Towards an Anti-Racist Marxist State Theory: A Canadian Case Study

Article excerpt


Neoliberalism, imperialist war and the state's ongoing, aggressive reordering of peoples' lives renders untenable the tired claim made by post-structuralists, social democrats and the new Right that the state has receded in importance. The state plays a central role in global affairs as well as in many people's daily lives, through immigration controls and through labour-market and welfare restructuring. This throws into sharp relief the limitations of social commentary that is premised on a rejection of the theoretical study of the state, whether that rejection is done in the name of 'micro-' power or in a reluctant capitulation to the view that the internationalisation of capital has made the theoretical study of the state obsolete. Questions about the nature, role and limits of the capitalist state--questions that have guided Marxist theory--are as important today as they have ever been, and demand our continued reflection. While significant advances have been made in Marxist state theory, particularly by those writing in what is referred to in this article as the 'Open Marxist' tradition (1), there are important gaps that need to be addressed if we hope to achieve a more complete understanding of the state and the implications of its power today. One of the weaknesses of Marxist state theory, including amongst Open Marxist contributions, is its near-silence on questions of race and racism. This theoretical lacuna is addressed here in the hopes of further advancing a Marxist theory of the state that better reflects the racist nature of capitalist society.

The absence of meaningful anti-racist analysis in Marxist state-theory literature is astounding, since racism is so central to what the state does, particularly in the advanced capitalist world. The creation of labour markets in the global North, for instance, has been rooted in discriminatory immigration laws framed by racialisation. Given this, any theory of the emergence and development of the capitalist state that fails to integrate such a salient feature of its existence is simply incomplete. Yet in their debates on state theory, Marxists typically treat capitalist society and the classes constituting it in race-neutral terms--as if there were a class, capital or state that existed in the abstract, somehow independently of racial social relations. As a result, we have to look outside the Marxist tradition, to Goldberg's The Racial State (2002) in order to find the only meaningful attempt at the development of an anti-racist state theory. What we find, however is, not surprisingly, flawed in important ways.

This article urges us to rethink this major gap in Marxist state theory. It demonstrates the way Marxist state theory is incomplete if it fails to consider race and racism, while in the process showing the limitations of theories that attempt to theorise the racial nature of the state, but which mistakenly jettison Marxism in the process. Just as Marxist state theory is hindered by the absence of anti-racist analysis, so anti-racist state theory will suffer if it refuses to incorporate the insights of Marxism.

The article begins with a brief examination of the weaknesses of instrumentalist and structural-functionalist Marxism--the latter being perhaps the most influential Marxist state theory--and of Goldberg, arguing that their theoretical frameworks represent a barrier to our task of developing anti-racist state theory. It will then consider some of the key strengths of the Open Marxist theory of the state, rooted as it is in social relations of struggle. It will suggest that, despite its failure to account for race and racism, Open Marxism nevertheless provides a good starting point from which to take up these issues in a meaningful way--something that neither instrumentalism nor structural functionalism can claim. The article then offers an attempt at an anti-racist Marxist theory of the state, using Canada, a white settler state born out of British colonialism, as a case study. …


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.