Antonio Gramsci: Selections from Political Writings 1921-1926

Antonio Gramsci and the Modern Prince
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For growing numbers, the political and organizational perspectives of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin are becoming a pole of attraction — providing an increasingly desired coherence and revolutionary edge.

Yet the Leninist tradition can most fruitfully be understood not as providing dogmatic Truths fashioned by a revolutionary genius, but rather as a collective project and process, creatively fashioned and made relevant by insightful, passionate activists engaging with a variety of contexts. Antonio Gramsci offers an incredibly rich way of articulating and applying Leninist perspectives. Each sought, at a moment when Stalinist influences were about to swamp the Communist movement with authoritarian and sectarian policies, to remain true to the principled revolutionary perspectives of the first four congresses of the Communist International.

Gramsci was profoundly influenced by the dialectical philosophical orientation of G. Hegel, popularized in Italy by such academics as Benedetto Croce and Antonio Labriola, and was vibrantly alive to a multiplicity of cultural questions. This approach emphasizes the complex dynamism and fluidity of reality, which can be understood as an evolving totality of contradictory and interactive elements. Economics and class conflict are central to him, but these are understood in rich interplay with history and culture. Abstracting his ideas from the person that he actually was, however, can distort the meaning of what he actually said.

To gain a better sense of this remarkable person, we can first refer — all too fleetingly — to knowledgeable people who have written about Gramsci. If we consider our common humanity with this world-famous thinker, we might find meaningful entry-points for considering his ideas. We are our bodies. He also walked lamely. We are shaped through experiences from childhood to youth. Yet this seems too sweeping as we consider the tenderness and caring reflected in stories of and letters to family members he was the fourth of seven children.

There were certainly happy times as he grew up in the village of Ghilarza, on the island of Sardinia. Yet his father was a downwardly-mobile white-collar worker, a civil servant caught stealing, which resulted in a four-year imprisonment. We are what we feel. As a multiply-disadvantaged outsider striving to prove himself, his perceptions and his mind were naturally sharpened. An older brother had become a militant in the Italian Socialist Party, but the younger sibling would make his own way politically.

Gramsci particularly seethed over descriptions of Sardinians as biologically inferior to Italians on the mainland. We are what we do. Within two years, Gramsci became an activist within the Italian Socialist Party. As was the case with a majority of his Socialist Party comrades, he opposed the First World War , although took up his own position in the revolutionary wing of that party. Socialist Party moderates who led the trade union movement quickly effected a compromise, however, which ended the strike, resulting in modest concessions for the workers and the continued if temporary survival of a liberal capitalist regime.

The botched birth of Italian Communism

His head was heavy, his brow high and broad, his lips thin; the whole was carried on a puny, square-shouldered, weak-chested, humpbacked body. There was grace in the movement of his fine, lanky hands. Gramsci fitted awkwardly into the humdrum of day-to-day existence. Trained intuitively in the dialectic, quick to uncover falsehood and transfix it with the sting of irony, he viewed the world with an exceptional clarity.

The rise and succession of victories of the fascist movement was a major concern to Gramsci and his comrades, but there was no agreement on appropriate perspectives for the PCI. Gramsci developed a perspective that was independent of the moderate line advanced by Angelo Tasca and also an alternative to what he saw as a sectarian and ultra-left line represented by Amadeo Bordiga.

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His perspective became predominant in the PCI, and he was considered to be its central leader. Gramsci was elected to parliament in , where he was the leader of the Communist representatives. Later in the year, however, he was arrested as the fascists consolidated their dictatorship. During his ten years in prison, where his health was finally broken, Gramsci was able to fill thirty-four thick notebooks with a remarkable range of political, socialism, historical, and cultural writings.

The presence of fascist censors forced him to use code words and obscure formulations. The rising influence of Stalinism within the international Communist movement — and his resistance to aspects of Stalinist ideology combined with a desire not to be isolated from that movement — also contributed to obscure and contradictory formulations. This is especially so due to a number of indications that his theoretical and political orientation was fundamentally incompatible with that which Stalin imposed.

There seems to be a consensus among those who knew him and later scholars that had he openly espoused some of the positions he held shortly before imprisonment and while in prison, we would have been expelled from the Communist movement — his Communist brother Gennaro and his comrade Togliatti shielded him, refusing to transmit certain communications to higher authorities.

Even in the most humane prisons, the physical and psychological pressures in imprisonment are a terrible ordeal; what must it have been like to be in a fascist jail? Add the burden of pain and fatigue as tuberculosis ravages the organism; insomnia. Hemorrhages, faintings, deliriums. In August, , the most serious symptoms appear and by March, , the first complete physical breakdown.

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He recovers somewhat and continues writings until , when he can no longer work as the disease burns the last remaining reserves of the body. Watch him at work, day after day, fighting with the penal administration and with the government up to Mussolini himself for the right to get a few books, a few magazines. Yet he continues writing; an assiduous, incredible labor. How the greatness of humanity is reaffirmed by the tenacity of his will, particularly in the last few years as he writes with wasted body, death a hovering companion.

The enormous effort is reflected in the physical act of writing. The first notebooks were neat, in a clear and regular calligraphy. At the end, the handwriting wavers, wanders, is erratic and weak. But the thinking remains lucid, vigorous, trenchant, while the style continues poised and professional, spiced with humor, irony, and a genial twist of phrase.

Like Machiavelli, Gramsci sought to examine the question in a manner that superficially seems chillingly a-moral. Condition: Used: Very Good. Seller Inventory Z As new.


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