Courtesy of the author, originally written on 29 April 2008
Critical reflections on: On the meaning of being a leftist? by Fernando Sánchez Cuadros, where he poses the question Can I fight to reverse misery, hunger, injustice, and social indifference without being a leftist?
A first heart-felt response to any volunteer ought to be: nobody should stop you and most will embrace your effort. But, we should also pose the historically imperative companion question: Can we ignore our responsibility to teach our own educator/leaders, our own “Organic Intellectuals”?
One cannot make politics-history without … [a] sentimental connection between intellectuals and the people-nation….[The]relationship between intellectuals and the people-nation , between the leaders and the led, the rulers and the ruled is provided by an organic cohesion in which feeling-passion becomes understanding and thence knowledge…then and only then is the relationship one of representation. Only then can there take place an exchange of individual elements between the rulers and the ruled, leaders and led, and the shared life be realized… SPN p. 418.[i]
Fernando Sánchez Cuadros’ probing, elegantly structured and gracefully written inquiry opens my thoughts on to an inextricably related question: How do we consciously form our own intellectuals, the organic “left” intellectuals we need now? How do we plan for the continuity that may be provided by fostering a bonded relation between the organic intellectuals and the “people-nation”?
The following essay is offered as a preliminary contribution to a vitally necessary but too-long-delayed discussion on how we educate our own future leaders. Through it I hope to revive an interest in Antonio Gramsci’s www.internationalgramscisociety.org/ living educational legacy contained in his Prison Notebooks* and expand on it. With a particular reference to the crucial role he saw for the “organic intellectual” and his or her education, I will present a few introductory comments on the educational method I find to be inherent in Gramsci’s interpretation of Marx’ Philosophy of Praxis, as a Theory of Pedagogy encapsulated in the organic unity of Theory / Practice Method he fully demonstrated in his prison writings. I then boldly propose we, students of the Theory of Praxis, collectively review the essential organic elements of Marx’s critical-dialectical-historical method and Gramsci’s elucidation of it as starting point for the construction of an educational plan for development of the new intellectuals organic to the social alternatives being broadly discussed in our perilous times.
In my sympathetic response to the thought-provoking essay, Can I Fight if I am Not a Leftist? , I draw heavily from Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks with frequent references to John Sanbonmatsu’s recent, The Postmodern Prince.[ii]
In Our Perilous Times
Recognizing similarly dangerous political patterns today, as Gramsci identified in the early Fascist formations, John Sanbonmatsu presents, as the subtitle of his book, The Postmodern Prince promises , a review of Critical Theory , Left Strategy and the Making of a New Political Subject. In the tradition of Gramsci’s interpretation of Marx’s critical method, Sanbonmatsu as his subtitle indicates carefully examines our recent history to assess practice in order to ask how we may best form a New Political Subject.
Posing the central question of his work in a similar manner as Gramsci must have done about eighty years ago, as he assessed the grave threats and consequences of Italian Fascism, Sanbonmatsu asks:
[How] can the now-dispersed forces of emancipation, having been forced by history to abandon the ‘skin’ of socialism …discover or invent a new form? A way to unite the many dispersed, confused, largely reactive elements struggling to right injustice and bring about a new civilization- before it is too late? And it is fast becoming too late. PmP, p.9.
In The Postmodern Prince, John Sanbonmatsu also asks, “…who will pose … an alternative?” which introduces his long discussion, and suggested approach to the formation of a new Modern or “Post-Modern Prince”. Like Gramsci, in the creative Marxist tradition, Sanbonmatsu further asks how we might shape the conditions necessary for changing the relations of forces in a political environment where the potential elements available to form a new historic bloc[iii] are badly fragmented. And, to underscore his sense of urgency he quotes from Immanuel Wallerstein’s Utopistics, 1998, in which he wrote:
We shall not witness a simple, laid-back political debate. It will be a global struggle, conducted on a life-and-death level. For we are talking about laying the bases for the historical system of the next five hundred years. And we are debating whether we want to have simply one more kind of historical system in which privilege prevails and democracy and equality are minimized, or whether we want to move in the opposite direction, for the first time in the known history of humanity. PmP, p.10
Clearly moved by the Wallerstein’s prediction of a “period of hell on earth”, Sanbonmatsu devotes his efforts to mounting an argument for the formation of binding relationships that project the magnetism necessary to form an alternative hegemonic, cultural / political attraction. However, at the core of his suggestions for forming a new historic bloc, like Gramsci, Sanbonmatsu places at the center of the project the indispensable need to shape a perceptible form of a political body as an alternative political force. PmP, p.11.
My intended contribution to John Sanbonmatsu’s urgent call for an creative way to lay the foundation for a “new civilizational order” PmP, p.11 is to move Gramsci’s ideas for the formation of the “Organic Intellectual” to the center of this discussion and set them in the context of our perilous times. An essential part of laying the foundation for “the historical system of the next five hundred years…” engendering substantive equality, is to formulate an educational plan, that at its theoretical and operational core, fosters an elemental and indispensable egalitarian bond through its processes which constantly conveys the principle of a unitary movement of mutual edification between the pupil and the teacher that projects the greatest potential of forming the same “sentimental connection” that is intended to be cultivated between the “intellectuals and the people-nation”.
The question of the organization of a collective, democratically formed will leading to the new civilizational order, naturally begs the question of the unifier.
Underscoring his agreement with Gramsci, Sanbonmatsu quotes from the Prison Notebooks “The modern prince, the myth-prince cannot be a real person, a concrete individual, it can only be an organism, a complex element of society in which a collective will, which has already been recognized and has to some extent asserted itself in action, begins to take concrete form.” PmP, p.17. Yet, the pivotal question remains: Where do the many individuals that are to form the body of the “Myth-Prince” come from? Certainly they come out of the many thinking-feeling, social-change agents of the existing society but we must also ask: how they give themselves cohesive recognizable shape; how do they form the particular organicity of the body of the myth-prince; how do they create for themselves “the basis for a common, universal culture, a new ‘world-historical being’? PmP, p.13.
In response to John Sanbonmatsu’s thoughtful focusing questions, I propose we return to Gramsci’s discussion of the formation of the Organic Intellectual as starting point and ask ourselves how all the real individuals who will form the myth-prince are to prepare themselves to work together toward the formation of an integral social unity, out of which the future “civilizational” order may take shape? We, like Sanbonmatsu and many other students of Antonio Gramsci, must first retrace his steps and reach deeply into the constellation of his dynamically unified Theory of Practice to fully learn its powerful critical insights that extend the creative Marxist tradition of testing theory in practice which can expand the theoretical foundations of our future educational project. I propose nothing less than taking up Gramsci’s long-neglected insight on the educational potential of the integrally coherent Philosophy of Praxis as the basis for Pedagogy of Theory of Praxis process, refine it in practice, advance it in theory and apply as quickly and creatively as possible in our time.[iv]
Unlike Antonio Gramsci writing from a Fascist prison cell through the last ten agonized years of his life, we hold at lest two advantages: we possess a much clearer knowledge and understanding of Fascism and many of us are still free enough to study and educate ourselves and others outside prison walls, before it is too late. Also unlike Gramsci and as a result of his immense contribution to the Philosophy of Praxis, which he adroitly interprets and applies throughout his prison writings, today we are far better prepared to use the tools of the Theory / Practice method. Therefore, more of us should find it a little easier, with his help to climb on the shoulders of the Giants.
While we will hopefully find many eager volunteers from outside the broad dispersed “Left” who are prepared to join an articulated struggle for social and economic justice, we must take responsibility to consciously construct a revolutionary and revolutionizing plan to educate the new intellectuals who join the movements and parties seeking to construct and implement an alternative vision of social justice, substantive and sustainable equality.
We have a great social debt to those who have already expanded the power of the nearly forgotten Philosophy of Praxis and the way we should relieve ourselves of that burden is to use its Theory / Practice Method to educate each other. A Theory / Practice pedagogy would have to reflect the organic unity of the Philosophy of Praxis in such a way so as to project the binding unitary organicity of theory through the practices of the educational process thus developing the actual bond between student and teacher, leaders and lead, until the lead are leaders.
The inherent self-expansive capacity of the Theory of Praxis can only be realized in society through the human agency that will test it in practice and make the contributions necessary to refine the theory. Therefore, its associated educational method must be designed to actualize its informing philosophy in the cultural life of the “people-nation”.
Such an ambitious educational project should not be sectarian and if not, could prove to be a unifying influence forming a new Myth-Prince. Certainly through a non-sectarian, collective effort to develop a basic pedagogy grounded in the Philosophy of Praxis, we have the greatest opportunity for exhibiting the development of an integral, critical educational method, reflecting its theoretical foundation, that holds the capacity for demonstrating the dialectical process of achieving consent that is at the core of Gramsci’s conception of hegemony. Such an integrally coordinated educational program could form the solid nucleus of an instructional plan capable of receiving and educating all who may individually choose to join the struggle for the alternative society many envision.
Volunteerism / Organization
Every person has an objective and subject relation to reality as well as conscious and unconscious responses to the objective conditions of life. Our responses to social issues and the circumstances in which they form are conditioned but not determined by our class position, education, social relations and political orientation to name just a few of the life circumstances that influence our world view. Thus my first response to Fernando’s opening question, “Can I fight ...for social / economic injustice”... without being a leftist is strongly reiterated: Yes! In recent history we can point to many anti-fascists coalitions that included countless courageous individuals and effective groups that would not be considered to be on the left of the political spectrum.
One need not have a left orientation of any particular persuasion to identify social-economic injustices and prejudices or to speak out and actively enter a phase of the social struggle to correct them. The crusading reporter, a sensitive politician, a conventional economist, the sharp-eyed civil servant, an ordinary low-ranking soldier or an office clerk can make tremendously important contributions to the struggle for social justice without ever considering themselves leftists of any type.
We can point to many examples of courageous individuals from General Smedley Butler, who revealed a fascist plot to take control of the USA in the 1930’s, to the most recent soldiers who have refused to fight in Iraq and those who exposed war crimes and the systematic torture of war prisoners under USAmerican control, whose courage is not necessarily animated by party affiliation or political education but often by personal conscience and a sense of human dignity. the Pacifica network, It is Unfortunate that we must presently discuss this issue in terms of positions on the political spectrum but it is necessitated because we have not yet sufficiently raised fundamental notions of human decency to a universally accepted social level.
Worse yet, we face the subtle social conditioning of Corporate-Capitalism’s cultural influences which is systemically leading to what Stephen J. Gallagher calls “…the normalization of criminality.” Writing in Monthly Review, March 2008, Vol. 59. No 10, under the Title “Forget Guantanamo” Gallagher notes that people demonstrate their acceptance of the norm through many small incremental steps including “Accommodation”, “Routinization”,” Tolerance”,” Collusion” and” Cover-up” which become manifest in :
The neighbor who looks the other way when an immigrant is harassed ….The lawyer who buries evidence…. The journalist who avoids writing certain stories...and the editor who avoids running such stories are culpable in the normalization of criminality. And to the extent that they know but persuade themselves that they do not know, the people of the United States [of America] as a whole are culpable in the normalization of criminality. MR. Vol. 59 p.10.
Despite the many institutional pressures and aspects of cultural conditioning, we repeatedly find ordinary people at every level of mainstream life suddenly expressing deep social concern in their public and private efforts to correct many types social problems but at other times we find people who may have benefited from superior conventional, liberal educations or even left-party educations displaying callus insensitivity to social injustice. Frequently many peoples’ courageous acts of exposing information about atrociously horrifying incidents are motivated by a profoundly felt personal stance on notions of proper human behavior. Those people who reveal official corruption and political, criminal behavior often act spontaneously with deep fear for their individual well being.
Against the present institutional cultivation of compliance with and conformity to public corruption and criminality we cannot not patiently and passively wait the rare impulsive moment of individual bravery that may occasionally emerge at a point of crisis; instead we must form an embracing social / political ambiance that has the potential of joining volunteerism to organization. We must find means and methods to link these spontaneous individual expressions for social justice to a public, collective consciousness which can be mutually validated, and openly supported as shared expression. We should not and cannot rely solely on the exceptional, spur-of-the-moment, expressions of personal consciousness or outrage as the single social phase of a slow, molecular formation of a conscious collective will for change. While class orientation, social status, self-identity and even political education may serve as good indicators and perhaps general predictors of the most likely social responses to a wide range of injustices, the formation of broad reciprocally supportive, cultural atmosphere of collective support may be a better conditioning factor. The possible, casual mix of individual responses to the circumstances conditioning social sensitivity is too great to serve as sole motivator.
Writing in the same issue of Monthly Review , István Mészáros , in a complementary article “The Communal System and the Principle of Self-Critique” presents us with a proposition for the formation of the a material base of a “… historically sustainable hegemonic alternative to capital’s social metabolic order as an organic system.” , and goes on to argue : “The institution and successful operation of such a hegemonic alternative is, of course, inconceivable without the conscious control of [peoples’] life-activity by the freely associated individuals . In this regard the individual and social dimensions of our problem are inextricably intertwined.” MR , Vol. 59 pp.35 & 44.
The elemental condition for conscious, sustainable self-critique is the cooperative, social material base upon which and in which it can develop. Echoing Antonio Gramsci’s thoughts on the organic relation of the Structure to the Superstructure, Mészáros makes the forceful case that if we want to avoid the historic errors of “command socialism” and “market socialism”:
[It] is necessary that socialism itself be constituted as and organic system or social metabolic order, whereby its productive relations and decision-making relations reinforce each other. A more collective organization of production makes possible, but also necessary-if a truly organic communal modes is to develop-that activation of the principle of self-critique, directed at the present, as a constitutive element in society. Genuine planning under conditions of substantive democracy cannot occur without the continual, active engagement of individuals in self-critique that involves non-stop learning from changing historical experience. MR , Vol.. 59. p.34
This issue returns us to an interrelated series of key historic organizational and educational questions which I choose to summarize momentarily in relation to the positive and negative tension effectively generated between spontaneity and organization that is more likely, as John Sanbonmatsu posed in the opening lines of The Postmodern Prince, “…to unite the many dispersed, confused, largely reactive elements struggling to right injustice…”. This fundamentally becomes and educational question which must be centered on and grounded in the material conditions of the emerging social / economic realities. Rooted in the “…organic communal modes…”of production, the dialectical “…principles of self-critique...” can then be learned through social / economic activity, taught in more formal settings and then applied and tested in practice. A fruitful starting point in the necessary discussion implied by Professor Sánchez’ question “Can I fight …”is through forming the organizational structures and strategies that will most coherently guide future struggles by encouraging those people who are socially responsive and politically oriented to creatively take concerted collective action by linking the spontaneous social responses of well meaning individuals to wider more coherent networks, as Mészáros argues, through “flexible coordination and consensual integration”, thus socially organizing individual courage and the means to sustain it in a new hegemonic society.
History/Politics – Past / Present
Ironically those of us who are seeking Left alternatives to many forms of Corporate-capitalist[v] exploitation find ourselves in analogous situations as our predecessors did at the turn of the Twentieth Century and we face a very similar dilemma with comparable accompanying challenges. We certainly do not want to construct a tightly centralized party structure that drains the democratic content of social movements, saps the spontaneity of their popular vitality and concentrates all authority and power in its “Central Committee”. And yet, we must prepare ourselves to face the concentrating and centralizing power of increasingly authoritarian and mythologized , Corporate-Capitalism, with an equally well-organized, culturally diverse but tightly integrated social force expressing a collective political awareness and possessing the will and power to act. The countervailing popular / political social force must be profoundly democratic, capable of expressing itself in and through a broad embrace of social, ethnic, racial and gender-preferences- diversity.
Optimally a new political grouping or entity should reflect a blend of the best characteristics of both movement and party, indicative of a balanced mix of spontaneity and organization which must be prepared in such a way as to grow in relation to the unprompted social energy that informs it. If we would like to more creatively contribute to the formation of a politically organized left-alternative, we also should revisit our own history of successes and errors, yes failures, and correct ourselves. We can not construct an alternative plan for enduring, democratically shaped, social change if we rely simply on the angst, opprobrium or the occasional, spontaneous individual and group expressions of frustration or personal enlightenment. However, and with equal emphasis, in order to avoid the costly errors of our own collective-left history, we must fully grasp and internalize the nuanced meaning of building a new historic-bloc as an elemental step toward the formation of a new Left-hegemony.
As Gramsci agued in the section of the Prison Notebooks, titled, “Problems of Marxism”, where “organic cohesion” is achieved “…between leaders and led, the rulers and ruled”…then and only then is the relationship one of representation. Only then can there take place and exchange of individual elements between the rulers and ruled, leaders and led, and can the shared life be realized which alone is a social force with the creation of the ‘historic bloc’”. SPN p. 418.
Many of us who have a sense of urgency also recognize that we are woefully unprepared to overcome the many challenges to forming a new social metabolic order. However, we should also recognize that a fundamental and enduring turn-key activity in organizing a new Left-historic-bloc, will be the education of the intellectuals who will work to give it social / and political shape, coherence and popular expression. In order to educate those leaders, organic to the social / political effort, we must develop a pedagogy which reflects the real-world relations capable of embracing and organizing the huge potential benefits to be derived in the actual interplay between spontaneous volunteerism and organization. A good starting point in our historic-educational tour is to re-examine the interrelated constellation of Gramsci’s dialectically treated tensions that informs his thoughts on the Organic Unity of The Theory of Praxis. For I argue that it is in ensemble of the dialectically developed concepts forming the unity of Gramsci’s critical method that we find the elements necessary to construct a Pedagogy of the Theory of Praxis. The Organic Unity of Gramsci’s thought reflecting his critical method, consistently expressed throughout the Prison Notebooks, is best examined through his application of the Theory of Practice. The following partial list of social, political, economic and theoretic interrelationships, dialectically developed by Gramsci throughout his prison writings, represent a sample of what I call the Constellation of Gramsci’s dialectical concepts:
- Being / Becoming
- Coercion / Consent
- Domination / Leadership
- Education / Intellectuals
- Force / Consent
- Hegemony / Dictatorship
- History / Practice
- Intellectuals / Masses
- Leadership / Spontaneity
- Leaders / Led
- Mechanism / Dialectics
- Necessity / Freedom
- Organic / Conjunctural
- Past / Future
- Philosophy / Politics
- Quantity / Quality
- Rulers / Ruled
- Structure / Superstructure
- Theory / Practice
- Volunteerism / Organization
- War of Maneuver / War of Position
This partial, although representative list selected from more than a hundred other analytical relations examined by Gramsci in the Prison Notebooks, provides a sample of the dialectical combinations which should be read as conceptual identities and as real and theoretical dialectical relations to other combinations. An obvious example of the unity of tensions is easily identified between the opposition of Domination to Leadership with its association to the Force / Consent relationship. Even this partial list is highly suggestive of the dynamic analytical interaction within each combination and in relation to the others expressing the organic unity of Gramsci’s thought. The reader might also note the fluidity of conceptual movement throughout the Constellation from the theoretical to the concrete and the reverse movement that is given expanding significance through the Theory / Practice nexus forming the organicity that binds theory to practice and practice with theory. As we are guided by Gramsci’s actual investigations into and through the organic unity of the subjective and objective moments in the relationships understudy, we too will learn the inter-relational movements of the dialectical process and come to grasp the integral completeness of his
… fundamental concept that the philosophy of praxis is ‘sufficient unto itself’, that it contains in itself all the fundamental elements needed to construct a total and integral conception of the world, a total philosophy and theory of natural science, and not only that but everything that is needed to give life to an integral practical organization of society, that is to become a total integral civilization. SPN, p.462.
If we place Gramsci’s call for the formation of a new type of intellectual in the context of his assessment of the practical and theoretical self-sufficiency of the Philosophy of Praxis, we will immediately recognize the bonding unity between theory and its exponents. Without the informed “leader”- intellectual activator, the theory cannot be tested or expand. It is in the working relationships of the organic intellectual in society that theory is actualized. Therefore we should, we must make the effort to construct an integral pedagogy that reflects the powerful analytical organicity of the Theory / Practice Method. Gramsci clearly recognized that the formation of a new type of intellectual, trained in the Theory of Praxis, would be central to the organization of new society , thus he was deeply concerned about the education required to form the feeling / thinking intellectuals needed for the “...integral practical organization of society”. The new organic, feeling-thinking, leader-intellectual, “the constructor”, “the organizer”, “permanent persuader” would have to be educated in the methods that corresponded to the social objectives of the new human relations.
If we agree with Gramsci that every human being is an “intellectual”, a “philosopher” and a “politician”, who can make theory, live culturally, we must accept the responsibilities of engaging the enormous and long-term, social-educational task that releases the collective potential of raising the ruled to be future leaders. We cannot base the future growth of a cultural/economic alternative to Corporate-Capitalism and its accompanying predatory culture, upon the isolating myth of extreme individualism and hence continuing our patient wait for the heroic one or few who may have an inclination to humanistic expressions of kindness, generosity and social commitment. We must construct the socially unifying educational framework necessary to cultivate the formation of new intellectuals whose sense of passionate affinity link them organically to the goals of the alternative social project; to the people in a democratic learning process that would most likely form the bonds of an intensely popular/democratic social metabolic progression capable of engendering an egalitarian, collective process of human re-development
This suggestion reopens the pages of Antonio Gramsci Prison Notebooks on to the education of intellectuals, the formation of the organic intellectuals and the question of the relations of rulers and ruled and leaders and led. At the same time it addresses the issue of how to receive, most productively, the spontaneously presented, creative energies and ideas brought by individuals and groups that may not be “leftist” and, how to work with them and grow together as a unified social-political force capable of engendering constant mutual education.
While it should be clear to us that any alternative to the corporate-capitalist relations of production must be constructed on and out of the given terrain of real existing Capitalist/ Corporatism, it should also be clear to all of us, who have alternative visions, the alterations will entail a nearly complete renovation of the existing way of thinking and behaving and therefore, will take time. Although we must construct the material conditions that will allow adequate space for the cultivation of alternative social and economic initiatives, we must also deliberately attempt to educate the new methods of thinking dialectically in the spaces that may be available in the Corporate-Capitalist state with the clear awareness, however, that we cannot construct a new pedagogy if we remain locked in the prevailing realm of ideologically driven positivist science.
Separated from the theory of history and politics philosophy cannot be other than metaphysics…
While the scientific method may be the starting point of critical theory as Gramsci notes, it is the Historical-Critical-Dialectical-Method that holds the potential for the systemically generated, self-expanding theory of knowledge. While discussing the profoundly important contribution of scientific methodology to overcoming the limitations of metaphysics Gramsci went on to stress:
…the typical unitary process of reality is found …in the experimental activity of the scientist , which is the first model of dialectical mediation between man and nature , and the elementary historical cell through which man puts himself into relation with nature by means of technology , knows her and dominates her[vi] . Scientific experiment is the first cell of the new method of production, of the new form of active union of man and nature. The scientist- experimenter is also a worker , not a pure thinker , and his thought is continually controlled by practice and vice versa, until there is formed the perfect unity of theory and practice…[This] process of development of modern thought [finds its] consummation in the philosophy of Praxis . SPN, p.446.
Just as we must pass through the confines of present neo-classical economic theory and positivist science to unleash the self-expansive power of the Philosophy of Praxis, we must also point the way to a dialectical, socially integral pedagogy that is deliberately designed to expand the analytical ability of the agents of the vital changes necessary to the production of new knowledge.
There is little doubt that well-meaning, hard-working “traditional intellectuals”, refugees from Corporate-capitalist institutions, will bring with them most of their intellectual predilections but in the context of their well-meaning and open engagement with their counterparts from the “school” of the Theory of Praxis they can also be guided to contribute to the dynamic expansion of the dialectical method but the “school” must be formed to receive them.
We must construct the educational plan for the future organic “left” intellectual on the terrain of present day Corporate-Capitalism where every phase of its social relations of production become his or her laboratory. It is within the sphere of the Capitalist mode of production that the new organic intellectuals come into contact with their “traditional” counterparts, form the social nexus where they learn to test theory through practice and in which they may actualize Theory in a constant interrelation that constitutes a practical laboratory method.
An educational program based on the Theory of Praxis will have to be developed in two distinct but interrelated educational spheres: one informally but no less deliberately within the Corporate-Capitalist work places but also in more formal alternative educational settings such as union educational centers and community supported alternative schools. Short of the Left conquest of the Academy, which would probably be short-lived in places such as the USA, under present circumstances, we will have to form our own educational space but each new organic intellectual would be encouraged to enter fully into all the social and economic spheres of life dominated by Capital in their neighborhoods and work places, were they play there role as organizers, “leaders of men” and women too.
The Making of a New Political Subject
The development of a new collective political subject will entail the cultivation new ways, new to many, of thinking behaving and viewing the world, new methods of producing and testing knowledge, skills and abilities that are expressed by a new type of activist / leader / educator –social agent of change whose theoretical and practical education reflects and expresses the alternative views of the emerging political-economic formation. The formation of a new political subject will require leaders dedicated to the integrating work of gaining broad consent from many social actors as the basis for forming a new historic bloc. This goal necessitates a fundamentally unitary and unifying educational program reflecting the concepts of social relations in a new social metabolic order, designed to prepare the organic intellectual for his or her mediating role in society between theory and practice, between individuals and groups, in an active intervention in history/politics.
One reality looms large: we cannot construct a new framework of social relations only with the tools of the system we choose to change. However, our first reality is that these are the intellectual tools most of us possess but unlike the time before the Communist Manifesto, the Grundrisse, The Capital and Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks among many other valuable works, we, those of us consciously on the left, have a rich intellectual inheritance which we must recapture, relearn, and teach through the methods of the self-expansive dialectical process.
It is a this point that we must reference and fully credit Antonio Gramsci’s interpretation and presentation of the Philosophy of Praxis and emphasize the importance he placed on education as the essential process in the formation of intellectuals needed for the complex task of forming a new hegemonic order. If we view the Philosophy of Praxis and its Theory / Practice Method in its three dialectical phases as the study of theory, the test of theory in practice and the re-evaluation of the original theory and its possible modification, we can quickly grasp its inherent theory of education which Gramsci models for us in the Prison Notebooks.
Viewed through the three interrelated movements from theory to practice back to theory which is easily traced through Gramsci’s own critical historical evaluation of the previous twenty years of his active political life, we can, without much difficulty recognize, the three major elements of what I call Gramsci’s laboratory method of historical-political analysis and more fully appreciate the indispensable role played by organic intellectual as the active agents of change.
I suggest that we read Gramsci’s prison writings as his exposition of a methodological test of theory, through his critical re-examination of Italian History leading to Fascism which in the process opens onto his contributions to the expansion of the Theory of Praxis. Furthermore, I will argue that through his use of the critical method he unfolds for us an outline of Pedagogy of Praxis.[vii]
By immersing himself in a penetrating study of his particular period from both a national and international perspective fully referencing its historical antecedents, Gramsci models the laboratory method that re-traces Marx’ historical-material-dialectical analysis thus demonstrating , through his practice, a process of study that forms a theory of education for the formation of future organic intellectuals.
History / Philosophy – Philosophy / Politics: its Organic Unity
Philosophy cannot be separated from the history of philosophy, nor can culture from the history of culture. …Separated from the theory of history and politics philosophy cannot be other than metaphysics, whereas the great conquest in the history of modern thought, represented by the philosophy of praxis is precisely the concrete historicisation of philosophy and its identification with history. SPN , p.324 & p.436.
A Laboratory Method
Armed with a theory repeatedly tested , refined and elaborated through concrete historical analysis, the Student / practitioner, like Gramsci , would model the theory / practice process by creating series of active analytical interrelationships which may be seen as ascending through a type of helix elevator that rises and descends through the body of exiting theory, related to living history/culture in an environment of constantly mutating political reality out of which he/she constructs an assessment of the present reality that offers the greatest potential for targeted political intervention in the existing relations of power. By modeling Gramsci’s treatment of Theory of Praxis the student / practitioner should also be able to conceptually identify similar series of interrelated, movements through a procedure which assesses theory along the principle lines of its historical development that is continually tested in the actual arena of political struggle. Conventionally we may call this comparative historical analysis but not in the simple sense of mere juxtaposition. For Gramsci movement is constant: at one and the same instant the process of the dialectical theory /practice method moves from previously developed and evaluated theory modified by application in actual practice which is subject to critical evaluation in the present to determine if the theory need be modified.
At the most simplified level for the newly initiated student / practitioner, the process would most likely take the form of a laboratory exercise of the two interconnected procedures: one an open-ended examination of sequentially unfolding events leading to an unknown outcome or the second and related exercise, would present the outcome and ask the student to explain it in terms of the actual events: thus reading history backward and asking reasons for the specific historic out come. Gramsci performs both exercises in the Prison Notebooks. In a sense he casts his line backward and then forward or the reverse to understand his current position historically and estimate its future course to prepare interventions.
The more advanced student possessing a fuller knowledge of the theory/practice method is eventually made to enter the complex swirl of an unfolding historical moment and asked to use the method to propose actions, project their actual historical effect and from the results evaluate the theory and recommend necessary change in practice with relation to theory. Through the practice of dialectically interrogating movement through history as related to the present, the student practitioner hones the skills necessary to better interpret the movement of actual events.
History/Politics would no longer be taught as events frozen in some distant past but would be critically examined in continuous motion from which the living history, carried culturally, is seen as influencing and conditioning human action in current politics. Bertell Ollman , writing in Science and Society Vol. 62, No. 3 Fall 1998 special issue, “Dialectics : The New Frontier” demonstrates in his “Dance of The Dialectic” the basic forward / backward and side to side movements of abstraction of the theory/practice method . While highly simplified but accurate, we should be able to recognize in the dance , help with a bit of serious background reading , the associated movement in history and its relations to the dialectical analytical process in the Philosophy of Praxis.[viii]
The Laboratory Process would also be designed to prepare the student of the Theory/Practice Method to examine a historical moment from the inside of moving events so as to reflect as closely as possible the uncertainties we all face in real life. As Aristotle noted “We never step into the same river twice.”, but through careful study we also learn the course of its flow and the many material conditions and forces that may produce large and small changes or completely eliminate the river’s existence, thus we learn why and how changes occur. In the laboratory, through simulated reality or on the actual terrain of a specific historical moment, the student would be obliged to examine concrete political / economic formations in order to recognize the subtle mutations that may alter the anticipatable movement of events within the existing frame work that may allow for efficacious strategic and tactical intervention.
The laboratory approach embracing both continuity and contingency contains the broad yet, more safely controlled, application of the Theory/Practice Method. For as Gramsci himself noted
…the process of creating intellectuals is long, difficult, full of contradictions, advances and retreats, dispersals, and regroupings, in which the loyalty of the masses is often sorely tried….The process of development is tied to dialectic between the intellectuals and the masses. The intellectual stratum develops both quantitatively and qualitatively, but every leap forward towards a new breadth and complexity of the intellectual stratum is tied to an analogous movement on the part of the mass of the ‘simple’, who raise themselves to higher levels of culture and at the same time extend this circle of influence toward the stratum of specialized intellectuals…SPN, 335.
While the education of the new organic intellectual is long and costly, its potential for expanding diffusing and knowledge more systematically through the society, is tremendous. The combined but uneven growth of the intellectual in the mass is projected to be consistently narrowed through the intimate social bonding of the leaders to lead until the lead become leaders. Because the formal and informal phases of the educational development of the intellectual is intimately entwined with the people of the newly emerging social / economic formation and corresponds to the uncertainties of actual political-economic changes in process, the success of the whole depends on the unitary development of the entire social metabolic order .
Through the Theory of Praxis we learn to see such formations as a dialectical process of human agency, not as we and they but you and I. Thus the new student to the Theory / Practice Method quickly learns that history is not studied as disembodied static and abstract data of frozen and distant social moments or even as the progressive teleological flow of events, as is too often presented in standard texts, but together they learn to viewed the historical formation of their lives in motion and analyze it as a unified social reality in which the historical cultural past is connected to the moving social present in which the leaders and the lead combine in a mutual cooperative effort to examine their own history and prepare to shape their future.Looking on to a receding, expanding and always incomplete horizon, together they eventually lean to face uncertainty with increasing confidence and thus come to grasp the complete humanization of the historical dialectical process, a process that becomes increasing intelligible and mutable .
The highly developed student of the Theory/Practice Method enters the complex mix of real-world trends, tendencies and rapidly forming contingencies better prepared to analyze social change consistent with the structure of a given society and anticipates the potential for surprising changes. After recognizing the formation of significant transformations in process she/he recommends interventions to guide spontaneously emerging popular actions and provide informed leadership. While the process is still somewhat schematized, as one might imagine using a computer model, it does provide for simulation of real-world movement that breaks from the traditional form of teaching and learning because it promotes the search for interaction among probable variables and the intervention of contingencies.
For Gramsci the formation of this new type of organic intellectual, was central to the propagation and dissemination of a new concept of the world among ordinary people which would help them to rise to a new level of their broadening identity as a distinct group in relation to others possessing increasing self-confidence. The new organic intellectual would have to possess the knowledge to lead the people of his/her “nation” with a passion for their needs based upon deep “feeling” arising from his or her intimacy with their lives. The “intellectual and moral unity” binding the “simple” or ordinary people on the “universal” plane necessary and sufficient to a new Left-hegemony, Gramsci understood, had to be formed by the leader/educator that could mediate and expand the intimate exchange between the various and distinct consciousness levels among people representing the real social forces of change. Antonio Gramsci was interested in encouraging the development of a new type of intellectual , one sensing a passionately intimate connection to the “people-nation” bonded by their “feelings” joined in struggle through active participation in practical life” SPN, p.9
Although a leaders’ organic connection to the social group is desirable it is not essential. However, Gramsci clearly viewed the education of those who already have a passionate feeling for their people in struggle as necessary to forming that,
…decisive element in every situation… the permanently organized and long prepared force which can be put into the field when it is judged that the situation is favorable….Therefore the essential task is that of systematically and patiently ensuring that this force is formed , developed , and rendered ever more homogeneous , compact and self aware. SPN, p.185.
While the leaders’ native organic connection to the group may be important and desirable it too is insufficient without the training and education. While feeling may be inbred, imbued and heightened through the conditioning effects of real involvement in the society, we should also note that both feeling and thinking can be cultivated in dialectical relation to each other through the education of organic intellectuals and those refugee intellectuals who may cross over .
We should also take into account that any educational effort to develop / cultivate the intellectual organic to the changing relations of a society will yield new leaders possessing different and varied levels of skills, knowledge and dedication, who will be involved with and be influential at many different echelons of a movement, political party or segments of alternative societies in formation. The process is itself organically dialectical and it is through a thorough understanding of the organic unity at the core of the Theory/Practice Method that the new intellectual grows within its parameters and expands them.
For this reason Gramsci was intensely concerned with the integrity of the content of education with its associated method that would guide the student / practitioner to internalize the theory/practice process. Gramsci’s concern with the quality of the content and the process of learning is repeatedly expressed in his references to the Modern Prince as “…the proclaimer and organizer of an intellectual and moral reform, which also means creating the terrain for a subsequent development of a national-popular collective will toward the realization of a superior, total form of modern civilization” SPN p.133
When this broad educational assignment is combined with the need for the organic intellectual to work toward raising the level of critical awareness of all the people to ever higher levels by maintaining an intimate contact and mutually developing relation in the production of new knowledge, we can fully grasp the need for a precise understanding of the theory / practice process. It was therefore necessary for Gramsci, as it is for us today, to insure the most accurate and clear interpretation of the historical dialectical process. Gramsci’s entire revolutionary drive toward hegemony was based upon an active democratic, expansive educational plan which
…provides a basis for the subsequent development of a historical, dialectical conception of the world, which understands movement and change, which appreciates the sum effort and sacrifice which the present has cost the past and which the future is costing the present and which conceives the contemporary world as a synthesis of the past , of all past generations, which projects itself into the future. SPN , pp. 34 -35.
The animators of this massive educational project, necessary to lay the foundations of the new historical system of democracy and equality noted by Wallerstein, the organizers of the Myth-Prince, the many permanent persuaders, would be the future “democratic philosophers” who become one in their expression with the passion-feeling of the people-nation. In order for the people to make their own history more self-consciously, in order to regulate the process shaping their own projected future, they would have to be capable of participating in the production, verification and dissemination of their own knowledge. Gramsci clearly understood that the only way that humanity had to escape the continuing domination of rulers over the ruled was through an educational process in which they create their own rulers, understand their methods and limit their power. This immense task could only be accomplished in three completely interrelated active educational movements: first, people must comprehend the relations of rules and ruled; subsequently, collectively develop a theory of their own world view, and then act upon their knowledge to create the desired alternative. Gramsci’s educational project is intimately bound to the “Constituent elements of Marxism”: Philosophy<>Politics<>Economics, which are all dialectically related in reality and grasped through historical analysis. The dialectical, connecting bond as Gramsci succinctly states occurs when:
Man knows objectively in so far as knowledge is real for the whole of human race historically unified in a single unitary cultural system. SPN, p.445.
Making knowledge real for “the whole of the human race” requires an on-going educational program which has the potential for diffusing the knowledge throughout the collectivity of humanity. For as Gramsci might have argued following Marx: when thought enters into the nexus of the ensemble of social relations it becomes a “material force” of history and logically, developing that substantive force must be the work of the men and women who will be the educators of Theory/Practice Method.
Thus, the importance of the quality of the education of organic intellectuals in Gramsci’s thought cannot be over emphasized. His “man-in-the-mass”, who emerges from the mass while remaining connected to it, rises to interact with the mass as guide, a leader and an educator. The critical but delicately nuanced role of the leadership style of the new intellectual is perhaps best expressed in the phrase “…every teacher is always a pupil and every pupil a teacher”. Organicity can only become active and effective if this fundamental mutuality informs every aspect of life. Fundamentally it means that we recognize ourselves in others and bond with them. Gramsci argued further with eloquent passion, which I quote at length to give the reader a fuller sense of the interconnectedness of his thoughts:
We have established that philosophy is a conception of the world and that philosophical activity is not to be conceived solely as the ‘individual’ elaboration of systematically coherent concepts, but also and above all as a cultural battle to transform the popular ‘mentality’ and to diffuse the philosophical innovations which will demonstrate themselves to be ‘historically true’ to the extent that they become concretely –i.e. historically and socially –universal. ….This problem can and must be related to the modern way of considering educational doctrine and practice, according to which the relationship between teacher and pupil is active and reciprocal …. For the relationship between master and disciple in the general sense refereed to …is only realized where this political condition [‘freedom of thought and expression of thought’] exists and only then do we get the ‘historical’ realization of a new type of philosopher , whom we could call a ‘democratic philosopher’ in the sense that he is a philosopher convinced that his personality is not limited to himself as a physical individual but is an active social relationship of modification of the cultural environment . SPN, pp. 348-351.
The enormity of this radical educational project is defined by its goals of activating a process of cooperative learning corresponding to the objectives of substantive equality as the foundation of new social metabolic order that holds the greatest potential for realizing the continuous collective expansion of knowledge, in mutually developed unitary process, because it assumes that every individual can be raised to some higher level of knowledge so as to lead others democratically.
Gramsci was convinced that the collective development of a reliable analytical method would be the pathway to an expansive theory of knowledge. He recognized that the critical, historical , dialectical method contains within itself the capacity to analyze reality and the capability to generate a new knowledge out of its internal processes. For Gramsci the critical method embodied in the Philosophy of Praxis is a “doctrine of knowledge” and “the very marrow of historiography and the science of politics….” SPN, 435. He clearly stated that through the historically-based, Theory / Practice Method animated by insightful analysts, a Marxist epistemology would be broadly realized. Once combined with the recognition of continuous “becoming” the basic theory / practice nexus would form the unifying core of a science of dialectics in a reciprocally self-expansive relationship between thought and action produced in the mutual educational relations among activists, educator-leaders. Confidently but cautiously he emphasized:
A new science proves its efficacy and vitality when it demonstrates that it is capable of confronting the great champions of the tendencies opposed to it and when it either resolves by its own means the vital questions which they have posed or demonstrates , in preemptory fashion that these questions are false problems. SPN, p.433.
When Gramsci argued insightfully that the Philosophy of Praxis is a self-expanding theory, SPN, 433., he knew he was, as we should understand today, we are still at its earliest stages of its development. Because the Philosophy of Praxis is a product of human agency which claims it can account for and explain its own becoming, its own history, through its critical method, its internally generated expansive, potential requires the careful cultivation of its own creative organic intellectual agents of development, who schooled in new methods, have the ability to grasp this relatively new way of thinking, use it effectively, teach it, test it and reevaluate its present status.
With varying degrees of success many very capable student / practitioners of the Theory of Praxis bravely faced the challenge of explaining Marx’ critical method and through their long efforts since the printing of The Capital and the Grundrisse have contributed the enormous and the incalculably valuable body of knowledge available for our critical review. That vast body of the literature of Philosophy of Praxis forms an invaluable legacy, a Cannon, requiring years of study that most activists do not have available in their busy working lives.
The idea of and need for the intentional development of intellectuals emerging organically in the new alternative social setting does not and should not foreclose the welcomed arrival and work of intellectuals of the traditional capitalist society. Those refugee or “traditional”- intellectuals as Gramsci called them, today traditional to the corporate-capitalist institutions, may not only bring new insights on old knowledge but, if they offer their critical views and we can more easily teach the critical method , they could more readily contribute to the expansion and enrichment of the theory / practice process.
Although recognizing the need to deliberately and consciously develop the new organic intellectual, Gramsci did not reject the need to recruit from the traditional intellectuals of the existing society of 1920’s. However, his entire life experience combined with his study of Italian History informed him that a new type of intellectual would have to be developed. With an equally clear view he accepted that the new intellectuals would have to be educated formally and informally in the conditions and under the strains giving rise to a new society.
His critical analysis of groups operating in his time such as the Factory Councils and the Italian Socialist Party informed his clear preference for fluid, open but disciplined organization which could embrace other intellectuals. His many criticisms of Benedetto Croce, the leading traditional Italian intellectual of his time, his efforts to recruit Gabriele d’Annunzio, his long time friendship with Piero Sraffa and his critical reflections on the importance of Antonio Labriola also point to his deeply felt need to glean the best from the best of all the Intellectuals.
Nevertheless, he recognized and insisted on the more efficient pathway to the most rapid assimilation of both the organic, feeling- thinker and the traditional intellectual in the future would be through education in the Theory / Practice Method. We are very late. As in the last years of Gramsci’s freedom, we too, under the present press of time and limited resources, should at least prepare a plan of study that may presently need to be limited to the essentials of the critical method. However, we must start assuming that we can develop a full and enduring, self-expanding pedagogy of the Theory of Praxis articulated in the Organic Unity suggested in the Constellation of Gramsci’s concepts given forceful expression throughout the Prison Notebooks.
The Theorist / Practitioner –The Practicing theorist –Gramsci the Organic Intellectual
For Gramsci the Philosophy of Praxis was a theory for the analysis of constant, interrelated dialectical movement of political economic relations in a specific historical setting. The Theory of Practice is a theory of political activity grounded in the history of the development of a particular social formation. The Theory / Practice Method of analysis is the foundation for political/economic analysis to prepare a practical political action program. Noting the relation between fortuna and vertú, roughly corresponding respectively to chance and concerted organized effort, in any political action, Gramsci emphasized that the analyst/leader must be capable of accurately evaluating the relation between the structural economic base of a society and its relation to its phenomenal cultural / political manifestations in the “superstructure” in order to assess strategies for assuming relatively firm positions or planning more fluid tactical maneuvers. If a new historic-social-political force is to effectively insinuate itself into the existing social/economic order it is fundamentally necessary to accurately judge the relationship of actual forces, their interrelated movement and the space that may be fortuitously available or created in which that new force can position itself and maneuver successfully to capture a segment of the existing social , political/economic terrain, hold it and out of it build a foundation of its future political-economic viability. The new or alternative social-political force must be sufficiently prepared to hold, operate and demonstrate its power in a segment of the space currently occupied by the dominant society. Gramsci and the L’Ordine Nuovo group put this thesis to the practical test in the Factory occupations in Northern Italy and from his assessment of those events we still have much to learn.
Following the collapse of the Factory Councils and the rise of Fascism in Italy, we know from the Prison Notebooks that Antonio Gramsci revisited and critically re-evaluated almost every success; error and failure from the perspective of the Theory of Praxis. In this way the entire product of the Prison Notebooks can be viewed as a résumé of the Theory / Practice analytical method. Keenly aware that an accurate historically based, structural analysis cannot stand alone, Gramsci recalled, from memory, almost precisely, Marx’ admonishment of the relations between the Structure and the Superstructure and as we read his expanded discussion of the Modern Prince with reference to the roll of intellectuals and the war of position in relation to the tactics appropriate to the war of maneuver, we quickly sense the interrelated dynamics that are embraced by the constellation of the interconnected spheres of theory, history and practice in the Organic Unity of Gramsci’s thought and analysis. Like Niccoló Machiavelli years earlier, Gramsci too asked: what had been done wrong; what was the actual historical context in which errors were made or success achieved; what were the relations of forces and what in the given historical setting formed the cultural political / economic moment that allows and supports measures for renewed active intervention of the social forces of change? Repeatedly, the organizing role of the leader at various levels of the new social formation emerges. While Machiavelli thought of the personal image of the Prince, Gramsci presented the Modern Prince, the myth- prince as the organized and organizing body of society.
Although each section of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks should be read in conceptual inter-relation with all the others, it is in the relationship of the sections on Italian History, The Modern Prince and Education of Intellectual that Antonio Gramsci studies the historical formation of traditional intellectuals that express his ideas for the educational formation of new intellectuals. As with his study of the relation between spontaneous and organized action, its relation to the dialectical unity of fortuna and vertú, Gramsci argued that the Theory of Praxis, solidly grounded in historical analysis of concrete reality of a specific social economic formation, would form the conditions for a dynamic, critical analysis of actual, dialectical movement of the forces and relations of production in the existing society.
Every phase of Gramsci’s adult life also summarizes the formation of the new organic leader. Immersed in and imbued with the elements of Marx’s Critical method learned from Antonio Labriola, Gramsci passed through a long period of formal traditional Italian and later Italian socialist education both of which were refined and tested on the ground of Italian Socialist Party politics, later through his work in the formation the Italian Communist Party and his election as a legislator.
Throughout his active political life he manifested, through his intellectual and organizational work, the centrality of the Theory / Practice method of critical historical analysis. When unlawfully imprisoned by the fascists regime, his prison writings, as they took the form of the Prison Notebooks, reflect his continue application of the Theory / Practice Method as an integrated, critical dialectical study of Italian reality of his period. His life work to the last lines of the Prison Notebooks show him as the consummate model of the organic intellectual of an alternative but repressed social formation. Thinker, political activist, leader / educator, Gramsci’s life work traces the development of an open-ended strain of Marx’s critical theory which we should revisit and seriously test in the manner that he fully demonstrated in the Prison Notebooks.
A brief synopsis of Gramsci’s active political life from, at least the L’Ordine Nuovo / Factory Council period shows him to be the educator who was constantly educating himself while being informed by his experiences. Clearly from the time of the Factory occupations in 1920 in Turino to the last days in the prison hospital in Rome he made himself a new type of organic leader fully immersed in his leadership role and conscious of his responsibility in every phase of the struggle to build a communist party in Italy. Learning from those he lead; refining, creatively interpreting, blending and testing their practices, he demonstrated a life pattern of a critical dialectical thinker which became reflected in his journalistic, legislative and party leadership.
Before he was isolated form the other political prisoners of the Italian Fascist regime he and other communist leaders formed educational circles. Learning from each other and from the local people, they taught themselves and the others around them. Gramsci continued the process through his long periods of solitary confinement. Critically reading and evaluating the journals and books available to him, he embarked on an integral dialectical historical / political study of the Italian reality with many reflections on the changing world outside. Gramsci would argue we must learn to use a theory of dialectical movement which most closely corresponds to the actual dynamic movements in a society and that The Theory of Praxis is a theory of an organic unity in constant mutation and as such it gives rise to a theory of education of the process of constant unitary change. While the Theory of Practice informs the educational process of the new organic intellectual, its corresponding laboratory method, as demonstrated in Gramsci’s work, centers the practical educational process in the contemporary field of the political/economy of a historically specific time. From his analysis of Italian History, his evaluation of the state of Marx’s theory, its contemporary interpretation, and his discussion of the education of intellectual, I distilled the Constellation of Gramsci’s concepts and identify in it the clear outlines of a theory of education, of “A Doctrine of Knowledge…” that clearly confirms… [That] one cannot separate politics and economics from history,....This means that, after having accomplished the principal task in the general philosophical part, which deals with the Philosophy of Praxis proper—the science of dialectics or the theory of knowledge, within which the general concepts of history, politics and economics are interwoven in an organic unity –it would be useful …to give a general outline of each moment. SPN, p.431.
The interpenetrating studies which comprise The Prison Notebooks should be seen as a major text on a theory of education within the current parameters of the Philosophy of Praxis. Because of their manuscript form we can almost sense the actual unfolding of Gramsci’s integrating thought in process. These writings when recognized and grasped as a cohesive integral unit, although admittedly fragmented by the condition under which they were written, should be seen as a comprehensive guide to the pedagogy of the Theory of Praxis supporting a laboratory approach to political analysis designed to prepare the new-organic intellectuals for their leadership roles in the practices of social change. Through Gramsci’s critical assessment of the full trajectory of his political experiences, we learn from the prison writings that without a tested theory we cannot effectively launch political programs; without theory guided practice we cannot activate the self-expansive potential of the theory / practice method. Thus it is in the process of bonding and testing theory through the active practice of informed leaders that the organicity of the self-expanding nature of the Philosophy of Praxis is realized.
Gramsci has left us and excellent reference book to introduce ourselves to the historical dialectical method of critically thinking, analyzing, learning and producing new knowledge which holds the capacity to expand the Theory of Praxis internally thus making auto-gestation a real, philosophically practical educational process. As both the self-generating theory of new knowledge and an intellectual frame of reference for the formulation of more effective political practice, it holds the potential of its constant auto-gestation.
As one reviews the main sections of the Prison Notebooks one can identify the principle elements of Marx’s method in near text book presentation. At whichever point one may choose to enter Gramsci’s elliptically interrelated analysis of the condition of theory and political practice of his time we find, in essay form, all the necessary, interrelated elements of a complete historical / dialectical study: history, politics, and economics. If we should start from The Formation of Intellectuals, from his analysis of Italian History or his critical study of Philosophy and the Problems of Marxism, we find Gramsci testing the relation of theory to practice through a critical reflection on both the formation of theory, its implications for both political practice and the future education of the theory and pedagogy of praxis. His actual practice of the theory can be seen as a guide to those who have a clear idea of where they may want to go but only possess a general or vague idea of how to go.
The End of History?
The Theory / Practice method may be viewed as providing the study tools to construct an accurate map through a known present toward a distant uncharted and widening and deepening horizon. Embracing the broad historical concept of the intimate relation of the Past, Present and Future, we acquire the sense of movement across time that connects living history or culture to its antecedents through the conscious and unconscious interpretation of history in casual and informed action by real people in the present who shape the future. Grasping that real and complex movement, the history of human agency becomes a guide to the present out of which an accurate analysis of present relations of forces can yield outlines of the future direction of change theoretically as a new platform for a practical action plan, and through that process we gain a small sense of the forward and backward analytical movement of the Theory/Practice Method. In this integral sense of the relation of theory to practice out of which theory is refined, this critical analytical method provides the basic self-generating channel and rudimentary tools for identifying pathways on to uncharted terrain because it dose not assume mechanical change but rather anticipates contingencies . This critical analytical process is historical because it assumes and tests for continuities that have the greatest potential to extend themselves into the some near future ; its vitally analytical in the Marxist tradition of Relentless Criticism , it is dialectical in a process of performing the necessary theoretical abstractions which involve a dynamic method of recognizing interrelated and interactive motion ; it is specific and concrete because it examines the substance of actual continuing social interaction of the real material social relations formed by human beings which is integral to the formation of a new social metabolic order.
…the hallmark of his own genius…
[Gramsci]... could not be content with any doctrine which attempted to reduce Marxism to the status of positive science…separating the thing known from the process where by knowledge is acquired. And, by reason of this same critical method, it is through his analysis of the errors …that he himself most clearly expresses the dialectical historicism which is the hall mark of his own genius. SPN, p 379-80
Gramsci’s huge contribution to the Philosophy of Praxis was to make clear the internal, self-expansive nature of Marx’ Material, Historical, Dialectical Method both as a resume of real interplay between informed human agency and its critical evaluation in terms of its own related self-expanding theory of the production of knowledge. Thus Gramsci argued that the potential growth of the Philosophy of Praxis can be stimulated without limit within its intellectual and material realities of the consciously organized practice that is constantly brought under the sharply focused, critical review and practice of its analytical activators. Thus knowledge and the theory of knowledge growth, set in a dynamic interplay between the practitioner / theorist and the theorist / practitioner, animate the necessary interaction between the growing knowledge produced by active involvement in the real-world based on and tested against a growing theory.
The indispensable variable in fostering a continuous dialectic theory / practice process is the education of the organic intellectual so that the ruled learn how to be leaders. The deliberate process of forming the new organic intellectual embodying and demonstrating the dialectical interrelation in him/herself and in relation to all other human beings is itself an expansive dialectical educational process which is summarized in Gramsci’s insistence that an organic intellectual be both a “feeling” and “thinking” person, a “leader of men”, a producer of knowledge, an engaged educator, one bonded to others and, as result an agent of intellectual growth who cannot grow without stimulating reciprocal growth in those he/she would educate. Recognizing and reflecting the vital interchange among thought, action and sensitivity, a theory-practice pedagogy can be designed to display the efficacy of the productive potential of the theory-practice interchange which demonstrates in action the substantive equality between thought and action, the thinker and the actor. Thus the intellectual, whose primary social role may be the production of knowledge and the organization of thought, finds indispensable to his or her work in formulating and presenting ideas, an open, equal involving, relation with his or her activist counter parts. Through this process of equal interchange among various types of intellectuals, the educator is constantly educated to produce new knowledge in a real-world setting hence, expanding the theoretical embrace of the Philosophy of Praxis. Thus the formation of the new organic intellectual is indispensable and integral to the process of forming a new cultural-political entity such as a party or a state which is to be based upon a series of non-hierarchical social relations organized to engender the greatest potential for mutually respectful, developmental cooperative work. The fundamental benefits of engendering a new social synergy built on mutuality in the production of new knowledge should be clear to all of us.
We are late!
One undeniable reality should direct our efforts and motivate us to work with a deep sense of urgency. We, the many, are dispersed, divided and are an extremely vulnerable mass of humanity facing a well-organized, legally grounded, corporate-capitalist states. Despite their many internal differences, the Corporate-State leaders represent a formidable historic-cultural-bloc organized around the broad tenets of the preservation of power through the expansion of the private accumulation of profit for the few through the intensifying exploitation of increasing numbers of workers throughout the World. Having created for itself another, more intensely dangerous and pervasive stage of world-environmental and economic crisis and, as it prepares for the social consequences of the already advanced crisis of overproduction; we should anticipate that its traditional intellectuals will test their past methods of saving their particular system in order to expand its primary and well developed methods of labor exploitation. The present Corporate-capitalist efforts to escape the economic and financial consequences of both overproduction and the resulting falling rate of profit, presently aggravated by many of their recent financial excesses, now confront us all with the potential for an economic depression and the conditions for the possible social chaos anticipated by the recent report of the UK Ministry of Defense.
Socialism or Barabarism
John Sanbonmatsu, like Gramsci before him and in the spirit of Rosa Luxemburg and István Mészáros, recognizes that “…it is fast becoming too late.” Today, as in Gramsci’s time, we are facing alarming challenges in every phase of our social / political relations to the Corporate-Capitalist state but unlike Gramsci’s historical moment we are forewarned and therefore, forearmed. We will face the innovative maneuvers of the rulers of the Corporate-States but unlike Antonio Gramsci and Palmiro Togliatti and many others who were trying to understand the new formation of the Fascist State, “Corporatism”; we recognize its structural outlines, its general patterns and historic reasons for its formation.
If we choose, we can stand on the shoulders of the Giants and one of the very big steps we can make is through Gramsci’s enormously important legacy presented in the Prison Notebooks. With that thought in mind, we should also heed the advice of a more recent fascist, Augusto Pinochet, who stressed that Gramsci’s ideas circulating throughout Latin America were the most dangerous of all. soc.qc.cuny.edu/gramsci/news/newslet2.html We do not need a better recommendation to revisit Gramsci’s integral thought on the formation of a New-alternative-Order.
Gramsci’s unflinching critical evaluation of the Marxist intellectual tradition, as it developed up to his life time along with his insightfully penetrating evaluation of personal and party errors of the interpretation of theory and its application in practice, yield to us to us a remarkably complete study of theory and its application that serves us as a reference point for our urgently needed educational project. As through Marx’ works in the Grundrisse and The Capital, Gramsci presents us with the essential outline of his analytical method and its application. As he reached back into the Philosophy of Praxis to demonstrate and critique its procedures he also brought it forward through his relentless critical evaluation in the crucible of his historical moment.
Reflecting further on Gramsci’s historical moment and bringing his thoughts forward, it is of significant importance to recall that, John Sanbonmatsu, in the first three pages of his introduction to The Postmodern Prince, refers to the formlessness of the Global “Left” today and for me, like him, it immediately sparks the question: Who may be the active agents in various social sectors that can help to give it shape and how will they be able to work together more effectively?
The problem of creating a new stratum of intellectuals consists…in the critical elaboration of intellectual activity that exists in everyone … towards a new equilibrium … which is perpetually innovating the physical and social world [thus] becoming the foundation of a new and integral conception of the world. SPN, p.9.
The Left has generated a durable historical, philosophical tradition of thought and creative action readily available for review which we should, critically reexamine and refine. While not broadly known, poorly understood and much derided, the Philosophy of Praxis is accessible for study, application and re-evaluation. Presenting its own historical cultural tradition, it comprises the material for formal study of its own dialectical historic development. Through its constant application in practice and through historical review, its internal process lends itself to a laboratory method of active, open-ended investigation which replicates real-world indeterminacy. It is at this point that the historical development of the Philosophy of Praxis becomes a dialectical Pedagogy of Praxis. Because of its specific historical development and through its practical historical interpretation in the course of political struggles, it encourages a review of the specific circumstance of its development that can then be tested as an educational method. Through the process, active social-change agents, organic or traditional- “imported”- intellectuals, who internalize the fundamental meaning of Marx’s advice that the educator must be educated will come to grasp more fully and clearly the potential for a continuous, self-expanding, active learning process based on the mutuality of cooperative learning motivated by the equal give and take necessary to realize the interchange between the further advance of theory and sound practice.
Through every phase of the development of the Theory of Praxis, in the Gramscian expression of its organic unity, we find a reflection of the concept of integral connectedness, formed by the actual context of the social and environmental framework of our lives, as it was shaped through the concrete history of human activity leading toward the social unity that human beings sense should exit but continually eludes us. The Theory of Praxis reflects the reality of interdependent human social relations that actually exist in our lives but may not be completely recognized or fully understood. The Theory of Practice Method replicates that perceived unity and from every point in the constellation of its actual organic unity, the trained intellectuals become increasingly capable of organizing the activities of investigative analysis, interpretation and actions within an interconnected sphere of human agency. The Theory proposes to test the validity of its concepts of a moving unity of society organized in a specific mode of social production. Thus the theory in its simplest expression, up to the point that its real dialectical tensions are resolved, assumes its continuous expansion and efficacy to explain and interpret real-world relations.
Gramsci, continuing in the open, critical Marxist tradition and building on it, clearly recognized and elucidated this dialectical interplay between human agency and the mutability of human nature, the actual reformation of human beings in nature as a result of their own ordinary human activity. In the Prison Notebooks, He presents us with a clear outline of its integral pedagogy. Reflecting the capacity of the Philosophy of Praxis, its corresponding pedagogy must replicate in its educational technique, the same open-ended critical method of inquiry, which is thoroughly integrated to the theory of knowledge it proposes to generate.
Although in earlier historical periods of its development Marx’s method, in the minds of some its advocates, was widely interpreted as a teleological, mechanistic process, Gramsci’s immense contribution to the Philosophy of Praxis was to return to the theory the recognition of the indeterminate dynamics of the actual process of human agency, synchronize them and restore to the theory the corresponding , open-ended critical analytical process which can account for and study non-lineal dynamic movement in the changing social relations in the real world , accommodate contingencies, thus re-establishing the self-expanding potential of theory which is firmly liked to and grounded in historical material and cultural reality. By showing how the self-expansive nature of Marx’s method is brought about through the repeated interplay between informed human agency and its constant critical evaluation in connection to related theory, Gramsci helped to reinstate the vital dynamic connection between the real-world of human activity to a dialectical theory of continuity and change which has the greatest potential to account for constant movement along an ever changing horizon of human creativity.
Hence, through the dialectical historical process in theory related to practice, the potential growth of theory can be stimulated almost without limit. Within its intellectual material realities, the consciously organized practice that is continuously brought under the focused, critical view of the dialectically trained analyst/activist, holds the increased probability of linking a growth theory of knowledge to the production of new knowledge in a dynamic relation between the practitioner / theorist and the theorist /practitioner which in effect summarizes the definition of the new intellectual connected in and with the organic unity of theory to practice and in his or her own theoretical and practical connection to a specific historic / cultural formation.
The key element in the formation and fostering of the continuous dialectical theory / practice interchange is the education of those who will animate it. A new social expression and manifestation of “organic unity” can only be given recognizable political shape through the collective active agency of new organic intellectuals who think, work and feel with those who they propose to lead to leadership roles. The “imported” intellectuals who individually adhere to and support efforts for social change may be as capable and effective and, perhaps in some individual cases, may be better than any trained and educated organic intellectual, but the long-term result will be less predictable because we loose important continuities that can be gained through the specific educational processes. It should be clear that the education proposed is not limited to the production of the most immediately effective short term leader but, as Gramsci implies in the phrase “permanent persuader”, a leader who is bonded to, thinks with and is committed to the life of the people-nation. We should recognize that the organic intellectual cut off from or outside the educational sphere of the Theory/Practice method will more likely be adrift and tend to function like a well-meaning traditional pragmatist . Perhaps such an organic intellectual may realize some aspects of the Philosophy of Praxis but why should we leave that open space to chance. Today we, unlike earlier social change agents, need not be autodidacts with all the potential errors that may entail. The formation of the new organic intellectual will require the total interconnectedness of the student/practitioner, bound in a unitary learning process, immersed in their community and guided by the Theory of Praxis.
The central question posed by John Sanbonmatsu arises with full force and urgency in our time as it did for Gramsci under similar conditions in the 1920’s and in closing it is worth repeating Sanbonmatsu’s warning in the opening paragraphs of his introduction to The Postmodern Prince “…it is fast becoming too late” PmPp.9 .
…claiming sides… Claiming Sides? Claiming Sides! - Yes!
While I usually like to leave the last words of my reflections on Gramsci’s thoughts to him and I will reserve space for additional lines from Gramsci toward the end, I first thank Professor Sánchez Cuadros by quoting a segment of his essay Can I fight … at length because I think that it is imperative that we take sides.
As the right becomes more radical and extremist factions gain ground, is it possible to be neither a rightist nor a leftist? As the articulation of a democratic response with social consensus becomes an urgent need and demands specific policies and organizations to implement them, is it possible not to be a leftist? Unfortunately, the issue is not that simple. Its complexity has been brilliantly put by Boaventura de Sousa Santos [vii]: “Some, by considering that there is no need to claim sides, have stopped worrying about this question and have come to criticize those who do. Others, perhaps the younger generations of social scientists, would like to respond to the question and thus take sides, but they have seen for themselves, sometimes in distress, the obvious and increasing difficulty of identifying concrete alternative stances in the face of which taking sides would be inevitable. They are also the most affected by the problem that constitutes my own starting point: Why, when there is so much to be critical about —perhaps more than ever before—, does it seem so hard to develop a critical theory?”
Several issues immediately stem from de Santos’ thoughts:
- The problem of tolerance
- The problem of postmodernism
- Can the left be liberal?
- Is the left necessarily revolutionary?
- What is socialism? Is there a 21st Century Socialism?
All these issues raise an agenda for reflection and discussion towards the consolidation of a consistent proposal from the left.
Many people will individually “claim sides”; some passively by accepting the status quo others actively by moving more to the left or right. However, we on the “Left” should take a clear “…concrete alternative stance …” plainly identifiable to those who will choose to takes sides. We must take a place and form a position from which we can exhibit the practical and theoretical validity of our views of the world. At this historical moment we should accept the realities of a long struggle from a position of relative weakness that calls for the principles of the War of Position out of which we must attempt to form the core of an historic-left-bloc among those who consent. It need not be “…hard to develop a critical theory …”but it will be very hard to diffuse it without creating the educational framework for its future animators.
I bring my respectfully supportive, response to a close by referring to the last three lines of Professor Sánchez’ essay. As we re-examine “socialism” as our base reference point and ask ourselves what socialism should be in the Twenty First Century, we will need to engage in a urgent discussion of how to consolidate consistent and coherent “…proposal(s) from the left.” My contribution to the formation of that coherence and consistency , as should be evident from this discussion of Gramsci’s Philosophy of Praxis, and its Theory / Practice Method, is to propose a non-sectarian, collective-left-effort to organize a preliminary curriculum for the education of the new intellectuals who will be taught and trained to diffuse the new knowledge throughout the collectivity of humanity as they enter into the nexus of the ensemble of social relations and make it a “material force” in the formation of a “new civilizational order”. For as Gramsci stressed “hegemony realized means the real critique of a philosophy, its real dialectic.” SPN, p.381 . This necessary dialectical unity will have to be taught explicitly, learned practically and verified theoretically. If the “Leitmotiv” of Gramsci’s thought is to be found in its “thematic unity”, as perceptively argued by Carl Boggs in his The Two Revolutions: Gramsci and the Dilemmas of Western Marxism, 1984, it is the concrete historicity of Gramsci’s dialectical theory/practice method which identifies and expresses that unity out of which its organicity expands in a spiral of new knowledge.
[The]... “unitary” element in national and local reality is true concrete political action, the sole activity productive of historical progress. It requires an organic unity between theory and practice between intellectual strata and popular masses between rulers and ruled. SPN, p. 190.
Carl Boggs is correct to suggest that Gramsci is teaching us in the Prison Notebooks how to accurately interpret and apply his method.
Written and presented with appreciation for the inspiration provided by Professor Sánchez Cuardos. And dedicated to all the potential young organic intellectuals such as the “little-red Bolshevik”
[i] All references to the Prison Notebooks in this essay may be found in The Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (SPN) edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, International Publishers , New York , eleventh printing , 1992. www.marxists.org/archive/gramsci/prison_notebooks/selections.htm
[ii] All references to the Postmodern Prince by John Sanbonmatsu, (JS), The Postmodern Prince, (PmP), can be found in Monthly Review Press, New York, 2004.
[iii] “Structures and superstructures form an ‘historic bloc’. That is to say the complex, contradictory and discordant ensemble of the superstructures is the reflection of the ensemble of the social relations of production.” SPN, p.366
[iv] Although there exists a rich history of Marxist education to which we should refer, it too is fragmented, often sectarian and dispersed. While I do not think we should be reinventing the wheel, I choose to state explicitly in this essay what seems to me to be in the air.
[v] Corporate-Capitalism should be more accurately called “Corporatism” as per Giovanni Gentile’s definition. community.comcast.net/comcastportal/board/message?board.id=cityhall&thread.id=394680
[vi] Gramsci in no way accepts a direct transferability of the scientific method, appropriate to the natural sciences, to the study of social/political processes of the history of human activities. On the contrary, he stresses that a major part of his argument against the Mechanicism of Orthodox Marxists and non-Marxist positivism is denoted as the unnatural adaptation of the methodologies of the natural science to the study of human activities. However, it is equally important to remember that the scientific practices appropriate to the natural science give an excellent seminal example of a dialectical process which is the “first model” of the Theory of Practice method of study.
[vii] If feel so strongly about the completeness of Theory of Education Gramsci demonstrated through his prison writings that I am preparing an essay describing the process which I plan develop using, almost exclusively, Antoino Gramsci’s own words.
[viii] For those who may like to pursue a deeper study of the dialectical process of the Philosophy of Praxis, I strongly recommend a close reading of all the articles in Special Issue of Science and Society cited above.
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