By Panagiotis Sotiris

Although ‘historical bloc’ is one of the most-well known concepts associated with the work of Antonio Gramsci, at the same time not enough attention has been paid to its strategic theoretical significance. In most cases, ‘historical block’ has been taken to refer to alliances. This is most obvious in various texts from the PCI tradition.[1] Of course the identification of the concept of ‘historical bloc’ simply with social alliances can also be attributed to a surface reading of some of Gramsci’s pre-Prison writings, such as the famous text on the Southern Question where one can find Gramsci’s elaborations on the question of how to dismantle the Southern agrarian bloc and its particular intellectual bloc in order to advance the alliance of between proletariat and southern masses.[2] However, a look at Gramsci’s references to the historical bloc in the Prison Notebooks provides evidence that the concept has a broader significance for Gramsci in prison than simply a reference to social alliances.

The first reference to the historical bloc can be found in Notebook 4, in a reference to the importance of superstructures, as the terrain where people become conscious of their condition, and to the necessary relation between base and superstructure. It is there that Gramsci refers to “Sorel’s concept of the “historical bloc”.[3] It is interesting that in Sorel’s work there is no reference to the concept of ‘historical bloc’. Valentino Gerratana has suggested that Gramsci, who did not have the possibility to reread Sorel’s Reflection on Violence when in prison, had in mind Sorel’s well known references to myths, and in particular Sorel’s insistence that these images should be taken as a whole (in Italian “prenderli in blocco”), as historical forces. [4]

In Notebook 7, the concept of the historical bloc returns in Gramsci’s criticism of Croce’s philosophy. For Gramsci the concept of the historical bloc is the equivalent of ‘spirit’ in Croce’s idealist conception and it also refers to a dialectical activity and a process of distinction that does not negate its real unity.[5] In the second version of this passage in Notebook 10 the concept of historical bloc (again attributed to Sorel) is linked to the unity of the process of reality, conceived as ‘active reaction by humanity on the structure’.[6] In another passage from Notebook 7 Gramsci links the historical bloc to the force of ideology and also of the relation ideologies and material forces and insists that in reality it is a relation of organic dialectical unity, distinctions being made only for ‘didactic’ reasons.

Another proposition of Marx is that a popular conviction often has the same energy as a material force or something of the kind, which is extremely significant. The analysis of these propositions tends, I think, to reinforce the conception of historical bloc in which precisely material forces are the content and ideologies are the form, though this distinction between form and content has purely didactic value, since the material forces would be inconceivable historically without form and the ideologies would be individual fancies without the material forces.[7]

In Notebook 8 the concept of historic bloc returns and we have Gramsci’s insistence on the identity of history and politics, the identity between ‘nature and spirit’, in an attempt towards a dialectic of distinct moments (a unity of the opposites and the distincts).[8] In the second version of this passage, in Notebook 13, the reference is on the identity between ‘structures and superstructures’.[9] This conception of the historical bloc as referring to the (dialectical) unity of the social whole and in particular to the relation between material tendencies and ideological representations and the importance of such a relation between material conditions and ideologies as a condition for revolutionary praxis, also emerges in the following extract from Notebook 8. It is important to note the way this passage maintains a close dialectical relation between the social relations of production and the ‘complex, contradictory ensemble of the superstructures’ as the basis for a strategic revolutionary political orientation that is conceived in terms of ideology but also maintains the dialectical relation with social relations of production.

Structures and superstructures form an “historical bloc”. That is to say the complex, contradictory and discordant ensemble of the superstructures is the reflection of the ensemble of the social relations of production. From this, one can conclude: that only an all-encompassing (totalitario) system of ideologies gives a rational refection of the contradiction of the structure and represents the existence of the objective conditions for the revolutionising of praxis.  If a social group is formed which is one hundred per cent homogeneous on the level of ideology, this means that the premises exist one hundred per cent for this revolutionising : that is that the “rational” is actively and actually real. This reasoning is based on the necessary reciprocity between structure and superstructure, a reciprocity which is nothing other than the real dialectical process.[10]

Later in a note that first appeared in Notebook 8 but also, slightly expanded in Notebook 10 Gramsci used the concept of historical bloc as part of his criticism of Croce’s conception of the ethico-political history. In particular, for Gramsci it is exactly the conception of historical bloc as the relation of social and economic relation with ideological–political forms that enables a theoretical relevance for the concept of ethico-political history. “Ethico-political history, in so far as it is divorced from the concept of historical bloc, in which there is a concrete correspondence of socio-economic content to ethico-political form in the reconstruction of the various historical periods, is nothing more  than a polemical presentation of more or less interesting philosophical propositions, but its is not history”[11]. In a similar tone, in the summary first note of Notebook 10, Gramsci treats the concept of the historical bloc as a crucial aspect of his attempt towards a philosophy of praxis that could answer the questions that Croce’s conception of ethico-political history brought forward. Moreover, hegemony and historical bloc are theoretically linked in the most emphatic way in this passage.

Credit must therefore be given to Croce’s thought for its instrumental value and in this respect it may be said that it has forcefully drawn attention to the study of the factors of culture and ideas as elements of political domination, to the function of the great intellectuals in state life, to the moment of hegemony and consent as the necessary form of the concrete historical bloc. Ethico-political history is therefore one of the canons of historical interpretation that must be always be borne in mind in the study and detailed analysis of history as it unfolds if the intention is to construct an integral history rather than partial or extrinsic histories.[12]

The concept of historical bloc constantly returns in Gramsci’s confrontation with Crocean concepts. For Gramsci the historical bloc can offer a historical and not speculative solution to the question of the relation between the different moments of the social whole.

The question is this: given the Crocean principle of the dialectic of the distincts (which is to be criticised as the merely verbal solution to a real methodological exigency, in so far as it is true that there exist not only opposites but also distincts), what relationship, which is not that of ‘implication in the unity of the spirit’, will there exist between the politico-economic moment and other historical activities? Is a speculative solution of these problems possible, or only a historical one, given the concept of ‘historical bloc’ presupposed by Sorel?[13]

The concept of historical bloc also appears in the fragment on the relation of forces in Notebook 9 but also in the well known fragment on the structure of parties during a period of organic crisis in Notebook 13. There the main point Gramsci wanted to make was on the importance of political initiatives in order to liberate the economic and political potential of a new historical bloc, including the used of force.

An appropriate political initiative is always necessary to liberate the economic thrust from the dead weight of traditional policies – i.e. to change the political direction of certain forces which have to be absorbed if a new, homogeneous politico-economic historical bloc, without internal contradictions, is to be successfully formed. And, since two “similar” forces can only be welded into a new organism either through a series of compromises or by force of arms, either by binding them to each other as allies or by forcibly subordinating one to the other, the question is whether one has the necessary force, and whether it is “productive” to use it.[14]

The strategic character of the concept of historical bloc and its relation to accomplished hegemony can be found the famous fragment on the Passage from Knowing to Understanding and to Feeling and vice versa from Feeling to Understanding and to Knowing, from Notebook 4 and reproduced in Notebook 11. Here the emphasis is on the particular relation between intellectuals and the people-nation, but also between leaders and the led, and on the need for intellectuals not only to interpret the conjuncture in an abstract way but also to understand the ‘passions’ of the subaltern classes and dialectically transform them into a ‘superior conception of the world’. This for Gramsci is exactly the creation of an ‘historical bloc. It is exactly here that one might see the analogy between the concept of the historical bloc and a condition of hegemony. The following passage exemplifies this point.

If the relationship between intellectuals and people-nation, between the leaders and the led, the rulers and the ruled, is provided by an organic cohesion in which feeling-passion becomes understanding and hence knowledge (not mechanically but in a way that is alive) , then and only then is the relationship one of representation. Only then can there take place an exchange of individual elements between the rulers and ruled, leaders [dirigenti] and led, and can the shared life be realised which alone is a social force with the creation of the “historical bloc”.[15]

Jacques Texier was one of the theorists that have insisted on the strategic theoretical importance of the concept of the historical bloc, within Gramsci’s theoretical elaboration. For Texier the concept of the historical bloc is exactly the concept that enables us think of the unity and interrelation between economics, politics and ideology, within Gramsci’s theory of hegemony and the integral State. “Without the theory of the ‘historical bloc’ and the unity of economy and culture and culture and politics which results from it, the Gramscian theory of superstructures would not be Marxist. His ‘historicism’ would go no further than the historicism of Croce.”[16] Based upon this conception, Texier treats the concept of the historical block as a theoretical node in Gramsci’s theory of hegemony.

The point of departure must be the concept of the’ historical bloc’ Gramsci stipulates. What does this mean? To think the unity of the distinct aspects or moments of superstructural activity, the moment of force and consent, of dictatorship and hegemony and the economico-political and ethico-politicaJ moment one must begin from the basis of the organic unity of the superstructures and infrastructure in the historical bloc and recognise the ultimately determinant character of economic conditions.[17]

For Texier it is important to follow carefully Gramsci’s novel redefinition of ‘civil society’ and how this encompasses a whole series of political and ideological practices, relations, beliefs conditioned by determinate social relations of production.

In other words, what does civil society represent for Gramsci? It is the complex of practical and ideological social relations (the whole infinitely varied social fabric, the whole human content of a given society) which is established and grows lip on the base of determined relations of production. It includes the types of behaviour of homo oeconomicus as well as of homo ethiico-politicus. It is therefore the object, the subject and the locality of the superstructural activities which are carried out in ways which differ according to the levels and moments by means of the ‘hegemonic apparatuses’ on the one hand and of the ‘coercive apparatuses’ on the other.[18]

Therefore, the construction of a new historical bloc, a new articulation of economic, politics and ideology, is for Texier what is the stake in a struggle for hegemony: “the winning of hegemony is a social struggle which aims to transform the relation of forces in a given situation. A historico-political bloc has to be dismantled and a new one constructed so as to permit the transformation of the relations of production.”[19]

Also of particular importance is Texier’s insistence[20] that in Gramsci the concept of the historical bloc implies an ‘organic unity’ between the State and the economy, in sharp contrast to every form of economism. In particular, Texier has offered a forceful reading of the concept civil society, which also points towards this particular dialectic of economics and politics within the historical bloc. For Texier the concept of civil society does not refer simply to the field of political and cultural hegemony, but also to economic activities. Although Texier distinguishes the economic structure and civil society, at the same time he provides textual evidence of Gramsci’s inclusion of the crucial aspects of economic activity and behaviour within the field of civil society, especially around the crucial Gramscian notions of “homo oeconomicus” and “determinate market”. In this sense we can say that a crucial aspect of the emergence of a new historical bloc is exactly the emergence not only of a new economic structure but also of a new “homo oeconomicus” and a new configuration of civil society.[21]

Christine Buci-Glucksmann has also offered an important reading of the theoretical centrality of the concept of historical materialism. For Buci-Glucksmann Gramsci’s reference to structure and superstructure forming an historical bloc is the point to begin. The first error is the “simple identification between historical bloc and class alliances … or even the fusion … that embraces workers and intellectuals”.[22] For Buci-Glucksmann historical bloc goes beyond social alliances since it implies both a specific form of hegemonic leadership but also the development of the superstructures, “an ‘integral state’ rooted in an organic relationship between leaders and masses”.[23] Moreover, the concept of historical bloc is for Buci-Glucksmann not s a materialist position and anti-economistic answer to the relation between the different instances of the social whole; it is mainly an attempt to rethink a revolutionary strategy within the transition period.

Compared with Bukharin’s worker-peasant bloc of 1925-26, the Gramscian historic bloc demonstrates major new feature. This bloc is cultural and political as much as economic, and requires an organic relationship between people and intellectuals, governors and governed, leaders and led. The cultural revolution, as an on-going process of adequation between culture and practice, is neither luxury nor a simple guarantee, but rather an actual dimension of the self-government of the masses and of democracy.[24]

For Buci-Glucksmann Gramsci’s conception of revolutionary strategy as construction of a new historical bloc[25] leads to a “reformulation of the entire Marxist problematic of the withering away of the State as a passage to a regulated society, where political society is reabsorbed by civil society”.[26] Therefore, it is much more than a simple reference to a social alliance that manages to capture political power, since it entails the construction of new hegemonic apparatuses, new social, political, ideological and economic forms                                           . In opposition to a simple ‘bloc in power’, the historical bloc “presupposes the historical construction of long duration of new hegemonic system, without which classes become only a mechanical aggregate, managed by the State or a bureaucracy”.[27]

From the above elaboration it is obvious that historical bloc is a strategic not a descriptive or an analytical concept. It defines not an actual social alliance, but a social and political condition to be achieved. Historical bloc does not refer to the formation of an electoral alliance or to various social strata and movements fighting side by side. It refers to the emergence of a different configuration within civil society, namely to the emergence, on a broad scale, of different forms of politics, different forms of organization, alternative discourses and narratives, that materialize the ability for society to be organized and administrated in a different way. At the same time it refers to a specific relation between politics and economics, namely to the articulation not simply of demands and aspirations but of an alternative social and economic paradigm. Therefore, a new historical bloc defines that specific historical condition when not only a new social alliance demands power but is also in a position to impose its own particular economic form and social strategy and lead society. It also includes a particular relation between the broad masses of the subaltern classes and new intellectual practices, along with the emergence of new forms of mass critical and antagonistic political intellectuality, exactly that passage from knowledge to understanding and passion. Regarding political organizations, it refers to that particular condition of leadership, in the form of actual rooting, participation, and mass mobilization that defines an ‘organic relation’ between leaders and led, which when we refer to the politics of proletarian hegemony implies a condition of mass politicization and collective elaboration. It also implies the actuality of the new political and economic forms, and the full elaboration of what can be defined as a ‘dual power’ strategy conceived in the broadest sense of the term.

In this sense, it is obvious that the concept of the historical bloc, when used in relation to the politics of the subaltern classes, refers to a strategy of (counter)hegemony. A potential hegemony of the forces of labour, namely their ability to become actually leading in a broader front, that would make possible a process of social transformation, means exactly creating the conditions for a new historical bloc. This means a new articulation between social forces, alternative economic form[28]s in rupture with capitalist social relations of productions, new political forms of organization and participatory democratic decision-making. The struggle for hegemony means a struggle for the formation of a new historic bloc.

That is why the concept of the historical bloc is more than ever pertinent to contemporary discussions within the Left. The reasons for this are above all political and have to do with the dynamics of the conjuncture. The long retreat of the Left through as the combined result of the triumph of neoliberalism and the collapse of “actually existing socialism” for a long time seemed to make questions of strategy unimportant. What seemed to be necessary was the unity around basic struggles and movements of resistance. Strategic discussion was left either to theoretical elaborations or was postponed for a better day. Even after the return of mass protest movements after Seattle 1999, the return of the strategic questions Daniel Bensaïd talked about in 2006,[29] has yet to produce some specific strategic recommendations.

However, recent developments have made us all realize the urgency of these questions. The developments include the global economic crisis of the end of the 2000s, the crisis of neoliberalism, the impressive return of mass protest politics, from 2011 until now, and the evidences of an open hegemonic crisis in various “weak links” of the imperialist chain, a crisis that can be described in Gramscian terms.

And the content is the crisis of the ruling class’s hegemony, which occurs either because the ruling class has failed in some major political undertaking for which it has requested, or forcibly extracted, the consent of the broad masses (war, for example) , or because huge masses (especially of peasants and petit-bourgeois intellectuals) have passed suddenly from a state of political passivity to a certain activity, and put forward demands which taken together, albeit not organically formulated, add up to a revolution. A “crisis of authority” is spoken of: this is precisely the crisis of hegemony, or general crisis of the State.[30]

At the same time, we have the possibility that the Left can lead an impressive reversal in the political balance of forces in countries such as Greece, and face the possibility of arriving at governmental power.

I would like to insist that the debate is more urgent than before. Recent developments, such as the Gezi Park protests in Turkey have shown that what would be called the new age of insurrections is far from over. However, especially the developments regarding the developments within what has been termed the ‘Arab Spring’ has shown that when mass popular insurrections cannot be ‘translated’ politically into autonomously defined democratic and emancipator political projects, then the results can be tragic. At same time, regarding the crisis of neoliberalism and the current authoritarian, disciplinary turn of neoliberal governance, the only contribution the dominant elites can make is to only prolong the crisis. This situation is similar to one described by Gramsci.

What makes things worse, is that it is about a crisis for which the elements of its resolution are prevented from being developed with the necessary speed; those that are dominant can no longer resolve the crisis but have the power (to impede) others from resolving it, namely they have the power only to prolong the crisis.[31]

This means the need to think in terms of the necessary renewal of a revolutionary strategy. The fact that there are perhaps no ‘ideal types’ for revolution, does not mean that we do not need revolutionary changes. A new historical bloc refers exactly such a revolutionary process.

In light of the above, a strategy for a new ‘historical bloc’ suggests that we must elaborate upon an alternative productive paradigm, in a non market and non profit-oriented direction, an alternative non capitalist developmental path (as an aspect of the dialectics of economy and politics within the historical bloc). We refer to a developmental paradigm neither in the sense of quantitative growth, nor in the sense of an alternative capitalist development, but in the sense of a new conception of how to make good use of collective social productive capabilities and resources. This could include new forms of democratic social planning along with a new emphasis on self-management, reclaiming currently idle productive facilities, creating non commercial networks of distribution, regaining the public character of goods and service that are currently under the threat of the tendency for ‘new enclosures’.  It could also include a new emphasis on self-reliance and decreased dependence upon international flows of commodities and resources, along with a break with consumerist conceptions of well-being.

Such a thinking of the ‘economic program’ of process of transformation, as part of a strategy for a new historic bloc, should not be seen as an attempt to simply devise or think of alternative economic forms. In reality, it is a process of collective experimentation based upon the emergence of alternative economic forms within movements, collective struggles and resistances to the commercialization of social goods. From the defence of public services and the new forms of solidary economy, to the new forms of self-management and worker’s control (from occupied factories in Argentina to Public Television in Greece), we have many important experiences. These have not been simply “resistances” but also collective experimenting sites that can help us understand how things can be organized in a different non-capitalist way. In a way, it means taking hold of the ‘traces of communism’ in actual movements and social resistances to the violence of capital and the markets. The Left should not consider these experiences to be simply “movements” and think of economic policy only in terms of non-austerity macroeconomics, however important these are.

Moreover, thinking in terms of a new “historical bloc”, means that the Left attempts to elaborate on the possibility of an alternative narrative for society, in an attempt exactly for the forces of labour to be leading (dirigente). And in this we must also think how the very experience of today’s’ forces of labour, despite their fragmentation into multifarious employment situation and prospects, with their unity undermined by precariousness, offers the basis for such a (counter)hegemony. Today’s collective labour force is not only more fragmented, it is also more educated, with more access to knowledge and communication recourse, and in an ability to voice its grievances in a more articulate way. Moreover, all over the advanced capitalist societies, those social strata that traditional sociology describes as middle class, in reality segments of intellectual labour or what Poulantzas described as the salaried new petite-bourgeoisie,[32] are under attack by stagnant wages, increased barriers to ‘upward social mobility’, private debt burden, workplace precariousness. Consequently, they have seen the class divide with various segments of the capitalist class grow, and have moved closer to working class demands and aspirations. All these developments are also reflected in the mass unemployment (and precariousness) of youth an element that has produced social explosions, and probably will in the future. This brings together, in mass collective practises, all those social forces that, one way or the other, depend upon selling their labour power to make ends meet. This offers not the only the material ground for social alliances, exemplified in the co-presence of all these strata in contemporary protests from the Indignados to the Syntagma to Occupy!, but also of collective experiences, aspirations and demands. New forms of “public spheres’ emerge that enable not simply tactical cooperation within protest movements, but the potential of collectively elaborating a new vision and perspective beyond “actually existing neoliberalism”.

This means that today rethinking socialist and revolutionary politics is not only about ‘injecting’ socialist consciousness into the movement – however necessary the defence of the socialist and communist tradition might be in a period of ideological erasure. It is also about elaborating upon collective aspirations, demands and ideological representations that emerge from the very materiality of today’s condition and struggles of the forces of labour. Creating conditions for a new historical bloc is not only about articulating a political project; it is about working upon actual social and historical tendencies and dynamics, in order to create new political forms that would enable a new dialectical relation between ‘structure’ and ‘superstructures’.

This gives a new importance to the question of the program. Contrary to the tendency to ignore the program in the name of a simple unity around the negation of austerity, it is important to insist that a strategy for a new historical bloc requires articulating an alternative narrative for society, not just a sum of grievances and demands. Such a program should not restrict itself to income redistribution, increased public spending and nationalization. It should also include experiments with new productive forms and relations based upon self-management, new forms of workers’ control, and alternative forms of economic coordination and planning, in sum a collective to move beyond the capitalist logic.  This is in contrast to the ‘pragmatist turn’ of some parties of the European Left that make a distinction between an anti-austerity politics aiming at ‘saving society from austerity’ and social transformation. On the contrary, it is now time to think of the transition program as offering at the same time an exit from austerity and the beginning of a process of transformation in sharp break not only with neo-liberalism but also with aspects of capitalist relations. This is today one of the most crucial aspects of a potential revolutionary strategy today.

In an era of increased forms of capitalist internationalization, this also means taking a stand regarding a country’s place in the international plane. In this sense, recent debates within the European Left, such as the ones pertaining to the relation to the Eurozone and the European Union should be read in a strategic manner. Breaking away from the Eurozone and the European Union, for the peripheral countries of the European South, such as Greece, is not simply about monetary sovereignty (which per se is a necessary aspect of regaining democratic control of economic policy). It is about the forces of labour offering an alternative orientation for society, especially since in countries such as Greece, the bourgeois ‘historical bloc, based both its strategy and its legitimacy, upon the ‘European Road’ as a road to capitalist modernization.

Moreover, a politics of a potential new ‘historical bloc’ means exactly aiming at political power, both in the sense of a left wing government but also and mainly in the sense of a change in actual social power configuration. If we are fully aware that it will be part of a long and contradictory process of transition and transformation and struggle ‘from above’ and ‘from below’, then a ‘government of the Left’ can be indeed be part of a modern revolutionary strategy. This would require making use of both governmental power (the radicalization of current institutional and constitutional framework) and forms of ‘popular power’ from below, without underestimating the constant confrontation with the forces of capital. This has been an open question in the communist movement, from the ‘Workers’ Government’ described in the 4th Congress of the Communist International,[33] to Gramsci’s proposal for a ‘Constituent Assembly’ of the anti-fascist forces,[34] to Poulantzas’ confrontation with a possible ‘democratic road to socialism’,[35] to the contradictions of contemporary experiments in left governance such as the one in Bolivia. However, without a strong labour movement, without radical social movements, without the full development of all forms of people’s power and self-organization, any government of the Left will not manage to stand up to the immense pressure it will get from the forces of capital, the EU and the IMF. That is why it is necessary to experiment with new forms of social and political power from below and to create new forms of social practice and interaction based on solidarity and common work, new forms of direct democracy.

In this sense, a strategy for a new historical bloc also requires a new practice of politics, new social and political forms of organization beyond the traditional Party-form, beyond traditional trade unionism and beyond the limits of traditional parliamentary bourgeois politics. This corresponds exactly to the need for new forms of civil society organizations, in the broad sense that Gramsci gave to this notion. In a way, Louis Althusser pointed to this direction of the political forms associated with a potential historical bloc in his intervention in the debates of the 22nd Congress of the French Communist Party.

In the best of cases, it is conceivable that the union of the people of France may become something quite different from the means to a new electoral balance, but is rather aimed, over and above the organizations of the Left, at the popular masses themselves. Why address the popular masses in this way? To tell them, even if still only as a hint, that they will have to organize themselves autonomously, in original forms, in firms, urban districts and villages, around the questions of labour and living conditions, the questions of housing, education, health, transport, the environment, etc.; in order to define and defend their demands, first to prepare for the establishment of a revolutionary state, then to maintain it, stimulate it and at the same time force it to ‘wither away’. Such mass organizations, which no one can define in advance and on behalf of the masses, already exist or are being sought in Italy, Spain and Portugal, where they play an important part, despite all difficulties. If the masses seize on the slogan of the union of the people of France and interpret it in this mass sense, they will be re-establishing connections with a living tradition of popular struggle in our country and will be able to help give a new content to the political forms by which the power of the working people will be exercised under socialism.[36]

Moreover, it is exactly this combination of popular power from below and new forms of self-management, workers’ control and alternative forms of economic coordination that can create the conditions for a modern form of ‘dual power’, namely the actual emergence of new, non capitalist social and political forms. Both Lenin and Gramsci thought that there can be no process of social transformation without a vast social and political experimentation, both before and after the revolution, which will guaranty that within the struggles we can already witness the emergence of new social forms and new ways to organize production and social life.

It is not going to be an ‘easy road’. It would require a struggling society actually changing values, priorities, narratives. It would also require a new ethics of collective participation and responsibility, of struggle and commitment to change, a transformed and educated common sense. In this sense, the promise of Left-wing politics cannot be a simple return to 2009, not least because it is materially impossible, but because we want to go beyond confidence to the markers and debt-ridden consumerism. In such a ‘world-view’ public education, public health, public transport, environmental protection, non market collective determination of priorities, and quality of everyday sociality, are more important than imported consumer goods and cheap credit.

At the same time, a strategy for a new historical block also implies an attempt towards a re-appropriation and redefinition of the very notion of the people. This refers to the complex process, political, ideological and social, through which the people can re-emerge in a situation of struggle, neither as the abstract subject of the bourgeois polity, nor as the ‘imagined community’ of the ‘nation’, but as a potentially anti-capitalist alliance of all those social strata that one way or the other depend upon their labour power in order to make ends meet. This also means a new form of people’s unity, especially against the dividing results of racism and the varieties of neofascism.[37]

Such a process can (and should…) also be a knowledge process, both in the sense of using the knowledge accumulated by people in social movements (who can run better a hospital or a school? Appointed technocrats or the people actually working and struggling there) and also in the sense of struggle, solidarity and common practices being forms that help people acquire knowledge, learn how to do things differently and collectively re-invent new forms of mass intellectuality and a new cultural hegemony. Moreover, if political organizations cannot learn from actual experiences, if they are not themselves collective processes of learning and transforming the experiences from the struggles into political strategy, then they cannot contribute to a process of social transformation.

Such a strategy (and dialectic of strategy and tactics) can transform current emerging alliances, changes to the relations of representation, struggles, resistances and proposals for ‘concrete utopias’, into a new and highly original ‘historical block’, the necessary condition for an open-ended process of social transformation. It is an attempt to actually rethink revolutionary strategy, not as phantasy but as an open – ended sequence of transformation and experimentation. Talking today about socialism cannot be simply about “catch phrases” on worker’s power and worker’s control or worker’s democracy, however necessary it is to revisit in a self-critical manner the socialist experiences of the 20th century. Talking about socialism today means building upon the dynamics of struggles, upon the new forms of democracy and popular sovereignty from below emerging within struggles, upon the attempt at re-appropriating public space and creating new public spheres, upon what Althusser described as ‘virtual forms of communism in contemporary movements and aspirations.[38]

Finally, all these also require a fresh thinking of the collective political subject. All recent developments have shown the importance of front politics. Contrary to the metaphysics of the Party as a guarantor of truth and the correct line, we need a more broad conception of the left political front that is not only unity but also dialectical process, a terrain of struggle itself, a collective democratic process, and a laboratory of ideas, projects and sensitivities.

One should stress the importance and significance which, in the modern world, political parties have in the elaboration and diffusion of conceptions of the world, because essentially what they do is to work out the ethics and the politics corresponding to these conceptions and act as it were as their  historical ‘laboratory’. […] The relation of theory and practice becomes even closer the more the conception is vitally and radically innovatory and opposed to old ways of thinking. For this reason one can say that the parties are the elaborators of new integral and all-encompassing intellectualities and the crucibles where the unification of theory and practice, understood as a real historical process, takes place. [39]

Contrary to a traditional instrumentalist conception of the political organization based on a distinction between ends and means, a revolutionary strategy must be based on the identity of means and ends, and this means that the democratic form of this front must also reflect the social relations of an emancipated society.

To conclude recent developments have shown the potential for political change and breaks with “actually existing neoliberalism”. For the first time after a long time the forces of the Left are facing the challenge of political power and hegemony. We do not have the luxury of avoiding the discussion on a revolutionary strategy and a socialist perspective for the 21st century. Concepts such as Gramsci’s historical bloc offer us the possibility to rethink politics in a strategic way.


Althusser, Louis 1977, “On the Twenty-Second Congress of the Communist Party”, (Accessed 30 October 2013).

Althusser, Louis 1998, Solitude de Machiavel, Paris: Actuel Marx / PUF.

Bensaïd, Daniel 2006, “On the return of the politico-strategic question”, (Accessed 30 October 2013).

Berlinguer, Enrico 1977, Historical Compromise, (In Greek). Athens: Themelio.

Buci-Glucksmann, Christine 1980, Gramsci and the State, London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Comintern 1922, “Theses on Comintern Tactics” (Fourth Congress). (Accessed 30 October 2013).

Gramsci, Antonio 1971, Selections from Prison Writings, London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Gramsci, Antonio 1978, Selections from Political Writings 1921-1926, London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Gramsci, Antonio 1978-1994, Cahiers de Prison. 5 vols. Paris : Gallimard.

Gramsci, Antonio 1995, Further Selections from the Prison Notebooks, London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Gramsci, Antonio 21977, Quaderni di Carcere. Edited by Valention Gerratana, Rome: Einauidi.

Lisa, Athos 1933, Discusion political con Gramsci en la carcel, (Accesses 30 October 2013.)

Poulantzas, Nicos, 1975, Classes in Contemporary Capitalism, London: NLB.

Poulantzas, Nicos 1980, State, Power, Socialism, London: Verso.

Sorel, Georges 1999, Reflections on Violence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sotiris, Panagiotis 2013, “The Dark of Greek Neo-fascism”, Overland 210.

Texier, Jacques 1979, “Gramsci, theoretician of the superstructures”. In Chantal Mouffe (ed.), Gramsci and Marxist Theory, London: Routledge, pp. 48-79.

Texier, Jacques 1989, “Sur le sense de “societé civile” chez Gramsci”. In Actuel Marx 5, pp. 0-68.


[1]  See for example Berlinguer 1977

[2] “The alliance between proletariat and peasant masses requires this formation. It is all the more required by the alliance between proletariat and peasant masses in the South. The proletariat will destroy the Southern agrarian bloc insofar as it succeeds, through its party, in organizing increasingly significant masses of poor peasants into autonomous and independent formation. But its greater and lesser or lesser success in this necessary task will also depend upon its ability to break up the intellectual bloc that is the flexible, but extremely resistant, armour of the agrarian bloc” (Gramsci 1978, p. 462).

[3] Gramsci 1977, 437 (Q4, §15).

[4] “In the course of these studies one thing seemed so evident to me that I did not believe that I needed to lay much stress on it: men who are participating in great social movements always picture their coming action in the form of images of battle in which their cause is certain to triumph. I proposed to give the name of ‘myths’ to these constructions, knowledge of which is so important for historians: the general strike of the syndicalists and Marx’s catastrophic revolution are such myths. I wanted to show that we should not attempt to analyse such groups of images in the way that we break down a thing into its elements, that they should be taken as a whole, as historical forces, and that we should be especially careful not to make any comparison between the outcomes and the pictures people had formed for themselves before the action.

” (Sorel 1999, p. 20). For Gerratana’s comments see Gramsci 1977, p. 2632).

[5] Gramsci 1977, p. 854 (Q7, §1).

[6] Gramsci 1977, p. 1300 (Q10II, §41i); Gramsci 1995, p. 414.

[7] Gramsci 1977, p. 869 (Q7, §210; Gramsci 1971, p. 377.

[8] Gramsci 1977, p. 977 (Q8, §61).

[9] “Concept of “historical bloc”, i.e.unity between nature and spirit (structure and superstructure), unity of opposites and of distincts.” Gramsci 1977, p. 1569 (Q13, §10); Gramsci 1971, p. 137.

[10] Gramsci 1977, pp. 1051-52 (Q8, §182); Gramsci 1971, p. 366 (translation altered).

[11] Gramsci 1977, p. 1091; Gramsci 1977, pp. 1237-38 (Q8, §240; Q10I, §13); Gramsci 1995, p. 360.

[12] Gramsci 1977, p. 1211 (Q10I, ), Gramsci 1995, p. 332. The same conception of the historical bloc is obvious in the following extract again from Notebook 10: “Credit must therefore, at the very least, be given to Croce’s thought as an instrumental value, and in this respect it may be said that it has forcefully  drawn attention to the importance of cultural and intellectuals in the organic life of civil society and the state, to the moment of hegemony and consent as the necessary form of the concrete historical bloc” (Gramsci 1977, p. 1235 (Q10I, §12); Gramsci 1995, p. 357).

[13] Gramsci 1977, p. 1316 (Q10, §41x) ; Gramsci 1995, p. 399-400.

[14] Gramsci 1977, p. 1120; Gramsci 1977, p. 1612 (Q9, §40 ; Q13, §23) ; Gramsci 1971, p. 168.

[15] Gramsci 1971, p. 418; Gramsci 1977, p. 452; Gramsci 1977, pp. 1505-06 (Q4, §33 ; Q11, §67).

[16] Texier 1979, p. 49.

[17] Texier 1979, p.

[18] .Texier 1979, p. 71.

[19] Texier 1979, p. 67.

[20] Texier 1989.

[21] Texier 1989, p. 61.

[22] Buci-Glucksmann 1980, p. 275.

[23] Buci-Glucksmann 1980, p. 276.

[24] Buci Glucksmann 1980, p. 286.

[25] Buci-Glucksmann (1982) 1999, p. 102.

[26] Buci-Glucksmann (1982) 1999, p. 104.

[27] Buci-Glucksmann (1982) 1999, p. 104.


[29] Bensaïd 2006.

[30] Gramsci 1977, p. 1603 (Q13, §23); Gramsci 1971, p. 210.

[31] Gramsci 1977, p. 1718 (Q14, §58).

[32] Poulantzas 1975.

[33] Comintern 1922.

[34] Lisa 1933.

[35] Poulantzas 1980

[36] Althusser 1977.

[37] On this see Sotiris 2013.

[38] “Marx thinks of communism as a tendency of capitalist society. This tendency is not an abstract result. It already exists, in a concrete form in the “interstices of capitalist society (a little bit like commodity relations existing “in the interstices” of slave or feudal society), virtual forms of communism, in the associations that manage … to avoid commodity relations.” Althusser 1998, p. 285.

[39] Gramsci 21977, 1387; Gramsci 1971, 335 (Q11, §12).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *