Thoughts on Antonio Gramsci by Michele Filippini

Antonio Gramsci died on the 27th April 1937, 80 years ago today. In this blog, Michele Filippini, author of Using Gramsci: A New Approach dissects the evolving function of Gramsci’s work, exploring the move from a historically conscious reading that shaped politics in practice, to the interdisciplinary appeal of the new theoretical impulse.


Those who do not produce things (in the wide sense) cannot produce words.

Antonio Gramsci, 1912


In 1987, Eric J. Hobsbawm wrote an article for the Italian journal Rinascita, informing readers that Antonio Gramsci was among ‘The 250 most cited authors in the Arts and Humanities Citation Index 1976–1983’. This ranking of famous names from the sixteenth century onwards, only included another four Italians: Giorgio Vasari, Giuseppe Verdi, Benedetto Croce and Umberto Eco. The publication date of the index is significant: Gramsci died on 27 April 1937, and as this citing indicates his fame was very much of a posthumous nature, beginning at the end of the Second World War with the publication of the thematic volumes of his prison writings.

So, what happened during the thirty-year period to transform a leading political figure, the Secretary of the Italian Communist Party, imprisoned by the Fascist regime, into a leading intellectual figure for the international left, but also a classic in political theory?

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International Women’s Day Reading List

From feminist theory, to history and contemporary politics, these are some of Pluto’s best books, old and new, that celebrate radical women.


Revolutionary Learning: Marxism, Feminism and Knowledge by Sara Carpenter and Shahrzad Mojab Carpenter T03129

Revolutionary Learning by Sara Carpenter and Shahrzad Mojab explores the Marxist and feminist theorisation of knowledge production and learning. From an explicitly feminist perspective, the authors reconsider the contributions of Marx, Gramsci and Freire to educational theory, expanding Marxist analyses of education by considering it in relation to patriarchal and imperialist capitalism.  The reproductive nature of institutions is revealed through an ethnography of schools and pushed further by the authors who go on to examine how education and consciousness connects with the broader environment of public policy, civil society, the market, and other instruments of ‘public pedagogy.’

The book’s use of work by feminist, anti-racist and anti-colonial scholars means it will have significant implications for critical education scholarship, but its use value extends beyond educational praxis; providing the tools dissect, theorize, resist and transform capitalist social relations.


Captive Revolution: Palestinian Women’s Anti-Colonial Struggle within the Israeli Prison System by Nahla AbdoAbdo T02851

Throughout the world, women have played a part in struggles against colonialism, imperialism and other forms of oppression, but their vital contributions to revolutions, national liberation and anti-colonial resistance are rarely chronicled.

Nahla Abdo’s Captive Revolution seeks to break the silence on Palestinian women political detainees. Based on stories of the women themselves, as well as her own experiences as a former political prisoner, Abdo draws on a wealth of oral history and primary research in order to analyse their anti-colonial struggle, their agency and their appalling treatment as political detainees. Through crucial comparisons between the experiences of female political detainees in other conflict; a history of female activism emerges.

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Leila Khaled: The Poster Girl of Palestinian Militancy’ International Woman’s Day

We’re celebrating International Woman’s Day with ‘the poster girl of Palestinian militancy’ and subject of Sarah Irving’s biography: Leila Khaled. Leila Khaled: Icon of Palestinian Liberation tells the story of Khaled’s remarkable life as a female activist in a man’s movement. From hijacking planes, to her involvement in radical sects, Leila Khaled’s activism made her as era-defining as Che Guevara.


When Leila Khaled hijacked her first plane, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was a left-wing organization with international links and the declared intention of winning the return of the Palestinian people to the lands they had left only 20 years before. This was the era of Che Guevara, killed in Bolivia just two years earlier, and of liberation struggles in South East Asia. The right of oppressed peoples to resist by armed means was discussed worldwide, and the heroes of these movements decorated the walls of student bedrooms and left-wing homes. The second wave of feminism was also breaking, adding another aspect to the environment in which news of this young female hijacker would be received.

In Leila’s Middle East home, Israel had just defeated the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the Six Day War, humiliating the Arab world militarily and capturing the remaining Palestinian territories west of the River Jordan and north of the Sinai. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, including thousands of refugees from the initial establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, had been living under Jordanian and Egyptian rule, but were now subject to Israeli military occupation. Despite this, the world’s attention to the Palestinians themselves was minimal. They were seen by the West as a small, dispossessed refugee people, caught up in the hostility between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, and of little importance except as an excuse for aggression by Arab powers. Amongst the Palestinians of the refugee camps of Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, discontent had been brewing. A resistance movement, which had been growing since the mid 1960s, had been further radicalized and popularized by the Six Day War and by Palestinians’ increasing suspicion of the hollow support voiced by Arab regimes. As Rosemary Sayigh, who lived in Lebanon throughout the 1970s, puts it:

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‘Lacan is like a mountain’, could you be the next Lacan?

It’s been 35 years since the death of Jacques Lacan. We here at Pluto reckon that it’s time enough we had another controversial, ground-breaking philosopher-cum-psychoanalyst. So, as Lacan would have wanted, let’s turn this investigation in on ourselves, using passages from Martin Murray’s ‘Jacques Lacan: A Critical Introduction’, we can understand the formation of Jacques Lacan’s character and thought, and determine if you’ve got what it takes to be the next Lacan.

Are you a Polymath?jacques_lacan_ironie

‘Controversy about his eclecticism never put Lacan off. In many senses, he relished it. Not only did he not relinquish his researches in unfamiliar fields, he extended them. As his career progressed, he engaged less with psychoanalytic theories and more with other ones. This is ironic, given that he increasingly claimed to be isolating what was ‘fundamental’ to psychoanalysis and to be doing so by ‘formulating’ what is essential to it.

The irony is well exemplified by Lacan’s late and quite notorious logical, mathematical and topological speculations. He claimed that these offered an overall, accurate, rigorous and definitive formulation of psychoanalytic principles. He even claimed that they offered an effective critique of philosophy and science per se. They don’t. In fact, there’s a debate about whether they achieve anything at all. In any case they confirm a contention that […] Lacan’s speculations, researches and theorisations, although sometimes ‘brilliant’ were idiosyncratic. They were looking to discover or establish something that is essential to psychoanalysis outside of psychoanalysis (for example in logic, topology and mathematics). In other words Lacan’s method was split, just as he was. Lacan wanted to be an acclaimed para-logician, a supra-formulator and a scientific (as well as philosophical) polymath (a sort of poly-mathematician). Yet he only convinced his followers that he was any such thing.

The division – between what Lacan would like to have been and what he was – corresponded with the conflict between the various and particular roles that he played but couldn’t decide between or give up (psychoanalyst, philosopher, healer, teacher, priest, genius, rebel etc.). All of these conflicts were probably symptomatic of a fear of and ambivalence about loss. In other words they were borne of a terror that success as one thing means failure as another, that gaining something means giving something else up, or that sacrificing one thing means losing everything.’

Do you recognise this multiplicity of spirit within yourself? Do you work in HR, but envisage yourself as a shaman/geographer/veterinary nurse? Well, our imposed methods of deduction suggest that you could be the next Lacan…

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Shelley’s ‘Poetical Essay on the State of Things’

A poem by the radical romantic poet Percy Shelley is now on display at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, after being lost for 200 years. It passionately confirms the extent of Shelley’s political convictions. Jacqueline Mulhallen, author of the new biography Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Revolutionary discusses the importance of this fiery, combative poem Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things.

Front_cover_of_a___3497031b In 1811, Percy Bysshe Shelley, then a student at Oxford, wrote a poem, A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things, as part of a campaign to support an Irish journalist, Peter Finnerty, in an English prison. Finnerty’s offence was to write an expose of the incompetence of the commanders of a British military expedition, intended to block the French fleet, in which 20,000 lives were lost from typhoid in the fever marshes of Walcheren. Lord Castlereagh, the Secretary of State for War, had ordered the expedition and Finnerty’s article also referred to Castlereagh’s role in the savagely brutal putting down of the 1798 Irish Rising. Finnerty was jailed for two years and was badly treated.  Sir Francis Burdett, a radical MP who had exposed conditions in Cold Bath Fields Prison, London, launched a campaign in Finnerty’s support with the help of the radical newspaper, The Examiner. The Oxford University and City Herald, described as a ‘very liberal’ newspaper with a large circulation in the south of England, followed suit. Its publishers advertised Shelley’s poem to help with the fund-raising. It is said to have raised nearly £100, a large sum of money since the pamphlet cost 2 shillings, but of course many supporters may have added a donation.

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Frantz Fanon for Our Times: Reflections on Peter Hudis’ Biography of Fanon

fanon3Tithi Bhattacharya writes on Peter Hudis’ new biography of Frantz Fanon.

‘To Peter we owe a particular gratitude.  He did not write a simple narrative biography of Fanon— that would have been a historicist exercise in which the past of Fanon would connect seamlessly to our present and we ‘draw lessons’ from it.

The past is a tricky customer and both Fanon and Peter understand that well.  So following the methodology that Walter Benjamin recommends, Peter has blasted Fanon out of linear, empty time and has constellated for us moments in Fanon that are necessary to consider for our present.

These distilled Fanonian moments that Peter offers us may have been important or not so important for those seeking to change the world in Fanon’s own time.  But they are recognizably relevant for our times and what is significant is how Peter has captured these fugitive concepts to help change the world for a new generation.

So I will outline a few of those moments that Peter has picked, that have flashed for him, in our ‘moment of danger’ and explore their significance.

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A Philosophical View of Reform: The Politics of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Today, the British government frames the argument around national debt by referring to the need for ‘us’ to make sacrifices or the fact that ‘we’ have been living beyond ‘our’ means and need austerity to survive economically. Despite evidence to the contrary, this ideology resonates with Percy Bysshe Shelleymany people who think that in some way, we are all responsible for the financial crisis. We live within this widespread, false ideology, and some of us fight against it. However, a look back to the nineteenth century reveals that this fight was already taking place, and that capitalism was employing many of the tricks it still uses today. Jacqueline Mulhallen looks at the political life of the radical romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in her new biography and reveals that there was much more to him than first meets the eye.


Debt in the time of Shelley

‘In 1819, Percy Shelley was writing A Philosophical View of Reform. In its pages, he is clear about whom he considered responsible for the national debt, which at that time was bigger than it had ever been before – in 1815 the interest amounted to £37,500,000. Shelley, like many people today,  fought against the common consensus and blamed the bankers and the nation’s financial institutions. He clearly expressed his contempt in them; the ‘stock jobbers, usurers, directors, government pensions, country bankers: a set of pelting wretches who think of any commerce with their species as a means not an end’ and whose position in society he believed was based on fraud. Shelly himself surprisingly came from the landed aristocracy, however he had no love for this class either, as their existence was built upon force and was what he labelled ‘a prodigious anomaly’. He also talked of the rise of the newly wealthy as a different form of aristocracy who created a double burden on those whose labour created ‘the whole materials of life’. He could see that they together formed one class – ‘the rich’.

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