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Seminar on the theory of the state (1995)

Опубликовано на портале: 23-12-2002
Факультет: Department of Sociology
Дисциплина: Социальная стратификация
Язык: Английский
Язык оригинала: английский
Тематические разделы: Социология, Социальная стратификация

At the core of this seminar is a moral and political concern: to what extent is it possible to achieve a more egalitarian, humane and democratic society within a capitalist society? It is a fundamental tenet of Marxist theories of the state that the state in capitalist society is deeply shaped and constrained by the class relations of capitalism, but this leaves quite open the extent to which progressive change can be achieved within those constraints. At one extreme is classical Leninism, which sees the capitalist state as so profoundly imbued with a capitalist character that even where nominally democratic institutions exist, there is little prospect for progressive change. The state is fundamentally a "superstructure": its form and structures functionally reproduce the basic class relations of capitalism. As a result, to use Lenin's expression, the state must be smashed; serious reforms in an egalitarian direction will inevitably fail or be reversed. At the other extreme is classical social democracy which viewed state apparatuses as basically class neutral and regarded class structure as simply one among a variety of obstacles to be overcome. Popular mobilization, particularly when organized through a coordination of the labor movement and socialist parties, had the potential to gradually reform capitalism in a radically egalitarian direction through social democratic state policies. Between these extremes are a varietry of theoretical and political positions which see the constraints on radical change imposed by the capitalist state as variable, both in terms of the kinds of changes they permit and the extent to which struggles can transform the constraints themselves. The "contradictory functionality" of the state creates a complex, variable political space within which egalitarian, democratic, and even emancipatory politics can be pursued.

The central task of this seminar, then, is to explore a range of theoretical and empirical issues that bear on the problem of understanding such possibilities for radical, egalitarian politics in capitalist societies. Above all we will focus on the problem of the complex interconnections between class, the economy, and the state. To develop the theoretical tools to approach these issues we will have to grapple with some fairly abstract of conceptual questions: what does it mean to say that the state has a "class character"? What is the difference between an external constraint on state actions imposed by class relations and an internal institutionalization of class constraints within the state itself? What does it mean to describe the state as having "autonomy" -- relative, potential, limited or absolute? The seminar, however, will not primarily grapple with these issues at a purely abstract conceptual level. Rather, in most of the sessions we will focus on specific historical/empirical problems through which we will refine the conceptual tools and build our theoretical understanding.

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