Marxism and civil society: The left and the politics of decay

John Ehrenberg
Vol 14, Number 1, p.73
While much of the contemporary literature on civil society is surprisingly inconsistent and incoherent, it does share a near-universal hostility to classical marxism's political orientation - and especially to its theory of the state. Ironically enough, though, it was Marx's own criticism of civil society which drove his maturing communism and its contradictory insistence that class political power be used in the service of a social transformation whose end result would be a classless society without a state. An examination of the currently popular notion of civil society which places it in its historical context, traces its theoretical development, and subjects it to critical examination is long overdue. What follows is an attempt to trace the outlines of a marxist response to this most recent attempt to resurrect a version of liberal pluralism which is distinguished from its dreary predecessors by only its deeper cynicism about the possibilities of collective action.