Science and Society 64 (1):87 - 118 (2000)

More than a quarter century after the Miliband-Poulantzas debate renewed interest in Marxist political theory, there is still no agreement on what constitutes a Marxist theory of the state. The state theory debate has produced a range of competing theories including instrumentalism (Miliband), structuralism (Poulantzas), derivationism (Altvater), systems analysis (Offe), and organizational realism (Skocpol). Each of these theories is grounded in a conception of "the Marxist tradition," but each theory diverges in its definition of what counts as Marx's "political" writings. Efforts to arbitrate between competing theories of the state by returning to the Marxian classics are futile, first, because the classical texts are "incomplete" and, second, because they are ambiguous and often self-contradictory. Hence, as long as Marx's writings remain a key referent for the development of state theory, it will be necessary to recognize that a range of positions is defensible from within the intellectual canon and that the canon itself provides no basis for arbitrating among the competing theories.
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