Perry Anderson 40 years on: from the Antinomies of Gramsci to the Heirs of Gramsci
With the publication of the second 100th edition of New Left Review (July/August 2016) Perry Anderson returns to a revolutionary thinker and activist, Antonio Gramsci, who he wrote about in the 100th edition of the first series of the NLR (Nov/Dec 1976).
I don’t intend here either a detailed criticism or commentary but simply to note the matter as an interesting point in the history of the left.
In the Antinomies Anderson concludes that while it may seem to be stretching things a little to look at Gramsci’s relevance for the 1970s, in reality what he was involved in- factory occupations, workers control, a lengthy spell in a fascist prison that produced the Notebooks- was at that time only 4 or 5 decades away. We’re now 4 further decades away.
In 1976 Anderson made the point that the debates about revolutionary theory and practice that Gramsci was involved in, in the 1920s represented the pinnacle of where left thinking had reached on these questions and in some ways it still does.
In the 2016 Heirs of Gramsci, Anderson attempts a rather different exercise- primarily to look at how theorists in recent decades have applied Gramsci’s ideas in the Prison Notebooks. He praises the work of the late Stuart Hall in using Gramsci to analyse Thatcherism but notes he lost his way in the early New Labour years. He also seems keen on the work of Laclau and Mouffe (I was and remain no fan) which to be fair he suggests has some relevance to the kind of political approach taken by Podemos.
He doesn’t, unfortunately, in my view mention the work of the late Chris Harman on Gramsci who argued against the appropriation of his ideas by what were then known as ‘eurocommunists’.
There is also- although this is not my field-a whole new area of work and research on Gramsci in recent years that Anderson doesn’t really seem to grapple with.
‘Not my field’ is relevant because as the convenor of the socialist history seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, while Gramsci influenced the work of EP Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm (Anderson 2016 notes this) I cant recall a paper in recent times that has touched on Gramsci, unless it was something I mumbled from the chair.
It will hardly be surprise that I rather prefer Anderson’s 1976 take on Gramsci but that said to publish again on the subject 40 years is something worthy of note and engagement. If Anderson’s piece sparks a renewed interest in Gramsci and a wider appreciation of current work on him that will be welcome