Some notes on pages 101-202 of Antonio Gramsci’s Pre-Prison Writings, (1919-1920)

There are four themes that jumped out at me in this block of writings covering the years 1919-1920: (1) the debate with and against anarchism; (2) the characterization of the future post-revolutionary state as a strong, military, ethical organism understood on cybernetic principles; (3) the factory council as the model of its social organization; and (4) The connection between communism and early Christianity.
The four themes articulate different aspects of one underlying problem: the determination of which shape the future stage (and final) state of humankind will (necessarily) take once humankind’s evolution is (Hegel-like) understood as the progressive and incremental realization of freedom.
AG’s answer is that the future social organization will provide, like the societies of
early Christians did for the Roman slaves, the means to realize everyone’s freedom by turning everyone into a self-conscious element of the state understood as a productive machine ruled by a tree-like structure of councils at top of which sits the communist party. As a consequence, the anarchists’ rejection of the state must be fought tooth and nail and understood as a liberal regression to a pre-modern tradition, while—similarly, and for the same reasons—the dissenters who refuse to accept their role in the cybernetic future organism must be dealt with military means.
The great merit of AG’s view is undoubtedly its consistency. While we could read it as a document of the particular socio-political conjunction he was working in, it could also be deployed as a theoretical blueprint opening up to its possible alternatives. Certainly (and obviously) each single element in this argument for the future of humankind represents a theoretical choice that could lead in different directions. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, it also shows how some configurations that could be obtained through sheer combinatorics are actually inconsistent.
A proper articulation of AG’s overall argument ion terms of such elementary choices and its logically and historically possible alternatives is way beyond the scope of these notes, although it may be a useful, perhaps even a necessary step toward the articulation of a framework within which to locate the contemporary relevance of Marxism, —at least it would be for me. It may even become my concrete goal for the overall reading of Gramsci we are attempting. At this preliminary stage, I am simply going to list a series of statements that sum up some of the alternative choices. They are most likely not the “elementary” statements I mentioned, the basic steps in the overall Gramscian/Marxist view—further analysis is certainly needed. At this point, they will only work as reminders and signposts: each statement must be understood as a question admitting multiple answers.

 

  1. Freedom is the ultimate existential goal (or rather, to be clearer: existentive/existentiell goal, in Heideggerian language)
  2. Existential (-ive/-ell) freedom starts (phenomenologically speaking: “for itself”) and ends (“in itself”) from self-consciousness: it starts from an barely articulated yearning (“know thyself”) and ends in full, and fully realized, i.e. concrete self-consciousness
  3. Society is the locus of human freedom: both its condition of possibility and the arena of its deployment.
  4. Society’s overall goal is the production of goods.
  5. Freedom in the social context (the only possible context) is the self-conscious appropriation of one’s own role
  6. The (“scientific”, i.e. cybernetic) organization of production by the producers is the only possible social organization enabling human freedom.
  7. The state is the institutional realization of the the productive, self-conscious society of producers.
  8. The state’s must defend itself (that is, it must defend the productive society of producers it realizes) against external enemies and especially against the internal enemies with military means.
  9. The internal enemies are the dissenters who refuse to accept their role within the cybernetic society, thereby refusing to be free

 

These nine statements are meant to be just a very provisional recognized of a systematically organized view that will keep me busy for a while as we proceed through the text. As it stands, however, I wonder if it may help organize some of the discussions we had already. In particular, I would see some strong connections between the very first one and the points Alberto has made with reference to B. Stiegler and the Anthropocene debate. Personally, I am most concerned wth the theses about society, work, and production (4 and 5, that is). The whole contention with and against anarchism is contained with those two, it seems to me. The statement about self-consciousness is fertile ground for alternatives as well, obviously, but the question is whether its rejection can be accommodated with the others.
More work, is needed, no doubts about it…

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