Bernstein in Seattle: Representative Democracy and the Revolutionary Subject (Part 1)

This is part one of a two-part series. Part two is avail­able here.


Par­lia­men­tary social­ism is back, with a vengeance. No oth­er phe­nom­e­non, it seems, is capa­ble of pro­vok­ing such polit­i­cal dis­ar­ray and the­o­ret­i­cal con­fu­sion among des­per­ate and dis­en­chant­ed left­ists of every stripe. Dis­ar­ray and con­fu­sion are part of the pat­ri­mo­ny of the Left – and if we remain unpre­pared to bury the dead, we have at least the respon­si­bil­i­ty to sub­ject them to a symp­to­matic read­ing.

Alex­is Tsipras and Jere­my Cor­byn, two names that have pro­voked the most pro­found oscil­la­tions between hope and despair, have eas­i­ly and ele­gant­ly res­ur­rect­ed the ghosts of Nicos Poulantzas and Ralph Miliband.1 Poulantzas’s polit­i­cal heirs in Syriza pre­sent­ed the world with an appar­ent­ly new kind of social democ­ra­cy, one that was tied to move­ments from below – but their capit­u­la­tion to the Euro­zone recalled the old­est kind of dis­ap­point­ment. Miliband’s bio­log­i­cal heirs in the Labour Par­ty have been the tar­get of Corbyn’s attempt­ed left reori­en­ta­tion, and in an extra­or­di­nary his­tor­i­cal irony he is haunt­ed by the defeat of Tony Benn’s ear­li­er effort, which put into prac­tice the the­o­ry that the elder Miliband had espoused.

The debates of the Euro­pean Left at the twi­light of the clas­si­cal work­ers’ move­ment still divide our con­tem­po­raries along rigid sec­tar­i­an lines, result­ing in spec­tac­u­lar erup­tions of uncom­pre­hend­ing crosstalk. The Unit­ed States has its own Marx­ist tra­di­tion, of course, with a wide and var­ied his­to­ry – a com­plex web of splits and alliances, the num­ber of orga­ni­za­tions ris­ing in inverse pro­por­tion to their influ­ence before drop­ping off almost com­plete­ly. The con­tem­po­rary renais­sance of Amer­i­can Marx­ism, how­ev­er, refers spar­ing­ly to this tra­di­tion, and even in the mod­er­ate world of elec­toral social democ­ra­cy, Bernie Sanders him­self sees lit­tle need to invoke Amer­i­can social­ism.2

In fact, on today’s Amer­i­can Left, it is almost as though one’s Marx­ist cre­den­tials must be secured by select­ing from a menu of Euro­pean tra­di­tions: Ital­ian “autonomism,” of course, or for those with old­er hearts, a pur­port­ed­ly direct rev­o­lu­tion­ary lin­eage descend­ing from Anto­nio Gram­sci to the post­war PCI; a hodge-podge of het­ero­ge­neous French ten­den­cies, the Sit­u­a­tion­ist Inter­na­tion­al com­ple­ment­ed by Bor­digist eccentrics; an equal­ly dis­cor­dant Rus­so-Ger­man truce between Leon Trot­sky and Karl Kaut­sky; or, for those who like their val­ue-form served neat, some strain of Ger­man Marx philol­o­gy that will bestow any con­tin­gent polit­i­cal posi­tion with the ulti­mate virtue and puri­ty.

Tucked away in a cor­ner of this the­o­ret­i­cal food court is the most sig­nif­i­cant source of our con­cep­tu­al vocab­u­lary: the British Left of the 1960s into the 1980s, rep­re­sent­ed above all by the two piv­otal jour­nals New Left Review and Social­ist Reg­is­ter. Across the spec­trum, from those who advo­cate com­mu­niza­tion to adher­ents of elec­toral social­ism, this tra­di­tion is a cen­tral point of ref­er­ence, even where affil­i­a­tion is not explic­it­ly not­ed.

The influ­ence of British Marx­ism is so pro­found not only because of lan­guage, but also because Eng­land pro­vides a mod­el of a per­sis­tent orga­ni­za­tion­al void, which seems today to serve as the inescapable obsta­cle to the achieve­ment of work­ing-class polit­i­cal pow­er. There was a sig­nif­i­cant trade union move­ment in Eng­land through­out the 20th cen­tu­ry, and a social­ist polit­i­cal par­ty which often enjoyed par­lia­men­tary suc­cess; yet the Labour Par­ty was nev­er will­ing to con­front the cap­i­tal­ist rela­tions of pro­duc­tion, much less abol­ish them, and the mass orga­ni­za­tion­al form of the union would find itself dec­i­mat­ed by the twin forces of eco­nom­ic restruc­tur­ing and the new polit­i­cal strat­e­gy of the rul­ing class.

Despite the impor­tance of this his­to­ry, there has been lit­tle effort to sub­ject it to the­o­ret­i­cal analy­sis. A recent cri­tique of the pop­u­lar social­ist jour­nal Jacobin by Jason Smith, from a van­tage point sym­pa­thet­ic to the left-com­mu­nist End­notes, traces the former’s approach to the demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ism of Michael Har­ring­ton.3 Yet both Jacobin and End­notes, despite their seem­ing oppo­si­tion, fol­low in the foot­steps of New Left Review, which unlike the entire­ly athe­o­ret­i­cal Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca is capa­ble of serv­ing as the source of an over­ar­ch­ing Weltan­schau­ung for both con­tem­po­rary jour­nals.

We are not accus­tomed to cit­ing Poulantzas and Miliband. Far more famil­iar to read­ers of View­point is a fig­ure like Anton Pan­nekoek, who force­ful­ly argued:  “Par­lia­men­tar­i­an­ism inevitably tends to inhib­it the autonomous activ­i­ty by the mass­es that is nec­es­sary for rev­o­lu­tion.” It is impor­tant to be pre­cise: the objec­tion of a coun­cil com­mu­nist like Pan­nekoek to par­lia­men­tary tac­tics can­not be reduced to an intran­si­gent reac­tion to the betray­als of social democ­ra­cy in gov­ern­ment. It was rather an analy­sis of the his­tor­i­cal effi­ca­cy of par­lia­men­tary con­tes­ta­tion as a tac­tic – a tac­tic which, Pan­nekoek affirmed, was once “nec­es­sary and pro­duc­tive.” When social democ­ra­cy entered par­lia­ment at the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry, it used this posi­tion not to gov­ern, but to gain a mass audi­ence for social­ist agi­ta­tion. But as pro­le­tar­i­an strug­gle advanced and entered a rev­o­lu­tion­ary phase, par­lia­men­tary activ­i­ty ceased to be a use­ful tool. As Pan­nekoek point­ed out, there could be no such thing as social­ism with­out the mass­es cre­at­ing “organs of self-action”; and if the goal of par­lia­men­tarism was to leg­is­late social­ism into exis­tence, it could only rein­force the “tra­di­tion­al bour­geois men­tal­i­ty” which encour­aged depen­dence on lead­ers instead of self-orga­ni­za­tion, and thus could be noth­ing but an obsta­cle to the real­iza­tion of social­ism.4

A cri­tique like Pannekoek’s nev­er seems to lose its rel­e­vance; this is its strength and its weak­ness. It is a pow­er­ful warn­ing to those who, swept up with enthu­si­asm in the elec­toral are­na, have for­got­ten basic social­ist prin­ci­ples. Yet to for­mu­late an effec­tive analy­sis, not to men­tion an effec­tive rev­o­lu­tion­ary strat­e­gy, some­thing more than prin­ci­ple is need­ed. Lenin’s famous rejoin­der to this ten­den­cy empha­sized the cru­cial dis­tinc­tion between prin­ci­ples and strat­e­gy, the lat­ter always requir­ing a con­crete analy­sis of the con­crete sit­u­a­tion. But even after mak­ing this dis­tinc­tion, which implies that all orga­ni­za­tions must respond to the par­tic­u­lar­i­ties of their his­tor­i­cal con­junc­ture, Lenin went on to impose a sin­gle mod­el, derived from the Russ­ian case, on every oth­er move­ment, there­by lead­ing to very much the same prob­lem as Pan­nekoek.

It is easy to describe, in hind­sight, the fail­ures of polit­i­cal move­ments, and to trace these fail­ures to the­o­ret­i­cal errors. We are gen­er­al­ly aid­ed in this task by each tendency’s his­tor­i­cal oppo­nents, who care­ful­ly and vig­or­ous­ly doc­u­ment­ed every mis­step, and traced it to their adversary’s rot­ten core.

But we have lit­tle inter­est in uphold­ing the left­ist tra­di­tion of retroac­tive denun­ci­a­tion; more urgent is the task of rec­og­niz­ing how all of these ten­den­cies, in their own ways, iden­ti­fied the his­tor­i­cal trans­for­ma­tions to which they bore wit­ness, and shed light on the fun­da­men­tal strate­gic-orga­ni­za­tion­al lim­its which we still con­front – even if, in some cas­es, this illu­mi­na­tion took the form of insis­tent denial.

This is what dri­ves our recon­sid­er­a­tion of the debate between Miliband and Poulantzas, which has been unpro­duc­tive­ly direct­ed, in the whole his­to­ry of its inter­pre­ta­tion, towards a fruit­less and mis­con­ceived “method­olog­i­cal” dis­pute revolv­ing around some­thing called “struc­tural­ism,” occa­sion­al­ly but­tressed with anti­quar­i­an bick­er­ing around the episode of “Euro­com­mu­nism.”5 For us this debate mat­ters because it pro­vides an outsider’s view of the devel­op­ment of British Marx­ism, a win­dow into the crit­i­cal dia­logue Poulantzas con­duct­ed with it through­out his career – and it there­fore allows us to learn the hid­den his­to­ry of our own pol­i­tics.

Sur­pass­ing the lim­its of our sed­i­ment­ed ter­mi­nol­o­gy can ulti­mate­ly only be achieved in new forms of polit­i­cal prac­tice. But locked as we are in the per­pet­u­al cycle of jour­nals, we can start by reopen­ing the archives – not to restage old and tire­some dis­putes, but to arrive at a new under­stand­ing of the tra­jec­to­ry of social­ist strat­e­gy.


Ralph Miliband’s 1961 book Par­lia­men­tary Social­ism set out the con­tours of a long­stand­ing dilem­ma inher­it­ed by the British New Left: with­out a mass rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion, the ener­gies of the labor move­ment had his­tor­i­cal­ly been chan­neled into the par­lia­men­tary ves­sel of the Labour Par­ty. Writ­ten just after its author deter­mined that try­ing to work with the party’s left wing was “no longer worth doing,” Miliband’s his­tor­i­cal review was fun­da­men­tal­ly direct­ed towards under­stand­ing his own polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, and his frus­tra­tions with the Labour Left he had par­tic­i­pat­ed in dur­ing the 1950s.6 It was at this moment that Labour defin­i­tive­ly con­front­ed the ques­tion of the con­tent of its pro­gram: whether it would be “con­cerned with attempts at a more effi­cient and more humane admin­is­tra­tion of a cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety; or whether it is to adapt itself to the task of cre­at­ing a social­ist one.”7 Until the 1950s this ques­tion was con­stant­ly deferred, since the min­i­mal pro­gram of “social reform and pub­lic own­er­ship of basic util­i­ties and ser­vices” was yet to be real­ized. But when these goals were achieved in the post­war peri­od, it was no longer pos­si­ble to evade the ques­tion.

For the Labour lead­er­ship, the post­war expan­sion of the wel­fare state had been the max­i­mum pro­gram, while Miliband and the rest of the Left hoped it would form a first step towards an even more expan­sive social­ist trans­for­ma­tion. There was a kind of log­ic, then, to Labour’s ensu­ing drift to the right, when Hugh Gaitskell indi­cat­ed that the Party’s answer to its burn­ing ques­tion was indeed a more effi­cient and more humane admin­is­tra­tion of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, in a “mixed econ­o­my.”

Miliband reviewed the dynam­ics of inter­war British work­ing class rad­i­cal­ism, most clear­ly man­i­fest­ed in the 1926 gen­er­al strike, and the machi­na­tions of the Labour bureau­cra­cy, equal­ly clear­ly on dis­play in the total con­ces­sion by the trade union lead­er­ship that end­ed the gen­er­al strike. This “betray­al,” Miliband sought to estab­lish, was not the result of the indi­vid­ual oppor­tunism of par­tic­u­lar Labour lead­ers, but the struc­tur­al form of the Labour Par­ty itself – the “bureau­crat­ic recoil” of indus­tri­al lead­er­ship from “work­ing class ini­tia­tive out­side the estab­lished forms of trade union orga­ni­za­tion,” dri­ven by the leadership’s deeply held belief that “a chal­lenge to the Gov­ern­ment through the asser­tion of work­ing class strength out­side Par­lia­ment was wrong.8

The par­ty leadership’s con­duct was guid­ed above all by their belief that “in Par­lia­ment and Par­lia­ment alone lay the work­ers’ sal­va­tion.”9 While Labour lead­ers had ear­li­er been will­ing to threat­en a gen­er­al strike in 1920 to pre­vent a war against the Sovi­et Union, this was because such an action would not have gone beyond a defense of “nation­al inter­ests” – it did not “bring into ques­tion the rela­tion of labour to prop­er­ty, and to the State as defend­er of prop­er­ty.” How­ev­er, the 1926 gen­er­al strike had “an unmis­tak­able social con­tent”: “the asser­tion of spe­cif­ic work­ing class claims against prop­er­ty. And it was the prospect of lead­ing such a move­ment from which the Labour lead­ers nat­u­ral­ly and inevitably flinched.”10

Miliband also pro­vid­ed a bal­ance sheet of Labour’s record in gov­ern­ment, when the stat­ed goal of social­ism came up against the imper­a­tives to remain respectable and to mod­er­ate the threats to the social order posed by pop­u­lar rad­i­cal­ism – impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tions for a lead­er­ship eager to dis­prove Churchill’s asser­tion that the Par­ty was “not fit to gov­ern.”11 The polit­i­cal strate­gists of the Labour Par­ty, Miliband remarked, could not be con­sid­ered revi­sion­ists “since they had nev­er, so to speak, been vision­ists.” Lack­ing a “coher­ent and offi­cial body of doc­trine,” Eng­lish reformism was free to sim­ply jump into the “busi­ness of pol­i­tics.”

Marx­ism had always been a neg­li­gi­ble influ­ence, at the mar­gins of the par­ty.12 Labour reformists did not require the sweep­ing eth­i­cal refor­mu­la­tion of Marx­ism that Eduard Bern­stein had advanced in late 19th-cen­tu­ry Ger­many, and nei­ther did they attempt to present a new the­o­ry of cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment beyond cri­sis and con­tra­dic­tion. They adopt­ed the com­mon-sense view that the objec­tion­able aspects of cap­i­tal­ism “could be grad­u­al­ly cured by reme­di­al action main­ly con­ceived in terms of grow­ing State inter­ven­tion.” This meant a strong invest­ment in state action: “giv­en suf­fi­cient pres­sure in Par­lia­ment, the State would not only fur­ther the process of redress­ing the eco­nom­ic and social bal­ance in favour of Labour,” but also, in the­o­ry, even­tu­al­ly pro­ceed to “a mea­sure of col­lec­tivism so wide that it would mean the super­s­es­sion of cap­i­tal­ism, with­out strife and upheaval.”13

How­ev­er, more rad­i­cal ideas did leave a “residue.” Mar­gin­al ten­den­cies retained the con­vic­tion that “ the wage earn­ers would achieve nei­ther imme­di­ate reforms, nor the eman­ci­pa­tion of their class, with­out a mil­i­tant asser­tion of their strength out­side Par­lia­ment.”14 Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, such ideas con­verged with those found with­in rev­o­lu­tion­ary syn­di­cal­ism, with its empha­sis on “direct action,” which pro­voked fear and con­tempt among the Labour Par­ty lead­er­ship.

Miliband took some dis­tance from these rad­i­cal fringes – indeed, his analy­sis was part­ly direct­ed against the premise that build­ing up the Com­mu­nist Par­ty would have been a viable alter­na­tive. Accord­ing to Miliband, the par­tic­i­pants in direct action were not nec­es­sar­i­ly them­selves rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies – they gen­er­al­ly under­stood direct action as “a means of pres­sure, for spe­cif­ic and lim­it­ed pur­pos­es, incom­pa­ra­bly more effec­tive than par­lia­men­tary action.”15 Miliband was more inter­est­ed in find­ing effec­tive tools for the real­iza­tion of an effec­tive Labour pro­gram – the syn­di­cal­ist “rejec­tion of par­lia­men­tary action was almost as dog­mat­ic as the Labour lead­ers’ insis­tence upon its virtues.”16 Direct action, then, had to be under­stood as a means to an end. The trade union lead­er­ship should have rec­og­nized that it “held a for­mi­da­ble instru­ment” in its hands, in the form of active and orga­nized work­ing-class mil­i­tan­cy.17 Instead, it did what it could to deflect and neu­tral­ize pres­sure from the rank and file.

For Miliband, this was the coun­ter­in­tu­itive expla­na­tion for the elec­toral decline Labour had begun to expe­ri­ence. He dis­missed the preva­lent expla­na­tion that the the grow­ing afflu­ence of British soci­ety had led to the emer­gence of “float­ing vot­ers” who could not be relied upon to vote accord­ing to their class posi­tion.18 On the con­trary, it was the fail­ure of Labour to form a pro­duc­tive rela­tion­ship with pop­u­lar rad­i­cal­ism and put for­ward an expan­sive social­ist pro­gram that had led to the Party’s irrel­e­vance.

Now that the struc­tur­al inad­e­qua­cies of par­lia­men­tary social­ism had been exposed, the rad­i­cal­ism of a new gen­er­a­tion agi­tat­ing for nuclear dis­ar­ma­ment pre­sent­ed the pos­si­bil­i­ty of “tran­scend­ing the ortho­dox­ies of Labourism.”19 By this time the jour­nal Miliband had par­tic­i­pat­ed in with Edward Thomp­son and John Sav­ille, The New Rea­son­er, had merged with Uni­ver­si­ties and Left Review, which includ­ed such fig­ures as Stu­art Hall, Raphael Samuel, and Charles Tay­lor, and the tran­scen­dence of the ortho­doxy in the emer­gent polit­i­cal per­spec­tives of the 1960s would take shape here.20


Miliband was uneasy about the join­ing of the dis­parate polit­i­cal expe­ri­ences and per­spec­tives implied by the merg­er between jour­nals, but it nev­er­the­less yield­ed New Left Review, which led its first years under Hall’s direc­tion. When the ten­sions between the “old New Left” and the younger par­tic­i­pants reached a peak, and Per­ry Ander­son took over as edi­tor of NLR, Miliband and Sav­ille would form anoth­er jour­nal, the Social­ist Reg­is­ter.

How­ev­er, Miliband did not share Thompson’s sus­pi­cion towards the younger writ­ers who now took NLR in a dif­fer­ent direc­tion. While this direc­tion involved a sharp cri­tique of the first gen­er­a­tion of the New Left, Thomp­son includ­ed, it also con­tin­ued the inves­ti­ga­tion of the themes Miliband had addressed, ask­ing the same fun­da­men­tal ques­tions: why had no rev­o­lu­tion­ary tra­di­tion devel­oped in Great Britain, why did Marx­ism con­tin­ue to be so mar­gin­al, and how could the ide­ol­o­gy of Labourism be explained? The major dif­fer­ence, how­ev­er, was that the new answers, which came in a range of arti­cles in NLR over the course of 1964, assumed a much broad­er his­tor­i­cal reg­is­ter, with the Con­ti­nen­tal tinge of Anto­nio Gram­sci. This influ­ence came into play through the efforts of Tom Nairn, who had stud­ied at the Scuo­la Nor­male in Pisa and con­tributed an arti­cle called “La Neme­si Borgh­ese” to a PCI jour­nal. Ander­son, at that time pri­mar­i­ly influ­enced by Georg Lukács and Jean-Paul Sartre, had dis­played his own inter­est in the PCI, intro­duc­ing a tran­script of its dis­cus­sion of the 22nd Par­ty Con­gress of the CPSU and lat­er recall­ing that it pro­vid­ed a “cod­ed con­trast” with Labourism.21

Ander­son and Nairn tried to pro­vide a his­tor­i­cal expla­na­tion, sit­u­at­ed in the long after­math of an abortive bour­geois rev­o­lu­tion, of the absence of a vig­or­ous Marx­ist tra­di­tion in Eng­land. Nairn opened his “The British Polit­i­cal Elite” by fram­ing their inves­ti­ga­tion with­in one of the basic prob­lems of Marx­ist polit­i­cal the­o­ry: “Class-divid­ed soci­eties have almost always been gov­erned polit­i­cal­ly by a small minor­i­ty. In gen­er­al, this cho­sen few is a small group even in rela­tion to the ‘rul­ing class’ itself.”22

This uncer­tain rela­tion­ship between the rul­ing class and the minor­i­ty which gov­erns, the authors argued, took an excep­tion­al form in Eng­land. Anderson’s “Ori­gins of the Present Cri­sis” set out the sweep of the argu­ment, point­ing to the pre­ma­ture arrival of the Eng­lish bour­geois rev­o­lu­tion, and the ensu­ing inabil­i­ty of the bour­geoisie to over­come the per­sis­tent hege­mo­ny of the aris­toc­ra­cy – an excep­tion to what was here pre­sent­ed as the typ­i­cal case of the French Rev­o­lu­tion. The trans­for­ma­tions in the eco­nom­ic base – Eng­land was the first nation to devel­op cap­i­tal­ism, the first to go through an Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion, and the first to form a pro­le­tari­at – had not led to an equiv­a­lent trans­for­ma­tion of the super­struc­tures. The bour­geoisie could not suc­cess­ful­ly over­come the aristocracy’s val­ues and lega­cies; it nev­er advanced its own cohe­sive world­view, and by the Vic­to­ri­an era had fused with the aris­toc­ra­cy in a dom­i­nant bloc. In the place of Enlight­en­ment rea­son, the Eng­lish bour­geoisie was caught up in “tra­di­tion­al­ism and empiri­cism,” which could not serve the role of total­iz­ing phi­los­o­phy to which Marx­ism might effec­tive­ly respond.

With­out an ambi­tious his­tor­i­cal adver­sary, the Eng­lish pro­le­tari­at lacked a basis for artic­u­lat­ing its own pro­gram:

It is a gen­er­al his­tor­i­cal rule that a ris­ing social class acquires a sig­nif­i­cant part of the ide­o­log­i­cal equip­ment from the armoury of the rul­ing class itself. Thus the uni­ver­sal axioms of the French rev­o­lu­tion were turned by the work­ing-class in France against the bour­geoisie which first pro­claimed them; they found­ed a rev­o­lu­tion­ary ide­ol­o­gy direct­ed against the ini­tia­tors of the rev­o­lu­tion. In Eng­land, a supine bour­geoisie pro­duced a sub­or­di­nate pro­le­tari­at. It hand­ed on no impulse of lib­er­a­tion, no rev­o­lu­tion­ary val­ues, no uni­ver­sal lan­guage.23

Fur­ther­more, the work­ing class’s ener­gies had been exhaust­ed, in its long and ear­ly his­to­ry of strug­gle, before a social­ist ide­ol­o­gy could be intro­duced from with­out. The Eng­lish pro­le­tari­at was stuck in a “cor­po­rate” class con­scious­ness, lack­ing a hege­mon­ic ide­ol­o­gy. While a hege­mon­ic class sought to “trans­form soci­ety in its own image, invent­ing afresh its eco­nom­ic sys­tem, its polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions, its cul­tur­al val­ues,” a cor­po­rate class would only “defend and improve its own posi­tion with­in a social order accept­ed as giv­en.”24

All this had dra­mat­ic impli­ca­tions for the polit­i­cal prob­lems Miliband had raised, which were more explic­it­ly laid out by Nairn in a review of Thompson’s Mak­ing of the Eng­lish Work­ing Class, and a two-part dis­sec­tion of the anato­my of the Labour Par­ty. Nairn empha­sized, from a dif­fer­ent angle, the points already argued by Ander­son: “To become a new hege­mon­ic force, capa­ble of dom­i­nat­ing soci­ety in its turn, the Eng­lish work­ing class absolute­ly required a con­scious­ness con­tain­ing the ele­ments ignored by, or excised from, the con­scious­ness of the Eng­lish bour­geoisie.”25 But Marx­ism, “at once the nat­ur­al doc­trine of the work­ing class, and the sum­ming-up of the Enlight­en­ment and all the high­est stages of bour­geois thought into a new syn­the­sis” ran up against the “web of false rela­tions and ideas” that char­ac­ter­ized work­ing-class con­scious­ness.26 The Eng­lish work­ing class had to over­come “its alien­ation from bour­geois rea­son,” but this “prodi­gious cul­tur­al task” could not be under­tak­en by the work­ing class alone, and “in Vic­to­ri­an Eng­land there was no rad­i­cal, dis­af­fect­ed intel­li­gentsia to under­take it.”27

The Labour Par­ty had noth­ing like a the­o­ry to dri­ve its activ­i­ties; just as the Eng­lish bour­geoisie had accept­ed, for a phi­los­o­phy, the “frag­ment­ed, incom­plete” tran­scrip­tion of its expe­ri­ence, so was the Labour Par­ty giv­en to frag­ment­ed, incom­plete pol­i­tics – empiri­cism yield­ed Fabi­an­ism.28 From the per­spec­tive of this frag­men­tary con­scious­ness, “social­ism had to be con­struct­ed piece by piece, in dis­crete instal­ments, over a long peri­od of time,” with­out a total­iz­ing project of trans­for­ma­tion. The log­i­cal con­se­quence of this evo­lu­tion­ism was par­lia­men­tarism.29

While cit­ing Miliband in his study, Nairn advanced a dif­fer­ent expla­na­tion for Labour’s “betray­als.” They were not only the result of the ide­ol­o­gy of Labourism; they were caused by the inher­ent defec­tive­ness of the Eng­lish work­ing class itself, its fail­ure to over­come its economism and cor­po­ratism.30 What had seemed to be a “titan­ic social force” turned out to be, after the 1840s, “an appar­ent­ly docile class.” With­out a com­pre­hen­sive and over­ar­ch­ing social­ist cul­ture, trade-union strug­gles would only try for a “square deal.” Embrac­ing “one species of mod­er­ate reformism after anoth­er,” the Eng­lish work­ing class “remained wed­ded to the nar­row­est and greyest of bour­geois ide­olo­gies in its prin­ci­pal move­ments.”31 The ten­den­cy of the Left to denounce the lead­ers of the par­ty had “served only to con­ceal the under­ly­ing con­di­tions of betray­al, the cir­cum­stances in the par­ty, the move­ment, the class itself which have gen­er­at­ed cor­rupt and half-heart­ed lead­er­ship.”32 For all the grim­ness of this diag­no­sis, the pre­scrip­tion was at least quite clear: “The Eng­lish work­ing class, immu­nized against the­o­ry like no oth­er class, by its entire his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence, need­ed the­o­ry like no oth­er. It still does.”33

Notwith­stand­ing their indict­ment of the steril­i­ty of the Eng­lish polit­i­cal tra­di­tion, both authors struck a tone of cau­tious opti­mism about the com­ing Labour gov­ern­ment. Nairn not­ed that the right wing of the Labour Par­ty, rep­re­sent­ed by Gaitskell, had been able to turn the Party’s elec­toral dif­fi­cul­ties in its favor over the course of the 1950s, rep­re­sent­ing social­ist mea­sures such as nation­al­iza­tion as “out­mod­ed” and “irrel­e­vant.” Mod­ern­iz­ing the Labour Par­ty would mean shift­ing towards the “mixed econ­o­my,” rec­og­niz­ing that the party’s ideals had to adapt to the “bet­ter con­duct of the cap­i­tal­ists.”34 While Harold Wil­son, just elect­ed at the end of 1964, by no means over­came Labourism’s con­tra­dic­tions, he seemed to be shak­ing off this con­ser­vatism, and thus offered an open­ing for social­ists. “Under his lead­er­ship,” Ander­son wrote, “the whole Labour pro­gramme has become open-end­ed. It is not at any point social­ist; but nor is it, unlike its pre­de­ces­sor, inher­ent­ly inca­pable of debouch­ing onto social­ism. It is thus nei­ther a bar­ri­er nor a tram­plin for the Left: it is sim­ply a polit­i­cal space in which it can work.” With­in this space, Ander­son advanced a pro­gram which revolved around “pub­lic own­er­ship, social pri­or­i­ties, civic democ­ra­cy, work­ers’ con­trol, and a lib­er­at­ed cul­ture.”35 Urg­ing cau­tion on the ques­tion of whether to work “inside or out­side” of the Par­ty, Nairn wrote that since “the new Labour Gov­ern­ment will for some time play a pos­i­tive part” in the process of devel­op­ment of the British work­ing class, “its advent means hope, not mere­ly the rep­e­ti­tion of an old illu­sion.”36


The his­to­ri­o­graph­i­cal debate which Nairn and Anderson’s arti­cles pro­voked, includ­ing the sear­ing attack by Thomp­son in the Social­ist Reg­is­ter and Anderson’s equal­ly aggres­sive response, has had con­sid­er­able rever­ber­a­tions in the field of Eng­lish his­to­ry.37 Ander­son would lat­er remark that the “Gram­s­cian polar­i­ty” of hege­mon­ic and cor­po­rate class­es was “giv­en too cul­tur­al a turn, at any rate by myself.”38 In the 1960s, one of the clear­est sum­ma­tions of this “West­ern Marx­ist” ver­sion of cul­tur­al pol­i­tics came in Anderson’s pro­gram­mat­ic text “Prob­lems of Social­ist Strat­e­gy,” which appeared in the 1965 edit­ed vol­ume Towards Social­ism, just after he and Nairn had pro­posed their new syn­the­sis. Ander­son showed that New Left Review’s enthu­si­asm for West­ern Marx­ism, whose dis­sem­i­na­tion in Eng­lish was almost entire­ly due to the extra­or­di­nary trans­la­tion efforts of the jour­nal, was part of its search for not only a the­o­ret­i­cal but also a polit­i­cal alter­na­tive to the steril­i­ty of Eng­lish tra­di­tion.39

The cen­tral prob­lem of social­ist strat­e­gy con­front­ed in Anderson’s nation­al con­text was the inap­plic­a­bil­i­ty of the Lenin­ist mod­el of “seizure and destruc­tion of exist­ing State pow­er,” which was embed­ded in the spe­cif­ic con­di­tions of a soci­ety “dom­i­nat­ed by scarci­ty and inte­grat­ed only by the state.”40 While this was the cor­rect strat­e­gy for the East and the Third World (despite its “inhu­man costs”), for West­ern Europe, with its “advanced economies” and the “great polit­i­cal achieve­ment of democ­ra­cy,” a Lenin­ist strat­e­gy would be “fun­da­men­tal­ly regres­sive.”41

Social democ­ra­cy, how­ev­er, was not a viable alter­na­tive; it had failed to actu­al­ly insti­tute social­ism any­where it had exist­ed. Its error was a strate­gic one; it had made the mis­take of think­ing that pow­er lay only in par­lia­ment, while in real­i­ty pow­er in advanced cap­i­tal­ist soci­eties was locat­ed in the “total­i­ty of dif­fer­en­tial rela­tion­ships that con­sti­tute a soci­ety” (“fam­i­lies, schools, uni­ver­si­ties, fac­to­ries, offices, news­pa­pers, cin­e­mas, banks, lab­o­ra­to­ries, squadrons, sec­re­tari­ats, etc.”). These were the sites where the “per­ma­nent hege­mo­ny of one social bloc over anoth­er” was con­sti­tut­ed, and the leg­is­la­ture was mere­ly one item in the series.42

In fact, Lenin­ism and social democ­ra­cy were guilty of a com­mon fail­ure of analy­sis, what­ev­er their seem­ing­ly dras­tic con­trasts (“vio­lence against legal­i­ty, van­guardism against pas­siv­i­ty, dis­ci­pline against democ­ra­cy”): “They both polar­ize their whole strate­gies on the State: civ­il soci­ety remains out­side the main orbit of their action.43 In the Lenin­ist mod­el of dic­ta­tor­ship of the pro­le­tari­at, this prob­lem was espe­cial­ly acute: “There can be no seri­ous talk of ‘smash­ing’ the pow­er struc­ture in the West in the same sense that Lenin spoke of ‘smash­ing’ the State machine in the East. In West­ern Europe, this would mean shat­ter­ing civ­il soci­ety itself, where­as the real task is to free civ­il soci­ety from the domin­ion of cap­i­tal.”44

Since work­ers were spon­ta­neous­ly giv­en to economism and cor­po­ratism, intel­lec­tu­als, the “sources of con­scious­ness in soci­ety,” played a cen­tral role: “the rela­tion­ship between the work­ing class and cul­ture, deci­sive for its con­scious­ness and ide­ol­o­gy, is inevitably medi­at­ed through intel­lec­tu­als, the only full ten­ants of cul­ture in a cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety.”45 A social­ist ide­ol­o­gy would be able to “bridge the gulf between work­ing-class habits and val­ues and mid­dle-class cul­ture.”46

While “Prob­lems of Social­ist Strat­e­gy” seemed opti­mistic about the sit­u­a­tion opened by the new Labour gov­ern­ment, advis­ing it on a strat­e­gy that could achieve a pop­u­lar hege­mo­ny, this would not last long. In mid-1965, Nairn’s “Labour Impe­ri­al­ism,” rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a broad shift in views, harsh­ly con­demned “Labour’s crim­i­nal com­plic­i­ty with Amer­i­can war in Viet­nam,” and extend­ed its out­rage to the government’s eco­nom­ic per­for­mance. Labour’s tech­no­crat­ic bid for a more dynam­ic and effi­cient neo-cap­i­tal­ism lay in sham­bles, unable to resta­bi­lize the British econ­o­my. This fail­ure of the Labour Par­ty was now the open­ing for social­ism.47

It was also at this moment that the Greek émi­gré Nicos Poulantzas, who in his career as a legal philoso­pher in Paris had shift­ed from a Lukác­sian-Sartre­an for­ma­tion to the cir­cle sur­round­ing Louis Althuss­er, would make his first inter­ven­tion into British Marx­ism. In “Marx­ist Polit­i­cal The­o­ry in Great Britain,” orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Les temps mod­ernes in 1966 and trans­lat­ed for NLR in 1967, Poulantzas remarked that Nairn and Anderson’s analy­ses “deserve to be con­sid­ered exem­plary texts of Marx­ist polit­i­cal analy­sis.”48 While he was sym­pa­thet­ic to the empir­i­cal cri­tique offered by Thomp­son, which argued that there was no Eng­lish devi­a­tion from some stan­dard pat­tern of bour­geois rev­o­lu­tion and cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment, he empha­sized that Ander­son and Nairn’s “sci­en­tif­ic” work was indis­pens­able, inso­far as it revealed a “gen­uine, crit­i­cal reflec­tion on the con­cepts used in the polit­i­cal analy­sis advanced.”49 The edi­to­r­i­al intro­duc­tion to the text in NLR char­ac­ter­ized Poulantzas’s atten­tion to the “the­o­ret­i­cal infra­struc­ture of the debate” as “an impor­tant advance over pre­vi­ous dis­cus­sion.”50

Ander­son and Nairn’s per­spec­tive, Poulantzas sug­gest­ed, was char­ac­ter­ized by the assump­tion that the his­to­ry of social for­ma­tions could be under­stood as the expres­sion of a cen­tral, deter­min­ing fac­tor, either the econ­o­my or a sub­ject of his­to­ry. In the Lukác­sian inflec­tion this sub­ject took the his­tor­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic form of class­es, each of which suc­ces­sive­ly remade soci­ety accord­ing to a “glob­al con­cep­tion of the world.”51 The prob­lem for Poulantzas, hav­ing recent­ly bro­ken with this the­o­ret­i­cal prob­lem­at­ic, was the move of defin­ing the dom­i­nant class on the assump­tion that it “pos­sessed a spe­cif­ic and coher­ent class con­scious­ness” – a ten­den­cy, he added, that was repro­duced by Thomp­son when he sug­gest­ed that Protes­tantism rep­re­sent­ed the ful­ly achieved ide­ol­o­gy of the ascen­dant bour­geoisie.52

“It is a well-known Marx­ist tenet,” Poulantzas remarked, “that the dom­i­nant ide­ol­o­gy in a social for­ma­tion is gen­er­al­ly that of the dom­i­nant class.” But it would not be appro­pri­ate to inter­pret this by attribut­ing the “uni­ty of a deter­mi­nate social for­ma­tion” as such “to a class-sub­ject, and hence to its class ‘con­scious­ness.’” That is, that the tran­si­tion to a new mode of pro­duc­tion and the cor­re­spond­ing polit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal shifts could not be explained as the expres­sion of the will of a par­tic­u­lar class, or the “glob­al world con­cep­tion which this class imme­di­ate­ly pro­duces.’”53

The absence in Eng­land of a coher­ent “world con­cep­tion” of the bour­geoisie, then, could not be tak­en as an indi­ca­tion of the fail­ure of bour­geois hege­mo­ny.54 What the cat­e­go­ry of hege­mo­ny had to explain was how the spe­cif­ic “inter­ests” of a class, or a frac­tion of a class, were objec­tive­ly struc­tured in such a way as to rep­re­sent the “gen­er­al polit­i­cal inter­est of the class­es or frac­tions in pow­er despite their deep con­tra­dic­tions; the dom­i­nant ide­ol­o­gy is there­fore only one aspect of this orga­ni­za­tion of the hege­mon­ic class or frac­tion.”55 Explain­ing the cor­re­spon­dence of the dom­i­nant ide­ol­o­gy with the “inter­ests” of a par­tic­u­lar class had to pro­ceed by explain­ing “the uni­ty at the polit­i­cal lev­el of the var­i­ous con­flict­ing class­es.”56 This implied an ongo­ing process by which polit­i­cal uni­ty would be formed out of con­flict, leav­ing open the pos­si­bil­i­ty of “dis­junc­tions” between the objec­tive struc­tures of the state, and the class dom­i­nant in the mode of pro­duc­tion. “But such dis­junc­tions,” Poulantzas declared, “far from mak­ing these rela­tions unin­tel­li­gi­ble, are the basis for under­stand­ing them. To be more pre­cise, the Marx­ist con­cep­tion of these ‘dis­junc­tions’ is able to take account of the auton­o­my of the State.”57

Poulantzas argued, against Thomp­son, for the valid­i­ty of Ander­son and Nairn’s analy­ses of the Labour Par­ty. How­ev­er, he also sug­gest­ed that they should be dis­tin­guished from the over­ar­ch­ing the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work. Ander­son and Nairn had argued that the British pro­le­tari­at had been unable to devel­op a rev­o­lu­tion­ary ide­ol­o­gy because of the fail­ure of the bour­geoisie to form its own coher­ent ide­ol­o­gy. But this would only be valid if one accept­ed the the­o­ry of “a uni­ver­sal, sup­pos­ed­ly Marx­ist schema involv­ing the nec­es­sary and uni­lin­ear suc­ces­sion of slav­ery, feu­dal­ism, cap­i­tal­ism and social­ism.” His­to­ry had shown that, to the con­trary, in the “under­de­vel­oped” coun­tries of the world, from Rus­sia to Chi­na, rev­o­lu­tion­ary ide­olo­gies had already emerged, and were con­tin­u­ing to do so, despite a clear absence of bour­geois hege­mo­ny. This could not, then, explain the strong hold of trade-union­ism and reformism on the British work­ing class.58 Poulantzas con­clud­ed:

if one wish­es to under­stand the “trade union­ist” or “eco­nom­i­co-cor­po­ra­tive” men­tal­i­ty of the British work­ing class, high­light­ed by Ander­son and Nairn, one must look for the expla­na­tion in their pen­e­trat­ing analy­ses of its polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion (struc­ture of the Labour Par­ty and glob­al polit­i­cal strat­e­gy of this par­ty) rather than in their ref­er­ences to its lack of a hege­mon­ic class-con­scious­ness or con­cep­tion of the world.59

This uncer­tain con­cep­tu­al rela­tion, link­ing the­o­ries of class con­scious­ness, hege­mo­ny, and the state to the prob­lem of orga­ni­za­tion, rep­re­sents a sub­ter­ranean thread in the Eng­lish debate. The strate­gic ori­en­ta­tion of these ques­tions would come out with force at the end of the 1960s, though their orga­ni­za­tion­al sub­struc­ture often has to be exca­vat­ed from under­neath a deep lay­er of ide­o­log­i­cal con­cep­tions which seem to point else­where.

While the edi­to­r­i­al intro­duc­tion to Poulantzas’s arti­cle promised a response, this nev­er mate­ri­al­ized. Anderson’s 1968 “Com­po­nents of the Nation­al Cul­ture” showed that the Lukác­sian and Sartre­an frame­works were now sit­u­at­ed along­side a new inter­est in struc­tural­ism. At the strate­gic lev­el, the focus on cul­ture and the role of intel­lec­tu­als remained, but with a new inflec­tion. There was no longer any ref­er­ence to Labour, indica­tive of the break which had been caused by the dis­ap­point­ments of the Wil­son gov­ern­ment. It was replaced by a much more emphat­ic turn towards the inter­na­tion­al surge in the stu­dent move­ment: “a rev­o­lu­tion­ary prac­tice with­in cul­ture is pos­si­ble and nec­es­sary today. The stu­dent strug­gle is its ini­tial form.”60

Poulantzas had not­ed in pass­ing the diver­gence between the analy­ses of Ander­son and Nairn, “and those of Miliband, one of the edi­tors of Social­ist Reg­is­ter, in his book Par­lia­men­tary Social­ism which traces the polit­i­cal evo­lu­tion of Britain, pri­mar­i­ly in this cen­tu­ry.”61 Though he did not elab­o­rate any fur­ther at the time, it was this con­tin­u­ing engage­ment which would lead to Poulantzas’s most vis­i­ble appear­ance in the Eng­lish dis­cus­sion.


It was in 1968 that Poulantzas’s Polit­i­cal Pow­er and Social Class­es appeared in France, just before the May events. Poulantzas sent a copy of his book to Miliband, with a let­ter read­ing: “I know your book, Par­lia­men­tary Social­ism and your arti­cles, par­tic­u­lar­ly ‘Marx and the State,’ which helped me very much in my work. Your com­ments and advice will be very use­ful.” Miliband replied in an equal­ly friend­ly tone, admit­ting that Poulantzas’s high­ly the­o­ret­i­cal text had made him “con­scious of the the­o­ret­i­cal defi­cien­cies of my own work, and the lim­i­ta­tions of the method that I have cho­sen to use”; he lament­ed that he only had a month to send his final draft to the pub­lish­er and had not “had the ben­e­fit of your book ear­li­er.” Poulantzas’s response insist­ed the con­trary: “I am real­ly enthu­si­as­tic about your project and book: I believe that it is indis­pens­able… I think, with­out false mod­esty, that it will be much more impor­tant than mine.”62

There is a mild hilar­i­ty in this mutu­al infe­ri­or­i­ty com­plex over ques­tions of method, which would ulti­mate­ly invert itself com­plete­ly into vehe­ment hos­til­i­ty. But even beyond con­tex­tu­al­iz­ing the polemics in the com­mon start­ing points – and, as we will lat­er see, the com­mon con­clu­sions – of Poulantzas and Miliband, we also have to estab­lish the strate­gic ques­tions too often buried under debates over method.

In the 1965 Social­ist Reg­is­ter arti­cle which Poulantzas praised, Miliband reviewed Marx’s polit­i­cal reflec­tions on the prob­lem of the state – in the ear­ly texts, grap­pling with the uneven con­sti­tu­tion of bour­geois democ­ra­cy, and final­ly arriv­ing in the lat­er texts at the ques­tion of post-rev­o­lu­tion­ary pro­le­tar­i­an forms of pow­er. As Miliband clear­ly empha­sized, there was a con­sis­tent strate­gic empha­sis in Marx’s approach to these prob­lems, extend­ing from laws on the theft of wood and free­dom of press to the expe­ri­ence of the Paris Com­mune and the draft­ing of the Gotha Pro­gram. What should be the rela­tion of the pro­le­tar­i­an par­ty to the form of state of bour­geois soci­ety? What will be the form of its rev­o­lu­tion­ary pow­er after the expro­pri­a­tion of cap­i­tal? These were the con­crete ques­tions towards which Marx’s the­o­ret­i­cal inves­ti­ga­tions were ori­ent­ed.

But all of these analy­ses exist­ed only in the form of “inci­den­tal remarks,” dif­fi­cult to inter­pret and elab­o­rate.63 Marx bare­ly man­aged to approach the most dif­fi­cult, yet per­haps most cen­tral aspect of the prob­lem: explain­ing the specif­i­cal­ly cap­i­tal­ist char­ac­ter of the state, gen­er­al­ly either assumed or assert­ed. Miliband indi­cat­ed that the famous def­i­n­i­tion of the Man­i­festo (“The exec­u­tive of the mod­ern state is but a com­mit­tee for man­ag­ing the com­mon affairs of the whole bour­geoisie”) was insuf­fi­cient – “it only con­sti­tutes what might be called a pri­ma­ry view of the state.” The “sec­ondary view” in Marx could be con­sid­ered sub­stan­tial­ly clear­er: it under­stood the state as “inde­pen­dent from and supe­ri­or to all social class­es,” as “the dom­i­nant force in soci­ety rather than the instru­ment of a dom­i­nant class.”

One of the fun­da­men­tal rea­sons for the implic­it shift in Marx’s rea­son­ing was the need to qual­i­fy the view advanced in the Man­i­festo, after his con­junc­tur­al analy­ses of France and Eng­land. These con­crete stud­ies led Marx to fre­quent­ly point out that “it is not the rul­ing class as a whole, but a frac­tion of it, which con­trols the state,” and in fact “those who actu­al­ly run the state may well belong to a class which is not the eco­nom­i­cal­ly dom­i­nant class.”64 The clas­sic exam­ple was the author­i­tar­i­an per­son­al rule of Louis Bona­parte, which Marx depict­ed as a state machine com­posed of vast bureau­crat­ic and mil­i­tary appa­ra­tus­es left over from the monar­chy. Bona­partism exer­cised its despo­tism over bour­geoisie and pro­le­tari­at alike, seem­ing­ly “rep­re­sent­ing” the small-hold­ing peas­ants or the lumpen­pro­le­tari­at. Yet Marx con­clud­ed that despite this inde­pen­dence from direct rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the rul­ing class, Bona­partism had to remain, due sim­ply to its exis­tence in class soci­ety, “the pro­tec­tor of an eco­nom­ic and social­ly dom­i­nant class” – or so Miliband argued.65

In The State in Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety, which final­ly appeared in 1969, Miliband seemed to have over­come the ten­sion between the two approach­es. The “instru­men­tal­ist” def­i­n­i­tion of the Man­i­festo was approv­ing­ly repeat­ed, but the entire thrust of Miliband’s account served to explain how the state could be an instru­ment of cap­i­tal­ist rule despite the non-iden­ti­ty between the rul­ing class and the state admin­is­tra­tion.66 Inci­den­tal­ly, Poulantzas’s book was quick­ly cit­ed as “a major attempt at a the­o­ret­i­cal elab­o­ra­tion of the Marx­ist ‘mod­el’ of the state, which appeared when the present work was near­ing com­ple­tion.”67

How­ev­er, the appar­ent fram­ing of The State in Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety is the main­stream polit­i­cal sci­ence of the peri­od, which had aban­doned the state alto­geth­er as a con­cept. In the place of the uni­tary con­cep­tion of the state, main­stream polit­i­cal sci­ence saw a plu­ral­i­ty of groups com­pet­ing for their inter­ests with­in a broad polit­i­cal sys­tem. To debunk this the­o­ry Miliband sought to estab­lish that there was in fact a dom­i­nant class in with an unequal foot­ing in the polit­i­cal sys­tem; if it could be shown that “this dom­i­nant class also exer­cis­es a much greater degree of pow­er and influ­ence than any oth­er class… a deci­sive degree of polit­i­cal pow­er,” and that this class was there­fore able to con­trol the polit­i­cal sys­tem in accor­dance with its inter­ests, it could be shown that the dom­i­nant class was also a rul­ing class.68

On this ques­tion Miliband’s cri­tique of main­stream polit­i­cal sci­ence con­verged with the strate­gic ques­tions we have reviewed with­in British Marx­ism. At an imme­di­ate polit­i­cal lev­el Miliband showed, against the Labourist view that the mixed econ­o­my had over­come the antag­o­nism between social­ism and cap­i­tal­ism, that the state remained biased towards the dom­i­nant class.69 But just as impor­tant was the divi­sion in the rev­o­lu­tion­ary lega­cy between East and West – as the sub­ti­tle indi­cates, The State in Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety was “an analy­sis of the West­ern sys­tems of pow­er.” The Lenin­ist temp­ta­tion to use an insur­rec­tionary lan­guage which described the state as class dic­ta­tor­ship ran up against the ratio­nal ker­nel of the plu­ral­ist the­o­ries: advanced cap­i­tal­ist West­ern democ­ra­cies real­ly did have an extra­or­di­nary lev­el of free­dom of speech, and allowed a wide range of social groups to try to be elect­ed into gov­ern­ment. How could the cap­i­tal­ist char­ac­ter of the state be explained in the terms of this sys­tem, for which lan­guage of dic­ta­tor­ship and tyran­ny rang hol­low?

Miliband empha­sized “that ‘the state’ is not a thing, that it does not, as such, exist.” For bet­ter or for worse, this was not an epis­te­mo­log­i­cal posi­tion, but a way of under­stand­ing state pow­er in terms of a state sys­tem which could not be restrict­ed to gov­ern­ment – that is, to the leg­isla­tive and exec­u­tive bod­ies. This was an impor­tant recog­ni­tion for would-be rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies: “if it is believed that the gov­ern­ment is in fact the state, it may also be believed that the assump­tion of gov­ern­men­tal pow­er is equiv­a­lent to the acqui­si­tion of state pow­er.” The state sys­tem, in fact, encom­passed not just gov­ern­ment but also admin­is­tra­tion (civ­il ser­vice, bank­ing, reg­u­la­tion); mil­i­tary, police, and intel­li­gence; the judi­cial sys­tem; and the sub-cen­tral gov­ern­ments (region­al, state, munic­i­pal gov­ern­ments).70

It was unde­ni­able that a “state elite” exist­ed with­in the state sys­tem. But there was no direct iden­ti­ty between this state elite and the “eco­nom­i­cal­ly dom­i­nant class,” a fact that cap­i­tal­ist ide­o­logues used to their advan­tage. The dom­i­nant class had a “rela­tion­ship” with the state whose pre­cise char­ac­ter had to be deter­mined. In try­ing to think through this rela­tion­ship, Miliband cit­ed the remark of Karl Kaut­sky that “the cap­i­tal­ist class rules but does not gov­ern.”71 In a more con­tem­po­rary con­text, Ander­son had made a sim­i­lar point in his rejoin­der to Thomp­son: “For a rul­ing class… to rule ‘direct­ly,’ it would be nec­es­sary for every mem­ber of it to be phys­i­cal­ly and per­ma­nent­ly co-present in the state appa­ra­tus. It goes with­out say­ing that this is always impos­si­ble.”72

Miliband did show that the direct par­tic­i­pa­tion of busi­ness­men in the state had been under­es­ti­mat­ed. In advanced cap­i­tal­ism, what count­ed above all was “their grow­ing coloni­sa­tion of the upper reach­es of the admin­is­tra­tive part of that sys­tem.”73 Fur­ther­more, the extent of their par­tic­i­pa­tion increased in what­ev­er areas of gov­ern­ment activ­i­ty involved eco­nom­ic func­tions – wher­ev­er there was a mat­ter of state “inter­ven­tion” in the econ­o­my, busi­ness­men would “be found to influ­ence and even to deter­mine the nature of that inter­ven­tion.”74 But all this did not mean that the ques­tion had been resolved:

Notwith­stand­ing the sub­stan­tial par­tic­i­pa­tion of busi­ness­men in the busi­ness of the state, it is how­ev­er true that they have nev­er con­sti­tut­ed, and do not con­sti­tute now, more than a rel­a­tive­ly small minor­i­ty of the state elite as a whole. It is in this sense that the eco­nom­ic elites of advanced cap­i­tal­ist coun­tries are not, prop­er­ly speak­ing, a “gov­ern­ing” class, com­pa­ra­ble to pre-indus­tri­al, aris­to­crat­ic and landown­ing class­es. In some cas­es, the lat­ter were able, almost, to dis­pense with a dis­tinct and ful­ly artic­u­lat­ed state machin­ery and were them­selves prac­ti­cal­ly the state. Cap­i­tal­ist eco­nom­ic elites have not achieved, and in the nature of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety could nev­er achieve, such a posi­tion.75

How­ev­er, after rais­ing these cru­cial ques­tions, Miliband did not pro­ceed to a reex­am­i­na­tion of the state’s struc­ture, but instead a soci­o­log­i­cal descrip­tion of the com­mon social milieu of busi­ness­men and state elites, result­ing large­ly from nepo­tism and unequal access to edu­ca­tion.76 These phe­nom­e­na were meant to explain the “gen­er­al out­look, ide­o­log­i­cal dis­po­si­tions and polit­i­cal bias” of the state elite.77 Those who held polit­i­cal office had a “cir­cle of rela­tions, friends, for­mer asso­ciates and acquain­tances… much more like­ly to include busi­ness­men than, say, trade union lead­ers.”78

The analy­sis was some­what deep­ened with Miliband’s expla­na­tion of the con­sen­sus among state elites sur­round­ing the mar­ket and “free enter­prise,” despite the seem­ing­ly “end­less diver­si­ty” of “views, atti­tudes, pro­grammes and poli­cies,” which made for “live polit­i­cal debate and com­pe­ti­tion.”79 As a result of this con­sen­sus, any­one who man­aged to reach polit­i­cal office was sure to believe that “the nation­al inter­est is in fact inex­tri­ca­bly bound up with the for­tune of cap­i­tal­ist enter­prise,” because they would “accept the notion that the eco­nom­ic ratio­nal­i­ty of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem is syn­ony­mous with ratio­nal­i­ty itself.”80

This con­sen­sus extend­ed even to social­ist par­tic­i­pa­tion in the state, which dis­played the same bias, as Miliband traced with ref­er­ence to the Pop­u­lar Front. Again his analy­sis remained large­ly descrip­tive, show­ing that social­ists in pow­er did not act on their oppo­si­tion­al rhetoric and instead took mea­sures to sta­bi­lize the cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my. Miliband point­ed to the con­tin­gent con­di­tions that have gen­er­al­ly brought social­ists to pow­er: coali­tions with con­ser­v­a­tives to achieve “nation­al uni­ty” in states of emer­gency, or sta­bi­liz­ing the nation after the col­lapse of the exist­ing regime in war. Com­ing to office “in con­di­tions of great eco­nom­ic, finan­cial and social dif­fi­cul­ty and cri­sis,” social­ists feared that these con­di­tions would be great­ly “aggra­vat­ed by the sus­pi­cion and hos­til­i­ty of the ‘busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty.’”81

But why, then, did social­ists in pow­er not take advan­tage of cri­sis con­di­tions to take more rad­i­cal mea­sures? Why did they instead use these dif­fi­cult con­di­tions as “a ready and con­ve­nient excuse for the con­cil­i­a­tion of the very eco­nom­ic and social forces they were pledged to oppose?” Even in the rather calm and favor­able con­di­tions of the post­war Labour gov­ern­ment, nation­al­iza­tion had the effect of strength­en­ing cap­i­tal­ism, not weak­en­ing it – “the mod­erni­sa­tion of cap­i­tal­ist enter­prise was one of their main pur­pos­es.”82

In the last instance Miliband’s answer remained the intrin­sic “bias of the sys­tem,” the fact that the “ide­o­log­i­cal dis­po­si­tions of gov­ern­ments have gen­er­al­ly been of a kind to make more accept­able to them the struc­tur­al con­straints imposed upon them by the sys­tem.”83 Miliband returned to the theme in explain­ing the con­ser­v­a­tive atti­tudes of the “ser­vants of the state,” civ­il ser­vants who over­see the state system’s every­day oper­a­tions with a seem­ing neu­tral­i­ty that con­ceals their actu­al “ide­o­log­i­cal incli­na­tions.”84 This absolute­ly cen­tral role of ide­ol­o­gy must be under­lined, as it will come to be of some impor­tance.

It should be not­ed that Miliband did not explain the state’s “bias” only in terms of the social ori­gins and views of those who con­sti­tute it. He also argued that the plu­ral­ist notion that many dif­fer­ent inter­ests com­pete equal­ly in democ­ra­cies was refut­ed by the dis­pro­por­tion­ate pow­er of busi­ness out­side the state sys­tem. Beyond mere lob­by­ing was the “per­va­sive and per­ma­nent pres­sure upon gov­ern­ments and the state gen­er­at­ed by the pri­vate con­trol of con­cen­trat­ed indus­tri­al, com­mer­cial and finan­cial resources.”85 Labor orga­ni­za­tions could not pos­si­bly exert this kind of pres­sure. For social­ist gov­ern­ments this imbal­ance became a struc­tur­al lim­it, since they would “nor­mal­ly come to office in cir­cum­stances of severe eco­nom­ic and finan­cial cri­sis, and find that cred­it, loans and gen­er­al finan­cial sup­port are only avail­able on the con­di­tion that they pur­sue eco­nom­ic and for­eign poli­cies which are accept­able to their cred­i­tors and bankers.”86

What this argu­ment could not explain is how the com­mon cap­i­tal­ist inter­est which this pow­er is wield­ed to defend is itself con­sti­tut­ed in a field of eco­nom­ic com­pe­ti­tion between cap­i­tal­ists, a prob­lem not­ed by Miliband but set aside after invok­ing “ide­o­log­i­cal con­sen­sus.”87 So this ges­ture towards struc­tur­al analy­sis again had to resort to invok­ing the effects of ide­ol­o­gy, under­stood as the con­scious­ly held beliefs of indi­vid­u­als rather than a com­po­nent of cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions; to explain the oper­a­tions of the state beyond the inci­den­tal expres­sion of these ideas remained an unful­filled task.

It was nev­er­the­less Miliband’s path­break­ing achieve­ment to show, with the evi­dence avail­able at the time, that the state remained a nec­es­sary con­cept. He set out to prove that this was the case despite the demo­c­ra­t­ic char­ac­ter of West­ern soci­eties, in which a plu­ral­i­ty of social groups com­pet­ed in the polit­i­cal sys­tem. Miliband con­front­ed the con­cep­tu­al frame­work of demo­c­ra­t­ic plu­ral­ism with empir­i­cal evi­dence show­ing that the com­pe­ti­tion of polit­i­cal inter­ests was an “imper­fect com­pe­ti­tion,” and sought there­by to defend the fol­low­ing the­o­ret­i­cal propo­si­tion: “In the Marx­ist scheme, the ‘rul­ing class’ of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety is that class which owns and con­trols the means of pro­duc­tion and which is able, by virtue of the eco­nom­ic pow­er thus con­ferred upon it, to use the state as its instru­ment for the dom­i­na­tion of soci­ety.”88

The broad­er the­o­ret­i­cal ques­tions sur­round­ing this def­i­n­i­tion, which had so occu­pied the British milieu, were not direct­ly addressed. How­ev­er, since they set out the strate­gic field for Miliband’s inves­ti­ga­tion, they would be cen­tral for the debate that fol­lowed, and Poulantzas’s review of Miliband’s The State in Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety, which appeared in New Left Review in 1969, brought them back to the fore­ground. The con­vivial tone was still appar­ent; Miliband’s book was of “cap­i­tal impor­tance,” “extreme­ly sub­stan­tial,” and he could not “rec­om­mend its read­ing too high­ly.” Above all, Miliband’s “cathar­tic” work, through con­crete inves­ti­ga­tions of the Unit­ed States, Eng­land, France, Ger­many, and Japan “not only rad­i­cal­ly demol­ish­es bour­geois ide­olo­gies of the State, but pro­vides us with a pos­i­tive knowl­edge that these ide­olo­gies have nev­er been able to pro­duce.”89

Nev­er­the­less, “in the belief that only crit­i­cism can advance Marx­ist the­o­ry,” his review was devot­ed to a deep and sub­stan­tial cri­tique of Miliband’s under­ly­ing the­o­ret­i­cal sys­tem. This was not, as many lat­er com­men­ta­tors have some­how man­aged to claim, an attempt to dis­miss the empir­i­cal in favor of the abstract and the­o­ret­i­cal. Poulantzas empha­sized “the neces­si­ty for con­crete analy­ses” and admit­ted that his own work need­ed to be deep­ened in this direc­tion (which he would go on to do in future books). It was instead an inter­ro­ga­tion of the under­ly­ing assump­tions, ques­tions, and cat­e­gories that con­sti­tut­ed the frame­work for the inves­ti­ga­tion and inter­pre­ta­tion of the empir­i­cal – the ini­tial method­olog­i­cal ques­tions to which his own book had been devot­ed. Miliband’s approach had been to “attack bour­geois ide­olo­gies of the State whilst plac­ing him­self on their own ter­rain.” But this posed cer­tain dan­gers – the Marx­ist crit­ic engaged in this strat­e­gy runs the risk of being “undu­ly influ­enced by the method­olog­i­cal prin­ci­ples of the adver­sary.”90

By accept­ing the notion of “plur­al elites” and try­ing to show that these elites did in fact con­sti­tute a rul­ing class, Miliband had rein­forced the ide­o­log­i­cal notions of main­stream polit­i­cal sci­ence, instead of advanc­ing a new con­cept that could bet­ter grasp the con­crete real­i­ty. The adversary’s epis­te­mo­log­i­cal vic­to­ry was “vis­i­ble in the dif­fi­cul­ties that Miliband has in com­pre­hend­ing social class­es and the State as objec­tive struc­tures… Miliband con­stant­ly gives the impres­sion that for him social class­es or ‘groups’ are in some way reducible to inter-per­son­al rela­tions.”91

This was pre­cise­ly the angle of the debate that Poulantzas had already engaged with in the British dis­cus­sion. If Ander­son and Nairn had tried to cap­ture the broad sweep of class con­scious­ness and the abil­i­ty of a par­tic­u­lar class to reshape the very form of the social insti­tu­tions, Miliband’s the­o­ry shrank this down to the lev­el of the indi­vid­ual con­scious­ness of mem­bers of an elite milieu, who held pro-busi­ness views and entered into insti­tu­tions where they could influ­ence pol­i­cy accord­ing to this bias. The con­se­quence of this the­o­ry of “indi­vid­u­als as the ori­gin of social action” was that “soci­o­log­i­cal research thus leads final­ly, not to the study of the objec­tive co-ordi­nates that deter­mine the dis­tri­b­u­tion of agents into social class­es and the con­tra­dic­tions between these class­es, but to the search for final­ist expla­na­tions found­ed on the moti­va­tions of con­duct of the indi­vid­ual actors.”92 It would be impos­si­ble to sur­pass this frame­work as long as the the­o­ry was restrict­ed to “the con­duct and ‘behav­iour’ of the mem­bers of the State appa­ra­tus.” The famous pas­sage in which Poulantzas sum­ma­rizes this con­clu­sion is worth quot­ing at length:

I have no inten­tion of con­test­ing the val­ue of Miliband’s analy­ses, which on the con­trary appear to me to have a cap­i­tal demys­ti­fy­ing impor­tance. Yet how­ev­er exact in itself, the way cho­sen by Miliband does not seem to me to be the most sig­nif­i­cant one. First­ly, because the direct par­tic­i­pa­tion of mem­bers of the cap­i­tal­ist class in the State appa­ra­tus and in the gov­ern­ment, even where it exists, is not the impor­tant side of the mat­ter. The rela­tion between the bour­geois class and the State is an objec­tive rela­tion. This means that if the func­tion of the State in a deter­mi­nate social for­ma­tion and the inter­ests of the dom­i­nant class in this for­ma­tion coin­cide, it is by rea­son of the sys­tem itself: the direct par­tic­i­pa­tion of mem­bers of the rul­ing class in the State appa­ra­tus is not the cause but the effect, and more­over a chance and con­tin­gent one, of this objec­tive coin­ci­dence.93

Cru­cial­ly, the theme of ide­ol­o­gy came once again to the fore­front. Poulantzas’s book appeared on the shelves in the midst of French stu­dent revolts; the prob­lem of the edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem, and strug­gles with­in it, had made the ques­tion of ide­ol­o­gy “espe­cial­ly top­i­cal,” Poulantzas sug­gest­ed, and revealed that both he and Miliband may have “stopped half-way” on this angle of state the­o­ry. Poulantzas not­ed that Miliband’s book had devot­ed two lengthy chap­ters on the role of ide­ol­o­gy (“The Process of Legit­i­ma­tion”). How­ev­er, such an analy­sis – and Poulantzas includ­ed him­self in this crit­i­cism – placed too great a pri­or­i­ty on the lev­el of “ideas, cus­toms or morals with­out see­ing that ide­ol­o­gy can be embod­ied, in the strong sense, in insti­tu­tions: insti­tu­tions which then, by the very process of insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion, belong to the sys­tem of the State whilst depend­ing prin­ci­pal­ly on the ide­o­log­i­cal lev­el.”94

Miliband’s response was quite short, per­haps writ­ten in a hur­ry. He gra­cious­ly rec­i­p­ro­cat­ed Poulantzas’s opti­mism about the impor­tance of the con­ver­sa­tion, but denied that his book had failed to address the ques­tions Poulantzas had raised – if he had done so too briefly, this was because he thought it so impor­tant to refute the apolo­get­ics in bour­geois polit­i­cal sci­ence with empir­i­cal evi­dence. This was also true for his analy­sis of ide­ol­o­gy in “The Process of Legit­i­ma­tion,” which showed that “polit­i­cal social­iza­tion,” a con­cept intro­duced in main­stream polit­i­cal sci­ence, “is a process per­formed by insti­tu­tions, many of which nev­er cease to insist on their ‘un-ide­o­log­i­cal,’ ‘un-polit­i­cal’ and ‘neu­tral’ char­ac­ter.” How­ev­er, this did not license Poulantzas’s the­sis that these insti­tu­tions could be con­sid­ered a part of the state, despite the increas­ing role of the state in the process­es of polit­i­cal social­iza­tion – Miliband con­sid­ered it “impor­tant not to blur the fact that they are not, in bour­geois democ­ra­cies, part of the state but of the polit­i­cal sys­tem,” even if “the state must, in the con­di­tions of per­ma­nent cri­sis of advanced cap­i­tal­ism, assume ever greater respon­si­bil­i­ty for polit­i­cal indoc­tri­na­tion and mys­ti­fi­ca­tion.”95

How­ev­er, as this point was not elab­o­rat­ed sub­stan­tive­ly, it inac­cu­rate­ly framed the terms of the dis­agree­ment. The final two chap­ters of The State in Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety devote con­sid­er­able space to the secur­ing of con­sent through hege­mo­ny in cul­ture – the pop­u­lar media (he cites the ear­ly work of Stu­art Hall), schools, the church, and even the fam­i­ly. Despite shar­ing Poulantzas’s start­ing point in Gram­sci, how­ev­er, Miliband’s ter­mi­nol­o­gy was once again drawn from the bour­geois polit­i­cal sci­ence he sought to crit­i­cize. Miliband’s choice to use the term “polit­i­cal social­i­sa­tion” – the process­es gen­er­at­ing a con­sen­sus around and insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of cer­tain norms and val­ues of pol­i­tics – indi­cates the role of these insti­tu­tions in his over­all the­o­ry: they pro­duce the state bias towards cap­i­tal in the “polit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion” and “ide­o­log­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion” of cap­i­tal­ist democ­ra­cy. What the main­stream the­o­ry had left out, from Miliband’s per­spec­tive, was the very spe­cif­ic con­tent of polit­i­cal social­iza­tion, by virtue of which it amount­ed to an indoc­tri­na­tion in the val­ues of free enter­prise.96

While Miliband’s call for pre­serv­ing clear ana­lyt­i­cal dis­tinc­tions is in many respects com­pelling, here his own argu­ment ends up blur­ring the lines. If the cap­i­tal­ist char­ac­ter of the state lies in its sys­tem­at­ic bias towards cap­i­tal, and if this bias is main­tained and secured through the polit­i­cal social­iza­tion car­ried out by ide­o­log­i­cal insti­tu­tions, exclud­ing them the­o­ret­i­cal­ly from the cat­e­go­ry of the state forces us to accept the plu­ral­ist con­cep­tion of the polit­i­cal sys­tem, its pur­port­ed bias amount­ing to lit­tle more than the legit­i­mate suc­cess of a par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal doc­trine in civ­il society’s free mar­ket of ideas. Fur­ther­more, since the very start­ing point of Miliband’s argu­ment is that the per­son­al par­tic­i­pa­tion of the rul­ing class is lim­it­ed to the “com­mand posts” of gov­ern­ment, with­out the ide­o­log­i­cal adhe­sion of oth­er state func­tionar­ies the state’s bias towards cap­i­tal would amount to a per­son­al dic­ta­tor­ship, dis­solv­ing the speci­fici­ty of West­ern democ­ra­cies. This con­cep­tu­al blur­ring is appar­ent in the sym­pa­thet­ic account of Clyde Bar­row, who writes in his Crit­i­cal The­o­ries of the State of Miliband’s “sub­hy­poth­e­sis that the state’s sys­temic uni­ty is pri­mar­i­ly ide­o­log­i­cal.” Describ­ing the “ide­o­log­i­cal sys­tem” as “an insti­tu­tion­al matrix that includes the state’s ide­o­log­i­cal appa­ra­tus (i.e., schools and uni­ver­si­ties) and pri­vate insti­tu­tions such as church­es, the mass media, and oth­er opin­ion-shap­ing net­works,” Bar­row sug­gests that “Miliband con­sid­ers the ide­o­log­i­cal sys­tem, par­tic­u­lar­ly the state’s ide­o­log­i­cal appa­ra­tus, an impor­tant mech­a­nism for social­iz­ing state man­agers.”97 Miliband him­self nowhere refers to the “state’s ide­o­log­i­cal appa­ra­tus,” an incon­ve­nient phras­ing after his cri­tique of Poulantzas; but this is one indi­ca­tion of the dif­fi­cul­ties of con­cep­tu­al­ly elab­o­rat­ing Miliband’s the­o­ry in a way that can the­o­ret­i­cal­ly reject the cat­e­go­ry.

Such method­olog­i­cal and con­cep­tu­al ques­tions con­tin­ued to a play a role as the debate unfold­ed, but Miliband also iden­ti­fied a “polit­i­cal dan­ger” with what he char­ac­ter­ized as Poulantzas’s “struc­tur­al super-deter­min­ism.” It is these polit­i­cal con­se­quences of the the­o­ret­i­cal dis­pute, empha­sized in Miliband’s sec­ond, more sub­stan­tial entry in the debate in 1973, to which we will turn in the sec­ond part of this essay.98

  1. On these lega­cies see Stathis Kou­ve­lakis and Sebas­t­ian Bud­gen, “Greece: Phase One,” Jacobin Mag­a­zine, Jan­u­ary 2015, and Leo Pan­itch and Bhaskar Sunkara, “Can Jere­my Cor­byn Redeem the Labour Par­ty?,” Jacobin Mag­a­zine, Sep­tem­ber 2015. 

  2. See Melvyn Dubof­sky, “When Social­ism was Pop­u­lar in the Unit­ed States,” View­point Mag­a­zine, March 2016. 

  3. Jason E. Smith, “Let Us Be Ter­ri­ble: Con­sid­er­a­tions on the Jacobin Club,” Brook­lyn Rail, April 2016. 

  4. Anton Pan­nekoek, World Rev­o­lu­tion and Com­mu­nist Tac­tics, 1920. 

  5. For an indis­pens­able cor­rec­tive on the ques­tion of “struc­tural­ism” read­ers should refer to War­ren Mon­tag, Althuss­er and His Con­tem­po­raries (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2013). A brief but clar­i­fy­ing account of the ques­tions raised by the com­par­i­son to Euro­com­mu­nism can be found in Fabi­en Escalona, “Syriza, Podemos et l’héritage «euro­com­mu­niste»,” Medi­a­part, Jan­u­ary 29, 2015. 

  6. Ralph Miliband, “Thir­ty Years of the Social­ist Reg­is­ter,” Social­ist Reg­is­ter 30, no. 30 (March 18, 1994). 

  7. Ralph Miliband, Par­lia­men­tary Social­ism: A Study in the Pol­i­tics of Labour (Mer­lin Press, 1972), 344. 

  8. Ibid., 144. 

  9. Ibid., 151. 

  10. Ibid., 145. 

  11. Ibid., 97. 

  12. “Under Russ­ian con­di­tions, the dis­pu­ta­tions between con­tend­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary fac­tions came to have epoch-mak­ing con­se­quences. In the British con­text, the dif­fer­ences are not real­ly capa­ble of ris­ing about the lev­el of his­tor­i­cal foot­notes.” Ibid., 33. 

  13. Ibid., 32–3. 

  14. Ibid., 32. 

  15. Ibid., 70. 

  16. Ibid., 34. 

  17. Ibid., 65. 

  18. One of these crit­ics was Richard Cross­man, who made remarks along these lines in his review of Miliband’s book, as not­ed in Michael New­man, Ralph Miliband And The Pol­i­tics Of The New Left (Lon­don: Month­ly Review Press, 2003), 76; New­man also makes note of Michael Foot’s review. See also John Sav­ille, “Par­lia­men­tary Social­ism Revis­it­ed,” Social­ist Reg­is­ter 31, no. 31 (March 18, 1995). 

  19. Miliband, Par­lia­men­tary Social­ism, 347. 

  20. For a fas­ci­nat­ing account of this peri­od, see Stu­art Hall, “The ‘First’ New Left: Life and Times” in Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Social­ist Dis­cus­sion Group, Out of Apa­thy: Voic­es of the New Left Thir­ty Years On (Lon­don: Ver­so, 1989), or the short­er ver­sion in New Left Review. For more detail on the ear­ly his­to­ry of these jour­nals, see Madeleine Davis, “Rethink­ing Class: The Lin­eage of the Social­ist Reg­is­ter,” Social­ist Reg­is­ter 50, no. 50 (Octo­ber 29, 2013). 

  21. Per­ry Ander­son, Eng­lish Ques­tions (Lon­don ; New York: Ver­so, 1992), 6. See also Per­ry Ander­son, “The Debate of the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Par­ty on the 22nd Con­gress of the CPSU,” New Left Review, I, no. 13–14 (April 1962): 152–60. For an account of Anderson’s com­plex polit­i­cal and intel­lec­tu­al evo­lu­tion, see Gre­go­ry Elliott, Per­ry Ander­son: The Mer­ci­less Lab­o­ra­to­ry of His­to­ry (Min­neapo­lis: Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, 1998). 

  22. Tom Nairn, “The British Polit­i­cal Elite,” New Left Review, I, no. 23 (Feb­ru­ary 1964): 19. 

  23. Per­ry Ander­son, “Ori­gins of the Present Cri­sis,” New Left Review, I, no. 23 (Feb­ru­ary 1964): 43; see also Per­ry Ander­son, “Prob­lems of Social­ist Strat­e­gy,” in Towards Social­ism, ed. Robin Black­burn and Per­ry Ander­son (Itha­ca: Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1966). Slight­ly revised ver­sions of Anderson’s orig­i­nal texts on the mat­ter, along­side more recent con­sid­er­a­tions, are col­lect­ed in Eng­lish Ques­tions. Since the ver­sions in the col­lec­tion are usu­al­ly revised, I often cite the orig­i­nal pub­li­ca­tion rather than the col­lect­ed ver­sion, as this his­tor­i­cal overview deals with debates and dia­logues as they hap­pened with­in the left jour­nals; New Left Review, Social­ist Reg­is­ter, and Marx­ism Today each have online archives which aid in recon­struct­ing the his­to­ry. Some­times, how­ev­er, intro­duc­to­ry and new mate­ri­als in these col­lec­tions help to put ear­li­er debates in con­text, and are well worth con­sult­ing. This applies equal­ly for the oth­er authors under dis­cus­sion. 

  24. Ander­son, “Ori­gins of the Present Cri­sis,” 40–1. 

  25. Tom Nairn, “The Eng­lish Work­ing Class,” New Left Review, I, no. 24 (April 1964): 53. 

  26. Ibid., 43. 

  27. Ibid., 53. See also the remarks in “Ori­gins of the Present Cri­sis” regard­ing the absence of intel­lec­tu­als engaged in the pro­le­tar­i­an cause until the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry: “The aris­toc­ra­cy had nev­er allowed the for­ma­tion of an inde­pen­dent intel­lec­tu­al enclave with­in the body politic of land­ed Eng­land”; Ander­son, “Ori­gins of the Present Cri­sis,” 42. 

  28. Ander­son, “Ori­gins of the Present Cri­sis,” 40. As Nairn put it, “In fact, the Labour Party’s orga­ni­za­tion­al struc­ture is a per­fect embod­i­ment of the whole his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence of the Labour move­ment in Britain, and incar­nates both its achieve­ments and its fail­ings. Arrived at ‘empir­i­cal­ly’, that is by a blind series of piece­meal com­pro­mis­es among var­i­ous his­tor­i­cal forces, it nat­u­ral­ly express­es on the prac­ti­cal plane the dom­i­nant bal­ance of such forces”; Nairn, “The Eng­lish Work­ing Class,” 55. 

  29. Tom Nairn, “The Nature of the Labour Par­ty (Part I),” New Left Review, I, no. 27 (Octo­ber 1964): 45–6. 

  30. Ibid., 43. Com­pare the NLR ver­sion to the one found in Towards Social­ism; the for­mer uses “economism,” the lat­ter “cor­po­ratism.” 

  31. Ibid. 

  32. Ibid., 41; see also 51-2. 

  33. Ibid., 53. 

  34. Tom Nairn, “The Nature of the Labour Par­ty (Part II),” New Left Review, I, no. 28 (Decem­ber 1964): 45. 

  35. Per­ry Ander­son, “Cri­tique of Wilson­ism,” New Left Review, I, no. 27 (Octo­ber 1964): 21, 24–7. 

  36. Nairn, “The Nature of the Labour Par­ty (Part II),” 62; see also 50, 55-6. For Miliband’s own approach in this peri­od to giv­ing the Wil­son gov­ern­ment a “push” in a social­ist direc­tion, through the for­ma­tion of left “pres­sure groups,” see Ralph Miliband and John Sav­ille, “Labour Pol­i­cy and The Labour Left,” Social­ist Reg­is­ter 1, no. 1 (March 19, 1964). 

  37. But it goes some­what beyond our imme­di­ate con­cerns here; what we want to note is how it estab­lished a cer­tain the­o­ret­i­cal prob­lem­at­ic linked to polit­i­cal strat­e­gy. See, how­ev­er, E. P. Thomp­son, “The Pecu­liar­i­ties Of The Eng­lish,” Social­ist Reg­is­ter 2, no. 2 (March 19, 1965); Per­ry Ander­son, “Social­ism and Pseu­do-Empiri­cism,” New Left Review, I, no. 35 (Feb­ru­ary 1966): 2–42; Col­in Bark­er and David Nicholls, eds., The Devel­op­ment of British Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety: A Marx­ist Debate (Man­ches­ter: North­ern Marx­ist His­to­ri­ans Group, 1988); Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Pris­tine Cul­ture of Cap­i­tal­ism: A His­tor­i­cal Essay on Old Regimes and Mod­ern States (Lon­don: Ver­so, 1991). 

  38. Per­ry Ander­son, “The Fig­ures of Descent,” New Left Review, I, no. 161 (Feb­ru­ary 1987): 57. 

  39. In “A Brief His­to­ry of New Left Review 1960-2010” both of these char­ac­ter­is­tics are recalled: “Polit­i­cal­ly, although the Review was sharply crit­i­cal of the tra­di­tions of Labourism, its own posi­tion might per­haps be described as an antic­i­pa­tion of the pre­oc­cu­pa­tions of the Euro­com­mu­nism of a decade lat­er”; “West­ern Marx­ism was seen as a vital resource in reject­ing the autho­rized cat­e­chism of offi­cial Com­mu­nism and the bland philis­tin­ism of social democ­ra­cy alike.” See also Per­ry Ander­son, Argu­ments with­in Eng­lish Marx­ism (Lon­don: Ver­so, 1980), 149. 

  40. Ander­son, “Prob­lems of Social­ist Strat­e­gy,” 228. 

  41. Ibid., 230. 

  42. Ibid., 235, 236. 

  43. Ibid., 237. 

  44. Ibid., 244. 

  45. Ibid., 269, 241. 

  46. Ibid., 259. 

  47. Tom Nairn, “Labour Impe­ri­al­ism,” New Left Review, I, no. 32 (August 1965): 11, 15. 

  48. Nicos Poulantzas, “Marx­ist Polit­i­cal The­o­ry in Great Britain,” New Left Review, I, no. 43 (June 1967): 58. 

  49. Ibid. 

  50. “Intro­duc­tion to Poulantzas,” New Left Review, I, no. 43 (June 1967): 55. 

  51. Poulantzas, “Marx­ist Polit­i­cal The­o­ry in Great Britain,” 46. 

  52. Ibid., 63. 

  53. Ibid., 66. 

  54. Ibid., 67. 

  55. Ibid., 70. 

  56. Ibid., 67. 

  57. Ibid., 65. 

  58. Ibid., 71. 

  59. Ibid., 74. 

  60. Per­ry Ander­son, “Com­po­nents of the Nation­al Cul­ture,” New Left Review, I, no. 50 (August 1968): 6, 56. Stu­dents had also been briefly dis­cussed in “Prob­lems,” but had not been grant­ed this lev­el of sig­nif­i­cance; Ander­son, “Prob­lems of Social­ist Strat­e­gy,” 272–3. 

  61. Poulantzas, “Marx­ist Polit­i­cal The­o­ry in Great Britain,” 70. 

  62. New­man, Ralph Miliband And The Pol­i­tics Of The New Left, 203. 

  63. Ralph Miliband, “Marx and the State,” Social­ist Reg­is­ter 2, no. 2 (March 19, 1965): 278. 

  64. Ibid., 283. 

  65. Ibid., 285. 

  66. Ralph Miliband, The State in Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety (Basic Books, 1969), 5. 

  67. Ibid., 7. 

  68. Ibid., 48. See also Clyde W. Bar­row, “The Miliband-Poulantzas Debate: An Intel­lec­tu­al His­to­ry,” in Par­a­digm Lost: State The­o­ry Recon­sid­ered, ed. Stan­ley Aronowitz and Peter Brat­sis (Min­neapo­lis, MN: Uni­ver­i­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, 2002). Bar­row pro­vides a use­ful descrip­tion of the intel­lec­tu­al con­text for the debate, but his account of the actu­al back and forth is marred by par­ti­san and dis­tract­ing barbs against Poulantzas. 

  69. Miliband, The State in Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety, 9–10. 

  70. Ibid., 49–53. 

  71. It is quite remark­able that Kaut­sky said this to strike a note of con­trast with Eng­land: “Among the great nations of mod­ern times Eng­land is the one which most resem­bles the Mid­dle Ages, not eco­nom­i­cal­ly, but in its polit­i­cal form. Mil­i­tarism and bureau­cra­cy are there the least devel­oped. It still pos­sess­es an aris­toc­ra­cy that not only reigns but gov­erns. Cor­re­spond­ing to this, Eng­land is the great mod­ern nation in which the efforts of the oppressed class­es are main­ly con­cerned to the removal of par­tic­u­lar abus­es instead of being direct­ed against the whole social sys­tem. It is also the State in which the prac­tice of pro­tec­tion against rev­o­lu­tion through com­pro­mise is far­thest devel­oped.” Karl Kaut­sky, The Social Rev­o­lu­tion, trans. A.M. Simons and May Wood Simons (Chica­go: C. H. Kerr, 1902), 26. Miliband’s ref­er­ence is in Miliband, The State in Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety, 55. 

  72. Ander­son, “Social­ism and Pseu­do-Empiri­cism,” 11. 

  73. Miliband, The State in Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety, 57. For Bar­row this “col­o­niza­tion” is of the utmost sig­nif­i­cance in Miliband’s the­o­ry: “one way to mea­sure the degree of poten­tial class dom­i­na­tion is to quan­ti­fy the extent to which mem­bers of a par­tic­u­lar class have dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly col­o­nized com­mand posts with­in the state appa­ra­tus­es”; Bar­row, “The Miliband-Poulantzas Debate: An Intel­lec­tu­al His­to­ry,” 18. 

  74. Miliband, The State in Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety, 56–9. 

  75. Ibid., 59. 

  76. Ibid., 60–5. 

  77. Ibid., 68. 

  78. Ibid., 75. 

  79. Ibid., 68. 

  80. Ibid., 75. 

  81. Ibid., 101. 

  82. Ibid., 101, 109. 

  83. Ibid., 79. 

  84. Ibid., 120. 

  85. Ibid., 147. 

  86. Ibid., 154. 

  87. Ibid., 157. The var­i­ous prob­lems described here are explic­it­ly addressed in Elmar Alt­vater, “Notes on Some Prob­lems of State Inter­ven­tion­ism,” Kap­i­tal­state, no. 1 and 2 (1973); and Fred Block, “The Rul­ing Class Does Not Rule: Notes on the Marx­ist The­o­ry of the State,” Social­ist Rev­o­lu­tion 7 (1977). 

  88. Miliband, The State in Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety, 23. 

  89. Nicos Poulantzas, “The Prob­lem of the Cap­i­tal­ist State,” New Left Review, I, no. 58 (Decem­ber 1969): 67. 

  90. Ibid., 69, 70. 

  91. Ibid., 70. 

  92. Ibid. 

  93. Ibid., 72, 73. 

  94. Ibid., 76. 

  95. Ralph Miliband, “The Cap­i­tal­ist State – Reply to N. Poulantzas,” New Left Review, I, no. 59 (Feb­ru­ary 1970): 59. 

  96. Miliband, The State in Cap­i­tal­ist Soci­ety, 182–4. 

  97. Clyde W. Bar­row, Crit­i­cal The­o­ries of the State: Marx­ist, Neo­marx­ist, Post­marx­ist (Madi­son: Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin Press, 1993), 29. Bar­row argues that ide­ol­o­gy should not be con­sid­ered the only means of “intrastate cohe­sion”; how­ev­er, his account demon­strates impor­tant areas where this the­o­ry is too under­de­vel­oped to be the basis for a polemic against the the­o­ry of the ide­o­log­i­cal state appa­ra­tus. 

  98. Miliband, “The Cap­i­tal­ist State – Reply to N. Poulantzas,” 57–8. 

Author of the article

is an editor of Viewpoint and author of Mistaken Identity: Anti-Racism and the Struggle Against White Supremacy (Verso, Spring 2018).