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1 Introduction The collapse in 1989 of the East European regimes led by communist parties, and the far-reaching changes taking place in the Soviet Union, have dealt a severe blow to Marxism in Britain and all over the world. It seems clear that 1989 was a historical turning point, marking the demise of the great socialist project which began in 1917. However, so long as they existed, these repressive, bureaucratic regimes in the Soviet Union and East Europe, claiming to be based on the principles of Marxism, continually discredited it. Now that they have come to an end, the opportunity arises to renew the socialist movement and win support for democratic forms ofsocialism. I believe that the ideas ofthe Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci have a vital part to play in the process ofrenewal. The Communist Party in Britain has been in decline since the end of the Second World War and this decline was not arrested by the remarkable growth of interest in Marxism which developed in the late 1960s. These years witnessed a spread of radical movements and ideas on an international scale, especially in the United States and Western Europe, reaching its highest point in the dramatic events in France in May 1968. In Britain, there was the movement against the war in Vietnam, the growing militancy in the trade unions, the upsurge of the students' movement in universities and colleges, and the new wave of 11 GRAMSCI'S POLITICALTHOUGHT feminism, re-creating the women's movement - as Women's Liberation - in an entirely new and deeply influential form; there was also the ecology movement and a great variety ofcommunity movements. The rise ofthese social movements was accompanied by a great expansion of the influence of Marxist ideas. Members of the Labour Party, the Communist Party, and of the various parties associated with Trotsky's thought such as the International Socialists (later the Socialist Workers' Party) and the International Marxist Group, were active in all the new movements and played an important part in the spread of Marxism; this, however, mainly took the form ofa tremendous expansion in the publication of books and journals about Marxism, and in the teaching ofMarxism in universities and colleges. Its influence did not spread widely so as to affect the lives and outlook ofthe mass ofthe people. It is not a major social force in Britain. It is possible to draw attention to a number offactors affecting Britain which help to explain this situation, such as the special characteristics of the British labour movement. But it is not the purpose of this book to examine these. Here I want to consider two factors: firstly, that Marxist theory has from the beginning suffered from a major defect, economism, and secondly that the Soviet model of socialism has had a profoundly negative influence. EconomiBm Classical Marxism, as developed by Marx and Engels, did not succeed in working out an adequate theory of politics. Two different approaches to politics, especially to the state, were developed in their writings. On the one hand, political institutions tended to be seen as a reflection of the economic structure. Thus in The Communist Manifesto the state is described purely as an instrument of class domination, as 'nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs ofthe 12 INTRODUCl10N bourgeoisie'. But on the other hand, in some of their later writings, Marx and Engels recognised that the state could acquire a degree of independence from the economically dominant class,. and that a complex relation could develop between classes, political parties and the state. These two different approaches to politics were never reconciled by Marx and Engels or worked into a coherent theory. In practice the first approach, which has become known as economism, became by far the most influential. This was a major defect in classical Marxism. It has prevented an adequate understanding of the nature of capitalist domination, and of the strategy required to end that domination and advance to socialism. While it was subjected to a powerful criticism by Lenin, there were important limitations in his approach. It was Gramsci who showed, by his work in developing his concept of hegerrwny, how these limitations ofLeninism could be overcome, and how the full potentiality of Lenin's critique of economism could be realised. In order to understand Gramsci's work, therefore, it is necessary to begin by considering the nature of economism. Economism can be defined as the interpretation of Marxism which holds that political developments are the...


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