The relevance of Nicos Poulantzas' political theory

Hélio Oiticica, Metaesquema, sd, gouache on cardboard, 45 x 58 cm


Introduction of the organizers to the newly launched book

In 2018, the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Political power and social classes, by Nicos Poulantzas. This work was launched in Paris a few months after the French May, and had a great impact on the academic world of social sciences and humanities and, more particularly, on the Marxist world. The regional theory of the political in the capitalist mode of production developed by Poulantzas translates into a systematic formulation of a Marxist theory of the capitalist state.

Affiliated with theses developed by French-Algerian philosopher Louis Althusser[I], between the 1960s and 1970s, Political power and social classes it has, among many merits, that of ending a long period of sterility concerning the efforts of a systematized reflection on the State in the theoretical field of Marxism. After the appearance of this famous work, Poulantzas published, in addition to several articles and interviews, four important books: Fascism and dictatorships: the Third International against fascism (FD), from 1970, Social classes in today's capitalism, 1974; Crisis of dictatorships: Portugal, Greece and Spain, from 1975 and The state, power, socialism, from 1978, the last book that Poulantzas published while he was alive and in which he distances himself from the theses formulated in Political power and social classes. Poulantzas would die the following year, on October 3, 1979.

Poulantzas' thought has influenced research on different objects – State theory, social classes, concrete social formations, international relations, law, middle classes, new petty bourgeoisie, etc. – and of the most diverse theoretical affiliations. The relationship between the State, social classes and the power bloc, the different imperialist phases and new forms of dependency, the relationship between democracy and socialism are some of the themes that this author addressed and that continue to mobilize countless works. However, more than this general influence, Poulantzas gave rise to the formation of a special type of investigation that is concerned, roughly speaking, with two major tasks: (a) developing a system of concepts about the State, power and social classes that enables concrete analyses; and (b) produce these analyzes about past and current periods, conjunctures and social formations.

In Brazil, the diffusion of the Althusserian theory, to which Poulantzas joined, was carried out, at first, by researchers who collaborated, in the 1960s, with the journal Brazilian weather, headquartered in Rio de Janeiro. In his study on the reception of Althusserian theory in Brazil, the political scientist Décio Saes (1998) recalls that these intellectuals aimed at “explaining” and “diffusion” of Althusserian thought. This group included authors such as: Carlos Enrique Escobar, Cabral Bezerra Filho, Alberto Coelho de Souza, Marco Aurélio Luz, among others. Saes draws attention, on the other hand, to the names of Brazilian authors directly involved in “promoting the development, improvement and deepening” of Althusserian theory, citing, as an example, the name of Luiz Pereira, at USP.

To this second “group of authors” it is also possible to include the name of Décio Saes himself, of João Quartim de Moraes (Philosophy), of Armando Boito Jr. (Political Science) and Márcio Bilharinho Naves (Sociology), all professors at the State University of Campinas – Unicamp (MOTTA, 2014:10), as well as Lúcio Flávio Rodrigues de Almeida (Political Science), professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo and whose doctoral thesis was defended at the State University of Campinas, under the guidance of Décio Saes. This generation has also trained researchers who continue to disseminate, apply and develop Althusserian and Poulantzian theory through their work.

Still in relation to the project of development, improvement and deepening of Althusserian thought in general and of Poulantzian theory in particular, it is necessary to register the protagonism of Décio Azevedo Marques de Saes. Professor at Unicamp since 1968, Saes enrolls, in 1971, in the Doctoral Course of the Third Cycle, at the Ecole des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, in Paris.[ii] During this period, he adhered, in the field of Marxism, to the Althusserian current, whose concepts were incorporated into his doctoral thesis.[iii] Upon resuming his teaching activities at Unicamp, in 1975, he began to focus on a new intellectual project: to explore the disciplines of political sciences from an Althusserian perspective.

It is, precisely, in his thesis of Habilitation – The formation of the Bourgeois State in Brazil –, defended in 1983, that the process of development, improvement and deepening of the Althusserian theory of history finds its most finished form. In this work, Saes offers an unprecedented and original interpretation concerning the emergence of the bourgeois State in Brazil and, therefore, the beginning of the process of reproduction of Brazilian capitalism. After completing his tenure, Saes continued to dedicate himself to the major theoretical themes of political science – democracy, citizenship, political elites and the very analysis of Brazilian political conjunctures – always guided by the theses of the Althusserian School developed in the 1960s and 1970s. However, the analysis of Brazilian political history from the perspective of the problem of the Althusserian school has always been based on a process of development, rectification and reorganization of its concepts.[iv]

Armando Boito Jr., full professor of political science at Unicamp, has guided master's and doctoral research over the years, and written books and articles inspired by the concepts formulated by the Althusserian school, as well as the work of Poulantzas. Boito Jr. he had Décio Saes himself as his master's advisor, later following a career in theoretical and empirical research that gave him a great insertion in the Brazilian intellectual and political scene, especially from the 2000s onwards. After completing his dissertation on populism in Brazil[v], was in Paris, where he attended a course given by Nicos Poulantzas, shortly before his death. During the 1980s and 1990s – and already as a professor at Unicamp – he dedicated himself to the study of Brazilian unionism, defending the thesis that the Brazilian union structure conforms to a State unionism, that is, an institutional apparatus built by populist politics and ideology .[vi]

In the late 1990s, given the phenomenon of neoliberal advances in Brazil and elsewhere, he turned to studies of classes and fractions of the bourgeois class in Brazil[vii], in addition to dedicating himself to more theoretical work on the development of some concepts of the Althusserian school. In 2007, some of his articles are published in a book entitled State, politics and social classes. Theoretical and historical essays. His most recent book, Reform and political crisis in Brazil: class conflicts in PT governments, published in 2018, reflects on the neo-developmentalist phase that characterized Brazilian economic policy between 2004 and 2016. Using Poulantzian concepts, Boito Jr. analyzes the strengthening in Brazil of the internal bourgeoisie in the power bloc and the political crisis and rise of neo-fascism.[viii] Boito Jr. supervised many dissertations and theses; in many of them, his students developed, among other topics, hypotheses pointed out by him in his books and articles, demonstrating them empirically.[ix]

But the influence of poulantzian thought is not restricted to the so-called “School of Campinas”.[X] Therefore, due to the concerns mentioned above and due to the excellence of the results produced, Poulantzas' thought, especially that formulated in Political power and social classes, is also present in contemporary analyzes of socialist and popular movements. This is what the recent meetings held in Greece tell us.[xi], in Paris[xii] and in South America, in addition to publishing books[xiii] and special dossiers[xiv] about the theoretical contribution of the author. This diagnosis is also reinforced by the realization of three Latin American days dedicated to the thought of Nicos Poulantzas. Between October 2 and 4, 2013, took place in Santiago de Chile and Valparaíso (Chile) the I International Conference Nicos Poulantzas[xv].

In 2014, there were the II International Journeys Nicos Poulantzas – Poulantzas in Latin America –, in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, between the 22nd and 23rd of September. Unicamp hosted, between November 16th and 18th, 2016, the third edition of the Poulantzas Days. More recently, between the 07th and 09th of August 2019, this university also hosted another event dedicated to the theoretical-conceptual legacy of this author: Seminar: 50 Years of Political Power and Social Classes by Nicos Poulantzas. Theoretical analysis and empirical perspectives.

At the first meeting, in Chile, the researchers were able not only to get to know each other, but to share the different academic and political influences that Poulantzas' works produced in Latin America. This meeting was organized by a group of Chilean philosophers interested in bringing together scholars of the Poulantzian problem, mostly Argentine, Brazilian and Chilean. An important result of this I Jornadas was the publication, in a special dossier in Demarcaciones Magazine[xvi], from several articles presented there. In Brazil, political scientist Luiz Eduardo Motta, from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), inspired by the results of this meeting, organized a dossier in the Quaestio Iuris Magazine, published in 2014[xvii]. It was then decided that it was important to continue that first meeting and carry out other journeys.

Professor Mabel Thwaites Rei, from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA/CONICET), was therefore responsible for organizing the Second Conference, which took place in 2014, parallel to the Conferences of Scholars of Latin America and the Caribbean. The meeting was hosted by the Floreal Gorini Cultural Cooperation Center. This meeting brought together, for the most part, scholars of Poulantzas' work and this time had the participation of Professor Armando Boito Jr. (Unicamp) and the Greek political scientist and professor at City University of New York (CUNY), Peter Bratsis[xviii].

In addition to theoretical debates, there were also presentations of analyzes on contemporary politics, on social struggles and on state policies in the progressive governments of South America in the 2000s. III Jornadas was based at Unicamp and brought back political scientist Décio Saes, whose original reading of the theses developed by the Althusserian school influenced many of the researchers who participated in those events. Saes delivered the opening lecture. The closing conference was delivered by Armando Boito Jr.

O Seminar: 50 Years of Political Power and Social Classes by Nicos Poulantzas. Theoretical analysis and empirical perspectives, organized by Professor Armando Boito Jr. and political scientist Angela Lazagna, took place on the premises of the Institute of Philosophy and Human Sciences (IFCH), at Unicamp. This event was the first initiative of a formal meeting in the form of a seminar, with the participation of researchers whose works are directly linked to the theoretical development of Nicos Poulantzas' work and/or who use the concepts formulated to carry out empirical research.

The main purpose of these seminars was to carry out a more accurate reflection of the questions raised by the following themes: (1) The theoretical construction of the distinction of levels of analysis: structures, institutions and class practices; (2) The conditions of existence of social classes and class fractions in capitalism; (3) Poulantzas, social classes and Imperialism; (4) Poulantzas, social classes and International Relations; (5) The concept of fascism in Poulantzas and neo-fascism in Brazil; (6) The State in the socialist transition in the work of Nicos Poulantzas.

More recently, we had the publication, in the magazine Cemarx notebooks, from the dossier: “The thought of Nicos Poulantzas: reflections on the State and social classes”[xx]. It is worth mentioning that the Cemarx notebooks, headquartered at the Center for Marxist Studies (Cemarx) at Unicamp, has been dedicated to the dissemination of preliminary results of ongoing research.

This book reflects a method of theoretical and empirical investigation that the Althusserian school imprints. It is, therefore, a question of reading the works of Louis Althusser, Nicos Poulantzas, among others, seeking not only to extract connections and debates with other theoretical currents (elitist, institutionalists, Weberians, etc.) and Marxist authors (Lenin, Gramsci, Lukács , among others), but go beyond what the authors themselves presented. What were the limits of some concepts elaborated by Poulantzas? Are there contradictions within his thinking? What was presented as an original idea but not developed? How can a given concept be used to think about other social formations?

These questions pervade, in general, the chapters now published, and which express a set of reflections and original productions, rigorous and with theoretical depth that have been developed over several years. Most of its authors concluded their master's dissertations and/or doctoral theses inspired by the Althusserian/Poulantzian problematic; and the works now publicized were, for the most part, presented and discussed in the various events mentioned, being, in this sense, previously submitted to the scrutiny of the debates and discussions that took place during these meetings. In this sense, these researchers were able to provide us with rectified and revised versions of their work for their respective publication. Finally, it should be noted that, with the exception of one author, Bob Jessop, of British origin and one of the most important contemporary scholars of the work of Nicos Poulantzas, as well as his main biographer, all the other authors in this collection are Latin American.

This book consists of fourteen chapters, divided into 5 parts: (I) Poulantzas and the politician; (II) Poulantzas and the State of exception; (III) Poulantzas, imperialism and international relations; (IV) Social conflicts, class struggle and socialist transition; (V) Poulantzas in Latin America. It features the following authors: Décio Saes, Armando Boito, Bob Jessop, Lucio Flávio de Almeida, Thiago Barison, Jair Pinheiro, Danilo Martuscelli, Caio Bugiato, Tatiana Berringer, Luiz Eduardo Motta, Angela Lazagna, Eliel Machado, Leandro Huenupi, Marcelo Arriagada , Mabel Thwaites Rey, Andrés Teizman.

*Tatiana Berringer Professor of International Relations at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC).

*Angela Lazagna is a postdoctoral researcher in history at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).



Tatiana Berringer & Angela Lazagna The relevance of Nicos Poulantzas' political theory. Santo Andre, Ed. UFABC, 2022, 384 pages.



[I] At the beginning of his intellectual journey, Nicos Poulantzas was inspired by the existentialism of the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. His last writings were marked by a dialogue with the French philosopher Michel Foucault and by his approach to Eurocommunist theses. A collection of texts by Poulantzas, quite representative of this journey, was organized by James Martim (2008). The Poulantzas Reader. Marxism, Law and State. London: Verse. The Book by Bob Jessop (1985). Nicos Poulantzas: Marxist theory and political strategy. Palgrave; Mcmillan, is an excellent biography and synthesis of Poulantzas' bibliographic production, despite bringing a specific reading on the theory of the State.

[ii] For the writing of this summarized theoretical-academic course, we based ourselves on a report by Saes himself. See: SAES, Décio (2009). Reflections of a teacher and researcher. Education & Language, v. 12, nº 20, Jul.-Dec., pp. 40-53.

[iii] See: SAES, Décio (1985). The formation of the bourgeois state in Brazil: 1888-1891. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land.

[iv] In addition to his extensive academic production, always guided by the development of Althusserian Marxist political theory, Saes was concerned with disseminating, among Unicamp students, theses linked to the Althusserian school. In addition to the numerous orientations of scientific initiation monographs, master's dissertations and doctoral theses, Saes maintained a study group on Althusserian theses and on works critical of these theses between 1988 and 1998, the year in which he retired from his teaching activities at Unicamp.

[v] This dissertation was published in 1982 by Editora Brasiliense under the following title: The coup of 54: the bourgeoisie against populism.

[vi] See BOITO JR. (1991), Armando. State unionism in Brazil: a critical analysis of the union structure. São Paulo; Campinas: Hucitec; Unicamp publisher.

[vii] See BOITO JR. (1999), Armando. Neoliberal politics and trade unionism in Brazil. Sao Paulo: Shaman.

[viii] Some of the chapters in this book were written in co-authorship with other authors. They are: Andréia Galvão, Alfredo Saad-Filho, Paula Marcelino and Tatiana Berringer. See, in this sense, BOITO Jr., Armando; GALVÃO, Andreia (eds.) (2012). Politics and Social Classes in Brazil in the 2000s. Sao Paulo: Alameda.

[ix] Armando Boito Jr. coordinates, since 1999, the study group “Neoliberalism and class relations in Brazil”, an important space for debate and reflection between him and his advisees, which resulted in many theses and dissertations defended in the Department of Political Science at Unicamp. Part of the results of the first surveys were published in the special issue of the journal Ideas, under the title “Neoliberalism and social struggles in Brazil”, Year 9, nº 2, Campinas: Unicamp, 2002. Between 2010 and 2015, Boito Jr. also coordinated, together with colleagues Leda Paulani (USP) and Maria Orlanda Pinassi (Unesp) the Fapesp thematic project “Politics and social classes in neoliberal capitalism” and, between 2012 and 2016, the Capes/Cofecub project, “Social conflicts, work and politics. Brazil and France in neoliberal globalization”, along with French colleague Paul Boufartigue. These collective research projects resulted in the publication of two books and several empirical researches on contemporary Brazilian politics. The books are, respectively: BOITO JR., Armando; GALVÃO, Andreia (eds.). Politics and Social Classes… op. cit.; BOITO JR., Armando; BOUFARTIGUE, Paul; GALVÃO, Andreia; BÉROUD, Sophie (eds.) (2019). Brazil and France in neoliberal globalization? Political changes and social contestations. Sao Paulo: Alameda,. Boito Jr. it was also responsible for coordinating other study groups that mainly involved graduate students. These meetings took place for three years and were hosted by Cemarx-IFCH-Unicamp. It is important to emphasize that the dynamics of the election of the themes that were studied and discussed was naming these groups in their different phases. Are they: Study group: Introduction to the question of the young Marx's epistemological rupture (1st half of 2002); Marxism and Theoretical Humanism Study Group (2nd half of 2002), Marx and Hegel Study Group (2003) and Althusserian Study Group (2004)

[X] Cf. Chapter 12: “The School of Campinas: a poulantzian analysis of Brazilian politics”, by Tatiana Berringer.

[xi] In 2009, the conference “Poulantzas Today: Conference in Honor of Nicos Poulantzas” was held in Athens, Greece. It was a tribute to the 30th anniversary of his death (

[xii] In January 2015, the Colloquium “Nicos Poulantzas: a Marxism for the XNUMXst Century” was held at the Université Paris-Sorbonne (

[xiii] See: GALLAS, Alex; BRETTHAUER, Lars; KANNANKULAM, John; STÜTZLE, Ing (Eds.). Reading Poulantzas. London: Merlin Press, 2012; DUCANGE, Jean-Numa; KEUCHEYAN, Razmig (Eds.). The end of democratic State: Nicos Poualntzas, a Marxism for 21st century. Toronto: Pallgrave McMillan, 2019.

[xiv] View: Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora. New York: Athens Printing Company, Vol. 25, No. 1 and 2, 1999.

[xv] Invitation available at: Access: October 13, 2019. For more details on the motivations of the organizing committee, see Professor Marcelo Rodríguez's interview, available at:

[xvi] Available in: Access: October 13, 2019.

[xvii] Dossier Nicos Poulantzas. Quaestio Iuris Magazine, vol. 7, nº 2, 2014. Available at: Access: October 13, 2019.

[xviii] Peter Bratsis has published numerous articles on liberalism, democracy, corruption, crisis in Greece, among other topics. In 2002, he published, with Stanley Aronowitz, the collection Paradigm Lost: State Theory Reconsidered. Minneapolis; London: University of Minnesota Press, in which the Marxist theory of the State, as well as the famous debate between Nicos Poulantzas and Ralph Miliband, is recovered. In 2006, he publishes Everyday Life and State. Boulder; London: Paradigm Publishers, in which he analyzes the material causes of the presence of the capitalist State in our daily lives.

[xx] Available in: Access: October 16, 2019.

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