Civil Society, NGOs and Public Sphere Combine in a Delicate Balancing Act
The great turning point in Karl Marx's work is his discovery that class relations traverse the whole of capitalist society. After working with categories he inherited from liberalism, such as the state and civil society, he made what he called an "anatomy of civil society" and therein encountered classes and class struggle.
In the last several decades, as democratic struggle gained weight again - after being underestimated, generally speaking, by the Left - the category of civil society reappeared.
By its very nature, it is opposed to the state and displaces class relations. It is a return to classical liberalism, in parallel with the turn to liberalism on the economic front under the name of neo-liberalism.
In the framework of this category, organisations of a distinct type came to take shelter, ranging from those closely tied to social movements and other forms of resistance to military dictatorship, to others that are very much ambiguous.
This amalgamation is possible because the category of civil society lends itself to it. It means "what is not the state", including, under this broad umbrella, agri-business associations and rural workers' associations, bank owners' associations and bank employees' associations, private school operators' associations and student associations - even aside from other yet more problematic expressions of "civil society" such as drug traffickers and militias.
What all of them have in common is a lack of transparency: they proclaim themselves to be representatives of civil society, but they tend not to be transparent in electing their leaders, sourcing their funds, and in their decision-making. Suffice it to see how easy it is to found NGOs and file applications to receive public funds, or simply to cover up shady business deals.
Besides ambiguity - not to mention bad faith - the definition of "non-governmental" is itself a problem. This anti-government position easily joins neo-liberal positions.
It has no limits in relation to "partnerships" with major private corporations and their foundations, while defining its frontier limits against the state.
With the reappearance of liberalism came the powerful resurgence of its vision of democracy and the state. …