Engels’s Second Theory: Technology, Warfare and the Growth of the State

In: New Left Review 123, May-June 2020, pp. 75-88.

Friedrich Engels famously spent his working life in the shadow of Karl Marx, a position he now occupies for posterity, and one in which he willingly placed himself. Born in 1820 in the Rhineland town of Barmen, he left school a year before his Abitur on the say-so of his father and, as the eldest son, entered the family business. An autodidact, then, his encounter with Marx left him profoundly impressed by the systematic-philosophical brilliance of the young Hegelian, whom he hailed as a world thinker. By comparison, he himself was no more than, perhaps, a talent. Among the German philosophizing classes of the time, the type of speculative thinking at which Marx excelled was considered the highest form of scientific endeavour; Engels, who shared this outlook, may have seen his own contribution, grounded in positivism, as pedestrian by comparison. In the collaboration with Marx, he understood his role to be that of editor, reader, publisher, translator, publicist and hence also popularizer of Marxian (not Marxist-Engelsian) theory, making it comprehensible to the socialist movement for which it was intended. That the act of translation resulted at times in simplifications and reductive formulations was not only unavoidable but desirable, though the price to be paid for it was the still-lingering suspicion that Engels was incapable of greater complexity. […]

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Italian translation:

Engels sociologo empirico: tecnologia, guerra e crescita dello Stato

Pubblicato su MicroMega, 8/2020.

Friedrich Engels ha sempre vissuto nell’ombra di Karl Marx. Oggi, nel bicentenario della sua nascita, vale la pena riscoprire l’originalità di un pensiero che alla concezione materialistica della storia ha dato un contributo determinante sottolineando come i mezzi di distruzione esistano accanto ai mezzi di produzione e mettendo l’accento sulla formazione dello Stato, che si inquadra e si sovrappone a quella della classe. Ripercorriamo qui gli approfonditi e rigorosi studi sulla guerra e la tecnologia di colui che può essere definito come uno dei primi sociologi empirici.

Traduzione dall’inglese di Ingrid Colanicchia.

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Labour Constitutions and Occupational Communities: Social Norms and Legal Norms at Work

Ruth Dukes and Wolfgang Streeck. In: Journal of Law and Society, 47 (4), 612-638.

Abstract: This paper considers the interaction of legal norms and social norms in the regulation of work and working relations, observing that, with the contraction of collective bargaining, this is a matter that no longer attracts the attention that it deserves. Drawing upon two concepts from sociology – Max Weber’s ‘labour constitution’ and Seymour Martin Lipset’s ‘occupational community’ – it focuses on possibilities for the emergence, within groups of workers, of shared normative beliefs concerning ‘industrial justice’ (Selznick); for collective solidarity and agency; for the transformation of shared beliefs into legally binding norms; and for the enforcement of those norms. If labour law is currently in ‘crisis’, then a promising route out of the crisis, we argue, is for the law to recover its procedural focus, facilitating and encouraging these processes.

From Industrial Citizenship to Private Ordering? Contract, Status and the Question of Consent

Wolfgang Streeck and Ruth Dukes. MPIfG Discussion Paper 20/13, Köln: Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung, 2020.

Abstract: This paper revisits the notions of contract and status found in classical sociology, legal theory, and labour law. Adopting an historical perspective, it explores the fragmentation of the status of industrial citizenship during the neoliberal period and discusses the enduring usefulness of the status/contract distinction in analyzing current trends in the regulation of working relations, including the spread of “gig” or platform-mediated work. Elements of status, it is argued, must always be present if work is to be performed and paid for as the parties require it. Claims to the contrary – for example, that the gig economy creates a labour market without search frictions and only minimal transaction costs: contracts without status – assume an undersocialized model of (monadic) social action that has no basis in the reality of social life (Durkheim, Weber). Still, status may come in a variety of forms that are more or less desirable from the perspective of workers, businesses, and society at large. The paper traces what it conceives as the privatization of status via contracts between employers and workers under the pressure of marketization and dominated by corporate hierarchies. Towards the end of the twentieth century, sociologists observed the division of workers into two groups or classes – core (with relatively well-paid and secure employment) and peripheral (low-paid and insecure). Thirty years later, gross inequalities of wealth and conceptions of the neoliberal self as ever-improving, everperfectible, are combining to create novel forms of status not fully anticipated by the literature.

Interview on „Critical Encounters: Capitalism, Democracy, Ideas“

Podcast by Aufhebungabunga, November 10, 2020.

We are joined by leading German public intellectual Wolfgang Streeck to discuss the role of Germany at the end of the End of History. How is it and the EU faring under the assault of Covid-19? We cover Germany’s economic miracles – postwar and post-2008 -, Merkel’s tactical brilliance and strategic ignorance, and how France retains more of a sense of history. (…)

Podcast [link]


Book reference

Critical Encounters: Capitalism, Democracy, Ideas. London and New York: Verso 2020.

For more information see Verso website [link].

Book Chapter – Taking Back Control? The Future of Western Democratic Capitalism

In: Chu, Yun-han and Yongnian Zheng, eds., The Decline of the Western-Centric World and the Emerging New Global Order: Contending Views. Routledge 2020, 37-57.

More than a quarter century after the end of the Cold War, the international state system is in turmoil, both within and between states. The fundamental cause of the growing disorder is the rapid progress of capitalist “globalization”, outpacing the capacity of national societies and international organizations to build effective institutions of political-economic governance. Increasing debt, rising inequality and unstable growth, especially but not exclusively in capitalism’s core countries, indicate a general crisis of governability. As states have become embedded in markets, rather than the other way around, they are governed more by politically unaccountable “market forces” than by their citizens and governments. Global markets and corporations, on their part, are governed only weekly if at all by improvised and often non-governmental institutions of so-called “global governance”. New problems – political conflicts over interests, values and identities, as well as technocratic puzzles and dilemmas, in national and international politics – are appearing almost by the day. Systemic disarray gives rise to a widespread sense of uncertainty. What may be in store for the capitalist world is a period of extreme unpredictability in which structures that had been taken for granted are dissolving without new structures taking their place. (…)

Previously published as an article in Efil Journal of Economic Research, Vol. 1 (2018), No. 3, 30-47. To be downloaded here.

Capitalism and Democracy Are at Odds

Interview by Mohnsen Abdelmoumen, American Herald Tribune, June 9, 2020.

Mohsen Abdelmoumen: Can Europe survive the Covid-19 crisis?

Wolfgang Streeck: It depends on what you mean by “survive“. Complex societies don‘t “die“; something always remains—the question is: what? If you mean the European Union or the European Monetary Union, will they still exist when the virus has left? Of course. If you ask if the virus is undermining them, I think one must not forget that both EU and EMU were already undermining themselves before the pandemic; remember Brexit? Also remember the tensions between Germany and the Mediterranean countries, and between Germany in particular and the new, peripheral member states in the East. The pandemic may or may not have accelerated the decay of “Europe“ as an international organization, or institution; but apart from this and more importantly, the virus has not derailed older tendencies of development that are too deeply rooted politically and economically to be undone by a tiny virus. (…)

Continue reading on ahtribune.com

Staatsbildung durch die Hintertür?

Makroskop, 26. Mai 2020.

Das PSPP-Urteil hat einen grundlegenden Konflikt zwischen Bundesverfassungsgericht und Europäischen Gerichtshof ausgelöst. Es geht um nichts weniger als die Frage, ob die EU eine internationale Organisation oder ein Bundesstaat ist.

Das PSPP-Urteil (Public Sector Purchasing Program) des Bundesverfassungsgerichts hat eine weitere Bruchlinie im Aufbau der Europäischen Union freigelegt, nämlich die zwischen Rechtsordnungen mit unterschiedlichen Verfassungsrechtskonzepten. Hier gibt es Parallelen zum Vereinigten Königreich, wo ein Konzept nach EU-Muster, nach dem eine Verfassung Schritt für Schritt von einem letztinstanzlichen Gericht forteschrieben wird, mit der tief verwurzelten Tradition des Regierens durch das Parlament kollidierte, was zum Brexit beitrug. (…)

Weiterlesen auf makroskop.eu


Versión española:
¿Construir el Estado a hurtadillas?

El Salto, 20 de mayo, 2020.

Continúe en elsaltodiario.com


English version:
State-building by stealth?

Letters from Europe, May 20, 2020.

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The International State System after Neoliberalism: Europe between National Democracy and Supranational Centralization

In: Crisis and Critique 7 (1), 2020, 214-234.

Abstract: In 1945 Karl Polanyi outlined a vision of a peacetime global state system with a political economy in which small countries could be both sovereign and democratic. The present essay reviews developments between then and now in the light of Polanyi’s analytical framework. Particular attention is paid to the history of the European Union, which after the end of Communism turned into a mainstay of the neoliberal project, culminating in its restoration of an international gold standard under Monetary Union. In the crisis of 2008 the advance of neoliberalism got stuck due to “populist” resistance to austerity and the shift of governance from the national to a supranational level. The paper explores the prospects of current attempts to replace the “Social Europe” and “trickle-down” narratives of European superstate formation, which have lost all credit, with a story about a European army as a necessary condition of a successful defense of “the European way of life”.

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