Antonio Gramsci

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Antonio Gramsci
Gramsci.png
Gramsci in 1916
Born
Antonio Francesco Gramsci

(1891-01-22)22 January 1891
Ales, Sardinia, Italy
Died27 April 1937 (aged 46)
Rome, Italy
Alma mater University of Turin
Notable work Prison Notebooks
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School
Main interests
  • Politics
  • ideology
  • culture
Notable ideas
Secretary of the Communist Party of Italy
In office
14 August 1924 8 November 1926

Gramsci was one of the most influential Marxist thinkers of the 20th century, and a particularly key thinker in the development of Western Marxism. He wrote more than 30 notebooks and 3,000 pages of history and analysis during his imprisonment. These writings, known as the Prison Notebooks , contain Gramsci's tracing of Italian history and nationalism, as well as some ideas in Marxist theory, critical theory and educational theory associated with his name, such as:

Hegemony

Hegemony was a term previously used by Marxists such as Vladimir Lenin to denote the political leadership of the working class in a democratic revolution. [46] :15–17 Gramsci greatly expanded this concept, developing an acute analysis of how the ruling capitalist class – the bourgeoisie – establishes and maintains its control. [46] :20

Orthodox Marxism had predicted that socialist revolution was inevitable in capitalist societies. By the early 20th century, no such revolution had occurred in the most advanced nations. Rather, capitalism seemed more entrenched than ever. Capitalism, Gramsci suggested, maintained control not just through violence and political and economic coercion, but also through ideology. The bourgeoisie developed a hegemonic culture, which propagated its own values and norms so that they became the "common sense" values of all. People in the working class (and other classes) identified their own good with the good of the bourgeoisie and helped to maintain the status quo rather than revolting.

To counter the notion that bourgeois values represented natural or normal values for society, the working class needed to develop a culture of its own. Lenin held that culture was ancillary to political objectives, but for Gramsci, it was fundamental to the attainment of power that cultural hegemony be achieved first. In Gramsci's view, a class cannot dominate in modern conditions by merely advancing its own narrow economic interests; neither can it dominate purely through force and coercion. [47] Rather, it must exert intellectual and moral leadership, and make alliances and compromises with a variety of forces. [47] Gramsci calls this union of social forces a "historic bloc", taking a term from Georges Sorel. This bloc forms the basis of consent to a certain social order, which produces and re-produces the hegemony of the dominant class through a nexus of institutions, social relations, and ideas. [47] In this way, Gramsci's theory emphasized the importance of the political and ideological superstructure in both maintaining and fracturing relations of the economic base.

Gramsci stated that bourgeois cultural values were tied to folklore, popular culture and religion, and therefore much of his analysis of hegemonic culture is aimed at these. He was also impressed by the influence Roman Catholicism had and the care the Church had taken to prevent an excessive gap developing between the religion of the learned and that of the less educated. Gramsci saw Marxism as a marriage of the purely intellectual critique of religion found in Renaissance humanism and the elements of the Reformation that had appealed to the masses. For Gramsci, Marxism could supersede religion only if it met people's spiritual needs, and to do so people would have to think of it as an expression of their own experience.

Intellectuals and education

Gramsci gave much thought to the role of intellectuals in society. [48] He stated that all men are intellectuals, in that all have intellectual and rational faculties, but not all men have the social function of intellectuals. [49] He saw modern intellectuals not as talkers, but as practical-minded directors and organisers who produced hegemony through ideological apparatuses such as education and the media. Furthermore, he distinguished between a traditional intelligentsia which sees itself (wrongly) as a class apart from society, and the thinking groups which every class produces from its own ranks "organically". [48] Such "organic" intellectuals do not simply describe social life in accordance with scientific rules, but instead articulate, through the language of culture, the feelings and experiences which the masses could not express for themselves. To Gramsci, it was the duty of organic intellectuals to speak to the obscured precepts of folk wisdom, or common sense (senso comune), of their respective political spheres. These intellectuals would represent excluded social groups of a society, what Gramsci referred to as the subaltern. [50]

In line with Gramsci's theories of hegemonic power, he argued that capitalist power needed to be challenged by building a counter-hegemony. By this he meant that, as part of the war of position, the organic intellectuals and others within the working-class, need to develop alternative values and an alternative ideology in contrast to bourgeois ideology. He argued that the reason this had not needed to happen in Russia was because the Russian ruling class did not have genuine hegemonic power. So the Bolsheviks were able to carry out a war of manoeuvre (the 1917 revolution) relatively easily, because ruling-class hegemony had never been fully achieved. He believed that a final war of manoeuvre was only possible, in the developed and advanced capitalist societies, when the war of position had been won by the organic intellectuals and the working-class building a counter-hegemony.

The need to create a working-class culture and a counter-hegemony relates to Gramsci's call for a kind of education that could develop working-class intellectuals, whose task was not to introduce Marxist ideology into the consciousness of the proletariat as a set of foreign notions but to renovate the existing intellectual activity of the masses and make it natively critical of the status quo. His ideas about an education system for this purpose correspond with the notion of critical pedagogy and popular education as theorized and practised in later decades by Paulo Freire in Brazil, and have much in common with the thought of Frantz Fanon. For this reason, partisans of adult and popular education consider Gramsci's writings and ideas important to this day. [51]

State and civil society

Gramsci's theory of hegemony is tied to his conception of the capitalist state. Gramsci does not understand the state in the narrow sense of the government. Instead, he divides it between political society (the police, the army, legal system, etc.) – the arena of political institutions and legal constitutional control – and civil society (the family, the education system, trade unions, etc.) – commonly seen as the private or non-state sphere, which mediates between the state and the economy. [52] However, he stresses that the division is purely conceptual and that the two often overlap in reality. [53] Gramsci claims the capitalist state rules through force plus consent: political society is the realm of force and civil society is the realm of consent.

Gramsci proffers that under modern capitalism the bourgeoisie can maintain its economic control by allowing certain demands made by trade unions and mass political parties within civil society to be met by the political sphere. Thus, the bourgeoisie engages in passive revolution by going beyond its immediate economic interests and allowing the forms of its hegemony to change. Gramsci posits that movements such as reformism and fascism, as well as the scientific management and assembly line methods of Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford respectively, are examples of this.

Drawing from Machiavelli, he argues that The Modern Prince – the revolutionary party – is the force that will allow the working-class to develop organic intellectuals and an alternative hegemony within civil society. For Gramsci, the complex nature of modern civil society means that a war of position, carried out by revolutionaries through political agitation, the trade unions, advancement of proletarian culture, and other ways to create an opposing civil society was necessary alongside a war of manoeuvre – a direct revolution – in order to have a successful revolution without danger of a counter-revolution or degeneration.

Despite his claim that the lines between the two may be blurred, Gramsci rejects the state-worship that results from equating political society with civil society, as was done by the Jacobins and Fascists. He believes the proletariat's historical task is to create a "regulated society", where political society is diminished and civil society is expanded. He defines the "withering away of the state" as the full development of civil society's ability to regulate itself. [52]

Historicism

Like the early Marx, Gramsci was an emphatic proponent of historicism. [54] In Gramsci's view, all meaning derives from the relation between human practical activity (or praxis) and the objective historical and social processes of which it is a part. Ideas cannot be understood outside their social and historical context, apart from their function and origin. The concepts by which we organise our knowledge of the world do not derive primarily from our relation to objects, but rather from the social relations between the users of those concepts. As a result, there is no such thing as an unchanging human nature, but only historically variable social relationships. Furthermore, philosophy and science do not reflect a reality independent of man. Rather, a theory can be said to be true when, in any given historical situation, it expresses the real developmental trend of that situation.

For the majority of Marxists, truth was truth no matter when and where it was known, and scientific knowledge (which included Marxism) accumulated historically as the advance of truth in this everyday sense. In this view, Marxism (or the Marxist theory of history and economics) did not belong to the illusory realm of the superstructure because it is a science. In contrast, Gramsci believed Marxism was true in a socially pragmatic sense: by articulating the class consciousness of the proletariat, Marxism expressed the truth of its times better than any other theory. This anti-scientistic and anti-positivist stance was indebted to the influence of Benedetto Croce. However, it should be underlined that Gramsci's absolute historicism broke with Croce's tendency to secure a metaphysical synthesis in historical destiny. Although Gramsci repudiates the charge, his historical account of truth has been criticised as a form of relativism. [55]

Critique of "economism"

In a pre-prison article titled "The Revolution against Das Kapital ", Gramsci wrote that the October Revolution in Russia had invalidated the idea that socialist revolution had to await the full development of capitalist forces of production. [56] This reflected his view that Marxism was not a determinist philosophy. The principle of the causal primacy of the forces of production was a misconception of Marxism. Both economic changes and cultural changes are expressions of a basic historical process, and it is difficult to say which sphere has primacy over the other.

The belief from the earliest years of the workers' movement that it would inevitably triumph due to "historical laws" was a product of the historical circumstances of an oppressed class restricted mainly to defensive action. This fatalistic doctrine must be abandoned as a hindrance once the working-class becomes able to take the initiative. Because Marxism is a philosophy of praxis, it cannot rely on unseen historical laws as the agents of social change. History is defined by human praxis and therefore includes human will. Nonetheless, will-power cannot achieve anything it likes in any given situation: when the consciousness of the working-class reaches the stage of development necessary for action, it will encounter historical circumstances that cannot be arbitrarily altered. It is not predetermined by historical inevitability as to which of several possible developments will take place as a result.

His critique of economism also extended to that practised by the syndicalists of the Italian trade unions. He believed that many trade unionists had settled for a reformist, gradualist approach in that they had refused to struggle on the political front in addition to the economic front. For Gramsci, much as the ruling class can look beyond its own immediate economic interests to reorganise the forms of its own hegemony, so must the working class present its own interests as congruous with the universal advancement of society. While Gramsci envisioned the trade unions as one organ of a counter-hegemonic force in a capitalist society, the trade union leaders simply saw these organizations as a means to improve conditions within the existing structure. Gramsci referred to the views of these trade unionists as vulgar economism, which he equated to covert reformism and even liberalism.

Critique of materialism

By virtue of his belief that human history and collective praxis determine whether any philosophical question is meaningful or not, Gramsci's views run contrary to the metaphysical materialism and copy theory of perception advanced by Friedrich Engels, [57] [58] and Lenin, [59] though he does not explicitly state this. For Gramsci, Marxism does not deal with a reality that exists in and for itself, independent of humanity. [60] The concept of an objective universe outside of human history and human praxis was analogous to belief in God. [61] Gramsci defined objectivity in terms of a universal intersubjectivity to be established in a future communist society. [61] Natural history was thus only meaningful in relation to human history. In his view philosophical materialism resulted from a lack of critical thought, [62] and could not be said to oppose religious dogma and superstition. [63] Despite this, Gramsci resigned himself to the existence of this arguably cruder form of Marxism. Marxism was a philosophy for the proletariat, a subaltern class, and thus could often only be expressed in the form of popular superstition and common sense. [64] Nonetheless, it was necessary to effectively challenge the ideologies of the educated classes, and to do so Marxists must present their philosophy in a more sophisticated guise, and attempt to genuinely understand their opponents' views.

Influence

Gramsci's thought emanates from the organized left, but he has also become an important figure in current academic discussions within cultural studies and critical theory. Political theorists from the center and the right have also found insight in his concepts; his idea of hegemony, for example, has become widely cited. His influence is particularly strong in contemporary political science (see Neo-Gramscianism). His work also heavily influenced intellectual discourse on popular culture and scholarly popular culture studies in which many have found the potential for political or ideological resistance to dominant government and business interests.[ citation needed ]

His critics charge him with fostering a notion of power struggle through ideas. They find the Gramscian approach to philosophical analysis, reflected in current academic controversies, to be in conflict with open-ended, liberal inquiry grounded in apolitical readings of the classics of Western culture.

As a socialist, Gramsci's legacy has been disputed. [46] :6–7 Togliatti, who led the Party (renamed as Italian Communist Party, PCI) after World War II and whose gradualist approach was a forerunner to Eurocommunism, claimed that the PCI's practices during this period were congruent with Gramscian thought. It is speculated that he would likely have been expelled from his Party if his true views had been known, particularly his growing hostility to Stalin. [41]

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