It is strange to reflect that someone who died in 1937 at the age of forty-six of age with no obvious legacy exerted more cultural influence than most of his successors, but the “long battle” of Antonio Gramsci’s intellectuals continues to shape our political, educational, and artistic landscape in unfortunate ways.
Antonio Gramsci, Italian philosopher, writer, socialist and politician, was arrested by the fascist government of Benito Mussolini in
. Despite his very fragile health, his incarceration allowed him to write a series of Cadernos do Prison, which would radically reshape the mindset of many Marxist theorists and activists. In fact, his death — which took place a week after his release — gave him the status of a martyr, whose spirit would be invoked by the socialist halls of Europe, as well as through the universities and educational institutions of the West. In Gramsci, intellectuals had found a socialist saint who absolved Marxism of its Stalinist sins, and had charted the path of a slow but steady revolution, the result of which would be the seizure and domination of the so-called bastions of culture, education and politics.” bourgeois”.
Today, the Gramscian revolution has succeeded where most rival movements have failed. Existentialism, structuralism, and postmodernism passed, but Gramsci’s ideas became entrenched dogma throughout Western academia and society. For example: the Critical Theory of Race, the so-called “lacration” and the dominance, through the liberal arts, of studies that seek to deconstruct the supposedly rooted patriarchal structures testify to what the writer and academic John Fonte has already described as Gramsci’s “long reach”.
The impact of Gramsci’s vision is also evident in politics, especially in the US and Europe, in the form of policies designed to reorder society and align it with a radical liberal orthodoxy. This includes attacking the traditional family, pushing religion to the margins and “cancelling” those who question this extreme agenda. [Por “liberal” entenda-se o significado que o termo tem nos EUA desde meados dos século passado, e que vem sendo exportado mundo afora neste século. (N. t.)]
Control the culture
There are two reasons key to Gramsci’s emergence as the high priest of the new cultural order. First, he abandoned scientific or deterministic Marxism, which emphasizes material forces, in favor of a more humanistic approach, which emphasizes ideas and identity. Then he emphasized the importance of the intellectual in the service of the revolution.
As for the first point, if traditional Marxism considered the socioeconomic “base” as the driving force of history, Gramsci insisted that the ideological “superstructure” is equally important. For him, the march of history towards its socialist outcome can only be achieved when the proletariat not only takes control of the material “means of production”, but also the forces of “cultural production”, such as the arts, education, the media and organs of knowledge that a society uses to perpetuate itself.
This adapted version of Marxism recognized that humans do not acquire identity only through their involvement with the world. material world. As Hegel had understood, there are “spiritual” or immaterial aspects of our condition that are equally significant, and which form our self-understanding. It is true that Gramsci followed Marx in rejecting the Hegelian theory of self-identity as ‘false consciousness’. For both, the spiritual aspect of Hegel’s dialectic was the epitome of ‘bourgeois alienation’. However, if Marx rejected it entirely, Gramsci saw that identity and the self are as much the product of what he called “ideology” as of economic factors. Therefore, he realized that it is not possible to change a society without changing the way it perceives itself, as well as what it thinks of itself.
Gramsci realized that it is not possible to change a society without changing the way it perceives itself, as well as what it she thinks of herself.
This explains the second reason for Gramsci’s influence: his vision of the meaning of the intellectual. By “intellectual” he did not understand someone who was exclusively involved in theoretical speculations, but someone who “exercised organizational functions in a broad sense, in the field of production, whether cultural or political-administrative”. From this perspective, each social group acquires an identity based on the functions of those who, in various ways, reinforce that identity. Behind a priest, for example, there is an administrative network that includes not only clerical officials, but also theologians and academics who, through ideas, give the Church, its ministers and the lay faithful a “homogeneity and awareness of their role”. Without the intellectual, institutions would be deprived of ideological unity and identity.
Therefore, if society takes a successful socialist turn, the “new organic intellectual” must gain a privileged position. For only those who dominate the cultural and academic spheres can undertake the crucial task of criticizing the dominant structures of society and firmly alter their ideological self-image.
Gramsci believed that the socialist revolution was not only against capitalism as an economic system, but that it was also opposed to what he described as the “ideological hegemony” of the capitalist class structure. In contrast again to classical Marxism, he suggested that even more powerful than the military-industrial structures that sustained a system were the ideological means of exploitation by the ruling class to retain power. For Gramsci, hegemony is both caused and maintained by the subtle manipulation of “popular consensus” in a given society. This is achieved through the intellectual class through the educational, religious, cultural and civic institutions of society.
Thus, the realm of what Hegel called “consciousness” (Geist) is of crucial importance as it is not a mere consequence of underlying economic and material factors at play, but is equally powerful in directing social change. . Therefore, what the revolution requires is the infiltration, by organic intellectuals, of the media, the Church, the academy and the cultural sphere, to “demystify” what the bourgeois class structure has “legitimized” as reality. In doing so, it must provide an alternative to the dominant ideological hegemony. This, however, could not be achieved in the short term because of the very entrenched nature of advanced capitalism and its hegemonic control of civil society. Instead, the battleground must be the arena of ideas and culture, where popular consensus is formed. This would be a long war, the purpose of which would be what Gramsci called the “counter-hegemonic transformation of consciousness”.
While classical Marxism predicted that capitalism would collapse out of necessity, Gramsci insisted that the birth of a true socialist order would only be possible through human action. Historical changes do not happen because they are driven by underlying deterministic forces, but because human agents alter or transform the consciousness, or ideology, of a particular epoch. However, the weapons of organic intellectuals are not military, but cultural, meaning that they are involved in a cultural war aimed at confronting the hegemony of society. bourgeois civilization.
This war must be fought not on a global level, but on a national level, because there can be no predetermined model with which specific cultural traits can be transformed. The intellectual’s task is to forge a cultural war against the consensus of particular contexts . In this way, Gramsci’s cultural revolution targets each national culture and seeks to change it in its own way. As stated before, this is done by undermining the hegemonic control of cultural, academic, religious and political institutions through the “bourgeois” order in a given place. Therefore, a knowledge of local cultural norms will be necessary so that they can be demystified in the light of revolutionary alternatives.
The legacy of Gramsci
Gramsci’s appeal — far superior to that of such brethren as the French Marxist Louis Althusser — is not just that he rejected mechanistic Marxism and its revolutionary excesses, but for having perceived some redeeming characteristics in bourgeois culture. One of the main purposes of taking each national culture on its own terms is that this will reveal the ways in which that culture has opposed injustice and inhumanity. The fact that a given social protest emerged in the context of bourgeois culture, in his view, does not delegitimize it.
For Gramsci, the weapons of organic intellectuals are not military, but cultural, meaning that they are involved in a cultural war aimed at confronting the hegemony of bourgeois civilization.
Thus, a national cultural revolution Genuine popular will try to enter already existing modes of social protest, whether in the arts, academia, trade unions or solidarity movements. Being local and cultural, the Gramscian revolution opposes the traditional Marxist insistence on a revolutionary struggle that is global, historically determined and neglectful of the importance of ideology and conscience in confronting hegemonic control.
It may be excessive to say that Gramsci rehumanized Marxism, as if such a thing were possible. Perhaps, however, its greatest success—despite its anti-Hegelian stance—has been to show why consciousness (or Geist) is the central feature not only of change but of human experience itself. In contrast to Marx, he understood the Hegelian notion that changes in the material world are predicted by changes in consciousness. In other words, ideas are important, and (as Hegel well understood), as our ideas change, so does our reality. Put simply, the Gramscian intellectual agrees with Hegel that man is, as Gramsci himself said, “above all else, he lies.” However, unlike Hegel, his goal is to use ideas as a means of replacing one “ideology” with another. With this model, the “transformation of counter-hegemonic consciousness” is not a process that leads from alienation to self-identity. Instead, it seeks to alienate people from their own cultural, moral, and political legacy.
While Hegel sought to bring the reader from estrangement to full self-awareness, Gramsci and his apostles condemned Hegelian self-satisfaction as “bourgeois” complacency. If Hegel believed that we could only be at home in the world by seriously engaging with the spiritual legacy of art, religion, and philosophy, Gramsci believed that this must be subverted—except, of course, for those small pockets of socialist resistance that can be found on its shores. While Hegel offers reconciliation with reality, Gramsci takes estrangement as a virtue, rejecting “the best that has been thought and said” in favor of emancipatory alternatives. In doing so, he denies belonging and identity in favor of a form of spiritual homelessness that makes people “strangers to themselves”. This, however, does not result in “liberation” from hegemonic control; instead, it amputates people’s only means of acquiring genuine self-knowledge.
The current dominance of so-called “cultural Marxism” in the institutions of Western civilization shows that Gramsci succeeded where many Marxist confreres failed in abject ways. His insistence on a material revolution deprived of spiritual content led to short-term political gain, but nothing more. Gramsci, on the other hand, inspired a revolution that radically transformed the cultural and political landscape. Even the most casual observer of the academy’s changes in its curricula and in the Western canon on which it was founded can fail to see the impact of the Gramsci intellectuals’ “long battle” and their war against our cultural legacy. Even those who have never heard his name can see it with cla prays for the consequences for art, literature and politics, of a revolution that sought ideology instead of truth.
If once our academic institutions were founded on the principles of The Idea of a University, by Cardinal John Henry Newman, today many of them neglect the pursuit of scholarship and truth in favor of politically charged discourses, rooted in ideology woke (lacradora). Academics with a traditional mindset who protest have a high chance of losing their jobs. Furthermore, the art world is now dominated by those who consider themselves to be the vanguard of social justice. Art is no longer the revelation of a sacred way of life, nor a manifestation of the highest ideals to which humanity can aspire. Instead, according to a call from US museums, the purpose of the contemporary museum is to reconcile “with communities for past injustices”, with “decolonization” and “social justice” as guiding principles.
Gramsci may have died in bankruptcy, with no obvious inheritance. But the fact that he is now regarded as a holy martyr by an entire generation proves not only that he rose from the ashes of his prison cell to become the most influential Marxist writer of the 20th century, but that he managed to sow revolution in the homeland. of the enemy. These seeds that have finally sprouted suggest that Antonio Gramsci’s long battle is over, and his legacy, however regrettable, is safe.
This essay is a part of The Public Discourse’s Who’s Who series that critically presents important thinkers who are frequent references in political debates and cultural, but whose ideas may not be widely known or understood.
©2022 Public Discourse. Published with permission. Original in English