archive - go to homepage

Antonio Gramsci

"Elements of Politics"



It really must be stressed that it is precisely the first elements, the most elementary things, which are the first to be forgotten. However, if they are repeated innumerable times, they become the pillars of politics and of any collective action whatsoever.

The first element is that there really do exist rulers and ruled, leaders and led. The entire science and art of politics are based on this primordial, and (given certain general conditions) irreducible fact. The origins of this fact are a problem apart, which will have to be studied separately (at least one could and should study how to minimise the fact and eliminate it, by altering certain conditions which can be identified as operating in this sense), but the fact remains that there do exist rulers and ruled, leaders and led. Given this fact, it will have to be considered how one can lead most effectively (given certain ends); hence how the leaders may best be prepared (and it is more precisely in this that the first stage of the art and science of politics consists); and how, on the other hand, one can know the lines of least resistance, or the most rational lines along which to proceed if one wishes to secure the obedience of the led or ruled. In the formation of leaders, one premiss is fundamental: is it the intention that there should always be rulers and ruled, or is the objective to create the conditions in which this division is no longer necessary? In other words, is the initial premiss the perpetual division of the human race, or the belief that this division is only an historical fact, corresponding to certain conditions? Yet it must be clearly understood that the division between rulers and ruled — though in the last analysis it has its origin in a division between social groups — is in fact, things being as they are, also to be found within the group itself, even where it is a socially homogeneous one. In a certain sense, it may be said that this division is created by the division of labour, is merely a technical fact, and those who see everything in terms of "technique", "technical" necessity, etc., speculate on this coexistence of different causes in order to avoid the fundamental problem.

Since the division between rulers and ruled exists even within the same group, certain principles have to be fixed upon and strictly observed. For it is in this area that the most serious "errors" take place, and that the most criminal weaknesses and the hardest to correct are revealed. For the belief is common that obedience must be automatic, once it is a question of the same group; and that not only must it come about without any demonstration of necessity or rationality being needed, but it must be unquestioning. (Some believe, and what is worse act in the belief, that obedience "will come" without being solicited, without the path which has to be followed being pointed out.) Thus it is difficult to cure leaders completely of "Cadornism" of the conviction that a thing will be done because the leader considers it just and reasonable that it should be done: if it is not done, the blame is put on those who "ought to have...", etc. Thus too it is hard to root out the criminal habit of permitting useless sacrifices through neglect. Yet common sense shows that the majority of collective (political) disasters occur because no attempt has been made to avoid useless sacrifice, or because manifestly no account has been taken of the sacrifices of others and their lives have been gambled with. Everyone has heard officers from the front recount how the soldiers were quite ready to risk their lives when necessary, but how on the other hand they would rebel when they saw themselves overlooked. For example: a company would be capable of going for days without food because it could see that it was physically impossible for supplies to get through; but it would mutiny if a single meal was missed as a result of neglect or bureaucratism, etc.

This principle extends to all actions demanding sacrifices. Hence, after every disaster, it is necessary first of all to enquire into the responsibility of the leaders, in the most literal sense. (For example: a front is made up of various sectors, and each sector has its leaders; it is possible that the leaders of one sector are more responsible for a particular defeat than those of another; but it purely a question of degree — never of anybody being exempt from responsibility.)

The principle one posed that there are leaders and led, rulers and ruled, it is true that parties have up till now been the most effective way of developing leaders and leadership. (Parties may present themselves under the most diverse names, even calling themselves the anti-party or the "negation of the parties"; in reality, even the so-called "individualists" are party men, only they would like to be "party chiefs" by the grace of God or the idiocy of those who follow them.)

Development of the general concept contained in the expression "State spirit". This expression has a quite precise, historically determinate meaning. But the problem is raised: does there exist something similar to what is called "State spirit" in every serious movement, that is to say every movement which is not the arbitrary expression of more or less justified individualisms? Meanwhile "State spirit" presupposes "continuity", either with the past, or with tradition, or with the future; that is, it presupposed that every act is a moment in a complex process, which has already begun and which will continue. The responsibility for this process, of being actors in this process, of being in solidarity with forces which are materially "unknown" but which nevertheless feel themselves to be active and operational — and of which account is taken, as if they were physically "material" and present — is precisely in certain cases called "State spirit". It is obvious that such awareness of "duration" must be concrete and not abstract, that is to say in a certain sense must not go beyond certain limits. Let us say that the narrowest limits are a generation back and a generation to come. This represents no short period, since generations cannot be calculated simply as thirty years each — the last thirty and the next thirty respectively. They have to be calculated organically, which at least as far as the past is concerned is easy to understand: we feel ourselves linked to men who are now extremely old, and who represent for us the past which still lives among us, which we need to know and to settle our accounts with, which is one of the elements of the present and one of the premisses of the future. We also feel ourselves linked to our children, to the generations which are being born and growing up, and for which we are responsible. (The cult of tradition, which has a tendentious value, is something different; it implies a choice and a determinate goal — that is to say, it is the basis for an ideology.) However, if it can be said that a "State spirit" in this sense is to be found in everybody, it is necessary from time to time to combat distortions of it or deviations from it.

"The act for the act's sake", struggle for the sake of struggle, etc., and especially mean, petty individualism, which is anyway merely an arbitrary satisfying of passing whims, etc. (In reality, the question is still that of Italian "apoliticism", which takes on these various picturesque and bizarre forms.) Individualism is merely brutish apoliticism; sectarianism is apoliticism, and if one looks into it carefully is a form of personal following [clientela], lacking the party spirit which is the fundamental component of "State spirit". The demonstration that party spirit is the fundamental component of "State spirit" is one of the most critically important assertions to uphold. Individualism on the other hand is a brutish element, "admired by foreigners", like the behaviour of the inmates of a zoological garden.


From The New Machievelli, 1933.