Besprechung in “capital & class” (Nr. 93) von Daniela Tepe

This edited volume Poulantzas lesen is an interesting attempt to show a variety of entry points into Nicos Poulantzas’s state theoretical work. Poulantzas, who ended his life in 1979, is celebrated as a classical Marxist thinker. However, the book is less a search for the ‘authentic’ Poulantzas than an attempt to make his critical thinking fruitful for scholarly work today.

The book makes a strong case for materialist state theory, and reminds its readers of the importance of grounding Marxist thinking in an understanding of the capitalist state. The often very complicated and dense language of Poulantzas is interpreted by the authors of each chapter in a fashion that allows the reader to approach the complexity of Poulantzas’s thinking. The editors invite contributors and readers alike to (re)read Poulantzas actively, and thus to seek understand his thoughts constructively by building on references ‘outside the text’ (p. 21).

While the volume includes contributions from the likes of Joachim Hirsch and Bob Jessop, it also gives voice to new and innovative arguments by relatively young scholars. The broad variety of applications of Poulantzas’s work is underlined by contributions that combine his thinking with the thought of Foucault, Gramsci or Althusser, and which look at such varied issues as law, space and time, democracy and class struggle. A controversial chapter is that of Joerg Nowak, who argues that feminist state theory should ground its thinking more explicitly in class theoretical conceptions informed by Poulantzas. Nowak accuses feminist state theory of being unable to grasp class, gender and race relationships, and suggests that Poulantzas might offer the framework (albeit implicit) to enable this. However, the class reductionism in Poulantzas’s work, noted by most of the other contributors, is not problematised by Nowak. Nor is the possibility that feminist refusals to deal with Poulantzas explicitly might result from this class reductionism. As Urs T. Lindner rightly points out, for Poulantzas every struggle gains meaning from the existence of class struggle, which allows other struggles to unfold in the first place (p. 156). Nowak here argues, seemingly in contradiction to his own intention, against the crucial insight that feminist state theory and feminist theory more generally have contributed to Marxist thinking; the class contradiction is but one contradiction in a set of equally important contradictions in which the respective ‘determination’ is historically specific, and cannot be ahistorically determined.

Overall, the collection is divided into four parts, with the first addressing ontological and epistemological questions in Poulantzas’s work; the second engaging with questions of power; the third dealing with space and different forms of Staatlichkeit (forms of state); and the fourth focusing on the specific relationship of state and economy under capitalism, and the resulting consequences for political strategies.

Clyde W. Barrow argues that the oftcited Poulantzas–Miliband debate partly hinders an understanding of the continuity in Poulantzas’s state analysis. For him, the historical– structuralist Poulantzas enables a subrange theory of the capitalist state that reminds us of the importance of describing and understanding the role of economic state apparatuses (p. 45). Bob Jessop contributes with his wellknown argument that Poulantzas allows us to understand authoritarian étatism as the normal condition of today’s capitalist state by having developed a theoretical account to grasp the capitalist state as a relationship that takes different, yet historically specific, forms. Joachim Hirsch and John Kannankulam argue, also unsurprisingly, their case for the possibility of combining Poulantzas’s understanding of the state as a ‘material condensation of power relations’ with the insights of form analysis. Poulantzas’s inability to theoretically justify the relative autonomy of the capitalist state is said to be overcome by the contributions of the (west-)German state derivation debate. Lars Bretthauer provides a less coherently structured argument than the contributions so far¯but introduces the reader to the variety of different aspects in Poulantzas’s writings, which are well worth discussion. He does so by engaging with the notions of materiality and condensation. Bretthauer also stresses that his reading of Poulantzas allows us to identify the capitalist nature of the state ‘ex post’ as a result of the materialist condensation of power relations, which in itself would allow for the opening of possibilities for examining the conditions of relations reproducing Herrschaft (dominance) (p. 99). Alexander Gallas concludes the first part of the book by engaging with Capital through Poulantzas’s thinking. The article argues that Poulantzas can help to overcome the shortcomings of Marxist positions that critique illusions of possible change, as presented by Moishe Postone amongst others, as well as Marxist approaches that critique positions that do not allow for illusions of change—represented by, for example, John Holloway’s work—in their respectively reductionist understandings of either ‘form’ or ‘struggle’. The article, however, does not realise its potential, focusing too much on establishing the debate and engaging with the relationship of form and struggle in Marx, and partly reducing the insights of Poulantzas to a ‘nice side story’.

The second part of the volume engages with questions of power and Herrschaft (dominance). Max Koch introduces the section by stating that Poulantzas—despite class reductionism—offers terms and conceptualisations that could fruitfully inform an overdue empirical research on classes, while criticising him for being unclear on the instances that generate societal classes in the first place. Joerg Nowak, as already stated, accuses feminist state-theoretical approaches of dealing with Poulantzian argumentation without explicitly referring to his work. If this continues to be the case, he claims, then the interdependencies between class and gender relations in feminist statetheoretical work will remain unresolved. An explicit engagement with Poulantzas would be able to resolve this, as his work would provide a framework—not fully realised by Poulantzas himself—with which to grasp class, gender and race relationships. Again, the class reductionism in Poulantzas’s work—a feature he has been criticised for elsewhere by feminist scholars—is not mentioned by Nowak at all. Urs T. Lindner’s contribution asks whether Poulantzas’s work is helpful for critiquing the equivocal usage of the term ‘power’ in Foucault. Reading Foucault with the help of Poulantzas’s insights, according to the author, allows a differentiation between Herrschaft and politics in his analytics of power. The next chapter by Sonja Buckel (one of two female contributors) is one of the most innovative contributions in the book. She provides a strong argument by highlighting the need to free Poulantzas’s interpretation of law from its reductionism to class relations in order to grasp the role of law more generally as a strategy of cohesion of subjectivities. By combining his state theory with Foucault’s concept of ‘governmentality’, Buckel develops a materialist understanding that allows us to think of the state and law as respectively, ‘relationally autonomous’. Ingo Stuetzle, the last contributor to the second part, also draws on Foucault and supports the combined reading of his work and that of Poulantzas. This, according to him, would contribute to the overcoming of both Poulantzas’s state centrism and Foucault’s inability to grasp, in theoretical terms, the separation between politics and the economy. Stuetzle discusses the role of the state in producing knowledge and so organising the leading classes.

The third part of the book deals with space and different forms of Staatlichkeit (forms of state). Markus Wissen’s article on territory and history outlines different understandings of space and time in the state theory of Poulantzas. He emphasises the concomitance of space and time within his work. Nevertheless, the author shows that Poulantzas lacks an understanding of space as a physical– material condition of social processes (p. 217). This, according to Wissen, poses the danger of generalising the Fordist space–time matrix as the genuine capitalist form. The other two articles in the third part engage specifically with the internationalisation of the state and the changes in Staatlichkeit under globalisation. It is argued that Poulantzas anticipated some of these developments, although he could not foresee their exact form. Therefore, both articles try to grasp these developments in a manner informed by and beyond Poulantzas. Hans-Juergen Bieling approaches the process of European integration. He argues that some form of a supranational Staatlichkeit has come about, and that Poulantzas’s writings could be applied here as a heuristic device with which to understand these changes. He discusses different state-theoretical research programmes that are inspired by Poulantzas. In his view, we should see them as constructive oppositions rather than mutually exclusive positions in order to enhance work in state theory. Jens Wissel states that a transnational empire has developed that lacks a clearly identifiable centre. While he agrees with Hardt and Negri on this, he argues that Poulantzas, deprived of his class reductionism, can address the absence of theoretical foundations in their work, and that his concept of ‘the inner bourgeoisie’ could help in understanding the relatively recent development of a transnationally organised power bloc.

The last part of the book deals with the specific relationship of state and economy under capitalism, and the resulting consequences for political strategies. Under the title ‘Crises and Staatlichkeit for Poulantzas’, Thomas Sablowski stresses the validity of Poulantzas’s work in describing different forms of crisis (economic, political and ideological). He states, however, that Poulantzas’s analysis of the rise of fascism as a result of crisis is incomplete, as he would negate the specifically German anti-semitism in his analysis of fascist ideology. Ulrich Brand and Miriam Heigl critique the state-centricity in Poulantzas’s writings in their analysis of the theoretical conditions for generating radical change today. For them, a socialist strategy must change all social relationships including those of production and reproduction, and including ‘life forms, ethnic and gender relationships’ (p. 287). Alex Demirovic also looks at possibilities for change, but from the position of democratic theory. He appreciates Poulantzas for having valued the accomplishment of representative democracy in guaranteeing political freedom, and thereby allowing for societal strategies for change from within. Nevertheless, he highlights the importance of democratic struggles in clear opposition to the state and the economy conceived of in Poulantzas’s work. Beyond Poulantzas, he suggests that understanding of the relationship between different societal movements be developed more explicitly in order to create strategies for change. In the closing chapter, Peter Thomas criticises Poulantzas for his interpretation of Gramsci’s work. The Poulantzian attempt ‘to free Gramsci from Lenin’ overlooks the fact that Gramsci’s concept of hegemony results from the same problematique as Poulantzas’s state theory. Gramsci’s ‘integral state’ is equated with the Poulantzian notion of ‘the material condensation of powerrelations between and within classes’.

This book is an invaluable contribution that highlights the relevance of the work of the Marxist state theorist Nicos Poulantzas. It offers a welcome contrast to other writings that try to search for ‘the one and true’ Poulantzas by engaging critically with him and his shortcomings. The chapters in this volume seek to go beyond his work in order to contribute to the development of materialist state theory. The editorial invitation to (re)read Poulantzas’s work constructively celebrates the author as a Marxist classic, without putting him into a position that leaves his thinking unquestionable. The final highlight of the book is its concluding section, in which the contributing scholars are introduced and asked about their favourite work by Poulantzas. Their answers are very personal, and allow the reader to relate to the respective authors in an unconventional but productive manner.

3 Kommentare zu “Besprechung in “capital & class” (Nr. 93) von Daniela Tepe”

  1. Yurtdisi Egitim

    does anyone knows if there is any other information about this subject in other languages?

  2. Duvar Kagidi

    mein Deutsch ist nicht gut, is it availible in English?

  3. info

    We are currently in the process of translating the book into english. You will find further information on this website in a few weeks. See also http://poulantzas-lesen.de/wp/?p=38