The State as an Internal and External Limit

Baraneh Emadian


Baraneh Emadian
University of Westminster (Department of Politics and International Relations)

The state as an internal and external limit

Addressing the crisis of Marxism in 1979, Nicos Poulantzas stated that when it comes to the theorization of the state, ‘creative Marxism has advanced satisfactorily’ (‘Is There a Crisis in Marxism?’). It has been frequently attested that the state remained undertheorized in Marx’s corpus, and despite Poulantzas’s reassurance some thinkers believed that a Marxist theory of the state continued to be lacking (Louis Althusser, ‘The Crisis of Marxism’). The quandary of the state persists up to this day, a problem that cannot be properly dealt with through analyses in which everything boils down to capital. Although capital violently synchronizes everything under the sun from reproduction to religion and patriarchy, re-articulating them and putting them to work, these forms are not immanent to it and must not be reduced to its logic, or ontologized. Even though Marx never found a chance to expound an elaborate theory of state, he was cognizant of the fact that it is mainly through the force of the state that capital can digest differences or forms independent from its own life-process and subsume them. The monopoly of the state over organized violence (via army and police) is not merely the ubiquitous reality of life in the ‘Third-World’; it also haunts the ‘First World’ in the wake of the least dissensus, or so-called ‘security threat.’

Emancipation in theory and praxis therefore demands a thoroughgoing reflection on the state form, a reflection simultaneously wary of the pitfalls of a state-centered position. Through a constellation of theories, this paper attempts to rethink the category of the state as both an internal and external limit for Marxist thought. It maps out the transcendent limit in a category of the state as the decision of the sovereign (Carl Schmitt), and the immanent limit in the state as a social relation (Nicos Poulantzas) and the state as a form of exchange grounded on ‘plunder and redistribution’ (Kojin Karatani). Any horizon beyond the commodity form has to first grasp the process through which the state becomes a silent partner to capital, synchronizing and re-configuring independent forms of life.

Marxism - state theory - limits to capital - Poulantzas