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Valeriano Ramos, Jr.

The Concepts of Ideology, Hegemony,

and Organic Intellectuals in
Gramscis Marxism
First Published: Theoretical Review No. 27, March-April 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The three concepts discussed herein constitute perhaps the
most important components of Gramscis philosophy of praxis.
For one thing, the three concepts represent the earliest
elaborations on the foundations of class power, addressing the
latter from the point of view of superstructural as well as
infrastructural considerations. Moreover, by defining the nature
of class power in capitalist society through an elaboration of the
dialectical relationship between the base and the superstructure,
and, specifically, by outlining the essentials of sound
revolutionary strategy which address the complex nature of class
power and hegemony, these concepts meet the first criteria of
praxis, namely, the proper (i.e. dialectical) understanding of
class rule and class power from which sound revolutionary
practice can evolve. That is, practice that can successfully
challenge and shake the foundations of capitalist class rule and
capitalist society. Needless to say, the understanding of these

concepts is the most important step in the study of Gramscis

The unity of the three concepts, itself striking, should direct
the reader to a fact Gramsci frequently emphasized, that ideology
and the superstructure of civil society must be dealt with as
objectively as economic considerations. Gramscis linking of the
reality of class rule and class power with the equally real
amalgam of practices and ideal principles of behavior,
conformity, and law, is well synthesized in the specific
connection between his concepts of ideology and hegemony, in
particular, the concepts of organic ideology and the organic
intellectual. It should not be overlooked that conferring upon
the superstructures and indeed ideology a great degree of
efficacy and even materiality within the social totality of class
society is in the tradition of Marxs notion of ideology. This
recognized, it cannot be ignored that Gramsci was instrumental
in rectifying the notion of ideology, as was held then by the
marxist theoreticians of the Second International and the
Bolshevik Party of the Stalin period.
If Lenin stressed the importance of political leadership of the
working class in the class struggle, Gramsci went a bit further by
also emphasizing moral and intellectual leadership and the
importance of non-economic relations between classes. Also in
the dialectical tradition, Gramsci was most perceptive in
grasping the peculiar differences that existed between 1917
Russia and the more developed Western capitalist countries.
Accordingly, he did not downplay the importance of ideological
struggle in the totality of the class struggle, including economic
and political struggle. Undoubtedly, Gramsci must have the
credit for bringing the notion of ideology within the realm of
truly genuine, revolutionary Marxism.
Finally, it must be borne in mind that Gramscis conception of
the dictatorship of the proletariat must be elaborated out of what
he outlined through the concepts of ideology, hegemony, power,
and organic intellectuals. Indeed, for Gramsci power rested on
what was given, and what was given, i.e. the network of civil
society, could not be overlooked and circumscribed in the course
of the class struggle. Hence, power for a class rested not only on
the economic level and on the simple capture and smashing of

the dominant state apparatus, but was highly dependent on the

legitimacy the class gained from subordinate classes in civil
society through effective ideological struggle therein.

I. The Concept of Ideology in Gramscis Marxism

Gramscis concept of ideology was distinctive and far more
developed than that of his predecessors and contemporaries
essentially because it overcame both epiphenomenalism and
class reductionism. Ideological epiphenomenalism consisted
basically of the claim that the ideological superstructure was
determined mechanically by the economic infrastructure, and
that ideology, being simply illusory, played no role whatsoever in
the economic life of society or in revolutionary change for that
matter. Revolutionary change, it was asserted, resulted from the
dynamics and tensions of economic contradictions grounded in
the mode of production. More specifically, the contradictions of
the relations of production and forces of production, coupled
with the economic contradictions of antagonistic classes in the
realm of production was said to determine every qualitative
transformation of the institutional fabric and the ideological
formation of the social system in crisis. This notion of social
revolution brought about an ultimate implication for capitalist
society, namely, the so-called cataclysmic interpretation of
capitalist crisis: capitalist society would inevitably collapse as a
result of its own economic laws and contradictions of increased
proletarianization and pauperization. This crisis would only be
resolved through the decisive capture and smashing of the state
apparatus by the proletariat, the revolutionary class then to hold
legitimate power. This successful appropriation of state power
was construed to preclude any form of class alliance based on a
defined hierarchy of ideological, economic, and political interests
led by the genuine fundamental interests of the proletariat.
Hence, the interpretation of state power was one of pure
coercion and force as to other classes without considerations for
their consent.
This conception of ideology and revolution was often
combined with a reductionist interpretation of ideology which
argued that ideologies necessarily had a class character, so that
there was an ideology of the capitalist class and an ideology of
the working class, both ideologies antagonistic, defined, and

mutually exclusive in their totality. The ultimate implication of

this conception was, of course, that classes at the economic
levelat the level of productionwere duplicated at the
ideological level through ideological discourses exclusively of
their own. The combination of these notions led to formulations
in which ideology was conceived to have a class nature and was
considered to play no significant role in social and revolutionary
dynamics (Kautsky). On other occasions, ideologies were given a
certain degree of efficacy vis-a-vis revolutionary change in
society while still being conceived of as having a class
determination (Korsch and Luckacs). Of course, it was Gramsci
who rectified the notion of ideology by overcoming both
epiphenomenalism and class reductionism, and by redefining
the term ideology in terms of practices, politico-ideological
discourses, and elements.
Antonio Gramscis conception of ideology overcame
epiphenomenalism by describing ideology as a terrain of
practices, principles, and dogmas having a material and
institutional nature constituting individual subjects once these
were inserted into such a terrain. Since ideology constituted
individuals as subjects and social agents in societythe same
social agents playing also economic roles at the level of
productionideology had an important function in the realm of
production as well as in the overall structure of society. This
function was as real in the recurring dynamics of a mode of
production or productive system in equilibrium as it was in a
system in organic crisis. In the latter case, of course, ideology
was of relevance to the struggle for power in a rather decisive
moment. Indeed, we shall postpone the discussion of ideological
struggle during organic crisis to the section on hegemony, since
such a struggle was conceived by Gramsci to be indissolubly
linked to a quest for class hegemony and state power.
Gramscis conception of ideology overcame class reductionism
by asserting that classes in the infrastructure were not duplicated
in the superstructure through ideological elements exclusively of
their own. This meant that it was possible for there to be a
crossover of classes at the ideological planei.e., in civil
society. Insofar as ideological elements did not have a necessary
class belonging, ideological systems were defined by their
ideological discourses and these by ideological elements; hence

ideological elements could be articulated in the different

ideological discourses of those classes contending for hegemony.
The most distinctive aspect of Gramscis concept of ideology is,
of course, his notion of organic ideology. Clearly, ideology was
defined in terms of a system of class rule, i.e. hegemony, in
which there was an organic arrangement of all ideological
elements into a unified system. This complex arrangement
constituted an organic ideology, the expression of the
communal life of the given social bloc wherein a class held state
power and hence social hegemony. In a given hegemonic system,
therefore, a hegemonic class held state power through its
economic supremacy and through its ability to have, among
other things, successfully articulated or expressed in a coherent,
unified fashion the most essential elements in the ideological
discourses of the subordinate classes in civil society.
In this respect, we could say that an organic ideology is
diffused throughout civil society (social institutions and
structures such as the family, churches, the media, schools, the
legal system, and other organizations such as the trade unions,
chambers of commerce, and economic associations) by virtue of
the integration of diverse class interests and practices into a
unified system of socioeconomic relations. Similarly, it would
seem that ideological discourses have more of a class character
than ideological elements would. Accordingly, particular
classes could claim particular ideological elements as theirs only
when these elements are articulated in their class discourses.
Now, an organic ideology emanates from the dynamic
function of articulation performed by social agents Gramsci
called organic intellectuals of a hegemonic or potentially
hegemonic class. An organic ideology was formulated by these
organic intellectuals through an articulating principle which,
upon unifying the various ideological elements from the
discourses of subaltern groups (classes and individuals) and
forming from them a unified ideological system, became a
hegemonic principle. Indeed, since two classes or, for that
matter, two members of different classes, could adhere to or
advocate the same ideological element and articulate it in their
particular ideological discourses, it was conceivable for a solid
class alliance to be forged through this process of ideological

absorption. This was possible if a group or class could develop

organic intellectuals and an articulating principle capable of
absorbing ideologically, economically, and politically other
classes in the hegemonic system. The success of such a task
would depend, however, on the perception by these classes that
the hegemonic class no longer assumes a representative
appearance vis-a-vis the subaltern class elements.
It remains to be said that the organic intellectuals, responsible
for the formulation and spreading of organic ideologies, are
social agents having a form of allegiance to a hegemonic class (in
a balanced hegemonic system) or to a class aspiring for
hegemony (in a hegemonic system in crisis) and ultimate state
power. While further discussion in another section will elucidate
more on this, we could now understand that it is precisely
because of their articulation through the hegemonic principle
that ideological elements embodied in an organic ideology
acquire a hegemonic class character.

II. Gramscis Concept of Hegemony

The concept of hegemony first appeared in Gramscis Notes on
the Southern Question (1926), where it was defined as a system
of class alliance in which a hegemonic class exercised political
leadership over subaltern classes by winning them over. The
concept made allusion to the proletariat in Italy in terms of such
a winning over: the proletariat had to free itself of its class
corporatism so as to embrace other classes, notably the peasants,
in a system of alliances within which it could then genuinely
become the leading element in the society. The concept was
introduced in the following way:
The Turin communists posed concretely the question of the hegemony
of the proletariat: i.e. of the social basis of the proletarian dictatorship
and the workers State. The proletariat can become the leading (dirigent)
and the dominant class to the extent that it succeeds in creating a system
of alliances which allows it to mobilize the majority of the working
population against capitalism and the bourgeois State. In Italy, in the real
class relations which exists there, this means to the extent that it succeeds
in gaining the consent of the broad peasant masses.[1]

As presented to us here the concept is in a relatively primitive

stage. It is in the Prison Notebooks that Gramsci presents us
with an advanced definition of the concept, this time going

beyond a simple class alliance and political leadership by

including intellectual and moral leadership and elaborating on
the process of forging the class alliance.
Hence, in the more developed elaboration Hegemony entails
two things. First of all, it presupposes that the hegemonic class
takes into consideration the interests of the classes and groups
over which it exercises its hegemony. Added to this, some
equilibrium between the hegemonic class and the subaltern
classes is entailed whereby the hegemonic class will be forced to
make some sacrifices tangent to its corporate interests. Secondly,
hegemony entails economic leadership besides ethico-political
leadership. In other words, it entails that the hegemonic class be
a fundamental classthat is, a class situated at one of the two
fundamental poles in the relations of production: owner or nonowner of the means of production. It would seem, therefore, that
hegemony entails for a class its execution of a leadership role on
the economic, political, moral, and intellectual levels vis-a-vis
other classes in the system, coupled with the sacrificing of some
of its corporate interests as a fundamental class precisely to
facilitate its vanguard role. Noticeable in this notion is the
abstract notion of balance: sacrifice for consensus or strict
corporativism for a coercive imperative. Indeed, this notion
underlies Gramscis definition of the concept of hegemony, and
the notion itself is embodied in Gramscis elaborate concept of
Gramscis concept of power is based simply on the two
moments of power relationsDominio (or coercion) and
Direzione (or consensus). These two moments are essential
elements, indeed the constitutive elements of a state of balance,
a state of equilibrium between social forces identified as the
leaders and the led. This state of balance consists of a coalition of
classes constituting an organic totality within which the use of
force is risky unless there emerges an organic crisis which
threatens the hegemonic position and the ruling position of the
leading class in the hegemonic system. Clearly, political or state
rule by a hegemonic class so defined would be rule in which
consensus predominates over coercion. According to Gramsci,
consensus rests at the level of civil society and hence must be
won there. On the other hand, coercion rests at the level of the
state, more specifically at the level of political society.

Accordingly, hegemonic rule, characterized by the predominance

of consensus over coercion, represents in broad terms a balance,
an equilibrium between political society and civil society.
Needless to say, for Gramsci the state embodies the hegemony
of one social group over the whole of society exercised through
so-called private organizations, such as the church, trade unions,
schools, etc.,[2] in balance with the ensemble of public (coercive)
organizations such as the state, the bureaucracy, the military, the
police, and the courts. Thus, state power rests in a hegemonic
equilibrium with alternated moments of force and consensus but
without the necessity of predominance by coercion over
In any given hegemonic system undergoing organic crisis, a
subaltern but fundamental class aspiring for state power in that
system must strive to attain hegemony in civil society by making
its challenge against the dominant class while conforming itself
to the interests and aspirations of other subaltern classes. This
would constitute class predominance by consent and the
attainment of legitimacy of rule vis-a-vis the other subaltern
classes. But, may we ask, what does consent mean? That is,
how is this predominance (legitimacy of rule) obtained by
consent? It is here that Gramscis concept of ideology helps us to
understand the realm of the struggle for power in a period of
According to Gramsci, hegemony (predominance by consent)
is a condition in which a fundamental class exercises a political,
intellectual, and moral role of leadership within a hegemonic
system cemented by a common world-view or organic ideology.
The exercise of this role on the ethico-political as well as on the
economic plane involves the execution of a process of intellectual
and moral reform through which there is a transformation of
the previous ideological terrain and a redefinition of
hegemonic structures and institutions into a new form. This
transformation and redefinition is achieved through a
rearticulation of ideological elements into a new world-view
which then serves as the unifying principle for a new collective
will. Indeed, it is this new world view, which unifies classes into
a new hegemonic bloc, which constitutes the new organic
ideology of the new hegemonic class and system. Yet it is not a
world-view imposed, as a class ideology (in the reductionist

sense,) by the new hegemonic class upon the subaltern group.

Moreover, in the transformation of the ideological terrain there
is no complete replacement of the previously dominant world
view. Rather, the new world view is created or moulded by
the aspiring hegemonic class and its consensual subalterns out of
the existing ideological elements held by the latter in their
The creation of the new organic ideology is effectuated
dialectically through ideological struggle: the aspiring
hegemonic class adopts an articulating principle which makes it
possible to absorb, rearticulate, and assimilate ideological
elements in the discourse of other social classes, and to unify
these elements into a new collective will. In the process of
struggle for hegemony, this articulating principle becomes a
hegemonic principle of the emerging hegemonic class and
hegemonic system. Since ideological elements have no necessary
class belonging and are, in fact, often shared by many classes,
and since the new hegemonic system rests upon the ideological
consensus of other social classes, hegemony is not ideological
domination. As mentioned earlier, the only conclusion that can
be safely derived from this process of ideological struggle
regarding the problem of its class basis is that it is precisely at
the point of articulation through the hegemonic principle that
ideological elements acquire a class character. In other words,
once articulated into the organic ideology, ideological elements
of importance to and shared by different classes enter the
domain of the new hegemonic class, which may claim these
elements to be its own for having a place in its general discourse.
Precisely herein lies Gramscis correlation between fundamental
class and ideology. Nevertheless, an organic ideology is
precisely thatorganic, the product of an absorption of different
important ideological elements belonging to no class in
To say predominance obtained by consent is to say
hegemonic status within a hegemonic system cemented by a
common world-vieworganic ideologyand won in civil society
through dynamic ideological struggle therein. Hence, in the
context of a revolutionary struggle for state power, rule by
consent (hegemony) can be seen as legitimation of revolution by
a higher and more comprehensive culture. [3] Let me add here

that the acquisition of hegemony and the legitimation of

revolution require from a fundamental class the important and
proper execution of leadership. According to Gramsci, in fact,
leadership precedes the other two stages in the process of
rising to state power through revolution. We are now dealing
with a principle of action, with strategy for revolution and with
methods to attain hegemony. In particular, we come to the point
in which theory and practice converge dialectically and become
of practical relevance to the proletariat.
For Gramsci, the working class must, before actually exercising
state power, attain leadershipthat is, establish its claim to be a
ruling class in the political, cultural, and ethical fields. [4] But
for it to establish its claim to be a ruling class, the proletariat
must first have become class conscious in the context of struggle
for political power. Here Gramsci distinguishes between two
phases in the process: first there is the corporate-economic
phase in which the class identifies itself in terms of the
corporate-economic interests of its integrated elements and as
an economic group. Then there is the purely political phase in
which the class realizes that its own economic interests, in their
present and future development, go beyond the corporative
circle of a mere economic group, and can and must become the
interests of other oppressed groups. This is the purely political
phase which marks the passage from structure to the sphere of
complex superstructures.[5] At this point, when it becomes
conscious of itself and its existence as a social class, the
proletariat can then proceed to forge or develop a comprehensive
world-view and advance a political programme allowing for its
manifestation as a constituted political party playing a truly
progressive and historical role and seeking to absorb other
leading sections of the other oppressed groups and classes. At
this point, in other words, the proletariat begins to engage in the
struggle for social hegemony.
It is important to stress that Gramscis concept of hegemony
finds a context of relevance in post-1923 Western Europe (and
particularly in Italy). This is due to the fact that Gramsci
appreciated in great detail the fundamental differences that
existed between 1917 Russia and post-1923 Western Europe.
Indeed, Gramsci believed that in such distinct contexts the class
struggle then changes from a war of maneouver to a war of

position fought mainly on the cultural front. [6] What is this war
of position which Gramsci is talking about?
War of Position

First of all, Gramsci is talking about war of position for the

attainment of hegemony. This war is thus carried on at the level
of civil society. Indeed, once the proletariat becomes class
conscious and overcomes its corporativism it can and must begin
to exercise a role of political, moral, and intellectual leadership
vis-a-vis other social classes to gradually acquire their
spontaneous loyalty. Yet this role of leadership must be devoted
to the struggle against the existing hegemonic system, and the
struggle itself waged on all three basic levels of society: (1) the
economic, (2) the political, and (3) the cultural. Incidentally, the
economic struggle of the proletariat even precedes historically
the purely political phase. Nevertheless, at the inception of the
political phase the economic struggle assumes a new or
distinctive form.
The economic struggle of the proletariat begins historically and
basically as a struggle for better living and working conditions
under Capitalism: the struggle for better wages, shorter working
hours, better conditions, better benefits, etc. This struggle leads
to the organization of the working class into trade unions but as
of yet is not sufficient to challenge the hegemonic system of the
bourgeoisie. However, at the advanced stage of the class struggle
(at the political phase of the hegemonic challenge) the economic
struggle must be waged in conjunction with an intense political
struggle itself involving more than just a simple confrontation
between antagonistic classes to include a complex relation of
forces existing at three levels: (1) the relation of social forces
linked to the structure and dependent on the degree of
development of the material forces of production; (2) the
relation of political forces, that is to say the degree of
consciousness and organization within different social groups;
(3) the relation of military forces which is always, according to
Gramsci, the decisive moment.[7]
It is safe to argue that the evolution of the working class out of
the simple economic struggle for corporate goals and into the
field of complex political struggle proceeds further into the

decisive war of position waged mainly at the cultural front as an

ideological struggle. While engaged in the ideological struggle
the proletariat attempts to forge unity between economic,
political and intellectual objectives, playing all the questions
around which the struggle rages on a universal, not a corporate
level, thereby creating [its] hegemony [as] a fundamental social
group over a series of subordinate ones. [8] This ideological
struggle involves a process of disarticulation-rearticulation of
given ideological elements. It is really the struggle between two
hegemonic principles for the appropriation of those elements,
an appropriation constituting the unification of various
ideological elements into an all encompassing ideologyorganic
It is quite evident that Gramscis conception of ideological
struggle could never be understood in class reductionist terms
since it does not involve the confrontation between two already
elaborated, closed world views each being the direct and
exclusive expression of the two antagonistic classes. Rather, it is
the actual struggle between two hegemonic principles for the
appropriation (not the imposition) of ideological elements that
may result in the eventual disarticulation of the previous
ideological terrain and the rearticulation of ideological elements
into a new form which then expresses a new collective will and
serves as the new basis of consensus and effective hegemonic
rule. The link between ideology and hegemony should now be
more precisely clear.
This process of disarticulation-rearticulation constitutes, in
fact, the famous war of position which Gramsci conceives as the
revolutionary strategy best adapted to countries where the
bourgeoisie has managed to firmly establish its hegemony due to
the development of civil society.[9] Historically speaking, this
war of position would be for the proletariat in advanced
capitalist countries only a stage in the overall class struggle
against the bourgeoisie. Nonetheless, this is a most decisive stage
in that struggle since, as Gramsci said, in politics, once the war
of position has been won, it has been won definitively. [10]
Methodically speaking, the proletariat can become a
hegemonic class by either of two methods: by transformism, or
by expansive hegemony. Transformismthe Moderate Party

of the Resorgimento relied on this methodcan occur through

the gradual but continuous absorption, achieved by methods
which [vary] in their effectiveness, of the active elements
produced by allied groupsand even those which came from the
antagonistic groups.[11] This is a bastard type of hegemony
involving passive consensus. On the other hand, expansive
hegemony involves direct consensus and hence constitutes the
genuine adoption of hegemonic status through the war of
Finally, the self-nationalization of the proletariat as a class is
an essential precondition for its full attainment of expansive
hegemony. In its most inclusive meaning, expansive hegemony
entails the successful creation of what Gramsci called a
collective national-popular will. This itself involves the
articulation of all national-popular ideological elements held in
discourses by the subaltern national classes. The terms
nationalism and patriotism, both national-popular
ideological elements, have different meanings depending on
what fundamental class appropriates them and articulates them
in its hegemonic discourse through the hegemonic principle. As
national-popular ideological elements these terms are important
in that, held by the subalterns, they serve as the essential links
between the leaders and the led in a national context. Needless
to say, the proletariat must self-nationalize itself by
articulating through its hegemonic principle the nationalpopular aspirations and objectives of the subaltern classes, the
loyalty and consensus of which will form the basis of its
hegemonic system. Once the hegemonic principle succeeds in
articulating these elements, it then becomes a popular religion
which would definitely insure direct consensus from the broad
subaltern classes.

III. Gramscis Concept of the Organic Intellectual

For Gramsci, intellectuals are a broader group of social agents
than the term would seem to include in its definition. Gramscis
category of intellectuals includes not only scholars and artists
or, in his own terms, the organizers of culture, but also
functionaries who exercise technical or directive capacities in
society. Among these functionaries we find administrators and
bureaucrats, industrial managers, politicians, and the already

mentioned organizers of culture. Moreover, Gramsci classifies

these intellectuals in two dimensions: the horizontal and the
vertical dimensions. On the vertical dimension we find the
specialists, those who organize industry in particular for the
capitalists (including the industrial managers and foremen). On
that dimension we find also the directorsthe organizers of
society in general. On the horizontal dimension, Gramsci
classifies intellectuals either as traditional intellectuals or as
organic intellectuals. Traditional intellectuals are those
intellectuals linked to tradition and to past intellectuals; those
who are not so directly linked to the economic structure of their
particular society and, in fact, conceive of themselves as having
no basis in any social class and adhering to no particular class
discourse or political discourse. Organic intellectuals, on the
other hand, are more directly related to the economic structure
of their society simply because of the fact that every social group
that originates in the fulfillment of an essential task of economic
production creates its own organicintellectual. [12] Thus, the
organic intellectual gives his class homogeneity and awareness
of its own function, in the economic field and on the social and
political levels.[13] In addition, their interests are more nearly
identical with those of the dominant classes [they identify
with] . . . than the traditional intellectuals. [14] But what was the
basis of Gramscis classification of intellectuals on vertical and
horizontal dimensions?
The basis of this classification is Gramscis distinction between
two distinct but interconnected areas in the social
superstructure: political society and civil society. We could
assume that the specialists (vertical dimension) would be
situated most likely within civil society, and more specifically
at the links between civil society and the economic infrastructure
or level of production. The agents who constitute this group
operate mainly at the level of industry. On the other hand, also
on the vertical dimension, the directors would seem to be
situated most likely within civil society but outside the realm of
industrial specialization. This, of course, is rather tentative and
at the most an exercise in abstraction since the categories of civil
society and political society, and the category of infrastructure,
are abstractions from an organic totality that operates
dialectically and incorporates all levels in that operation.

Nevertheless, Gramsci is more clear as to the positionality of

the intellectual types of the horizontal dimension in the superstructural level of society. Hence, organic intellectuals, part of
the dominant class, provide personnel for the coercive organs of
political society. Traditional intellectuals, important in civil
society, are more likely to reason with the masses and try to
obtain spontaneous consent to a social order. [15] Yet, in the
struggle of a class aspiring for hegemony the organic intellectuals
created by that class operate on the level of pursuit for direct
consensus and as such hold no position in the coercive political
structures to operate on a coercive basis. Hence, it would seem
that in the struggle for social hegemony these organic
intellectuals must reason with the masses and engage in a
decisive war of position to consolidate the hegemonic status of
the class the interests of which they share.
According to Gramsci the intellectuals are the deputies of the
dominant groupthe functionaries, exercising the subaltern but
important functions of political government and social
hegemony. In particular, the organic intellectuals are most
important since they are the ones who actually elaborate and
spread organic ideology. The political importance of these
intellectuals rests also in the fact that, normally, the organic
intellectuals of a historically and realistically progressive class
will be able to establish their domination over the intellectuals
of other classes, and hence will be able to create a system of
solidarity maintained so long as the progressive class remains
Finally, organic intellectuals are very instrumental in a class
struggle for hegemony. One of the most important
characteristics of any group that is developing towards
dominance is its struggle to assimilate and conquer
ideologically the traditional intellectuals, but their assimilation
and conquest is made quicker and more efficacious the more the
group in question succeeds in simultaneously elaborating its own
organic intellectuals.[16] Again, remember that the traditional
intellectuals can be supportive agents in the quest for
spontaneous consent to the social order. Thus, it would also
seem that the struggle for assimilating the traditional
intellectuals is yet another important requisite for a class overall
struggle for hegemony. Specifically, this struggle for assimilation

of the traditional intellectuals would be part of the war of

position discussed in the previous section.
A major historical problem posed by Gramsci and of great
practical relevance to the proletariat in advanced capitalist
countries is the fact that although every social group develops
its own organic intellectuals, the industrial proletariat has relied
leadership.[17] Of course, Gramsci prescribed a solution to this
problem, a solution that, in fact, became one of the principal
aims of the Ordine Nuovo in Italy. Gramsci wrote in the Prison
Notebooks that the solution was to provide workers, directly in
the shops, technical and industrial education as well as
education in the humanities so that from technical work [the
select worker] arrives at technical science and historical
humanistic views, without which he would remain a specialist
and would not become a director (that is, a specialist and a
politician). Clearly, only then could the working class develop a
higher consciousness of itself and other social classes.

Gramscis contribution to Marxist theory is two-fold. On the
one hand, with concepts such as organic ideology, civil
society and political society, organic intellectuals,
hegemony, etc., as well as his unique distinction between
political society and civil society, Gramsci brought new
theoretical foundations into truly dialectical Marxist
revolutionary theory. Most important, out of these foundations
emerged new concepts that have given Marxism more
consistency and relevance vis-a-vis contemporary Capitalist
reality. It is safe to argue, for example, that Althussers notion of
ideological state apparatuses evolves out of Gramscis general
concept of civil society and ideological structures therein serving
as the social pillars of state power. Without much doubt, the
Althusserian formulation of the theory of reproduction of
ideological state apparatuses and the concept of ideological
interpellation owes much to Gramscis concept of ideology and
hegemony and the notion of the state implicit in these concepts.
And let us not forget Gramscis notion of war of position from
which Althussers elaboration of the concept of ideological
struggle evolves. While a discussion of Althussers contribution

to Marxist theory remains outside the scope of this article, it

would not be irrelevant to say that Althusser has been for
Gramsci more or less what Lenin was for Marx and Engelseach
in continuity with his predecessors.
On the other hand, Gramsci has also contributed to Marxist
theory through the major implications which his most important
concepts (those discussed here as well as his concept of the
party) entail regarding the true nature of capitalist crisis and
proletarian revolutionary strategy. Novel among these
implications is, of course, Gramscis emphasis on the need for
the proletariat to gain the loyalty and support of other social
classes in an advanced Capitalist context and, in order to do so,
the need to overcome class dogmatism and interest-based
corporatism. No longer has the cataclysmic notion of Capitalist
crisis a place in truly revolutionary Marxist theory, as Gramscis
concepts have brought a more realistic picture of the class
struggle to our eyes. Indeed, Gramsci deserves much recognition
in rectifying Marxist theory after its temporary degeneration at
the hands of the mechanistic Marxists of the Stalin period and
the revisionist Marxists of the Second International. In the
dialectical materialist tradition of Marx and Engels, Gramscis
philosophy of praxis (despite any historicism) has re-delivered
to the working class a more powerful theoretical weapon with
which it is well equipped against the capitalist class in the class
struggle. There remains only the conscious making of history in
the hands of the proletariat.

Editors Note: Valeriano Ramos, Jr. received his B.A. at Yale in

1981 and will start law school in September. He is presently
working on a book, Left Wing Unionism and the Trade Union
Movement in the US, 1880-1955.
[1] Chantal Mouffe, Gramsci and Marxist Theory (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul,
1979), p. 186.
[2] John M. Cammett, Antonio Gramsci and the Origins
Communism (California: Stanford University Press, 1967), p. 204.



[3] Ibid, p. 205.

[4] Ibidem.
[5] Ibidem.
[6] Ibid., p. 206.
[7] Chantal Mouffe, Gramsci and Marxist Theory, p. 180.
[8] Ibidem.
[9] Ibid, p. 197.
[10] John M. Cammett, Antonio Gramsci and the Origins of Italian Communism, p.
[11] Chantal Mouffe, Gramsci and Marxist Theory, p. 197.
[12] John M. Cammett, Antonio Gramsci and the Origins of Italian Communism, p.
[13] Ibidem.
[14] Ibidem.
[15] Ibid, p. 204.
[16] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York: International
Publishers, 1971), p. 10.
[17] John M. Cammett, Antonio Gramsci and the Origins of Italian Communism, p.


Althusser, Louis. For Marx. London: New Left Books, 1977.

Althusser, Louis. Lenin and Philosophy. New York: Monthly
Review Press, 1971.
Bukharin, Nikolai. Historical Materialism. Ann Arbor: The
University of Michigan Press, 1969.
Cammett, John W. Antonio Gramsci and the Origins of Italian
Communism. California: Stanford University Press, 1967.

Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. New

York: International Publishers, 1971.
Laclau, Ernesto. Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory.
London: New Left Books/Verso Editions, 1977.
Luckacs, Georg. History and Class Consciousness. Cambridge:
MIT Press, 1971.
Mouffe, Chantal, ed. Gramsci & Marxist Theory. London:
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979.

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