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2 Gramsci's Concept of Hegemony 1. Coercion and consent. The starting-point for Gramsci's concept of hegemony is that a class and its representatives exercise power over subordinate classes by means of a combination of coercion and persuasion. In his notes on Machiavelli's Prince, Gramsci evokes the mythical Greek centaur, half animal and half human, as a symbol of the 'dual perspective' in political action - the levels of force and consent, authority and hegemony, violence and civilisation. Hegemony is a relation, not ofdomination by means offorce, but ofconsent by means of political and ideological leadership. It is the organisation of consent. In some passages in the Prison Notebooks, Gramsci uses the word direzione (leadership, direction) interchangeably with egemonia (hegemony) and in contrast to dominazione (domination). The use of the term hegemony in the Gramscian sense must be distinguished from the original Greek meaning, the predominance of one nation over another. (There are, however, a few passages in the Prison Notebooks where Gramsci uses hegemony in its ordinary sense ofpredominance to refer to relations between nations or between town and country.) 2. The Leninist foundation. The foundations of the concept of hegemony were laid by Lenin who built on the work which had been done by the pioneers of the Russian labour movement. As Perry Anderson has shown, the term hegemony was first used by 22 GRAMSCI'S CONCEPT OF HEGEMONY Plekhanov and other Russian Marxists in the 1880s to denote the need for the working class to lead an alliance with the peasantry for the overthrow ofTsarism.3 The working class should develop a national approach, fighting for the liberation of all oppressed classes and groups. This was developed by Lenin, as we saw in the previous chapter: the Russian working class should, in alliance with the peasantry, act as the leading (hegemonic) force in the bourgeois-democratic revolution for the overthrow of the Tsarist autocracy. In this way the working class, then a small minority of the population, would be able to win the support of the great majority ofthe people. 3. Hegemony becomes a concept. For Lenin, hegemony was a strategy for revolution, a strategy which the working class and its representatives should adopt to win the support of the great majority. Gramsci adds a new dimension to this by extending it to include the practices of a capitalist class or its representatives, both in gaining state power, and in maintaining that power once it has been achieved. The first note on Italian history, written in the first of the 29 Prison Notebooks, is headed 'Class political leadership before and after attaining governmental power'. Gramsci distinguished between domination (coercion) and 'intellectual and moral leadership': A social group can, indeed must, already exercise 'leadership' before winning governmental power (this is indeed one of the principal conditions for the winning of such power); it subsequently becomes dominant when it exercises power, but even if it holds it firmly in its grasp, it must continue to 'lead' as well (SPN 57-68).4 Thus Gramsci transforms hegemony from a strategy (as in Lenin) into a concept which, like the Marxist concepts of forces and relations of production, of classes and of the state, is a tool for understanding society in order to change it. He developed the idea of leadership and its exercise as a condition for achieving state power into his concept of hegemony. Hegemony is a relation between classes and other social forces. A hegemonic class, or part of a class, is one which gains the consent of other 23 GRAMSCI'S POLITICAL THOUGHT classes and social forces through creating and maintaining a system ofalliances by means of political and ideological struggle. The concept ofhegemony is constructed with the aid ofa number of other concepts which are related to it. That is why any short definition of hegemony is inadequate. I will now give a brief outline of these concepts, which will be discussed in more detail in later chapters. 4. The relations of forces: economic-corporatelhegemonic. The notion of building up a system of alliances is central to the concept of hegemony. In 'Some Aspects of the Southern Question', the notes he was writing at the time of his arrest, Gramsci said: The proletariat can become the leading and the dominant class to the extent that it succeeds in creating a system ofalliances whch allows it to mobilise the majority of the population against capitalism and the bourgeois state (SPWII 443). The working class can...


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