Authors: Antonio Gramsci

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Italian politician and theoretician

Author Works

Nonfiction:

Lettere dal carcere, 1947, revised 1965 (Letters from Prison, 1973)

Il materialismo storico e la filosofia di Benedetto Croce, 1948

Quaderni del carcere, 1948-1951 (6 volumes), 1975 (4-volume critical edition; partial translation, Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, 1971, complete translation, Prison Notebooks, 1992-1996)

Gli intellettuali e l’organizzazione della cultura, 1949

Note sul Machiavelli, sulla politica, e sullo stato moderno, 1949

Letterature e vita nazionale, 1950

Passato e presente, 1951

The Modern Prince, and Other Writings, 1959

Antonio Gramsci: Selections from His Political Writings, 1910-1920, 1977

Selections from Cultural Writings, 1985

The Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings, 1916-1935, 1988 (David Forgasc, editor)

Antonio Gramsci: Preprison Writings, 1994 (Richard Bellamy, editor)

Biography

Antonio Gramsci (GRAHM-shee), the founder of the Italian Communist Party, served as its foremost theoretician and provided it with active leadership until his imprisonment by Benito Mussolini in 1926. He was one of seven children, the fourth son, of Francesco Gramsci and Giusippina Marcias. The family was of moderate means until 1897, when Francesco Gramsci received a five-year jail sentence for having improperly administered his job as clerk in the registrar’s office in Ghilarza. This arrest caused serious financial problems, and young Gramsci, having just completed elementary school, was forced by circumstances to work for two years to help support his family. He returned to school in 1905, first in Santa Lussurgui and later in Cagliari. Recipient of a scholarship, he enrolled in 1911 at the University of Turin, where Luigi Einaudi was one of his teachers and Palmiro Togliatti a fellow student. Gramsci’s studies emphasized linguistics, moral philosophy, and modern history.{$I[AN]9810001151}{$I[A]Gramsci, Antonio}{$I[geo]ITALY;Gramsci, Antonio}{$I[tim]1891;Gramsci, Antonio}

Antonio Gramsci

Gramsci first came in contact with the Socialist Party in Turin. He joined the local section (to which he was elected secretary in 1917), made his first contribution to the Socialist paper Il grido del popolo in 1914, and began writing for Avanti in 1916. In 1919 Gramsci, along with three friends–Togliatti, Angelo Tasca, and Umberto Terracini–founded the journal L’ordine nuovo (the new order). The journal, begun as a weekly and after 1921 converted to a daily, was the organ of the Turin workers’ councils and discussed a variety of timely topics. In 1920 Gramsci participated in a Socialist occupation of factories that spread throughout Italy. His dissatisfaction with the Socialists’ inability to stage a successful revolution, for which he believed the time was ripe, led him to create and lead a Communist faction within the Socialist Party. The group split in 1921, resulting in the establishment of the Italian Communist Party with Gramsci serving as a member of the central committee. Always obsessed with leading the masses into revolutionary action, Gramsci clashed with the party’s general secretary, Amadio Bordiga, who emphasized purity of doctrine. Bordiga viewed the Russian Revolution as an exception to Marxist principles, which he thought could apply easily in the West. Gramsci believed the opposite, seeing the situation in Central and Western Europe as complicated by a more complex development of capitalism that made the masses more prudent and less likely to engage in a spontaneous uprising. He devoted time to analyzing the radically altered relationship between state and society that had become evident after World War I. It was in his perception of the problems faced by Western countries in transforming Marxism into reality that he made his most original contribution.

Gramsci met Vladimir Ilich Lenin in Moscow in 1922, when he visited the city as a representative to the Comintern. His health, always fragile, forced him into treatment while he was working in the city, and in the clinic he met Giulia Schucht, who became his companion. They eventually had two children. While Gramsci was still in Moscow, Mussolini seized control of Italy, and the Fascists began arresting many leading Italian communists, including Bordiga. In 1923 Gramsci moved to Vienna to continue his work for the Comintern. In 1924 he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies and returned to Rome, where he participated in a demonstration in protest of the murder of a Socialist deputy; he openly denounced Mussolini for banning secret associations. In January, 1926, he was, as secretary general of the Italian Communist Party, an active participant in the Third Congress of the Party in Lyons. The so-called Lyons Theses, written by Gramsci and Togliatti, were approved overwhelmingly by the congress; this marked the end of Bordiga’s control. On November 8, 1926, Gramsci was arrested by the Fascists and received a twenty-year prison sentence.

In prison Gramsci was refused permission to write until 1928. His first “Prison Notebook” is dated February 8, 1929. He tried to make arrangements to receive books and materials, but such acquisitions were always difficult. He nevertheless wrote voluminously and eventually filled thirty-three notebooks, which were smuggled to Moscow after his death and from which his various books have been extracted. His topics ranged from Italian history to a variety of social and cultural problems facing Europe in the 1920’s. His writing emphasized political issues, stressed action, and showed, despite its fragmented nature, a mastery of theory and form.

After 1931 Gramsci’s health deteriorated, and in 1933, after Tatania Schucht (Giulia’s sister) worked for his release with the support of an international group led by Piero Sraffa, he was transferred to a clinic. In 1937 Gramsci was released from prison, but he died of a cerebral hemorrhage a few days later.

Gramsci’s early political writings were journalistic and written for an immediate purpose. His “Prison Notebooks” and the writings in Letters from Prison were composed under very difficult circumstances and are primarily fragments that lack the coherence of an essay. This incoherence presents difficulties for analysis.

Gramsci was enormously influenced by his own culture, which gives his work a nationalistic bent that is absent in traditional Marxism. He was also influenced by the idealism of Benedetto Croce and worked toward a synthesis of Croce’s and Lenin’s thinking, hoping to create a Marxist philosophy that could realize the liberation of the individual. Emphasizing the human ability to create a new society where all would have the opportunity for self-realization, he was less deterministic than Marx and stressed ethics rather than historical theory. He wanted to inspire the proletariat, and he devoted considerable time to analyzing the role of the party, in which he believed that intellectuals and workers must unite for political action. Moreover, he perceived the movement from theory to practice to be a continuing process that had to be realized anew with each generation. Gramsci’s works, which were not edited until a number of years after his death, present a basis for an understanding both of Eurocommunism and of the history of Italy in the early Fascist period. They also establish him as a Marxist theorist of international acclaim.

BibliographyAdamson, Walter L. Hegemony and Revolution: A Study of Antonio Gramsci’s Political and Cultural Theory. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980. Traces the formation of Gramsci’s thought within the context of Western Marxism and the political and intellectual horizons of his time.Bellamy, Richard, and Darrow Schecter. Gramsci and the Italian State. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1993. Emphasizes the political ramifications of Gramsci’s writings, focusing on the specific historical context of Gramsci’s role in contemporary political debates in Italy. Includes a biographical outline.Cammett, John M. Antonio Gramsci and the Origins of Italian Communism. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1967. An excellent book on Gramsci, this is the text that introduced his work to an English audience. Cammett treats Gramsci’s life up to his arrest in great detail and concludes with a general overview of the principal concerns in Prison Notebooks.Clark, Martin. Antonio Gramsci and the Revolution That Failed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1977. This book’s concerns are the postwar revolutionary years, the rise of workers’ councils, and the period of factory occupation. It highlights Gramsci’s role and the theoretical insights developed between 1919 and 1920.Coben, Diana. Radical Heroes: Gramsci, Freire, and the Politics of Adult Education. New York: Garland, 1998. A look at the political aspects of adult education and socialism.Femia, Joseph. Gramsci’s Political Thought. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1981. One of the most thorough discussions of Gramsci’s work, which develops in some detail his ideas on hegemony, organic intellectuals, and the role of the modern political party.Martin, James. Gramsci’s Political Analysis: A Critical Introduction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. An important dissection of Gramsci’s political thought and his contribution to political science.Sassoon, Anne Showstack, ed. Approaches to Gramsci. London: Writers and Readers, 1982. A collection of essays by leading scholars from many different disciplines on Gramsci, his life and work, his commitment to revolution, and the cultural applications of his theories.Williams, Gwyn A. Proletarian Order: Antonio Gramsci, Factory Councils, and the Origins of Italian Communism, 1911-1921. London: Pluto Press, 1975. An excellent English-language treatment of the formative years in Gramsci’s political development, 1915-1920. Williams locates the stimulus to Gramsci’s later thinking in the revolutionary two years in Turin that followed World War I.
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