Antonio Gramsci

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Gramsci, Antonio

Gramsci, Antonio (antônˈyô grämˈshē), 1891–1937, Italian political leader and theoretician. Originally a member of the Socialist party and a cofounder (1919) of the left-wing paper L'Ordine Nuovo, Gramsci helped to establish (1921) the Italian Communist party. When Benito Mussolini outlawed the party, Gramsci was imprisoned (1926–37). His posthumously published prison writings, Lettere del carcere (1947), present his theory of hegemony, which explains how a dominant class controls society and emphasizes a less dogmatic form of Communism that many intellectuals preferred to the increasingly ossified version represented by the Soviet Union.
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Gramsci, Antonio


Born Jan. 23. 1891, in Alès, Sardinia; died Apr. 27, 1937, in Rome. Founder and leader of the Italian Communist Party; Marxist theorist.

Gramsci came from the family of a petty clerk. He studied at the University of Turin from 1911 to 1914 in the department of philology, joining the Italian Socialist Party in 1913.

During World War I he edited the Turin socialist weekly Il Grido del Popolo, while employed simultaneously with the Turin edition of the socialist newspaper Avanti!

Gramsci quickly proved to be an outstanding representative of the young generation of Italian revolutionaries who had begun a struggle against reformism in the Socialist Party. In 1917 he took part in the creation within the party of a revolutionary left wing. After an antiwar armed uprising in Turin in August 1917, he was elected secretary of the local section of the Socialist Party.

The ideas of Leninism and the October Socialist Revolution had a decisive influence on Gramsci’s theoretical and practical activity. In the postwar revolutionary upsurge in Italy, Gramsci initiated a movement to create factory councils, which became a specific form of the struggle for power of the Italian proletariat in 1919 and 1920. The main role in the struggle to organize the factory councils belonged to the group Ordine Nuovo (the New Order), which Gramsci, together with P. Togliatti, U. Terracini, and other young socialists, created in May 1919. The weekly L’Ordine Nuovo published articles by Gramsci in 1919 and 1920 in which, on the basis of a profound analysis of the structure of Italian society and the specific features of its historical development, he proposed an alliance between the industrial proletariat of the North and the peasants of the South and showed that the realization of such an alliance was the most important prerequisite for the hegemony of the proletariat, given the social conditions as they applied to Italy. A report of the Turin section entitled “For the Renovation of the Socialist Party,” written by Gramsci, brought the approval of V. I. Lenin at the Second Congress of the Comintern in 1920. In November 1920 the abstentionists (a group associated with A. Bordiga), the left-wing maximalists, and the Ordine Nuovo formed a united Communist faction. In January 1921, at the 17th Congress of the Italian Socialist Party in Leghorn (Livorno), this faction broke with the reformists and centrists and founded the Italian Communist Party.

In 1922–23 Gramsci lived in the Soviet Union as a delegate from the Italian Communist Party to the Executive Committee of the Comintern. In 1924, at Gramsci’s initiative, the weekly party newspaper L’Unità was founded and, pursuing the party line, it strove to unite all workers in the struggle against fascism. Gramsci returned to Italy in May 1924. Waging a persistent struggle against the sectarian policy of the party leadership (headed by Bordiga), Gramsci created a new leadership group in the party. While heading the parliamentary group of Communists from 1924 to 1926, Gramsci exposed the criminal policies of fascism from the platform of the Chamber of Deputies. At the same time Gramsci continued his theoretical elaboration of the problems of the struggle of the Italian proletariat.

On Nov. 8, 1926. the Fascists arrested Gramsci and exiled him to the island of Ustica. In 1928 a Fascist tribunal sentenced him to 20 years’ imprisonment (the term was later reduced as a result of several amnesties; it expired in 1937). Gramsci spent the greater part of his confinement in the prison of Turi di Bari. The harsh conditions of prison life undermined his health and, a few days after his formal release, Gramsci died.

A fearless fighter for the cause of the working class, Gramsci consistently upheld and developed the principles of Marxist revolutionary theory. Gramsci left a large theoretical legacy, which was contained in the famous Prison Notebooks that were compiled during his years of confinement. His works in history, philosophy, and culture are the source of ideological ammunition for the proletariat.

The main purpose of Gramsci’s historical research was scientifically to elaborate the problems of the hegemony of the proletariat. Closely associated with this was his research on the Risorgimento—the period of struggle for the national-liberation and unification of Italy in the 19th century. Using concrete historical illustrations, Gramsci demonstrated that an alliance with the peasantry determines the political success of the force exercising the role of leadership in the alliance. Gramsci worked out an integral Marxist concept of the Risorgimento: he viewed the Risorgimento as a bourgeois revolution that remained unfinished chiefly because revolutionary reorganization had not been carried out in the Italian countryside. The preservation of the vestiges of feudalism and the weakness of the democratic camp resulted in the internal impotence of the so-called liberal state, which became especially clear after World War I (in the early 1920’s). The proletariat, Gramsci pointed out, must take account of the lessons of history and, as hegemon of the revolution, lead the broad masses of the people.

Gramsci strove to expose all of the cardinal problems that remained unsolved in the struggle for national unification and that continued to impede the country’s economic and political development; he investigated, in historical context, the problems of the gap between city and country. North and South, and the intelligentsia and the people. Gramsci devoted particular attention to questions associated with the problem of the economic and political backwardness of southern Italy—the so-called Southern Question—which he viewed primarily as a peasant question. Gramsci believed that the most important task of the proletariat and its vanguard, the Communist Party, was the struggle against bourgeois ideology.

In his philosophical works, Gramsci sought to provide a comprehensive exposition of Marxism as an all-embracing and integral world view. He devoted particular attention to the problem of the connection between theory and practice, one of the most important aspects of which was the question of relations between the working class and the intelligentsia. Gramsci saw in the establishment of unity between them one of the basic differences between Marxism and bourgeois philosophical systems—in particular, that of B. Croce. In answer to Croce, who sought to save “high culture” by separating it from politics and the masses, Gramsci affirmed the need for contact between the “simple people” and the intelligentsia “precisely to create an intellectual and moral bloc that will make politically possible the progress of the masses in their entirety, and not only of the narrow circles of the intelligentsia” (Izbr. proizv., vol. 3, Moscow, 1959. p. 22). Opposing other tendencies to achieve unity “at the low level of the masses,” Gramsci considered it essential, on the contrary, to struggle for the intellectual elevation of the masses. Specifically criticizing any kind of simplification of Marxist theory, Gramsci wrote with regard to the vulgarization of the problem of the interrelationship between base and superstructure: one must not “portray and explain any fluctuation of the political and ideological barometer as a direct expression of changes in the base” (ibid., p. 98). In elaborating the theory of the hegemony of the proletariat. Gramsci paid particular attention to the problem of the spiritual and moral leadership of the proletariat, the masses, and society. He upheld the idea of a socially active role for art and the responsibility of the writer to the people; at the same time he opposed the vulgarization of these principles and the imposition upon art of its proper subject matter, methods, and tasks by dictum or decree. It was precisely in this context that Gramsci both posed and resolved questions of the interconnection between art and the masses, between the writer and the people, stressing the enormous educational value of art.

Gramsci’s works contributed to the formation in Italy of a galaxy of Marxist philosophers and historians, of great importance to the entire activity of the Italian working class and the international Communist movement.


Opere, vols. 1–10. [Turin] 1952–60.
In Russian translation:
Izbr. proizv., vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1957–59.
O literature i iskusstve. Moscow, 1967.


Alicata, M. A. Gramshi—osnovatel’ Ital’ianskoi kommunisticheskoi partii. Moscow, 1957. (Translated from Italian.)
Bondarchuk, V. S. “Problemy ital’ianskogo Risordzhimento v teoreticheskikh trudakh A. Gramshi.” Novata i noveishaia istoriia, 1958, no. 6.
Golemba, A. Gramshi. Moscow, 1968.
Egerman, E. Ia. “Antonio Gramshi o krest’ianskom voprose v Italii.” Voprosy filosofii, 1950, no. 1.
Lopukhov, B. R. A. Gramshi. Moscow, 1963.
Miziano. K. F. “Velikaia Oktiabr’skaia sotsialisticheskaia revoliu-tsiia i problemy rabochego dvizheniia Italii v rabotakh A. Gramshi 1919–1920 gg.” Novaia i noveishaia istoriia, 1957. no. 2.
Frantsev, Iu. P. “Gramshi i problema ideinogo vospitaniia mass.” In the collection 40 let ¡tal’ianskoi kommunisticheskoi partii. Moscow, 1961.
Togliatti. P. Gramsci. Milan, 1949.
Studi Gramsciani: Atti del convegno tenuto a Roma nei giorni 11–13 gennaio 1958 (Rome. 1958.]
Gramsci e la cultura contemporanea [vols. 1–2; Rome. 1969–70].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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