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Corporatism and Political Theory

For Vasiliki

Corporatism Politic;T"ilheory ALAN CAWSON

Basil Blackwell

© Alan Cawson


First published 1986

BasilBlackwell Ltd 108 Cowley Road, OxfordOX4 UF, UK

Basil Blackwell Inc. 432 Park Avenue South, Suite 1503, New York, NY 10016, USA All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purposes of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a

retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition

including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Cawson, Alan Corporatism and political theory. 1. Corporate state

I. Title 321.9


ISBN 0-631-13279-1

Library of Congress Cataloging in: Publication Data Cawson, Alan

Corporatism and political theory.

Bibliography: PIncludes index 1. Corporate state, 2. Plurahsrn (Social sciences) 3. State, The. I. Title. 85-31802 JC478.C33 1986 321 ISBN 0-631-13279-1 (U-5-)



Typeset by Saxon Ltd, Derby Great Britaln by '1'.]_ Press Ltd, Padstow



1 V/lhy Corporatism?


Introduction Cornpetingparadigms The need for a new approach A dualist strategy The differences explored Coneluslon


1 1 4 6 6 19

2 Whatis Corporatism? Corporatism as post-capitalism Corporatism as state form Corporatism as interest intermediation Pluralism as an ideal type

22 24

Corporatism as an ideal type

25 27 32

A continuum between pluralism and corporatism


Closure and the dynamic of concentration


Corporate pluralism and corporatism: the British case


3 Corporatism and the Question of the State What is the state? - pluralist


Critiques of pluralist conceptions of the state Neo-Marxist theories of the state

46 48 49

Structural and organisational factors


The nature of the state


The basis of state power Functions of the state

58 60



Economic policy State power and social stratification Conclusion

62 65 66

4 Varieties of Corporatism Introduction


Corporatism-1 and Corporatism~2 Variations in levels of organisation Policy scope and relevant interests At least three partners ? Summary: varieties of corporatism



71 73 75 77 82

5. Macro-Corporatism Trade unions Business organisation Cross-natiOnal comparisons

Macro orporatism and the tax-welfare system Macro orporatism and 'govc:r11ability' Macro-corporatisrn and unemployment

Discussion Austria as an ideal type Discussion

84 87 89 90 92 94 97 100 103

6 Meso- and Micro-Corporatisrn Meso-corporatism and sectoral interests

Industrial policy Social and welfare policy

107 113




Micro-corporatism in land-use planning


The need for further research Levels of corporatism

122 123

7 Dualism and Democracy Production and consumption Transfer payments State intervention Levels of the state Competition, closure and dual polities Dualism and democracy


131 133 136 140 145







References Index

159 170


This book was written while I was a ]can Monnet Fellow at the European University Institute, Florence, and I would like to express my appreciation of the opportunity to refine and discuss my ideas on corporatism in such exceptional surroundings. I am especially grateful to Philippe Schmitter for his support and advice. I am grateful to Philip Carpenter of Basil Blackwell for encouraging me to write this book in the first place, and for his patience duringits gestation. The book has benefited from discussions with a large number of colleagues at the EUI Summer School in 1983, in Florence during 19846 and at Sussex. I would like to mention in particular Wolfgang Streeck,]elle Visser, Colin Crouch, Martin Rhodes, John Dearlove and Peter Saunders. I am also grateful to S., E. and A. Metaxa for companionship during long evenings. Many authors conclude their prefaces with an acknowledgement to their wives. In this case the debt is an exceptionally large one, and the dedication of this book to my wife, Vasiliki, is in gratitude for her considerable contribution to it.

1 Why Corporatism?

Introduction In the last fifteen years the concept of corporatism has made a dramatic

impact on the field of political studies. It not only revitalised the topic of interest group studies, which had been in tl'1€ doldrums after some energetic theory building by American scholars in the late 19505, but also has had a significant impact on a much wider area. Scholars have used the notion of corporatism to explore politics in countries as far

apart geographically and politically as Brazil and Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States, Australia and Rumanla.2 Political studies are perhaps no more prone than other branches of knowledge to fads and fashions, but it is certainly true that 'corporatism', like 'pluralism', 'Marxlsm', 'democracy', and so on, has been used rather loosely to refer to somewhat different things. The attention given to corporatism in the last ten years has been

remarkable, and if nothing else indicates the dissatisfaction of scholars with the conceptual tools available to make sense of what they observe around thern.3' Although it may be premature it is worth beginning this

essay on the theory of corporatism by asking what it was that it was seeking to replace. Is it possible to identify a dominant orthodoxy or paradigm that outlived its usefulness, so that we may speak of a theoretical shift and define exactly what it is that has shifted? I think that even at this early stage it is possible to do this, even though the conclusions must remain tentative.

Competing paradigms Many writers on corporatism follow Schmitter's early lead in idenufying pluralism as the orthodoxy or paradigm that is being challenged. As


Wloy Corporatisrrz?

one might expect from writing with a polemical as well as a serious analytical purpose, the lines of battle are sometimes confused, and the strength of the enemy misrepresented for the purposes of propaganda. Recent counter-attacks have accused corporatist of erecting a straw man, and of claiming as their own parts of the territory belonging to the opposition. Corporatists contend that pluralists fail to understand existing political processes; pluralists contend that corporatists fail to understand pluralism, and in particular its capacity for adjustment to comprehend new developments, without, many of them say, the need for a new theory or a new term. Pluralism has been under attack before, from a number of directions. in the early 1960s a broadside was mounted against the pluralist idea of power as goal-directed action observable in decisions, with the claim that non-decisions and institutional routines filter out many demands before they can be acted upon, or even put. The pluralist approach celebrated the observable democratic tip of a very undemocratic iceberg. As the skirmishes proceeded, it became clear that the issues were not really fundamental disagreements about the nature of social science, such as were to surface later, but ideological disagreements between 'orthodox' and 'radical' positions. Pluralism proved its elasticity as a theoretical approach by simply absorbing the idea Of non-decisions into its category of decisions: the first decision on the public agenda is what decisions should be on the agenda, and this is studied using the same methods as are applied to the study of all other decisions. One of the reasons why such an elegant and disarming solution was possible was that pluralist concepts relied exclusively on observable phenomena and this made research easier. The research output of the rival 'neo-elitist' school was tiny and largely forgettable. A much more important battle was fought over the concepts, forms and method

of political inquiry, and

in particular over the relationship

between politics and economics. Pluralist theory sits comfortably within the separate discipline of political science because it contends that the economic and the political are not only distinct spheres of behavior but they also require separate theoretical treatment. Marxism, drawing its strength from its holistic and integrating approach, with allies in several disciplines, challenged not only the central conclusion of pluralism, that power in capitalist societies was dispersed, basic tools used to reach this conclusion. , Furthermore ested the process by which ---..-1- tools fashioned. Its central claim was the unity of political economy under the decisive influence of the productive forces of the economy. The separation of political interests in a political sphere, t u b e sou¢T§eeE


Why Corporatism ?

political science, was seen as a very minor part of the mystifying process of bourgeois ideology whereby liberal democracy concealed from view

the process of class exploitation. Now this would not do by itself as a challenge to pluralism because politics was so scantily developed in Marx's attempt to unravel the

mechanisms of capitalism. Before the attack could be mounted the conceptual a r m o r y had to be crafted, and this was done by developing

a theory of the state which showed how what appeared as politics, in the actions of governments, in the law, and in the public sphere generally, was determined by underlying relations of production. This work was done in the late 1960s and early 1970s, by rereading Marx to elaborate the idea of structures (economic, political and ideological) and present the view that humans acted as agents of these structures. A structural interpretation of politics built on these foundations emphasised the role of the state in organising the domination of workers by capitalists. The fact that capitalists themselves acted at arm's length from the state (celebrated by pluralists), and that l a b o r parties could

form governments and improve the material condition of workers (confirmation to pluralists of the responsiveness of the state to multiple interests), was grist to the structuralist mill. The first allowed the state the freedom to get on with the job of safeguarding the supremacy of the capitalist class as a whole free from day-to-day interference from

sections of it; the second helped to deceive workers that their interests lay within capitalism rather than in its overthrow. The weapons were fashioned, however, in theoretical terms of such l a b o r e d opaqueness that few of the protagonists were ever entirely

certain that their guns were loaded and fewer still got to fire them at an enemy. Crucial terms in the argument, such as 'the last instance' (which was supposed to retain the decisive effects of the economic) and 'relative autonomy'


was supposed to free the state to act in a

pre-determined fashion) were notoriously difficult to specify, and there was always the underlying unease amongst the troops that if humans really were bearers of underlying structures, having no free will of their own, then any changes


politics, or even


the debates they were

engaged in, would be simply a matter of hanging around waiting for the right 'contingencies' or 'conjectural' conditions. It is not easy to maintain morale on that basis. Pluralists reacted to such onslaughts with blank incomprehension. Why bother to take part in the battle when your opponents were

slugging it out with each other and you could walk through the hail of bullets with no apparent ill effects? Why not smile complacently when one protagonist (Poulantzas) tells another (Midband), who has tried to


V(/by Corporatism ?

refute pluralist theories by assembling counter-evidence consistent

with Marxist ideas about the way in which the state works in the capitalists' interests, that he should not fight on ground contaminated

by such poisons as empiricism ?4 Why not congratulate yourself when one of the foremost interpreters of Poulantzas in English scatters throughout his book on The Capitalist State a formidable list of no less than nineteen theoretical sins, from reductionism and essentialism to formalism, theoreticism and, of course empiricisln,5 and then concludes with a chapter which sets out a position which, according to another Marxist, is indistinguishable from orthodox political science (Offe, 1983), forcing one of those exercises in self criticism for which Marxists are justly famous Uessop, 1983).

The need for a new approach

I hope to show in this book that pluralists should not take comfort from the failure of Marxism to get its act together. Critical theory, whether

Marxist or not, has a tradition of introspection and self-consciousness of which pluralists would do well to take at least a small dose. If the pluralist house is in order, then how can the attractions of neo-elitism, neo-Marxism, and now neo~corporatlsm to a wide range of students of politics be expl_ained? I want to argue that pluralism was once capable of understanding die diversity of political phenomena within capitalist

societies, that changes in those phenomena force a reconsideration of pluralism as an explanatory and interpretive account, and that the weight of evidence and theoretical critique point to the need for a new paradigm, necessarily to supplant pluralism but certainly to supplement it and force the recognition of the need to reduce the scope of its applicability.

The danger of this argument is that it might fail to capture the diversity and richness of pluralism itself; that in seeking to specify what is pluralism, and by antithesis, what is corporatism, a false conception might arise. It is not an easy task to specify what pluralism is, and to separate its explanatory purposes from its political ones. Pluralist theory claims to be an accurate description of interest politics and of the workings of liberal democratic political systems. It also makes the claim (sometimes overtly, sometimes not) that pluralism is morally superior to alternative forms of political systems, such as fascism or communism. I will not deal with the second claim in any detail in what follows, but will concentrate on whether we can use pluralist versions of key political concepts to construct explanations of how political processes

Why Corporatisrrz ?


work. But the book as a whole is not a critique of pluralism; rather it is an exploration of corporatism and a (perhaps) premature assessment of

its potential as the basis for a reconstruction of political theory. In the rest of this introductory chapter, I shall, however, try to make explicit the different theoretical perspectives of pluralism, Marxism and corporatism. I want to illustrate how difficult this task is in practice by contrasting two quotations, the first by a writer who identihcs himself as a 'pluralist'; the second by someone who accepts the label of 'Marxlst'.

The institutionalisation of the interdependence between the public authorities and the interest groups may, in certain spheres, develop to the extent of the partial and informal 'irlcorporation' of groups into the machinery of government. The degree of involvement by interest-group leaders in public decision-making and policy implementation, their willingness to subordinate their sectional interest to what they accept as the public interest, may be such that they cease to be genuinely independent of the state. Such an arrangement has great advantages for the state, as it does not need to create an unwieldy bureaucracy to achieve the mobilisation of support for public policies but can operate in a functionally

decentralised fashion. However, only those groups that have something to offer the state are candidates for such virtual 'incorporationly Those that are simply making demands upon it, the pure pressure groups, are person non grata. (Hayward, 1979, p. 37) In an advanced industrial economy, interest organizations have the power to interfere with public policy making in highly dysfunctional ways; hence the need to 'keep them out'. At the 1 ` lrepresentative organizations are absolutely indispensable for public policy, because they have a 1-


monopoly of information relevant for public policy and, most important, a substantial measure of control over their respective constituencies. Therefore they must be made integral components

of the mechanisms through which public policy is formulated, (Offe, 1981, p- 131) Now it seems to me that these two statements about the relationship of interest groups to the state have much more in common with each other than either does with its 'horne' paradigm. And more important still, their nature is so distinctive that they fit much more easily within an emergent paradigm of corporatism.


Why Corporatism 1? A dualist strategy

Offs, incidentally, is more conscious of this problem than Hayward, and argues for a 'dual or combined explanation that relies exclusively neither on the social class nor on the pluralist group paradigm' (p. 139), but Hayward too completes his essay by quoting an ideal~typical description of corporatism and saying that it is premature to pass judgment on it (p. 39). In Hayward's view society is becoming decreasingly pluralistic but it is too early to jettison the pluralist paradigm because it is descriptively less distorted than the alternatives. But there is, I believe, in Offs's suggestion the possibility of an even less

distorted paradigm, which is explored in the following pages. It is that by modifying Marxist theory to respecify the role of the state and the nature of interest organisation, we can explain some of the political processes concerned with production in capitalist society, and that by modifying pluralism and restricting its scope we can explain those other processes concerned with consumption. The tension between corporatist politics and pluralist politics can then be used to explain the conflicts and cleavages in contemporary capitalist systems. This 'dual politics' thesis is set out in the Final chapter of the book, and its implications for democracy are discussed.

The differences explored I will aim to bring out the differences between pluralism, Marxism and corporatisnri by starting out with a brief survey of the concepts, basic to any political theory, of interests, groups and organisations, power and decisions, government and the state, according to how they are seen from these perspectives. I will try to bring out the essential differences without, I hope, doing them too much injustice. It will be evident from this exercise that the corporatist perspective is something of a synthesis of those aspects of pluralist and Marxist theory which I think should be retained and elaborated. One objection to this procedure will be that it ignores the irreconcilable methodological and epistemological diff fences between pluralism and Marxism, and rejects a priori an incompatibility which arises from the philosophically distinct conceptions of human nature which underlie them.

I will not deal with this obiectionhere, because if we take that as the starting point then the proiectis stalled at the outset and knowledge

Wfoy Corpomtisrrz ?


remains in ideologically separated domains policed at the frontiers by eager thought policemen. I will also not deal directly with the concepts of structure and agency because the whole work is addressed to the relationship between the two. Agency assumes the capacity to act differently; how differently can only be explored through an understanding of structure, and in particular what I see as structural constraints. These constraints are in turn best seen as enduring residues of actions; they can be transformed by action 'but at a cost in terms of resources like energy and money. Only an extreme pluralist sees no constraints; only an extreme Marxist sees no agency. The heartland of the debate lies between these extremes, and mapping that terrain is a task to

which this book is

addressed. Interests

One major disagreement between pluralists and Marxists concerns the attribution of interests to actors, and whether a person may not be conscious of what his or her interests are. Pluralists suggest that interests are the preferences expressed by people, and that the only way of finding out what a person's interest is is by asking. If a person believes a policy to be in his or her interests, then we have to take that statement as evidence of that person's interests, even though we may suspect the person to be mistaken. Some pluralists concede that wants may differ from interests, in the sense, for example that I might want a cigarette even though I know it to be against my interests (in remaining healthy), but here also the conception of interest is subjective, and the possibility that I might have an interest of which I am not aware is discounted. The advantage of such a formula is that it is simple to apply in empirical research through the use of questionnaire surveys and interviews. Respondents may be asked whether, for example, they support a particular policy, and their positive answers are taken as standing for an interest in that policy being enacted. The more intensely people hold an interest, the more likely are they to join an association and participate in politics. Conversely, the less people participate in politics, the less interested they are judged to be in the issues involved. There are several objections to such a way of imputing interest. One is that it assumes that people determine their interests freely, with free

access to information, so that they cannot be wrong. Alternative conceptions of interest have generally relied on some concept of 'objective' interest, which is discoverable through research, or argued

for theoretically. It is then the difference between the alleged objective


Why Corporatism ?

interest, and the revealed preference, which has to be explained, often in terms of the effects of ideology leading to false consciousness. A further objection, discussed below, is that this approach assumes that statements about the interests of groups are statements about the individual

preferences of group members, and refuses to accept that the interest of the group may be distinct from that of its members in the way that wholes can be said to be more than the sum of their parts. Marxists share two basic views which contrast strongly with those of the pluralists. The first L that interests are formed in a class-divided society, and the relations of production which are the basis of class formation are also fundamental to how interests are both shaped and perceived. Class interests are considered to be much more important in

politics than any other kind of interest. This view contains the important point that interests are formed through social relationships, and do not exist prior to those relationships. The pluralists, by contrast, are interested in the relationships between expressed preferences and political action. They are interested in whether participation is related to interests, whether power can be observed through the resolution of conflicts of interest and so o fr2*Ihey dO not from the beginning suggest that particular kinds of interests give rise to groups which are always argue . . 1 suéTl questions . n only be powerful, because t determined empirically, and--they believe that the weight of evidence refutes the claim thai particular elites or @ s e s are in permanent positions of power. For Marxists this question is crucial because it opens up the possibility of transfer ruing people's interests through class struggle. Their second basic view stems from this: the capitalist system of class exploitation is not in the objective interests of the working class. But the working class in advanced capitalist countries has shown few signs of 4 ;J.


of the system. The difference between their objective interest and manifest preferences is then explained in terms of the

wanting to get rid

effects of ideology, leading to a false

of their real in terms of citizenship and formal equality which denies the existence of class divisions. Thus these exists the crucial political task of procuring a revolution in the name of the objective interests of that class, which may or may not include as part of its project the prior task of convincing the working class that its interest is in revolution, i.e. bringing subjective preferences and objective interests into line. Corpomtists study interest organisations and concentrate on the issue consciousness

interests. The public ideology of capitalist societies is couched

of how organisational interests may be conceived, and how they may differ from individual interests. Many of these organisations are class

Why Corporatism?


ones, but their interests are not assumed to be captured by any concept of objective class interest, or assumed to be the aggregate of the interests of members. The contention is that the process of organisation can shape people's interests: like Marxists they emphasis social relations as formative of interests, but the key social relations in late capitalism are held to be within and between organisations, rather than at the level of relations of production and class formation. If trade unions show no revolutionary consciousness it is not because of the distorting effects of ideology (summed up in Lenin's view of 'labourism') but because of the organisational requirements involved in both defending members ' interests and defining them. The focus is not on the individual, or on the class structure, but on the process of collective action.

Groups For pluralists groups are extremely important in the political process. Individuals sharing an interest which is affected by governmental

action, or which requires action from governments, form political groups which seek to make claims and demands upon government. In extreme versions of pluralism it is argued that all political phenomena are explainable in terms of a group process, but most pluralists subscribe to partial theories of groups which explain their activities within democratic and governmental processes. Groups make their claims by exerting influence through the marshalling of political resources, such as membership (which carries weight with politicians because of the potential votes involved), information (which governments need to make policies; the more specialised the information the

more valuable it is); sanctions (non-cooperation and in the case of trade unions, the strike). An impressive range of empirical studies of groups in action has charted these processes in detail, and has demonstrated

great inequalities in the power of different groups- Some are consulted at every turn, have instant access to senior bureaucrats and ministers, get their way more often than not; others are weak and dependent upon petitioning, street protests, lobbying members of parliarnent and so on. I will deal below with the question of how pluralist theory accounts for such differences in the power of groups; here I want briefly to discuss the nature of the group process.

Underlying most pluralist conceptions is a view of olitics as a system, with government at its centre. Groups are part o i h e political system, but not part of the governmental system. They develop within a society with specialised political institutions for government,


those which become 'pressure groups' or 'interest groups' enter t

Why Corporatism ?


political system because they make demands upon government. Political parties are sometimes seen as a special form of pressure group which has an interest in forming a government; other groups make claims on government but do not want to become government. Interest groups are now widely seen as an integral part of the democratic process within liberal democracies, and help to make elected governments more responsive to individuals in society. The strength of public interest in a particular issue can be gauged by the proliferation and impact of competing groups. If groups are 'successful' they secure favorable public policies; the more they are successful the more power is attributed to them. Because pluralists relate action to individual interests, it is assumed that the lack of activity on an issue is a reliable guide to the strength of public feeling. If people are disgruntled by the actions of government, they will form a group to protest or seek redress. Inactivity is taken as an indication of consent to government policies. Groups are useful because they can deal with single issues, and influence policy in a much more specialised way than electoral processes, it ich bundle issues together. Governments need groups because _ t reinforce democracy and extend the Hvailability of information. One of the effects of the seemingly intractable economic problems

now facing governments has been that this benign view has given way in recent years to a pessimistic one, in which excessive demands made by groups, and extravagant bids by parties for votes, are seen to lead to 'overload' and 'urlgovernability'. I do not propose to discuss this view here, but it is worth emphasising that it shares with the benign view the location of government as the target for group activity, and the process of exerting, or attempting to exert influence, as the key one. Policy

implementation takes place though the law and through bureaucracies, and again groups may attempt to influence the processes of administrat10n.

To sum up: the basis of the pluralist position is that groups form in society, some are interest groups which make demands ongovernrnent and seek policies in furtherance of their members' interests, and the most powerful groups are the ones whose policy preferences regularly prevail. use Most Marxists do not give much attention to groups as such, or spend much time discussing exactly how class interests are organised, although many do recognise different fractions of capital and the distinct interests of diverse sections of the working class. Discrepancies in the power of organisations are explained in terms of the class interests that underlie them. The power of capital is given by the economic

Wfoy Corporatism?


structure and reinforced by the state; the weakness of working class

organisations is a mirror image of the power of capital, but within a general analysis of working-class subordination, variations in power are related to the degree of class consciousness which in turn is argued to affect the strength of class organisations.

Groups as such are not significant in the analysis of power structure and political conflict because they are argued to reflect other more crucial political forces. Moreover the sheer number and variety of interest groups is argued by Marxists to act, like elections, as a smokescreen concealing class domination. The invitation to participate

in politics through pressure groups is seen as a largely, if not wholly symbolic gesture, which is encouraged by the capitalist class because it diverts attention away from the real relations of power. Trade unions are analysed in terms quite different from those used to describe pressure groups, because of the role they are argued to be capable of playing in developing a socialist consciousness, but not by themselves: they need the prodding of a socialist party to overcome their sectional outlook and inherent tendency to work within rather than against the capitalist system. But it is their class character and political role which marks out trade unions as different from other interest organisations in the Marxist approach, not any special features


their organisational form. The organisational forms of capital are rarely studied by Marxists, partly because most of their attention is devoted to the working class and the state, and partly because Marxist theory provides a structural rather than an organisational explanation of the power of capital. The relative weakness of many employers and trade associations compared to many trade unions is explained in terms

of the greater dependence of l a b o r on organisation compared to the structural advantages conferred upon capital. The


distinctiveness of the coqbomtzsr approach to interest

groups lies in the view that organisation is both constrained by and shapes the nature of the interests concerned. The crucial distinction is

between functional interests, or work-related interests, and other kinds. According to corporatist theory groups can, and do, form around political preferences, but these processes are far less significant for politics and power relationships than groups which form. around socio-economic functions within complex industrialised societies. The early history of groups which represent functionally defined interests may well be of voluntary association and competitive interaction, but as the competitive market economy gives way to oligopolistic interdependence, and the intervention of the state in the economy widens ` then' and deepens, such groups undergo a substantwc change in


WlOY Corporatism?

character. They no longer merely reflect or represent interests, but are part of the process of forming them. Moreover (as will be discussed below) they take part in bargaining public policies with state agencies, and reach agreements of a binding character which involve the leadership of corporatist groups disciplining and controlling their members. The most important groups which become 'corporatlsed' in this sense are class organisations of capital and l a b o r , which perform different functions in the division of l a b o r . Unlike Marxists, who ascribe a governing character only to organisations of capital, corporat-

ist writers recognise that trade unions in many advanced capitalist countries have also become an important part of the process of government. Few corporatists, perhaps, would argue that trade unions have become as powerful as capitalist organisations, because they, like the Marxists, recognise the structural asymmetry of the two interests in

the process of production, but there is no assumption in corporatist theory that trade unions are always junior partners. Their power varies from country to country, and from time to time in the same country, according to such factors as the state of the economy, the nature of the legal system, the characteristics of collective bargaining, and their professionalism and organis ational competence. Not all groups in capitalist societies are corporatised groups, there remains a (numerically) substantial sphere of competitive pluralist groups. But where public policies concerning economic issues are concerned, where key interests are located in the process of economic production, corporatist theory suggests that the power of pluralist groups is sharply circumscribed. Where issues involve no relevant functional constituency, for example in moral and ethical issues, corporatist arrangements which act to insulate key groups from competitive pressures are inappropriate- But the distinction between

corporate and competitive groups, between corporatist and pluralist spheres of interest group polltlcs, 1S not a dlstlnctlon between material and non-material issues. By asking questions about the nature of collective action itself, as well as the nature of the interest involved, corporatist theory suggests that in addition to interests formed around moral issues, the economic interests of small producers, who are effectively subordinate to the market, and of individual and small consumers are not organised in corporatist groups. The observations will be developed much further in chapter 7.

Why Corporatism 5°


Power Pluralists argue that power can be defined as the capacity of one actor to achieve his ends against resistance by others. It is not itself a property of actors, but exists and can be observed in the relationships between actors, especially in decisions where the outcomes of power relay tionships are 'registered'. Pluralists argue that there is a wide variety of

resources which can be used as the basis for exercising power, and that these resources are widely dispersed in capitalist democracies. The most widely dispersed of all is the vote, so that those parties and leaders who seek votes are obliged to make their policy offerings attractive to voters. Pluralists recognise that those who actually participate in decisions and exert power are few in number, but their power is restricted in two

ways: by the necessity of seeking re-election, and because of the limited scope of their power. Scope is limited because of the way in which public tasks are divided into different bureaucratic organisations which compete with each other for funds from the state budget. An elite at the

head of one department or agency has its power restricted by the agency, and by the interdependence between one functions o


agency and not er.







Thus although there is inequality in the distribution of political resources, it does not add up to a permanent structure of inequality throughout society because groups without one 'kind 61' r e s c u e ' Can offset their disadvantage by mobilising other kinds of resources. Thus the economically weak can use the ballot box; political power does not follow economic power but can be used to offset it. In broad terms, pluralists would argue that the working class have enjoyed the advantages of political power, through social democratic government, in that political parties have attracted their votes by pursuing policies that are in the interests of the working class. Electoral competition is

seen as a crucial mechanism which operates to prevent the accumulation of political power by those who already hold economic power. For Marxists political power reflects economic power, and the key to the analysis of the distribution of power in society is the pattern of the relations of production. Ownership of t.he means of production confers massive advantages


terms of power, because however they are

elected, and whatever they promise, political elites have to make concessions to the interests of the economically dominant class. This is because capitalist societies are structurally dependent upon economic production, and those processes are controlled by capitalists. It is this fact which accounts for the ability of the capitalist class to maintain its dominant position, whatever the political complexion of the govern-


Way Corporatism ?

men in power. Labour or social democratic governments may make real concessions to working class interests, but there is a clear line across which they will not move. That line comprises the control of capital over the means of production; not only private property rights in the ownership of capital but also in its disposal- The right to work is conditional on the state of the economy insofar as it does not infringe the rights of capital. Marxists argue that in practice in capitalist society the right to work is subordinated to the right to manage' where they conflict capitalist society has to concede the right to manage. For Marxists, then, the dispersal of power in capitalist society is always contingent and restricted to issues where the essential property rights of capital arc not threatened. The appearance of power might be pluralistic; the reality is otherwise, and indeed the discrepancy between appearance and reality is a powerful weapon in the hands of the capitalist class for it conceals the underlying non-negotiable basis on which the power of capital is based. Corpomtists would argue that everything in capitalist society is in principle open to negotiation, even the basis of capital itself. They argue that policies such as economic plans and investment strategies, where they are linked to incomes and social policies and negotiated in a tripartite manner between representatives of capital, l a b o r and the state, do represent an infringement of the rights of capital, but also represent an infringement of the autonomy of l a b o r . Whilst in some countries in certain periods they are prepared to argue that l a b o r has achieved some kind of parity of power with capital, they do not argue

that this is evidence of the dispersal of power in capitalist society. On the contrary, corporatist theory points to inequality and hierarchy in the distribution of power as does Marxist theory, but departs from Marxism in attributing such inequ ality to class structure and the differential power of capital and l a b o r . Corporatists identify

organisation and the mobilisation of bias involved in organisation as the most important phenomenon of power. Organisations achieve power by a process of social closure whereby they attain the status of monopoly representative of a particular category of functional interest. It is the nature of the interest, and the monopoly position gained through closure of the political market place, which accounts for inequalities of power. Class interest is an extremely important basis for social closure, but it is not the only one. Professional groups may achieve a high degree of power through such means, although corporatists would join with pluralists in stressing the restricted scope of their power. What prevents small businessmen or consumer groups from exercising a degree of power comparable to large corporations and

Why Corporatism 5°


producer groups is the inability to enforce closure around their interests. Small business is vulnerable to the pressure of the market, consumers are vulnerable to the power otproducers. Working class organisations deserve special attenti-on in this argument because of the presumption within Marxism that they are always

junior partners when they become involved in tripartite policy negotiations. Trade unions comprise two basic types: craft unions, w l t r e organisation is aimed at protecting the market power of particular skills; and industrial unions, where workers in a specific industry combine to protect and advance their common interests. Industrial unions have been identified by Marxists as potentially more useful to a socialist movement, because they more closely identify with

a common class rather than with particular skills. Corporatist theory has gained from such insights into the nature of union organisation and

the representation of class interests by positing relationship between the ability of the trade union movement to represent broad encompassing class interests and its ability to secure and enforce bargains in negotiations with capitalist organisations. It is not that one causes the other, but that both cause each other. The more tangible the benefits obtained from corporatist negotiation, the more the organisation is able to represent its members effectively. Conversely the more effectively it is able to represent its members, the more trade union organisations are able to bargain better terms for their members. Corporatism is under certain conditions a 'virtuous circle' in which the foregoing of to wage increases leads to higher long-term wages I and con motions Tor workers. But so far little is certain about how such circles can turn vicious as well, with the failure of corporatist bargains undermining the organisational capacity of the partners, and hence the

possibility of further bargains. What is evident from the above is that corporatist theory does not accept the pluralist or Marxist propositions that power is a 'zero-sum' concept in which for one group to increase its power necessarily implies a reduction in the power of other groups. Both pluralism and Marxism use relational concepts of power, but with the assumption of a fixed stock of power resources. For the latter working class power can only increase if the power of capital is curbed. For pluralists power is a kind of vacuum in which the accretion of it by one group calls for the corresponding countervailing accretion of it by an opponent, and thus the limitation of the power of the first group. The problem with these views, which occasionally surfaces in some Marxist writing, is that power is not simply relational but also creational. Power, for organisations as well as for individuals, as control


Why Corporatism?

over self as much as control over others. The posltlve use of power, to create conditions under which control of self is enhanced, need not involve a loss of power to or by other groups. But it does seem to require certain organisational and political conditions, and these are the subject of discussion in subsequent chapters.

The state Pluiralists manage to do without a theory of the state as such because their political theory of party government and group pressure has no room for one. If 'the state' means anything at all to pluralists, it is as a synonym for 'government' or 'civil service', or it represents the public side of the distinction between public and private. If we were able to accept the pluralist theory of government without too many reservations, then we would not need a theory of the state. But it is the manifest inability of pluralist theory to account for the growth and role of public authority which justifies the development of state theory.6 It is, however, possible to say something about the implicit theory of the state in pluralism. The basic point is that the public and the private sphere are considered to be separate. Pluralists see groups as the

legitimate expression of interests in society, but government as the guardian of the public interest, with the party system and parliament the means for giving expression to that interest. The freedom for private interests to organise is considered to be an important restraint on the power of the public sphere; the competitive political marketplace of countervailing powers is argued to act as a restraint upon the groups themselves. The role of government is to respond to legitimate claims and adjudicate between them through public policies. The key features of the state in pluralist theory is that it 1S neutral with respect to interests in

society, and responsive to them.

Recently some pluralists have argued that groups make too many claims


the private sphere expects too much of the public sphere . - and

if there is indeed a crisis of public authority in contemporary democracies it is a crisis induced, in a sense, by there being too much democracy. The public sphere has expanded because of the increased demands made of it; and because group activities call up countervailing powers, the proliferation of pressure groups has led to a paralysis of government. But many pluralists recognise that governments cannot do without interest groups both as a source of information for policy making and as a litmus test of public opinion. For some, group proliferation and policy stagnation is the price that democracies must

Why Corporatism?


pay; others argue that some way must be found to reduce the burden on the state by restricting the access to government and the influence of

pressure groups. Marxists have challenged the view of the neutral state at its root by claiming that the state is part of the fabric of capitalist society rather than external to it. They differ in the extent to which they see the state as an instrument of class domination or as a mechanism for ensuring the

unity of the capitalist class, but what they have in common is more important; namely that the state is a capitalist state and that its role within the society is a consequence of the class nature of that society. For many Marxists the state does not have its own interests; it is to be seen as a battleground upon which the interests of rival classes are fought out and its policies register the state of class struggle. But it is not

an equal struggle because for the working class the terrain is always enemy terrain: all matches have to be played away from home. For other Marxists the state exists as a system of power with its own power base distinct from class, and in chapter 3 below I discuss recent views that policy can be interpreted as a partnership between state power and class power. State theory within neo-Marxism has also emphasised the functions which the state performs vis-8-vis economy and society, and has traced the shift from a laissez faire state which performed the minimum necessary for capitalism to work, to an interventionist state which intervenes directly in the processes of capital accumulation to compensate for failures in the market. Such views emphasis the differences between competitive and monopoly capitalism: in the latter phase market failures can be socially and politically disruptive so that state intervention is necessary to avoid a spiral into crisis and decay. The Marxist concept of contradiction has been employed to portray these functional necessities as inherently crisis-ridden: for example, in that

the more the state intervenes to bolster the legitimacy of the system through measures such as social welfare provision, the more it drains the resources of the private sector and inhibits the process of capital accumulation. Such views are strikingly similar to the arguments about pluralist decay and 'overload' cited above, although they tend to explain the source of instability in the economic system rather than in the political demands of interest groups. Whereas pluralists stress the neutrality and responsiveness of the state, Marxists point to its class character and its active interventionism . Most Marxists would argue that the state is a structure which is bound together by an essential unity, not necessarily of purpose but certainly

Why Corporatism?


of function, in safeguarding capitalist interests. Only the public face of the state is neutral, but in crisis conditions the class character of its

interventions is revealed. There is, however, considerable confusion as to what 'the state' actually is. Pluralists overcome this problem by refusing to use the concept except as a simple substitute term for government. Marxist structural theory often sees it as a mechanism for perpetuating class domination, but if the state does not have power of its own, but is an arena for class struggle, then it does not make sense to speak of the state 'acting'. In chapter 3 I will discuss a view of the state as a system of power and argue that action takes place within that system, constrained both by the state system itself and by the relation of the state system to the economy and the power of organised interests. For corporatist theory, the concept and the theory of the state presents a problem which has yet to be adequately resolved. Much corporatist writing uses the term as ZN synonym for government, as

when the three parties involved in tripartite policy bargaining are identified as business, l a b o r and the state. This usage does, however, differ substantially from pluralism in that government is not seen as simply reactive and responsive, but makes use of interest groups in formulating and implementing policy. Moreover governments delibes ately restrict access to policymaking to certain groups on which a 'public status' is conferred- This 'coraoratism for the SIFOUQ' and pluralism for

the \ .

_ - _ _ _





_ _ ____ __ _ ____



It implies also that, unlike in pluralist theory, governments cannot be neutral with respect to organised interests, although the bias in

government cannot be understood simply as a class bias. It is here that the confusions in corporatist theory are apparent. Corporatism represents a fusion of the processes of interest representation and policy implementation into a reciprocal relationship between

the state and organised interests. But whilst a great deal of attention has been paid tO examining the interest organisatlons themselves, and the conditions under which they can intermediate between the state and their memberships, very little attention has been given to the organisation of the state itself. Corporatist theory shares some of its account of state interventionism with Marxism- the transformation of the corn-

petitive capitalist economy into a monopoly form which cannot by itself reproduce the conditions of its existence. Moreover corporatism stresses the growing interpenetration of public and private spheres, which is illustrated in the difficulty of saying unambiguously whether certain kinds of institutions are public or private. This is evident not only from the proliferation of quasi-governmental bodies. but also

Why Corporatism ?


from the dependence of much of the private sector on state support. Clearly the argument that policy is determined and implemented in negotiation between the state and interest organisations presupposes that state agencies exercise power in their own right, which means that the state system must be to a greater or lesser extent autonomous. If it lacks autonomy and is 'colonised' by private interests, then there is no corporatism. Conversely, if the state is completely autonomous and independent, and interest organisations in society are subordinate to state agencies in each sphere of public policy-making, then there is no

corporatism. In the following chapter I discuss the concentration and development of oligopoly amongst interest organisations which is a precondition of the development of corporatism, and


chapter 3 I

present some preliminary remarks concerning the nature of the state system and its distinctive power base. The existing literature on corporatism does not, however, permit more than a tentative discus~ sign of state theory. This is evident from the inconclusive accounts of state power and, more especially, on the ambiguity concerning the issue of whether the state system embraces distinctive interests. One possible argument would be that interests of the state comprise the aggregate of individual interests of those who work within it, i.e. the professional interests of civil servants. These civil servants form a bureaucratic caste, with definite privileges and an interest in protecting and expanding them. Another answer would be to point to the state as the only structure in society which is based on a general interest; so much so that it might better be viewed as above society, embodying some transcendental essence. The power of the state then derives from a widespread acceptance of such a view. A third argument would point to the power exercised by the state as a special kind of bureaucracy able to rnonopolise the legitimate use of force in a given territory; the state has a distinct power base because it is the only institution able to deploy this particular resource.

Conclusion The arguments developed in this book are not intended to settle these

issues. Indeed one question that is raised is whether a single general theory of the state is at all possible or desirable. If we are interested in comparing different societies with comparable economic systems and levels of development, then a general theory of 'the capitalist state' will obscure the important differences that we would wish to reveal. Even if


Why Corporatism?

we were to accept that capitalist states were instruments of the dominant capitalist class in each country, say France and Britain, it might still tell us very little of what we want to know about the two countries. Why does the capitalist class in France apparently permit a major role for its instrument in reconstructing, rationalising and nationalising private industry, when in Britain the capitalist class appears to resent encroachment on its managerial autonomy? Capitalist false consciousness? On the other hand, if we are interested in the broad sweep of history such apparently profound differences might appear much less significant and the idea of a 'capitalist state' in contradistinction to a 'feudal state' or an 'absolutist state' might be tenable. It largely depends on what our explanatory purpose is; in other words, what is the scope of the phenomena that we are interested in examining? A state theory which is appropriate for explaining the differences in industrial policy in present~day Britain and France might not be at all useful for comparing the different ways in which policies are made within the same country, for example, for examining the differences between health policy and industrial policy. In the latter case the way in which the state system itself is organised, and the nature of affected interests, may be crucial variables which would only be

obscured by a more general theory. What then is the frame of reference for corporatist theory? As I see it there are two main contributions that corporatism can make. The First is in comparing capitalist democracies at the level of whole systems,

allowing for and exploring different patterns of relationships between state systems and organised interests. At one extreme might be a case where a strong state confronts weakly organised interests (France), at the other might be a case where a weak state confronts powerful interest

organisations (Britain). In between these cases lies the heartland of what in chapter 5 I call 'macro-corporatism': where (for different historical reasons that can be illuminated by corporatist analysis) the balance of power between the state system and major encompassing interest organisations is more even, and public policies reflect the outcome of negotiations between what are often called 'social partners'. Corporatist observers might differ somewhat in the way that they rank order such cases, but all would include Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands and West Germany on their lists. The second contribution concerns the comparative analysis of public policy-making rather than nation-states. Here corporatist theorists are interested in the relationships between state agencies and interest organisations in particular policy fields, what I call in this book 'mesa-corporatisrn Even in cases of weak macro-corporatism, like

Why Corporatism ?


Britain, France and Canada, particular policy areas are often highly insulated from competitive group pressures and subject to joint determination and implementation. For specific and very interesting reasons, it appears that agricultural policy is almost always determined through corporatist negotiation, and in other policy areas strong professional groups appear as negotiating partners with state agencies.

It seems clear that the type of policy and the nature of relevant interests to a large extent determine the incidence of mesa-corporatism, but as will be evident from the discussion in chapter 6, a great deal of research needs to be done to explain how these processes work. These two different but related research agendas demand rather

different theoretical approaches, but what they have in common is a focus on organisation as the crucial social process which transforms the relationship between interests and politics. Corporatist theory makes no prior assumption that particular interests, either class, sectoral or professional, are basic, and nor does it assume that organisations are all species of the same genus. Organisation is the process which links the structural categories of interest to politics, but in doing so important biases are introduced. All interests do not have the same potential for organisation: when some interests are organised into politics others are organised out of politics. Large capitalist firms can exert power over the market; others are subordinate to the market. In the same way some interest organisations can exert power over the political market; others are subordinate to it. It is the task of corporatist theory to illuminate these processes, to explain both the appearances and the underlying constraints, and to provide a critical appraisal of their effects. In this way it can make a contribution to the enduring questions of politics:

who gets what, when, how and why?

i q . - - - 1 " "

2 What is Corporatism?

Despite the many thousands of words written in the last ten years on the subject (see Cawson and Ballard, I984) there is still considerable confusion about the precise meaning of the concept, as Leo Far itch observed several years ago (Snitch, 1980). Following his lead we can identify the major approaches as referring to (1) a novel system of political economy, different from capitalism and socialism (Winkler, 1976); (2) a form of state within capitalist society, where corporatism is seen as emerging alongside, and then dominating, a parliamentary state form Uessop, 1979); and (3) a distinctive way in which interests are organised and interact with the state (Schrnitter, 1974). I shall examine the first two approaches rather briefly, and then dwell at greater length on the third, since it has been employed most often, and seems to me to be the most fruitful.

Corporatism as post-capitalism The thesis that we are witnessing the birth pains of a post~capitalist society is hardly a new one, and it has not at all been the monopoly of corporatist writers. The most sustained and systematic version of this thesis under the corporatist label has been developed in Britain by Jack Winkler. Here the most significant change from capitalism is the shift in the role of the state, which Winkler argues to assume in corporatism a directive role over economic-productive units. Under capitalism production takes place within a market system, although one with increasing state interventionism. Under corporatism the freedom of private capital to operate is replaced by a state direction, not unlike Lenin's concept of state capitalism (Lebmb nlcli, 1982, p. 3). In Winkler's view the state develops a considerable degree of independence from economic interests, and is able to impose its will

What is Corporatism §'


upon producers (the reverse of the state monopoly capitalism thesis in which monopoly capitalism imposes its will on the state;Jessop, 1982, chapter 2). The state is not an instrument of a dominant class, but instead embodies a kind of general will which is enshrined in state policy: 'Corporatism is an economic system in which the state directs predominantly privately-owned business according to four principles : unity, order, nationalism and success' (Winkler, 1976, p. 103). Although capital remains nominally in private hands, there is no large-scale nationalisation which is the essence of the contrasting type of socialism. The system is no longer capitalist because rights over private capital have been abrogated by the state, and the market mechanism has been superseded

oligopolistic power.

Winkler's theory was fashioned in the British context during a period in which there appeared to be a common bipartisan (in practice if not always in theory) approach to managing the economy. The Heath government of 1970-4 had started out with a resolutely liberal approach to economic policy, eschewing incomes policy, price control and the support for ailing enterprises, but had been forced in 1972 to change course and extend the use of these mechanisms in measures such as the Industry Act of 1972 and in its subsequent anti-inflationary policies. Labour had been returned to power in 1974 and had sought to extend controls over industry using non-market and non-bureaucratic instruments, notably the National Enterprise Board and the concept of 'planning agreements'.' Unwisely extrapolating these trends, Winkler suggested that 'a corporatist economic system . . . is likely to be instituted during the life of the present government and its successor (whatever its political complexion), that is, over the next five to ten years' (Winkler, 1976, p. 114). W/inkler's prophecies, which placed Britain near the vanguard of the corporatist trend, were proved to have rested on a superficial analysis.2

In the wake of economic recession and a resurgence of neo-liberalism culminating in the Thatcher government, corporatism as a new steering mechanism for the whole economy has proved a fragile flower. Sharp deflation, the exclusion of organised l a b o r from decision-making, and the deliberate instrument of unemployment as a means of reducing upwards pressure on wages have been the hallmark of Thatcherism : these are all highly non-corporatist devices. But it would be unwise to assume from this that corporatism has no relevance to the British case.

The more reliable inference is that British institutions cannot carry the burden of tripartite economic management, in vol nisations of capital and l a b o r agreeing relevant IH3CFO-CvGFPOHCIQS and implementing them though controls on their men*Eership. E m\ ,


What is Corporatism 3

the systems of concertation and organised participation in macro-level

economic polic making which have lessened "din impact of' the recession in, for example, Sweden, West Germany anClAustria, can he seen to depend upon interest organisations in those countries possessing certain characteristics which are lacking in Britain. However, as shall argue in chapter 4, this is but one aspect of corporatism, and the fact that time has discredited the Winkler thesis should not be taken as proof of the irrelevance of corporatism to the analysis of British

politics, as long as it is seen, not as a qualitatively distinct economic system, but as a politico-economic structure within capitalism (Snitch, 1979, p. 123).

Corporatism as state form Bob ]hyssop's approach to developing a theory of corporatism taxes as its starting point a neo-Marxist political economy of' capitalism, and in particular Lenin's observation that the bourgeois state form was the

best possible political shell for capitalism (Jessop, 1978). Jessop takes the state to be a complex of institutions in which political interests are represented and forms of intervention determined. A parliamentary form involves the representation of citizens within the state by means of elections, and the administration of state policy through bureaucracies in the context of the rule of law. The main characteristic of the parliamentary form is that the process of representation and that of intervention are institutionally separated: the first in parliament, the second in the permanent bI_1II€3.l1CI"aCy_3 By contrast, Jessop argues corporatism to be a form of state in which representation and intervention are institutionally fused in the form of

'corporations' constituted on the basis of their members' economic functions. Thus corporations both represent the interests of their

members and act as a means of implementing government policies. These two abstract pure types of parliamcntarisrn and corporatism appear in reality, at least so far as Britain is concerned, in a hybrid form of 'tripartism' where both parliament (representing citizens' interests) and corporatist bodies (representing functional interests) co-determine interventionist policies. Such policy-making is inherently unstable,

because it combines different and antithetical political processes with distinctive structural bases. Jessop's ideas have the merit of forcing a discussion of the state and its relationship to social forces. In V/inkler's account of the state no theoretical (or empirical) warrant is offered for the assertion that the

What is Corporatism s'


state directs private capital.4 Jessop, however, resolves this problem by shifting the locus of power into the social formation - a curiously 'stateless' theory of the state! He refuses to accept any distinction between state power and class power, so that although the state form is corporatist, the state itself is a hollow structure (shell) within which social forces battle. But if we follow Jessop, and the argument that state agencies 'borrow' or 'reflect' power exercised elsewhere, then the familiar problem with Marxist discussions of capitalist democracies recurs. Organised capital bargains with organised l a b o r at the level of the state, but the state officials are not actually parties to the bargain. They don't, in ]hyssop's version, exercise power but intervene in ways constrained

the power exercised


I will return to these theories as part of an extended discussion of the state

in chapter 3. Suffice it to say here that the element of Jessop's theory which seems most consistent with the bulk of the other writing on corporatism is the fusion of the processes of representation and intervention. It is not a question of interest groups persuading the government of a preferred policy, which is then implemented by civil servants as government policy. Rather, leaders of functionally orga-

nised interests negotiate agreed policies with state officials and agencies, and part of that negotiation is that the same leaders agree to implement

those policies through their ability to bind the actions of their organisations' members. There is no separation, except in theory, between making the policy and implementing it. Corporatism as interest intermediation The approach which has been most commonly adopted in developing and applying the theory of corporatism is that which focuses on the

organisation and structure of political and economic interests in society, and the relationships of those interests to the state. Initially this literature focused on the macro~level and the central state, and defined its concepts at that level, so that corporatism could be used in the comparative study of the political economies of nation states (Schmitter and Lehmbruch, eds., 1979; Lehmbruch and Schmitter, eds., 1982). More recently, as discussed in chapter 4, more attention has been given to theories of parts of systems, rather than the systems themselves. An important theoretical goal of this corporatist interest theory is the attempt to differentiate corporatism from pluralism. Although there is a good case for saying that pluralism is an orthodoxy in political sc1ence,5 it is not easy to define, having a tendency to slip into ideology

What is Corporatism ?


and the celebration, rather than critical analysis olWHliheral democracy In the clutches of empirical political science, and in particular Q post-war Anglo-American theory, pluralism became 4 theory of political power and the relationship between groups and governments. I do not say the relationship between groups and the state, because pluralism never had a theory of the state; it took the theory of representative government as adequate for that. Although there are clear antecedents in the work of Shonfield (1965), Rokkan (1966) and Beer (1969, especially 'Epilogue'), the most systematic presentation of corporatism as interest intermediation has been developed by Schmitteir (1974, 1979, 1982) who has provided useful ideal-type definitions of the two concepts. Although these are

now well known, it is worth repeating them here for the sake of completeness.

Corporatism can be defined as a system of interest representation in which the constituent units are organized into a limited number of singular, compulsory, noncompetitive, hierarchically ordered and functionally differentiated categories, recognized or licensed (if not created) by the state and granted a deliberate representational monopoly within their respective categories in exchange for observing certain controls on their selection of leaders and articulation of demands and supports. (Schmitter, 1974, pp. 93-4)

Pluralism can be defined as a system of interest representation in which the constituent units are organized into an unspecified number of multiple, v o l u n t a , competitive nonhierarchically ordered and self-determined (as to type or scope of interest) categories which are not specially licensed, recognized, subsidized, created or otherwise controlled in leadership selection or interest articulation by


state and which do not exercise a

monopoly of representational activity within their respective categories. (Schmitter, 1974, p. 96)

In this chapter I will try to say as clearly as possible what corporatism is and, equally important, what it is not. In doing so I will follow Schrnitter's lead in identifying corporatism a way of understanding the relationship between society and state in capitalist democracies, not as a way of portraying a whole system which is in some sense 'postcapitalist'.

W/oar is Corporatism ?


Pluralism as an ideal type Critics of recent corporatist writing have complained that it uses a 'straw man' version of pluralism, and because of this the claim to provide a distinctive approach are inflated and should largely be discounted. Martin (1983) calls it 'a gambit in the oldest of all academic games'. But the problem which Martin fails to surmount is that of adequately defining what is meant by what he calls 'analytical pluralism'. We are told that pluralism should not be confused with group theories of politics, propounded by Bentley, Truman, Latham and others, which leaves as the core of analytical pluralism a residue of . pressure group studies (p. 93). The problem, as Martin is thus forced to concede, is that pluralism in political science is an exercise in the classification and description of

interest groups. Apart from those who sought to make the 'group'

building block in the construction of a general theory of politics, most pluralist writers have had little interest in developing political theory. It 1S perhaps for this reason that Robert A. Dahl's work, particularly A Preface to Democratic Theory (1956) and Who Gotrerns? (1961),6 is often used as representative of pluralist theory against which to contrast corporatism. It is precisely the theoretical nature of much 'pluralistthe attempt to develop corporatist In


theory so attractive.

The central idea of' pluralism in these studies is that power and influence can Ee understood in terms Of the resources which actors are able to command in a political market place. individuals and groups in politics compete for these resources, and Dahl's argument based on his

empirical studies is that the unequal distribution of political resources in different arenas is non-cumulative. It is for this reason Dahl rejected

the claims of an earlier set of studies which purported to show the existence of a power elite which controlled local politics. Dahl's evidence suggested that inequalities did not reinforce one another but rather compensated for each other. Although money and prestige were concentrated, the electoral process dispersed political resources to offset their effects. Now Dahl is clearly no straw man, and his work has proved enormously influential in defining a methodology and a theory of pluralist democracy. The crucial defining characteristics which we shall use here in outlining the differences between pluralism and corporatism are (1) the extent of competition in the group process; (2) the nature of the groups; and (3) their relationship to public authorities- I have based


What is Corporatism?

the following on Dahl's position in his earlier works - since the argument in Dilemmas of Pluralist Democracy (1982) is distinctly corporatist!

Competition Political resources are limited and groups compete with each other to acquire them in the political marketplace. The analogy with market

economics is clear: a pure ideal type of pluralism is the political equivalent of the pure market model of economics in which firms compete with each other in the market; none has control over the market, all arc subject to the laws of the market.

A pluralist system comprises a large number of groups, competing for members and resources. The more members, the more resources. Inequality of resources is not systematic, in the sense that a Marxist theory would argue that groups representing capitalist class interests are neces sarily more powerful than those representing workers' interests. Distributions of power are subject to changes in the political marketplace, and in particular the effects of electoral competition. Elections play an important part in pluralist models, because of the assumed relationship of the electoral process to the exercise of public authority. Elections not only determine the political leadership, but they ensure that the behavior of that leadership is both representative

and responsible (to borrow from the title of A.H. Birch's (1964) pluralist treatise on British government).

A pluralist theory of the state The most important point is that pluralist theory does not have a conception of the state as such, but rather relies on a theory of

government. The difference is that government officials are assumed not to have an independent interest, nor power of their own, but act as

functionaries administering polices determined by elected political leaders. The selection of those leaders by election, and the requirement that they compete for votes in the electoral marketplace, are crucial. We can draw a distinction between the electoral marketplace, in which formal rules exist, competition takes place at specific moments, and definite outcomes follow, and a broader political marketplace where the rules are informal, competition is sporadic and continuous, and outcomes are often indeterminate. A theory of pluralist democracy includes the claim that both markets function competitively, indeed the

What £5 Corporatism ?


electoral marketplace is the mechanism which ensures that political markets continue to function competitively. A crucial feature of the implicit state theory in pluralism is the separation of the public sphere, where government is responsive to electoral competition, from the private sphere where interest groups form. Government policy-making is often held to be a process where options are considered in a process influenced by electoral outcomes, or anticipated outcomes, and by the exercise of influence by pressure groups. Groups compete for access to government, for the opportunity to persuade policy-makers. Governments act as a kind of referee of the group process, and try to resolve within the policy the competitive and conflicting demands of different groups. A policy decision is then implemented: it may be a set of regulations, an allocation of resources to a new project, or any other act of government. Once a decison is made, the groups might try to get it withdrawn, may accept defeat, may regroup to fight the next issue, and so on. Decisions are implemented through the law, or through the activities of state bureaucracies.

The nature of groups under pluralism Groups are essentially voluntary associations of individuals, who share a common moral or material interest and organise to further that interest. What differentiates political groups from others, for example, purely private associations like tennis clubs, is that the nature of the interest impinges On the sphere of governmental authority. A pressure group might want to make a claim on public funds, or might seek the enactment of legislation. Or it might form in response to the declared intentions of government. The interest

of the group is

taken to be the

freely expressed preferences of its members. They in turn are free to leave the group, join or set up another, and persuade other members to

do likewise. Those groups which are successful in the political marketplace are the ones which secure favorable policy outcomes. Pluralist theory

seeks to explain why some groups are successful, and others fail, according to the power and influence they are able to exert. This in turn depends upon their resources, principally money, staff, knowledge, and above all membership. The leadership of a group which can point to a large following can persuade political leaders that it might have an important effect on electoral processes, and that favorable policy decisions might shift electoral support behind those politicians who are

seen by the members to favour their interests. This aspect of group


What is Corporatism ?

power clearly depends upon a competitive electoral process: if the incumbent political leadership is in no danger of electoral setbacks the

possibility of such influence is reduced. A dominant party regime might shift the political market from the electoral arena into the political party itself. In pluralist theory power is thus the ability to participate in decision-making successfully, i.e. to secure favorable outcomes even against the resistance of others. The proliferation of groups, each of which has a restricted scope of power shaped by the nature of the interest which unites it, prevents cumulation of power, and thus the domination of policy-making across the board by a single elite. Power relations are fluid and shifting, as the agenda for decision changes and the interests and preferences of individuals change.

Ideal type or straw man s' It might be objected that such a description of pluralism is at best a simplification, and at worst a straw man. Jordan (1983), for example, argues that interest group studies have long recognised the existence of hierarchies of power, the granting of f a v o r e d access to privileged

groups and the like. Many studies have discovered a 'corporate pluralism' where competitive processes are dominated by a few large groups. The pluralism that is the target of the corporatist attack is an out-of-date version: the corporatist critique fails because it is aimed at the wrong target. The problem seems to arise from the extent to which ideal-typical constructions are frequently misunderstood

by critics as attempts at

empirical generalisations. The important issue seems to me to be, not whether corporatism exists or not, for there surely can be no doubt now that corporatist arrangements can be found in some places at some

times, but rather in what forms, where, when, with what effects? We need to acknowledge the variety of corporatism which is discussed in chapter 4, and to recognise that the choice for political theory is not

between pluralism and corporatism, but between different ways of specifying the relationship between the two. The pure description of pluralism given above is not intended to portray existing reality, but is a logical purification of its essential features. We do not expect to End in a given case that the political

process will be exactly as portrayed above, although we might find a case where these features can be reasonably argued to predominate. If

we discover a political system where the majority of observed cases comprise those where pluralism predominates, then we can legitimately

What is Corporatism 5°


call that system 'pluralist'. Those who criticise the corporatist literature for having an inadequate conception of pluralism are exposed by this requirement. If, as they claim, pluralist theory has adapted to embrace the very phenomena that the corporatist paradigm seeks to capture,

then they are left with a description which fails to l-it the facts they report. Using the definition above, they would have to show that most pressure group processes resemble the ideal type. To be fair, some corporatist writers are guilty of confining their efforts to defining corporatism and then showing that traces of its exist in political processes. I will argue below that the important task is to provide reliable and systematic explanatory accounts of the relationship between pluralist and corporatist processes.

Ideal types are measuring rods, or yardsi|-.upa against which to compare observations. But the ideal types are not plucked out of thin air; they are useful precisely because they are abstractions from observations of the real world. We do not propose an ideal-typical construct of corporatism for the sake of logical completeness; we suggest it because it seems to fit observed phe ` theoretical reference point of pluralism seems a very long way away. But this is not to say that pluralism can now safely be abandoned and replaced by corporatism, because that would be to accept as permanent the theoretical shortcomings of 'analytical plurallsm', with its case Ll'


study method abstracted from any conception of wholes. The argument of this chapter is that it is helpful to have such types as poles on a continuum: they are the end points, and we should always expect actual cases to fall between the end points. But cases will fall at different points on the continuum, so that the specification helps to evolve a compara-

tive method for the analysis of interest group processes. Pressure group studies have often been theoretical and descriptive,

having no basis to compare one with the other. They have frequently concentrated on the groups and their environment, and have neglected the structural features of the group universe seen as a whole. The value

of the corporatism/pluralism dichotomy is that it is drawn in terms of the structure of the group process and the nature of the relationships between groups (and between them and state agencies). It is of no help in the construction of explanatory theory to have a single ideal type, such as pluralism, or indeed corporatism, for then observation can only tell us whether a given case fits the type. But if we have two types (or more) which stand in logical relationship one to the other, then the differences in the extent to which actual cases combine the features of the two types can provide fertile ground for explanations. But in order to do this, we must specify what is the most important


Wfmt is Co rpomtisrrz 2°

variable along the length of the continuum. It is logically possible, of course, to specify a number of variables, which would give rise to a number of different continua, but such complex theoretical constructions increase exponentially the difficulty of research and observation. The continuum here is kept deliberately simple, and is thus unavoidably reductionist. There is clearly a trade~off between complexity and usefulness, and I have opted here for the latter. But this is chiefly because I see corporatism as a partial theory of politics which cannot stand on its own as a theory of the state, still less one of society, as in writing about the corporate state, corporate society and so on. The act

of supplementing a middle range theory of corporatism with other theories of politics and political economy undertaken in later chapters will provide sufficient complexity.

Corporatism as an ideal type The approach here selects as the major independent variable, not the extent of participation in government policy-making, nor the degree of

self-regulation practised by groups, but the degree of concentration in the structure of interest groups- The justification for this approach is derived by proxy from studies of the concentration of industry and the development of oligopoly and monopoly in industrial production. But

we are pursuing more than simply an analogy between the economic market and the political market: we are suggesting that there is a

relationship between economic and political concentration such that power and leverage is a necessary, but not always a sufficient, condition of the exercise of political power. economic

Concentration It is not accidental that the theory of corporation has developed around studies of economic-corporate groups and their role in the political system. Indeed one of the earliest statements of modern corporatism,

Beer's Modern British Politics (1965), made a fundamental distinction between interest groups based upon their function in terms of the division of l a b o r within the political economy. He identified producer groups with a developing role in negotiating public policies, in part a consequence of the extending reach of the state, and consumer groups which were less powerful: in Offs's (1981) phrase policy-takers rather than policy-makers. The tendency for the successful producers to acquire market power


What is Corpomrism ?


which means power over the market rather than subservience to it - has been a persistent theme in institutional (rather than purely theoretical) economics. Competition leads inexorably to its transcendence by the exercise of power; those rules which guarantee the liberties necessary for market mechanisms to work are, paradoxically and perversely, those which ensure the liberty of the successful competitors to use their power to dominate the weak. But the shift from an impersonal mechanism to a power relationship as the means of allocation within the market leads to two consequences, both vitally important for the argument. One is that the actions of powerful producers have immediate consequences for other producers (which can never be the case in a pure market); as long as there is not a single monopolistic producer (which would in any case imply that all products were equally substitutable) this means that the powerful have to have regard for others as powerful as they are. The relationship between the powerful should be construed as interdependent, only in relation to the powerless are they dominant.7 Secondly, just as the actions of even the most laissez-faire of states are essential for the market to function (in this sense even the purest of pure markets cannot be understood solely in economic terms), the development of market power is both the cause and the effect of a growing state

interventionism. The existence of a concentrative dynamic in the market economy

gives rise to increasing state regulation in the public interest; the extending reach of the state


turn gives rise to an organisational

imperative within the categories thrown up by the division of l a b o r in capitalist society. In more authoritarian societies, where the penetra-

tion of capitalism is less pronounced, externally controlled and thus more dependent, the state is more visibly the sponsor, creator and controller of at least the economic organisations of civil society. But in the context of the coupling of a market society to a liberal state, it is correct to see the intervention of the state as more the consequence and then the cause as the process reveals its own dynamic - of the growing power of economic organisations than it is to portray the state

as a creature or instrument of social forces. Pluralist theory has several shortcomings when viewed in this light, and when the focus is on the relationship between economic changes and political or anisation. One of the most glaring is in its refusal to recognise fundamental, structural differences in the organisational capacity of different kinds of interests. They are all 'pressure groups' or 'interest groups' in the pluralist lexicon and there is no particular reason to suspect that their success or failure in the exercise of influence is


What is Corporatism 5°

constrained by factors other than the overtly visible. Thus Ross

Martin's (1980) history of the Trades Union Congress is titled The Growth off Pressure Group, and the implication of its analysis is that given the opportunity any of the myriad pressure groups could rise in the same way. True, the particular influence of the TUC is related to governmental factors and the widening scope of public policy, but the implications of this cannot be fully realised when the central concept of 'pressure group' is so poorly differentiated.8 The consequences of concentration in the economic sphere have produced a wholly modern phenomenon: the business corporation,

with its bureaucratic structure, its market power and its political role. One of the most interesting aspects of corporate power is the last: the

emergence of business corporations as interest groups. Grant (1984) provides one of the few discussions of the organisational consequences of this in a review of the extent of specialisation within the corporation, whereby specific bureaus handle relationships with government departments and the lobbying function. Yet the pluralist literature on pressure groups is wholly unaware of this, and the extent to which public policy objectives can be met by bargaining between governments and corporatlons.9 A related process of concentration and oligopoly can be traced in the dynamic of the political market, as long as we are not blinded by the sheer proliferation of interest groups and fall into the trap of supposing that the more groups there are, the more competitive is the relationship between them in the overall system. Indeed Martln's study, cited above, is a good illustration of this process at work. From its early days

the TUC was an interest organisation competing with other groups both to represent the interest of l a b o r , and to gain access to and exercise influence upon governments. But its history is one of the development of and consolidation of its political market power, a

process of monopolisation and social closure, reaching a zenith during the Second World War when it became, in Middlemas's (1979) - but significantly not Martin's - terms a 'governing institution', having crossed the threshold which separates corporatist organisations from

mere pressure groups. More than simply monopoly representation is required for such a role, and Middlelnas's study makes much of consensual attitudes on the part of TUC leaders and their capacity to regulate their membership. The persistence of competition with respect to the representation of l a b o r would have made such a transition impossible for any one group. A similar point can be made about the evolution of the CBI: it was precisely when the 1964-70 Labour Government wanted to enmesh employers in the process of economic

What is Corporatism ?


planning that the final lurch to monopoly representation took place (Grant and Marsh, 1977, p. 25). The corporatist trend is thus one, above all, of concentration in the political marketplace. In Schmitter's terms (cited above, p. 26) the indefinite number of organisations characteristic of pluralism can be contrasted with the limited number of groups characteristic of corporatism, each with its own sphere of competence jealously guarded and reinforced by the state. Their interest domains are related to the division of l a b o r : the economic interdependence discussed above. I will explore further the distinction between pluralism and corporatism in terms of a continuum based upon the extent of competition, but before doing so I will briefly discuss the role of the state which accompanies the concentrative process, and the nature of the groups within corporatism.

A corpomtisr theory of the state In chapter 3 I will discuss the implications of corporatism for the theory of the state, and the reverse issue of the extent to which corporatist theory can be advanced by taking cognisance of recent theories of the

capitalist state. In this section I will outline the major differences between the concept of the state in pluralism and corporatism. As discussed above, pluralism is premised on a separation between public and private' between the sphere of government, and the private

groups of civil society. By contrast the stress within corporatist writing has been on the growing interperietration of the public and the private spheres. The crucial concept is that of public policy as the outcome of a bargaining process between state agencies and those organised interests whose power in the political marketplace means that their co-operation is indispensable if agreed policies are to be implemented. The state is

not sufiicieritly powerful for officials to dictate policies and impose them unilaterally, but at the same time it is sufficiently powerful to resist capture by those interests. This notion is clearly implicit in the concept of bargaining: each party must have resources to bargain with ,

otherwise the relationship is one of subservience or submission. In spite of assertions to the contrary (e.g. Martin, 1983, p. 96), this idea of bargaining is not inconsistent with the relative absence of competition in the political marketplace. The corporatist idea does not

imply that there is no competition within the bargaining process, i.e. between state and organised interests, but it does presuppose the parties to the process are each free of any effective challenge to their own right to bargain. For the state this issue is less problematic than it is for


What is Corporatism ?

interest groups: by definition the concept of the state IHVOTVGS unchallengeable monopoly powers in fields such as law-making, taxation, and most importantly, the ultimate sanction of the legitimate use of force. But for interest groups, there is, at least in the longer term, the effect of changes in economic structure and consequent power potential which can erode the value of their bargaining counters. The ideal type of corporatism assumes that specialisation is complete and monopoly effective: the application of the idea to actual eases and historical trends must involve the analysis of observed discrepancies from such stringent conditions.

The role of the state is thus central to the concept of corporatism: the state is the arena in which the process of corporatist politics takes place. This rules out of the concept processes which take place wholly in civil

society without the intervention of public authority or the presence of state actors. Bargaining in which compromises are reached between conflicting class interests, for example in collective bargaining between employers and unions, is not corporatism unless there is a significant state presence. But equally the concept should not be restricted to those

instances alone where bargaining takes place within a tripartite structure of business, l a b o r and state. But if we suggest that

corporatism can comprise bipartite bargaining between organised interests and state agencies, how are we to define bargaining so as to sift out the important relationships from the myriad of contacts between modern states and interest groups?

The answer I propose concerns the nature of bargaining itself, which in turn is restricted to the particular organisational capacities of corporatist groups, which differ in kind from the voluntary and fluid structures of pluralist groups. It is this feature which get us to the heart of the concept of corporatism itself. Corporatist bargains are those which are negotiated between monopolistic interest organisations and implemented through the self-regulatory actions of those organisations. This stipulation is crucial, and allows us to reject instances where bargaining involves, for example, the content of legislation before parliament, which is then implemented through bureaucratic or legal structures. The bargaining of the welfare lobby over the content of social security legislation is not corporatism: it is quite properly to be

seen as part of those pluralist processes which remain an important part of the political life of liberal democracies. What would turn such bargaining from pluralism to corporatism would be if the welfare lobby comprised an interest organis ation (or a number with specifically limited domains) with a monopoly representative capacity, and the political cohesion required to itself act as the administrative partner of

What is Corporatism ?


the state, disciplining and controlling its membership to accept the compromises worked out in negotiation with state agencies. In some Scandinavian countries the trade union movement has developed its welfare concerns to such an extent that it does bargain social policy in a corporatist fashion, and does implement public policy, as for example in Sweden (Heidenheimer, 1976). The significance of the fact that such instances involve producer organisations acting in a welfare-conscious role will be developed further later in the book. Corporatist bargaining is thus qualitatively different from pluralism, where the stress is on interest representation and lobbying, access and influence. The corporatist relationship between state agencies and organised interests is two-way, the pluralist relationship is one-way from the group to the state - in that policy implementation is the

preserve of the state. Under a corporatist arrangement interest organisations are an integral part of administration; they are not merely consulted over the implementation of policy.

The nature of corporate groups From the remarks in the two foregoing sections, we can draw out the implications of the argument for the nature of what we shall henceforth

call 'corporate groups', as distinct from 'preference groups' which exist in a mutually competitive political environment.

The basis for the organisation of the corporate group is its function. Groups constituted on the basis of a shared value position cannot become corporate groups in the sense used here; they will always remain preference groups, and will always exist within the pluralist sphere of the polity. This does not mean that they can never become powerful, but it does mean that they can never become self-regulating agents of policy implementation. If our focus is on the sphere of production, then the major differentiating structural characteristic with respect to function will be class. Corporate groups in production represent class interests. This of course does not deny that under certain circumstances, for example in tripartite bargaining, corporatism represents a process of class collaboration. For some (e.g. Par itch, 1979; 1980) corporatism is class collaboration, but this seems unduly restrictive in that it excludes from

the corporatist net processes which involve policy formation and implementation of a bipartite character. Class seen as relationship to the means of production, or the means of administration, does not however comprise the only structural basis

What is CorporaMm ?


upon which corporate groups form. As Parking (1979) convincingly argues, following Weber, social closure can take place around skills as well as property ownership so long as the control over the validation of those skills is enforceable. The process of social closure is a part of the concentrative dynamic argued here to be the essential independent variable in the development of corporatism. The most important examples of closure around skills in contemporary politics are the

professions, which distinguish themselves by erecting monopolistic barriers to entry to their ranks, and developing effective procedures for self-regulation." The existence of powerful professional groups controlling specific occupations, as with the legal and medical professions, provides fertile ground for the development of bipartite corporatist processes. The

administration of legal aid in Britain; the administration of the National Health Service, at least until the triumph of managerialisrn in the 1960s (Cawson, 1982), and the administration of public land drainage policy (Saunders, 1983) provide good examples of corporatist policymaking. The chief characteristic then, is monopoly, and with this goes the capacity for self-regulation and the possibility of delivering negotiated agreements through the disciplined co-operation of members. But a wholly private self-regulating body would not come within the present definition of a corporate group. The intervention of the state in the process of closure, and the existence of negotiated agreements between state agencies and groups is crucial. In this respect, as in the others discussed above, the presence of the state is a defining characteristic of corporatism. It may be possible to conceive of corporatism without

l a b o r (Pempel and Tsunekawa, 1979), or even without capital, as in the Social Contract phase of British economic management

in the

19705, (Boston, 1985), but it is not possible to conceive of corporatism without the state.

A conceptual clejinition of corporatism We can summarise this discusslon of the characteristics of corporatism by suggesting the following as a concise definition of the concept :

Corporatism is a specific socio-political process in which organisations representing monopolistic functional interests engage in political exchange with state agencies otter public policy ontpnts which involves those organisations in a role which confines interest representation and policy implementation through delegated self-enforcement.

What is Corporatism?


What must be emphasised is that corporatism is not a phenomenon of the group process (but concentration within thatprocess is a preconciition for its development), nor is it a phenomenon of state form (although an interventionist state is also a precondition). What makes corporatism distinctive is the fusion of representation and intervention in the relationship between groups and the state. (See also Carson, 1985b&

A continuum between pluralism and corporatism So far we have for the purposes of analytical clarity distinguished between pluralism and corporatism in terms of ideal types, and suggested that the existence of corporatist processes within liberal democratic politics weakens the claim of pluralist models to provide an

adequate description of those politics. In some of the corporatist literature it is suggested that there is an evolutionary process which is transforming once pluralist societies into corporate ones, and that pluralism as a concept should be abandoned in favour of corporatism.

The view taken in this book is, however, rather different, and


involves seeing pluralism and corporatism as distinctive processes co-existing in any given society, so that one can speak of a corporate and a competitive sphere of politics. This dualist perspective on modern politics is explored more fully in chapter 7; here I want to pursue the idea that pluralism and corporatism represent end points on a continuum. Once it is recognised that pluralism and corporatism are not rival contenders as explanatory models of whole societies, it is possible to give more attention to specifying the relationship between them. One way of doing this is through the idea of a continuum in which the end points are defined in relation to a particular variable. A and recent exchange in Political Studies between Ross Martin Colin Crouch (1983) helps to clarify the relationship between pluralism and corporatism, and in particular what is the appropriate variable linking the two concepts. Martin suggests a continuum 'focused on the access and role that groups are accorded by government office-holders' so that the appropriate variable is the degree of importance of interest organisation in public policy-making. The corporatist end would be where 'groups have a formalized and substantial share in formulating and administering government policy'; the pluralist end would be where 'parliamentary channels provide the only means of contact between ollcice~holders and organized interest groups' (Martin, 1983, p. 99).


What is Corporatism ? Crouch rejects Martin's conceptual variable as inadequately con-

veying the meaning of corporatism as intermediation, Le. representation of interests and disciplining members to accept a general interest

beyond their individual interests. Martin's concept of groups sharing in the administration of government policy includes, or rather collapses, the distinction between bargained and authoritarian corporatism. The variable in Martin's continuum is degree of access and role in policy formation/implementation, but the latter seems to include the former and is therefore redundant. A group could hardly shape and administer policy with government if it were excluded from access to government I Thus for Martin what is at stake in the distinction between pluralism and corporatism is the extent to which organised groups are integrated into the policy-making arenas of the state. This would then seem to be consistent with the corporatist literature and highlights the state-group relationship. It can be represented diagrammatically as a continuum of the role of groups in policy formation and implementation. (I have added the mid point, but it is consistent with Martin's argument.) Liberal » -Consultation -Pluralism corporatisrrz


(formal role in policy

(role in policy formation,

('parliamentary pole':

formation and

but not implementation)

influence, but no formal role in formation or



Crouch's continuum focuses on the functions of the groups themselves (discipline/representation) rather than on their role in state policy formation/implementation (1983, p.457). It has as its end points contestation in which groups

pursue their demands without any

compromise, and authoritarian corporatism, in which groups exercise no representative functions at all but simply discipline their members.

Authoritarian corporatism


Liberal or bargained




Pluralism: bargaining

=- Contestation


The variable underlying Crouch's continuum is the degree of membership discipline, which is taken to vary inversely with the extent to which the groups represent the interests of their members. Contesta-

tion is all representation and no discipline, authoritarian corporatism is all discipline and no representation. Both pluralism and liberal (or bargained) corporatism combine representation and discipline; but the more you move towards the corporatist end of the



more you find discipline rather than representation as the main function of the group.


What is Corporatism e"

For some purposes this is a useful way of highlighting the differences between pluralism and corporatism, but it has the weakness of concentrating less on aspects of structure, and the role of groups in relation to the state, and more on the functions which groups perform and the strategies which they adopt. Thus in his illustration of the use of the continuum, Crouch takes the example of the different positions

which a national tobacco trade association could take when faced with the possibility of the regulation of its industry. A group might contest the threat of regulation, or might co~operate in varying degrees up to the point where it simply administers state policy by disciplining its member firms. But what we really want to know is whether the choice between these strategies is voluntary, i.e. is it up to the group to determine its own position along the continuum? What role do state

agencies play in this process? Crouch evades this question by saying that a theory of corporatism is about interest intermediation, and not about the whole political system. But this is not really convincing, and scarcely gets beyond the abstracted descriptions of the pluralists. intermediation' implies a concept which logically entails two other concepts: in this case 'state' and 'society', a theory of intermediation surely cannot remain silent on the effects upon it of either state or society. Corporatism (and pluralism) needs a theory of interests and group formation, and a theory of the state, just as much as it needs a theory of interest organisation.

Closure and the dynamic of concentration One of the most frequent objections to the use of ideal types in theory historical abstractions. They 'freeze' an aspect of social reality, and do not permit the conceptualisation of processes. Now this is more of an objection to the use of ideal types rather than the types themselves. Ideal types do not constitute construction is that they are static and

theories: they are steps towards the construction of theories. The idea of a continuum allows us to extend the i d o l types towards a theory of political processes in two ways. First it introduces the idea of a variable which logically connects the two ideal types at the polar extremes. Second, it allows us to hypothesis that actual historical changes represent movements (not necessarily all in the same direction) along the continuum. Both Martin's variable (role of groups in policy formation/implementation) and Crouch's (degree of representation/discipline) are useful descriptive attributes for



distinct areas




What is Corporatism s'

intermediation. But they are both argued here to be dependent variables which follow from changes in the independent variable of the degree of concentration of political interests. They will not suffice for a more general theory which seeks to set corporatism within a historical process. (Although more general in one sense, the examples used here are restricted to the historical case of Britain, although the categories are more generally applicable.) A continuum of competition in the structure of political interests would be : Liberal corporatisrfz



(limited number of groups,

fixed interest domains, hierarchical order, no compctxtion)

Corporate pluralism


- Pluralism

(large number of groups, overlapping interest

domains, fluid power structure, pure competition)

Corporate pluralism and corporatism: the British case Corporate pluralism is an intermediate point on the continuum, where the process of concentration has changed the structure of the political market towards the separation of a 'corporate sphere' of groups from a 'pluralist sphere', but interest domains remain imperfectly defined and representational monopoly has not been achieved. Groups in the corporate sphere are frequently consulted by governments, in the stages both of policy formation and implementation, but their role falls short of being an instrument of implementation through their capacity for self~regulatior1. The pressure politics of influence is, in this ideal

type, highly unequal, with much greater access afforded and weight attached to consultation with groups in the corporate sphere. But competitive groups can exert, at least in the short term when issues are alive, considerable influence upon policy by campaigns and mobilisation.

We can readily agree that looking at macro-level political structures and processes in Britain, the process of concentration in interest intermediation and the development of its attendant political institutions, has not approached the corporatist end of the continuum and the empirical reality IS a system of corporate pluralism hovering around the

mid point. Much more can be said, however, about the complexity of this structure by shifting the focus from the macro-level, and examples

What is Corporatism ?


of limited bargaining relationships which, in terms of specified interest domains, can reasonably be placed much further to the left of the continuum.

Many of the critics of corporatism, and in particular its application to relatively pluralistic settings like Britain, the United States and Australia, have complained that empirically there is little evidence for corporatism, and theoretically there is little difference between corpora

atism as defined here and a modified version of pluralism. The specification of an intermediate point on the continuum, i.e. corporate pluralism, allows us to deal with such objections in a more systematic

way than before. Actual cases and episodes will combine features of the ideal types: what is at issue is be makeup of be particular combinations compared, and the way in which they change over time. If we compare the British case with, to take a strong example, the Austrian one, then we find many more of the elements here defined as corporation present in Austria; so much so in fact that observers find it hard empirically to distinguish the group process from the state. In the case of Austria it seems that, for once, the ideal type and the empirical case closely coincide (Marin, 1983, p. 201). Concentration and specialisation have developed to such an extent that functional representation has completely overshadowed the independent role of parliament. Many of the important interest organisations have compul-

sory membership, although interestingly even here there is a parallel system of voluntary associations. Four major monopolistic producer organisations dominate the macro-level political economy, and within them there is a very high degree of concentration and representativeness. The peak trade union organisation, for example the OGB, is a unitary structure. Workers join the central body, and then get allocated to a constituent union (Marin, 1983, p. 212). It is not necessary, nor helpful, to recoil from this and say that corporatism as an ideal type is inapplicable to the political analysis of

Britain or the United States. What can be done is the charting of comparable trends to produce a balanced judgment of the relative weight of different parts of the system: the pluralist sphere and the corporate; the parliamentary arena and the group bargaining PI°OC€SS.11 A corporate pluralist label, or 'corporate bias', is appropriate to describe the macro-level British case, but this concept takes its theoretical meaning from its position on the continuum between pluralism and corporatist. This position is subject to change, and not necessarily in the direction of further corporatism. as Middlernas's (1979) careful account of the growth of an 'industrial constitution' in Britain provides a good deal of evidence as to how the


What is Corporatism ?

shifts associated with movements along the continuum to corporatism occur. (Concentration and closure are structural preconditions; neces-

sary but not sufficient for such movements.) Middlemas calls it 'corporate bias' rather than corporatism, to underline how distant from

the end point the British case is, but in describing the central institutions of policy-making from 1911 to 1945, he in effect shows how concentration amongst the producer interests of capital and l a b o r

enabled the development of a representative and responsible role alongside a state interventionism which both fed off and nurtured that role. He suggests that the zenith of corporatist politics in Britain was

reached during the Second World War: the integration of organised l a b o r into the structures of the wartime political economy: 'In political terms, these arrangements created something close to parity between unions and employers, and elevated their joint body, the ][pint] C[onsultative) C[ouncil], to the status of an unofficial government department' (p. 280). The unchallenged priority of the war effort, and the crucial shift in the role of the state as the co-organiser (with employers and l a b o r ) of industrial production (the market had in effect been suspended) resulted in a near-corporatism which was the culmination of the process of concentration amongst producer interests that had developed in the period from the turn of the century. It was made possible by the shift to manpower budgeting in resource allocation, the

overriding necessity of working class co~operation, and the existence of an external threat which minimised the destabilising effects of class

conflict. In the aftermath of the war, none of these survived very long i z and the system began to revert to a relatively unstable pattern of corporate pluralism, with intermittent corporatist episodes, that has been its characteristic feature since."

But it should be emphasised that this analysis is concerned with the

central state and the core features of economic and industrial politics. As Middlemas argues (1979, p. 374), 'Corporate bias can be detected at all levels of political activity." His study, however, was confined to the central level, where the key associational activity was at the highest

level of organisation: the 'peak' bodies representing capital and l a b o r . The judgment about the movements in Britain along the continuum between pluralism and corporatism apply to this macro-level of the political system. Chapter 4 seeks to extend the theory by recognising varieties of corporatism in terms of the level of associational activity and the scope of policy bargaining.

3 Corporatism and the Question of the State

The major element which the new corporatist writing added to the

earlier insights of writers such as Beer and Rokkan was a conception of 'the state' as distinct from 'government', and the recognition that the relationship between the state and corporate groups was very different from that between pressure groups and elected governments. Schrnitter (1974) distinguished between types of state, in his distinction between state and societal variants of corporatism, but within the societal variant also argued that the relationship between the state and the economy within capitalist systems varied at different stages of development, suggesting as a 'macrohypothesis' that

the corporatization of interest representation is related to certain basic imperatives or needs of capitalism to reproduce the conditions for H existence and continually to accumulate further resources. Differences in the specific nature of these imperatives or needs at different stages in the institutional development and

international context of capitalism, especially as they affect the pattern of conf

ii ting class interests, account for the diff



origins between the societal and state forms of corporatism.

(Schmitter, 1974, p- 107) The state has been a central concept in corporatism - on p. 38 above I built a concept of the state into the definition of corporatism - but it has been a troublesome one. Critics from such diverse standpoints as Snitch (1979) and Birnbaum (1982) have taken corporatist theorists to task for failing to develop a theory of the state, and Schmitter (1985) has admitted that the development of a more convincing theoretical account of the state is the most important task in furthering the theory

of corporatism. In this chapter I will review the understanding of what the state is in corporatist writing, and contrast it with the concepts implicit in pluralist writing, and explicitly developed in recent neo-

T/oe Question of the State


Marxist writing. But as well as offering an overview, Iwill aim to make a modest contribution to the development of that urgently needed theory. What is the state?

- pluralist views

In a provocative article published several years ago C.B. Macpherson

asked the question 'Do we need a theory of the state? (Macpherson, 1977). His answer was firm 'yes' - for most of us, that is; he specifically exempted from this requirement only those who were not interested in explanation. But let us give pluralist writers the benefit of the doubt, and concede their interest in explanation. How do they explain the central processes of politics in advanced capitalist societies without a theory of the state ? The first point to stress is that pluralists do not analyse public authority in capitalist democracies entirely by reference to ideas of repres entative and responsible government (Birch, 1964). The public

bureaucracies - civil service, military, police are effectively subordin~ ated to political decision-making only for major issues; for much of the time in relation to routine questions pluralists concede that officials

make policy, and that they do so in away which is influenced by various kinds of interest groups which frequently do not operate through the party-election machinery. Many pluralists concede that it tends to be the weaker groups which rely on trying to persuade parties and parliament of their views (Richardson and Jordan, 1979). The stronger lobbies have achieved direct access to officials and are frequently consulted before policies are framed. Nevertheless the chain of command within government is assumed to end in cabinet, and should they wish to do so, ministers have the power to override officials and

make decisions themselves. The 'sweet' version of liberal democracy (Dearlove, 1982) sees interest group participation in policy-making, under the supervision of elected governments, as a benign influence makes governments more responsive to public opinion especially between elections.

Pluralists see the state as comprising a number

of" Elilérent 1nstltu-=

sons, held together only by the power and legitimacy conferred

through the democratic process, which interact overlap, and, most importantly, compete with each other for resources. In this sense the character of government is a reflection of the image o`f` society: an indefinite number of organised and potential interests of individuals

The Question of the State


creates multiple and competing channels of influence; the incremental and haphazard growth of public functions likewise affects individual interests and leads to more organisations and claims upon government. The collection of government departments is a microcosm of this pluralistic society, and the relationship between them is marked by a stiff competition for resources. Cabinets, comprising ministers from the more important departments, act as resolvers of these disputes, with a great deal of influence exerted by finance ministers and treasury officials. The state, qua state, does not have any independent interest of its own, but departments of government do. Commentators on British

government frequently speak of the 'Treasury interest', the 'DHSS interest' and so on.

This complex web of competing institutions offers, according to pluralist theory, a multitude of access points for interest groups. Access is sharing in decision-rnaking: participation in the exercise of power. Of course states in different countries vary in their accessibility to interest groups: the more access is available, the more pluralistic is the system. On this count the United States scores highly, and parliamentary structures with more disciplined party systems are rated less asm there is more of a tendency for groups to by~pass pluralistic, ..._ parliament and seek directly to influence bureaucrats. Pluralist theor. of American government saw governments as referees of the interest group competition, with public policies as formal ratifications of that process. British and European interest group theories have never me:

accepted wholesale such a view of public authority, and of the state as a group like any other, but they have tended to discount the view that

states are anything more than collectivities of government 1nst1tutions.2

In pluralist theory the major distinguishing characteristic of public (state) institutions is that they exercise authority in making policies which serve a public rather than private or sectional interest, and it is assumed that empirically it is straightforward to distinguish the public sphere from the private. For David Easton (1965), for example, private groups or individuals make demands upon government or give support. geese demands are then 'converted' into public policies

(within_§l§ther mysterious black box represented graphically by a thick black squiggle), and hence values are authoritatively allocated. Governments produce 'outputs' (policies) which then feed back into the system (via a loop) through a changed pattern of demands and supports- Government is thus the target for group activity, and


arbiter of group demands, but its role is responsive, Governments do not create or fashion interests, and- do not admit private interests into

The Question of the



their thick black squiggle. If government policies change, it is because environments change, and different responses arc made to the changing pattern of demands and supports. Public policy-making in pluralist theory proceeds incrementally, by a process of 'partisan mutual adjustment' (Lindblorn, 1965). Group actors making claims upon government are in constant competitive flux with other groups; government decision-makers respond to these claims by seeking the lowest common denominator and the line of least resistance. Groups may be played off, one against another, to justify changes in policy. The system is adaptive and innovative because

changes in society and social preferences (i.e. in the social system) produce changes in the universe of groups (i-e. in the political system). If environmental pollution is a major problem, interest groups will organise around

this issue and demand governmental measures. Governments have to legitimate their public policies, so groups which offer a visible public challenge to established priorities have to be placated. Governing parties seek re-election so they will shape their competitive offering to the electorate in accordance with issues which have high salience to voters. No single group or interest can dominate policy~making and fashion public policy in its private interest, because the competitive political marketplace ensures that competitors can challenge each group in the public arena.

Critiques of pluralist conceptions of the state

Perhaps the single aspect of the pluralist conception of the state which has aroused the most criticism concerns the alleged role of state agents as responders to demands generated in the private sector, and their alleged neutrality with respect to private interests. The sheer expansion

of state activities in the last century, and the rising proportion of economic activity which passes in some way through the public sector, demand explanations. But pluralist theories which deny any autonomous sphere of action for the state seem incapable of providing convincing ones. Pluralist theories accept that the organisation of government can affect the strategies and tactics of groups (Eckstein, 1960), but nowhere admit that the very content of state activity can have a determinate effect on how those interests are defined, and how they are pursued through group activities (Berger, 1981, pp. 14-15). The state sector, whether measured in terms of production, distribution or exchange, structures and constrains how interests are perceived (Dunleavy, 1980a). Interests which become enmeshed in the very process of state intervention, and the shifting perceptions of the public

The Question

of the State


interest, cease to be pluralistic competitive organisations, and become in Middlemas's term, 'governing institutions' (Middlemas, 1979). The assumption that the group process reinforces and makes more responsive that process by which public power is shaped through elections has been subject to much criticism, nowhere more so than in the rejection of the argument that interests always generate countervailing power, which, even if only potential, checks the tendency for group-government relations to serve private ends. The capacity for organisation has been persuasively argued to vary according to the category of interest: it is easier to organise groups of farmers than it is groups of wheat-eaters, easier for doctors to combine than patients, easier for accountants than it is for old-age pensioners. If organisation begets access, and access begets power (a pluralist contention), then democratic pluralism depends upon the capacity of political parties and electoral systems to defend the interests of those who are victims of Schattschnclder's celebrated observation that 'organization is itself a mobilization of bias' (1960, p. 30). The present parlous state of pluralist theory, and one reason for the credibility of the corporatist alternative, is the evident implausibility of this political version of free market economics which alleges that, just as everyone is at liberty to compete economically with General Motors, so $s everyone free to organise and persuade governments to listen to them as well as to listen to farmers, doctors and accountants. The occasional successes of maverick campaigners such as Ralph Nader or Des Wilson is for pluralists proof of the soundness of the political market, and a justification for govern~ merits intervening as little as possible. The recognition that interests are structured, and not voluntary, and that producers can more easily combine to exercise power than can consumers, has played an important part in discrediting- pluralist theories and preparing the ground for a more satisfactory alternative

theory. But also significant is the challenge posed by neo-Marxist theories, which offer a completely different explanation of political processes premised on the fundamental importance of class interests. It is worth examining these ideas at some length, not only to show how they are at loggerheads with pluralism, but to point out which ones have had an influence on the development of corporatist theory. Neo-Marxist theories of the state Neo~Marxist theories of the state are bullt on such completely different foundations from plur:-1llst ones, that it is diffncult to know where to begin in order to outline the main dlfferences. But rather than plunge


The Question of the Stare

right in with the state concept itself, it is important to emphasis more fundamental disagreements When Marxists identify the concept of 'interest', they do so from a vantage point which assumes the importance of class in structuring social relationships. Class is seen, not as an attribute of individuals (as if class membership is like a lapel badge which stands for various personal characteristics) but as a property of social relationships which stems from the basic antagonism between

those who own the means of material production (capitalists) and those who depend for their livelihood on selling their l a b o r power. All other social relationships are dwarfed by this central line of cleavage, and even if other interest categories are recognised, which on the face of it fit ill with the conceptualisation of class as ownership of the means of production, such as the professions, or senior civil servants, their autonomy and capacity for exercising political power is argued to be subordinate to the rule of capital. This perspective is founded on the proposition that ownership of the

means of production confers a structural advantage (irreversible within the confines of capitalism) on capitalist organisation. The supremacy of the capitalist class is ingrained in capitalist socety, in the l a b o r contract (formally voluntary but in practice compulsory), in the l a b o r process (where workers are subjected to managerial authority), and, most importantly for this discussion, through the state, which preserves and protects the interests of the capitalist class. Democracy, or 'bourgeois democracy' as some Marxists still prefer to call it, is itself a means of maintaining the rule of capital, in that it conceals real class relations from individuals. The ideology of the democratic state is one of citizenship and formal equality; the reality is one of unequal status and inequality. The democratic state acts as a mask, mystifying social relations and engendering a false consciousness which prevents workers from realising their real interests. This view of class and the state is admittedly crude, but it is accurate enough to portray how Marxists analysed democratic capitalist societies until recently. In latter years much more attention has been paid by Marxists to political processes, and attempts have been made to avoid the more simple instances of reducing politics to a superstructure which is determined by the relations of production at its base. One attempt to tackle the question of the state and its class nature can be traced in the work of Althusser and his followers, notably Nicos Poulantzas, who grappled with the tricky issue of how it was that a capitalist state could make so many concessions to the working class, in the fields of welfare, working conditions and material progress, and yet at the same time protect the dominant capitalist interest.

Poulantzas's answer was that the advanced capitalist state was

The Question of the State


'relatively autonomous' from the interests of the dominant class. It could (and did) act directly against the interests of that class, either in the short run against the collective capitalist interest, or in the long run against the interests of a fraction of the class, in order to guarantee the long-run interests of the class as a whole. In this view it was mistaken to identify the state in concrete B tztutlonal terms, as _government departments, cabinets, parliaments etc., because the state $s ever_y~ where; deducible from any process which contributes to class domination. Por Poulantzas (1973, p. 188) 'the capitalist state presents this peculiar feature, that nowhere in its actual institutions does strictly political domination take the form of a political relation between the dominant classes and the dominated classes' (emphasis in original). The

state is defined as 'the factor of cohesion of a social formation and the factor of reproduction of the conditions or production of a system' (Poulantzas, 1969, p. 73). In these terms, where the state is identified by the function it performs in maintaining the integrity of the system of class domination, it is impossible to speak of the state exercising power; rather the state is argued to be the terrain on which class struggle takes place. State actors are not autonomous agents, but respond blindly to the conflicting

pressures of class forces. State policy is an index of class struggle, but in this battle as long as the society remains capitalist, by definition workers' organisations cannot win anything but very limited victories (which demonstrate the relative autonomy of the state) whereas the perpetuation of the system is proof of the dominance of the capitalist class (because the state has only a relative autonomy).4 This 'structuralist' interpretation of the capitalist state, which accounts for individual actions as. the surface manifestations of the logic

of hidden (and not directly observable) structures, was for a time (in the 1970s} very influential. Among many weaknesses, however, was its

tautological nature which made the theory untestable, but worse still its very high level of abstraction made its concepts impossible to observe in empirical analysis- Now there is a great deal to be said for a theory which avoids attributing causation only to processes which are immediately visible, and corporatist theory will certainly come under this heading, but in the whole of Poulantzas's Political Power and Social Classes (1973) there is only one concept with a direct empirical referent, and that is the 'social formation', i.e. the whole of socety! Poulantzas accepted some of these criticisms (Poulantzas, 1976), and his last book (1978) was the product of growing uncertainty as well as a diminished tendency to react to problems with what Laclau called 'taxonomic fury' (1975, P- 70).5

Part of this shift was a result of a debate with the British Marxist


The Question of the State

Ralph Miliband, who had published in 1969 one of the landmarks in modern Marxist state theory, The State in Capitalist Society (1969). Midband's objective was to challenge pluralist theory on its own ground, and show empirically that 'the pluralist-democratic view of society, of politics and of the state in regard to the countries of advanced capitalism, is in all essentials wrong' (1969, p. 6). It is not necessary to rehearse the details of these exchanges here (see Gold, Lo and Wright, 1975, and Jessop, 1977 for commentaries) but it is worth stressing that both authors moved ground substantially, and their final understanding was both a good deal closer and a good deal more convincing than elther's was at the outset.6 Miliband argues that the state is not neutral with respect to class interests in capitalist society; in important ways state institutions serve capitalist interests more than they serve working-class


(although Miliband never doubted that state policies can be in the real interests of workers). There are three main reasons for believing that the state acts in this way. (1) There is a class bias in the recruitment and socialisation of key state personnel, such that members of the working class find it hard to reach such positions, and if they do it is by consciously turning their backs on their class origins. Such evidence, according to Midband (1977, p. 71) is important but not by itself decisive (for upper-class civil servants might still act against those class interests), but has to be interpreted together with other evidence. (2) The interest organisations of the capitalist class have superior resources as pressure groups compared to working class organisations, which in part is a consequence of point (1), that their many common ties of background and values give them more consistently effective access to

decision~makers. But the notion of business as a pressure group does not sufficiently capture its power, and here we come to the line of argument which was missing from Millband's earlier work, and taken

from his exchanges with Poulantzas. (3) There is an important structural dimension which needs to he taken into account in explaining the power of the capitalist class and its relationship to the state: 'the nature of the state is here determined by the nature and requirements of the mode of production. There are "structural constraints" which no government, whatever its complexion, wishes and promises, can ignore

or evade' (1977, p. 72). Capitalist states engage in a range of economic policies which are explictly designed to promote economic growth and the accumulation of private capital- In this sense (and as identified by Lindblom, 1977) business interests have a more direct connection to the general interest than to workers' interests. This is not simply a question of values but of

The Question

of the State


economic necessities reflected in the dependence of state programmes and state expenditures on economic wellbeing 7 m that profits create

more possibilities for taxation, and low levels of unemployment place less of a burden on the social security system. The problem, as Miliband correctly recognises, is not whether such constraints exist, but how constraining they are. Constraints are the product of past and present human activity and are not immutable. State agents do have some room for manoeuvre, and, according to Miliband, it is precisely this which is the extent of 'relative autonomy of t m state'.=M periods Etanomic growth the state becomes more autonomous, and the room for manoeuvre in terms of responding to a wide range of-' interests 1 increased. Conversely in periods of economic crisis, whatever the accompanying rhetoric, options are foreclosed and the balance of power between contending classes shifts markedly in the direction of capital. In his later works, Capitalist Democracy in Britain (1982) and 'State power and class interests' (1983), these ideas are developed significantly. Midband recognises (making a similar point to that of Offe and Wiesenthal, 1979) that the interests of capital and l a b o r are asymmetry r i a l in that the organisation of trade unions is subject to constraints which do not apply to the organisations of capital. They are brokers between employers and workers and between workers and the state,

and are essentially defensive organisations, having little scope autonomously to determine the means of economic activity (1982, pp. 55-60). They do, however, exert some negative power as a constraint on the state, whose 'purpose has always been unambiguous, namely to help capitalist enterprise to prosper' (1982, p. 95). Other constraints on the state, besides preserving the capitalist economy, and responding to the demands of organised l a b o r , include international pressures (such as conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund), the

demands of business organisations, the impact of the working class as an electoral force, and riots and disaffection amongst marginalised groups. But equally important for Miliband are constraints on the state from within: from the power exercised by the state qua state, which develops its own interests and power : Senior civil servants in Britain constitute a formidable bloc of power, more cohesive and resourceful than any other element in the state, with the possible exception of the cabinet, but onlyifthe cabinet is united, and determined to have its way. H'§8-IZ, 104)


It is this stress on internal constraints upon state action which marks off Milibarid's v e r s i o n from both the earlier stress on purely external


The Question of t o e


influences, and from the contention in pluralist theories noted above that the state is a passive recipient of group pressures. He argues that state employees constitute a 'state bourgeoisie' (1983, p. 63) with interests which are not necessarily identical to their class counterparts in capitalist enterprises. An 'accurate and realistic "model" of the relationship between state power and class powers is a 'partnership between two different, separate forces' (1983, p. 61). Moreover, it is not a partnership 'in which the state may be taken necessarily to be the junior partner'; state action in deface of the social order may go beyond the immediate demands of capitalists. The state, however, cannot act in isolation, a 'state for itself' as it were, in societies with a well entrenched dominant class; the capitalist class is always present. In seeking to establish, if not the primacy of politics, at least an autonomous sphere of action for politics, Midband argues that state actors can (and do) pursue policies in the 'national interest' which turn out to be disastrous from the point of view of the interests of the ca itafist class. ting the Vietnam war (and perhaps he might have died monetarist economic policy) he implies that capitalists too can MUM tafse consciousness, and that the pursuit of their objective interests is not at all something that a partnership with state power


Structural and organisational factors

Miliband's 'revised' theory of the capitalist state represents a compromise between general theories which seek to show that the state is a capitalist state because it acts instrumentally in the interests of the capitalist class, and general theories which maintain that the state is a capitalist state because it must obey a structural logic derived from its insertion into a capitalist mode of production. On this account it does male a difference how the state IS organised, and how powerful are its constituent bodies, although a question must remain as to whether the state acts as a cohesive entity. Pluralist theory denies any logic in the state system; Marxist theory often endowed it with a mystical unity as

embodied in expressions like 'ideal collective capitalist'. Miliband's revisionist version of Marxist state theory allows for differences of interest between state and dominant class, and suggests that the relative autonomy of the state .... its room for manoeuvre - and by extension its ability to act as partner rather than subaltern in the relationship with capital, varies according to the underlying health of the economy.

The uncertainty which remains concerns the level of generality of the

The Question of the State


theory and its appropriateness for analysis anything liner grain than the general trajectory of state policy over the long run. As Hall (1982) pertinently argues, such theories explain too much, but at the same time cannot account for important, but less general, questions such as why countries with roughly comparable mature capitalist economies, for example Britain and West Germany, adopt such different economic policies in the face of a similar range of external constraints. Why do state policies in one country amount to deflation and stringent monetary control (Britain since 1979, Germany during 1965-6) whereas in others (France 1981-31 economic policy was marked by fiscal

expansionism? The structuralist explanation might be that deflation, whilst it hurts certain fractions of capital, is in the long-range interest of the class as a whole. British capital will emerge revitalised from the long squeeze because the logic of capital accumulation dictates state policies, which must find their appropriate mouthpiece in the actions and words of political agents Miliband's arguments avoid this functionalist trap, and recognise that state policy is an exercise of state power: in Lukes's words: 'to identify a given process as an exercise of power, rather than as a case of structural determination, is to assume that it is in the exerciser's or exercisers' power to act differently' (1974: p. 55). Within the state system choices are made, even if the range of options (sharp deflation and severe unemployment versus mild deflation and worsen-

ing unemployment) is necessarily limited. What this means is that structural effects differ in degree as well as in kind: the extent to which agents' actions are constrained by structure differs in intensity as well as in scope.1° The crucial questions for Lukes's formulation is 'how differently?, and what factors affect the degree of difference? These arguments are important, but have not yet resolved the question of whether structural constraints apply to governments as well as to states; if they do, whether they do so in the same way; and

how precisely states can be differentiated from governments. I suggest here that the answer to the first question is yes, to the second no, and that it is precisely in developing these answers that we can approach the third question. We can begin to explain the difference by considering an important example of the way in which constraints differ at the two levels of

government and state. The switch from Keynesian economics to monetarism in Britain was not the consequence of a shift from a Labour to a Conservative Government: monetary control (via higher interest rates) and restraints on public expenditure followed from Britain's structural position in the world economy following the international oil crisis of 1973-4. Can we explain the different responses in other


The Question of the


advanced capitalist states in terms of their different economic structures (e.g. dependence upon export markets, reliance on heavy industries and so on), or were they different because there were Conservative governments in some countries and Social Democratic ones in others ? If the latter explanation seems to account for the shift from fiscal squeeze to expansionism in France following Mitterand's victory in 1981, then how are we to explain the reversals in policy of 1983 and 1984? In chapter 5 I will look at explanations of such differences in terms of the extent to which major functional interests were integrated into central economic policy-making, that is in terms of different degrees of corporatism at the macro~level. The question here is whether the appropriate level of analysis is government or state. Does it make any practical difference whether we speak of governments managing economies, or state intervention in the economy? I maintain that it does, and that the distinction lies in seeing 'the state' as the established pattern of public activity as embodied in the set of laws and practices which define its scope and reach. In democratic systems governments enter into office, and a new set of policies and priorities becomes a part of the state system. I say a part of the state system, because within the structure there are actors and forms of organisation with distinct interests, amongst which are the preservation of the established patterns of hierarchy and control. We can therefore identify two sets of constraints upon governments, arising from the electoral process (what must be done to ensure re-election; what cannot be done within the rules of the party game) and from the state system (which arise from the established pattern of domination, involving not only the state bureaucracy, but its transactions with society at large). In institutional terms the state system comprises the public sector (the tasks, activities and decisional processes which are collectively

defined in politics as outside the scope of private decision-making). But in social and political terms the individuals and groups which are affected by those activities must be included. The state represents a particular means of domination (here defined not as subordination but in the Iberian sense of power relationships sanctioned by legitimacy). Governments may have specific policies aimed at transforming the nature of the state system (for example in extending or reducing the size of the public sector) which may be constrained by the nature of

legitimate domination. There is good evidence that in Britain the scope of the state system in welfare is reinforced by deeply held public attitudes, but public attitudes to state production in nationalised industries are at best ambiguous. As Weber recognised very clearly, the characteristic means of donllnatlon of the modern state IS bureaucracy.


The Question of the State The nature of the state

We have already considered, and rejected as over~general and tautologous, functionalist theories of the state which define it as the factor of cohesion in society, or the mechanism for reproducing the relations of class domination. We have already suggested that liberal democratic theory, presupposing a coupling of elected government to executive power, is inadequate to explain the constraints on elected governments

which arise independently of the wishes and demands of the electorate . The state, then, is not simply another organisation; but it is a system of organisation. It is not simply one interest among others; but it makes sense to speak of a 'state Interest'. The state system has specific features

which differentiate it from other political organisations in society, but not to the extent of making it legitimate to use phrases like 'the state acts'. Agents act, the state is a system. What are these features specific to the state system?" To answer this I will go 'back to Weber' to see how his ideas might help us to emerge from the theoretical deadlock between

pluralism and varieties of Marxism. First of all it must be stressed that Weber discounted the possibility of defining the state in terms of the uniqueness of what it does (i.e. in terms of its ends). 'Today legal coercion by violence is the monopoly of the state' (Weber, 1978, p. 314) and 'ultimately one can define the modern state sociologically specifically in the means peculiar to it . namely the use of physical force' (Gerth and Mills, 1948, pp. 77-8). This 'realistic', if not cynical view of the state stood in stark contrast the the prevailing idealist notions of the day, in which the state was invested with transcendental qualities, pursuing some general interest above the self-interested squabbles of party and faction." The legitimate use of violence was, however, recognised to be the 'bottomline' of the system

. .

of domination,


which for


the most part operates through the medium

If the pluralist state is

swayed by pressures, and the

Marxist state is determined by class forces, the Iberian state is shaped by the nature of its organisation, and in particular domination through legal-rational procedures. In a telling passage Weber shows that rationalisation and bureaucratic management link the development of capitalism and the emergence of the modern state: both are characterised by what Marxists would term 'alienation' or the loss of control of individuals over their own lives : 'separation' of the worker from the material means of production, destruction, admmistrauon, acadermc research, and Finance in general is the common basis of the modern state7 in its


The Question of the State political, cultural and military sphere, and of the private capitalist

economy. In both cases the disposition over these means is in the hands of that power whom the bureaucratic apparatus (of judges, officials, officers, supervisors, clerks and non-commissioned officers) directly obeys or to whom it is available in case of need. This apparatus is nowadays equally typical of all those organizations; its existence and function are inseparably cause and effect of this concentration of the means of operation . . . (Weber, 1978, p.1394) Power - state power - thus resides not in the hands of politicians, of business leaders, of trade unionists and so on, but in the organisation which has developed symbiotically - cause and effect - with the spread of capitalist rationality. To put the point bluntly, as Weber usually does: 'In a modern state the actual ruler is neces sarily and unavoidably the bureaucracy, since power is exercised neither through parliamentary speeches nor monarchical enunciations but through the routines of administration' (Weber, 1978, p. 1393).13 In other words power is a structural property of organisation, and the state is best conceptualised as a system of domination which is defined in terms of its ultimate reliance on coercion; indeed the state is the only system which does not deride its capacity for coercion from another body. But as Parking observes in his discussion of Weber's treatment of the state (1982, pp. 72-4), actual states reveal the iron fist in the velvet glove in different circumstances and coercion is not necessarily applied evenhandedly with respect to different groups and classes in society. The propensity of states to permit or delegate legitimate coercion to nominally private bodies varies considerably, as does the actual resort to force in the event of a breakdown of acceptable self-regulation.

The basis of state power In affirming the distinctiveness of state power and class power we are pointing to the different bases on which such power rests. For the state system power exists in the specific relations of domination that the state form embraces; the successful upholding of the claim (ultimately through force) to represent the maximum collective unit of social organisation. If we view the development of the state historically, as Weber did, we can see that the structure of domination through legal-rational procedures developed alongside domination based on

The Question

of the State


tradition (obedience because things have always been done that way) and domination by charismatic leadership (obedience based on accept~ once if' Ehe claim of the leader to be able to achieve desired ends). Domination through bureaucracy requires a specific kind of legitimation, an acceptance of due process and formally rational procedures.14 Governments are part of the state system, but are not necessarily in control if it. The extent to which governmental purposes conflict with state power has to be discovered empirically, and we can expect wide variations in actual cases. Control presupposes command of resources, and in modern state systems based on rational procedures, information is a crucial resource. The access of civil servants to information within the state system is always superior to that of politicians: 'The political "master" always finds himself, v1s-8-v1s the trained official, in the position of a dilettante facing the expert' (Weber, 1978, p. 991), but the degree of that superiority varies with the extent to which the state system has been bureaucratised. Weber recognised that this process had not gone as far in Britain as, for example, in France or Germany because of the residual control of the means of central administration exercised by 'notables' (the aristocracy) (Weber, 1978, p. 987). This is not to say that the state somehow 'does less' in Britain, but to make the point that quantitative factors ((e.g_. Jie size of the public sector) are not so important as qualitative factors. Again, to quote Weber: 'Bureaucratization is stimulated more strongly, however, by intensive and qualitative expansion of the administrative tasks than by their extensive and quantitative increase' (Weber, 1978, p. 971). The transformation of the state system sought by the Thatcher government is the creation of a stronger state, in which bureaucratic routines are more closely tied to monetary calculation and less to substantive norms and values, as well as a less extensive state. The logic of operation of the state system would then be not whether policy A enhances values such as social welfare and equality, but whether policy A allocates resources more efficiently than policy B, where efficiency is a technical matter measured by the quantitative criterion of least cost per specified unit output. If the project succeeds, and produces a lasting change in the state system, then the perfection of bureaucratic management that is the

efficient modern corporation will have been replicated within the state. Modern critics of \lVeber's theory of bureaucracy have pointed to dysfunctions and conflicts within bureaucracy as an enduring feature, rather than a pathological one, of their operation, but they have not looked outside the state system for factors which contribute to this. I shall emphasis here two central problems with 'W/eber's account of the state as a system of bureaucratic domination: the failure to deal


The Question of :be State

adequately with state functions (not to be confused with state purposes) and the effects of different functions on political processes ; and the failure to deal with the particular effects of the state system on society and the pattern of social stratification (Parking, 1979, p. 121).

Functions of the state

For Weber the distinctiveness of the state lay in its effective claim to the monopoly of legitimate violence, and its most important feature was bureaucratic domination. But does it make a difference to what activities bureaucracy is directed? Are bureaucratic structures equally effective in coping with all kinds of policy problems? Is bureaucratic domination all-pervasive, or does it develop unevenly according to the tasks undertaken within the state system? These questions take on a particular significance in the light of the extension of the state system into more and more aspects of daily life in capitalist democracies. Weber was writing at the time when the infrastructure of what we now know as the 'welfare state' was just being laid, and when the major responsibility of states for economic wellbeing was hardly evident. Yet he did recognise the limitations of the private productive economy for satisfying the consumption needs of society, and foresaw a secular tendency for state activity in this area to increase :

increasing bureaucratization is a function of the increasing possession of consumption goods, and of an increasingly sophisticated technique of fashioning external life a technique which corresponds to the opportunities provided by such wealth. This reacts upon the standard of living, and makes for an increasing subjective indispensability of

public, inter-local, and


bureaucratic provision for the most varied wants which previously were either unknown or were satisfied locally or by the private economy. (Weber, 1978, p. 972) Bureaucratic structures proved to be a formidable apparatus for

making collective provision for social needs which could not be met through commodities bought and sold on the market. When we look towards the areas of public health, education, pensions, or housing, we find the employment of bureaucratic means at the forefront of attempts to find solutions to social problems. Elsewhere (Cawson, 1982) I have distinguished, in ideal-typical terms whose methodology was bor-

The Question of time State


rowed from Weber, between market modes and bureaucratic modes of state int€1"V€nti0II1._15 This distinction can be useful in comparing the functions of the state system in different spheres. Welfare provision is the allocation of specific rights (to benefits) to generally defined categories of individuals; in Marshall's (1950) terms it embodies social citizenship which complements civil and political citizenship. The state is the locus, the bureaucracy the means, of such kinds of provision, and it is appropriate because of the relationship between bureaucratic domination and formal-rational procedures. Such state activities have been described by Offe (1975) as 'allocative', and the structures of collective consumption, whereby significant members of society rely on state provision for the means of susbsistence, either exclusively or in combination with consumption through the market, have become not simply successive governments' policies, but central features of the state system. The importance of state intervention in the sphere of collective

consumption is a signal contribution of neo-Marxist theory, and is most concisely stated in O'Connor's (1973) thesis that social consumption expenditures are related to be functional necessity of capitalist states to underwrite the process of capital accumulation. Collective consumption provisions are argued to have this effect because they

lower the costs of reproducing l a b o r power; that is every taxpayer contributes ta reducing the wage costs of capitalists, Thus state activities have specific benefits (to capitalists) as well as general benefits (defined in i%rms of social citizenship). The growing problems of financing such expenditures have unanticipated and contradictory effects ugh, 1979) in that they represent a drain on capital whose vitality they are supposed to guarantee. Thus the tendency to seek economies in welfare provision has a structural source which acts independently of the ideological predisposition towards welfare of the

governing party, as expressed in Gough's remark (1979, p. 14) that 'advanced capitalist countries both require but cannot afford a growing level of state intervention in the welfare fields." Bureaucratic provision in the welfare field has other contradictory

effects besides the problem of financing it. The relationship between provider and consumer is part of a structure of domination, and in everyday life those dependent upon state provision experience this as a very real form of oppression. The characteristic politics of state provision in the sphere of consumption is a bureaucrat~cllent one at the point of delivery: domination through the rulebook. But if this is the effect, what are the causes? A complete answer to this question is


The Question

of the State

beyond the scope of this book, but it is worth saying a little about the relationship between policies and politics.


_1i,detailed a_Qproa