Gramsci, Cultural Hegemony, and Why it’s So Vital for Our Liberation

Antonio Gramsci is one of the most influential Marxist thinkers of the twentieth-century (born Jan. 23, 1891, Ales, Sardinia, Italy—died April 27, 1937, Rome). Both an intellectual and a politician, he founded the Italian Communist Party. But after his party was outlawed by Benito Mussolini’s fascists, Gramsci was arrested and imprisoned (1926). At his trial the fascist prosecutor argued, “We must stop his brain from working for 20 years.” In prison, despite rigorous censorship, Gramsci carried out an extraordinary and wide-ranging historical and theoretical study of Italian society and possible strategies for change. Extracts of Gramsci’s prison writings were published for the first time in the mid-20th century; the complete Quaderni del carcere (Prison Notebooks) appeared in 1975.

Gramsci’s greatest contributionto the far-left theoretical tradition is his writings on hegemony, or, as laterdeemed, cultural hegemony. Though he did not label his concept under any onename at the time, his closest characterization of the idea was,

“…(T)he ‘spontaneous’consent given by the great masses of the population to the general directionimposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is ‘historically’caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoysbecause of its position and function in the world of production.”

What that does all thatmean? With a further analysis of Gramsci’s work included, it means that thedominant group in society has been so instrumentally constructing a worldview intheir favor that it has become the ruling worldview, or culture, of our society.Those in charge have created a point-of-view that everyone perceives as the onlyway to see the world. And they have so accomplished this feat they have us believethat it is the natural order, not that it is just man-made. Therefore, we endup oppressing ourselves.

You could easily relate to a dominant hegemonic system like the “divine rights of kings” in which the people once believed that the aristocrats were in their position for God decided so. But that was the previous hegemonic culture. After the French Revolution and its spread of liberal ideals, the hegemonic culture became capitalism. That’s why Gramsci was so concerned with the concept: capitalism has engrained itself so deeply into our perception of reality, as created by the powerful, that the masses cannot think outside of it. People just believe that this is just how the world works and there are no options otherwise. Since the “divine right of kings” worldview is now replaced by a capitalist cultural hegemony, we perceive that period as incorrect. But it seemed just as valid during those times as capitalism does now.

The importance ofthe analysis of hegemony by Marxist theorists is that even though capitalism asinstilled into our every worldview, thereare alternatives, namely, radical leftism.  If we could just expose the people to adifferent, fairer, and the better ideology of socialism, communism, etc., wecan realize that another world is possible, and the hegemony of capitalism canbe discarded just as the divine rights of king was once discarded as false consciousness.

It will be very difficultfor the masses to ever think outside of the capitalist-created ideology withoutmuch hard work by activists and leaders. But let’s show the people thatcapitalism is not the world.

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