Notes over Antonio Gramsci

Antonio Gramsci lived from 1891 until 1937, where he died in an Italian (fascist) prison. He was arrested in the mid 20’s for being the leader of the Italian Communist Party, a position that provoked fear among the Italian Fascist ruling party. During is conviction, the prosecutor made the comment he wanted to not only imprison Gramsci but also deprive him the ability to use his mind for twenty years. Quite the contrary, Gramsci’s writings in prison constitute the sum of his intellectual powers- in over thirty notebooks, Gramsci details and clarifies his views on Marxism and the problems faced by Socialism in the early 20th Century. His work deals primarily with the concept of Hegemony, especially hegemony as manifested in, and through the state. Some key points to remember when reading Gramsci’s ideas: 1. He was writing during the height of Imperialism (1919-1930’s) 2. This period is marked by the dominance of capital in economic relations- one of the features of Imperialism Gramsci is concerned with the immergence of the Masses into politics, and seeks to find an explanation for how the bourgeoisie have managed to seize and maintain control. Particularly he deals with the problems found in Italy during this period, but is also conscious of the real difficulties faced by the Soviet State as well. The Prison Notebooks The agent of action in Gramsci’s writings is the Political State. He touches on the role and importance of political parties, yet his theory articulates the role a ‘ruling’ party should play. To begin, how does one secure rule in the state? 1. A party must be able to lead Allied Classes necessary to sustain ‘new permanent base’ 2. It must dominate the opposing classes. This occurs through co-opting the opposing elites, and in doing so one effectively neuters the enemy. For Gramsci, the control of the elites, and in particular the intellectuals, is key to assuming power. These elements have direct influence over the shape of culture a society possesses. The State is a combination of instruments of force of class + activities that enable social relations to be reproduced. Elites and Intellectuals create those activities that are defined as ‘social relations’, which in turn are used to justify and give authority to the instruments of force of class. Hegemony: Combination of force and coercion kept in balance so that force does not overwhelm but appears to be backed by majority consent, expressed by the organs of public opinion. (The role of Newspapers and Education are of major importance here) When a State can not only justify its rule, but also manifest this justification through the organs of society (education, folklore, ideology); in effect the state is able to create and perpetuate itself then it has achieved “Political Hegemony”. Without this complete assurance of continuation, i.e. without political hegemony, there can be no power or sustained rule. Social activities then fall under the abstract term of Culture, which Gramsci sees as a widespread phenomena within the state. Intellectuals are key to the development of

social activities, and it is with this bloc that Gramsci is most concerned. Why? With the modern era, the masses are, for the first time, an integral part of politics. No longer can they be ignored, and current political states have each found their own unique method to coerce these masses into not only accepting, but also perpetuating state rule. Intellectuals have the power to articulate new bases of social and political rule, and thus then to bring new masses of people over to their cause. However, Intellectuals no longer represent a separate and distinct class in the modern period. The bourgeoisie bought them off by shifting their role and definition into the highly specialized ‘expert’, yet every class has its own distinct intellectual enclave and it is this population that needs to be co-opted if any new movement is to establish the beginnings of a permanent base for a new political state. Central Political Leadership control over the Intellectuals provide: 1. Conception of life; philosophy 2. Scholastic program that attracts more intellectuals into a homogenous blocprimary example being teachers at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary level The so-called ‘Lower’ Intellectuals will follow the ‘Higher’ Intellectuals- thus the importance of recruiting those members of the “High” Intellectual enclave. In explaining the role the institutions of the Republic and Democracy play in modern society, Gramsci notes the following: 1. Democracy and the Republic became the method developed to mobilize the masses into the political scene 2. This mobilization of the masses eventually establishes the ideal of freedom of religion and separation of church and state; this ideal helps to eliminate the discord traditionally held between religion and the secular state. 3. This ideological transformation allows the priest to not only become the spiritual guide to individuals, but also a social guide in the politico-economic spheres of life Culture: Culture has been expressed as the social activities of the state that enable the perpetuation of that state. But what is culture ‘activity’? Gramsci notes a few examples: 1. Literature- high literature can only flourish in a culture of admiration. Literature provides a stimulus for work as it defines the idea of beauty and civilization. The reader feels connected to the state, feels defined as a citizen with high literature. a. The absence of the idea of beauty and civilization will lead to literature, but that of a lower nature- ‘serial literature’. This can be used by the political ruling power, but it is not as effective as high literature. 2. Newspapers- they provide a ruling state with two fold purpose a. Information, organ of political leadership b. Circulates ideas of culture in absence of any centralized organ to do so, the same is true for political parties- if they are not present then the newspaper fills that void. Newspapers, for example, discuss theatre reviews, architecture, literature, etc… all

examples of cultural expression. They are not as effective as a centralized organ- i.e. a journal or periodical- but the newspaper will fill this void as any state must have a means of creating and disseminating the idea of state culture. However, newspapers are especially prone to abuse by the views of a rogue editor, so care must be used. In this sense, newspapers educate. Education, according to Gramsci, is a struggle with nature in which education reveals to man how to be ‘in touch’ with his times. It not only introduces him to his state, but also how to perpetuate that state.

Jeremy Antley jantley@gmail.com