For their range, perceptiveness, and originality Gramsci’s writings on politics and society have had a considerable influence on 20th-century thought. His early production, mainly articles of both a theoretical and an unashamedly propagandistic nature for the socialist daily Avanti! (Forward!) (1916–20) and for L’Ordine Nuovo (1919–24; The new order), were written in the heat of intense political involvement and were largely concerned with supporting workers’ rights and advocating revolutionary action on the Soviet model. Later collected in five volumes, they constitute a stirring record of political activism at a time of turmoil and precariousness in Italy as well as a fascinating sociohistorical document of the period.
When Gramsci’s activity as a political leader (he was cofounder of the Italian Communist Party in 1921) led to his confinement in fascist prisons for the last ten years of his life (1926–37), he continued to write, committing to paper, mainly in the form of notes and short essays, his reflections on and analyses of an extraordinarily broad spread of topics: from literature through ethics to history and practical politics. The 32 Quaderni del carcere (Prison Notebooks), smuggled out of Italy after Gramsci’s death and organized for publication in six volumes after World War II, reflect among much else the thinker’s concern to reevaluate 19th– and early 20th-century literary, moral, and political thought, especially that found in the Italian tradition of Francesco De Sanctis, Antonio Labriola, and Benedetto Croce but also in influential foreign figures such as Hegel, Marx, and Georges Sorel. Even if, by the very nature of these writings, their vision is fragmentary and incomplete, they are nevertheless marked by a vastness of design and, for the most part, by a style of exemplary clarity and vigor.
His move away from Crocean “idealism” had begun early and, despite the continued admiration for and echoes of Croce to be found in the Prison Notebooks, the latter are seen by most commentators, whether favorable or otherwise to Gramsci’s ideas, as offering an essentially materialist analysis of history and socioeconomic structures and constituting a Marxist sociology of a new and original kind, interpretations of which have informed left-wing discussion in the cultural and political fields up to this day, both in Italy and abroad. The outstanding features of this new sociology are twofold: the positing of the lack of a “national-popular” tradition in Italy compared to other nations as the key to the kind of aulic, court-based cultural (especially literary) development that has characterized the country over the centuries; and the reassessment of the concept of and opportunity for political revolution in the West. In particular, following the failure of the
Left in Italy, Gramsci comes to see revolution as essentially a longterm prospect depending on the particular traditions and conditions that exist in each individual country and needing above all as its prerequisite the gradual building of hegemony (his name for ideological domination or penetration) in all the institutions of society by those intellectuals with revolutionary ideas. Only when this task is complete, and ideological unity between intellectuals and masses (“historic bloc” is the term Gramsci uses for this) has been achieved, does the time become ripe for successful revolutionary political action. For Gramsci this is the process that has informed history; new ruling classes have succeeded in establishing a new social order only when they have had effective ideologists to make their ideas permeate the institutions of civil society.
Close analysis of Gramsci’s discussion of hegemony, however, and in particular of his concept of the nature of revolution and future society, suggests that his thought continues to be marked both by much of the coercive element of his Leninist political background and by the idealism of his early intellectual formation. While now finding the Soviet model inapplicable to the more advanced societies of the West, whose histories have led them along different and varying paths, he still seems to conceive of revolution as the coercive taking of power by one minority class from another even if in different circumstances from those experienced by Lenin in Russia. This is far from a universally agreed view, however, and many find enough in Gramscian hegemony to see it as an essentially democratic concept based on mass consciousness and understanding and, as in Gino Bedani’s (1979) words, “a sophisticated and flexible account of social causation.”
Today, despite the collapse of Leninism and Soviet power in the East and the apparent inability of radical intellectuals to spread revolutionary hegemony in the West, Gramsci’s ideas, through their depth and richness, continue to exercise considerable fascination among cultural and political commentators and to generate as much debate and controversy as they have since his writings first became widely known and circulated.
One senses that they will continue, at the hands of critics from a wide variety of disciplines, to be the object of exaggerated praise, unfair vilification, and everything in between.
Born 22 January 1891 in Ales, Sardinia. Suffered from rickets and spinal injury as a child, leaving him physically deformed. Studied at the University of Turin, 1911–15.
Married Julka Schucht, 1922: two sons. Founder, editor, or contributor to several journals and newspapers, including Il Grido del Popolo (The shout of the people), from 1915, Avanti!, 1916–20, La Città Futura (The future city), 1917, Il Club di Vita Morale (The club of moral life), 1917, L’Ordine Nuovo, 1919–14, and L’Unità (Unity), 1922. Active with the Socialist Party, from 1917; founder member, 1921, and party secretary, 1924, Italian Communist Party; elected deputy in Veneto constituency and participated in parliamentary secession to Aventine, 1924. Arrested because of political opposition and imprisoned, 1926–37: suffered from arteriosclerosis, Potts disease, and pulmonary tuberculosis, and transferred from prison to a private clinic in Formia, 1933, and to Quisisana Clinic, Rome, 1935; mass of observations, essays, and studies written while in prison later collected as Quaderni del carcere. Awards: Viareggio Prize for Literature, 1947. Died (of a cerebral hemorrhage) in Rome, 27 April 1937.
Essays and Related Prose
Lettere dal carcere, 1947; revised edition, edited by Sergio Caprioglio and Elsa Fubini, 1965; as Letters from Prison, edited by Frank Rosengarten, translated by Ray Rosenthal, 2 vols., 1994; selections as Letters front Prison, edited and translated by Lynne Lawner, 1973, and Prison Letters, translated by Hamish Henderson, 1988
Quaderni del carcere, 6 vols., 1948–51; Istituto Gramsci Edition edited by Valentino Gerratana, 4 vols., 1975; Part as Prison Notebooks, vol. 1 (1929–33), edited by Joseph A.Buttigieg, translated by Buttigieg and Antonio Callari, 1992; various selections as The Open Marxism of Antonio Gramsci, translated by Carl Marzani, 1957, The Modern Prince and Other Writings, translated by Louis Marks, 1957, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, 1971, and
Further Selections from the Prison Notebooks, edited and translated by Derek Boothman, 1995
History, Philosophy and Culture in the Young Gramsci, edited by Peter Cavalcanti and Paul Piccone, 1975
Selections from Political Writings, edited by Quintin Hoare, translated by Hoare and John Mathews, 2 vols., 1977–78
Cronache Torinesi (1913–17) (articles), edited by Sergio Caprioglio, 1980
La Città Futura (1917–18) (articles), edited by Sergio Caprioglio, 1982
Il Nostro Marx (1918–19) (articles), edited by Sergio Caprioglio, 1984
Selections from Cultural Writings, edited by David Forgacs and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, translated by William Boelhower, 1985
L’Ordine Nuovo (1919–20), edited by Valentino Gerratana and Antonio A.Santucci, 1987
A Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings, 1916–1935 (various translators), edited by David Forgacs, 1988
Lettere, 1908–1926, edited by Antonio A.Santucci, 1992
Pre-Prison Writings, edited by Richard Bellamy, translated by Virginia Cox, 1994
Collected works edition: Opere, 12 vols., 1947–71.
Cammett, John M., Bibliografia gramsciana, 1922–1988, Rome: Riuniti, 1991
Nordquist, Joan, Antonio Gramsci, Santa Cruz, California: Reference and Research Services, 1987
Bates, Thomas Richard, “Gramsci and the Theory of Hegemony,” Journal of the History of Ideas 36 (1975):351–66
Bedani, Gino, “The Long-Term Strategy in Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks,” Quinquereme 2 (1979):204–22
Bellamy, Richard, and Darrow Schechter, Gramsci and the Italian State, Manchester: Manchester University Press, and New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993
Bobbio, Norberto, “Gramsci and the Concept of Civil Society,” in Gramsci and Marxist Theory, edited by Chantal Mouffe, London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979
Cammett, John M., Antonio Gramsci and the Origins of Italian Communism, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1967
Davidson, Alastair, Antonio Gramsci: Towards an Intellectual Biography, London: Merlin, and Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1977
Dombroski, Robert S., Antonio Gramsci, Boston: Twayne, 1989
Faenza, Liliana, Tra Croce e Gramsci: Una concordia discors, Rimini: Guaraldi, 1992
Gruppi, Luciano, Il concetto di egemonia in Gramsci, Rome: Riuniti-Istituto Gramsci, 1972
Harman, Chris, Gramsci Versus Reformism, London: Bookmarks, 1983
Hoffman, John, The Gramscian Challenge: Coercion and Consent in Marxist Political Theory, Oxford and New York: Blackwell, 1984
Holub, Renate, Antonio Gramsci: Beyond Marxism and Postmodernism, London and New York: Routledge, 1992
Jocteau, Gian Carlo, Leggere Gramsci: Una guida alle interpretazioni, Milan: Feltrinelli, 1975
Joll, James, Gramsci, New York: Viking Press, 1977; London: Penguin, 1978
Maier, Bruno, and Paolo Semama, Antonio Gramsci, Florence: Le Monnier, 1975
Moss, Howard K., “Gramsci and the Idea of Human Nature,” Italian Quarterly 31, nos. 119–20 (1990):7–19
Paladini Musitelli, Marina, Introduzione a Gramsci, Bari: Laterza, 1996
Ransome, Paul, Antonio Gramsci: A New Introduction, Hemel Hempstead and New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992
Scruton, Roger, “Thinkers of the Left: Antonio Gramsci,” Salisbury Review 6 (1984):19– 22; also in his Thinkers of the New Left, Harlow, Essex: Longman, 1985
Simon, Roger, Gramsci’s Political Thought: An Introduction, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1982
Williams, Gwyn A., “Gramsci’s Concept of Egemonia,” Journal of the History of Ideas 21 (1960):586–99
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