Dante Germino’s biography of the Italian communist and political theorist Antonio Gramsci offers a major reassessment of this important twentieth-century thinker. Germino analyzes Gramsci’s remarkable life as well as his extensive oeuvre, from the early Turin articles to the meditative Prison Notebooks.
Gramsci saw society as composed of a small but powerful political center and a large body of emarginatimarginalized people at the periphery of society who are denied access to traditional positions of power. That vision led Gramsci to concentrate on the significance of the “common man” as he developed his theory of the political organization of society. The persistent theme in Gramsci’s work is how the ordinary man thinks, feels, and endures, and how the course of political institutions is shaped by the efforts of the marginalized to erode the boundaries of the center. Gramsci’s approach is perhaps best expressed as a reunion of philosophy and experience and a revaluation of the quotidian.
Gramsci’s new politics of inclusion anticipated by well over a half-century the recent epoch-making developments in the USSR and in Eastern Europe. His antiauthoritarian leadership style as secretary of the Italian Communist party in the 1920s prefigured Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika and glasnost. Gramsci’s insistence on the international Communist movement’s openness to new social formations at the grass roots is supremely relevant to developments in Romania, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and Poland, where forces hitherto kept at the margins of political life by ossified Communist-party structures have burst on the scene with unprecedented vitality.
Gramsci refused to revere Marx as a “shepherd with a crook.” Equating history with the “rhythm of liberty,” he emerges as a prophetic voice in the desert of a bureaucratic and dogmatic communism. The dramatic recent changes in the Italian Communist party under Achille Ochetto also owe their ultimate inspiration to this diminutive, hunchbacked theorist-practitioner from Italy’s periphery.
Germino’s compelling study of Gramsci’s personal life and intellectual development offers fresh insights into Gramsci’s work that will be of interest to all students of cultural and political theory. Of particular interest is his extensive consideration of the preprison writings both in their own right and for the light they cast on the Prison Notebooks.
About the Author
Dante Germino is professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia. His many books include Political Philosophy and the Open Society.