State, Power, and Democratic Socialism: an Introduction to Nicos Poulantzas
“One thing is certain, socialism will be democratic or it will not be at all.” So wrote the Greek Marxist and theoretician Nicos Poulantzas, just a year before his untimely death. Poulantzas’s work, newly rediscovered by sections of the U.S. left, constitutes a highly original set of writings on the nature of political power in both liberal-democratic and authoritarian regimes, the formation and change of social classes, and the problems and challenges of socialist organizing and strategy in capitalist society. As Western institutions slide more deeply into crisis, the questions with which Poulantzas deals have taken on a renewed urgency: How can we understand the nature and behavior of the modern state? Is it autonomous from capital? Can the state be reformed, and emancipatory politics advanced, through parliamentary means? What does it mean to be a “democratic socialist”?
In this class, we will engage with these and other themes in Poulantzas’ work. Much of our attention will be devoted to his final book, State, Power, Socialism, a rich and provocative analysis of class struggles, the capitalist state, and the meaning and possibility of a democratic socialist politics. Combined with selections from other works, we will examine topics like the structure and role of the state in reproducing capitalist social relations; the importance of law, violence, nationalism, and hegemony for the maintenance of political power; the rise of authoritarian statism (an early diagnosis of contemporary neoliberalism); and possible strategies for transitions to socialism given these realities of developed Western states. In this way, we will attempt to think with Poulantzas not only in the context of his time, but in light of our present problems.
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 12 — August 02, 2021