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Alex Callinicos

Guide to Reading:

Antonio Gramsci

(May 1977)

From International Socialism (1st series), No. 98, May 1977, p. 31.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to Sally Kincaid.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Two books published earlier this year are important contributions to our understanding of Gramsci. Alastair Davidson, Antonio Gramsci: Towards an Intellectual Biography (Merlin £3.00), is probably the best political study of Gramsci available in English, although for the background it assumes read Cammett or Fiori (see below) Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Political Writings 1919–1920, Lawrence and Wishart £3.00), include many of the articles he wrote in L’Ordine Nuovo during the Turin factory councils movement of 1919–20. Lawrence and Wishart have already published the excellent Selections from the Prison Notebooks (£2.50) and this summer are bringing out another selection of Gramsci’s political writings covering the years 1920–6, including presumably the crucial Lyons Theses which Chris Harman discusses in his article. We are also promised yet Further Selections from the Prison Notebooks at the end of the year, so most of Gramsci’s important writings will soon be available in English.

Two books from Pluto Press provide much of the background to the Turin movement. The Occupation of the Factories: Italy 1920 (£2.40) by Paolo Spriano, a leading Italian Marxist historian, is indispensable for anyone who is interested in one of the most important working-class revolts of the 20th century. Sadly, it has been neglected since the publication of the English translation two years ago, which suggests how little Gramsci’s self-styled followers care for the central experience that shaped his thought. Gwyn Williams, Proletarian Order: Antonio Gramsci, Factory Councils and the Origins of the Communist Party in Italy 1911–1921 (£3.30), is full of fascinating insights, although the author’s oddities, Maoist and otherwise, often obtrude.

John Cammett’s Antonio Gramsci and the Origins of Italian Communism (Stanford £2.00) was the first book-length political study of Gramsci to appear in English, and is thorough and accessible. Guiseppe Fiori’s Antonio Gramsci: The Life of a Revolutionary (NLB) is valuable as a personal biography, although its attempt to present Gramsci as a precursor of the Popular Front is more questionable (see Lucio Colletti’s review, Antonio Gramsci and the Italian Revolution, New Left Review 65). Carl Boggs Gramsci’s Marxism (Pluto £1.80) is a useful though slightly academic introduction, once account is taken of Boggs’ tendency to overstress the importance of ideological struggle in comparison to political and economic struggle in an attempt to present Gramsci’s concept of hegemony as a precursor of Maoist cultural revolution. An excellent critical discussion of Gramsci’s thought, is Perry Anderson The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci, New Left Review 100.

Finally, still in print is a pamphlet published by the Institute of Workers’ Control containing a selection of articles by Gramsci from the 1919–20 period entitled Soviets in Italy. At 20p it’s a bargain.

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Last updated: 6 March 2015