YA BASTA! - and French & German strikes & other musings

Louis R Godena louisgodena at ids.net
Thu Jun 6 15:52:42 MDT 1996

Doug Henwood writes:

>...On the first page of the
>Grundrisse, Marx defined civil society as the "society of free competition,
>[in which] the individual appears detached from the natural bonds etc.
>which in earlier historical periods make him the accessory of a definite
>and limited human conglomerate." Now, it seems, c.s. is being used in
>exactly the opposite sense - to represent some "community." But the
>community of c.s. is the community of the market, no?

Good point, Doug.    The term "civil society" has become something of a
shibboleth among the anti-Marxist left; a harking back to Locke, Rousseau
and Adam Smith and the old  "Enlightenment" concept of a "civil" entity (as
opposed to a political state) bearing an "innate rationality" which would
lead to the general good.

Marx used it as a benchmark in the evolution of feudal to bourgeois society,
recalling the models of crass materialism, of modern property relations, of
the "war of each against all",  of unrestrained self-aggrandizement, etc.,
which arose from the destruction of medieval society.    As Marx pointed
out, the fractious, irascible nature of civil society with its property
relations produces a type of politics which does not reflect this conflict
but is abstracted and removed from it.

The modern state is both a product of, and is limited by,  the duality of
civil society itself.   The social dislocation and misery of property
relations lies outside the scope of formal political activity which, in
itself, assumes a negative and impotent character.    Thus, the political
character of individuals within "civl society" is completely severed from
their "civil" identity and from their economic function as worker,
tradesman, peasant, or capitalist.

That the EZLN  feels such an affinity for the concept probably reflects
their own ambiguities involving relations between individuals and the state.
"Like Cuba, only better" is a well known phrase frequently invoked by the
leadership.    It recalls Gramsci's (and, earlier, Hegel's) theories of
estates and corporations as organizing elements which represent "collective"
interests adapted within a largely peasant society.

                      Louis Godena

     --- from list marxism at lists.village.virginia.edu ---

More information about the Marxism mailing list