Andrew Robinson - Theory Blog

Monday, November 15, 2004

Gramsci and British Trotskyism - a comparison

Note: This was an essay written supplementary to my BA dissertation.

This article was written at a time when I was somewhat disillusioned with the left in general, and Trotskyism in particular, owing mainly to some bad experiences with the S.W.P., but also because my own ideas were developing in ways which took them away from orthodox positions and I was encountering some hostility from members of a number of groups. I also wrote it prior to the start of the anti-capitalist protests (which only really began in June 1999), which have shown that members of many of the groups in question are capable of working with each other and with other factions; and also, of course, before the formation of the Socialist Alliances. I now feel looking back that I conflated different kinds of Trotskyist group far too much, and that most of my criticisms apply mainly to the S.W.P. or to very small groups such as the Spartacists. I have also reached the conclusion that many of the groups are far less sectarian in practice than a reading of their publications would suggest. (I also had difficulties finding secondary work on Trotskyism on which to base this project; of the books I cite, Baker's is an unreliable right-wing hatchet-job, whereas Callaghan's work is rather more balanced).

This said, I still feel many of my criticisms hold up. The vanguard/generals rhetoric is particularly strong in the S.W.P. which still tends to pose as the 'socialist alternative'. Gramsci's critique of groupuscles is similar to recent criticisms in Action for Solidarity of dominant strategies in the Socialist Alliances. The dispute over whether the Alliances should use mailshots of leaflets or actual canvassing is related to the question of whether activists should be sectarians excited over internal matters or 'organic intellectuals' in dialogue with workers.

I also stick by my criticism of the 'oratorical' writing style of many Trotskyists, the naivety of abstract appeals to 'working class experience', and the extremely problematic claim that Marxism is really a codification of common sense. I also think anathematisations and rhetorical/polemical (rather than logical) forms of argument remain problems, and that many (but not all) Trotskyists retain some fidelity to "bourgeois" philosophies (especially realism). I still think many activists are inclined to confront 'waverers' rather than persuade them. I still don't think the workers/intellectuals split can valuably be overcome through "party discipline" (it would need more of an internal change, not external conformism), and I still think most groups have a tendency to oversimplify Marxism, especially in "ABC"-type articles (though having looked through some of Martin Thomas's stuff on Capital, I'm not so sure it's a universal tendency). I'm not against Party education initiatives but I still think this kind of thing could develop better in a linked but separate forum. And I still think the left would benefit for taking up one or two of Gramsci's insights about the need to critique common sense, to relate to workers in a dialogic way, the need for political education which goes beyond the classics of Marxism, etc. I also think there is a tendency to treat audiences naively, as if the working class is homogeneous, constantly reasserting the basics, not raising the problem of audiences and so on, and I stick by my comments on Jim Denham's canonism. "Titanism" goes on, though it is worse in some publications than others. I also remain suspicious of the 'liturgical' idea of unity around pre-agreed principles (the principles of socialism should be constantly modified through dialogue with workers etc.), and I still think critiques of rival ideologies (especially post-modernism) tend to be overly dismissive (whereas Marx tried to absorb the insights of the thinkers he was demolishing), and that many groups (but not WL) over-use "who profits?" type analyses of complex issues. And I simply don't think it's possible for millions of workers to grasp Marxism instantly during struggles precisely because it is based on "obscure results of specialised research" right back to its origins with Marx - which is precisely why we can't wait for the revolution to start getting workers to think in Marxist ways.

The idea that Trotskyites only make contact with workers to proselytise is mainly an extrapolation from S.W.P. practice which I now realise does not apply to all other groups. Ditto for the claim that Trotskyites engage with political issues in an eclectic manner (i.e. the S.W.P. 'blitz' campaigns on particular issues); the claim that Trotskyites think slogans will directly trigger mass movements (the S.W.P.'s "catching the mood"); the idea that Trotskyists think the 'correct' line will confer a mass base directly and the related all-or-nothing approach to persuasion (very common in groups like Movement for a Socialist Future, Spartacists, etc., but hardly "the Trotskyite position" as I call it in this essay); fatalism is typical of some groups but not others; etc. Not all Trotskyists are fatalistic and patronizing towards workers (though the S.W.P. usually are). I also admit that I rather overused the word "fanatical" (which, however, I still don't think is that wide of the mark in relation to the dynamics of 'blitz' campaigns or permanent emergency). The inability of most groups to relate to new social movements or broad lefts was very marked when this essay was written but this sectarianism has declined today. I'm now a bit clearer on why Workers' Liberty wants "passion" and "anger" in debates, having seen some of the emotional stifling which goes on elsewhere, though I still think people do themselves more harm than good if they routinely resort to labels, anathemas and insults, and I'm still suspicious of attempts to 'militarise' debates. There are also cases where theory contrasts with practice: Workers' Liberty supporters certainly don't act as if they think "class struggle" will simply deposit people in their group, regardless of what some articles in the magazine suggest. Ditto the idea of a single, unilinear chain of history, teleological ideas that history is on our side, etc. - strong in theory, weak in practice. I wouldn't like to say whether or not all groups are "organic centralist" but I'm by no means as certain now as I was then.

I should also point out that this essay was intended to suggest how Trotskyist practice could be improved, rather than as an external critique. I still think more could be done in areas such as popular education and that there is a need (first of all, for revolutionaries ourselves) to develop ways of thinking independently of the various bad habits promoted by bourgeois ways of thinking. Also: this essay did come in for some criticism from lecturers for trying to compare a political thinker with political practices.




GRAMSCI ON EDUCATION AND PROPAGANDA AS CRITIQUE OF BRITISH TROTSKYISM

Gramsci provides something of a basis for a critique of Trotskyite strategy because, as a Marxist, he falls within the same broad ideological current as the Trotskyite groups and shares some of their goals and analyses. Thus, he avoids much of the simplification associated with many critiques of Trotskyism (eg. Baker, 1981). However, as will be seen, he was deeply critical of many of the specific characteristics of the presently existing groups. Gramsci thus provides a basis for a critical engagement, rather than merely a condemnation of the Trotskyite outlook and the methods it generates. Of course, the issue of propaganda cannot here be isolated entirely from other issues; especially for Marxists, the relationship between form and content is very close, and many of Gramsci's views on propaganda and political education reflect deeper differences regarding the content of the material to be promoted. However, propaganda remains a central and distinct part of Trotskyite campaigning (one only needs consider the resources invested in paper and magazine sales, for instance) and indirectly, through his theories of political education and cultural advancement, of Gramsci's approach also. Therefore, there is considerable potential usefulness in examining Gramsci's criticisms of methods similar to those used today - especially if we adopt a position similar to Morton's (1999) on possibility of making elements of the work of historically specific thinkers relevant in contemporary contexts.

Theories of propaganda and political education reflect to one extent or another underlying beliefs about the kind of goals to be promoted, and it is here that Gramsci and the Trotskyites first diverge. For most Trotskyites, the problem is one of getting supporters for an alterady-existing and more-or-less adequate leadership or "vanguard". Thus, the S.W.P. sees defeats of the working class in terms of the lack ofadequate "leadership", and sees itself as the alternative leadership able to lead these struggles to success (see Aufheben 5 p. 17). The problem is seen as one of convincing workers to support the organisation. For Gramsci, this situation is too simplistic. It is easier, Gramsci argues, to form an army than to form generals (SPN 152-3), and the absence of a following for left groups has as much to do with the failure of their leaders to engage with the concerns and needs of potential followers as with the flawed leadership of others. For Gramsci, such false "leadership" exists, embodied both in the effects of intellectual control through institutions like the media and religion, and in processes like "transformism" which co-opt individual working-class thinkers and activists into ruling-class politics. But its basis is not some massive confidence trick but deep-rooted structures and fundamental weaknesses in the proletariat's mind-set. Furthermore, for Gramsci, the establishment of party leadership is not a goal in itself anyway. For Gramsci, vanguards and elites are valuable only to the extent that they stimulate the formation of new social blocs, blocs which will then have the capacity to form new elites and vanguards (SPN 204). Thus, while Gramsci formally accepts the goal of party leaership, for him it means leadership in a stimulatory sense, rather than in the sense of organisational dominance or manipulative control. The elite, Gramsci maintains, should be guides rather than watchdogs (cited Entwhistle, 1979:128), helping the development of the popular classes rather than substituting for them. Gramsci wishes less for party power than for the creation of a generalised worldview; the party's role is to promote and generalise this worldview (Karabel, 1976:146). This can be contrasted with the attitude of most of the Trotskyite groups. Tony Cliff of the SWP, for instance, believes that the organisation's relations to broader movements are determined by instrumental concerns(Callaghan, 1984:108, 120), that democracy is one of many political methods to be chosen on functional grounds (1984:120) and that organisational structures should be altered for instrumental purposes (1984:107) - views borne out in the actual practice of the S.W.P. Gramsci is deeply critical of this kind of attitude. Party fanaticism, he argues, impedes the posing of the crucial question of forming a new worldview and new political and civil-societal structures (SPN 267). Gramsci can, of course, be criticised from some perspectives for retaining faith in a (semi-)Leninist party model in spite of attacking its failings. The validity of such criticisms depend crucially on how Gramsci's and Lenin's conceptions of the party are understood. Whatever the case, however, Gramsci represents an alternative to the model adopted by many Trotskyites and makes many valid criticisms of their methods.

Other criticisms similarly reflect on present Trotskyite practice. One much-noticed feature of the contemporary Trotskyite left is its fragmentation into numerous small groups, each defending its particular perspective as the one true Marxism (eg. Baker, 1981:viii; Callaghan, 1984:81, 85). Gramsci links these characteristics together. For Gramsci, attempts to construct an objectively perfect party from first principles inevitably leads to intractable theoretical disputes between different groups of purists. A historically effective "organism" (party or movement) can only be formed by the interaction of theory and of would-be leaders with the real historical movement in a struggle to improve mass worldviews (FSPN 17). Thus, an effective movement should not split itself from daily life or be sectarian towards 'impure' manifestations of popular struggle (Boggs, 1976:64). For Gramsci, the party's main role in periods of 'downturn' is not, as for many Trotskyites, the construction of an elite grouping in preparation for the next wave of struggles, but rather a programme of educational and cultural activities aiming to develop both popular beliefs and Marxism through mutual exchange. Gramsci does not agree with the role assigned to leaders by the likes of Tony Cliff, who sees such leaders intuitively knowing the necessary next steps and dragging along their unwitting followers (see Callaghan, 1984:119). For Gramsci, lightning-speed reactions to immediate and imminent dangers can never have a long-term or organic effect; they can reconstruct an existing collective will but cannot form a new one (SPN 129-30), due to their lack of educative content. Gramsci supports a concept of leadership of sorts, but for Gramsci, no leader should accept blind obedience; they should expect support only to the extent that their demands appeal to an audience (SPN 145). Again, this is an important critique of the militaristic conception of leadership of much of the Trotskyite left, even though it may again be somewhat na‹ve about the compatibility of leadership and freedom.

The relevance to propaganda becomes clear when we examine Gramsci's recommendations for the practice of the active left. A party or movement cannot achieve results directly, Gramsci argues, but only when it creates the preconditions for such success, and through such creation the movement should become "aware of its global character" as a new system of thought, as it becomes aware of the historical relativity of existing institutions (SPN 158). The movement's role is ideational as well as political: "the proletariat, alongside the problem of the conquest of political power and economic power must also pose for itself the problem of the conquest of intellectual power" (cited Karabel, 1976:157). This is not conceived merely instrumentally, but as a two-way educative process. A historically effective party requires constrant "organic" contact with ordinary people, rather than a set of cadres separated from the rest of society (Ransome, 1992:216). "All members of a political party should be regarded as intellectuals", because their primary role is "educative, i.e. intellectual" (SPN 16). An organic link requires orientation, not to some future goal, but to the attitudes of ordinary people today (Joll, 1977:60), and the development of shared feelings, passion, understanding and knowledge (SPN 418). The party's role for Gramsci is hegemonically overcoming common-sense (Showstack Sassoon 1980:204), organising an "intellectual and moral reform" (SPN 132-3). The crucial element in a party is not its internal characteristics but its place in broader historical movements. Thus, in writing histories of parties, sectarians "become excited over petty internal matters", but a 'historian' should be more interested in the party's effectiveness and its place in social relationships (SPN 151). This could almost have been written as a critique of Trotskyite approaches to their own history. The relevance to propaganda becomes clear, since the task of carrying out an intellectual reformation requires a completely different relation between the 'party' and its audience to that needed by a grouping aiming merely to manipulate for overt political goals. The relationship in Gramsci's case has to be qualitatively more educative, honest, democratic, reciprocal, and inclusive. What matters to Gramsci is not so much the particular form of the party as its role, and this is why debates about the usefulness and dangers of 'Leninist' parties are largely irrelevant to Gramsci's significance. If the 'Leninist' party model is inadequate, it can be abandoned, but other forms can be developed which perform the same role, i.e. intellectual development. Gramsci himself was firmly committed to this model, but he was also prepared to admit that the role of the 'party' may in practice be performed, not by a single party, but by an ideological bloc (SPN 181), a number of specific organisations sharing the core of a worldview (SPN 157), or a range of political groups following a single, unorganised intellectual trend (SPN 148). The second and third possibilities are particularly crucial, given the fragmentation of the Trotskyite active left and the alienation of Marxist intellectuals from these groups. For Gramsci, such an organisational fragmentation is not necessarily dysfunctional; it can have some usefulness as a "division of labour" (SPN 158). One could even project the party's role onto NSMs, social clubs, factory councils, or almost any other organisational form, without affecting the core nature of the role. Gramsci thus represents a clear alternative to the fetishisation of the party in which many Trotskyite groups engage, despite his superficial endorsement of the same party model.

Thus, the party's 'propaganda' role is not really a propaganda role in the bad sense at all, but rather one of education and development. The educative relationship must be reciprocal - the 'teachers' should also be learning (SPN 350) - since the historical reality of ideas is determined by their interaction with popular praxis and this interaction can only be transferred to intellectuals through interaction of their ideas with those of the masses (cf. FSPN 75). Lacking 'feeling' of popular needs, the intellectual element should engage in a constant process of self-correction based on contact with ordinary people (Adamson, 1980:146). Forming a collective will beginning from a small group of intellectuals requires a process of emotional and ideological contact between the intellectuals and the masses, and the development of a sympathetic understanding of mass needs on the part of the intellectuals (SCW 215). In practice, this means canvassing and discussing problems in an expansive way including ordinary workers (Davidson, cited Entwhistle, 1979:164). Gramsci's method thus contrasts with the tendency of Trotskyites only to make contact with non-Trotskyite workers for purposes of proselytisation, and the formation of policies and campaigns within closed circles of insiders. This method for Gramsci simply reinforces the isolation and impotence of the initial small group.

Where a split exists between intellectual and mass conceptions, there are for Gramsci two choices - "raising the 'simple' to the level of the intellectuals" or "imposing an iron discipline on the intellectuals so that they do not exceed certain levels of differentiation" (SPN 331). The church in particular tends to prefer the latter approach, but Marxists should choose the former. "The position of the philosophy of praxis is the antithesis of the Catholic. The philosophy of praxis does not tend to leave the 'simple' in their primitive philosophy of common-sense, but rather tends to lead them to a higher conception of life. If it affirms the need for contact between intellectuals and simple it is not in order to restrict scientific activity and preserve unity at the low level of the masses, but precisely in order to construct an intellectual-moral bloc which can make politically possible the intellectual progress of the mass and not only of small intellectual groups" (SPN 332-3; cf. also SPN 397). The other approach does not only impede theoretical development, it also tends to reinforce the division between two world-views, with only mechanical contact between them (SPN 328-9, 397). Thus, Marxists should work "to raise the intellectual tone and level of the masses" (cited Williams 1973:593), and for the "extension of critical activity... among ever-broadening sections of the population" (SPN 321). This process also requires the elaboration of individual workers into qualified intellectuals and leaders (SPN 15-16, 392) and developing certain popular beliefs in a more logical manner (SPN 126-7). For Gramsci, journalism has precisely this role, "elaborating, making to think concretely, transforming, homogenising" to take the working-class from common-sense to coherent and critical thought (cited Merrington, 1968:162).

This process as conceived by Gramsci stands in stark contrast to many of the propaganda methods of the Trotskyite groups. For Gramsci, in order to raise the intellectual level of one's followers rather than "create a desert around one's self by all means possible", one must enable one's supporters to uphold their views in debate with intelligent and capable opponents, rather than merely to appeal to authority or emotion (SPN 439-40). This requires combatting an "oratorical" style of writing and a tendency to rhetorical solutions which lead to superfificality and logical errors (SPN 440, 29). Furthermore, the process requires a high degree of intellectual freedom (SPN 350). Such arguments are almost a polar opposite of Trotskyite theory and practice. Whole articles are frequently devoted to superficial "rhetorical" issues (see for instance the debate between Sean Matgamna and Jim Higgins over 'anti-Semitism', 'anti-Zionism', 'racism' and 'Arab nationalist chauvinism' in Workers' Liberty 33-4, March and April 1997, which also show another typical trait impeding an intellectual-developmental function: the use of anathematisation). They frequently adopt a rhetorical and oratory style (eg. "At this point I find myself very impolitely thinking that Jim Higgins is incorrigibly stupid" - WL 38 p. 40). Only a small number of groups engage in active debate with opponents; most simply refuse to accept criticism at meetings and other events. The cultivation of freedom of criticism is impeded by the position that criticism must remain "within the basis of the party programme" (WL 52, January 1999 p. 14). And the attitude to common-sense is ambiguous if not uncontentiously positive. Thus, Workers' Liberty speak of "lessons taught by wide experience of working-class solidarity and struggle" (WL 52 p. 16 - as if conclusions can be invoked directly from 'experience'), and people drawn into one struggle suddenly and mechanically connecting this struggle to wider socialist issues (p. 12). Furthermore, such groups believe almost universally in simplification of Marxism rather than complexificaion of mass consciousness. A particularly extreme demonstration of such tendencies can be seen in the article by Edward Conze, reprinted recently in Workers' Liberty: "if the veil of cumbersome terms, ponderous phrases an philosophical disquisitions, which once covered the dialectical method, is once torn, we see that it is nothing but a codification of common-sense"; Marx's writings by contrast are to be criticised as "cumbersome and unweildy" and "unintelligible to the average person" (WL 28, February 1996, p. 38). Thus, rather than taking up Gramsci's challenge to overcome common-sense, many Trotskyites prefer openly to endorse it, at least to the extent that they can fool themselves that common-sense and Marxist ideas are really the same thing. Yet this approach has yielded only continued isolation. Ironically, the commonsensical worker often has a far clearer insight into the gulf between common-sense and Marxism than does the Marxist. Furthermore, by this process, 'Marxism' takes on board many elements of non-Marxist philosophies in an unconscious manner. Marxism as a transformative theory and practice is thus lost amid a large number of elements drawn from diverse sources, most of which reflect the passivity of capitalist society. There are other negative effects, too; the insolubility of conflicts resulting from different conceptions of "common-sense", the conservatism inherited by some of the groups, the split between intellectuals and Marxist activists, and the tendency for Trotskyites to engage in an eclectic manner with important political questions are just a few examples. Gramsci, in providing an alternative to this method, provides a potential means for Marxism to escape its present impasse, which is largely a result of such derivatives of the tailing of common-sense.

Another problem is that, if Trotskyites fail to pose the problem of the contradicion between Marxism and common-sense, they will also fail to pose the problem of the need for Marxism to "organicise", and will assume that their slogans and campaigns will have an immediate resonance which they are, in practice, lacking. For Gramsci, popular passions need to be reawakened through a long-term political and ideational preparation (SPN 110), which is a prerequisite to insurrectionary interventions. Trotskyites by contrast act as if raising a radical slogan will itself trigger mass actions (hence the S.W.P.'s theme of "catching the mood"). This is partly due to the failure to draw a conclusion Gramsci drew: that there is something flawed about an ideology which fails to gain a popular basis over the medium term (SPN 341; FSPN 339). For Gramsci, the organic basis for Marxism does not yet exist, but needs to be created by activists. Thus, there is a need to develop prefigurative structures to develop workers' historical potential (Adamson, 1980:42), and to encourage constructive criticism, education, discussion, suggestions and advice, which help raise the intellectual level of both ordinary people and Marxist activists (SPN 28). This contrasts sharply with the aggressive polemical style used in practice by most Trotskyites, where logical argumentation is often grossly lacking (Callaghan, 1984:35-6, 52) and where argument tends to be replaced by anathematisation (views are wrong because they are "petty-bourgeois", "reformist", "anarchist" or fit some other label). This approach reflects the dual dynamic within Trotskyism of endorsing the philosophical basis of 'bourgeois' thought while fanatically defending the 'purity' of Marxism. For Gramsci, the aim was neither to keep Marxism free of popular ideas, nor to submerge into these ideas, but rather to find ways of merging the two, of persuading ordinary people to accept Marxist ideas and of developing Marxist theory by incorporating popular feelings and subjectivities. Gramsci's approach addresses questions which the Trotskyites have not even posed, but which represent a major barrier to the success of Trotskyite politics and theory. Another possible consequence highlighted by Gramsci is that 'higher' forms of thought are attacked from the perspective of 'lower' ones. (Critiques of postmodernism still display the characteristic of a critique from common-sense, dismissing "absurd" claims as if common-sense were itself unchallengeable). Incidentally, the AWL, even while citing Gramsci's writings on intellectuals, comes very close to endorsing the 'Catholic' position: "the division between 'workers' and 'intellectuals' is broken down by... 'intellectuals' from non-worker backgrounds being tied by party discipline to activity in the working class" (AWL, Basic Education Course, Reading for B4, Section V).

A related issue is that of 'economic-corporate' ideas. For Gramsci, in the hegemonic phase (i.e. when developing theoretically and attempting to establish 'direction' in civil and political society) a class has to raise issues on a universal plane, turning the conditions for its existence into generalised beliefs (eg. cited Simon, 1991:31). Thus, Marxism needs an ethical and philosophical core which is conceived as expansive and which political parties endorse on this grounds (SCW 400), not merely a vague commitment to the party itself. The hegemonic moment is necessary to enable a transition from economic and social conflicts to the political and ideological spheres (SPN 183). This moment needs to be constructive, drawn from the logical elaboration of popular needs and aspirations, rather than merely a destructive impulse directed against perceived enemies (SPN 66); furthermore, it must be organic, rather than merely a form of mystification (SPN 78 shows this approach in Gramsci's analysis of Jacobinism; this would seem to be a criticism of approaches such as Socialist Action's, which raise broader, non-class issues for instrumental reasons). Again, the establishment of such beliefs requires a change in popular beliefs, a process Gramsci terms "catharsis" (FSPN 353). Trotskyites by contrast tend to focus fanatically on the economic-corporate moment, with concepts such as class struggle (see for instance the stress on 'class politics' in Workers' Liberty - eg. WL 52 p. 13; the reductionist attitude of many groups to questions such as ethnicity and gender [cited eg. Callaghan, 1984:148-52], and the 'gut-workerism' of groups like Militant). Gramsci's formulations help to explain why such formulations have failed to gain a mass basis, and provide something of an alternative.

Gramsci is particularly critical of the crudification of Marxism in pursuit of a popular audience. All of the Trotskyite groups simplify or crudify Marxist theory to one extent or another. Although, often, the issue of comprehensibility is less important than an underlying crudity in their conception of socialism, the organisations themselves see the issue in propaganda terms. Yet for Gramsci, one must avoid trying to meet the demands of many ordinary people for certainties and indisputable truths, a demand which results from the intellectual underdevelopment of the popular classes. Gramsci sees the attempt to meet this demand as a root of the problem of Marxists creating a closed, pseudo-scientific system of dogmas which has the mechanical exteriority but not the coherence of science (SPN 433-4). Such domgatisation is indeed common on the active left today. In 1918, Gramsci wrote a passionate defence of complex language in socialist publications, on the grounds that such language is necessary to engage with intellectually advanced opponents, to achieve a coherent (rather than 'scrappy') method and to avoid falsification: "In order to be easy, we would have had to falsify and impoverish a debate which hinged on concepts of the utmost importance" (SCW 32). To see a vulgarised concept as the same as a complex one is demoagogic trickery (SCW 32). Where simplification occurs, argues Gramsci, "vulgar common sense has imposed itself upon science and not vice versa" (cited Entwhistle 1979:27). The desire to remain simple acts "as a psychological break", preventing individuals from transcending common-sense and making impossible forms of thought such as dialectics (SPN 435). Therefore, for Gramsci there is a need to avoid "the tendency to render easy that which cannot become easy without being distorted" (SPN 43). Thus, scientists should not be "rough-and-ready" in their theories (FSPN 185) - an attack on the kind of "ABC's of Marxism" which are now so widespread among Trotskyites (eg. Workers Power's 'Marxism: The Basics" feature), and which in Gramsci's day were best epitomised by Bukharin's "Popular Manual". Instead, popular beliefs should be encouraged to gain "new breadth and complexity" (SPN 334). For Gramsci, we need to avoid dismissing the intelligence of working-class people or their capacity to learn. Philosophy is not, Gramsci believes, "strange and difficult", and, since we are all philosophers anyway (and Gramsci maintains that every human being is a philosopher since we all use language and concepts and have a 'conception of the world and of life'), there is little reason why we should not all be coherent philosophers (SPN 323). We need to overcome the myth that working-class people are stupid by nature or lack some 'trick' of studying (SPN 42-3). The Trostkyites' submission to common-sense is revealed, therefore, to be, not some emancipation of workers' abilities, but a fatalistic and somewhat patronizing attitude to workers' capacities.

This leads to another element in Gramsci's conception which is missing from the active left. For most Trotskyites, the party is the be-all and end-all of politics - an attitude stronger in some groups than others, particularly notable in Healy's WRP, but present in all the groups to one extent or another. This dominance is often extended also into the spheres of culture and political education. The AWL for instance, includes intellectual development within the party's remit ("Basic Education Course", op cit.); the S.W.P. goes a step further and also includes science, aesthetics, and cultural sociology. Furthermore, cultural and intellectual issues are given a low priority. For Gramsci, however, such activities are crucial. Scanty cultural organisation leads to a lack of criticism and checks on leaders, and therefore to eclecticism and "Lorianism" (FSPN 563). Gramsci maintains that Marxists should create "cultural associations" . Such associations are needed because, although parties can campaign on cultural questions, they tend to address such issues inadequately, as and when they arise, without examining the problem in all its complexity. The resultant superficial knowledge of issues leads, according to Gramsci, to constant splits and disputes on the one hand, and idolatry and authoritarianism on the other (SCW 22; both authoritarianism and fragmentation are major problems for Trotskyism, and the apparent incapacity of activists to discuss important questions above a very trivial level appears to be part of the reason for this, providing support for Gramsci's argument). A cultural association, provided it is "alive" and responding to "a real need", and provided it is based on discussion and the investigation of problems, could help create prior knowledge and convictions which would be already in place once action was required, as well as helping in general to create a freer and more intelligent popular culture, and addressing moral and philosophical questions inappropriate for parties (SCW 21, 22-3, 25). Here we have, not merely a critique of Trotskyite strategies, but a suggestion of an active alternative.

While opposing a mass-based crudification of theory, Gramsci had an awareness of the importance of audience far in excess of that of most Trotskyites. This follows from Gramsci's disagreement with Bordiga (and with modern Trotskyites) about the party's role. For Gramsci, party organisation should not stress organisational and juridical aspects but rather, should aim to prove that the party is what it claims to be. Purely internal issues are seen by Gramsci as "Byzantine" (SPN, lix, lxxi). For Gramsci, histories of parties are not just histories of leaders but also histories of why others follow, or remain passive or dispersed (SPN 150-1; compare the various works on Bolshevism by Trotskyites).

Similarly, in practice, activists should not simply assume that people will automatically follow their cause. Trotskyites tend to act as if a 'correct' analysis will automatically confer a mass following. Gramsci, however, believes that there is an inherent resistance in ordinary people's minds to the direct imposition of new ideas and morals by intellectuals (Hoffman, 1984:71). In addition, ideas need to overcome people's engrossment in day-to-day problems (McInnes, 1964:7). The promotion of ideas, whether propaganda or political education, has for Gramsci to be based on "lines of least resistance" (SPN 144), and these lines can be discerned only by studying the relation of forces (SPN 185), the structures of ideologies (FSPN 156), and the economic structure (FSPN 416). This awareness of the need to appeal to concrete audiences is almost entirely absent from active Trotskyism, and their general hostility to specialised research (eg. WL 52 p. 16). Gramsci's awareness of audience also extends to an awareness of audience diversity; for Gramsci, homogeneous diffusion of homogeneous views will not produce homogeneity (SCW 417), and repetition therefore "must not be a mechanical, 'obsessive', material repetition, but an adaptation of each concept to the different peculiarities and cultural traditions". Simple regurgitation of 'clear' principles is simply a return to eighteenth-century rationalism and its na‹ve assumptions that people will accept a 'correct' view (SCW 417-18).

Because of his emphasis on audience, Gramsci sees it as important to engage with and develop or change the existing beliefs of existing audiences. Thus, in contrast with the Trotskyites' stress on attacking the particular ideas of right-wing and centre-left politicians and of other Trotskyites, for Gramsci the starting point should be a critique of common-sense (SPN 419). This should not be an endorsement, but nor should it be simple condemnation; if common-sense is not treated respectfully, it will merely be entrenched (SPN 179). It is hard to replace or modify ideas in common-sense because most people 'know' they cannot better opponents in debate, and therefore become unwilling to give way to superior argument. This is not necessarily irrational; it results from a fear of rhetoric and the fact that being swung by every rhetorically effective argument would mean changing one's mind every day (SPN 339-40). It does, however, act as a barrier to Marxism, alongside other conservative impulses in common-sense. Trotskyite propaganda, with its overtly rhetorical method, is only likely to reinforce such tendencies; it has all the characteristics of a would-be superior theoretical construct seeking rhetorical victories. Deep-rooted problems require deep-rooted responses. There is also, Gramsci feels, a need to support progressive currents with a mass character, even when these are non-Marxist (FSPN 471-2). This contrasts with the de facto sectarian attitude of many Trotskyite groups towards NSM's and (in the case of the S.W.P., for instance) "Broad Lefts". Gramsci's theory implies the criticism of such attitudes as contributing to the defeat of progressive movements and thereby reinforcing bourgeois hegemony.

For most Trotskyites, education simply means instruction in Marxist theory (again, see the AWL's "Basic Education Programme" and WP's "Basics of Marxism" series). Gramsci would criticise this view as one-way and undialectical. For Gramsci, the strength of a theory lies in its "capacity to incorporate itself in... reality as if it were originally an expression of it" (SPN 201). Educational developments occur, not on the surface level of immediate politics, but below the surface: "The real development of the revolutionary process occurs below the surface, in the obscurity of the factory and in the obscurity of the consciousness of the numberless masses whom capitalism subjects to its laws" (cited SPN xxxix). Intellectual and moral changes occur gradually, in a "molecular" fashion, a little at a time, as mental barriers are eroded (FSPN lxxxvi-lxxxvii). This view, which accurately reflects developments in pre-revolutionary France and other cases of major social revolutions, contrasts with the all-or-nothing approach of many Trotskyites. For instance, for the Spartacist League, "Unless we win these youth to our full programme, their contradiction will most likely be resolved in the direction of reaction and obscurantism" ("Marxism and Religion", in Enlightenment Rationalism and the Origins of Marxism, Marxh 1998)

The Trotskyite position leads to a strategy which has in practice been completely ineffective, and which tends to create a desert around the Trotskyites rather than to alter popular opinions. Gramsci has an alternative to this approach. For Gramsci, one should not start with an assumption of forces to be coordinated 'mechanically' (eg. a working-class to be won over or used),but rather of a cultural grouping from which one wishes to construct a complete cultural edifice (SCW 409). Because "the masses" as such only engage with philosophy as faith, it is important to give "a personality to the amorphous mass element" (SPN 340), i.e. to engage with individual workers or people rather than "the workers" or "the people" as a mass. By engaging with individuals, a number of "organic intellectuals" can be created, at first only a small 'elite', but with a potential for expansion to include the entire working class if not the whole people. Marxism thus needs to be "anti-collectivist" before it can create a collective; it must destroy the existing "collective man" before a new one can be created (cf. Mouffe, 1979:196; Gramsci's attitude to collectivism is further examined below). In teaching critical elaboration of ideas, Gramsci feels, it is best to begin by demonstrating that the listener is a philosopher without knowing it (since all people are philosophers), secondly, to criticise "what the student already knows and his philosophical experience", which will normally mean common-sense and religion (SPN 424-5), and thirdly, using rational, coherent and all-encompassing arguments, which Gramsci feels are particularly useful in convincing people who are "wavering between the old and the new" (SPN 338). (The Trotskyite attitude to 'waverers' by contrast is nearly always dismissive; see for instance Sean Matgamna, "Class Struggle is the Decisive Thing", WL 19, March 1995 p. 34-5). For Gramsci, revolutionary beliefs are formed, not under the "brutal goad of physiological necessity" but rather via "intelligent reflection", and every revolution is preceded by an intense work of ideational criticism (SPWI p. 12-13). Overcoming common-sense through education is also a part of the process, as is development of logical abilities, and modifying habits to make them less "sluggish" and passive (SCW 126-7 - a process Gramsci seems to see as following logically from overcoming common-sense, whereas Trotskyites pose the issue differently, as a problem of 'leadership'). Gramsci's approach remains historically untested and therefore cannot be shown to be flawed or adequate; however, it does seem to fit evidence on previous successful changes in mass beliefs, such as the French Enlightenment, the Reformation and the rise of Christianity. The Trotskyite form, in contrast, fits little historical evidence and has failed to gain a stable basis for Trotskyite politics (which have not only failed to attract substantial numbers of recruits, but which also suffer from a very high turnover of members).

Further disagreements emerge over the nature of party literature. Trotskyites generally prefer literature with a clear agitational function, aimed at a working-class audience conceived as an integral whole (Socialist Worker, Militant, News Line, Workers Power and most of the other publications fit this model). Gramsci, however, sees a crucial role for other kinds of literature. Firstly, Gramsci sees it as crucially important for publications to respond carefully to the needs and tastes of their readers as both ideological and economic agents, and to carry out a careful policy of 'organising' buyers (in this case meaning gaining a semi-permanent attachment among readers). In the past, Gramsci feels (and we could extend this to today's Trotskyites) such approaches have been impeded by bureaucracy (SCW 404). Marxists should aim to produce reviews of various kinds, which taken as a whole bridge the gap between common-sense and coherent thought - for instance, by presenting analytical and research materials as well as conclusions to give a sense of the concreteness of the conclusions (SCW 413-14; in practice, the reasons for particular policies or approaches are hardly ever clearly stated by Trotskyites). Gramsci also draws attention to a crucial danger which may in fact have befallen the Trotskyite groups. Due to the need constantly to educate new recruits, there is a tendency to become stuck at the level of the 'basics'. This in turn creates a low cultural level in journalism, and it also leads to repeated splits as different groups of the audience fragment and the 'educated' leadership splits into cliques in the absence of an organic link to the masses (SCW 401-2). Reviews also should be used as a springboard for cultural movements rather than existing in a vaccuum (SCW 402). Also, it is important according to Gramsci that Marxists engage with the crucial question of popular literature, since it is from the readers of popular literature that a new culture can be created. One must, according to Gramsci, avoid prejudices against popular culture in order to address this question, which is 'cultural' (sociological) rather than aesthetic (SCW 102). Again, this contrasts with the attitude of some Trotskyites (eg. Jim Denham, "Canon to the right" in WL 19 p. 29). Gramsci's approach on questions of audience in general leaves the impression that the Trotskyites are located in a na‹ve vaccuum in relation to this question; despite their repeated failure to gain support, they have to date simply refused to pose the problem of the relation of their propaganda and education to its audience. There is thus a thread running through, from Denham's complete avoidance of cultural-sociological questions in his discussions of art, to the one-way nature of education programmes, to the failure to address the problem of gaining a permanent readership for newspapers, to the crudely polemical nature of much propaganda. Gramsci was in this sphere considerably ahead of his time, having an awareness of issues of cultural production and consumption which were later to become central in sociology. Trotskyites would do well to learn both from Gramsci's approach and from this later evidence.

In addition to criticising vulgarisation, Gramsci attacked what he termed "titanism" in journalism. For Gramsci, it is important to be sober in one's writings and external attitude (SPN 369, FSPN 378). Gramsci is here attacking a characteristic of the Bolshevik tradition which has been inherited by modern Trotskyism. Take for instance the following excerpt: "Capitalism internationally is collapsing. The financial crises in the Far Eastern markets... is [sic] dragging the rest of the world financial system towards the abyss... In the face of this the traditional leaders of the working class are openly conspiring with the capitalist ruling class... what remains fundamental for the working class is the building of a revolutionary party on a world scale" (Dave Lettice, "Sixty Years of the Fourth International" in Marxist Review 13:8, August 1998). Such approaches are not uncommon in Trotskyite propaganda and educational materials; it was crucial to the perspectives of, for instance, the W.R.P., I.M.G. and Militant (Callaghan, 1984:75-6, 171-2, 130, 159). This is clearly a question where disagreements over the form of propaganda and education overlap with deeper disagreements over the content. For Gramsci, such approaches are more "wish fulfilment" than serious politics (FSPN 378).

Gramsci similarly disagrees with excessive use of confrontational rhetoric. Most of the Trotskyite groups engage in such rhetoric as a matter of course, apparently in the hope that their conviction will rub off on others. Thus, Workers' Liberty maintain that "It [democracy] cannot, and should not, remove the element of passion and anger from serious political disputes, or make them as calm as abstruse academic debates" (WL 52, January 1999, p. 15). In practice, this comes out in anathematisation and confrontation, denouncing rival left groups as "a disgrace" (leaflet on Kosova, 1999) and individual rivals as "incorrigibly stupid" (WL 38 p. 40). The exact purpose of such rhetoric is unclear; it certainly does not play an educative role, and it is difficult to see how it could convince 'waverers' of the group's views. Gramsci rejects such ultra-confrontational rhetoric in favour of a pursuit of cultural development (Hoffman, 1984:155). Gramsci believes such an educative project requires Marxists to "combat the habits formed in public speaking" such as dilletantism, improvisation and the pursuit of purely "rhetorical" solutions (SPN 29). Mechanicists, Gramsci maintains, treat ideological conflicts like military disputes, and thereby attempt to defeat opposing theories, not by transcending them, but merely by scoring "facile verbal victories", usually over second-rate opponents (SPN 432-3). Most Trotskyites do indeed have a militaristic conception lacking any comprehension of the specific complexities of ideational phenomena; the term "battle of ideas" is particularly popular (eg. WL 55, April 1999, p. 27, and 52, p. 12; the S.W.P. also employs this term very frequently). For Gramsci, such a style restricts rathe than expanding the intellectual environment (Hoffman, 1984:155), and it is furthermore counterproductive, giving the "serious reader" the impression of "being fooled" and thereby discrediting Marxism as a whole (SPN 470), while also generating a "superficial way of looking at questions" (SPN 472). The small size of the Trotskyite left would seem to demonstrate this counterproductiveness. On a similar note, Gramsci attacks the method common among Trotskyites of aiming for superficial unity around slogans, an approach Gramsci sees as containing the seeds of 'transformism' (SPN 76).

Such criticisms connect to a deeper hostility towards what Gramsci perceives as a dogmatism in some forms of Marxism. For many Trotskyites, Marxism is about conserving a pure Marxist approach (theory, method) and proselytising for this approach. Thus, Socialisr Appeal speak of "the Marxist tendency" (Alan Woods, Kosovo. The Balkans Crisis Continues, March 1998, p. 4; my emphasis), and Workers' Liberty see Marxist method as the maintenance of an "organic and stable tradition" (WL 54, March 1999 p. 32), and where debate occurs within "agreed basic principles" (p. 22). Healy of the W.R.P. went even further, claiming to be the sole source of authoritative doctrine (Callaghan, 1987:77-8). Such tendencies have led many critics to attach religious characteristics to Trotskyism, a "theology of Marxism" (EP Thompson) and an approach displaying "religiosity" and a "liturgical" attitude to texts (Callaghan, 1984:24, 214; 1987:11). This is again an issue of the content as well as the form of propaganda, although its most visible aspect is clearly external: the uncritical attitude to party lines and 'basic principles'.

Gramsci is strongly hostile to such approaches. Existing Marxism has transcended common-sense only to some extent and within certain limits; it is still inclined to be empiricist, seeing theory as a "handmaid of practice", and therefore subaltern to 'bourgeois' philosophy (SPN 334). Marxism, positing as its goal the disappearance of class contradictions and therefore of its own ontic basis, can never have a fixed or final form (SPN 405), and what exists at any given time is therefore not the new philosophy of Marxism but "a variable combination of old and new" (SPN 398). Dogmatism therefore ossifies an incomplete Marxism. Vulgar materialist Marxists, Gramsci claims, tend to turn Marxism "into an ideology in the worst sense of the word... a dogmatic system of eternal and absolute truths" (SPN 406-7). Such dogmatism is a barrier to answering opponents' criticisms fully and therefore to polemical effectiveness (SPN 178). The stress on doctrinal purity furthermore leads to an overemphasis on leaders and a failure to pose the problem of raising the theoretical level of ordinary party members (cited Showstack-Sassoon, 1980:83). It polarises politics as a series of contacts between "those with the genie in the lamp who know everything" and "those who are fooled by their own leaders but are so incurably thick that they refuse to believe it" (SPN 167) - a situation which impedes the development of organicity. For Gramsci, therefore, there is a need for caution rather than certainty and dogmatism in discussing theories (FSPN 425); approaches to existing beliefs "can only be critico-polemical, never dogmatic" and should contain some degree of romanticism (SPN 398). Evidence should be examined seriously, not reconciled with existing dogmas (SPN 458). Such an open approach would be opposed by most Trotskyites on the grounds that it would lead to 'chaos', individualism and a lack of clarity (eg. WL 52 p. 15). Gramsci responds to such critiques by arguing that some degree of apparent 'chaos' is a necessary prerequisite of forming a collective consciousness (FSPN 16), that it is better to have "disorderly refractoriness" than a dogmatic "herd instinct" which acts as a barrier to scientific thought (FSPN 176; 'science' in Gramsci means progressive thought), and that the imposition of a doctrinal system, "typical of a caste or priesthood", cannot achieve even mechanical immutability anyway, since phrases can change meaning without changing wording (FSPN 16). According to Adamson, Gramsci rejects "ideologism", seeing immediate political phenomena as merely steps towards creating a social bloc (Adamson, 1980:389). Dogmatism, for Gramsci, is also undesirable in reducing Marxism to the level of a superficial external system. It is important for Gramsci for Marxists to have an active, critical inner life (SPN 389), and this requires attacks on traditional conformity. "A critical consciousness cannot be born without breaking down Catholic or authoritarian conformism and thus without a flowering of individuality"in which the relation to the world is direct and not mediated through a priesthood; such individuality is a prerequisite to creating a new collectivity, and the struggle against individualism is only valid if it confines itself to overcoming a particular kind of economic individualism (FSPN 270; contrast in particular Healy's methods, cited Baker, 1981:24, 26-7). Dogmatism also makes it impossible to engage with the possibility of failure. Gramsci therefore suspects that arbitrarily constructing systems of beliefs, though somewhat useful in generatinf certainty among members, is "inept and productive of greater damage than use" (FSPN 433). Again, the difference is partly one of goals; Gramsci's educative model is impossible in a context of sectarian dogmatism, whereas most Trotskyites are comfortable with such approaches as entirely compatible with immediate goals of action and propaganda.

In part, the difference is traceable to a difference over another question which shapes both the form and content of propaganda: the question of method. For Gramsci, there is no generally valid method which can be disseminated, save for a set of general criteria such as caution, awareness of epistemic limits and careful definition of concepts (SPN 439 - all criteria where Trotskyites tend to fall short of Gramsci's conception of science). Law-like generalisations in discussions of society are for Gramsci nearly always tautologies of "no causal value" which merely reassert 'facts' as 'laws' (SPN 430). Gramsci also criticises 'mechanical' Marxism for being crudely teleological (SPN 471), adopting a materialist metaphysics with little place for the dialectic (SPN 434-5) and replacing the dialectic of educator/educated with a situation where the "uneducated and crude environment" dominates the educator (SPN 435). Applied consistently, such mechanicism would make qualitative transformation impossible (SPN 437). Intransigence, Gramsci maintains, is often reducible to an iron faith in immutable historical laws and a religious, palingenetic teleology; will and action are conceived in purely destructive and military terms and the constructive role of will is ignored (SPN 168). Human will tends to disappear completely from politics (SPN 244); in particular, the pursuit of law-like predictions means Marxists leave their own will out of consideration (SPN 171). Mechanicists furthermore adopt the common-sense critique of subjectivism and thereby tail common-sense (SPN 444-5). The over-use of statistics encourages mental laziness and programmatic superficiality, while also encouraging the masses to be viewed and treated as passive (SPN 429). Gramsci also attacks exegetical canonism (SPN 439) and argument from authority, which is unreliable since the meaning of a work is disputable (SPN 338-9). Furthermore, Gramsci accuses mechanicists of tailing 'bourgeois' materialism instead of developing a new philosophy (SPN 462-3), reducing Marxism to other world-views, downplaying the ideological character of science (FSPN 293) and keeping Marxism subaltern by failing to break with dominant assumptions about human nature (SPN 159, 161, 163; the stress on immediate self-interest was imported into Marxism, Gramsci maintains, from free-trade ideology). Also, mechanicists fail to pose truly philosophical questions, dealing only with immediate "ideological" issues (SPN 427). Gramsci also attacks the parodying of rival belief-systems as "folly"; he sees this view as anachronistic, dogmatic and ahistorical (SPN 449), and suggests that the need to expose ideologies is nothing to do with their inherent character but rather to make workers independent of capitalist hegemony (SPN 395). The idea of superstructures as mere appearances is also for Gramsci a mistaken view of purely psychological origins; it is applied incoherently, since it is not used to assess the action of Marxists themselves (FSPN 316-18). For Gramsci, science and 'realism' have a different content, being about ensuring that one's ideas have "organic" content (SPN 172). There is also a need in Gramsci for engagement with rival ideologies in their most refined forms, both for intellectual development of a critical kind (SPN 392) and because of a need for synthesis between Marxism and some other beliefs (SPN 402).

This contrasts sharply with Trotskyite practice. To take a few examples: the Trotskyite attitude towards rival belief-systems is nearly always dismissive; post-modernism, for instance, is treated merely as an ideological enemy to be demolished (see WL 55, April 99, pp. 27-31). Works of an academic character are generally treated dismissively (eg. WL 52 p. 16 - Marxism has to be "quickly grasped by millions of workers" during struggles and therefore cannot be "obscure results of specialised research"). Exegetical canonism is widespread (see eg. Marxist Review 13:8 p. 12 where a quote from Trotsky is used to "prove" the nature of the U.S.S.R.). So too are mechanical materialism and a crude conception of human nature. Teleology is also widespread (eg. WL 52 p. 18: "The inner logic of history is with us, helping us"). Gramsci's criticisms provide an interesting theory of possible links between such approaches, organisational sectarianism, and a superficial attitude to education and propaganda.

Another issue raised by Gramsci is the importance of logical coherence and awareness of conceptual issues (both in order to convince and in order to develop Marxism). For Gramsci, many of the problems of mechanicism result from a failure to pose definitional questions around issues like theory and religion (SPN 427). As a result, concepts are used which are ill-defined or undefined and which therefore are vague in content (SPN 460). Gramsci also criticises mechanicism for arguing without contextual knowledge and resultantly misinterpreting others' language (SPN 471-2), assuming rather than demonstrating superiority (SPN 449 - an issue connected to the unfair attitude to past ideologies), and engaging in what he terms "philosophical Esperanto", a concept which implies seeing one's own mode of expression as the only valid form (FSPN 303-4). Other mistakes often follow, according to Gramsci, from such definitional issues. For instance, Bukharin demonstrates the supposed gestalt quality of society in a purely verbal way (SPN 468-9), thereby providing an inadequate basis for his own collectivism. In journalism, too, Gramsci sees no reason for obfuscation, sloppiness or polemical emotionality at the cost of criticism and analysis (Landy, 1996:66). Such criticisms can equally be made of contemporary Trotskyites. Debates between Trotskyites are often "ludicrously short on logical argumentation" (Callaghan, 1984:35-6), and ad hominem argument is widespread (1984:41). Organisations also frequently fail to draw out the implications of slogans or tactics they adopt (1984:52). One can sometimes read an entire article without finding a single piece of factual evidence or logical deduction. Whether bad logic has a relationship to Trotskyite failure is unclear, but the correlation between the two is again evident. It is possible that the Trotskyites' inability to convince is partly a consequence of the kind of logical flaws highlighted by Gramsci.

A distinct but related issue is that of reductionism. This is again a key element in Trotskyite arguments, as well as a more general determinant of propaganda strategies (which tend to assume that 'the class struggle' will simply deposit workers into their movement - see for instance WL 52 p. 12). For Gramsci, such approaches are deeply flawed. The 'structure' is anyway not precisely knowable, and political acts may be mistakes or results of organisational dynamics rather than products of economic realities (SPN 408). Changes in the 'structure' do not necessarily reflect in the 'superstructure' (FSPN 398), and the 'structure' is anyway a set of human relations not reducible to tools or nature (SPN 457-8). The principle of mechanical causation is for Gramsci "pure myth" (SPN 438). Economic reductionism harms Marxism by leading to erroneous predictions which discredit Marxism (SPN 165). This point is particularly important in relation to Trotskyism, which has generated such mistaken predictions as that the end of World War II would inevitably foreshadow a major and semi-permanent crisis (the original RCP, cited Callaghan, 1984:30, 32, 33), and that Britain was inevitably on the verge of becoming a police state (Militant, cited Callaghan, 1984:171-2). Mechanicists, Gramsci maintained, follow a simplistic style of argument where everything follows from the question 'Who profits?' and where issues like the social content, effectiveness, and mass following or appeal of movements are ignored, an approach which produces only moralistic sermons and questions of personality (SPN 166). Again, this is a relevant issue, especially in relation to assessments of international issues, which many Trotskyites deal with in terms of 'imperialist interests' (see for instance "Congo. Torn apart by armed gangs and imperialist rivalries" in Class Struggle 23, November-December 1998; this approach is typical of Class Struggle, Socialist Outlook, Socialist Action, the S.W.P., and, formerly, the W.R.P., I.M.G. and Militant). Gramsci criticises such approaches as leading to an outlook on history as conspiracy and scandal and as a "march‚ des dupes" (SPN 165). Another consequence is fatalism, which emanates like an "ideological aroma" from many forms of Marxism and which has a stupefying, narcotic effect (SPN 356; fatalism in Trotskyism usually emerges in relation to the dismissal of mass organisations. For the RCG, for instance, the trade unions and Labour Party are, and always have been, nothing but distractions; the S.W.P. also acts as if there is nothing which can be done save 'building the party').

Disagreements about how would-be revolutionary organisations should be seen are similarly issues which stretch beyond the sphere of propaganda but which have a clear propaganda element (i.e. the promotion of particular organisations, which is a primary goal of Trotskyite propaganda). The approach most Trotskyite groups take is that, as the bearers of Marxist theory, they are collective entities of historic importance with a fundamental role and duty. This perspective falls broadly within the category of "organic centralism" of which Gramsci is fiercely critical. Organic centralism, reducible according to Gramsci to a false assumption that people inevitably identify with movements than reflect their interests, treats organisations as phantasmagorical external entities and thereby tends to induce people to be passive, leaving the external entity to act and thus making organisations inoperative (SPN 187). It is based on a fetishisation of the organisation and generates a disconnected attitude in members (SPN 14-15). Party fetishism is for Gramsci a small-scale expression of the widespread phenomenon of state fetishism, and just as likely to lead to a despotism of the bureaucracy (SCW 400-1). In organic centralist regimes, only top-down initiatives are allowed; as a result, the grassroots is stifled and bottom-up organisations become 'heretical'; they are either suppressed or absorbed without having significant effects (FSPN 37-8). Organisations should instead be seen, argues Gramsci, as expressions of will and collective thought (SCW 401), and "party conceit" should be replaced by concrete analyses (SPN 154). Disagreements should be brought into the open and resolved (see Showstack Sassoon, 1980:166-7). Furthermore, instead of trying to subordinate real social processes to its forms, each organisation should try to engage with the process (see Adamson, 1980:56-7). Crude instrumentalist attitudes to the masses can be prevented organisationally, Gramsci suggests, when leader-mass relations become interchangeable and leaders can be replaced from among their following (see Showstack Sassoon, 1980:179). Gramsci may well underestimate the dangers of bureaucratism, and he retains some attachment to Jacobin models of organisation, but his account nevertheless contains valuable counterbalances to flaws in the Trotskyite approach.

Gramsci's critique can also br applied to certain specific Trotskyite propaganda and educational strategies and tactics. Gramsci is highly critical of sectarianism and abstentionism on cultural questions (Boggs, 1976:60). He also stresses that the question of liberty should be treated seriously, not merely used as a political football (FSPN 569). But most crucially, Gramsci criticises the Bolshevik conception, now widespread among Trotskyites, of transitional processes. Thus, for the AWL, "In the struggle against the Blairites '...It is necessary to know at every moment how to find the particular link in the chain which must be grasped with all one's strength in order to keep the whole chain in place and prepare to move on resolutely to the next link' (Lenin). Our slogans and tactics must reflect this approach" (Motion from NC, undated). For Gramsci, this approach is flawed because there are several routes between any two points and because every progressive step also contains retrogressive elements (SCW 101).

Gramsci also has an explanation of sorts for the problems he outlines. Gramsci endores Luxemburg's belief that immediate historical problems shape the impact and development of new ideas (SPN 387-8). In the struggle against "mediaeval mass culture", religion and common-sense, Marxist activists become tempted to fall back on vulgar materialism (SPN 390, 392-3). The need for a close relationship between intellectuals and ordinary people in Marxism creates the same proliferation of sects as did Protestantism (cf. SPN 23). Gramsci furthermore seems to have suspected that Central Committees left to themselves would neglect education and intellectual development (Adamson, 1980:213). Thus, a propaganda strategy emerges which is unable to meet the educative and mobilisational goals it sets itself. For Gramsci, however, this weakness need not be fatal; new philosophies are often born in mediocre polemics of an organic character, and only later develop specific forms (cited Hughes, 1959:103; Nemeth, 1980:45; SPN 417); a dogmatic belief-system may conceal a non-dogmatic seed (SPN 403). A poor literary style may conceal an important historical content (FSPN 405). After all, even small parties exist because of unexpressed elements in the popular state of mind (SPN 114). And Trotskyite groups do achieve some of Gramsci's priorities, particularly as regards the establishment of a spirit of cleavage, scission, or independence of workers from dominant social groups (SPN 333, 390; FSPN 156) and producing accessible writings (cited Adamson 1980:127).

It is important to avoid replacing one dogmatism with another by exaggerating the contemporary relevance of Gramsci's thought. There remain crucial problems in Gramsci's account, particularly the non-committal character of his criticisms of bureaucracy, his failure to engage with the problem of non-class differences in subjectivity, and his commitment to some degree of Jacobinism and productivism. Nevertheless, many of Gramsci's comments provide an incisive critique of particular characteristics of contemporary Trotskyite movements, particularly as regards their propaganda and educational activity. Gramsci provides possible conceptualisations of phenomena such as dogmatism, reductionism and crudity of style which may help explain the failure of Trotskyism either to meet its own goals of winning and activating supporters or to pose more fundamental goals of political education and intellectual development. Thus, Gramsci's criticisms of certain characteristics of forms of Marxism in his own day provide a possible basis for the resolution of important problems today.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
I. Works by Gramsci
Gramsci, Antonio (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks ed. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, London [SPN]
Gramsci, Antonio (1977) Selections from Political Writings 1910-1920 ed. Quintin Hoare, trans. John Mathews, London [SPW1]
Gramsci, Antonio (1985) Selections from Cultural Writings ed. David Forgacs and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, trans. William Boelhower, London [SCW]
Gramsci, Antonio (1995) Further Selections from the Prison Notebooks ed. and trans. Derek Boothman, Minneapolis [FSPN]

II Works on Gramsci (cited works only listed here)
Adamson, Walter L. (1980) Hegemony and Revolution Berkeley
Boggs, Carl (1976) Gramsci's Marxism London
Entwhistle, Harold (1979) Antonio Gramsci. Conservative schooling for radical politics London
Hoffman, John (1984) The Gramscian Challenge London
Hughes, H. Stuart (1959) Consciousness and Society London
Joll, James (1977) Gramsci Glasgow
Karabel, Jerome (1976) "Revolutionary Contradictions. Antonio Gramsci and the problem of intellectuals" in Politics and Society 61:2
Landy, Marcia (1996) "Culture and Politics in the Work of Antonio Gramsci" in Boundary II 14:3 Spring 1996, Binghamton
McInnes, Neil (1964) "Antonio Gramsci" in Survey 53, October 1964, Gainesville
Merrington, John (1968) "Theory and Practice in Gramsci's Marxism" in Socialist Register London
Morton, Adam David (1999) "On Gramsci" in Politics 19:1, February 1999, Oxford
Mouffe, Chantal (ed.) (1979) Gramsci and Marxist Theory London
Nemeth, Thomas (1980) Gramsci's Philosophy Brighton
Ransome, Paul (1992) Antonio Gramsci. A New Introduction Hemel Hempstead
Showstack Sassoon, Anne (1980) Gramsci's Politics London
Simon, Roger (1991) Gramsci's Political Thought Revised Ed., London
Williams, Gwyn (1960) "The Concept of 'Egemonia' in the Thought of Antonio Gramsci" in Journal of the History of Ideas 21:4

III. Works on Trotskyism
Baker, Blake (1981) The Far Left. An Expose of the Extreme Left in Britain London
Callaghan, John (1984) British Trotskyism. Theory and Practice Oxford
Callaghan, John (1987) The Far Left in British Politics Oxford
Editorial, "The Class Struggles in France" in Aufheben 5, Autumn 1996, Brighton

IV Trotskyite publications (only cited publications are listed here)
Class Struggle (published by Workers Fight, British section linked to French group Lutte Ouvriere)
Marxist Review (published by the W.R.P., one of the fragments from the original W.R.P.)
Militant (now defunct, formerly published by the Militant Tendency)
News Line (published by the W.RP.; as with Marxist Review)
Socialist Action (formerly published by Socialist Action, along with Socialist Outlook a splinter of the IMG, now officially "nonexistent" though apparently still active)
Socialist Appeal (published by Socialist Appeal, an entrist group descended from Militant)
Socialist Outlook (published by Socialist Outlook, British section of the Fourth International)
Socialist Worker (published by the S.W.P., Britain's largest Trotskyite group)
Workers' Power (published by the Workers' Power group, a splinter from the I.S. tradition)
Workers' Liberty (published by the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, an entrist group)
V. Pamphlets and other publications listed
Alliance for Workers' Liberty, "Basic Education Course", March 1996 (details not listed)
Spartacists [an American Trotskyite group with a British section], "Enlightenment Rationalism and
the Origins of Marxism", New York, March 1998
Woods, Alan "Kosovo: The Balkans crisis continues" (a Socialist Appeal pamphlet) , London, March 1998


0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home