Putting the State Back In Without
Leaving the Dialectics Out:
Social Movements, Elites,
and Neoliberalism

John Gledhill

University of Manchester


The interest of anthropologists in the writings of Antonio Gramsci has largely revolved around the appropriation of some of his concepts, an appropriation which has often been more apparent than real (Kurtz, 1996). This is not simply a question of anthropologists trying to preserve old habits of thought whilst changing their terminology. It is peculiarly difficult to understand Gramsci without paying any regard to the fact that he wrote as a political strategist who dedicated his life to the working class's conquest of state power. In grappling with that practical issue, Gramsci offered us a rich perspective on the relations and processes which enabled ruling classes to rule and both strengthened and impeded working class intellectual and moral leadership of a subaltern class alliance capable of capturing state power. Recapturing the richness of Gramscian analysis means, I think, going back to the texts and seeing how far they can continue to guide us today.

One of the most astonishing texts which Gramsci produced after his incarceration by the Fascist regime is his essay "Americanism and Fordism." In these notes, Gramsci pondered the significance of what he presciently identified as a new model for capitalist production and industrial society developing in the United States, from the vantage point of a European socialist. The essay begins with a discussion of European reactions to the growing global industrial power of the United States, and draws a contrast between an Old World burdened by the social legacy of a long pre-capitalist history and a North America characterized by what Gramsci terms a "rational demographic composition", the absence of "purely parasitic classes” “with no essential function in the world of production" (1971: 281).

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