"The Dream of State Power": Accumulation, Coercion, Police.

AuthorSeri, Guillermina

Production can be carried on better under the modern police.

--Karl Marx, Grundrisse (1939/1973)

In societies that present to us as giant "collection[s] of commodities," the logic of "buying in order to sell dearer" that Karl Marx (1867/1993, 153, 306) describes in Capital determines the entirety of our social existence. At first sight, the surplus coming out of exchanging goods may strike one as somewhat magical. As we embark on an exploration of its enigmas, however, the shiny surface of the commodity world gets cracked and vanishes, revealing a thickly knitted web, as what initially stood as independent domains--that is, the political, the economic--turn out to be facets of capital as an all-encompassing social relation (Holloway & Picciotto 1978).

As a theory of society under capitalism and a critique of political economy that questions mythical narratives about the origins of capital resulting from the accumulation of stock, Marx (1867/1993, 1010) describes processes of so-called primitive accumulation that fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England displayed in "the classic form." As strictly speaking "not an accumulation ... at all" (Bottomore 2001, 444), the giant process of dispossession pivoted on land enclosures and the violent separation of communities from their lands and means of living, which, as the Marxian analysis shows, relied on the sheer use of force. Outlawing communal forms of property, expelling peasants, and criminalizing customary age-old rights turned a mass of the destitute into vagrants. Terrorized under regimes such as Queen Elizabeth's poor laws, the dispossessed former serfs and peasants had to move into cities to start selling their labor force. Over a couple of generations, Marx observes, the displaced were transformed into wage labor, and the conditions for the development of capital set into place (Marx 1867/1993, 1029-31).

In fact, as Mark Neocleous (2000,xii; 2021, 48) argues, the earlier, brutal phase of primitive accumulation described by Marx constituted "a massive police operation" conducted through countless police measures, including those disguised as legal norms. Like the Elizabethan poor laws, such measures supported the transformation of the masses released from dissolving feudal bonds into wage workers. The original, initial wave of accumulation setting the foundation of capitalism thus involved extraordinary violence and a disregard for communal rights. Through myriad regulations banning non-commodified lifestyles, entire groups were left with no option but to respond to the "silent compulsion" of capital (Marx 1867/1993, 1032). As a significant waged labor force became available, industrialization thrived. Guaranteeing the social order and labor needed to support capital accumulation, in turn, involved a colossal effort of police that extends into the present.

A coercive apparatus at its core, the state, Marx observes, appears as a structure of "police-guarded military despotism, embellished with parliamentary forms" (Marx 1875/1994, 329). Yet if modern states made unprecedented levels of force readily available, "all the bourgeois economists," he notes, admitted that "production can be carried on better under the modern police than e.g. on the principle of might makes right" (Marx 1939/1973, 88). Thus, in constitutional republics the stronger still prevail, but force, Marx argues, appears as supporting laws and their enforcement, just as constitutional freedoms tend to be accompanied by "police traps," conditions that protect bourgeois privilege under the guise of public safety (1852/1996, 43).

Far from merely repressive, the police play an active role in the reproduction of capital and in shaping modern society, which makes the concept of police "part of the conceptual and theoretical arsenal of Marxism" (Neocleous 2000, xii; 2021, 47). In turn, the development of a critical theory of police that addresses the role of police institutions in exercising state power and assisting the reproduction of capital draws on state theory and the broader project of the Marxian critique.

This critique of police calls into question views of the police as law enforcers (see Jackson, this volume). Seen in a critical fight, uniformed street cops expose the surface of a broad governing apparatus comprised of higher level offices and policymaking that are connected through "agencies of policing situated throughout the state" (Neocleous 2000, xi; 2021, 46). It took hundreds of years for such a multilayered police network to develop. However contingent their particular arrangements, police formations did not expand autonomously but as a facet of social relations driven by capital. The production and reproduction of social bonds under capitalism would not be possible without this filigree of police rules, practices, and forms of intervention. As the art and craft of manufacturing social relations and subjectivities, police have introduced territorial, social, and epistemological separations, guaranteeing the availability of wage labor, private property, and capital (Neocleous 2000, 66-70; 2021, 147-53; this issue).

"If the economic take-off of the West began with the techniques that made possible the accumulation of capital," Michel Foucault (1977, 221) writes in Discipline and Punish, the shift was accompanied by new "methods for administering the accumulation of men," leading to a parallel "political take-off "in governmental matters. In a number of lectures and interventions, Foucault gave police practices and this state web of governmental interventions theoretical visibility. From his studies of discipline and governmentality to his police lectures, his work illuminates rationales, techniques, and practices central to policing. Drawing on these contributions, the critical theory of police advances the study of this takeoff by theorizing the capitalist state.

This article aims to show that a materialist state theory needs to include a theory of police power. The police's imbrication with capitalist production has yet to be acknowledged as part of a general theory of the state. Neocleous's (2021) book, A Critical Theory of Police Power, offers a solid framework for this endeavor, scrutinizing the police role in assembling and reproducing a labor force from the earlier, primitive stages of capitalism to date. The book brought police into full view in the field of political theory, making visible facets and practices of policing and the police power only thinly conceptualized before. Among its salient traits, the power to police involves the capacity to fabricate social relations, subjectivities, and forms of social order interwoven with capitalist production (Neocleous 2000, 7; 2021, 62). More visibly, since the second half of the seventeenth century, in extending taxation, standing armies, and bureaucracies, modern centralized states claimed agency "to fabricate order" through countless police rules that subjected those "masterless" individuals governments perceived--and treated--as threats. Ranging from early ad hoc measures to the absolutist governance of individuals and communities to a technique of liberal security, police rules and institutions reveal themselves as a governing dimension accompanying the expansion of capital. Besides its most visible contribution--theorizing the police--Neocleous's work illuminates the state's police core and advances an outline for a materialist theory of the state that calls for further development.

This article builds on these arguments by connecting the critical theory of the police power with state derivation arguments interrogating the place of the state in Marx's Capital. This work arises out of a concern that significant developments toward a materialist theory of police have yet to find appropriate reception among state theorists. At least in part this seems to relate, I argue, to the way in which the critical theory of police power questions established beliefs in the Marxist tradition that no direct force is involved in capitalist production. Conveying this point, Michael Heinrich (2004, 204), a recognized Marx scholar, writes "under capitalist social relations, direct political force is not necessary for the maintenance of economic exploitation." Direct repression or the use of force, the argument goes, have "abated" (Heinrich 2004, 195) at least in the most developed capitalist societies. Along these lines, in their classic work, John Holloway and Sol Picciotto (1978, 98) note that the capitalist state enacts forms of domination "separated from the immediate process of production." Such premises, I suggest, make it difficult to appreciate the continuous role of extra-economic elements--including force--in regular capital accumulation, as revealed by the study of police.

Significant differences in precapitalist societies notwithstanding, the study of police exposes the ubiquitous use of force in capitalist societies, which ranges from visible interventions to preserve order to minute acts supporting capital accumulation and the routine reproduction of social relations. Acknowledging these interventions calls for nuance in conceptualizing force as a continuum. In this regard, the materialist theory of police allows us to reconstruct organic continuities between the open violence characteristic of primitive accumulation and its fragmented incarnations. When delivered minutely on a one-on-one basis, violence may be invisible, even self-inflicted under widespread forms of surveillance imposing self-control and self-policing. In what follows, after identifying some shared tenets of materialist state theory grounded in Capital, I review the contribution of police theory to the critique of state theory, the way in which the theory of police recasts the issue of force, and the place of police within state theory alongside capital.

Toward a Materialist State Theory: State and Capital

If "every form of production"...

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