THE STATE AND CAPITAL
by Paddy Hackett
There is a tendency to divorce the capitalist state from the economic system that corresponds to it. Although there may appear to be justification for this as a theoretical device it can only be justified in a very qualified sense. The point is that it is a false abstraction to create such a theoretical divorce on the whole and especially ideological to create such a divorce inside social reality itself.
Although Marx produced a critique of political economy based on value relations capital has never existed independently of the political state whether that state had an absolutist, liberal democratic or fascist form. It is impossible for capital to exist in any serious way independently of the state. Consequently we cannot justifiably discuss and succeed in understanding both the real nature of the state and capital independently of each other --the one cannot exist without the other. This being so the wage worker can be analysed in the context of the contradictory unity of citizen and wage worker.
The legal relations assume the existence of the state. The exchange between labour power and variable capital is impossible outside a legal framework. This same legal framework is indispensable for the operation of the laws of capital. Consequently the operation of the law of value under capitalism presupposes the existence of the state. This being so it makes no sense to analyse either capital or the state independently of each other. To produce an analysis of the state on a stand alone basis make no sense and simply misrepresents both the real nature of the state and indeed capital itself.
This being so any attempt to promote the view, neo-conservatism, that market relations can serve as regulator in the distribution of wealth makes no sense. If the law of value, as is commonly believed by many Marxists, is the regulator of the reproduction of wealth then the need for a state is superfluous and at best merely supplementary --a mere luxury. The operation of the law of value cannot be explained outside the context of the state. The problem is that communism has not been able to achieve an analysis or critique of the state in the context of the contradictory unity between capital and state. Probably the nearest thing to it has been Marx --Lenin here, we can completely ignore. The latter added nothing new to Marx/Engels understanding of the state and indeed virtually ignored its contradictory relation to the laws of capital.
The law of value means that commodities must sell at their values. In the absence of a state and its legal system this law could not exist in any real sense. In the absence of a state the use values in question would never become commodities since the sellers, if anything, would have their products stolen at gun or sword point. Similarly under modern capitalism in the absence of a state the supermarkets would not be able to sell at market prices since the potential buyers would simply liberate the goods from the supermarkets. In short the equalisation of the rate of profit would be inapplicable. Consequently the law of value in the form of the laws of capital could not exist and neither too could capital. Without the state capitalism could be. Indeed, except for the opprobrium with which the term is associated, it might be incorrect to describe all capitalist societies as state capitalism.
Instead of the laws of capital anarchy would obtain whereby society would reduce itself to one of perpetual conflict between different elements within the population.
This being so it is incorrect to suggest that industrial capitalism emerged as a result of the development of commodity production. To posit economic history in this way is to suggest that economic development and transformation is a history that takes place essentially within the framework of economics. The decisive point is that the development of commodity circulation proceeds within the indispensable context of the state. Implicit then in the development of capitalism and the operation of its laws is the existence of the legal system underlined by state force. Implicit in capital is force and violence. Capital contains within itself violence. It is this aspect of capital that is omitted from analysis of capital through the confining of analysis to the context of economics and even political economy. Political economy is a bourgeois category that mystifies the relation in capital that implies violence. Political economy is a bourgeois mystifying category. It is the traditional position of Marxism to invest the category political economy with an objective scientific neutral category. Lets remember that Marx's Capital was intended as a critique of political economy. The bourgeois category political economy must be critiqued. As I indicated there has been traditionally a tendency to assume, despite Marx's Capital, that political economy is a neutral category and that the problem is the specific form of political economy (Ricardo, Malthus etc.). What is ignored is that Marx's Capital was not political economy but a critique of it as, perhaps, an ideology. The category political as are the categories value, commodity, capital, prices etc are reifications.
What is particularly ignored is that the category political economy contains a violent aspect. It is this violent aspect that must be explicated since it is this aspect that is largely ignored by both left and right. The traditional tendency has been to regard the political economy as clean and at most merely an ideological construct in need of theoretical correction. In short critique of political economy is experienced as an exercise in mere pedagogy in which its ideological character is misconceived as one of mere distorted thought requiring rational adjustment.
Capital, then, implies the political state. As capital develops the state is correspondingly developed. There obtains an internal unity between capital and state. Buried within capital is the state –state capital. As capital develops the state issues out of it. It is a mistaken abstraction to focus on capitalist development to the exclusion of the state.
Capital as a specific social relation of production contains within it a relation of violence to develop out of it in the form of the state. However this dialectical relationship is not simply a logical one –the capital logic school. History is of decisive importance here. The form of the state has its source in the capital relation . However how that form specifically develops is a function of history and thereby the class struggle. Capital then implies a specific form of violence, of force, in the form of the political state. Capital then implies relations of violence and consequently creates an entire structure of violence in the context of politics --the state. Social relations in the form of capital are violent in character, are state in character, are political in character. Capital is a necessarily violent social relation. The mistake is made of presenting capital as essentially a violent-free relation observing economic laws that are equally violent free. Economics is consequently viewed as a violent free zone --a merely academic exercise in need of theoretical transformation (Althusser).
Since economics has a violent aspect to it and is concerned with inherently violent social relations the character of that violence and its form of development must be made explicit. The violence residing in economics must be highlighted. In short capital and economics are forms of violence –reified forms of violence. One might go as far as to assert that the state and capital are a form of the class struggle.
Consequently the only way to transcend political economy is by abolishing the violence inherent in it. This entails the abolition of the violence inhering in social relations in the form of capital. Such a process of abolition constitutes the class struggle. This means that the abolition of this violence by abolishing state capital is a historical process rather than a logical (capital logic) process. However the abolition of violence is tantamount to the abolition of the class struggle. This being so the violence inhering in capital must be analysed and highlighted every bit as much as is value character and what that represents. But we must immediately correct ourselves: The analysis of the value form is simultaneously an analysis of its violent aspect too. Capital cannot be correctly analysed without a corresponding analysis of its violent aspect including its development in the form of the state. It is not so much the content or the function of the state that we are concerned with here. Instead we are chiefly concerned with the form of the state. We establish the form in which the state appears under state capital before we can investigate its content and corresponding functions. Indeed the content of political states may tend to be of a universal nature.
Traditionally capital and even the state has been analysed in this violent free way –in a form that is free of the class struggle. Capital tends to be analysed as if it exists independently of the class struggle. Indeed capital is a product of the way in which the class struggle specifically developed in Europe. Indeed in so far as violence and class struggle is introduced into the discussion this is done in a marginal, external almost incidental way.
Capitalism, then, is a violent conflict ridden system of production. Consequently many of its problems are resolved in the form of violent class struggle --chiefly by way of political violence. Under capitalism the form chiefly assumed by violent struggle is politics. Politics is a fetishised form of violent struggle. At the same time it must not be forgotten that economics is a form of violent struggle too. Economic development is a systemic form of violence and struggle.
Capitalism, then, is a form of organised violence. The development of capitalism is the form of development of organised violence which expresses itself in the form of the development of the state –the form of development of the class struggle. Given that capitalism is essentially a form of organised violence it follows that despite its positive aspect it is still by definition a primitive savage system of the reproduction of wealth.
History in general then has entailed the development of violence. History has been the history of violent class struggle. Violence is the history of its development. Auschwitz and Hiroshima are expressions as to what new forms violence has been developed under capitalist society. Under capitalism violent struggle is both endemic and systemic taking on a dazzling spectrum of forms: from verbal abuse to physical abuse to genocide.
Given the inherently violent character of capitalism it follows that the study of the state is central to the study of capitalism. It is here that violence achieves its quintessentially capitalist character and its chief form --its political form. Violence, then, assumes the political form. Politics constitutes the mystification of violent struggle. Violent class struggle as politics as the state achieves a highly developed, mystifying and veiled form. Consequently violence under daily capitalist existence is not recognised. Its source in capitalism is especially not recognised.
Despite saying this capital assumes the existence of the state. Capital could not come into being in the absence of the state --in the absence of violence. Capitalism requires violence -organised violence- for its existence. However having established itself capital is then the form by which violence is organised and further developed. Under capitalism violence assumes an alienated form which mystifies it and makes it more difficult to highlight. Capitalism is shot through with violence. Capitalism can go no where without holding hands with violence. Capital both assumes and is the source of its development. Capitalism is the dynamic underlying both the development of both violence and the state. Law is the mystified form assumed by violence under capitalism. The state is the mystified form assumed by violence under capitalism.
The state is an abstraction. (The state is the class struggle in abstract form.) The state is a form of alienation from society as community. The state is community abstracted from society. The state is the form in which relations between people assume the form of a thing; relations between people (the class struggle) assume the form of relations between things.
Capital is an abstract social relation that stands independently of people. It is community in the form of an abstraction. Capital, as abstract social relation, implies organised violence in the form of the state. It implies organised force in the form of an abstraction. Capital assumed the existence of the state. Capital cannot exist without a state. It is therefore quite mistaken to view the state as a structure that is articulated onto capital in an external fashion. There is an internal unity between the capital and the state.
Capital can never operate freely --freed from the trammels of the state. if capital were able to operate freely strictly according to its own laws it would undermine its existence as capital. This is why those who say that the market should be the regulator so that capital is state free are presenting a false negative utopia. This is a bourgeois ideology that in a mystified way seeks improve the conditions for profit maximisation at the expense of the working class. It is an ideology that pretends to seek the eliminate the state from capitalist reproduction when its aim is nothing of the sort. It simply seeks the restructuring and reorganising of the state in such a way as to improve conditions for profit maximisation at the expense of the masses. It at most seeks to downsize the state where it is not to the advantage of capital to preserve a bigger state.
The impression is given too that the laws of capital operate purely according to a logic of their own. This in general can never be the case even in the absence of social welfarism. The law of the equalisation of profit and tendency of the rate of profit to fall can never act in unadulterated form. There will always be state elements at play that prevent the free-play of these laws. This is because the development of capital is not a logical process as the capital logic people believe. This is because the development of the capital relation is historical and not a forms of functionalism. The necessary existence of state elements mixed in with capital is an expression of the existence of capital as an historical matter thereby entailing specificity and even contingency. The development of capital is not a logical or rational process freed from the complexities of the class struggle with history and thereby specificity stick all over it. Even in the 1929 crisis the state modified the free play of these laws of capitalism. Despite this fact it must be borne in mind that the laws still work their way through in the last instance. However they operate as tendencies that work there way through more thoroughly at one time than at another. There can then be no simplified description that accurately depicts the operation of the laws of capitalism in their pure form. Any account of what is happening in the real world will tend to be complicated by a manifold of facts all impinging on the situation as a conjunctural one. This is why it is so difficult to explain what is happening in the contemporary world and partly why there are a manifold of conflicting accounts of how the situation developed. It is a very difficult task to analyse and provide an account of the contemporary situation in the world today. Failure by communism to produce an accurate account of the world today is not necessarily a reflection on the bankruptcy of communism. It must be remembered that in the past no such account was ever provided of life under industrial capitalism. All we can strive to do is get close to such an account. It is the incapacity to provide an all embracing account that makes it so difficult to provide the correct strategies and programmes. It also helps explain why there is a manifold of conflicting tendencies within the radical left. Indeed a complete explanation would imply closure and thereby the absence of history.
In every conjunctural situation, besides the basic prevailing tendencies of capital accumulation, there obtain a multitude of factors internally related to these tendencies at work that complicate the situation and render it a daunting task to provide an accurate account of the situation in all its ramifications. This is what make the process historical and not logical or functionalism. However the laws of capital provide a basic thread that makes this task more achievable. It is this thread that the bourgeoisie are incapable of picking up.
The state is necessary for capital’s existence. Capital cannot exist in the absence of legal relations. Law and justice are necessary for capital’s existence. Consequently the judiciary, the courts, the lawyers, the police and the prisons are necessary aspects of its existence. Without these features of the state capital could not exist. Consequently the legislature is necessary in order to create laws. The army is necessary to protect one capitalist country against another –to protect one capital against another and against the masses. The bureaucracy is necessary to organise these various structures and relations guaranteeing their forming an integrated whole. The more apparently benevolent social aspects of the state are designed to assist in the maintenance of the working class in a condition that suits capital’s interests and to promote passivity in the more oppressed strata of the working class. This has all to do with the specific character of the class struggle and the corresponding balance of class forces. Other aspects of the state are designed to generally preserve an environment that allows individual capitals to operate on a level playing field, so to speak –to contain capitalist fraud, cheating and robbing which when not contained can prove detrimental to capital as a whole and even lead to the destruction of capital.
All these functions of the state are necessary aspects of the existence of capital. Capital cannot exist without them. Capital cannot exist without this kind of state, the capitalist state. Capital as a social form logical and historically entails the form of the state. Capital, as a social relation of production, produces the class struggle, violence, in the form of the state. The task is to investigate the specific form of the capitalist the state. The more capital develops the more the political state develops. This state is a sophisticated form of organised violence necessary to capital’s existence –indeed a necessary aspect of capital’s existence. The state is a pervasive form of organised violence transformed into a vast structure of alienated (sublimated) violence existing in diffuse mystified form. The capitalist state is a vast structure of hidden or veiled violence.
The character of the capitalist economic system is such as to present appearances that contradict its essential nature. Its essential nature is mystified. Consequently appearances are mistaken for reality. This means that the mass of the population misunderstand the real nature of capital and its political state. Consequently they mistakenly perceive capitalism as a natural rational, even logical, system that makes sense. This ideology that capital spontaneously generates reinforces the masses acceptance of the system including the state. Spontaneously produced bourgeois ideology further veils the hidden violence of the state –further mystifies that organised violence in the form of the state. Consequently it reinforces the active participation of the masses in their own violent oppression; the active participation of the masses in the perpetuation of the capital relation and organised violence in the form of the state. This produces a situation whereby the masses actually actively participate in their own oppression through the medium of the state. It may even go as far as some elements of the masses even occupying active oppressive positions within the state itself. The state form as a form of the class struggle is a fetishised form of that struggle. As the state it hides the class struggle by actively seeking to present class struggle in a form that obscures it by presenting the members of the working class as citizens. Citizen is a reified category that conceals the existence of class.
Given appearances contradicting and concealing the essence of things under capitalism it follows that capital is a concealing or veiling of being –of social being and thereby social being in the form of the class struggle. But capital’s characteristic of veiling social being simultaneously provides the form by which being is unveiled, highlighted or unconcealed. Capital then while concealing also unconceals through this concealing. Capital yields truth by lying. This is its contradiction. Social being then through capital conceals and at the same time reveals its essence –its truth. The truth or essence of social being is revealed through the development of capital.
Both the state and ideology are forms or aspects of capital.
Just as the capital relations spontaneously produces an ideology that sustains its existence it correspondingly produces a state form that equally sustains its existence. Indeed the state is a form of the capital relation. It exists in the context of the capital relation. Capital then contains within itself organised violence in the form of the state together with a corresponding ideology. Capital, as a social relation of production, contains within itself both violence and ideology –the forms by which its perpetuation and development is guaranteed. As capital develops violence and ideology correspondingly develop. They maintain a dialectical unity with each other. In the course of their contradictory development they take on the appearance of separation from each other in different ways. However in critical situations their unity is reconstructed and they appear as an explicit unity. Perhaps in periods of continuous development these aspects of capital grow apart from each other only to be forcibly reunited in periods of crisis.
The capital relation is both valorisation, organised violence and ideology. These contradictory aspects of capital develop within the form of capital and are eventually externalised in a form that more adequately accommodates the contradictory unity: the contradiction is externalised. Under this form the state, ideology and value assume a fetishised existence independent of each other. Under this form appearance contradicts essence. What appears to be separate is in fact a unity. However this appearance of separation is what further develops bourgeois ideology giving the appearance of separation with all that that entails ideologically and politically.
Given that capital is a reified social relation of production the way in which social relations in general manifest themselves will have a correspondingly reified or twisted form. This expresses itself in consciousness and communal relations taking on the form of ideology and state respectively.