Antonio Gramsci

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The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.

Antonio Gramsci (23 January 189127 April 1937) was an Italian writer, politician and political theorist. A founding member and onetime leader of the Communist Party of Italy, he was imprisoned by Mussolini's Fascist regime.


  • The history of education shows that every class which has sought to take power has prepared itself for power by an autonomous education. The first step in emancipating oneself from political and social slavery is that of freeing the mind. I put forward this new idea: popular schooling should be placed under the control of the great workers’ unions. The problem of education is the most important class problem.
    • Cited in Davidson's (1977) Antonio Gramsci: Towards an Intellectual Biography. London: Merlin Press., p. 77.
  • It is all a matter of comparing one’s own life with something worse and consoling oneself with the relativity of human fortunes. When I was eight or nine I had an experience which came clearly to mind when I read your advice. I used to know a family in a little village near mine: father, mother and sons: they were small landowners and had an inn. Very energetic people, especially the woman. I knew (I had heard) that besides the sons we knew, this woman had another son nobody had seen, who was spoken of in whispers, as if he were a great disgrace for the mother, an idiot, a monster or worse. I remember that my mother referred to this woman often as a martyr, who made great sacrifices for this son, and put up with great sorrows. One Sunday morning about ten, I was sent to this woman’s: I had to deliver some crocheting and get the money. I found her shutting the door, dressed up to go out to mass, she had a hamper under her arm. On seeing me she hesitated then decided. She told me to accompany her to a certain place, and that she would take delivery and give me the money on our return. She took me out of the village, into an orchard filled with rubbish and plaster; in one corner there was a sort of pig sty, about four feet high, and windowless, with only a strong door. She opened the door and I could hear an animal-like howling. Inside was her son, a robust boy of 18, who couldn’t stand up and hence scraped along on his seat to the door, as far as he was permitted to move by a chain linked to his waist and attached to the ring in the wall. He was covered with filth, and his eyes shone red, like those of a nocturnal animal. His mother dumped the contents of her basket – a mixed mess of household leftovers – into a stone trough. She filled another trough with water, and we left. I said nothing to my mother about what I had seen, so great an impression it had made on me, and so convinced was I that nobody would believe me. Nor when I later heard of the misery which had befallen that poor mother, did I interrupt to talk of the misery of the poor human wreck who had such a mother.
    • Gramsci, 1965, p. 737 cited in Davidson, 1977, p. 35.
  • When I was a child the boys of the town never came near me except to make fun of me. I was almost always alone. Sometimes, finding me by chance among them, they hurled themselves against me, and not only with words. One day – and while he told me this his great eyes shone with an inner light - … they started to throw stones at me with more violence than usual, with the evilness which is found among children and the weak. I lost patience, and grabbing stones I too started to defend myself with such energy that my attackers were put to flight. Mario, I succeeded in beating them: I terrified them to such an extent that from that day they respected me and no longer annoyed me. I ran to my mother … and told her of my first victorious battle: she kissed me tenderly and it was the best prize that I could have wanted.
    • Gramsci cited in Garuglieri's Garuglieri, 'Ricordo di Gramsci.' Societa, 691-701., 1946, p. 700.
  • I can’t think why Delio [son] has not been told that I’m in prison, and why no one reflected that he might then find out about it indirectly, that is, in the most disagreeable way for a child, who then begins to doubt the truthfulness of those educating him, to think about it on his own account and draw apart. At least, that was my experience as a child: I remember it perfectly . . . I believe in treating children as rational creatures with whom it is possible to discuss even the most serious matters. This makes a very profound impression on them, it strengthens their character and above all it avoids leaving their development at the mercy of random environmental pressures and casual, impersonal encounters. It really is very strange how grown-ups forget they were children themselves, and make no use of their own experiences. For my part, I recall vividly how offended I was at every discovery of a subterfuge, even if it was meant to keep painful facts from me, and how this shut me up within myself and made me withdraw.
    • Gramsci cited in Fiori, 1970, pp. 22-23.
  • For two years I have lived outside the world: in a dream world. One by one, I let each strand tying me to the world and to my fellow men be cut. I live entirely for the mind, for the. heart not at all …. I turned myself into a bear, inside and outside … other people did not exist for me. For perhaps two years, I didn’t laugh once and I didn’t cry … but I never hurt anyone but myself.
    • Gramsci cited in Davidson, 1977, p. 70.
  • I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.
    • Letter from Prison (19 December 1929); also attributed to Romain Rolland.
  • All men are intellectuals: but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals.
    • Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1971).
  • La crisi consiste appunto nel fatto che il vecchio muore e il nuovo non può nascere: in questo interregno si verificano i fenomeni morbosi piú svariati.
  • The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.
  • § (34). Passato e presente., Quaderni del carcere, «Ondata di materialismo» e «crisi di autorità », volume I, quaderno 3, p. 311, written circa 1930
  • English translation Selections from the Prison Notebooks, “Wave of Materialism” and “Crisis of Authority” (NY: International Publishers), (1971), pp. 275-276.
  • Prison Notebooks Volume II, Notebook 3, 1930, (2011 edition) SS-34, Past and Present 32-33,
  • Economy and ideology. The claim (presented as an essential postulate of historical materialism) that every fluctuation of politics and ideology can be presented and expounded as an immediate expression of the structure, must be contested in theory as primitive infantilism, and combated in practice with the authentic testimony of Marx, the author of concrete political and historical works.
    • Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1971).
  • History is at once freedom and necessity.
    • Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1971).
  • We can see that in putting the question "what is man?" what we mean is: what can man become? That is, can man dominate his own destiny, can he "make himself," can he create his own life? We maintain therefore that man is a process and, more exactly, the process of his actions. If you think about it, the question itself "what is man?" is not an abstract or "objective" question. It is born of our reflection about ourselves and about others, and we want to know, in relation to what we have thought and seen, what we are and what we can become; whether we really are, and if so to what extent, "makers of our own selves," of our life and of our destiny. And we want to know this "today," in the given conditions of today, the conditions of our daily life, not of any life or any man
    • Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1971).
  • Revolutionaries see history as a creation of their own spirit, as being made up of a continuous series of violent tugs at the other forces of society - both active and passive, and they prepare the maximum of favourable conditions for the definitive tug (revolution).
    • Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1971).
  • My practicality consists in this: in the knowledge that if you beat your head against the wall it is your head which breaks and not the wall … that is my strength, my only strength.
    • The Modern Prince and other Writings, quoting a letter to his sister


  • To tell the truth is revolutionary.
    • The first number of L'Ordine Nuovo, edited by Gramsci, appeared in 1921 with this motto of Ferdinand Lassalle on the first page. It is often misattributed to Gramsci.
The long march through the institutions, Rudi Dutschke
  • The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.
    • Loose translation, commonly attributed to Gramsci by Slavoj Žižek, presumably formulation by Žižek (see below).
    • Presumably a translation from a loose French translation by Gustave Massiah; strict English with cognate terms and glosses:
    • Original, with literal English translation (see above):
      • La crisi consiste appunto nel fatto che il vecchio muore e il nuovo non può nascere: in questo interregno si verificano i fenomeni morbosi piú svariati.
      • The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.
    • Similar sentiments are widespread in revolutionary rhetoric; see: No, Žižek did not attribute a Goebbels quote to Gramsci, Ross Wolfe, 2015-07-03

About Gramsci[edit]

  • We must prevent this brain from functioning for twenty years.
    • Prosecutor at Gramsci's criminal trial, quoted Prison Notebooks translated by Joseph A. Buttigieg
  • I don't think we have any alternative other than remaining optimistic. Optimism is an absolute necessity, even if it's only optimism of the will, as Gramsci said, and pessimism of the intellect.
    • Angela Davis Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement (2015)
  • oftentimes prison writing is described as that which is produced in prison or by prisoners, and certainly Gramsci's prison notebooks provide the most interesting example.
    • 2003 interview in Conversations with Angela Davis Edited by Sharon Lynette Jones (2021)
  • Antonio Gramsci wrote of the culture of the future that "new" individual artists can't be manufactured: art is a part of society-but that to imagine a new socialist society is to imagine a new kind of art that we can't foresee from where we now stand. "One must speak," Gramsci wrote, "of a struggle for a new culture, that is, for a new moral life that cannot but be intimately connected to a new intuition of life, until it becomes a new way of feeling and seeing reality and, therefore, a world intimately ingrained in 'possible artists' and 'possible works of art."

See also[edit]

Wikipedia has an article about:
  • "Looking Through Gramsci's Eyes" by Kevin Mitanidis
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