History of the Subaltern Classes:
First, I just have to say, how neat is it to be able to read this article by Gramsci and at least begin to understand what he’s talking about, which would not have been the case just a few weeks ago.
Right from the beginning, we see the idea of hegemony taking shape in Gramsci’s argument by his statement that “the fundamental historical unity, concretely, results from the organic relations between State or political society and ‘civil society.’
Subaltern (lower) classes aren’t unified and can’t be a State until unity can occur. Therefore the subaltern are part of ‘civil society’ and, since relations between State and civil society is how historical unity is formed, in that way, the subaltern is tied to the history of States.
Given that, Gramsci says it’s necessary to study:
- The formation of subaltern social groups through changes in the sphere of the mode of economic production (within a capitalist, feudal, etc. system) out of existing groups whose ideology they hold to for a time.
- Their affiliation with and attitude toward dominant political formations, and how they try to influence the dominant formation to bend to their own needs, the “consequences of these attempts in determining processes of decomposition, renovation or neo-formation.
- How the dominant group responds, i.e., the “birth of new parties of the dominant groups, intended to conserve the assent of the subaltern groups and maintain control over them.”
- The groups created within the subaltern groups to press their more narrow claims.
- Which of those new formations within the subaltern groups “assert the autonomy of the subaltern groups, but within the old framework.”
- Which of those new formations within the subaltern groups “assert the integral autonomy, etc.”
The history of subaltern groups is complicated, and a historian must record and find the causes of the whole line of development toward integral autonomy, “starting from the most primitive phases; he must note every manifestation of the Sorelian ‘spirit of cleavage’ (As defined by Ohara 2001 as: acquisition of the consciousness of one’s historical identity, or integral autonomy.)
The supremacy “of a social group manifests itself in two ways, as ‘domination’ and ‘intellectual and moral leadership.’
The Concept of Ideology
Gramsci imparts the original definition of ideology as an aspect of eighteenth century French materialism known as ‘sensationalism,’ the investigation of the origins of ideas. Ideas consisted of elements that were the results of sensations.
Gramsci says the process by which ideology went from that definition to mean “a specific system of ideas” needs to be studied historically. He says it’ll be easily grasped and understood. We’ll see…
But first, Gramsci lambasts the negative connotations given to ideologies by Marxist theorists, and traces the origins of their error to (1) the idea that structure changes ideology, not vice versa (2) a given political solution is deemed as ideological as well as stupid and useless because it fails to change structure, though it claims to be able to do so, and (3) then that all ideologies are just for appearances, and thus are all useless.
So, Gramsci says there must be a distinction made between ideologies are necessary to the structure, and those that are arbitrary to it.
Historically necessary ideologies organized masses, and “create the terrain on which men move, acquire consciousness of their position, struggle, etc.” Arbitrary ideologies on create “individual movements and polemics.”
Gramsci then seems to agree with Marx in his comparison of popular conviction as a material force.
Cultural Theme: Ideological Material
When looking at how the ideological structure of the dominant class is organized, maintained, defended, “it’s most prominent and dynamic part is the press in general.” But it’s not the only part. There are libraries, schools, clubs, associations, churches, “even architecture and the layout and names of streets” that influence public opinion.