Gramsci, Antonio

born Jan. 23, 1891, Ales, Sardinia
died April 27, 1937, Rome, Italy

Italian intellectual and politician.

After entering the University of Turin, he joined the Italian Socialist Party in 1914. In 1921 he left the Socialists to found the Italian Communist Party (see Democratic Party of the Left), and he spent two years in the Soviet Union. In 1924 he became head of the party and was elected to the national legislature. The party was outlawed by the fascist government of Benito Mussolini in 1926, and Gramsci was arrested and imprisoned for 11 years; in poor health, he was released to die at 46. His influential Letters from Prison (1947) and other writings outline a version of communism less dogmatic than Soviet communism. His work has influenced sociology, political theory, and international relations.

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▪ Italian politician
born Jan. 23, 1891, Ales, Sardinia, Italy
died April 27, 1937, Rome

      intellectual and politician, a founder of the Italian Communist Party whose ideas greatly influenced Italian communism.

      In 1911 Gramsci began a brilliant scholastic career at the University of Turin (Turin, University of), where he came in contact with the Socialist Youth Federation and joined the Socialist Party (1914). During World War I he studied Marxist (Marxism) thought and became a leading theoretician. He formed a leftist group within the Socialist Party and founded the newspaper L'Ordine Nuovo (May 1919; “The New Order”). Gramsci encouraged the development of factory councils (democratic bodies elected directly by industrial workers), which undercut the control of trade unions. The councils participated in a general strike in Turin (1920), in which Gramsci played a key role.

      Gramsci led a leftist walkout at the Socialist congress at Livorno (January 1921) to found the Italian Communist Party (see Democrats of the Left) and then spent two years in the Soviet Union (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). Back in Italy, he became head of his party (April 1924) and was elected to the country's Chamber of Deputies. After his party was outlawed by Benito Mussolini (Mussolini, Benito)'s fascists (fascism), Gramsci was arrested and imprisoned (1926). At his trial the fascist prosecutor argued, “We must stop his brain from working for 20 years.” In prison, despite rigorous censorship, Gramsci carried out an extraordinary and wide-ranging historical and theoretical study of Italian society and possible strategies for change. Plagued with poor health in the 1930s, he died not long after being released from prison for medical care.

      Extracts of Gramsci's prison writings were published for the first time in the mid-20th century; the complete Quaderni del carcere (Prison Notebooks) appeared in 1975. Many of his propositions became a fundamental part of Western Marxist thought and influenced the post-World War II strategies of communist parties in the West. His reflections on the cultural and political concept of hegemony (notably in southern Italy), on the Italian Communist Party itself, and on the Roman Catholic Church were particularly important. The letters he wrote from prison also were published posthumously as Lettere dal carcere (1947; Letters from Prison).

Additional Reading
Giuseppe Fiori, Antonio Gramsci: Life of a Revolutionary (1990; originally published in Italian, 1966). Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. by Joseph A. Buttigieg (1992– ; originally published in Italian, 1975); Letters from Prison, ed. by Frank Rosengarten, 2 vol. (1994; originally published in Italian, 1947); Antonio Gramsci: Pre-prison Writings, ed. by Richard Bellamy (1994); and Further Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. by Derek Boothman (1995).

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Universalium. 2010.

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