Gramsci and hegemony (new/neo-Marxists)

Gramsci is a humanist Marxist. Humourless Marxists relate more to action theories as they believe the study of society should focus on the effect capitalism has on individuals. For example, how alienation is caused on the proletariat due to mindless production.

Gramsci focuses on how society is centred around ideas and the ability to control these ideas. He argues that the ruling class maintain dominance in society in two ways. The first is through coercion. This is stuff like the army, police or cruel justice system. A good example would be how China has made it illegal for the media to promote ante socialist ideas and how they are forcefully prohibiting religion. Fortunately, the number of laws to protect the rights of the media and people’s right to express religion makes this difficult to implement in the West. Therefore, Gramsci argues that the ruling class have to use consent or hegemony to control the product area. Now, hegemony is a set of ideas and values that are used to persuade the subordinate classes that the ruling class dominance is legitimate. The ruling class are able to spread this hegemony because they control institutions such as the media, education and religion. For example, some Marxists argue that the structure of the education system creates a submissive workforce. Teachers are dominant and have the right to control their students’ fashion, language and time. This conditions children for the world of work where bosses control their behaviour.

However, Gramsci’s optimistic that there is still hope for a revolution because the ruling class hegemony is incomplete for two reasons.

  1. The ruling class are minority. In order for the hegemony to be successful the ruling class need to gain support from the other classes – the middle-class. However in order to get their support, the ruling class are going to have to compromise on the hegemony.
  2. The proletariat have what Gramsci calls a dual consciousness. The proletariat are not only influenced by ruling class ideas, they have their own. The proletariat see things that the ruling class don’t, like poverty and unemployment and exploitation. This means they are not blinded by the ruling class who attempt to present their ideas as the best way to run society for everyone.

This means that there is always the possibility of the ruling class hegemony being undermined, particularly in an economic crisis whether negative effects of capitalism are more prevalent. However, Gramsci does argue that the only way for revolution to take place is for the proletariat to produce organic intellectuals – people that have seen beyond the hegemony – to bring the masses out of their false class consciousness by creating a counter hegemonic bloc (an opposing set of ideas that benefit everyone).


  • Structural Marxists it is Gramsci of placing too much emphasis on ideas rather than state coercion and economic factors
  • Other Marxists such have adopted Gramsci’s approach and stress the role of ideas and consciousness as the basis for resisting domination and changing society. Willis found that working class boys were beginning to see through the ruling class hegemony in education by recognising meritocracy is a myth

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