On a day this week, 27 April 1937, at 4am in the morning, Antonio Francesco Gramsci died, his health broken by years of incarceration in Benito Mussolini’s fascist jails
“Nothing is lost if belief and consciousness remain intact, if bodies surrender, but not souls.” Antonio Gramsci, L’Ordine Nuovo, May 8, 1921; ‘Men of Flesh and Blood’
On a day this week, 27 April 1937, at 4am in the morning, Antonio Francesco Gramsci – now a resident of the Quisisana clinic in Rome for 2 years – died, his health broken by years of incarceration in Benito Mussolini’s fascist jails.
The death of this unique and revolutionary Italian communist thinker, a victim both to Mussolini’s fascism in Italy, as well as, in a less obvious way, to the corruption and degradation of the radical left following the turmoil involved in the ascent of Joseph Stalin; this, in the years when the Soviet Union became the dominant force of an international movement founded through the synthesis of workers’ poverty, social unrest (a result of cruel inequality) and the almost-recent partnership of two intellectuals, Marx and Engels, who shaped the working class movement for 150 years before the “communists” decided to bury both the movement’s dreams and it’s humanity (along with any shred of decency or democracy) in the dark night of human stupidity, arrogance and ignorance.
Antonio Gramsci, who was born on January 22, 1891 in Ales in Sardinia, after being active the preceding 15 years in the social movement and being leader of the Partito Comunista d’Italia – PCI since its formation in January 1921 was finally arrested in Rome in 1926 and thus began a long journey through Mussolini’s dungeons that would finally result in his death from a cerebral hemorrhage. “No doubt the stroke that killed him was but the final outcome of years and years of illnesses that were never properly treated in prison.” We are told…
After being sentenced on June 4, 1928 to 20 years, 4 months and 5 days in prison, in order to “stop this brain from functioning”… Gramsci was imprisoned in Turi, in the province of Bari, from June 1928 to November 1933. His health deteriorating he was then placed under police guard at a clinic in Formia, from which he was transferred, in August 1935, to the Quisisana Hospital in Rome. Here is where he would spend the last two years of his life.
Ultimately the defeat of the Left, now in Italy (following the failure of the German revolutions) was to send Gramsci, unlike some of his contemporaries, back to the drawing board to confront the Left’s tragic assumptions that the Russian Revolution was destined inevitably to spread and succeed. The end result being the 33 Notebooks that we have today of Gramsci’s complex thought. “Gramsci came to ‘inhabit’ Marx’s ideas, not as a strait-jacket, which confined and hobbled his imagination, but as a framework of ideas which liberated his mind, which set it free, which put it to work.” (Stuart Hall Introduction) That said, the price was to be paid by Gramsci himself, at the time of his arrest an elected communist Deputy in the Italian parliament (he was general secretary of the Italian Communist Party from 1924) who would never see in person his second son Giuliano (born in 1926), nor his other son Delio and his wife Giulia, his family remaining in the relative ‘safety’ of the Soviet Union.
“The latter, (Giulia) suffering from nervous illnesses, was unable to travel to Italy to visit him. It was only his sister-in-law, Tatiana, who like a true Antigone mostly tended to Gramsci’s needs while in prison. She sent him books, journals, medicines, clothes, visited him at various times, and more importantly was Gramsci’s main personal interlocutor throughout his entire prison life. She also served as an important intermediary between Gramsci and his friend Piero Sraffa, the Communist Party, and even with his wife Giulia. In addition, it was Tatiana who after Gramsci died rescued the 33 notebooks for posterity.” (Manuel S. Almeida Rodriguez, International Gramsci journal, 2010)
Antonio Gramsci died on the 27th of April in 1937 at the age of 46, “…a martyr in the struggle for the elimination of the exploitation of human by human…” (Suzanne Charles)
Gramsci’s commitment to our socialist future and, in particular, a future where the word “socialism” and “communism” would have managed to both embrace and retain some complexity as well as integrity in and to the world we currently inhabit -(“Nothing is so calculated to destroy the simple minded notion of ideology as correct thoughts parachuted into the empty heads of waiting proto-revolutionary subjects as Gramsci’s stubborn attendance to the real, living textures of popular life, thought, and culture which circumscribe the historical effectivity of even the most coherent and persuasive of ‘philosophies’”. Stuart Hall) – along with his non-mechanistic analysis of the social formation and its “hegemonic” forces surely has to remain a major contribution to our work of “elaborating a feasible program for the realization of a socialist vision within the really existing conditions that prevail[ed] in the world”. (Frank Rosengarten in his Introduction to Gramsci’s Life & Thought)
And it is to that task – now more important than ever – that we should turn our attention – now, so many years and so many transformations, later…
…lest we forget…
Gramsci’s Political Thought – Roger Simon
Audio & Video
Gramsci: Everything that Concerns People (1987) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51DhvS9abyI