Antonio Gramsci: Biography, Contributions, Cultural Hegemony

This article highlights the key contributions of Antonio Gramsci and pondering over his early life and some of his major works like Cultural Hegemony

AN INTRODUCTION TO WHO WAS ANTONIO GRAMSCI 

One thinker who completely revolutionised the social fabric of his society with his theory of CULTURAL HEGEMONY  and became the most influential theorist of the 20th century. Yes, you’re thinking right. It is ANTONIO GRAMSCI

  • An Italian theorist, a journalist and even a politician, leading the Communist Party of Italy.
  • Well, Gramsci can be put under the umbrella of Neo-Marxist with thinkers like Noam Chomsky.
  • What’s even more appalling is that Gramsci wrote his beliefs enclosed between four walls, amid his precarious health, in adverse conditions, where his ideas were being censored while being imprisoned by Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime.

Due to the change, Gramsci brought in the society, the people of the recent times believe that ANTONIO GRAMSCI may be the greatest thinker of all time.

ANTONIO GRAMSCI  BIOGRAPHY AND CONTRIBUTIONS LIKE CULTURE HEGEMONY

WHAT IS MARXISM?

The notion of Marxism has proved to be one of the most important theory’s that has shaped our society and culture. Marxism is an economic and social system developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels opposes capitalism i.e. the private ownership of means of production and distribution and instead resorts to the adoption of socialism i.e. the public ownership of wealth.

WHAT DOES NEO-MARXISM MEAN?

  • From Karl Marx, who laid the foundation of Marxism, to Friedrich Engels who emphasized on his dialectical thinking, theorists really did push their boundaries and brought out novel elements, making the concept of Marxism broader and broader. This birthed the concept of Neo-Marxism.
  • Neo-Marxists adapt and add on their interpretations to the traditional Marxist notions.

EARLY LIFE OF ANTONIO GRAMSCI  :

Antonio Gramsci was born in a small town called Ales, in the islands of Sardinia. Gramsci’s father, Francesco Gramsci belonged to the city of Naples. He was compelled to abandon his studies & quit his desire to become a lawyer due to his father’s death. He subsequently began working as a registrar in a small local town called Ghilarza. Gramsci’s mother, Giuseppina Marcias, put in every effort to make each ends meet while her husband, Gramsci’s father, was convicted for the felon of embezzlement and put in prison in 1897.

  • The repercussion of all this was that Gramsci was forced to quit his studies and work to support his huge family of seven siblings and her mother which was already struck with abject poverty.
  • The circumstances became very hard for Gramsci and his family, Giuseppina was burdened with the responsibility of taking care of her children, with a very small amount of money as they didn’t have many sources to earn a living.
  • Gramsci’s precarious health somewhat deteriorated their situation.

After all these unfortunate events, a ray of certainty rose for Gramsci’s family, when his father was released from his due sentence of six years. Through this, Gramsci was able to continue his studies. After a great deal of efforts and support from his family, Gramsci successfully passed his examination in 1908 and eventually was eligible for secondary studies in Cagliari, the capital city of the Sardinian islands.

GRAMSCI’S LIFE IN TURIN :

Fortunately, Gramsci got an opportunity to study at the University of Turin in 1911, through a scholarship. Travelling to Turin for studies exposed him to the brutal truths of the society, which led to greater concerns of Gramsci for the impoverished people such as the migrants, the workers who had been recruited at the newly established factories from poorer regions.

  • He surrounded himself with such people and other prominent intellectual people like Benedetto Croce.
  • He abandoned his studies midway in 1915 but only after acquiring immense knowledge about the subjects of linguistics, philosophy and history.

FACTORS THAT LED TO THE FORMATION OF GRAMSCI’S POLITICAL VIEWS :

A few instances in Gramsci’s life acted as an important stimulus providing him insights about the political situation in Italy.

  • GRAMSCI’s ELDER BROTHER GRENNARO :

Gramsci’s elder brother, Grennaro was working in the military service in the mainland, who sent him socialist pamphlets to read. This imparted the socialist ideas in Gramsci’s mind.

  • GRAMSCI GOING TO TURIN FOR STUDIES :

Gramsci won a scholarship and went to Turin for studies. Over here, he learnt about the hardships of the workers.

His stay in Turin also made him realize that the development of the southern parts of Italy, lagged behind the North. The north part of Italy was relatively flourishing because its industries were looked after through protectionist policies. The farmers and peasantry group were the people who suffered under all this. He noted these ongoing political occurrence.

  • THE SOCIAL MOVEMENTS OCCURRING IN TURIN :

The socialist movements and protests in Turin were being repressed by the troops sent from the Mainland. The parity between southern and northern Italy led to the miserable lives of peasants. The oppression of the peasantry group forced the people to hold movements.  This made Gramsci give up on the ‘Sardinian Nationalism’ and hence began working for the cause of poor peasants.

CONTRIBUTIONS OF ANTONIO GRAMSCI :

Gramsci worked upon a lot of important issues of that time and developed his own theories to help eradicate those issues. One of Gramsci’s most influential theory is CULTURAL HEGEMONY. Gramsci believed that the equal emphasis on politics as well as culture would lead to a revolutionary change.

WHAT DOES ‘HEGEMONY’ MEAN?

Hegemony’ as Gramsci describes is in accordance to the ideas or ideologies of the dominant class. ‘Hegemony’ can be differentiated with the word ‘Domination’.

  • Hegemony refers to the social, cultural, ideological and economic influence of the dominant group.
  • Domination, on the other hand, refers to the power to control people. Terms like pride, Coercion are used with domination.

THE THEORY OF CULTURAL HEGEMONY:

The theory of CULTURAL HEGEMONY reflected a very different concept with regard to the prevalent society and the people of that area. The main features of this theory are:

  • Gramsci drew the basis of cultural Hegemony from Karl Marx’s ideas. He negated the concept of forming hierarchies of class in terms of a group’s economic or money power, rather than this, an alternative of classifying groups on the basis of ideological or cultural power.
  • The theory laid great emphasis on ideological or cultural hegemony than economic or political hegemony.
  • There was a clear contrast between the ideas of Marx and Gramsci :
    •    Where Marx believed that the ruling class could dominate only through economic means.
    • Gramsci argued, that if domination is done through cultural or ideological means, the domination will be transformed to  Hegemony. In this manner, the hegemony is out of consent.
    • The basic difference between domination that Hegemony is that domination works through coercive powers  (military powers) and Hegemony, on the other hand, is out of consent.
  • Cultural Hegemony is the only theory that regards it’s application through consent and not through the measures of coercion or force.
  • Cultural Hegemony is continuously reinforced by the social institutions present in a society, that propagate the ideas, values and opinions of the bourgeoisie class.
  • The dynamics of the same Hegemonic keeps on changing and evolving as the ideas of the society keeps on changing.
  • This theory developed by Gramsci enabled the consolidation of both the political as well as the cultural components of the dominant classes, this helped in the progress of the society.
  • Gramsci focuses on the superstructure in this theory, (reference to ideologies and consciousness) which pave the way for a progressive civil society.

The elements of the civil society and of the political society are interlinked to each other. This interconnectivity is due to ideas and the ideologies, which are the binding forces that keep both the elements together.

GRAMSCI’s VIEWS ON CLASS STRUGGLE IN HIS THEORY:

  • Gramsci in his theory Cultural Hegemony advocates the fact that if the working class join hands with the social minorities of the society, they will be able to emanate a revolutionary change and bring down the capitalist ruling class and their subjugation.
  • He coined the termSubaltern’ for the same, which referred to the social groups that were being excluded from the society and were given no rights amid the repressive economic system.
  • Gramsci stated that the working class can bring this change through the ideological element.
  • Gramsci mentions this in his writings that cultural, ideological and intellectual elements are necessary features of the class struggle to be successful.

Cultural Hegemony made ANTONIO GRAMSCI the most influential theorist of the 20th century.

IMPORTANT WORKS OF ANTONIO GRAMSCI :

Antonio Gramsci laid a lot of emphasis on the idea of ‘Social Change’. Through his theory of Cultural Hegemony, he propagated the same. Gramsci worked till his last breath to bring this revolutionary change. Some of his works include:

  • While in Turin, he worked as a journalist and since then began writing for socialist newspapers such as // Grido del Popola.
  • He also laid emphasis on education amidst the working class, which would prove to be an important tool in the class struggle.
  • Gramsci shared his views about topics encircling socialist ideas, the class struggle and the emancipation of women.
  • Gramsci even worked for empowering the workers. He formed the L’ ordine Nuovo (THE NEW ORDER) and the Worker’s Council to be familiar about the grievances of the workers.

He talked about revolutions that struggled for change such as the French Revolution.

He developed various theories such as

1. THE THEORY OF ‘WAR OF POSITION’:

He pioneered concepts such as the “War of Position” which focused upon civil and cultural change by working for it in the society. In other words, to bring change in the domains of culture, politics, and the economy one must work for it.

2. THE THEORY OF ‘WAR OF MANOEUVRE’ :

  • Gramsci talked about the concept of “War of Manoeuvre” which he also referred as the “War of Movement” which meant overthrowing the government or the individuals with power in a society where the domination persists and doesn’t transform into hegemony.
  • Gramsci exemplified this by talking about the Russian Revolution of 1917.

3.THE NOTION OF ‘INTELLECTUALS’ :

Gramsci spoke about the Intellectuals and gave a distinction between the kind of Intellectuals :

  • He talked about organic intellectuals who were often regarded as the caretakers of the dominant groups, who even performed the functions of exercising social and political hegemony.
  • Traditional intellectuals were who facilitated Cultural Hegemony in the society. He said that “All men our intellectuals, But not all men have the social function of the intellectuals”

 

REFERENCE:

https://www.marxists.org

https://notevenpast.org

Sandhya is an undergraduate student, currently pursuing Political Science. She describes herself as a very normal girl who desires to bring a Social Change through her words. Through her writings, she wishes to work for the betterment of the society. She is passionate about writing and painting, besides this, her hobbies include dancing, singing and reading books.