Conjunctural Marxism: An Introduction (Stream B)

In the 1970s, Louis Althusser and Nicos Poulantzas explored the nature of the capitalist state against the backdrop of a joint problematic, which was class domination. They were wondering how the reproduction of capitalist societies is possible – despite the fact that these societies are based on class domination and an antagonistic relationship between labour and capital, which is a permanent source of conflict. In their view, the state plays a key role in the process. The selectivities built into it favour strategies on the side of political actors that contribute to the reproduction of the capitalist status quo. Importantly, however, Althusser and Poulantzas added that there is no guarantee that this process of reproduction is successful. After all, there are revolutionary situations where ruptures take place or are at least possible. Correspondingly, they argued that the conjuncture – the “present moment” (Poulantzas) in which a social formation finds itself – always displays a degree of openness and unpredictability. It follows that conjunctures have to be analysed carefully if one wants to develop left-wing strategies contesting the status quo. In this workshop, we will discuss excerpts from Althusser’s and Poulantzas’s writings plus more recent attempts to reconstruct Conjunctural Marxism. We will try to grasp what conjunctures are, how they can be analysed, and what the strategic implications of conjunctural analysis are. In the process, we will look at the strengths and limitations of Conjunctural Marxism and discuss how relevant it is for a critical understanding of capitalism in 21st century.

Alexander Gallas is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science, University of Kassel, Germany. He is one of the editors of the Global Labour Journal and the author of a monograph titled ‚The Thatcherite Offensive: A Neo-Poulantzasian Analysis‘ (Haymarket, 2017). His research areas include strikes, labour relations in Western Europe as well as class and state theory.