Notes for Gramsci Reading Group Discussion (first 100 pages in Antonio Gramsci’s Pre-Prison Writings.  [Cambridge UP, 1994]).

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(This is the first posting.  The idea is for some of us to read systematically the Gramscian oeuvre.  Those in the reading group who so desire will post 500-word comments, just notes for discussion, with an aim to accurate understanding, and there might be discussion follow-ups in this space, although we mean to have the primary discussions through Zoom every three weeks or so. We begin with the Pre-Prison Writings, which, we understand, do not necessarily represent the mature Gramsci in every respect.)   

The Hegelian ethical state, accomplished through the bourgeois revolution, is not enough.  We must move towards the construction of an organic state, which only the Party, as the shadow government of the proletariat, can prepare.   It is a matter of culture over economics:  culture enables the proletariat to know itself, that is, to accomplish self-consciousness through the “disciplining of one’s inner self,” through the “mastery of one’s own personality,” through the “attainment of higher awareness” that will lead to understanding the place of the proletariat as universal class in history.  That will naturally determine “our function, rights and duties” (9-10).

History is therefore “the supreme reason” (13).  And history teaches us that the unleashing of productive forces, a “greater productive efficiency” that will eliminate all the “artificial factors that limit productivity” (15), will bring about communism.  It is therefore a matter of “exploiting capital more profitably and using it more effectively” (16).  Yes, towards equality and solidarity, love and compassion (90).  This is the truth of history, and “to tell the truth, to reach the truth together is a revolutionary, communist act” (99).  This will be “the final act, the final event, which subsumes them all, with no trace of privilege and exploitation remaining” (48).

Thinking is being, and being is history.  There is an “identification of philosophy with history” (50).  This is why Marxism is “the advent of intelligence into human history” (56), which is equal to “identifying [historical] necessity with [man’s] own ends” (56).  This is the task of the Party.  “Voluntarism” is the task of the Party, and it is “about the class becoming distinct and individuated, with a political life independent, disciplined, without deviations or hesitations” (57).  Until it can, not conquer the State, but “replace it” (62).

The Party is all, but it is only the vanguard of the all.  “Most people do not exist outside some organization, whether it calls itself the Church or the Party, and morality does not exist without some specific, spontaneous organ within which it is realized.  The bourgeoisie is a moment of chaos not simply where production is concerned, but where the spirit is concerned” (72).

When Gramsci discusses the Italian liberal Constitution existing in 1919 he notes that Italians have been living under a state of exception for several years.  The exception reveals the rule, he says, and the rule is the rule of domination by bourgeois interests as expressed by liberalism.  The situation post-state of exception, in the wake of the Russian Revolution, might enable the unleashing of true history.  “The proletariat is born out of a protest on the part of the historical process against anything which attempts to bog down or to strait-jacket the dynamism of social development” (88-89).

The Party will lead, by submitting to history and its unleashing, the people in order to create, through “ceaseless work of propaganda and persuasion,” an “all-encompassing and highly organized system” (99).  Freedom is party discipline (26).

1 thought on “Notes for Gramsci Reading Group Discussion (first 100 pages in Antonio Gramsci’s Pre-Prison Writings.  [Cambridge UP, 1994]).

  1. I’m starting the reading now, and though I haven’t got very far, it’s certainly going in the direction you note here. Which is, to be honest, rather disappointing.

    I’ll be interested to see, however, where we might spot the germ of more interesting concepts such as “common sense” and the like.

    In the meantime, it strikes me that you’d have to be a pretty die-hard Gramscian, of a very particular sort, what’s more, to get much out of all this.

    But we will see. We will see.

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