Andrew Robinson - Theory Blog

Monday, November 15, 2004

WORLD-VIEWS, COMMON SENSE AND GOOD SENSE (Gramsci, political theory, Nazism...)

NOTE: This was my BA dissertation :-)




A study of Antonio Gramsci's conception of popular philosophy
and its application to the historiography of Nazism.



Gramsci's position in the history of political thought is already significant. The International Gramsci Society lists at least 100,000 articles, university theses and books in 32 languages on the subject of Gramsci's thought (Boothman in FSPN xiii). Gramsci has attracted interest for a variety of reasons, which are often highly divergent between different authors. It is difficult to find two accounts which share an interpretation of Gramsci's 'fundamental' significance. Philosophically, the Gramsci of secondary literature has been an empiricist, an idealist, a positivist, a materialist, an Althusserian and a realist; politically, he has been a reformist, a social democrat, a liberal, a Leninist, a Stalinist, a Trotskyite, a syndicalist and much more besides. Part of the reason is that Gramsci's writings are lengthy, diverse, complex, and written in conditions unconducive to research. In part, the disagreement reflects contradictions in Gramsci's own thought, or instances where he changed his mind. But there are also methodological causes.

Many of the problems implicit in studying Gramsci, or any political thinker, stem from two questions: what the thinker in question actually thought, and why people today should care what they thought. It is not possible to establish either answer with any precision, and this has led some authors to adopt an absolute relativist position, that anything can be legitimately inferred from any piece of writing. Others, such as Bellamy, have adopted a strong contextualist position, that thinkers can only be understood in and through their national and historical context. Morton (1999) has proposed a compromise approach in relation to Gramsci which recognises the importance both of context and of relevance, and for the purposes of this study I shall adopt this approach. For Morton, the 'historical' elements of a thinker's work are crucial, but their contemporary relevance is the product of the selective application of certain themes beyond this context by secondary writers who prioritise certain aspects of a work as 'essential'. Thus, for Morton, the totality of Gramsci's work is of purely contextual relevance, but it is possible to adopt and develop certain relevant themes outside Gramsci's context. This method is, I feel, somewhat undeveloped, but nevertheless represents an advance on the previous positions, and has the additional benefit of being close to Gramsci's own position (FSPN 177).

This study therefore focusses selectively on particular aspects of Gramsci's theory to the exclusion of others. This is not a canonical attempt to establish that these elements were what mattered most to the 'real' Gramsci, or to assert that, as views of the 'real' Gramsci, they are necessarily right. Rather, I aim to establish that certain elements in Gramsci's approach, which have been neglected in the literature on Gramsci, contain potential to open up new spheres of research, new ways of conceptualising important problems and new answers to, or at least new ways of posing, existing questions. An important part of this aim is to establish that the elements in question do appear in Gramsci's work. Hence, part of this piece will be devoted to demonstrating an exegetical basis for the claims I am making regarding Gramsci's theories. The absence of these elements from the existing secondary literature is harder to demonstrate; however, where appropriate I shall compare Gramsci's writings with interpretations of them to demonstrate the absence of these particular elements from the latter. Finally, I shall apply these elements of Gramsci's work to a concrete historical problem in an attempt to demonstrate the potential I am claiming for it.

The area of Gramsci's theory I wish to emphasise is the grouping of problematics around intellectual development and popular philosophy (common sense, good sense, 'intellectual level', 'conceptions of the world', etc.). There is an exegetical case for emphasising this aspect of Gramsci's theory, since he used it as an instrumental focus for other, more widely discussed aspects: factory councils were important because they "gave the masses a 'theoretical' consciousness" (SPN 198), the party's role is "intellectual and moral reform" (SPN 133), intellectuals are important because they help workers attain "critical self-consciousness" (SPN 334), political theory should fit into a "systematic (coherent and logical) conception of the world" (SPN 136), and so on. More importantly, however, this aspect of Gramsci's theory has a contemporary relevance that other aspects of his theory are often lacking.

Existing approaches utilising other aspects drawn from Gramsci often stress the need to "'think' our problems in a Gramscian way" (Hall in Simon 1991:114). But their failure effectively to utilise Gramsci in a contemporary context is clear from severe difficulties with much of the work their approach has generated. Thus, Nield, Seed and Eley, discussing the impact of Gramscian concepts on social history, attack existing approaches for the "marginality" of the "actual conceptual language of the Prison Notebooks" (Nield and Seed 1981:209), which they see as reflecting an "idiosyncratic empiricism" (1981:211). Hegemony has been utilised as a mechanical replacement for discredited social control theories of ideology (Eley and Nield 1980:252), and has helped to rationalise rather than stimulate research (1980:254) in a context where common sense views are taken for granted (1980:256). Much of Gramsci's potential to generate discussion of the 'negotiation' of social relations has thus been lost (1980:269). As a political tendency, Gramscianism has collapsed, with many of those involved with currents such as 'Marxism Today' merging into the political mainstream (see particularly Showstack Sassoon 1996b). There is nothing wrong in principle with the selective usage of Gramsci by these writers, but there are severe problems with the specific selections they made. If Gramsci's relevance is to be maintained, there is thus a need for new developments in the use of his theories.

In order to utilise the elements I am stressing in Gramsci's account, it may be necessary to criticise, reject, or reinterpret other aspects of Gramsci's theory. That Gramsci wished to develop an integrated "critical and coherent conception of the world" is clear (SPN 324), but it is not clear that he succeeded in doing so. There may well be a core contradiction between Gramsci's intellectual development problematic and certain aspects of his political theory, particularly the implicit Jacobinism, authoritarianism and productivism inherent in many of his writings on the party, the state, economics, 'Americanism', law, coercion and schooling. More recent developments in the understanding of social deviance, labelling and deviance amplification have largely rendered Gramsci's perspectives in these areas redundant. An effective utilisation of Gramsci will also require transcending Gramsci's primitive approach to psychology. As many accounts affirm (eg. Albert and Hahnel, 1978:198; Brinton, cited op cit., 215), psychological barriers are important in understanding adaptation to capitalism by members of subaltern strata.

There are a great many issues to which the elements which I am stressing in Gramsci can potentially be applied. These include fundamental problems of Marxist theory and more general issues of empirical research and analysis. In discussions of the downturn in class struggle since about 1930, Gramsci provides an alternative both to 'mass society' approaches, which tend to exaggerate the extent of subordination, and approaches focusing on changes in the class structure - changes which have not undermined the predominance of social groups primarily dependent on paid employment. In media research, Gramsci's approach provides a possible alternative to models of the media as a mode of ideological control or as reflecting existing beliefs; they could be reflecting some beliefs to the exclusion of others. In the study of revolutions such as France 1789-1815, it raises the possibility of a new standard for assessing how far such revolutions can be termed 'bourgeois'. In analysis of the Russian revolution and its aftermath, Gramsci provides a possible framework for investigating links between continuity in mass beliefs and the bureaucratic degeneration and destruction of the popular elements in the revolution. Gramsci's theories also offer possible frameworks for understanding social deviance, 'moral panics', and a range of other phenomena. In this project, however, I have opted to focus on Nazism, in particular the relationship between conformity, dissent, and resistance, and of these elements to genocide. This investigation will be used as a test case for my claim that the elements I am stressing contain substantial possibilities for research and analytical innovation.

Some other points should also be made. Firstly, interpretations of Gramsci's philosophy are, as stated, highly diverse. Of the specialised works on this issue, there is a conflict between those such as Nemeth (1980), who see Gramsci as having a phenomenological conception of a reality constituted by subjectivity, and those, such as Morera (cited Gill 1993), who wish to see Gramsci as a realist with a belief in an intransigent external reality. For the purposes of this study, I come down firmly on the side of Nemeth, partly because his account is closer to Gramsci's remarks and partly because I feel it provides a more adequate framework for understanding the issues I am discussing. Secondly, following Germino (1996:21-2), I take the position that Gramsci fell outside the boundaries of 'normality' and therefore was able to pose a critique of common-sense as an outsider. This is an important part of the ethical 'loading' of Gramsci's theory, as well as its distance from most other contributions to political thought and not least from most of the secondary commentators, who remain, on the whole, insiders.


Gramsci's account of conceptions of the world is fundamental to his approach as a whole, whether viewed historically or in reference to contemporary political action. However, this account remains sparsely covered in the secondary literature. Where it is included, it is usually as an afterthought, included in an account laying stress on other elements which are either present in or projected into Gramsci, such as structural-objectivist determinants of hegemony (Femia 1975; Simon 1991:Chapters 8-9), theories of revolutionary organisation (Joll 1977:96), education (Entwhistle 1979; Adamson 1980a, 1978), or theories of intellectuals (Karabel 1976; Merrington, 1968:160, 163, 165). Issues around conceptions of the world thus remain a largely undeveloped element in Gramsci's approach.

The starting-point for Gramsci's approach is the universality of many forms of philosophical and conceptual activity. According to Gramsci, "All men are 'philosophers'", having at least a "spontaneous philosophy". We cannot help but adopt a philosophy since in "the slightest manifestation of any intellectual activity whatever, in 'language', there is contained a specific conception of the world" (SPN 323). Furthermore, anyone engaged in practical activity is also a philosopher because "in their practical activity (or in their guiding lines of conduct) there is implicitly contained a conception of the world, a philosophy" (SPN 344). Yet most people are unaware of this philosophical activity, which is resultantly subaltern and incoherent. For Gramsci, the existence of specialist philosophers is not enough, since all people perform philosophical actions. (This is a difference from, for instance, medical science or earthquake prediction, which can be devolved onto specialists as they need not be performed by everyone). By showing people that they unknowingly and inadequately perform philosophical roles, Gramsci suggests, they can be persuaded of the need to engage with philosophical issues coherently (SPN 28). That all people are 'philosophers' also has political and practical implications, since for Gramsci "the unity of theory and practice is not just a matter of mechanical fact, but a part of the historical process" (SPN 333). All people contribute to modifying or preserving their social environment through establishing, reinforcing and acting on 'norms'; therefore, all people are also "political beings" and "legislators". People who do not see themselves as political may nevertheless actively be promoting particular conceptions of the world through social relations such as parenthood (SPN 265-6; cf. also SPN 9). Since everyone acts on some conception of the world, everyone also has a 'party' in the broad sense of identifying with particular collective wills (Gramsci, cited Showstack Sassoon, 1980:240). Also, "every man is a man of science" since one cannot help but have knowledge of the world when one engages in interaction with it (SPN 354). Conceptions of the world are learnt, not natural; although belief-systems such as common sense may appear natural, they are in fact a primitive historical acquisition (SPN 198-9).

That people's activity embodies ideational conceptions and that these conceptions are predominantly social and historical constructs is an underlying belief of Gramsci's which represents a fundamental challenge to most existing forms of political thought. Liberals typically assume that behaviour which is not explicitly philosophical is best understood through a conception of human nature. Thus, Leszek Kolakowski attacks Gramsci's theory of dual consciousness on the grounds that what Gramsci saw as implicit beliefs embodied in practice are actually "natural inclinations" (1978:235), instincts like those of snails (1978:237) against which our conscious morality struggles. This approach is problematic for several reasons - eg. because behaviours like wage labour are of historically limited duration and fundamentally differ from the structure of 'primitive' societies, and also because it leads to an ill-conceptualised contradiction in which, while dominated by our egoistic instincts, we also (instinctively) rebel against these instincts and thereby curb them. Thus, for Kolakowski, the social order both reflects our underlying nature (1978:237) and conflicts with it (1978:235). Marxists such as Hoffman (1984) are well aware of this problem in liberalism, but typically fail to provide a meaningful alternative. (Hoffman himself ends up endorsing the very problematic of 'forcing one's self to be free' which he attacks in liberalism, merely in a harsher, more totalitarian form). Gramsci's conceptualisation thus offers a potential solution to a major problem in political theory. If people are acting on unconscious philosophies, it is quite possible that contradictory behaviours will result.

A problem arises with Gramsci's theory regarding the content of popular philosophies. After all, one cannot ascertain mass philosophies with the same means used to assess the written works of specialist philosophers; one simply does not have more-or-less coherent writings on which to work. Gramsci's answer is to point to a variety of ideational relations in which popular philosophies are expressed. Popular philosophy, Gramsci maintains, is rooted in language, "determined notions and concepts", common sense and good sense, popular religion and folklore (SPN 323). Other sources of information, such as mass literary tastes, are listed elsewhere. Gramsci's contention that such popular beliefs constitute a philosophy rests on his belief that they contain answers to principal philosophical questions such as "What is man?" (SPN 351). Popular philosophy has for Gramsci a powerful force in determining popular actions, and it is therefore central to understanding other important concepts such as hegemony. Hegemonic processes are important to Gramsci because they enable a class to establish the conditions for its existence as universal principles and as a world-view (FSPN 353). As Forgacs and Nowell-Smith argue (SCW 388): "an 'integral conception of the world' and a 'norm of conduct' are recurrent shorthand in the notebooks for the twin aspects of the 'intellectual and moral reformation'". The essential role of Marxism for Gramsci is to transform the "popular mentality" (SPN 348); education out of subalternity is not a question of stockpiling notions but rather, of spreading a conception of the world (FSPN 465). To achieve such goals, Marxism itself has to be a potentially self-sufficient weltanschauung (Nemeth, 1980:50), "a philosophy, an 'anthropology', and not a simple canon of historical research" (cited Paggi 1979:128). This is important because the social position of belief-systems is largely derivative from their status as a self-contained philosophy or as a part of a larger philosophy (SPN 157). Misguided politics result, for Gramsci, from flawed philosophy and logic; free-trade ideology, for instance, results from confusing the methodological distinction of state and society with organic relations (SPN 160).

Historically, Marxism is merely the latest in a series of philosophies to attempt to achieve such a role. At one stage, Catholicism became so widespread that alternative philosophies became incomprehensible; this historical statement is demonstrated by the confusion of "man" with "Christian" in mediaeval languages (FSPN 29). Liberalism, too, appears in Gramsci's theory as a conception of the world (FSPN 29), with its core beliefs such as egoistic rational agency and instrumental rationality treated not as 'amoral' and impartial elements but as characteristics of liberal philosophy. (Thus, the likes of Mill and Hart may claim to be against legal enforcement of morality, but in practice, their own model of the role of law enforces a form of philosophy and morality). Effective philosophies are integral, offering a coherent internal perspective unreliant on other philosophies; but they are rarely total. When religion becomes homogeneous, politics frequently acts as a channel for cultural difference, and vice-versa (FSPN 115).

Gramsci's account of morality and ethics further reinforces the idea of underlying assumptions guiding human agency (SPN 333). According to Gramsci, we all have ethical codes which we wish to see generalised; such ethical codes are not an ideal but an inevitable reality (SPN 374). All philosophies have an ethical 'moment', i.e. generate ethics and thereby will and action; Gramsci interprets the eleventh thesis on Feuerbach as saying this, and therefore suggests it to be the core belief of Marxism (FSPN 383-4). Hence his use of "philosophy of praxis". That philosophies always generate ethics makes ethical failure a condemnatory feature of a philosophy. Thus, for Gramsci, Catholicism is an inadequate philosophy because it cannot provide an integral morality: "An integral Catholic... who applied the Catholic norms in every act of his life, would seem a monster", and this is "the severest... criticism of Catholicism" (SPN 351).

Being embodied in collective practices such as language, philosophies and ethical systems often occur collectively. "In acquiring one's conception of the world one always belongs to a particular grouping which is that of all the social elements which share the same mode of thinking and acting" (SPN 324). Where people share a philosophy and ethic, the result is a "collective will". Creating a collective will (which can either be 'general' - an integral state- or 'partial' - a party or group) requires the creation of a common conception of the world which expresses itself emotionally, so that "great importance is assumed by the overall question of language, i.e. the collective attainment of a single cultural 'climate'" (FSPN 156). This usage of collective will is a crucial part of Gramsci's conception of hegemony. To Anderson's definition that a hegemonic class imposes its own vision whereas a corporate one pursues ends within a totality conceived as external (cited Poulantzas 1973:200), it can be added that, while a corporate class pursues internal impulses within the philosophical framework of a rival class, a hegemonic class elaborates these impulses into a philosophy of its own. Only a philosophy which has undergone sufficient qualitative development can attain hegemony (SPN 396), and it is only via philosophy that impulses can be transferred from economic and organic spheres into political relations (SPN 183). Where one's philosophy is unconscious, one will belong to a variety of social groups simultaneously, and this will leave one open to manipulation by 'directive' figures in one's environment, such as priests and wise-women (SPN 323-4).

Another important point about Gramsci's conception is the inseparability of philosophy and ideology. In many accounts, these are conceived as mutually incompatible or at least strongly distinct forms of ideation. For Gramsci, however, there is no qualitative difference between the two, "the distinction... being solely one of degree" (FSPN 353). Ideology is the immediate and partial manifestation of a social group's worldview or philosophy. In some cases, the "true" philosophy of social agents is to be found in their ideology, which is connected to concrete action, rather than in ineffectual abstract philosophy (FSPN 383). Philosophy becomes ideology when it is purely immediate and passionate, an immediacy which should not be elevated into a general method (FSPN 343). An ideology which lacks an obvious philosophy invariably contains an implicit one instead. Furthermore, ideologues must beware the social system they aim to penetrate. Propaganda does not flow into a void, but rather enters 'spontaneous' relationships with their own critical role and internal cultural hierarchies and with a tendency to dissect and rearticulate ideas (SCW 33). An ideology which fails overtly to address philosophy is thereby doomed on two fronts - to unconscious submersion in hostile belief-systems and impotence when faced with popular philosophy.

This account of the desirability of addressing popular philosophy has met a variety of responses. Many commentators on Gramsci simply ignore this aspect of his theory. For critics hostile to Gramsci, it is often seen as part of a deeper problem of Gramsci's 'totalitarianism'. Gramsci, they suggest, wishes for Marxist dominance over philosophy and common sense as a prerequisite to total control in society (see eg. Pellicani 1981, Scruton 1985, Bates 1975, Hughes 1959). Gramsci's account of integral philosophies is, however, fundamentally different from totalitarianism. Gramsci conceives of integrality as somewhat spontaneous, or at least organic. This is particularly clear in Gramsci's discussion of art, which for Gramsci is one 'moment' of a worldview. An expansive culture, argues Gramsci, should be "irresistible"; "it will find its artists", and if it fails to do so then the culture is not genuinely integral but rather, "the world in question was artificial and fictitious" (SCW 109). A phenomenon which requires an organisational dynamic to grow is by definition not expansive (SCW 211). A new integral philosophy would create new possibilities for art, as the worldview broadens artists' horizons (SCW 98); this would generate a new art "from deep within" through its impact on feelings, conceptions and relationships (SCW 207). By contrast, the dominance of economic and political forces without an integral philosophy tends to destroy art, morals and philosophy, breaking the general rule that economic, politics and culture reinforce each other (FSPN 400). Evidence against totalitarian readings of Gramsci (and their pro-Gramsci equivalents, such as Williams 1960, Kiernan 1972a and Giachetti 1972) is also provided elsewhere - for instance, in Gramsci's rejection of the actualist conflation of persuasion with all pressure including force (FSPN 445), his position that philosophies, though independent and self-sufficient, can still learn from each other (SPN 388-9) and his suggestion that the only legitimate "orthodoxy" is the claim to have a self-sufficient world-view (SPN 462).

Gramsci's approach to philosophy and 'conceptions of the world' involves a substantial revision or development of the basis of Marxist theory. In many ways, the concept of modes of production is replaced in Gramsci by concepts such as "ethical-political system" and "system of social relations" (SPN 119). For Gramsci, the struggle between economic systems is largely replaced by a struggle between conceptions of the world of which economic forms are one expression. Thus, Marxist historicism "is dialectical because it gives a place to the struggle of systems, to the struggle between ways of viewing reality" (cited Nemeth 1980:167; my emphasis). This fundamental innovation is missed in much of the secondary literature. For some authors (eg. Texier 1979, Entwhistle 1979:46, Wolpe 1970:279, Gill 1993:23, Kiernan 1972b:19-20) Gramsci is a conventional materialist or realist; for others (eg. Piccone 1974, 1976; Joll 1977; Bobbio 1979) Gramsci is more-or-less a conventional idealist. The specific problem of popular philosophy is missed by such categorisations. For materialists, mass beliefs are irrelevant to the objective conditioning factors on human practice, while for idealists, the ideas of 'great' intellectuals are directly historically effective. Gramsci fits badly into either approach (and indeed into the kind of Althusserian method used by, for instance, Buci-Glucksmann and Mouffe, who also stress the role of traditional-type philosophers) because his concern with the nature, contents and transformability of popular philosophy falls outside their core problematics. Many of the writers who have utilised elements drawn from Gramsci have downplayed this part of his theory. Stuart Hall, for instance, draws from Gramsci the belief that liberalism is so deeply embedded in common sense that "to many who think within its limits, it does not appear to be an ideology at all" (1983:35), but he also refuses to take Gramsci's references to philosophy seriously, putting the word in inverted commas and reducing its meaning to political outlook (1983:23, 25, 28). This is interesting since Hall in practice endorses the ('bourgeois') method of reducing popular action to 'interests' (1983:32-3, 36-7), and relies on a strongly objectivist model of society. Linking ethics to organic philosophies is similarly an innovation in relation to most forms of Marxism. For Gramsci, philosophical beliefs lead directly to strong organic attachments such as class solidarity (SPN 181); these are not derivative from self-interest plus discipline (as in for instance Przeworski 1985). In both cases, Gramsci's usage has largely not been developed by later Marxists, with many writers remaining within problematics shared with capitalist outlooks and/or common sense. Since dependence on such pro-system underlying beliefs is a plausible if untested possible cause of the analytical and transformative failures of such authors, Gramsci's theory of popular philosophy is an interesting untried approach to understanding social relations and phenomena.

Gramsci's discussion of popular philosophies leads him to a novel theory of social change. For Gramsci, social transformation can only occur when progressive forces "work incessantly to raise the intellectual level of ever-growing strata of the populace". "This second necessity, if satisfied, is what really modifies the 'ideological panorama' of the age" (SPN 340). The creation of a new world-view is for Gramsci equivalent to creating a new integral state (i.e. political and civil society) (SPN 381). Ideational change is the core of historical transformations. "The task of any historical initiative is to modify the preceding stages of culture, to homogenise culture at a higher level than it was" (FSPN 451; to 'homogenize' in Gramsci essentially means to make ideas coherent and/or to create a 'collective will'). Such change is a prerequisite to other forms of transformation; "The first step in emancipating oneself from political and social slavery is... freeing the mind" (Gramsci, cited Ransome 1992:180). This stress on ideational transformation has a fundamental influence on Gramsci's theory of revolution. Thus, the roles of revolutionary organisations are for Gramsci the creation of a "national-popular collective will" and an "intellectual and moral reform" or reformation (SPN 133). Hence also Gramsci's stress throughout his writings, across his orientations to factory councils, revolutionary parties and cultural associations, on the importance of prefigurative activities. For Gramsci, before coming into existence a new state and society must be "ideally active" in the minds of those struggling for change (SCW 39).

Why does Gramsci advocate this model of social change? There are a variety of reasons. For Gramsci, revolution had a different meaning to that of many Marxists. Gramsci was deeply concerned about the exclusion of oppressed groups under capitalism, and partly as a result, he developed a philosophical theory which saw the pursuit of universal subjectivity as a prime goal of social praxis (cf. Nemeth 1980; Germino 1996). Ideational change would be a prerequisite for the pursuit of universal subjectivity. Gramsci seems to see the development of ideas as enabling greater engagement and comprehension between diverse social groups (eg. FSPN 475). Conscious philosophy is inclusive to some extent because it enables intersubjective discursive engagement. In contrast, unconscious popular philosophy is a barrier to social transformation and intersubjective engagement alike. It is also incompatible with freedom. For Gramsci, popular philosophy is not only incoherent but also "mechanically imposed"; it prevents individuals playing an active role in creating and moulding the world and themselves (SPN 323-4). Conscious philosophies, by contrast, enable us to recreate ourselves and the world by modifying social relations (SPN 360) - provided these philosophies are of a mass character.

Gramsci furthermore presents historical reasons for placing primary emphasis on changes in popular philosophy in revolutionary processes. For Gramsci, changes in conceptions of human nature mark all major revolutions (SPN 356). In particular, 'bourgeois' revolutions essentially involved overcoming pre-capitalist conceptions of the world and of life (SCW 249). The period leading up to the French Revolution is a good example (SPN 394). These historical observations on the cultural prerequisites of 'bourgeois' revolutions are supported by a good deal of recent historical research (eg. Hill 1964, 1975, 1993; Jones 1996). Furthermore, Gramsci observes that governments' capacities for effective action are severely limited by the state of popular philosophy. For instance, attempts to legislate on the 'sexual question' without altering popular conceptions are likely merely to generate a backlash (SPN 296), and even explicitly coercive policies such as conscription are only possible where the right climate has been created (SPN 65). The existence of conceptions of the world in conflict with the government's cannot, Gramsci suggests, be repressed out of existence. In practice, rival parties and tendencies always exist even where they have no legal basis, and repression only serves to make conflicts between these groups insoluble (SPN 149). Economic change is also important in social transformations, but such change is largely an expression of changes in philosophy as embodied in social relations (SPN 133). Furthermore, "it is not the economic structure which directly determines political action, but it is the interpretation of it and of the so-called laws of its development" (Gramsci, cited Bobbio 1979:33). Also, victories in the ideational sphere confer more lasting benefits than those in other spheres. For Gramsci, a revolutionary theory can reach "a peak inaccessible to the enemy camp" (SPN 462), and for this reason "in politics, the 'war of position', once won, is won decisively" (SPN 239).

The process of ideational change is itself necessarily 'molecular' and gradual. For Gramsci, "every revolution has been preceded by an intense labour of criticism" including "the spread of ideas among masses of men who are at first resistant" (SPWI 11-12). This outlook is one factor in the labelling of Gramsci as a gradualist or reformist by a number of authors (eg. Anderson 1976-77:62-4, Simon 1991:17, Mancini and Galli 1968:333, Landy 1996:53). This classification is not entirely unfounded, but ignores a crucial distinction in Gramsci's thought. For Gramsci, we should not confuse cultural transformations "which are slow and gradual" and are never "explosions", with political revolutions which may be rapid and explosive (SCW 418-19). Furthermore, the process of ideational change may be gradual but is also qualitatively revolutionary; it involves new ways of thinking and living, a new morality and psychology (SCW 41), new forms of language (SCW 43) and the emergence of new philosophical discourse (SPN 357) and a new integral philosophy (SPN 366). Also, such cultural transformation is for Gramsci a threat to the existing social order, for whereas partial conceptions create parties and tend to seek concessions within the existing system, integral philosophies tend to create new integral states (FSPN 34, 37).


As well as being a principle of active praxis, Gramsci's approach to philosophies is interpretive and methodological. For Gramsci, historical conflicts always reflect a clash of ethico-political principles of some kind, and unless one inquires into why and how one such principle defeats another, one can only describe historical events from an external perspective and cannot draw causal conclusions (FSPN 359). Some theorists have read Gramsci's idea of uniting theory and practice as a kind of simplistic conjunctural politicism: "You lose because you lose because you lose" (Hall 1991:125). Aside from problems of tautology and epistemic difficulties with this approach, it fits badly with Gramsci's remarks on the need for subtlety in establishing such relations. "The 'individual' philosopher of the Italian or German type is tied to practice in a mediated way, and there are often many rings on the chain of mediation. The pragmatist on the other hand wishes to tie himself immediately to practice. It would appear, however, that the Italian or German type of philosopher is more 'practical' than the pragmatist who judges from immediate reality, often at the most vulgar level, in that the German or Italian has a higher aim, sets his sights higher and tends (if he tends in any direction) to raise the existing cultural level" (SPN 373). The relationship between theory and practice in Gramsci is thus a relation mediated by philosophy, culture and science, and Gramsci's theory of science is an integral part of his theory of philosophy.

Gramsci was deeply critical of the approaches to science which were dominant in his day, and his criticisms can also be applied to some current trends in the social sciences, such as post-positivism and realism (including 'Gramscian' methods such as those of Morera and Gill). For Gramsci, direct sensuous experience cannot be a starting point for science or philosophy because such experience has no relation to real beliefs which can be accessed (Nemeth 1980:75; Nun 1996:199). Facts furthermore presuppose concepts. "An enquiry into a series of facts to discover the relations between them presupposes a 'concept' that permits one to distinguish this series from other possible series of facts"; this concept is necessarily prior to the factual examination itself and therefore reflects a deeper world-view within which science operates (SPN 461). It is therefore impossible to have a social science without an underlying philosophy (SPN 426-7). Gramsci is deeply critical of the use of rigid and schematic methods to conceal this dependence. Schematic 'science' easily leads to a kind of tautology where facts are categorised into laws which are then used to account for facts (SPN 461-2). Schematism can also become the basis for 'journalistic improvisations' (SPN 428) or become dogmatic and parrot-like (SCW 93). Furthermore, it is possible to have schemas which are "neither history nor philosophy" but merely "abstract verbal schemes supported by a tedious and parrot-like phraseology" (FSPN 446). A theory can easily be internally coherent without being scientific; theology and 'pure' economics are for Gramsci examples of this (FSPN 172). Gramsci is furthermore critical of rigid divisions between areas of study which he sees as generating a harmful cocoon (FSPN 440). The concept of 'utopianism', incidentally, undergoes substantial amendment in Gramsci's approach compared to its use by positivistic Marxists. Utopian does not refer to an absence of scientific method but to a gap between the intentions and consequences of actions (FSPN 444).

Gramsci's alternative model of science stresses the themes developed in his discussion of popular philosophy. Science is for Gramsci not the discovery of externalised realities but the creation of an expanded conception of life (SPN 244-5), and of new "logical connections" and "mental schema" (FSPN 402). Not every formulation is scientific, however; to attain this status, beliefs must be relevant to changing historical relations and have a potential for universality expressed in a tendency to become organic (SPN 201). Science is always a unity of facts with a general philosophy or ideology; the same facts can be articulated to many ideologies, and science, as an ideological phenomenon, cannot itself lift the veil of ideology (FSPN 293). Furthermore, science always has a mobilising or active moment (FSPN 294), and the concrete reality of its nature is often expressed in this moment rather than its general claims (FSPN 332). One cannot be schematic in setting out what thought constitutes science, especially since universal subjectivity is a goal rather than a reality. The best, 'highest' method, according to Gramsci, is the one which is best able to reconcile popular culture, experimental science, and a sophisticated philosophy (FSPN 418). Furthermore, a scientific approach must constantly compare its theory with the facts it conceptualises (FSPN 426).

Such approaches make the concept of science difficult to operationalise. For Gramsci, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Culture, and implicitly science, is for Gramsci more a matter of general outlook than specific methods: "thinking well, whatever one thinks, and therefore acting well, whatever one does", the "exercise of thought, acquisition of general ideas, habit of connecting causes and effects" and so on (SCW 25), developing habits of synthesis and generalisation rather than fragmentary discussion of specific issues (SCW 24). While there can be no general method for assessing the scientific status of work, there are general criteria which Gramsci feels can be applied, such as rigorous and consistent relations between premises and conclusions, historical and argued validity of premises, homogeneity of premises (FSPN 284), conceptual awareness, awareness of historical discussions of one's area of study, and caution in making assertions (SPN 439).


In the absence of schematic scientific methods, the importance assumed by linguistic, conceptual and logical issues in understanding social phenomena is increased substantially. For Gramsci, the development of logical abilities is crucial to effective engagement with historical issues. Logical methods are, Gramsci believes, the means whereby past experience is transmitted to the present (FSPN 282). Such abilities are, Gramsci believes, learnt rather than innate: "ways of thinking are acquired and not innate and... once acquired, their correct use corresponds to a professional qualification. Not to possess them, not to be aware of not possessing them, not to raise the problem of acquiring them... is like claiming to be able to build an automobile while knowing that one must rely on the workshop and tools of a village blacksmith" (SCW 383). Popular logic was, Gramsci believed, deeply inadequate, as demonstrated by frequent inadequacies in the recall of spoken statements (SCW 385). The aim to create "a new culture on a new social base" raises instantly the problem of the development of logical abilities (SCW 383). Only when we have developed logical capacities can we engage in effective activity (SCW 26-7). The study of logic would "provide people with criteria that enable them to carry out checks and make judgements and it will correct distortions in common sense ways of thinking" (FSPN 301). Without logic, people act in a self-contradictory manner, as immediate interest and emotion are manipulated to shape their action (FSPN 302-3). Learning logic is if anything more important than literacy, since one cannot have someone else use logic on one's behalf (FSPN 302). Particularly crucial is the ability to work with concepts. The ability to "order" concepts and facts by referring them to each other is a crucial form of intellectual training (FSPN 151-2), and acquiring the ability to switch between abstract concepts and specific instances is the core educative principle for Gramsci (SPN 38). We need analytical categories to create meaning (SPN 369).

Gramsci's arguments sometimes sound like straightforward praise for formal logic, and this is indeed part of their content. But they are also more complex. Formal logic, Gramsci states at one point, is an expression of common sense (SPN 435). Good logic applied presumptuously to inappropriate factual premises leads to absurd arguments where present events are denied (FSPN 302-3). For Gramsci, dogmatism is often a characteristic of imprisonment within the schemas of formal logic (SPN 454). The dialectic is not for Gramsci merely a branch of formal logic but rather a new logic and a new epistemology (SPN 456). Furthermore, logic is dissimilar to mathematics due to the non-equivalence of different conceptual languages (SCW 384-5). Thus, as with science, the formal aspect is less important than a general mind-set. Incidentally, there is now considerable evidence to support Gramsci's contention about the inadequacy of popular logic. In particular, Pateman (1993) provides evidence that social and political concepts are used in a confused and ill-defined manner in popular discourse and that this provides a barrier to radical forms of thought, which often rest on valid but subtle conceptual distinctions.


Language is perhaps the most important element in Gramsci's theory of popular philosophy. For Gramsci, a language is an "integral conception of the world" (SCW 226; cf. FSPN 148). Language is the core of struggles between philosophies. Thus, "every cultural current creates a language of its own", contributing to the development of a national language by inventing new terms, using old terms metaphorically and reworking historical labels (SCW 414). Social power is linguistically based. The power of an army hierarchy over soldiers is for Gramsci more linguistic and conceptual than coercive; he cites a military source on how preparation for war involves "promoting modes of reasoning which are not discordant, and uniformity of language" to "enable all to understand and make themselves understood" (SPN 218). "Human nature", as the "totality of historically determined social relations", is essentially, Gramsci implies, a linguistic phenomenon; it can be ascertained through philology and criticism (SPN 133). New developments in science nearly always revolve around new developments of language through the 'metaphorical' usage of concepts employing the language of pre-existing systems in a manner contradictory with these systems and thus literally impossible within them (FSPN 426). Definition of concepts is crucial to political movements; 'errors' frequently result from a failure to define terms (FSPN 439), and many of the core questions of Marxist philosophy are for Gramsci definitional (SPN 425). Furthermore, the complexity of one's worldview is determined by the complexity of one's language (SPN 325).

Language is for Gramsci a fundamentally social phenomenon. He refuses to believe that artificial or personal languages are 'non-language', but also maintains that in general language is an element in a cultural-political-moral-emotional environment and therefore, that linguistic change occurs socially (SCW 178). Language retains this collective character through interactions where clarification is requested (SCW 180). Language always has a "living source to which it can refer", and "linguistic pressures are exerted only from the bottom upwards" (SCW 29-30).

As a historical phenomenon, language is in constant movement. New strata establish new usages of language, often in rebellion against formal grammar, and linguistic fluidity is important to enable the expression of new truths and needs (SCW 31). The form of language changes only infrequently, but its meaning changes regularly (SCW 195). Often the formation of a new philosophy involves reworking concepts in terms of their importance (SPN 195). Thus, words like 'liberty' (FSPN 352) and 'patriotism' (FSPN 359) contain different meanings in different belief-systems. (This is similar to, but different from, the approaches developed by Mouffe 1979 and Laclau and Mouffe 1985, mainly in the historical character of discourse in Gramsci compared to the presupposed 'free-floating' elements in the latter versions). Language acts as an expression of emotions (SCW 268). It furthermore expresses the past in the present, since past words are often retained with new, 'metaphorical' meanings (SPN 449-50). The constant process of metaphorical articulation of language makes the idea of fixed and universal languages a 'utopia', and points instead towards a "critical and historicist" conception of language (SPN 451).

Just as Gramsci criticises artificial languages such as Esperanto, so he also attacks conceptual systems which have the character of "philosophical Esperanto" (FSPN 303-4). Such disconnected systems have the problem of being unable to express popular needs and emotions, and therefore tend towards irrelevance. Positivists in particular, Gramsci claims, tend to arbitrary redefinition of words and concepts while remaining unable to generalise their new usages (SPN 451). For Gramsci, the historical content of language cannot simply be defined out of existence (SPN 452), and therefore, a new philosophy needs new terms and concepts (SPN 455-6). It is also important for such new language to become organic. This is one important element in the concept of 'national-popular', a concept which refers to the emotional content of language (SCW 122-3).

In addition to poor definition, we should, Gramsci believes, beware artificial linguistic conflicts. Accounts produced in different conceptual languages can have difficulty engaging with each other (FSPN 182-3), and such linguistic differences can create false divisions (FSPN 309). It should, Gramsci suggests, be possible to 'translate' between many forms of conceptual language, and to demonstrate valid conclusions in any such language (FSPN 183-4). Definitional issues are particularly important since one word often has many different usages (FSPN 456). Language also exists in Gramsci's theory in a close relationship with praxis. For Gramsci, the value of language is a characteristic of its 'instrumental' transformative/explanatory capacity (FSPN 344).


Gramsci is almost unique among political thinkers in engaging critically with common sense from the position of an 'outsider'. In addition to challenging liberal assumptions about free and rational actors, Gramsci's theory of common sense represents a fundamental challenge to the more conventional Marxist problematic of false consciousness. Gramsci found unconvincing the idea of false consciousness as self-deception (SPN 326-7), and resultantly began to construct an alternative theory to account for popular beliefs. Gramsci's approach is based on the analysis of what Nun terms "collective and self-evident ways of perceiving reality" (1996:217), and focuses on the specific forms of philosophy which he believed existed among ordinary people. Common sense is for Gramsci "the folklore of philosophy" (SCW 421), i.e. the specific form of philosophical conception of the world existing among the subaltern strata.

Common sense in Gramsci's accounts has a number of important characteristics. Firstly, it is, in Hoare and Nowell-Smith's terms, "uncritical and largely unconscious" (SPN 322). It is dogmatic and anti-dialectical: "thinking dialectically goes against vulgar common sense, which is dogmatic and eager for fixed certainties" (SPN 435). Secondly, it is incoherent. For Gramsci, incoherence is the "most fundamental" characteristic of common sense (SPN 419). Common sense and religion "cannot be reduced to unity and coherence even within an individual consciousness, let alone collective consciousness" (SPN 326); this makes common sense a barrier to the pursuit of universal subjectivity. It also has an effect of barring effective analysis, having an illusionary effect (Gramsci cited Femia, 1979:483). Because it is based on contradiction, common sense can be used to support or 'prove' anything; in common sense, one can find "anything that one likes" because it is a "chaotic aggregate of different conceptions" (SPN 422). A superficial coherence around elements in common sense can only be created by authoritarian means (SPN 326), and common sense therefore poses anti-democratic dangers.

One reason for this incoherence is the character of common sense as an amalgam of historical forms of consciousness. Common sense contains ossified residues from previous stages of history (SPN 324), and through these residues it tends to ensure that ideation lags behind economic development (SPN 68). Common sense is incoherent because the trace elements of previous philosophies clash with each other, and it is also historically limited and limiting, elaborated for the past and not amenable to the problems of the present (SPN 324). Partly for this reason, partly because of its auto-affirming character (Landy 1996:57) and partly because of the resistance to argument of most commonsensical subjects, common sense is "crudely neophobe and conservative" (SPN 423). It is also in movement, developing through the addition of ideas drawn from philosophy and science. Common sense is mid-way between science and folklore as usually understood, but tending towards the latter since its ideas generally ossify over time, creating the "folklore of the future" (SPN 326). Common sense is not exclusively a popular phenomenon, nor is it identical between different people. Common sense exists "even in distinguished brains" (cited Wohl 1979:283). Its form is diverse; "there is not just one common sense" (SPN 325). Every class has its own 'common sense' and 'good sense' reflecting its conception of the world (SCW 421). The use of a single concept, however, implies some similarity between these forms of common sense.

A methodological question could be raised here regarding the possibility of ascertaining the content of common sense. Nun in particular has criticised Gramsci for his hostility to the use of statistical methods for this purpose (1996:210). Gramsci has good reason for rejecting such methods, which he sees as unable to reflect the diversity of beliefs within common sense. More reliable sources, Gramsci suggests, are the status of various ideological currents and the popularity or otherwise of cultural products (SCW 418). For instance, the diversity of forms of common sense can be shown by the existence of varying tastes in popular literature (SCW 359). Today, we could add some forms of qualitative research to the list of approaches. The most important question, however, is to avoid a superficial examination. Common sense itself is "superficially explicit and verbal" (SPN 333), but it coexists with good sense which is often expressed in action and is therefore not ascertainable by methods such as surveys.

As a philosophy, common sense has implicit answers to philosophical questions. It is, Gramsci maintains, a "na‹ve realism" (cited McInnes 1964:14), in which realist and materialist elements predominate in a superstitious and acritical form (SPN 420). In particular, the view of the world as an objective external reality (with which Gramsci disagreed) is "an iron fact of common sense", occurring in its most extreme form, that of a world "ready-made, catalogued and defined once and for all". This is a belief of religious origin, Gramsci suggests, resulting from the idea that God created the universe before humanity (SPN 441). Thus, 'vulgar' materialism is closely linked to the beliefs, prejudices and superstitions of common sense (SPN 396), as is religious transcendentalism, to which mechanical materialism is closely related (SPN 390).

In Gramsci's theory, a deeply-held philosophy necessarily also influences actions and beliefs in other spheres. In the case of common sense, one result of objectivism is "a determinist and mechanical conception of history", a conception Gramsci specifically identifies with common sense and relates to the consequences of mass passivity. This conception also leads to a tendency to reify collectives as externally existing abstractions, a process which can predispose people towards 'organic centralism' (FSPN 15; for definitions of this concept see FSPN 94 and also Showstack Sassoon 1980). Mechanicism leads to a conception that "what will be will be", rather than a view of the future as responsive to human praxis (SPN 187). Mechanicism is, Gramsci suggests, an attempt to resolve peremptorily the "need" for predictability in social relations (SPN 437).

A tendency to see the world as existing in its complete form also generates a tendency to naturalise phenomena. One common 'totem' is that everything which exists is 'natural' and should exist, a belief which leads to a faith in the capacity of traditional forces to keep everything functioning indefinitely. There is some truth in this assumption - much action is indeed habitual - but the realisation that most of what exists is social rather than natural is a prerequisite to revolutionary consciousness (SPN 157-8). The popular attitude to science tends to be messianic and ignorant, missing in particular the crucial element of praxis and therefore tending to generate passivity (FSPN 294-5). Common sense and folklore tend to reinterpret science as morality, so that a concept of predictable reality transmutes into a concept of natural justice (SPN 35).

Partly as a result of this, common sense also has a dogmatic and mystical epistemology, attributing events to extra-human absolutes (see Bellamy 1987:127). In particular, society tends to be reified. For Gramsci, the belief that society exists as "a phantasmagorical being, the abstraction of the collective organism" is "a common-sense conception" related to passivity and to the religious/mechanicist elements in common sense (SPN 187). This kind of "fetishism" is also noted by Gramsci in relation to states, parties and churches (cited Kiernan, 1972a:84; cf. FSPN 344).

Naturalisation also tends to generate racist and other stereotypes. Gramsci does not tie these stereotypes explicitly to common sense, but the comments he makes (eg. FSPN 188-9) certainly imply their character as such. For instance, there was a tendency among northern Italians to attribute southerners' poverty, not to social conditions (which northerners "did not understand"), but rather to "organic incapacity", a belief which gained the appearance of "scientific truth" in the north (SPN 70-1). The terms used here suggest a utilisation of the model of social phenomena transmuting into natural and just phenomena in common sense to explain anti-southern prejudice. This model could also be used to explain prejudice against other oppressed groups.

Gramsci also discusses briefly a number of specific elements in common sense. It contains a desire for revenge and punishment against those perceived as responsible for injustice against ordinary people (SCW 348-9). Its position on 'superstructures' is dogmatic (FSPN 346). Natural law theories have a basis in popular consciousness (FSPN 398), while the legitimation of law is also a common sense phenomenon which can be traced to submission to God in religion (FSPN 522). Common sense also has cultural effects, such as the imitation of styles from cultural products (SCW 378), and psychological effects, such as a tendency to be harsher on others than on one's self (SPN 373-4). One of the most useful aspects of the concept for a contemporary user is its general flexibility. A variety of issues can be discussed in relation to the concept. For instance, if common sense implies an individualist ontology, this may help us to understand the wide dissemination of the fear of 'anarchy' even though 'anarchy' has never occurred, and the widespread belief in deterrence even though sociological evidence tends to discredit this belief.
Gramsci also discusses the impact of particular philosophies on common sense. For Gramsci, part of Marxism, 'historical economism', has entered common sense (FSPN 420). His discussion of the partial organicisation of liberalism are, however, more extensive. Liberalism as an integral conception, Gramsci believes, never reached outside the sphere of traditional intellectuals. In popular philosophy, the concept of liberty tended to merge with elements contradictory to it, such as religion and nationalism. 'Liberty' thus became primarily liberty to keep one's anti-liberal superstitions, which in fact prioritise authority over liberty. Common sense thus neutered liberalism while adopting its language, and enabled conservatives and reactionaries to pose as the representatives of 'real' liberty against licentious liberals (FSPN 352). (This would include fascists; Le Pen is particularly fond of the theme of 'laxisme' and the idea of real versus excessive freedom). Gramsci also suggests that liberalism tended to be transmuted by common sense into nationalism through the rearticulation of the heritage of the French Revolution. "That the concrete content of popular liberalism was the concept of fatherland and nation may be seen from its process of unfolding in nationalism" (FSPN 359).


The concept of folklore in Gramsci is closely related to the concept of common sense. Folklore is an implicit "conception of the world and life" existing in implicit opposition to official conceptions (SCW 189). Folklore is similar to common sense; common sense is, indeed, "philosophical folklore" (SCW 189). Like common sense, folklore is unsystematic due to popular conceptual underdevelopment, and, also like common sense, it is contradictory, contains residues from past historical phases, and draws on present scientific and historical opinions (SCW 189). It also results from the conditions of cultural life of the people (SCW 190), contains different elements and levels, both within each form and between different social groups (SCW 195), and draws heavily on ruling-class culture (SCW 194).

The main difference between the concepts seems to be in their sphere of application. Common sense is applied primarily to philosophy and politics, whereas folklore concerns all issues of life defined broadly. The issues discussed in each case are, however, similar. Music, for instance, is seen as embodying a conception of life in discussions of folklore (SCW 195), and linguistic change is again discussed (SCW 195), as are the coexistence of progressive and reactionary elements in popular morality (SCW 190), and the existence of a popular conception of 'natural law' (SCW 193). The concept is also used in a relativist manner: religion is 'folklore' compared to Marxism (SCW 190). Folklore is kept alive, Gramsci suggests, by encouragement from intellectuals who do not themselves endorse it (SCW 190).

I would suggest, in contrast with Lo Piparo, Landy (1996:57) and Wohl (1979), that the concept of folklore is no longer a useful element in contemporary applications of Gramsci's ideas, but rather an element specific to 1920s Italy. In contemporary western societies, the beliefs and practices of subaltern strata would no longer generally be described as folklore. As a result, a stress on this concept may create an illusion in the adequacy of contemporary mass beliefs. The concept of folklore is therefore, I would argue, of historical and contextual interest only, and of little use for understanding processes in contemporary developed societies.


Why do members of subaltern strata endorse common sense? Gramsci gives a number of reasons. Firstly, ideas which are flawed today may well have been functional at some point, meeting psychological needs or providing a framework for rationalising the world and thereby enabling activity (SPN 337). For Gramsci, everything is 'rational' in the sense that it meets real historical needs (SPN 126). Mechanicism, for instance, is functional for subaltern strata because it acts as a force of moral resistance amid defeat (SPN 336).

Gramsci also suggests that cultural and social forms help reinforce common sense. The objectification of the 'people-nation', for instance, tends to lead to the reinforcement and degeneration of common sense (Adamson, 1980a:196). The dominant strata may hold down the intellectual development of the subaltern strata by co-opting and/or physically relocating intellectuals and thereby preventing intellectuals from playing a popular educative role (Adamson 1980a:94). "Impudent lies" may be used to fragment a collective will (cited Boggs, 1976:71). Cultural institutions such as theatre may be used to hold back rather than develop critical abilities (Dombroski, 1996:105). Common sense may result from deference to dominant social groups (SPN 12), and involve a "borrowing of conceptions" binding people intellectually to the leading class (cited Merrington 1968:160). Gramsci also links common sense to the role of institutions like schools and newspapers and even the role of pro-leading-class socialists (cited Merrington 1968:162). Certainly Gramsci saw a close relationship between common sense and a particular kind of journalism - the "moralising review" - and its reflections in coverage of crime and of local and topical issues, which he saw as playing a role in introducing "new commonplaces" (SCW 419-20). Thus, common sense is related to the question of hegemony and to many of the issues discussed in Gramscian-inspired sociological accounts.

However, there are also specifically intellectual elements. As Femia puts it, workers grudgingly accept the status quo because "they lack the conceptual tools" to formulate an alternative (1975:33). People may well accept ideas which are easy to conceptualise within existing frameworks, avoiding complex concepts (Levy 1996:40). Furthermore, conceptual inadequacy tends to generate, Gramsci believes, a reliance on a kind of group authority. Although the "man of the people" may be unable to defend his (or her) own conception, such people are confident that all the people who agree with common sense cannot be wrong and that someone in the in-group would be able to answer any criticism raised (SPN 339). This, of course, has an enormously conservative effect, but it is not necessarily irrational. Someone lacking conceptual abilities may be aware of their own vulnerability to manipulation and therefore may avoid being swayed by direct argument. However, the tendency to naturalise the world delimits perceptions of the possible. If existing reality and 'experience' are taken for granted, we cannot construct an epistemology to explain such experience, science and philosophy are reduced to a posteriori description, and the transformability of reality becomes inconceivable, leading to passivity (Nemeth, 1980:104). The roots of common sense and its effects in the underdevelopment of popular conceptual abilities pose the problem of the development of these abilities as a prerequisite for transformative politics of any variety.


A surprising number of commentators on Gramsci maintain that Gramsci's approach to common sense was essentially positive, seeing Gramsci as endorsing or praising common sense or seeing it as a crucial component or test of Marxism (Kiernan 1972:67, Kann 1980:266, Ransome 1992:181, Joll 1977:101, Adamson 1978:436, Bellamy 1987:137, Wohl 1979:283, Entwhisle 1979:121, Femia 1989:284, Thompson 1991:10-11). Others see common sense as the basis for philosophical elaboration (Mouffe 1979:186, Williams 1960:593) or a permanently existing sphere of activity where ideas conflict (Simon 1991, Hall 1986:36).

There are several grounds for criticising such interpretations. The first is exegetical. Gramsci is consistently critical of approaches reinforcing or relying on common sense. One must not, Gramsci cautions, reinforce the acritical attitudes of common sense (SPN 420). In works directed at non-intellectuals, the starting point should be the critique of common sense (SPN 419). Gramsci attacks a number of other thinkers for supposedly tailing common sense, including De Man (SPN 197), Kant (SPN 199), Croce (SPN 199, 422) and Gentile (SPN 422). Appeals to common sense to discredit idealist and subjectivist positions have for Gramsci "a rather 'reactionary' significance"; the common-sense attitude should be explained rather than endorsed, and this issue is crucial enough to determine whether Marxism can become hegemonic (SPN 441-2). Pure economics is criticised for "dressing up the most trivial banalities of common sense... in some pompous scientific cloak" (FSPN 166). Appeals to common sense are an excuse for dogmatism; the church uses common sense as an excuse to ignore argued refutations (FSPN 67-8). The reinforcement of common sense superstitions is for Gramsci a means of impeding intellectual development (FSPN 353). Gramsci praises Brunschvicg's view of spiritualisation as "the effort through which the spirit frees itself from common sense" (FSPN 421-2), and adopts a similar view of change, not as utilising common sense, but as overcoming it. "At those times in history when a homogeneous social group is brought into being, there comes into being also, in opposition to common sense, a homogeneous - in other words, coherent and systematic - philosophy" (SPN 419, my emphasis). Even in rare situations where crises enable Marxism to spread in spite of common sense, this merely demonstrates, through the resultant crudification of Marxism, the "necessity of creating a new culture" (SPN 276). Furthermore, common sense cannot be used as a proof of anything: "to refer to common sense as a confirmation of truth is nonsense" (SPN 423). This is because common sense is contradictory so that one can find anything one wishes in it. Common sense observations can be arbitrarily generalised to produce arbitrary judgements (FSPN 345). The closest one can come to using common sense as a valid proof is that a belief-system can be said to be exceptionally valid and expansive if it enters common sense, because common sense is inherently neophobe (SPN 423). Mouffe's counter-argument - that Gramsci endorses the common sense conclusion on reality - is explicitly contradicted: Marxism "rejects the common sense conception" on this subject despite similar conclusions (FSPN 291).

The second reason applies equally to those accounts which see Gramsci as endorsing common sense and those (eg. Nun 1996) which criticise Gramsci for attacking common sense. Common sense contains within it a deeply oppressive, exclusionary and authoritarian impulse. Nun mistakenly believes that common sense gives "everybody" the chance to be understood (1996:217). But its tendency to naturalise social relations makes it impossible for the excluded and oppressed to articulate their social position in a comprehensible manner. Furthermore, far from criticism of common sense being authoritarian, as Nun (1996:216) argues, it is common sense which contains authoritarian impulses. A few of Gramsci's remarks can be recalled: on the transmutation of liberalism into an excuse for anti-liberal prejudice (FSPN 352), popular impulses towards revenge (SCW 348-9), a tendency to support subordination (FSPN 522), the tendency for naturalisation to generate organic centralism (FSPN 15), and the common sense basis of dogmatism (FSPN 67-8). Common sense contains an implicitly repressive impulse because there is a need for predictability in social relations (FSPN 15). Yet common sense cannot supply this, except through authoritarian forms of closure (SPN 326). There is considerable evidence for Gramsci's thesis. The issue of common sense and Nazism will be examined below; other examples of common sense generating exclusion and oppression include "moral panics", McCarthyism and the 'naturalisation' of issues like gender and ethnic inequalities. Gramsci's theory, adapted to different contexts, contains substantial potential as a means of understanding (and, therefore, combating) oppression and exclusion - a potential which is not realised where this account is ignored, peripheralised or replaced. It may well be that many of the Gramscian commentators themselves share common-sense philosophy too closely to develop Gramsci's critique of it. (There is a little conceptual slippage in Gramsci's usage of the term "common sense", so that a few passages - eg. SPN 145, FSPN 128 - provide support for certain of these readings; but this occurs with most of Gramsci's concepts, including hegemony, the state, and so on, and does not affect Gramsci's core usage. cf. Anderson 1976-77).

Gramsci's critique of common sense was, of course, primarily a critique of common sense as it existed in Italy in the 1920s and 1930s. However, certain of its characteristics can be generalised to discuss popular beliefs elsewhere. Themes such as the naturalisation of social issues, the ethicalisation of science and a na‹ve realist conception of reality are present in a range of social contexts, and are not limited to Gramsci's context. Hoare and Nowell-Smith attempt to distance Gramsci's usage of common sense from what is generally understood by this term in English, suggesting empirical common sense is 'good sense' instead (SPN 326). This view is also endorsed by Boothman (FSPN 556-7), Nun (1996:226) and Nemeth (1980:93). However, a close examination of the beliefs included under the heading of common sense (particularly the philosophical element of vulgar empirical materialism) suggests that English common sense is very much common sense as understood by Gramsci: an underlying conception of the world limiting and framing conceptions and acting as a barrier to critical and coherent thought. If anything, British common sense is particularly conservative, since in Britain the national-popular bloc was formed, not by the bourgeoisie and the masses, but by the aristocracy and the masses (SPN 216).


Although Gramsci is hostile to common sense, he also maintains that elements exist in popular thought and action which provide a foundation for progressive activity. The very contradictory nature of common sense means that, although it is not on the whole true, it is almost certain to contain truths (SPN 423). "The active man-in-the-mass has a practical activity, but has no clear theoretical consciousness of his practical activity, which nonetheless involves understanding the world in so far as it transforms it... One might almost say that he has two theoretical consciousnesses (or one contradictory consciousness): one which is implicit in his activity and which in reality unites him with all his fellow workers in the practical transformation of the real world; and one, superficially explicit or verbal, which he has inherited from the past and uncritically absorbed" (SPN 333). This dual consciousness generates passivity and is a site of competing hegemonies (SPN 333). The problem of a contradiction between the philosophy and ethic implicit in people's action is not one of self-deception, for it is too widespread (SPN 326-7). It is rather, Gramsci believes, a particular product of subalternity. Subaltern masses consciously affirm ruling-class ideas and believe themselves to be acting on them - as indeed they often are in periods of passivity (SPN 327). But subaltern strata also have their own implicit conceptions of the world which emerge in activity of various forms. This implicit conception provides a basis for an elaboration into Marxism.

There is considerable evidence for Gramsci's thesis of dual consciousness. Gramsci raises several instances himself, such as the "totalitarian social hypocrisy" surrounding the dual pressures on women to be puritan and promiscuous (cited Landy 1996:63) and the dual nature of the cultural consumer as both a passive, manipulable consumer and an active rejector of some cultural products (Holub 1992:87). Femia provides further evidence from opinion surveys, which frequently demonstrate a superficial endorsement of dominant ideas alongside a rejection of their application in cases affecting the individual respondent (1975:44-7). For instance, many people endorse right-wing critiques of trade unionism while endorsing "disruptive or even violent" action in pursuit of their own demands (1975:45). The Glasgow University Media Group (Philo et al, 1982) found similar results. Matza (1964), writing about delinquency, found that social deviance often occurs in the context of the coexistence of two sets of overlapping values. Ang (1989) found that many cultural consumers exhibit a dual attitude of enjoyment and criticism. Furthermore, Pateman's (1993) study and Hobsbawm's (1990:189-90) evidence on a confusion about and inability to define "nation", "state" and other concepts support the idea that popular beliefs are incoherent and conceptually underdeveloped. That these difficulties are problematic politically is demonstrated by sources like Hayes (1994:50) who draws attention to the weakness of demonstrations of underlying philosophical beliefs in New Right arguments.

Leszek Kolakowski's criticism of the idea of contradictory consciousness has already been examined. There is, however, another point which should be made regarding dual consciousness and liberal theory. In suggesting that practical activity implies the existence of a worldview, Gramsci implicitly rejects the idea of an instinctive interest-based drive in capitalist economics (even though his specifically economic writings toy with such a view). Gramsci's case here is unconventional in relation to both liberals and Marxists, but it seems to me to be more valid than most conventional formulations. After all, even if objective necessities or interests are said to exist, they can only be effective insofar as they are absorbed into the belief-systems which alone guide social action.


Contradictory consciousness includes elements which are implicitly anti-capitalist. Furthermore, Gramsci suspects that these views constitute an alternative conception of the world to that provided by common sense. Thus, "the social group in question [i.e. workers] may indeed have its own conception of the world, even if only embryonic; a conception which manifests itself in action, but occasionally and in flashes - when, that is, the group is acting as an organic totality", even though at other times, the group superficially endorses the conception of the world of its rivals (SPN 327). This alternative embryonic conception of the world is termed by Gramsci "good sense". Good sense coincides with Marxism as a criticism and transcendence of common sense (SPN 326). It is an immanent critique of common sense existing implicitly within common sense (Nemeth 1980:55). Good sense is more likely to be negative than positive (cited Boggs 1976:71), and it is often "kept hidden for fear of common sense" (FSPN 557). Nevertheless, it is present and provides a basis for philosophical elaboration and discursive exchange between Marxists and members of the subaltern strata.

Good sense in Gramsci's conception consists of a number of elements. In part, it is linked to Gramsci's conception of transformative praxis. Practically active workers, Gramsci maintains, must have some scientific consciousness to transform the world (SPN 333); this consciousness forms a part of good sense. Gramsci suggests that work is linked to good sense to the extent that it is an element in a general activity "innovating the physical and scientific world" (SPN 9). The most central conscious element of good sense is a stress on "overcoming bestial and elemental passions through a conception of necessity which gives a conscious direction to one's activity" (SPN 328). The idea of transforming the world through work is, Gramsci believes, a bridge between folklore and a dialectical conception of history (SPN 34).

This linkage of good sense to work has led some commentators to see good sense as consciousness of direct experience, as opposed to the imposed beliefs of common sense, or even to replace the common sense/good sense contradiction with a direct contradiction between ideology and experience (Nun 1996:205, 226, Williams 1960:592, Showstack Sassoon 1996b:161, 1980:153, Mardle 1977:140, Haralambos 1995:532, Karabel 1976:143, Entwhistle 1979:21-2). There are numerous problems with this reading. Firstly, Gramsci's philosophical problematic has little room for raw empiricism. For Gramsci, there is no such thing as direct experience since experience is always interpreted conceptually (SPN 461-2). Secondly, common sense as well as good sense is lived by its supporters as "direct experience", and many of the most obviously 'experiential' elements in popular consciousness, such as the idea of the external objectivity of the real, are classified by Gramsci as common sense rather than good sense. The effects of 'experience' of struggle and 'experience' of conformity are different, and it is only certain kinds of experience and observation which fall within good sense, i.e. those which contradict the dominant world-view. Thirdly, Gramsci's emphasis is clearly on the implicit belief in the transformability of reality when he discusses good sense and work. Fourthly, this element is only one of the elements falling within good sense. And fifthly, it is doubtful how far empiricist usages of the concept of good sense aid our engagement with contemporary issues. There are, after all, far better developed empiricist conceptions than Gramsci's for those wishing to take this route.

Also, the stress on work in Gramsci's discussion of good sense appears to be very much a contextual element, linked to the residual positivism of Gramsci's discussions of economics rather than the radical elements in his theory, and clearly conditioned by Gramsci's location at a stage of development where industry and agriculture remained the main forms of economic activity. This element, though perhaps essential to Gramsci himself, should probably be peripheralised in contemporary discussions in favour of the more methodological core of the concept of good sense. This element sees good sense merely as that part of common sense which is 'good', from the perspective of someone wishing to change popular beliefs - i.e. which provides a sphere of shared or overlapping discourse between a particular intellectual conception and the philosophy of ordinary people. Thus, work ethics may appear as 'good sense' to Gramsci because his concept of the direction of ideational change is somewhat productivist; but they may just as easily be categorised, without altering the concept, as 'common sense' should another commentator wish to portray them as a barrier to transformation, or even as a combination of good sense and common sense. By contrast, any element may be included in good sense which implies hostility to the existing system. In particular, all forms of resistenz and its equivalents are expressions of good sense, as is the 'progressive' pole in any instance of dual consciousness. (Protest movements, such as Brightlingsea and the French anti-deportation campaigns, are particularly spectacular demonstrations of how rebellious elements exist in popular world-views which can suddenly be triggered when issues appear in an 'everyday' sphere).

This usage would fit some other passages where Gramsci utilises the concept, or makes remarks which imply a similar process of the emergence of an embryonic immanent critique from within common sense. For instance, the alienated worker's lack of job satisfaction and awareness that a capitalist wishes to turn him into a trained gorilla "can lead him into a train of thought which is far from conformist" (SPN 309-10). The peasant's self-identity as "subversive" and hostility towards the 'signore' (eg. capitalists and civil servants) is the "first glimmer" of a non-conformist class identity (SPN 272-3). Gramsci suggests that people also reflect on the gulf between public and private morality under capitalism and "the absence of equality of moral subjects" (SCW 400). There are also elements of dialectics and immanentism in popular philosophy (Dombroski 1996:174), some influence of experimental science (SPN 458) and also a concern with causality and a general rejection of "pseudo-profound, pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo" (SPN 348). Holub also, I believe, usefully extends the concept by identifying it with a "critical sense" (1992:93), a "principle of hope" and desire for free initiative (1992:113-14), and a demand for "a human life for all people" (1992:53) - all elements which can be inferred from Gramsci's remarks on culture.

Good sense provides an opening for Marxism and other radical belief-systems to become organic. Marxism could not succeed by organising in opposition to 'spontaneous' mass beliefs and feelings, but nor should these merely be accepted. Rather, there is a need for some of these beliefs (i.e. good sense) to be 'educated' and developed into a critical and coherent world-view (SPN 198-99). Common sense, Gramsci maintains, can thereby be replaced by a new conception - but only when this conception is recognised by the masses as meeting their needs (FSPN 409). Good sense is thus a starting point, not (as some have assumed) an end point (Boggs 1976:71, Entwhistle 1979:33). The goal is "a new ethical and intellectual unity which has surpassed common sense and become critical" (Gramsci, cited Merrington 1968:160). While pro-bourgeois leaders and intellectuals need only rearticulate elements in common sense to achieve immediate goals, Marxism can only succeed by qualitatively developing certain elements in common sense in such a way as to overcome common sense as a whole.


The term 'organic' is used in a variety of contexts in Gramsci's work. Some of these (eg. organic crises and organic moments) fall outside the grouping of issues discussed here. However, the theme of organic ideologies is crucial to understanding the importance of popular philosophy in Gramsci's problematic, and will thus briefly be discussed. For Gramsci, "one must... distinguish between historically organic ideologies" and "ideologies that are arbitrary, rationalistic or 'willed'" (SPN 376-7). Organic ideologies are 'historically necessary' in that they meet psychological needs and have an organising (motivating and meaning-producing) function (SPN 377). Specialised ideologies are usually more logical, coherent and internally homogenous than organic ones, although these differences are only quantitative (SPN 347). However, only organic ideologies are historically effective. Individuals cannot create new collective wills; they can only tamper with existing ones (SPN 129-30). Thus, the role of specific belief-systems should be to "change, correct or perfect... conceptions of the world... and thus to change... norms of conduct" and thereby practical activity (SPN 344). Organic ideologies can only be changed by critical activity, not by fixed systems (SPN 455). This is for Gramsci crucial when studying the history of ideas. Mass and elite conceptions, and their relation to philosophers' philosophies, are as important as the history of specific philosophers' beliefs (SPN 344), and the historical role of a philosophy can only be assessed through its practical effects, broadly defined (SPN 346). A specific belief-system can have a capacity to become organic; where this is the case, it will have a "capacity to incorporate itself in... reality as if it were originally an expression of it" (SPN 201). Organicity is the only criterion of the 'realism' of beliefs (SPN 172).

The link between organic and specific philosophies is provided by organic intellectuals. The secondary literature has, I feel, misunderstood this term, which tends to be interpreted either as a justification for technocracy (Showstack Sassoon 1980:141-2, 147, 149, 170), a theory of a dictatorial revolutionary elite (Pellicani 1981:12-13, 42; Nemeth 1980:92, Todd 1974 and Scruton 1985), an attempt to bind intellectuals to production (Patterson 1975, Karabel 1976:169-70) or to common sense (Wohl 1979:195, 199; Boggs 1976:65), a conventional popularisation problematic (Entwhistle 1979:124; Landy 1996:64) or a glorification of "great" thinkers or of critical intellectuals (Kiernan 1972b:28; Holub 1992:168).

All of these readings miss the crucial role of Gramsci's theories of common sense and good sense in shaping his concept of organicity. Organic intellectuals are treated primarily relationally and in terms of their role, which is developing "the conception implicit in human activity" (i.e. good sense) into a "precise and decisive will" and "a coherent... ever-present awareness" (SPN 333), rather than in terms of their position. They are not technocrats, since their relation to the economy is "mediated" and indirect (SPN 12). Organic intellectuals are intellectuals who feel "the elemental passions of the people" (SPN 418) and who take on the task of developing these feelings into a coherent and rational form (FSPN 450). This specifically undermines the concept of 'great' intellectuals: "That masses of men be led to evaluate in a co-ordinated way the present reality is, philosophically speaking, a more important and original fact than an isolated philosophic genius's discovery of a certain truth" (cited Giachetti 1972:151; Gramsci's emphasis). Nor does Gramsci mean that organic intellectuals should tail common sense, a view he explicitly rejects (SPN 135-6). Their involvement should aim to "make the people join in a criticism of themselves and their own weaknesses" (SCW 251). Their role is primarily to expand the organic intellectual belief-system by 'raising the intellectual level' of ever-growing strata (SPN 340).

This process is central to ideational change in Gramsci's theory. A specific philosophy can only become historically effective if it can organicise (i.e. become, or merge into, an organic belief-system; see eg. FSPN 75). A philosophy handed down by decree or existing in academic isolation is unlikely to achieve lasting social change. Organicisation is conceived by Gramsci as a complex process of mutual engagement. It involves 'organic' links with ordinary people (Ransome 1992:216), a primary orientation to existing attitudes (Joll 1977:60), and contact between intellectual and 'mass' beliefs (SCW 215). It presupposes a two-way educational process where the 'teacher' is also a learner (SPN 350), acquiring, among other things, a sympathetic understanding of the needs of ordinary people (SCW 215). A process of organicisation is the "antithesis" of tendencies to use "iron discipline" to hold down the thought of intellectuals. If Marxism "affirms the need for contact between intellectuals and the '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" (SPN 332-3; cf. SPN 397). Gramsci calls for work "to raise the intellectual tone and level of the masses" (cited Williams 1973:593), "elaborating, making to think clearly, [and] transforming" (cited Merrington 1968:162) to spread critical activity (SPN 321).

Therefore, Gramsci feels there is a need to avoid "the tendency to render easy that which cannot become easy without being distorted (SPN 43), a simplification which often means that "vulgar common sense has imposed itself on science and not vice versa" (cited Entwhistle 1979:27). Attempts to meet the popular demand for indisputable certainties is for Gramsci a root of schematism (SPN 433-4) and of demagogy (SCW 32). Instead, organic intellectuals should give "a personality to the amorphous mass element" (SPN 340) by encouraging individuals to develop intellectually. This encouragement should be based on demonstrating to each person that she/he is an (unconscious) philosopher and on criticising their existing "philosophical experience" (SPN 424-5). Thus, the starting point for intellectual development is for Gramsci the critique of common sense (SPN 419), a critique which must be respectful, to avoid entrenching existing beliefs (SPN 179).

Such development will also, Gramsci believes, tend to make people less 'sluggish' and passive (SCW 126-7). There is thus a link between Gramsci's intellectual problematics and his theory of activity and passivity, which in many ways acts as a substitute for the 'consent' problematic appearing in much mainstream political theory. Passivity both relies on and supports common sense. On the one hand, widespread passivity makes the world appear like an immense natural phenomenon controlling people through blind necessity (cited Femia 1983:339). It generates a fatalistic attitude and a fetishisation of institutions, thereby encouraging the mechanicist and determinist elements in common sense (SPN 187). On the other hand, passivity is partly a result of the contradictory nature of common sense. A social agent may be faced with a situation where "the contradiction of his consciousness will not permit any action, any decision or choice, producing a state of moral and political passivity" (cited Merrington 1968:160), especially since activity tends to generate a sense of remorse or moral responsibility for events (FSPN 274) which people may tend to avoid. Passivity is, Gramsci feels, a central element in world history: "what comes to pass... is due not so much to the initiative of the active few, as to the indifference, the absenteeism of the many" (SPWI 17). Greater passivity was for Gramsci the main cause of changes in politics after the defeat of the post-World War I revolutions (cited Anderson 1979:90).

The relationship between activity and passivity is for Gramsci a class issue. Passivity tends to support the status quo, as well as allowing the sudden enlistment of subaltern strata in reactionary movements (SPN 79). Activation, in contrast, generates crises and revolutionary possibilities (SPN 210). Furthermore, 'economic passivity' is a major cause of underdevelopment in Gramsci's account (FSPN 238-9). Thus, progressives should support greater activity, whereas supporters of the status quo have some reason for wanting passivity. In addition to the ideational aspects outlined above, passivity has structural causes in Gramsci's account. Coercion can be used to induce a sense of weakness (FSPN 392), but the main means whereby passivity is achieved is 'transformism'. This occurs when one party or class, or the state itself, absorbs the intellectually active elements of rival groups (SPN 58-9). Transformism is a form of domination where social groups are socially 'decapitated' and thereby eliminated from politics (SPN 59). It tends to create a political 'class' hostile to mass action and preferring dominance to hegemony (SPN 58). Co-opted intellectuals frequently become "a kind of auxiliary private police" over their own followers, controlling rather than representing their supporters and tending to repress unrest within their following (SPN 94). Coalition governments (SPN 220), corruption (SPN 80) and unequal meritocratic education (FSPN 64-5) are all forms of transformism which separate intellectuals from mass movements. These intellectuals then frequently produce beliefs legitimating and encouraging passivity - beliefs which include mechanicism and positivism (SPN 428), utopias (SPN 175), paternalistic conservatism (FSPN 45-6), determinism (FSPN 380), moderation (cited Showstack Sassoon 1980:27), dogmatism (1980:70), voluntarism (Boggs 1976:116-17) and social democracy (FSPN 462). Transformist politics are thus the opposite of politics tending to generate a collective will, and passivity is the opposite of expansive hegemony.


The subject of the Third Reich is not 'only' a crucially important area of historical research. Because of the particular implications of the genocide of European Jews and others for humanity in general and for German identity in particular, the subject also remains the subject of active political and ethical debates. In the last fifteen years, there have been two major controversies over the Nazi legacy in (West) Germany: the Historikerstreit, in which most German academics united against a few individuals who wished to "revise" Nazi historiography, and the Goldhagen debate, around the reception of Daniel Goldhagen's controversial work "Hitler's Willing Executioners" and its suggestion that ordinary Germans carried out the Holocaust. These occurred within the framework of more specifically historiographical differences (for instance, between "structuralists" and "intentionalists", and over the extent of resistance and dissent), and tended to generate insoluble divisions rather than new conceptual formulations. The historikerstreit in particular shed more heat than light; its main outcome was to further discredit a handful of approaches which were already outside the historiographical mainstream. The Goldhagen debate showed more of a tendency to movement, but it remains unclear how far Goldhagen's methods and conclusions have been incorporated into, been substituted for, or been effectively dismissed by more conventional historiographical approaches. Given that these debates touch on a range of issues close to the aspects of Gramsci's theory discussed above - for instance, the constitution of popular beliefs and the problem of "dual consciousness" - they provide a potential trial case for the usefulness of an intercontextual rearticulation of Gramsci.

This is particularly the case given that the underlying methods of (for instance) the historikerstreit participants tended to ignore such elements. Nolte's approach stresses the role of real or imagined terrors in Russia as a motivator of genocide (Kershaw, 1989:172-3). This, Nolte and many of his opponents seemed to assume, leads naturally to a lessening of the sense of uniqueness perceived in Nazi genocide. However, it also raises a number of other questions. Why did perceived Bolshevik terrors have the effect they did on people in Germany? In particular, why were the dangers of "Bolshevism" perceived as more excessive than those of Nazism? And why were those involved in genocide able to perceive their own actions as preventive? Such perceptions seem, indeed, to be the core of Nolte's case (Kershaw 1989:175), and, even if one does not endorse the thesis that such perceived prevention actually motivated the Nazis, there is still the problem that themes of this kind were an effective legitimatory device (Kershaw 1989:174). This clearly reflects a widespread (probably common-sense) notion of "prevention" which, taken in the context of other common-sense beliefs, allowed genocidal actions to be articulated to this concept. This is merely one example of a wider phenomenon of Nazi rearticulation of widespread themes which would be termed common-sense in Gramsci's method. Yet, this line of enquiry has not been followed either by the revisionists or by their opponents.

The issue is doubly important since the existence of common sense provides a linear connection between Nazism and contemporary societies. There is an essential similarity between the philosophical basis of the 1980s revisionists and certain of the themes used by the Nazis, suggesting a single basis in common-sense. Nolte accepts a mechanical notion of necessity which is also expressed as a justificatory ethic (Kershaw 1989:174-5); Hillgruber accepts a na‹vely realist position of a crudely conceived choice between two evils (Kershaw 1989:179); and Strmer has a strong fear of "chaos" as well as treating cultural issues in a mechanistic way, as if identity can be arbitrarily constructed, and mechanically deducing action from geopolitical positioning (Kershaw 1989:181-3). This is not to say that the revisionists were Nazis; merely that elements in popular consciousness which enabled Nazism to exist continue to have a substantial impact, even in the detached world of professional historians.

With Goldhagen, the issue arises more clearly. A number of explanations have been advanced for the hostile early reaction of German historians and their gradual conversion. These include German defensiveness and generational tension (Shandley 1998:7-8, 13). No doubt these factors did play a role, as quite probably did the difference in intellectual cultures in America and Germany. But there is also an issue around organicisation. Goldhagen's work was produced with popularisation as well as historiography in mind; this is shown by his blunt criticisms and emotive evidence and argument as well as by the commercial gloss and exaggerated claims surrounding the publication of his work. In part, this accounts for both the early, hostile reactions of many German historians faced with what they may have seen as an unfair threat to their work based on a vulgar method, and their later praise, which was linked closely to the often enthusiastic popular reception which Goldhagen's work received. Nevertheless, both sets of reactions are problematic. The earlier criticisms, such as Eberhard J„ckel's criticisms and Johannes Heil's blunt assertion that Goldhagen is "not worth debating" (Joffe, 1998:219-20), ignore the problem of popular reactions completely, while the later reactions largely ignore the problem that Goldhagen's popularity may result as much from the commonsensical nature of his methodology as from any deep-rooted historiographical significance. In operating in the sphere of emotional evidence and individual motivations, Goldhagen is far closer to the common-sense assumption of individual choice than are, for instance, structuralists, but this does not mean that he better understands the causes at work in Nazi Germany.

Furthermore, German historians, for all their criticism, have been largely unable to provide alternatives to Goldhagen's explanations (Shandley 1998:25). This is, in many ways, unsurprising.. There are, after all, persistent difficulties in existing methodologies, which have come in for intense criticism. Hiden and Farquharson attack theories seeing fascism as a German phenomenon as "flawed" and "descend[ing] to the level of national-socialist propaganda itself" (1983:34). Marxist theories retain a number of weaknesses, especially in their inability to conceptualise Nazi ideology (1983:159-60, 169), while alltagsgeschichte tends to lack direction and conceptualisation (1983:168). In this context, Gramsci's method provides an alternative means of conceptualising Nazi society which sidesteps some of the issues in the recent debates and, in doing so, provides a potential for resolving them. Such problems have also led a number of historians to seek development in the kind of spheres covered by Gramsci's approach. Kershaw for instance calls for more investigation of the possibility of a "pathology of modern civilisation" involving mass "anti-humanitarian and anti-emancipatory impulses" on questions like racism and 'law and order' (1989:189), while Peukert maintains that "It is only when we enter the realm of political culture, the field in which the determinants of class structure and translated into actual behaviour, that we find tensions and movements that provide a basis for explaining the particular dynamics of National Socialism, as contrasted with dictatorships by traditional elites" (1987:31). Manipulation, surveillance and repression are, he feels, more of an "excuse" for conformity than a genuine cause (1987:68), and there is also, he believes an issue around meaning-formation and the achievement of a sense of significance in Nazism (1987:36-7). There is thus a basis for applying Gramsci's approach in an attempt to resolve, or at least better to conceptualise, unanswered questions.


In this essay I will primarily emphasise applications of the particular aspects of Gramsci's theory outlined above. However, it is also important to note that Gramsci wrote directly on fascism. This work focus on the Italian case and on the rise to power, and tend to be a compromise between the kind of analysis I will draw from Gramsci's writings on popular philosophy, and a more orthodox Marxist approach. Gramsci saw fascism as a kind of passive revolution, carried out by two repressive forces, the state and the fascist movement (Buci-Glucksmann 1979:208-9, 214). It is a bourgeois form of the war of position, involving autarky (SPN 120). Gramsci also links fascism to the general character of social and cultural life (Adamson 1980b:622). In particular, he notes a "low level of civilisation" (Ransome 1992:96), an elitist state lacking a popular basis and therefore vulnerable to reactionary attacks (Adamson 1980a:80-1), a lack of links between intellectuals, elites and 'the people' (SPN 188; Boggs 1976:48-9) and a bourgeoisie hiding behind a landowner class (Kiernan 1972b:13) as conditioning factors. Fascism, he maintains, was made possible by the educative failings of the socialist and communist parties (Boggs 1976:72), their passivity and misguided faith in 'civilised society', and their failure to mobilise the petty-bourgeoisie (SPN 224-5). Fascism is for Gramsci an extension of existing contradictions and not an aberration (Landy 1996:49). It has a genuine cross-class basis which is both radical and conservative as well as irrationalist, and which includes peasants, petty-bourgeoisie and unemployed people as well as landowners, capitalists and intellectuals (Adamson 1980b:78-9). The petty-bourgeoisie, who supply the 'troops' of fascism, are particularly important (SPN 156). Fascism is able to deceitfully channel subversive impulses through a pseudo-subversivism which fits well with the mindset of disenfranchised members of intermediate strata, as does its combination of chauvinism with cosmopolitanism (SPN 272-5). Its support base also includes restless romantics (SCW 346) and people inspired by serial novel 'superhumans' (SCW 355-6). Once in power, fascism offsets just enough laws of capitalism to keep the petty-bourgeoisie happy (SPN 119-20). It carries out some progressive policies, usually to head off dissent (Adamson 1980a:201; cf. Pine 1999), but on the whole it is economically conservative (SPN 293-4).

Fascism occurs, Gramsci suggests, during periods of organic crisis. The breakdown of traditional party allegiances allows charismatic "men of destiny" to establish a fragile domination based on the prevention of viable challenges to their rule (SPN 210; Adamson 1980a:198-9). In broader social terms, fascism as a form of Caesarism occurs when a third force takes power over the remains of two fundamental forces which have weakened each other catastrophically without either achieving a decisive victory (SPN 219). Modern Caesarism no longer requires military action but can triumph through corruption and terrorisation of officials (SPN 220). It is not necessarily an exceptional form (Adamson 1980b:630). Such crisis is also perceived by Gramsci as strengthening anti-progressive elements in the state and society such as the bureaucracy, high finance and the church. Principally, however, fascism is for Gramsci a coercive movement (Joll 1977:43), a fallback on coercion due to the breakdown of hegemony (Badaloni 1979:99). Fascist squads are functional in carrying out extreme violence while the state retains a facade of legality, thereby enabling coercive action without discrediting the state (SPN 232). Thus, the weakness of the working class can be maintained through police methods (SPN 222). Fascism is also for Gramsci de facto plutocratic (SPN 315-16). It involves a concentration of ruling-class hegemony in order to demand mass sacrifices, a process involving economic intervention, attacks on socialists and administrative controls to maintain ruling-class unity (SPN 238-9).

On fascist ideology, Gramsci's central contention is a prefigurative link between fascism and many forms of liberal and other non-fascist ideology. "The concept of the citizen as functionary descends directly from the failure to divide political society and civil society, political hegemony and politico-state government", a failure Gramsci links to idealist philosophy (cited Bates 1975:357). Fascism is related to Croce's bypassing of the 'moment' of struggle and tendency to substitute administrative for political action (Adamson 1980a:180-2). Fascism is an inheritor of moderate and conservative liberalism, and Jacobinism in its pejorative sense (SPN 117). It also links to 'petty-bourgeois' forms of (nationalist) socialism (SCW 271). Other notes suggest a clear link to common-sense beliefs. Fascism's appeal rests on its ability to generate false hope, especially in the petty-bourgeoisie (SPN 120, FSPN 350). It keeps the masses happy with "moralising sermons, emotional stimuli and messianic myths" (SPN 150). Nazism in particular is of a "low and vulgar intellectual calibre" (FSPN 91), while fascism in general is at the intellectual level of naturalistic positivism and organic centralism (FSPN 93). Organic centralism implies a tendency of leaders to ossify into a caste, and this characteristic is suggested elsewhere; systemic rigidity tends to make the dictator weak in practice (FSPN 83). Bonapartism in general constitutes a "mythical form keeping the state's 'ethical' content illusory" (Holub 1992:38-9). Anti-socialism is a crucial element in fascism's appeal (Adamson 1980b:625-6). Gramsci has less to say about fascist racism, although he does suggest that racism is a leftover element drawn from feudal culture (SCW 358), and also that there is an annihilative logic implicit in commonplace discourses around fighting a "war of civilisation" (FSPN 333).

Crucially, Gramsci saw fascism as an inorganic and non-hegemonic phenomenon. Fascism is unable to produce lasting results because it rests on the arbitrary charismatic appeal of individuals and not on a change in mass consciousness; it therefore represents principally a stop-gap enabling ruling-class retrenchment and regroupment (SPN 130). Fascism is not hegemonic because the allegiance it creates vacillates substantially, generating a permanently (potentially) revolutionary situation (Adamson 1980b:627). Substitutionism replaces the "organic adhesion of the popular masses to the state" with "a selection of 'volunteers' of the 'nation' abstractly conceived" (SPN 203), weakening the state's popular base. Its origins in working-class weakness also tend to ensure that fascism remains non-epochal (SPN 223). In addition, fascism's conception of the masses is not organic but rather instrumental and military (SPN 150). Given that fascism does not unleash latent forces which strengthen all political current, it is also not expansive or innovative. Rather, in culture, the psychological fear of "unintelligible demoniac forces" and resultant endorsement of a "universal repressive force" curb creative spontaneity and lead to a spirit of revenge and a crude propagandism (SCW 115), and to cultural backwardness (SCW 345-6). As a form of voluntarism arising from passivity, fascism is also an "iron dictatorship of the intellectuals" and of "certain urban groups" which "maintains its compactness only by overexciting its militant element with the myth of historical fatalism" and patching up structural weaknesses with fanaticism (SCW 245). It is however somewhat successful at creating organic intellectuals (Showstack Sassoon 1980:141).

Gramsci also comments on resistance and what would now be termed resistenz. Fascism, Gramsci maintains, is forced to wage a perpetual struggle in civil society to stabilise its precarious basis, and it is here that it is best fought (Adamson 1980a:200). Such a struggle should involve in Gramsci's analysis an effort to combat atomisation through unity (Buci-Glucksmann 1979:227) and a cultural and educative effort (Adamson 1980a:96), and also action which impedes the regime's coercive potential and forces coercive bodies to disperse their forces broadly (SPN 183). This model of resistance seems to be based on the channelling of resistenz of the kind which did indeed exist under fascism. For Gramsci, the state is unlikely to prevent the rise of fascism, since the two forces are on the same side (Anderson 1976-77:33). However, there are likely to be conflicts between conservative and radical elements, particularly between the old elites and the fascist leadership (Adamson 1980b:624), as well as with the churches, which in Germany were placed in an insoluble position (FSPN 83). Fascism's failure to meet its own demands would, Gramsci predicted, tend to generate youth rebellion, indifference, cynicism, restlessness and discontent (Wohl 1979:197). Furthermore, the discontents of parliamentarism cannot be eliminated by abolishing formal parties, which are a symptom not a cause; the result would be "black parliamentarism" (SPN 255 - a quote reminiscent of contemporary work on the "Empires" system). By criminalising dissent, fascism creates insoluble conflicts, because "even if no other legal parties exist, other parties in fact always do exist and other tendencies which cannot be legally coerced". Fascism will turn conflicts between these groups into "a game of blind man's buff". The party's role ceases to be political and becomes merely "technical"; in the party, "cultural questions predominate", "political language becomes jargon" and "political questions are disguised as cultural ones, and as such become insoluble" (SPN 149).

Gramsci thus had insights of sorts into many aspects of fascism as it existed in Germany as well as Italy, including the switch from political action to resistenz, the tendency for conflicts and divisions to re-surface and the tendency for the bureaucracy to develop as a caste. Several of Gramsci's contentions are also confirmed by others. For instance, Peukert maintains that fascism had deep roots in modern society (1987:40), and accounts of the 'missing bourgeois revolution' (Hiden and Farquharson 1983:162) and of failed national integration (Allen and Turner, cited Kershaw 1987:17) tend to converge with Gramsci's theories on fascism and culture, and some degree of link to long-term ruling-class aims is also accepted by some other commentators (eg. 1983:56-7). Gramsci's own theory of fascism can thus be used within limits as a framework for discussing the issue of fascism and popular beliefs. Certain of Gramsci's contentions will particularly be examined here: his claim that fascism was fundamentally non-organic; his linkage of fascism to common-sense and to non-fascist beliefs; and his belief that conflict continued to exist unofficially even when officially suppressed. More importantly, however, Gramsci's theories of popular philosophy, common sense and good sense will be examined in the context of the Third Reich. Issues to be explored include the role of language and dual consciousness, of elements in common-sense such as naturalisation, mechanicism and exclusionary attitudes, the question of passivity, and the possible continued existence of "good sense" as a counterculture. However, it is important also to remember that for Gramsci fascism was not a new or distinct philosophy or conception of the world, so that it cannot be used to assess questions on the relationship between such conceptions or their relation to collective mobilisation.


That language played a crucial role in legitimatory processes of fascism is not disputed, at least since Klemperer's classic work on the subject. Particular elements should, however, be re-emphasised here. The concept of "volk" and its derivatives (eg. volksgenossen, volksgemeinschaft) played a central role of papering over inconsistencies between radical-democratic and racist conceptions of 'the people', thereby enabling populism to merge with historical and national-conservative impulses (Grunberger 1971:35). Other linguistic innovations were used as a veil to cover unpalatable activities (Final Solution, Einsatzgruppen). There was a certain militarisation of language in Nazi Germany, even in non-military spheres; social policy initiatives were seen as a "war" or "struggle" (Hiden and Farquharson 1983:165). Other important words were redefined or decontested to prevent their becoming subversive. "Order", for instance, was increasingly associated with the minute regulation of violence rather than its absence (Grunberger 1971:42), and "freedom" was articulated in insider-outsider terms (1971:44). Also, there were specific attempts to manipulate language, as for instance in the reinforcement of chauvinism in language teaching (Hiden and Farquharson 1983:54). A certain evolution in language to fit changes in conceptions of the world can therefore be detected, although, in line with Gramsci's interpretation of fascism as non-epochal, these changes were mostly on the periphery of language and did not involve a deep-rooted transformation.

If Nazism is not a new philosophy, but rather a rearticulation of old ones, its relationship to common sense should be more central than its linguistic innovation. Indeed, there is substantial evidence that fascism appealed to and utilised common sense themes. Thus, Colin Mercer maintains that fascist themes were "interpellated" around common sense (1986:230). As far back as "Mein Kampf", Hitler clearly favoured simplistic appeals to common sense over logical argument. Thus, he states that propaganda should "limit itself to a very few point and... use them like slogans", ignoring facets and complications (cited Gilbert and Large 1970:263). Hess makes a similar point in 1927: "the Fhrer must be absolute in his propaganda speeches. He must not weigh up the pros and cons like an academic, he must never leave his listeners the freedom to think something else is right... he must communicate to his listeners an apodictic faith" (Kershaw, 1987:27). Thus, the Nazis was explicitly committed to holding down, rather than raising, the popular 'intellectual level'. Education policy provides another example of this: intellectual development was devalued in favour of physical and ideological elements, to produce 'doers' rather than 'thinkers' (Hiden and Farquharson 1983:55-6). The primacy of the spoken over the written word in Nazism (1983:50) and the crude populism of Nazi art and literature (1983:51) also tend towards this conclusion. Thus, Nazism was attempting, not to overcome common sense, but to utilise it; it was itself a product of an essentially commonsensical milieu.

Since common sense is in Gramsci's model contradictory, and since only some of its aspects are compatible with Nazism, this model would predict both that Nazism itself would be deeply contradictory and that popular consciousness would contain pro- and anti-Nazi elements. The validity of the former suggestion is implied in, for instance, the combination of pro- and anti-system impulses in Nazism, which the quasi-military model of society articulated in an exclusionary manner: conformity within the 'community', but barbarity and criminality towards those outside it (Grunberger 1971:37-8). This incoherence, which also reflects in the presence of incompatible themes in Nazi ideology, was a force of strength for Nazism, since most people could approve of something within it (Noakes and Pridham 1984:579). As for the second point, the title of Peukert's (1987) third chapter, "Contradictions in the mood of the 'little man'", seems self-explanatory. The Gramscian model is also confirmed by S.D. reports, which show a kind of inverse common-sense/good sense problematic: a "healthy will" in competition with "inflammatory and defeatist influences" (Peukert 1987:62-3). As Peukert puts it, "Diverse forms of criticism and 'grumbling' were quite capable of existing side by side with partial recognition of the regime or at least with passive acceptance of authority" (1987:65). There was also a "fragmentation of public opinion into distinct spheres" which were mutually unconnected and tended to undermine the emergence of coherent ideas or actions (1987:65). "The majority of the people", suggests a Sopade report, "have two faces" (Noakes and Pridham 1984:581). This often reflected a kind of "double life" (Peukert 1987:79): private apoliticism alongside public conformity. The result, as Gramsci would predict, was passivity (Kershaw 1987:111-12), as well as a situation in which conformity and conflict shaded imperceptibly into one another (Kershaw 1993:151).

A particular instance of dual consciousness in the Nazi system revolved around the question of the "Hitler Myth" and other issues projected into a separate sphere. This is connected to an aspect less immediately conducive to Gramsci's approach: the role of quasi-religious elements in Nazism. There was a constant appeal to themes such as "spiritual renewal" (Kershaw 1987:107), a heavy reliance on ritual, appeals to religious sentiments through a messianic tone and, for instance, architecture (Grunberger 1971:44), and a stress on myth, ceremony, and "holy seriousness" (Hiden and Farquharson 1983:50). There was also a lack of transcendentalism in Nazi theory, and this was one reason for the excessive reliance on ritual (Grunberger 1971:101). However, the quasi-religious elements tended to reconstitute particular aspects of the regime as a separate mythical sphere. Hitler's role in particular was separated from those of the Nazis as an everyday force, so that the former could be loved whilst the latter were condemned. Specific criticisms often exempted Hitler and blamed lower-level leaders (Peukert 1987:72-3). This led to an incoherence in attitudes with pro-regime effects - in particular, a hostility to resistance of the bomb-plot type (Kershaw 1993:178), and a kind of day-to-day support for the regime's wider policies even among people hostile to its everyday impact (Kershaw 1987:256). Hitler was connected to distant achievements of the regime and to accurate predictions, rather than to daily experience of Nazi rule (Peukert 1987:75). This separation of spheres fits well with Gramsci's model, with "common sense" insulating certain spheres of naturalised general acceptance from the impact of "good sense". Nor was the Hitler myth alone in appearing in a separate sphere, immune from everyday perceptions of Nazism. Foreign policy also fell within this sphere, except when the threat of war was visible (Peukert 1987:61-2). The "economic miracle" was also viewed apart from its context (eg. inflation and rearmament), even though the latter effects were recognised (1987:70-1). Thus, the perceptions of ordinary people under the Third Reich were essentially contradictory and fit well into a conceptual framework of common sense and good sense.
What elements in common sense contributed to support for the Nazis? An important part of Nazism's appeal was generic, an element reinforced by its lack of policies (Peukert 1987:27). A part of this generic appeal was a play on an element Gramsci noted in common sense: a 'phantasmagorical' concept of society and a resultant desire to subordinate to a "greater good", which Grunberger terms a "fear of freedom" (1971:41). Hitler's appeal was based partly on a desire for a "normality" based on regimentation, subservience, and violence towards outsiders (Peukert 1987:76). This element was a powerful force in legitimating Nazism. For instance, one respondent in a Sopade report comments: "I have many doubts about what is happening. But I must say one thing: It's quite right that nowadays it is no longer the interest of the individual but that of the community that matters" (Noakes and Pridham 1984:580). This legitimation further ensured toleration of many of the specifics of Nazi policy, a toleration which itself embodied submission to the 'whole'. Of course, an issue also arises here of substitutionism and the perceived capacity of the regime to represent society - an issue arising from the removal of the distinction between state and society in Nazi discourse (Peukert 1987:44). (This also validates Gramsci's statement of a link between Nazism and idealism, as well as his remarks on state fetishism). Furthermore, given the prevalence of prefigurative conformity in Nazi Germany (Grunberger 1971:43), as well as the regime's manipulation of charitable instincts (1971:45), this part of the regime's appeal was also "experienced" by supporters. Nationalism and patriotism should also be viewed in this context, as a particular form of submission to the "whole". And nationalism was used to a great extent by the Nazis both before and after 1933 (Hiden and Farquharson 1983:48; Noakes and Pridham 1984:591). In part, this was because Nazism overlapped sufficiently with mainstream nationalist discourse to be able to utilise it (Allen, cited Kershaw 1993:175); in part, it linked to the ability to channel hostility to the 'un-German' Weimar republic (Hiden and Farquharson 1983:48). However, the core basis of Nazism's appeal in these areas - a common-sense belief in the desirability of submission to a social 'whole' - is not exclusive to 1930s Germany. In the German context, it did not die with fascism (see Grunberger 1971:66), and it occurs also in other national contexts.

The relatively unproblematic transition from a generic tendency to collectivist submission to the specific and more extreme Nazi form of unquestioning obedience raises questions about other aspects of Nazi practice and their relation to common-sense. Popular endorsements of punishment to weed out the anti-social are some distance from fascist eugenicism, just as liberal-type state substitutionism is some distance from the fhrerprinzip and assumptions about the primacy of instinctive self-interest are some way from naturalistic irrationalism or social Darwinism. Nevertheless, in all these cases the common sense belief is only quantitatively different from the Nazi version, suggesting that the latter may be an extreme offshoot of the former. Particularly worrying is the closeness between Nazism and common sense with regard to another aspect highlighted by Gramsci: the tendency of common sense to naturalise and ethicalise social phenomena. In Grunberger's words, during the Third Reich "human events were held to emanate from the womb of nature and not from that of society", so that "the Third Reich was transmuted into a manifestation of nature" (1971:44), cataclysmic but still decidedly natural. If such a perception had deep resonance in common-sense, this would help to explain the extent of passivity and fatalism in Nazi Germany, as well as Nazism's popularity. Such a resonance is also supported by widespread evidence of superstitious behaviour during the Nazi period (eg. Grunberger 1971:60).

Alongside impulses to naturalisation and collective submission, Nazism also appealed to authoritarian elements in common sense. Often, Nazism merely channelled "pre-existing beliefs, prejudices and phobias" (Kershaw 1987:4). Conscription had a particular significance in relation to popular folklore which contained a myth of military service as a vital part of personal development; this led to military conscription and labour service being welcomed (Grunberger 1971:40). There was a general acceptance of the idea of the state's pre-emptive claim over the lives of citizens (1971:41). In the case of the Emergency Decree and Enabling Law, the crucial factor was a moral panic directed against the left (Kershaw 1987:52). Sopade reports confirm that "Hitler has understood how to appeal to nationalist instincts and emotional needs which were already there", even while failing to organicise (Noakes and Pridham 1984:573).

As Gramsci suggested, anti-socialism was indeed a core element of fascism, although in Germany it tended to be Bolshevism which was the main target. Anti-Bolshevism was a powerful legitimator of Nazism as a 'lesser evil' (Noakes and Pridham 1984:573). Attacks on the left are shown by the regime's internal reports to have been generally popular (Kershaw 1987:56). In fact, the general themes of a need for action against the left, hostility to democracy and a desire for strong leadership were virtually consensual outside the left before 1933 (Kershaw 1987:46-7). Even the search for personalised politics was prefigured (1987:254-5). According to Sopade, there was a "negative basis of the regime" in "fear of Bolshevism" and of "chaos" (Noakes and Pridham 1987:580). This latter fear was also of particular importance: people voted for Hitler because they would rather see injustice than disorder (Grunberger 1971:41), and later, the fear of anarchy was a crucial legitimator of terror (Peukert 1987:71). This appears to be a common sense belief since it reflects a deep-rooted methodological individualism rather than any clear evidence. Similarly derivative from philosophical presuppositions was the widespread belief that Hitler had curbed crime and re-educated the 'work-shy' (Peukert 1987:76), beliefs which were not open to reliable assessment due to censorship and which therefore presumably reflect a 'self-evident' assumption that tough measures must work.

This negative basis also had a positive aspect - an appeal to popular demands for ruthlessness. Again, this echoes Gramsci's contentions, in this case about common-sense containing a desire for vengeance. It was apparently a source of legitimacy that Hitler was (apparently) prepared to take ruthless action even against Nazi leaders and upper-class people (Noakes and Pridham 1984:571), and that the regime followed a principle of 'no crime without punishment' (Hiden and Farquharson 1983:42). Many people welcomed the regime's tough line towards artistic modernism, towards unpopular minorities such as gypsies (the case of the Jews will be examined in detail below), and especially towards deviant groups such as gay men, tramps, criminals, "asocials" and the "work-shy", and towards youth - all policies legitimated by the regime as in line with "sound popular feelings" (Noakes and Pridham 1984:574). Hitler was seen as decisive, and as having a "firm hand" (Peukert 1987:71). Revenge was an important legitimator of wartime bombings (Grunberger 1971:54), and even the 'honest' use of arms set against the manipulative practices of diplomacy a popular appeal (1971:41). Particularly significant was the reaction to the Night of the Long Knives, which was widely praised as Hitler showing the iron fist to the high and mighty, and as action for "normality", the "common man" and the good of the people against gay men and other outsider elements (Kershaw 1987:92). This appealed, Sopade reports suggest, to existing "strong sympathies for summary justice and as hard a punishment as possible" (1987:89-90), and such sympathies helped disguise the political element of the killings (1987:87). This also implies a role for another of the elements Gramsci locates in common sense: the tendency to replace science with ethics.

These elements of Nazism are clearly an appeal to themes in common sense which exist in many cultural frameworks. Fanatical anti-Bolshevism is widespread in a number of countries; Scruton (1985), Pellicani (1981) and Baker (1981) are all good examples, not to mention McCarthyism in America or the anti-left campaigns periodically whipped up by trade union bureaucrats. A fear of an ill-conceived danger of "anarchy" is similarly widespread; Strmer's fear of social disintegration (Kershaw 1989:181) is a good example of this. As for the cult of ruthlessness, one only has to examine the various studies of moral panics or popular reactions to crime to find a basis for Nazi appeals. Thus, Nazism appealed to many authoritarian elements which are widespread in forms of common sense existing well beyond the immediate context of Nazism. In the Nazis' context, these were utilised to generate support for the regime.

Another form of Nazi appeal to common sense was the attempt by the Nazis to portray themselves as classless representatives of the volksgemeinschaft, i.e. to speak to ordinary people as "one of you" (Grunberger 1971:47). Thus, Hitler was portrayed in propaganda as acting on the "will of the people" (Kershaw 1987:19), as "intuitive" (1987:19-20), and as having a simple personality (1987:59), making him one of 'the people'. This claim had a basis despite Hitler's class origins; Hitler was indeed a follower of common sense, and he did tend to act on intuition (Gilbert and Large 1970:265). Also, sources like Speer confirm that many ordinary people, including workers, did feel Hitler understood them (Grunberger 1971:62). This implies that convergence between common sense and the regime's mode of thought was sufficient to generate mutual identification. It is in this context that the impact of concessionary policies and economic improvements should be understood. The material gains of Nazism for ordinary Germans were modest and constrained, but their psychological effect was to alleviate the sense of crisis and collapse (Grunberger 1971:36) and thus provide a basis for belief in the volksgemeinschaft.

The theme of volksgemeinschaft is crucial to understanding the dynamics of genocide because it was used in an explicitly exclusionary manner. In Nazi law, one had rights only insofar as one fulfilled duties to the 'collective'; the community was expected to take precedence over the individual (Hiden and Farquharson 1983:42). The creation of the volksgemeinschaft involved the exclusion of those who fitted badly into it. According to Peukert, "The 'forging'... of the... Volksgemeinschaft required, as a complement, the strict marginalising of 'community aliens' or Gemeinschaftsfremde", including Jews, gypsies, and the so-called asocial (1987:76), as well as institutions such as trade unions which were perceived as divisive (Grunberger 1971:37). This fitted into the appeal to the desire for ruthlessness in pursuit of order. There was an "emotional approval of terror which was directed against 'community aliens' and hence served the supposed restoration of 'order'" (Peukert 1987:76). The Nazis were able to play on this approval to 'coordinate' the status of the insider and to set conditions on insidership. The exclusionary dynamic included a strong encouragement to identify exclusively with the insider group and to disidentify with outsiders. This division was structurally regulated. Thus, 'Aryan' houses were meticulously protected from the effects of arson attacks on synagogues (Grunberger 1971:42), and people who were not known dissidents or members of suspected groups experienced state intrusion only as an irritation (1971:45-6). Those forms of repression which were experienced by Germans varied strongly. For instance, vote rigging and the application of terror were, according to Sopade reports, regionally variant (Noakes and Pridham 1984:595). There was also a sense of insider identity engendered by the symbolic role of the large number of "insignia, functions and subfunctions" distributed by the regime (Peukert 1987:73). The exclusionist dynamic did, however, contain a tendency to intensify, with groups like petty thieves, looters, civilian capitulators, and even people who listened to foreign radio eventually labelled as Gemeinschaftsfremde (1971:59, 62). This dynamic had a number of effects. One of these was to encourage people to compartmentalise 'facts' on an in-group/out-group basis. For instance, some people ignored the treatment of the Jews but protested at the broadcasting of obscenities on the radio (Grunberger 1971:63), and there was rarely a lack of volunteers for firing squads (1971:64). But the exclusionary dynamic also led to the underground emergence of "the other Germany", or at least the other side of Germany (Peukert 1987:49). Many people found themselves poised precariously between Germany and anti-Germany, and some groups, such as workers, did indeed suffer regular persecution from the regime, such as generalised searches for subversive material (Housden 1997:27). However, the insider dynamic, particularly the ways in which outsiders such as the citizens of occupied territories were plundered to head off insider unrest (Peukert 1987:56), could have led to implicit endorsement of the regime out of fear of reprisals (Grunberger 1971:62).

One crucial point about the exclusionary dynamic was that it was not an innovation introduced by the Nazis, but rather another element of common sense which was developed in an extreme (or coherent) manner. The preparedness of "insiders" to sacrifice others for the good of the "healthy" was a pre-existing theme (Peukert 1987:45), and the transition from negative forms of exclusionism such as discrimination against outsiders to the lethal forms which occurred under Nazism was essentially an extension of something which already existed. To be sure, people who support common sense are usually reluctant to make the leap between the two, as reactions to Kristallnacht demonstrate. But when faced with such events, such people are unable to offer coherent opposition because part of their mind-set is being echoed. Again, this tendency to exclusionism is visible in popular reactions on subjects such as crime and immigration far outside the Nazis' own context, suggesting that the Nazis merely utilised an element present in common sense in many different situations.

Various other elements can also be indicated as possible correlations between Nazism and common sense. There is, for instance, the question of immediacy and the manner in which Nazism was able to generate a sense of perpetual emergency in its adherents (Peukert 1987:42). There is the technocratic appeal of the image of efficiency due to the large scale of Nazi events, an image which does not seem to have been undermined by the perpetual infighting within the Nazi hierarchy, perhaps due to the separation of spheres (Noakes and Pridham 1984:596). There is also a tendency for workers in particular to adapt and work within existing frameworks, based on a self-perception as primarily employees and family members, which was appealed to be initiatives such as Kraft durch Freude (Housden 1997:39, 41), again a tendency by no means unique to 1930s Germany.

Thus, there is a considerable basis for utilising one of Gramsci's core concepts on the basis of evidence from Nazi Germany. Gramsci's theory of common sense fits well with many aspects of the relationship between Nazi ideology and popular consciousness in those areas where the Nazis were able to achieve popular support. These areas usually reflected deep-rooted 'self-evident' beliefs about reality which were elaborated or channelled by the Nazis. Furthermore, such beliefs were often not specific to the Nazi context but occur in common sense elsewhere also. These beliefs are also derivative from an underlying worldview (eg. fatalism and naturalism are primary causes of submission, and methodological individualism is the main origin of the anarchy discourse), though they also involve specifically political beliefs. Furthermore, these beliefs are, as Gramsci claimed, deeply contradictory, badly developed, and vulnerable to manipulation. However, Gramsci's theory also posits the existence of good sense as a form of critical consciousness immanent in common sense. This contention will be examined next.


If Gramsci's theory of good sense is a useful concept for examining Nazi Germany, one would expect to find the existence in ordinary Germans of an alternative conception to that favoured by the regime, or at least the implication of such a conception in their activity. Such an expectation is indeed confirmed by much of the evidence. As Peukert puts it, the image of a Germany "totally mobilised save for a few fragments at the margin is contradicted by the memories of many members of the older generation" (1987:49). Much activity existed which implied an embryonic dissident world-view, although it tended to take the form of small-scale acts of nonconformity rather than widespread resistance. Opposition "found its best expression in informal activities which were hard for the Gestapo and the law to get to grips with" (1987:55). It is to deal with this category of activities that the concept of resistenz was introduced into historiography.

Such semi-dissident activity took a variety of forms. Examples included increased alcohol consumption, suicides (Grunberger 1971:49-50), youth crime (1971:308), petty labour resistance (Peukert 1987:44), fraternisation with foreign workers, refusal to give the Hitler salute or to hang the Nazi flag (Kershaw 1993:159), riots over excessive interference, for instance when a drift-back of evacuees led to ration cards being cancelled (Grunberger 1971:55), voting "no" in plebiscites, which up to a quarter of people did at first (Peukert 1987:51), listening to foreign radio stations (Peukert 1987:54; Housden 1997:32-3), maintaining solidarity within groupings of friends, co-religionists or co-workers (Peukert 1987:85) and refusal to give 'Eintopf' contributions (Grunberger 1971:60). Often such dissent was fragmented between specific groups (Noakes and Pridham 1984:78). Mason (cited Housden 1997:35-6) lists a number of forms of 'spontaneous' working-class opposition motivated by apparently non-political concerns but regarding "the fundamental economic interests of the working class", such as walk-outs, go-slows, pressure on officials and employers, opposition to various rules, and feigned illness. Such resistance, which focused on issues like labour conscription (Housden 1997:37), often exploited grey areas of legality and social contradictions, and attracted support even from ordinary workers who were also party members or S.A. men (1997:40-1). Many workers also took part in demonstrations, initially openly, but later under the guise of events like funerals (1997:25, 31-2). Petty resistance also occurred from other groups; peasants for instance carried on much as before, rebelling against bureaucratic restrictions on their freedom of action (Noakes and Pridham 1984:581).

A thesis of implicit ideational content in such resistenz is also generally supported by the evidence. So-called "grumbling" over subjects like the threat of war and price rises was widespread (1984:592), although it tended not to be seen by participants as a threat to the regime (1984:581). By 1935 such "grumbling" was semi-public, and regime reports speak of "clumps of people at street corners on the lookout for trouble" becoming "increasingly common" (Peukert 1987:50). An analysis of the content of "grumbling" and anti-regime jokes does, as Gramsci's theory would predict, suggest an implicit oppositional consciousness, for instance, a sense of separation between "us down below" and "them up there" (1987:51, 53) and symbolic criticism of the system as a whole (1987:53). Furthermore, as Gramsci would predict, the themes around which such dissent focused were "everyday" issues, rather than those separated in the 'national' sphere. Oppressive living conditions, poor material provision, persistent unemployment, careerism, extravagance, corruption, broken promises and the church struggle were all popular topics (1987:55-8), whereas issues such as the persecution of the left attracted little dissent (1987:57). The defining features of the concept of resistenz - behavioural rather than organised ethical form, semi-passive character, and functional role against dominant beliefs and their expressions (Kershaw 1993:160, 162) - are very close to the concept of good sense prior to transformative intervention in Gramsci's theory. That motives were emotional and everyday ("social resentment, economic misery, blind protest, fury at Nazi treatment of family and friends", Kershaw 1993:159) and situation- and milieu-specific (1993:164) further suggest the usefulness of Gramsci's concept. If these motives were ill-thought-out or even 'selfish', they still embodied an implicit rejection of the Nazi belief system as a lived ethic, and the primacy of an alternative set of beliefs (even if these alternative beliefs were sometimes those of economic liberalism). Furthermore, their fragmentation was more contextual than essential; taken as a whole, dissent covered virtually all aspects of life in Nazi Germany (Peukert 1987:63-4). It is also a support for Gramsci's theory that such dissent was often "ambiguous and contradictory" and politicised only to the extent that the regime chose to act against it (Noakes and Pridham 1984:578). An understanding of resistenz and dissent as reflecting an implicit oppositional consciousness is crucial to assessing concepts such as "responsibility" and "guilt" of ordinary Germans for Nazism, concepts which imply at least passive endorsement of the regime and its belief-system.

Implicit oppositional consciousness was rarely translated into coherent oppositional activity, but in Gramsci's model this is unsurprising given the fragmentary and embryonic nature of good sense and its location in a dialectic with common sense. It is clear, however, that a translation of dissent into activity, although it never occurred, was greatly feared and indeed structurally possible throughout virtually the whole period of the Nazi regime. That petty dissent was deeply feared by the regime itself is shown by a 1934 Gestapo report: "The danger that the dissatisfaction may ultimately develop into opposition to the state and the movement is a real one" (Peukert 1987:54-5). Although the extent to which labour resistance weakened the regime has been debated, it is almost certain that such resistance did affect its capacities to some extent (Kershaw 1993:165). The number of workers subject to imprisonment and execution was large (1993:172). Where active resistance did occur, it frequently merged into resistenz, as for instance with S.P.D. and K.P.D. mutual support and news smuggling networks (Noakes and Pridham 1984:592), which were similar to other kinds of solidarity network; the ad hoc committees which emerged in the last days of the war to ensure the intact hand-over of factories and communities (Kershaw 1993:173); and the Edelweiss Pirates, whose more-or-less conscious resistance began as cultural resistenz. Also, in spite of everything, illegal literature was smuggled into Germany (Housden 1997:32-3). Most crucially, resistenz was able to prevent the organicisation of the regime's ideology (Kershaw 1993:159), or the penetration of the regime into grassroots social relations (1993:163). Thus, a 1939 internal military report on war readiness states: "Political indoctrination and education... is still completely inadequate", "an almost total failure" (Noakes and Pridham 1984:598). That the regime was limited to domination without expansive hegemony was itself a significant setback; but such failure also impeded the capacity of the regime to generate popular action. Furthermore, it posed the constant possibility of unrest. Indeed, in other countries, such as Franco's Spain, Salazar's Portugal and many of the eastern European 'People's Democracies', which had a longer life-span than the Third Reich, petty resistance gradually consolidated into regime-threatening unrest. That this failed to occur in Nazi Germany is unlikely to be because of an essential difference, since the initial forms of dissent were similar between these cases. It seems more likely that the balance of common sense and good sense was different between the cases. In Germany, dissent tended to generate passivity rather than opposition. As a Sopade report puts it, 'Things can't go on like this' tends to be followed by 'What's the point, the Nazis are dug in much too tightly' rather than active opposition (Peukert 1987:64).

Such passivity provides support for another aspect of Gramsci's theory: his replacement of models of consenting self-interested actors with a model of a dialectic of activity and passivity. Reports confirm that passivity and fatalism were widespread during the Third Reich. As early as 1932, Ottwald was warning that the real danger of Nazism lay in tacit, invisible acceptance (Hiden and Farquharson 1983:167). Sopade reports state that "the indifference which has gripped large sections of the population has become the second pillar supporting the system" (Noakes and Pridham 1984:578), and people see themselves as "objects... and no longer have the idea that one day they could again be subjects" (1984:581). A Protestant commentator suggested that the idea that 'one cannot do anything' was a bigger threat to religion in Germany than the German Christians or Rosenberg (1984:585-6). A 1936 Sopade report stated: "all public life seems to have died out... the population are indifferent to what is in the papers... wherever one goes one can see that people accept national socialism as something inevitable. The new state... is there, one cannot get rid of it. The great mass has come to terms with this situation to such an extent that it no longer thinks about how the situation could be changed". Even among party members "people put up with everything like a fate which they cannot escape", and "people are no longer interested in anything" (1984:576). In Peukert's words, "The mass of non-Nazis fell back into passive discontent, querulous resignation and privacy-seeking accommodation with the regime" (1987:65).

Such passivity had a disastrous effect on opposition. Dissent tended to generate "fatalistic resignation" rather than actual disaffection (Grunberger 1971:61). Opposition, resistance, and criticism were thus left "fragmented and powerless" (Peukert 1987:46). Social contacts tended to become paralysed (Noakes and Pridham 1984:577). Furthermore, institutions such as the army were able to keep on functioning on the basis of "everything ticking over"; as a result, such an institution became "virtually an end in itself", minimising the possibility of collapse regardless of the outcome of events (Grunberger 1971:64). Potential dissident forces were disillusioned. Workers, for instance, became "primarily interested in work and not in democracy", retreating into their lives as workers and family members and avoiding illegal activity as pointless (Noakes and Pridham 1984:591). Passivity also generated what Kramsnik called a "reluctant loyalty" (cited Noakes and Pridham 1984:598) involving 'doing one's duty' (Peukert 1987:77), as well as a kind of token endorsement, such as casting a "yes" vote in plebiscites because there was no point doing anything else (Peukert 1987:51). The response to war was passive resignation rather than resistance (Peukert 1987:63), and there was a general sense of helplessness as well as political indifference among most ordinary people (1987:64). Furthermore, mass passivity had a disarming effect on organised resisters (Kershaw 1993:176).

Secondary works on Nazi Germany are in my opinion fairly weak at explaining passivity. Explanations based on terror remain popular (eg. Kershaw 1993:171, and various Marxist accounts, cited Hiden and Farquharson 1983:159). There are several problems with such accounts. A deterrent role of terror is by no means inevitable; the various terrors in Russia tended to generate peasant resistance rather than crush it. Furthermore, "The average Nazi citizen did not so much live in a state of terror as in a state of delusion tinged with delirium" (Grunberger 1971:62); terror was only experienced directly by oppressed groups and dissidents. If terror had a significant role in generating passivity, it was probably in two particular ways: firstly, because the apparent risk of dissident activity increased the perception that such activity was pointless; and secondly, because it prevented oppositional impulses being organised or educated by 'organic intellectuals' of any kind (since any visible core of opposition was suppressed). Such a situation, however, was as much derivative from as causal of passivity. Various accounts also stress atomisation, consumerism, and the retreat into the private sphere (eg. Peukert 1987:77-9), but these may also have been an effect rather than a cause of passivity. There are also still accounts, especially outside the historiography of Nazism itself, which impute a total mobilisation dynamic to Nazism (eg. Whitfield 1991:54). Such accounts would tend to be undermined by the extent of passivity. However, there is a problem that passivity was anti- as well as pro-regime; the lack of popular involvement in activity affected pro-regime actions (Noakes and Pridham 1984:577). In contrast to account stressing factors specific to Germans, there was also a problem of fatalism and passivity among many of the regime's victims. The low level of active resistance from Jews is particularly notable. This implies that something other than a dynamic of support or consent was at work.
Gramsci's approach to common sense and good sense helps to explain passivity. Passivity is implicit for Gramsci both in the fatalistic and mechanistic beliefs of common sense itself (beliefs which, as shown above, formed an important part of the support base of Nazism), and in the tension between the contradictory philosophies of common sense and good sense. Nazism tended to exacerbate both the fatalism of common sense and the tension between the two forms of mass consciousness in such a way as to generate passivity, in a context where the possibilities for the elaboration of good sense into some form of more-or-less coherent oppositional consciousness were severely impeded.

The primacy of common sense was supported by the structuring of the experience of ordinary Germans so as to emphasise this aspect of their consciousness and avoid active engagement with issues likely to trigger good sense. Much of Nazi society was organised to increase the likelihood of passivity. Election rigging aided a process of depoliticisation (Noakes and Pridham 1984:595). The Nazis generally avoided spectacular changes and incidents which could trigger latent opposition. Fundamental changes in spheres such as the army, the civil service, education and the media were often gradual and molecular (Grunberger 1971:39-40), making opposition to decisive policy shifts difficult. Anti-Semitic policies were similarly introduced a bit at a time, and even concentration camps were built on prefigurative forms existing under Weimar (1971:41). Arrests and brutality towards dissidents were kept quiet (Noakes and Pridham 1984:581), while care was taken to avoid excessively objectionable treatment of conforming Germans (Housden 1997:37). As Gilbert and Large put it, the tenor of life was not perceptibly changed (1970:276-7). Other structural factors also militated against coherent oppositional activity - for instance, the fragmentation of experiences due to large differentials in conditions in different workplaces and regions (Housden 1997:45), the division of the subaltern strata into competing patronage clienteles (Kershaw 1993:173), the role of overwork (Noakes and Pridham 1984:586), and the use of empirical imagery to support propaganda messages (Grunberger 1971:53).

The impeding of the development of good sense was closely related to the lack of visible, coherent alternatives to Nazism, or of a "strongly-held counter-ideology" (Noakes and Pridham 1984:579). Thus, a Sopade report in 1935 stated that "there is neither the will to overturn the system nor any conception of what should take its place" (Peukert 1987:64). The former may well have resulted in part from the latter. With anti-Bolshevik discourse widespread and Weimar democracy discredited, alternative frameworks were absent from the perceptions of many Germans (Grunberger 1971:44). Furthermore, the spread of alternative ideas was impeded by the co-ordination of activity down to the level of local skittles clubs (Noakes and Pridham 1984:575), and effective repressive measures against the distribution of written materials (1984:591-2). The resistance groups which did exist, such as the Stauffenberg grouping and the S.P.D. and K.P.D. networks, were hopelessly disconnected from ordinary people (Grunberger 1971:61; Kershaw 1993:172-3). Furthermore, different sections of the population were separated from each other; many workers, for instance, knew and cared little about the church struggle (Noakes and Pridham 1984:581). This interpretation of passivity as resulting, not from fear or "passive consent" (Peukert 1987:77), but from an inability to conceive of any other possibility, is also supported by the fact that where nascent opposition did emerge (eg. from the churches and the working class), it came from groups with pre-existing world-views hostile to Nazism. Workers for instance are described in a Sopade report as having a nascent concept of mass opposition (Noakes and Pridham 1984:580). However, in general passivity tended to be self-reinforcing. The dissenter was so surrounded and isolated amid apparent conformity that they easily became hopeless (Grunberger 1971:43). People like Gerhart Hauptmann could see thing were bad but would not act alone (1971:42). The visibility of nonconformity in close-knit communities further reinforced this effect (Housden 1997:35). Hitler was generally seen by his opponents as well as his supporters as greater than all opposition (Noakes and Pridham 1984:573), and opposers such as Klemperer came to believe that Hitler genuinely did speak for most Germans (Shandley 1998:16).


Once the elements outlined above are brought together, we have a framework in which to assess the most central issue of the Historikerstreit and the Goldhagen debate: the relationship between "ordinary Germans" and the Holocaust. We have a picture of, firstly, a widespread articulation by the Nazis of dominant common-sense themes which exist in diverse social contexts; secondly, the existence of good sense, i.e. an implicit alternative conception of the world implicit in dissent and oppositional practice, but undeveloped and unelaborated; and thirdly, a widespread dynamic whereby ordinary people were pushed towards passivity by the channelling of common sense and the structured underdevelopment of good sense.

It is this third element which is crucial to understanding the dynamics of Nazi genocide. As Peukert puts it, "The mass of the population... was not induced into actively supporting the persecution of the Jews; nor... was it moved to criticise it on grounds of principle or... to show solidarity with those who were being persecuted and defamed" (1987:58). The relationship between ordinary Germans and the Holocaust was one of passivity, not support or opposition. This comes out clearly in Mller-Claudius's study of a small sample of party members in 1942. 69% of his sample produced responses falling into the category of "indifference of conscience" on grounds such as "there's no point thinking about it, the decision lies with Hitler alone". A further 21% were critical of anti-Semitism but revealed resigned attitudes (cited Kershaw 1987:249). This was backed by a kind of deliberate ignorance about events individuals felt they could not change; "people gave up asking questions and closed their eyes and ears to what was going on around them" (Gilbert and Large 1970:274).

This passivity occurred in part because popular attitudes to anti-Semitism fell on a borderline between common sense and good sense. Racist attitudes of one form or another are an implicit part of common sense. Nazi views on race were similar to long-standing views held in relation to colonial politics (Peukert 1987:45), and German perceptions of other groups such as Jews and Slavs as racial anti-types of the Germans were widespread even before Hitler (Grunberger 1971:52). There is also a subtle relationship between racism and other elements in common sense, such as the naturalisation of social inequalities and the exclusionary dynamic towards outsiders. There was therefore some degree of support for anti-Semitic measures of a legal-discriminatory type (Peukert 1987:60). This is not, however, to say that there was some special German hatred of other 'races'; eliminationist anti-Semitism also existed, Joffe maintains, in Russia, Spain, Austria, Poland, Britain and elsewhere (1998:221). On the whole, anti-Semitism in Germany was a minority affair, invisible in propaganda aimed at the people as a whole and typically absent from morale reports (Peukert 1987:60). Its mobilising function was primarily internal to the party, and even there it was exclusionism and the insider-outsider dynamic rather than extermination as such which was the main legitimator (Hiden and Farquharson 1983:43-4). Kershaw notes a difference in perception, rooted in obscure uses of language, between the population, who saw anti-Semitism as a subsidiary theme in fascism, and party activists, who saw implicit anti-Semitic incitement in regime propaganda (1987:251). He concludes that anti-Semitism had very little popular resonance in relation to, for instance, anti-Bolshevism (cited Hiden and Farquharson 1983:44). This does, of course, leave the problem which stands at the heart of Goldhagen's case: the 500,000 or so 'ordinary Germans' who were involved in the Holocaust through organisations such as the Order Police. However, these were in some ways not 'ordinary Germans' at all, but members of mobilised organisations with specific group dynamics, operating in extreme conditions (Joffe 1998:218, 221). They can hardly be taken as representative.

On the other hand, 'good sense', the implicit logic present in dissent, tended to push people away from anti-Semitism. Where 'ordinary Germans' came into contact with the 'Jewish question' in the sphere of everyday experience, they often implicitly or explicitly rejected the regime's dynamics. Farmers, for instance, were reluctant to stop trading with Jews (Peukert 1987:58). More significantly, Kristallnacht led to a number of instances of pro-Jewish action: "People spoke their minds quite openly, and many Aryans were arrested as a result" (1987:58). In some places, the S.A. were pelted with stones; in others, Jewish victims were looked after or bought food after being banned from shops. The regime also recorded "gestures of disgust" (1987:58-9). Opponents included some party members and police (1987:59). It is also important to remember the opposition which was encountered by the so-called "euthanasia" policy. To be sure, the motives of those who opposed anti-Semitic and related measures did not often have carefully thought-out motives, and some of the motives left much to be desired (such as opposing Kristallnacht because of the material destruction it caused). But an implicit oppositional dynamic is unmistakable, and certain of the motivations contained implicit seeds of oppositional beliefs. For instance, the reaction of "who will be next?" (Peukert 1987:59) contains the seeds of a conception of solidarity. Thus, the seeds of potential opposition to genocide existed in Germany, though they were rarely enabled to develop.

This was because of another element of common sense and good sense, particularly in the Nazi context: good sense was only usually triggered by events operating in the everyday sphere and therefore requiring intellectual and active engagement. Kristallnacht and the attacks on Jewish farmers triggered some degree of opposition because they impinged on this sphere, but the Holocaust as such was carried out in the sphere where common sense was dominant, i.e. outside everyday life. Peukert supports this conclusion: because the Holocaust "did not take place in Germans' immediate sphere of experience", it was either disbelieved or "anaesthetised" out of people's consciousness by more immediate wartime concerns (1987:60). As a result of the constitution of a separate sphere autonomous of daily life and legitimated by common sense, the regime was able to operate without popular scrutiny or concern even when its operation led to mass murder. This fits with the interpretation of Nazism as creating a state so autonomous that it retained substantial independence even after emergency conditions subsided (Kershaw 1987:261-2). Gramscian concepts thus provide something of a bridge between Alltagsgeschichte approaches and structuralist accounts of cumulative radicalisation: the latter was enabled by the separation of spheres established in daily life.

Such applications of Gramscian concepts to the history of the Third Reich tend to discredit the idea of an uncontentious "German guilt". Guilt, and responsibility, are generally taken to imply some form of intentionality, whereas 'ordinary Germans'' relation to the Holocaust was more one of a loss of the capacity for intentionality. It is, of course, still possible to maintain that people should have done more, and should have resisted the attempts to generate passivity and create an autonomous state sphere. But this takes the ethical dimension into a new field: one of how such tendencies to passivity can be resisted or overcome. A Gramscian analysis tends to undermine the classical liberal paradigm of human nature which, I suspect, still underlies much historiography on the Third Reich. Ordinary people do not have a single set of beliefs which either consent to or resist Nazism, as is often implied; they have an amalgam of diverse beliefs which can be developed, undermined and manipulated in a variety of different ways. Such an approach also redirects attention from the shocking and horrific, but nevertheless uncontentious and thus historiographically unfruitful fact that people did enable the Holocaust to happen through passivity, to the more fruitful question of how such passivity came about. That people are capable of passively allowing genocide to happen is a cause for some pessimism about the way people think at present, i.e. about common sense. But Gramsci's approach also demonstrates the presence of a source for "optimism of the will" and a reason for disbelieving claims that Nazism is rooted in human, or German, nature: an implicit oppositional consciousness which could have been used to generate opposition to the Holocaust and which could potentially be used in any comparable future situation. The role of Germans in the Holocaust was less one of consent than of an imagined incapacity to resist resulting from common sense. In such a context, a problematic of guilt, reliant on a quasi-juridical approach to ethics and thus unable to engage with forms of human action falling outside a problematic of intentional rationality, is far less useful than an approach, such as Gramsci's, which enables an examination of the factors shaping behaviour and which thus enables more effective preventive and resistance activity in the future.


Some other general implications can be drawn from the above application of Gramsci's theory to the study of Nazi Germany. Firstly, there is little reason for specifically blaming 'the Germans' for Nazism. Most of the elements in common sense which were channelled by Nazism were present in most cultures in Hitler's day, and a sizeable proportion are still widespread now. As Peukert puts it, "the various anti-democratic, anti-humanistic and anti-modern features of Wilhelminian society before 1914 may be seen as a comparatively normal mix for the industrial class societies of that time" (1987:45). Kershaw agrees, arguing that Hitler's popularity rested "on social and political values, if often distorted or represented in extreme form, recognisable in many societies other than the Third Reich" (1993:10). The causes of Nazism are less essential than conjunctural, and, although the conjunctural factors (and some of the concepts the Nazis used, such as "volk") were specific to Germany, they by no means suggest a special flaw in the German character or in German political culture. That the Germans were in fact the only nation to carry out the Holocaust does not prove that this was because they were 'ordinary Germans', rather than (as Browning contends, in dispute with Goldhagen) 'ordinary people'. In the case of the Ordnungspolizei, we may even be dealing, not with some specifically German phenomenon, but with a tendency for policing organisations to adopt extreme exclusionary attitudes which is itself not specific to 1930s Germany (see Reiner 1992 Chapter 3).

The mass role, as opposed to the role of small numbers of Nazis, was one of passivity partly conditioned by exclusionist beliefs. This is itself a legitimate source of soul-searching on the part of Germans. But the actions of other governments and populations suggest they may well have been acting on similar beliefs; the conduct of colonial powers in relation to subject peoples and of the Allies in 'ethnically cleansing' Eastern European Germans after World War II suggest similar ideational tendencies towards exclusionist racism. That the expressions were less extreme was solely a product of circumstances. Furthermore, the Germans were not the only 'ordinary people' to play a role in the Holocaust; in Holland, for instance, "many Jews were... betrayed by the Dutch", "Many Dutch policemen turned out to be loyal henchmen of the German occupiers", and the ruling classes "quickly adapted to circumstances" (Brinks 1999:20-1), while recently revealed documents suggest the British and American governments knew about the Holocaust and chose to do nothing (Breitman 1999). Thus, the commonsensical ideas which enabled the Nazis to generate passivity are by no means exclusively German, but influence most populations and governments. This is not, however, a case for 'normalising' German history; more a case for 'abnormalising' national identities elsewhere, and challenging the complacency non-Germans tend to have about Nazism. The prerequisites for Nazism continue to exist in common sense, and the dangers these prerequisites pose remain largely unexamined. Nazism's specificity lies principally, not in its essence, but in the extent of its action.

Another important conclusion regards the non-organicity of Nazism. That the Nazis wanted a deep-rooted mass adherence to what they perceived as a new weltanschauung is clear (Hiden and Farquharson 1983:47-9). But their success in practice is due less to ethico-political than to conjunctural factors. This is demonstrated by the widespread existence of resistenz, and also by the fact that Nazi methods tended to be 'conjunctural' and economic-corporate - for instance, the use of material advancement as a source of legitimacy (Mason, cited Hiden and Farquharson 1983:49). That resistenz did not convert into active resistance was similarly a conjunctural not an organic phenomenon. Nazism's incapacity to gain organicity was one reason for the dynamic of cumulative radicalisation, as ever more extreme actions were used to create the sense of historicity which Nazism as a day-to-day phenomenon lacked. The thesis of a lack of organicity is supported by Mason (cited Hiden and Farquharson 1983:53), who sees the increase in terror during the war as proof of the failure to 'nationalise' the masses. This lack of organicity is unsurprising. Nazism did not for all its claims have a distinct epistemology or conception of human nature; it did not create a new 'integral state'; it was based on trying to feel and think in line with arbitrary, external demands, rather than on deeply-held beliefs; and its attitude to the masses was manipulative and instrumental. There is therefore much reason to fear phenomena like Nazism for their capacity to commit atrocities under the cover of passivity, but little reason to fear their potential to control people's minds. That Nazism was non-organic, and therefore not a 'collective will', further undermines the idea of 'collective guilt'.

The basis of Nazism in common sense also leaves large problems with contemporary historiography. The eventual endorsement of Goldhagen's work by many historians has largely been framed by a new-found commitment to a popularisation problematic (Shandley 1998:20) which may well, if applied widely, lead historians increasingly to adopt the language, and thereby the philosophy, of common sense. Yet the clearest lesson of Nazism seems to me to be the need to challenge common sense and attempt to overcome it. The contradiction between common sense and good sense is not specific to the Third Reich, and when the likes of Httenberger (cited Kershaw 1993:158) claim that there is no resistance or resistenz in democracies, they merely reveal their pro-system bias. Much petty deviance and 'grumbling' under liberal capitalism has a similar character to that under the Third Reich, and similarly provides a basis for forming a more active, less submissive and more progressive form of 'coherent and critical consciousness'. And, given the basis of Nazism in common sense, such intellectual development is crucially important. Only when the challenge of overcoming common sense has been successfully taken up will the danger of Nazism be consigned finally to history.

Lastly, what of the relevance of Gramsci to the study of the Third Reich, and the implications of this relevance for Gramsci's use elsewhere? I certainly feel, on the basis of the above study, that Gramscian concepts such as common sense and good sense open up new perspectives for engaging with Nazism, including Nazi ideology, resistance, conformity, and genocide, and therefore I feel my claims for the potential of Gramsci's intellectual-philosophical problematics are probably valid. Several problems should, however, be noted. Firstly, Gramsci lacks a developed theory of psychology, and this makes his theory problematical in relation to the crucial sphere of ritual and pseudo-religion. Secondly, dynamics of charismatic leadership - again a crucial aspect of the Third Reich - are largely missing from Gramsci's account. Thirdly, despite occasional comments, Gramsci lacks a developed theory of bureaucracy, and his attempts to integrate his ideas on fascism with broader Marxist categories subsequently appear somewhat clumsy. Gramsci's theory does not, therefore, provide a full set of conceptual categories, and should therefore be applied to other contexts alongside concepts drawn from elsewhere.


Gramsci's intellectual problematics, which have been handled inadequately in the existing literature on Gramsci, open up new directions in research and offer untried approaches to difficult questions. His categories of common sense and good sense offer crucial insights into popular belief-systems which are free of the naturalistic determinism of the liberal "human nature" problematic, while his theory of conceptions of the world allows engagement with important issues in relation to competing belief systems. The study of Nazi Germany tends to confirm the relevance of this part of Gramsci's theory to the concrete study of historical and political phenomena. Finally, Gramsci's concepts provide a basis for neither complacency nor complete pessimism. These parts of Gramsci's theory therefore offer a valuable addition to our understanding of the world.


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