Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Gramsci Influence on Alinsky

Who Influenced BHO
John R. Houk
© March 25, 2010

Most Conservatives acknowledge that President Barack Hussein Obama is a Leftist. Some reduce the term of “Leftist” to Socialist. Some others reduce BHO’s ideology down to Marxism itself. Most Democrats would be offended to be labeled a Marxist or a Communist. Marxist theory has proven itself to be a bloody and failed ideology that was decimated by Capitalist economics and the success of a few high profile individuals such as President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. Thus Leninist/Stalinist Soviet hegemony came crashing down freeing Russia and Soviet satellite nations to choose or discover a less repressive path for the public good. (It may be debatable pertaining to Russia’s future since old Communists have transformed themselves to nationalist Russian pride individuals who may return Russians to the only form of government they have known most of their history – despotism.)

BHO has had many radical influences on his life. The influence of Saul Alinsky seems to be the path BHO has chosen to attain the Office of President of the United States of America. Alinsky seems to have been influenced by what I would call the father of Eurocommunism – Antonio Gramsci.

From my brief catch-up reading on Gramsci it appears there is a bit of controversy about how much he actually contributed to Eurocommunist thought as mostly espoused by the Italian Communist Party (PCI). Nonetheless, undoubtedly the interpretation of Gramsci utilizing democratic institutions to transform a culture in order for Marxist theory to become nationally dominant and hegemonic is the thoughts that Alinsky latched onto.

Take a gander at Gramsci’s concept of hegemony.

JRH 3/25/10

[SlantRight Editor: The time frame of how long the archive site is up in the air. Here is the rest of the post linked there.]

Antonio Gramsci

By Monica Stillo

"It was Gramsci who, in the late twenties and thirties, with the rise of fascism and the failure of the Western European working-class movements, began to consider why the working class was not necessarily revolutionary, why it could, in fact, yield to fascism." (Gitlin, 1994: 516)

Gramsci was concerned to eradicate economic determinism from Marxism and to develop its explanatory power with respect to superstructural institutions. So, he held that:

    • Class struggle must always involve ideas and ideologies, ideas that would make the revolution and also that would prevent it;

    • He stressed the role performed by human agency in historical change: economic crises by themselves would not subvert capitalism;

    • Gramsci was more "dialectic" than "deterministic": he tried to build a theory which recognised the autonomy, independence and importance of culture and ideology.

"It can be argued that Gramsci's theory suggests that subordinated groups accept the ideas, values and leadership of the dominant group not because they are physically or mentally induced to do so, nor because they are ideologically indoctrinated, but because they have reason of their own." (Strinati, 1995: 166)

From Gramsci's view, the supremacy of the bourgeoisie is based on two, equally important, facts:

    • Economic domination

    • Intellectual and moral leadership

What exactly is the meaning of "hegemony"?

"...Dominant groups in society, including fundamentally but not exclusively the ruling class, maintain their dominance by securing the 'spontaneous consent' of subordinate groups, including the working class, through the negotiated construction of a political and ideological consensus which incorporates both dominant and dominated groups." (Strinati, 1995: 165)

    • A class had succeeded in persuading the other classes of society to accept its own moral, political and cultural values;

    • The concept assumes a plain consent given by the majority of a population to a certain direction suggested by those in power;

    • However, this consent is not always peaceful, and may combine physical force or coercion with intellectual, moral and cultural inducement;

    • Can be understood as "common sense", a cultural universe where the dominant ideology is practiced and spread;

    • Something which emerges out of social and class struggles, and serve to shape and influence peoples minds;

    • It is a set of ideas by means of which dominant groups strive to secure the consent of subordinate groups to their leadership;

"...the practices of a capitalist class or its representatives to gain state power and maintain it later." (Simon, 1982: 23)

Can we conclude that "hegemony" is a strategy exclusively of the bourgeoisie?

No. In fact the working class can develop its own hegemony as a strategy to control the State. Nevertheless, Gramsci stated that the only way to perform this labour class control is by taking into account the interests of other groups and social forces and finding ways of combining them with its own interests.

If the working class is to achieve hegemony, it needs patiently to build up a network of alliances with social minorities. These new coalitions must respect the autonomy of the movement, so that each group can make its own special contribution toward a new socialist society.

The working class must unite popular democratic struggles with its own conflict against the capital class, so as to strengthen a national popular collective will.

How does the hegemonic class manage to maintain its ideology over time?

Hegemony is readjusted and re-negotiated constantly. Gramsci said that it can never be taken for granted, in fact during the post-revolutionary phase (when the labour class has gained control) the function of hegemonic leadership does not disappear but changes its character.

However, he describes two different modes of social control:

    • Coercive control: manifested through direct force or its threat (needed by a state when its degree of hegemonic leadership is low or fractured);

    • Consensual control: which arises when individuals voluntarily assimilate the worldview of the dominant group (=hegemonic leadership).

How does the process of mutation from a dominant "hegemony" to a new one occur?

Periodically there may develop an organic crisis in which the governing group begins to disintegrate, creating the opportunity for a subordinate class to transcend its limitations and build up a broad movement capable of challenging the existing order and achieving hegemony. But, if the opportunity is not taken, the balance of forces will shift back to the dominant class, which reestablishes its hegemony on the basis of a new pattern of alliances.

"The key to 'revolutionary' social change in modern societies does not therefore depend, as Marx had predicted, on the spontaneous awakening of critical class consciousness but upon the prior formation of a new alliances of interests, an alternative hegemony or 'historical bloc', which has already developed a cohesive world view of its own. (Williams, 1992: 27)

Is violence the only way to subvert dominant "hegemony"?

No. The way of challenging the dominant hegemony is political activity. But we must understand a distinction that Gramsci proposed between two different kind of political strategies to achieve the capitulation of the predominant hegemony and the construction of the socialist society:

War of manoeuvre:

    • Frontal attack;

    • The main goal is winning quickly;

    • Especially recommended for societies with a centralised and dominant state power that have failed in developing a strong hegemony within the civil society (i.e. Bolshevik revolution, 1917).

War of position:

    • Long struggle;

    • Primarily, across institutions of civil society;

    • Secondly, the socialist forces gain control through cultural and ideological struggle, instead of only political and economic contest;

    • Especially suggested for the liberal-democratic societies of Western capitalism with weaker states but stronger hegemonies (i.e.: Italy);

    • These countries have more extensive and intricate civil societies that deserve a longer and more complex strategy.

"The revolutionary forces have to take civil society before they take the state, and therefore have to build a coalition of oppositional groups united under a hegemonic banner which usurps the dominant or prevailing hegemony." (Strinati, 1995:169)

In this context, how do we understand the notions of culture and ideology?

    Culture: a whole social process, in which men and women define and shape their lives.

    Ideology: a system of meanings and values, it is the expression or projection of a particular class interest. The form in which consciousness is at once expressed and controlled, as Raymond Williams has defined it: "...a mistaken interpretation of how the world actually is." (Williams, 1992: 27)

‘Hegemony’ goes beyond 'culture', as previously defined in its insistence on relating the 'whole' social process to specific distributions of power and influence. To say that 'men' define and shape their whole lives is true only in abstraction. In any actual society there are specific inequalities in means and therefore in capacity to realise this process. In a class society these are primarily inequalities between classes. Gramsci therefore introduced the necessary recognition of dominance and subordination in what has still, however, to be recognised as a whole process." (Williams, 1977: 108).

Hence, having everything we just said in mind, one could take it that, first, you have a class "building" a specific and concrete ideology -- based in its specific and concrete interests -- that will dominate the rest of the society because of the unavoidable influence of capitalist relations. This set of ideas will constitute the hegemony that will be expressed as the nucleus of culture. If these assumptions are correct, we can conclude that the media are the instruments to express the dominant ideology as an integral part of the cultural environment.

The Gramsci Influence on Alinsky
Who Influenced BHO

John R. Houk
© March 25, 2010
(Presented in seminar for Communications Research Methodologies, MA in Communication Studies, University of Leeds).


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    I'd like to cite your website, and maybe a few small quotes, if I may.

    You can reach me at: