Reading Gramsci in the Twenty- First Century
We encounter the Prison Notebooks today as a potential “future in the past,”
a neglected moment of the twentieth century that may offer us a possible point of
orientation for the twenty- first. Peter Thomas, The Gramscian Moment
The world we live in today is very different from the one Gramsci knew. Even
so, his approach to the mapping of inequality and oppression still has much
to offer those seeking to chart current structural inequalities, and the complex
ways those inequalities shape “conceptions of the world.”
Like Marx, Gramsci takes it as axiomatic that “the ultimately determining
factor in history is the production and reproduction of real life” (Marx and
Engels 1975, 394), but, again, like the Marxist founding fathers, he stresses that
basic economic realities are not experienced directly but are always mediated
by a network of “legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophical in short,
ideological forms” (Marx 1970, 21). People become conscious of the contra-
dictions inherent in the underlying economic realities on the terrain of ideo-
logical forms, and it is on this terrain that conflicts are fought. To capture the
relationship between ideological forms and underlying economic structure,
Gramsci uses the concept of the historical bloc. As explained above, in chapter
2, the historical bloc is not a two- tiered entity in which an economic base gives
rise to epiphenomenal superstructures, but a complex and dynamic relation-
ship “in which precisely material forces are the content and ideologies are the
form” (SPN, 377). Radical shifts in the economic relations that “produce and
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