28 September 2012

3CCI gets it wrong


No Woman, No Revolution, Part 3a

3CCI gets it wrong

The Third Congress of the Communist International (3CCI), 22 June to 12 July 1921, seems to have had a peculiar flavour to it, if the documents on women from that congress (linked below) are anything to go by.

Whereas the 2CCI of the previous year had shown its awareness of the necessity of democratisation, so as to create a collective “Subject of History” out of the unorganised masses, in 1921 the situation was practically the reverse, at least as far as the women were concerned.

“The III Congress of the Communist International is firmly opposed to any kind of separate women’s associations in the Parties and trade unions, or special women’s organisations.”

Instead, women’s “departments” were to be formed within the communist parties to carry out various prescribed tasks in relation to women, which appeared to consist mainly of telling the women what to do.

It starts with “educating the broad mass of working women in Communist ideas”. This sounds like indoctrination (or “inculcation”) more than education.

In these theses on work among women, there is a lot that is more general, for example: “The working class must adhere firmly and without hesitation to the tactics outlined by the III International.”

These comrades had become bold on the back of the October Revolution of 1917. They felt entitled or even duty-bound, to take charge and to send out categorical and detailed orders to the women of the world that must be obeyed strictly and without hesitation.

“It is in the interests of the working class that women are drawn in to the organised ranks of the proletariat as it fights for Communism.”

These comrades had no sense of anything else than “fight”, followed by communism. They had no sense of contradiction between their own prescriptive, dictatorial, unashamedly “top-down” hierarchy of power, and the withering away of the state envisaged by Lenin in The State and Revolution just four years earlier, meaning un-coerced self-management of and by the masses.

The democratic formation of the collective mass Subject of History was not a problem to the delegates of the 3CCI. They would supply the necessary will-power. If that meant the resurrection of the State, then so be it, they thought.

Thus it came to pass that the 3CCI decreed: “…that a special apparatus for conducting work among women is necessary. This apparatus must consist of departments or commissions for work among women, attached to every Party committee at all levels, from the CC of the Party right down to the urban, district or local Party committee. This decision is binding on all Parties in the Communist International.”

The document is extremely detailed about what these “departments” are supposed to do.

What we have here is a mirror image of the feared bourgeois-feminist domination of the working women, which is the reason why generalised women’s organisations were not approved of and were effectively banned for communists by the 3CCI.

According to all this, the women will be bossed, one way or another: either by the bourgeois feminists, or by the 3CCI’s “departments”. Nothing in these 3CCI documents speaks of free-willing democratic mass organisation of and for women.

It is clear from these texts why and how the women could be left out of the National Democratic Revolutions. A separate study might reveal that the democratic vitality of the soviets as organs of popular power was already waning in the Soviet Union in 1921, and that the independence of trade unions was already under attack (but still being defended by Lenin). The New Economic Policy was coming into being.

Contradictory movements were in action at one and the same time, just as they are today. In South Africa, there are no independent democratic organisations of women, but there are departments; and this applies almost everywhere in Africa.

[Picture: woman canning worker in the USA]

27 September 2012

Socialism impossible without the women


No Woman, No Revolution, Part 3

Socialism impossible without the women

If we do not draw women into public activity, into the militia, into political life; if we do not tear women away from the deadening atmosphere of household and kitchen; then it is impossible to secure real freedom, it is impossible even to build democracy, let alone socialism.

The above quote from Lenin [pictured, speaking in the open air in the revolutionary year of 1917] expresses as clearly as can be the full meaning of our series title: “No Woman, No Revolution”.

Yet it was not democracy “in general” of which Lenin wrote. Democracy is an instrument of class struggle, and can never be a substitute for class struggle.

The following words were written by Lenin for the second anniversary of the Great October Revolution (and are included in the downloadable document linked below):

“Let the liars and hypocrites, the dull-witted and blind, the bourgeois and their supporters hoodwink the people with talk about freedom in general, about equality in general, about democracy in general.

“We say to the workers and peasants: Tear the masks from the faces of these liars, open the eyes of these blind ones. Ask them:

“Equality between what sex and what other sex?

“Between what nation and what other nation?

“Between what class and what other class?

“Freedom from what yoke, or from the yoke of what class? Freedom for what class?”

“Down with the liars who are talking of freedom and equality for all, while there is an oppressed sex, while there are oppressor classes, while there is private ownership of capital, of shares, while there are the well-fed with their surplus of bread who keep the hungry in bondage. Not freedom for all, not equality for all, but a fight against the oppressors and exploiters, the abolition of every possibility of oppression and exploitation-that is our slogan!

“Freedom and equality for the oppressed sex!

“Freedom and equality for the workers, for the toiling peasants!

“A fight against the oppressors, a fight against the capitalists, a fight against the profiteering kulaks!

“That is our fighting slogan, that is our proletarian truth, the truth of the struggle against capital, the truth which we flung in the face of the world of capital with its honeyed, hypocritical, pompous phrases about freedom and equality in general, about freedom and equality for all.

Lenin, Soviet Power and the Status of Women, November 1919

In the document linked below you will also find that in September of that year (1919) there was already a “Fourth Moscow City Conference Of Non-Party Working Women”, that was addressed by Lenin (and also by Trotsky).

When Lenin wrote in 1917 - between the two revolutions of that year, and before he had returned to Russia - that “it is impossible even to build democracy, let alone socialism” without the women, he also prefigured the National Democratic Revolution altogether, with the clear implication that democratic class struggle is a prerequisite of socialism.

In the last line of the text for this session, Lenin repeats the “No Woman, No Revolution” message:

The proletariat cannot achieve complete freedom, unless it achieves complete freedom for women.
Lenin, To the Working Women, February 1920

22 September 2012

Rosa Luxemburg on Women


No Woman, No Revolution, Part 2a

Rosa Luxemburg on Women

Rosa Luxemburg was a major revolutionary figure in history, ranking with her contemporaries, Lenin and Gramsci, as one of the supreme pioneers of modern communist theory and practice.

Rosa Luxemburg wrote many powerful things. At least two of them have continuing currency as “classics” of Marxism. These are “Reform or Revolution?”, and “The Mass Strike”.

There is a well-stocked archive of Rosa Luxemburg’s work, translated into English, on the Marxists Internet Archive.

Luxemburg has been accused (by Janine Booth, for example) of being indifferent to the particular position of proletarian women under capitalism. As much as with Lenin, or perhaps even more so, it is hard to isolate a selection of texts of Luxemburg and say: this is what Luxemburg wrote about women.

The attached text is a big exception, and it shows that Luxemburg was highly aware and concerned about the way that capitalist relations bore down upon women in particular.

It begins by quoting the question framed in 1889 by Emma Ihrer, the founder in 1890 of “Die Arbeiterin” (the woman worker) magazine: “Why are there no organizations for working women in Germany?”

(“Die Arbeiterin” became “Die Gliechheit” in 1891, and the editorship passed to Clara Zetkin.)

Rosa Luxemburg brings her exceptional powers of expression to bear upon the topic that she so rarely covered, and in the process leaves no doubt that she was fully aware of everything that was at stake.

The question “Why are there no organizations for working women?” is still the most crucial one in South Africa now, as much as it was in the Germany of 1889 or 1912.

Luxemburg is scathing about the feminists: “Most of those bourgeois women who act like lionesses in the struggle against “male prerogatives” would trot like docile lambs in the camp of conservative and clerical reaction if they had suffrage. Indeed, they would certainly be a good deal more reactionary than the male part of their class,” she writes.

Luxemburg knows both the purpose, and the limits, of democracy: “Fighting for women’s suffrage, we will also hasten the coming of the hour when the present society falls in ruins under the hammer strokes of the revolutionary proletariat,” she concludes.

20 September 2012

No Woman Question?


No Woman, No Revolution, Part 2

No Woman Question?

The proletarian revolution is inconceivable without the involvement of the more than 50% of the population which is female. Bourgeois feminism cannot lead women towards proletarian revolution. Resolution of the contradictions that oppress women cannot be achieved under capitalism. These are the general and compelling circumstance that motivates this course, No Woman, No Revolution.

Alexandra Kollontai understood the limits of bourgeois feminism very well. In 1908 she wrote:

The [bourgeois] feminists seek equality in the framework of the existing class society, in no way do they attack the basis of this society.” (The full document download is linked below). 

“Where, then, is that general ‘woman question’? Where is that unity of tasks and aspirations about which the feminists have so much to say? A sober glance at reality shows that such unity does not and cannot exist,” wrote Kollontai.

“The feminists declare themselves to be on the side of social reform, and some of them even say they are in favour of socialism — in the far distant future, of course — but they are not intending to struggle in the ranks of the working class for the realisation of these aims. The best of them believe, with a naive sincerity, that once the deputies’ seats are within their reach they will be able to cure the social sores which have in their view developed because men, with their inherent egoism, have been masters of the situation. However good the intentions of individual groups of feminists towards the proletariat, whenever the question of class struggle has been posed they have left the battlefield in a fright. They find that they do not wish to interfere in alien causes, and prefer to retire to their bourgeois liberalism which is so comfortably familiar,” says Kollontai.

Kollontai was writing at the height of modern feminism’s first blooming, at the time of the “Suffragette” campaigns for votes for women in capitalist countries, which votes hardly existed at the time. Kollontai published her pamphlet “The Social Basis of the Woman Question” (attached) in 1909.

Kollontai saw two camps. In one camp were the feminists, who from Kollontai’s point of view were bourgeois feminists, by definition. In the other camp were women who were proletarian, or else partisans of the proletariat. She distinguished between these two camps as follows:

“However apparently radical the demands of the feminists, one must not lose sight of the fact that the feminists cannot, on account of their class position, fight for that fundamental transformation of the contemporary economic and social structure of society without which the liberation of women cannot be complete.

“If in certain circumstances the short-term tasks of women of all classes coincide, the final aims of the two camps, which in the long term determine the direction of the movement and the tactics to be used, differ sharply. While for the feminists the achievement of equal rights with men in the framework of the contemporary capitalist world represents a sufficiently concrete end in itself, equal rights at the present time are, for the proletarian women, only a means of advancing the struggle against the economic slavery of the working class. The feminists see men as the main enemy, for men have unjustly seized all rights and privileges for themselves, leaving women only chains and duties. For them a victory is won when a prerogative previously enjoyed exclusively by the male sex is conceded to the ‘fair sex’.

“Proletarian women have a different attitude. They do not see men as the enemy and the oppressor; on the contrary, they think of men as their comrades, who share with them the drudgery of the daily round and fight with them for a better future. The woman and her male comrade are enslaved by the same social conditions; the same hated chains of capitalism oppress their will and deprive them of the joys and charms of life. It is true that several specific aspects of the contemporary system lie with double weight upon women, as it is also true that the conditions of hired labour sometimes turn working women into competitors and rivals to men. But in these unfavourable situations, the working class knows who is guilty.”

“The working woman is first and foremost a member of the working class.”

Having thus strongly made her fundamental case, Kollontai proceeds to discuss “Marriage and the Problem of the Family”. This is where, as Frederick Engels had noted a quarter of a century before Kollontai in his “Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”, capitalism corresponds to the oppression of women, arising from the ancient history of property, still continuing in the present time.

Engels demonstrated that the form of marriage in any society had always coincided with the relations of production. Kollontai, discussing the work of the bourgeois feminist Ellen Key, comes to the point of asking, in the second of the two following paragraphs: “Does the family wither away?

“Ellen Key’s devotion to the obligations of maternity and the family forces her to give an assurance that the, isolated family unit will continue to exist even in a society transformed along socialist lines. The only change, as she sees it, will be that all the attendant elements of convenience or of material gain will be excluded from the marriage union, which will be concluded according to mutual inclinations, without rituals or formalities — love and marriage will be truly synonymous. But the isolated family unit is the result of the modem individualistic world, with its rat-race, its pressures, its loneliness; the family is a product of the monstrous capitalist system. And yet Key hopes to bequeath the family to socialist society! Blood and kinship ties at present often serve, it is true, as the only support in life, as the only refuge in times of hardship and misfortune. But will they be morally or socially necessary in the future? Key does not answer this question. She has too loving a regard for the “ideal family”, this egoistic unit of the middle bourgeoisie to which the devotees of the bourgeois structure of society look with such reverence.

“But it is not only the talented though erratic Ellen Key who loses her way in the social contradictions. There is probably no other question about which socialists themselves are so little in agreement as the question of marriage and the family. Were we to try and organise a survey among socialists, the results would most probably be very curious. Does the family wither away? or are there grounds for believing that the family disorders of the present are only a transitory crisis? Will the present form of the family be preserved in the future society, or will it be buried with the modem capitalist system? These are questions which might well receive very different answers. ...”

Kollontai answers her own questions, thus:

“…the social influences are so complex and their interactions so diverse that it is impossible to foretell what the relationships of the future, when the whole system has fundamentally been changed, will be like.

“…ritual marriage and the compulsive isolated family are doomed to disappear.

To finish, Kollontai returns to the class question and the conflict of interest between the proletarian and the bourgeois feminists.

15 September 2012

Working-class Women’s Political History


No Woman, No Revolution, Part 1b

Working-class Women’s Political History

The general form of this course, like all of the Communist University courses, is that it is a selected set of original texts by revolutionary writers. The writer of this (attached and downloadable) text is not otherwise known to us. Her name is Janine Booth and the article was found on the plainly Trotskyist web site of a British publication called “Workers’ Liberty”. We must thank Janine Booth for her public scholarship.

Booth’s work assists us with a narrative of the years from the founding of the German Social Democratic Party in 1875, when Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were both still alive, alert, active and writing, up until the time, thirty to forty years later, when the major initiative began to pass from the German Party to Lenin’s Bolsheviks.

The revolutionary activities of the communists were prominent at different times in Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Russia, among many other countries. In the last quarter of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th, these revolutionary activities were much more massive in Germany than anywhere else; and it was in the German language, and in the revolutionary practice of the German communists, that the organised movement for the advancement of proletarian women, as part of the revolutionary struggle for communism, got under way and first reached a high stage of explicit development.

In our course we represent this period with singular texts from Engels, Zetkin, Kollontai, Luxemburg and Lenin. Some of the history of the period can be seen in these texts through the eyes of these revolutionary participants. Booth’s text can help us to step back and think about some of the other participants, like August Bebel and Emma Ihrer, on the forms of organisation that the German Party used, and on the means of propaganda that were employed, such as the periodical founded by Ihrer and mainly edited by Zetkin, Die Gleichheit (“Equality”).

We have to take Booth’s word for it on the numbers that she gives, and on most of the detail that she relates. We do not have an Internet archive of Die Gleichheit, or even a single article from it. Booth’s article as reproduced here has no references or bibliography. These are some of the kinds of reasons why, in general, we have normally preferred to use original writings for the Communist University.

In the case of this article, some of it has been removed for the sake of brevity, and where the points made are covered by our other material. Remarks about Rosa Luxemburg’s alleged indifference towards women’s particular position in society are less useful than Luxemburg’s own text, for example, which we give in the next part. Comrades can go to the web site to read Booth’s full article, if they wish.

Part of what our course is asserting is that the proletarian women’s cause has been the occasion of major historical events, and it also comprises a substantial body of thought. In the process we are overturning the tacit and sometimes explicit historiography of the bourgeois feminists.

We are identifying our own struggles against bourgeois feminism with the struggles that took place in this earlier time, between the days of Marx and Lenin, and the days of Luxemburg and Lenin.

14 September 2012

Socialist Victory Only With Proletarian Woman


No Woman, No Revolution, Part 1a

Socialist Victory Only With Proletarian Woman

Clara Zetkin’s speech at the Party Congress of the Social Democratic Party of Germany at Gotha on 16 October 1896 sets the theme which will provide the backbone of this ten-part course.

Says Zetkin:

“The granting of political equality to women does not change the actual balance of power. The proletarian woman ends up in the proletarian, the bourgeois woman in the bourgeois camp. We must not let ourselves be fooled by Socialist trends in the bourgeois women’s movement which last only as long as bourgeois women feel oppressed.”

“We must not conduct special women’s propaganda, but Socialist agitation among women.”

Zetkin continues:

“Therefore the liberation struggle of the proletarian woman cannot be similar to the struggle that the bourgeois woman wages against the male of her class. On the contrary, it must be a joint struggle with the male of her class against the entire class of capitalists. She does not need to fight against the men of her class in order to tear down the barriers which have been raised against her participation in the free competition of the market place. Capitalism’s need to exploit and the development of the modern mode of production totally relieves her of having to fight such a struggle. On the contrary, new barriers need to be erected against the exploitation of the proletarian woman. Her rights as wife and mother need to be restored and permanently secured. Her final aim is not the free competition with the man, but the achievement of the political rule of the proletariat. The proletarian woman fights hand in hand with the man of her class against capitalist society. To be sure, she also agrees with the demands of the bourgeois women’s movement, but she regards the fulfilment of these demands simply as a means to enable that movement to enter the battle, equipped with the same weapons, alongside the proletariat.”

The German Social Democratic Party was the leading centre of this kind of thinking from before the death of Marx until the Russian Revolution in 1917. Clara Zetkin was its principal leader in this field and by 1896 had been editor of Die Gleichheit (“equality”) for five years.

13 September 2012

The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State


No Woman, No Revolution, Part 01

 Family, Property, State
The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

Karl Marx was a philosopher by training, and a writer all his life. But the only work he ever wrote about philosophy was his doctoral thesis on the Ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus, several years before the birth of Marxism.

Marx’s working life was dedicated to the restoration of humanity to itself. This was the motivation for his greatest work, “Capital”. Marx regarded the relation between men and women to be the essence of humanity. He never wrote a book about it, but in his papers at the time of his death in 1883 were the notes that his friend Engels quickly turned into “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”. And this book turns out to be, not only original, but indispensable.

August Bebel’s book “Woman and Socialism” came out five years earlier, in 1879, but it is not a satisfactory starting point. Engels’ “Origin of the Family” on the other hand, has constant relevance. It describes women’s place in society in the complete context of the origin of property, class struggle, and the instrument that defends property and dominates class struggle: The State.

The special contribution of “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” is that it shows the common, interdependent origin of private property and the State; the fall of the women into the oppressive condition which they subsequently continued to suffer; and the institutions of money, writing and law. This original, revolutionary break marked the end of pre-history and the beginning of history, which as Marx and Engels had noted at the beginning of the Communist Manifesto of 1848, was from that time on “a history of class struggles”.

The transition from prehistoric communism took place a long time ago in some parts of the world. In Egypt and Mesopotamia (Iraq) it may have happened more than five thousand years ago. In most other parts it was a much more recent phenomenon, and in some places the fall of the women may in some ways still not yet be complete.

The simultaneous nature of the triple catastrophe (property, state and downfall of women) means that the remedy in all three matters will likewise have to be simultaneous, meaning also that

The urgent abolition or “withering away” of the State is a woman’s issue. The socialist project is a woman’s project.

Communism is a necessity for women. The reversal of the downfall of the women can only be achieved by the simultaneous abolition of property and the State. Likewise, the abolition of property and the State cannot be achieved without the conscious restoration of women to their proper place in human society. All three goals have to be achieved together. The three goals are actually the same goal, and the name of it is communism.

This, the beginning of the course, therefore also provides the conclusion of the course: that there is no liberation available to working women under capitalism. Communism is where the contradictions will be resolved.

Introduction to “No Woman, No Revolution”


No Woman, No Revolution, Part 0

Introduction to “No Woman, No Revolution”

The efforts of women of the privileged classes to acquire rights that were increasingly being gained by the male members of their class, notably the right to own property and the right to vote, are called feminism.

This struggle existed under feudalism, and grew stronger as the bourgeois class began to assert itself and become hegemonic. The feminists put forward reformist demands that bourgeois society was able and often willing to concede to bourgeois women.

This course, “No Woman, No Revolution”, is not designed to present a history of feminism, but rather to pick up the story at the point where a contradiction arises between bourgeois feminism and the interests of the women of the proletarian class.

This contradiction manifested itself in the second half of the nineteenth century, as a consequence of the proletarian revolutionary movements associated in the first place with Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. This is found, not only in the realm of theory, but also in the world of practice in the shape of the First and Second Internationals.

This course has been enlarged from the previous 11 texts to 30. It now provides a strong view of the historical development of revolutionary thought about women, and of revolutionary organisation among women, from the mid-nineteenth century to the present.

The roots of the course are in the last decade of Karl Marx’s life. The German Social Democratic Party was founded in 1875, Bebel published his “Women and Socialism” in 1879, and Marx was studying Morgan’s “Ancient Society” prior to his death in 1883. Engels took up Marx’s manuscript and worked it into a book, “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State”, published in 1884, which is our first and still our greatest text.

In the first place the course follows the pioneering development of thought within the parties of the proletarian interest, from the time of Karl Marx, who died in 1883; Frederick Engels, who survived Marx by 12 years until 1895; and Clara Zetkin, who was born in 1857 and lived until 1933.

It proceeds via the work of Rosa Luxemburg and Alexandra Kollontai, to a high point with Vladimir Lenin, and to the setback (for women) that was the 3rd Congress of the Third International (the Comintern).

The course then picks up the story in South Africa, where in the same decade that saw the foundation of the ANC, the ICU and the CPSA, Charlotte Maxeke [pictured above] established the Bantu Women’s League in 1918, the fore-runner of many liberatory and revolutionary women’s organisations.

The course problematises the relationship between attempts to found a mass-membership, dedicated women’s organisation in South Africa, led by the working women, and the countervailing determination of the liberation movement, the ANC, and its Women’s League, to tolerate no rival.

The course examines theoretical works dealing with structure and structurelessness, gender and patriarchy, and the close relationship between bourgeois feminism and bourgeois post-modernist philosophy.

The course finishes with writings from the SACP (Jenny Schreiner and Blade Nzimande) and speeches from the ANC (Jacob Zuma).

International Woman’s Day (8th of March each year) was proposed by Clara Zetkin, a contemporary and comrade of Alexandra Kollontai, at the Second International Women's Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1910. The first International Women’s day was observed in 1911.

Feminism had a considerable history by that time. In 1910 the campaign for votes for women was at its height in some countries. But the bourgeois feminism of those days was being challenged by the revolutionaries, as it still is today. Our revised course, called “No Woman, No Revolution”, is motivated by revolutionary considerations like those of Zetkin and Kollontai.

A successful revolution that mobilised only half of the available support would be inconceivable. The half of the population that is female must be as fully involved in any revolution as the men are, or else there will be no revolution. Our new series is designed to problematise the question of women as a force in South Africa’s revolution, in the specific conditions pertaining in this year of 2012. It will focus on the necessity of organising working women as a mass.

3 September 2012

Some Aspects of the Southern Question


The Classics, Part 10c

Some Aspects of the Southern Question

It is a mistake to treat Antonio Gramsci’s contribution to political thought as substantially separated in time, or in content, from that of Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, and the other revolutionary internationalists who were Gramsci’s classic contemporaries.

Gramsci was in Moscow in 1922 and 1923 and met and married his wife there. As a representative of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), he was familiar with the workings of the Comintern. Lenin died in 1924. Gramsci was imprisoned by the Italian fascists in November, 1926, and was not released until just before his death, eleven years later, in 1937.

The great revival in his reputation came with the publishing of Gramsci’s “Prison Diaries” not long after the 1945 defeat of fascism in Europe. But the problem with these diaries is that they are voluminous, and were not edited by the author for publication. Hence there have been disputes and rival claims as to what Gramsci stood for, and about what his precise contribution to classical political theory was.

There is a Gramsci Archive here, on MIA.

The 1926 document “Some Aspects of the Southern Question” (download linked below) is the last that Gramsci wrote before his incarceration. Although nominally unfinished, yet it is certainly a classic, and it has great relevance to the National Democratic Revolution, whether in South Africa or elsewhere. In the beginning of its third paragraph, Gramsci says:

“The Northern bourgeoisie has subjugated the South of Italy and the Islands, and reduced them to exploitable colonies…”

Northern Italy, where there are many great cities including Turin, home of the giant Fiat company, was as “developed” as France, Germany and England were in the first quarter of the twentieth century. But south of Rome, and on the large Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily, the people lived very differently. In many ways the situation resembled the “Colonialism of a Special Type” that was maturing in South Africa in the same period, and which lasted until the South African democratic breakthrough of the 1990s. Colonised and colonisers were present in the same territory.

The Italian Southerners were even subjected to racial contempt, such that, as Gramsci records: “It is well known what kind of ideology has been disseminated in myriad ways among the masses in the North, by the propagandists of the bourgeoisie: the South is the ball and chain which prevents the social development of Italy from progressing more rapidly; the Southerners are biologically inferior beings, semi-barbarians or total barbarians, by natural destiny…” and so on.

As a communist, Gramsci advocated “the political alliance between Northern workers and Southern peasants, to oust the bourgeoisie from State power.” But he follows this bare formulation with many fascinating incidences and details about the class structure and class dynamics of Italy at the time and during the preceding three decades, which included the first world war and the subsequent rise of Mussolini’s fascists. Gramsci accompanies these narratives with an exceptional sensitivity towards the role of intellectuals, whom he comes close to treating as a distinct class.

Gramsci writes: “Intellectuals develop slowly, far more slowly than any other social group, by their very nature and historical function. They represent the entire cultural tradition of a people, seeking to resume and synthesize all of its history. This can be said especially of the old type of intellectual: the intellectual born on the peasant terrain. To think it possible that such intellectuals, en masse, can break with the entire past and situate themselves totally upon the terrain of a new ideology, is absurd. It is absurd for the mass of intellectuals, and perhaps it is also absurd for very many intellectuals taken individually as well - notwithstanding all the honourable efforts which they make and want to make.”

Yet Gramsci regards such an intellectual break as crucial, saying: “This is gigantic and difficult, but precisely worthy of every sacrifice on the part of those intellectuals - from North and South - who have understood that only two social forces are essentially national and bearers of the future: the proletariat and the peasants.”

It is fitting that the last of the classics in our ten-part series on “The Classics” includes such words as these from Gramsci, reminding us that for as much as the “classics” provide us with a foundation, yet there is “gigantic and difficult” intellectual work still ahead, so that we should never treat our classics as dogma, and their authors as eternal authorities. To do so would be to betray them.