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The Gramscian Moment - Philosophy, Hegemony and Marxism
16 September 2012 by eric , laura

Editor’s note :

Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks are today acknowledged as a classic of the human and social sciences in the twentieth century. The influence of his thought in numerous fields of scholarship is only exceeded by the diverse interpretations and readings to which it has been subjected, resulting in often contradictory ’images of Gramsci’. This book draws on the rich recent season of Gramscian philological studies in order to argue that the true significance of Gramsci’s thought consists in its distinctive position in the development of the Marxist tradition. Providing a detailed reconsideration of Gramsci’s theory of the state and concept of philosophy, The Gramscian moment argues for the urgent necessity of taking up the challenge of developing a ’philosophy of praxis’ as a

Winner of the Premio internazionale Giuseppe Sormani 2011, awarded by the Fondazione Istituto Piemontese Antonio Gramsci in Turin for the best book/article on Gramsci in the period between 2007-2011 internationally.

The author :

Peter D. Thomas (Ph.D, 2008) studied at the University of Queensland, Freie Universität Berlin, L’Università “Federico II”, Naples, and the Universiteit van Amsterdam. He has published widely on Marxist political theory and philosophy. He is a member of the editorial board of the journal Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Ttheory.

Table of contents :

-  A Note on the Text
-  Acknowledgements
-  Preface

-  Chapter One The Moment of Reading ‘Capital’

  • 1.1. ‘I can only think of Gramsci...’
  • 1.2. Reading ‘Capital’ in its moment
  • 1.3. ‘The last great theoretical debate of Marxism’
  • 1.4. Marxist philosophy
  • 1.5. The Althusserian and Gramscian moments
  • 1.6. Philosophy, hegemony and the state: ‘metaphysical event’ and ‘philosophical fact’

-  Chapter Two Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci?

  • 2.1. Incompletion and reconstruction
  • 2.2. A theoretical toolbox?
  • 2.3. ‘Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci’
  • 2.4. 1+1=3
  • 2.5. Detours via detours
  • 2.6. The emergence of hegemony...
  • 2.7. ...and its deformation
  • 2.8. Three versions of hegemony in the West
  • 2.9. Political society + civil society = state
  • 2.10. Shadows of Croce
  • 2.11. East and West, past and present
  • 2.12. Antinomies of the united front
  • 2.13. The spectre of Kautsky
  • 2.14. A labyrinth within a labyrinth?

-  Chapter Three ‘A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery inside an Enigma’? On the Literary Form of the Prison Notebooks

  • 3.1. Traces of the past
  • 3.2. Code language
  • 3.3. Hieroglyphs
  • 3.3.1. ‘Für ewig’
  • 3.4. Incompletion: a work in progress
  • 3.5. An unfinished dialogue
  • 3.6. An Ariadne’s thread

-  Chapter Four Contra the Passive Revolution

  • 4.1. The ‘integral state’
  • 4.2. The long nineteenth century
  • 4.3. The birth of civil society
  • 4.4. Passive revolution
  • 4.5. War of position
  • 4.6. ‘War of position’ versus ‘war of movement’
  • 4.7. Two phases of passive revolution
  • 4.8. Duration versus historical epoch
  • 4.9. Crisis of authority
  • 4.10. Modernity as passive revolution?

-  Chapter Five Civil and Political Hegemony

  • 5.1. Consent versus coercion
  • 5.1.1. ‘Political leadership becomes an aspect of domination’
  • 5.1.2. The ‘dual perspective’
  • 5.2. Civil society versus the state

-  Chapter Six ‘The Realisation of Hegemony’

  • 6.1. West versus East
  • 6.2. Hegemony, bourgeois and proletarian
  • 6.3. Actuality of the united front

-  Chapter Seven ‘The Philosophy of Praxis is the Absolute “Historicism”’

  • 7.1. ‘The absolute “historicism”’
  • 7.2. Two critiques: liquidation and dilution
  • 7.3. Ideology sive philosophy
  • 7.4. Towards a philosophy of praxis

-  Chapter Eight ‘The Absolute Secularisation and Earthliness of Thought’

  • 8.1. Althusserian science
  • 8.2. Traces of immanence
  • 8.3. Gramsci: linguist
  • 8.4. Why immanence?
  • 8.5. Gramsci: economist
  • 8.6. Immanence = theory
  • 8.7. The identity of theory and practice

-  Chapter Nine ‘An Absolute Humanism of History’

  • 9.1. The humanist controversy
  • 9.2. Humanism, hegemony and intellectuals
  • 9.3. Organic and traditional intellectuals
  • 9.4. Renaissance humanism
  • 9.5. Philosophos sive politicus
  • 9.6. The ‘modern Prince’ and apparatus of proletarian hegemony as ‘philosophical fact’

-  Conclusion - Marxism and Philosophy: Today

-  References
-  Name Index
-  Subject Index

Beginning of Preface :

The Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci are today acknowledged as a classic of twentieth-century social theory. Written under extremely difficult conditions in a Fascist prison cell in the late 1920s and early 1930s, they were only published in a thematic edition after the Second World War. A popular reception in Italy in the 1950s and 1960s promoted by the Italian Communist Party was followed by an international diffusion of Gramsci’s thought from the 1960s onwards. The publication of the critical edition of the Quaderni del carcere in 1975, edited by Valentino Gerratana, was a landmark in Gramscian scholarship. It allowed for the first time a close textual analysis of the development of Gramsci’s ‘necessarily incomplete’ carceral project. Gramsci’s work now constitutes a significant point of reference in such diverse field as history, sociology, anthropology, literary studies, international relations and political theory. This popularity and diffusion are all the more remarkable when the relative neglect into which other authors from the Marxist tradition have fallen in the same period is recalled. As Eric Hobsbawm has argued, Gramsci has today become a ‘classic’ not only of Marxism but also of the wider human and social sciences. [1]

Nevertheless, as Oscar Wilde might have remarked, reputation does not necessarily ensure recognition. Arguably, reference to Gramsci’s name and to some of his key concepts-above all, that of hegemony- occurs more often that the close textual analysis and assessment of his thought. Despite the rich opportunities offered by Gerratana’s critical edition, a philological reading of the Prison Notebooks began slowly in the late 1970s and early 1980s. A combination of the legacy of political instrumentalisations, a changed political conjuncture and decline in the fortunes of Marxist theory as a scholarly research paradigm worked against attempts to reconstruct an integral picture of Gramsci’s thought in the context of the history of Marxism. More recently, however, a new generation of researchers has begun to explore such paths untaken, insisting upon the necessity of contextualising Gramsci’s research in the currents of his time. Perhaps even more significantly, the most recent season of Gramscian scholarship has attempted to follow the development of Gramsci’s carceral project in its laborious elaboration, hesitancies and necessary incompletion, valorising the fertility of its dynamic for contemporary attempts to rethink the Marxist tradition.

This study proposes to make a contribution to the philological reassessment of Gramsci’s legacy, in the perspective of the contemporary revitalisation of Marxism. Both of these elements should be emphasised from the outset, as the ‘content’ and ‘horizon’ of this study. On the one hand, I attempt to engage with the most advanced findings of Gramscian research, in the conviction that it is only by comprehending the meaning of Gramsci’s carceral writings in their historical context that we will be in a position to understand its possible significance for our own times; indeed, as I shall argue, it is sometimes precisely the distance of Gramsci’s thought from the ‘main currents’ of the present that make it all the more urgent to engage with the critical perspectives he provides us. On the other hand, this study consciously assumes a ‘partisan’ position in contemporary debates about the future of the Marxism and Gramsci’s relation to it. Gramsci’s thought was continually nourished by critical engagement with the prior Marxist tradition, which he attempted to renew in a form adequate to the political tasks of his time; a productive reading of Gramsci today, in my view, must necessarily be conducted in a similar spirit of inheritance, transformation and revitalisation of Marxism as a ‘conception of the world’ integrated with the efforts of the subaltern classes to found a new ‘civilisation’.

The point of departure for this study is constituted by the influential critiques of Gramsci by Louis Althusser’s contribution to Reading ‘Capital’ and Perry Anderson’s ‘The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci’ in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite the distance of time, I argue that these readings remain representative of more general ‘images of Gramsci’ in both the Marxist and wider intellectual culture. Similarly, although these critiques seem to deal with different aspects of Gramsci’s thought -respectively, the status of Marxist philos- ophy and the Marxist theory of the state- I argue that these interpretations are in many respects complementary, treating discretely themes that Gramsci’s carceral research project attempted to unify. Taken in their unity, a critical analysis of the presuppositions of Althusser’s and Anderson’s interpretations leads us to the heart of Gramsci’s proposal of the ‘philosophy of praxis’, conceived as both a critique of the relationship between philosophy hitherto and the forms of the modern state, on the one hand, and as a potential renewal of the philosophical tradition in relation to the institutions and practices of the modern working-class movement, on the other.

The ‘Gramscian moment’ indicated in the title of this book refers not only to the astounding annus mirabilis of 1932, in which Gramsci, deepening and articulating his interdisciplinary and multi-faceted research project, delineates the ‘three component parts’ of the ‘philosophy of praxis’ in the notions of an absolute ‘historicism’, absolute immanence and absolute humanism. It also refers to his integration in this year of his research into the nature of the modern state, on the one hand, and the social and political overdetermination of philosophy, on the other. The ‘Gramscian moment’ thus signals the transition from a conception of the state as a ‘philosophical event’ to the elaboration of a notion of hegemony as a ‘philosophical fact’. The implications of this position, I argue, amount to a new way of conceiving both the political status of philosophy and the philosophical status of Marxism. Today, as a new generation of activists and researchers discover the richness of the various traditions that constitute Marxism in the broadest sense, the renewal of Marxism’s ‘Gramscian moment’ constitutes an urgent theoretical and political task.


Pages: xxvi, 478 pp. Two editions available :

-  Hardback: Brill Academic Publishers, The Netherlands, Leiden-Boston, 2009, ISBN: 978-9004167711 ;

-  Paperback: Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2010, ISBN: 978-1608461165 ;

[1] Cf. Hobsbawm 1995.