Social scientists should assuredly keep the structural constraints of capitalism in mind when developing state theory in the 21st century. However, we should not lose site of the fact that individuals also make history, and that a single-minded focus on the structural constraints of capitalism may only lead to a functionalist interpretation of the state, alongside a cynical approach to politics.
To preserve its position, capital has no other choice than to curtail democracy. As class conflicts heightens, the need for authoritarian governance, “preventive fascism,” grows.
Marxism has a future only if its practitioners confront unexpected developments with a determination to find their roots using the methodology and concepts of Marxism, not by trying to show that the evidence is wrong out of a misplaced fear that any unexpected development threatens to undermine Marxism.
As prison and jail admissions have decreased around 25% from their late-2000s peak, private prison companies have begun to invest heavily in “alternatives to incarceration”, such as probation facilities and GPS monitoring (a form of control which has increased 70% in the past twenty years and has become a $6 billion industry). These “alternatives” are presented as more humane, and cheaper, ways of managing criminalized populations. However, as the Moratorium on Deportations Campaign notes, these “alternatives” are linked “to a much broader process of expanding, informationalizing, and generalizing the prison … When the prison is everywhere, it is also invisible as the new form of social reality.”
To understand democracy — to defend it and to deepen it — we should examine its long history rather than obsess about recent headwinds. In a recent article published in the American Journal of Sociology, I attempt to do just that. My research suggests that democratic progress over the last 150 years is the fruit of the changing character of class struggle over the state. Democracy has its origins in the capacity of the poor to disrupt the routines of the rich.