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.
Revivifying what are only recent memories of massacres by the state during the apartheid era, the Marikana massacre occurred on 16th August 2012, when policemen shot down 112 striking mineworkers, killing 34. Resistance by the ANC and the press to label the incident a massacre (‘Marikana shootings’ was the preferred terminology) at once exposed the easy analogy between Marikana and previous mass shootings at Sharpeville or Soweto, the fraughtness of South Africa’s difficult reckoning with its past, and how violence and the covering up of violence remains an intrinsic part of South Africa’s political structures and institutions.
Luke Sinwell, co-author of The Spirit of Marikana – a fascinating recent history of post-Apartheid South Africa, emphasising the crucial role of workers in changing history – has written here about the fight for justice by the workers that survived the massacre and the prosecution of 72 police for their role in the events.
The recent decision taken by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) to prosecute 72 police for their role in the events related to South Africa’s Marikana massacre is welcome, but it may obscure the truth that the African National Congress (ANC) government pulled the trigger. The Sprit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism tells the story of the agency of those workers who survived it.
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
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 Abdo
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.
bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody is the antidote to every ‘when’s international men’s day?!’ tweet. Designed to be read by all genders, this short, accessible introduction to feminist theory, by one of its liveliest and most influential practitioners, seeks to rescue feminism from esoterism and academic jargon; simplifying, arguing and convincing.
Everywhere I go I proudly tell folks who want to know who I am and what I do that I am a writer, a feminist theorist, a cultural critic. I tell them I write about movies and popular culture, analysing the message in the medium. Most people find this exciting and want to know more. Everyone goes to movies, watches television, glances through magazines, and everyone has thoughts about the messages they receive, about the images they look at. It is easy for the diverse public I encounter to understand what I do as a cultural critic, to understand my passion for writing (lots of folks want to write, and do). But feminist theory — that’s the place where the questions stop. In- stead I tend to hear all about the evil of feminism and the bad feminists: how “they” hate men; how “they” want to go against nature — and god; how “they” are all lesbians; how “they” are taking all the jobs and making the world hard for white men, who do not stand a chance. When I ask these same folks about the feminist books or magazines they read, when I ask them about the feminist talks they have heard, about the feminist activists they know, they respond by let- ting me know that everything they know about feminism has come into their lives thirdhand, that they really have not come close enough to feminist movement to know what really happens, what it’s really about. Mostly they think feminism is a bunch of angry women who want to be like men. They do not even think about feminism as being about rights — about women gaining equal rights. When I talk about the feminism I know — up close and personal — they willingly listen, although when our conversations end, they are quick to tell me I am different, not like the “real” feminists who hate men, who are angry. I assure them I am as a real and as radical a feminist as one can be, and if they dare to come closer to feminism they will see it is not how they have imagined it.
Tithi 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.
Anitra Nelson, author of Life Without Money (Pluto, 2011) has reviewed two new books for the online publication Overland. One of them, The Squatters’ Movement in Europe, was published by Pluto in May this year. You can read the review, as well as some other great content, on Overland – we’ve also reproduced it below.
In general, the laws of capitalism protect the interests of property owners and big bosses, particularly the one per cent. As capitalism expands and intensifies, the laws multiply. Writers have difficulty claiming copyright and earning their just rewards. Australian federal court judges recently threw out an appeal from Cancer Voices Australia about a decision that DNA and RNA can be patented. Bailiffs turf you out when you stop paying your rent or mortgage off. If the bosses decide, thousands of us can be made redundant – essentially, forced not to work.
But capitalists’ exploitation of nature and people is the subject of increasing resistance, as life on earth is threatened by the climate change caused by capitalism. Two very readable recent books explore anti-capitalist practices: The Squatters’ Movement in Europe: Commons and Autonomy as Alternatives to Capitalism, written by scholar-activists of the Squatting Europe Kollective (SqEK) and edited by Claudio Cattaneo and Miguel Martínez López, and The Village Against the World by Dan Hancox.
The first is a pioneering work on a relatively neglected topic: squatting as a political action and to fulfil otherwise unmet needs for housing. Despite the book’s European focus, some chapters draw on examples from the US, with authors discussing the cultural diversity within squats, their meaning for our urban environmental crises and legal codes.
The observations and experiences are easily transferable, except that Australian squats are neither as extensive nor as visible: see the Australian Museum of Squatting created by squatter enthusiasts Iain McIntyre and Shane McGrath who run 3CR’s SUWA (Squatters and Unwaged Airwaves) show, and the international site Squat!net for SqEK and recent Australian news. Continue reading
A new review of Massimo Modonesi’s book Subalternity, Antagonism, Autonomy (Pluto, 2013) has been published in Antipode. The reviewer has kindly granted us permission to reproduce it here.
For more information about the book, go to our website, or click on the cover image.
In this new text published in Pluto Press’ “Reading Gramsci Series”, Massimo Modonesi seeks to explore the theoretical genesis of three core concepts that make up the title of the book – namely, subalternity, antagonism and autonomy – and the problems that the usage of these pose for Marxist debates. The concepts in question, as first revealed in my review for Antipode online, are explicitly linked to the process of political subjectivation (or subject formation) in terms of the experiences of subordination, insubordination and emancipation. Each concept is also linked to a key author associated with its development. Antonio Gramsci’s writings are therefore explored in relation to subalternity; Antonio Negri’s in regards to antagonism; and those of Cornelius Castoriadis in connection with autonomy. Scholars of each respective thinker are likely to find merit in various individual chapters of the book as it traces in detail the development of their intellectual trajectories.
Importantly, the main concepts are not simply explored in the abstract, but rather are linked to concrete periods of history, including: the defeat of the Factory Council movement and the rise of Fascism in Italy inspiring Gramsci’s thoughts on subalternity; the emergence of “workerism” and various forms of mobilization that rocked Italy in the 1960s and 1970s that influenced Negri; and finally the experience of the French student uprisings in 1968 and subsequent debates about autogestion for Castoriadis. The book makes a useful contribution therefore to critical geography in that it demonstrates the place-based nature of revolutionary theory and praxis. In other words, it combines “lived experience”, to coin a phrase from Henri Lefebvre’s The Survival of Capitalism, with conceptual development. We therefore get a keen sense of how each concept serves as a form of “militant particularism”, forged out of the experiences of one particular time and place but subsequently generalised to wider locales, as detailed by David Harvey in Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference. Continue reading