Gramsci and the "wankers"

David McInerney davidmci at
Thu Nov 23 16:46:27 MST 1995

Wednesday, 22 November, Tom Condit wrote:

>Well, if you're going to read Gramsci, why read the obscure stuff
>shaped by the prison censor?  Lawrence & Wishart (London) has
>issued at least two volumes of Gramsci's _Selected Political
>Writings_ from before he was imprisoned, including material on
>the workers' councils in Turin (very good) and the "Lyons Theses"
>on fascism.

With regard to the topic of fascism, it would seem that there may be good
reasons for reading *both* the early writings and the prison notebooks.  I
have just finished reading the sections on fascism from Christine
Buc-Glucksmann's _Gramsci and the State_ that I mentioned previously (in a
post on 14/11/95) and she argues that Gramsci's analysis shifted from
looking at fascism as an example of 'Caesarism' to fascism as a 'passive
revolution', an analysis tied in with Gramsci's notes on Fordism.  She
argues that a number of authors (Poulantzas included, although Poulantzas
later states in _State, Power, Socialism_that he is fundamentally in
agreement with the Buci-Glucksmann's analysis) have missed this shift in
Gramsci's approach and have continued to focus on the 'Caesarism' aspect.
I will try to provide a summary of what Buci-Glucksmann says later, after I
have read another piece on passive revolution by her (from that book edited
by Mouffe on _Gramsci and Marxist Theory_).

Tom again:

>Academics like the _Prison Notebooks_ because they're written in
>elliptical and Aesopian language under the eyes of the warders,
>and because with a lot of time on his hands and no access to
>political books Gramsci wrote a lot of literary criticism (which
>he'd done before, as well).  Don't forget that this man was a
>major leader of the *left* in the Italian movement, and
>vigorously broke with exactly the same kind of wankers who are
>trying to reshape him in their image.

I agree wholeheartedly with Tom here.  Neo-Gramscian "wankers" I would name
as especially anti-Marxist include Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, Sue
Golding, and their whole group of 'post-Marxist' ideologues; lesser ones
perhaps include Stuart Hall and Michele Barrett.  All of these have used
Gramsci against Marxism.  However, there are others (now silent) who used
Gramsci to develop Marxism, these include Christine Buci-Glucksmann and
Nicos Poulantzas.  Unfortunately the former "wanker" strain is now dominant
in theoretical writing, although there are many good empirical works
written based on the latter spirit which have developed Gramsci's writing
through applying it, such as a recent paper which I read by David Moore
from Flinders University on the leadership of ZANU (in Zimbabwe), based on
a reading of both the L&W selections from the Prison Notebooks and the
recent first volume of the translation of the complete _Quaderni_ (I can't
remember who this is published by).  Unfortunately the "wanker" variety
sells, under the guise of 'cultural studies' and 'postmodernism', and
equally unfortunate, there is no shortage of "wankers" out there wanting to
buy these books.  The "wanker" variety, is, however, absolutely useless
when it comes to analysis of concrete struggles, as any useful points it
may contain are drowned in metaphysical hyperbole.  Perhaps one way to turn
the situation around is to produce more of these more concrete studies,
using Gramsci in the latter (Marxist) way, while explicitly criticising and
demonstrating the uselessness of the "wanker" approach.  But ultimately we
need to get people to be enthused about radical politics, and this requires
building a strong workers movement and putting Gramsci into practice.

Thursday, 23 November, Bryan Alexander wrote:

>I'm not sure I ever argued for
>isolating the pre-prison from the prison writings.  I accepted the idea
>of reporting on G's take on fascism by focusing on the little-read early
>journalism for various reasons


>        In other words: I hope list members will work in their
>conceptions of the overall Gramsci oevre into discussions on these
>particular items.

I will try to work in Buci-Glucksmann's take on Gramsci with my discussion
of Poulantzas's _Fascism and Dictatorship_ in order to look at the relative
merits of, and draw out the tensions between, the analysis of fascism in
terms of 'Caesarism' and in terms of 'passive revolution'.  This may
provide a productive way of looking at the "overall Gramsci oevre" and
provide a point at which those more familiar with Gramsci than with
Poulantzas can find productive ways to use/criticise Poulantzas's approach,
and provide those of us more familiar with Poulantzas than with Gramsci
(e.g. me!) with some alternative readings of Gramsci than those found in
Poulantzas and Buci-Glucksmann.


Mr. David McInerney,
Political Science Program, Research School of Social Sciences,
The Australian National University, Canberra, A.C.T., AUSTRALIA  0200.
e-mail: davidmci at; ph: (06) 249 2134; fax: (06) 249 3051

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