The Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci is one of the most abused and also most useful of Marxist thinkers. His theories of ideology and hegemony are particularly vital tools for the Left today.
But they have also been appropriated and often stripped of their class content by the liberal academy which seem to forget Gramsci was a founder member and later leader of the communist party in Italy and that this was the context of his thought. In the 1970s and 1980s the so-called “Eurocommunists” used Gramsci to justify a retreat from social struggle. His work was latterly taken up by academics involved in “discourse analysis” who, although they found regrettable the “economistic residue” of privileging the role of class in his analysis, nevertheless took up his ideas now stripped of this archaic content.
This could happen partly due to the mystifying nature of his most important work, The Prison Notebooks, written in a coded style while his was imprisoned by Mussolini, but it is also due to the power of his thought. Yet precisely because Gramsci in his notebooks written between 1929 and 1935 is reflecting on a period of utter defeat for the Left, with the triumph of fascism and the destruction of the communist party, he is useful for us today. Clearly we are not in a period of defeat in any way comparable to the moment in which Gramsci was writing. But nevertheless, the Left in Britain finds itself at low ebb historically, with its political forces small, its influence low, and its ideas marginalized.
On Left Luggage we try to avoid straying into too theoretical territory, trying to stick to straightforward analysis, strategic questions and “common sense”. Therefore, we will only summarize a selection of key points that can be found in Gramsci’s thought, focusing on what we might effectively call counterhegemony i.e. the most urgent task from the Left’s point of view today.