'Some of the most fruitful developments in socialist thought have been stimulated by problems facing Marxists in Western Europe, but they all demonstrate, intentionally or otherwise, the untenability of Marx's prognoses'. Discuss with reference to one or more theorists.
The problems of Marxism are diverse, but all centre around the failure of Marxist theory to be realised in practice. The most significant example of this is the persistent survival of the capitalist mode of production. Marx predicted its downfall because he saw the mixture of the capitalist mode of production and democratic politics as a contradiction. The use of universal suffrage gives political power to the dominated class, and removes guarantees of dominance from the ruling class. This unstable situation, when hit with economic crises, will be eradicated, and be replace by socialism. The inevitable proletarian revolution, predicted by Karl Marx, has failed to materialise, and capitalist democracy is now the norm for social organisation in the majority of nations today.
'Hegemony' has been heralded as the most promising answer to the problems of Marxism. He argues that dominance in economic relations of production is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for social dominance. The economically dominant class also requires 'hegemony' to rule. Hegemony is the ideological dominance of society, the position in which an ideology favourable to the dominant class is agreed upon by the society as a whole. The subordinate classes are persuaded to hold views and values which are consistent with the continued economic and social dominance of the ruling class. Through this concept, it is possible to show how capitalism and democracy have survived in Marxian terms. This is the great success of Gramsci's work.
This concept of hegemony gives a new set of tactics for the leaders of the proletariat. In order to gain hegemony, the proletariat must engage in a 'war of position'. This is where class alliances are forged and broken, so that the workers may find an suitable alliance united by a common ideology favourable to the proletariat. Also, there must be moral and ideological reform, in order to change (or remove) the class bias of the existing hegemony. Ideology is key, as it is the 'cement' which binds together an historical bloc, by giving a common ground to its members. A 'war of position', as the title suggests, is a very gradual process. It is also very difficult and hazardous, as, in order to forge new ideological alliances, the leaders of the proletariat must act within the already existing alliances of the bourgeoisie. It is interesting to note that Gramsci proposes a completely different strategy for the bourgeoisie, called 'passive revolution'. This is a movement from above, where the state plays the most significant role in the revolution. The people are largely 'passive', and play only a marginal role. Gramsci's example of this is the Risorgimento, the unification of Italy. Although the masses did play a part in some aspects of the revolt, the most significant actor was the Piedmontese monarchy and army.
Gramsci also gives the intellectual class a role to play in the revolution. This is another gain for Marxist theory as a whole, as the prescriptive determinist viewpoint of classical Marxists did not leave much room for party leaders or politically active intellectuals. The intellectuals which are of concern to Gramsci are 'organic'. This means they are part of the class they represent, actually bound up as part of 'a national-popular mass'. The role they play is of party leadership, and pressing for the 'ideological and moral reform' required for the 'war of position'.
Gramsci rescues Marxism from accusations of 'passivist instrumentalism, simplistic catastrophism, and economistic reductionism' (2). These accusations are that the state is simply an instrument of the dominant class, that classes become increasingly polarised and opposed until revolution inevitably occurs, and that all aspects of the political and ideological superstructure are reducible to the economic base. All three are harmful to Marxist theory, as they portray a very deterministic view of politics and society. The notion of hegemony gives the social and political a more significant role in Marxism, as well as further illustrating the complex relation between the economic structure and society. Gramsci's work has been heralded as a 'Copernican Revolution' of Marxist theory by some, as his theory of hegemony gives a new vision for Marxist theorist. For others he simply expands on some aspects of already existing theory. It must be remembered that for Marx one of the attributes of the ruling class was 'ownership of the means of propagation and reproduction of ideas'. This goes some way towards an idea of 'ideological dominance' - Gramsci's concept of 'hegemony' simply clarifies and expands upon Marx's own position. This is not to belittle Gramsci's importance. The ability to for Marxism to create a consensual society is a great boost to Marxist theory. It is now possible to distance Marxism from the oppressive regimes which were created in its name.
Hoffman interprets the aims of Gramsci's analysis to marry Marxism to the idea of consensual politics. He argues that consent is required to help Marxist doctrine in practise avoid the oppressive example set by the Communist regimes of the Soviet Bloc. He also attempts to show that Gramsci fails in that attempt. He shows that Gramsci's idea of 'active consent' is still based on force and coercion. Hoffman uses a broad definition of coercion. He sees the state as the area in which the dominant class 'justifies its dominance'. Hegemonic ideology is 'imposed on social life, which means the people are coerced into following this ideology. Hoffman therefore argues that hegemonic 'leadership' is not separable from coercion and force. This means that there still remains no room for consent under a Marxist view of society.
When looked at in the grand scheme of Marxist theory, Gramsci marks a departure from the trend of Marxist theory at the start of this century. Yet the roots of his doctrine are planted firmly in Marxist soil. Questions are still raised as to whether or not Gramsci's work provides a solid place for consent in Marxist theory, but these can be answered when looking at hegemony as an alliance of classes. Marx paved the way for this sort of analysis, but describe the combination of the capitalist mode of production and a parliamentary democracy as unstable and transitory. Gramsci uses Marxist premises, and investigates the realm of the political and social superstructure. He finds that it can be possible for capitalism to survive with democracy, through consensual politics. This investigation was in response to the problems of Marxist determinism, and also helps to bring Marxism on to much firmer ground. Marxism, through the work of this Italian visionary, has been given a further lease of life.