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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 43, New Delhi, October 9, 2021

Reading Gramsci in Contemporary India | Arup Kumar Sen

Friday 8 October 2021, by Arup Kumar Sen


In his reading of Antonio Gramsci, the eminent Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm, argued that Gramsci was “par excellence the philosopher of political praxis”. (E J Hobsbawm, Introduction, David Forgacs (ed.), The Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings, 1916-35, New York University Press, 2000)

Gramsci’s philosophy of political praxis is embedded in his reading of Machiavelli’s seminal text, The Prince (See “The Modern Prince” in Antonio Gramsci: Selections from Prison Notebooks, Lawrence and Wishart, 1971). Gramsci argued: “The modern prince, the myth-prince, cannot be a real person, a concrete individual. It can only be an organism, a complex element of society in which a collective will, which has already been recognised and has to some extent asserted itself in action, begins to take concrete form”. He further clarified: “...the protagonist of the new Prince could not in the modern epoch be an individual hero, but only the political party”.

Gramsci emphasized the birth of a national-popular collective will in highlighting Machiavelli’s conceptualization of a national revolution. He observed in this context: “Any formation of a national-popular collective will is impossible, unless the great mass of peasant farmers bursts simultaneously into political life. That was Machiavelli’s intention through the reform of the militia, and it was achieved by the Jacobins in the French Revolution”. (ibid.)

The recent farmers’ protests in India against the neo-liberal farm laws enacted by the Indian State signify the emergence of a national-popular collective will on the agrarian front. However, no national political party does have the credibility and political will of giving leadership to the farmers’ movement, which is led by the farmers’ own organizations.

 We have to wait for the birth of a new “prince” on the Indian soil for integrating the voices of dissent from the grassroots movements.

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