Archive | Gramsci RSS feed for this section

Using Gramsci

5 May

HONG KONG REVIEW OF BOOKS 香港書評

Sean Mahoney on how the revolutionary Marxism of Antinio Gramsci can provide solutions to some of the predicaments of Europe and the US today.

Michele Filippini, Using Gramsci: A New Approach (Pluto Press, 2017)

In late 1926 Antonio Gramsci wrote an unfinished manuscript with the working title ‘Some aspects on the Southern Question.’ As with other essays by Gramsci it takes a local, narrow and perhaps niche issue and transforms it into an argument that is expansive and of universal interest, not only for the world of 1926 but for the world today.

The ‘Southern Question’ as considered by Gramsci focused on the unification of Northern industrial workers and Southern peasants, a unification that would be required in order to overcome the bourgeoisie. ‘For the proletariat to become the ruling, the dominant class, it must succeed in creating a system of class alliances which allow it to mobilise the majority of the…

View original post 922 more words

Advertisements

Notes on Gramsci,Fascism and Trump.

12 Feb

 

Many in the West are now experiencing for the first time what a Fascist Government may look like. There is debate over whether the Trump regime is a proto-fascist or some other classification which seems at times pointless and sterile when the pace and projection of events is clearly giving concern the world over.

We are though living in an era of “Populism”. Populist may be the new fascists ? Certainly the ultra nationalist ones give lots of indications. I have written before on the idea that the likes of Farage and Powell before him, send off the all the smells of fascism, all the signs and signals even if they couldn’t pull all the levers. It makes little difference but these debate go on and on. Normally to agree nothing more than we don’t like it, and how unpleasant and incompatible with liberalism it is. But I don’t look to Liberals and Liberalism to resolve it. I have no real desire to make sure potential Fascists are, or are not, filling in all the boxes on a matrix.

I am reminded at the present time of the debate a few years ago around the work of Michael Mann. Mann had written a second significant book on Fascism and “ the dark side of Democracy “ (Mann 2005). The idea that a failing in Democracy may sustain the conditions for Genocide. Democracy was no longer a bulwark against the rise of violent tyranny. Was it ever one might ask ? Indeed the failings are in our narrow concept of Liberal Democracy, of which the USA is seen as the mothership. The pushing of the neoliberal boundaries within a democratic context has led to the conditions of collapse. When politicians and the public feel the local supermarket owner understand them better than the political class then we are going somewhere else. The events in Greece in 2015 were a stark reminder of how financial markets and the associated administrators react to the will of the electorate.

America as we all know has a constitution that starts “ We the People”. Now we are letting politicians decide who “We” are and who the “People” are. These are never expanded nomenclature, always retracted ones ! They just ripen the conditions for discontent. Global organisations and international groups are easily badged as “them” and the WTO has failed us all. In other directions “we” are born here, or sometimes something even more complicated ( as in the current referendum in Switzerland giving third generation immigrants voting rights). But these are the empty politicians. Not only those selling us the “populism” with its neat, to them, models of the Demos and who is harming who. It’s also those holding the supposed mainstream and the middle-ground. They have been complicit in the suicide of liberal Democracy.

Trump has played this tune all the way to the White House. Now he’s there he’s not stopping. Those , and lets call them idiots for argument’s sake, who said that Trump was merely sending a signal that his voters knew wouldn’t be acted on,how are they feeling now. Like idiots I hope. But were all complicit in the idiocy to some extent.

And what idiocy it is. Not content with building a wall across the Mexican border,or of accusing the media of being liars, indeed even having a senior adviser who sees himself as Darth Vader doesn’t seem to be the ends of the lunacy. We are left with random immigration bans, state agencies working a gale force 11 and a world of alternative facts.

It’s at times like this then that I turn to Gramsci. His legacy as a writer who understood the nature and challenge of Fascism and how it poses problems that Liberal Democracy cannot easily answer is often unduly neglected. Attempts have been made to re-stake this claim but they still fall short.(Adamson,1990) I am not skilled enough to finish the job, but maybe leave a few signposts on the way.
Gramsci lived through the rise and implementation of Fascism in Italy and Western Europe. Something we hoped had been an event consigned to history. With each step in the development of first the party then the state, lines were drawn which survived only until the next move. From an Industrial lobby to totalitarianism in a series of remarkable unchallenged moves. Italy represented a microcosm of world capitalism. It was urban and rural, developed and backward, it hosted fragmented national elements, was fast dealing with industrialisation and a declining agricultural sector. Its relationship with the power of the catholic church also illustrated the wider political cultural dominance that can come into play. Gramsci saw this through the lens of hegemony. I have borrowed heavily from Hobsbawm here and will note his comment that Italy was a “laboratory of political experiences” (Hobsbawm ,2011)

Gramsci also understood in a remarkably prescient analysis the role of “subversive”. This was a negative class position, the “people” define themselves by empirical enemies. In the Italian context this was a dislike of country over town, of appearance standards and of officials and officialdom. Peasants and small farmers hating the civil servant.Not the state for they don’t understand that but they do understand its functionaries. (Gramsci,1971)

Gramsci saw the rise of Fascism as something more than Mussolini and something more alarming than the next phase in capitalism’s destruction. Writing in 1921 his analysis was brutally honest. The Fascists were involved in criminal activity, had moral and material accomplices in the state functionaries and a military hierarchy and command structure. In the face of this great threatening development, Gramsci was horrified at the lack of response from the Socialist party. Well that’s not wholly true, he called it a low moan. ( Gramsci,1921).

Like Trumps proto-fascism, Italian Fascism had a flaw. Unlike the death star it was not one so easy to explode. Though it carries the potential for its own destruction. The middle class disgruntled white-collar workers and small business owners on one side and the disposed rural class on the other. Both had come together under Mussolini’s umbrella but both had fundamentally different resolutions to their grievances. The parliamentary element will make political allegiances, the working class element will be left floundering. This coming split is, for Gramsci, an opportunity. We will no doubt see this with Trump. The quick wins for deregulated bankers wont help the New Hampshire underclass. They need something to turn up to take advantage of real class struggle ( Gramsci,1921 b) This is more than the broad alliances that any political movement or party makes and needs to be numerically successful. The two demands are contradictory. The current debates about the disconnected or “leftbehinds”, the white social conservatives of the Brexit vote, angry at not having a voice amongst a more educated elite provides another view of the people. They are the outcasts of the modern capitalist world, without a role or either perceived political or economic power. In a sudden moment they seem to have an outlet and a change to exercise some political power if not some economic power. Do they consider that the exercise of one may further hinder the other ? Perhaps not.To get their needs met requires entrenchment on “liberal” values. The commercial service elements to this support group need to continue exploiting them to make a profit. Otherwise they wont trade out of the situation. The two groups can’t be winners without the rules and social structure fundamentally changing. A trade war with China is not likely to benefit unemployed Americans to any great extent.

In 1926 Gramsci widened this debate again. The two elements were a set of tensions but actually Fascism had another split. Another group with even darker motives. This group wanted to merge the party with the state and create a bourgeois position of strength against all other political parties. Fascist action then becomes a totalitarian regime. Gramsci is still convinced that the other faction is represented by two contradictions. The first between landowners and capitalists in particular over the issue of tariffs. The second between the petite bourgeoisie and capitalism. (Gramsci 1926) Keep this in mind as we see movements towards a Trumpian judiciary, a battle between those who will be stymied by the raft of tariff and trade deals that are, or are not, entered into. When the media are taunted for being in opposition to the President were moving into Gramsci’s dark space.Creating industrial jobs, something Trump has promised his dispossessed, left behind supporters, is going to be done in an environment of pro-america trade deals. Quite who and how these new jobs will trade their output with remains to be seen, unless America will manufacture and trade only within its one borders, then everything else falls at the feet of capital(ism).

This of course leads to Gramsci’s much wider political point. In dealing with the “crisis” that has arisen, the traditional ruling interests will still be at an advantage. The Fascist challenge, however badged, still leaves a swamp with many of the same inhabitants before the proposed draining. We may be experiencing what Gramsci observed as the masses moving from political passivity to certain activity.The demands they present may seem revolutionary ( banning immigrants, tearing up trade deals, full employment) . However watch carefully how the traditional ruling class will solidify around this new position. Will big business and the corporate banking sector lose influence over trade deals ? Will the insurance companies be impacted if Obama care vanishes? Of course not, they have numerous “trained cadres “ ready to reabsorb control. (Gramsci,1971)

The debate moves then to what is to be done ?

Once the airport protestors go home ( or get arrested ) do we carry on a low moan and turn to TED talks and Facebook comments. Indeed a website designed to help people complain about Trump policy has been created. All you do is click the issue you don’t like. It has 100,000 visits in Trumps first 10 days (Vara,2017). Is it likely to do anything other than make people feel better ? Gramsci would wonder if registering your unhappiness online will really undermine the power structure. It might make a minor addition to the war of position, the tactical civil society focus needed to bring about change. However its going to need more than this. Ultimately if Trumps Presidency isn’t to take the world into either an American Fascist state superpower or a disjointed return to the corporate elite, it will require a vanguard leadership to bring together the war of position and deliver the war of manoeuvre. If these forces come together then Trump will have to resort to force. Gramsci saw the revolution taking place against a backdrop of economic catastrophe only when the counter-hegemonic revolution had been undertaken. (Mahoney,1995) What remains to be seen is if a couple of websites, John Oliver and a raft of Academy award speeches will be enough.

Bibliography
Adamson,WL (1990) Gramsci’s Interpretation of Fascism, Journal of the History of Ideas,41:4
Conversi,D (2006) Demo-Skepticism and Genocide. Political Studies Review 4:3
Gramsci,A (1921) Socialists and Fascists 11 June 1921
Gramsci,A (1921 b) The Two Fascism 25 Aug 1921
Gramsci,A (1926 )A study of the Italian situation
Gramsci,A (1971) Selections from Prison Notebooks ,Lawrence & Wishart
Hobsbawm, E (2011) How to Change The World, Abacus
Mahoney,S (1995) Gramsci’s Theory of Revolution, .
Mann,M (2005) The Dark Side of Democracy, Cambridge University Press
Vara,V (2017) To Complain about Trump,just click, Bloomberg, 11 February, 2017