Historical Materialism and the State

  • David Lockwood


In 1977, Bob Jessop declared that ‘nowhere in the Marxist classics do we find a well formulated, coherent and sustained theoretical analysis of the state.’ He went on to outline no less than six different approaches in the classical texts, each of which involved different assumptions and gave rise to different political conclusions.1 The best known of the ‘classical’ formulations was expressed (in an extremely condensed form) by Marx and Engels in The Manifesto of the Communist Party, in which they concluded: ‘The executive of the modern representative state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.’ In Anti-Dühring, Engels reiterated the point:

The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists… 2


Productive Force Capitalist Development Capitalist System Historical Materialism Relative Autonomy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Bob Jessop, ‘Recent Theories of the Capitalist State’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 1, 1977, pp. 353–73 at pp. 354–7Google Scholar
  2. Bob Jessop, The Capitalist State, New York: New York University Press, 1983, pp. 9–28.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’ in Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Moscow: Progress Press, 1970, p. 37.Google Scholar
  4. Engels, Anti-Dühring, Moscow: Progress Press, 1969, p. 330.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution. Volume 1: State and Bureaucracy, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977, pp. 258–9. Much of this argument was to be restated by Lenin in State and Revolution.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    Fred Block, ‘The Ruling Class Does Not Rule: Notes on the Marxist Theory of the State’, Socialist Revolution, 7 (3), No. 33, May –June 1977, pp. 6–28 at p. 10.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Thus Block warns: ‘The clear danger is slipping into a form of theorising in which everything influences everything else, so that it becomes impossible to grasp the basic dynamics of a particular social formation’ (Fred Block, ‘Beyond Relative Autonomy: State Managers as Historical Subjects’ in Ralph Miliband and John Saville, The Socialist Register 1980, London: Merlin, 1980, pp. 227–42 at p. 228).Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Stephen D. Krasner, Defending the National Interest, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978, p. 330.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    See, among others: Jürgen Habermas, Legitimation Crisis, London: Heinemann, 1976Google Scholar
  10. Claus Offe and Volker Ronge, ‘Theses on the Theory of the State’ in Anthony Giddens and David Held, Classes, Power and Conflict, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1982, pp. 249–56Google Scholar
  11. Nicos Poulantzas, ‘The Problem of the Capitalist State’ in Robin Blackburn (ed.), Ideology in the Social Sciences, London: Fontana, 1972; Nicos Poulantzas, ‘On Social Classes’ in Giddens and Held, Classes, pp. 101–11.Google Scholar
  12. 18.
    Engels cited by Lenin in ‘Selections’ in Giddens and Held, Classes, pp. 40–59 at p. 48; Offe and Ronge in Giddens and Held, Classes, p. 250; Goran Therborn, What Does the Ruling Class Do When it Rules?, London: Verso, 1980, p. 107; Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory, p. 325.Google Scholar
  13. 21.
    Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory, p. 258. See also Colin Barker, ‘The State as Capital’, International Socialism, No. 1, July 1978, pp. 16–42 at pp. 19, 25Google Scholar
  14. Simon Clarke, ‘State, Class Struggle and the Reproduction of Capital’ in Clarke, State Debate, p. 193; John Holloway, ‘Global Capital and the Nation State’, Capital and Class, No. 52, Spring 1994, pp. 23–49 at pp. 34–5.Google Scholar
  15. 25.
    G. A. Cohen, Karl Marx’s Theory of History: a Defence, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991 (henceforward Cohen, KMTH), p. 216; Cohen, History, p. 7. He adds: ‘… it is controversial what its [the superstructure’s] correct demarcation is’ (p. 7); and further, that ‘exactly what its parts are’ is ‘somewhat uncertain’ (p. 9).Google Scholar
  16. 28.
    See Engels, ‘Origin’. His argument is summarized in Karl Kautsky, The Materialist Conception of History, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988, pp. 268–74.Google Scholar
  17. 31.
    Robert L. Heilbroner, The Nature and Logic of Capitalism, New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 1985, p. 86.Google Scholar
  18. 34.
    Felix Gilbert (ed.), The Historical Essays of Otto Hintze, New York: Oxford University Press, 1975, p. 181.Google Scholar
  19. Alex Callinicos, Making History, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989, p. 163.Google Scholar
  20. 37.
    See Robert Brenner, ‘The Social Basis of Economic Development’, in John Roemer (ed.), Analytical Marxism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986, pp. 23–53 at pp. 28–31.Google Scholar
  21. 39.
    Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power (I), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 534. Skocpol and Trimberger argue that the logic of state structures and activities is ‘keyed to the dynamics of international military rivalries and to the geo-political as well as world-economic circumstances in which they find themselves’ (p. 125).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 44.
    Tilly, ‘Reflections’, p. 42. Marx wrote in an early draft of The Civil War in France: ‘The first French revolution with its task to found national unity (to create a nation)… was, therefore, forced to develop what absolute monarchy had commenced, the centralisation and organisation of state power…’ (Marx et al., Democracy, p. 40). See also: Hintze, Essays, pp. 174, 181; Skocpol, States, p. 21; Nigel Harris, National Liberation, London: IB Tauris, 1990, pp. 271, 273.Google Scholar
  23. Eric Hobsbawm’s outline of ‘the characteristic modern state’ in Nations and Nationalism since 1780, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 80.Google Scholar
  24. Barrington Moore Jnr, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, London: Penguin, 1991, p. 176.Google Scholar
  25. 48.
    Nigel Harris, ‘States, Economic Development and the East Asia Pacific Rim’, in Richard P. Appelbaum and Jeffrey Henderson (eds.), States and Development in the Asian Pacific Rim, California: Sage Publications, 1992.Google Scholar
  26. 51.
    See S. Chojnacki, ‘In Search of the Venetian Patriciate’, pp. 47–90 in J. R. Hale (ed.), Renaissance Venice, London: Faber & Faber, 1973 at p. 49.Google Scholar
  27. 53.
    See M. E. Mallett and J. R. Hale, The Military Organization of a Renaissance State, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984, p. 9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 55.
    See J. S. Grubb, Firstborn of Venice, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988, p. 8.Google Scholar
  29. 74.
    Hans Rogger, Russia in the Age of Modernisation and Revolution, 1881–1917, London: Longman, 1983, p. 103.Google Scholar
  30. 75.
    Quoted in Eric Brose, The Politics of Technological Change in Prussia, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993, p. 168.Google Scholar
  31. 76.
    W. O. Henderson, The State and the Industrial Revolution in Prussia, 1740–1870, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1967, pp. xix–xx.Google Scholar
  32. 81.
    Guoli Liu, States and Markets: Comparing Japan and Russia, Boulder: Westview Press, 1994, p. 17.Google Scholar
  33. Barrington Moore Jnr, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, London: Penguin, 1991, p. 246. Liu goes on to argue that the transformation of Japan into a ‘Trading State’ after 1945 was the result of ‘a conscious decision to enrich the country’ (p. 51). It seems to me that it resulted rather from the American occupation and the enforced removal of the Japanese state’s war-making capacity which pushed its economy in an externally oriented direction (as Liu himself hints — see p. 131).Google Scholar
  34. 90.
    Nigel Harris, Of Bread and Guns, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983, pp. 231–2; Skocpol, States, p. 22Google Scholar
  35. Nigel Harris, ‘States, Economic Development and Emerging Social Forces’ — paper delivered to the Conference on Emerging Social Forces in Asia, Murdoch University, 5–8 September 1991, p. 5.Google Scholar
  36. 91.
    Block, ‘Beyond Relative Autonomy’, pp. 229–31; Ralph Miliband, The State in Capitalist Society, London: Quartet, 1970, pp. 76–7.Google Scholar
  37. 95.
    See V. I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Moscow: Progress Press, 1970.Google Scholar
  38. 96.
    Even in the colonial heyday, a division between state and capital could be discerned. The colonial state in the Gold Coast ‘clearly perceived the divergence of its interests from those of [gold] mining capitalists’. A Colonial Office official even declared that ‘The total failure of the mining industry would cause… no more than a temporary setback to the revenue of the Gold Coast’ (John Sender and Sheila Smith, The Development of Capitalism in Africa, London: Methuen, 1986, p. 50). See also David Lockwood, ‘The Myth of Imperialism’, Reconstruction, No. 2, July 1994, pp. 33–42.Google Scholar
  39. 100.
    Rosa Luxemburg, Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, New York: Pathfinder, 1970, p. 55.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Lockwood 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Lockwood
    • 1
  1. 1.Flinders University of South AustraliaAustralia

Personalised recommendations