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Antonio Gramsci: A social group can, indeed must, already exercise ‘leadership’ before winning governmental power (this is indeed one of the principal conditions for the winning of such power); it subsequently becomes dominant when it exercises power, but even if it holds it firmly in its grasp, it must continue to ‘lead’ as well -Critical self-consciousness means, historically and politically, the creation of an élite of intellectuals. A human mass does not ‘distinguish’ itself, does not become independent in its own right without, in the widest sense, organising itself: and there is no organisation without intellectuals, that is without organisers and leaders… But the process of creating intellectuals is long and difficult, full of contradictions, advances and retreats, dispersal and regrouping, in which the loyalty of the masses is often sorely tried.”

April 25, 2013

Antonio Gramsci

1891-1937

Gramsci
Notice to Readers

All the texts listed below have been published with the kind permission of the translator/copyright holder. However, Lawrence & Wishart, who have published collections of translations by Quintin Hoare, the most prolific Gramsci translator, claim that Hoare gave the MIA permission in contravention of his contract with them, and consequently, in January 2008, Lawrence & Wishart requested the M.I.A. to withdraw the Hoare translations. The Marxists Internet Archive always strives to work in a spirit of cooperation with publishers, so as a result, only those translations done by Mark Camilleri, Mitchell Abidor and M Carley under the Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) licence, for marxists.org are provided below.


Gramsci’s Life and Thought

Gramsci’s political and social writings occur in two periods, pre-prison (1910-1926) and prison (1929-35).  His pre-prison writings tend to be politically specific, while his prison writings tend to be more historical and theoretical.

For a brief overview of Gramsci’s life and thought see:

An Introduction to Gramsci’s Life and Thought by Frank Rosengarten.

Gramsci’s Arrest: Letter by Tania Schucht, November 1926

Pre-Prison Political Writings 1910-1926

1916

Newspapers and the Workers * (Avanti!, 22 December 1916)
Men or machines? (Avanti!, 24 December)

1917

Character * (Grido del Popolo, 3 March 1917)
Notes on The Russian Revolution (Grido del Popolo, 29 April)
The Russian Maximalists (Grido del Popolo, 28 July)
The Revolution Against ‘Capital’,* (Avanti!, 24 November)

1918

One Year of History * (Grido del Popolo, 16 March 1918)

1919

Red Ink * (Avanti!, 4 April 1919)
The Price of History * (L’Ordine Nuovo, 7 June 1919)
Workers’ democracy * (L’Ordine Nuovo, 21 June 1919)
The conquest of the state * (L’Ordine Nuovo, 12 July 1919)
Workers and peasants * (L’Ordine Nuovo, 2 August 1919)
The development of the revolution * (L’Ordine Nuovo, 13 September 1919)
Chronicles of the new order * (L’Ordine Nuovo, 13 September 1919)
To the section commissars of the FIAT-Brevetti workshops * (L’Ordine Nuovo, 13 September 1919)
Unions and councils * (L’Ordine Nuovo, 11 October 1919)
Unions and the dictatorship * (L’Ordine Nuovo, 25 October 1919)
Revolutionaries and elections * (L’Ordine Nuovo, 15 November 1919)
The problem of power * (L’Ordine Nuovo, 29 November 1919)
The events of 2-3 December (1919) * (L’Ordine Nuovo, 13 December 1919)

1920

Split or Disorder? * (L’Ordine Nuovo, December 11-18, 1920)

1921

Caporetto and Vittorio Veneto (L’Ordine Nuovo, 28 January)
War is war (L’Ordine Nuovo,* 31 January)
Worker´s control (L’Ordine Nuovo, 10 February)
The general confederation of labour (L’Ordine Nuovo, 25 February)
Real dialectics (L’Ordine Nuovo, 3 March)
Officialdom (L’Ordine Nuovo, 4 March)
Unions and councils (L’Ordine Nuovo, 5 March)
Italy and Spain (L’Ordine Nuovo, 11 March)
Socialists and communists (L’Ordine Nuovo, 12 March)
England and Russia (L’Ordine Nuovo, 18 March)
The italian parliament (L’Ordine Nuovo, 24 March)
The Communists and the Elections,* (L’Ordine Nuovo, 12 April 1921) 
The Elections and Freedom (L’Ordine Nuovo, 21 April 1921)
Elemental Forces (L’Ordine Nuovo, 26 April 1921)
Men of Flesh and Blood * (L’Ordine Nuovo, May 8, 1921)
The Old Order in Turin (L’Ordine Nuovo, 18 May 1921)
Socialists and Fascists (L’Ordine Nuovo, 11 June 1921)
Reactionary Subversiveness (L’Ordine Nuovo, 22 June 1921)
Referendum (L’Ordine Nuovo, 29 June 1921)
Leaders and Masses (L’Ordine Nuovo, 3 July 1921)
Bonomi (L’Ordine Nuovo, 5 July 1921)
The “Arditi del Popolo” (L’Ordine Nuovo, 15 July 1921)
The Development of Fascism (L’Ordine Nuovo, 21 July 1921)
Against Terror (L’Ordine Nuovo, 19 August 1921)
The Two Fascisms (L’Ordine Nuovo, 25 August 1921)
The Agrarian Struggle in Italy (L’Ordine Nuovo, 31 August 1921)
Those Mainly Responsible (L’Ordine Nuovo, 20 September 1921)
Parties and Masses * (L’Ordine Nuovo, 25 September 1921)
Masses and Leaders (L’Ordine Nuovo, 30 October 1921)

1922

One Year 
The “Alleanza del Lavoro”
A Crisis within the Crisis
Lessons * (L’Ordine Nuovo,5 May 1922)

1924

Editorial: March 1924
“Leader”
Against Pessimism,*
Gramsci to Togliatti, Scoccimarro, Leonetti, etc. (21 March 1924)
The Programme of L’Ordine Nuovo
Problems of Today and Tomorrow
Gramsci to Zino Zini (2 April 1924)
Gramsci to Togliatti, Scoccimarro, etc. (5 April 1924)
The Como Conference: Resolutions
Gramsci’s Intervention at the Como Conference
The Italian Crisis
Neither Fascism nor Liberalism: Sovietism!, *
Democracy and Fascism
The Fall of Fascism

1925

Report to the Central Committee: 6 February 1925
Introduction to the First Course of the Party School
Speech to the Italian parliament, 16 May 1925 *
The Internal Situation in our Party and the Tasks of the Forthcoming Congress
Elements of the Situation
Maximalism and Extremism (L’Unità, July 2 1925) *
Sterile and Negative Criticism (L’Unità September 30, 1925) *
On the Operations of the Central Committee of the Party (L’Unità December 20, 1925) *

1926

The Italian situation and the tasks of the PCI (Lyons, January 1926)
The party’s first five years (L’Unita, 24 February 1926)
A study of the Italian situation (Report to Party Executive Commitee, 2-3 August 1926.)
The peasants and the dictatorship of the proletariat (L’Unità, 17 September 1926)
Once again on the organic capacities of the working class (L’Unità, 1 October 1926)
We and the Republican Concentration (L’Unità, 13 October 1926)
Some aspects of the southern question (Unfinished, October 1926)
Letter to Palmiro Togliatti *, October 1926

Prison Notebooks 1929-1935

Contents of Notebooks

Hegel and associationism
The Intellectuals
Military art and political art
On Education

The Modern Prince 

State and Civil Society

The Study of Philosophy
Structure and Superstructure [i]
Structure and Superstructure [ii]
Structure and Superstructures [iii]
The Concept of ‘Historical Bloc’
Ethico-Political History
Ethico-Political History and Hegemony
Political Ideologies
Ideologies
Validity of Ideologies
Analysis of Situations: Relations of Force
Some Theoretical and Practical Aspects of ‘Economism’ [also in The Modern Prince]
Observations on Certain Aspects of the Structure of Political Parties in Periods of Organic Crisis

War of Position and War of Manoeuvre
War of Position and War of Manoeuvre or Frontal War

Political Parties in Periods of Organic Crisis
Caesarism
The Fable of the Beaver
Agitation and Propaganda
The “Philosophy of the Epoch”

The Problem of Political Leadership in the Formation and Development of the Modern State in Italy
Rationalization of the Demographic Composition of Europe
Some Aspects of the Sexual Question
Financial Autarky and Industry
‘Animality’ and Industrialism
Rationalization of Production and Work
Taylorism and the Mechanization of the Worker

Philosophy: Some preliminary reference points


Collections of Gramsci’s Writings

Selections from Political Writings (1910-1920), ISBN 1-84327-121-4, The Electric Book Company London 1999, selected, introduced and edited by Quentin Hoare and translated by John Mathews, transcribed from the edition published by © Lawrence and Wishart, London 1977.
Selections from Political Writings (1921-1926), translated and edited by © Quintin Hoare, published by Lawrence and Wishart, London 1978. ISBN 0-85315-420-1
Selections from the Prison Notebooks, translated and edited © by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, 1971
An Antonio Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings 1916-1935, edited by David Forgacs (© annotations and the selection), including translations from: Selections from Prison Notebooks (© Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, 1971); from Selections from Political Writings (1910-1920) (© Lawrence and Wishart, 1977); from Selections from Political Writings (1921-1926) (© Quintin Hoare, 1978); from Selections from Cultural Writings (© Lawrence and Wishart, 1986), and previously unpubished material (© David Forgacs 1988 and © Lawrence and Wishart 1988)

Google Site Search  
With the Exact Phrase:
With at least one of words:

* Translated by Mark Camilleri for marxists.org.
* Translated by Mitchell Abidor for marxists.org.
* Translated by Michael Carley for marxists.org.
* Translated by Natalie Campbell for marxists.org.
Translations formerly found in this archive were by Quentin Hoare; all translations were used with permission of the translator who is also the holder of the rights in each case. However, Lawrence & Wishart have directed us to remove these translations from the site. See Details of MIA Translators.

The entire Gramsci Archive was proofed and corrected by Kevin Goins in 2007.


Antonio Gramsci

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Antonio Gramsci
Gramsci.png
Antonio Gramsci, 1916
Born 22 January 1891
Ales, Sardinia, Italy
Died 27 April 1937 (aged 46)
Rome, Lazio, Italy
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Marxism
Main interests Politics, Ideology, Culture
Notable ideas Hegemony, Organic Intellectual, War of Position

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Antonio Gramsci Quotes


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Antonio Gramsci (Italian: [anˈtɔːnjo ˈɡramʃi]; 22 January 1891 – 27 April 1937) was an Italian writer, politician, political theorist, philosopher, sociologist, and linguist. He was a founding member and onetime leader of the Communist Party of Italy and was imprisoned by Benito Mussolini‘s Fascist regime.

Gramsci was one of the most important Marxist thinkers in the 20th century. His writings are heavily concerned with the analysis of culture and political leadership and he is notable as a highly original thinker within modern European thought. He is renowned for his theory of cultural hegemony, which describes how states use cultural institutions to maintain power in a capitalist society.

Contents

Life

Early life

Gramsci was born in Ales, on the island of Sardinia, the fourth of seven sons of Francesco Gramsci (1860–1937), a low-level official from Gaeta, and his wife, Giuseppina Marcias (1861–1932). Gramsci’s father was of Arbëreshë descent,[1] while his mother belonged to a local landowning family. The senior Gramsci’s financial difficulties and troubles with the police forced the family to move about through several villages in Sardinia until they finally settled in Ghilarza.[2]

In 1898 Francesco was convicted of embezzlement and imprisoned, reducing his family to destitution. The young Antonio had to abandon schooling and work at various casual jobs until his father’s release in 1904.[3] As a boy, Gramsci suffered from health problems, particularly a malformation of the spine that stunted his growth (his adult height was less than 5 feet)[4] and left him seriously hunchbacked. For decades, it was reported that his condition had been due to a childhood accident – specifically, having been dropped by a nanny – but more recently it has been suggested that it was due to Pott’s Disease,[5] a form of tuberculosis that can cause deformity of the spine. Gramsci was also plagued by various internal disorders throughout his life.

Gramsci completed secondary school in Cagliari, where he lodged with his elder brother Gennaro, a former soldier whose time on the mainland had made him a militant socialist. However, Gramsci’s sympathies then did not lie with socialism, but rather with the grievances of impoverished Sardinian peasants and miners.[6] They perceived their neglect as a result of privileges enjoyed by the rapidly industrialising North, and they tended to turn to Sardinian nationalism as a response.

Turin

University of Turin: the Rectorate

In 1911, Gramsci won a scholarship to study at the University of Turin, sitting the exam at the same time as future cohort Palmiro Togliatti.[7] At Turin, he read literature and took a keen interest in linguistics, which he studied under Matteo Bartoli. Gramsci was in Turin as it was going through industrialization, with the Fiat and Lancia factories’ recruiting workers from poorer regions. Trade unions became established, and the first industrial social conflicts started to emerge.[8] Gramsci frequented socialist circles as well as associating with Sardinian emigrants. His worldview shaped by both his earlier experiences in Sardinia and his environment on the mainland, Gramsci joined the Italian Socialist Party in late 1913.

Despite showing talent for his studies, Gramsci had financial problems and poor health. Together with his growing political commitment, these led to his abandoning his education in early 1915. By this time, he had acquired an extensive knowledge of history and philosophy. At university, he had come into contact with the thought of Antonio Labriola, Rodolfo Mondolfo, Giovanni Gentile and, most importantly, Benedetto Croce, possibly the most widely respected Italian intellectual of his day. Such thinkers espoused a brand of Hegelian Marxism to which Labriola had given the name “philosophy of praxis“.[9] Though Gramsci would later use this phrase to escape the prison censors, his relationship with this current of thought was ambiguous throughout his life.

From 1914 onward, Gramsci’s writings for socialist newspapers such as Il Grido del Popolo earned him a reputation as a notable journalist. In 1916 he became co-editor of the Piedmont edition of Avanti!, the Socialist Party official organ. An articulate and prolific writer of political theory, Gramsci proved a formidable commentator, writing on all aspects of Turin’s social and political life.[10]

Gramsci was, at this time, also involved in the education and organisation of Turin workers: he spoke in public for the first time in 1916 and gave talks on topics such as Romain Rolland, the French Revolution, the Paris Commune and the emancipation of women. In the wake of the arrest of Socialist Party leaders that followed the revolutionary riots of August 1917, Gramsci became one of Turin’s leading socialists when he was both elected to the party’s Provisional Committee and made editor of Il Grido del Popolo.[11]

In April 1919 with Togliatti, Angelo Tasca and Umberto Terracini Gramsci set up the weekly newspaper L’Ordine Nuovo (The New Order). In October of the same year, despite being divided into various hostile factions, the Socialist Party moved by a large majority to join the Third International. The L’Ordine Nuovo group was seen by Vladimir Lenin as closest in orientation to the Bolsheviks, and it received his backing against the anti-parliamentary programme of the extreme left Amadeo Bordiga.

Amongst the various tactical debates that took place within the party, Gramsci’s group was mainly distinguished by its advocacy of workers’ councils, which had come into existence in Turin spontaneously during the large strikes of 1919 and 1920. For Gramsci these councils were the proper means of enabling workers to take control of the task of organising production. Although he believed his position at this time to be in keeping with Lenin’s policy of “All power to the Soviets”, his stance was attacked by Bordiga for betraying a syndicalist tendency influenced by the thought of Georges Sorel and Daniel DeLeon. By the time of the defeat of the Turin workers in spring 1920, Gramsci was almost alone in his defence of the councils.

In the Communist Party of Italy

The failure of the workers’ councils to develop into a national movement led Gramsci to believe that a Communist Party in the Leninist sense was needed. The group around L’Ordine Nuovo declaimed incessantly against the Italian Socialist Party’s centrist leadership and ultimately allied with Bordiga’s far larger “abstentionist” faction. On 21 January 1921, in the town of Livorno (Leghorn), the Communist Party of Italy (Partito Comunista d’Italia – PCI) was founded. Gramsci supported against Bordiga the Arditi del Popolo, a militant anti-fascist group which struggled against the Blackshirts.

Gramsci would be a leader of the party from its inception but was subordinate to Bordiga, whose emphasis on discipline, centralism and purity of principles dominated the party’s programme until the latter lost the leadership in 1924.

In 1922 Gramsci travelled to Russia as a representative of the new party. Here, he met Julia Schucht, a young violinist whom Gramsci married in 1923 and by whom he had two sons, Delio (born 1924) and Giuliano (born 1926).[12] Gramsci never saw his second son.[13]

Antonio Gramsci commemorative plaque, Mokhovaya Street 16, Moscow. The inscription reads “In this building in 1922–1923 worked the eminent figure of international communism and the labor movement and founder of the Italian Communist Party ANTONIO GRAMSCI.”

The Russian mission coincided with the advent of Fascism in Italy, and Gramsci returned with instructions to foster, against the wishes of the PCI leadership, a united front of leftist parties against fascism. Such a front would ideally have had the PCI at its centre, through which Moscow would have controlled all the leftist forces, but others disputed this potential supremacy: socialists did have a certain tradition in Italy too, while the communist party seemed relatively young and too radical. Many believed that an eventual coalition led by communists would have functioned too remotely from political debate, and thus would have run the risk of isolation.

In late 1922 and early 1923, Benito Mussolini’s government embarked on a campaign of repression against the opposition parties, arresting most of the PCI leadership, including Bordiga. At the end of 1923, Gramsci travelled from Moscow to Vienna, where he tried to revive a party torn by factional strife.

In 1924 Gramsci, now recognised as head of the PCI, gained election as a deputy for the Veneto. He started organizing the launch of the official newspaper of the party, called L’Unità (Unity), living in Rome while his family stayed in Moscow. At its Lyons Congress in January 1926, Gramsci’s theses calling for a united front to restore democracy to Italy were adopted by the party.

In 1926 Joseph Stalin‘s manoeuvres inside the Bolshevik party moved Gramsci to write a letter to the Comintern, in which he deplored the opposition led by Leon Trotsky, but also underlined some presumed faults of the leader. Togliatti, in Moscow as a representative of the party, received the letter, opened it, read it, and decided not to deliver it. This caused a difficult conflict between Gramsci and Togliatti which they never completely resolved.[citation needed]

Imprisonment and death

Grave of Gramsci at the Protestant Cemetery of Rome.

On November 9, 1926 the Fascist government enacted a new wave of emergency laws, taking as a pretext an alleged attempt on Mussolini’s life several days earlier. The fascist police arrested Gramsci, despite his parliamentary immunity, and brought him to Roman prison Regina Coeli.

At his trial, Gramsci’s prosecutor stated, “For twenty years we must stop this brain from functioning”.[14] He received an immediate sentence of 5 years in confinement on the island of Ustica and the following year he received a sentence of 20 years of prison in Turi, near Bari. In prison his health deteriorated. In 1932, a project for exchanging political prisoners (including Gramsci) between Italy and the Soviet Union failed. In 1934 he gained conditional freedom on health grounds, after visiting hospitals in Civitavecchia, Formia and Rome. He died in 1937, at the “Quisisana” Hospital in Rome at the age of 46. His ashes are buried in the Protestant Cemetery there.

In an interview archbishop Luigi de Magistris, former head of the Apostolic Penitentiary of the Holy See stated that during Gramsci’s final illness, he “returned to the faith of his infancy” and “died taking the sacraments.”[15][not in citation given][dead link] However, Italian State documents on his death show that no religious official was sent for or received by Gramsci.[citation needed] Other witness accounts of his death also do not mention any conversion to Catholicism or recantation by Gramsci of his atheism.[16][not in citation given]

Thought

Gramsci was one of the most important Marxist thinkers of the twentieth century, and a particularly key thinker in the development of Western Marxism. He wrote more than 30 notebooks and 3000 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 Ilyich Lenin to denote the political leadership of the working-class in a democratic revolution.[17] Gramsci greatly expanded this concept, developing an acute analysis of how the ruling capitalist class – the bourgeoisie – establishes and maintains its control.[18]

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. Capitalism, it seemed, was even 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. Rather, it must exert intellectual and moral leadership, and make alliances and compromises with a variety of forces. 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. In this manner, Gramsci developed a theory that 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.

For Gramsci, hegemonic dominance ultimately relied on a “consented” coercion, and in a “crisis of authority” the “masks of consent” slip away, revealing the fist of force.

Intellectuals and education

Gramsci gave much thought to the question of the role of intellectuals in society. Famously, 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.[19] He saw modern intellectuals not as talkers, but as practically-minded directors and organisers who produced hegemony by means of 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”. 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. The need to create a working-class culture relates to Gramsci’s call for a kind of education that could develop working-class intellectuals, whose task was not to introduce Marxist ideology from without the proletariat, but to renovate and make critical of the status quo the already existing intellectual activity of the masses. 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 an important voice to this day.

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, mediating between the state and the economy. He stresses, however, that the division is purely conceptual and that the two, in reality, often overlap.[20] The capitalist state, Gramsci claims, 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 maneuver’ — a direct revolution — in order to have a successful revolution without a 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 identifying 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’ and defines the ‘withering away of the state‘ as the full development of civil society’s ability to regulate itself.

Historicism

Gramsci, like the early Marx, was an emphatic proponent of historicism.[21] 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 things (to an objective reality), 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“. 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 is known, and scientific knowledge (which included Marxism) accumulated historically as the advance of truth in this everyday sense. On this view, Marxism could not be said to 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”. Though Gramsci repudiates the charge, his historical account of truth has been criticised as a form of relativism.

Critique of “economism”

In a notable pre-prison article entitled “The Revolution against Das Kapital“, Gramsci claimed that the October Revolution in Russia had invalidated the idea that socialist revolution had to await the full development of capitalist forces of production. This reflected his view that Marxism was not a determinist philosophy. The principle of the causal “primacy” of the forces of production, he held, 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, widespread within the workers’ movement in its earliest years, that it would inevitably triumph due to “historical laws”, was, in Gramsci’s view, a product of the historical circumstances of an oppressed class restricted mainly to defensive action. Such a fatalistic doctrine was to be abandoned as a hindrance once the working-class became 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. However, it is not predetermined by historical inevitability or “destiny” as to which of several possible developments will take place as a result.

His critique of economism also extended to that practiced 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 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 Engels[22][23] and Lenin,[24] 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.[25] The concept of an objective universe outside of human history and human praxis was, in his view, analogous to belief in God.[26] Gramsci defined objectivity in terms of a universal intersubjectivity to be established in a future communist society.[26] Natural history was thus only meaningful in relation to human history. In his view philosophical materialism resulted from a lack of critical thought,[27] and could not be said to oppose religious dogma and superstition.[28] 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.[29] 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 whom many have found the potential for political or ideological resistance to dominant government and business interests.

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. Gramscians would counter that thoughts of “liberal inquiry” and “apolitical reading” are utterly naive; for the Gramscians, these are intellectual devices used to maintain the hegemony of the capitalist class. To credit or blame Gramsci for the travails of current academic politics is an odd turn of history, since Gramsci himself was never an academic, and was in fact deeply intellectually engaged with Italian culture, history, and current liberal thought.

As a socialist, Gramsci’s legacy has been disputed.[30] 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. Others, however, have argued that Gramsci was a Left Communist, who would likely have been expelled from his Party if prison had not prevented him from regular contact with Moscow during the leadership of Joseph Stalin.

Influences on Gramsci’s thought

  • Niccolò Machiavelli — 16th century Italian writer who greatly influenced Gramsci’s theory of the state.
  • Karl Marx — philosopher, historian, economist and founder of Marxism.
  • Vladimir Lenin — founder of the Bolshevik Party and a leader of the Russian Revolution.
  • Antonio Labriola — Italy’s first notable Marxist theorist, believed Marxism’s main feature was the nexus it established between history and philosophy.
  • Georges Sorel — French syndicalist writer who rejected the inevitability of historical progress.
  • Vilfredo Pareto — Italian economist and sociologist, known for his theory on mass and élite interaction.
  • Henri Bergson — French philosopher.
  • Benedetto Croce — Italian liberal, anti-Marxist and idealist philosopher whose thought Gramsci subjected to careful and thorough critique.
  • Giovanni Gentile — Italian neo-Hegelian philosopher

Later thinkers influenced by Gramsci

Gramsci’s influence in popular culture

Music:

Theatre:

  • Occupations – Gramsci is a central character in Trevor Griffiths‘s 1970 play about workers taking over car factories in Turin in 1920.

Television: Emily Thomas

  • Spaced – Series 1 Episode 5 features a dog named Gramsci, named by his owner after “an Italian Marxist” to help in his campaign against the ruling class by hunting down the rich. One character claimed that the dog could smell wealth from twenty feet away.

Cities

  • Genoa A major road going through the lower portion of Genoa, along the coast, is named after Antonio Gramsci.

Bibliography

  • Pre-Prison Writings (Cambridge University Press)
  • The Prison Notebooks (three volumes) (Columbia University Press)
  • Selections from the Prison Notebooks (International Publishers)

See also

Hegemony in Gramsci

Hegemony

“Hegemony” was most likely derived from the Greek egemonia, whose root is egemon, meaning “leader, ruler, often in the sense of a state other than his own” (Williams, Keywords 144). Since the 19th century “hegemony” commonly has been used to indicate “political predominance, usually of one state over another” (Williams, Keywords 144). According to Perry Anderson’s “The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci,” “hegemony” acquired a specifically Marxist character in its use (as “gegemoniya“) by Russian Social-Democrats, from the late 1890s through the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 (15). This sense of hegemony, as articulated by Lenin, referred to the leadership exercised by the proletariat over the other exploited classes:” As the only consistently revolutionary class of contemporary society, [the proletariat] must be the leader in the struggle of the whole people for a fully democratic revolution, in the struggle of all the working and exploited people against the oppressors and exploiters” (qtd. in Anderson 17).

Portrait of Antonio Gramsci around 30 in the early 20s/ public domain

Portrait of Antonio Gramsci around 30 in the early 20s/ public domain

Italian Communist thinker, activist, and political leader Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) is perhaps the theorist most closely associated with the concept of hegemony. As Anderson notes, Gramsci uses “hegemony” to theorize not only the necessary condition for a successful overthrow of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat and its allies (e.g., the peasantry), but also the structures of bourgeois power in late 19th- and early 20th-century Western European states (SPN 20). Gramsci, particularly in his later work encompassed in the Quaderni del Carcere or Prison Notebooks (written during the late 1920s and early 1930s while incarcerated in a Fascist prison), develops a complex and variable usage of the term; roughly speaking, Gramsci’s “hegemony” refers to a process of moral and intellectual leadership through which dominated or subordinate classes of post-1870 industrial Western European nations consent to their own domination by ruling classes, as opposed to being simply forced or coerced into accepting inferior positions. It is important to note that, although Gramsci’s prison writings typically avoid using Marxist terms such as “class,” “bourgeoisie,” and “proletariat” (because his work was read by a Fascist censor), Gramsci defines hegemony as a form of control exercised by a dominant class, in the Marxist sense of a group controlling the means of production; Gramsci uses “fundamental group” to stand in euphemistically for “class” (SPN 5 n1). For Gramsci, the dominant class of a Western Europe nation of his time was the bourgeoisie, defined in the Communist Manifesto as “the class of modern Capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage-labour,” while the crucial (because potentially revolution-leading) subordinate class was the proletariat, “the class of modern wage-labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour-power in order to live” (SPN 473 n5). Gramsci’s use of hegemony cannot be understood apart from other concepts he develops, including those of “State” and “Civil Society.”

State and Civil Society

For Gramsci, hegemony was a form of control exercised primarily through a society’s superstructure, as opposed to its base or social relations of production of a predominately economic character. In Marxism and Literature, Raymond Williams identifies three ways in which “superstructure” is used in the work of Karl Marx, including:

  1. “(a) legal and political forms which express existing real relations of production;
  2. (b) forms of consciousness which express a particular class view of the world;
  3. (c) a process in which, over a whole range of activities, men [sic] become conscious of a fundamental economic conflict and fight it out.

These three senses would direct our attention, respectively, to (a) institutions; (b) forms of consciousness; (c) political and cultural practices” (77). For purposes of analysis, Gramsci splits superstructure into “two major . . . ‘levels’: the one that can be called ‘civil society,’ that is the ensemble of organisms commonly called ‘private,’ and that of ‘political society,’ or ‘the State.’” Civil society includes organizations such as churches, trade unions, and schools, which as Gramsci notes are typically thought of as private or non-political. A major piece of Gramsci’s project is to show that civil society’s ways of establishing and organizing human relationships and consciousness are deeply political, and should in fact be considered integral to class domination (and to the possibility of overcoming it), particularly in Western Europe. According to Gramsci, civil society corresponds to hegemony, while political society or “State” — in what Gramsci will call the “narrow sense” (SPN 264) — corresponds to “‘direct domination’ or command” (SPN 12). Gramsci further delineates these two relatively distinct forms of control, as follows:

  • “Social hegemony” names the “‘spontaneous’ consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group [i.e. the ruling class –- in Gramsci’s Western Europe, the bourgeoisie]; this consent is ‘historically’ caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production.
  • “Political government” names the “apparatus of state coercive power which ‘legally’ enforces discipline on those groups who do not ‘consent’ either actively or passively. This apparatus is, however, constituted for the whole of society in anticipation of moments of crisis of command and direction when spontaneous consent has failed” (SPN 12).

Although they are useful for understanding different modes or aspects of social control, Gramsci does not retain “social hegemony” and “political government” as purely distinct categories, but rather brings them together under the “integral State.”

Integral State

While Gramsci at times uses “State” narrowly to refer to the “governmental-coercive apparatus” (265), he also deploys a broader “general notion of State” (SPN 263) or “integral State” (SPN 267), which includes both the functions of social hegemony and political government as described above. In this general or integral sense,

  1.  State is “dictatorship + hegemony” (SPN 239)
  2. “State = political society + civil society, in other words hegemony protected by the armor of coercion” (SPN 263)
  3. “State is the entire complex of practical and theoretical activities with which the ruling class not only justifies and maintains its dominance, but manages to win the active consent of those over whom it rules” (SPN 244).

The concept of integral State seems derived from historical shifts in the forms of and relations between State and Civil Society, which Gramsci discusses in terms of a parallel shift in military strategies, from a war of movement or manoeuvre, to war of position.

War of Manoeuvre and War of Position

Gramsci theorizes historical changes in modes of political struggle by drawing parallels between political struggle and military war. World War I staged a transition from (1) war of manoeuvre/movement or frontal attack (SPN 238), characterized by relatively rapid movements of troops, to (2) war of position or trench warfare, involving relatively immobile troops who dig and fortify relatively fixed lines of trenches. For “modern States” — though not for “backward countries or for colonies” — the war of manoeuvre increasingly gives way to war of position, which “is not, in reality, constituted simply by the actual trenches, but by the whole organizational and industrial system of the territory which lies to the rear of the army in the field” (SPN 234). The “modern States” — meaning post-1870 Western European States — are marked by:

  1. Ever-wider colonial expansion
  2. Increasing complexity and massiveness of internal and international organizational relations of the State
  3. Emergence of great mass political parties and economic trade unions
  4. Diminished fluidity of society
  5. Declining autonomy of civil society from State activity
  6. Increasing importance of civil hegemony
  7. Diminishing autonomy of national markets from economic relations of the world market.

Gramsci asserts that the “massive structures of the modern democracies, both as State organizations, and as complexes of associations in civil society, constitute for the art of politics as it were the ‘trenches’ and the permanent fortifications of the front in the war of position …” (SPN 243). In other passages comparing social structures to trenches and fortifications, Gramsci stresses the importance of Civil Society, either by (1) suggesting it is stronger than the State as governmental-coercive apparatus: “when the State trembled a sturdy structure of civil society was at once revealed. The State was only an outer ditch, behind which there stood a powerful system of fortresses and earthworks” (SPN 238); or (2) omitting altogether reference to the State as “government technically understood” (SPN 267):

“‘civil society’ has become a very complex structure and one which is resistant to the catastrophic ‘incursions’ of the immediate economic element (crises, depressions, etc.). The superstructures of civil society are like the trench-systems of modern warfare. In war it would sometimes happen that a fierce artillery attack seemed to have destroyed the enemy’s entire defensive system, whereas in fact it had only destroyed the outer perimeter” (SPN 235).

Gramsci thus develops an argument not only about the power structures of Western European States, but also about the kind of Communist revolution that might succeed in such States. He argues against a view that economic forces and crises will in themselves suffice to bring about the overthrow of capitalist relations of production and the installation of the proletariat as controllers of the means of production. Economic crisis alone will not galvanize the exploited classes, transforming them into an iron will; neither will it dishearten the “defenders” [the bourgeoisie] nor force them to “abandon their positions, even among the ruins” (SPN 253). Gramsci also argues against the view that the working classes can overthrow the bourgeoisie simply through military strikes — “to fix one’s mind on the military model is the mark of a fool: politics, here too, must have priority over its military aspect, and only politics creates the possibility for manoeuvre and movement” (SPN 232). Political struggle for Gramsci necessarily involves a struggle for hegemony, a class’s struggle to become a State and take up the role of State as educator.

Hegemony as Education

According to Gramsci, one of the most important functions of a State is “to raise the great mass of the population to a particular cultural and moral level, a level (or type) which corresponds to the needs of the productive forces for development, and hence to the interests of the ruling class” (SPN 258). The ruling class in Gramsci’s Italy (and in the other Western European States of which he writes) was the bourgeoisie, though it seems that his remarks might function also as a blueprint for Communist rule. Gramsci proceeds to claim that the State — which at one point Gramsci asserts is equivalent to the “fundamental economic group” or ruling class (bourgeoisie) itself (SPN 16) — implements its educative project through a variety of channels, both “public” and “private”, with the “school as a positive educative function, and the courts as a repressive and negative educative function” constituting “the most important State activities in this sense […][B]ut, in reality,” Gramsci maintains, “a multitude of other so-called private initiatives and activities tend to the same end — initiatives and activities which form the apparatus of the political and cultural hegemony of the ruling classes” (SPN 258). Hegemony, therefore, is a process by which “educative pressure [is] applied to single individuals so as to obtain their consent and their collaboration, turning necessity and coercion into ‘freedom’”. The “freedom” produced by instruments of the ruling class thus molds the “free” subject to the needs of an economic base, “the continuous development of the economic apparatus of production” (SPN 242). It is difficult to determine the status of this educated “freedom” in Gramsci’s writing, but Gramsci does assert its “immense political value (i.e. value for political leadership)” in a discussion of political parties, which for Gramsci “must show in their specific internal life that they have assimilated as principles of moral conduct those rules which in the State are legal obligations. In the parties necessity has already become freedom” (242). The party exemplifies the “type of collective society to which the entire mass must be educated” (SPN 267).

For a discussion of ways in which educative practices, particularly those of literary studies, have been used to establish hegemony in a colonial setting, see Gauri Viswanathan’s Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India. Viswanathan’s text demonstrates how English literary studies emerged as a discipline in colonial settings — prior to its institutionalization in England itself — with “the imperial mission of educating and civilizing colonial subjects in the literature and thought of England,” thus “serv[ing] to strengthen Western cultural hegemony in enormously complex ways” (2-3). As Viswanathan argues, the process of moral and ethical formation of Indian colonial subjects through the study of English literature was intimately linked to the consolidation and maintenance of British rule in India.

Raymond Williams on Hegemony

Readers interested in a concise and brilliant exposition of “hegemony” should consult the chapter devoted to it in Raymond Williams’s Marxism and Literature (1977). Williams’s key points include the following:

  1. Hegemony constitutes lived experience, “a sense of reality for most people in the society, a sense of absolute because experienced reality beyond which it is very difficult for most members of the society to move, in most areas of their lives” (100).
  2. Hegemony exceeds ideology, “in its refusal to equate consciousness with the articulate formal system which can be and ordinarily abstracted as ‘ideology’” (109)
  3. Lived hegemony is a process, not a system or structure (though it can be schematized as such for the purposes of analysis)
  4. Hegemony is dynamic , “It does not just passively exist as a form of dominance. It has continually to be renewed, recreated, defended, and modified. It is also continually resisted, limited, altered, challenged by pressures not all its own.”
  5. Hegemony attempts to neutralize opposition, ”the decisive hegemonic function is to control or transform or even incorporate [alternatives and opposition]” (113). One can argue persuasively that “the dominant culture, so to say, at once produces and limits its own forms of counter-culture.”
  6. Hegemony is not necessarily total, ”It is misleading, as a general method, to reduce all political and cultural initiatives and contributions to the terms of the hegemony.” ”Authentic breaks within and beyond it . . . have often in fact occurred.”

Breaks become more apparent “if we develop mode of analysis which instead of reducing works to finished products, and activities to fixed positions, are capable of discerning, in good faith, the finite but significant openness of many actual initiatives and contributions” (114, emphases mine).

Works Cited

  • Anderson, Perry. “The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci.” New Left Review 100 (1976): 5-78.
  • Gramsci, Antonio. Prison Notebooks, I-II. Ed. and trans. Joseph A. Buttigieg. Trans. Antonio
  • Callari. European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992-1996.
  • —. Quaderni del carcere / Antonio Gramsci; a cura di Valentino Gerratana. Turin: G. Einaudi, 1977.
  • —. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. Ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971.
  • Viswanathan, Gauri. Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.
  • Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Revised Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.
  • —. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Select Bibliography

  • Adamson, Walter L. Hegemony and Revolution : A Study of Antonio Gramsci’s Political and  Cultural Theory. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.
  • Augelli, Enrico and Craig Murphy. America’s Quest for Supremacy and the Third World: A  Gramscian Analysis. London: Pinter Publishers, 1988.
  • Bocock, Robert. Hegemony. New York: Tavistock Publications, 1986.
  • Butler, Judith, Ernesto Laclau, and Slavoj iek. Contingency, Hegemony, Universality:  Contemporary Dialogues on the Left. London: Verso, 2000.
  • Dombrowski, Robert S. “Ideology, Hegemony, and Literature: Some Reflections on Gramsci.” Forum Italicum 23 (105-17).
  • Femia, Joseph. Gramsci’s Political Thought: Hegemony, Consciousness and the Revolutionary Process. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981.
  • Fontana, Benedetto. Hegemony and Power: On the Relation between Gramsci and Machiavelli. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
  • —. “Logos and Kratos: Gramsci and the Ancients on Hegemony.” Journal of the History of Ideas 61.2 (2000) 305-26.
  • Ghosh, Peter. “Gramscian Hegemony: An Absolutely Historicist Approach.” History of  European Ideas 27 (2001): 1-43.
  • Gill, Stephen, ed. Gramsci, Historical Materialism and International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
  • Golding, Susan R. Gramsci’s Democratic Theory: Contributions to a Post-Liberal Democracy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.
  • Gramsci, Antonio. Antonio Gramsci: Pre-Prison Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.
  • —. Further Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Ed. and trans. Derek Boothman. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.
  • —. Letters From Prison. Trans. Raymond Rosenthal. Ed. Frank Rosengarten. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
  • —. Selections from Cultural Writings. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985.
  • —. Selections from the Political Writings. Ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1978.
  • Hall, Stuart. “Gramsci’s Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.” Journal of  Communication Inquiry 10.2 (1986): 5-27.
  • Hardt, Michael. “The Withering of Civil Society.” Social Text 45 (1995), 27-44.
  • Harris, David. From Class Struggle to the Politics of Pleasure: The Effects of Gramscianism on  Cultural Studies. London: Routledge, 1991
  • Holub, Renate. Antonio Gramsci: Beyond Marxism and Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 1992.
  • Laclau, Ernesto and Mouffe, Chantal. Hegemony and Social Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso, 1985.
  • Landy, Marcia. Film, Politics, and Gramsci. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.
  • Levy, Carl. Gramsci and the Anarchists. Oxford: Berg, 1999.
  • Liu, Kang. “Hegemony and Cultural Revolution.” New Literary History 28 (1997): 69-86.
  • Martin, James. Gramsci’s Political Analysis: A Critical Introduction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.
  • Mouffe, Chantal. “Hegemony and Ideology in Gramsci.” Research in Political Economy 2 (1979), 1-31.
  • Mouffe, Chantal, ed. Gramsci and Marxist Theory. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979.
  • Sassoon, Anne Showstack. Gramsci and Contemporary Politics: Beyond Pessimism of the  Intellect. London: Routledge, 2000.
  • Storey, John. An Introduction to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. 2nd ed. New York: Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1997.
  • Watkins, Evan. Throwaways: Work Culture and Consumer Education. Stanford: Stanford University Press,1993.

Links to Related Sites

Hegemony in Gramsci’s Original Prison Notebooks
http://socserv2.mcmaster.ca/soc/courses/soc2r3/gramsci/gramheg.htm
Antonio Gramsci, Definitions of Hegemony
http://www.vanderbilt.edu/AnS/Anthro/Anth206/mikhail_bakhtin.htm
International Gramsci Society
http://www.italnet.nd.edu/gramsci/
International Gramsci Society Newsletters
http://www.internationalgramscisociety.org/igsn/index.html
Gramsci Links Archive
http://www.victoryiscertain.com/gramsci/

Author: Dominic Mastroianni, Fall 2002
Last edited: June 2012

Tags: ,

Marxist Media Theory

Daniel Chandler

Gramsci and hegemony

Antonio Gramsci, an Italian (1891-1937), was a leading Marxist thinker. Like Althusser, he rejected economism, insisting on the independence of ideology from economic determinism. Gramsci also rejected crude materialism, offering a humanist version of Marxism which focused on human subjectivity.Gramsci used the term hegemony to denote the predominance of one social class over others (e.g. bourgeois hegemony). This represents not only political and economic control, but also the ability of the dominant class to project its own way of seeing the world so that those who are subordinated by it accept it as ‘common sense’ and ‘natural’. Commentators stress that this involves willing and active consent. Common sense, suggests Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, is ‘the way a subordinate class lives its subordination’ (cited in Alvarado & Boyd-Barrett 1992: 51).

However, unlike Althusser, Gramsci emphasizes struggle. He noted that ‘common sense is not something rigid and immobile, but is continually transforming itself’ (Gramsci, cited in Hall 1982: 73). As Fiske puts it, ‘Consent must be constantly won and rewon, for people’s material social experience constantly reminds them of the disadvantages of subordination and thus poses a threat to the dominant class… Hegemony… posits a constant contradiction between ideology and the social experience of the subordinate that makes this interface into an inevitable site of ideological struggle’ (Fiske 1992: 291). References to the mass media in terms of an ideological ‘site of struggle‘ are recurrent in the commentaries of those influenced by this perspective. Gramsci’s stance involved a rejection of economism since it saw a struggle for ideological hegemony as a primary factor in radical change.

Criticisms of Althusser’s theory of ideology drew some neo-Marxists to Gramsci’s ideas.

http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/marxism/marxism10.html

Gramsci and hegemony

Raul Leon 015The idea of a ‘third face of power’, or ‘invisible power’ has its roots partly, in Marxist thinking about the pervasive power of ideology, values and beliefs in reproducing class relations and concealing contradictions (Heywood, 1994: 100).  Marx recognised that economic exploitation was not the only driver behind capitalism, and that the system was reinforced by a dominance of ruling class ideas and values – leading to Engels’s famous concern that ‘false consciousness’ would keep the working class from recognising and rejecting their oppression (Heywood, 1994: 85).

False consciousness, in relation to invisible power, is itself a ‘theory of power’ in the Marxist tradition. It is particularly evident in the thinking of Lenin, who ‘argued that the power of ‘bourgeois ideology’ was such that, left to its own devices, the proletariat would only be able to achieve ‘trade union consciousness’, the desire to improve their material conditions but within the capitalist system’ (Heywood 1994: 85). A famous analogy is made to workers accepting crumbs that fall off the table (or indeed are handed out to keep them quiet) rather than claiming a rightful place at the table.

The Italian communist Antonio Gramsci, imprisoned for much of his life by Mussolini, took these idea further in his Prison Notebooks with his widely influential notions of ‘hegemony’ and the ‘manufacture of consent’ (Gramsci 1971).  Gramsci saw the capitalist state as being made up of two overlapping spheres, a ‘political society’ (which rules through force) and a ‘civil society’ (which rules through consent). This is a different meaning of civil society from the ‘associational’ view common today, which defines civil society as a ‘sector’ of voluntary organisations and NGOs. Gramsci saw civil society as the public sphere where trade unions and political parties gained concessions from the bourgeois state, and the sphere in which ideas and beliefs were shaped, where bourgeois ‘hegemony’ was reproduced in cultural life through the media, universities and religious institutions to ‘manufacture consent’ and legitimacy (Heywood 1994: 100-101).

The political and practical implications of Gramsci’s ideas were far-reaching because he warned of the limited possibilities of direct revolutionary struggle for control of the means of production; this ‘war of attack’ could only succeed with a prior ‘war of position’ in the form of struggle over ideas and beliefs, to create a new hegemony (Gramsci 1971).  This idea of a ‘counter-hegemonic’ struggle – advancing alternatives to dominant ideas of what is normal and legitimate – has had broad appeal in social and political movements. It has also contributed to the idea that ‘knowledge’ is a social construct that serves to legitimate social structures (Heywood 1994: 101).

In practical terms, Gramsci’s insights about how power is constituted in the realm of ideas and knowledge – expressed through consent rather than force – have inspired the use of explicit strategies to contest hegemonic norms of legitimacy. Gramsci’s ideas have influenced popular education practices, including the adult literacy and consciousness-raising methods of Paulo Freire in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), liberation theology, methods of participatory action research (PAR), and many approaches to popular media, communication and cultural action.

The idea of power as ‘hegemony’ has also influenced debates about civil society. Critics of the way civil society is narrowly conceived in liberal democratic thought – reduced to an ‘associational’ domain in contrast to the state and market – have used Gramsci’s definition to remind us that civil society can also be a public sphere of political struggle and contestation over ideas and norms. The goal of ‘civil society strengthening’ in development policy can thus be pursued either in a neo-liberal sense of building civic institutions to complement (or hold to account) states and markets, or in a Gramscian sense of building civic capacities to think differently, to challenge assumptions and norms, and to articulate new ideas and visions.

Refernces for futher reading

Freire, Paulo (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York, Herder & Herder.

Gramsci, Antonio (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, New York, International Publishers.

Heywood, Andrew (1994) Political Ideas and Concepts: An Introduction, London, Macmillan.

http://www.powercube.net/other-forms-of-power/gramsci-and-hegemony/

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Antonio Gramsci
INDEX
  1. The life of Antonio Gramsci
  2. Some ideas from Marx
  3. Concept of hegemony
  4. Role of intellectuals in society
  5. Gramscianism on communications matters
  6. Merits of Gramsci’s theory
  7. Flaws of Gramsci’s theory
  8. Gramsci in his own words
  9. Bibliography


See also: Can Gramsci’s theory of hegemony help us to understand the representation of racial minorities in western television and cinema? by Reena Mistry


1

THE LIFE OF ANTONIO GRAMSCI

“Telling the truth is always revolutionary”

1891 – (January 22nd.) Born at Ales in Cagliary, Italy. Antonio was the fourth son of Francesco Gramsci, a clerk in the local registrar’s office.

1897-1898 – His father is sentenced to serve five years in prison on charges of maladministration. On his release he has no job, so his seven children grow up in difficult circumstances and deep financial insecurity. Antonio G. suffered ill health throughout his life, and from a deformity which left him a hunchback.

1903 – After completing his elementary education, Gramsci has to work in the registry office of Ghilarza, Italy, where the family moved after his father’s imprisonment.

1911 – Gramsci wins a scholarship to study at Turin University.

1913 – Participates in the first universal suffrage elections and makes his first contacts with the socialist movement in Turin.

1916 – Starts working as a journalist for the Socialist Party paper.

1917 – Gramsci is elected to the Provisional Committee of the Socialist Party.

1921 – (January) The Italian Communist Party is founded and Antonio Gramsci is elected as a member of the central committee.

1922 – (from May to November 1923) Gramsci goes to Moscow as a member of the Communist International and spends more than a year in this country. In a local clinic he meets his future wife, Giulia Schucht, and later he returns to his country as a leader of the Communist Party.

It is said that the concept of hegemony (gegemoniya) was first used as part of a slogan of the Russian Social-Democratic movement from 1890 to 1917.

1926 – (November) Because of his opposition to Mussolini, Gramsci is arrested in Rome, and sent to a camp for political prisoners. He was 35 years old.

During the trial, Mussolini said about Gramsci: “We have to prevent that this mind continue thinking.

1927 – He was transferred to a prison in Milan, and then to Rome. He was condemned to twenty years imprisonment.

In a letter to his family he says that he is plagued by the idea of accomplishing something forever, and he sets out a systematic plan of study.

1929 – Gramsci receives permission to write, and February the 8th is the first date stated in his “Prison Notebooks” (Quaderni di carcere). During these years he studied Italian and European history, linguistics and historiography.

Gramsci had a prodigious memory; in his years in prison obviously he was not allowed to read communist books, so every quotation he made, especially about Marx, are the words (almost always exact) that he could remember.

1930 – He begins a series of discussions with other communists in prison, but his thoughts about the compulsion of a democratic approach were not shared with the rest of the political prisoners

1937 – (April 27th.) Gramsci died after several years of suffering and Tatiana (his sister in law) manages to smuggle the 33 books out of prison and send them via diplomatic bag to Moscow to be published. He was 46 years old.

“Historical-academic gossip”: As far as I know, every important letter that Gramsci wrote (especially those telling about his feelings and political ideas) was addressed to Tatiana, the sister of his wife Giulia. Finally, she was the person who recovered his papers to posterity. You have to draw your own conclusions.

What have we learnt about his life?

    1. Gramsci had a difficult childhood, not only because he was a victim of capitalism, in other words of the economical and social unfairness of the beginning of the 20th century, but also because his family (and Gramsci himself) were in some way injured by bureaucracy;
    1. He was punished for his thoughts by the fascist power, and condemned to pass almost his entire life in jail. We can say that he dedicated his short existence to his beliefs;
  1. Not only was he an important intellectual of Marxist theories, but he was also a leader, a politician, and he fought in the battlefield of ideas and action. We can compare Gramsci to Lenin, and conclude that he took his experience at the head of the Communist Party and included it into his theoretical conceptions and his proposals for Marxist theory.

This idea of Gramsci as a leader as well as a theoretician is very relevant to understand his notes, especially when we study the place he reserves for the intellectuals in society.


2

SOME IDEAS FROM MARX

Understanding Gramsci’s theory requires a review of some basic Marxist arguments and assumptions. [These are explained here in the simplest terms… “If Marx were to see this, he would die again,” as Monica put it].

ECONOMIC DETERMINATION

Everything in life is determined by capital. The flow of money affects our relations with other persons, with nature and with the world. Our thoughts and goals are the products of property structures. Every cultural activity (culture in its widest sense) is reduced to a direct or indirect expression of some preceding and controlling economic content.

Men find themselves born in a process independent of their will, they cannot control it, they can seek only to understand it and guide their actions accordingly.

CLASS STRUGGLE

The dynamic of a society can only be understood in terms of a system where the dominant ideas are formulated by the ruling class to secure its control over the working class. The latter, exploited by the former, will eventually try to change this situation (through revolution), producing its own ideas as well as its own industrial and political organisation.

BASE / SUPERSTRUCTURE

Marx’s deterministic economic conception divides the society in two layers or levels: base and superstructure.

The first, upon which everything grows, is composed by the material production, money, objects, the relations of production and the stage of development of productive forces. The palpable and tangible world, plus the economic relations that capital generates.

The second, determined by the first, is where we can find the political and ideological institutions, our social relations, set of ideas; our cultures, hopes, dreams and spirit. The world of souls, souls shaped by capital.

According to Marx, we can understand the superstructure in three senses:

    • Legal and political expressions which expose existing relation of production;
    • Forms of consciousness that express a particular class view of the world;
  • The processes in which men become conscious of a fundamental economic conflict and fight it out.

Generally, it is believed that Marx proposed this “one way” relation between economics (down) and ideas (up) as a rigid and severe system. However, the fact is that this is not very clear in Marx and Engel’s books. Nevertheless, we can understand almost every Marxist author (and particularly these concerned with cultural issues) as people making an effort to conceive this dependence more dynamically, in order to assume that the analysis of history supposes a social and cultural approach, as well as an economic consideration.


3

CONCEPT OF HEGEMONY

“It was Gramsci who, in the late twenties and thirties, with the rise of fascism and the failure of the Western European working-class movements, began to consider why the working class was not necessarily revolutionary, why it could, in fact, yield to fascism.” (Gitlin, 1994: 516)

Gramsci was concerned to eradicate economic determinism from Marxism and to develop its explanatory power with respect to superstructural institutions. So, he held that:

    • Class struggle must always involve ideas and ideologies, ideas that would make the revolution and also that would prevent it;
    • He stressed the role performed by human agency in historical change: economic crises by themselves would not subvert capitalism;
  • Gramsci was more “dialectic” than “deterministic”: he tried to build a theory which recognised the autonomy, independence and importance of culture and ideology.

“It can be argued that Gramsci’s theory suggests that subordinated groups accept the ideas, values and leadership of the dominant group not because they are physically or mentally induced to do so, nor because they are ideologically indoctrinated, but because they have reason of their own.” (Strinati, 1995: 166)

From Gramsci’s view, the supremacy of the bourgeoisie is based on two, equally important, facts:

  • Economic domination
  • Intellectual and moral leadership

What exactly is the meaning of “hegemony”?

“…Dominant groups in society, including fundamentally but not exclusively the ruling class, maintain their dominance by securing the ‘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)

    • A class had succeeded in persuading the other classes of society to accept its own moral, political and cultural values;
  • The concept assumes a plain consent given by the majority of a population to a certain direction suggested by those in power;
    • However, this consent is not always peaceful, and may combine physical force or coercion with intellectual, moral and cultural inducement;
    • Can be understood as “common sense”, a cultural universe where the dominant ideology is practiced and spread;
    • Something which emerges out of social and class struggles, and serve to shape and influence peoples minds;
  • It is a set of ideas by means of which dominant groups strive to secure the consent of subordinate groups to their leadership;

“…the practices of a capitalist class or its representatives to gain state power and maintain it later.” (Simon, 1982: 23)

Can we conclude that “hegemony” is a strategy exclusively of the bourgeoisie?

No. In fact the working class can develop its own hegemony as a strategy to control the State. Nevertheless, Gramsci stated that the only way to perform this labour class control is by taking into account the interests of other groups and social forces and finding ways of combining them with its own interests.

If the working class is to achieve hegemony, it needs patiently to build up a network of alliances with social minorities. These new coalitions must respect the autonomy of the movement, so that each group can make its own special contribution toward a new socialist society.

The working class must unite popular democratic struggles with its own conflict against the capital class, so as to strengthen a national popular collective will.

How does the hegemonic class manage to maintain its ideology over time?

Hegemony is readjusted and re-negotiated constantly. Gramsci said that it can never be taken for granted, in fact during the post-revolutionary phase (when the labour class has gained control) the function of hegemonic leadership does not disappear but changes its character.

However, he describes two different modes of social control:

    • Coercive control: manifested through direct force or its threat (needed by a state when its degree of hegemonic leadership is low or fractured);
  • Consensual control: which arises when individuals voluntarily assimilate the worldview of the dominant group (=hegemonic leadership).

How does the process of mutation from a dominant “hegemony” to a new one occur?

Periodically there may develop an organic crisis in which the governing group begins to disintegrate, creating the opportunity for a subordinate class to transcend its limitations and build up a broad movement capable of challenging the existing order and achieving hegemony. But, if the opportunity is not taken, the balance of forces will shift back to the dominant class, which reestablishes its hegemony on the basis of a new pattern of alliances.

“The key to ‘revolutionary’ social change in modern societies does not therefore depend, as Marx had predicted, on the spontaneous awakening of critical class consciousness but upon the prior formation of a new alliances of interests, an alternative hegemony or ‘historical bloc’, which has already developed a cohesive world view of its own. (Williams, 1992: 27)

Is violence the only way to subvert dominant “hegemony”?

No. The way of challenging the dominant hegemony is political activity. But we must understand a distinction that Gramsci proposed between two different kind of political strategies to achieve the capitulation of the predominant hegemony and the construction of the socialist society:

War of manoeuvre:

    • Frontal attack;
    • The main goal is winning quickly;
  • Especially recommended for societies with a centralised and dominant state power that have failed in developing a strong hegemony within the civil society (i.e. Bolshevik revolution, 1917).

War of position:

    • Long struggle;
    • Primarily, across institutions of civil society;
    • Secondly, the socialist forces gain control through cultural and ideological struggle, instead of only political and economic contest;
    • Especially suggested for the liberal-democratic societies of Western capitalism with weaker states but stronger hegemonies (i.e.: Italy);
  • These countries have more extensive and intricate civil societies that deserve a longer and more complex strategy.

“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)

In this context, how do we understand the notions of culture and ideology?

  • Culture: a whole social process, in which men and women define and shape their lives.
  • Ideology: a system of meanings and values, it is the expression or projection of a particular class interest. The form in which consciousness is at once expressed and controlled, as Raymond Williams has defined it: “…a mistaken interpretation of how the world actually is.” (Williams, 1992: 27)

” ‘Hegemony’ goes beyond ‘culture’, as previously defined in its insistence on relating the ‘whole’ social process to specific distributions of power and influence. To say that ‘men’ define and shape their whole lives is true only in abstraction. In any actual society there are specific inequalities in means and therefore in capacity to realise this process. In a class society these are primarily inequalities between classes. Gramsci therefore introduced the necessary recognition of dominance and subordination in what has still, however, to be recognised as a whole process.” (Williams, 1977: 108).

Hence, having everything we just said in mind, one could take it that, first, you have a class “building” a specific and concrete ideology — based in its specific and concrete interests — that will dominate the rest of the society because of the unavoidable influence of capitalist relations. This set of ideas will constitute the hegemony that will be expressed as the nucleus of culture. If these assumptions are correct, we can conclude that the media are the instruments to express the dominant ideology as an integral part of the cultural environment.


4

THE ROLE OF INTELLECTUALS IN SOCIETY

Historically, different intellectuals have created the ideologies that have moulded societies; each class creates one or more groups of intellectuals. Thus, if the working class wants to succeed in becoming hegemonic, it must also create its own intellectuals to develop a new ideology.

“Because of the way society develops, different groups of individuals will be required to take on particular tasks. Gramsci suggests that although all tasks require a degree of intellectual and creative ability, some individuals will be required to perform tasks or functions which are overtly intellectual. In the first instance, these occupations are associated with the particular technical requirements of the economic system. Subsequently, they may be associated with the more general administrative and organisational institutions which synchronise the activities of the economy with those of society as a whole. In the political sphere, each social group or class (which is itself brought into being by the particular way in which economic practices are organised) generates a need for intellectuals who both represent the interests of that class and develop its ideational understanding of the world.” (Ransome, 1992: 198)

For Gramsci, the revolutionary intellectuals should originate from within the working class rather than being imposed from outside or above it.

“They are not only thinkers, writers and artist but also organisers such as civil servants and political leaders, and they not only function in civil society and the state, but also in the productive apparatus…” (Simon, 1991: 90)


5

GRAMSCIANISM ON COMMUNICATIONS MATTERS

From a “Gramscian” perspective, the mass media have to be interpreted as an instrument to spread and reinforce the dominant hegemony… although they could be used by those who want to spread counter-hegemonic ideas too.

“…Pop culture and the mass media are subject to the production, reproduction and transformation of hegemony through the institution of civil society which cover the areas of cultural production and consumption. Hegemony operates culturally and ideologically through the institutions of civil society which characterises mature liberal-democratic, capitalist societies. These institutions include education, the family, the church, the mass media, popular culture, etc.” (Strinati, 1995: 168-169)

Different authors (Foucault, Althauser, Feminist theories, etc.) have taken Gramsci’s idea of a prominent discourse, reinterpreting and proposing it as a suitable explanation about our culture, the construction of our beliefs, identities, opinions and relations, everything under the influence of a dominant “common sense”. Eventually, we can suggest that the media could operate also as a tool of insurrection.


6

MERITS OF GRAMSCI’S THEORY

Every author who has studied or developed the writings of Gramsci has something different to stress from his theory; by way of illustration I have chosen some of these opinions:

    • David Harris: He is responsible for the emergence of a critical sociology of culture and for the politicisation of culture.
    • Raymond Williams: The forms of domination and subordination correspond much more closely to the normal process of social organisation and control in developed societies than the idea of a ruling class, which are usually based on much earlier and simpler historical phases.
  • Paul Ransome: Gramsci resolved two central weakness of Marx’s original approach:– That Marx was mistaken in assuming that social development always originates form the economic structure;– That Marx placed too much faith in the possibility of a spontaneous outburst of revolutionary consciousness among the working class.
    • Todd Gitlin: Gramsci’s distinction of culture was a great advance for radical theories, it called attention to the routine structures of everyday ‘common sense’, which work to sustain class domination and tyranny.
  • Dominic Strinati: Gramsci suggested that there is a dialectic between the process of production and the activities of consumption. He also displayed a lack of dogmatism, unlike some other Marxist authors.


7

FLAWS OF GRAMSCI’S THEORY

As in the previous section, there are a number of critical views about Gramsci’s ideas that we could review. Here I have taken some of the more common ones; especially those connected with a communications angle. Nevertheless, there are entire libraries dedicate exclusively to Gramsci and his theories from heterogeneous perspectives; they seem to be an unlimited source of inspiration. Only the most fertile ideas can provoke this amount of analysis.

Dominic Strinati:

From Strinati’s point of view the main problem with Gramsci’s ideas is the same as with the Frankfurt School’s theories and Althusser’s work: their Marxist background. A class-based analysis is always reductionist and tends to simplify the relation between the people and their own culture, that is the problem of confining a social theory within the Marxist limits. The deterministic framework does not allow history to contradict the theory, and the interpretation of reality becomes rather elementary.

“People can accept the prevailing order because they are compelled to do so by devoting their time to ‘making a living’, or because they cannot conceive another way of organising society, and therefore fatalistically accept the world as it is. This, moreover, assumes that the question why people should accept a particular social order is the only legitimate question to ask. It can be claimed that an equally legitimate question is why should people not accept a particular social order?” (Strinati, 1995: 174)

Raymond Williams:

Williams understands that culture is not only a vehicle of domination, he finds preferable a definition of culture as a language of co-operative shaping, of common contribution. He also thinks that Gramsci proposed the concept of hegemony as a uniform, static and abstract structure.

“A lived hegemony is always a process. It is not, except analytically, a system or a structure. It is a realised complex of experiences, relationships and activities, with specific and changing pressures and limits. In practice, that is, hegemony can never be singular. Its internal structures are highly complex, as can readily be seen in any concrete analysis. Moreover (and this is crucial, reminding us of the necessary thrust of the concept), it does not just passively exist as a form of dominance. It has continually to be renewed, recreated, defended, and modified. It is also continually resisted, limited, altered, challenged by pressures not at all its own.” (Williams, 1977: 112)

Williams finds a third theoretical problem: how the modern citizen can distinguish between alternative and opposed initiatives, between the independent and the reactionary ideas. Because everything in society could be tied to the hegemonic thoughts, one can say that the dominant culture produces and limits its own forms of counter-culture. The notions of revolution and social change have no sense in these circumstances.

David Harris:

He has mentioned that Gramsci’s ideas about the role of intellectuals in society are rather elitist, and all the theory is too political and partisan to be credible. He adds later that another problem of Gramsci’s thought is the lack of empiricism, there is no room for studies of audiences, surveys or something related directly with the people and their behaviour.

“…A suitable theory must be capable of avoiding determinism and prioritising struggle; it must contain, or be capable of containing, a suitable linguistics; it must be flexible enough to license, as proper politics, the women’s movement, black activism, and any other new social movements as may be announced by the management; it should be able to function in the absence of a strong Communist Party; it must be capable of being applied to an infinite range of specific circumstance; it must be fun to work with, with witty and well written arguments, and intriguing neologism.” (Harris, 1992: 198)

Todd Gitlin:

Gitlin’s opinion is that Gramsci’s ideas, and the later works based upon them, propose a debate that is rather abstract with a concept of cultural hegemony as a “substance with a life of its own” settled over the whole public of capitalist societies to confuse the reality. A kind of evil power seeking to colonise our consciousness. But, Gitlin wonders if the fact that the same film (or the same advertisement, or the same article, or the same t.v. programme) is subject to a variety of interpretations, may suggest a crisis of hegemonic ideology, a failure in the cultural programmed minds. Moreover, the success of media in modern societies implies a certain sensitivity to audience tastes, desires and tolerances, in order to perpetuate the system. From Gitlin’s perspective the relationship between audiences, media products and culture structures is less inflexible, and more collaborative.

“The cultural hegemony system that results is not a closed system. It leaks. Its very structure leaks, at the least because it remains to some extend competitive.” (Gitlin in Newcomb, 1994: 531).


8

GRAMSCI IN HIS OWN WORDS

(Selection from the Prison Notebooks)

“What we can do, for the moment, is to fix two major superstructural ‘levels’: the one that can be called ‘civil society’, that is, the ensemble of organisms commonly called ‘private’, and that of ‘political society’ or ‘the state’. These two levels correspond on the one hand to the functions of ‘hegemony’ which the dominant group exercises throughout society and on the other hand to that of ‘direct domination’ or command exercised through the state and ‘juridical’ government.” (12)

“A social group can, indeed must, already exercise ‘leadership’ before winning governmental power (this is indeed one of the principal conditions for the winning of such power); it subsequently becomes dominant when it exercises power, but even if it holds it firmly in its grasp, it must continue to ‘lead’ as well.” (57)

“A crisis occurs, sometimes lasting for decades. This exceptional duration means that incurable structural contradictions have revealed themselves (reached maturity) and that, despite this, the political forces which are struggling to conserve and defend the existing structure itself are making every effort to cure them, within certain limits, and to overcome them. These incessant and persistent efforts … form the terrain of the ‘conjunctural’ and it is upon this terrain that the forces of opposition organise.” (178)

“This criticism makes possible a process of differentiation and change in the relative weight that the elements of the old ideologies used to possess. What was previously secondary and subordinate, or even incidental, is now taken to be primary – becomes the nucleus of a new ideological and theoretical complex. The old collective will dissolves into its contradictory elements, since the subordinate ones develop socially, etc.” (195)

“Critical self-consciousness means, historically and politically, the creation of an élite of intellectuals. A human mass does not ‘distinguish’ itself, does not become independent in its own right without, in the widest sense, organising itself: and there is no organisation without intellectuals, that is without organisers and leaders… But the process of creating intellectuals is long and difficult, full of contradictions, advances and retreats, dispersal and regrouping, in which the loyalty of the masses is often sorely tried.” (334)

“So one could say that each one of us changes himself, modifies himself to the extent that he changes the complex relations of which he is the hub. In this sense the real philosopher is, and cannot be other than, the politician, the active man who modifies the environment, understanding by environment the ensemble of relations which each of us enters to take part in. If one’s own individuality means to acquire consciousness of them and to modify one’s own personality means to modify the ensemble of these relations.” (352)


9

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Gitlin, Todd (1979), ‘Prime time ideology: the hegemonic process in television entertainment’, in Newcomb, Horace, ed. (1994), Television: the critical view – Fifth Edition, Oxford University Press, New York.

Gramsci, Antonio (1971), Selections form the Prision Notebook, edited and translated by Quintin Hoare & Goffrey Nowell Smith, Lawrence and Wishart, London.

Ransome, Paul (1992), Antonio Gramsci: A new introduction, Harvester Wheatsheaf, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.

Simon, Roger (1991), Gramsci’s Political Thought: An introduction, Lawrence and Wishart, London.

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

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


Written by Monica Stillo.
Rendered for web by David Gauntlett.

(Presented in seminar for Communications Research Methodologies, MA in Communication Studies, University of Leeds).

http://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-gram.htm

http://books.google.de/books?hl=de&lr=&id=9IBy-KJVHd8C&oi=fnd&pg=PA85&dq=antonio+gramsci+hegemony&ots=8ZBluHVJaV&sig=F1bE_yaAENt0ZZBNkjmfGQOG5-4#v=onepage&q=antonio%20gramsci%20hegemony&f=false

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9248.1975.tb00044.x/abstract;jsessionid=E84DA026972DB916142E4903D5871BAE.d03t03?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

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