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Antonio Gramsci

Antonio Gramsci (January 23, 1891 - April 27, 1937) was an Italian writer (Arbėreshė on his father's side) and a politician, a leader and theorist of Socialism, Communism and anti-Fascism.



Gramsci was born in Ales, Italy, on the island of Sardinia, a relatively remote region of Italy that was mostly ignored by the Italian government in favor of the industrialized North.

He was the fourth of seven sons of Francesco Gramsci, who had financial difficulties and troubles with the police, and also suffered imprisonment. He had to move about through several villages in Sardinia until his family finally settled in Ghilarza .

A brilliant student, Gramsci won a prize that allowed him to study at Turin's university, where he read literature. He found Turin at the time going through a process of industrialization, with the Fiat and Lancia factories recruiting workers from poorer regions. Trade unions became established, and the first industrial social conflicts started to emerge. Gramsci had a close involvement with these developments, frequenting socialist circles as well as associating with Sardinian emigrants, which gave him continuity with his native culture.

His early difficult experiences in Sardinia had already shaped his view of the world. This, together with his experience on the mainland, had a part in his decision to join the Italian Socialist Party .

He became a notable journalist, even if his writings were mainly for political papers such as L'Avanti (the Socialist Party official organ); nevertheless his brilliant prose and his intelligent observations soon resulted in greater fame.

An articulate and prolific writer of political theory, Gramsci produced a great deal of writing as editor of a number of socialist newspapers in Italy. Among the many, with Palmiro Togliatti he set up (in 1919) L'Ordine Nuovo (also the name of an unrelated 1960s fascist group), and contributed to La Cittą Futura.

The group around L'Ordine Nouvo became allied with Amadeo Bordiga and the far larger Communist Abstentionist faction within the Socialist Party. This led to their organising the Communist Party of Italy (Partito Comunista d'Italia - Pcd'I) on January 21, 1921. Gramsci would be a leader of the party from its inception although subordiante to Bordiga until the latter lost the leadership at in 1924. Gramsci's theses were adopted by the PCd'I at its 1926 Lyons Congress.

In 1922 Gramsci appeared in Russia, where he represented the new party and met his wife, Giulia Schucht, a young violinist with whom Gramsci had two sons. [1]

The Russian mission coincided with the advent of Fascism in Italy, and Gramsci returned with instructions to foster the unity of the leftist parties against fascism. Such a front would obviously ideally have had the PCI at its centre, through which Moscow would have controlled all the leftist forces, but others disputed this potential supremacy: socialists did have a certain tradition in Italy too, while the communist party seemed relatively young and too radical. Many believed that an eventual coalition led by communists would have functioned too remotely from political debate, and thus would have run the risk of isolation.

In 1924 Gramsci gained election as a deputy for the Veneto. He started organising the launch of the official newspaper of the party, called L'Unitą (Unity), living in Rome while his family stayed in Moscow.

In 1926 Stalin's manoeuvres inside the Bolshevik party moved Gramsci to write a letter to the Comintern, in which he deplored the opposition, but also underlined some presumed faults of the leader. Togliatti, in Moscow as a representative of the party, received the letter, opened it, read it, and decided not to deliver it. This caused a difficult conflict between Gramsci and Togliatti which they never completely resolved.

On November 8, 1926 the fascist police arrested Gramsci, despite his parliamentary immunity, and brought him to Regina Coeli, the famous Roman prison. He received an immediate sentence of 5 years in confinement (on the remote island of Ustica); the following year he received a sentence of 20 years of prison (in Turi , near Bari). His condition caused him to suffer from constantly declining health, and he received an individual cell and little assistance. In 1932, a project for exchanging political prisoners (including Gramsci) between Italy and the Soviet Union failed. In 1934 his health deteriorated severely and he gained conditional freedom, after having already visited some hospitals in Civitavecchia, Formia and Rome. He died in Rome at the age of 46, shortly after being released from prison.


Gramsci wrote more than 30 notebooks of history and analysis during his imprisonment. These writings, known as the Prison Notebooks , contain Gramsci's tracing of Italian history and nationalism, as well as some ideas in critical theory and educational theory associated with his name, such as:

With cultural hegemony, Gramsci developed an idea from Marxism into an acute analysis to explain why the "inevitable" revolution of the proletariat predicted by orthodox Marxism had not occurred by the early 20th century. Rather, capitalism seemed even more entrenched than ever. Capitalism, Gramsci suggested, maintained control not just through violence and political and economic coercion, but also ideologically, through a hegemonic culture in which the values of the bourgeoisie became the "common sense" values of all. Thus a consensus culture developed in which people in the working class identified their own good with the good of the bourgeoisie, and helped to maintain the status quo rather than revolting. The working class needed to develop a "counter-hegemonic" culture, said Gramsci, firstly to overthrow the notion that bourgeois values represented "natural" or "normal" values for society, and ultimately to succeed in overthrowing capitalism.

This need to create a working-class culture relates to Gramsci's call for a kind of education that could develop working-class intellectuals. His ideas about an education system for this purpose correspond with the notion of critical pedagogy and popular education as theorized and practised in later decades by Paulo Freire in Brazil. For this reason, partisans of adult and popular education as well as of Marxist and political theory consider Gramsci an important voice to this day.

Although Gramsci's thought emanates from the organized left, he has become an important figure in current academic discussions within cultural studies and critical theory. Political theorists from the center and the right have also found insight in his concepts; his idea of hegemony, for example, has become widely cited. His influence is particularly strong in contemporary political science, on the subject of the prevalence of neoliberal thinking among political elites, in the form of Neo-gramscianism. His work also heavily influenced intellectual discourse on popular culture and scholarly popular culture studies.

His critics charge him with fostering a notion of power struggle through ideas that finds a reflection in recent academic controversies such as political correctness. They find the Gramscian approach to ideas, reflected in these controversies, to be in conflict with open-ended, liberal inquiry grounded in the classics of Western culture. To credit or blame Gramsci for the travails of current academic politics is an odd turn of history, since Gramsci himself (unlike most major 20th century thinkers) was never an academic, and was in fact deeply intellectually engaged with Italian culture, history, and current liberal thought. He was especially influenced by Benedetto Croce, possibly the most widely respected Italian intellectual of his day. Gramsci subjected Croce's thought to careful critique.

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Last updated: 08-18-2005 07:41:50
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