The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci, Part 3

We end our discussion of Perry Anderson’s text by looking at his views on Gramsci’s political strategy. According to Anderson, Gramsci’s work was preceded by a series of debates about the best approach to organizing the overthrow of capitalism. The first was a debate between those such as Georg Lukács who supported the German strategy of “Teilaktionen,” which advocated partial, cumulative attacks on the capitalist State, versus Lenin and other Russian revolutionaries who argued that the State must be defeated in a single revolutionary blow. The former strategy caused the German communists to pay a high price, when the aborted revolution of 1919 was anticipated and suppressed by the government. Anderson agrees with Lenin and Trotsky that there must be a fundamental rupture with the unity of the bourgeois state (57-58), meaning it cannot be conquered in piecemeal fashion.

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The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci, Part 2

We continue our review of Perry Anderson’s essay by taking up the question of the relationship between the state and civil society. Earlier in the essay, Anderson notes that there are three different versions of the relationship: the first where civil society contrasts with and predominates over the state, the second where the two share ideological functions between each other, the state being the “outer surface” that encompasses civil society, and the third, where the state is identical with civil society. As mentioned in our previous discussion, Anderson criticizes Western Marxists who assume the first definition of the relationship, because the implication for political strategy is simply building ideological consensus among the working class, avoiding direct confrontation with the state.

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The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci, Part 1

Perry Anderson’s “Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci” looks at the shifting meaning of several core concepts, which he argues Gramsci built upon and elaborated within the Marxist tradition. Anderson begins his survey by looking first at the relationship between “state” and “civil society” in Gramsci’s work. According to Anderson, this relationship undergoes several “oscillations”: 1) the State contrasts with Civil Society, 2) the State encompasses Civil Society, and 3) the State is identical with Civil Society (p. 13).

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The Ruling Class Does Not Rule

In his article, “The Ruling Class Does Not Rule: Notes on the Marxist Theory of the State,” Fred Block explains why the state supports capitalist interests, even without the conscious direction of the ruling class. According to Block, the “capitalist rationality” that guides the state is an effect of the three-sided relationship between capitalists, workers and state managers. Ultimately, the state depends on “business confidence” in order to obtain a steady stream of revenue, which means state managers are often biased toward capitalists. Nevertheless, working class struggles in areas such as education and skills development push the state in a reformist direction, although these changes too are eventually accepted as part of the normal development of the capitalist state.

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What Does the Ruling Class Do When It Rules?, Part 3

In Part Three of What Does the Ruling Class Do When It Rules?, Goran Therborn discusses the “democratic socialist” strategy for the conquest of the state power. He argues that movements at the time his book was published in 1978 must contend with the ambiguous relationship between socialism and democracy, given the polarization of the world between the US and the USSR, and Western European parties attempting to form “popular coalitions” with bourgeois parties.  Therborn sketches an alternative political strategy based on a critical look at the relationship between socialism and democracy, which is crucial to the conquest of state power in advanced capitalist societies. While the global context may have changed considerably, Therborn nevertheless provides crucial elements for a theory of the relationship between socialism and democracy in our present society.

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What Does the Ruling Class Do When It Rules?, Part 2

In today’s discussion, we discussed Therborn’s and Althusser’s analysis of state apparatuses. Althusser distinguishes between “repressive” and “ideological” state apparatuses. He claims ideological state apparatuses include schools, churches, and the family. In contrast, Therborn identifies four types of state apparatuses: the governmental, the administrative, the judiciary and the repressive. Commenting on Althusser’s categorization of ideological state apparatuses, Therborn points out that ”schools” may come under the administrative state apparatus and the “family” is not a state apparatus. Moreover, Therborn perceives judicial and repressive-military apparatuses as two distinct state apparatuses due to the relative independence of the judicial system in capitalist society (Foot note, p. 41).

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What Does the Ruling Class Do When It Rules?, Part 1

The first chapter to Goran Therborn’s comparative study of the state, What Does the Ruling Class Do When It Rules?, begins by examining the concept of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” According to Therborn:

The concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat, then, refers to two fundamental theses. First, the idea that the very form of organization of the state is a materialization of a particular mode of class rule. Secondly, in consequence of the first, that the socialist state of the working class must have a specific form of organization. The term ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ is used by Marx, Engels and Lenin as synonymous both with ‘rule of the proletariat’ and with the particular form of state that expresses this rule (p. 25, emphasis in original)

Therborn uses these arguments as the basis to develop the distinction between state power and the state apparatus. While the classic version of Marxism assumes that the state is the “executive committee of the bourgeoisie,” just because a class takes power does not mean that the organization of the state reflects that reality. For example, there is a lag time between a class taking power over the state, and its ability to modify state institutions, what Therborn refers to as “inertia.”

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