Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Antonio Gramsci. State and Civil Society

Agitation and Propaganda

The weakness of the Italian political parties (excepting to some extent the Nationalist party) throughout their period of inactivity, from the Risorgimento onwards, has consisted in what one might call an imbalance between agitation and propaganda – though it can also be termed lack of principle, opportunism, absence of organic continuity, imbalance between tactics and strategy, etc. The principle reason why the parties are like this is to be sought in the deliquescence of the economic classes, in the gelatinous economic and social structure of the country – but this explanation is somewhat fatalistic. In fact, if it is true that parties are only the nomenclature for classes, it is also true that parties are not simply a mechanical and passive expression of those classes, but react energetically upon them in order to develop, solidify and universalise them. This precisely did not occur in Italy, and the result of this "omission" is precisely the imbalance between agitation and propaganda – or however else one wishes to term it.

The State/government has a certain responsibility in this state of affairs: one can call it a responsibility, in so far as it prevented the strengthening of the State itself, i.e. demonstrated that the State/government was not a national factor. The government in fact operated as a "party". It set itself over and above the parties, not so as to harmonize their interests and activities within the permanent framework of the life and interests of the nation and State, but so as to disintegrate them, to detach them from the broad masses and obtain "a force of non-party men linked to the government by paternalistic ties of a Bonapartist-Caesarist type". This is the way in which the so-called dictatorships Depretis, Crispi and Giolitti, and the parliamentary phenomenon of transformism,21 should be analysed. Classes produce parties, and parties form the personnel of State and government, the leaders of civil and political society. There must be a useful and fruitful relation in these manifestations and functions. There cannot be any formation of leaders without the theoretical, doctrinal activity of parties, without a systematic attempt to discover and study the causes which govern the nature of the class represented and the way in which it has developed. Hence, scarcity of State and government personnel; squalor of parliamentary life; ease with which the parties can be disintegrated, by corruption and absorption of the few individuals who are indispensable. Hence, squalor of cultural life and wretched inadequacy of high culture. Instead of political history, bloodless erudition; instead of religion, superstition; instead of books and great reviews, daily papers and broadsheets; instead of serious politics, ephemeral quarrels and personal clashes. The universities, and all the institutions which develop intellectual and technical abilities, since they were not permeated by the life of the parties, by the living realities of national life, produced apolitical national cadres, with a purely rhetorical and non-national mental formation. Thus the bureaucracy became estranged from the country, and via its administrative positions became a true political party, the worst of all, because the bureaucratic hierarchy replaced the intellectual and political hierarchy. The bureaucracy became precisely the State/Bonapartist party.C   [1930]


The "Philosophy of the Epoch"

The discussion on force and consent has shown that political science is relatively advanced in Italy, and is treated with a certain frankness of expression – even by individuals holding responsible positions in the State. The discussion in question is the debate about the "philosophy of the epoch", about the central theme in the lives of the various states in the post-war period. How to reconstruct the hegemonic apparatus of the ruling group, an apparatus which disintegrated as a result of the war, in every state throughout the world? Moreover, why did this apparatus disintegrate? Perhaps because a strong antagonistic22 collective political will developed? If this were the case, the question would have been resolved in favour of such an antagonist. In reality, it disintegrated under the impact of purely mechanical causes, of various kinds:   1. because great masses, previously passive, entered into movement – but into a chaotic and disorganised movement, without leadership, i.e. without any precise collective political will;   2. because the middle classes, who during the war held positions of command and responsibility, when peace came were deprived of these and left unemployed – precisely after having learned how to command, etc.;   3. because the antagonistic forces proved to be incapable of organising this situation of disorder to their own advantage. The problem was to reconstruct a hegemonic apparatus for these formerly passive and apolitical elements. It was impossible to achieve this without the use of force – which could not be "legal" force, etc. Since the complex of social relations was different in each state, the political methods of using force and the ways in which legal and illegal forces were combined had to be equally diverse. The greater the mass of the apolitical, the greater the part played by illegal force has to be. The greater the politically organised and educated forces, the more it is necessary to "cover" the legal State, etc.   [1930-32]


C. See the books which after 1919 criticised a "similar" state of affairs (but far richer in terms of the life of "civil society") in the Kaiser's Germany, for example Max Weber's book Parliament and Government in the German New Order: a Political Critique of Bureaucracy and Party Life. Translation and preface by Enrico Ruta, pp. xvi, 200 – the translation is very imperfect and imprecise.


21. Agostino Depretis (1813-87) was at first a Mazzinian; later, in Sicily with Garibaldi, he was in fact working for Cavour. In 1876 he became the first "Left" prime minister, and dominated parliamentary life until his death. He chose his ministers from both sides of the parliament, in the process which became known as transformism; Crispi called this means of securing his personal power a "parliamentary dictatorship", but did the same himself when in power.

22. i.e. antagonistic to the existing capitalist and bourgeois order.