Posts Tagged 'Gramsci'

Bourdieu & Gramsci

Gramsci (Red)

Antonio Gramsci

P. Kerim Friedman reviews Peter Ives‘ book Gramsci’s Politics of Language and the connections between Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) and Antonio Gramsci:

In Bourdieu’s early work with Jean-Claude Passeron, we find the term “the cultural arbitrary” used in a way which seems quite similar to Gramsci’s concept of normative grammar: “In any given social formation the cultural arbitrary which the power relations between the groups or classes making up that social formation put into the dominant position within the system of cultural arbitraries is the one which most fully, though always indirectly, expresses the objective interests (material and symbolic) of the dominant groups or classes.” In developing this concept, Bourdieu draws upon William Labov’s early work which showed that “members of a speech community can share allegiance to the same standard, despite differences in the (nonstandard) varieties they themselves speak.” Bourdieu’s work with Passeron serves to highlight how the educational system institutionalizes these arbitrary standards; thus naturalizing the success of the elite who are socialized into these norms before they ever set foot in school. Unlike normative grammar, however, the phrase “cultural arbitraries” reveals a lingering Saussurian structuralism. The specific content of the dominant cultural or linguistic form is less important for Bourdieu’s theory than the mere existence of an arbitrary standard which is recognized as legitimate even by those unable to perform it.

Gramsci’s historical method serves to highlight the cross-class alliances that stabilize in any given “historical bloc”-a phrase that refers to the “complex, contradictory and discordant ensemble of the superstructures” and corresponding “relations of production.” The hegemonic ideology of any given bloc does not simply reflect the interests of only the ruling elite, but also those of the other classes with whom they have entered into alliances and even the very process by which that alliance took shape. For instance, even though America’s financial elite share a generally secular libertarian ideology, the conservative movement was able to succeed by combining elite interests with those of evangelical southern white Christians. This has its roots in post-Civil War Reconstruction and in the “Southern strategy” adopted by Nixon’s Republican party in the wake of the civil rights movement. Choices regarding hegemonic cultural forms are not arbitrary nor do they simply reflect the cultural forms of the elite. They are the product of the “complex, contradictory and discordant ensemble” of a given historical bloc. While Bourdieu may tacitly acknowledge the importance of such processes, his theory of the “cultural arbitrary” retains its structuralist roots. (Friedman, 361-363)


Friedman, P. Kerim.  “Ethical Hegemony.”  Rethinking Marxism 21, no. 3 (July 2009): 355-365.


Italy During the Time of the Soviet Revolution

Italian factory occupation

Italian factory occupation

In their edited work, Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, editors Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith write about the period right before the founding of the Communist Party of Italy (PCI):

[I]t was not until the spring of 1920, on the eve of the great Turin metalworkers’ strike, that Gramsci began to pose correctly the relation between mass institutions and the revolutionary party.  He then wrote an article-destined, to the horror of the P.S.I. delegates, to be described by Lenin as “fully in keeping with the fundamental principles of the Third International”-entitled “For a Renewal of the Socialist Party”, in which he said, notably: “The existence of a cohesive and strongly disciplined Communist Party which, through its factory, trade-union and co-operative nuclei, co-ordinates and centralises within its own executive committee all of the proletariat’s revolutionary activity, is the fundamental and indispensable condition for attempting any Soviet experiment.”  But by this time, as Gramsci was to recognise with bitter self-criticism in subsequent years, the task of national co-ordination of the proletariat’s revolutionary activity had been left too late.  The April metalworkers’ strike was in fact the high point of revolutionary mass struggle in the postwar years; and it was only after its defeat that the Ordine Nuovo group attempted to sink its theoretical differences with Bordiga, in order to participate in the process of creating an Italian Communist Party.  It was only after the defeat of the factory occupations in September, i.e. after the effective end of the period of postwar revolutionary upsurge, that the Party was in fact formed-on Bordiga‘s terms. (Hoare and Smith, xl)


Gramsci, Antonio.  Selections from the Prison Notebooks.  Eds. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith.  New York: International Publishers, 2008.


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