Sociology Index

Antonio Gramsci

Among distinguished sociologists, Antonio Gramsci was one of the most important Marxist thinkers of the twentieth century. His work, a deliberate attempt to unify social theory and political practice, was dominated by a rejection of economic determinism and the attempt to find an alternative way of interpreting Karl Marx. This rejection was achieved by insisting on the independence of politics and ideology from economic determination, and by emphasizing the way that men and women can change their circumstances by struggle. Gramsci argued that the domination of the capitalist class could not be secured by economic factors alone but required political force and, much more importantly, an ideological apparatus which secured the consent of the dominated classes.

In capitalist societies, these apparatuses were effectively the institutions of civil society, the churches; the family and even trade unions. The stability of capitalist societies was mostly dependent on the ideological donimation of the working class. Gramsci suggested that this domination could not be complete, however, for the working class has a dual consciousness one part of which is imposed by the capitalist class while the other part is a commonsense reasoning and knowledge derived from the workers' everyday experience of thc world. This commonsense knowledge is potentially revolutionary but requires development by party intellectuals to make it an effective force. According to Gramsci, radical social change can only come about when a revolutionary consciousness is fully developed, and hence the role of the party is crucial in articulating and promoting this consciousness. The class struggle is very largely a struggle between intellectual groups, one beholden to the capitalist class and the other to the workers.

Antonio Gramsci is acclaimed for his theory of cultural hegemony, which describes how the state and ruling capitalist class, the bourgeois class, use cultural institutions to maintain power in capitalist societies. In Gramsci's view, the bourgeoisie develops a hegemonic culture using ideology rather than violence, economic force, or coercion. Cultural hegemony propagates its own values and norms so that they become the "common sense" values of all and thus maintain the status quo. Hegemonic power is therefore used to maintain consent to the capitalist order. This cultural hegemony is produced and reproduced by the dominant class through the institutions that form the superstructure. Hegemony was a term previously used by Marxists such as Vladimir Lenin to denote the political leadership of the working-class in a democratic revolution. Gramsci greatly expanded this concept, developing an analysis of how the ruling capitalist class, the bourgeoisie, establishes and maintains its control.