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The role the concept of hegemony played in Gramsci’s work on the state Essay

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Introduction

Antonio Gramsci is a notable Marxist thinker mostly associated with the hegemony concept. The word “hegemony” was derived from the Greek word “egemonia,” which meant “leader or ruler”.

But this word has since gained a different meaning with time. Since the 19th Century, the word “hegemony” has assumed a Marxist meaning in its use1. Lenin felt that there was inter- class domination.

This occurred when members of a class that was exploited, also exploited themselves. Thus, it is evident that no leadership can sustain itself in power for long without winning the consent of the ruled.

The Role Hegemony Plays in Gramci’s Work on State

Gramsci greatly used “hegemony” as a way of theorizing the possible ways through which the proletariat can actually manage the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. He also used it to clearly identify the bourgeoisie power structures.

He also clearly elaborates ways through which the proletariat and its fellow exploited lot can actually bring down the bourgeoisie. In his work, Prison Notebooks, which he wrote while incarcerated by the Fascist regime in Italy, he assigned the word “hegemony” a specialized meaning.

According to Gramsci, hegemony refers to the dominated classes succumbing to their own domination by the ruling classes, without being forced or coerced to do so2. By this, they take inferior jobs and other positions without any protest.

All in all Gramsci feels that hegemony comes out as a form of domination which is exercised by dominant group in society. This dominant group is usually the one that is in charge of means of production.

Usually, these owners of means of production formed the modern day capitalists and they were the ones who were employers of wage laborers. This group of capitalists has been active in leadership since the post-industrial Western European countries3.

Gramsci saw capitalism as deceptive control. He felt that the capitalists managed to control not only through force or even economic deprivation but through ideological brainwashing. This was done through what he termed as the “hegemonic culture”4.

This is a situation whereby the values of the bourgeoisie were taken to be the “common sense” values for all, including the proletariats – the proletariats never questioned the values of the bourgeoisie.

It is against this ideological brainwashing that the proletariat fit in their lower positions without question as the status quo was maintained as the proletariat never thought of revolting.

Cultural domination was quite prevalent. One could find that the labors needed to explore ways of inculcating their own culture to avoid any form of external dominance. If they would have done this then they would have managed to draw the oppressed and even the intellectuals to their side.

Lenin hardly saw culture as crucial towards domination. However, Gramsci saw it as pivotal towards schemes of control. According to Gramsci, cultural hegemony had to be achieved first before anything else.

His thought was that for anybody wishing to attain and maintain dominance over the masses, one has to first of all move beyond economic interests and carefully build alliances and several other compromises with the different forces that be. Whatever is formed out of this is what Gramsci refers to as “historic bloc”. Gramsci felt that there was a need to develop what is called a “superstructure”5.

Gramsci did observe the role intellectuals and education played could not be underestimated in society at all. He gave great credence to the role intellectuals in hegemony. Though he stated unequivocally that all men were intellectuals, he felt modern intellectuals were not just those who talked, but organizers who aided in the production of hegemony.

The reason he felt that all men were intellectuals was pegged on the fact that at least everyone possessed a measure of intellectual and even rational faculty.

The modern day intellectuals were the ones who succeeded in creating hegemony by means of ideological apparatuses that included educational institutions and even media. It is this group that rallies the rest towards a particular cause.

Gramsci asked whether the intellectuals belonged to a social group. He felt intellectuals should not be viewed as independent. The intellectuals are beholden to the very products of the class into which they originate. At this juncture he refers to them as “organic intellectuals”. He goes further to state that intellectuals are formed in different ways thus:

Every social group coming into existence on the original terrain of an essential function in the world of economic production, creates together with itself, organically, one or more strata of intellectual which gave it homogeneity and an awareness of its own function not only in the economic but also in the social and political fields6.

He feels further that there are intellectuals who already exist. This implies some level of historical continuity which has remained uninterrupted by even the most turbulent changes in both the political and even social realms of society. Gramsci in this expose tries to show the different ways through which the intellectuals converge to serve different social interests and dynamics in society7.

It is from these observations that Gramsci views intellectuals as having a crucial role to play in hegemony. Also, from it one can see that while there are intellectuals who devise strategy, there are others who serve as mere agents of that same strategy thus the different complimentary aspects of this group.

Gramsci and the State

Gramsci’s notion of the state comprises political society and civil society. In his conclusion, he observes that state is, in other words, hegemony “armored with coercion”. Therefore, the state comprises all those activities that the ruling classes gets involved in so as it maintains its grip on power.

The ruling class uses these activities to justify its dominance. But it should also be remembered that the populace consents to the whims of the ruling class.

Gramci considers what social groups do. He feels that social groups manifest themselves by being able to manage all the antagonistic groups in society.

This is usually done by a social group managing other groups in society.8 This is usually done by a social group managing other groups through a form of “liquidation” which could perhaps entail even use of the army and any other means coercion.

Gramsci has managed to expand his perception of state. In fact, according to him, the state is greatly protected through the economic relations with regard to means of production. On the other hand, the state comprises the institutions that help it exercise power and order within that particular state.

For this reason, the state exercises what is regarded as direct domination, and according to Gramsci, it is associated only with the bourgeoisie. The civil society on the other hand comprises several institutions such as; churches, schools and trade unions among others. These usually serve a connective purpose.

However, Gramci’s description of the state should not be considered as static. He was actually deeply influenced through the work of Hegel. Thus, considering Hegel’s dialectic, Gramsci showed the state’s evolution in three moments.

In essence, the state evolution is closely related with the role the law plays in the hegemony. This is because any step towards the development in economic evolution of a particular state can only succeed with advance in legal issues.

The corporate level of the economy serves as the first moment. In this moment each member who is playing a role in the economic process only feels an element of solidarity with fellow producers other than members of their class. Such people usually express their solidarity only with members they share interests with.

It is during this stage that we experience the initial advent of class consciousness. At this particular juncture hegemony oscillates around civil society level as the domination on members of a social class is only on economic terms.

The third moment, finally, is the passage from the given economic realm all the way to a superstructure. There is a clear establishment of what is referred to as the “ethical state”. At this level, the issues that were previously considered as mere ideology that had their roots in society assume a nature that is political9.

This happens as there arises some form of conflict and confrontation. This means that what was initially characteristic of a particular social group gains some level of universality. The thing could be an idea or even practice. They actually take part in the political situation of the state thus providing both “intellectual and moral unity”.

Gramsci was particularly in the basis through which different players participated in the Italian state at that particular time. Much of his preoccupation lay with the kind of social alliances and other regional specifics that had direct linkage to state issues. However, in the early 1920s he got preoccupied with what was happening in the fascist regime10.

He avers that though there is a situation when there an organic unity, one should be careful not to presume that such a moment can clearly provide guaranteed outcomes. He says that always politics must be given priority over military since politics creates an enabling environment for maneuver and movement.

Gramsci has underscored further the need for alliances. He says that the actual force that is decisive whenever there is any organic crisis cannot be one that for such a situation to become a success there is need for such a situation to become a success there is need for alliances among disparate groups that included the white settler famers, the tribal black the colored etc. this was actually done in a deliberate attempt to win consent.

Gramsci still went ahead and provided a distinction between the state and civil society. To achieve this, he provided a distinction between the various types of struggle – war of maneuver – where if there is condensation into one front of one failure on the enemy side, it may lead to total victory.

This is secondly followed by what he termed as the “war of position”. This has got to be conducted from different varied fronts. In this situation, there is no single strategy which wins the war entirely, once and for all. By this, Gramsci suggests that what matters in war is not just the forward trenches of the enemy but actually the whole rear of the insurgent force.

This also means that success depends on the whole assortment of all the industrial and even societal systems that even include the civil society and its institutions. Gramsci further compares the events in the eastern and western European states11. He says that what made the West successful is its consolidation of all the systems including its civil society that the East lacked.

It is against this backdrop that the proletarian movements of the Eastern European states got a beating. The west succeeded in the consolidation of the masses. According to Gramsci, the war indicated a transition. First of all it shows how the war of position is gradually replacing the war of maneuver.

This has made one country after the other copying the model as what the model represents gains the consent of the masses. In a nutshell what Gramsci is stressing here is the benefit of dispersion of power.

He says that for hegemony to be sustained by a state, it is imperative that the civil society and the relations among its different institutions form fortresses; or in war jargon the “trenches” and serve this as firm fortifications against the enemy.

Gramsci further says that a state can only view itself as ethical if it manages to rally its mass of population towards a “particular cultural moral level which corresponds to the needs of the productive forces for development, hence the interests of the ruling class”.

It is against the above that Gramsci manages to clearly elaborate his personal conception of the state. He says that the modern state is one that is able to exercise both moral and educative leadership12. This also means that the state inspires, plots, plans, solicits and even to a certain extent punishes.

The various blocks of forces that act against it or dominate against it justify it. What is more, the ruled consent themselves to its authority and leadership. In actual sense a state is one that is able to play a crucial role towards the construction of hegemony.

The role Hegemony Played in State in Gramsci’s work

According to Gramsci hegemony played a very important role in the state. It came out as a concept that embraced all. From what the state did and what the civil society did on the other side formed what the hegemony did. He saw that hegemony did not operate alone but one that operated with ‘consent’13.

A lot of credence was given to the usefulness of consent as it is stable. This means that it would be right for one to opt for consent rather than use of authority or even coercion. Consent endures and in most cases is spontaneously obtained. Thus, consent gets more acceptances in hegemony as opposed to any other ideology. Consent is one that exerts the greatest power.

According to Gramsci hegemony has been quite beneficial to the political world over time. It has been noted that rulers have managed to easily overcome the various antagonisms there were.

Hegemony has been noted as the best promising solution to the issues that Marxism has had trouble unraveling14. It has been particularly crucial to the state since it stresses that it is not yet enough to just dominate using the control of means of production. According to Gramsci it is crucial to consider whatever is propounded in hegemony notion.

Even the dominant class should not think of succeeding without the use of hegemony. Hegemony, according to him is a pre-requisite to successful rule since hegemony enables and vouches for inclusion of the ruling class ideology and the consent of the masses. The whole society eventually agrees to common peace of the state without any antagonisms15.

It is only possible for the alliances to succeed only when they appeal to the wider expectations of society. In this cases the dominant section of society manages to build what is referred to as “historic bloc” and this bloc is the one the one that makes use of hegemony in both the civil society and economic driving forces. But an economic driving forces. But an economically dominant group can easily fail to achieve hegemony16.

Conclusion

Gramsci’s argument about the state and hegemony is still valid today. His idea of hegemony can get a wide range of application in the wider society. It could apply to spheres like international relations, women organizations and any other organization all over the world that exercises.

Compared to other exposes on the theory of Marx, one can easily contend that Gramsci’s has to a large extent shifted from what other Marxist theorists’ contentions.

He is able to do this by advancing the notion that for any leadership to succeed there must be consensus among the disparate constituencies of that particular organization. He effectively achieves this by citing a cogent example of how the communist Soviet states crumbled because they did not embrace consensus.

Bibliography

Anderson, Perry. The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci. London: New Left Review Press, 1976.

Bellamy, Richard, and Schecter Darrow. Gramsci and The Italian State. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993.

Bellamy, Richard. Modern Italian Social Theory. California: Stanford University Press, 1987.

Bobbio, Norberto. Gramsci and Concept of Civil Society, in Keane (ed.). Maryland: Roman and Littlefield Publishers, 1988.

Boggs, Carl. Gramsci’s Marxism. London: Pluto Press, 2009.

Cohen, Jean, and Arato Andrew. Civil Society and Political Theory. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994.

Fiori, Giuseppe. Antonio Gramsci. California: Stanford University Press, 1990.

Gramsci, Antonio. Letters from Prison, Vol. I. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.

Gramsci, Antonio. Prison Notebooks, Vol. I. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

Gramsci, Antonio. Prison Notebooks, Vol. II. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Gramsci, Antonio. Prison Notebooks, Vol. III. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.

Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from Political Writings. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990.

Morffe, Chantal.Gramsci and Marxist Theory.London: Routledge Press, 1979.

Shawstack, Anne. Gramsci’s politics. Johannesburg: Tailor and Francis Press, 1980.

Thomas, Peter. The Gramscian Moment: Philosophy, Hegemony, and Marxism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Footnotes

1 Carl Boggs, Gramsci’s Marxism (London: Pluto Press, 2009), p. 80.

2 Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, Vol. III (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), p. 43.

3 Giuseppe Fiori, Antonio Gramsci. (California: Stanford University Press, 1990), p. 56.

4 Antonio Gramsci, Letters from Prison, Vol. I. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), p. 94.

5 Antonio Gramsci, (Prison Notebooks, Vol. I. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), p. 101.

6 Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, Vol. III. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), p. 88.

7 Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, Vol. II. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), p. 79.

8 Richard Bellamy, Modern Italian Social Theory. (California: Stanford University Press, 1987), p. 55.

9 Chantal Morffe, Gramsci and Marxist Theory. (London: Routledge Press, 1979), p. 94.

10 Richard Bellamy and Darrow Schecter, Gramsci and The Italian State. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993), p. 87.

11 Peter Thomas, The Gramscian Moment: Philosophy, Hegemony, and Marxism. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), p. 91.

12 Antonio Gramsci, Selections from Political Writings. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990), p. 77.

13 Perry Anderson, The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci. London: New Left Review Press, 1976, p. 114.

14 Norberto Bobbio, Gramsci and Concept of Civil Society, in Keane (ed.). (Maryland: Roman and Littlefield Publishers, 1988), p. 68.

15 Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994), p. 112.

16 Anne Shawstack, Gramsci’s politics. (Johannesburg: Tailor and Francis Press, 1980), p.86.

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