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11 Extending the Sphere of Politics Gramsci's concept of civil society leads in another important direction which has not yet been discussed: it lays the basis for a great extension of the sphere of politics. The organisations which comprise civil society have a great variety ofdifferent purposes political , social, artistic, sporting and so on. What they have in common is that they all embody social practices which are associated with the assumptions and values which people accept, often unconsciously. This is the material aspect of ideology which was discussed in Chapter 5. A ruling class establishes its hegemony by combining these values and assumptions with its own class interests and thus building a social base within civil society for the coercive and administrative power ofthe state. Thus Gramsci says that hegemony includes the spontaneous consent given by the great masses of the population 'to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental class' (SPN 12). lethe working class is to advance towards hegemony, it must seek for ways of challening this spontaneous consent. This can only be done by means ofpolitical activity. Gramsci therefore extends the concept of politics to cover any activities which are intended to change the nature of the spontaneous consent which has been built up in civil society. One of the best illustrations of this conscious extension of political activities is the rise of feminist politics since the late 1960s. All the values and assumptions which have legitimised a 87 GRAMSCi'S POLITICALTHOUGHT subordinate position for women within the family and society have been challenged, and this has stimulated women to think anew for themselves what their role in society should be. It should be noted, however, that Gramsci does not extend these re8ections into a comprehensive analysis ofwomen's position. In his notes on Americanism and Fordism Gramsci discusses some aspects ofthe sexual question and in one passage he refers to the need for women to develop a new way ofconceiving themselves: The formation of a new femine personality is the most important question of an ethical and civil order connected with the sexual question. Until women can attain not only a genuine independence in relation to men but also a new way ofconceiving themselves and their role in sexual relations, the sexual question will remain full of unhealthy characteristics and caution must be exercised in proposals for new legislation (SPN 296). This extension of the concept of politics, to cover the activity of changing human relationships (and the ideas implicit in them) in all spheres oflife, is a most important consequence ofthe concept ofcivil society. For Marx, Engels and Lenin and other Marxist writers before Gramsci, politics was identified with the struggle for state power. The struggles between classes, resulting in continual changes in the state culminating in revolutionary changes, was the substance ofpolitics. State power and political power were interchangeable terms; and the Marxist theory of politics was (and still often is) referred to simply as the Marxist theory of the state. It can certainly be argued that a wider conception of politics is implicit in Marx's thought, especially in his concept of praxis, but it was never made the subject ofexplicit analysis by him. Ifpolitics is confined to the struggle for state power, it follows that in the transition to communism, when the coercive elements of the state wither away, politics would also wither away; in Engels's famous (though obscure) phrase it would be replaced by the 'administration ofthings'. For Gramsci, on the other hand (as Eric Hobsbawm has said) politics is the core not only of the 88 EXTENDING THE SPHERE OF POLITICS strategy for winning socialism, but of socialism itself. Politics extends to embrace a much wider field ofhuman activity than the struggle for state power. Gramsci's view is best set out in the note entitled 'What is man?' (SPN 351-4) and is akin to Aristotle's conception that human beings are fundamentally political by nature. Basing himself on Marx's sixth thesis of Feuerbach that the 'human essence' is the ensemble ofhuman relations, Gramsci says that political activity consists in the activity of transforming these human relations, and in doing so one develops one's own capacities and potentialities. (Since he was writing a long time ago, he can be excused for abiding by the convention of his time in using 'man' to include 'woman'): So one could say that each one ofus changes himself, modifies himself to the extent that...


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