On Taming and Domestication: Notes on Gramsci pre-prison writings pp.3-100 (By Maddalena Cerrato)

IMG_0466Just a few notes around three main interconnected points:

  • THE HISTORICAL CONJUNCTURE: WWI and Russian Revolution (1914-1919).

These pages are unquestionably marked by the particular historical conjecture to which they belong. Each article presents itself as a piece responding to a particular occasion, and pays its special tribute to its kairos. Yet, each time it seems as though Gramsci’s most urgent concern is taming the historical juncture in order to bring it back (in the form of exception) within the necessary movement of the supreme reason governing History. What called my attention is the fact the both the two main events that constitute the overarching kairos for many of (if not all) the interventions, that is, WWI and The Russian Revolution, appear in these pages mostly as (related )exceptions to that historical rationality of which the Italian proletariat should become aware in order to be able to accomplish its destiny of establishing a new order.

War is the origin of the chaos as is disrupts the “long process of intense critical activity, of new cultural insight and the spread of ideas”(10) that should proceed every revolution. War is what disrupts “the normal course of events,” i.e. “when events are repeated with a certain rhythm. When history is developing through a series of moments, each more complex than the last and richer in meaning and value, but nonetheless similar”(41). “War has modified the conditions of the normal environment for historical action, giving an importance to men’s collective will which it would not have under normal conditions” (45). Under these new conditions that the war brought about – which changed the face of the system of production-, the Russian Revolution is a necessary and welcomed historical anomaly. The Russian Revolution is a revolution against Karl Marx’s Capital (39), but “the revolutionaries will themselves create the conditions needed to realize their ideal fully and completely… in far less time than it would have taken a capitalist system” (42).


Gramsci’s uneasiness with the anomaly of the war (so in a sense also with the Russian Revolution) seems to have to do with Gramsci’s “cultural” and educational concerns that frame his account for the collective revolutionary will. If on the one hand, the occurrences that exceed the normal course of events give an importance to men’s collective will which it would not have under normal conditions, need to be understood as exception to the order of things – which means that they also confirm the historical necessity and rationality of the normal course of events. On the other hand, in the normal course of events, men’s collective will needs to be raised and domesticated into a consensus to serve such an historical necessity.  Here, it’s where Gramsci’s particular understanding culture emerges as inherently entangled with discipline, propaganda, organization, and voluntary submission.

“Culture is quite different. It is the organization, the disciplining of one’s inner self; the mastery of one’s personality; the attainment of a higher awareness, through which we can come to understand our value and place within history,  our proper function in life, our rights and duties.”(9)

Culture so understood makes sure that the universal idea (Socialism) becomes the programmatic ideal around which a new social organism can unite and emerge as a well-developed self-aware historical subject. The socialist ideal (concrete universal) is the unifying factor that enables the establishment of those affective ties that constitute the collective will of the nation and enables it to become a fully developed historical subject acting through the consciousness of its universal aim. The creation and transformation of the multiplicity of individuals into a social organism that will be the agent of the new order implies “a long term task of educating and mentally priming its members” (37) to “guarantee the kind of immediate, effective, deep-rooted consensus which provide a solid foundations for action”(37). Only through this process of grass-root education:

“Man is coming to know himself, to know how much his individual will can be worth and how powerful it can become, if by bowing to necessity, by disciplining himself to obey necessity, it can come to dominate necessity itself, by identifying necessity with its own ends. Who is it who really know himself? Not man in. general, but the man the submits to the yoke of necessity.” (56)

“Will in a Marxist sense, means consciousness of ends”(57).


Finally, in these pages, Gramsci comes across as having settled the problematic National Question that dominated the Marxist debate at the beginning of the century.  The Historical dialectical necessity aims to the establishment of a higher order, that is the concrete universal of socialism. And such an order emerges as depending on the suture Nation-Class-State enacted through the party which is “a State in potential, which is gradually maturing.” The party “depends on the international only for its ultimate aim, and for the essential nature of its struggle, as struggle between classes” (4), but its immediate task is rather national. The party’s specific function and responsibility is to lead the nation to the its self-awareness… so to bring the “millions of individuals scattered throughout Italian territory, each leading his own life, each rooted in his own soil, knowing nothing of Italy…”(28) to form a social and political unity.

The constitution of the nation as collective will around the idea and the program of socialism is the task and the fulfillment of the party universal potential to become the State organizing the superior order that overcomes the chaos of capitalism and bourgeois competition.

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