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New Left Review I/138, March-April 1983

Ralph Miliband

State Power and Class Interests

Work done in the last fifteen years or so by people writing within a broad Marxist perspective on the subject of the state in capitalist society now fills a great many bookshelves; and however critical one may be of one or other article, book or trend, it is undoubtedly very useful that this work should be available. There is, however, a very large gap in the literature, in so far as very little of it is specifically concerned with the question of the autonomy of the state. [1] For an interesting survey of the bulk of this literature, see Bob Jessop, The Capitalist State: Marxist Theories and Methods, London 1982. The autonomy of the state, however, is not accorded any particular attention in this book and does not appear in the index. How great a degree of autonomy does the state have in capitalist society? What purpose is its autonomy intended to serve? And what purposes does it actually serve? These and many other such questions are clearly of the greatest theoretical and practical importance, given the scope and actual or potential impact of state action upon the society over which the state presides, and often beyond. Yet, the issue has remained poorly explored and ‘theorized’ in the Marxist perspective. [2] For a recent discussion of the subject by a ‘mainstream’ political scientist, which shows well how limited is an approach that takes no serious account of the state’s capitalist context, see E. Nordlinger, On the Autonomy of the Democratic State, New York 1981. Actual case studies are discussed in S. D. Krasner, Defending the National Interest: Raw Materials Investments and US Foreign Policy, New York 1978. The present article is intended as a modest contribution to the work that needs to be done on it. [3] This article is exclusively concerned with ‘late’ capitalist societies. The question presents itself rather differently in countries in the capitalist world which are poorly developed, and very differently indeed in Soviet-type regimes. Here again serious theoretical work has only commenced.

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