What Can Social Movements Learn From Gramsci in Today’s Uncertain Times?

By Mark Engler and Paul Engler. Research assistance provided by Sean Welch. Mark Engler is a writer based in Philadelphia and an editorial board member at Dissent. He is the co-author, along with Paul Engler, of the book on the craft of mass mobilization, “This Is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century.” Paul Engler is a co-founder of the Momentum Training, which instructs hundreds of activists each year in the principles of effective protest. Cross-posted from Common Dreams. 

He has been called one of the most original political thinkers of the 20th century. Historians point out that “If academic citations and internet references are any guide, he is more influential than Machiavelli.” And his impact on the way we think about the processes of social change has been described as “little short of electrifying.”

The accomplishments of Antonio Gramsci, born in Italy in 1891, are all the more remarkable considering that his life was both short and notably difficult: His family was destitute in his childhood; he was sick for much of his life; he spent the prime of his adulthood confined to prison by Benito Mussolini’s fascists after his own party’s attempts to foment revolution had failed; he was often denied access to books during his incarceration; and he died at the age of just 46. Yet, in spite of this, he produced a body of theory that has been widely admired and cited as an inspiration by organizers across several generations and multiple continents.

Amid all this acclaim, it is still fair to ask whether engaging with the Italian’s thinking remains worthwhile for activists more than eight decades after his death. Has interest in Gramsci become merely academic, or are there practical lessons that social movements can fruitfully draw today?

There’s a good argument that the latter is the case. For organizers working in the socialist lineage, Gramsci is important because he offers a version of Marxist analysis that sheds much of the dogmatism and backward-looking orthodoxy that has unfortunately clung to the tradition. At the same time, he retains core insights into why capitalism is inherently exploitative and why changing it will require movements from below to engage in a contest of power, rather than buying into the idea that the system can be successfully tinkered with by technocratic reformers with clever policy ideas.

But even for those who do not personally identify with the socialist tradition, understanding the thinking of Gramsci and his intellectual heirs allows for an appreciation of how movements internationally have developed their strategies: from landless workers in Brazil who have combined land occupations with the creation of a vibrant network of rural schools to left populists in Spain pursuing electoral strategies aimed at creating a new “common sense” in favor of redistribution and social solidarity. In the United States, awareness of Gramsci would be necessary to understand why left educators in New York might run a workshop on “conjunctural analysis,” or why a book like Jonathan Matthew Smucker’s organizing guide takes the title Hegemony How-To.

So what concepts, then, have movements taken from Gramsci’s body of theory? And how has it affected their approaches to organizing?

History Won’t Do Our Work for Us

From Gramsci’s political thinking and practical strategizing come a set of ideas that arguably have only grown more salient with time. Among them: That revolutionary change will not inevitably come thanks to the preordained laws of history. That if progressive movements are to create change, they must win over large swaths of the public to their way of thinking about the world. And that organizing must take place on multiple fronts—cultural, political, economic—requiring engagement with many different institutions of society.

Although he died in 1937, Gramsci did not become well known outside of Italy, particularly in the English-speaking world, until the 1970s. That was when edited translations of his famous Prison Notebooks, written during his incarceration and surreptitiously smuggled beyond fascist reach, finally became widely available. At his trial in 1928, Gramsci’s prosecutor had famously declared, “We must stop this brain working for 20 years!” The expansive Prison Notebooks show why the Mussolini regime saw the theorist as such a threat.

Although writing in fragmentary snippets, Gramsci dives deep into a vast array of topics—spanning religion, economics, history, geography, culture, and education. This range, the historian Perry Anderson has argued, “had, and has, no equal in the theoretical literature of the left.” Beyond questions of political strategy, Gramsci’s work has a major impact on the academic fields of cultural studies, subaltern history, and the study of “world systems” under capitalism.

Owing to Gramsci’s wide range of interests, there are many different lessons that can be drawn from his work. But a first important lesson for organizers is one that emerged from the theorist’s rejection of elements of his own intellectual tradition.

A leader in the Communist Party of Italy, Gramsci witnessed a bold series of factory occupations in the Fiat auto plants in Turin in 1919 and 1920. These actions seemed like they might be a sign of a worker’s revolution that could follow on the heels of the historic Bolshevik victory in Russia. But then, after witnessing the rise of fascism and being jailed in 1926, he was forced to revise his vision of how a more just world might take shape. As the Jamaican-born British scholar Stuart Hall would later explain, Gramsci “worked, broadly, within the Marxist paradigm. However, he… extensively revised, renovated, and sophisticated many aspects of that theoretical framework to make it more relevant to contemporary social relations.” One of the key aspects he jettisoned was the tradition’s sense of historical inevitability.

In Gramsci’s time, it was common for “scientific socialists” to expound a highly deterministic vision of history. According to this view, Karl Marx had uncovered trends in economic development that were akin to natural laws: Capitalism was condemned by its own internal contradictions to produce crises, and these crises would inevitably lead to the victorious rise of the proletariat over its bourgeois exploiters.

Gramsci saw how these beliefs, propagated by elders and contemporaries alike, could lead to fatalism, passivity, and extremist posturing. Those who thought that political problems would be solved by the inexorable march of history did not need to take responsibility for coming up with thoughtful plans that balanced visionary goals with pragmatic action. Instead they could, in Gramsci’s words, hold an “aversion on principle to compromise” and spread the belief that “the worse it gets, the better it will be.” As he put it, “Since favorable conditions are inevitably going to appear, and since these, in a rather mysterious way,” would propel forward revolution, these socialists saw initiatives aimed at proactively ushering in such change as “not only useless but even harmful.”

One can argue that such historical determinism came from a flawed and reductionistic reading of Marx. Yet there is no doubt that it became widespread among many radicals in different periods, and it was particularly dominant in the time of the Second International, the cross-border federation of labor and socialist parties that met periodically between 1889 and 1916, a period that coincided with Gramsci’s youth.

Gramsci was loyal to the idea that economic forces and class relations were critical in shaping the flow of history. Yet he believed that only through determined organizing and the strategic application of human will would the fundamental structures of society change for the better. Gramsci opposed the idea that “immediate economic crises of themselves produce fundamental historical events.” Rather, he argued, “they can simply create a terrain more favorable to the dissemination of certain modes of thought” and certain types of organizing. The recurrent crises of capitalism do create opportunities, but people must come together to exercise “their will and capability” in order to take advantage of auspicious situations.

The key for Gramsci was to avoid falling victim to either economism—or an over-emphasis on the material causes behind historical developments—or ideologism, which involves an exaggerated view of what can be accomplished merely through good intentions and expressions of voluntary resolve. To strike the right balance between them requires careful observation and historical analysis.

Movements must study the current “relation of forces,” or the social, political, and military balance of power between different groups. They must look at the changes taking place in society and determine which are organic, reflecting deep shifts in the economic structure, and which are merely conjunctural—short-term occurrences that may be “almost accidental” and lack “far-reaching historical significance.” Only through such careful preparation can they determine if “there exist the necessary and sufficient conditions” for transformation in a given society, and whether a given plan of action is workable.

Such ideas would resonate with the thinking of other radicals, such as Detroit-based writer, organizer, and activist mentor Grace Lee Boggs, who counseled social movement strategists to ask “What time is it on the clock of the world?” when considering their plans for action. And the ideas parallel concepts from other organizing traditions, such as the field of civil resistance, which emphasizes the role of both skills and conditions—that is, how historical circumstances and human agency each play a part in determining a movement’s success or failure.

An important implication of Gramsci’s argument is that there would be no single path to socialism that every country would follow. Instead, he argued that because the political landscape varies, it is necessary to look carefully at the terrain—what Gramsci describes as taking “accurate reconnaissance of each individual country.”

This idea has proven particularly inspirational to activists in the Global South who have been moved to create versions of radical theory that engage with the unique histories of their regions. Scholars Nicolas Allen and Hernán Ouviña write that Latin American socialists since Gramsci’s time have enlisted his work “into a larger intellectual project that has sought to adapt Marxist theory to the social reality of a region largely ignored by orthodox Marxism.” The Prison Notebooks encouraged them to “engage directly with a set of regional realities” that local communist parties had previously disregarded in deference “to the Communist International’s (Comintern) interpretation of history, which deemphasized the particularities of individual nation-states.”

Of course, for Gramsci, it was crucial that study of conditions in any given country go hand in hand with practical action. Unless someone is aiming “merely to write a chapter of past history,” they should recognize that all political analyses “cannot and must not be ends in themselves.” Instead, Gramsci wrote, these analyses “acquire significance only if they serve to justify a particular practical activity, or initiative of will. They reveal the points of least resistance, at which the force of will can be most fruitfully applied; they suggest immediate tactical operations” and “they indicate how a campaign of political agitation may best be launched.”

If Gramsci’s perspective was only valuable in rebutting orthodox Marxists, it would not have much lasting value today. But its significance is much greater. Although the exact type of belief in the historical destiny of the working class that was prevalent in Gramsci’s time may not commonly exist now, there are still many people—whether they are mainstream academics, political commentators, liberals, or ultra-radicals—who harbor deterministic beliefs of their own. These people hold that social movements have little ability to influence history, that major uprisings emerge solely due to historical circumstances beyond our control, or that technological innovation is the only significant driver of progress and change.

Gramscian analysis provides helpful tools for rejecting such apathy, whether it arises from despair, cynicism, a focus on techno-fixes, or the fear of genuinely aspiring to power. It encourages movements instead to accept responsibility for organizing, educating, and preparing a base of people that can be ready to act when opportune moments arise. After all, Gramsci argues, historical conditions can only truly be judged as favorable by those who have a “concrete possibility of effectively intervening in them.” In other words, fortune favors the organized.

Winning the Battle of Ideas

Gramsci created a further breakthrough by elaborating on the importance of the cultural, political, and ideological elements that, in the Marxist tradition, make up the “superstructure” of society. In the process, he helped develop a new theory of how movements could successfully instill their vision of a just society in a lasting way.

When analyzing why revolution had succeeded in Russia but failed in other countries, including his own, Gramsci drew on an expanded vision of how dominant groups stayed in control. The capitalist state, he argued, could not merely be seen as a set of government institutions that maintained power through coercion—administered through its courts, police, and military forces. Instead, the power of the state extended much further, seeping through the institutions of civil society, including schools, the media, the churches, and other institutions.

A ruling order could only remain intact through the maintenance of hegemony. The concept most commonly associated with Gramsci, hegemony entails not only the use of force and “legal” discipline, but includes the ways in which ruling ideas are disseminated through society, creating legitimacy and consent for the rule of the dominant group.

With these concepts in mind, Gramsci made a distinction between conditions in Russia and the countries of the West. In Russia, he explained, the formal institutions of state were predominant, while “civil society was primordial and gelatinous.” However, “in the West, there was a proper relation between State and civil society.” In the latter case, civil society protected ruling groups from being easily overthrown: “When the state trembled,” Gramsci explained, “a sturdy structure of civil society was at once revealed. The state was only an outer ditch; behind which there stood a powerful system of fortresses and earthworks: more or less numerous from one state to the next.”

Recognizing these conditions, Gramsci argued that the “war of maneuver,” the kind of seizure of power through direct assault modeled by the Russian Revolution, would be supplanted in advanced capitalist countries by a different type of struggle. In the West, organizing would have to focus on the “war of position”—that is, entering into a long-term battle for hegemony, waged through many spheres of social life.

Crucially, this would mean winning the battle of ideas. The critic Raymond Williams wrote that hegemony is made up of a “central system of practices, meanings, and values saturating the consciousness of a society at a much deeper level than ordinary notions of ideology,” and it is something that needs to be continually “renewed, recreated, and defended.” Those working in the Gramscian lineage contend that activists who aspire to transform the existing order must aim at nothing short of creating a new “common sense” through which people would understand their place in the world.

As Harmony Goldberg, an activist and educator at the Grassroot Policy Project, explains, “Gramsci argued that socialism can neither be won or maintained if it only has a narrow working-class base. Instead, the working class should see itself as the leading force in a broader multi-class alliance (termed a ‘historic bloc’ by Gramsci) which has a united vision for change and which fights in the interests of all its members.” Creating a unified alignment means recognizing that people do not form their beliefs in a mechanistic way based on their economic position in society.

Instead, ideological formation is also affected, as Stuart Hall wrote, by “social divisions and contradictions arising around race, ethnicity, nationality, and gender.” The interests of a social group, Hall noted elsewhere, “are not given but have to be politically and ideologically constructed.”

These ideas have important implications: The political arts of popular messaging and coalition-building should not be left to mainstream liberals, but need also to be the domain of those seeking more transformative change. Movements that want to win cannot be content to circulate slogans that appeal only to self-isolated groups of like-minded activists; they must care about reaching out beyond their existing base and crafting messages that can appeal to a broader set of potential allies.

Building a new common sense requires combating the ideas that keep people complacent. Goldberg notes that the individualistic and divisive ideology of currently dominant groups can be profoundly demobilizing. She writes: “We can come to believe that our interests are aligned with the success of capitalism rather than its destructions (e.g. ‘A rising tide lifts all boats.’); we can believe that there are no alternatives to the system as it is…; we can internalize false senses of superiority or inferiority (e.g. white supremacy which encourages poor white people to comfort themselves with their social privileges); and more.”

If movements are to replace such beliefs with a hegemony of their own, they must convincingly articulate an alternative. But this is only a first step. They must also determine which social groups can be united in support of this alternative and then carefully build the political power of that alignment. The goal, as contemporary Gramscians might say, is to create a big enough “we” not only to win occasional elections, but to change the very way in which people think about themselves and their connections to others. It is to build the collective will for action.

Engaging the Institutions

Gramscian thought encourages strategic diversity. Since approaches will be developed based on analysis of a given country’s unique circumstances, movement strategies vary across different geographies. And since the war of position is a long-term effort, fought on many different fronts, a wide range of contributions can assist in the struggle for social and economic justice.

In a recent interview with Gramscian scholar Michael Denning on The Dig, podcast host Daniel Denvir suggested that Gramsci’s thinking was a way for the left to break out of stale debates that see “electoralism,” mutual aid, and workplace organizing as mutually exclusive, rather than as approaches that can complement one another. Denning noted in reply, “On the left, we could all have more compassion for each other following one’s own gifts and abilities, rather than guilting people into doing things that they don’t necessarily have gifts for.” He continued, “I think that Gramsci does lead one to not think that one position is guaranteed to be the central position. People should fight in struggles where they feel they can be most effective and most powerful and where their own talents are.”

How to best wage a war of position is up for debate. In the late 1960s, German student activist Rudi Dutschke argued that the left needed to undertake a “long march through the institutions.” This meant entering into the established social bodies—including schools and universities, political parties, media outlets, healthcare providers, community organizations, unions, and the professions—with the intent to radicalize and transform them. Many have seen such a march as an extension of the Gramscian lineage.

The Brazilian landless workers movement (known in Portuguese as the Movement dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or MST) is one group that has embraced this approach. Among the largest social movements in Latin America, the MST has maintained rural occupations that have claimed land for upwards of 350,000 families, while also interacting critically with the government to build an extensive network of schools, community health clinics, and food processing centers.

Scholar Rebecca Tarlau describes these efforts as “contentious co-governance.” Here, activist farmers not only alter the nature of the mainstream institutions they enter; they also use these bodies to expand the legitimacy and organizing capabilities of their movement. “Importantly,” Tarlau contends, “the MST not only embodies this Gramscian strategy, but activists also explicitly draw on Gramscian theory to justify their continual engagement with the Brazilian state.”

Critical to this approach is the idea that movement participants enter institutions not as reformers—a position that may leave them vulnerable to cooptation—but as part of an effort to build the “intellectual and moral leadership” required for a progressive project to gain hegemony. “Organic intellectuals,” comparable to the village teachers or parish priests in the Italy of Gramsci’s time, play a vital role in translating alternative ideas about creating a better society into real-world practice.

Distinct from traditional scholars, these local movement participants spread ideology not through the academic development of theory, but through actually exercising leadership in community affairs and institutions. Tarlau explains that, through their actions, these people in effect are “constantly attempting to garner the consent of civil society to support their political and economic goals” and create a “justification for new forms of social relations.”

Too often, mainstream approaches to politics see all power as residing in the government, especially at the federal level, and they see electing winnable centrists to office as the key to promoting progress. Gramsci tells us that power is everywhere, and that holding office is only valuable as part of a larger movement strategy to rally hearts and minds around a genuinely progressive vision. At the other end of the spectrum, many people working outside of government pursue change in only one area—at the level of a single workplace, school, church, food cooperative, or neighborhood initiative—without connecting their efforts to a more comprehensive project of change. Gramsci encourages movements to pursue wide-ranging interventions, but always to unite them as part of a common program to transform society.

“Especially today,” Stuart Hall wrote in the 1980s, “we live in an era when the old political identities are collapsing.” The same might be said of our present times. If movements for justice are to win, they must work to construct new identities and alliances, built through engagement with the diverse institutions and sites of political conflict that make up peoples’ lives.

Gramsci provides no easy answers for the current challenges that we face. Yet with concepts such as “hegemony” and “organic intellectuals,” the “war of position” and the “historic bloc,” “conjunctural analysis” and the battle for “common sense,” he provides social movements with an enriched strategic vocabulary. And with his insistence on rejecting determinism and engaging with society’s most deeply held beliefs, he offers an approach to radical politics that is dynamic enough to stay relevant through the crises—and transformations—yet to come.

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  1. MFB

    There is little point in reading Gramsci if one has no desire to take power, and the left, at least in the NATO countries, has no desire to take power. Gramsci can easily be used to indefinitely defer all action, which is the flip side of the mad notion, so common among the NATO left, that the only way to take power is to wait until the ruling party does something leftist and then clap madly from the sidelines.

    In short, this is an interesting article, but it is also pointless so long as NATO countries lack any leftist organisations capable of acting on it, instead of exploiting it for their own empty purposes.

    1. DJG, Reality Czar

      MFB: The situation is not as dire and inert as you portray it, although you may be correct about northern Europe in this regard. But then there is Sinn Fein.

      Along the Mediterranean I can think of: The Portuguese left. Sanchez, PSOE, and Sumar in Spain (as well as the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya and the left party in the Basque Country, whose name I forget).

      I just read a long profile of La France Insoumise in Fatto Quotidiano this morning. You may want to check out what La France Insoumise is up to.

      Here in Italy, the Five Stars and la Sinistra Italiana aren’t exactly moribund.

      But if you are hoping for left politics from the U.S. Democratic Party, well, you’ll be eternally disappointed.

      1. Lambert Strether

        > hoping for left politics from the U.S. Democratic Party

        And the matrix of billionaire-funded NGOs in the Party is embedded.

        The complete failure of Democrats + NGOs on Covid mitigations across the board, very much including union leadership (perhaps not NNU), to defend the working class with non-pharmaceutical interventions is the proof of this particular pudding. Their idea of mitigation is a tip for the essential worker who brings their dinner when they come to the door, maskless, doing their WFH thing.*

        Doesn’t mean Gramsci’s “social movements” aren’t out there, just that you’ve got to look for them in right places, and they won’t be reported.

        NOTE * Elon — dear Elon! — showed the way to the rest of Silicon Valley by firing what, 80% of his staff and managing to retain a functioning platform. At some point, it would be an interesting experiment to follow his example and fire 80% of school administrators (grade school to university), health insurance claims deniers, spooks, think tanks, party operatives, investment bankers — to name a few — and see what happens. I bet the country would get along just fine. It might even improve. All these people would also have to find jobs doing real work, which builds character (ultimately then a benefit to them).

        1. Neutrino

          At work, I would tell staff the juggling story.

          If you are juggling a lot of balls, then drop one, and nothing happens, forget about that ball.
          Now see how many more can drop without anything happening.

          That got them thinking as well as doing. Encourage engagement, not sullen disengagement.

        1. DJG, Reality Czar

          Ignacio: From your vantage point in Madrid, are Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya and Bildu viable leftist parties? Or just cranks? [Thinking about MFB’s top comment.]

          I still have a leaflet from Esquerra Republiana de Catalunya that I got years back when I was in residence at a place on the edge of Barcelona and the comarca of Anoia. If I were in Spain, I’d likely vote ERC, so don’t be too hard on me (!)

          1. Ignacio

            It is hard to say for me. Not atuned to polítics in detail, i regret to say. There have been interesting figures as Majors in both Barcelona (Colau) and Madrid (Carmena), both women and both with real progressive agendas. I have liked the discourse of current head of ERC when i heard him. Young and progressive. But It seems ERC has stalled in last elections in favour of the conservative Junts who are the typical neolib sh#t.

    2. Jams O'Donnell

      Agree. And while Gramsci seems to have been right in discarding ‘historical inevitability’ it remains an undeniable fact that the most successful Marxist theorist in actual practice is Mao Zedong.

      Apart from disputes about how many died in the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, from the success of the revolution in 1949 until the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, life expectancy in China rose 31 years, the fastest ever recorded in a major country. In the same period, literacy went from 20% to 93%. This is a considerable achievement, combined with many others, (such as driving combined US and allied forces in Korea to a draw during the same period).

      (These figures come from a book review article which can be found at:


      This website also has more interesting statistics on the Chinese Revolution:

      https://herecomeschina.substack.com )

      1. Yves Smith

        Both China and Russia were peasant societies. That is the simple reason they lacked the societal/institutional structures to serve as a second line of defense for the state.

  2. DJG, Reality Czar

    Thanks, Conor. And thanks to Engler and Engler, who have written an excellent article, filled with insights, that also draws on Gramsci’s deep humanity and constant struggle for human connection. I have read parts of the notebooks, some of the prison letters (deeply moving), some of his journalism (no one could read it all), and some of his theater criticism. Yes, he was a witty and insightful theater critic, too.

    What is the source of his great humanity? He suffered from a disease that deformed his body. He came from Sardinia, not exactly the center of world events. His family is of Albanian extraction–in Italian the surname “Gramsci” looks a tad odd. So you have someone like Archimedes, using his weak levers to move the world. Is that the “common sense” that the authors mention in the article?

    This article’s discussion of hegemony is enlightening. “Hegemony” sounds grand, but as the authors tell us, it is a way of dominating politics and the discussion of politics. Project Ukraine is the current example par excellence.

    Years ago, I went to the State Archives in EUR in Roma for an exhibition of his notebooks and other writings. The famous prison notebooks are the kinds that kids use at school: 48 pages or so, bound with staples, with a pretty cover, that you’d buy in a shop for, ohhh, 99 cents. The display of them was deeply moving, all in one place, all of those humble paper objects.

    Now, here, in the Chocolate City, I live near the building he lived in during his university years and shortly after. It’s a twelve-minute walk. The building once was a residence for poor kids from the countryside who were given (state-supported) apprenticeships in a number of trades including cabinetmaker and locksmith. By Gramsci’s time, it was in use by university students. Now it is a luxury hotel. Four stars in the Piazza Carlo Emanuele. An instance of hegemony.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > “Hegemony” sounds grand, but as the authors tell us, it is a way of dominating politics and the discussion of politics. Project Ukraine is the current example par excellence.

      “Hegemony” provides the answer, or an approach to an answer, to Harry Frankfurt’s famous question “Why is there so much bullshit*?” The short answer is that elites need bullshit and hire professionals to produce it for them. This is well understood. Project Ukraine is indeed one such. Project RussiaGate is another, preceded by Project PutinTrump. Then there is Project Climate, run by many of the same people previously hired to run Project Cigarettes. And of course we have Project CovidPropagation, run by an unholy combination of bent economists, public health officials, Democrats, and spooks (the latter integrated within the “the Censorship Industrial Complex”).

      I like the insight of DJG’s “project” for two reasons. First, it fits my model of ruling class (capitalist) individuals and entities funding and managing portfolios of projects within (fractions of) the governing class. Second, it explains the incoherence of the bullshit, its hall of mirrors, uncanny, fantastic quality. The bullshit produced for any given bullshit project doesn’t need to be ideologically consistent with any other bullshit project; it need only achieve its intended purpose. Bullshit, institutionally, is bricolage. For example, Project CovidPropagation is utterly inconsistent with and contradictory to (call it) ProjectIdPol** because Covid hits the very categories of people idpol claims to protect the hardest. But that doesn’t matter, because both projects are working well in their respective spheres of operation.

      I have tended to think of bullshit in layers over time, deeply impacted layers, like a geological formation. But thinking of bullshit as being funded and produced on a project basis makes me think of bullshit not as horizontal***, but as a vertical, and of hegemony, at least in our current conjuncture, as a bundle of verticals****.

      NOTE * Even though this is a family blog, I don’t think we are required to Bowdlerize technical terms, as long as they’re used technically, and not reflexively, or to characterize comments at NC (we’ll weed them out, thanks).

      NOTE ** In reality, ProjectIdpol is a collection or aggregation of projects. Pritzker’s trans project is distinct from Soros’s racial equity project in funding, personnel, tactics and so on.

      NOTE *** We tend to think of bullshit as being spread, as organic matter distributed over a field, horizontally. So it’s suggestive to think of bullshit as being built, as a construction project along the vertical dimension.

      NOTE **** There is also the question of how to characterize the multitudes who buy into the work product of any given bullshit project (the term needs to be more precise than “sheeple,” just to head off that particular brainworm (although remember: you too could have a brainworm drilling, unseen, into the back of your neck at this very moment. Avoid hubris)). I tend to prefer the term “asset” — “bullshit asset” being pleasingly parallel to “bullshit artist” — because bullshit assets can produce economic value for the clients of service providers who have access to them. “Access” being a slippery word, I admit. Surely, however, a Democrat bullshit project doesn’t have access to arbitrary assets or categories of asset; see the work of Mark Penn.

      1. Aurelien

        I think a lot depends on the political context. If it’s about controlling the debate in a society which is broadly peaceful and has a democratic process, even if it functions poorly, then I have always believed the concept of hegemony is useful. Indeed, I’d go further and say that you can have Negative Hegemony: the ability to stop subjects from even being discussed. Immigration is the classic case in some countries. But paradoxically, I think Gramsci is of less value in discussing actual revolutions or violent changes of power, because these are not generally the result of movements in popular opinion, or the triumph of particular ideas. The Bolshevik seizure of power was just that: a coup by a small and well-organised group with very clear ideas, not a popular movement. They exploited a much wider desire for political change, much as Khomeini did in Iran in 1979. The fact that similar attempted seizures of power in other countries failed should not really have surprised anyone. (I always tell people to read Malaparte’s book on coups d’état to understand such things.),

        1. NL

          Second this view. The old foundation and edifice formulation holds: one can’t change the foundation by just manipulating the edifice — one can’t even begin manipulating the edifice without controlling the foundation. I suppose one can document all the permutations of the edifice and fume about it, but this is about it. The Italian elitists Pareto, Mosca, and Michels are more useful for our purposes. Appealing to Gramsci seems lime a head fake.

        2. BillS

          As V. Lenin (I think) said, the Bolsheviks found “power lying in the street and they picked it up!”

          1. digi_owl

            A discontent public, and offering a credible/hopeful alternative to the status quo.

            One can see now why the Marshall plan was so vital to post-war Europe, as it stemmed the same conditions taking hold.

        3. Jams O'Donnell

          It would be interesting if you could try to describe how the revolutions in China, Vietnam and Cuba ‘failed’.

          1. Aurelien

            I was thinking of the failed revolutions in other European countries after 1917, as I suspect Gramsci was also.

            1. Jams O'Donnell

              Gramsci, living at the time he did, had no choice in the matter. However, I would have thought that in the interests of clarity and precision, you should have had more awareness of the width of coverage required.

        4. Bruno

          Aurelien writes: “The Bolshevik seizure of power was…a coup by a small and well-organised group with very clear ideas, not a popular movement.”
          This is completely wrong. The Revolution of November 7 1917 was no “coup”–it was the assumption of power in Russia by “The All-Russian Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’,and Peasants’ Deputies,” the “revolutionary democracy” pioneered in the 1905 Revolution, through it’s “military-revolutionary committee” after majority vote by the representatibe assembly of the Russian working classes (not of “civil”=bourgeois society) and established a coalition government of the majority workers’ and peasants’ parties. It was not at all “motivated by desire for political change” (which was of course true of the Kadet party of Miliukov) but by the overwhelming desire of the Russian peoples for “Peace, Land, and Soviet Power.” Nor is it at all true that in November 1917
          the Bolshvik Party was a small group with clear ideas. That it was small was true in March 1917, when Stalin and other right-wing Bolsheviks promoted “conditional support” to the imperialist Provisional Government. Once Lenin returned to Russia, and was joined by Trotsky, the Bolsheviks gained the “clear ideas” about the imperialist war that made them a mass party despite continuous dissent (as exemplified by Zinoviev/Kamenev opposition to the November insurrection).

      2. Eclair

        Lambert, re: ‘bullshit’ as a vertical collection rather than being spread horizontally.

        The initial stage of fertilization with bullshit usually involves dumping it in a vertical pile (or, compost heap, if you want to sound organized.) Then, after it has aged, matured, killed off the weed (just plants in the wrong place, or holding the wrong ideas) seeds, eliminated the evil micro-organisms, and insured that the nutrients have been converted into a form that will be accepted by the recipients, rather than killing them outright, only then is it ‘spread.’

      3. Bobby

        Lambert, thank you for explaining in a way I’ve never seen or thought about why the media and government narratives often don’t make sense.

  3. NL

    In science, the authors must disclose sources of funding for their article — not perfect, but better than nothing. This approach should be implemented in all publishing. A legitimate question is “Who’s paying for all this ‘training’? Looks like Momentum Community is collecting donations through ActBlue Charities (the donate button redirects from momentumcommunity dot org to a web page at a ActBlue website). What is ActBlue? — from Wiki:

    “ActBlue does not endorse individual candidates.[3] The organization is open to Democratic campaigns, candidates, committees, and progressive 501(c)4 organizations. Groups that use ActBlue pay a 3.95% credit card processing fee.”

    This reminded me of the recent post “The Nationalist Right Tries a New Formula to Sell the European Neoliberal Project”.

    1. digi_owl

      It used to be, at least where i’m from, that newspapers were overtly partisan.

      If you read this you were an industrial worker that voted Labour or further left, if you read that then you were a capitalist voting Right etc.

      Just about the only retention of that is the funny color of the financial press, the rest has turned into PMC mush that fret more about wine and poetry than life conditions of the marginalized.

  4. Henry Moon Pie

    I come asking a question about this helpful and informative article.

    Crucially, this would mean winning the battle of ideas. The critic Raymond Williams wrote that hegemony is made up of a “central system of practices, meanings, and values saturating the consciousness of a society at a much deeper level than ordinary notions of ideology,” and it is something that needs to be continually “renewed, recreated, and defended.” Those working in the Gramscian lineage contend that activists who aspire to transform the existing order must aim at nothing short of creating a new “common sense” through which people would understand their place in the world.

    Isn’t this “new common sense” what is often called “worldview?”

    In that regard, I came across yet another effort to transform worldview for purposes of dealing with Overshoot, not Marxist revolution, this time coming from Tomas Bjorkman in this Nate Hagens podcast. Ekskaret is Bjorkman’s educational foundation headquartered in Sweden.

    1. Susan the other

      Thank you for the Nate Hagens link. Bjorkman was right on topic. I’d just like to point out that human existence is predetermined in this respect, that Gramsci’s “sturdy structure of civil society” is the common sense nature gives us. That if we don’t get our act together and dispense with consumerism and profiteering we will cease to exist. Bjorkman asks the big question, can we live without money? and he answers yes, because money is a totally human construct. Loved that part. So my question is, how do we maintain cooperation? My boots-on-the-ground observation is that we can’t socialize pollution. We need to do something constructive and for a very long and dedicated time.

      1. Henry Moon Pie

        That’s the $64,000 dollar question, isn’t it? What’s the glue? Bjorkman is on the right track, I think. We often talk about worldview/paradigm/common sense, but we rarely consider that worldview can mature. James Fowler talked about this in the context of “faith,” but he’s coming from Kohlberg and moral development, following from Piaget. Bjorkman’s metamodernism sounds a lot like Fowler’s “conjunctive faith.” With this kind of faith, there’s appreciation of paradox and mystery, an openness to other worldviews and an ability to engage in dialogue with other beliefs. Bjorkman is searching for glue, but believes that education/training can help people mature to a worldview that allows for more successful dialogue as a first step.

        My feeling is that another element is myth–new myths, reworked old ones–that is constructed for the task at hand as deftly as Ezra constructed the Genesis myths for his purpose in the early 4th century BCE. At the heart of it must be a reliance on the Earth to do what we can’t do when humans finally reach some sort of reckoning with themselves. We’re really already in a situation where we’re going to do substantial damage to the Earth that’s been so hospitable to human civilization these last 10,000 years. We don’t have the means to reverse it quickly either. We’re left in the position that we must rely on Earth’s ability to heal itself, something we witness every time pioneer weeds cover a bald spot in the lawn. But the readjustments in Earth’s systems are going to seem like Gaia’s bent on revenge. And yet, we have nothing else to rely upon, as big a blow to our hubris as that is.

      1. Henry Moon Pie

        Yep. Very similar. More and more people are understanding that our Overshoot calamity is beyond a political or even ideological matter. In the West, we’ve been programmed to a Conquistador worldview that’s hypercompetitive, including competing through consuming. The Earth and all people not part of this culture are objects of exploitation. The strongest thrive. The rest are eaters.

        The political change can’t come unless the worldview changes. So how does that happen, especially in a society that’s lost its glue? Lots of people thinking about that now.

  5. Mark Gisleson

    Thank you. I’ve lacked the discipline to read Gramsci but have always heard that he’d be right up my alley.

  6. communistmole

    The sustained interest in Gramsci seems to me to be above all an indication that emancipatory movements seem incapable of emancipating themselves from outmoded ideas, in Gramsci’s case from the ones of the Second International and its Leninist offspring, to which he undoubtedly belongs.

    1. hunkerdown

      The nice thing about long-dead thinkers is that they don’t sass back when recuperated by the hegemon. /s, of course.

  7. eg

    I knew that while I appreciate Marx’s critiques of capitalism as a classical economist that I could never be a Marxist (not that Marx himself was either) because I completely reject historical determinism. I was unaware that Gramsci had reached similar conclusions (yet another gaping hole in my ongoing self-education) so I am grateful for this post, thanks.

    1. digi_owl

      Yeah i do not see anything deterministic, beyond the ebbs and falls of capitalist crisis, in Marx. More a warning that the proletariat needs to be wary of signs that a crisis is coming and be prepared to seize the means of production.

      And i think there was some attempt at that in South America some years back, where a factory of some sort was declared bankrupt. And the workers moved in to maintain production in order to keep the money coming into the local community. But i don’t recall the name sadly, and i suspect in the end the banks got the court to send in the cops.

  8. digi_owl

    I feel one should be wary of dismissing the material side of the struggle though.

    It is far easier to convince someone to adopt social and cultural change when their material needs are not threatened by said changes. Easier still if they think there are materials gains from going along.

  9. Gulag

    This analysis seem somewhat out of date. We are already at least 50 years into the transformation of our political regime.

    The serious and quite successful Gramscian power move began with “the long march through the institutions” in the 1960s-1970s culminating in our present Uber-managerial system consisting of the managerial economy, the managerial state, the managerial intelligentsia, the managerial mass media, and the managerial philanthropy.

    These sectors overlap and are interlinked and each has its own rules and interests and slightly different species of elites. Each community tends to act out of its own interests but also reinforces the interests of other sectors.

    The end result is the proliferation of administrative bureaucracies as well as whole new categories of experts and a whole new woke ideology.

    There is no more separation of powers, no more constitutional rights, and no more traditional economy.

    Welcome to the emerging hegemony of the techno-mangerial one-party state and its highly sophisticated apparatus of narrative manipulation or what used to be called the ever-changing party-line.

    1. britzklieg

      There is no… informed consent. We will accept the OPINIONS of our overlords as fact or be dismissed as “uncooperative” (crazy) denied insurance, mortgages, jobs, votes (high tech vote counting? really?) et al until a majority of the unwealthy is, essentially, disappeared.

      That said, I think this essay is great.

    2. Henry Moon Pie

      “emerging hegemony of the techno-mangerial one-party state”

      Did they replace the college of corporations?

      There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state – Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale.

      1. Gulag

        The origins of this contemporary techno-managerial one-party state go back a long way and has, in my opinion, replaced the more simplified college of corporations structural viewpoint.

        Christopher Lasch, in his 1991 book “The True and Only Heaven: Progress and its Critics,” has a wonderful bibliographic essay on the topic of managerialism or what he labeled as the new class and the managerial state. His review indicates the literature has at least 3 strains:

        1) Its progressive version running from Walter Lippmann’s “Preface to Politics,” to Thorsten Veblen’s ” The Engineers and the Price System,” to Barbara and John Ehrenrich’s “The Professional and Managerial Class,” along with many other listings.

        2) A more critical strain of the emerging technical and managerial elite, from James Burnham’s “The Managerial Revolution” (1941), to Serge Mallet’s “Bureaucracy and Technocracy in Socialist Countries” (1971) in the journal Socialist Revolution, to George Konrad and Ivan Szelenyi’s “The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power” (1979), along with many other listings.

        3) Also, particular critiques of revolutionary intelligentsia and its dreams of power as discussed in the writings of Burke and Tocqueville, to Joseph Schumpeter’s “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy” (1942), as well as Alvin Gouldner’s “The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class” (1978), along with many other listings.

        However, N.S. Lyons, in an essay released in Aug of 2023 entitled “The China Convergence,” provides, in my opinion, the most sophisticated analysis of this new political managerial regime in the contemporary U.S.

  10. Acacia

    Interesting, thanks. Takes me back to Laclau and Mouffe’s Hegemony and socialist strategy: Towards a radical democratic politics, circa 1985.

  11. Johnny Conspiranoid

    Have neo-liberals read Gramsci?This long march through the institutions looks a lot like their strategy of the last fifty years.

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