On the metropolitan civilization: Notes on Gramsci’s Pre-Prison Writings (II). by Gerardo Muñoz

There is really not much that I can add about the young Gramsci writing in the L’Ordine Nouvo during the ’20s. I think Alberto Moreiras has already done a fabulous job of showing the underlying productionism of Gramsci’s knot around the Party, culture, subjects, and objects. Therefore, there is no need for me to gloss those arguments and their inscription in the context of Italian political history. Rather, I would only add a footnote to the question of productionism by focusing on some aspects of the short, albeit interesting, article “The Historical Role of the Cities” (1920). Here we are confronted with a Gramsci that appears as the defender of “urban civilization”, which is rather strange, but in any case, still very relevant. Insofar as today gramscianism is a cultural-political rhetoric of the enlightened metropolitan left, one could say that they are following Gramsci’s “original intuitions”. In this 1920 article, Gramsci argued that “the proletarian dictatorship will save the cities from ruin” (136). Like the foco guerrillero some decades later, this will to power will necessarily produce a “civil war in the countryside and will bind vast strata of impoverish peasants to the cities” (136).

Indeed, this is what historically ended up happing whether in contexts of “successful” revolutions or in instances of accelerated post-fordist capitalism. In other words, the destruction of what Carlo Levi called the communal form of life as an exodus to urban integration was, in the half of the twentieth century, one of the most radical spatial-political transformation of the dynamics of territorial power in the West. There was no modern revolution that stood “against the metropolitan domination”. On the contrary, every revolution was tailored as the full metropolitization of the national body. If we think about the Cuban Revolution of 1959 this is extremely clear: following the triumph of Fidel Castro & his men, there was a literal civil war in the Escambray highlands of the island that hunted any peasants that opposed the ‘integration process’ (hunted in the literarily sense, since the youth sent to the mountains to persecute the peasants were called cazabandidos). Parallel to the metropolitization as a total project, there was also a project of subjective transformation of the people into the metropolitan ethos. Hence, once again in the case of the Cuban revolution, all peasants were invited to the urban centers in a deescalating vector that ran from the countryside to the cities. When Gramsci defends the “modern industrial civilization” one must take him literarily: he is defending the a stealth metropolitization of public life.

Gramsci writes: “The decisive historical force, the historical force capable of creating an Italian state and firmly unifying the bourgeois class of all Italy, was Turin…but today Turin is not the capitalist city para excellence, but it is the industrial city, the proletarian city par excellence” (137). There are two movements here: on the one hand, Gramsci is anxious about the territorial fragmentation that is unable to make Italy a sovereign state that can coincide with its ‘people’. On the other hand, there is the assumption that any given city that holds the monopoly of production is already, sooner or later, the topos that will follow through with the revolution. This is true because, according to Gramsci, “the class of workers and peasants must set up  a strong network of workers and peasants to take over the national apparatuses of production and exchange, to acquire a keen sense of their economic responsibility and to give the workers a powerful and alert self-consciousness as producers” (138).

Of course, it follows that (and this is a teleology similar to what foquismo thought exactly forty years later), if there is a revolution in Milan, then there is a revolution at a national scale because “Milan is, effectively, the capital of the bourgeois dictatorship” (139). If for foquismo the starting point was a diffuse group of conscious revolutionaries in the highlands that will ignite the rebellion in the city; for Gramsci the rebellion in the city will allow for a revolt of the peasantry. Aside from having different starting points, what both Gramsci and foquismo have in common is the same teleological conception: this is a politics that is interested in “saving the metropolis” to reconstruct an artificial “national unity”.

The irony is that already in the 1960s the Gramscian dream of a metropolitan civilization was brought about in the post-Fordist regime of production which, as Marcello Tarì has shown in an important book about Italian Autonomia, realized a new systemic conception of power tied to a hegemonic metropolitan way of life. But perhaps this is specific to Italian Autonomia, since it speaks to the cosmos of socialism itself as a project tied to a “point de capiton” that regulates a “body” in the name of community. This operation, of course, seeks to suture fragmentation with the avatar of formal “social relations”. This is why the defense of the metropolitan city life is so important for Gramsci, which coincides with contemporary pseudo-radicals that propose a “democratic socialism” based on “this life”: it is a new form of domination that amounts to opening the flows of communication for “participatory subjects”. As Gramsci himself defines his communism in the article “The Communists Groups” (1920): “Communism as a system of new social relations can only become into being when material conditions are in place that permit it to come into being” (200). This is a good definition of a pastoral communism, “an integrated class” that has now become one with the metropolis.