Antonio Gramsci can be regarded as one of the most significant Marxists of the twentieth century who merits inclusion in any register of classical social theorists. A founding member of the Italian Communist Party, he was arrested by Mussolini’s fascist police and spent 11 years in prison, where, in spite of rapidly deteriorating health, he wrote the three volume essay collection known as The Prison Notebooks. He died 80 years ago today due to health complications he suffered during his detention.
Gramsci’s theorising of cultural hegemony continues to have a significant bearing on Marxism, but in pointing to a singular achievement we must not underestimate the impact of his writings on education, civil society, crisis, the individual and ideology. A Gramscian dialectic can be applied to disciplines across the social sciences and the humanities and the books chosen here attest to this interdisciplinarity. Each of the five titles chosen for our Gramsci Reading List recognise the need for an open-minded approach to his work, necessary to capture the multiple branching out of his thought and a practical interest in understanding the here and now of contemporary events.
Using Gramsci: A New Approach by Michele Filippini
To quote Stuart Hall, ‘Gramsci gives us, not the tools with which to solve the puzzle, but the means with which to ask the right kinds of questions’. This book is something of a ‘how-to’ for Gramsci’s thought, to read Gramsci is not always easy, he plunges into debates now obscure and engages in a range of topics that at first seem unrelated, here, his thinking is artfully crystallised by Michele Filippini, making this book perfect for scholars, as well as those new to his work.
Working from the original Italian texts, Filippini also examines the more traditional areas of Gramsci’s thought, including hegemony, organic intellectuals and civil society, and in doing so proposes a new approach to one the most popular and relevant thinkers of the 20th Century.
Solidarity without Borders: Gramscian Perspectives on Migration and Civil Society Alliances edited by Óscar García Agustín and Martin Bak Jørgensen
‘This book’s Gramscian perspective provides a welcome corrective to nationalist migration scholarship that naturalises borders and a migrant/native divide.’ As borders – geographical, national, cultural and religious – are tightened, applying a Gramscian dialectic when analysing migration reveals the relationship between “the diverse oppressive effects of the dominant order” and the emergence of solidarities between migrants and non-migrant actors.’
The book provides case studies including the Gezi Park Protests in Turkey, social movements in Ireland and the Lampedusa in Hamburg among others, Solidarity Without Borders explores the diversity of new migrant political actors; solidarity and new alliances across borders; avoiding misplaced alliances; and spaces of resistance.
Gramsci on Tahrir: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Egypt by Brecht De Smet
Gramsci’s term ‘passive revolution’ was coined during the interwar period, it refers to a significant change that is not a rupturous one, but a slow and gradual metamorphosis. Gramsci on Tahrir explores the relevance of the Gramscian concept of passive revolution, applying it to the complex dynamic of Egypt’s revolution and counter-revolution.
Forces acting in Egypt provide a clear example of a state with the absence of strong hegemonies and capable counter-hegemonies. Through a Gramscian analysis of the Egyptian revolution, we can see how the situation demonstrates how both national histories and global power relations enable, define and displace popular resistance and social transformation.
Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements by Richard J. F. Day
Does it really benefit social movements to aspire to achieve cultural hegemony? Richard Day sets out to discover whether activists should aim to promote their own culture and its accompanying values and norms in order for them to become “common sense”.
To quote Ann Hansen, author of Direct Action: The Memoirs of an Urban Guerilla and recently sentenced to life imprisonment for blowing up a cruise-missile component factory, ‘Day has decided to pick up the pen instead of the Molotov cocktail’; scrutinising Gramsci’s theory, in order to develop new forms of self-organisation that can run in parallel with — or as alternatives to — existing forms of social, political, and economic organisation. Ultimately concluding that culture should court affinity, rather than hegemony.
Subalternity, Antagonism, Autonomy: Constructing the Political Subject by Massimo Modonesi
This is an English edition of a highly influential work by the Mexican political theorist. Reviewing the works of Gramsci – as well as, Antonio Negri, E. P. Thompson, Spivak, Laclau and Mouffe – Massimo Modonesi weaves together theory and political practice, relating theorising of subalternity, antagonism and autonomy to contemporary movements in Latin America and elsewhere.
Through the application of a Gramscian dialectic when analysing the character of Latin America’s Pink Tide governments we are able to comprehend just how germane Gramsci’s work is.
All books are available to buy from Pluto Press.