Antonio Gramsci: Marxist ideas for difficult times

Submitted by martin on 23 March, 2013 - 12:56

Click here to hear the recording of an introduction on this issue by Martin Thomas at a Brisbane Workers' Liberty meeting, 23 March 2013.

See below for materials for a session planned for "Ideas for Freedom", Workers' Liberty summer school in London, 23 June 2013. (The session couldn't be run as planned because the printed materials for it were lost in transit).

(click on the image to download the spider diagram at readable size).

The diagram above shows 30 of Gramsci's comments on socialist party-building in Italy arranged to show the clusters and relations of ideas.

Other spider diagrams, showing different clusters and relations, could be constructed, and would shed new light.

Click here to download the 30 comments. You get eight A4 sheets with four comments on each; each sheet can be cut into four A6 scraps, to give you 30 little scraps, one comment on each, plus two duds. You can arrange and re-arrange the 30 scraps, and sketch connections between them, to derive the major themes and highlight the linkages of ideas.

Click here for notes on historical background

In these comments, Gramsci reflects on four major experiences:

  • The Maximalists: the majority grouping in the Italian Socialist Party after 1912 - left-wing, internationalist in World War One, verbally revolutionary (and sincerely so, among the members and even many of the top leaders), yet irresponsible and passive in the great upsurge of working-class militancy in Italy after World War One which culminated in the factory occupations of 1920.
  • Amadeo Bordiga and his co-thinkers: the leading group in the Italian Communist Party after it was formed by a split from the Socialist Party in early 1921, and up to late 1923 - revolutionaries of formidable consistency and vigour, courageous opponents of Stalinism, committed to trade-union militancy and united-front policy within trade unions, yet opposed to united-front tactics at the political level. Though Bordiga's group ran a democratic regime when they led the CP, they considered "democratic centralism" a misleading slogan, and instead proposed "organic centralism", meaning consistency by the party in loyalty to what they called "the invariant doctrine" of revolutionary Marxism.
  • Bolshevisation: the incipiently Stalinist policy of rigid centralisation and heresy-hunting introduced into the Western Communist Parties from 1923 by Zinoviev's leadership of the Communist International. Gramsci was a central leader of the Italian CP in the period of "Bolshevisation", and went along with some of its evils. He rethought that, at least to some extent, when in jail after 1926: one of the largest connected sections of the otherwise fragmentary Notebooks is a scathing critique of Nikolai Bukharin's book Historical Materialism - the same book that Gramsci himself had promoted as the basic educational text for the CP in 1925.
  • Large-scale desertions from socialism: in Italy, the leadership of the fascist movement which took power in October 1922 included many people who had previously been leaders of the left and the labour movement. The fascist Duce, Mussolini, had, before he went over to support for the Italian war effort in World War One, been editor of the Italian Socialist Party's paper Avanti, and a prominent figure on the left of the SP. He took no large faction of SP members with him, but a sizeable number of individuals. A whole (minority) faction of the pre-1914 syndicalists (socialists who argued that working-class liberation could and should be achieved only through trade-union action, rejecting electoral politics) also became prominent organisers in the fascist movement.
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130619gramsci-for-iff.pdf(192.15 KB) 192.15 KB
130621gramsci-iff-handout.pdf(190.62 KB) 190.62 KB

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