Gramsci certainly did not disdain the conquest of power via an assault on its palace. But his idea of revolution perhaps became a “revisionist” one as it was understood by the founding fathers, though it conceded nothing to reformism.
Transforming the world is better than turning it upside down in order to leave it essentially as it was before. He defined a (peaceful) “battle between hegemonies”, something not unlike what a not always bad disciple of his was to call “progressive democracy”. He used military metaphors. East and West were also synonyms for two different kinds of warfare (of manoeuvre and of position), but may have implied an alternative between war and non-war, the latter meaning “strategy” for a more certain and more civil victory: in civil society, rather than against the state. He could not have foreseen that seventy years later, the world would have become increasingly “large and terrible”, due partly to the normalisation of day-to-day violence everywhere. I am not referring here only to “major” violence – to permanent warfare and the terrorism that many people hope to eradicate with that method, and which, thanks to that method, is becoming stronger, more widespread and itself “permanent”. I also refer to the (at present “peaceful”) economic struggle among large and small enterprises.
To believe that neoliberalism is triumphant today is an error, even if one ignored the persistent protective measures for agriculture (or considers them “exceptions to the rule”). A boxing match is run according to the rational rules of the sport, but the supreme rule is that the stronger man should win. Our global market is global violence: a war of all against all – pre-ordained, according to that same intrinsic rationality, to assure the victory of the strongest. Do those who control or monopolise the most advanced technologies (I am not saying “intellectual property”, because I usually do not use such foul terms) or strategic natural resources, those who can use outright wage dumping via run-away shops or other forms of pressure on labour, compete on an equal footing with the others, in a “free market”? Is permanent war, with or without military weapons, among the present-day manifestations of the permanent revolution that the Marx of the Manifesto came close to praising as one of the techniques of capitalist production, and that Gramsci thought typical of both the advent of the bourgeoisie on the political scene and the later counteroffensive phases aimed at preserving the bourgeoisie’s domination over the new proletariat and its subalterns in general?
The “great theorist” to whom Gramsci alludes in his Prison Notebooks1 is Lenin, protagonist of the revolution in a backward “East”: “[…] the greatest modern theorist of the philosophy of praxis in the area of political struggle and organisation has reassessed the front of cultural struggle, in opposition to the different ‘economistic’ trends, and has built the doctrine of hegemony as a complement to the theory of the coercive state and as the present-day form of the 48 doctrine of the ‘permanent revolution’.” The “permanent revolution” assumes a new form in the October Revolution conceived and realised in the East, but nonetheless remains a “48 doctrine”. Accordingly, I do not think one can infer that every hegemonic struggle conducted under the banner of the philosophy of praxis – even the one conducted in the West and during the new war of position – is in line with the “48” permanent revolution, or that one can say without further qualification, as Fabio Frosini does in a still-unpublished essay, that “The reference to the ‘permanent revolution’ is not replaced outright by the reference to hegemony, which is one form of it”. Frosini maintains even more explicitly that if the working class proves capable of taking up the capitalist challenge of passive revolution, “theoretically and practically”, it can “make the permanent revolution topical once again”. Conversely, it seems to me that although the hegemony of capitalism in the West is prolonging a permanent revolution even in the form of the different passive revolutions carried out up till now, Gramsci sees the post-Lenin anti-capitalist hegemony in a more “advanced” West no longer as a form of the permanent revolution, but as a “replacement” of it. In other words, the “permanence” remains, but not the “revolution”, and the permanence remains in the “form” of
“intellectual and moral” reform, whose contents are economic and social reform2 In fact, in Gramsci’s thought the passive revolution is one of the possible syntheses in the dialectical opposition between two conflicting forces, one representing the “old” and the other the “new”. Gramsci dwells at length on the conservative synthesis and mentions only occasionally, though clearly, the possible innovative synthesis. In reality, the passive revolution as a conservative synthesis is an active operation set in motion by the conservative side. And being active – and here Frosini is right – it still has the features of a permanent revolution. In the essay mentioned above, Frosini captures another aspect of the passive revolution: its passivity is not due only to the fact that subalterns undergo it without counteracting vigorously and effectively; in some circumstances, they can accept it willingly, either because of the hegemonic penetration of the dominant ideas (as commonly understood), or because they have a sort of misplaced trust in the inevitability of their future ascendancy,
and think their task is to “wait” until the others’ domination “wears out”, due in part to the concessions granted to the subaltern strata during the passive revolution. I would add that in today’s globalisation, the penetration of the dominant ideas and the consequent de-politicisation of the masses are far more visible than the messianic expectations and fatalistic but hopeful immobility of the defeated. Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, was trying to “use” Gramsci in his own way when, in a speech delivered on June 7, 2007, he saw his country as embodying the specific case of a state/government that takes potentially more advanced reformist positions, and a backwards civil society under the hegemony (in the media, the schools and the Church) of the globally conservative “passive revolution”. Chávez was implying that in this case the state/government would have the task of educating, or re-educating,
the subaltern strata and their attitude in civil society.
In the new situation, the opponents of this “global” restoration must perforce turn to Gramsci. But Gramsci, who had attributed the “passive revolution” to the attempted conservative synthesis, had used for those who would construct the future city, and for the alternative synthesis they might have brought about, the phrase “intellectual and moral reform” – a phrase loaded with historical meanings, because it evoked processes set in motion as early as the Italian Renaissance, and especially since the Protestant Reformation. Was there a religious component in Gramsci’s perspective? While Benedetto Croce theorised a lay religion of liberty (or, rather, of classical liberalism), was Gramsci thinking of a lay religion of socialism or communism? Wasn’t he anti-religious? He certainly did not love the Catholic Church, but he recognised emancipatory
strivings in early Christianity3, and (as I have said) he lauded the Reformation,
seeing in it (as Weber did) a great “propulsive thrust” toward the birth of modern capitalist civilisation, though he also saw a historical limit in all religions. Moreover, a historical critique of religion had already appeared in Kant, when he wrote that religious cults would have duties derived from the honour rendered to the Lord, that is, from the rules in place in the historical climate of feudal secular rulers, not from the practical use of human reason4. Gramsci by no means shared the messianic spirit of Walter Benjamin or Ernst Bloch, but he too conceived of his Reformation as strongly innovative, or transformative, slow but permanent (the opposite of reformism), building the future (again, the
opposite of reformism) by learning from the past: not only from our mistakes and defeats, but also, and especially, from the victories of the others, the people we want to fight and lastingly defeat.
In the first session of the conference held in Rome from April 27th to 29th, 2007, to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of Gramsci’s death, a number of speakers mentioned Indian scholars who seem especially in iterested in Gramsci’s ideas, especially his concepts of subordination and hegemony. As I listened, I imagined a possible comparison, between Gramsci and Gandhi, that no one has yet attempted. I can already hear the objections: Gramsci was not a theorist of nonviolence and Gandhi was not a socialist. Here and there Gramsci criticised Gandhism, just as he criticised Tolstoyism. He talks about deep, uninterrupted reform; he speaks of the struggle between hegemonies, which may mean democracy. He does not speak of a moral and political tension tending to nonviolence, but he may be suggesting it between the lines.
The phrase “intellectual and moral reform” is full of anti-economistic
theoretical implications, hence it is unorthodox in relation to canonical Marxism and Leninism. It shares with 19th- and 20th-century reformism only the concept of a journey necessarily made up of gradual steps (not revolutionary leaps, much less of permanent revolutions), the only one suited to the social and political makeup of the “West”. But the phrase is clearly distant from both old-style reformism and from Soviet-type experiments, because Gramsci had (at least implicitly) dismissed the concept of an improbable “total replacement” which, according to all the old-school Marxisms, was bound to sweep away all traces or survivals of the capitalist past. Instead, he advocated the idea of a struggle between conflicting hegemonies. The possible reforming and truly innovative outcome of the struggle would be the success of the one hegemony that proved capable of leading to an “ethical-political catharsis” and, in the mode of production too, to the emergence of a growing supremacy of the common or public good over the private – in other words, of communism over capitalism – with a moment of “break” (of the previous relationships of force) that would, however, be visible only in retrospect. In this connection, we might coin the term “permanent reform” to describe a “good” infinity, in that it is now released from the “bad” side of the dialectical opposition, and in that it is another possible synthesis, not necessary or required5.
Though Raul Mordenti, in his excellent book, remains faithful to the interpretation of Gramsci as theorist of the “revolution” (in the West), he mentions as appropriate6. the interpretation suggested by Eugenio Curiel in his 1944 book La nostra lotta: “A diluted qualitative transformation”. It seems to me that Mordenti is alluding here to two examples of hegemonic synthesis operating on the antithesis side. The first would be offered by an interpretation of the passage in which Gramsci contrasts Lenin’s concept of hegemony with Croce’s: Marxism, according to Lenin, absorbed some elements of the idealistic philosophy by turning them upside down7. Does the ability to “absorb” concern only the superstructures (Marxism versus idealism), or also the structure (Communism versus capitalism)? The second example introduces a “weak” and incidental variant of the concept of an innovating synthesis, because it adds in some decisions of (real or apparent) retreat from a more advanced strategic line. Mordenti may also be alluding to the NEP as a necessary reprise of capitalist elements that had been suppressed prematurely.
Stalin’s suppression of the NEP opened the floodgates. But the trajectory of the October Revolution, as seen today, cannot be identical to the one seen at the end of the 20th century. Today we are better acquainted with the power of capitalism, and its ability to force its opponents to “step back”, willingly or unwillingly. And we know better the “horrors” of late, fully globalised capitalism. I do not mean to say that we should “acquit” Stalinism of its “horrors”. I mean to say we should de-ideologise the necessary critique of that phenomenon, in part by comparing it with the misdeeds perpetrated afterwards, on the global scale and in the former Soviet area, up to the reign of “Czar” Putin, whose “Caesarism” is anything but “progressive”. God forbid I should consider Togliatti a forerunner of today’s sacrosanct rejection of any clash between civilisations, but the historicist Togliatti tried to make people understand that every continent or country has a history of its own, and that certain “Asiatic” forms (in particular, centuries-old czarism) cannot be eradicated easily, from one day to the next.
But a new and much more radical ethical-political reform, associated with intellectual reform, would be inseparable from an equally pervasive economic-social reform. Indeed (and here too, historical comparisons are helpful), economic and/or social reform can come first, to prepare the (superior) reform which, in a possible future, will affect the complex superstructures centring on ethics, giving them a sort of “primacy”: “Can there be cultural reform, meaning civil elevation of the lower strata of society, without a prior economic reform and a change in social position and in the economic world? Hence an intellectual and moral reform cannot but be linked to a programme of economic reform; indeed, the economic reform programme is the concrete way in which any intellectual and moral reform presents itself”.8 And economic reform makes consensus – a prerequisite for the alliances that will consolidate the new political order – take root and spread.
Collective will is thus formed by stages. I will skip the first one and the second. “A third stage is the one in which people become aware that their own “corporate” interests, in their present and future development, extend beyond the “corporate” circle – that is, the economic grouping – and can and must become the interests of other subordinate groupings. This is the most strictly “political” phase that marks the clear transition from the pure structure to the complex superstructures; it is the phase in which the ideologies that germinated before come into contact and conflict until a single one of them, or at least a single combination of them, tends to prevail, to impose itself, to spread”.9 In this passage we must underline, first of all, the phrase “their own ‘corporate’ interests… can and must become the interests of other subordinate
groupings”. For Gramsci, “social group” and “economic grouping” are synonyms of “social class”. Accordingly, in the “most strictly ‘political’ phase” people must uphold the interests of their own class and also those shared with different classes. Lastly, the reformer must know that even on the terrain of ideologies, after the phase of conflict “a single one of them, or at least a single combination of them”, tends to spread, but also to prevail over the other ideologies. And since the different ideologies are, according to Gramsci, expressive of different political directions that are in turn carriers of different social classes, he seems implicitly to suggest that even after the reformer’s victory, different political organisations (parties), hence different social groups (classes), can or must operate, provided that a single political ideology, or a single social class, prevails over the others. And in light of these reflections of
Gramsci’s that lead us to foresee a hegemonised pluralism, he seems to suggest implicitly that if different political organisations are operating, one of the classical requisites of democracy does not disappear in socialism, and that if different social classes remain, the capitalist mode of production does not disappear altogether, just as in all other historical modes of production traces (albeit subordinate) of earlier modes of production did not disappear. An implicit corollary, or at least one that Gramsci does not rule out, is that if the “conflict” turns violent, it is most unlikely that the winning side will be able to impose its hegemony over the losing side.
We can no longer accept, from Marxist theory, the idea that ownership of the means of production is decisive. Bettelheim and others explain this convincingly enough. But is the centrality of the class struggle between wage-earners and capitalists in Marxist theory still a valid idea? In the modern era, what is valid is not the centrality but the character of the original conflict, which is followed today by new and different conflicts, new and different contradictions “alongside” the wageearners’ struggle and not secondary to it, although they too all explode from and within the (new) capitalism. The capitalist (anti-capitalist) character they share deters us from considering them “alongside” each other. In September of 2007, the prestigious and intelligent editor of a Communist daily newspaper replied to a reader’s letter more or less in these terms: Saying I am a Communist is no longer enough for me, because I am also a feminist, and also an environmentalist, and also a supporter of the migrants, the excluded, the different, etc. To my mind, the imprecision of this reply lies in the word “also”, because the different choices listed here are not added to the Communist option; they are organically joined in the Gramscian concept of Communism, and constitute its backbone, or ribs.
This is not hard to explain. In Gramsci we find the pairing, or antithesis, between the bourgeoisie and the working class, or between capitalists and wage-earners, but as a particular (or perhaps exemplary) species of a wider and more comprehensive antithesis, the one between domination and subalternity. Not by chance, Gramsci analyses with great insight the “Southern Question” and the coercive – but also hegemonic – forms of subjugation imposed on the southern part of Italy (and, by analogy, the southern part of the world). And likewise not by chance, “subalternity” and “hegemony” are the Gramscian terms most explicitly used today in post-colonial studies, cultural studies, etc., on the various continents. In Gramsci, the concept of subaltern groups includes workers, the so-called sub-proletariat, peasants and the lower strata of society and of the countries we now call peripheral. And Gramsci likewise discusses subaltern cultures or common sense degraded in comparison
to the dominant or innovating culture. But we, faithful to the spirit of Gramscian communism, can certainly employ the same concepts of dominion and subalternity to denote patriarchal usages or the subordinate condition of women (including the subordination that sometimes persists in the tradition and mentality of the labour movement), or to denote the dominating and destructive power of technology in the form of capitalist enterprise devoted to pillaging natural resources. If, as I have said, domination over subaltern groups and peripheral peoples can be exercised with hegemonic forms of penetration or assimilation as well as with repressive force, the task of the political movement that aims to achieve emancipation of the subalterns and put an end to all domination and all separation between the rulers and the ruled, is to exercise over the whole of society a hegemonic capacity that prevails over the coercive functions and could in the end replace all coercion. Those who reassess the idea of nonviolence today are justified in appealing to the Gramscian conception of hegemony as far as it connotes neither domination
nor even insurrection against domination, but a higher-level “intellectual and moral reform” as the principle of radical transformation within the “superstructures” and within the “structure”.
From 1945 on until the early 1970s, the Italian Communist Party’s central and local leaders used to open meetings with a lengthy review of world history before imparting instructions and slogans for work to be done in the immediate future. This custom derived on the one hand from the Third International in the post-Lenin period, and accordingly was flawed by doctrinal schematism and pedantic ritual; and, on the other hand, from a Gramscian vision of politics as history, since it is the premise for politics as project and also as short-term intention for “molecular” processes with capillary penetration. In the following pages, I mean to imitate that module, first outlining 20th-century history up to the present time. […]
We can start with Fordism, or some of the features of Fordism analysed by Gramsci. In the first place, Fordism had understood that a relatively closed economy, such as the ones operating in individual countries at that time (including the United States), where most of the population still consisted of workers or employees in general, would be hit sooner or later by a crisis of overproduction, due to underconsumption by precisely those lower strata of the population. Fordism thus understood that cutting costs by raising productivity with Taylorism and the assembly line would not suffice, but that it was necessary to establish a virtuous circle between profit increases and wage increases. Profits would rise if workers’ per-capita output increased and if their purchasing power increased at the same time, because workers were also consumers. This remedy for the threat of cyclical crises worked, at least in art. It might have been more effective had the Fordist-Taylorist experiment been generalisable to all sectors of industry and industrialised agriculture.
Still, it was not effective enough. Particularly the crisis of 1929, with its prolonged effects, persuaded part of capital that it was possible and necessary to further increase popular consumption through public intervention capable of absorbing into work activity (especially works of public utility) a great deal of unemployment, by then chronic, and equipped to guarantee additional benefits to dependent labour in the form of free or low-cost health care, pensions, workers’ compensation, temporary unemployment insurance and, in some cases, in the form of partial economic planning, which according to Gramsci had already been tried in the United States by the auto industry, and in Italy, more extensively, by the Fascist government. From the theoretical standpoint, these ideas became known as Keynesianism. From the political standpoint, they were
the foundations of the future welfare state. After World War II, and especially
within the geographic boundaries of old Europe, the welfare state extended its responsibilities, or its function, which was still subsidiary (as regards wages, which were rising). During that period and in that geopolitical region, two new and interlinked factors appeared: greater combativeness in the working classes and, on the side of capital, a greater fear of socialist backlash. The two factors were linked because both received impetus from the existence, and the new power, of the Soviet bloc (from the example – encouraging for the workers, alarming for capital – seen in the Soviet Union ad its satellites).
Up to this point, there is nothing new beyond the overall diagnoses of many experts, historians or economists, ideologically not aligned on the side of capital. What happened afterwards, and why? This is more complicated, because many concurrent causes of transformation and crisis in capitalism came into play. On the one hand, the collapse of the so-called socialist countries made the world of labour less courageous but also made capital less fearful. On the other hand, the so-called globalisation of the market – that is, reunifying the world under the domination of capital, and surpassing the old, relatively decentralised markets that focused mainly on their countries’ domestic regions – renders obsolete the policy of high wages at home and government guarantees to labour. On the contrary, globalisation turns into an obstacle to the expansion of capital that which formerly facilitated its growth. Today capital is increasingly bent on conquering external markets, and at the same time
expatriating itself in order to procure low-cost labour. It is true that productivity
growth rates fuelled by innovations in product and process technology are declining, especially in Europe, in relation to those of the age of the welfare state. It is true that the growth of commodity production, hence of GDP (which is more or less the same thing), is declining in the West. And it is true that today GDP growth rates in the United States and Europe lag far behind those of countries like China and India.
In fact, wage pressure and stronger unions used to stimulate rapid innovation, hence increases in productivity. But in the new world market, let me repeat, competitiveness based on technological revolutions, particularly revolutions in information technology (Silicon Valley, etc.), though not negligible, becomes a secondary element compared with cutting labour costs, downsizing public welfare and its costs, and not least the size of the enterprise, that is, its ability to redistribute costs and benefits on a larger scale, as regards both cost outlay and the quantities of goods put on the market.
Some of the new “costs” have been mistakenly overlooked by many economists. For instance, the cost resulting from the ever more serious environmental crisis of our times has been overlooked (but not by James O’Connor). If we think above all about this crisis, capitalism’s creative destruction (Schumpeter) now appears instead to be destructive creation, which antagonistic forces should counter, so to speak, with conservative construction: the construction of a radically new order capable at the same time of preserving the fundamental resources of nature and culture inherited from the historical past of our species. We usually say, rightly, that enterprises aim to turn a profit, hence they have no interest in preventing the environmental crisis; on the contrary, they are compelled to aggravate it. But we usually fail to take account of certain negative effects of environmental deterioration that weigh increasingly on corporate balance sheets. In the first place, we do not take account of the number of working days that individual employees miss (but the employer pays for) due to illness caused by polluted air or similar banes (unwholesome diet due to multinational corporations’ manipulation of food, urban stress caused by the unlivability of places that have become anthills of slow-moving cars and trucks, and so on). Life expectancy has increased, but we usually do not consider that the frequency of sickness per year of life has increased too, and not only in elderly people, but also in people of working age and in their families, and that health-care costs have increased, whether paid for by the government (out of taxes, including corporate income taxes) or by insurance companies (which, being enterprises themselves, help lower the average profit rate if they are forced to pay out more for their insurees). It must be said that the labour movement too, during the 20th-century “golden age”, was neither anxious about, nor even perceived, the general damage that even then the environment was suffering or about to suffer as a result of headlong
growth in the production of goods (especially unnecessary ones).
The annual cost in the European Union of respiratory diseases is estimated
at approximately 102 billion euros, which comes to € 118 per capita. The greatest part of this cost, 47.4%, results from lost working days, which account for € 48.3 billion. Next comes hospitalisation, at € 17.8 billion, or 17.5%. Outpatient care costs € 9.1 billion (8.9%), and prescription medicine € 6.7 billion (6.6%). A total of around 66,155 working days are lost every year by 100,000 EU inhabitants due to respiratory disease. Bronchial pneumonia is the principal cause (62.4%) of absence from work, followed by asthma (21.4%) and pneumonia (7.6%) (Source: ELF). These data give management and its political representatives another good reason to resist limits on temporary work: if a temporary employee gets sick too often, the employer can simply not renew his
I must mention other well-known transformations of the “Fordist” period and of the current phase. The growth of consumption, in particular popular consumption, has gradually led to the growth of many forms of commercial mediation between production and mass consumption. It has led to expansion of the services sector, articulated either as a function of the sale of products or as the provision of services. In the Fordist period and during a good part of the 20th century, most of the service sector was made up of small businesses that on the one hand earned a small profit on industrial or agri-industrial goods, but on the other hand broadened the pool of consumers of industrial products, hence returned profits to industrial enterprises. Taken as a whole, commercial capital was subordinate to industrial profit, so it did not eat into, but invigorated, the latter’s dominant function. Conversely, a phenomenon that characterises the present period is the growing concentration of commercial
capital; that is, the formation of giants that tend to make life very difficult for small merchants or eventually put them out of business; they thus tend to share industrial capital’s dominant position. In many cases they create a true symbiosis between production and distribution activities (for instance, supermarkets whose shareholders include industrialists or owners of information-media chains). Even the mafias have turned modern, shifting from parasitic intermediation to the management of productive enterprises; a typical example is the building industry, with its appendices of speculation and corruption. Something of this kind is occurring in raw materials and energy sources, particularly fossil fuels. In the past, the owners/controllers of mines or oil fields (such as the old Arab emirates) could be likened to landowners, and their income was a result of investments by industrial capitalists. Today the great oil companies are part of the industrial complex, or, in the United States,
the military-industrial complex.
Toward the end of the 20th century, something changed as a result of globalisation, partly as the ceaseless movement of capital from one country or continent to another, and partly as the need to form concentrations capable of competing in the global market, thanks to their larger size and the greater quantity of products they sell. Because of these two aspects of present-day capitalism, we are witnessing an expansion of financial capital, whose tendency to dominate was noted, perhaps prematurely, by Lenin. Credit, or rather other people’s money which entrepreneurs need to finance their growing investments in productive ventures, makes the latter (in certain respects) a dependent variable. The leading role is shifting to high finance. And for industrial enterprises to be able to pay interest on borrowed capital, as well as advertising costs (now an indispensable tool in competition), they need more than ever to save on costs, above all the cost of labour. There is a social aspect in this phenomenon that cannot be overlooked: consumer debt. On the one hand, underpaid workers are reluctant to buy less, now that they earn less, a reluctance fomented by all the advertising and consumer ideology propagated by the power of the new media. On the other hand, many poor souls in the West, especially in the United States, see themselves as potential capitalists – another effect of a perverse ideological campaign – and as a result buy measly stock or take out loans and especially home mortgages. Indebted capitalists, indebted consumers, the world’s most powerful nation deeper in debt than any other: this mix can hardly fail to become explosive unless capital comes up with ways to defuse the bomb. The worker becomes a “capitalist” in part by assimilating the “animal spirits” of intercompetitive capitalism; that is, by allowing himself to be won over by old and new ideologies that lead him to consider not his boss but his fellow worker – especially if an immigrant – as the
“true” enemy to be fought (and hated).
Some people, even some advocates of extreme neoliberalism, take to be incontrovertible the primacy of economics supposedly enunciated and argued by Marx. At most, they attribute its most recent supremacy to the economic-financial magnates. But if we reread Marx, especially his unpublished writings, we realise that the “development of productive forces” he thought to be the engine of history (he ought to have said “the engine of modern capitalist history”) – that is, its premise – was and is in reality a result of the unending technological revolution he celebrated, and insightfully analysed, in many writings, above all in the famous fragment on machines. What is driving the radical changes taking place today is the rapid “eclipse” of the gigantic old machines, replacedby ever more agile electronic devices that can easily be transferred from the old industrial cities to the farthest corners of the planet. The result is not the end of wage work, but the renewed primary relevance of the cost of labour. For the purposes of competition, financial capital, followed
by industrial and commercial capital, must reduce that cost every which way, and governments are forced to lend their support to the perverse logic that “saves” the so-called “wealth of nations” by ruining global society. This trend can be reversed only by putting an end to the primacy of the scientific-technological revolution and its “laws”. Gramsci invoked in their stead the primacy of ethical-political reason. […]
1 Antonio Gramsci, “Quaderni del carcere”, edited by V. Gerratana, Turin:
Einaudi, 1975, p. 1235.
2 Ibid., p. 869. On the out-datedness of the permanent revolution for the
western labour movement, Gramsci observes that, “The term is proper to an historical period in which the great mass political parties and the great labour
unions did not yet exist, and in many respects society was still in a fluid state,
so to speak” (ibid., p. 1566). In the note titled “War of position and war of manoeuvre or frontal war”, he writes, “It remains to be seen whether or not
Bronstein’s [Trotsky’s] famous theory about the permanence of the movement
is the political reflection of the theory of war of manoeuvre (remember Cossack
general Krasnov’s remark), in the last analysis the reflection of the general
economic-cultural-social conditions of a country in which some portions of national life are embryonic and loose, and cannot become a ‘trench or fortress’”
(Q7, 16, 866). Lastly, Gramsci’s replacement of “cultural revolution” with “moral
and intellectual reform” in copying a passage from Q8 to text C of Q10 is symptomatic. In Q8, p. 1044, he says that: “If the intellectuals’ task is to determine and organise the cultural revolution… it is clear that the ‘crystallised’ intellectuals are reactionaries, etc”., but the phrase we read in Q10, p. 1408) is “to determine and organise moral and intellectual reform”. Are the passages in which Gramsci attacks L. Davidovich and Rosa for their wish to prolong the permanent revolution of the proletariat beyond the Leninist and “eastern” October dictated by “opportunistic acquiescence” vis-à-vis the victorious Stalin, or do they flow instead from Gramsci’s conviction that in the Communist
struggle better suited to the advanced West, what should remain “permanent”
is “intellectual and moral reform”? And does the replacement of “cultural revolution” with “moral and intellectual reform” in Q10 aimed at avoiding censorship? Gramsci gave less thought to the censors than is generally
believed, especially in the final months of his imprisonment; indeed, even in
his last notes he sometimes speaks of the “philosophy of praxis” and sometimes of “historical materialism”.
3 Antonio Gramsci, L’Ordine Nuovo 1919-1920, Turin: Einaudi, 1955, pp. 157-158.
4 Immanuel Kant, La religione entro i limiti della sola ragione
(Italian translation), Bari: Laterza, 1985, p. 138.
5 Social—democratic reformism is “what Gramsci thinks most distant and inimical”, according to Raul Mordenti, Gramsci e la rivoluzione necessariaI, Rome: Editori Riuniti, 2007, p. 45.
6 Mordenti, op. cit., p. 100
7 Ibid., pp. 46-47.
8 Quaderni, pp. 1560-1.
9 Ibid., p. 457.