States and Capitalist Society

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1867 ... July 31, 2019

States and Capitalist Society

Leo Panitch

The illusions of the neoliberal era -- that the market should or even could be freed from the state, or that an unstoppable process of capitalist globalization was bypassing even the most powerful of states -- have suddenly dissipated. One of the greatest misconceptions of neoliberals was the notion that states and markets were in opposition to each other. Since then, it was only on the most superficial level that it could have been thought that states were in retreat at all. On the contrary, they have been actively engaged in spreading capitalist market relations to every corner of the globe and in every facet of life, while repeatedly intervening to try to contain the crises this sparked. It is a measure of how hegemonic the ‘markets versus states’ dichotomy had become, that even most of those who recognised the crucial link between the spread of markets and state action simply called for a return to the days when states allegedly exercised control over markets.

Reading Ralph Miliband’s... The State in Capitalist Society is so instructive today, fifty years after its publication, not only because it gives us indispensable tools to make sense of the ‘return of the state’, but also because it dispels such illusions about the world before neoliberalism. Anthony Crosland’s The Future of Socialism, published in 1956, had famously encapsulated the thinking of a whole generation of New Deal, Labour, and social-democratic politicians and intellectuals in western capitalist countries with its argument that the post-war ‘transformation of capitalism’ entailed ‘the loss of power by the business class to the state’, ‘the transfer of power from management to labour’ in industry, and even a historic change in the nature of the business class itself, whereby the ‘economic power of capital markets and the finance houses ... were much weaker.’

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