Radical media, politics and culture.


I’ve been thinking about the history that gets told of changing class compositions, with different technical compositions and corresponding political compositions of the working class. In my understanding, this is a story of hegemonic class figures who act in/on/based on a given technical composition. The technical composition is modified by the bosses in order to decompose (undercut the efficacy of) the political composition. In a new technical composition the challenge is to effect political recomposition adequate to the technical composition. The story goes professional worker then mass worker then (for some) socialized worker then multitude, with each ‘then’ indicating the breakdown of the at-the-time hegemonic figure and the construction of the new hegemonic figure.

I find this story convincing, though less than I used to. I’ve started to wonder what gets left out in this story. In this regard I’ve been thinking about hegemony. If the mass worker was hegemonic in the working class, then it’s safe to assume from the concept of hegemony alone (in as much as I understand it), a three place relationship within the class: the hegemonic figure, those upon whom the hegemonic figure was hegemonic (that is, those who were not part of the figure but were part of its hegemony - people who ‘enlisted in’ or were convinced – fellow travelers, so to speak, traveling in the wake or line of force defined by the hegemonic figure), and those whom hegemony was exercised against (those excluded by the field of force of hegemony, those dissident from the hegemony, or subjugated by it).

I’m thinking here more concretely of women, gays and lesbians, and other subaltern groups within the class… the history of workers movements is littered with ‘wait till later’ and denunciations of groups who didn’t want to wait. Feminism exploded the New Left in much of the world, in part because the organizational forms were predicated on a gendered division of labor that broke down when women started refusing their prescribed roles. This seems to get left out of the story of shifting hegemonic class figures. That is, it seems to be left out that hegemony within working class movements is a relation of power, exercised by some class sector(s) on others.

The hegemony of the mass worker sometimes gets spoken of more as a homogeneity of the class, in crudest form as if during that time there were only mass workers, or as if the class was homogeneous in being united behind and under the mass worker. It also sounds to me like sometimes there is an assumption of automaticity in the becoming-hegemonic of one class figure, that one class figure was best suited to the era (as in the phrasing of a political composition ‘adequate’ – or ‘giving adequate expression’ – to the technical composition. As if the hegemonic figure became hegemonic because it was most effective, most in the ‘interest’ the ‘class as a whole’. Perhaps. But perhaps instead hegemony is due to intra-class power (power over other class sectors, ability to win in conflict with other class sectors) rather than necessarily being a priori the most effective sector for the disruption of capital. That is, just because a figure becomes hegemonic inside the class does not mean necessarily that it will be the figure most suited to conflict with the capitalist class. (And in any case, this formulation seems to imply a representational moment – struggling on behalf of others, subordinating other class sectors to the dominant sector.)

There’s another sense of hegemony that Negri deploys, when he says that ‘immaterial labor has become hegemonic in production’. This is a technical hegemony. I’m not sure I understand the point, or the relationship between this and political hegemony. Negri says that the importance of immaterial labor in production does not guarantee political hegemony, but I think it’s very clear that Negri is for the hegemony of immaterial laborers politically, in his use of the term multitude. Of course, the argument goes that all labor is becoming immaterial, so it could be read as a dissolution of hegemony or the position of hegemonic class figure as such. I like that idea, except for the ‘dissolution’ part.

It seems to me that there is an important difference between the politics of hegemony (the strategy of gaining hegemony both within the class and between classes) being ‘over’ and articulating a critique of the politics of hegemony. What I don’t like about the idea, where my reservations are, is that ‘over’ seems to say that people in prior moments, times before the ‘end’, who contested the hegemony of the dominant class figure were wrong and were doomed, that they could only fail, and that, perhaps, it’s best that they did. (Benjamin says somewhere, the theses on the philosophy of history I believe, that the historian sympathizes with the victors – that’s what this history sounds like to me, a history of victors within the class movement. Not only that or simply that – I am still keen on some aspects of this history, and the critique of aspects of the worker movement doesn’t vitiate the whole movement [just the so-called leadership!] - but I think there’s a moment of this victor’s history in the periodization of class figures...) I keep getting hung up on this, and I’m not sure what hangs on it, other than the reading of history. Perhaps I’m a sectarian, an anarcho-cliché harping on about Kronstadt?

Anyway, because of all this thinking on hegemony and suchlike, I’ve culled some Gramsci quotes off the internet and pasted them here for future use.


Antonio Gramsci Reader: VI Hegemony, Relations of Force, Historical Bloc - 12 Observations on Certain Aspects of the Structure of Political Parties in Periods of Organic Crisis SPN, 210-11; 167-8 (Q13§23), 1932-34

(To be connected to the notes on situations and relations of force.) At a certain point in their historical lives, social groups become detached from their traditional parties. In other words, the traditional parties in that particular organizational form, with the particular men who constitute, represent, and lead them, are no longer recognized by their class (or fraction of a class) as its expression.


These situations of conflict between ‘represented and representatives’ reverberate out from the terrain of the parties (the party organizations properly speaking, the parliamentary-electoral field, newspaper organization) throughout the state organism, reinforcing the relative power of the bureaucracy (civil and military), of high finance, of the Church, and generally of all bodies relatively independent of the fluctuations of public opinion. How are they created in the first place? In every country the process is different, although the content is the same. And the content is the crisis of the ruling class’s hegemony, which occurs either because the ruling class has failed in some major political undertaking for which it has requested, or forcibly extracted, the consent of the broad masses (war, for example), or because huge masses (especially of peasants and petty-bourgeois intellectuals) have passed suddenly from a state of political passivity to a certain activity, and put forward demands which taken together, albeit not organically formulated, add up to a revolution. A ‘crisis of authority’ is spoken of: this is precisely the crisis of hegemony, or crisis of the state as a whole.


This order of phenomena is connected to one of the most important questions concerning the political party — namely the party’s capacity to react against force of habit, against the tendency to become mummified and anachronistic. Parties come into existence, and constitute themselves as organizations, in order to influence the situation at moments which are historically vital for their class; but they are not always capable of adapting themselves to new tasks and to new epochs, nor of evolving pari passu with the overall relations of force (and hence the relative position of their class) in the country in question, or in the international field. In analysing the development of parties, it is necessary to distinguish: their social group; their mass membership; their bureaucracy and general staff. The bureaucracy is the most dangerously hidebound and conservative force; if it ends up by constituting a compact body, which stands on it own and feels itself independent of the mass of members, the party ends up by becoming anachronistic and at moments of acute crisis it is voided of its social content and left as though suspended in mid-air. One can see what has happened to a number of German parties as a result of the expansion of Hitlerism. French parties are a rich field for such research: they are all mummified and anachronistic historico-political documents of the various phases of past French history, whose outdated terminology they continue to repeat; their crisis could become even more catastrophic than that of the German parties.


One point which should be added to the note on economism, as an example of the so-called intransigence theories, is the rigid aversion on principle to what are termed compromises — and the derivative of this, which can be termed ‘fears of dangers’. It is clear that this aversion on principle to compromise is closely linked to economism. For the conception upon which the aversion is based can only be the iron conviction that there exist objective laws of historical development similar in kind to natural laws, together with a belief in a predetermined teleology like that of a religion: since favourable conditions are inevitably going to appear, and since these, in a rather mysterious way, will bring about palingenetic events, it is evident that any deliberate initiative tending to predispose and plan these conditions is not only useless but even harmful. Side by side with these fatalistic beliefs however, there exists the tendency ‘thereafter’ to rely blindly and indiscriminately on the regulatory properties of armed conflict. Yet this too is not entirely without its logic and its consistency, since it goes with a belief that the intervention of will is useful for destruction but not for reconstruction (already under way in the very moment of destruction). Destruction is conceived of mechanically, not as destruction/reconstruction. In such modes of thinking, no account is taken of the ‘time’ factor, nor in the last analysis even of ‘economics’. For there is no understanding of the fact that mass ideological factors always lag behind mass economic phenomena, and that therefore, at certain moments, the automatic thrust due to the economic factor is slowed down, obstructed or even momentarily broken by traditional ideological elements — hence that there must be a conscious, planned struggle to ensure that the exigencies of the economic position of the masses, which may conflict with the traditional leadership’s policies, are understood. An appropriate political initiative is always necessary to liberate the economic thrust from the dead weight of traditional policies — i.e. to change the political direction of certain forces which have to be absorbed if a new, homogeneous politico-economic historical bloc, without internal contradictions, is to be successfully formed. And, since two ‘similar’ forces can only be welded into a new organism either through a series of compromises or by force of arms, either by binding them to each other as allies or by forcibly subordinating one to the other, the question is whether one has the necessary force, and whether it is ,productive’ to use it. If the union of two forces is necessary in order to defeat a third, a recourse to arms and coercion (even supposing that these are available) can be nothing more than a methodological hypothesis; the only concrete possibility is compromise. Force can be employed against enemies, but not against a part of one’s own side which one wishes rapidly to assimilate, and whose ‘good will’ and enthusiasm one needs.



Antonio Gramsci - The Modern Prince: Some Theoretical and Practical Aspects of "Economism" (…)

though hegemony is ethical-political, it must also be economic, must necessarily be based on the decisive function exercised by the leading group in the decisive nucleus of economic activity.



An Antonio Gramsci Reader: VIII. Passive Revolution, Caesarism, Fascism 1 The Problem of Political Leadership in the Formation and Development of the Modern State in Italy SPN, 55-85 (Q19§24) (…)

The methodological criterion on which our own study must be based is the following: that the supremacy of a social group manifests itself in two ways, as ‘domination’ [dominio] and as ‘intellectual and moral leadership’ [direzione]. A social group dominates antagonistic groups, which it tends to ‘liquidate’, or to subjugate perhaps even by armed force; it leads kindred and allied groups. A social group can, and indeed must, already exercise ‘leadership’ before winning governmental power (this indeed is one of the principal conditions for the winning of such power); it subsequently becomes dominant when it exercises power, but even if it holds it firmly in its grasp, it must continue to ‘lead’ as well.




Antonio Gramsci - The Modern Prince: Spontaneity and Conscious Leadership


"pure" spontaneity does not exist in history: it would come to the same thing as "pure" mechanicity. In the "most spontaneous" movement it is simply the case that the elements of "conscious leadership" cannot be checked, have left no reliable document. It may be said that spontaneity is therefore characteristic of the "history of the subaltern classes", and indeed of their most marginal and peripheral elements; these have not achieved any consciousness of the class "for itself", and consequently it never occurs to them that their history might have some possible importance, that there might be some value in leaving documentary evidence of it.

Hence in such movements there exist multiple elements of "conscious leadership", but no one of them is predominant or transcends the level of a given social stratum's "popular science" — its "common sense" or traditional conception of the world. (…)

The fact that every "spontaneous" movement contains rudimentary elements of conscious leadership, of discipline, is indirectly demonstrated by the fact that there exist tendencies and groups who extol spontaneity as a method. Here one must distinguish between the realm of pure "ideology" and that of practical action, between scholars who argue that spontaneity is the immanent and objective "method" of the historical process, and political adventurers who argue for it as a "political" method. With the former it is a question of a mistaken conception, whereas with the latter what is involved is an immediate and vulgar contradiction which betrays its manifest practical origin — i.e. the immediate practical desire to replace a given leadership by a different one.


At this point, a fundamental theoretical question is raised: can modern theory be in opposition to the "spontaneous" feelings of the masses? ("Spontaneous" in the sense that they are not the result of any systematic educational activity on the part of an already conscious leading group, but have been formed through everyday experience illuminated by "common sense", i.e. by the traditional popular conception of the world — what is unimaginatively called "instinct", although it too is in fact a primitive and elementary historical acquisition.) It cannot be in opposition to them. Between the two there is a "quantitative" difference of degree, not one of quality. A reciprocal "reduction" so to speak, a passage from one to the other and vice versa, must be possible. (Recall that Immanuel Kant believed it important for his philosophical theories to agree with common sense; the same position cam be found in Croce. Recall too Marx's assertion in The Holy Family that the political formulae of the French Revolution can be reduced to the principles of classical German philosophy.)80 Neglecting, or worse still despising, so-called "spontaneous" movements, i.e. failing to give them a conscious leadership or to raise them to a higher plane by inserting them into politics, may often have extremely serious consequences.

There exists a scholastic and academic historico-political outlook which sees as real and worthwhile only such movements of revolt as are one hundred per cent conscious, i.e. movements that are governed by plans worked out in advance to the last detail or in line with abstract theory (which comes to the same thing). But reality produces a wealth of the most bizarre combinations. It is up to the theoretician to unravel these in order to discover fresh proof of his theory, to "translate" into theoretical language the elements of historical life. It is not reality which should be expected to conform to the abstract schema. This will never happen, and hence this conception is nothing but an expression of passivity.

(…) *


Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci - The Intellectuals

First Published: Gramsci, Antonio. 1949. Gli intellettuali e l'organizzazione della cultura, Edited by F. Platone. Turin: Nuovo Universale Einaudi; Source: Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. “The Intellectuals”, in Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Translated and Edited by Q. Hoare and G. N. Smith. New York: International Publishers, page 3-23;

I - The Formation of the Intellectuals (…)

1. Every social group, coming into existence on the original terrain of an essential function in the world of economic production, creates together with itself, organically, one or more strata[1] of intellectuals which give it homogeneity and an awareness of its own function not only in the economic but also in the social and political fields. The capitalist entrepreneur creates alongside himself the industrial technician, the specialist in political economy, the organisers of a new culture, of a new legal system, etc. It should be noted that the entrepreneur himself represents a higher level of social elaboration, already characterised by a certain directive [dirigente][2] and technical (i.e. intellectual) capacity: he must have a certain technical capacity, not only in the limited sphere of his activity and initiative but in other spheres as well, at least in those which are closest to economic production. He must be an organiser of masses of men; he must be an organiser of the “confidence” of investors in his business, of the customers for his product, etc. If not all entrepreneurs, at least an élite amongst them must have the capacity to be an organiser of society in general, including all its complex organism of services, right up to the state organism, because of the need to create the conditions most favourable to the expansion of their own class; or at the least they must possess the capacity to choose the deputies (specialised employees) to whom to entrust this activity of organising the general system of relationships external to the business itself. It can be observed that the “organic” intellectuals which every new class creates alongside itself and elaborates in the course of its development, are for the most part “specialisations” of partial aspects of the primitive activity of the new social type which the new class has brought into prominence.[A]


What are the “maximum” limits of acceptance of the term “intellectual"? Can one find a unitary criterion to characterise equally all the diverse and disparate activities of intellectuals and to distinguish these at the same time and in an essential way from the activities of other social groupings? The most widespread error of method seems to me that of having looked for this criterion of distinction in the intrinsic nature of intellectual activities, rather than in the ensemble of the system of relations in which these activities (and therefore the intellectual groups who personify them) have their place within the general complex of social relations. Indeed the worker or proletarian, for example, is not specifically characterised by his manual or instrumental work, but by performing this work in specific conditions and in specific social relations (apart from the consideration that purely physical labour does not exist and that even Taylor’s phrase of “trained gorilla"[6] is a metaphor to indicate a limit in a certain direction: in any physical work, even the most degraded and mechanical, there exists a minimum of technical qualification, that is, a minimum of creative intellectual activity.) And we have already observed that the entrepreneur, by virtue of his very function, must have to some degree a certain number of qualifications of an intellectual nature although his part in society is determined not by these, but by the general social relations which specifically characterise the position of the entrepreneur within industry.

All men are intellectuals, one could therefore say: but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals.[D]

When one distinguishes between intellectuals and non-intellectuals, one is referring in reality only to the immediate social function of the professional category of the intellectuals, that is, one has in mind the direction in which their specific professional activity is weighted, whether towards intellectual elaboration or towards muscular-nervous effort. This means that, although one can speak of intellectuals, one cannot speak of non-intellectuals, because non-intellectuals do not exist. But even the relationship between efforts of intellectual-cerebral elaboration and muscular-nervous effort is not always the same, so that there are varying degrees of specific intellectual activity. There is no human activity from which every form of intellectual participation can be excluded: homo faber cannot be separated from homo sapiens.[7] Each man, finally, outside his professional activity, carries on some form of intellectual activity, that is, he is a “philosopher”, an artist, a man of taste, he participates in a particular conception of the world, has a conscious line of moral conduct, and therefore contributes to sustain a conception of the world or to modify it, that is, to bring into being new modes of thought.


The mode of being of the new intellectual can no longer consist in eloquence, which is an exterior and momentary mover of feelings and passions, but in active participation in practical life, as constructor, organiser, “permanent persuader” and not just a simple orator (but superior at the same time to the abstract mathematical spirit); from technique-as-work one proceeds to technique-as-science and to the humanistic conception of history, without which one remains “specialised” and does not become “directive"[9] (specialised and political).


What we can do, for the moment, is to fix two major superstructural “levels": the one that can be called “civil society”, that is the ensemble of organisms commonly called “private”, and that of “political society” or “the State”. These two levels correspond on the one hand to the function of “hegemony” which the dominant group exercises throughout society and on the other hand to that of “direct domination” or command exercised through the State and “juridical” government. The functions in question are precisely organisational and connective. The intellectuals are the dominant group’s “deputies” exercising the subaltern functions of social hegemony and political government. These comprise:

1. The “spontaneous” consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is “historically” caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production.

2. The apparatus of state coercive power which “legally” enforces discipline on those groups who do not “consent” either actively or passively. This apparatus is, however, constituted for the whole of society in anticipation of moments of crisis of command and direction when spontaneous consent has failed.


The political party, for all groups, is precisely the mechanism which carries out in civil society the same function as the State carries out, more synthetically and over a larger scale, in political society. In other words it is responsible for welding together the organic intellectuals of a given group — the dominant one — and the traditional intellectuals.[14] The party carries out this function in strict dependence on its basic function, which is that of elaborating its own component parts — those elements of a social group which has been born and developed as an “economic” group — and of turning them into qualified political intellectuals, leaders [dirigenti] and organisers of all the activities and functions inherent in the organic development of an integral society, both civil and political. Indeed it can be said that within its field the political party accomplishes its function more completely and organically than the State does within its admittedly far larger field. An intellectual who joins the political party of a particular social group is merged with the organic intellectuals of the group itself and is linked tightly with the group. This takes place through participation in the life of the State only to a limited degree and often not at all. Indeed it happens that many intellectuals think that they are the State, a belief which, given the magnitude of the category, occasionally has important consequences and leads to unpleasant complications for the fundamental economic group which really is the State.[G]

That all members of a political party should be regarded as intellectuals is an affirmation that can easily lend itself to mockery and caricature. But if one thinks about it nothing could be more exact. There are of course distinctions of level to be made. A party might have a greater or lesser proportion of members in the higher grades or in the lower, but this is not the point. What matters is the function, which is directive and organisational, i.e. educative, i.e. intellectual. A tradesman does not join a political party in order to do business, nor an industrialist in order to produce more at lower cost, nor a peasant to learn new methods of cultivation, even if some aspects of these demands of the tradesman, the industrialist or the peasant can find satisfaction in the party.

(…) *