On Some Fundamental Issues in 21st Century Political Economy
Chapter 10: Karl Marx on the State and Change
MARX ON THE STATE On the State in Capital It is surprising and a bit remarkable that for a work which is a critique of political economy, the state very rarely appears in Capital.1 Marx does write that in England the state is ‘ruled by capitalist and landlord’ (348) and England is ‘the classic representative of capitalist production’ (349, fn. 15). Almost his only discussion of the state in the text occurs in his various comments on the Factory Acts in England. On the one hand, the conflict over the length of the working day, working conditions, and so on, is a result of intense class struggles between the capitalists and the workers. On the other hand, there necessarily arises the absolute need for regulation by the state to prevent the total ruination of the workers. By Marx’s reading of history, While the modern Factory Acts compulsorily shorten the working day, the earlier statutes tried forcibly to lengthen it. . . . Centuries are required before the ‘free’ worker, owing to the greater development of the capitalist mode of production, makes a voluntary agreement, i.e. is compelled by social conditions, to sell the whole of his active life, his very capacity for labour, in return for the price of his customary means of subsistence, to sell his birthright for a mess of pottage. (382)2 So in the fight for the modern Factory Acts to limit the length of the working day, ‘their formulation, official recognition and proclamation by the state were the...
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