The claim that Marxist theory is in crisis is not a particularly new or original one (Althusser, 1978 ; Callinicos, 1982 ; McCarney, 1990 ; Poulantzas, 1967). Indeed, it might well be argued that, like the question of the relationship between structure and struggle, it is a perennial theme within Marxist theory (cf. Bonefeld, 1993). However, what is new about Werner Bonefeld’s important critique of Bob Jessop’s ‘reformulation’ of Marxist state theory in ‘Aglietta in Britain : Bob Jessop’s Contribution to the Regulation Approach’ (1993) is the suggestion that Jessop’s ‘dialectic of structure and struggle’ should be seen as single-handedly responsible for, or indeed symptomatic of, this contemporary crisis.
The aim of this article is to set the record straight by suggesting that Jessop’s state theory, though not in itself unproblematic, in fact provides many highly perceptive theoretical insights that might help to extricate Marxist theory from its contemporary impasse. It is hoped to provide a less-dismissive and more sympathetic and constructive critique of Jessop’s Regulationist-inspired ‘reformulation of state theory’. Such a reading recognises within Jessop’s work the potential, as yet not fully realized, of transcending the false dualism of structure and struggle and the resulting profound polarisation within Marxist theory.
In this sense it is hoped to pave the way towards a Marxism beyond both pessimism and false optimism. Such a Marxism must be capable of informing political struggles and thus re-uniting theory and practice through the development of theoretically-informed analyses of the strategically-selective terrain within which such struggles are played out. As Marxists we might thus begin to develop an understanding of the ever-changing yet always sloping contours of the uneven playing field upon which the struggles of the exploited are rendered concrete so that we might better know in which direction to kick the bail to reach the goal posts. If we resign ourselves to the superficially attractive and optimistic view that ‘capital is class struggle’ and will always be so, and that perpetual struggle is the dynamic agent driving capitalist development then we are left seeking solace in the proletariat’s somewhat dubious honour of having, through the ‘reality of constant struggle’ (1993 ; Holloway, 1988, 1991), brought about the replacement of Fordism with Post-Fordism (Bonefeld, ibid.), or for that matter, any stage of capitalist development with the next.
‘Putting the Capitalist State in its Place’ or ‘Misplacing’ the Capitalist State ?
Jessop’s work bas become somewhat notoriously esoteric and theoretically dense, and it is thus not difficult to see how Bonefeld, albeit through a somewhat selective use of quotations, manages to formulate a superficially attractive wholesale rejection of Jessop’s contribution to a theory of the state and political economy. This is compounded by two weaknesses within Jessop’s work as it currently stands. Firstly his repeated failure to explicitly articulate a coherently expressed theory of the capitalist state. The nearest we are taken to such a theory is in the final chapters to The Capitalist State (1982) and State Theory (1990) but Jessop still leaves us frustrated in our quest for his state theory – the capitalist state bas not so much been ‘put in its place’ as pushed around a bit, interrogated and temporarily misplaced. Ultimately we are left with a series of considerations that must be incorporated within any adequate theory of the staff: ; some generalized notion of how our theory should be constructed (the method of articulation) ; and a lot of detailed suggestions as what a theory of the capitalist state should not look like. However, a theory of the state cannot be developed purely on the basis of what it is not, useful as such observations might be. Jessop’s state theory therefore always remains implicit and underdetermined, leaving it open to the sort of misrepresentation and rejection that bas characterized much of its recent reception (Bonefeld 1987/1991, 1993; Holloway 1988, 1991; Psychopedis 1991).
Secondly, Jessop has failed to deliver in terms of his more substantive and applied work (1989b, 1989c, 1991a, 1992b, 1993 ; Jessop et al., 1988) what he bas methodologically and ontologically prescribed in the abstract. This too provides cannon fodder to sceptical critics who are perhaps understandably led to extrapolate from lacunae in Jessop’s more accessible substantive work to what they perceive to be theoretical inadequacies at a higher level of abstraction. In fact, in most cases, the inadequacy does not lie at such a level. but originates in Jessop’s translation (through concretization and complexification) of sophisticated and generally unproblematic abstractions in the formulation of ‘adequate explanations’ (1990: 11) of the specificities of complex and concrete social relations. The problem lies in Jessop’s fairly consistent failure to closely follow the methodological prescriptions outlined in his method of articulation (1982 : 213-20; 1990 : 11-13). As a consequence, much of Jessop’s substantive analyses move not from abstract to concrete, simple to complex, but rather from abstract to concrete, complex to simple.
A good example of this is found in Jessop’s recent work on the transition from the Keynesian Welfare State (KWS) towards a Schumpeterian Workfare State (SWS) (1993) in which a somewhat deterministic and functionalist integral economic causality replaces the ultimately more sophisticated social formation causality prescribed in Jessop’s more purely theoretical formulations. Thus, whereas theoretically, Jessop suggests the need to ‘account for the mutual presupposition and interaction of the political and the economic regions of the capitalist social formation’ (1990 : 118) ; in his work on the SWS, Jessop attempts to derive the transition from the KWS to the SWS from the putative transition from Fordism to Post-Fordism thus privileging the economic moment with causal priority in an analysis of a supposedly complexly overdetermined social formation (ibid: 76, 340).
In this article it is hoped to demonstrate not only that many of the criticisms formulated by Bonefeld are misplaced and derive from a distortion of Jessop’s ‘reformulation’ of state theory, but that by attempting to operationalize many of the theoretical concepts that Jessop bas begun to develop, and by following the ‘spiral movement from abstract to concrete, and simple to complex’ (ibid : 341, also 11-2, 76, 344) prescribed in Jessop’s ‘method of articulation’, a series of highly perceptive and strategically important observations can be made about real, concrete and complex political contexts. If this is indeed the case, then the still largely latent potential of Jessop’s state theory might help to transcend the contemporary crisis of Marxist theory as a guide to political practice. It is only on the basis of such an understanding that we might begin to move towards a Marxism beyond pessimism that is not premised upon the blind optimism of seeing class struggle everywhere, even in the defeat of a fragmented proletariat. Such a theory (and the practice it enables) is an absolute necessity if the left is to resurrect itself from the long-dark night of Thatcherism and the even longer darker shadow cast by the legacy of Thatcherism.
Excursions in Wunderland
Bonefeld’s critique begins with the somewhat surprising contention that Jessop’s work represents the main British contribution to Regulation Theory. If so, then this main contribution also represents the transcending of Regulation Theory (RT), for Jessop is not, and indeed could not be a simple ‘regulationist’. His contribution to RT, to the extent that he can be said to have made one at all, has been to take Marxian political economy and state theory beyond the relatively narrow frame of reference of the ‘integral economy’ (Jessop 1990 : 319 ; 1992a), albeit drawing considerable insight from the regulationalist approach in developing a muIti-level theoretical analysis of state-economy-civil society relationships. Thus, although his work represents a regulationalist-informed state theory, it clearly cannot be conceived as RT per se. The difficulty of such a categorization of Jessop’s work is further demonstrated by Bonefeld’s more accurate description of his work as a ‘reformulation of state theory’, a focus, which Jessop has himself demonstrated, is incompatible with the regulationalist approach as conceived by Aglietta, Boyer, Lipietz, et al. which ‘often neglects or distorts the role of the state’ (Jessop 1992a : 8). Thus, not only is RT inadequate as the basis for a theory of the state, within its priviIeged realm of ‘l’économie intégrale’,[[Jessop defines the integral economy, in analogy to Gramsci’s notion of the integral state as ‘accumulation regime + social structure of accumulation’ (Jessop 1992a, p.2; Gramsci 1971, pp.261-3). it has also ‘neglected some of the most powerful obstacles to the successful pursuit of accumulation strategies’ (Jessop 1990 : 320) by subsuming the state ‘under a general account of the structural forms through which regulation is achieved’ (Jessop 1992a : 9). Thus RT does not provide a theory of the state ‘in its inclusive sense’ (cf. Jessop 1992a) and in fact is theoretically flawed by the privileged position it confers on the economy (albeit defined in ifs integral sense). What is required, Jessop suggests, is an analysis of both the integral economy and the state in its inclusive sense and, potentially more importantly, of their mutual intersection. This would provide the means to develop the high-level simple and abstract concepts that might inform, at lower levels of abstraction, a sophisticated theoretically-informed analysis of the concrete and complex. This is not to say that Jessop has yet produced such a synthesis, indeed his failure so far to deliver at the level of concrete analysis what he has methodologically and ontologically prescribed in the abstract (Jessop 1990, ch.l2 ; 1982, final chapter) would represent a far more pertinent criticism. Indeed it is this failure that has led to precisely the sort of distortion and misunderstanding of his work that motivates the accusations of Bonefeld, Clarke, Psychopedis, et al.
If Bonefeld’s unambiguous location of Jessop within the ‘regulationaIist’ camp is somewhat misplaced then his critique is further distorted by its degeneration into a series of accusations of complicity with ‘Thatcherism’ – accusations which Bonefeld seeks to sustain by painting to Jessop’s supposed ‘acceptance of the inevitability of a presumed Thatcher project’ (Bonefeld 1993 : 1). It is difficult to see the basis for such scurrilous and obviously unfounded allegations. For, even a cursory glance at any of Jessop’s work on Thatcherism reveals its central motivation by a profound repugnance for its janus-faced regressive moral authoritarian and neo-liberal ‘two nations’ strategy. His work represents the single most coherent and important attempt to analyse the trajectory from the crisis of the KWS, through the ideological articulation and mobilization of a novel (though self-contradictory) hegemonic and state project, towards a fundamental structural transformation of the state and the poIiticaI agenda to the right, and is inspired throughout by the need to understand Thatcherism in order to mobilize successfully to defeat it.
To reject sophisticated theoretically-informed analyses of concrete political realities which yield pessimistic conclusions (on the sole grounds that it leads to pessimism of the intellect) is to restrict Marxism in two senses. It cripples Marxist theory to the realm of the hyperreaI wonderland of utopian mythology, and Marxist practice to fighting chronically outnumbered without either ammunition or reconnaissance against the military, politicaI and strategic might of the capitalist state. BonefeId, it appears, seems to subscribe to a peculiarly short-sighted (to use his own terminology, ‘blinkered’) strategy of gaze-avertion – to address the Thatcherite transformation of the state is to accept its inevitability. Yet, surely the correlate is to shut our eyes to that transformation or bury our collective heads in the sand in the bore that when we re-emerge our utopian visions will have been realized. ln the mean time, and in the event that this does not materialize, we may not have much of a clue on what’s going on but at least we cannot be said to be complicit with it !
If only this were the case. Unfortunately, however, it is BonefeId and not Jessop who is complicit with New Right ideology by his refusal to accept its potency in securing a new legitimation basis for a profound, and irreversible[[Irreversible as opposed to immutable. structural transformation of the state, and his refusal to seek to understand such a state project and accumulation strategy as a first means and necessary prerequisite to its deconstruction and the mobilization of its moment of destruction.
Bonefeld’s preliminary description of Jessop’s selfunderstanding of his work (a rather strange notion implying that Bonefeld bas some unusually privileged superior understanding to that of the author, which the evidence of his later analysis would perhaps militate against) is generally unproblematic and relatively accurate if somewhat limited. However, it is here that Bonefeld introduces the accusation that Jessop’s work represents a ‘typical structuralist response’ to the problem of integrating class struggle into a state theoretical perspective. This is a very strange criticism given Jessop’s explicit focus upon the ‘dialectic of strategy and structure’ and BonefeId’s equally-unfounded later allegation of voluntarism ! For, throughout State Theory : Putting the Capitalist State in its Place, the fullest theoretical statement of his position to date, he is fundamentally concerned with the mutual articulation of structure and agency within real social contexts, seeking to transcend the artificial polarity between structurally-privileged and agency-privileged analyses. Thus, although Jessop’s state theory is motivated by a focus on the structural and system dynamics of the state, his account neither privileges structure nor agency. As Bertamsen et al. have rightly noted, ‘structure and agency cannot be juxtaposed and subsequently linked through a relation of determination…the strategic approach clearly advances beyond the doublet of determinism and voluntarism’ (Bertramsen et al. 1991: 80). Perhaps then, it is not surprising that Bonefeld accuses Jessop of both !
Having sought to demonstrate Jessop’s structuralism in the previous section, Bonefeld next goes on to try to square the circle and demonstrate his relativistic and contingent conception of historical development as revealed in the suggestion that complex historical phenomena ‘are best analysed as a complex resultant of multiple determinations’ (Jessop et al. 1988 : 53). This represents a profound, if not uncommon, misconception of Jessop’s approach (though quite whether it has been taken to such extremes before is doubtful), and it is not surprising that, in making this claim, Clarke (1983) and Psychopedis (1991) are also cited but, characteristically, no reference is made to State Theory (1990, see esp. ch.12). For this critique assumes that Jessop’s state theoretical approach operates, as does much previous Marxist-inspired state theory, at only one level of theoretical abstraction only, a view that simply could not be sustained through a reading of the final charter of State Theory. This misrecognition of the sophistication of Jessop’s analysis allows the untenable suggestion that explicit within his approach is the thesis that ‘different “logics” of capital derive from distinct allocation interests and exist independently from class. The class struggle is separated from its mode of motion and degenerates into a factor of a historical development which is both contingent and relative’ (Bonefeld 1993 : 3). This is simply not the case, and there is no place within Jessop’s opus where such a position is expressed, either explicitly or implicitly. For, at the level at which much orthodox Marxist theory operates – the work of Bonefcld, Clarke and Psychopedis included – Jessop views the contemporary state as characterized by :
. its institutional separation from the core of capitalist production
. its constitutionalized monopoly over the means of coercion
. its form as a tax-state
. its dependency on money as ‘an economic matrix of its activities’
. its dependency on rational-legal bureaucracy as ‘the economic matrix of its activities’
conferring a strategic selectivity which is compatible with and “‘formally adequate” to a capitalist economic formation’ (Jessop 1990 : 355) ; whilst, at a lower level of abstraction, the restructuring of the form of articulation of the capitalist state in response to crisis is determined by class and other social struggles in turn determined by the ability of different social groups to mobilize successfully given the constraints imposed on the field of struggle by the strategic selectivity of the state-economy-society nexus at the ‘macro’ leveI. Thus, the developmental logic of capitalist accumulation and the structural dynamic of the capitalist state is neither contingent and relative nor entirely determined by class struggle. Instead, it is the complex outcome of (i) system crisis-tendencies generating the potentiality for the mobilization of hegemonic projects, state projects and accumulation strategies by social collectivities (classes, class fractions, organic intellectuals, new social movements, etc.) within a strategically and ideologically selective terrain of struggle ; and (ii) the constraints placed upon such accumulation strategies (and thus hegemonic and state projects) by the necessary embeddedness of lesser economic spaces within a global economic dynamic. Such a perspective is clearly antithetical to the view ascribed to Jessop by Bonefeld, Psychopedis, et al. that different logics of capital accumulation develop independently of class power and class struggle.
Jessop thug succeeds in distancing himself from an ultimate class reductionism that degenerates into a deterministic view of the development of capitalist accumulation, whilst not, in turn, succumbing to a conjunctural or voluntaristic analysis. Instead he acknowledges the structurally, strategically and ideologically selective terrain on which struggles for economic and ideological hegemony are constantly played out.
Bonefeld describes Jessop’s notion or ‘accumulation strategy’ as specifying in abstraction the link between the economic and the political. As a consequence, Bonefeld argues, ‘Jessop’s approach becomes eclectic’ (Bonefeld 1993 : 4) by virtue of the fact that it is capable of deploying a single term to describe phenomena as distinct as the fascist Grossraumwirtschaft, the post-war West German Sozialmarktwirtschaft and the more recent development of the Modell Deutschland[[Such a criticism if systematically applied might, ironically, form the oasis of an immanent critique of Donefeld’s own universalization of class struggle as the basic l’explanandum of a far greater range of phenomena !. This seems a somewhat unusual use of the term eclectic, upon which much hangs, and thus I will seek to defend Jessop’s position against the claim that it is in fart eclectic, and from the secondary claim (which seems a more accurate representation of Bonefeld’s actual critique) that it is not so much eclectic but provides such an abstract and totalising account of discrete and historicaIly-distinct phenomena, that they may aIl be subsumed within the embracing category of ‘accumulation strategy’ – a term that thus does no theoretical ‘work’ (cf. Psychopedis 1991: 180):
(1) Allegations of eclecticism within Jessop’s work are very difficuIt to substantiate since he cIearly lays out a unique and highly-sophisticated methodological and ontological framework in which his state theory is embedded[[Whether he has actually fully delivered the fruit of this construction in any explicit sense is a more dehatahle point.. Thus, aIthough he may draw insights from a variety of bodies of Marxist (and other) theory – such as Regulation Theory, neo-Poulantzian state theory, autopoietic system theory and discourse analysis inter alia – he does so in such a way that he clearly distances himself from their ontological and methodological assumptions by framing his novel synthesis of such gleaned insights within a coherent overall theoretical project. His work is therefore in no way reliant upon some ad hoc cobbling together of methodological and ontological baggage from the Marxist lost luggage department.
(2) Secondly, as the introduction and final charters of State Theory make cIear (see also Jessop 1982 : 213-220)[[The fact that Donefeld repeatedly fails to cite or engage these texts – Jessop’s major contrihution to the methodology of state theory – must at least lead us to question the validity of this methodological critique., Jessop’s methodology – premissed upon an ontological insistence on the ‘contingent necessity’ of social phenomena is the dual movement in theory construction ‘from abstract to concrete along one plane of analysis, and from simple to complex through the differential articulation of different planes of analysis of the real world’ (Jessop 1990 : 11). Thus, Jessop’s theoretical project is to inform and sensitize concrete analysis to the real structures which constrain agency and strategy. His theory building therefore follows a trajectory from establishing relatively abstract and simple theoretical relationships between concepts (such as the relationship between the state and the economy specified in terms of the notion of accumulation strategy), gradual1y working in more concrete and complex empirical detail, to a sophisticated theoretically-informed analysis of concrete reaIity. It is through this dual and spiral movement from abstract to concrete, simple to complex, that concepts initially specified at high levels of abstraction become fteshed out and begin to ‘do theoretical work’ informing concrete analysis of spatially and temporally distinct patterns of social relations (such as Germany’s Modell Deutschland).
The Dialectic of Structure and Strategy
Bonefeld’s sustained critique of what he perceives as the dualism of structure and strategy reproduced within Jessop’s work again represents a fundamental misrepresentation of bis theoretical framework which in many respects is predicated upon transcending such a potential dualism[[This is all the most ironic since Jessop’s most current work actually represents an engagement with precisely such a dualism of structure and agency as found in the work of Anthony Giddens. (See Hay & .Iessop 1992).
‘the dialectic between structure and strategy does not involve a simple oscillation between two formerly homologous pales (structural and strategic) which dovetail neatly together. Instead it involves a complex process of mutual historical conditioning and reciprocal recursive transformation…their dialectic is nothing more (and nothing legs) than the structural conditioning of strategies and the strategic transformation of structural ensembles.’ (Jessop 1988/1991 : 80, emphasis added).
However, it is not difficult to see where such a critique might originate. For, it seems as though Bonefeld is criticizing the teleologism and latent meta-determinism of a particular and somewhat diluted variant of the ‘regulationist’ approach which conceives its empirical observations in terms of simplistic ‘descriptive categories imposed directly on complex and contradictory conjunctures’ (Ibid : 77) Fordism and Post-Fordism.
If Bonefeld does equate Jessop’s analysis of structural dynamics with such a perspective then it is hardly surprising that he views the ‘dialectic of strucure and strategy’ as nothing more than a dressed-up dualism. Once again, it has to be reiterated, however, that Jessop, whilst drawing insights from bodies of literature that might legitimately be accused of either determinism or voluntarism, does so in such a way that he distances himself from their ontological and methodological assomptions, selectively incorporating insights within a perspective characterized by a distinctive ‘critical realist’ ontology which transcends the structure-agency (structure-strategy) dichotomy. More explicitly, Jessop contextualizes agency and thus strategy within structural contexts positing the strategically-calculating, structuraIly-oriented subject whilst similarly conceiving of structures as embodying strategic selectivity. His methodology of theory building thus involves a spiral motion between structure and agency (strategy) in the movement from abstract to concrete, simple to complex. Thus, Bonefeld’s suggestion that Jessop is inevitably led to ‘separate “human agency” from “structure”, and conversely “structure” from “human agency'” (Bonefeld 1993 : II) and is thus led to develop ‘a dichotomy between a deterministic conception of capitalist development and a voluntaristic conception of social action’ (Ibid) is, on both counts, unfounded.
‘Natural necessities’, Critical Realism and the Separation of the generic from the specific
Much of Bonefeld’s critique of what he sees as Jessop’s dualism of structure and strategy and the resulting alternation between a functionalist determinism and a voluntarist indeterminism hangs upon the critique of the notion of ‘natural necessity’, a term which Jessop has only used infrequently in favour of the less ambiguous concept of ‘contingent necessity’ (Jessop 1989a: 32-27; 1990: 12). Yet it is on this subject that Bonefeld’s exegesis on Jessop’s critical realist ontology is most inaccurate, as is exemplified by the quite absurd description of Jessop work as ‘positivist social theory’ (Bonefeld 1993 : 6). For, unfortunately Bonefeld fails to elucidate the origins of the concept in the work of Bhaskar (Bhaskar 1978 : 172 ff.; W.Outhwaite 1988 : 41-2) instead equating it with positivism (Bonefeld 1993 : 7). As a direct consequence he chronically misrepresents Jessop’s argument through a profound misunderstanding of the concept.
For Bonefeld the notion of ‘natural necessity’ entails a deterministic positing of system functional requirements necessarily met yet contingently reproduced. This allows him to apparently sustain and further validate his dual charges of determinism and voluntarism simultaneously. Perhaps Bonefeld could have benefitted from the suitably modified advice of Lady BrackneIl, ‘..for a theoretical perspective to possess determinism may be regarded as nfortunate to possess boh determinism and voluntarism looks like carelessness’. Whatever else Jessop may be, however, he is certainly nt careless, though he may be egarded as somewhat unfortunate in terms of others’ reception of his work. Were it not for the overpolemicised tone of Bonefeld’s critique, his suspicions might weIl have raised by the case with which he could apparently demonstrate this duality of determinism and radical indeterminacy, both of which are fundamentally anathema to the critical realist ontology within which Jessop’s theoretical framework is embedded. As Lovering’s synopsis of critical realism reveals
‘…individuals enter into a world which is not of their choosing, and once there they art in ways which partly reproduce, partly transform the structure of that world. But their understanding and ability to control these structural effects are severely limited, and social entities and structures are often reproduced as unintended effects of individual actions.’ (Lovering 1990 : 39).
The notion of natural necessity in fact describes the inherent structural properties and tendencies of a system. Thus natural necessities are properties necessarily present within stable structures if the system is reproduced. An example of such a necessity (at a high theoretical level of abstraction) is the (albeit contentious) tendency of the rate of profit to fall and indeed the mobilization of counter-tendencies within capitalist economies (see Jessop 1989a : 14 ff.). However, such ‘natural necessities’ are not functionally determinant since they are only ever contingently reproduced, and, as the case of the tendency of the rate of profit to faIl demonstrates, may in fact represent system dysfunctionalities. Natural necessities are therefore systems properties and as such must be defined relative to specific structural configurations (at whatever theoretical level of abstraction) which may or may not be reproduced over time. If they are reproduced (itself a contingent event) then their natural necessities (tendencies, laws, properties) are also reproduced (as contingent necessities).
A further example of a specific natural necessity is the strategic selectivity embedded within a structural configuration such as that imposed by a first-past-the-post electoral system (for a highly descriptive attempt to analyse electoral patterns of structural selectivity see G. Sartori 1976). Clearly such ‘natural necessities’ are only ‘natural'[[‘Natural’ in the sense deployed by both Bhaskar and Jessop means typical or tendential. if the system and enshrined structural selectivity is (contingently) reproduced. Thus the natural necessities of capitalism are not, as Bonefeld is led to conclude, ‘functional requirements of the productive forces’ (Bonefeld 1993 : 7) constraining social conflict within the confines of system functionality, but rather are doubly tendential :
‘Firstly, they are tendential because the real causal mechanisms which produce them are only actualized in specific conditions which both activate the tendencies and limit the effects of any counter-tendencies. secondly they are tendential in a deeper sens: for their underlying causal mechanisms are themselves tendential, provisional and unstable’ (Jessop 1989a : 35).
Voir en fin de l’enseomble du document les FIGURES 345/346
Far from some positivist epistemologieal conception of functional requirements, therefore, the notion of ‘natural necessity’ is merely an ontological positing of the inherent structural properties of a synchronicaIly-conceived stable structural configuration. As Outhwaite explains, ‘natural necessities are contingently arrived at but ontologically real’ (Outhwaite 1988 : 41). It is thus somewhat ironic that by using the notions of contingent and natural necessity drawn unambiguously from the language of critical realism, Jessop should be accused of determinism and voluntarism which are fundamentally antithetical to the critical realist ontology but such is the nature of contingency !
Bonefeld further engages Jessop’ s ontology and resulting ‘method of articulation’ (Jessop 1990 : 10 ff. ; 1982 : 213-220 ; cf. Poulantzas 1973 ; Aglietta 1979 ; Marx 1857), suggesting a dualistic separation of the generic from the specific that reproduces ‘the problems of the base-superstructure metaphor in sociological terms’ (Bonefeld 1993: 9). The consequence, Bonefeld suggests, is to marginalize class from the analysis. It is interesting that Bonefeld should consider this apparent dualistic separation of the generic from the specific as problematic and as taken for granted since it is clear in Jessop’s own work that this critical realist ontological premiss is also prefigured in Marx’s ‘Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy’ in the Grundrisse (Marx 1857 ; see Jessop 1989a : 8, 55 fn.3). For. in the section entitled ‘The Method of Political Economy’ Marx seeks to methodologically prescribe a parallel movement from abstract to concrete (generic to specific), simple to complex which prefigures Jessop’s later critical realist Marxist state theory. Bonefeld claims that the ‘taken for granted’ separation of abstract and concrete represents the positing of a false dichotomy that only needs to be ‘bridged’ by virtue of the fact that it has been artificially-induced in the first place. The point, however, is that the distinction is clearly not ‘taken for granted’ by either Marx or Jessop for whom it derives from a (critical) realist ontology which posits ‘ontologically-deep’ structures which are not directly accessible from surface phenomena. As Marx notes in Capital
‘…a scientitic analysis of competition is not possible before we have a conception of the inner nature of capital, just as the apparent motions of the heavenly bodies are not intelligible to any but him (sic), who is acquainted with their real motions, motions which are not directly perceptible by the senses …aIl science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided’ (Marx 1867 : 316 ; 1865 : 797).
Thus, if a concrete analysis is to be informed by considerations of such structures they must be conceived at higher theoretical levels of abstraction and systematically developed in the spiral movement from abstract to concrete, simple to complex. Without such an initial methodological separation of the generic from the specific, therefore, theory is restricted to contextualism – to immanent critique and the internal analysis of surface phenomena.
Bonefeld’s critique is further problematized by his conflation of the generic-specific distinction with the base-superstructure metaphor. For the former is not concerned with questions of base-superstructure but rather with levels of theoretical abstraction. Within such a theoretical framework, therefore, terms which might be seen as referring to base and superstructure – theoretical concepts concerning economic, political and ideological ‘moments’ – may be developed at multiple theoretical levels of abstraction. Thus the distinction between abstract and concrete within Jessop’s substantive sociology is clearly not a distinction between base and superstructure. As a consequence, Bonefeld’s inference of an implicit structural determinism and a marginalization of class from Jessop’s analysis is unfounded – the method of articulation provides the basis for transcending the structure-agency dichotomy in theory construction and thus does not marginalize class but merely contextualises it within structured social contexts. Indeed, as Jessop has observed, accumulation regimes or modes of regulation ‘..are always the product of past struggles, and are always penetrated with present struggles. The legacy of past struggles is a structurally inscribed strategie selcctivity which favours some class forces over others’ (Jessop 1988/1991: 73).
Social contlicts, are thus not seen by Jessop as facilitating the reproduction of the functional requirements of the capitalist system ‘in the real world of opportunity’ (Bonefeld 1993 : 20). Rather, as Jessop has noted in response to previous criticism,
‘once accumulation regimes and models of regulation have become relatively stable, they comprise a specific strategic terrain on and through which particular forms of struggle take place. Since there are no institutional guarentees that struggles will always be contained within these forms and/or resolved in ways that reproduce these forms, the stability of an accumulation or mode of regulation is always relative, always partial, and always provisional’ (Jessop 1988/1991 : 73, my emphasis).
Since the outcome of social struggles is contingent upon the mobilization by social forces within a strategically-selective context[[Allowing a differentiation between types of struggle : ‘marginal struggles which can acquire class-relevance, struggles within the parameters of a regime which helps to reproduee it, and struggles whose effect is to disrupt and transform it’ (Jessop 1991 b, p. 165)., there is no single ‘dynamic direction and institutional logic of capital in the real world’ (Bonefeld 1993 : 20) against which the abstract functional requirements of capitalist reproduction might, in any case, be measured. To suggest that Jessop is guiIty of a structuralist functionalism by virtue of seeking to contextualise class and social struggles within the strategically-selective terrain within which they must necessarily occur is, again, to restrict Marxism theory to the optimism that comes with complacency.
Structural and Strategie Selectivity : Tautologism or the Dualism of Structure and Strategy ?
Bonefeld clearly has great difficulty with Jessop’s twin notions of structural and strategic selectivity, which as he rightly acknowledges are central to his reformulation of state and regulation theory. Perhaps, given his earlier accusations of the dualistic conception of structure and strategy, determinism and voluntarism, this is not terribly surprising since the notion of structural selectivity represents probably the clearest conceptual expression of the mutual interpenetration of structure and strategy within Jessop’s work.
Bonefeld’s allegations are twofold :
(1) That there is no clear answer as to what constitutes ‘selectivity’.
(2) That the notions of strategic and structural selectivity are tautological since in formulating the supposed ‘dialectic of structure and strategy’ Jessop ‘presupposes structural selectivity as conditioning the action of social subjects and then presupposes that structural constraints emerge from the strategic conduct of social subjects …a vicious circularity of presuppositions’ (Bonefeld 1993 : 21).
Both suggestions are somewhat surprising, however, displaying not only a now characteristic chronic misrepresentation of Jessop’s position, but also a certain inconsistency within Bonefeld’s critique.
(1) The notions of structural and strategic selectivity, as Jessop makes clear, derive from a critical realist ontology applied to an analysis of context (Jessop 1990 : 9 ff., 147-8, 305). For the central premiss of critical realism is that ‘reality, including society, is made up of deep structures which condition and make possible the ‘events’ we observe in everyday experience’ (Lovering 1990 : 39). Thus, both structural and strategic selectivity merely give conceptual expression to the central ontological tenet of critical realism that aIl contexts of social interaction are inherently and ‘deeply’ structured in such a way that they simuItaneously constrain and enable agency and thus strategic mobilizations. As Jessop bas recently elaborated,
‘strategic selectivity refers to the structurally mediated bias which means that particular forms of state privilege some strategies over others, some time horizons over others, some coalition possibilities over others. A given type or state, a given state form, a given form of regime, will be more accessible to some forces than others according to the strategies they adopt to gain state power. And it will be more suited to the pursuit of some types of economic and political strategy than others because of the mode of intervention and resources which characterize that system.’ (Jessop 1992a: 27).
(2) ln response to the second criticism, it is not at all clear why contextualising active subjects (whether individual or collective) within structured contexts through the notions of structural and strategic selectivity, and the correlate viewing such patterns of strategic and structural selectivity as the precipitation of previous strategic appropriations of conjunctural opportunities within the parameters of structural and social constraint. entails a ‘vicious circularity of presuppositions’. Rather, it is necessitated by the critical realist transcending of the structure-strategy dichotomy. For, if structures are not to be seen as the residue (intended or unintended) of previous strategic agency, and agents as situated and thus constrained within the parameters defined by structural configurations, then the only alternative formulation would be the disarticulation of structure and strategy. Thus Bonefeld’s critique appears to contain a central contradiction ; for Jessop is being accused simultaneously of both a dualism of structure and strategy and the supposed tautologism that results from its transcendence! The consequence of this second critique, for instance, would be the rehabilitation of the (alleged) dualism of structure and strategy that Bonefeld had previously sought
to interrogate. As demonstrated above, however, Jessop’s work contains neither such a tautologism nor even a hint of the dualism of structure and strategy.
Thatcherism : A Tale of Two Analyses – L’Economie Intégrale and the Integral State
In many respects the critique that Bonefeld provides of Jessop’s analysis of Thatcherism is, despite ridiculous allegations of neo-liberal complicity, more pertinent than that of the theoretical and methodological framework in which it is couched. This is due perhaps to a certain tendency within Jessop’s work to fail to deliver in terms of substantive analysis the sophistication of rus state theory at a higher theoretical level of abstraction. Thus, although Jessop’s methodology establishes the spiral movement from abstract to concrete, simple to complex, it is not clear that the theoretically-informed analysis of the concrete has yet succeeded in fleshing-out the highly sophisticated set of middle-range concepts developed in the broad arc of the first spiral loop. Bonefeld’s suggestion of a voluntarist determinist dichotomy, therefore, though grossly exaggerated, and much more applicable to the reformist misappropriation of a vulgarized regulation theory[[Particular1y that associated with the now defunct pages of Marxism Today (See for example Hall & Jacques 1989)., contains a certain grain of accuracy. For in some of his ‘regulationist’ inspired works on Thatcherism (notably Jessop 1989b ; 1989c) it is not certain that Jessop has successfully managed to reconcile the twin moments of his analysis of Thatcherism :
(1) in terms of the state in its integral sense – as an appropriate and long-term political and strategic mobilization of conjunctural opportunity; and
(2) in terms of ‘l’économie intégrale’ – as a distinct appropriation of a more general transition towards Post-Fordism.
This is not to suggest that Jessop’s ontological and methodological framework is incapable of reconciling the two, or, indeed that Jessop has not since begun to do precisely that in his most recent substantive and theoretical work (see especially Jessop 1992a ; 1992b). But rather, that in his earlier regulationist-inspired analyses of Thatcherism, he tends to universalize the economic moment at the expense of a consideration of the political and ideological. As a consequence he understates the specificity of Thatcherism[[And. indeed. the crisis of the British state in the 1970s. as a distinctive discursive mobilization of a new legitimation base for a profound structural transformation of the state. In his most recent work. However, he has managed to apply notions such as structural and strategic selectivity initially developed at a high level of theoretical abstraction to the concrete, contextualizing political mobilizations within patterns of social and structural constraint. This has allowed the formulation of an analysis capable of assessing the consonance of accumulation strategies with global economic dynamics; state projects with configurations of institutionally-inscribed structural selectivity; and hegemonic projects with strategically-significant interests and perceptions of the national-popular interest.
Thus, if we start to bring together the insights contained within Jessop’s immense body of work on Thatcherism within his ontological and methodological framework. we can begin to develop an analysis of the configuration of structural and strategic selectivity that is neither deterministic nor voluntaristic (see Table 1).
It must be noted, however. that even the above analysis does represent something of a simplification of Jessop’s position. For, patterns of strategic selectivity and conjuncturaI opportunity are constantly reformulated as the dynamic of state structural transformation unfolds, and the societal and economic context changes. Thus, if the true sophistication of Jessop’s position is to be retained. a diachronic analysis of the changing patterns of strategic selectivity and conjunctural opportunity would have to be incorporated, perhaps tied to Jessop’s periodisation of Thatcherism (Jessop et al.. 1988 : 59 ff.). However, for now. ‘hier bricht das Manuskript ab’.
=> Consultez le tableau en dernière page de l’ensemble du document. Ref. : 354
Conclusions : Marxism Beyond Pessimism
What this demonstrates once again, is the potential, perhaps not yet fully reaIized, of Jessop’s theoretical framework to inform and resource a ‘depth’-understanding of concrete political realities. Such an analysis is an absolute necessity for the left if it is to resurrect itself from the long dark night of Thatcherism.
The formulation of the critical theory of Thatcherism that Bonefeld rightly calls for certainly requires a distancing from, indeed, rejection of, the reformist Thatcherite apologism of the ‘New Times’ debate. However it is only through the sort of detailed and sophisticated understanding of :
(i) the ability of Thatcherism to construct a ‘resonance’ between its discursively unified (though internally contradictory) project and the ‘Iived’ experience of individuals; and
(ii) the systematic transformation of the context in which that experience is lived as that offered by Jessop’s critical realism that the left can begin to de-construct and systematically expose the Thatcherite project and its increasingly consensual consolidation in an emerging Post-Thatcher Settlement for what it is, and to thus re-construct a novel and resonant hegemonic project.
In keeping alive an optimism of the soul, therefore, the left must learn the lesson of the pessimism of the intellect. For, it is only by acknowledging the structured contexts within which experience, agency, struggle and strategy are played out that the impasse of Thatcherism may be overcome. As Stuart Hall has noted, ‘all discourse has “conditions of existence” which, although they cannot fix or guarentee particular outcomes, set limits or constraints on the process of articulation itself (Hall 1988 : 10). The task facing the left today is to understand those conditions of existence in order to mobilize within the limited space of conjunctural opportunity to transform them.
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