Title: Analytical Anarchism
Subtitle: Some Conceptual Foundations
Author: Alan Carter
Date: April 2000
Source: Political Theory Volume: 28 issue: 2, page(s): 230–253 Issue published: April 1, 2000. DOI:10.1177/0090591700028002005








In the 1980s, Marxist political philosophy suffered mixed fortunes. On one hand, it underwent a considerable demise in Eastern Europe as a state- promoted ideology. On the other hand, it enjoyed a profound and positive development in Western academia, principally as a result of the seminal work of G. A. Cohen,[1] whose clarifications of key Marxist concepts and explanatory claims gave birth to the fecund school of analytical Marxism. Historically, Marxist political philosophy has been subjected to incessant critiques from anarchists. However, now that Marxism has evolved into a form that can hold its own within the anglophone tradition of analytical philosophy, anarchism, which at one time was the major alternative on the revolutionary Left to Marxism, would appear to have been left well and truly behind.

But is it really the case that anarchism is incapable of enjoying a similar intellectual development? In what follows, I attempt some clarifications of concepts and explanations that show that there is more mileage in anarchist political theory than might at first be assumed. Thus, such clarifications might serve to rescue anarchist political thought and the often profound insights it contains from an otherwise premature burial by both liberal and Marxist academics.

Now, whereas many of Karl Marx’s theoretical claims were offered as a response to anarchist thinkers (for example, Max Stimer and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon),[2] some anarchists (in particular, the Russian Mikhail Alexandro- vitch Bakunin) developed their views in opposition to Marx’s. The anarchist theory that follows is a development in response to what is currently the most sophisticated version of Marxist theory—Cohen’s. And just as Cohen has developed his clarifications firmly within the tradition of analytical philosophy, the following discussion is also located within that tradition. Consequently, as Cohen has given us analytical Marxism, what follows could be regarded as an exploration into “analytical anarchism.”


First, though, how should we conceptualize “anarchism,” in the sense of a political belief system? As “anarchy” literally means “without rule” (thus signifying a situation in which no person rules over another), then a condition of pure anarchy might be thought to consist of a complete equality of political power—perfect political equality, as it were. But, many would object, if anarchists seek pure anarchy in this sense, then, quite simply, they are seeking the unattainable. In any practicable social arrangement, some people are bound to possess more power than others.

However, anarchism is not the only system of political beliefs that seems at first sight to be incoherent insofar as its adherents appear to be striving for a condition that is, arguably, unattainable; egalitarianism has been dismissed on similar grounds. If egalitarians are seeking perfect equality (which, it is often assumed, means that everyone is to be made exactly the same), then, many would object, they are seeking the unattainable. In response, John Baker has denied that egalitarians are seeking perfect equality in this sense. Rather, in his view, egalitarians merely oppose certain substantive inequalities.[3] And if “egalitarianism” is construed as the opposition to certain substantive inequalities, it is not so easy to dismiss.

Perhaps, then, “anarchism” should be interpreted in a similar way. Not all anarchists should be dismissed out of hand for attempting to bring about pure anarchy. Rather, anarchists could more profitably be viewed as those who oppose certain substantive political inequalities and not merely economic ones. Anarchists oppose certain inequalities in political power, just as egalitarians oppose certain inequalities in, especially, economic power. And the most significant political inequalities, for anarchists, are those that flow from centralized, authoritarian forms of government.

This suggests that “anarchism,” as a political belief system, might best be construed as having both a normative and an empirical component. Anarchism could be viewed as containing a normative opposition to certain substantive political inequalities, along with the empirical belief that political equality (in the sense of an absence of specific, substantive political inequalities) is inevitably undermined by state power. Given the normative component, anarchism can thus be regarded as a form of egalitarianism—political egalitarianism. However, many of those who advocate representative democracy would also regard themselves as political egalitarians. It is the second feature—namely, the empirical belief (which most of those who describe themselves as “anarchists” tend to hold) that centralized, authoritarian forms of government (including varieties of representative democracy) cannot deliver political equality—that would distinguish anarchists from others who claim to value political equality.

Thus, given the conceptualization of “anarchism” proposed here, for an individual to be an anarchist, he or she would have to hold both the normative opposition to certain substantive political inequalities and the empirical belief that they principally derive from, are preserved by, or are embedded within, certain centralized forms of power.[4] Hence, all anarchists, on the proposed definition, oppose the state. But that should not be confused with an opposition to society. Nor should it be confused with a rejection of all the rules that a society might need—for example, moral rules. In fact, most anarchists are highly moral.[5] Consequently, when discussing anarchism, it is extremely important to realize that “without rule” does not have to signify “without rules,” nor does it have to mean a lack of structure. What is surely crucial to any version of anarchism worth its salt is that the anarchist structures it proposes be empowering to those within them and do not lead to a centralization of power or decision making. Even with those restrictions, the possibilities for anarchist social organization are clearly far greater than most opponents of anarchism realize or than is portrayed in popular stereotypes of anarchist practice.

Having offered what might appear a more attractive and fruitful way of conceptualizing anarchism—namely, as the opposition to certain substantive political inequalities, combined with the belief that the state inevitably embodies, generates, and/or preserves those inequalities—I now turn to consider the central respect in which anarchist political theory and thus anarchist political practice differ from their Marxist counterparts. This will lead us into an analysis of the crucial relationship between the political and economic inequalities that anarchists oppose.


Certain Marxists—in particular, Leninists—have been willing to adopt a vanguardist approach to revolutionary change, while Marx, himself, sanctioned a transitional form of governmental power—what he referred to as “the dictatorship of the proletariat.”[6] And insofar as this would be coercive and centralized,[7] then it would be some form of state. Anarchists have traditionally most opposed Marxists on these grounds, arguing that a revolutionary vanguard would soon turn itself into a new statelike form and further arguing that no statelike form could be relied on to engineer an effective transition to an egalitarian society.

But this anarchist objection, if it is to be at all compelling, requires a coherent theory of historical change. As Cohen has provided the clearest foundations for a Marxist theory of history, I now attempt to provide similarly clear foundations for a contrasting anarchist theory—foundations that employ conceptual and explanatory clarifications that parallel Cohen’s.

What specific conceptual tools does a cogent anarchist theory of history require, then, if it is to serve as the basis for a plausible political theory (especially one that can hold its own against recent developments in Marxist theory)? It seems likely that anarchists must, at the very least, be in possession of the concepts employed by the most sophisticated version of Marxism if they are to oppose it successfully. So let me begin my attempt at providing a few of the main components of an anarchist conceptual toolkit by appropriating some of the important concepts that Cohen has usefully clarified.

Following Marx, Cohen distinguishes between a “superstructure” of noneconomic institutions (in particular, legal and political institutions) and the structure of relations of production that comprise the “base” or “foundation,” in Marx’s terminology. For brevity’s sake, we can regard this as a distinction between a set of political relations and a set of economic relations. Cohen further distinguishes between the relations of production and the forces of production. According to Cohen, the relations of production are best construed as relations of, or relations presupposing, effective control of the productive forces. And it is the development of these forces of production that explains historical transition, on Cohen’s interpretation of Marx’s theory of history. Within the forces of production, Cohen distinguishes between the labor-power of the producing agents and the means of production (which are primarily tools and raw materials). What develops when the forces of production develop, therefore, is labor-power in the form of skill and knowledge, on one hand, and tools and machinery, on the other. For convenience, I shall refer to this as “technological development.”

But why does Cohen define the economic structure as a set of relations of, or presupposing, effective control of the productive forces, rather than as it is standardly conceived—namely, as a set of ownership rights? He does so because a common objection raised by analytical philosophers against Marx’s theory of history is that the base cannot be effectively distinguished from the superstructure because economic relations are legal relations, and legal relations are superstructural. By defining economic relations in a rechtsfrei manner, Cohen side-steps this objection.

However, construing economic relations as relations of, or presupposing, effective control of the productive forces gives rise to the question of how such control is enabled and preserved—a question that anyone at all sympathetic to anarchism is bound to ask. Just as Cohen argues that it is a mistake to confuse rechtsfrei economic relations with legal ones, an anarchist is likely to argue that it is at least as serious an error to fail to separate economic relations when construed as relations of, or presupposing, effective control from whatever the ability to exercise that control rests on. Such an ability cannot just be taken for granted. It requires power.[8] How, then, is that ability enabled and preserved? Without doubt, partly by the coating of legality it has been sprayed with—in other words, by a general acceptance of the legal standing of the economic relations. But it is also enabled and preserved coercively by agents of the state—by those actors deemed responsible for securing economic control: namely, the police and, in the last resort, military personnel. But these agents are not economic forces, economic relations, or legal or political relations, although they might be situated within political relations, just as the economic forces are situated within economic relations.

In short, Cohen distinguishes between the political and the economic, on one hand, and between relations and forces, on the other. But, an anarchist is compelled to object, the set of categories Cohen thereby employs within his theory of history is incomplete. He only employs economic forces, economic relations, and political relations. To complete the list, we would need to draw a distinction within the political sphere that parallels the one drawn within the economic. Let us therefore distinguish between both the political and the economic instances and between their respective relations and forces. This gives us four categories: political relations, economic relations, economic forces, and political forces—the latter category containing forces of defense. And as this new category—political forces—comprises the forces that empower the state, it is obviously going to figure predominantly in any cogent anarchist political theory.

So, on the basis of the discussion so far, an anarchist conceptual toolkit would need to include at least the following: on one hand, like Cohen’s, it would require instruments for distinguishing between relations of production and forces of production. Thus, it requires, at the most general level, the distinction between economic relations and economic forces. The set of economic relations, constituting the economic structure, comprises relations of, or presupposing, effective control over production and, I would also want to add, relations of, or presupposing, effective control over exchange.[9] Relations of production, specifically, are relations of, or presupposing, effective control of the productive forces. And these economic forces—the forces of production—comprise economic labor-power (that capacity that the agents of production supply) and the means of production (for example, machinery). On the other hand, venturing beyond Cohen’s limited set of distinctions, an anarchist conceptual toolkit would require the further distinction, also at the most general level, between political relations and political forces.

But what more needs to be said concerning this additional distinction between political relations and political forces? As the ability to control effectively the economic forces rests, at least in modem societies, on both the accepted legality of the economic relations and, most important, on their

preservation by the political forces, then any such ability is, at least in part,

dependent on relations of power—in other words, political relations involving the following:

  1. the power to enact laws that are then viewed as legitimate,

  2. the power to enforce such laws, and

  3. the power to defend the community against external aggression.

Included within the set of political relations, constituting the political structure, are these power relations, essential for enabling and preserving the relations of control over production and exchange and that are embodied in the various legal and political institutions. The political institutions, specifically, are relations of, or presupposing, effective control of the defensive forces. In the modem state, these political forces—the forces of “defense” (which are more often offensive than genuinely defensive)—are coercive in nature. And such forces of coercion can comprise political labor-power (that capacity that, for example, agents of coercion supply—in other words, the work offered by soldiers, police, and so on for payment) and means of coercion (for example, weapons, prisons, even instruments of torture).

With these various distinctions in mind, we now possess some of the conceptual apparatus necessary to reach some understanding of the role played by the modem state in historical transitions—a role that anarchist theory must be able to describe convincingly if its rejection of the vanguardist and statist approaches to revolutionary transformation advocated by Marxists is to be in the least compelling.


First, though, if an anarchist theory of historical change is to be developed in contraposition to Marx’s, what precisely is Marx’s theory? According to Cohen, Marx’s theory of history can only be presented in a coherent fashion if it is interpreted as employing functional explanations. In particular, Marx’s theory, on Cohen’s interpretation of it, claims that specific economic relations are “selected” because they are functional for the development of the forces of production. By employing functional explanations, Cohen is able to reconcile Marx’s claim that it is technological development that has explanatory primacy[10] with his seemingly contradictory claim that the economic relations significantly affect technological development.[11] Similarly, Cohen’s interpretation of Marx’s account of the relationship between the base and superstructure involves functional explanations. Specific legal and political institutions are “selected” because they stabilize the economic relations. The remarkable strength of Cohen’s account is that it manages to acknowledge both the effect of the economic relations on technological development and the effect of the structure of legal and political institutions on the economic relations while nevertheless still allowing the “selection” by the economic forces of the economic relations to enjoy explanatory primacy.

Cohen’s conceptual and explanatory clarifications thus allow the following theory of history to be stated: certain economic relations are, for a while, functional for technological development. But at a certain point in time, they become dysfunctional for further technological development (or, perhaps in the case of a transition to postcapitalism, for the optimal use of the prevailing technology). A revolution then occurs whereby the structure of legal and political institutions is transformed into one that stabilizes new economic relations that are functional for technological development beyond the present level (or, perhaps, that are functional for the optimal use of the prevailing technology). Moreover, the new structure of legal and political institutions is chosen precisely because it stabilizes the new economic relations that are functional for further technological development (or, perhaps, for the optimal use of technology).

But why should anyone suppose that the economic forces, the economic relations, and the political relations are connected in this way? Well, Cohen provides the following elaboration in support of his theory: there is a tendency for the forces of production to develop through history (what he calls “the Development Thesis”). This is due to two main, albeit controversial, factors:

  1. rationality and

  2. scarcity.

It is to be assumed that human beings are rational and that they face a situation of scarcity (in the sense of having to work more than they would wish). It is also assumed, and this is uncontroversial, that it is within the capability of some to develop new technologies. As it appears rational for individuals in a situation of scarcity to develop technology further, then it can be assumed that there will be a tendency for technological development to take place. If, to develop technology further or faster, it is necessary to select economic relations (e.g., capitalist relations) that would be functional for that development, then it would appear rational for such relations to be selected. And if the legal and political institutions must change in order that the required economic relations be stabilized, then it is rational to select new and more appropriate legal and political institutions. Thus, Cohen seems to have presented a cogent, purposive elaboration of his conjunction of functional explanations.

So, according to Cohen, technological development plays the key role within the process of historical change. Put another way, on Cohen’s account, central to Marx’s theory of history is the development of the forces of production. These economic forces explain the nature of the economic relations, which in turn explain the nature of the political relations. However, earlier, we identified a fourth category—one that appears to be omitted from this Marxist theory—namely, political forces (the forces of defense or, more usually, of coercion). Obviously, such forces will be of great concern to anarchists given their hostility to the state and given that the power of state institutions is, at least in part, premised on these forces. And it is also obvious that anarchists are likely to be dismissive of any political theory that fails to pay due attention to the bases of state power. How, then, are the political forces to be fitted into a theory of historical transition that includes political relations, economic relations, and economic forces? And crucially, does the resulting theory support anarchist rather than Marxist approaches to revolution?


Cohen, as we have noted, accords explanatory primacy to the development of the economic forces. So, it might be useful to turn our attention to how the development of the economic forces relates to the political forces.

One consequence of the development of the forces of production has been the generation of an extractable surplus that has facilitated the development of the political forces—especially coercive forces—to provide greater security. In other words, there has not just been a development of the productive forces but “defensive” development too. And this defensive development, along with the growth of nationalistic sentiments, has led to antagonistic nation-states.

Now, it is widely accepted that Marxist theory, because of its emphasis on the economic, has proved itself to be quite inadequate with regard to analyzing convincingly the phenomenon of nationalism. Cohen, for one, has come to doubt the ability of traditional Marxism to account for this important social feature. (Other features that pose similar difficulties are ethnicity, gender relations, and religion.) We have seen that two main factors—rationality and scarcity—motivate his theory of history. To deal with phenomena such as nationalism, Cohen has, more recently, been led to specify a third important factor, which he introduces as follows:

Marxist philosophical anthropology is one-sided. Its conception of human nature and human good overlooks the need for self-definition, than which nothing is more essentially human. And that need is part of the explanation of the peculiar strength of national and other self-identifications, which Marxists tend to undervalue.[12]

Perhaps by taking this additional factor into account, along with (a) rationality and (b) scarcity, Marxists might be in a position to explain the features of society that otherwise appear to fall outside the ambit of historical materialism (e.g., nationalism). This third important factor can be characterized as

  1. self-definition within a community.

But for Cohen to introduce this factor as an afterthought, as it were, is procedurally questionable. Cohen’s theory of history was constructed principally on the basis of factors (a) and (b). Factor (c) was not present in the formation of the theory. A later introduction into Marxist theory of this additional factor is problematic because, with this factor in operation but ignored in the theory’s presentation, we no longer know that the theory of history can still be constructed in a convincing manner.

Cohen argues that it is rational to develop technology in a situation of scarcity. If only factors (a) and (b) are in play, the Development Thesis—that the productive forces tend to develop through history—can easily be supported. When individuals are faced with a situation of scarcity, it does appear rational to develop the productive forces and increase production. But the significance of factor (c) is that different individuals identify with different groups. Individuals often define themselves in terms of exclusive communities.[13] And it is within such different groupings that rational individuals face scarcity. Now that factor (c) has been introduced, we need to know whether it is always rational for individuals who identify with different and possibly conflicting groups to develop the productive forces.

Yet it seems that it is not always rational for them to do so. For example, on one hand, one’s group might reduce undesirable toil and solve the problem of scarcity with less effort by plundering the produce of another group. On the other hand, if some external group has decided to plunder rather than produce, then an increase in one’s own production capability might make one more likely to be plundered. In a situation in which some have chosen to plunder, it might be extremely unwise to make oneself a more attractive target by increasing production. When factor (c) is in play, then, it can no longer just be assumed that it is rational to develop the productive forces. Factor (c)—self-definition within a community—therefore interferes with the construction of Cohen’s theory.

However, those who wish systematically to consume the surplus produced by others would benefit greatly from the development of political forces—in particular, forces of coercion. And forces of coercion can only be developed if the productive forces have reached a level of development that creates a surplus above mere subsistence. Once such a level has been attained and coercive forces have been developed by one grouping, it can systematically force another group to produce more and consume less than it might otherwise. The resulting surplus can then be extracted continually from the subordinate group. This could be viewed as exemplified in class-divided societies. But, in time, the individuals within such a society, through living together, might come to define themselves as members of one nation and, collectively, wish to oppress another. This would be rational, for oppressing a foreign group could reduce the need for coercion within the national community. It offers the prospect of increased wealth for all nationals as long as it can be extracted from foreigners. Exploiting foreigners also increases the overall surplus available to those in control of the political forces. As it is rational for such groupings to form and behave thus to meet scarcity, then factors (a), (b), and (c), combined together, contribute to an explanation of class-divided, imperialist nation-states. (In fact, such a process of expanding self-definition could continue further, for the peoples of oppressed nations, through living with their colonial administrators, could come to define themselves in their masters’ terms, thus giving rise to a genuine empire or, later, a commonwealth.)

Furthermore, it is rational not only to oppress another group and impose on it greater toil to reduce one’s own but also to resist the imposition of greater toil. And to resist another nation seemingly determined to impose greater toil on one’s own, it appears beneficial to develop the forces of coercion. Hence, such resistance equally seems to require the production of a surplus above subsistence requirements so that the coercive forces might be developed.

On both imperialist and defensive counts, then, it is quite understandable that within nations, some of the population have come to be expertly engaged in producing the society’s wealth, part of which goes to others who have become expertly engaged in “defense” and who, in consequence, are themselves no longer employed directly in production. It is quite understandable that workers, fearing that their nation might be subjugated by another, should support those who are charged with their defense. And it is quite understandable that those who are in effective control of the productive forces (the dominant economic class) should support those exercising political control, when the latter choose to stabilize relations of production that simultaneously develop the productive forces and increase the private wealth of those in control of production. Moreover, it is quite understandable that those exercising political control should back economic relations that develop the productive forces that create the very surplus that is required for exercising political control.

In short, the development of the productive forces creates the surplus that is needed to finance a standing army and a police force, for weapons research and so on, and these forces of coercion are precisely what enable the state to enforce the relations of production that lead to the creation of the surplus that the state requires. Moreover, given its need for the development of such forces of coercion and given that, unlike other groups, it is not primarily engaged in production, the state could be expected to have its own interests vis-a-vis the rest of society.[14] And being in control of the instruments of coercion, the state would be in a position both to protect and to further its own interests. What is significant about all this is that any account along these lines would certainly justify anarchist suspicions about the wisdom of employing any form of state as a means for bringing about political and economic equality.


Cohen’s theory claims that economic forces select economic relations that develop or optimally employ the economic forces, and the economic relations that are selected themselves select political relations that stabilize those economic relations. Earlier, I argued that Cohen’s theory is restricted to these three principal categories because he fails to distinguish between the political relations and the political forces—the forces of defense or, in present circumstances, of coercion. On the basis of the considerations sketched out in the previous section, I now propose, in contraposition to Cohen’s theory, an alternative that employs as its principal categories not only the economic forces, economic relations, and political relations but also the political forces.

Generally, according to the alternative theory now proposed, the political relations ordinarily select economic relations that develop or optimally employ the economic forces because that facilitates the development of the political forces, which usually empower the political relations. Moreover, the political forces stabilize the economic relations that are selected—relations that themselves support the development of the political forces by providing the surplus needed to finance it.

Put another way, in the modem era, except in special circumstances,[15] the legal and political institutions enact and implement legislation that determines a specific economic structure because that structure is functional for those institutions by encouraging the development of, or by optimally employing, the forces of production—principally productive skills and technologies—that are needed to produce the ever-growing surplus that is required for further development of the forces of defense, for it is precisely this defensive development that the power of the legal and political institutions ultimately seems to be premised on. When those individuals who, de facto, in direct control of the defensive forces are not those who are at the head of the legislative, it is normally in the interests of the former to empower the latter because the latter both confer legitimacy on the former (they might even be taken by the former to possess legitimacy!) and are responsible for managing the revenue that the state as a whole requires, including that which those in direct control of the defensive forces need for their development. In addition, it is this defensive development (usually in the form of expanding forces of coercion) that preserves the economic structure selected—an economic structure that is also functional for defensive development by providing it, through taxation, with the surplus it requires.

In short, according to the alternative theory proposed here, a structure of political relations ordinarily selects economic relations that are functional for it. And the political forces stabilize those economic relations that are simultaneously functional for the development of the political forces by producing the surplus their development requires. Here, then, is an alternative theory that employs functional explanations, like Cohen’s, but that reverses their direction. Whereas the principal direction of explanation in the Marxist theory is from the economic to the political, the alternative theory reverses the direction of explanation. In Cohen’s theory, it is technological development that has explanatory primacy; in the alternative theory, it is the structure of legal and political institutions combined with the defensive forces—in other words, the state. It seems appropriate, therefore, to label this alternative “the State-Primacy Theory.”

As a theory of history, the State-Primacy Theory can briefly be stated as follows: certain economic relations, by furthering technological development, are, for a while, simultaneously functional for both the structure of legal and political institutions, on one hand, and the political forces, on the other. But at a certain point in time, they come to constrain any further technological development (or, perhaps in the case of motivating a transition to postcapitalism, they come to prevent the optimal use of the prevailing technology) and thus become dysfunctional. A revolution then occurs that involves the state ceasing to stabilize the current relations of production[16] and choosing, instead, to stabilize new ones that are functional for it insofar as they further, beyond the present level, the development (or, perhaps, allow the optimal use) of technology. Moreover, the new economic relations are selected precisely because they are functional for the state by furthering technological development (or, perhaps, by allowing optimal use of the already developed technology). And with new economic relations, the legal and political institutions are free to alter their form to one that appears more appropriate.[17] Like Cohen’s interpretation of Marx’s theory of history, this too is a complex of functional explanations.

As an aid to clarifying how the State-Primacy Theory differs from Cohen’s interpretation of Marx, it is possible to condense their major theoretical differences into two contrasting theses. The first, Cohen calls “the Primacy Thesis.” But because of its stress on technology and because I am about to propose an alternative primacy thesis, I shall rename it “the TechnoPrimacy Thesis.” Cohen puts this thesis as follows:

The Techno-Primacy Thesis: The nature of a set of production relations is explained by the level of development of the productive forces embraced by it (to a far greater extent than vice versa).[18]

By way of contrast, consider an alternative thesis, which I shall term the State-Primacy Thesis and which can be stated thus:

The State-Primacy Thesis: The nature of a set of production relations in a society is (ultimately) explained by state interests.

Clearly, these two theses differ radically, and whereas Cohen’s interpretation rests on the Techno-Primacy Thesis, the State-Primacy Theory rests on the State-Primacy Thesis.

But is there any reason for believing that there might be some truth in the State-Primacy Thesis? Well, it can be supported by the following elaboration, which, in the process, supports the State-Primacy Theory: state actors can only continue to enjoy their positions while the state remains secure. It is, therefore, ordinarily in the interests of state actors to ensure that their nation’s economy is as productive as those of neighboring states. If their economy were weaker than a neighboring state’s, then the state would not normally be able to fund the development of its defensive capability to the same degree as that neighboring state could and, in the long-run at least, would be unable to defend itself. To retain power, therefore, state actors have an interest in selecting and stabilizing appropriate economic relations. Hence, ordinarily, it is rational for the state to select economic relations that it regards as appropriate to developing further the productive forces beyond the level of development they have so far reached because that is in its interests. And it is because the state contains within it very powerful political forces that it possesses the power to select economic relations that satisfy its interests by increasing that very power. So, just as Cohen’s interpretation of Marx can be supported by a purposive elaboration, the State-Primacy Theory can too.


However, if such an elaboration is to be employed, the following question immediately arises: is it the state as a structure that selects economic relations that are in its interests, or is it state actors that act in their own interests? In other words, it appears as if the State-Primacy Theory could be interpreted in one of two mutually exclusive ways. For example, we could regard the structure of legal and political institutions literally as what selects the economic relations. This would provide us with the basis for a “structuralist anarchism.” Alternatively, it could be claimed simply that political actors select an economic structure that is in their interests. This would provide the basis for a methodological individualist anarchism.[19] But it is, in fact, possible to steer a middle course. Such a view would not view collectives as entities in themselves with causal effects on their members. Nor would it reduce social explanation to the psychology of unrelated individuals. Instead, it would attempt to explain social phenomena in terms of the rational choices taken by individuals who act within certain relationships to one another. The causal influences, in this case, are recognized to be from one individual or group of individuals to another and not from a collective entity to its parts, while individuals are recognized to be related within a structure, rather than all structures simply being reduced to mere collections of individuals.[20]

My own preference is for this third approach, for it strikes me as the least problematic. And on this favored approach, when it is claimed in the State- Primacy Theory that the legal and political institutions select economic relations, that claim should be construed as “the agents acting within the structure of legal and political institutions select for stabilization one set of economic relations in preference to another.” Moreover, when it is simultaneously claimed that the forces of defense enforce economic relations, that claim should ordinarily be construed as “those agents who live by means of their coercive labor-power use the means of coercion at their disposal to protect specific economic relations as opposed to others.”

However, this explication necessitates a further refinement. As the various state actors will occupy different positions within the state, then their choices will not all push in exactly the same direction. Furthermore, their respective decisions will be differently weighted according to their different locations within the state. Hence, what the state decides to select and enforce will be a vector of these variedly directional and weighted decisions. Such a vector will be what the “collective decision” of state actors actually signifies. In other words, we can regard “state interests” as a resultant “parallelogram of forces” resolving the numerous interests of state actors with their differing powers for promoting their interests. What enables us still to talk of “state interests” in this sense, as if they were the interests of the state conceived of as a collective entity, is that although the relevant individual interests push in slightly different directions (army personnel would prefer more state revenue allocated to them than to the police, for example), all state actors share a common interest in preserving the state. Nevertheless, although all state actors have interests pushing in that direction, there remains the possibility of fracturing within the state because of other interests taking diverging directions.

Now, the State-Primacy Theory claims that states ordinarily select economic relations that serve their interests by developing the technology that increases the surplus available to the state. As all state actors have an interest in preserving the state, does this mean that every agent of the state will necessarily be committed to selecting economic relations that are optimal for maximizing the state’s revenue? If this were the case, then at least part of the State-Primacy Theory could apparently be established a priori. Unfortunately for the theory, matters are not so simple. There is a debate within the theory of the firm that bears on this question. The debate concerns whether managers seek to maximize the profits of their companies or whether they are content with levels of profit that will be satisfactory to their shareholders— thus allowing the managers to keep their jobs. A parallel question could be raised concerning senior state actors. Are they maximizers or satisficers with respect to state revenue?

It might be thought that those nonelected state actors who are secure in their positions or who lack ambition will be content to behave as satisficers, whereas those seeking promotion will wish to impress by acting as maximizers. If such maximizers were the most successful at obtaining promotions, it might safely be assumed that they would be the ones who would come to occupy the most senior posts. Senior state actors have greater power with respect to the execution of their decisions than juniors. In other words, the decisions of the former carry greater weight. Hence, it might be concluded that the state will act so as to maximize its revenue, and it will do so because of how the hierarchical structure of its various internal institutions determines which personality-type of state actor rises highest within them.

However, “pushy” state actors seeking promotion by adopting a maximizing stance could, alternatively, be viewed as risky appointments who were likely to “rock the boat ” This might make them less likely to attain senior positions than “dependable” and “reliable” satisficers. Moreover, maximizers who obtained senior positions within the state would only have effective power to the extent that those below them in the chain of command complied with, rather than chose to frustrate, the execution of their decisions. Thus, the likelihood that maximizers would obtain senior positions or that, having attained them, they would be able to act effectively will depend on the particular culture of the state in question. Hence, whether the state decision- vector would always select optimal or satisfactory economic relations is an open question and cannot be decided a priori. This seems to vitiate, to some degree, the immediate plausibility of the State-Primacy Theory.

There is another feature of the process affecting promotion within the structure of legal and political institutions that might be thought to undermine the plausibility of the State-Primacy Theory. Eligibility for promotion is determined not by those seeking it but by those higher up the management chain. Those who occupy senior positions, and thereby determine the criteria by which an individual’s suitability for advancement within a state institution is to be judged, will already have risen within that structure and will thus tend to value the “older” approaches that they are familiar with. Moreover, they will display personalities and adopt approaches that met the approval of an earlier generation of state actors occupying senior positions. This means that there will tend to be a conservative bias at work in filtering out those deemed appropriate for promotion. The probable result is that those who come to be senior state actors will lean strongly toward traditional perceptions of and means for securing state interests. And that suggests that they might not be too inclined to select new economic relations.

How powerful, though, are such nonelected state personnel? Consider Britain: John Dearlove and Peter Saunders describe a British “secret state” consisting of

state institutions that are nonelected, that enjoy substantial autonomy from the control of government and Parliament (no matter what constitutional theory might assert), and that tend to be closed and secretive as to the ways in which they exercise their very substantial powers.[21]

Within this “secret state” they list “the civil service; the nationalized industries (including the Bank of England); the judiciary; the police; the security services; and the military.”[22] And if one examines the behavior of the British civil service, never mind the other institutions of the “secret state,” it soon becomes apparent that it

tends to serve as a powerful conservative force within the state machine. It is skeptical of the case for change; committed to continuity and ordered, steady, progress, and so is eager to contain the wilder excesses of party politicians keen to implement their manifestos with practical talk of the need to attend to “reality” and “the facts.” The civil service is organized in such a way that it is best able to exert a negative power which blocks the cry for innovation. It is keenly attuned to the maintenance of established policy (after all, it did much to establish the policy over the years), and the recruitment and socialization of senior civil servants suggests that the service is likely to be concerned to maintain the essentials of the established society and economy.[23]

Clearly, the power of such state actors has to be taken very seriously, indeed. Thus, any cogent political theory would obviously have to take such power into account. And whereas Marxists tend to de-emphasize it because of their stress on economic factors, the State-Primacy Theory does at least assign a central place to the power of state actors, even if the conservative tendencies of such agents might be thought to diminish the plausibility of the theory as an explanation of revolutionary transformations.

All the above considerations notwithstanding, there is, nevertheless, a very powerful and overriding argument that can be deployed in support of the State-Primacy Theory. The desire to select economic relations optimal for providing the state with revenue could be expected with considerable certainty when the state finds itself in a situation of military competition with another state (precisely the situation that states usually find themselves in), for otherwise the state would simply not survive. And should the state behave irrationally by not attending to its defense requirements, it could expect its nation to be incorporated into the territory controlled by one of the more militarily successful states—in other words, one that did attend to the economic requirements of an expanding military capacity. But then, the former territory of the defeated state would have economic relations imposed on it that served the interests of the militarily successful state. Clearly, the only way for even the most conservative of states to avoid what for them would be such a disastrous outcome is for them to select those economic relations that, at that time, are most suited to technological development. Thus, by a Darwinian mechanism, the states that survive will tend to be those that the State-Primacy Theory describes. In short, there is good reason to think that the State-Primacy Theory successfully describes the behavior of existing states.

Given that I have been focusing on states and on agents acting within state institutions, one obvious question stands in need of an answer: what exactly is the state? This question could be answered intensionally or extensionally. The most famous intensional reply is that of Max Weber, who defines “the state” as “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”[24] Probably the most famous extensional reply is Ralph Miliband’s, who identifies the state as a system of institutions that comprise “the government, the administration, the military and the police, the judicial branch, sub-central government, parliamentary assemblies,”[25] and so on. And it is precisely from within these various institutions that the differently weighted decisions coming from differently positioned agents with correspondingly different interests are taken and that form the state-decision vector—a vector that is directed ultimately toward the preservation of the state.[26]


My aim has been to indicate how it might be possible for an analytical version of anarchism to evolve in opposition to analytical Marxism by providing the necessary conceptual groundwork for such an evolution. Central to any such project would be the development of a theory of history that supports anarchist, rather than Marxist, claims about the process of revolutionary change. By way of conclusion, having outlined the basic features of such a theory of history—the State-Primacy Theory—I indicate some of its more important implications—implications that do, indeed, support anarchism in preference to Marxism. First, though, to make these implications more apparent, I shall summarize certain key aspects of the argument so far.

According to Cohen’s Marxist “Techno-Primacy Theory,” economic forces select economic relations that select political relations. But this is to leave out a vitally important category: the political forces. They can be fitted into a coherent theory of history by reversing its direction of explanation. This provides us with the State-Primacy Theory: political relations select economic relations that develop economic forces that enable the development of the political forces—these political forces stabilizing economic relations that provide them with the surplus they require. And the State-Primacy Theory can be supported by the following purposive elaboration: to oppress another national group and meet scarcity or to resist another national group threatening to impose greater scarcity, ordinarily the actors dominant within the state will collectively decide to stabilize specific economic relations that encourage the development of the productive forces and thus allow a surplus to be extracted that finances the development of the forces of coercion necessary for those state actors to protect or further their interests. In this alternative theory, using Marx’s terminology, the “superstructure” selects a “base” that develops the productive forces and does so for its own politically motivated reasons.

One implication of this is that the cogency of the most sophisticated Marxist theory of history—Cohen’s—which accords explanatory primacy to the productive forces over the economic relations and the superstructure, must be left in some doubt when a complex of functional explanations that accords primacy to the “superstructure” over the economic relations and the productive forces can just as easily be forwarded. In fact, it is possible to go even further in criticizing Cohen. It is not only that the State-Primacy Theory can be formulated just as clearly as Cohen’s Techno-Primacy Theory, but it is also the case that the former is conceptually superior, for it does not rely on any dubious metaphors. When Cohen develops his interpretation of Marx’s theory of history, he writes of the productive forces “selecting” specific relations of production because the latter are functional for their development. As he puts it, “Forces select structures according to their capacity to promote development.”[27] But “select” must, in this instance, be metaphorical. Forces of production, as Cohen must intend them in this passage, neither act nor have intentions. Consequently, even though he denies that he is a functionalist, Cohen leaves himself open to the charge that he is relying on the “free- floating intentions” associated with functionalism.[28] One considerable advantage of according explanatory primacy to the state is that state personnel (unlike technology, for example) do have intentions and are the sorts of entities that can make selections—thus allowing a genuinely purposive elaboration of the State-Primacy Theory.

Now, perhaps the most important political implication of Marx’s theory, including Cohen’s interpretation of it, is that if states are selected by inegalitarian economic relations to preserve them, then if there were no economic inequalities to be preserved, no state would be required. If egalitarian economic relations are attained, then the state will, to use Engels’s famous phrase, “wither away.”[29] Unfortunately, the Russian Revolution, which did most to raise the standing of Marxism on the Left, does not corroborate this theory—but not because egalitarian relations failed to appear. In fact, egalitarian economic relations did arise. Factory committees, run by the workers themselves, emerged within Russian industry. But rather than this leading to the state withering away, the Bolshevik state replaced the factory committees with inegalitarian “one-man” management.

What is especially interesting is Lenin’s justification for this. Within a year of coming to power, Lenin proclaimed, “All our efforts must be exerted to the utmost to ... bring about an economic revival, without which a real increase in our country’s defense potential is inconceivable.”[30] Ironically, then, the revolution in Russia, led by Marxists, not only contradicts Marx’s theory of history, but it also corroborates the State-Primacy Theory, for rather than the economic relations determining the form of the state, the state determined the form of economic relations that came to preponderate—and the outcome was both highly authoritarian and extremely inegalitarian. And this is not surprising, given that egalitarian economic relations controlled by the producers themselves are unlikely to be perceived by the state as guaranteeing the productivity and the surplus that it requires to retain power. The state is likely to think that workers in control of their own production will either choose to work less arduously or to consume more of their own produce, thereby offering less of a surplus to the state. In a word, egalitarian economic relations are not in the state’s interests. Hence, structures of inegalitarian political relations will only select structures of economic relations that are inegalitarian. As the Russian Revolution of 1917 clearly corroborates the State-Primacy Theory while contradicting Marxist theory, and as an implication of the State-Primacy Theory is that states will either not introduce or not retain egalitarian economic relations, then Marxist political practice would appear to be both seriously flawed and lacking in justification.

This leaves us with perhaps the major political implication of the State- Primacy Theory: given that, according to this theory, states select relations of production that are in their interests rather than egalitarian relations that are in the interests of the mass of the population, then a necessary (though not necessarily a sufficient) condition for human emancipation and equality must be the abolition of the state by the citizens themselves. This is the only practicable means by which the process perpetuating inegalitarian relationships, as identified by the State-Primacy Theory, can be terminated. In other words, the State-Primacy Theory not only exposes the utter inadequacy of Marxist revolutionary strategy, it also completely supports anarchist political practice.

In short, then, Marxists, by considering the use of state power or in advocating a revolutionary vanguard (which would eventually form a new state power) as acceptable means toward equality and freedom, advocate courses of action that, as the State-Primacy Theory reveals, would perpetuate the extensive inequalities Marxists ostensibly oppose. And they are uncritical of such courses of action because their theory overlooks the fundamental importance of the state and, especially, state power. The result of this is the promotion of a strategy that inadvertently perpetuates unfreedom and inequality.[31] Consequently, the State-Primacy Theory indicates that anarchists are indeed correct to oppose all statist and vanguardist approaches to revolutionary change. In this respect, the State-Primacy Theory provides anarchism with the theory of historical transition it requires.[32]

So, an anarchist theory of history can be developed that offers the promise of being at least as effective as Marxist theory in explaining technological, economic, and political developments but that has the added advantage, by drawing attention to the tremendous power that the state can exert, of predicting accurately the outcome of statist and vanguardist revolutions. This is in stark contrast with Marxist theory, which, through underemphasizing the power of the state because of an unbalanced stress on the economic, has created such a dangerous pitfall for the Left. By stressing the technological and the economic, Marxists have distracted attention from the state. This proved disastrous in the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, and numerous revolutions in the Third World and will do so time and time again until Marx’s theory of history is eventually abandoned by the Left.

Once again, the flaws in Marxist theory are most clearly revealed from an anarchist perspective. And the perspective that most clearly reveals the inadequacies of analytical Marxism is that of analytical anarchism.[33]

Alan Carter is chair of the Department of Philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London. He is the author of A Radical Green Political Theory (London: Routledge, 1999), The Philosophical Foundations of Property Rights (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester-Wheatsheaf, 1989), and Marx: A Radical Critique (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1988). His web site can be visited at http.’/Avww.heythrop.ac.uk/carthome.htm.

[1] See G. A. Cohen, Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defense (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1978).

[2] See P. Thomas, Karl Marx and the Anarchists (London: Routledge Kegan Paul, 1980).

[3] The principles of equality that, according to Baker, egalitarians generally wish to defend aie the following: first, everyone’s basic needs ought to be met. Second, everyone deserves sufficient respect for snobbery and patronizing attitudes to be unacceptable. Third, massive income differentials should not exist, and some should not be forced to spend their lives confined to unpleasant work. Undesirable tasks ought, instead, to be shared out. Fourth, power should be more equal so that those who are presently powerless have greater control over their own lives. Fifth, different treatment based on color, sex, culture, religion, or disability ought to be opposed. In Baker’s opinion, egalitarians usually wish to defend these five principles. Thus, in his view, the demand for equality is not a demand for one simple thing, such as the same income for everyone. Rather, it is a demand for a number of substantive inequalities to be removed. See John Baker, Arguing for Equality (London: Verso, 1987), 4–5. However, while Baker does mention inequalities in power, which includes political power, most egalitarians have tended to focus their opposition on inequalities in economic power.

[4] Moreover, it seems to me that this conception of what it is to be an “anarchist” captures all of the classical anarchist theorists, including William Godwin, Max Stimer, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, and Peter Kropotkin, as well as more recent anarchists such as Paul Goodman, Noam Chomsky, Colin Ward, Nicholas Walter, and Murray Bookchin. Furthermore, it avoids anarchists having to offer attempted defenses of seemingly indefensible views, such as feeling compelled to advocate a society without any power relations or authority whatsoever.

[5] For one interpretation of several of the major anarchist theorists that stresses the central role of morality in their thought, see George Crowder, Classical Anarchism: The Political Thought of Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1991).

[6] See, for example, Karl Marx, “Letter to Weydemeyer, 5 March 1852,” Selected Writings, ed. David McLellan (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1977), 341.

[7] Regarding coercion: “As long as the other classes, and in particular the capitalist class, still exist, as long as the proletariat is still struggling with it (because, with the proletariat’s conquest of governmental power its enemies and the old organization of society have not yet disappeared), it must use coercive means, hence governmental means” Karl Marx, “On Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy,” Selected Writings, 561. Regarding centralization, in response to Bakunin’s query concerning whether the proletariat as a whole will head the government, Marx answers with the rhetorical question: “In a trade union, for example, is the executive committee composed of the whole of the union?” Ibid., 562. For one account of Marx’s political approach, see Alan Carter, “The Real Politics of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels,” Studies in Marxism 6(1999): 1–30.

[8] For an appropriate conception of “power,” see Alan Carter, “A ‘Counterfactualist,’ FourDimensional Theory of Power,” The Heythrop Journal 33, no. 2 (April 1992): 192–203.

[9] I include within the category “economic relations” the relations of control not just over production but also over exchange because, it seems to me, the common Marxist view that exploitation in capitalist societies only occurs at the point of production and only results from an employer-employee relationship misses what is perhaps the most important kind of exploitation in the world today—namely, that of the Third World by the advanced countries. Such exploitation can take place without the First World as a whole employing the Third World and without First World firms employing Third World workers. Exploitation can take place because the First World, having a dominant position in the world market, can effectively insist on a high price for its products and a low price for what is produced elsewhere. By the First World selling its products dear and buying Third World goods cheap, the surplus-product of the Third World is transferred to the First World. This is not exploitation of employees by employers, nor is it a case of the Third World exploiting itself. It is a case of market exploitation. For a more appropriate theory of exploitation than that employed by traditional Marxists, see John Roemer, “New Directions in the Marxian Theory of Exploitation and Class,” Analytical Marxism, ed. John Roemer (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986). On Roemer’s theory, exploitation “can be accomplished, in principle, with or without any direct relationship between the exploiters and the exploited in the process of work” (ibid., 95), and his theory therefore allows us to comprehend the exploitation of the Third World by the First through “unequal exchange” (see ibid., 112).

[10] This claim is most famously indicated in Karl Marx, “Preface to a Critique of Political Economy,” Selected Writings. See especially pp. 389–90.

[11] This appears to be Marx’s view in The Communist Manifesto. See, for example, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, “The Communist Manifesto,” in Marx, Selected Writings, 224.

[12] G. A. Cohen, “Restricted and Inclusive Historical Materialism,” Irish Philosophical Journal 1, no. 1 (1984): 25.

[13] See Frank Parkin, Marxism and Class Theory: A Bourgeois Critique (London: Tavistock, 1981), 44–73, for a pertinent Weberian theory of “social closure as exclusion.”

[14] On the speculative history outlined above, as states are theoretically conjectured to have originated out of exclusionary groupings formed to prey on the surplus produced by others, and as states have continued to extract such surplus for their own requirements, then states would clearly have interests different from (indeed, have certain interests against) the other groupings within their territories.

[15] It can sometimes be rational for a Third World state to be complicit in the underdevelopment of its nation’s economy. See Alan Carter, “The Nation-State and Underdevelopment,” Third World Quarterly 16, no. 4 (December 1995): 595–618. And for some indication of how the theory outlined here can deal with the realities of international politics in a world of unequal states, see ibid.

[16] Note that Marx, himself, acknowledges that the state, during the period of the absolute monarchy, “helped to hasten” what he describes as “the decay of the feudal system.” See Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” Selected Writings, 316.

[17] The form could come, eventually, to have the appearance of being, for example, pluralist or even corporatist. Regarding the latter, for an account (drawing on the work of M. J. Smith and assuming state autonomy) of how it was functional for the British state to invite the National Farmers Union “into government” by according it “a statutory right to be consulted over agricultural policy,” thus ensuring that its relationship with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) was a privileged one, see Robert Gamer, Environmental Politics (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1996), 157–60.

[18] Cohen, Karl Marx’s Theory of History, 134.

[19] This parallels the famous disagreement in Marxist circles between Nicos Poulantzas and Ralph Miliband. See their respective contributions in Robin Blackburn, ed., Ideology in Social Science (London: Fontana, 1972).

[20] See Alan Carter, “On Individualism, Collectivism and IntenelationismThe Heythrop Journal 31, no. 1 (January 1990): 23–38.

[21] John Dearlove and Peter Saunders, Introduction to British Politics: Analyzing a Capitalist Democracy (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1984), 116.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid., 125.

[24] Max Weber, “Politics as a Vocation,” From Max Weber,; ed. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (London: Routledge Kegan Paul, 1970), 78.

[25] Ralph Miliband, The State in Capitalist Society (London: Quartet, 1973), 50. And as Patrick Dunleavy and Brendan O’Leary add, ‘The state is a recognizably separate institution or set of institutions, so differentiated from the rest of its society as to create identifiable public and private spheres.” Patrick Dunleavy and Brendan O’Leary, Theories of the State: The Politics of Liberal Democracy (London: Macmillan, 1987), 2.

[26] Given that the state comprises various institutions, then there will be conflicts of interests between them. In fact, the institutions themselves may well contain fairly severe internal fractures. Hence, the state should never be regarded as monolithic or homogeneous. This notwithstanding, all state institutions, like virtually all state actors within them, are at least united in having an interest in the preservation of the state.

[27] Cohen, Karl Marx’s Theory of History, 162.

[28] See Jon Elster, Making Sense of Marx (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 17.

[29] See Frederick Engels, Anti-Duhring, Herr Eugen Diihring’s Revolution in Science (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1976), 363.

[30] V. I. Lenin, The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970), 6.

[31] Moreover, as Bakunin so prophetically writes, “It is clear why the dictatorial revolutionists, who aim to overthrow the existing powers and social structures in order to erect upon their ruins their own dictatorship, never are or will be the enemies of government, but, on the contrary, always will be the most ardent promoters of the government idea. They are the enemies only of contemporary governments, because they wish to replace them. They are the enemies of the present governmental structure, because it excludes the possibility of their dictatorship. At the same time they are the most devoted friends of governmental power. For if the revolution destroyed this power by actually freeing the masses, it would deprive this pseudo-revolutionary minority of any hope to harness the masses in order to make them the beneficiaries of their own government policy.” Michael Bakunin, Bakunin on Anarchy, ed. Sam Dolgoff (London: Allen & Unwin, 1973), 329.

[32] There are, of course, numerous objections that could be leveled against the State-Primacy Theory, but, it seems to me, the theory possesses the resources to deal with them. Lack of space militates against a full response to the objections that might be raised, so I shall confine myself to some brief remarks in reply to the most obvious of them. (1) The events of 1917 in Eastern Europe might corroborate the State-Primacy Theory, but those of 1989 do not. To the contrary, whereas a state-planned economy might have been thought in 1917 to provide a greater revenue to the state, by the 1980s it was clear that the Russian economy could not compete with that of the United States, and hence the former Soviet Union could not continue to compete militarily because it lacked the required revenue. It was therefore rational for the Russian state to support a move to a capitalist economy that offered the prospect of greater revenue. (2) Explanatory primacy cannot be accorded to the state because it is the instrument of capitalists who can withdraw their capital and hold the state to ransom. But, in response, capitalists can only retain or withdraw their capital on the state’s sufferance. States have nationalized private capital and have imposed currency restrictions. Moreover, capital, in the form of money, can be moved rapidly from one country to another, but what it is especially useful for acquiring cannot be. Certain productive forces that are ultimately essential for increasing capital—fields and factories—are immobile. (3) States have their policies dictated to them by global financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). But, in response, the behavior of such institutions is determined by states. They impose terms and conditions on weaker states that are in the interests of stronger ones, usually by increasing the surplus available to the more powerful states. See, for example, Alan Carter, “State-Primacy and Third World Debt,” The Heythrop Journal 38, no. 3 (July 1997): 300–14.

[33] For further arguments on the superiority of the State-Primacy Theory over Cohen’s Marxist theory, see Alan Carter, “Fettering, Development and Revolution” The Heythrop Journal 39, no. 2 (April 1998): 170–88. Moreover, the State-Primacy Theory also possesses the resources to ground a radical environmental political theory. See Alan Carter, ‘Towards a Green Political Theory,” The Politics of Nature: Explorations in Green Political Theory, ed. Andrew Dobson and Paul Lucardie (London: Routledge, 1993).