Literary Theory Unit 1 Marxism

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Literary Theory Unit 1 Marxism

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Literary Theory Unit 1 Marxism Notes cover all the exercise questions in UGC Syllabus. Literary Theory Unit 1 Marxism provided here ensures a smooth and easy understanding of all the concepts. Understand the concepts behind every Unit and score well in the board exams.

(A) The Formation of The Intellectuals and Hegemony (Civil Society) and Separation of Powers



1. What is the materialist conception of history?

Ans: Processes of historical change are a reflection of the economic development of a society.

2. What is the relationship between base superstructure?

Ans: The change in the economic base of a society leads to the change in superstructure.

3. What is Antonio Gramsci’s view of power?

Ans: It is a mixture of coercion and consent.

4. Gramsci shifted the focus of Marxist analysis through which of the idea?

Ans: The consent for a particular social and

political system was produced and reproduced through the operation of hegemony.

5. According to critical theorists, what is ’emancipation’?

Ans: Reconciliation with nature.

6. Marxists see globalization as:

Ans: Part of long-term trends in the development of capitalism.

7. What are the goals of critical theory?

Ans: To challenge the prevailing order and enact change through a process of critique.

8. Who was Antonio Gramsci?

Ans: Antonio Francesco Gramsci was an Italian Marxist Philosopher, journalist, linguist, writer, and politician. He wrote on philosophy, political theory, sociology, history, and linguistics.

9. What does civil society consists of?

Ans: Civil society consists of private institutions like schools, churches, clubs, journals and parties which are instrumental in crystallising social and political consciousness.

10. In which book does Gramsci talk about hegemony

Ans: Prison Notebooks.

11. In what context does Gramsci refer to the notion of hegemony?

Ans: A process by which a particular culture, social and political narrative achieves domination within society.

12. According to Antonio Gramsci, civil society is primarily geared to the generation of __?

Ans: According to Antonio Gramsci, civil society is primarily geared to the generation of consent.

13. Who among the following theorized civil society as an ideological domain?

Ans: Karl Marx.

14. Who introduced ‘hegemony’ in the concept of civil society?

Ans: Antonio Gramsci.

15. The most important proponents of civil society is the propagators of___?

Ans: Neo liberalism.

16. Civil society is a protective buffer for the state and economy. Who said?

Ans: Gramsci.

17. What does Gramsci mean when he uses the word ”caste”?

Ans: When the term ”caste” is used in these translations of Gramsci, it refers to class groupings which do not have a fundamental role to play in the relations of production for example, the aristocracy.

18. Define superstructure.

Ans: Superstructure is a network of laws and institution that favor the status quo network of laws and institution that favor the status quo.

19. What does superstructure forbids?

Ans: Superstructure forbids change.

20. Superstructure is invisible to__?

Ans: Superstructure is invisible to base.


1. What is Cultural hegemony?

Ans: Cultural hegemony refers to domination or rule maintained through ideological or cultural means. It is usually achieved through social institutions, which allow those in power to strongly influence the values, norms, ideas, expectations, worldview, and behavior of the rest of society.

2. What is Civil Society as per to Antonio Gramsci?

Ans: Antonio Gramsci (1871-1937) writes extensively on civil society and uses the term in a manner different from that of Marx. It is not simply a sphere of individual needs but of organisations that has the potential for rational self-regulation and freedom. While Marx stressed the separation between the state and civil society, for Gramsci, the two are interrelated. Civil society consists of private institution like schools, churches, clubs, journals and parties which are instrumental in crystalling social and political consciousness and political society consists of public institutions like the government, courts, police and the army, the instruments of direct domination. 

It is in the civil society that the intellectuals play an important role by creating hegemony. If hegemony is successfully created by intellectuals then the ruling class rules by controlling the apparatus of civil society and if they fail then the rule is through coercion. Unlike Marx who places total emphasis on economic relations for Gramsci it is the superstructure that is important. The hegemony of the dominant class is  exercised through the civil society, culturally and not through coercion. But this hegemony of the civil society does not exist equally in all societies. Writing about the former USSR, Gramsci observes ”in Russia, the state was everything, civil society was primordial and galantines; in the west, there was a proper relationship between state and civil society, and when the state  trembled a sturdy structure of civil society was at once revealed. The state was only an outer ditch, behind which there stood a powerful system of fortresses and earth works”.

3. What are the two types of intellectuals as identified by Antonio Gramsci?

Ans: He identified two types of intellectuals-traditional and organic. Traditional intellectuals are those who do regard themselves as autonomous and independent of the dominant social group and are regarded as such by the population at large. They seem autonomous and independent. Organic intellectuals, on the other hand, are more directly related to the economic structure of their society simply because of the fact that “every social group that originated in the fulfilment of an essential task of economic production” creates its own organic intellectual. Thus, the organic intellectual “gives his class homogeneity and awareness of its own function, in the economic field and on the social and political levels. “In addition, their interest are “more nearly identical with those of the dominant classes [they identify with]. . . Then the traditional intellectuals.”

4. What is Gramsci’s war of position?

Ans. The war of position is an intellectual and cultural struggle wherein the anti-capitalist revolutionary creates a proletarian culture whose native value system counters the culture hegemony of the bourgeoisie.

5. What is the relation of domination and hegemony?

Ans. Gramsci theorized that dominant groups maintain their position through a mix of sheer force (coercion through political society) and, more importantly, with the active participation of the subordinate groups (consent through hegemony in civil society).

The use of coercion in the process of domination is the domain of what he calls ‘political society, ‘meaning “the armed forces, police, law courts and prisons, together with all the administrative departments concerning taxation finance, trade, industry, social security, etc. “In Gramsci’s view, however, these are only a portion of the state’s domination framework. Indeed, the role of political society, the “apparatus of state coercive power, “is to enforce “discipline on those groups who do not ‘consent”. The state, or dominant group, only turns to coercive tactics if efforts to manufacture consent fail. Consent to domination, the second portion of Gramsci’s formula of power, is developed within civil society. 

It is an internalized form of domination that differs from the external, “direct domination” achieved through the coercive force of political society. Civil society is the sphere within which the state pursues (and maintains) hegemony, a social order where “a common social-moral language is spoken, in which one concept of reality is dominant, informing with its spirit all modes of though and behaviour”. 

Hegemony, however, is not simply achieved through the alignment of the free choices of subordinate groups. Consent is actively manufactured within civil society; hegemony is pursued through “extremely complex mediums, divers institutions, and constantly changing processes”. “Through their presence and participation in various institution, cultural activities, and many other forms of social interaction, the dominant classes ‘leads’ the society in certain directions”. Hegemony operates through the social institution of civil society: the church, the education system, the press, all the bodies which help create in people certain modes of behaviour and expectations consistent with the hegemonic social order. Gramsci’s civil society “is best described not as the sphere of freedom but of hegemony”.

6. What is critique of materialism?

Ans. By virtue of his belief that human history and collective praxis determine whether any philosophical question is meaningful or not, Gramsci’s views run contrary to the metaphysical materialism and copy theory of perception advanced by Friedrich Engels, and Lenin, though he does not explicitly state this. For Gramsci, Marxism does not deal with a reality that exist in and for itself, independent of humanity. The concept of an objection universe outside of human history and human praxis was analogous to belief in God. Gramsci defined objectivity in terms of a universal intersubjectivity to be established in a future communist society. 

Natural history was thus only meaningful in relation to human history. In his view philosophical materialism resulted from a lack of critical though, and could not be said to oppose religious dogma and superstition. Despite this, Gramsci resigned himself to the existence of this arguably cruder form of Marxism. Marxism was a philosophy for the proletariat, a subaltern class, and thus could often only be expressed in the form of popular superstition and common sense. Nonetheless, it was necessary to effectively challenge the ideologies of the educated classes, and to do so Marxists must present their philosophy in a more sophisticated guise, and attempt to genuinely understand their opponent’ views.

7. What was Gramsci’s idea on hegemony? Discuss.

Ans: Antonio Gramsci was an Italian Marxist intellectual and politician, who can be seen as the perfect example of the synthesis of theoretician and politician. He was not only a thinker involved in the revision and development of Marxism, who wrote in several socialist and communist Italian journals, but also a politically active militant. The fascist government of Benito Mussolini imprisoned him between 1926 and 1937. 

Gramsci’s political activities were not only related to his publication. His action as a politician. Activities, and intellectual were consistent with his ideas. He believed that the proletariat needed “organic” intellectuals (described below) to become a hegemonic class, and during his lifetime, he himself assumed such a role. As a member of the socialist party and, later, the communist party, he wrote in several journals seeking to reach a wide audience and indoctrinate it in the basic ideas and principles of the proletariat and social struggle. While incarcerated, and away from mass media, he wrote his most celebrated and influential theoretical contributions to Marxist theory. Among these, two concepts would become most important to scholars of different disciplines: hegemony and historical bloc. In what follows, this piece will concentrate on the concept of hegemony in Gramsci and the sources upon which he built it. 

Gramsci developed the notion of hegemony in the prison writings. The idea came as part of his critique of the deterministic economist interpretation of history; of mechanical historical materialism. “Hegemony, to Gramsci, is the “cultural, moral and ideological” leadership of a group over allied and subaltern groups. This leadership however, is is not only exercises in the superstructure-or in the terms of Benedetto Croce-is not only ethico-political, because it also needs to be economic, and be based on the function that the leading group exercises in the nucleus of economic activity. It is based on the equilibrium between consent and coercion. Gramsci first noted that in Europe, the dominant class, the bourgeoisie, ruled with the consent of subordinate masses. The bourgeoise was hegemonic because it protected some interests of the subaltern classes in order to get their support. The task for the proletariat was to overcome the leadership of the bourgeoisie and become hegemonic itself. 

Although for some scholars the Gramscian concept of hegemony supposed the leading role of the dominant class in the economy, Gramsci believed that the leading role of the dominant class must include ideology and consciousness, that is, the superstructure. The location of cultural, ideological, and intellectual variables as fundamental for the proletariat in its struggle to become a leading class is Gramsci’s main contribution to Marxist theory. With it, the Italian intellectual sought to undermine the economic determinism of historical materialism. He was acknowledging that human being had a high degree of agency in history: human will and intellect played a role as fundamental as the economy.

8. Discuss the central arguments of Gramsci’s essay on the formation of intellectuals.

Ans: The central argument of Gramsci’s essay on the formation of the intellectuals is simple. The notion of “the intellectuals” as a distinct social category independent of  class is a myth. All men are potentially intellectuals in the sense of having an intellect and using it, but not all are intellectuals by social function. Intellectuals in the functional sense fall into two groups. 

In the first place there are the “traditional” professionals, literary, scientific and so on whose position in the interstices of society has a certain inter-class aura about it but derives ultimately from past and present class relations and conceals an attachment to various historical class formations. 

Secondly, there are the “organic” intellectuals, the thinking and organizing element of a particular fundamental social class. These organic intellectuals are distinguished less by their profession, which may be any job characteristic of their class, than by their function in directing the ideas and aspirations of the class to which they organically belong. The implications of this highly original schema bear on all aspects of Gramsci’s thought. Philosophically they connect with the proposition that “all men are philosophers” and with Gramsci’s while discussion of the dissemination of philosophically ideas and of ideology within a given culture. They related to Gramsci’s ideas on Education in their stress on the democratic character of the intellectual function, but also on the class character of the formation of intellectuals through school. They also underlie his study of history and particularly of the Risorgimento, in that the intellectuals, in the wide sense of the word, are seen by Gramsci as performing an essential mediating function in the struggle of class forces.

Most important of all, perhaps, are the implications for the political struggle. Social democracy, following kautsky, has tended to see the relationship between workers and intellectuals in the socialist movement in formal and mechanistic term, with the intellectuals refugees from the bourgeois class-providing theory and ideology (and often leadership) for a mass base of non-intellectuals, i.e workers. This division of labour within the movement was vigorously contested by Lenin, who declares, in what is to be done, that in the revolutionary party “all distinctions as between workers and intellectuals must be obliterated”.

Lenin’s attitude to be problem of the intellectuals is closely connected with his theory of the vanguard party, and when he writes about the need for socialist consciousness to be brought to the working class from outside, the agency he foresees for carrying this out is not the traditional intelligentsia but the revolutionary party itself, in which former workers and former professional intellectuals of bourgeois origin have been fused into a single cohesive unit. Gramsci developed this Leninist scheme in a new way, relating it to the problems of the working class as a whole. The working class, like the bourgeoisie before it, is capable of developing from within it ranks its own organic intellectuals, and the function of the political party, whether mass or vanguard, is that of channelling the activity of these organic intellectuals and providing a link between the class and certain sections of the traditional intelligentsia.

The organic intellectuals of the working class are defined on the one hand by their their role and production and in the organisation of work and in the other by their ” directive” political role, focused on the party. It is through this assumption of conscious responsibility, aided by absorption of ideas and personnel from the more advanced bourgeois intellectual strata, that the proletariat can escape from defensive corporatism and economism and advance towards hegemony.

9. “School in the instrument through which intellectuals of various levels are elaborated.. ..”Explain.

Ans: By elaboration, Gramsci means development, expansion, widening of scope. 

School is the place where intellectuals are formed, their their minds are development, they are trained in intellectual-cerebral activities. This is also the place where the relationship between the intellectual-cerebral and the muscular-nervous effort is modified and brought to an equilibrium suited to the material conditions in the world of production.

Gramsci says, “the more extensive the “area” covered by education and the more numerous the “vertical” “levels” of schooling, the more complex is the cultural world, the civilazation, of a particular place. “By “area, “Gramsci could mean the area of intellectual activity covered by the educational institutions (how many subject, streams, specialisations) or the number of student covered by the education system. Basically, the quantity of student, quantity and variety of intellectual activity. By “levels”, he means how many years, primary, middle, high, higher- secondary, undergraduate, postgraduate,doctorate, post-doctorate, and so on. The widest base in terms of number of student educated is required for the selection and elaboration of people for the top intellectual qualification. Students drop out at different stages to occupy various levels of the hierarchy of intellectuals. Quantity cannot be separated from quality because quantity is required to ensure the quality of intellectual activity. 

Gramsci points out at this wide base, this democratization of education, often causes widespread unemployment. On observation that had come up in our class discussion was was that Gramsci does not provide any solution to this problem. I would say, Gramsci hints at a way out, but does not elaborate on it in this essay. The prison notebooks were not finished works. Through these notebooks, we get a glimpse of Gramsci in the process of figuring things out. So there are a lot of open question. In this case, Gramsci points out a contradiction in the education system, which the dominant ideology tries to obfuscate. I think one of the  contributions of Marxism is the recognition of unemployment as a problem created by the structure of capitalist economy, and not some intrinsic defect in a person’s character. Here, Gramsci shows how unemployment is the result of the education industry itself. Interestingly, this wide base of education came into existence along with the rise of industrialism and capitalism. 

Gramsci refers to this crisis of unemployment again at the end of the section on the formation of intellectuals, and seems to suggest that unionization is way of addressing this crisis: “Mass formation has standardised individuals both psychologically and in terms of individual qualification and has produced the same phenomena as with other standardised masses: competition which makes necessary organisations for the defence of professions, unemployment, over-production on the schools, emigration, etc”. This refers to the necessity of unions, guilds and various organisations to defend the rights of workers, unemployed people, student who fall through the cracks of the education system, migrant workers and so on.

10. What is the relationship between the intellectuals and the world of production?

Ans: Intellectuals have a direct relationship with the “fundamental social groups” or classes, especially organic intellectuals. However their relationship with the world of production (or the economic base/structure) is mediated by the whole fabric of society and the complex of superstructures. “Superstructure” would include the legal, political, religious, educational, and aesthetic and many such entities. There are multiple levels of superstructure, but Gramsci mentions two major super structural levels in this essay – civil society and political society.

(a) Civil society corresponds to the function of hegemony or social hegemony which creates the “spontaneous” consent of the masses to the “general direction imposed on social life” by the dominant class. When you read Louis Althusser’s essay, this will correspond to the ideological state Apparatuses.

(b) Political society corresponds to direct domination or political government, which uses coercive power and “legally”, enforces discipline when “spontaneous” consent fails. This corresponds to Althusser’s Repressive state Apparatus.

Intellectuals are the functionaries of the various levels of the superstructure. Thus, there is a division of labour, which creates a hierarchy of intellectuals based on the intrinsic characteristics of the intellectual activity. At the highest level are the creators of “sciences, philosophy, art,” who perform directive and organizational function. At the lowest level, there are the administrators and “divulgadora of pre-existing, traditional, accumulated intellectual wealth. “Who do not perform directive or organizational functions.

Gramsci goes on to say that in the modern world, there has been a massive expansion of the category of intellectuals. The function they perform are not justified by the necessities of production, but by the political necessities of the dominant fundamental group (dominant class). In other words, the mass of intellectuals exists not in order to facilitate production, but to maintain the hegemony of the dominant class. Thus, intellectuals do not have a direct connection with the world of production. It is mediated by their interaction with the larger social fabric.

11. What is the concept of ideology in Gramsc’s Marxism? 

Ans: Gramsci’s concept of ideology was distinctive and far more developed than that of his predecessors and contemporaries essentially because it overcame both epiphenomenalism and class reductionism.

Ideological epiphenomenalism consisted basically of the claim that the claim that the ideological superstructure was determined mechanically by the economic infrastructure, and that ideology, being simply illusory, played no role whatsoever in the economic life of society or in revolutionary change for that matter. Revolutionary change, it was asserted, resulted from the dynamics and tensions of economic contradictions grounded in the mode of production. More specifically, the contradictions of the relation of production and forces of production, coupled with the economic contradictions of antagonistic classes in the realm of production was said to determine every qualitative transformation of the institutional fabric and the ideological formation of the social system in crisis. 

This notion of social revolution brought about an ultimate implication for capitalist society, namely, the so-called “cataclysmic” interpretation of capitalist crisis: capitalist society would inevitably collapse as a result of its own economic laws and contradictions of increased proletarianisation and pauperization. This crisis would only be resolved through the decisive capture and smashing of the state apparatus by the proletariat, the revolutionary class then to hold legitimate power. This successful appropriation of state power was construed to preclude any form of class alliance based on a defined hierarchy of ideological, economic, and political interest led by the genuine fundamental interests of the proletariat. Hence, the interpretation of state power was one of pure coercion and force as to other classes without considerations for their consent.

This conception of ideology and revolution was often combined with a reductionist interpretation of ideology which argued that ideologies necessarily had a class character, so that there was an ideology of the capitalist class and an ideology of the working class, both ideologies antagonistic, defined, and mutually exclusive in their totality. The ultimate implication of this conception was, of course, that classes at the economic level-at the level of production-were “duplicated” at the ideological level through ideological discourses exclusively of their own. The combination of these notions led to formulations in which ideology was conceived to have a class nature and was considered to play no significant role in social and revolutionary dynamics. 

On other occasions, ideologies were given a certain degree of efficacy vis-a-vis revolutionary change in society while still being conceived of as having a class determination. Of course, it was Gramsci who rectified the notion of ideology by overcoming both epiphenomenalism and class reductionism, and by redefining the term “ideology” in terms of practices, politico-ideological discourse, and elements.

Antonio Gramsci’s conception of ideology overcame epiphenomenalism by describing ideology as a “terrain”of practices, principles,  and dogmas having a material and institutional nature constituting individual subjects once these were “inserted” into such a terrain. Since ideology constituted individuals subjects and social agents in society-the same social agents playing also economic roles at the level of production-ideology had an important function in the realm of production as will as in the over all structure of society. This function was as real in the recurring dynamics of a mode of production or productive system is “equilibrium” as it was in a system in “organic crisis” in  the latter case, of course, ideology was of relevance to the struggle for power in a rather decisive  moment. Indeed, we shall postpone the discussion of ideology struggle during organic crisis to the section on hegemony, since such a struggle was conceived by Gramsci to be indissolubly linked to a quest for class hegemony and state power.

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