Ideology, Politics, Hegemony: From Gramsci to Laclau and Mouffe
Gramsci is something of a paradox in radical political thought. On the one hand, his work is much admired as the most sympathetic treatment, within the classical Marxist tradition, of cultural and ideological politics. He has become the adopted theorist of, for example, the Eurocommunist strategy in Italy, Spain and other countries and, in Britain, the inspiration for many of those who wish to realign Labour politics in a new and realistic mode. His approach to ideology, his theory of hegemony, his account of the role of intellectuals, his insistence on the importance of tactics and persuasion and his detailed attention to questions of culture, and the politics of everyday culture, have all been taken up enthusiastically by a generation sick of the moralizing rules and precepts of both the Marxist-Leninist and Labourist lefts.
Yet, in theoretical terms, Gramsci's work has posed many unresolved questions in the area of a theory of ideology -- partly because (like Marx, perhaps) his brilliant insights often stand alone or in some tension with each other. It is not clear, to take an example I shall discuss in more detail, exactly how his approach to ideology ties in with the now celebrated definition and use of the idea of hegemony. More generally, Gramsci's thought has taken on an iconic significance for the contemporary Left, both intellectual and cultural, but it is also Gramsci -- at least the Gramsci read by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe -- who stands at the crucial breaking point of Marxism as a viable political theory. This latter argument, which hangs on the central status of the concept of class in Marxist theory and politics, will occupy much of this