This three part article presents an analysis of the distribution of power and of the nature of the state in Western industrialized societies and details their implications in medicine. Part I presents a critique of contemporary theories of the Western system of power; discusses the countervailing pluralist and power elite theories, as well as those of bureaucratic and professional control; and concludes with an examination of the Marxist theories of economic determinism, structural determinism, and corporate statism. Part II presents a Marxist theory of the role, nature, and characteristics of state intervention. Part III (which will appear in the next issue of this journal) focuses on the mode of that intervention and the reasons for its growth, with an added analysis of the attributes of state intervention in the health sector, and of the dialectical relationship between its growth and the current fiscal crisis of the state. In all three parts, the focus is on Western European countries and on North America, with many examples and categories from the area of medicine.