­ic crises since the 1970s.11

Nonethe­less, Mirows­ki and Peck have their own lim­i­ta­tions. They treat neolib­er­al­ism as a polit­i­cal project or as a polit­i­cal ratio­nal­i­ty, but they do not con­sid­er how such a polit­i­cal ratio­nal­i­ty relates to the social log­ic and cor­re­spond­ing behav­ioral ratio­nal­i­ty of cap­i­tal. This means they do not con­sid­er how this per­spec­tive could pro­vide a con­cep­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist state that might help us fur­ther under­stand neolib­er­al­ism, the neolib­er­al state and the neolib­er­al­iza­tion of glob­al soci­ety in rela­tion to glob­al cap­i­tal­ism.

These omis­sions not only raise the ques­tion of whether the state can be brought back into Marx­ist accounts of neolib­er­al­ism, but if a Marx­ist the­o­ry of the state can be devised that the treats the state as inte­gral to the dynam­ic of accu­mu­la­tion – in a way that explains the devel­op­ment and per­va­sive­ness of neolib­er­al­ism, sets the stage for an under­stand­ing of the recent waves of state-backed repres­sion, and in so doing con­tributes to a more sober analy­ses of the over­com­ing of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. This once again rais­es the vexed ques­tion of the Marx­ist the­o­ry of the cap­i­tal­ist state – is a the­o­ry avail­able which can explain the rela­tion between the cap­i­tal­ist state and the cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my, the means and ends of the cap­i­tal­ist state, which over­comes the one-sided approach­es of Har­man and Pos­tone?

Such a con­cep­tion would view the state as a his­tor­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic enti­ty, sep­a­rate from yet inter­re­lat­ed with the cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my, endowed with form-deter­mined capac­i­ties that are inte­gral to the process of val­oriza­tion and social repro­duc­tion. More­over, while these capac­i­ties would have cer­tain instru­men­tal uses, their uti­liza­tion would not be deduced from the direct sub­or­di­na­tion of the state appa­ra­tus or its func­tionar­ies to cap­i­tal or the cap­i­tal­ist class, but from a per­spec­tive which shows how the state’s role in this over­ar­ch­ing social dynam­ic instan­ti­ates a polit­i­cal ratio­nal­i­ty that com­pels such a uti­liza­tion, in order to repro­duce the state and cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. This the­o­ry would also seek to explain the nature and the pur­pose of the cap­i­tal­ist state and its capac­i­ties, pro­vid­ing a frame­work for the analy­sis of state poli­cies as the instru­men­tal­iza­tion of these form-deter­mined abil­i­ties. In order to deter­mine the pos­si­bil­i­ty of advanc­ing such a the­o­ry, we will start by review­ing impor­tant moments in the his­to­ry of Marx­i­an state the­o­ry.

Marx’s theories of the state

As Bob Jes­sop and oth­ers have not­ed, Marx him­self did not present “a defin­i­tive analy­sis” of the cap­i­tal­ist state.12 Instead, a vari­ety of con­cep­tions of the state can be drawn from his work. In ear­ly texts such as “On The Jew­ish Ques­tion” (1843) and A Con­tri­bu­tion to the Cri­tique of Hegel’s Phi­los­o­phy of Right” (1844), writ­ten pri­or to his first engage­ment with polit­i­cal econ­o­my, Marx con­ceives of the state as the alien­at­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a human com­mu­ni­ty premised on the sep­a­ra­tion between the state and civ­il soci­ety. Fol­low­ing Marx’s ini­tial crit­i­cisms of polit­i­cal econ­o­my, The Ger­man Ide­ol­o­gy (1845) con­ceives of the state as a class enti­ty that rep­re­sents par­tic­u­lar class inter­ests as uni­ver­sal. How­ev­er, Marx’s most influ­en­tial com­ments on the state in this peri­od are the famous lines from The Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo (1848) – “The exec­u­tive of the mod­ern state is noth­ing but a com­mit­tee for man­ag­ing the com­mon affairs of the whole bour­geoisie” – which describe the state as an instru­ment in the play­ing out of the his­to­ry of class strug­gle.13 Marx’s Eigh­teenth Bru­maire of Louis Bona­parte (1851) pro­vides a more com­plex analy­sis of the rela­tion­ship between the state and class strug­gle, in his account of the intra-state con­flicts between class frac­tions in Bonaparte’s coup of 1851.

While Jes­sop and oth­ers treat these moments in the devel­op­ment of Marx’s thought as dis­tinct, or even anti­thet­i­cal, Michael Hein­rich notes they are also indica­tive of the peri­od before Marx ful­ly devel­oped his cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my.14 Despite their dif­fer­ences, these “pre-crit­i­cal” con­cep­tions of the state do not inves­ti­gate its his­tor­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic form, and thus lack an account of how such a form par­tic­i­pates in the pecu­liar dynam­ic of cap­i­tal­ist val­oriza­tion.

Marx had planned to pro­vide such an account as part of his cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it was nev­er com­plet­ed. Nev­er­the­less, he made scat­tered ref­er­ences to such a form-ana­lyt­ic con­cep­tion of the state in Vol­ume 3 of Cap­i­tal (1863-1883), call­ing it “the spe­cif­ic polit­i­cal form” that cor­re­sponds to the “spe­cif­ic eco­nom­ic form” of cap­i­tal­ist social pro­duc­tion. He also not­ed that such a “spe­cif­ic eco­nom­ic form” grows direct­ly out of the par­tic­u­lar man­ner in which “unpaid sur­plus labour is pumped out of direct pro­duc­ers,” which “deter­mines the rela­tion­ship of the rulers and the ruled.” The “spe­cif­ic polit­i­cal form” of the state, in oth­er words, is con­sti­tut­ed by the his­tor­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic rela­tions of pro­duc­tion, pos­sess­ing a “polit­i­cal rela­tion of sov­er­eign­ty” that is sep­a­rate but also embed­ded in this deter­mi­nate eco­nom­ic form. Final­ly, he not­ed that these forms appeared in “infi­nite vari­a­tions and gra­da­tions” in dif­fer­ent empir­i­cal cir­cum­stances:

The spe­cif­ic eco­nom­ic form, in which unpaid sur­plus-labour is pumped out of direct pro­duc­ers, deter­mines the rela­tion­ship of rulers and ruled, as it grows direct­ly out of pro­duc­tion itself and, in turn, reacts upon it as a deter­min­ing ele­ment. Upon this, how­ev­er, is found­ed the entire for­ma­tion of the eco­nom­ic com­mu­ni­ty which grows up out of the pro­duc­tion rela­tions them­selves, there­by simul­ta­ne­ous­ly its spe­cif­ic polit­i­cal form. It is always the direct rela­tion­ship of the own­ers of the con­di­tions of pro­duc­tion to the direct pro­duc­ers – a rela­tion always nat­u­ral­ly cor­re­spond­ing to a def­i­nite stage in the devel­op­ment of the meth­ods of labour and there­by its social pro­duc­tiv­i­ty – which reveals the inner­most secret, the hid­den basis of the entire social struc­ture and with it the polit­i­cal form of the rela­tion of sov­er­eign­ty and depen­dence, in short, the cor­re­spond­ing spe­cif­ic form of the state. This does not pre­vent the same eco­nom­ic basis – the same from the stand­point of its main con­di­tions – due to innu­mer­able dif­fer­ent empir­i­cal cir­cum­stances, nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment, racial rela­tions, exter­nal his­tor­i­cal influ­ences, etc. from show­ing infi­nite vari­a­tions and gra­da­tions in appear­ance, which can be ascer­tained only by analy­sis of the empir­i­cal­ly giv­en cir­cum­stances.15

Tak­en in tan­dem with the parts of his cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my that Marx did com­plete, this would imply that the “spe­cif­ic polit­i­cal form” of the cap­i­tal­ist state cor­re­sponds to and reacts upon the spe­cif­ic eco­nom­ic form of cap­i­tal­ist social pro­duc­tion.

But what is this eco­nom­ic form? For Marx, “cap­i­tal is not a thing, but rather a def­i­nite social pro­duc­tion rela­tion, belong­ing to a def­i­nite his­tor­i­cal for­ma­tion of soci­ety, which is man­i­fest­ed in a thing and lends this thing a spe­cif­ic social char­ac­ter.”16 Suc­cinct­ly put, this def­i­nite social pro­duc­tion rela­tion is man­i­fest­ed in the social char­ac­ter of a thing because the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion is char­ac­ter­ized by an atom­ized social divi­sion of labor in which pro­duc­tion occurs for the pur­pose of exchange. This, in turn, means that some type of gen­er­al equiv­a­lent is nec­es­sary to facil­i­tate exchange. Mon­ey is this equiv­a­lent. But because mon­ey is the only equiv­a­lent that facil­i­tates exchange, it acquires what Marx refers to as a “social pow­er,” this “thing’s” social char­ac­ter. This also means, as Marx shows in the course of his fur­ther pre­sen­ta­tion in Cap­i­tal, that since the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion con­sists in a class antag­o­nism in which a class of work­ers are com­pelled, in order to repro­duce them­selves, to sell their labor-pow­er to a class of cap­i­tal­ists who are then com­pelled to pump out unpaid sur­plus-labor in order to sell com­modi­ties and val­orize cap­i­tal, that the cap­i­tal­ist process of val­oriza­tion occurs through the medi­um of mon­ey for the sake of acquir­ing more mon­ey. Mon­ey thus becomes the sole aim of pro­duc­tion, “the self-suf­fi­cient pur­pose of the sale,” and thus the ends of the process of val­oriza­tion, which is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly one of repro­duc­tion.17 Sur­plus val­ue, as “the spe­cif­ic eco­nom­ic form in which unpaid sur­plus-labour is pumped out of direct pro­duc­ers” in order to val­orize cap­i­tal, is the means of this process. This “def­i­nite social pro­duc­tion rela­tion” – the “spe­cif­ic eco­nom­ic form” of cap­i­tal­ism – is thus man­i­fest in money’s social char­ac­ter, which in the process of val­oriza­tion serves as the sub­ject of a social dynam­ic that repro­duces these rela­tions by deter­min­ing the actions of cap­i­tal­ists and pro­le­tar­i­ans.18 It finds its pre­sup­po­si­tions in con­di­tions of sep­a­ra­tion, and is marked by an antag­o­nism of exploita­tion and dom­i­na­tion.

In con­junc­tion with such a con­cep­tion of this “spe­cif­ic eco­nom­ic form,” Marx’s frag­men­tary account of the state thus implies that a form-ana­lyt­ic the­o­ry of the cap­i­tal­ist state would con­sist in an expli­ca­tion of a his­tor­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic “polit­i­cal form that cor­re­sponds to these pecu­liar­i­ties of the cap­i­tal­ist social form.” It fur­ther implies that the rela­tion of sov­er­eign­ty, which char­ac­ter­izes this “spe­cif­ic” polit­i­cal form, cor­re­sponds to the ends of this eco­nom­ic form: the process of val­oriza­tion, which “deter­mines the actions of the rulers and the ruled.” Such a notion shows that at this stage in his work, Marx does not con­ceive of the state as a form­less enti­ty in a decon­tex­u­al­ized his­to­ry of class strug­gle, while the ref­er­ence to its “hid­den basis” shows that Marx does not see it as an imper­son­al form extra­ne­ous to it. Rather, it indi­cates that he con­ceived of the state as a form-deter­mined instru­ment in which the spe­cif­ic form of the state and its polit­i­cal rela­tion of sov­er­eign­ty cor­re­spond to and serve the ends of the cap­i­tal­ist process of val­oriza­tion. This would seem to indi­cate that the state as a form is sep­a­rate from, yet also cor­re­sponds to, the cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my, and that “the polit­i­cal form” it pos­sess­es by virtue of this sep­a­ra­tion con­sists in a “rela­tion of sov­er­eign­ty” in which its form-deter­mined abil­i­ties are uti­lized as instru­ments by its func­tionar­ies, who are com­pelled to rein­force and react upon the pecu­liar antag­o­nisms of exploita­tion, dom­i­na­tion, and sep­a­ra­tion that are the premise and the result of cap­i­tal­ist process of val­oriza­tion.19

Ele­ments of such a the­o­ry can be seen in the instances in Cap­i­tal where the state is shown to enforce laws on the basis of for­mal free­dom and equal­i­ty, cod­i­fy­ing pri­vate prop­er­ty and the sale of labor-pow­er and thus func­tion­ing as inte­gral to the process of val­oriza­tion. It can also be seen to uti­lize these form-deter­mined capac­i­ties in an instru­men­tal man­ner, in the sec­tions on the length of the work­ing day and prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion, where the imper­son­al enti­ty of the state acts as the “con­cen­trat­ed and organ­ised force of soci­ety” by imple­ment­ing the sep­a­ra­tion of the work­er from the means of pro­duc­tion and mod­i­fy­ing the length of the work­ing day – thus align­ing polit­i­cal ratio­nal­i­ty with the social log­ic of cap­i­tal in order to assure val­oriza­tion and repro­duc­tion.20 While the incom­plete sta­tus of Cap­i­tal means that Marx nev­er aligned the state with the world mar­ket, these com­ments imply that Marx’s cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my con­ceives of the state as an enti­ty which is sep­a­rate yet inte­gral to the cap­i­tal­ist social form; a form-deter­mined instru­ment for the pur­pose of per­pet­u­at­ing and extend­ing cap­i­tal­ist social pro­duc­tion.21 Yet it is also the case that frag­ments such as these are few and far between in the extant man­u­scripts that make up the unfin­ished project of the cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my.

Classical Marxism

Engels’s trans­for­ma­tion of these man­u­scripts into vol­umes 2 (1885) and 3 (1894) of Cap­i­tal pro­vid­ed an invalu­able ser­vice under impos­si­ble con­di­tions. How­ev­er, the hege­mon­ic logi­co-his­tor­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tion he played an essen­tial part in for­mu­lat­ing, in con­junc­tion with the recep­tion of the pre-crit­i­cal Marx and Engel’s own remarks on the state, formed the basis for the most promi­nent the­o­ries of the state in clas­si­cal Marx­ism and West­ern Marx­ism.22

This is par­tic­u­lar­ly the case for the Clas­si­cal Marx­ist the­o­ries of the state, which would con­tin­ue to be of influ­ence in the evo­lu­tion of “Clas­si­cal Marx­ism” in the 20th cen­tu­ry: the Social-Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Impe­ri­al­ist the­o­ries of the state.23 As Ingo Elbe notes, Engels’s “con­tent-based” con­cep­tion of the state as “the mere instru­ment” of the rul­ing class “paved the way” for these the­o­ries.24 The Clas­si­cal Marx­ist the­o­ry of the state fol­lowed a logi­co-his­tor­i­cal read­ing of Cap­i­tal and Engels’s notion that the state act­ed as “real total social cap­i­tal­ist”25 to argue that that the state had been used as an instru­ment by the rul­ing class to take “on many of the func­tions of cap­i­tal, in the attempt to avert an eco­nom­ic cri­sis and to sta­bilise the class strug­gle,” thus ush­er­ing in the new his­tor­i­cal stage of monop­oly cap­i­tal­ism.26 Although this the­o­ry, which is echoed in Harman’s work, can be said to offer an account of the state’s role in accu­mu­la­tion, it lacks a form-ana­lyt­ic dimen­sion. Instead of explain­ing how the state comes to exist as a sep­a­rate enti­ty serv­ing the ends of the par­tic­u­lar social dynam­ic of cap­i­tal­ist val­oriza­tion, a dynam­ic that com­pels the actions of the rulers and the ruled, this form­less the­o­ry con­ceived of the state as a neu­tral instru­ment which was used by the cap­i­tal­ist class to direct the cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my – and which could also be used by pro­le­tar­i­ans to direct the com­mu­nist econ­o­my.

The Frankfurt School

Despite their mutu­al ani­mos­i­ty, the Althusser­ian and Hegelian-Marx­ist strands of West­ern Marx­ism both embed­ded this clas­si­cal account in more com­plex social the­o­ries. This was notably the case with the the­o­ries of the state pro­mul­gat­ed by those asso­ci­at­ed with the Insti­tute for Social Research, which, in spite of their vari­a­tion, can be seen to have mar­ried such an instru­men­tal­ist account of the state to an analy­sis of social insti­tu­tions, draw­ing on the Weber­ian ele­ments of Lukács’s the­o­ry of reifi­ca­tion.

Friedrich Pol­lock and Max Horkheimer’s the­o­ry of the state-cap­i­tal­ist “Author­i­tar­i­an State” pro­posed a par­tic­u­lar logi­co-his­tor­i­cal social the­o­ry, with a form­less con­cep­tion of the state as a ratio­nal­iz­ing instru­ment. In their analy­sis of state cap­i­tal­ism, which they posit­ed as the lat­est stage of capitalism’s his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment, the author­i­tar­i­an state was said to have tak­en on the role of total social cap­i­tal, with the “new rul­ing class” using the state to “total­ly admin­is­ter” soci­ety. In Pollock’s suc­cinct sum­ma­riza­tion, this “new state open­ly appears as an insti­tu­tion in which all earth­ly pow­er is embod­ied and which serves the new rul­ing class as a tool for its pow­er pol­i­tics.”27 The new rul­ing class uses the state to “con­trol every­thing it wants to” includ­ing “the gen­er­al eco­nom­ic plan” of pro­duc­tion and cir­cu­la­tion, “for­eign pol­i­cy, rights and duties,” and the “life and death of the indi­vid­ual.”28

While Pos­tone right­ly crit­i­cizes the “Tra­di­tion­al Marx­ist” con­cep­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my upon which Pol­lock and Horkheimer rely, for con­ceiv­ing of val­ue as a trans-his­tor­i­cal mode of mar­ket allo­ca­tion that has been super­seded by the state’s man­age­ment of dis­tri­b­u­tion, his par­a­dig­mat­ic treat­ment of these fig­ures dis­counts the more com­plex the­o­ries of the state and the cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my that were for­mu­lat­ed by asso­ciates of the Frank­furt School.29 Franz Neumann’s account of the Nazism argued, con­tra Pol­lock and his analy­sis of a state-con­trolled econ­o­my, that an ensem­ble of monop­o­lies had aligned to use the Ger­man state as “the pow­er instru­ment of a new rul­ing group” in order to insti­tute a “total­i­tar­i­an form of state cap­i­tal­ism.”30 Marcuse’s notion that the “Nation­al Social­ist state” was “the gov­ern­ment of hypo­sta­tized eco­nom­ic, social, and polit­i­cal forces” lies some­where in between Pol­lock and Neu­mann.31 Final­ly, Adorno’s “Reflec­tions on Class The­o­ry” posits that as a result of the out­come of the dynamism of rei­fied social rela­tions, the state could be used as a ratio­nal­iz­ing instru­ment under the monop­oly rule of the cap­i­tal­ist class.32

Aspects of Neumann’s and Adorno’s analy­sis are brought togeth­er in Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s The Econ­o­my and Class Struc­ture of Ger­man Fas­cism. In many ways this often neglect­ed work offers the most com­plex the­o­ret­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal­ly-embed­ded account of the state in this gen­er­a­tion of Frank­furt School crit­i­cal the­o­ry.33 Echo­ing Adorno, Sohn-Rethel con­ceives of the state on a the­o­ret­i­cal lev­el as a ratio­nal­iz­ing instru­ment that enforces cap­i­tal­ist val­oriza­tion. This is reflect­ed in a his­tor­i­cal analy­sis that sup­ple­ments Neumann’s account of the Ger­man fas­cism by argu­ing that a con­stel­la­tion of monop­oly forces aligned with the Nazi Par­ty in order to insti­tute a new accu­mu­la­tion regime. In such an accu­mu­la­tion regime, the Ger­man fas­cist state act­ed as the man­age­r­i­al appa­ra­tus of monop­oly cap­i­tal by imple­ment­ing coer­cive labour poli­cies that ratio­nal­ized the val­oriza­tion of absolute sur­plus val­ue.34

By pro­vid­ing an account of how a sec­tor of Ger­man cap­i­tal was com­pelled to enter into an agree­ment with the Nazi Par­ty in order to uti­lize the insti­tu­tion of Ger­man state to imple­ment and enforce poli­cies that spurred val­oriza­tion, Sohn-Rethel pro­vides a sophis­ti­cat­ed the­o­ret­i­cal account of the state as an instru­ment of ratio­nal­iza­tion that is uti­lized in class strug­gle for the pur­pose of val­oriza­tion. He also argues that the class frac­tion that wields this instru­ment is com­pelled by the over­ar­ch­ing imper­a­tives of val­oriza­tion. Yet, despite a deep­er socio-the­o­ret­i­cal account of the state, Sohn-Rethel’s and oth­er Frank­furt­ian the­o­ries of the state lacked the explana­to­ry dimen­sions of a form-ana­lyt­ic account. Indeed, this is per­haps why its most influ­en­tial pro­po­nents relied on Weber­ian notions of ratio­nal­ized admin­is­tra­tion to explain the anony­mous and imper­son­al instru­men­tal func­tion of the state, rather than align­ing these prop­er­ties with an account of the cap­i­tal­ist social form of pro­duc­tion.


Louis Althuss­er, like the the­o­rists of the Frank­furt School, also added a sophis­ti­cat­ed socio-the­o­ret­i­cal dimen­sion to the form­less instru­men­tal­ist con­cep­tion of the state. Yet in point­ed con­trast to the Frank­furt School, the Althusser­ian the­o­ry of the state devel­oped out of Althusser’s rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of the topol­o­gy of base and super­struc­ture, which in its clas­si­cal ver­sion held that Marx’s social the­o­ry assert­ed the pri­ma­cy of eco­nom­ic base, and the sub­or­di­na­tion of the polit­i­cal-legal and ide­o­log­i­cal super­struc­ture. Althusser’s notion of the state as an instru­ment emerged from a mul­ti-lev­el refram­ing of the rela­tion between base and super­struc­ture, char­ac­ter­ized by com­plex rela­tions of overde­ter­mi­na­tion, rather than form-ana­lyt­ic social the­o­ry.

This was notably the case in “Ide­ol­o­gy and Ide­o­log­i­cal State Appa­ra­tus­es,” which sought to make the Clas­si­cal Marx­ist the­o­ry of the state less descrip­tive and “more pre­cise” by elab­o­rat­ing on the com­ple­men­tary rela­tion of the repres­sive and ide­o­log­i­cal func­tions of state appa­ra­tus­es in the repro­duc­tion of the rela­tions of pro­duc­tion.35 Although the major­i­ty of this essay focused on how ide­o­log­i­cal appa­ra­tus­es con­tributed to repro­duc­tion, Althuss­er would lat­er fill out and amend his the­o­ry of the state in the remark­able “Marx in His Lim­its.” Like Sohn-Rethel’s con­tri­bu­tion, this work offers a sophis­ti­cat­ed the­o­ret­i­cal for­mu­la­tion of the repres­sive func­tion of the instru­ment of the state. It also offers a for­mu­la­tion of the pecu­liar struc­ture of the state that revis­es the ear­li­er the­o­ret­i­cal archi­tec­ture of the lev­els of the base and super­struc­ture, for the more rec­i­p­ro­cal notions of sep­a­ra­tion and inter­re­la­tion. Final­ly, it even revis­es Althusser’s ear­li­er crit­i­cisms of fetishism.

These points are brought togeth­er in a con­cep­tion of the state as a repres­sive instru­ment by virtue of its struc­tur­al sep­a­ra­tion from class strug­gle:

what makes the state the state… is the fact that the state is made in order to be, as far as pos­si­ble, sep­a­rate from class strug­gle… in order to serve as an instru­ment in the hands of those who hold pow­er. The fact that the state “is made for this pur­pose” is inscribed in its struc­ture, in the state hier­ar­chy, and in the obe­di­ence (as well as the manda­to­ry reserve) required of all civ­il ser­vants, what­ev­er their post.36

Con­se­quent­ly, the state is “sep­a­rate” and “above class­es” only in order to ensure that the dom­i­nant class can ensure the repro­duc­tion of the con­di­tions of dom­i­na­tion, with the “ensem­ble of ele­ments” that make up the state work­ing “togeth­er to the same end.” For Althuss­er, the goal of repro­duc­tion “does not con­sist sole­ly in the repro­duc­tion of the con­di­tions of ‘social rela­tions’ and, ulti­mate­ly, the ‘pro­duc­tive rela­tions’; it also includes the repro­duc­tion of the mate­r­i­al con­di­tions of the rela­tions of pro­duc­tion and exploita­tion.”37 The empha­sis, for Althuss­er, lay in the way that the state obscured the real­i­ty of the class antag­o­nism by virtue of its struc­tur­al sep­a­ra­tion from the econ­o­my: “the cir­cle of the repro­duc­tion of the state in its func­tions as an instru­ment for the repro­duc­tion of the con­di­tions of pro­duc­tion, hence of exploita­tion, hence of the con­di­tions of exis­tence of the dom­i­na­tion of the exploit­ing class’, con­sti­tutes ‘in and of itself’, the supreme objec­tive mys­ti­fi­ca­tion.”38

Such a the­o­ry of the state clear­ly draws on the late Marx, to con­ceive of the state as a spe­cif­ic enti­ty that is struc­tural­ly sep­a­rate from but still con­nect­ed to the dynam­ic of class strug­gle qua social repro­duc­tion. Yet for all of its advances on his ear­li­er account, as with Sohn-Rethel, the struc­tur­al-instru­men­tal role the state plays in this process of repro­duc­tion is not linked to an account of the spe­cif­ic eco­nom­ic form that Marx dis­clos­es in his cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my. This dimin­ish­es Althusser’s account of how this process of social repro­duc­tion comes about through the spe­cif­ic dynam­ic of the val­oriza­tion process, thus pre­vent­ing him from explain­ing the form-deter­mi­na­tion of the state’s struc­tur­al-instru­men­tal­i­ty. It is the state the­o­ries that came in wake of the “New Read­ing of Marx” that would empha­size these form-deter­mined ele­ments.

New Readings

What is known as the “New Ger­man Read­ing of Marx” emerged in the 1960s in West Ger­many. As pio­neered by Hans-Georg Back­haus and Hel­mut Reichelt, this new read­ing con­sist­ed in a rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of Marx’s the­o­ry of val­ue which brought the form-ana­lyt­ic ele­ment of Marx’s cri­tique of polit­i­cal econ­o­my to the fore­front. Back­haus and Reichelt’s inter­pre­ta­tion of this dimen­sion rest­ed on “recon­struct­ing” what they termed the “eso­teric” the­o­ry of val­ue, which they argued had been obscured in the pub­lished vol­umes of Cap­i­tal. In con­trast to tra­di­tion­al inter­pre­ta­tions of Marx’s the­o­ry of val­ue, Back­haus and Reichelt argued that this eso­teric the­o­ry, which cen­tered on their under­stand­ing of the dialec­tic of the val­ue-form, con­sist­ed in a suprain­di­vid­ual type of social ratio­nal­i­ty that com­pelled indi­vid­u­als on both sides of the class rela­tion.

This con­cep­tu­al and method­olog­i­cal focus was an influ­ence on the West Ger­man “State Deriva­tion Debate,” which took place over the course of the 1970s. The approach that char­ac­ter­izes this debate also echoed, and at a cer­tain point explic­it­ly drew on, the state the­o­ry of Sovi­et legal the­o­rist Evge­ny Pashuka­nis. As ear­ly as 1923, Pashuka­nis had crit­i­cized Marx­ist the­o­ries that sim­ply focused on the con­tent of the state. In con­trast, Pashukanis’s the­o­ry focused on why the dom­i­nance of the cap­i­tal­ist class takes “on the form of offi­cial state dom­i­na­tion,” by deriv­ing the form of cap­i­tal­ist law and the cap­i­tal­ist state from com­mod­i­ty pro­duc­tion.39 Draw­ing on a form-ana­lyt­ic inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx’s the­o­ry of val­ue, he argued that the social rela­tions of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety con­sti­tute cap­i­tal­ist laws and a cap­i­tal­ist state which cod­i­fy and enforce the social form of cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions as rela­tions between things. For Pashuka­nis, cap­i­tal­ist law and the cap­i­tal­ist state were thus “forms” log­i­cal­ly derived from the com­mod­i­ty-form.

As John Hol­loway and Sol Pic­ciot­to point out, the Deriva­tion Debate emerged in the con­text of the first sig­nif­i­cant reces­sion in post­war West Ger­many; the elec­tion of a social-lib­er­al coali­tion, which posed the issue of reformism; and the eclipse of the stu­dent move­ment.40 These devel­op­ments called into ques­tion Clas­si­cal Marx­ist state the­o­ries, which held that the state man­age­ment of the econ­o­my would pre­vent eco­nom­ic crises, and also raised ques­tions about the struc­ture and lim­its of the cap­i­tal­ist state.

Many aspects of this polit­i­cal con­text had already been addressed by Johannes Agno­li. Although Agno­li was adamant that the state could not be “derived,” since it was already there, his influ­en­tial essay in Die Trans­for­ma­tion der Demokratie (1967) held that the state’s role in main­tain­ing free­dom and equal­i­ty through law con­tributed to the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, not only by enforc­ing prop­er­ty rights, but also by trans­form­ing class rela­tions into social rela­tions between abstract and atom­ized indi­vid­u­als. His idea of “sta­t­i­fi­ca­tion,” more­over, also pro­vid­ed a his­tor­i­cal account of how the stu­dent move­ment and attempts at reformism were sub­sumed by these over­rid­ing polit­i­cal struc­tures. Agnoli’s work as a whole thus pro­vid­ed an analy­sis of the cap­i­tal­ist state that focused on how the polit­i­cal capac­i­ties of the state ensure the eco­nom­ic process­es of val­oriza­tion and repro­duc­tion, and how the struc­ture of the state com­pels func­tionar­ies, no mat­ter what their osten­si­ble “polit­i­cal” ori­en­ta­tion, to instru­men­tal­ize these capac­i­ties.41

These method­olog­i­cal influ­ences and con­tex­tu­al devel­op­ments can be seen in the work of Wolf­gang Müller and Chris­tel Neü­suss, who launched the debate, and can thus be seen to lay out the con­tours of its approach to Marx­ist state the­o­ry. In oppo­si­tion to instru­men­tal­ist the­o­ries, espe­cial­ly those of the Frank­furt School, they stat­ed that “the def­i­n­i­tion and crit­i­cism of state insti­tu­tions as the instru­ments of manip­u­la­tion of the rul­ing class, does not enable us to dis­cov­er the lim­its of that manip­u­la­tion.”42 Rather, they held that Marx­ist state the­o­ry should pro­vide “a cri­tique of the devel­op­ment of the var­i­ous func­tions of the mod­ern state.”43 As a result, mir­ror­ing Pashuka­nis, Müller and Neü­suss argued that these func­tions “can only be revealed by an analy­sis which shows in detail the needs for and the lim­its to state inter­ven­tion, aris­ing from the con­tra­dic­tions of the cap­i­tal­ist process of pro­duc­tion as a labour-process and a val­oriza­tion-process.”44 The con­tri­bu­tions to this debate which fol­lowed thus cen­tered on explain­ing the nec­es­sary func­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist state, and its lim­its, by deriv­ing the form of the state from the dynam­ic of val­oriza­tion.

Fol­low­ing John Hol­loway and Sol Pic­ciot­to, we can iden­ti­fy three main approach­es to this prob­lem­at­ic. The first took issue with the­o­ries such as those of Pol­lock and Horkheimer and argued that the state’s insti­tu­tion­al sep­a­ra­tion from the cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my was key to under­stand­ing its role in the val­oriza­tion process. This approach held that form of the state was nec­es­sary for the con­tin­ued exis­tence of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, since it stood above the com­pe­ti­tion of indi­vid­ual cap­i­tals in order to assure the system’s repro­duc­tion.”45 The sec­ond cen­tered on pro­vid­ing a more sophis­ti­cat­ed log­i­cal deriva­tion of the state form from the order of pre­sen­ta­tion in Cap­i­tal, while also estab­lish­ing its neces­si­ty on this basis. This approach sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly derived the neces­si­ty and pos­si­bil­i­ty of the state from the forms of appear­ance of cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions, in which all mem­bers of soci­ety, as own­ers of var­i­ous sources of rev­enue, seem to have com­mon inter­ests, thus ren­der­ing an autonomous state nec­es­sary in order for these com­mon inter­ests to be real­ized out­side of the sphere of com­pe­ti­tion. The third moved from these forms of appear­ance to cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions them­selves. In con­trast to the first two approach­es, which can be seen to estab­lish the neces­si­ty of the state as an ex post fac­to func­tion­al sup­ple­ment to a ful­ly artic­u­lat­ed account of the val­oriza­tion process, Joachim Hirsch’s con­tri­bu­tion argued that a “the­o­ry of the bour­geois state” is “a mat­ter of defin­ing the bour­geois state as the expres­sion of a spe­cif­ic his­tor­i­cal form of class rule and not sim­ply as the bear­er of par­tic­u­lar social func­tions.”46 This led Hirsch to derive the “pos­si­bil­i­ty” and “gen­er­al neces­si­ty” of the state from the cap­i­tal rela­tion, argu­ing that the par­tic­u­lar form of the state abstract­ed “rela­tions of force from the imme­di­ate process of pro­duc­tion, thus con­sti­tut­ing dis­crete ‘polit­i­cal’ and ‘eco­nom­ic’ spheres,” which were inte­gral to repro­duc­ing this rela­tion.47 In so doing, Hirsch’s “ele­ments of a the­o­ry of the bour­geois state” also addressed the short­com­ings of the oth­er types of con­tri­bu­tions – name­ly the sep­a­ra­tion of the state-form from the cap­i­tal-rela­tion – while also point­ing to the impor­tance of ana­lyz­ing the state and social repro­duc­tion in the con­text of the world mar­ket.48

Despite these dif­fer­ent points of empha­sis, as a whole, the State Deriva­tion Debate thus put for­ward a the­o­ret­i­cal con­cep­tion of the state that broke with instru­men­tal­ist inter­pre­ta­tions. The par­tic­i­pants con­vinc­ing­ly argued against a con­cep­tion of the state as a form­less instru­ment that direct­ed the econ­o­my, to con­ceive of the state’s imper­son­al form and sep­a­ra­tion from the cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my as nec­es­sary for the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. This fore­ground­ing of form-deter­mi­na­tion in state the­o­ry was tak­en up by a num­ber of the Ger­man state the­o­ries that fol­lowed.

The World Market Debate

Draw­ing on and advanc­ing ele­ments of Hirsch’s work, the Ger­man “World Mar­ket Debate” revolved around plac­ing a form-ana­lyt­ic con­cep­tion of the state in the con­crete con­text of the world mar­ket. Chris­tel Neusüss’s, Klaus Busch’s, and Clau­dia von Braunmühl’s con­tri­bu­tions to this debate thus drew on Marx’s com­ments in the Grun­drisse that the “ten­den­cy to cre­ate the world mar­ket is direct­ly giv­en in the con­cept of cap­i­tal itself,” and devel­oped accounts of how the law of val­ue oper­at­ed through the world mar­ket. In so doing, they relied on the val­ue-the­o­ret­ic con­cep­tion of val­oriza­tion as a process that “impos­es a par­tic­u­lar log­ic upon peo­ple,” while also echo­ing insights from the State Deriva­tion Debate that capitalism’s cri­sis-prone ten­den­cies can only be reg­u­lat­ed if “the cap­i­tal­ist state is able to form and sur­vive as a sep­a­rate and rel­a­tive­ly autonomous” enti­ty.49 Yet in con­trast to these approach­es, the con­tri­bu­tions to the World-Mar­ket Debate start­ed from the method­olog­i­cal premis­es of a plu­ral­i­ty of states in “mul­ti­po­lar” world cap­i­tal­ism.

Neusüss’s and Busch’s the­o­ries attempt­ed to apply their inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx’s the­o­ry of val­ue to the world mar­ket by con­ceiv­ing of it as a “com­bi­na­tion of dif­fer­ent nation­al­ly delin­eat­ed spheres.” In con­trast to the Deriva­tion Debate, they held that that “an analy­sis of the world-mar­ket motion of cap­i­tal could not be derived seam­less­ly from the inner nature of cap­i­tal,” but had to occur in “mod­i­fied forms.” Of the two, Neusüss pro­vid­ed a par­tic­u­lar focus on the state, as an enti­ty “that rests on a cap­i­tal­ist base, but is also ‘beside and out­side it.’” She argued that the state was respon­si­ble for cre­at­ing the “gen­er­al mate­r­i­al pre­con­di­tions for pro­duc­tion” and an “inter­nal sphere of cir­cu­la­tion” for nation­al total social cap­i­tal by enabling prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion, cap­i­tal­ist legal rela­tions, thus guar­an­tee­ing the move­ment of cap­i­tal and labor and facil­i­tat­ing the impo­si­tion of the law of val­ue.50

Von Braunmühl attacked Neusüss’s and Busch’s ideas of “mod­i­fied forms,” con­tend­ing that val­ue always appears in such a man­ner. She also held that the state could not be regard­ed as exter­nal to val­ue the­o­ry:

The form of the bour­geois nation state, of the world mar­ket orga­nized as nation states, acquires, as a bound­ed, legal­ly sov­er­eign cen­tre of a cap­i­tal­ist com­plex of exchange and pro­duc­tion, the func­tion of secur­ing, both inter­nally and exter­nal­ly, the politi­co-eco­nom­ic pow­er of the bour­geoisies com­pet­ing in the “inter­na­tion­al sys­tem.” The form, how­ev­er great its eco­nom­ic sig­nif­i­cance… is ulti­mate­ly not com­prehensible with­out recourse to the polit­i­cal moment of dom­i­na­tion which is implic­it in the eco­nom­ic rela­tion of force between wage labour and cap­i­tal, and with­out ref­er­ence to the com­pet­ing claims to rule advanced by rival bear­ers of author­i­ty.51

Von Braunmühl thus argued that the world mar­ket was “the appro­pri­ate lev­el from which to observe the motion of cap­i­tal and the effect of the law of val­ue in gen­er­al,” and that it was not the cap­i­tal­ist state as such that should be con­cep­tu­al­ized but “the spe­cif­ic polit­i­cal organ­i­sa­tion of the world mar­ket in many states.”52 Con­se­quent­ly, in oppo­si­tion to the Dervi­a­tion Debate, von Braunmühl made the case that “the form of the state as a polit­i­cal organ­i­sa­tion of ‘sep­a­rate and dis­tinct rela­tions of repro­duc­tion’” can­not be “derived from the mere­ly inter­nal dimen­sions of a com­mod­i­ty-pro­duc­ing class soci­ety alone the role of the state in ques­tion in its spe­cif­ic rela­tion­ship with the world mar­ket and with oth­er states must always be includ­ed in the analy­sis from the out­set.”53

These premis­es led von Braunmühl to argue on a the­o­ret­i­cal lev­el that the state should be con­ceived from the per­spec­tive of the inter­nal dynam­ic of nation­al cap­i­tal and the exter­nal one of the world mar­ket. The fact of “polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic rule by inter­na­tion­al­ly com­pet­ing rul­ing class­es” was achieved through the polit­i­cal func­tions of a sov­er­eign state, which could secure the nec­es­sary con­di­tions with­in the nation state frame­work.54

While Nacht­way and Brink point to a num­ber of short­com­ings in the World-Mar­ket Debate, and its pre­ma­ture dis­so­lu­tion, it did point out the impor­tance of con­ceiv­ing of form-ana­lyt­ic inter­pre­ta­tions of the state from the per­spec­tive of the world mar­ket and a plu­ral­i­ty of states, build­ing on dimen­sions of Marx’s incom­plete work and point­ing to the short­falls of deriv­ing the form of cap­i­tal­ist state as such.

Weaving the strands

The Althusser­ian and crit­i­cal-Marx­i­an the­o­ries that fol­lowed took aspects of these Ger­man con­tri­bu­tions on board, while also try­ing to inte­grate them with an account of social strug­gles. This was par­tic­u­lar­ly the case in the Con­fer­ence of Social­ist Econ­o­mists (CSE) debate, in which Open Marx­ists, such as John Hol­loway and Simon Clarke, stressed the dimen­sions of class strug­gle that were artic­u­lat­ed in the inter­nal rela­tion between the state and the econ­o­my. It was also the case for oth­er par­tic­i­pants, such as Bob Jes­sop, who fol­lowed Poulantzas and inte­grat­ed ele­ments of the form-analy­sis into a the­o­ry of the state’s rel­a­tive auton­o­my, with­in a broad­er mul­ti-lev­el social the­o­ry. The work of Wern­er Bone­feld and John Mil­ios can be seen to weave these strands, reunit­ing Frank­furt School crit­i­cal the­o­ry and Althusser­ian the­o­ry respec­tive­ly with more com­plex the­o­ries of the state that draw on val­ue-form the­o­ry, Pashuka­nis, Agno­li, the State Deriva­tion Debate and the World Mar­ket Debate.

How­ev­er, these con­tri­bu­tions bring us back to the ques­tion of neolib­er­al­ism. As we have seen, Peck and Mirows­ki show that neolib­er­al­ism was inex­tri­ca­bly linked with the state, which is an an explana­to­ry dimen­sion that is absent from preva­lent Marx­ist accounts. Yet at the same time, Mirows­ki and Peck both refrain from con­sid­er­ing what explana­to­ry dimen­sions a more rig­or­ous Marx­i­an the­o­ry of the neolib­er­al state and neolib­er­al­ism would offer: link­ing neolib­er­al ratio­nal­i­ty to the social log­ic of cap­i­tal by align­ing the strong neolib­er­al state with the process of val­oriza­tion. As I show in clos­ing, Bonefeld’s and Milios’s recent writ­ings can be brought togeth­er to lay the ground­work for such an expla­na­tion, pro­vid­ing a basis for an under­stand­ing of the strong cap­i­tal­ist state’s role in the devel­op­ment and con­tin­ued repro­duc­tion of neolib­er­al cap­i­tal­ism, and of the way that neolib­er­al ratio­nal­i­ty cor­re­sponds to the polit­i­cal ratio­nal­i­ty of cap­i­tal­ism.

Neoliberalism and the strong state

Wern­er Bonefeld’s account of the social con­sti­tu­tion of the form of the cap­i­tal­ist state holds that the cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my and the cap­i­tal­ist state are a “con­tra­dic­to­ry uni­ty” that is cre­at­ed by the “sub­stan­tive abstrac­tion of class antag­o­nism,” with the cap­i­tal­ist state uti­liz­ing its form-deter­mined polit­i­cal capac­i­ties to repro­duce this class antag­o­nism. The spe­cif­ic antag­o­nism of cap­i­tal­ist class strug­gle is the “his­tor­i­cal result” of prim­i­tive accu­mu­la­tion. As a result, the world mar­ket is derived from “the con­tra­dic­to­ry exis­tence of abstract labour as the social form of wealth found­ed on exploita­tion,” which in turn deter­mines the form of the state: “the devel­op­ment of the state needs to be seen as one in which the con­tra­dic­to­ry uni­ty of sur­plus val­ue pro­duc­tion is processed in a polit­i­cal form, as a moment of the same process of class strug­gle: social repro­duc­tion as, and in and against, dom­i­na­tion.” Bone­feld argues that this antag­o­nism is also at the heart of “the har­monies of for­mal equal­i­ty and for­mal free­dom,” which are in fact sys­tem­at­ic with polit­i­cal dom­i­na­tion. The form of the state “con­cen­trates the social real­i­ty of exploita­tion in and through the guar­an­tee of for­mal free­dom and for­mal equal­i­ty of prop­er­ty rights.” Draw­ing on Agno­li, Bone­feld also focus­es on how these legal and polit­i­cal forms are instru­men­tal­ized to assure repro­duc­tion. As he sees it, “the polit­i­cal guar­an­tee of the right of prop­er­ty deter­mines the state as a strong state” which “impos­es the ratio­nal­i­ty and equal­i­ty of the right of prop­er­ty over soci­ety in the attempt to con­tain the social antag­o­nism of cap­i­tal and labour by the force of law.”55 This the­o­ry of the state can thus be seen to align a num­ber of insights from the form-ana­lyt­ic con­cep­tion of the state with an account of class strug­gle, in order to under­stand the strong state as a sep­a­rate yet inter­re­lat­ed enti­ty, by virtue of the form-deter­mined role it plays in repro­duc­ing the cap­i­tal­ist class antag­o­nism.

Bonefeld’s recent work, writ­ten fol­low­ing the 2008 cri­sis, can thus be seen to pro­vide a the­o­ret­i­cal rebut­tal of analy­ses of neolib­er­al­ism that ignored or dimin­ished the role of the state, by the­o­ret­i­cal­ly elab­o­rat­ing how the neolib­er­al state is exem­plary of the form-deter­mined instru­men­tal capac­i­ties of the cap­i­tal­ist state. This is a the­o­ry of polit­i­cal econ­o­my as a polit­i­cal prac­tice, which shows how its “cohe­sion, orga­ni­za­tion, inte­gra­tion and repro­duc­tion are mat­ters of state.”56 Fol­low­ing Agno­li, Bone­feld suc­cinct­ly for­mu­lates the ends of such a polit­i­cal prac­tice: “crude­ly put, the pur­pose of cap­i­tal is to accu­mu­late extract­ed sur­plus val­ue, and the state is the polit­i­cal form of that pur­pose.” He pro­vides an account of how this pur­pose is achieved by the instru­men­tal­iza­tion of the form-deter­mined capac­i­ties of the state for pur­pose of val­oriza­tion. As he argues, the state “facil­i­tates the order of eco­nom­ic free­dom by means of the force of law-mak­ing vio­lence”; sus­tains the cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions of pro­duc­tion and exchange by depoliti­ciz­ing “socio-eco­nom­ic rela­tions”; guar­an­tees “con­trac­tu­al rela­tions of social inter­ac­tion”; seeks the fur­ther progress of the sys­tem of free labor by facil­i­tat­ing the “cheap­ness of pro­vi­sion”; and extends these rela­tions by “secur­ing free and equal mar­ket rela­tions.”57 The “strong state” thus uti­lizes its form-deter­mined capac­i­ties in an instru­men­tal man­ner, to orga­nize, inte­grate, sus­tain, and extend the social rela­tion at the heart of the pecu­liar dynam­ic of val­oriza­tion for the pur­pose of accu­mu­lat­ing sur­plus val­ue.

Bone­feld also enu­mer­ates how the “mar­ket-facil­i­tat­ing” coer­cive force of the strong neolib­er­al state achieves these ends in the three areas of polit­i­cal-legal form-deter­mined instru­men­tal­i­ty out­lined above. He argues that cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions have been sus­tained and extend­ed “over the past 30 years” by “the accu­mu­la­tion of poten­tial­ly fic­ti­tious wealth” – through “the coer­cive con­trol of labour, from debt bondage to new enclo­sures,” and from “the dereg­u­la­tion of con­di­tions to the pri­va­ti­za­tion of risk.”58 Thus, in con­trast to preva­lent char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of the neolib­er­al state as a weak state that is sep­a­rate from the mar­ket, unwill­ing and unable to guard it, Bone­feld argues: “The con­ven­tion­al view that neolib­er­al­ism has to do with the weak­en­ing of the state has lit­tle, if any­thing, to do with the neolib­er­al con­cep­tion of the free econ­o­my.”59 Rather, since “the free mar­ket requires the strong, mar­ket-facil­i­tat­ing state, but it is also depen­dent on the state as the coer­cive force of that free­dom,” the “neolib­er­al demand for the strong state is a demand for the lim­it­ed state, one that lim­its itself to the task of mak­ing the econ­o­my of free labour effec­tive.”60 This means that “the cap­i­tal­ist state is fun­da­men­tal­ly a lib­er­al state” and that the neolib­er­al state is typ­i­cal of these fun­da­men­tal qual­i­ties, because “the neolib­er­al state func­tions as a mar­ket facil­i­tat­ing state.”61

The social violence of capital

Like Bon­feld, John Mil­ios also pro­vides a the­o­ry of the cap­i­tal­ist state that draws impor­tant ele­ments from form-ana­lyt­ic state the­o­ry.62 He also aligns these insights with the con­sti­tu­tive social dynam­ic of class strug­gle, but he does so from an Althusser­ian per­spec­tive. Although Mil­ios right­ly notes that Althusser’s “approach to val­ue the­o­ry” was, at best, “ambigu­ous,” he also iden­ti­fies sev­er­al points of com­pat­i­bil­i­ty between Althusser’s work and form-analy­sis:

the pred­ica­tive and cat­e­gor­i­cal man­ner in which Althuss­er declares Marx’s rup­ture with Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my, as well as the basic para­me­ters of his analy­sis, i.e. his approach to mate­ri­al­ist dialec­tics, the epis­te­mo­log­i­cal break, the eccen­tric con­cep­tion of social total­i­ty, the pri­ma­cy of class strug­gle, the rel­a­tive auton­o­my and inter­pen­e­tra­tion of the var­i­ous prac­tices, point to the the­o­ret­i­cal poten­tial implic­it in the com­pre­hen­sion of Marx’s mon­e­tary the­o­ry of val­ue, a key-issue of which is the insis­tence on the sig­nif­i­cance of the con­cept of val­ue-form.63

This approach also draws on Milios’s inter­pre­ta­tion of Pashuka­nis, who pro­vid­ed an account of the “process of simul­ta­ne­ous for­ma­tion of the inter­act­ing ele­ments” of the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion, “com­pris­ing among oth­er things the for­ma­tion of the (bour­geois civ­il) law and the ideology/philosophy which accom­pa­nies it.”64 Fol­low­ing the Althusser­ian con­cep­tion of the “pri­ma­cy of class strug­gle,” Mil­ios con­tends that the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion (CMP) is con­sti­tut­ed by two con­tra­dic­tions.  The “prin­ci­pal con­tra­dic­tion” is the “con­tra­dic­tion” of the rela­tions of pro­duc­tion, which “divides soci­ety into two fun­da­men­tal (and unequal) class­es: the cap­i­tal­ist and work­ing class­es.”65 Yet in the CMP, these “agents of pro­duc­tion embody oth­er sec­ondary pow­er rela­tions (con­tra­dic­tions)” because “cer­tain rela­tions of pro­duc­tion pre­sup­pose the exis­tence of spe­cif­ic legal-polit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal rela­tions: the so-called super­struc­ture.”66 There­fore, while these “sec­ondary con­tra­dic­tions are not the pure expres­sions of the prin­ci­pal con­tra­dic­tion,” they are “actu­al­ly con­sti­tute its con­di­tion of exis­tence, just as the prin­ci­pal con­tra­dic­tion con­sti­tutes their con­di­tion of exis­tence.”67 Thus, rather than a one-way deter­min­ism, for Mil­ios, the rela­tion­ship between these con­tra­dic­tions is rec­i­p­ro­cal; for, while in the “last instance” the rela­tions of pro­duc­tion ulti­mate­ly “deter­mine the gen­er­al form of the super­struc­ture,” these sec­ondary deter­mi­na­tions also pos­sess­es “rel­a­tive auton­o­my” and act on the base.68 Con­se­quent­ly, “the (cap­i­tal­ist) mode of pro­duc­tion is not exclu­sive­ly an eco­nom­ic rela­tion. It applies at all lev­els of soci­ety (social instances). It also includes the core of (cap­i­tal­ist) polit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal rela­tions of pow­er, that is the par­tic­u­lar struc­ture of the cap­i­tal­ist state.”69

As a con­se­quence, while Mil­ios derives the state from class strug­gle, he also draws on accounts for the con­sti­tu­tion of the form of the state, as a struc­tur­al enti­ty that is a sep­a­rate yet inter­re­lat­ed aspect of the CMP. The “par­tic­u­lar struc­ture of the cap­i­tal­ist state” thus con­sists in “eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal” pow­ers, all of which pos­sess “imper­son­al struc­tures that func­tion to ensure the over­all preser­va­tion and repro­duc­tion” of the CMP.70 Since this struc­ture cor­re­sponds to class dom­i­na­tion, Mil­ios argues, like Bone­feld, that these legal and polit­i­cal capac­i­ties are also used as instru­ments to ensure the preser­va­tion and repro­duc­tion of the class antag­o­nism: “the state, as the cen­tre for the exer­cise of cap­i­tal­ist class pow­er, is the mech­a­nism for con­cen­trat­ing the gen­er­al­ized social vio­lence of cap­i­tal.”71

Fol­low­ing the Althuss­er of “Ide­ol­o­gy and Ide­o­log­i­cal State Appa­ra­tus­es,” Mil­ios argues that this form-deter­mined instru­men­tal­iza­tion occurs at two lev­els. The “eco­nom­ic lev­el” is where “the state makes a deci­sive con­tri­bu­tion to cre­at­ing the over­all mate­r­i­al con­di­tions for repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions.” It for­mu­lates politi­co-legal poli­cies “for man­ag­ing the work­force, inter­ven­tions for an increase in the prof­itabil­i­ty of aggre­gate social cap­i­tal, the nation­al cur­ren­cy and state man­age­ment of mon­ey, the insti­tu­tion­al and legal frame­work safe­guard­ing the “free­dom” of the mar­ket, mech­a­nisms for dis­ci­plin­ing labour pow­er and insti­tu­tions of social paci­fi­ca­tion.”72 At the “polit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal-cul­tur­al lev­el,” the state has the impor­tant func­tion of legit­i­mat­ing “the exer­cise of bour­geois polit­i­cal pow­er” – it pro­vides a nation­al frame­work for the ide­ol­o­gy of cap­i­tal­ist pow­er, con­sti­tut­ing cap­i­tal as “socio-nation­al cap­i­tal.” As a whole, “cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion is ren­dered pos­si­ble, and appears as a ‘nat­ur­al order,’ by virtue of the func­tion­ing of the state.”73

Mir­ror­ing Bone­feld, Milios’s account of the state thus aligns impor­tant form-ana­lyt­ic con­cerns with an account of the con­sti­tu­tive prop­er­ties of class strug­gle. In this the­o­riza­tion, the state is not mere­ly instru­men­tal, nor is it sim­ply an autonomous form.74 Rather, for Mil­ios, the cap­i­tal­ist state is, “in real­i­ty: the polit­i­cal con­den­sa­tion of class rela­tions of dom­i­na­tion, the fac­tor that under­writes the cohe­sion of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety.”75

Mil­ios pro­vides an account of the neolib­er­al­iza­tion of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety that also reflects the “mar­ket facil­i­tat­ing” prop­er­ties of the neolib­er­al state that Bone­feld iden­ti­fies. He defines neolib­er­al­ism as a “his­tor­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic form of orga­ni­za­tion of cap­i­tal­ist pow­er on a social-wide scale, where­in gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty through finan­cial mar­kets acquires a cru­cial role.”76 This leads Mil­ios to argue that this his­tor­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic orga­ni­za­tion con­sist­ed in the “recom­po­si­tion” of the CMP, a “reform­ing all com­po­nents involved, in a way that secures the repro­duc­tion of the dom­i­nant (neolib­er­al) cap­i­tal­ist par­a­digm.”77 As the mech­a­nism for con­cen­trat­ing the gen­er­al­ized social vio­lence of cap­i­tal, the cap­i­tal­ist state facil­i­tat­ed this process of neolib­er­al­iza­tion.

This is relayed in Milios’s account of the four basic ele­ments of recom­po­si­tion that con­sti­tut­ed the neolib­er­al mod­el, which the state was instru­men­tal in insti­tut­ing. The first con­sist­ed in repres­sive meth­ods and mon­e­tarist poli­cies that dereg­u­lat­ed the job mar­ket, boost­ing unem­ploy­ment, squeez­ing wages, and less­en­ing the pow­er of wage-earn­ers. The sec­ond, which is linked to the first, entailed out­sourc­ing in order to deval­ue “non-com­pet­i­tive” cap­i­tal and fur­ther dis­ci­pline labor. These were com­ple­ment­ed by the third, the pri­va­ti­za­tion and recom­po­si­tion of state activ­i­ties, which cre­at­ed a “basis for an increase in the debt of house­holds,” gen­er­at­ing the poten­tial for debt in oth­er pri­va­tized areas. Final­ly, con­sent to this mod­el was secured by the pos­si­bil­i­ty of “access to cheap loans” and a vari­ety oth­er finan­cial­ized enti­ties.78

Con­se­quent­ly, con­tra Har­man and Pos­tone, for Mil­ios, neolib­er­al­iza­tion did not erode the state, because it did not dimin­ish its form-deter­mined pur­pose. Rather, he holds that the cap­i­tal­ist state’s neolib­er­al recom­po­si­tion strength­ened the state’s abil­i­ty to facil­i­tate these ends. In neolib­er­al­ism, the cap­i­tal­ist state’s orga­ni­za­tion and repro­duc­tion of “the eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal dom­i­nance of cap­i­tal” is recom­posed and extend­ed to the his­tor­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty of finan­cial­iza­tion, which has engen­dered “new kinds of ratio­nal­i­ty for the pro­mo­tion of exploita­tion strate­gies based on the cir­cuit of cap­i­tal that pre­sume com­pli­ance with the laws of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem.”79 Neolib­er­al­iza­tion has thus led to “embed­ding” a “par­tic­u­lar form of cap­i­tal­ist state pow­er, of class gov­er­nance, undoubt­ed­ly more author­i­tar­i­an, crude, and vio­lent” in neolib­er­al val­oriza­tion and social repro­duc­tion.80 We are not far from Bonefeld’s the­o­ry of the mar­ket-facil­i­tat­ing pur­pose of the strong neolib­er­al state.

Vital politics as capitalist rationality

This brings us to the sec­ond pro­duc­tive affin­i­ty of Bonefeld’s and Milios’s recent work: both align phe­nom­e­na that Fou­cauldian analy­ses of neolib­er­al­ism sep­a­rate from cap­i­tal­ism with their form-ana­lyt­ic inter­pre­ta­tions of the strong neolib­er­al state. They are thus able to con­ceive of neolib­er­al ratio­nal­i­ty as a polit­i­cal ratio­nal­i­ty of cap­i­tal. Bonefeld’s work on ordolib­er­al­ism81 holds that ordolib­er­al the­o­ry not only exem­pli­fies poli­cies such as the Cameron government’s han­dling of the 2008 cri­sis, but that it also cap­tures the “eco­nom­ic ratio­nal­i­ty of cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions” man­i­fest­ing the “the­ol­o­gy of cap­i­tal­ism.”82

The key is the empha­sis on extend­ing polit­i­cal rule into pur­port­ed­ly pri­vate are­nas, in order to per­pet­u­ate the repro­duc­tion of the cap­i­tal rela­tion. For Bone­feld, “ordolib­er­al social pol­i­cy is thus not only a pol­i­cy towards and of soci­ety. It is fun­da­men­tal­ly a pol­i­cy in and through soci­ety, gov­ern­ing its men­tal­i­ty from with­in.”83 Con­se­quent­ly, the strong ordolib­er­al state “restrains com­pe­ti­tion and secures the social and ide­o­log­i­cal pre­con­di­tions of eco­nom­ic lib­er­ty” by devel­op­ing “the tech­nique of lib­er­al gov­er­nance as a means of ‘mar­ket police.’”84

In Bonefeld’s view, such a tech­nique con­sists in the mor­al­iz­ing social pol­i­cy of “vital pol­i­tics” (Vitalpoli­tik), which acts a “mar­ket-facil­i­tat­ing and -embed­ding pol­i­cy, which has to be pur­sued relent­less­ly to sus­tain and main­tain the moral sen­ti­ments of eco­nom­ic lib­er­ty in the face of the destruc­tive soci­o­log­i­cal and moral effects of free econ­o­my.”85 Vital pol­i­tics thus acts as a “mar­ket police” by instru­men­tal­iz­ing social pol­i­cy in order to “elim­i­nate the pro­le­tari­at by means of a ‘mar­ket-con­form­ing’ social pol­i­cy,” which facil­i­tates “free­dom and respon­si­bil­i­ty” in a way that trans­forms “recal­ci­trant work­ers into will­ing entre­pre­neurs of their own labour pow­er.”86 Ulti­mate­ly, this “social ele­ment of the mar­ket econ­o­my… con­nects mar­ket free­dom with indi­vid­ual respon­si­bil­i­ty, sets out to rec­on­cile work­ers with the law of pri­vate prop­er­ty, pro­motes enter­prise, and deliv­ers soci­ety from pro­le­tar­i­anised social struc­tures.”87 In this way, the social pol­i­cy of vital pol­i­tics exem­pli­fies the extend­ed polit­i­cal prac­tice of the strong neolib­er­al state, com­ple­ment­ing its coer­cive use of legal and polit­i­cal pol­i­cy. Neolib­er­al ratio­nal­i­ty is thus the polit­i­cal ratio­nal­i­ty of cap­i­tal.

Milios’s account of finan­cial­iza­tion aims at a par­al­lel expla­na­tion. For Mil­ios, finan­cial­iza­tion does not rep­re­sent pri­va­ti­za­tion or the rolling back of the state, but an incor­po­ra­tion of “a range of insti­tu­tions, pro­ce­dures, reflec­tions, and strate­gies that make pos­si­ble the accom­plish­ment (not with­out con­tra­dic­tions) of fun­da­men­tal tar­gets in the con­text of exist­ing social rela­tions.”88 More­over, in con­trast to nar­ra­tives that inter­pret finan­cial­iza­tion as a des­per­ate attempt to fore­stall the ero­sion of cap­i­tal in response to the falling rate of prof­it, Mil­ios argues that it rep­re­sents a “strong and deeply estab­lished cap­i­tal­ism.”89 This is because Mil­ios con­tro­ver­sial­ly con­tends that finan­cial­iza­tion is a sui gener­is form of fic­ti­tious cap­i­tal which pro­duces val­ue, on the basis of his mon­e­tary inter­pre­ta­tion of Marx’s the­o­ry of val­ue.90 He also argues that finan­cial­iza­tion rep­re­sents the main instance of the recom­po­si­tion of the state’s form-deter­mined role. The state embeds itself in this tech­nol­o­gy of pow­er, which facil­i­tates the mar­ket by repro­duc­ing the pow­er rela­tions of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety.

For Mil­ios, finan­cial mar­kets thus “have the dual func­tion of assess­ing and effec­tive­ly orga­niz­ing indi­vid­ual eco­nom­ic actors and at the same time pro­mot­ing a par­tic­u­lar form of financ­ing.”91 In so doing, they “mon­i­tor and con­trol the terms and repro­duc­tion tra­jec­to­ries of the con­tem­po­rary cap­i­tal­ist rela­tion.”92 His analy­sis of finan­cial­iza­tion thus repur­pos­es Foucault’s notions of neolib­er­al gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty and biopol­i­tics, in a way that mir­rors Bonefeld’s analy­sis of vital pol­i­tics – pro­vid­ing an expla­na­tion of how finan­cial­iza­tion serves polit­i­cal ends by con­sist­ing in a type of ratio­nal­i­ty that gov­erns indi­vid­ual behav­iour, com­pelling indi­vid­u­als to act in an entre­pre­neur­ial man­ner that assures the repro­duc­tion of the cap­i­tal rela­tion.93

Mil­ios links these Fou­cauldian con­cepts to finan­cial­iza­tion pri­mar­i­ly through an account of the nor­mal­iza­tion of risk. In his view, not only has risk become a com­mod­i­fied com­po­nent of neolib­er­al val­oriza­tion, as a result of the com­po­si­tion of neolib­er­al cap­i­tal­ism, but by virtue of these very same fac­tors, it is uti­lized as a gov­ern­men­tal tech­nol­o­gy of pow­er to assure the repro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal on the world mar­ket:

Attach­ing a risk pro­file to an agent (a cap­i­tal­ist firm, a state, or a wage earn­er etc.) means access­ing and mea­sur­ing their abil­i­ty to con­form in a docile man­ner to roles with­in a com­plex world that is under­writ­ten by pow­er rela­tions. Risk cal­cu­la­tion involves sys­temic eval­u­a­tion on the part of every mar­ket par­tic­i­pant of the effi­cien­cy with which par­tic­u­lar tar­gets (norms), as defined by social pow­er rela­tions, have been achieved. Every mar­ket par­tic­i­pant lives risk as their real­i­ty and becomes caught up in a per­pet­u­al effort to improve their pro­file as a com­pe­tent risk-tak­er, in this sense con­form­ing to what is required by the “laws” of cap­i­tal­ism.94

This is par­tic­u­lar­ly the case for work­ers who have been left most vul­ner­a­ble by the com­po­si­tion of neolib­er­al­ism, with their “house­holds… more reliant on risk man­age­ment for their social repro­duc­tion.” Here, in what Mil­ios describes as the “most impor­tant moment of finan­cial inno­va­tion as a social process,” risk man­age­ment “shapes and dis­ci­plines social behav­ior under the norms of cap­i­tal,” mak­ing labor “hostage to its own for­tune, that is to say, hostage to the demands of cap­i­tal.”95 Finan­cial­iza­tion is thus rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the recom­po­si­tion of the state, rather than its retreat. As an instance of neolib­er­al ratio­nal­i­ty it serves the polit­i­cal pur­pose of repro­duc­ing neolib­er­al cap­i­tal­ism.


Since the cap­i­tal­ist state is a strong state, and the neolib­er­al state is a cap­i­tal­ist state, the neolib­er­al state is a strong state that has used its form-deter­mined polit­i­cal capac­i­ties in an instru­men­tal man­ner for the pur­pose of insti­tut­ing the neolib­er­al regime of sur­plus val­ue extrac­tion, in order to guar­an­tee the per­pet­u­a­tion of the cap­i­tal rela­tion. Rather than the ero­sion of the state, it is these state capac­i­ties that drove the neolib­er­al­iza­tion of soci­ety, and have per­pet­u­at­ed it in its strength­ened and recom­posed form – in which even finan­cial­iza­tion is a form of gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty. The neolib­er­al state exem­pli­fies Marx’s account of the polit­i­cal pur­pose of the cap­i­tal­ist state, and the ordolib­er­al social pol­i­cy of vital pol­i­tics is par­a­dig­mat­ic of cap­i­tal­ist polit­i­cal ratio­nal­i­ty.

Tak­en togeth­er, these accounts align neolib­er­al ratio­nal­i­ty with the social ratio­nal­i­ty of cap­i­tal. By con­ceiv­ing of the neolib­er­al state as a strong cap­i­tal­ist state, they pro­vide a basis for under­stand­ing how such a strong state, and its “biopo­lit­i­cal” social poli­cies, serve the polit­i­cal pur­pose of assur­ing cap­i­tal­ist repro­duc­tion. These per­spec­tives could be fur­ther strength­ened by draw­ing on the­o­ret­i­cal insights dis­cussed above. For instance, the World Mar­ket Debate could prove help­ful in under­stand­ing how the devel­op­ment of neolib­er­al­ism was dri­ven by a plu­ral­i­ty of states in the con­text of dein­dus­tri­al­iza­tion and restruc­tur­ing on the world mar­ket.96 The empir­i­cal accounts of reac­tions to pre­vi­ous crises in neolib­er­al­ism, by Clarke and oth­er mem­bers of the CSE, could also con­tribute to under­stand­ing how the strong neolib­er­al state responds to crises.97 Final­ly, Agnoli’s the­o­ry of sta­t­i­fi­ca­tion, in tan­dem with Bonefeld’s the­o­ry of vital-polit­i­cal social man­age­ment, could illu­mi­nate the steps tak­en by states that con­tained the counter-hege­mon­ic move­ments that emerged after 2008. Fur­ther devel­op­ing this account of the form-deter­mined instru­ment of the cap­i­tal­ist state will be essen­tial in gen­er­at­ing the­o­ries that can grasp its over­com­ing.

  1. I would like to thank Asad Haider, Robert Cavooris, Patrick King, and Jasper Bernes for their help­ful com­ments. 

  2. Jamie Peck, Nik Theodore, and Neil Bren­ner, “Neolib­er­al­ism Resur­gent? Mar­ket Rule after the Great Reces­sion” South Atlantic Quar­ter­ly 11, no. 2 (2012): 265-288, 268. 

  3. Philip Mirows­ki, Nev­er Let a Seri­ous Cri­sis go to Waste: How Neolib­er­al­ism Sur­vived the Finan­cial Melt­down (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2013), 105. 

  4. Chris Har­man, Zom­bie Cap­i­tal­ism: Glob­al Cri­sis and the Rel­e­vance of Marx (Chica­go: Hay­mar­ket Books, 2010). 

  5. Ibid., 115. 

  6. Ibid., 116. 

  7. Ibid., 201. 

  8. Chris Har­man, “Zom­bie Cap­i­tal­ism,” Social­ist Work­er 2157, June 27, 2009. 

  9. “Val­ue-form the­o­ry” is a term applied to a strand of Marx­i­an schol­ar­ship. Despite a num­ber of inter­nal dif­fer­ences with­in the field, this approach focus­es on the import of the cap­i­tal­ist social form, abstract labor, and the val­ue-form to inter­pret Marx’s the­o­ry of val­ue as a the­o­ry of the sub­or­di­na­tion of the class rela­tion to the autonomous and his­tor­i­cal­ly-spe­cif­ic dynam­ic of cap­i­tal­ist val­oriza­tion. In this read­ing, cap­i­tal is con­sti­tut­ed by the cap­i­tal-rela­tion, but becomes the sub­ject of val­oriza­tion. Con­se­quent­ly, the actions of indi­vid­u­als are com­pelled by the social forms they col­lec­tive­ly cre­ate. The idea of form-deter­mi­na­tion, as it is also used in this essay, refers to this process of con­sti­tu­tion, and to the roles and func­tions insti­tu­tions and indi­vid­u­als take on in this inter­pre­ta­tion of the val­oriza­tion process. Some of the pri­ma­ry the­o­rists in this field include I.I. Rubin, H.G. Back­haus, Hel­mut Reichelt, Michael Hein­rich, Chris Arthur, and Moishe Pos­tone. For a help­ful overview Ingo Elbe, “Between Marx, Marx­ism and Marxisms,” View­point, Octo­ber 21, 2013.  

  10. Moishe Pos­tone, “The­o­riz­ing the Con­tem­po­rary World: Robert Bren­ner, Gio­van­ni Arrighi, David Har­vey” in Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my and Glob­al Cap­i­tal­ism: The 21st Cen­tu­ry, Present and Future, eds. Robert Albrit­ton, Bob Jes­sop et al. (Lon­don: Anthem Press, 2007), 2. 

  11. In The Con­struc­tion of Neolib­er­al Rea­son (Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2010), Peck uses the term “fail for­ward” to describe this devel­op­ment (6). 

  12. Bob Jes­sop, “Marx and Engels on The State,” 1978. 

  13. Karl Marx and Fred­er­ick Engels, The Man­i­festo of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty, 1848. 

  14. Michael Hein­rich, “Marx’s State The­o­ry after Grun­drisse and Cap­i­tal,” 2007. 

  15. Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal Vol­ume 3, 1894, Chap­ter 47. 

  16. Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal Vol­ume 3, 1894, Chap­ter 48. 

  17. Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal Vol­ume 1, 1867, Chap­ter 3. 

  18. Marx, Cap­i­tal Vol­ume 3, Chap­ter 47. 

  19. Ibid. 

  20. Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal Vol­ume 1, Chap­ter 31 

  21. At least in the Grun­drisse, Marx held that the world mar­ket is where “pro­duc­tion is posit­ed as a total­i­ty togeth­er with all its moments, but with­in which, at the same time, all con­tra­dic­tions come into play. The world mar­ket forms the pre­sup­po­si­tion of the whole as well as its sub­stra­tum” Karl Marx, Grun­drisse, 1857. 

  22. For more on the for­ma­tion of the logi­co-his­tor­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tion of Cap­i­tal, see Chris Arthur, The New Dialec­tic and Marx’s Cap­i­tal (Lei­den: Brill 2002); Ingo Elbe, “Between Marx, Marx­ism and Marxisms”; and Michael Hein­rich, An Intro­duc­tion to the Three Vol­umes of Marx’s Cap­i­tal (New York: Month­ly Review Press, 2012). 

  23. See Simon Clarke, “Intro­duc­tion” in The State Debate, ed. Simon Clarke (Lon­don: Pal­grave Macmil­lan, 1991) for a more exten­sive dis­cus­sion of the devel­op­ment of these state the­o­ries from the clas­si­cal Marx­ist the­o­ries of impe­ri­al­ism and social democ­ra­cy to state monop­oly cap­i­tal­ism and Euro­com­mu­nism 

  24. Elbe, “Between Marx, Marx­ism and Marxisms.” 

  25. Ibid. 

  26. Clarke, “Intro­duc­tion.” 

  27. Friedrich Pol­lock, “State Cap­i­tal­ism: Its Pos­si­bil­i­ties and Lim­i­ta­tions” in The Essen­tial Frank­furt School Read­er, eds. Andrew Ara­to and Eike Geb­hardt (New York: Con­tin­u­um, 1990), 92. 

  28. Ibid., 90-91. 

  29. See Moishe Pos­tone, Time, Labor and Social Dom­i­na­tion. (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1993), par­tic­u­lar­ly chap­ter 3. 

  30. Franz Neu­mann, Leviathan, cit­ed in Karsten H. Piep, “A Ques­tion of Pol­i­tics, Eco­nom­ics, or Both? The Neu­mann-Pol­lock Debate in Light of Marcuse’s ‘State and Indi­vid­ual under Nation­al Social­ism’,” Cul­tur­al Log­ic, 2004. 

  31. Ibid. 

  32. Theodor Adorno, “Reflec­tions on Class The­o­ry,” R. Liv­ing­stone (trans.), in Can One Live After Auschwitz? A Philo­soph­i­cal Read­er (Stan­ford: Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2003). 

  33. Indeed, Sohn Rethel’s work is sig­nalled out for praise as the exem­plary state the­o­ry of the first gen­er­a­tion of the Frank­furt School by Johannes Agno­li. 

  34. In Sohn-Rethel’s words: “The state takes over the entre­pre­neur­ial, man­age­r­i­al func­tion but cap­i­tal remains, as ever, pri­vate. What is pro­duced, how and by whom, with what prof­it mar­gins and at what prices, all this is decreed by the state: the state deter­mines imports and exports for each firm, the pro­cure­ment and dis­tri­b­u­tion of their raw mate­ri­als; it calls a wage-freeze for the pop­u­la­tion as pro­duc­ers and a price-freeze for them as con­sumers; it decides what build­ing, what tex­tile pro­duc­tion, what means of trans­port, what machine con­struc­tion should be pro­mot­ed or scrapped, what terms of cred­it the banks should assent to and which ones they should refuse, what promis­so­ry notes should be endorsed and which should be can­celled. But the prof­its and loss­es of all this are entered as pri­vate prof­its and pri­vate loss­es of cap­i­tal although the pro­por­tion of con­sump­tion to accu­mu­la­tion of pri­vate prof­its is again decid­ed by the state. The ter­ror­is­tic pow­er of the fas­cist par­ty serves not only to elim­i­nate polit­i­cal ene­mies. It is the sus­pen­sion of bour­geois laws which is the hall­mark of fas­cism and it is by this means that it final­ly guar­an­tees that the state can wield its entre­pre­neur­ial func­tion smooth­ly and can aid and abet monop­oly cap­i­tal in its state of per­il. The fas­cist regime emerged through the actions of pri­vate monop­oly cap­i­tal which had to re-group itself for this pur­pose.” Alfred Sohn-Rethel, The Econ­o­my and Class Struc­ture of Ger­man Fas­cism (Lon­don: CSE Books, 1978). 

  35. Louis Althuss­er, “Ide­ol­o­gy and Ide­o­log­i­cal State Appa­ra­tus­es” in Lenin and Phi­los­o­phy and Oth­er Essays (New York: Month­ly Review Press, 1971). 

  36. Louis Althuss­er, “Marx in his Lim­its,” in Phi­los­o­phy of the Encounter (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2006), 75. 

  37. Ibid., 120. 

  38. Ibid., 125. 

  39. Evge­ny Pashuka­nis, “The Sit­u­a­tion on the Legal The­o­ry Front” quot­ed in State and Cap­i­tal: A Marx­ist Debate, eds. John Hol­loway and Sol Pic­ciot­to (Austin, Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas Press, 1978), 24. 

  40. See John Hol­loway and Sol Pic­ciot­to, “Intro­duc­tion: Towards a Marx­ist The­o­ry of the State” in Hol­loway and Pic­ciot­to, State and Cap­i­tal. 

  41. See Johannes Agno­li, “The­ses on the Trans­for­ma­tion of Democ­ra­cy and on the Extra-Par­lia­men­tary Oppo­si­tion,” Michael Shane Boyle and Daniel Spauld­ing (trans.), in this issue of View­point

  42. Ibid., 33. 

  43. Wolf­gang Müller and Chris­tel Neü­suss, “The Wel­fare State Illu­sion” in Hol­loway and Pic­ciot­to, State and Cap­i­tal, 33. 

  44. Ibid., 33. 

  45. Ibid., 38. For a more exten­sive dis­cus­sion of these con­tri­bu­tions see Simon Clarke, “Intro­duc­tion” in The State Debate (Lon­don: Pal­grave Macmil­lan, 1991). 

  46. Joachim Hirsch, “The State Appa­ra­tus and Social Repro­duc­tion: Ele­ments of a The­o­ry of the Bour­geois State” in Hol­loway and Pic­ciot­to, State and Cap­i­tal, 63. 

  47. Hol­loway and Pic­ciot­to, “intro­duc­tion,” 24-26. 

  48. Hirsch also points to the lim­its of a pure­ly log­i­cal approach to the deriva­tion of the state, point­ing to the impor­tance that his­tor­i­cal accounts of par­tic­u­lar states, some­thing which pre­vi­ous con­tri­bu­tions had also inad­e­quate­ly addressed. On this point, see Hei­de Ger­sten­berg­er, “Class Con­flict, Com­pe­ti­tion and State Func­tions” in Hol­loway and Pic­ciot­to, State and Cap­i­tal

  49. Oliv­er Nachtwey and Tobias ten Brink, “Lost in Tran­si­tion: the Ger­man World-Mar­ket Debate in the 1970s,” His­tor­i­cal Mate­ri­al­ism 16, 2008, 45. 

  50. Ibid., 45. 

  51. Clau­dia von Braunmühl, “The Bour­geois Nation State with­in the World Mar­ket” in Hol­loway and Pic­ciot­to, State and Cap­i­tal, 175. 

  52. Ibid., 54. 

  53. Ibid., 56. 

  54. Ibid., 58. 

  55. [1] Wern­er Bone­feld, “Social Con­sti­tu­tion and the Form of the Cap­i­tal­ist State” in Open Marx­ism Vol­ume 1, eds. Wern­er Bone­feld et al. (Lon­don: Plu­to, 1992). Bone­feld devel­ops and extends these themes in a num­ber of essays. I focus on the for­mer for the sake of cogency. Agnoli’s influ­ence on Bone­feld is also reflect­ed, among oth­er places, in “The Cap­i­tal­ist State: Illu­sion and Cri­tique.” For a dis­cus­sion of how Bon­feld con­strues Agnoli’s impor­tance see “On Fas­cism: A Note on Johannes Agnoli’s Con­tri­bu­tion.” 

  56. Wern­er Bone­feld, Crit­i­cal The­o­ry and the Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my (Lon­don: Blooms­bury, 2014), 182. 

  57. Ibid., 168. 

  58. Wern­er Bone­feld, “Free Econ­o­my and the Strong State: Some Notes on the State,” Cap­i­tal and Class, Feb­ru­ary 2010, 16. 

  59. Bone­feld, Crit­i­cal The­o­ry and the Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my, 174-5. 

  60. Bone­feld, “Free Econ­o­my and the Strong State,” 16, 15; Bone­feld, Crit­i­cal The­o­ry and the Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my, 180. 

  61. Ibid., 15. 

  62. While Milios’s major works are co-authored with a num­ber of dif­fer­ent thinkers, in what fol­lows, since I focus on bring­ing togeth­er these works with those that he authored him­self, I use Mil­ios as a short­hand to refer to all of these works in the main text. 

  63. John Mil­ios, “Cap­i­tal after Louis Althuss­er. Focus­ing on Val­ue-Form Analy­sis,” paper pre­sent­ed at the Con­fer­ence “Rileg­gere Il Cap­i­tale: La lezione di Louis Althuss­er,” orga­nized by the Depart­ment of His­tor­i­cal Stud­ies of the Uni­ver­si­ty Ca’ Fos­cari, Novem­ber 9-11, 2006, Venice, Italy, 4. A revised ver­sion of this paper was pub­lished as “Rethink­ing Val­ue-Form Analy­sis from an Althusserian Perspec­tive” in Rethink­ing Marx­ism; how­ev­er, despite its rel­e­vance for under­stand­ing how Mil­ios brings Althuss­er and Marx togeth­er, the pas­sage was excised. 

  64. John Mil­ios, Dim­itris Dimoulis and George Econo­makis, Karl Marx and the Clas­sics (Lon­don: Ash­gate, 2002), 93. 

  65. John Mil­ios and Dim­itris Sotiropolous, Rethink­ing Impe­ri­al­ism: a Study of Cap­i­tal­ist Rule (Lon­don: Pal­grave Macmil­lian, 2009), 131. 

  66. Ibid. 132. 

  67. Ibid., 132. 

  68. Ibid., 132. 

  69. Ibid., 105. 

  70. Ibid., 106. 

  71. John Mil­ios, “Impe­ri­al­ism or (and) Cap­i­tal­ist Expan­sion­ism: Some Thoughts on Cap­i­tal­ist Pow­er, the Nation-State and the Left,” 12. 

  72. Mil­ios et al. Rethink­ing Impe­ri­al­ism, 106. 

  73. Mil­ios,” Impe­ri­al­ism or (and) Cap­i­tal­ist Expan­sion­ism,” 13. 

  74. As he states “unlike in the instru­men­tal­ist con­cep­tion, class con­tra­dic­tions are not tak­en as some­thing exter­nal to the state,” while “unlike in the con­cep­tion of the state-as-a-sub­ject, the con­tra­dic­tions with­in the state cease to be exter­nal to the class strug­gle.” Mil­ios, Rethink­ing Impe­ri­al­ism, 134. 

  75. Ibid., 193. 

  76. Dim­itris P. Sotiropou­los, John Mil­ios, and Spy­ros Lap­at­sio­ras, A Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my of Con­tem­po­rary Cap­i­tal­ism and its Cri­sis: Demys­ti­fy­ing Finance (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2013), 154. 

  77. Ibid., 170. 

  78. Mil­ios, Rethink­ing Impe­ri­al­ism, 170-72. 

  79. Sotiropou­los, Mil­ios, and Lap­at­sio­ras, Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my of Con­tem­po­rary Cap­i­tal­ism, 3. 

  80. Sotiropou­los, Mil­ios, and Lap­at­sio­ras, Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my of Con­tem­po­rary Cap­i­tal­ism, 203. 

  81. Ordolib­er­al­ism was devel­oped by a num­ber of Ger­man thinkser such as Wal­ter Euck­en, Franz Böhm, Alexan­der Rüstow, Wil­helm Röpke and Alfred Müller-Armack in the late 1920s and ear­ly 1930s. Often referred to as the “Freiburg School,” it sought to pro­vide “a (neo-)liberal alter­na­tive to lais­sez faire lib­er­al­ism and col­lec­tive forms of polit­i­cal econ­o­my” and pro­vid­ed “the the­o­ret­i­cal foun­da­tion of the Ger­man social mar­ket econ­o­my.” Wern­er Bone­feld, “Free­dom and the Strong State: On Ordolib­er­al­ism,” New Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my, 17, 33. As I show below, Bone­feld also argues it is indica­tive of cap­i­tal­ist ratio­nal­i­ty and the strong cap­i­tal­ist state. 

  82. Ibid. 16. 

  83. Wern­er Bone­feld, “Free­dom and the Strong State: On Ger­man Ordolib­er­al­ism,” New Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my, 17, no. 5 (2012): 633 

  84. Ibid., 633-4. 

  85. Bone­feld thus holds that Foucault’s inter­pre­ta­tion is erro­neous because it “argues on the basis of two dis­tinct, though inter­de­pen­dent, log­ics, the log­ic of the mar­ket and the log­ic against the mar­ket. It is because of this dual­i­ty that Foucault’s account of ordo-lib­er­al­ism does not draw it out ful­ly. Fou­cault iden­ti­fies the log­ic for the mar­ket as a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket econ­o­my that is ruled by the laws of per­fect lib­er­ty – free com­pe­ti­tion, pur­suit of eco­nom­ic val­ue, and reg­u­la­tion of entre­pre­neur­ial pref­er­ences and inno­va­tion by the free price mech­a­nism. He con­ceives of the log­ic against the mar­ket as com­pris­ing the prin­ci­ple of ordo-lib­er­al social pol­i­cy, that is, Vitalpoli­tik, which for Fou­cault some­what com­pen­sates for the heart­less log­ic of eco­nom­ic val­ue… How­ev­er, for the ordo-lib­er­als, Vitalpoli­tik is not a pol­i­tics against the mar­ket. It is a mar­ket-facil­i­tat­ing and -embed­ding pol­i­cy, which has to be pur­sued relent­less­ly to sus­tain and main­tain the moral sen­ti­ments of eco­nom­ic lib­er­ty in the face of the destruc­tive soci­o­log­i­cal and moral effects of free econ­o­my.” Wern­er Bone­feld “Human Econ­o­my and Social Pol­i­cy: On Ordolib­er­al­ism and Polit­i­cal Author­i­ty,” His­to­ry of the Human Sci­ences, 26, no. 2 (2013): 119. 

  86. Bone­feld, “Free­dom and the Strong State,” 635. 

  87. Ibid., 647. 

  88. Sotiropou­los, Mil­ios, and Lap­at­sio­ras, Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my of Con­tem­po­rary Cap­i­tal­ism, 2. 

  89. Ibid., 57. 

  90. In this essay I am con­cerned with how Mil­ios et al. con­ceive of finan­cial­iza­tion in rela­tion to the state. The ques­tion of whether finance can be pro­duc­tive of sur­plus val­ue, as they argue, is thus out­side its purview. 

  91. Ibid., 2. 

  92. Ibid., 2. 

  93. As the authors note “What is strik­ing­ly miss­ing from Foucault’s analy­sis [of gov­ern­men­tal­i­ty] is a prop­er mate­ri­al­ist the­o­ry of… the cap­i­tal­ist state… That’s why Foucault’s analy­sis of reg­u­la­to­ry nor­mal­iza­tion is illu­mi­nat­ing but it can­not eas­i­ly be extend­ed to cap­ture exact­ly what is actu­al­ly going on in the orga­ni­za­tion and repro­duc­tion of pow­er rela­tions on a col­lec­tive basis.” Ibid., 166-7. 

  94. Ibid., 169. 

  95. Ibid., 57. 

  96. The fact that none of the con­tri­bu­tions to the World-Mar­ket Debate have been trans­lat­ed in addi­tion to the major works of Agno­li, Hirsch or the recent work of Ingo Stut­zle also shows the vital role trans­la­tion would play in devel­op­ing these impor­tant the­o­ret­i­cal prospects. 

  97. The empir­i­cal work by Simon Clarke, Bone­feld and oth­er mem­bers of the CSE could pro­vide a valu­able resource. 

Author of the article

currently teaches at Humboldt State University. He is a corresponding editor of Historical Materialism.