OSE Gramsci - Open School East

Antonio Gramsci & Hegemony
Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937)
• Leader of the Italian Communist Party from 1922
• Witnessed failure of Turin workers’ strike in 1920
• Imprisoned by Mussolini who said ‘We have to prevent that
this mind continue thinking’ (1926)
• While in prison compiles his Prison Notebooks which were
smuggled out by his sister in law Tatiana and published in
• Of fundamental importance to Cultural Studies because he
identified popular culture as important in the circulation of
ideas and proposed the concept of radical and critical
• Developed concept of the ‘organic intellectual’ who would
enable working class to articulate their own oppression.
According to Karl Marx:
The essence of being human is in how we procure food, clothes and shelter.
Under a capitalist system, some people own the means of production (the way in
which goods are produced for sale on the market). These are the bourgeoisie.
Other people (the proletariat) are exploited by the bourgeoisie who gain by their
The Bourgeoisie (middle class)
Own the means of production (factories, machinery, banks, administrative
offices, raw materials etc)
Profit from exploiting the proletariat (they are never paid the full value of the
goods they are producing)
Determine the relations of production (eg., the conditions under which people
are eligible to be employed)
The Proleteriat
Sell their labour to the highest bidder
Labour to produce what is required to sustain their lives but cannot
immediately make use of it. They must go to a shop and buy it and pay the
extra that represents profit. This, in very basic terms is alienated labour.
They are alienated from the product of their labour, from their comrades (with
whom they are in competition) and from themselves.
The thesis is private property
The antithesis is alienated labour
The synthesis is communism
Communism is the new social order that will result when the proletariat realise
their exploitation and rise up to seize the means of production (revolution).
Why do the proletariat agree to their own exploitation?
Ideology (sets of ideas that govern thought and behaviour)
ensures that the relations of production which form the
economic base of society are presented as natural (eg.,
competition, hierarchy)
The social superstructure (institutions like the church,
government, the family, education and the media) secures
and maintains these ideas
Marx believed that:
The proletariat labour under a false sense of reality.
Humans are rational animals and, as such, are able to
reason that capitalism is unjust
History is progressing towards a point where capitalism
will no longer be able to survive.
Once the relations of production in the economic base are
changed, the ideas that circulate in the superstructure will
change to support the new arrangements of society.
• Why do a minority of the world's population continue to hold the majority of the
• Why do people elect governments that make sure that they continue to be
• Why has there not yet been a successful workers' revolution?
Gramsci’s answers:
• Dominant groups secure consent to their leadership through what he called
• Social forces are mobilised by the class in power through compromise
• Ruling class retains power by making compromises on the basis of national
popular interests, utilising a strategy of passive revolution
Welcomed ‘Americanisation’ of the workforce – introduction
of Frederick W Taylor’s system of factory organisation – the
moving production line (later called Fordism)
‘The only thing that is completely mechanised is the physical
gesture; the memory of the trade, reduced to simple gestures
repeated at an intense rhythm, ‘nestles’ in the muscular and
nervous centres and leaves the brain free and
unencumbered for other occupations’
‘Not only does the worker think, but the fact that he gets no
immediate satisfaction from his work and realises that they
are trying to reduce him to a trained gorilla, can lead him into
a train of thought that is far from conformist’ (Gramsci,
pp309 & 310)
Gramsci says:
‘COMMON SENSE creates the folklore
of the future, a relatively rigidified
phase of popular knowledge in a
given time and place.’
Common sense???