One use of Gramsci

Adam Rose adam at
Wed Nov 29 08:45:51 MST 1995

> >Auf der Liste wird ja auch ueber die Rolle der Intellektuellen und
> >ihrer Beziehung zur Arbeiterklasse diskutiert. Ich glaube, Gramsci
> >ueberwindet Lenins Vorstellung, die er ja von Kautsky hat, dass das
> >wissenschaftliche und sozialistische Bewusstsein der Arbeiterklasse
> >"von aussen" zugetragen werden muss. Fuer Gramsci sind die
> I think this is an often misinterpreted idea of Lenin. When Lenin talked
> about from the 'outside' he clearly was not referring to a particular role
> for a particular social strata or group in the party or of the party in
> general. He was speaking in much broader philosophical terms. He, like Marx,
> believed that class consciousness and socialist consciousness did not arise
> spontaneously from the working class *on its own.*
> What I think is most important about this discussion for today is that the
> working class in most industrial countries now enjoys a much higher cultural
> and educational level than they did in Lenin's Russia. Hence we have many
> more working class intellectuals who combine the best of both worlds in
> terms of making a theoretical contribution. It is also true that the
> relative higher cultural level of the working class makes the 'outside'
> ideas of socialism much more accessable and available to the working class.
> Lenin was always mindful of the problem of promoting workers in the party
> and minimizing the undue influence of intellectuals. At some point in his
> early writing he says that the ideal collective of the party should have a
> ratio of one intellectual for every five workers. Later, after 1905, he
> revised his estimate saying he had underestimated the undue influence of
> intellectuals and called for a ratio of ten workers for every one intellectual.

I agree with the basic point here ( although I can't understand the
German, unfortunately ). To reinforce the point, I believe he was#
referring to "a ratio of ten workers for every one intellectual"
on every committee, not just in terms of overall membership.

But I think it should be recognised that Lenin didn't always say exactly
the same thing, on this, as on other questions ( most obviously, in April
1917 he dismissed his previous theory of the nature of the Russian
Revolution as a "tired old phrase[s]" ).

So, in the debate with the economists, he bends the stick away from the
party being part of the class with such phrases a "party of Jacobins
connected with the working class" and "consciousness arises from outide".
Later on ( wasn't it just before + during 1905 ? ) he battles against the
old habits of the Bolshevik party by calling for more workers involvement.
He says things at this point like "the class is ahead of the party" ,
contradicting his earlier statement "consciousness arises from outide".

He saw the needs of the movement at each point and slightly bent the
stick in order to win the argument. Provided we don't turn Lenin into
some infallable icon, his legacy is more useful than Gramsci's mainly
because the range of his experience was so much greater : the Bolsheviks
went into and out of illegality, through two major wars, three revolutions,
and all the debates these changes involved.

Gramsci's idea of "organic intellectuals" fits well with the period it was
developed in ( the bienno rosso - two years around 1920 - can't remember
if it was 1919 or 1921 - it doesn't really effect the argument anyway ).
Firstly, it counters the ultra left arguments coming from Bordiga - that Marxists
should ignore reforms and just propose immediate revolution, by stressing that
revolutionaries are part and parcel of the struggle. Secondly,  the idea
of revolutionaries theorising from + about the struggle in order to
influence that struggle is how we should operate when a massive, prolonged,
workers movement like the Bienno Rosso arises. But just suppose Gramsci
had led an insurrection - don't you think he would have moved closer
to Lenin's idea of the party as the vanguard of the workers army ?
Or perhaps he had got out of Italy to organise in exile - don't you think
he'd have arrived at something closer to "party of Jacobins connected with
the working class" ?

Adam Rose

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