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12 The Intellectuals Definition The role of intellectuals in capitalist society and in the transition to socialism is a subject which pervades the Prison Notebooks. Indeed, Gramsci attached such importance to it that his original plan for the Notebooks was a comprehensive history of the Italian intellectuals.23 In part, this may have been a reflection of the special conditions in Italy arising from the absence of a unified national state until 1870. This had the result that the Italian language, literature and culture, and the cultural activities of intellectuals, were more important than in other countries. Gramsci took the view that their activities in the centuries before the Risorgimento tended to have a 'cosmopolitan' character on the model of the Roman Catholic Church and to hinder rather than help national unity. The Prison Notebooks are filled with short studies of almost every aspect of intellectual activity in Italy, ranging from popular literature and journalism to works on philosophy, history and economics. In addition to the attention he devotes to Machiavelli, the philosopher Croce and other prominent intellectuals he also examines with care the work ofall kinds ofminor intellectuals. However, once he had started on the Notebooks, the theory ofpolitics and the state, and the concept of hegemony, became his central preoccupation. Two themes underlie Gramsci's views on intellectuals. First, the need to abolish the division between manual and intellectual labour which has been carried to an extreme under capitalism in 91 GRAMSCI'S POLmCALTHOUGHT the production process, in civil society, and in the state apparatus. Second, the relation between knowledge and power the nature ofthe power which is derived from the near-monopoly of knowledge by the ruling class and the need for a fundamental change in the relation between the people and knowledge in the transition to socialism. However, Gramsci does not develop a comprehensive theory of intellectuals; rather, he makes a number ofsignificant observations about their role in society and their relations to the labour movement and to a revolutionary party. Gramsci's views on intellectuals are set out in the two notes which are placed at the beginning of the Prison Notebooks (SPN 3-23). He rejects what he calls the traditional and vulgarised notion of the intellectual as consisting only of the man ofletters, the philosopher and the artist (adding that journalists, who claim to be men of letters and philosophers, also regard themselves as 'true' intellectuals). Intellectuals are not characterised by the intrinsic activity of thinking which is common to all people, but by the function which they perform. 'All men are intellectuals, one could therefore say, but not all men have the function of intellectuals' (SPN 9). Gramsci therefore extends the definition of intellectuals to all those who have the function of organisers in all spheres of society, in the sphere of production as well as in the spheres of politics and culture. He makes a double break with the habitual notion of intellectuals; they are not only thinkers, writers and artists but also organisers such as civil servants and political leaders, and they not only function in civil society and the state but also in the productive apparatus as engineers, managers and technicians. His next step is to make a distinction between 'organic' and 'traditional' intellectuals. Every class creates one or more strata ofintellectuals 'which give it homogeneity and an awareness ofits own function not only in the economic but also in the social and political fields' (SPN 5). The intellectuals do not form a class but each class has its own intellectuals. Thus the capitalists create 92 THE INTELLECTUALS alongside themselves the industrial managers and technicians, economists, civil servants, and the organisers of a new culture and of a new legal system. Gramsci calls these organic intellectuals as distinct from traditional intellectuals. Every rising class finds categories of intellectuals already in existence; these traditional intellectuals seem to represent an historical continuity and tend to put themselves forward as autonomous and independent ofthe ruling class. Traditional intellectuals Gramsci argues that 'one ofthe most important characteristics of any rising class is its struggle to assimilate and conquer "ideologically" the traditional intellectuals'. An example of traditional intellectuals is the ecclesiastics who act as the organic intellectuals of the feudal aristocracy, and were already in existence when the bourgeoisie began its ascent to power. The second example Gramsci gives is the intellectuals ofa rural type, the priests, lawyers, teachers, doctors and civil servants who are traditional because they are linked to the peasantry and...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781909831797
Related ISBN
9780853157380
MARC Record
OCLC
899261417
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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