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George Hoare, Nathan Sperber, An introduction to Antonio Gramsci: his life, thought and legacy

Juan Javier Rivera Andía
An Introduction to Antonio Gramsci
George Hoare, Nathan Sperber, An Introduction to Antonio Gramsci. His Life, Thought and Legacy, Londres, Bloomsbury, 2015, 258 p., ISBN : 9781472572769.
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1This book addresses the diversity of interpretations of Gramsci’s thought with a view to providing a more homogeneous or coherent view of it, in contrast to that presented by today’s “veritable ‘Gramsci industry’ with a great many different Gramscis… [with] diverse and split ‘Gramscis’” (1). As such it may be of interest to readers from fields as diverse as international relations, anthropology, political theory, literature and sociology who are beginning to familiarise themselves with “the essential rhythm of his thought” (1).

2Born in apenuriousSardinia at the end of the 19th century, this influential intellectualbecamean important politicalleaderin the early 20th century, affiliated to the Italian Communist Party – “the largest communist party in the West” (7) – which Gramsci would lead between 1924 and 1926.Gramsci wrote his reflections on history, politics and revolution when inprison, having been condemned by Mussolini’s regime at the end of 1926, at a time when he “did not have a coherent oeuvre to his name” (7). How should this collection of texts be read today? Hoare and Sperber invite us to use Gramsci’s perspectives to make sense of the current historical situation, “attempting to open new avenues” (2).

3The book is structured in a pedagogical manner: firstly, it offers a short biography of this “political organizer and militant” who “did not acquire a higher education diploma or degree” (8). This section is full of important details such as his “physical malformation” and the “dire misery” in which his family found itself after his father was accused of “embezzlement, extortion and counterfeiting” (8-9). These details can be understood invarious ways, some of which might not necessarily be in line with the general appreciations of Hoare and Sperber. For instance: “Gramsci felt close to Mussolini… and notably sided with him in hostility to Italian imperialism in Lybia… in one of his first published articles Gramsci defended Mussolini when the latter supported Italian participation in the [First World War]” (11).

4In the second part of their study Hoare and Sperber explore Gramsci’s perspectives, starting off with a discussion of his views on culture and politics. The first chapter discusses his considerations on different types of intellectuals, in particular, those who act as a facilitator for historical processes, as opposed to “traditional” intellectuals: “…indifference is a powerful force in history. It operates passively but effectively… I am alive, I take sides. Hence I detest whoever does not, I hate indifference… it’s impossible for me to think ‘disinterestedly’ or to study for the sake of studying ». (11).

5The second section of this book, dedicated to Gramsci’s philosophy, addresses his “most famous concept” (117): hegemony, which “serves to stress the cultural and moral dimensions of the exercise of political power” (118). According to the authors, as compared with Lenin’s use of the concept of hegemony, for Gramsci “…it no longer serves to designate solely the activity of the working class in its struggle against the bourgeoisie, but instead can be applied to any form of ‘directing’ political action on the part of one social group vis-à-vis others, theoretically at any point in history… almost completely redefined… hegemony was a means (to revolution) for Lenin, it is transmuted to an end (of politics) for Gramsci” (119).

6Hoare and Sperber assert that the “concept of hegemony not only relies on, but deepens and furthers his other major theoretical innovations… it is only after having encountered the other key concepts in Gramsci’s thought that… [one] is fully able to understand the way in which hegemony is applicable to all the other topics” (117). Dealing with hegemony, the authors also raise some interesting points. For example,when they comment that “it might be questioned whether the modalities of ‘consent’ and ‘coercion’, fundamental as they undoubtedly are, exhaust the full range of the realities of the operation of power in a modern society” (125).

7The third part of the book is perhaps the most interesting one since it aims to apply Gramsci’s thought to economics and political theory through adetailed account of examples of certain “patterns of neo-liberal transition” and “Left/Right”. At the end of the book, Hoare and Sperber underline the influence of Gramsci’s thought on other important social scientists and intellectuals such as Foucault or Said.

8In sum, this book could be of interest to both those already familiar with Antonio Gramsci and those who are just beginning to explore the “notes that are more or less brief, and of disparate and heterogeneous character” that compose the Prison Notebooks. For the latter, Hoare and Sperber’s book offers not only a brief summary of Gramsci’s biography, ideas and heritage, but also a sort of guide to further reading his work (in an annex to the book). To those already acquainted with this “martyr of the Marxist tradition” (233), this book, firstly, offers a reliable account of his life experiences and the main components of his thought; and, secondly, an honest attempt to apply Gramsci’s perspectives to contemporary social processes. For these reasons Hoare and Sperber’s study offers a good starting point for those who would venture to take on Antonio Gramsci’s positions and procedures as analytical tools in the never ending goal of making sense of a world at the border an apparently inevitable collapse, “in which it seems easier to imagine the destruction of the whole world than it does the historical progression beyond capitalism” (234).

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Juan Javier Rivera Andía, « George Hoare, Nathan Sperber, An introduction to Antonio Gramsci: his life, thought and legacy », Lectures [En ligne], Les comptes rendus, 2016, mis en ligne le 18 mai 2016, consulté le 17 juin 2019. URL :

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Juan Javier Rivera Andía

Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona

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