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A Review of Antonio Gramsci Written by Steven J. Jones

Updated on February 12, 2018

Review

This book is written by Steven J. Jones and got published in 2006. Its second edition came in 2007. This book is divided into three parts: “Why Gramsci?”; “Key Ideas” and “After Gramsci”. The first part of this book gives the reason why it is important to study Gramsci and understand his concepts. This chapter describes Gramsci’s account of power. Antonio Gramsci did not see power as a simple matter of domination or subordination. Instead of forcing their will on the other class, the ruling class, somehow, tries to win the consent of the subordinate class.

Gramsci never accepted the notion that once power is achieved, it stays on forever. He saw it as an “ongoing process, operative even at those moments when a ruling class or group can no longer generate consent” (p. 4). Jones gives his case study of St. George’s Day in the first part. He argues that one of the key elements for Gramsci is that hegemonic strategy means the formation of links with already existing forms of culture. If an embedded culture is rejected and something new is imposed, then there will be a strong dividing wall between the people of culture and the ruling party, such a situation leads to crisis. Further, Jones discusses Gramsci’s “common sense.” “Common sense”, for Gramsci is formed from the conceptions from the world which are circulated by the ruling bloc. Partly, common sense also involves the experience of the everyday life of people. This common sense created by the ruling party directs everyday lives of the people in their own way and most of the times the subordinate group remains unconsciousness.

The second part of this book: “Key Ideas” is further divided into eight parts. The first part describes Gramsci’s political and intellectual development. This subpart discusses the concepts of Risorgimento and Transformismo with situations prevailing in Italy before the birth of Gramsci. “Gramsci saw the Risorgimento and its aftermath as a key example of how a governing power absorbs its political antagonists and institutes reform, without expanding its programme to involve full democratic participation” (p. 15). Gramsci considers the history Italian state from 1848-1920 as one of transformismo. This part also gives an account of the effect of Risorgimento and transformismo on Gramsci’s early life. Further, there is an account of the Fascist rule in Italy and Gramsci’s life during that time, Gramsci’s journey to prison, a result of the opposition of Fascism.

“Culture”, the second sub-part of the second part of the book, describes the concepts of “base” and “superstructure”, as given by Marx and also Gramsci’s contribution to these concepts. In these concepts, Marx’s famous quote is referred: “Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life” (28). Many German philosophers suggest that the ideas formed by the ruling class always rule. The class which has the control over material production also controls the mental production. Jones also refers to Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (first published in 1859), in which Marx says “that the sum total of economic relations ‘constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness’” ( 28).

This subpart also describes the concepts of “War of Position” and “War of Manoeuvre”. “War of Position”, on one hand, Gramsci argues, “is needed to prepare the ground before an assault can be made on capitalist society while on another occasion he argues that the war of position has decisively superseded frontal attack” (31). While “War of Manoeuvre” deals with the relationship of ideological struggle with armed revolution. Later on, the Gramscian concept of “civil society’ is also described. In this context, Jones refers to Gramsci’s saying, “‘govern himself without his self-government thereby entering into conflict with political society – but rather becoming its normal continuation, its organic complement” (p. 32). Gramsci is also described as “Theorist of the Superstructures”. There is also a discussion on National- Popular and the “Southern Question.”

The third subpart discusses Gramsci’s concept of hegemony in detail. It describes the origin of the term and its meanings before Gramsci’s concept. “Gramsci claimed that Ilich was responsible for the concept and the fact of hegemony” (p. 43). Jones says that the understanding of hegemony that Gramsci had was “influenced by both native and international uses of the world” (p. 44). Then Jones describes Gramsci’s hegemony as a tool for historical and political analysis. Coercion and Consent form another section of this subpart. This part also gives a detailed account of Gramsci’s ideas of “common sense” and “good sense”. In this part of the book, Jones gives his two case studies, looking at how hegemony works on cultural forms and practices. The sixth subpart of the second part of the book describes the role of intellectuals in a society. The form and expression they give to the moral, philosophical, ideological and scientific values also contribute to the establishment of hegemony.

The third part of this book, “After Gramsci”, describes how the world has changed from the time of Gramsci which makes it important to reassess the work of Gramsci. This part describes historicism as “an intellectual movement that insists on the importance of historical context to the emergence and interpretation of ideas, artefacts, social groups and cultural practices” (p. 122). It also describes the new social movements that arise in modern times and relevance of Gramsci’s concept to such situations.


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