Notes on the Necessity of Studying the State

In the course of last year’s discussion, the state frequently emerged as an important factor in understanding capitalism’s tendency toward generating both crisis and imperialism.  Recognizing the state’s imbrication in processes of capital accumulation and destruction, however, does little to clarify our analytical understanding of the relationship between capital, social formations and political authority.

Lenin’s distinction between usury and debtor states recognizes the relationship between finance capital and the state in an emergent international division of labor.  Harvey’s use of the term, the state-finance nexus, highlights the continued preeminence of finance capital in directing state power.  But does this relationship obtain across the various histories of state formation and imposition?  Similarly, how do we understand the relationship between state power and different class interests, both conceptually and historically?  Does the relationship between a national bourgeoisie and state power obtain in the Third World as it is assumed to in the West?  Is the postcolonial state a legitimate and useful category?

Our understanding of the state has practical implications, too.  If, as Callinicos suggests, any pragmatic anti-capitalist politics must account for the capture and maintenance of state power, what, exactly is to be captured?  The central bank?  A set of ideological state apparatuses?  A monolithic center of power, in the Weberian tradition, or a mask of legitimation production (Abrams, 1977)?  And, what are the relations of force crystallized in the legitimacy of state power in different contexts?  Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire seems particularly instructive in this regard, but how do we apply similar insights to contemporary contexts?

Possible readings (this is far from a finished or complete list – for example, other names have come up such as Poulantzas-Miliband debate, Bob Jessop – so further suggestions are welcome):

Abrams, Philip. “Notes on the Difficulty of Studying the State (1977).” Journal of Historical Sociology 1, no. 1 (1988): 58-89.
Alavi, Hamza. “The State in Post-Colonial Societies: Pakistan and Bangladesh.” New Left Review I/74 (August 1972): 59-81.
Althusser, Louis. Lenin and philosophy, and other essays. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972.
Chibber, V. “Reviving the Developmental State? The Myth of the ‘National Bourgeoisie’.” The Socialist register., no. 2005 (2004): 144-165.
Lenin, Vladimir. State and revolution. New York: International Publishers, 1932.
Marx, Karl. Eighteenth brumaire of louis bonaparte. [S.l.]: Filiquarian Publishing, 2007.
———. The Civil war in France: the Paris Commune. New York: International Publishers, 1968.
Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. “CA Forum on Theory in Anthropology: The Anthropology of the State in the Age of Globalization: Close Encounters of the Deceptive Kind.” Current Anthropology 42, no. 1 (2001): 125.
———. Haiti, state against nation : the origins and legacy of Duvalierism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990.
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