Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks

Notebook 1, §47
Hegel and associationism


Written: February - March 1930;
Source: Selections from the Prison Notebooks, pp.259-60;
Translator: Quintin Hoare;
Online Version: Gramsci Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2003;
Html Markup: MGreen.


Hegel’s doctrine of parties and associations as the “private” woof of the State. This derived historically from the political experiences of the French Revolution, and was to serve to give a more concrete character to constitutionalism. Government with the consent of the governed-but with this consent organised, and not generic and vague as it is expressed in the instant of elections. The State does have and request consent, but it also “educates” this consent, by means of the political and syndical associations; these, however, are private organisms, left to the private initiative of the ruling class. Hegel, in a certain sense, thus already transcended pure constitutionalism and theorised the parliamentary State with its party system. But his conception of association could not help still being vague and primitive, halfway between the political and the economic; it was in accordance with the historical experience of the time, which was very limited and offered only one perfected example of organisation-the “corporative” (a politics grafted directly on to the economy). Marx was not able to have historical experiences superior (or at least much superior) to those of Hegel; but, as a result of his journalistic and agitational activities, he had a sense for the masses. Marx’s concept of organisation remains entangled amid the following elements: craft organisation; Jacobin clubs; secret conspiracies by small groups; journalistic organisation.

The French Revolution offered two prevalent types. There were the “clubs”-loose organisations of the “popular assembly” type, centralised around individual political figures. Each had its newspaper, by means of which it kept alive the attention and interest of a particular clientèle that had no fixed boundaries. This clientèle then upheld the theses of the paper in the club’s meetings. Certainly, among those who frequented the clubs, there must have existed tight, select groupings of people who knew each other, who met separately and prepared the climate of the meetings, in order to support one tendency or another-depending on the circumstances and also on the concrete interests in play. The secret conspiracies, which subsequently spread so widely in Italy prior to 1848, must have developed in France after Thermidor among the second-rank followers of Jacobinism: with great difficulty in the Napoleonic period on account of the vigilant control of the police; with greater facility from 1815 to 1830 under the Restoration, which was fairly liberal at the base and was free from certain preoccupations. In this period, from 1815 to 1830, the differentiation of the popular political camp was to occur. This already seemed considerable during the “glorious days” of 1830,61 when the formations which had been crystallising during the preceding fifteen years now came to the surface. After 1830 and up to 1848, this process of differentiation became perfected, and produced some quite highly-developed specimens in Blanqui and Filippo Buonarroti.

It is unlikely that Hegel could have had first-hand knowledge of these historical experiences, which are, however, more vivid in Marx. (For this series of facts, see as primary material the publications of Paul Louis and Maurice Block’s Political Dictionary; for the French Revolution, see especially Aulard; see too Andler’s notes to the Manifesto. For Italy, see Luzio’s book on Masonry and the Risorgimento-highly tendentious.)