In this class we’ll take a look at the main forms of totalitarian socialism – Communism, Naziism and Fascism – but will concentrate on the theory of the brilliant Italian Communist Party leader Antonio Gramsci.
I emphasize Gramsci (pictured) for three purposes:
(1) He doesn’t get the credit he deserves for the advancement of totalitarian political culture in the Western world;
(2) He was brilliant and the knowledge of his theories and techniques is important for the study of political warfare; and
(3) The US and its allies can exploit Gramsci’s theories and techniques and adapt them to wage the war of ideas abroad.
Gramsci became famous in his prison writings (1929-1935) by differing with the Bolshevik road to power. Prison allowed him to develop his ideas from the operationally political to the strategic and theoretical. Gramsci embraced the idea of a dictatorship, but, while in prison developed a theory of long-term penetration of political and cultural institutions, including public education, in a strategy of cultural subversion.
Gramsci is important because he took Marxist theory and Leninist strategy and tactics, and combined them with his careful study of the writings of Machiavelli. He can therefore be known as a Marxist-Machiavellian.
Gramsci was imprisoned under the fascists and is now known as a “political prisoner under Mussolini” or “political prisoner of the fascists” rather than as an agent of Stalin as chief of Italy’s communist party.
- Taylor, Munitions of the Mind, Chapter 22, “The Bolshevik Revolution and the War of Ideologies,” pp. 198-207;
- Smith, On Political War, Chapter 5, “World War I,” pp. 101-118; Chapter 6, “Marxism-Leninism,” pp. 119-140; Chapter 7, “The Nazis,” pp. 141-159; and Chapter 8, “Britain and America in World War II,” pp. 159-184.
- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, various editions; or online Project Gutenberg e-edition, Chapter XI, “Propaganda and Organization.”
- David Forgacs, ed, The Antonio Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings 1916-1935 (New York: New York University Press, 2000), Chapters VII-XIV.
- Antonio Gramsci, “Newspapers and the Workers,” 1916. This is a simple call to boycott the “bourgeois press” but shows a general approach to the media until the party could infiltrate media organizations or build its own. The item is short and uncomplicated, part of the “bring the system down” phase of revolution. Notably it predates the Bolshevik Revolution.
- Gramsci, “Neither Fascism nor Liberalism: Sovietism!” 1924. A short piece in which Gramsci underscores his long-term goals, but without the thoughtful theoretical and strategic approach that he would develop in prison.
- Barry Burke, “Antonio Gramsci, Schooling and Education,” The Encyclopedia of Informal Education (1999, 2005). Pay close attention to this sympathetic analysis of Gramsci’s approach to using the educational system as a means of totalitarian formation.
- Antonio Maira, “Hugo Chavez Presents Gramsci to Hundreds of Thousands of People. A Beautiful Revolution.” InSurGente.org. Translated by Iris Buehler and James Hollander on AxisofLogic.com, June 28, 2007. This essay is a very interesting look from the Left at how Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez is carrying out his revolution, and how Chavez invokes Gramsci. (Click here for the original article in Spanish.)
Optional Gramsci reading:
- Gramsci, Theory.org.uk
- International Gramsci Society
- Gramsci’s Works Online (by Marxists.org – a funny one, because the very capitalistic copyright owners of the English translations of Gramsci’s key works have invoked their property rights to force Marxists.org to remove the translations from the Internet.)
- Gramsci Links Archive
Strongly recommended additional reading (not required, but you won’t want to miss them)
- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (Project Gutenberg e-book) Vol. 2, Chapter IX, “Fundamental Ideas Regarding the Nature and Organization of the Storm Troops“; and Chapter X, “The Mask of Federalism.” Like Gramsci, Hitler was too busy doing his political work to find the quiet time for introspection to write a definitive political warfare theory and strategy, and found that being thrown in prison was actually an excellent opportunity to sit back, think and write. This is something the US must think about when it holds enemies captive, and when it gives them access to literature, writing implements and communication devices while in custody. As Hitler notes in the first paragraphs of his preface, being imprisoned at the Fortress of Landsberg am Lech was almost a favor to the Nazi movement as it gave Hitler the time he needed to write. As a whole, Mein Kampf is a superb example of a coherent political warfare strategy. Students who have not read Mein Kampf should do so, although nothing about the book is likely be on this course’s final exam. The full text of Mein Kampf in this Project Gutenberg e-book can be accessed here.
- Viktor Reimann, Goebbels: The Man Who Created Hitler (Doubleday, 1976). This entire book is instructive about the thinking and actions of the propagandist who gave coherence, excitement and enforcement to the National Socialist movement and who turned the Nazi party from an extreme political group into a cultural phenomenon. If you can read only one chapter, I recommend Chapter 3, “Propaganda Devours Culture.”