Friday, July 08, 2005

GRAMSCI WAS RIGHT

Early in 1968 I became aware of Antonio Gramsci and his concept of hegemony. That culture - in the sociological sense of the word - ought to be an area of contestation fitted right into my anarchist counter-culturalism. Simply put, Gramsci saw that the dominant culture tended to inoculate the population against liberatory practices and ideas. Revolutionaries had to struggle against this culture and create a new cultural hegemony. Essentially, the revolution required a change in consciousness before the political and economic changes could occur.

Little did I realize at the time how right Gramsci was and how important cultural change was to be in the coming years. "How so?" you ask. Look at the different outcome of the radicalism of the 1930's and the 1960's. The 1930's and 40's labor movement was followed by a period of reaction - the 1950's - and there was a break in continuity between the radicalisms of the two periods. When we 1960's radicals came on the scene, it was like having to invent the wheel all over again. (Which explains some of our - in retrospect - foolish errors)

The majority of the population in the 1930's - including those supporting the labor movement, accepted the dominant culture - one that was authoritarian, sexist, racist and sexually repressive. It was relatively easy for the rulers to force them back into conservative politics, since their daily lives were highly conservative. Many radicals were attracted to the authoritarian left and it took little effort to switch over to the authoritarian right when these parties failed to establish anything resembling socialism.

When we look at post-1960s radical movements there is no such break, only continuity. The radicalism may have changed form, but it was always there. From the student movement and hippies of the '60's to feminism and ecology of the 70's, to a re-born anti-war and environmental movement of the '80's, to the antiglobalist movements of the '90's and today, there is a continuity.

By challenging the core elements of the dominant culture, elements which reproduce and support authoritarian politics, like racism, sexism, homophobia, sexual repression, authoritarian child rearing and the cult of conformism - a large portion of the population became inoculated against the authoritarian right. (1)

This explains the violent "cultural war" waged by the right. They are essentially right-wing Gramscists without knowing it. They realize that a culture with liberatory aspects provides a matrix for a liberatory politics. The best way to break us is to destroy our cultural hegemony and replace it with an authoritarian hegemony. Then it will be easier to herd us back into slavery.

But this trick is not an easy one to pull off. The problem for the right is while political positions are often superficial and can be dropped without much adieu, deep cultural attitudes are not. The superiority of a life without many of the neurotic oppressions of the past (like sexual repression, child abuse, misogyny etc.) is so evident once you start living without them, you would rather die than return to the past. Daily life has been changed, the liberatory genie is out of the bottle, and other than exterminating us, it cannot be put back in again.

1. Child abuse and sexual oppression were the anvil and hammer that beat the authoritarian personality into existence. The authoritarian personality was the ultimate key to the preservation of the system.

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