Voyou Désœuvré

A barricade at the Rue Soufflot, Paris I’ve quoted William Morris from A Dream of John Ball before:

But while I pon­dered all these things, and how men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name.

I was reminded of it when reading this passage from The Eighteenth Brumaire last week:

Bourgeois revolutions, like those of the eighteenth century, storm swiftly from success to success. Their dramatic effects outdo each other; men and things seem set in sparkling diamonds; ecstasy is the order of the day. But they are short-lived; soon they have reached their zenith, and a long hangover takes hold of society before it learns to soberly assimilate the results of its period of storm and stress. Proletarian revolutions, on the other hand, like those of the nineteenth century, constantly criticize themselves, constantly interrupt themselves in their own cours, and return to the apparently accomplished, in order to begin anew. They deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts; they seem to throw down their opponents only so the latter may draw new strength from the earth and rise before them again more gigantic than ever. They recoil constantly from the indefinite colossalness of their own goals – until a situation is created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves call out: “Hic Rhodus, hic salta! Here is the rose, dance here.”

Poulantzas calls the state “the material condensation of…a relationship among classes and class fractions.” What I think he means by this is something rather complicated and interesting. Poulantzas’s point, as I understand it, is not simply that the state is necessitated by class divisions (which would be functionalism, which he rejects) or that class divisions cause the state (which would require a causal relationship between the base and the superstructure, which he also rejects). Rather, I think Poulantzas sees the state as a real abstraction. Class divisions are reflected at an ideological level, and this ideological reflection itself has a material form: the state.

I’ve been trying to pin down more precisely the logic of this position, because it strikes me as an extremely powerful form of materialism. I’m reminded of Damasio’s attempt to understand the mind as a physical reflection of the state of the body. The advantage of Marxism, though, is that the physical instantiations of the mental are no longer arbitrarily limited to the individual human brain. Here Marxism is also light-years ahead of eliminative materialism, as eliminative materialism is cartesianism in scientistic drag, still looking for mental phenomena somewhere inside the pineal gland. But thought doesn’t happen in brains, it happens in hands and throats, and pots of curry and flywheels.