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November 9, 2008 / C H Thompson

Theories of the state (neo-Marxist)

However Poulantzas is critical of Miliband for putting so much emphasis on the social background of elites. Instead he argues the state is designed/engineered to first and foremost run in the interest of capitalism.

Because of this Poulantzas believes whoever runs the state – social elites or socialists – the state will operate to serve the interest of capitalism and therefore the state has relative autonmy from the ruling class. This could be one explanation of why Labour policies are seen to serve the interests of business rather than socialism. For example during the credit crunch the government found it hard to force banks to lower their interest rates even though they owned some of them!

This is because Poulantzas argues the state constrained by what is does because of the power of capitalism. To understand what Poulantzas means the ruling class isn’t one homogenous group as Miliband argues but a heterogeneous group with competing interests who are more interested in profit than controlling the proletariat.

For example in 2008 the post credit crunch banks wanted interest rates kept high while business leaders want them cut in the same way the rest of the population did. Therefore business leaders would seem to have more in common with the ordinary person. Yet at the same time business leaders aren’t looking after the ordinary person because they will have put pressure on the government to keep the minimum wage down! And so according to Poulantazs the state makes concessions and compromises in order to protect and serve capitalism.

Question – What type of social theory best explains Poulantzas’ view of the state?

Poulantzas neo-Marxist perspective uses Gramsci’s ideas concerning hegemony. He argues the state doesn’t simply retain the social class status quo by repressing the proletariat. Instead the state obtains consent of the work-class by achieving hegemony over beliefs and ideas. For an example of this read Society Guardian.


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