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The State: A Biography. Gramsci and the Monstrous State

1 January 2017


The following article on Antonio Gramsci and the theory of the State is part of a book-length project called 'The State - a biography.' It comprises a careful reading of Gramsci's writing on the State, State theory and working class strategy.

The book traces the biography of an idea - the idea that the State saves capitalism from itself, and is an essential part of the sustaining mechanism associated with capitalism, which supports the social formation in the face of the inevitable crises of capitalist over-accumulation, ruthless competition and social inequality.

For quite a long time, this kind of theorizing held centre stage among the high priests of political theory. It was the biggest game in town. It was rumoured that Foucault’s students and Poulantzas’s students fought pitched battles in the halls of the French Academy, and that the Chilean Generals, as they overthrew democratically-elected Marxist Salvadore Allende’s government in Chile burnt Poulantzas’s books on television to show the people who the enemy really was. It was heady stuff. It was the kind of theorizing that the self-styled ‘most sophisticated students’ talked about, read and pretended to comprehend. Thousands attended conferences about it. Many more read the books, tried to understand them and apply them to their own political situations, and hoped for a better world. Whether all this theorizing and debating contributed to public welfare and progressive politics is an issue that will garner some attention as the book progresses. In one way, then, this is also the biography of a generation of leftist thinkers during the period from about 1960 to the present day.

This idea starts with Antonio Gramsci. Later chapters review the work of Nicos Poulantzas, Stuart Hall and the Regulation School. And I continue with the rise of 'New Times,' a set of Eurocommunist ideas that influenced Tony Blair and those around him. The conclusion reviews fresh initiatives in this field as a new generation seeks to understand the importance of the State.

I hope the reader will find value in the book for the two reasons of clarity and significance. I hope, through biography, that the book offers up a readable and approachable account of state theorizing that respects the sophistication of the magnificent writing on this topic. My second hope is that the reader will also become aware of how extraordinarily important it is to understand this reasoning if we are to come to grips with our present reality, and the State’s role in securing the future.


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