From Gramsci to the Greens
It seems that the work of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci is more pertinent now than ever, as we prepare for the most devastating assault on the welfare state, education system and living standards in history. For a hundred years radicals, from trotskists and communists to democratic and independent socialists, looked to the Labour Party to incubate, sustain and often lead the resistance against the forebearers of this current attack. The death of the Labour Party and its reincarnation as New Labour was more then just the destruction of a centre left political party, it was the end of the traditional organising technique of the left. Since the demise of the Labour Party, left wing ideas have floundered and been ripped to shreds by the relentless ideological onslaught of right wing politicians (including those in New Labour), corporate elites and the media. Alternatives have been ignored or at best sidelined. Despite the near complete collapse of global capitalism the left has been completely ineffectual at articulating an alternative political programme. To counter this we first need to understand how our ideas are sidelined.
Gramsci, argued that the revolution is no longer an armed war but is rather an ideological battle of ideas aimed at cultural domination. A group comes to dominance by ideologically conquering or assimilating the opinion formers connected to other groups. The dominant groups’ opinion formers are then able to command leadership of civil society and give rise to ‘common sense’ values which subordinate groups adopt. ‘Common sense’ is not, however, a simplistic injection of the ideas of the ruling class into other groups, it is: “fragmentary, disjointed and episodic.” It is this episodic nature that enables it to act as day-to-day knowledge. Gramsci argues that hegemonic ideas do not simply flow from the ascendancy of a certain social group to power with a fully formed philosophy but rather from the process of construction and ascendancy of a historical bloc of social forces. Stuart Hall further developed these concepts and applied them to the media in contemporary society. Essentially, news needs to rely on credible sources which are invariably elites: politicians, state or corporate bureaucrats etc. This elite can then define an issue. Secondary voices brought in to provide balance are left to make “Yes but” statements within the framework already created by primary definers. As the media’s role is to communicate with their audience in a language and framework that they understand by using the elite as ‘primary definers’, the media essentially transform the elite’s views so that the general public can easily digest them; in this way a ‘consensus view of society’ is shaped, this is not a real consensus but merely the views of the elite recycled for mass consumption. In this way a cultural hegemony develops from independent, ‘unbiased’, professional media.
To be successful the left must first counter the Right’s dominate ‘common sense values’ and ‘consensus views’ whether they be that: public spending has to be cut, the rich already pay too much tax, the public sector is inefficient or that students are scroungers not a social good. This can only be achieved by two intermeshed processes; first we need our own primary definers who can turn ‘issue definition’ into a sight of ideological struggle. It is clear that it is useful to have a mainstream left wing party as a platform for lunching this struggle (think of 11 million people in 1974 voting for an irreversible shift of wealth and power to workers). Labour can no longer provide this platform, meaning that the Green Party, with 15,000 members, is the only realistic option – at least for the time being. Moreover, the Green Party has another advantage, for to actually win this struggle of ideas a broad historical bloc needs to forged which can construct a hegemonic culture of equality, justice and solidarity. No matter how ideologically pure, a single anarchist spray painting an ‘A’ on a building, never has and never will constitute a historic bloc. The Green Party is perfectly suited as the builder of a historical bloc as it is not tainted by the failures and aberrations of Labourism and Communism, whilst environmentalism has the ability to unite vast swathes of the population as does a value based commitment to social justice and anti-militarism. The decentralised structures of the party make it less open to the bureaucratisation which plagued the Labour Party and ultimately resulted in its complete destruction.
If we are serious about social change it is time to make use of all the tools at our disposal, including the platform which the Green Party provides, to build a historical bloc with which to unleash a cultural revolution.