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SOC20100 Essay – Gramsci Civil Society
This paper will briefly outline the origins of Antonio Gramsci’s theory of civil society and state, it will then describe the main concepts included in his theory. It will then discuss the explanatory value of the theory through the writings of some of the individuals who have studied or developed Gramsci’s works.
Gramsci’s work was developed in unusual conditions, on the backdrop of major social and political struggles and changes including; the First World War, the events of 1917 in Russia, the rise of Italian Socialist and Communist Parties, and the eventual rise of Fascism resulting in his imprisonment for 8 years and subsequent death.
As a founding member of the Communist Party in Italy, Gramsci was a Marxist who, following the events aforementioned and what he saw as the failure of the Italian bourgeoisie in the 19th century to unify the masses in order to move towards change, began to see the failings in Marx’s thought and the interpretations of it, and wished to purge the view of economic determinism from Marxism i.e. the economy is autonomous being controlled by politics and the state (Hoffman 1996:58,63, Simon 1991:12,13). Also, following the events in Russia which saw a top-down revolution, Gramsci saw the faults in this and concluded that to successfully overthrow the ruling classes a bottom-up revolution or reformation of ideologies was the only way forward (Simon 1991:17).
Thus Gramsci advanced his theory of Civil Society and State which outlined, amongst other things, his view of capitalist society which expanded on Marx’s ideas to include three complex sets of social relations; the relations of production i.e. labour and capital, the coercive relations which characterise the state, and all other social relations which make up civil society (Yates 2011). This is the domain where capitalists, workers and others undertake
. building alliances and thus affecting popular opinion or ‘national-popular’ rendering it accepted as common sense or normal (1991: 22). This is the realm of class and popular democratic struggles.dominant groups in society. This includes Political Society which refers to the coercive relations embodied in the state institutions (1991:71). and thus is referred to the ethical or moral society (Simon 1999:70). It also outlined his proposals for the advancement of the working classes and socialism. built on the idea of Hegemony as proffered by Lenin. distinct from the relations of production. and developed by Gramsci into a concept and a tool to aid the understanding of society in order to change it (Simon 1991:23). maintain their dominance by securing the 2 . Gramsci defined Civil Society as consisting of the formal and informal systems. State is defined as “the entire complex of practical and theoretical activities with which the ruling class not only maintains its dominance but manages to win the consent of those over whom it rules” (Gramsci SPN 244 as cited in Simon 1991:72). including fundamentally but not exclusively the ruling class. Thus it can be said that the state is the realm of coercion. That is the state consists of a set of institutions which have monopoly on coercion.. institutions and cultural practices which mediate between the individual and the state. Hegemony being understood as the process where a dominant class strives to preserve political power by imposing its views and values on lower classes by means of a combination of coercion and consent. “.Aine de Leastar 09132376 and State SOC20100 Essay – Gramsci Civil Society political and ideological struggles. where the dominant social group organises consent and hegemony (1991:27). “Comprise all so-called private organisations and cultural associations distinct from processes of production and public apparatuses of the state” (Simon 1991:70).
Gramsci also specified the need for intellectuals. 1995: 165). 1995:169). necessitating instead a long struggle and a ‘war of position’. “The revolutionary forces have to take civil society before they take the state. not in the traditional sense of philosophers or journalists insisting that the act of thinking. including the working class. which would be taken by the working class through a violent revolution or ‘war of movement’.Aine de Leastar 09132376 and State SOC20100 Essay – Gramsci Civil Society 'spontaneous consent' of subordinate groups. Instead he holds that it is “all those who have the function of organisers in all spheres of society. when capitalism inevitably collapsed. through the formation of alliances with other non-class based groups in order to build up a new group who gain control through cultural and ideological struggle and would undermine the ideas and values or ideologies of the ruling classes and prepare for a new national collective will (1991:29). after which a socialist society could be constructed. as seen in Russia n 1917 (Simon 1991:73-75). does not denote an intellectual. and argued against the view that capitalism would spontaneously collapse. Gramsci also had a differing view on the source or concentration of power to traditional Marxist thought which held power to be concentrated in the state under the exclusive control of the ruling capitalist class. He 3 . and therefore have to build a coalition of oppositional groups united under a hegemonic banner which usurps the dominant or prevailing hegemony”(Strinati. Gramsci instead understood power to be a relationship between social forces which existed not only in the state but also in civil society. in the sphere of production as well as in the spheres of politics and culture” (Simon 1991:92). in the sphere of production as well as in the spheres of society. common to all men. through the negotiated construction of a political and ideological consensus which incorporates both dominant and dominated groups”(Strinati. This requires the expansion of hegemony of the working classes or counter-hegemony.
Some writers have come to the conclusion that Gramsci’s revolutionary strategy falls short of success. 4 . some agreeing totally or in part and others not so much. the shortcomings of Gramsci's revolutionary strategy become evident” holding that it proves to be both “unrealistic and self-defeating” as evidenced in the politics of France and Italy in the 1980’s. This view is also held by Lears (1985:567) who states that “Gramsci's social thought contains some remarkably suggestive insights into the question of dominance and subordination in modern capitalist societies. In Williams (1997:110) Gramsci’s conception of hegemony is praised positing its views domination and subordination are more relevant to the complex relations of modern society than Marx’s views which are based on a much earlier and simpler historical phase when societies were less complex and developed. Thus holding Gramsci’s views of counter-hegemony as being more consistent with the necessary forces needed to overcome the ruling classes than the “persistently abstract models derived from very different historical situations” (1977:111). Ferrarotti (1984:23) states that “when tested against the present day political and economic situation.Aine de Leastar 09132376 and State SOC20100 Essay – Gramsci Civil Society states that it is necessary to create organic intellectuals from the working class who will serve a crucial role in the advancement of counter-hegemony “to act as its 'deputies' or agents in organising its hegemony in civil society” (1991:94).” Simon (1991:17) also hails hegemony as Gramsci’s greatest achievement as it sets Marxism free from economism or the view that the economy is autonomous and is controlled by politics and thus the state. There have been many differing views on the explanatory value and relevance of Gramsci’s theory.
it is also important to note the difficulties in untangling and deciphering Gramsci’s work has resulted in many differing views. culture. and economy (Lewis 2001:17). It has. It gives a better understanding of how the concept of hegemony acts as the main instrument in the advancement and sustainability of capitalist society. for a number of reasons including because the concept is arguably historically specific to particular time(s) and place(s) and may be sensitive to differences of history. Stalinism and the shift from entrepreneurial to monopoly capitalism. This has been reinforced by Brown (2000) and Blaney and Pasha (1993:6) who wrote about their concerns regarding the historical specificity of civil society. Finally it provides a 5 .Aine de Leastar 09132376 and State SOC20100 Essay – Gramsci Civil Society Others have come to the conclusion that while the concept of civil society may be useful for analysis it has less value as a prescriptive too in the hands of policy makers. in particular Piccone (1976:506) who proffered that “Gramsci is the only Marxist of his generation whose thought was able to withstand that historical watershed represented by Fascism. noted that “the failure to capture this specificity produces a series of historical and theoretical confusions and conflations.” Gramsci has also been praised by some writers for standing the test of time. and conclusions.” In conclusion. and has illuminated the interwoven relationship between state and civil society. however. it can be said that Gramsci’s Theory of Civil Society and State is complex and open to many interpretations.” However. A fact that has been supported by Germain and Kenny (1998:20) who stated that it is necessary to “acknowledge the interpretive difficulties surrounding not only the appropriation but also the application of Gramsci's work. given a system of analysis which can be applied to modern society.
6 .Aine de Leastar 09132376 and State SOC20100 Essay – Gramsci Civil Society definitive course of action for the advancement of socialism and the working classes through counter-hegemony.
J. Germain. London: Lawrence & Wishart. L. (1993) ‘Civil Society and Democracy in the Third World: Ambiguities and Historical Possibilities’ Studies in Comparative International Development 28 (1) 3-22. J. (1985) ‘The Concept of Cultural Hegemony: Problems and Possibilities’ The American Historical Review 90(3) 567-593. Hoffman. New York: Oxford University Press. (Eds) The Political Classics: Green to Dworkin. D. in Forsyth. T. and Kenny. Piccone. (1991) Gramsci's Political Thought: An Introduction. Hegel. (2000) ‘Cosmopolitanism. Ferrarotti. and KeensSoper. M. Brown. P. Culture. (1998) ‘International Relations Theory and the New Gramscians’ Review of International Studies 24(1) 3-21. M. and Society 1(1) 3-25. (1976) ‘Gramsci's Marxism: Beyond Lenin and Togliatti’ Theory and Society 3(4) 485-512. and Pasha. Lears. Gramsci’ State. R. (1995) An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture. D. London: Routledge. M. (1996) ‘Antonio Gramsi: The Prison Notebooks’. R. (1984) ‘Civil Society and State Structures in Creative Tension: Ferguson.Aine de Leastar 09132376 and State SOC20100 Essay – Gramsci Civil Society Bibliography Blaney. Simon. Strinati. 7 . F. M. World Citizenship and Global Civil Society’ Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 3(1) 7-26. C.
(2011) Lecture Notes.Aine de Leastar 09132376 and State SOC20100 Essay – Gramsci Civil Society Williams. 8 . R. (1977) Marxism and Literature. R. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Yates.
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