Gramsci's Dream Came True: We Have a Leftist Ruling Class

Antonio Gramsci is a figure of high importance to the development of the left, both in Britain and the United states. While looking into Gramsci, I came across James Joll's book, a clear exposition of Gramsci’s ideas by a fan of the Italian Marxist. Thus it can be said that the text is a fair account of Gramsci's ideas. And if there is any bias in the texts I've chosen, it's bias in favor -- rather than against – Antonio Gramsci.

It can also be said that James Joll was himself a perfect example of the Gramscian elite. For a start, as Gramsci urged, Joll “took over” parts of at least four “institutions”: Oxford University, the London School of Economics (along with numerous other Marxists), the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, and the British Academy.

James Joll was educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford University. He was then elected Fellow of New College, Oxford. He also held the Stevenson Chair of International History at the University of London.

Joll also wrote The Second International 1889-1914 and, appropriately enough, Intellectuals in Politics.

What I've done in the following is partly quote -- in full -- various passages from James Joll's book  Gramsci. However, I've also included various short square-bracketed additions within the text to update and clarify the content; as well as three short introductions to Joll's quotations.

(Saul Alinsky is a later American version -- at least in some important respects -- of Antonio Gramsci. See “What Did Gramsci Teach Saul Alinsky?” at Tavern Keepers.)


“The greatest Marxist writer of the twentieth century, paradoxically, is also one of the greatest examples of the independence of the human spirit from its material limitations.” -- James Joll

Because Marxists or revolutionary socialists see everything in terms of “class conflict”, they also see everything in terms of “class power”. For old-style revolutionary Marxists, the natural response to this “material reality” was a violent revolution in which the working class -- led, of course, by an elite of middle- and upper-middle-class Marxists (the “vanguard”) -- seized power from the “capitalist ruling class”.

However, by the time that Antonio Gramsci began writing (in the 1920s and early 1930s), successful revolutions in Europe and America hadn't been forthcoming. Thus another strategy was called for.

Gramsci effectively gave up on the old Marxist theology (or theory) that “material conditions” (the “modes of production and exchange”) determined what Marxists call “consciousness” (or what most others call mind) and came to acknowledge what everyone else had already acknowledged: that mind -- or “consciousness” -- has at least some independence for its material environment. Thus, instead of a violent revolution in which young -- and old -- revolutionaries could indulge in their violent fantasies of killing “capitalists” and all sorts of other people, Gramsci realized that a revolution could be carried out without violence and storming the barricades. Because mind is indeed free of its material environment, what Marxists now needed to do was to “take over the institutions” and thus create a “hegemony” of revolutionary ideas, theories and values.

Quotes From James Joll:

“....Gramsci saw, in a way that few other Marxists have done, that the rule of one class over another does not depend on economic or physical power alone but rather on persuading the ruled to accept the system of beliefs of the ruling class and to share their social, cultural and moral values.” (8)

“The hegemony of [the Leftist and left-liberal] political class meant for Gramsci that that class had succeeded in persuading the other classes of society to accept its own moral, political and cultural values. If the [Leftist and left-liberal] ruling class is successful, then this will involve the minimum use of force, as was the case with the successful liberal regimes of the nineteenth century.” (99)

“...'hegemony' which explains how a [Leftist and left-liberal] class can establish its cultural and moral superiority independently of its direct political power.... to suggest ways in which a Communist party [or Leftist individuals and groups] might... expand its influence and increase its support even without actual control of the government.” (11)

“'The realisation of an apparatus of [Leftist and left-liberal] hegemony, in so far as it creates a new ideological soil and determines a reform of consciousness and the methods of knowledge... when we [Leftists] succeed in intruding a new morality in conformity with a new conception of the world...” (99)

“...the achievement and maintenance of [a Leftist] hegemony is largely a matter of education: [To use Gramsci's words] 'Every relationship of [Leftist] hegemony is necessarily a pedagogic relationship.' The degree of success of such an [Leftist] educational process will be shown by the extent to which a new [left-wing] consensus or, to use Gramsci's phrase, a 'collective national will' is formed.” (101)

The Leftist Elite & Revolutionary Parties

Leftist “intellectuals” and Marxist revolutionaries were -- and still are -- the people to bring about Gramsci's “hegemony”. As I said, they are to do that by taking over the institutions: primarily the education system; though also the law, regional and national newspapers, rights and race groups, the charities and even churches.

Quotes From James Joll:

“... [Gramsci] writes of [Leftist] intellectuals in the usual sense as the intelligentsia who provide philosophy and ideology for the [working class and others] and who enable the [Leftist and left-liberal] ruling class to exercise their hegemony by supplying the system of belief accepted by ordinary people so that they do not question the actions of the [Leftist and left-liberal] rulers.” (90)

“The role of the revolutionary party [the SWP, socialist parties, the Labour Party, the Fabian Society, the Democrats, etc.] and the [Leftist] intellectuals who are its leaders was, in fact, to be much the same as that of the priesthood in the Catholic Church in its prime, when they were able to preserve [in Gramsci's words] 'the ideological unity of the entire social bloc which that ideology serves to cement and to unify'.” (94)

“.... in Gramsci's political thinking, and the task of a revolutionary party [the SWP, parts of the Labour Party, the Fabian Society, the Democrats, etc., as well as revolutionary/radical individuals].... is to establish such hegemony, if necessary by a slow modification of people's consciousness during a period of 'passive revolution' or a 'war of position'.” (98)

The Radical Left Rules, OK?

Quote From James Joll:

“.... Communists can perhaps claim that they are well on the way to establishing their hegemony with the collapse of the old hegemonic system. They have achieved a dominant position in local government in many areas and in so far as they attract support not only from organised labour but also from very many intellectuals and professional people, they seem to be establishing their hegemony very much along the lines which Gramsci had suggested.” (110)

Even when Antonio Gramsci was writing (in the 1920s and 1930s), and certainly when James Joll was writing (up to the late 1970s), it was clear that Marxists had already been successful -- at least to some extent -- when it came to installing their own “hegemony” within Western society. In fact, according to Joll, even Gramsci realized that “Marxism was beginning to exercise its own hegemony within the system of traditional culture” (111). That was around 90 years ago. And since the 1960s (some 50 years ago), the march of Leftism has been relentless.

The revolution, it seems, is permanent.

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