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Sunday, 13 April 2014

Gramsci's Middle-Class, Leftist Hegemony

One explicit way in which Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) stated that no revolution would be forthcoming in Europe was when he said that power is not something which you can “seize” in a revolution. In other words, Gramsci never talked about the “seizure of State power”. Despite that, in a certain sense he did believe in seizing state power; though not through violent revolution. Instead, to use his words, he talked of “becoming State”. That is, the middle-class Marxist vanguard - on behalf on the working class (of course) - would become the state. Alternatively they would “take over the institutions” of the state (the police, the law, political parties, the civil service, councils, etc.) and even the institutions which are not ordinarily deemed to be directly part of the state (e.g., the churches, charities, regional/national newspapers, the universities, schools, the BBC). (Rudi Dutschke called this the “Long March through the Institutions”. )

Rudi Dutschke on a Long March through a university.

Gramsci wanted to create a (new) Leftist “hegemony”. That was to be achieved by middle-class Marxists “becoming State”. Or, more correctly, a new non-capitalist hegemon was to be created by a middle-class Leftist vanguard/elite. That new middle-class Leftist hegemony would then imposed upon the working class via the schools, universities, the BBC, local councils, the law, etc. (Just as the same Marxists believe that the capitalist-state hegemony was imposed on the working class.)

The notion of hegemony is very important to Marxists/Leftists. Just as they believed that the capitalist class is an hegemony (or, is “hegemonic” in nature); so too they believe that the the working class must be hegemonic in nature.

More concretely, without an hegemony, the working class would remain 'particularistic' or individualistic. And that is useless for the middle-class Leftists who want radical change, if not revolution. After all capitalists,according to Leftists, form a 'hegemonic class'. Therefore the working class - or Muslims today - must form a hegemonic class too. That is, according to Gramsci, the working class - care-of the middle-class Leftist elite of which he was a part - should think exclusively in class, not in individualistic terms.

In his own day, Gramsci didn't believe that the working class had a collective will, unlike the capitalists. Instead that collective had to be created by middle-class Marxists such as himself. However, despite the abstract reality of the working class, it is still made up of a “plurality of demands, political initiatives, traditions and cultural institutions”. That plurality is inherently unstable, from a Marxist perspective. And, again, this is where Gramsci and the Gramscians step in. It's up to them to provide a sense of stability to that plurality by creating a determinate class-consciousness - or a new hegemon - for the working class. And, in Gramsci's case, that could only be done by “taking over the institutions” (or “becoming State”), not through the classical violent (Marxist) revolution.

However, traditional Marxists believed that such a hegemonic consciousness (or class consciousness) would come naturally to the working class as capitalism inevitably lead to the increasing polarisation of society. The more polarised, or poor, the working class became, the more class-conscious they would become. But, of course, that didn't happened. There was no necessarily increased polarisation and even the various depressions were only blips in the history of capitalism. Thus the working class didn't become more class-conscious, hegemonic or revolutionary.

This is where the Gramscians, again, stepped in.

If economic alienation and polarisation didn't automatically make the working class more class-conscious (or if “pauperisation” didn't occur), then Gramsci and other middle-class Marxists would make the working class class-conscious instead. As I said, according to Marx's “natural laws of capitalism”, the failures of capitalism would inevitably raise the consciousness of the working class and turn them into revolutionaries. That didn't happen. Therefore middle-class Marxists had to alter the consciousness of the workers to make the best of Marx's failed prophesies.

In other words, middle-class Marxists had to provide the “hegemonic articulation” of what was best for the working class. Capitalism itself, or its increased polarisation, didn't do that.

This means that the Gramscian position effectively turned the Marxist base-superstructure model on its head. Instead of the “modes of production” generating consciousness (or class-consciousness), here we have Gramscians attempting to generate consciousness instead. In a sense, Gramsci had returned to Hegel's position; which, of course, Marx himself had inverted.

Now how best to create a new working-class consciousness? Simple: take over the institutions in which ideas, rather than “material conditions”, are primary. Or, alternatively, only by “becoming the State” - not by violently seizing the state (as in a revolution) - could the consciousness of the working class be changed in the ways middle-class Leftists wanted it to change.

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