Notes for study courses on the "Selections" from Gramsci's "Prison Notebooks" edited by Hoare and Nowell-Smith
- 1. The intellectuals
- 2. Education
- 3. Italian history: one
- 4. Italian history: two
- 5. Machiavelli
- 6. Parties
- 7. The dual perspective
- 8. Fascism
- 9. Civil society
- 10. Fordism
- 11. Philosophy
- 12. Marxism
- 13. Bukharin
For general background, see "Antonio Gramsci: Working-class revolutionary" (AGWCR) p.1-11 (Gramsci biography); p.58-66 (reformist misuse of Gramsci); p.29-33 and 67-76 (Gramsci and Stalinism).
# ONE #
# INTELLECTUALS #
- Gramsci glossary, sections on "Intellectuals and organisers" and "Intellectuals, organic and traditional".
- "Antonio Gramsci: Working-class Revolutionary" (AGWCR), p.12-13 and 40-46
Points to learn here:
= Each of the main classes generates organic intellectuals
= There are also traditional intellectuals, for example, ecclesiastics, each group of which forms a separate corps linked to its own tradition rather than directly to a social class of today
= Everyone is an intellectual; but not all people do the social function of intellectuals, which is to be organisers
= Revolutionary socialists must work to create a new stratum of intellectuals (i.e. people who do the social function of intellectuals; intellectuals-organisers)
= The framework for this is the political party, which must also weld together organic and traditional intellectuals
= Every member of the party must be an intellectual
= Gramsci describes what groups he thinks have formed the traditional intellectuals in different countries.
$ Gramsci's depiction here and elsewhere in the Notebooks of the landowning aristocracy as still the governing and hegemonic stratum in England is contradicted by more detailed studies. David Cannadine's The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy argues in some detail that the English aristocracy was qualitatively weakened in the late 19th century and virtually finished as an autonomous and cohesive social power after World War One. (Some individual aristocrats, of course, still became prominent). The autonomous and cohesive social power of the Junkers in Germany, too, may have waned earlier than Gramsci suggests.
@ The equation of intellectual and organiser is obviously paradoxical. What does it tell us?
@ Is Gramsci right in his demarcation between organic and traditional intellectuals? Aren't all intellectuals in fact both? Don't all organic intellectuals, at least in bourgeois society, stand at a certain distance from their own class? Aren't some people (trade-union officials) in fact, if paradoxically, organic intellectuals simultaneously for two contending classes?
@ How can a workers' government deal with assimilating those whom it comes across as "traditional intellectuals", i.e. a corps with its own tradition? Gramsci observed that in the Turin factories in 1919-20 the workers' organisations were able to hegemonise and win over the technicians and engineers. But how would a workers' government deal with the corps of professional trained managers, a social group which was only beginning to emerge in Gramsci's day and only in the USSR, but is now substantial?
# EDUCATION #
See (as above):
- Gramsci glossary, sections on "Intellectuals and organisers" and "Intellectuals, organic and traditional".
- "Antonio Gramsci: Working-class Revolutionary" (AGWCR), p.12-13 and 40-46
Points to learn here:
= What education is needed for democracy
= Whether, and why, "instruction" is a necessary distinct part of education
= The limits to ideologies of educational libertarianism and "the active school"
$ Montessori supported and collaborated with the fascist government between 1922 and the mid-30s.
$ In these notes, it's sometimes difficult to know whether Gramsci is discussing education in Italy in his day, educational problems in the 1920s USSR, or the educational tasks of a revolutionary socialist party.
$ The reference to the common school being a boarding school is baffling, since boarding schools were rare in the 1920s USSR (and in Italy). (Maybe a clue is that Gramsci himself had to move away from home to do secondary school, though he boarded with his brother rather than in the school).
@ What education is needed for democracy?
@ The jailed communist Gramsci criticising the fascist government for excessive libertarian ideologies and "learning-by-doing" in its school system? Why? Is "instruction" is a necessary distinct part of education?
@ Why does Gramsci warn against the "rhetorical" in education?
@ What does Gramsci see as having been the advantages of schooling in Latin? He says Latin must be replaced. But by what?
@ What elements in this discussion of education, much of it about public schooling system, have things to tell us about the educational programmes of a revolutionary socialist party?
# ITALIAN HISTORY: ONE #
See: Gramsci glossary, section on "Passive Revolution"; and AGWCR p.34-6, on passive revolution.
Points to learn here:
= Each class which becomes a ruling class must achieve its own autonomy from the previous ruling class, and its leadership over other subaltern classes
= In the Risorgimento the Italian bourgeoisie did that deficiently, essentially because it failed to fight for agrarian reform and thus had a "paternalistic" approach to the peasant majority
= It was thus a "'revolution' without a 'revolution', or 'passive revolution'"
= The more radical element, the Mazzinian Action Party, was hegemonised by the more conservative Moderates, who won hegemony "through individual, 'molecular', 'private' enterprise"
= Out of this history developed a semi-colonial relationship between North and South in Italy, and a semi-colonial or even racist attitude in the North to the South
$ Gramsci's implied assertion that the Jacobins boldly mobilised the peasantry is dubious. The decisive "peasant revolution" took place in July-August 1789, in the form of the Great Fear. The Jacobins were not even formed as such until 1790 (though their forerunners, the Breton Club, did take a lead in the National Assembly in advocating the measure for the "abolition of the feudal regime" on 4 August 1789 which legalised the peasant revolution). The Jacobins were heavily an urban-centred and Paris-centred party. In 1793-4 they would fight wars against large peasant revolts in the Vendée and in Brittany (the Chouannerie).
@ What is passive revolution?
@ What is hegemony achieved in a "molecular" way?
@ What social group were the agents of that hegemony of the Italian bourgeoisie?
@ Does Gramsci's description of the hegemony of the Italian bourgeoisie in the South fit exactly into the dichotomy he uses elsewhere, consent/ coercion?
@ What connection do you see between the conditions in Italy which made for the triumph of fascism, and the "passive revolution" character of the Risorgimento?
@ In this section Gramsci gives a slightly different categorisation of intellectuals from the organic/ traditional dichotomy. "The intellectuals of the historically (and concretely) progressive class" exert a power of attraction and thus generate a "system of solidarity between all the intellectuals", welding them into a "caste". The term "caste" reads as pejorative, but isn't it just another way of saying a tradition, a frame for research which permits systematic critique and progress rather than just individual sallies and speculations?
@ Gramsci frames his critique of the Italian bourgeoisie in the Risorgimento by contrast with the Jacobins and the French Revolution. Do you think his depiction of the Jacobins is accurate? Do you see problems with this way of discussing history by way of comparison with an ideal type? Do you think E P Thompson's critique of Perry Anderson's would-be Gramscian demonstration of deep-seated backwardness and conservatism in England is relevant here? http://www.marxists.org/archive/thompson-ep/1965/english.htm.
@ Here and elsewhere in the Prison Notebooks Gramsci makes much of the idea of "translatability" e.g. between Jacobin politics and German philosophy. What do you make of this? See references below.
Translatability: Jacobinism and German philosophy
See: Gramsci glossary, section on "Translatability".
# ITALIAN HISTORY: TWO #
- Gramsci glossary, sections on "passive revolution" and "War of manoeuvre and war of position".
- AGWCR, p.34-7, on "passive revolution".
= The Moderates constructed their hegemony (in, remember, a "molecular" way) both by spreading a general philosophy (serious, self-aware, not "woolly statements" and "general chatter", like Mazzini) - and by organising schools
= In the Risorgimento Piedmont (i.e. the established Piedmontese state) substituted for the role of a mass-mobilising force. Cavour carried through a conscious programme of war of position and passive revolution. The "regular" forces (literally, the Piedmontese army) dominated over the "revolutionary levies" (like Garibaldi's Thousand).
= Seeing clearly, in politics, is effective only if it is connected to spreading the perception and creating a political will.
= The history of the 19th century can be summarised (says Gramsci) as a revolutionary explosion in France which then opens up the situation for more peaceful, gradualistic, controlled bourgeois development elsewhere.
= Gramsci speculates whether fascism can be understood in the same way: World War One brings the need for economic planning to crisis point; the Russian Revolution resolves that issue in an active revolution; that creates space for fascism to come forward as the force to resolve the issue through "passive revolution" or "revolution/ restoration", even if it cannot actually do much in that direction.
= Given the background of a great revolution, intellectuals in less advanced countries are liable to come to want the same progress "from above", through the state, given the lack of the social material for active revolution there.
@ What are the strengths and weaknesses of Gramsci's comparison of Piedmont with Napoleon and the Orleanists, as the "long-standing parties" which eventually dominate over more improvised forces? (One obvious weakness: Napoleon had no "long-standing party". He came to prominence not as the representative of his own party, but as the military agent of Barras and other ex-Jacobin Directory leaders in their struggle to stall resurgent monarchism, in the counter-coup of Vendémiaire (October 1795) and the coup of Fructidor (September 1797). And, as I understand it, Orléanism was more a convenient rallying point for the moderate liberals under the Bourbon restoration than a coherent and continuous political force from the days of Philippe-Egalité.)
@ If Napoleon and the Orleanists eventually came to rule in France, no less than the Moderates in Italy, in what way did the Jacobins in 1790-4 do something of lasting importance in France which was not done in Germany?
@ An underlying, and perhaps shaping, concern of Gramsci's is to investigate what it was about Italy's polity which made it vulnerable to the spectacularly rapid triumph of fascism in 1920-2. So: what factors in that does he discuss here?
@ But fascism would burgeon in France, too, and semi-fascist political forces would triumph there under Petain in 1940. In seeking for differences between Italy and France, is Gramsci looking the wrong way?
@ Can some of Gramsci's thoughts about fascism as "passive revolution", the frame for which is set by 1917, serve also, or better, to illuminate the diffusion of Stalinism?
@ Neither here nor anywhere else does Gramsci define crisply what he means by "passive revolution". What do you make of it so far?
@ At the end of this section Gramsci refers to a period of "war of manoeuvre" ending March 1921, and being replaced by "war of position". But the warmaker is not the same: it is the working class's "war of maneouvre" being replaced by fascism's "war of position". If the working class must also turn to "war of position", it is by compulsion of defeat, not by the great elasticity and popular consent won by presumedly liberal regimes in Western Europe. Is this right? And why March 1921?
# MACHIAVELLI #
See: Gramsci glossary, section on "Modern Prince"
= Despite appearances and conventional wisdom, Machiavelli developed a sort of "manifesto for the people", a guidebook for those "not in the know" who were "the revolutionary class" at the time, an appeal for the mobilisation of a peasant militia (which would require attention to peasant interests).
= Gramsci also warns that Machiavelli must be understood in his time, very different from now, and that even in his own he ended by putting himself at the service of reaction. Despite what it seems in some passages, Gramsci is not advocating that political precepts can be taken wholesale from Machiavelli.
= Gramsci returns to his argument about Italian history lacking the decisive intervention of a Jacobin force which could have done for its time what Machiavelli hoped for in his. Because of that lack, Italy had developed an exceptionally large rural bourgeoisie, which was a reactionary force.
$ Gramsci conflates the lack of development of a "national-popular will" in Italy with the lack of development of an absolute monarchy there. There is a connection. Christopher Hill reckons that: "The patriotic aspects of the Reformation [in England] must have struck contemporaries far more forcibly than any doctrinal change". By creating relatively unified states the absolute monarchies also created the basis for patriotism. But the actual absolute monarchies were instituted by autocratic means. (England: the Tudors. Spain: Philip II, also 16th C. France: Richelieu, mid 17th C. Prussia: Frederick William I, mid 17th C. Russia: Peter the Great, early 18th C.)
$ Gramsci also discussed Georges Sorel. Sorel was a French writer, politically erratic, but in the period where he was an important influence, close to though not actively involved in or even especially influential in the revolutionary syndicalist movement. He seems to have become a well-known literary figure in Italy because of his correspondence with, variously, Antonio Labriola, Benedetto Croce, and Vilfredo Pareto.
$ By "rural bourgeoisie", Gramsci seems to cover not just the bourgeoisie in the countryside, but the bourgeoisie in small towns, and bourgeois of rural origins in the larger cities too: this is the layer, much of it more petty bourgeoisie than bourgeoisie proper, which he sees as the core of fascism. Gramsci refers surprisingly little to the urban petty bourgeoisie, though it was exceptionally large in Italy: he seems to have considered it largely subsumed under the term "rural bourgeoisie", on the grounds that so much of it was of rural origin. When he does speak of a distinctively urban petty bourgeoisie, it is of industrial technicians (who must have been a very small proportion of the actual petty bourgeoisie living in cities).
@ There is no way round it that Machiavelli does recommend that "the prince" should be cruel and deceitful. So how come that Gramsci, who in the Prison Notebooks emphasised truth-telling as a political virtue in much the same terms as Trotsky, could praise Machiavelli? Is there despite everything an element here of the misteachings of "Bolshevisation" in the period when Gramsci led the Communist Party of Italy?
@ At least here, and the note is dated late, 1933-4, despite Peter Thomas's claim that later Gramsci thought of the "Modern Prince" as something other and more diffuse than the revolutionary socialist political party, Gramsci is very explicit that "the Modern Prince" is the political party. Why is it the political party, rather than some other force of modern society? What does describing the revolutionary socialist political party as "the Modern Prince" add to what we say about the party?
@ Gramsci emphasises Machiavelli's separation of politics from morality and religion as the beginning of making politics into a secular science. This train of argument is linked with Gramsci's arguments elsewhere about the identity, or mutual translatability, of history, politics, and philosophy. Do the problems we have already discussed about Gramsci's concept of translatability have relevance here?
@ Gramsci says that the fully-developed revolutionary socialist political party, the Modern Prince, can "take the place of the divinity or the categorical imperative" [i.e. of Kant's secular axiom for morals]. Can it really?
@ In this passage Gramsci also discusses Sorel. He notes a limitation of Sorel's concept of the spirit of cleavage, and a limitation which Gramsci himself sometimes omits to note when Gramsci adopts that term. How does Sorel's "myth of the general strike" betray a "mechanistic assumption"?
# PARTIES #
- Gramsci glossary, sections on "Modern Prince" and "economism".
- "Antonio Gramsci: Working-class Revolutionary" (AGWCR), p.12-13, 23-29, 40-46, 66-76
= As against (e.g.) anarchists, we recognise that there are leaders and led. The question then is how to lead.
= Politically? By parties. Even those who say they are "non-party" are really just another sort of party.
= Leadership should avoid "Cadornism", i.e. asserting that it is evident that this or that should be done and then blaming the ranks for not doing it. And it should avoid developing "party spirit" to the point of "party conceit"?
= The bourgeoisie generally does not have a unique party of its own. It operates through various parties, and sometimes through authoritative newspapers standing at a distance from all the parties
= Both parties operating one-party systems, and parties (such as anarchists) which renounce the aim of winning government and see their role only as educative, tend to substitute "cultural" for properly political activity.
= The pivotal requirement for a party is what Gramsci calls the "second element", the ideological core. Surely thinking of the fate of the communists under fascist repression, Gramsci states that one essential task of that core must be to make "provision for the eventuality of its own destruction". Gramsci also argues that the party must be built on a "monolithic" basis, rather than on secondary questions, to guard against its leaders "passing over" to the other side in crisis.
@ Why is a political party (as against, say, in Machiavelli's day) an individual prince with "prowess", the way to lead in modern politics? (This is another way of putting a question already put in the previous section).
@ Who and what might Gramsci have in mind in his polemics against "Cadornism" and "party conceit"? Are they relevant today?
@ If the bourgeoisie does better with multiple parties, why not also the working class? In other words, why are we so concerned to unite working-class parties if we think they are essentially sound?
@ How can Gramsci charge anarchists with reducing the activity of the political party to an educative, moral, cultural one, given the general bias of anarchists towards direct action at all costs, impatience with discussion, and impatience with doctrine?
@ Gramsci is sometimes interpreted as advocating a patient effort of cultural diffusion, rather than militant political activity, as the road to socialism. What light is shed by his critique of the one-party parties, and the anarchists, as substituting the cultural for the political? Is his critique right? Consider also Gramsci's comment later (p.188) on the idea that forms of German ideological hegemony in Europe before 1914 were "merely a phenomenon of abstract cultural influence" because they lacked "organic or disciplinary bonds".
@ Gramsci's view of the party arguably sometimes shows traces of the ideologies of "Bolshevisation". Is his call for the party to be built on a "monolithic" basis one such trace? How would it help the party deal with the danger of leaders falling into opportunism or desertion?
@ Gramsci summarises the error of economism as that it "forgets that the thesis which asserts that men become conscious of fundamental conflicts on the level of ideology is not psychological or moralistic in character, but structural and epistemological". Does this make his critique of economism more precise than just a general comment that the determining role of economic factors should not be overstated?
@ What relevance does Gramsci's critique of "economism" have today?
# THE DUAL PERSPECTIVE #
See: Gramsci glossary, section on "Dual perspective".
= Gramsci presents a series of dualities, suggesting they have much in common:
force - consent
authority - hegemony
violence - civilisation
state - church
agitation - propaganda
tactics - strategy
coercion - persuasion
political society - civil society
politics - morality
law - freedom
order - self-discipline
violence - fraud
arms - religion
Perry Anderson in his study of Gramsci discusses this scheme of dualities at some length, and argues that it leads to a "slippage" in some (at least) of Gramsci's texts towards separating out a struggle for "consent" as outside "politics" proper.
But only "slippage". The very length of Gramsci's list of dualities shows that he cannot consider these dualities all exactly equivalent, or all of them as showing that there are just two possibilities in a particular terrain. Elsewhere (Prison Notebooks, Buttigieg edition, volume 1 p.156) Gramsci had written that class power could operate in ways other than coercion and consent. "Between consent and force stands corruption-fraud... that is, the procurement of the... antagonists' debilitation and paralysis by buying... their leaders..."
$ Gramsci discusses differences between Machiavelli and Giuccardini. Giuccardini, like Machiavelli, was a Florentine diplomat active in the early 16th century. He was younger but higher-ranking than Machiavelli; a friend, though a critic, of Machiavelli. As I understand it, he considered Machiavelli to tend to the unrealistic and speculative. Giuccardini was more sceptical. His main work was a history of Italy.
$ Gramsci says that "relations of forces" should be analysed on three levels (not two, for once!) - basic social and economic structure, political organisation and balance, and politico-military relations. (Politico-military as the final level? Doesn't that give the lie to any idea that Gramsci might have drifted into reformism?)
@ How does the three-levels schema relate to the dualities Gramsci discusses? Does this suggest that the dualities are not about, or not only about, dividing what happens in society into two categories, but rather about distinguishing, for methodological purposes, what happens into society into simultaneous streams of different time-scales?
@ Is there a connection, or analogy, between Gramsci's idea here and the idea of later French historians that history should be studied on different levels of longue durée, moyenne durée, and histoire événementielle? (See e.g. http://www.academia.edu/612814/Fernand_Braudel).
@ In any case Gramsci makes the qualification that the timescales may shift and interact paradoxically: workers struggling to defend immediate existence may well in the course of that struggle come to fight for the most long-term and epoch-making aims. How does that work out?
@ What timescale must the revolutionary party be built in (p.185)?
@ Gramsci discusses at length the approach of predicting future events by statistical-type extrapolation from past patterns and then deducing political tactics from such prediction. What is wrong with it?
@ Gramsci speaks of a "body of principles of political strategy and tactics" being generated in 1789 (presumably he means 1789-94) and retaining efficacy until 1871. He identifies those political ideas with the phrase "permanent revolution". Karl Kautsky, in his 1889 book on the French revolution, had used that term to describe sans-culotte strategy; but to present Trotsky's later theory of permanent revolution as just a continuation of the same approach is surely confusing. In fact what Gramsci seems to mean by "permanent revolution" is not Trotsky's theory but rather a constant state of alert, expressed in repeated street mobilisations (journées) such as drove the French Revolution onwards in 1789-94; and his argument about that seems to be the same as that of Engels in his 1895 Introduction to The Class Struggles in France:
"The time of surprise attacks, of revolutions carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of masses lacking consciousness is past. Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must also be in on it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are fighting for, body and soul. The history of the last fifty years has taught us that. But in order that the masses may understand what is to be done, long, persistent work is required..."
What else might Gramsci mean beyond Engels' argument?
Is there an analogy between the way that Engels' 1895 Introduction was interpreted after his death as a license for an almost entirely parliamentary strategy, and the way that Gramsci's attempt to work through the reorientation of the Communist Parties from their earlier straight-dash-for-power tactics to the use of united-front and other tactics has been interpreted also as a license for reformism?
@ What does Gramsci say in this section about the need for the ideological core of a revolutionary party to be formed "organically", in close connection with step-by-step political judgements, rather than from a set "Byzantine" doctrine, and about the way it should communicate with the wider party membership?
@ Why is there no such thing as pure spontaneity? What is wrong, politically, with advocating spontaneity of struggle? Conversely, what is wrong and indeed suicidal about a socialist approach which is stand-offish towards "spontaneous" struggles?
@ Gramsci here again talks about "translatability", this time between "the spontaneous feelings of the masses" and "modern" (i.e. Marxist) theory. Is Gramsci right here? If not, what is he getting at?
$ Gramsci cites Kant as saying that his conclusions should be in line with common sense. In his Logic (1800), Kant wrote: "The inconsistency of the judgement of others with our own is... to be regarded as an external mark of error, and as a hint that we should examine how we have arrived at our judgment, but not therefore to reject it at once ; for we may perhaps be right in substance, and wrong only in the manner of representing it. Common sense (sensus communis) is also in itself a touchstone for detecting the errors of the technical use of the understanding. When we use common sense as a test of the correctness of the speculative understanding, we are said to fix our bearings by common sense". This is less sweeping than Gramsci suggests.
Hegel argued, more sweepingly, that science (by which he primarily meant philosophy) must tally with (Lutheran-Christian) religion, but that was because in his scheme they were both self-expressions of the same Absolute Idea.
In fact, as Lewis Wolpert has argued in detail (The Unnatural Nature of Science), developed science is habitually and chronically in conflict with common sense.
Marx in Capital is at pains to show how the "essence" of capitalist relations often conflicts with their "appearance", i.e. how they are bound to appear to the person guided only by prevalent common sense.
# FASCISM #
See: Gramsci glossary, section on "Intellectuals and organisers".
= In the Notebooks Gramsci returns repeatedly to the question of why the old socialist movement in Italy, and the new Italian Communist Party too, had failed so abjectly in resisting fascism (which triumphed scarcely two years after the great movement of the factory occupations in Turin in 1920, which in turn came at a time of unprecedented and rapid growth in broad support for the socialist movement in Italy. Why had so many socialists and anarcho-syndicalists gone over to fascism? And why had Italian bourgeois democracy collapsed so miserably? Discussion on this is found in the last pages of the section in the Selections from the Prison Notebooks entitled "The Modern Prince" (pp.203ff) and in the first parts of the section on "State and Civil Society" (up to about p.232).
@ What social layer does Gramsci identify as the driving force in fascism? (Beware: he describes this layer several times, in slightly different terms each time, and it is necessary to collate and compare the different descriptions to get a rounded picture).
@ Especially on p.223ff, Gramsci lists some half-dozen failings of the old socialist movement. What are they? What do you make of Gramsci's list?
@ The Italian Socialist Party before 1921, like all the big social-democratic parties of that era, had a heavy working-class majority in its membership. What then can Gramsci be talking about when he describes it as a "party of petty bourgeois with an inflated idea of their own importance"?
@ In this context how does Gramsci assess the Italian Communist Party as it was under Bordiga's leadership (1921-3)?
@ Why, in Gramsci's view, was Italian bourgeois democracy characterised by "squalor" in many dimensions (p.184-5)? How is this judgement linked with Gramsci's ideas about Italian history?
@ Gramsci argues that the anti-fascist squads of 1921 and 1922 could never have defeated the fascists. Why?
$ Note that in the course of this discussion Gramsci declines that "comparisons between military art and politics, if made, should always be taken... with a pinch of salt... In political struggle, there also exist other forms of warfare apart from the war of movement... or the war of position... Another point to be kept in mind is that in political struggle one should not ape the methods of the ruling classes". This passage must be kept in mind every time we read Gramsci apparently classifying all political tactics as "war of maneouvre" or "war of position", and apparently drawing very tight analogies between military choices and political choice.
# CIVIL SOCIETY #
- Gramsci glossary, sections on "Civil society" and "Hegemonic apparatus".
- "Antonio Gramsci: Working-class Revolutionary" (AGWCR), p.20-3 and 33-4 (on East and West) and 47-56 (on Anderson).
$ Trotsky declared in 1922 that in 1919-20: "The most dynamic section of the working class formed itself into the Communist Party [in Germany; but the pattern was similar elsewhere]... This Communist Party still felt as if it were a shell shot out of a cannon. It appeared on the scene and it seemed to it that it needed only shout its battle-cry, dash forward and the working class would rush to follow. It turned out otherwise. It turned out that the working class had, upon suffering a series of disillusions concerning its primitive revolutionary illusions, assumed a watch-and-wait attitude... The working class was not accustomed to this party, it had not seen the party in action. Since the working class had been deceived more than once in the past, it has every reason to demand that the party win its confidence... And so... a new epoch opened up in the development of the Comintern, an epoch, which at first glance contains much that is, so to speak, prosaic, namely – agitation, propaganda, organisation, conquest of the confidence of the workers in the day-to-day struggles".
All this is, more or less by definition, and more or less whatever precise definition of "civil society" you choose, "war-of-position" work in "civil society". In this section Gramsci is trying to work through the reorientation required by the "new epoch".
$ Right at the end of the selections on Italian history we find a comment by Gramsci dated 1935: "In the present epoch, the war of movement took place politically from March 1917 to March 1921; this was followed by a war of position whose representative — both practical (for Italy) and ideological (for Europe) — is fascism". Here the war of position is not really a choice by the revolutionary socialists, but rather a necessity imposed by defeats. By 1935 Hitler had taken power in Germany, Salazar in Portugal, Dollfuss in Austria, Pilsudski in Poland; and Gramsci (p.220) considered the 1931 National Government in Britain to represent a gradation of "Caesarism". March 1921 is the date of the German Communist Party's "March Action", an attempt at a "revolutionary offensive" which was a fiasco and after which Lenin, Trotsky, and others began to argue more and more strongly for a turn to united-front tactics.
Gramsci's idea here is not at all as in modern interpretations - that the flexibility of the liberal and democratic structures in Western Europe allows for and requires gradual socialist advance through a "war of position" in the varied institutions of civil society. It is that he is in a period of reaction in which patient "war of position" tactics are required for the working class, and in which bluster about economic crisis semi-automatically provoking political revolution (the way the Communist Parties had talked in 1928-34) was foolish and counterproductive.
$ This context may also explain why Gramsci seems to "overestimate" the seamlessness and coherence of the "integral State" ("political society + civil society"). Gramsci notes an argument by Croce in favour of a differentiation between civil society and political society in which "the great intellectuals" would animate civil hegemony with substantial autonomy from the government; and comments only that this presupposed "a liberal democratic regime", such as was not available.
$ Gramsci uses the word "State" in two different senses (and explains that he is doing that). Sometimes he uses "state" to mean government in the narrow sense or "political society". Sometimes he uses it to mean the whole machinery of rule and hegemony of the ruling class: "State = political society + civil society". Sometimes he makes a contrast, state vs. civil society; sometimes he apparently equates state and civil society.
$ Gramsci's discussion here is interlaced with very off-the-mark polemics against Trotsky. Gramsci recalls that Trotsky, at the 4th Congress of the Communist International in 1922, explained how developments were working out differently in Western Europe from in Russia; but comments, very inaccurately, that Trotsky linked his explanation with no practical recommendations. Gramsci conflates Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution with the "theory of the offensive" which had wide support in some West European Communist Parties in 1920-1, though Trotsky was in fact the Communist International's leading polemicist against that "theory of the offensive". As to why Gramsci wrote this nonsense we can only speculate.
@ If you had to summarise Gramsci's concepts of "civil society", "hegemony", and "hegemonic apparatus" succinctly, how would you define it?
@ The sharpest statement of a view contrary to Gramsci's here is perhaps James Connolly's in his polemic with Daniel De Leon. "The Socialist Labor Party is a political and economic party, seeking the conquest of public power in order to clear the way for the Social Revolution. Let it keep to that. It is a big enough proposition.... Bebel's Woman... is... an attempt to seduce the proletariat from the firm ground of political and economic science on to the questionable ground of physiology and sex". What do you reckon?
@ Is there a "functionalist" or "instrumentalist" bias in Gramsci's account of the state and civil society, an assumption that because these things serve the ruling class therefore they are shaped by what the ruling class wants them to do? Is the bias partly explained by the fact that Gramsci often has in mind fascist Italy, in which the machinery of government and the institutions of civil society had in fact been consciously reshaped to serve the rulers' ends? And also sometimes in his mind the USSR as it emerged from civil war and was already (by his time in Russia, 1922-3) starting to become Stalinised?
# FORDISM #
See: Gramsci glossary, section on "Fordism".
@ Gramsci's notes were on his own account fragmentary, and compiled with very little access to information and discussion. What can we rescue from them after comparing them with the facts as established over the decades since Gramsci wrote?
@ In the Grundrisse Marx saw one of the ways in which capitalism prepared the way for socialism in the fact that it had "developed general industriousness as the general property of the new species". Was he right? How does capitalism do that? What general social activities and measures, as distinct from disciplinary moves within the workplace, are organised with this purpose? What should be the socialist attitude here?
# PHILOSOPHY #
- Gramsci glossary, section on "Philosophy of praxis" and "Translatability".
- "Antonio Gramsci: Working-class Revolutionary" (AGWCR), p.37-9 and p.43-6
= Everyone is a philosopher: everyone has a world-view. The question is whether to have an eclectic view passively absorbed from the social environment, or which one works at making coherent and independent and connected with changing the environment.
= Philosophy is thus connected with each person's action in social life, i.e. their political action.
= Philosophy is a polemic with "common sense", linked to a collective effort to change the conditions expressed in "common sense", or it is "intellectualistic elements of an individual character", a matter only of a "specialised culture among restricted intellectual groups". "The relation between common sense and the upper level of philosophy is assured by 'politics'."
= In the Catholic Church, dogma frames the common sense and prevents the more learned from disturbing it. The philosophy of praxis, by contrast, seeks not to limit the scientific activity of the learned but to gear it to raising the rank and file out of common sense.
= The political concept of hegemony is also a philosophical advance.
= The revolutionary-socialist collective of intellectuals-organisers is "the democratic philosopher"; "the real philosopher is, and cannot be other than, the politician..." Gramsci asserts an "equation between 'philosophy and politics', thought and action, that is... a philosophy of praxis".
= The "identification of theory and practice" is to be sought by developing a theory which "coincides and identifies itself with the decisive elements of the practice itself", or by "organising the practical element" which can realise the theory.
@ Why aren't "intellectualistic elements of an individual character", or developments of a "specialised culture among restricted intellectual groups" - quantum physics, say - important? Wasn't Marx's theory exactly that sort of thing before, say, the 1880s, when it started to generate a whole school of writers who would develop it and popularise it in close connection with the activity of a large socialist movement?
@ Evidently for Gramsci the "identification" of theory and practice is something to be worked towards, rather than a supposed established fact. In that sense it is similar to his "identification" of organisers with intellectuals, and intellectuals with organisers. Similar to? Or the same as? Is "unity of theory and practice" really the good Marxist idea it is usually taken to be? (See below).
$ The natural and mathematical sciences: An obvious objection to Gramsci's identification of world-view (philosophy) with politics is that it fails to take account of that part of our "view" of the world which is the natural and mathematical sciences. Gramsci does not ignore or undervalue the natural sciences. At one point (p.446) he credits the experimental method of natural science with being the first step towards the philosophy of praxis and the "unity of theory and practice".
But experimental method is not just checking against practice. Those natural sciences which can use the experimental method (astronomy can't; palaeontology can't...) can do it because they can isolate problems sufficiently that a particular interaction can be tested repeatably with all other relevant factors "controlled" (kept constant). Because social life is a flow in which each event happens only once, and surrounding conditions are always changing, a method of testing ideas by practical intervention in social life is something quite different from the experimental method, though of course the general process of formulating hypotheses and then testing them against experience is common.
In one passage of the Notebooks, Gramsci suggests that the way for socialists to approach natural science is to "separate the objective fact from the system of hypotheses" - which "always appeared clothed by an ideology" - "appropriating the former [fact] and rejecting the latter [system of hypotheses]" (Prison Notebooks, Buttigieg edition, vol. 2 p.149ff).
But if we did that, we would lack even the terminology to describe the "objective facts", let alone make sense of them. And we would lack any means to generate new "objective facts" and make them into a comprehensible whole with those we already have.
Gramsci's approach in this passage is tenable only on the false basis of supposing the essence of natural science to be just accumulation of facts. On that false basis, of course, it makes sense to ignore natural and mathematical science when considering "philosophy" and "world view".
$ "Unity of theory and practice": "Unity of theory and practice" is often said to be a Marxian idea. But it is much older than Marx; and the phrase was nowhere used by Marx.
I do not know when the phrase was lifted from older writers (such as Hegel) and dropped into Marxist discourse. George Lukacs used it a lot, but I doubt he was the first. It became a "conventional wisdom" with Stalinism.
The phrase "unity of theory and practice" is often interpreted as meaning such things as that practice should be guided by theory and theory should be translated into and tested by practice, which are indeed good sense; and so it has usually been accepted by anti-Stalinist Marxists.
But "unity of theory of practice" is a bad way of expressing that good sense. The necessary and proper linkage of theory and practice does not merge them into a single unity. They remain distinct. Practice will always be richer and more complex than theory; theory will always run ahead of practice, to some degree or another. Much theory has only a very distant relation to "practice" in the sense of political activity. Disunity of theory and practice — that is, scope for "provisional thinking", autonomous from immediate practical imperatives — is necessary for intellectual progress.
As Theodor Adorno, refusing to knuckle under to Stalinism, wrote: "The call for a unity of theory and practice has increasingly demoted theory to the status of handmaiden... The practical identifying mark that was being demanded of all theory has also became a stamp of censorship... Theory... became a part of the very politics from which it was intended to find a way out".
The catchcry "unity of theory and practice" has had malign effects in the anti-Stalinist left too. The idea that any theoretical dissent is idle chatter unless it can show quick practical conclusions has stifled thought; so has the habit of quickly shutting off any unfamiliar thought by "tagging" it with an uncongenial practical conclusion. ("If you say that the Stalinist states were worse for the working class than ordinary capitalism, then you end up backing US foreign policy" — that sort of argument).
# MARXISM #
- Gramsci glossary, sections on "Historicism", "Labriola", "Philosophy of praxis" and "Translatability".
- "Antonio Gramsci: Working-class Revolutionary" (AGWCR), p.37-9 and p.43-6
= Marx was not a specialist writer on economics, or economics plus a few other fields. "Marx is the creator of a Weltanschauung" [world-view: see below]. Marx's philosophy was not become "the theory of a class which was in turn to become a State", the basis of a "new intellectual and moral order"; it "contains in itself all the fundamental elements... for becoming an integral, complete civilisation". "Marx initiates intellectually a historical epoch which will last in all probability for centuries".
= Gramsci says that Labriola had best developed Marxism, but Labriola's contribution had enjoyed a "limited fortune". Some writers such as Croce had "absorbed... certain... elements" of Marxism into an overall idealist (and, in Croce's case, liberal) theory. Would-be Marxists have linked the ideas they got from Marx to, for example, neo-Kantianism, or with "traditional materialism". Gramsci identifies Plekhanov (the other main writer on philosophy of the pre-1914 socialist movement, and much respected by the Bolsheviks) as one of those who "relapses into vulgar materialism". (Plekhanov himself, however, praised Labriola's work highly: http://www.marxists.org/archive/plekhanov/1897/history/part1.htm).
= Gramsci links this deficiency in would-be Marxist writing to the needs of explaining and diffusing Marxist ideas to a wide audience. Marxist ideas had been crudified in order to provide punchier responses to everyday prejudices, and elements of Marxist theory more remote from everyday tactical problems had been neglected. Gramsci refers to Rosa Luxemburg's essay Stagnation and Progress of Marxism, which argues some similar ideas: . (Although we tend to look back on the period between the 1880s and the early 1920s as a golden age of Marxist theory, Marxist writers tended to feel that their theoretical discussions were scanty because carried on by relatively few people, many of them overwhelmed by everyday political demands, and that socialist activists too often tended to limit themselves to as little theory as they could get away with for the everyday).
= Really, says Gramsci, Marxists should strive to develop a synthesis going beyond "materialism and spiritualism", as he says Hegel did. (In fact Hegel insisted that science and dialectics demanded the most uncompromising idealism).
= Gramsci sees Marx as having learned from David Ricardo not only in economic doctrine but also in methodology.
@ Gramsci's depiction of Marx's theory as a worldview in the sense of the basis of "an integral, complete civilisation" has several problems.
1. It is damagingly near to the idea of "proletarian culture", with the added twist that this "proletarian culture" will have been mapped out decades or centuries in advance by Marx, rather than created by future working-class developments.
2. How can we possibly know that Marx's theory will be intellectually fundamental, i.e. not superseded, for centuries? In this claim, and in Gramsci's related idea that Marxist theory has been stunted so far and will flower in the future, there is an unscientific replacement of actual evidence for theories (i.e. evidence from realities that have happened or are happening) with the promise that evidence will come from a predicted future.
3. Gramsci censures "the idea that historical materialism needs to derive additional support from outside itself" (Prison Notebooks, Buttigieg edition, vol.2 p.149). He has in mind the would-be Marxists who wanted to borrow from current bourgeois theories, and in some cases no doubt that was electicism. But every theory needs to derive "additional support" (or material forcing it to modify itself) "from outside itself". If it is shut off to critique and factual disputation "from outside itself", then it becomes the sort of jargonistic cult-doctrine which Gramsci censures as typical of "organic centralism".
So: neither an inflated view of Marx's ideas as the key to all knowledge and ethics, nor a narrow view of Marx as a specialist researcher on some economic and political questions, but... what?
@ Another problem: on Gramsci's own account, Marx never "systematically expounded" a conception of the world. The claim that he nevertheless created one must therefore rest on the ability of other writers inspired by Marx to pull together suggestions from Marx into something more or less systematic.
Many talented writers worked on doing that, especially between the 1880s and World War One. Yet Gramsci's assessment is that all those writers failed to grasp the new conception of the world. On the contrary, they attached ideas from Marx to ideas from idealist philosophies (neo-Kantianism and son) or to crude and mechanical materialism.
Maybe some new writer will come along who can connect ideas from Marx to a better systematic overview. But then, after all that, wouldn't we have to recognise that new writer as the real creator of the "Weltanschauung"?
Here Gramsci lurches towards a cultist syndrome which too often affects Marxist writers: the idea that there is in this or that text of Marx a brilliant enlightenment, unnoticed by all previous Marxists because they were too dim, but now brought to the world by the current writer as the "real" Marx.
What is your assessment of Gramsci's view that all the Marxists of the Second International, with the fragmentary exception of Labriola, and of the early Third International too, had damagingly tied Marxist ideas to crude and mechanical materialism, or to this or that idealist doctrine borrowed from current bourgeois thought?
@ If the material poverty of the socialist movement and the pressures of everyday activism made proper development of Marxist theory impossible even in the best days of the Second and Third Internationals, how can its chances ever be made better? Gramsci wants Marxist theory to be developed to a level where it can win over, or confront, the most learned intellectuals on their own level: is this even possible? How should we deal with the split between "academic" and "activist" Marxism in our own day?
@ What do you make of Gramsci's idea of seeking a synthesis between materialism and idealism? What would you understand "materialism" to mean?
@ What methodological elements does Gramsci think Marx learned from Ricardo? Leaving aside the question of whether those elements really came from Ricardo, what is their importance?
$ The idea of going beyond both idealism and materialism, or at least beyond some previous materialism (described as "traditional" by Gramsci) was formulated earlier by Labriola:
"Historical materialism, then, or the philosophy of practice, takes account of man as a social and historical being. It gives the last, blow to all forms of idealism which regard actually existing things as mere reflexes, reproductions, imitations, illustrations, results, of so-called a priori thought, thought before the fact. It marks also the end of naturalistic materialism..."
Labriola does not explain further what he means by the adjective "naturalistic", but his flow suggests that he means something like what we would call "mechanical materialism" or "reductionism". His scathing comments on Social Darwinism and the like suggest that interpretation.
$ Marx on materialism. Gramsci asserts that "the originator of the philosophy of praxis never called his own conception materialist" (456). Gramsci would prefer to call the philosophy of praxis "immanentist" or "absolute historicist". "Immanence" means "dwelling within"; in that sense historical materialism is "immanentist" in that it sees ideas as "dwelling within" material development, and Hegel's absolute idealism was "immanentist" in that for him material development "dwelled within" the self-development of the Absolute Idea; both contrast with views in which ideas originate separately from material development. "Historicist" means
It is true that careful thought is needed about what we mean by "material", in a world where science has revealed to us many "material" realities which we cannot see or touch or weigh. In Marx's theory, "value" is surely considered to be a material reality, and yet it is not an object with mass and size. In modern science, light and gravity are surely material realities, and yet not composed of objects with mass and size.
However, in a letter of 1868 complaining about a critic's comments on Capital, Marx wrote flatly" "He knows full well that my method of exposition is not Hegelian, since I am a materialist, and Hegel an idealist". In the Afterword to the 1873 edition of Capital volume 1 Marx wrote of "the materialistic basis of my method".
In the Theses of Feuerbach Marx proposes a "new materialism" which, while recognising that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of changed circumstances and changed upbringing", will not like the "old materialism" "forget that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator must himself be educated".
In The German Ideology, Marx wrote, under the heading "Idealism and Materialism": "definite individuals who are productively active in a definite way enter into these definite social and political relations. Empirical observation must in each separate instance bring out empirically, and without any mystification and speculation, the connection of the social and political structure with production. The social structure and the State are continually evolving out of the life-process of definite individuals, but of individuals, not as they may appear in their own or other people’s imagination, but as they really are; i.e. as they operate, produce materially, and hence as they work under definite material limits, presuppositions and conditions independent of their will.
"The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behaviour. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc., of a people. Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. – real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to these, up to its furthest forms. Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process...
"In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven. That is to say, we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh. We set out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process... Where speculation ends – in real life – there real, positive science begins: the representation of the practical activity, of the practical process of development of men".
In the Preface to his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx summarised his chief methodological conclusion as this: "neither legal relations nor political forms could be comprehended whether by themselves or on the basis of a so-called general development of the human mind, but that on the contrary they originate in the material conditions of life..."
$ Ricardo's methodological contribution? Gramsci's friend Piero Sraffa, a professor of economics at Cambridge University who became the editor of Ricardo's Collected Works, was baffled by Gramsci's thoughts about Ricardo having made a decisive methodological contribution. Sraffa wrote to Gramsci that Ricardo was a stockbroker of average education who had never considered the historical determinateness of either his own thought or the society in which he lived. http://www.academia.edu/918660/Immanence; ; J-P Potier, Piero Sraffa: Unorthodox Economist (1898-1983): A Biographical Essay, p.58-59. Gramsci writes as if the term determinate market was used by Ricardo; but it was not, and it is not clear what Gramsci means by it. Some writers have suggested that Gramsci may mean by it something like what Marx called a "mode of production", or alternatively something like what later writers have called a "mode of regulation".
$ Homo economicus (or "economic man"), meaning a person supposed to act in an economically "rational", "utility"-maximising way as depicted in theoretical models of the functioning of capitalist market economy: Gramsci attributes this concept to Ricardo, and, very unusually for a leftist, defends it as an appropriate concept for the study of the given, capitalist, society. In fact the term "homo economicus" was pioneered by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, a pupil of Walras, an anti-establishment radical (though not socialist) before World War One, and a supporter of the fascist regime in its early days (he died in 1923): Pareto, Manuel d'economie politique, 1909, p.18ff. Croce criticised Pareto on the concept of "homo economicus": in his Manuel, Pareto responded directly to Croce and to Sorel, with whom Gramsci was also familiar.
$ Weltanschauung: the word was coined by Immanuel Kant, but for him meant just one's sense-perception of the world. Over the 19th century the word became popular in Germany, mutated to mean a general way of thinking about the cosmos, and migrated to other languages. In his notebooks Gramsci used the German word. (David K Naugle, Worldview: the history of a concept, pp.58ff).
# BUKHARIN #
- Gramsci glossary, sections on "Historicism", "Labriola", "Philosophy of praxis" and "Translatability".
- "Antonio Gramsci: Working-class Revolutionary" (AGWCR), p.37-9 and p.43-6
(Bukharin's text: http://www.marxists.org/archive/bukharin/works/1921/histmat/index.htm.)
= Best to start with a critical analysis of and dialogue with "common sense".
= "The critique of systematic philosophies" should not however be neglected. But "it is necessary to engage battle with the most eminent of one's adversaries", their best expositions, and the strongest possible reading of their arguments.
= Bukharin, by contrast, starts by attacking "bourgeois scholars" rather than dealing with common sense; but operates mainly by "picking off" minor ideologues and rubbishing this or that assertion by them, then concluding that all bourgeois thought is guilty of the error just derided. (Two of the first three sections of Bukharin's introduction start by asserting: "Bourgeois scholars say..." and then scoffing at the views attributed to those scholars).
= "Statistical laws can be employed in the science and art of politics only so long as the great masses of the population remain... essentially passive... [But] political action tends precisely to rouse the masses from passivity, in other words to destroy the law of large numbers... In reality one can 'scientifically' foresee only the struggle, but not the concrete moments of the struggle... One can 'foresee' to the extent that one acts, to the extent that one applies a voluntary effort and therefore contributes concretely to creating the result 'foreseen'..."
= Bukharin, in contrast, proposes a "mechanical causalism" and "vulgar evolutionism".
= In "the philosophy of praxis", understanding is thus integrated with activism, with politics, with making history. "Separated from the theory of history and politics philosophy cannot be other than metaphysics, whereas the great conquest in the history of modern thought, represented by the philosophy of praxis, is precisely the concrete historicisation of philosophy and its identification with history".
= Further, the philosophy of praxis goes beyond both materialism and idealism.
= Bukharin counterposes a "materialism" composed of mechanical "causalism" and prediction, and of the assertion that all idealism is really just religion and denial of the existence of the material world. However, the Catholic Church emphatically asserts the existence of the material world!
@ Why is it necessary to "engage battle with the most eminent of one's adversaries"? Doesn't that mean wasting socialists' time on poring over abstruse works which are of no interest to the workers and young people whom we want to win to socialism?
@ Social investigation must involve finding out about some regularities or patterns in social development. How can that possibly be done other than statistically?
@ The "legal Marxists" in Russia saw no clash between being Marxists in economic theory and liberals in politics. Rudolf Hilferding, even in the days when he was one of the most brilliant writers of the German SPD left wing, also held that Marxist views on economic development and socialist preferences in politics were completely distinct questions. Were they wrong? If so, why?
$ Bukharin, Gramsci, Marx, and dialectics. Gramsci complains that Bukharin's book "contains no treatment of any kind of the dialectic". In fact Bukharin's book, unlike any of Marx's or Gramsci's own writings, does contain an exposition of what Bukharin means by dialectics.
However, Bukharin presents dialectics as a sort of higher-grade empirical law of nature.
"It is necessary to use the dialectic method, the dialectic mode of thought, because the dialectics of nature may thus be grasped. It is quite possible to transcribe the... language of the Hegelian dialectics into the language of modern mechanics".
How? Bukharin's explanation is puzzling.
"We [now] know that the smallest particles of matter, the atoms, consist of still smaller particles, electrons, flying about and revolving within the atom, as the heavenly bodies of the solar system revolve around the sun. But the whole world consists of such particles, and how can anything be considered constant in a universe whose component parts gyrate with whirlwind speed?"
The highpoint of "mechanical thinking" was Laplace's Mecanique Celeste: dealing precisely with planets, stars, etc. moving with 'worldwind speed', and having as one of its breakthrough propositions that an object moving with 'worldwind speed' continues to do so unless disturbed.)
There was a dispute in the 1920s in academic philosophy in the USSR between two schools of thought, led by Abram Deborin and Lyubov Akselrod, both ex-Mensheviks who had been close to Plekhanov. Bukharin was allied with Akselrod. http://sovlit.org/lia/index.html, http://www.sovlit.org/amd/index.html. Gramsci may have derived much of his picture of Plekhanov's thought from those later writings; in the dispute, Gramsci seems to side with Deborin, writing of "the great debate which has taken place against mechanicism" (p.434).
Deborin "spoke as the leader of the 'dialecticians', who sparred with the 'mechanists', led by L. I. Akselrod. [Deborin was] known as one of Plekhanov's disciples, both in politics and philosophy. In 1908, Deborin graduated from the philosophy department at Bern University (Akselrod had received her doctorate there in 1900).
"Soon after the October Revolution of 1917, Deborin left the Mensheviks and began lecturing at the Sverdlov University, the Institute of Red Professors and the Institute of Philosophy. He soon assumed editorial duties at the journal, 'Under the Banner of Marxism', which he headed from 1926-1931.
"By 1926 and 1927, clashes with the 'mechanists' became quite heated... Deborin and his supporters gained the upper hand, but he came under strong criticism in the Central Committee resolution of January 25, 1931, where Deborin was charged with being a 'Menshevising idealist'..." Over the 1930s, both trends were suppressed and the only permitted "philosophical" activity was to praise Stalin's thoughts.