Free economy and the strong state: Some notes on the state
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Capital & Class 34(1) 15–24
The crisis of 2008 is said to have brought the state back in, and its resurgence, in turn, is seen as revealing post-neoliberal tendencies. This analytical framework implies a conception of market and state as two distinct modes of social organization, and the perennial question about such a conception is whether the market has autonomy vis-à-vis the state, or the state vis-à-vis the market. Their social constitution as distinct forms of social relations is not raised. This paper argues that the capitalist state is fundamentally a liberal state. This conception entails class as the determining category of its form and content.
state, capital, class, crisis, neoliberalism, post-neoliberalism, free economy, strong state, political economy, critique
Neoliberalism met its definite end with the crisis that erupted in 2008. (Cecena, 2009: 33)
Conventionally, neoliberalism is seen to have emerged in the wake of the deep crisis of the early 1970s. According to Altvater, for example, ‘it began with the end of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates in 1973 and the following liberalisation of financial markets in Margaret Thatcher’s Great Britain’ (2009: 73). Neoliberalism is thus identified with a specific capitalist regime of accumulation, characterized by the dominance of finance capital over productive capital.1 Ordinarily, neoliberalism is associated with a weak state that is unable to resist market forces. The neoliberal state functions as a market facilitating state.
The neoliberal regime of accumulation is said to have ended in 2008 when the banking industry ‘did not hesitate to “bring the state back in”, in an even more radical way than in Keynesian times’. Once the state was back in, neoliberal capitalism transformed into a ‘kind of “financial socialism”’ (Altvater, 2009: 79, citing Sennett). This socialism socializes the financial losses, guarantees ‘toxic debt’ and secures private gains, and in order to balance the books, attacks conditions. It amounts to a huge redistribution of wealth from labour to capital. Financial socialism well illustrates Marx’s notion of the capitalist state as the executive committee of the bourgeoisie. What, however, is meant by ‘bringing the state back in’? Was it really left ‘out’ during the so-called neoliberal regime of accumulation?
The notion that the state has been ‘brought back in’ suggests a resurgent state, one that has regained some measure of control over the market. This view implies a conception of market and state as two distinct modes of social organization, and the perennial question about such a conception is whether the market has autonomy vis-ΰ-vis the state, or the state vis-ΰ-vis the market. The social constitution of state and market as distinct forms of social relations is not raised. Following Clarke (1992), this paper argues that the capitalist state is fundamentally a liberal state. This conception entails class as the determining category of its form and content.