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Aine de Leastar 09132376 and State

SOC20100 Essay Gramsci Civil Society

This paper will briefly outline the origins of Antonio Gramscis 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 Gramscis works.

Gramscis 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 Marxs 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 Marxs 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

Aine de Leastar 09132376 and State

SOC20100 Essay Gramsci Civil Society

political and ideological struggles, and thus is referred to the ethical or moral society (Simon 1999:70).

Gramsci defined Civil Society as consisting of the formal and informal systems, institutions and cultural practices which mediate between the individual and the state, distinct from the relations of production. Comprise all so-called private organisations and cultural associations distinct from processes of production and public apparatuses of the state (Simon 1991:70). This is the realm of class and popular democratic struggles, where the dominant social group organises consent and hegemony (1991:27).

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). That is the state consists of a set of institutions which have monopoly on coercion. This includes Political Society which refers to the coercive relations embodied in the state institutions (1991:71). Thus it can be said that the state is the realm of coercion.

It also outlined his proposals for the advancement of the working classes and socialism, built on the idea of Hegemony as proffered by Lenin, and developed by Gramsci into a concept and a tool to aid the understanding of society in order to change it (Simon 1991:23). 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, building alliances and thus affecting popular opinion or national-popular rendering it accepted as common sense or normal (1991: 22). ...dominant groups in society, including fundamentally but not exclusively the ruling class, maintain their dominance by securing the

Aine de Leastar 09132376 and State

SOC20100 Essay Gramsci Civil Society

'spontaneous consent' of subordinate groups, including the working class, through the negotiated construction of a political and ideological consensus which incorporates both dominant and dominated groups(Strinati, 1995: 165).

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, which would be taken by the working class through a violent revolution or war of movement, when capitalism inevitably collapsed, after which a socialist society could be constructed, as seen in Russia n 1917 (Simon 1991:73-75). Gramsci instead understood power to be a relationship between social forces which existed not only in the state but also in civil society, and argued against the view that capitalism would spontaneously collapse, necessitating instead a long struggle and a war of position. This requires the expansion of hegemony of the working classes or counter-hegemony, 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). The revolutionary forces have to take civil society before they take the state, and therefore have to build a coalition of oppositional groups united under a hegemonic banner which usurps the dominant or prevailing hegemony(Strinati, 1995:169).

Gramsci also specified the need for intellectuals, not in the traditional sense of philosophers or journalists insisting that the act of thinking, common to all men, does not denote an intellectual. Instead he holds that it is all those who have the function of organisers in all spheres of society, in the sphere of production as well as in the spheres of society, in the sphere of production as well as in the spheres of politics and culture (Simon 1991:92). He

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).

There have been many differing views on the explanatory value and relevance of Gramscis theory, some agreeing totally or in part and others not so much. In Williams (1997:110) Gramscis conception of hegemony is praised positing its views domination and subordination are more relevant to the complex relations of modern society than Marxs views which are based on a much earlier and simpler historical phase when societies were less complex and developed. Thus holding Gramscis 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). 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. Simon (1991:17) also hails hegemony as Gramscis 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.

Some writers have come to the conclusion that Gramscis revolutionary strategy falls short of success. Ferrarotti (1984:23) states that when tested against the present day political and economic situation, 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 1980s.

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, 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, culture, and economy (Lewis 2001:17). 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, 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, 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, Stalinism and the shift from entrepreneurial to monopoly capitalism.

However, it is also important to note the difficulties in untangling and deciphering Gramscis work has resulted in many differing views, and conclusions. 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.

In conclusion, it can be said that Gramscis Theory of Civil Society and State is complex and open to many interpretations. It has, however, given a system of analysis which can be applied to modern society, and has illuminated the interwoven relationship between state and civil society. It gives a better understanding of how the concept of hegemony acts as the main instrument in the advancement and sustainability of capitalist society. Finally it provides a

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.

Aine de Leastar 09132376 and State

SOC20100 Essay Gramsci Civil Society

Bibliography
Blaney, D. L. and Pasha, M. (1993) Civil Society and Democracy in the Third World: Ambiguities and Historical Possibilities Studies in Comparative International Development 28 (1) 3-22.

Brown, C. (2000) Cosmopolitanism, World Citizenship and Global Civil Society Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 3(1) 7-26. Ferrarotti, F. (1984) Civil Society and State Structures in Creative Tension: Ferguson, Hegel, Gramsci State, Culture, and Society 1(1) 3-25. Germain, R. and Kenny, M. (1998) International Relations Theory and the New Gramscians Review of International Studies 24(1) 3-21.

Hoffman, J. (1996) Antonio Gramsi: The Prison Notebooks, in Forsyth, M. and KeensSoper, M. (Eds) The Political Classics: Green to Dworkin, New York: Oxford University Press. Lears, T.J. (1985) The Concept of Cultural Hegemony: Problems and Possibilities The American Historical Review 90(3) 567-593.

Piccone, P. (1976) Gramsci's Marxism: Beyond Lenin and Togliatti Theory and Society 3(4) 485-512.

Simon, R. (1991) Gramsci's Political Thought: An Introduction, London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Strinati, D. (1995) An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture, London: Routledge.

Aine de Leastar 09132376 and State

SOC20100 Essay Gramsci Civil Society

Williams, R. (1977) Marxism and Literature, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Yates, R. (2011) Lecture Notes.