Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was an Italian Communist Party leader and
Marxist theoretician imprisoned by the fascists in Italy.
Gramsci grew up in a poor family in rural Sardinia, but, very
unusually for someone from that background at that time, won a place
at Turin University. Unable to progress well with his studies because
of poverty, cold and hunger, he nevertheless became a socialist,
joining the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) in 1915.
After World War One, and especially in 1919-20, Italy was convulsed
by huge workers' struggles and factory occupations. The PSI had
opposed World War One (which was not too difficult, since Italy did
not take part in the war). It was very revolutionary in words - but
did nothing to lead the workers' struggles towards actual revolution.
Gramsci helped found "L'Ordine Nuovo" (The New Order), a paper which
argued for a fight to develop Italy's factory councils into something
like Russia's soviets.
In 1921 the PSI split and Gramsci and others formed the Italian
Communist Party (PCI). The PCI's foremost leader then was Amadeo
Bordiga, an outstanding revolutionary who had rigid ultra-left ideas.
He opposed participation in elections (until convinced to defer to
the Communist International on the issue), opposed any united fronts
for political action between revolutionaries and reformists, and saw
no difference between bourgeois democracy and fascism. Those ideas of
Bordiga's hindered the PCI's fight against Italy's rising fascist
movement, which took power in 1922 as the ruling class sought revenge
for its scare in 1919-20.
After a period in Russia, including as an Italian delegate to the
Communist International (May 1922-November 1923), Gramsci started a
struggle against Bordiga over the leadership and direction of the
Gramsci was elected to the Italian Parliament in April 1924, which
enabled him to operate legally in Italy until the fascists finally
closed down all legal opposition in 1926. Gramsci was in jail from
1926 until very shortly before his death in 1937.
His "Prison Notebooks" are a rich, though cryptic, source of Marxist
ideas on a vast variety of subjects.