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Antonio Gramsci’s Grand Plan

August 10, 2017 Frontpage No Comments

By ALBERTO M. PIEDRA

(Editor’s Note: Dr. Piedra is the Donald E. Bently Professor of Political Economy at The Institute of World Politics.)

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“Christianity had become so thoroughly integrated into the daily lives of nearly everyone, including non-Christians living in Christian lands, it was so pervasive, that it formed an almost impenetrable barrier to the new, revolutionary civilization Marxists wish to create. Attempting to batter down that barrier proved unproductive, since it only generated powerful counterrevolutionary forces, consolidating them and making them potentially deadly.
“Therefore, in place of the frontal attack, how much more advantageous and less hazardous to attack the enemy’s society subtly, with the aim of transforming the society’s collective mind gradually, over a period of a few generations, from the former Christian worldview into one more harmonious to Marxism” — Fr. James Thornton.
There is no doubt in my mind that Antonio Gramsci, a founding member of the Italian Communist Party, aimed to liberate Marxian praxis from its dogmatic theoretical constraints in order to make it more effective in penetrating and subverting Christian society. The predictive canons of theoretical Marxism were — so to speak — “underperforming”; something needed to be done. Interestingly, The Frankfurt School of social theory and philosophy that was associated with the Institute for Social Research at the Goethe University of Frankfurt held similar views of history and human development.
After the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia (1917), it was widely believed that Communism would rapidly sweep over Europe; it did not. The only two attempts to impose workers’ governments in Europe took place in Bavaria and in Hungary, and both failed. Had Marxist theory been too optimistic? Apparently so.
For reasons not clear to me, present-day academics have missed the importance of Gramsci and The Frankfurt School in reinterpreting some of Karl Marx’s original theories concerning class, culture, and the state. Gramsci broke away from the economic determinism of traditional Marxist thought, thus becoming a progenitor of neo-Marxist praxis, i.e., man could influence the impersonal and invisible forces of sociopolitical evolution.
In this brief article, I review a few of Antonio Gramsci and The Frankfurt School’s ideas which, without a doubt, aimed to undermine many of the foundational concepts underpinning the Judeo-Christian legacy and worldview in Europe at the turn of the 19th century. Gramsci is probably best known for his theory of cultural hegemony which claims that the ruling class — the bourgeoisie — should use institutions of higher learning and the cultural milieu to consolidate power, dominate a nation’s ethos, and, thus, surreptitiously, bring about a Godless socialist collectivism in the name of the proletariat. The invisible hand of the intelligentsia was to participate in an effort to move history forward (and ahead of schedule).
In 1923, after the failure of the German Revolution (1918-1919), the Soviet leadership began to bicker about the meaning of Marxist theory, a situation which paved the way for Stalin’s Doctrine of Socialism. At issue was the meaning of history and the role of the state in bringing about socialism. Was a classless society a) to materialize “one country at a time” (pushed by the enlightened ruling class) or b) to be a global phenomenon (a spontaneous and organic process)? Marx used the term “permanent revolution” to describe the innate processes in nature and society that would lead to revolution and the rise of a classless society (without the need for political activity or alliances).
By reinterpreting history, socialism, it was argued, would be possible in countries (which had not achieved advanced stages of capitalism) with the help of political action groups. In many ways Gramsci’s means for the acquisition of power by the proletariat did not deviate much from Trotsky’s strategy and interpretation of the concept of “permanent revolution.”
Gramsci’s objective was to modernize Communist methodology and update Marx’s interpretation of the forces of history. According to Gramsci, victory can only be attained through political hegemony and not exclusively through violence and the imposition of power by government authorities. In other words, Gramsci was willing to be patient (and take the slower road to socialism). Progress meant the gradual infiltration of the key institutions of capitalism and the undermining of its educational system (including the churches upon which the Judeo-Christian heritage and mindset were founded).
Unlike Marx, Gramsci sought to win over the youth in order to deprive capitalist society of its crucial talent. In other words, a free and egalitarian society will come about “more quickly” by turning the capitalist bourgeoisie into members of the working class without the need for immediate and terrifying violence. Transform the inner soul of the people and that transformation, however de-humanizing, would become the new reality; get the people to reject internally the Judeo-Christian worldview.
Not unlike Gramsci, many of the members of the Frankfurt School also believed that traditional Marxist theory could not adequately explain what appeared to be the advance of socialism in the early twentieth century. The pace and effectiveness of change prompted the Frankfurt School to critique both capitalism and Soviet socialism in the 1920s; in the process of deep reflection, Gramsci and the Frankfurt School altered traditional Marxian analysis. They can be considered the forebears of what is often known as “cultural Marxism.”
Are not Gramsci and The Frankfurt School in many respects the forerunners of today’s new and dangerous “intellectual hegemonism,” an extreme mix of moral relativism, agnosticism, political correctness, power politics, and ideological multiculturalism?
The goal of the Frankfurt School first and foremost was to chip away at Europe’s cultural heritage (Aufhebung der Kultur) and secondly, propagate new forms of cultural awareness which would further alienate and barbarize the population in order to accelerate the revolutionary impetus. The purpose of modern art, literature, and music was to destroy the bourgeoisie, the natural moral law, and any signs of the Judeo-Christian heritage in the public square.
Adding intellectual firepower to the ideas of the Frankfurt School, Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) and Theodor Adorno (1903-1969) worked to influence education, the arts, and the mass media as means to skewer common sense and the Judeo-Christian memory and conscience. They gave aesthetics a firmly materialistic basis, reducing beauty to utility and creativity to efficiency in light of some farfetched messianic-like prophecies.
Just as the “sans-culottes” during the French Revolution tried to destroy religion and convert churches into museums and social clubs, Gramsci and the Frankfurt School tried to privatize the Judeo-Christian worldview and replace it with the artistic inspiration of the utopian gods of liberty, equality, and brotherhood.
Very often churches are transformed into ideologically driven political clubs where stress is placed on “social justice” and egalitarianism at the high price of abandoning or diluting some of the basic theological truths of the Catholic Church. Maybe even without their realizing it, some clergymen could not comply more with the ideas of Gramsci and the Frankfurt School than by contributing with their radical views to the demise of the West’s Judeo-Christian values.
If anyone doubts the influence on modern society of Gramsci and the Frankfurt School’s ideology, I would advise reading Aldous Huxley’s famous dystopian novel, Brave New World (1932). Its setting is one thousand times worse than Stalin’s gulags. Might we be headed in that direction?
Or if one is really skeptical of my analysis, read H.G. Wells’ The Open Conspiracy: Blue Prints for a World Revolution (1928), in which he (in great detail and dramatic verse) argues, mimicking Gramsci, that the enlightened class (agnostics) must create (through explanation and false propaganda) a new world order bereft of God and authority for the good of humanity.
Their intention to eradicate the Judeo-Christian worldview is clear. To achieve their objectives, Gramsci in effect redefines the meaning of human dignity or subordinates it to his utopian madness wrapped in Marxian ideology. In wishing for the impossible, Gramsci’s grand plan calls for the political elites, media, and artistic community to participate in the reeducation of modern man and jettison any talk of a natural moral law and of one uncreated God of the universe.
What Gramsci, the Frankfurt School, H.G. Wells, and their ilk forgot to see is that the truth about man and the universe (eventually) shall force them to come to their senses and see the folly of their misguided theories. God, in His wisdom, will draw good from reckless ideas and the treachery of irrationality. The Christian spirit of joy, cheerfulness, and service shall once again outdo the folly of the antitheists and stimulate men and women to be of service, which is what engenders curiosity, creativity, and innovation, despite uncertainty and suffering, in an imperfect world.
And that is what Gramsci didn’t understand.

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