On the Economic Role of the State under State Monopoly Capitalism
IN the present century, the economic role of the State is a matter taken for granted. What is debated now is not if the State should or should not intervene, a debate considered rather archaic now, but which form the intervention ought to take. Yet this state of affairs has not been a characteristic of all stages of capitalism but has rapidly developed during the present century. To be sure, economic insiitutions sponsored by the State, and economic intervention at times have figured in the earlier phase of capitalism as well; it is also well-known now that even during the phase of the so-called laissez faire, there were distinctly identifiable policies of the State's participation in and guidance of economic activities, particularly in relation to foreign trade and the colonies. However, there appears to have taken place, in this respect, a qualitative change during the present century. State participation can no longer be called intervention, but it is of the order of a ceaseless monitoring of the entire gamut of economic activities encompassing both production and distribution.
In a very fundamental sense the State has always had an economic role. The State represents a coercive apparatus for suppressing irreconcilable class contradictions in the societyŚcontradictions that arise in the sphere of production through the separation between the producer and the means to produce with. The very presence of the State is thus necessitated by a characteristic of the sphere of production and thus in a very basic sense the role it has to perform has an economic character. However, this role has not always been sought to be performed by elements of the State apparatus that directly and visibly have an economic character. Political and ideological elements of the superstructure in times of peace and the military elements at more disturbed times have performed this task. In the national economic sphere State intervention in economic matters used to be precipitated by periodic crises that the capitalist system gives rise to;
and such economic measures used to include temporary regulation of credit, money and commerce and some tax and revenue measures.
*Teaches at Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.