Gramsci Redux

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Tue Oct 17 12:34:18 MDT 2000

Charles Brown wrote:

> >>> LeoCasey at 10/16/00 10:16PM >>
> First, on the matter of his espousal of a "totalitarian" party. It is an
> error of ahistorical interpretation to leave the matter simply there, which
> Justin does, as if the conception invoked by Gramsci with the use of that
> term was self-evident to the contemporary reader. The common contemporary
> usage of totalitarian is a product of the early 1950s, and in particular, of
> Hannah Arrendt's work by that name. When Gramsci used the term in the "Prison
> Notebooks," he could not possibly have anticipated the Arrendtian meaning of
> fascist and Stalinist states and parties.
> (((((((((((
> CB: Here's another illogcial beaut. Gramsci , sitting in a Fascist prison, having
>been at ground zero from the very beginning of fascism in Italy and the world,
>"couldn't  possibly have anticipated the Arendtian meaning of fascist and Stalinist
>states and parties."
> Duhhhhhhhhhhhh. This guy is a one man anti-logician.
> If Gramsci couldn't anticipate Arendt's idea from his experience, evidently Arendt's
>conception had little to do with the real facts of Fascism in Italy.

Careful Charles. We are in that neighborhood in which it can be said that even a
stopped clock tells the correct time twice a day. Or to put it otherwise, even an
asshole can be correct once in a while. And it is not obvious on the face of it that
Leo is wrong here. He
may be wrong, but your argument is unsatisfactory.

What we are dealing with to begin with is a linguistic, lexicographical, or
philological  not a political issue. And it certainly won't be resolved by guesses
such as you tender of Gramsci's state of mind in Mussolini's prison -- or by
pre-judgments of the rhetorical
means he chose to simultaneously express his point *and* avoid the prison censor.

I checked the word in the OED, and it is not a case in which the OED is very helpful
-- and that in itself constitutes a warning that its usage is unstable. The earliest
writer cited is 1926 in a translation from the Italian, and the sentence quoted is
opaque without
more context than provided:

1926 B. B. Carter tr. _Sturzo's Italy & Fascismo* ix. 220 Anti-Fascism . . .has,
however, a positive sense if it is taken to represent an element antagonistic to the
'totalitarian' and absolute position of Fascism.

>From scanning the other examples, it would appear that Arendt is rather central to
>the contemporary history of the term -- and whether Gramsci's usage is compatible
>with hers or not I do not know.  In any case, it is certainly possible to argue with
>Casey's reactionary
broadsides without prejudging a lexicographical issue.


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