Antonio Gramsci. An Intellectual Biography, Palgrave Macmillan, “Marx, Engels, and Marxisms” (series editors: Marcello Musto, Terrel Carver, Cham, 2022, ISBN 978-3-031-15609-0. (404 pagine).
This intellectual biography aims to provide an organic framework of Antonio Gramsci’s process of intellectual development so as to approach its main categories without taking them out of context in regard to the human, philosophical, and political framework in which they emerged. Different needs and perspectives coexist in the figure of Antonio Gramsci, but his theoretical formulations as a whole are developed within a structure of remarkable continuity. That does not mean he is always identical to himself; on the contrary, on many issues, his reasoning develops, becomes more complex, takes different turns, and changes some initial judgements. The Gramsci in Notebooks cannot be overlaid by the young director of L’Ordine Nuovo, or by the communist leader, because his development did not occur under conditions of intellectual inflexibility, of absence of evolution. However, the alleged ideological division between before and after, whereby a “political Gramsci” tends to oppose Gramsci as a “cultivated man,” is the outcome of a distortion created by needs that are essentially political. The Sardinian intellectual’s life is marked by the drama of World War I, the first mass conflict in which the great scientific discoveries of the previous decades were applied on a large scale and in which millions of peasants and workers were literally sent to slaughter. In all of his theoretical formulations, this dual relation, which epitomizes the instrumental use of “simpletons” by ruling classes, goes beyond the military context of the trenches and becomes full-fledged in the fundamental relations of modern capitalist society. In contrast with this notion of social hierarchy, which is deemed natural and unchangeable, Gramsci constantly affirms the need to overcome the historically determined rupture between intellectual and manual functions, due to which the existence of a priesthood or of a separate caste of specialists in politics and in knowledge is made necessary. It is not the specific professional activity (whether material or immaterial) that determines the essence of human nature: to Gramsci, “all men are philosophers.” In this passage from Notebooks, we find the condensed form of his idea of “human emancipation,” which is the historical need for an “intellectual and moral reform”: the subversion of traditional relations between rulers and ruled and the end of exploitation of man by man.