Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci Reader: IX Americanism and Fordism

2 Some Aspects of the Sexual Question

SPN, 294-7 (Q223), 1934

[...] Sexual instincts are those that have undergone the greatest degree of repression from society in the course of its development. ‘Regulation’ of sexual instincts, because of the contradictions it creates and the perversions that are attributed to it, seems particularly ‘unnatural’. Hence the frequency of appeals to ,nature’ in this area. ‘Psychoanalytical’ literature is also a kind of criticism of the regulation of sexual instincts in a form which often recalls the Enlightenment, as in its creation of a new myth of the ‘savage’ on a sexual basis (including relations between parents and children). [1]

There is a split, in this field, between city and country, but with no idyllic bias in favour of the country, where the most frequent and the most monstrous sexual crimes take place and where bestiality and sodomy are widespread. In the parliamentary enquiry on the South in 1911 it is stated that in Abruzzo and the Basilicata, which are the regions where there is most religious fanaticism and patriarchalism and the least influence of urban ideas (to such an extent that, according to Serpieri, in the years 1919-20 there was not even any peasant unrest in those areas) there is incest in 30 per cent of families. And it does not appear that the situation has changed since then.

Sexuality as reproductive function and as sport: the ‘aesthetic’ ideal of woman oscillates between the conceptions of ‘brood mare’ and of ‘dolly’. But it is not only in the cities that sexuality has become a ‘sport’. The popular proverbs, ‘man is a hunter, woman a temptress’, ‘the man who has no choice goes to bed with his wife’, etc., show how widespread the conception of sex as sport is even in the countryside and in sexual relations between members of the same class.

The economic function of reproduction. This is not only a general fact which concerns the whole of society in its totality, because society demands a certain proportion between age-groups for purposes of production and of supporting the section of the population that for normal reasons (age, illness, etc.) is passive. It is also a ‘molecular’ fact which operates within the smallest economic units, such as the family. The expression about the ‘staff of old age’ demonstrates an instinctive consciousness of the economic need for there to be a certain ratio of young to old over the entire area of society. The sight of the maltreatment meted out in country villages to old people without a family encourages couples to want to have children. (The proverb to the effect that ‘a mother may raise a hundred sons, but a hundred sons do not support a mother’, shows another side to this question.) Among the people old men without children are treated in the same way as bastards. Medical advance, which has raised the average expectancy of human life, is making the sexual question increasingly important as a fundamental and autonomous aspect of the economic, and this sexual aspect raises, in its turn, complex problems of a ‘superstructural’ order. The increase of life-expectancy in France, where the birth-rate is low and where there is a rich and complex productive apparatus to be kept going, has already given rise to a number of problems connected with the national question. The older generations are finding themselves in an increasingly abnormal relationship with the younger generations of the same national culture, and the working masses are being swollen by immigrant elements from abroad which modify the base. The same phenomenon is happening there as in America, that of a certain division of labour, with the native population occupying the qualified trades and, of course, the functions of direction and organization, and the immigrants the unskilled work.

In a number of states a similar relationship, with important negative economic consequences, exists between industrial cities with a low birth-rate and a prolific countryside. Life in industry demands a general apprenticeship, a process of psycho-physical adaptation to specific conditions of work, nutrition, housing, customs, etc. This is not something ‘natural’ or innate, but has to be acquired, and the urban characteristics thus acquired are passed on by heredity or rather are absorbed in the development of childhood and adolescence. As a result the low birth-rate in the cities imposes the need for continual massive expenditure on the training of a continual flow of new arrivals in the city and brings with it a continual change in the socio-political composition of the city, thus continually changing the terrain on which the problem of hegemony is to be posed.

The formation of a new feminine personality is the most important question of an ethical and civil order connected with the sexual question. Until women can attain not only a genuine independence in relation to men but also a new way of conceiving themselves and their role in sexual relations, the sexual question will remain full of unhealthy characteristics and caution must be exercised in proposals for new legislation. Every crisis brought about by unilateral coercion in the sexual field unleashes a ‘romantic’ reaction which could be aggravated by the abolition of organized legal prostitution. All these factors make any form of regulation of sex and any attempt to create a new sexual ethic suited to the new methods of production and work extremely complicated and difficult. However, it is still necessary to attempt this regulation and to attempt to create a new ethic. It is worth drawing attention to the way in which industrialists (Ford in particular) have been concerned with the sexual affairs of their employees and with their family arrangements in general. One should not be misled, any more than in the case of prohibition, by the ‘puritanical’ appearance assumed by this concern. The truth is that the new type of man demanded by the rationalization of production and work cannot be developed until the sexual instinct has been suitably regulated and until it too has been rationalized.