Chapter 11: The state as social relation: Poulantzas on materiality and political strategy
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This chapter discusses Nicos Poulantzas’ innovative contribution to Marxist debates about law and the state, focusing on his understanding of the capitalist state as a social relation. By approaching the state as a material condensation of a relationship of forces between classes and class fractions, Poulantzas challenged both Leninist ‘revolutionary’ and social-democratic ‘reformist’ orthodoxies about the capitalist state. This enabled him to avoid the theoretical dilemma of conceiving the state as either an instrument or a subject. This shift toward a view of the capitalist state as a constellation of social forces and powers, driven by an immanent conception of class struggles, had important political and strategic implications. Poulantzas’ theory provided a novel framework for a Marxist theory of politics, emphasising the political dimensions of state crisis, the intervention of the ‘popular classes’ in a given conjuncture, and the possible ruptures involved in the transition from capitalism to socialism.

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