Antonio Gramsci: six-part study course

Submitted by martin on 3 January, 2010 - 5:09 Author: Martin Thomas

Notes for a discussion series organised by Workers' Liberty in North East London, 2010. Further background reading and links can be found at

1. Who was Gramsci?

Reading: summary of Gramsci's life and ideas

"Some of the ideas Gramsci would bring in to the battle to shape the new Italian Communist Party had already been shaped in his editing of the paper Ordine Nuovo. Gramsci saw the common run of socialist journalism in his time as agitational, simplistic, bombastic, economistic. Ordine Nuovo was different, much more reflective and 'highbrow'. He conceived of it as 'a communist cultural review'."

2. Turin, "the revolution against Capital", and the factory occupations of 1920

Reading: two excerpts from Gramsci in 1920

"[There is] a desire to work effectively for the advent of Communism among groups and individuals which have never previously participated in political struggle. These disorderly and chaotic energies must be given permanent form and discipline. They must be organized and strengthened, making the proletarian and semi-proletarian class an organized society that can educate itself, gain experience and acquire a responsible consciousness of the duties that fall to a class that achieves State power".

3. Gramsci and the united fronnt

Reading: "The ideas of Antonio Gramsci"

[Also useful, but much longer: Perry Anderson's article on "The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci"].

"Gramsci’s attempt to think through the way the political party in his period could be conceived not as a instrument of bureaucratic control or command but becomes a space or site in which a new civilisation of values are developed. Ultimately, against the image that I received as a young student of Gramsci as a departure from a directly political Marxism, we need to reaffirm that deepening of a conception of politics and political organisation – and linking that with a Marxist critique of political economy – remains at the absolute centre of Gramsci’s project the entire way through".

4. Economism

Reading: from the Prison Notebooks, p.158-168

"Closely linked to economism [is] the iron conviction that there exist objective laws of historical development similar in kind to natural laws... since favourable conditions are inevitably going to appear, and since these, in a rather mysterious way, will bring about palingenetic [transforming] events, it is evident that any deliberate initative... is not only useless but even harmful... [In fact] an appropriate political initiative is always necessary to liberate the economic thrust from the dead weight of traditional policies..."

5. Prediction and perspectives

Reading: from the Prison Notebooks, p.169-173 and p.175-185

"It is certain that to foresee means only to see well the present and the past as movement, i.e. to identify with exactness the fundamental and permanent elements of the process. But it is absurd to think of a purely objective foresight. The person who has foresight in reality has a 'programme' that he wants to see triumph, and foresight is precisely an element of the triumph. This only means foresight must always be arbitrary and gratuitous or purely tendentious. Moreover one can say that only to the extent that the objective aspect of foresight is connected with a programme does this aspect acquire objectivity. 1) Because only passion sharpens the intellect and co-operates in making the intuition clearer. 2) Because reality is the result of the application of wills to the society of things... to put aside every voluntary effort and calculate only the intervention of other wills as an objective element in the general game is to mutilate reality itself. Only those who strongly want to realise it identify the necessary elements for the realisation of their will."

6. The philosophy of praxis

Reading: Prison Notebooks p.15-16 and p.323-343

"That all members of a political party should be regarded as intellectuals is an affirmation that can easily lend itself to mockery and caricature. But if one thinks about it nothing could be more exact... The relation between common sense and the upper level of philosophy is assured by 'politics'... [But in a revolutionary party it is the opposite to in the Catholic Church, where] the split cannot be healed by raising the 'simple' to the level of the intellectuals... but only by imposing an iron discipline on the intellectuals so that they do not exceed certain limits of differentiation..."