After the fall of Soviet Union in 1989, the renewal form of Socialism known as Democratic neo-Socialism emerged at the global scale and the writings of Antinio Gramsci helped to develop this New socialism at much broader scale. Basically, Classical Marxism is associated with the “Communist Manifesto” written by both Karl Marx and Engels.
In the Communist Manifesto, the state is purely described as an instrument of class domination as nothing but a committee for managing common affairs of Bourgeoisie. But, in the latter writings Marx and Engels recognized that the state could acquire the degree of independence from the economically dominant class and a complex relation could be developed between classes, political parties and the state. Both Engels and Marx failed to reconcile both theories into a Coherent theory.
The first approach is known as Economism—This was the major defects in Classical Marxism. Because it has prevented an adequate understanding of the nature of the Capitalist domination and the strategy required to end the domination and advance to socialism. Economism was subjected to stricture by Vladimir Lenin and it was Antinio Gramsci, who showed by his work in developing his concept of “Hegemony” in order to realize the Potentiality of Lenin’s Critique of Economism.
What is Economism?
Economism can be defined as the interpretation of Marxism, which holds that the Political developments are the expression of Economic development: “The Line of causation proceeds from economy to Politics”. One form of the view of economism is the view that “history possess a necessary Movement, Independent of human will, derived from the continual growth of the productive forces”. Capitalism is seen as developing inexorably towards economic crisis, and collapse as the contradiction between the forces and the relation of production of production become greater. The whole economistic approach is reflected in the widespread use of the Metaphors “Base and Superstructure”, which derived from the Marx Famous preface “The Critique of the Political economy (1859).
On the other hand, there is a Mechanical determinism as Gramsci called it. In Gramsci’s view; Mechanical determinism tended to prevent a passive attitude for the inevitable collapse and this discouraged the exercise of the Political initiative by the labor movement- And, this mechanical determinism was one of the causes of the collapse of the parties of the second International in 1914. For instance, the Italian socialist party failed to rise up against ruling Fascism because of their Economistic outlook of Marxism. Because, they did not consider that revolution would arise from a shift in the balance of class forces brought up by the series of Political initiatives.
Moreover, the Italian socialist leaders made a serious attempt to build up a broad alliance around Working class comprised up of new Social Forces arising among the peasants and the Urban Petti Bourgeoisie. Lenin in his famous article What is to be done? (1902) argued that Trade Unions struggle could only develop trade Union consciousness, and that in order to develop political consciousness the workers had to take up the struggle against the oppression of Tsarist regime as it affected all other social Classes, strata, groups and the Population.
Lenin on social democracy
In “The tactics of Social democracy” (1905), Lenin opposed the Mensheviks for accepting the Political leadership of the Russian Capitalists in the struggle against Tsarism. And Mensheviks strategy would leave the Russian Labor Movement in what we called “Guild” or Corporatist Phase, limited to the Trade union struggle in the defense of the sectional interest.
By contrast, Lenin argued that, the working class should move beyond the Corporatist phase and should be in alliance with the peasantry, act as the leading hegemonic force in the democratic struggle against Tsarism. In 1917, the working class emerged as the national leader of the democratic struggle. Lenin in both theory and practice called the working class as the base of leadership in a broad alliance of the social Force.
Antinio Gramsci regards him as the founder of the concept hegemony because Lenin always stood for the primacy of the Politics. In his famous book “State and Revolution” (1917), Lenin discusses about the Marxist Conception of the State and defines State as “An instrument of the ruling class and as “a machine for the repression of one class by another.” In the same book Lenin describes the Parliamentary democracy under the Capitalist society is a democracy for the Ruling class, it is dictating over the working class. In a Socialist revolution, it is necessary for the proletariat to destroy the Parliamentary democratic state and replace it by a fundamental type of State, Soviet democracy which will be the dictatorship of the Proletariat over the Capitalist.
According to Lenin, there is a Mechanical relation between economics and Politics—between the changes in the economic structure and changes in the form of the state. The Bolsheviks after the Russian revolution did the same; they dissolved the Constituent assembly in 1918. His thoughts on state and revolution were adopted as theoretical principles by the communist parties of the “Third International” after his death and which became known as Marxism-Leninism.
Indeed, it was a slight diversion from the Marxist classical thought especially regarding the nature of State and Government. Moreover, according to Gramsci Concept of the Hegemony, it showed the way forward, based on the recognition that popular democratic movement and parliamentary institutions, which the western European Social Democrats had shaped, do not have a necessary class character rather they are hindrance for Political struggle between two major classes. Therefore, in order to advance to socialism, the labor Movement has to find the way to link this popular democratic struggle with its socialist objectives, building an alliance which will enable it to achieve a position of National leadership (hegemony).
On the contrary, according to Marx, Socialism as “an association of self-governing producers” with the State completely subordinate to the society. But, under Stalin the socialist system in the Soviet Union became highly centralized, bureaucratic, and repressive that prevented the growth of Marxist ideas in Western Europe. Though, there has been a great example came out of the Eastern Europe that socialism cannot be imposed from above through the agency of the state. Thus, Socialism can only be constructed from below.
Basically, Gramsci gives the concept of civil society. He distinguished between the Public institution of the state on the one hand, and civil state on the other—All the private voluntary organizations such as trade unions, political parties, churches, community and charitable organizations. He argued that hegemony of the Dominant class is exercised in civil society by pervading the subordinate classes to accept the values and ideas, which the dominant class has adopted itself and by building a network of alliances based on the values.
The advance to socialism consists in the building by the labor Movement of Counter. Hegemony requires a prolonged process of Moral and ideological reform. What Gramsci called this strategy a “War of Position”, distinct from the “war of Movement—which occurred in wake of Russian revolution?
In a nutshell, Gramsci suggested that socialism consisted in the continual extension of Civil society with its relation of autonomy together with the gradual decline of the coercive, hierarchical bureaucratic elements of the state. Moreover, in the Soviet Union the elements of Civil Society that existed in Lenin’s time were brutally crushed by the Stalinist Regime. That is what was mentioned by Exiled Bolshevik Revolutionary Leader Leon Trotsky in his famous book “Revolution Betrayed” published in 1937, that “if these purges continued, soon the Soviet Union will meet its death end.”
*Shahzada Rahim is a postgraduate student with keen interest in writing on history, geopolitics, current affairs, philosophy and international political economy.