Antonio Gramsci
Born 1891

Ales, Sardinia, Kingdom of Italy

Relevant Work "The Formation of the Intellectuals"


(NATC, 2nd ed.)

Biography Edit

  • Antonio Gramsci was born on the impoverished and marginalized island of Sardinia.
  • Having won a modest scholarship, he left Sardinia in 1911 to attend the University of Turin.
  • By 1914 Gramsci was a committed socialist, and in December 1916 he became an editor of the official Socialist Party newspaper.
  • Elected to Parliament on the Communist ticket in 1924, Gramsci returned to take his seat, protected from prosecution by parliamentary immunity.
  • Leaders of the Communist Party, including Gramsci, were arrested in November 1926; Gramsci was sentenced to twenty years in prison.
  • For four years (1929-33) in prison, before his health collapsed, Gramsci was allowed to write, the result of which was the four volumes of the Quaderni del carcere (The Prison Notebooks), on which most of Gramsci's reputation as a social and cultural theorist is based and from which "The Formation of the Intellectuals" is taken.
  • Due to failing health, he was released from prison April 1937 and died less than two weeks later.

"The Formation of the Intellectuals" Edit

Background and Historical Context Edit

In December of 1916, Gramsci was appointed the editor of the Socialist Party newspaper. He believed that the Italian socialist revolution would closely follow the Russian Revolution and by 1921 Gramsci was instrumental in forming the Communist Party of Italy. By 1926, Gramsci was one of the leaders of the Communist Party of Italy that were arrested and went on trial in 1928 where he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Quaderni del carcere (The Prison Notebooks) was the result of the four years of imprisonment when Gramsci was allowed to write and, therefore, was able to grow his influence as a socialist writer.

Key Words and Terms Edit

Hegemony: "'manufactured consent,' created through the articulation of intellectuals in a public sphere in which contending articulations are also voiced" (NATC 1000).

Traditional intellectual: "are the administrators and apologists for existing and social and cultural institutions (schools, religious denominations, corporations, military, press, political bureaucracies, and judicial systems) also include Writers, artists, and philosophers." (NATC 1000).

Organic intellectual: "(In contrast to "Traditional") rise out of membership in social groups (or classes) that have an antagonistic relationship to the established institutions and official power." (NATC 1000).

Idealist Philosophy: a philosophy that posits the existence of ideas, motives, and actions separate from their material, economic origins and consequences.

Historic Bloc: "it must exert intellectual and moral leadership, and make alliances and compromises with a variety of forces.Gramsci calls this union of social forces a "historic bloc", taking a term from Georges Sorel" (wikipedia)

Proletarian: A member of the proletariat. Working class, commoner, blue-collar working class (Meriam-Webster). Proletarians are not characterized by their "manual or instrumental work, but by performing this work in specific conditions and in specific social relations" (1004)

Apparatus: a complex structure within an organization or system (Meriam-Webster). "The apparatus of state coercive power..."(1007). Gramsci's use of the word apparatus connects well with Althusser's use of the phrase "(Regressive) State Apparatus" (1344).

Key Quotations Edit

"Gramsci argues...a stable state never rules by force alone but relies on a combination of coercion and consent." (1000).

"Every social group, coming into existence on the original terrain of an essential function in the world of economic production, creates together with itself, organically, one or more strata of intellectuals which give it homogeneity and an awareness of its own function not only in the economic but also in the social and political fields" (1002).

"...the mass of peasantry, although it performs an essential function in the world of production, does not elaborate its own 'organic' intellectuals, nor does it 'assimilate' any stratum of 'traditional' intellectuals, although it is from the peasantry that the other social groups draw many of their intellectuals and a high proportion of traditional intellectuals are of peasant origin" (1002-1003).

"All men are intellectuals, one could therefore say: but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals." (1004)

". . . [a]lthough one can speak of intellectuals, one cannot speak of non-intellectuals, because non-intellectuals do not exist." (1004)

When one distinguishes between intellectuals and non-intellectuals, one is referring in reality only to the immediate social function of the professional category of the intellectuals" (1004).

"In the modern world, technical education, closely bound to industrial labour even at the most primitive and unqualified level, must form the basis of the new type of intellectual" (1005).

"One of the most important characteristics of any group that is developing towards dominance is its struggle to assimilate and to conquer 'ideologically' the the traditional intellectuals, but this assimilation and conquest is made quicker and more efficacious the more the group in question succeeds simultaneously elaborating its own organic intellectuals" (pg. 1005).

The relationship between the intellectuals and the world of production is not as direct as it is with the fundamental social groups but is, in varying degrees, "mediated" by the whole fabric of society and by the complex of superstructures, of which the intellectuals are, precisely, the "functionaries".

"School is the instrument through which intellectuals of various levels are elaborated" (1006).

"What we can do, for the moment, is to fix two major superstructural 'levels': the one that can be called 'civil society', that is the ensemble of organisms commonly called 'private', and that of the 'political society' or 'the State'. These two levels correspond on the one hand to the function of 'hegemony' which the dominant group exercises throughout society and on the other hand to that of 'direct domination' or command exercised through the State and 'juridical' government. The functions in question are precisely organisational and connective. The intellectuals are the dominant group's 'deputies' exercising the subaltern functions of social hegemony and political government" (pg 1006-1007).

"Mass formation has standardised individuals both psychologically and in terms of individual qualification and has produced the same phenomena as with other standardised masses: competition which makes necessary organisations for the defence of professions, unemployment, over-production in the schools, emigration, etc" (1008).

Discussion Edit

Prevalence of Intellectuals Edit

In this selection of text, Gramsci poses the question, "Are intellectuals an autonomous and independent social group, or does every social group have its own...intellectuals?" (1002). He goes on to assert that everyone is an intellectual within their own field. Gramsci wants readers to consider what defines an "intellectual" and advocates that we need to realize that it takes everyone from all industries and ares of production to make change.

Connections to Marxism Edit

Much of Gramsci's work acted as revisions and expansions on the work of Karl Marx. Of particular importance were the revisions he made to the Marxist concept of "ideology." For Marx, a person's beliefs and values always mirror their economic interests, but Gramsci found this to be an insufficient explanation. It is for this reason that Gramsci revised the Marxist concept of "ideology" and developed his concept of "hegemony," which recognizes how cultural factors as well as economic factors influence individuals. Hegemony is the means by which the ruling cultural and economic class "manufactures consent," the means by which the ruling class convinces the subordinate class to willingly submit to their own oppression.

"Gramsci's meditations on intellectuals subtly contest Lenin's writings on the role of the party. He wants to consider how intellectual can be effective, especially in moving people to action" (1000). Although Lenin's writings are not specifically addressed by Gramsci, it is important to consider given the historical context of Gramsci's text and having a basic understanding of Lenin's power.

Major Criticism and Reception Edit

Traditional Marxists criticize Gramsci's ideas of socialism and concern with social behavior being influenced by culture because they believe it will distract away from important economic and material matters. Others criticize the work of Gramsci as being "undemocratic" (NATC 1001). They contend that a focus on power and intellectuals ensures that ethics and social justice are not given enough importance.

Related Works Edit

  • Karl Marx- The Communist Manifesto and Capital, Volume 1
  • Sassoon, Anne Showstack. Gramsci and Contemporary Politics: Beyond Pessimism of the Intellect. 2000.
  • Adams, Walter. Hegemony and Revolution. 1980.
  • Bocock, Robert. Hegemony. 1986
  • Aristotle. Poetics.
  • Althusser, Louis. "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses."
  • Moretti, Franco. "Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History."

References Edit