ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Gramsci and the Politics of Truth

Antonio Gramsci by Antonio A Santucci (Delhi: Aakar Books), 2011; pp 207, Rs 375.

Murzban Jal (murzbanjal@hotmail.com) is with the Indian Institute of Education, Pune.

Along with the Georg Lukács in spired-genre of critical and revolutionary Marxism, followed by the thinkers of the Frankfurt School, there is no single thinker that has inspired the arts and the humanities in the 20th century, from radical politics and culture theory to historiography, more than Antonio Gramsci. It was in the late 1970s that Chantal Mouffe had said that “if the history of Marxist theory can be characterised by the reign of ‘Althusserianism’, then, we have now, without doubt, entered a new phase: that of “Gramsciism” (1979). Yet this new age of Gramsciism is itself caught in a problem. After all, so Antonio Santucci says in his intellectual biography of Gramsci, Antonio Gramsci, that the International Gramscian Bibliography, compiled by the American historian John Cammett, has more than 10 thousand titles in various international languages, from Afrikaans to Turkish (p 161). Yet we are caught in a bind, for as Santucci says, “something new must be said about Gramsci” (ibid).

So what is this “new” that we learn from Santucci’s little book? Now we are all familiar of the “old”: what Gramsci did was that it retrieved Marxism from the mechanical materialism, economism and fatalism that were dominant in Marxism since the times of the Second International and made into scholarly theory by Nicolai Bukharin. We know that Gramsci rescued Marxism from not only the fatalists, but also from the dogmatic almost theological-like edifice that the Soviet Union had turned Marxism into, where communism existed, as Santucci rightly notes, “only on paper” (p 172). We also know that Gramsci’s philosophy of praxis made a philosophical turn in the history of Marxism, in the sense that it moved from the theory of iron laws of history to understanding Marxism as historicism and humanism, not to forget his theory of the modern capitalist state as the New Prince. And from the scholarly articles written in journals like Telos and New Left Review, we learnt that Hegelian dialectics became the fundamental question for Gramsci’s idea of the revolution. Consider Gramsci: In a sense, moreover, the philosophy of praxis is a reform and development of Hegelianism; it is a philosophy that has been liberated from any unilateral and fanatical elements; it is a consciousness full of contradictions, in which the philosopher himself, understood both individually and as an entire social group, not only grasps the contradiction, but posits himself as an element of the contradictions and elevates this element to a principle of knowledge and therefore of action (1987: 404-05).

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