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Mainstream, VOL LX No 26-27, New Delhi, June 18 & June 25 2022 [Double issue]

Gramsci’s Political Imagination | Arup Kumar Sen

Friday 17 June 2022, by Arup Kumar Sen


Antonio Gramsci was born in Sardinia in agrarian Southern Italy, and later moved to the industrial North. Social life in Sardinia had a lasting impact on Gramsci’s political imagination. Togliatti, in his essay “Gramsci sardo” (“Gramsci the Sardinian”), recalled:

“Gramsci made me undertake a minute investigation of the facts of Sardinian social life…we established the principal dates when ‘continental’ capitalism penetrated into Sardinia, and when the island was subjected to the requirements and laws of this capitalism, to its customs duties, to its particular way of using natural and human resources. The result was striking. The very crimes that were commonly considered to be the manifestations of a fatal social backwardness showed a frightening increase with the development of capitalist exploitation in Sardinia…This research contained, in embryonic form, a new analysis of the whole of Italian society and therefore a new political approach…”. (Quoted in Antonio Gramsci, Letters from Prison, Selected, translated and introduced by Lynne Lawner, Quartet Books, London, 1979)

Gramsci did not preach any variant of agrarian populism. He viewed village social life from a critical egalitarian perspective. His Prison Letter to Carlo (September 12, 1927) bears testimony to it: “…don’t let yourself get carried away by the Sardinian village atmosphere. It’s important to be superior to your surroundings, while not looking down on them or actually believing that you’re superior. Try to reason and to understand; don’t whimper like a girl. Do I make sense?” (See ibid.)

Gramsci’s non-hierarchical imagination of politics makes him a unique thinker in Marxist political tradition.

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