Magazine article New Internationalist

A Gramsci Reader // Review

Magazine article New Internationalist

A Gramsci Reader // Review

Article excerpt

MANY readers in capitalist cultures have considerable difficulties with Marxist writing. It is not simply that Marxism has probably been belittled, suppressed or ignored throughout their education, and that its ideas thus appear strange when first encountered. It is also that much of the most celebrated Marxist writing does not seem very helpful in suggesting how to remedy social and economic problems in the here and now. Trotsky's Permanent Revolution might have offered Russians the right prescriptions for toppling Tsarism (even if they weren't followed) but it isn't clear how anyone in present - day Hong Kong could view that book as anything other than an historical curiosity. Marx's own Capital is a monumental analysis of nineteenth - century industrialism but it would need a major revision if it were to address the perplexing difficulties of life now in the reunified country of his birth.

Today most socialists recognize that there are no universal rules, applicable in all times and in all places, which will ensure the inevitable passing away of capitalism. However, the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891 - 1937) came of age in a period when many Marxists adhered to a contrary doctrine which he came to characterize as 'economism'. Socialist economism was the belief that the economy works independently of all human will and that, in time, capitalism would inevitably crumble under its own weight. A drastically selective reading of Marx allowed many to espouse the notion of the historical inevitability of communism, which would follow capitalism as surely as night follows day. Political intervention, in this scenario, was not only unnecessary, but entirely pointless. In his early writing in the Italian socialist press, Gramsci constantly attacked such complacency, stressing the importance of political action and the errors of handling certain Marxist ideas as if they were a catechism.

In one of his earliest articles, entitled 'The Revolution Against Capital' (1917), he brilliantly analyzed the recent events in Russia as disproving Marx's argument that such a revolution could only occur in an economy that had gone through a capitalist phase. His explanation of this event was heresy to those who subscribed to economism: he put the case that people, through their conscious political decisions, control the economy and not vice versa. Later, in a piece on the situation in Italy (written in 1926, by which time Mussolini had taken power), he drew the further heterodox conclusion that capitalism in many cases might only be overthrown where it was weak and undeveloped. …

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