Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Valeriano Ramos, Jr.

The Concepts of Ideology, Hegemony, and Organic Intellectuals in Gramsci’s Marxism

First Published: Theoretical Review No. 27, March-April 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The three concepts discussed herein constitute perhaps the most important components of Gramsci’s “philosophy of praxis.” For one thing, the three concepts represent the earliest elaborations on the foundations of class power, addressing the latter from the point of view of superstructural as well as infrastructural considerations. Moreover, by defining the nature of class power in capitalist society through an elaboration of the dialectical relationship between the base and the superstructure, and, specifically, by outlining the essentials of sound revolutionary strategy which address the complex nature of class power and hegemony, these concepts meet the first criteria of “praxis,” namely, the proper (i.e. dialectical) understanding of class rule and class power from which sound revolutionary practice can evolve. That is, practice that can successfully challenge and shake the foundations of capitalist class rule and capitalist society. Needless to say, the understanding of these concepts is the most important step in the study of Gramsci’s Marxism.

The unity of the three concepts, itself striking, should direct the reader to a fact Gramsci frequently emphasized, that ideology and the superstructure of civil society must be dealt with as objectively as economic considerations. Gramsci’s linking of the reality of class rule and class power with the equally real amalgam of practices and ideal principles of behavior, conformity, and law, is well synthesized in the specific connection between his concepts of ideology and hegemony, in particular, the concepts of “organic ideology” and the “organic intellectual.” It should not be overlooked that conferring upon the superstructures and indeed ideology a great degree of efficacy and even materiality within the social totality of class society is in the tradition of Marx’s notion of ideology. This recognized, it cannot be ignored that Gramsci was instrumental in rectifying the notion of ideology, as was held then by the “marxist” theoreticians of the Second International and the Bolshevik Party of the Stalin period.

If Lenin stressed the importance of political leadership of the working class in the class struggle, Gramsci went a bit further by also emphasizing moral and intellectual leadership and the importance of non-economic relations between classes. Also in the dialectical tradition, Gramsci was most perceptive in grasping the peculiar differences that existed between 1917 Russia and the more developed Western capitalist countries. Accordingly, he did not downplay the importance of ideological struggle in the totality of the class struggle, including economic and political struggle. Undoubtedly, Gramsci must have the credit for bringing the notion of ideology within the realm of truly genuine, revolutionary Marxism.

Finally, it must be borne in mind that Gramsci’s conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat must be elaborated out of what he outlined through the concepts of ideology, hegemony, power, and organic intellectuals. Indeed, for Gramsci power rested on what was given, and what was given, i.e. the network of civil society, could not be overlooked and circumscribed in the course of the class struggle. Hence, power for a class rested not only on the economic level and on the simple capture and smashing of the dominant state apparatus, but was highly dependent on the legitimacy the class gained from subordinate classes in civil society through effective ideological struggle therein.

I. The Concept of Ideology in Gramsci’s Marxism

Gramsci’s concept of ideology was distinctive and far more developed than that of his predecessors and contemporaries essentially because it overcame both epiphenomenalism and class reductionism. Ideological epiphenomenalism consisted basically of the claim that the ideological superstructure was determined mechanically by the economic infrastructure, and that ideology, being simply illusory, played no role whatsoever in the economic life of society or in revolutionary change for that matter. Revolutionary change, it was asserted, resulted from the dynamics and tensions of economic contradictions grounded in the mode of production. More specifically, the contradictions of the relations of production and forces of production, coupled with the economic contradictions of antagonistic classes in the realm of production was said to determine every qualitative transformation of the institutional fabric and the ideological formation of the social system in crisis. This notion of social revolution brought about an ultimate implication for capitalist society, namely, the so-called “cataclysmic” interpretation of capitalist crisis: capitalist society would inevitably collapse as a result of its own economic laws and contradictions of increased proletarianization and pauperization. This crisis would only be resolved through the decisive capture and smashing of the state apparatus by the proletariat, the revolutionary class then to hold legitimate power. This successful appropriation of state power was construed to preclude any form of class alliance based on a defined hierarchy of ideological, economic, and political interests led by the genuine fundamental interests of the proletariat. Hence, the interpretation of state power was one of pure coercion and force as to other classes without considerations for their consent.

This conception of ideology and revolution was often combined with a reductionist interpretation of ideology which argued that ideologies necessarily had a class character, so that there was an ideology of the capitalist class and an ideology of the working class, both ideologies antagonistic, defined, and mutually exclusive in their totality. The ultimate implication of this conception was, of course, that classes at the economic level–at the level of production–were “duplicated” at the ideological level through ideological discourses exclusively of their own. The combination of these notions led to formulations in which ideology was conceived to have a class nature and was considered to play no significant role in social and revolutionary dynamics (Kautsky). On other occasions, ideologies were given a certain degree of efficacy vis-a-vis revolutionary change in society while still being conceived of as having a class determination (Korsch and Luckacs). Of course, it was Gramsci who rectified the notion of ideology by overcoming both epiphenomenalism and class reductionism, and by redefining the term “ideology” in terms of practices, politico-ideological discourses, and elements.

Antonio Gramsci’s conception of ideology overcame epiphenomenalism by describing ideology as a “terrain” of practices, principles, and dogmas having a material and institutional nature constituting individual subjects once these were “inserted” into such a terrain. Since ideology constituted individuals as subjects and social agents in society–the same social agents playing also economic roles at the level of production–ideology had an important function in the realm of production as well as in the overall structure of society. This function was as real in the recurring dynamics of a mode of production or productive system in “equilibrium” as it was in a system in “organic crisis.” In the latter case, of course, ideology was of relevance to the struggle for power in a rather decisive moment. Indeed, we shall postpone the discussion of ideological struggle during organic crisis to the section on hegemony, since such a struggle was conceived by Gramsci to be indissolubly linked to a quest for class hegemony and state power.

Gramsci’s conception of ideology overcame class reductionism by asserting that classes in the infrastructure were not duplicated in the superstructure through ideological elements exclusively of their own. This meant that it was possible for there to be a “crossover” of classes at the ideological plane–i.e., in civil society. Insofar as ideological elements did not have a necessary class belonging, ideological systems were defined by their ideological discourses and these by ideological elements; hence ideological elements could be articulated in the different ideological discourses of those classes contending for hegemony.

The most distinctive aspect of Gramsci’s concept of ideology is, of course, his notion of “organic ideology.” Clearly, ideology was defined in terms of a system of class rule, i.e. hegemony, in which there was an organic arrangement of all ideological elements into a unified system. This complex arrangement constituted an “organic ideology,” the expression of the communal life of the given social bloc wherein a class held state power and hence social hegemony. In a given hegemonic system, therefore, a hegemonic class held state power through its economic supremacy and through its ability to have, among other things, successfully articulated or expressed in a coherent, unified fashion the most essential elements in the ideological discourses of the subordinate classes in civil society.

In this respect, we could say that an organic ideology is diffused throughout civil society (social institutions and structures such as the family, churches, the media, schools, the legal system, and other organizations such as the trade unions, chambers of commerce, and economic associations) by virtue of the integration of diverse class interests and practices into a unified system of socioeconomic relations. Similarly, it would seem that “ideological discourses” have more of a class character than “ideological elements” would. Accordingly, particular classes could claim particular ideological elements as theirs only when these elements are articulated in their “class” discourses.

Now, an “organic ideology” emanates from the dynamic function of articulation performed by social agents Gramsci called “organic intellectuals” of a hegemonic or potentially hegemonic class. An organic ideology was formulated by these “organic intellectuals” through an “articulating principle” which, upon unifying the various ideological elements from the discourses of subaltern groups (classes and individuals) and forming from them a unified ideological system, became a “hegemonic principle.” Indeed, since two classes or, for that matter, two members of different classes, could adhere to or advocate the same ideological element and articulate it in their particular ideological discourses, it was conceivable for a solid class alliance to be forged through this process of ideological absorption. This was possible if a group or class could develop organic intellectuals and an articulating principle capable of absorbing ideologically, economically, and politically other classes in the hegemonic system. The success of such a task would depend, however, on the perception by these classes that the hegemonic class no longer assumes a representative appearance vis-a-vis the subaltern class elements.

It remains to be said that the organic intellectuals, responsible for the formulation and spreading of organic ideologies, are social agents having a form of allegiance to a hegemonic class (in a “balanced” hegemonic system) or to a class aspiring for hegemony (in a hegemonic system in crisis) and ultimate state power. While further discussion in another section will elucidate more on this, we could now understand that it is precisely because of their articulation through the “hegemonic principle” that ideological elements embodied in an organic ideology acquire a hegemonic class character.

II. Gramsci’s Concept of Hegemony

The concept of hegemony first appeared in Gramsci’s Notes on the Southern Question (1926), where it was defined as a system of class alliance in which a “hegemonic class” exercised political leadership over “subaltern classes” by “winning them over.” The concept made allusion to the proletariat in Italy in terms of such a “winning over”: the proletariat had to free itself of its class corporatism so as to embrace other classes, notably the peasants, in a system of alliances within which it could then genuinely become the leading element in the society. The concept was introduced in the following way:

The Turin communists posed concretely the question of the ’hegemony of the proletariat’: i.e. of the social basis of the proletarian dictatorship and the workers’ State. The proletariat can become the leading (dirigent) and the dominant class to the extent that it succeeds in creating a system of alliances which allows it to mobilize the majority of the working population against capitalism and the bourgeois State. In Italy, in the real class relations which exists there, this means to the extent that it succeeds in gaining the consent of the broad peasant masses.[1]

As presented to us here the concept is in a relatively primitive stage. It is in the Prison Notebooks that Gramsci presents us with an advanced definition of the concept, this time going beyond a simple class alliance and political leadership by including intellectual and moral leadership and elaborating on the process of forging the class alliance.

Hence, in the more developed elaboration “Hegemony” entails two things. First of all, it presupposes that the “hegemonic class” takes into consideration the interests of the classes and groups over which it exercises its “hegemony.” Added to this, some equilibrium between the hegemonic class and the subaltern classes is entailed whereby the hegemonic class will be forced to make some sacrifices tangent to its corporate interests. Secondly, “hegemony” entails economic leadership besides ethico-political leadership. In other words, it entails that the hegemonic class be a “fundamental class”–that is, a class situated at one of the two fundamental poles in the relations of production: owner or non-owner of the means of production. It would seem, therefore, that hegemony entails for a class its execution of a leadership role on the economic, political, moral, and intellectual levels vis-a-vis other classes in the system, coupled with the sacrificing of some of its corporate interests as a fundamental class precisely to facilitate its vanguard role. Noticeable in this notion is the abstract notion of balance: sacrifice for consensus or strict corporativism for a coercive imperative. Indeed, this notion underlies Gramsci’s definition of the concept of hegemony, and the notion itself is embodied in Gramsci’s elaborate concept of power.

Gramsci’s concept of power is based simply on the two moments of power relations–Dominio (or coercion) and Direzione (or consensus). These two moments are essential elements, indeed the constitutive elements of a state of balance, a state of equilibrium between social forces identified as the leaders and the led. This state of balance consists of a coalition of classes constituting an organic totality within which the use of force is risky unless there emerges an organic crisis which threatens the hegemonic position and the ruling position of the leading class in the hegemonic system. Clearly, political or state rule by a hegemonic class so defined would be rule in which consensus predominates over coercion. According to Gramsci, consensus rests at the level of civil society and hence must be won there. On the other hand, coercion rests at the level of the state, more specifically at the level of “political society.” Accordingly, hegemonic rule, characterized by the predominance of consensus over coercion, represents in broad terms a balance, an equilibrium between “political society” and “civil society.” Needless to say, for Gramsci the state embodies “the hegemony of one social group over the whole of society exercised through so-called private organizations, such as the church, trade unions, schools, etc.,”[2] in balance with the ensemble of public (coercive) organizations such as the state, the bureaucracy, the military, the police, and the courts. Thus, state power rests in a hegemonic equilibrium with alternated moments of force and consensus but without the necessity of predominance by coercion over consensus.

In any given hegemonic system undergoing organic crisis, a subaltern but fundamental class aspiring for state power in that system must strive to attain hegemony in civil society by making its challenge against the dominant class while conforming itself to the interests and aspirations of other subaltern classes. This would constitute class “predominance by consent” and the attainment of legitimacy of rule vis-a-vis the other subaltern classes. But, may we ask, what does “consent” mean? That is, how is this “predominance” (legitimacy of rule) obtained by consent? It is here that Gramsci’s concept of ideology helps us to understand the realm of the struggle for power in a period of crisis.

According to Gramsci, hegemony (“predominance by consent”) is a condition in which a fundamental class exercises a political, intellectual, and moral role of leadership within a hegemonic system cemented by a common world-view or “organic ideology.” The exercise of this role on the ethico-political as well as on the economic plane involves the execution of a process of intellectual and moral reform through which there is a “transformation” of the previous ideological terrain and a “redefinition” of hegemonic structures and institutions into a new form. This transformation and redefinition is achieved through a rearticulation of ideological elements into a new world-view which then serves as the unifying principle for a new “collective will.” Indeed, it is this new world view, which unifies classes into a new hegemonic bloc, which constitutes the new organic ideology of the new hegemonic class and system. Yet it is not a world-view imposed, as a class ideology (in the reductionist sense,) by the new hegemonic class upon the subaltern group. Moreover, in the transformation of the ideological terrain there is no complete replacement of the previously dominant world view. Rather, the “new” world view is “created” or “moulded” by the aspiring hegemonic class and its consensual subalterns out of the existing ideological elements held by the latter in their discourses.

The creation of the new organic ideology is effectuated dialectically through “ideological struggle”: the aspiring hegemonic class adopts an articulating principle which makes it possible to absorb, rearticulate, and assimilate ideological elements in the discourse of other social classes, and to unify these elements into a new collective will. In the process of struggle for hegemony, this articulating principle becomes a hegemonic principle of the emerging hegemonic class and hegemonic system. Since ideological elements have no necessary class belonging and are, in fact, often shared by many classes, and since the new hegemonic system rests upon the ideological consensus of other social classes, hegemony is not ideological domination. As mentioned earlier, the only conclusion that can be safely derived from this process of ideological struggle regarding the problem of its class basis is that it is precisely at the point of articulation through the hegemonic principle that ideological elements acquire a class character. In other words, once articulated into the organic ideology, ideological elements of importance to and shared by different classes enter the domain of the new hegemonic class, which may claim these elements to be its own for having a place in its general discourse. Precisely herein lies Gramsci’s correlation between “fundamental class” and ideology. Nevertheless, an organic ideology is precisely that–organic, the product of an absorption of different important ideological elements belonging to no class in particular.

To say “predominance obtained by consent” is to say hegemonic status within a hegemonic system cemented by a common world-view–organic ideology–and won in civil society through dynamic ideological struggle therein. Hence, in the context of a revolutionary struggle for state power, rule by consent (hegemony) can be seen as “legitimation of revolution by a higher and more comprehensive culture.”[3] Let me add here that the acquisition of hegemony and the legitimation of revolution require from a fundamental class the important and proper execution of leadership. According to Gramsci, in fact, “leadership” precedes the other two stages in the process of rising to state power through revolution. We are now dealing with a principle of action, with strategy for revolution and with methods to attain hegemony. In particular, we come to the point in which theory and practice converge dialectically and become of practical relevance to the proletariat.

For Gramsci, the working class must, before actually exercising state power, attain leadership–that is, “establish its claim to be a ruling class in the political, cultural, and ’ethical’ fields.”[4] But for it to establish its claim to be a ruling class, the proletariat must first have become class conscious in the context of struggle for political power. Here Gramsci distinguishes between two phases in the process: first there is the corporate-economic phase in which the class identifies itself in terms of the corporate-economic interests of its integrated elements and as an economic group. Then there is the “purely political” phase in which the class realizes that its own economic interests, in their present and future development, go beyond the corporative circle of a mere economic group, and can and must become the interests of other oppressed groups. This is the purely political phase “which marks the passage from structure to the sphere of complex superstructures.”[5] At this point, when it becomes conscious of itself and its existence as a social class, the proletariat can then proceed to forge or develop a comprehensive world-view and advance a political programme allowing for its manifestation as a constituted political party playing a truly progressive and historical role and seeking to absorb other leading sections of the other oppressed groups and classes. At this point, in other words, the proletariat begins to engage in the struggle for social hegemony.

It is important to stress that Gramsci’s concept of hegemony finds a “context of relevance” in post-1923 Western Europe (and particularly in Italy). This is due to the fact that Gramsci appreciated in great detail the fundamental differences that existed between 1917 Russia and post-1923 Western Europe. Indeed, Gramsci believed that in such distinct contexts “the class struggle then changes from a ’war of maneouver’ to a ’war of position’ fought mainly on the cultural front.”[6] What is this ’war of position’ which Gramsci is talking about?

War of Position

First of all, Gramsci is talking about ’war of position’ for the attainment of hegemony. This war is thus carried on at the level of civil society. Indeed, once the proletariat becomes class conscious and overcomes its corporativism it can and must begin to exercise a role of political, moral, and intellectual leadership vis-a-vis other social classes to gradually acquire their spontaneous loyalty. Yet this role of leadership must be devoted to the struggle against the existing hegemonic system, and the struggle itself waged on all three basic levels of society: (1) the economic, (2) the political, and (3) the cultural. Incidentally, the economic struggle of the proletariat even precedes historically the “purely political” phase. Nevertheless, at the inception of the political phase the economic struggle assumes a new or distinctive form.

The economic struggle of the proletariat begins historically and basically as a struggle for better living and working conditions under Capitalism: the struggle for better wages, shorter working hours, better conditions, better benefits, etc. This struggle leads to the organization of the working class into trade unions but as of yet is not sufficient to challenge the hegemonic system of the bourgeoisie. However, at the advanced stage of the class struggle (at the political phase of the hegemonic challenge) the economic struggle must be waged in conjunction with an intense political struggle itself involving more than just “a simple confrontation between antagonistic classes” to include a “complex relation of forces” existing at three levels: (1) the relation of social forces linked to the structure and dependent on the degree of development of the material forces of production; (2) the relation of political forces, that is to say the degree of consciousness and organization within different social groups; (3) the relation of military forces which is always, according to Gramsci, the decisive moment.[7]

It is safe to argue that the evolution of the working class out of the simple economic struggle for corporate goals and into the field of complex political struggle proceeds further into the decisive ’war of position’ waged mainly at the cultural front as an ideological struggle. While engaged in the ideological struggle the proletariat “attempts to forge unity between economic, political and intellectual objectives, ’playing all the questions around which the struggle rages on a ’universal’, not a corporate level, thereby creating [its] hegemony [as] a fundamental social group over a series of subordinate ones.”[8] This ideological struggle involves a process of “disarticulation-rearticulation” of given ideological elements. It is really the struggle between two “hegemonic principles” for the appropriation of those elements, an appropriation constituting the unification of various ideological elements into an all encompassing ideology–organic ideology.

It is quite evident that Gramsci’s conception of ideological struggle could never be understood in class reductionist terms since it does not involve the confrontation between two already elaborated, closed world views each being the direct and exclusive expression of the two antagonistic classes. Rather, it is the actual struggle between two hegemonic principles for the “appropriation” (not the imposition) of ideological elements that may result in the eventual disarticulation of the previous ideological terrain and the rearticulation of ideological elements into a new form which then expresses a new collective will and serves as the new basis of consensus and effective hegemonic rule. The link between ideology and hegemony should now be more precisely clear.

“This process of disarticulation-rearticulation constitutes, in fact, the famous ’war of position’ which Gramsci conceives as the revolutionary strategy best adapted to countries where the bourgeoisie has managed to firmly establish its hegemony due to the development of civil society.”[9] Historically speaking, this ’war of position’ would be for the proletariat in advanced capitalist countries only a stage in the overall class struggle against the bourgeoisie. Nonetheless, this is a most decisive stage in that struggle since, as Gramsci said, “in politics, once the war of position has been won, it has been won definitively.”[10]

Methodically speaking, the proletariat can become a hegemonic class by either of two methods: by “transformism,” or by “expansive hegemony.” “Transformism”–the Moderate Party of the Resorgimento relied on this method–can occur through the “gradual but continuous absorption, achieved by methods which [vary] in their effectiveness, of the active elements produced by allied groups–and even those which came from the antagonistic groups.”[11] This is a “bastard” type of hegemony involving “passive consensus.” On the other hand, “expansive hegemony” involves “direct consensus” and hence constitutes the “genuine adoption” of hegemonic status through the war of position.

Finally, the “self-nationalization” of the proletariat as a class is an essential precondition for its full attainment of expansive hegemony. In its most inclusive meaning, expansive hegemony entails the successful creation of what Gramsci called a “collective national-popular will.” This itself involves the articulation of all “national-popular” ideological elements held in discourses by the subaltern national classes. The terms “nationalism” and “patriotism,” both “national-popular” ideological elements, have different meanings depending on what fundamental class appropriates them and articulates them in its hegemonic discourse through the hegemonic principle. As national-popular ideological elements these terms are important in that, held by the subalterns, they serve as the essential links between the leaders and the led in a national context. Needless to say, the proletariat must “self-nationalize” itself by articulating through its hegemonic principle the national-popular aspirations and objectives of the subaltern classes, the loyalty and consensus of which will form the basis of its hegemonic system. Once the hegemonic principle succeeds in articulating these elements, it then becomes a “popular religion” which would definitely insure direct consensus from the broad subaltern classes.

III. Gramsci’s Concept of the “Organic Intellectual”

For Gramsci, intellectuals are a broader group of social agents than the term would seem to include in its definition. Gramsci’s category of “intellectuals” includes not only scholars and artists or, in his own terms, the “organizers of culture,” but also functionaries who exercise “technical” or “directive” capacities in society. Among these functionaries we find administrators and bureaucrats, industrial managers, politicians, and the already mentioned “organizers of culture.” Moreover, Gramsci classifies these intellectuals in two dimensions: the horizontal and the vertical dimensions. On the vertical dimension we find the “specialists,” those who organize industry in particular for the capitalists (including the industrial managers and foremen). On that dimension we find also the “directors”–the organizers of society in general. On the horizontal dimension, Gramsci classifies intellectuals either as traditional intellectuals or as organic intellectuals. Traditional intellectuals are those intellectuals linked to tradition and to past intellectuals; those who are not so directly linked to the economic structure of their particular society and, in fact, conceive of themselves as having no basis in any social class and adhering to no particular class discourse or political discourse. Organic intellectuals, on the other hand, are more directly related to the economic structure of their society simply because of the fact that “every social group that originates in the fulfillment of an essential task of economic production” creates its own organicintellectual.[12] Thus, the organic intellectual “gives his class homogeneity and awareness of its own function, in the economic field and on the social and political levels.”[13] In addition, their interests are “more nearly identical with those of the dominant classes [they identify with] . . . than the traditional intellectuals.”[14] But what was the basis of Gramsci’s classification of intellectuals on “vertical” and “horizontal” dimensions?

The basis of this classification is Gramsci’s distinction between two distinct but interconnected areas in the social superstructure: “political society” and “civil society.” We could assume that the “specialists” (vertical dimension) would be situated most likely within “civil society,” and more specifically at the links between civil society and the economic infrastructure or level of production. The agents who constitute this group operate mainly at the level of industry. On the other hand, also on the vertical dimension, the “directors” would seem to be situated most likely within “civil society” but outside the realm of industrial specialization. This, of course, is rather tentative and at the most an exercise in abstraction since the categories of civil society and political society, and the category of infrastructure, are abstractions from an “organic totality” that operates dialectically and incorporates all levels in that operation.

Nevertheless, Gramsci is more clear as to the positionality of the intellectual types of the horizontal dimension in the super-structural level of society. Hence, organic intellectuals, part of the dominant class, provide personnel for the coercive organs of political society. Traditional intellectuals, important in civil society, are more likely to reason with the masses and try to obtain ’spontaneous’ consent to a social order.[15] Yet, in the struggle of a class aspiring for hegemony the organic intellectuals created by that class operate on the level of pursuit for direct consensus and as such hold no position in the coercive political structures to operate on a coercive basis. Hence, it would seem that in the struggle for social hegemony these organic intellectuals must reason with the masses and engage in a decisive ’war of position’ to consolidate the hegemonic status of the class the interests of which they share.

According to Gramsci the intellectuals are the “deputies” of the dominant group–the functionaries, exercising the subaltern but important functions of political government and social hegemony. In particular, the organic intellectuals are most important since they are the ones who actually elaborate and spread organic ideology. The political importance of these intellectuals rests also in the fact that, normally, the organic intellectuals of a historically and realistically progressive class will be able to establish their “domination” over the intellectuals of other classes, and hence will be able to create a “system of solidarity” maintained so long as the progressive class remains “progressive.”

Finally, organic intellectuals are very instrumental in a class’ struggle for hegemony. “One of the most important characteristics of any group that is developing towards dominance is its struggle to assimilate and conquer ’ideologically’ the traditional intellectuals, but their assimilation and conquest is made quicker and more efficacious the more the group in question succeeds in simultaneously elaborating its own organic intellectuals.”[16] Again, remember that the traditional intellectuals can be supportive agents in the quest for “spontaneous” consent to the social order. Thus, it would also seem that the struggle for assimilating the traditional intellectuals is yet another important requisite for a class’ overall struggle for hegemony. Specifically, this struggle for assimilation of the traditional intellectuals would be part of the ’war of position’ discussed in the previous section.

A major historical problem posed by Gramsci and of great practical relevance to the proletariat in advanced capitalist countries is the fact that “although every social group develops its own organic intellectuals, the industrial proletariat has relied mostly on ’assimilated’ traditional intellectuals for leadership.”[17] Of course, Gramsci prescribed a solution to this problem, a solution that, in fact, became one of the principal aims of the “Ordine Nuovo” in Italy. Gramsci wrote in the Prison Notebooks that the solution was to provide workers, directly in the shops, technical and industrial education as well as education in the humanities so that “from technical work [the select worker] arrives at technical science and historical humanistic views, without which he would remain ’a specialist’ and would not become a ’director’ ” (that is, a specialist and a politician). Clearly, only then could the working class develop a higher consciousness of itself and other social classes.


Gramsci’s contribution to Marxist theory is two-fold. On the one hand, with concepts such as “organic ideology,” “civil society” and “political society,” “organic intellectuals,” “hegemony,” etc., as well as his unique distinction between political society and civil society, Gramsci brought new theoretical foundations into truly dialectical Marxist revolutionary theory. Most important, out of these foundations emerged new concepts that have given Marxism more consistency and relevance vis-a-vis contemporary Capitalist reality. It is safe to argue, for example, that Althusser’s notion of “ideological state apparatuses” evolves out of Gramsci’s general concept of civil society and ideological structures therein serving as the social pillars of state power. Without much doubt, the Althusserian formulation of the theory of reproduction of ideological state apparatuses and the concept of ideological interpellation owes much to Gramsci’s concept of ideology and hegemony and the notion of the state implicit in these concepts. And let us not forget Gramsci’s notion of ’war of position’ from which Althusser’s elaboration of the concept of ideological struggle evolves. While a discussion of Althusser’s contribution to Marxist theory remains outside the scope of this article, it would not be irrelevant to say that Althusser has been for Gramsci more or less what Lenin was for Marx and Engels–each in continuity with his predecessors.

On the other hand, Gramsci has also contributed to Marxist theory through the major implications which his most important concepts (those discussed here as well as his concept of the party) entail regarding the true nature of capitalist crisis and proletarian revolutionary strategy. Novel among these implications is, of course, Gramsci’s emphasis on the need for the proletariat to gain the loyalty and support of other social classes in an advanced Capitalist context and, in order to do so, the need to overcome class dogmatism and interest-based corporatism. No longer has the cataclysmic notion of Capitalist crisis a place in truly revolutionary Marxist theory, as Gramsci’s concepts have brought a more realistic picture of the class struggle to our eyes. Indeed, Gramsci deserves much recognition in rectifying Marxist theory after its temporary degeneration at the hands of the mechanistic Marxists of the Stalin period and the revisionist “Marxists” of the Second International. In the dialectical materialist tradition of Marx and Engels, Gramsci’s “philosophy of praxis” (despite any historicism) has re-delivered to the working class a more powerful theoretical weapon with which it is well equipped against the capitalist class in the class struggle. There remains only the conscious making of history in the hands of the proletariat.

Editor’s Note: Valeriano Ramos, Jr. received his B.A. at Yale in 1981 and will start law school in September. He is presently working on a book, “Left Wing Unionism and the Trade Union Movement in the US, 1880-1955.”


[1] Chantal Mouffe, Gramsci and Marxist Theory (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979), p. 186.

[2] John M. Cammett, Antonio Gramsci and the Origins of Italian Communism (California: Stanford University Press, 1967), p. 204.

[3] Ibid, p. 205.

[4] Ibidem.

[5] Ibidem.

[6] Ibid., p. 206.

[7] Chantal Mouffe, Gramsci and Marxist Theory, p. 180.

[8] Ibidem.

[9] Ibid, p. 197.

[10] John M. Cammett, Antonio Gramsci and the Origins of Italian Communism, p. 202.

[11] Chantal Mouffe, Gramsci and Marxist Theory, p. 197.

[12] John M. Cammett, Antonio Gramsci and the Origins of Italian Communism, p. 202.

[13] Ibidem.

[14] Ibidem.

[15] Ibid, p. 204.

[16] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York: International Publishers, 1971), p. 10.

[17] John M. Cammett, Antonio Gramsci and the Origins of Italian Communism, p. 203.


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