Gramsci, Antonio

Gramsci, Antonio
   Born in Cagliari, Sardinia, Gramsci overcame a serious childhood accident and his family’s limited economic means to attend the university in Turin. It was here that he began his involvement in politics, joining the Partito Socialista Italiano/Italian Socialist Party (PSI) in 1913, and becoming a member of the editorial staff of the party paper Avanti! After the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, Gramsci founded Ordine nuovo, a periodical distributed mostly in Turin that published pro-Soviet views and took issue with what Gramsci saw as the timidity and futility of the PSI and organized labor in the face of the growing Fascist menace. Ordine nuovo subsequently became the official paper of the Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party (PCI) after its formation in January 1921, and Gramsci, as editor, became a member of the new party’s central committee, as well as a parliamentary deputy in 1924. Gramsci disapproved of the PCI’s intransigent insistence upon an impractical policy of armed resistance to the Fascists. Gramsci wanted to build a mass party that united the northern workers, the southern peasantry, and middle-class progressives against Fascism. His more moderate line prevailed. In 1926, the party’s third congress, held in secret in Lyon, France, chose him as its new leader. Unlike his close friend from the university and successor as leader of the PCI, Palmiro Togliatti, Gramsci was unable to refrain from criticizing the degeneration of the Soviet regime. In October 1926, he condemned the dictatorial tendencies of the Soviet party in a famous letter to its central committee, which Togliatti, the Italian representative in Moscow, deliberately suppressed.
   Shortly afterward, Gramsci bravely reentered Italy to oppose Benito Mussolini’s repressive laws against the press and political freedom, but he was arrested on 8 November 1926, before the parliamentary debate could begin. In 1928, he was sentenced to over 20 years of imprisonment. Between 1928 and 1933, he was held in a jail in the southern city of Bari. While in prison, his health began to fail. International interest in his case caused the authorities to allow Gramsci to leave prison briefly in 1934, returning to jail in 1935. Finally released in April 1937, he died of a brain hemorrhage in the same month. He was survived by his wife and two children, who were living in the Soviet Union.
   During his confinement, Gramsci wrote copiously on philosophical, political, historical, and social questions. When, after the war, his prison letters and notebooks were published by the progressive publisher Einaudi of Turin, it became clear that, despite the difficulties of his style, Gramsci was a thinker of the first order. In his view, it was a mistake to believe that there could be only one way to achieve the ultimate goal of socialism; each country would have to find its own individual road to achieving a socialist society. This idea assumed immense political importance after 1945, when Togliatti used it to justify the PCI’s relative independence from Moscow. Eventually, the notion of “many roads to socialism” undergirded the compromesso storico. In Italy, Gramsci considered that socialism would only supersede capitalism after the PCI had attained cultural “hegemony” by controlling and shaping the means of intellectual production and hence the formation of ideas.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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