The capitalist state is the state, its functions and the form of organization it takes within capitalist socioeconomic systems. This concept is often used interchangeably with the concept of the modern state, though there are many differences in sociological characteristics among capitalist states despite their common functions.
The primary functions of the capitalist state are to provide a legal framework and infrastructural framework that is conducive to business enterprise and the accumulation of capital. Different normative theories exist on the necessary and appropriate function of the state in a capitalist economy, with proponents of laissez-faire favoring a state limited to the provision of public goods and safeguarding private property rights while proponents of interventionism stress the importance of regulation, intervention and economic stabilization in providing the framework for the accumulation of capital and business.
For Karl Marx, the capitalist state is understood to be a reflection of the economic base, with its chief function reflecting the needs of the capitalist economy. This involves creating the legal and infrastructural framework (the superstructure) that facilitates capitalism as well as balancing the needs of the various classes to ensure the perpetuation of capitalism. This often involves attempts to safeguard state policy from being used to benefit specific capitalists or firms at the expense of the bourgeoisie as a whole. Hence, Marx described the function of the executive of a capitalist state as "nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie". Specifically, in Marx's view the capitalist state necessarily exists to serve the interests of capitalists (referred to as the bourgeoisie), not as a defect, but as a necessary feature of capitalism. Thus, thinkers in the Marxist tradition often refer to the capitalist state as the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Thinkers in the instrumental Marxist tradition stress the role of policymakers and political elites sharing a common business or class background, leading to their decisions reflecting their class interest. This is differentiated from more contemporary notions of state capture by specific business interests for the benefit of those specific businesses and not the ruling class or capitalist system as a whole, which is variously referred to as crony capitalism or corporatocracy.
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In laissez-faire capitalism, the state restricts itself to providing public goods and services that the economy cannot generate by itself and to safeguarding private ownership and the smooth operation of the self-regulating market.
- Duncan, Graeme (March 1989). Democracy and the Capitalist state. Cambridge University Press. p. 85. ISBN 9780521280624.
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- Szymanski, Albert (1978). The Capitalist State and the Politics of Class. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Winthrop Publishers. ISBN 978-0876261057.