Date: Fri, 20 Nov 1998 15:15:32 EST
>I think it is unfair to Gramsci to describe >(implicitly) Laclau and/or
Mouffe as part of a >"Gramscian tradition," since Gramsci recognized a
>basic difference, in terms of material power >relationships which are extra-
discursive (i.e., >enduring irrespective of changes taking place at
>the level of speech and thought), between bosses >and workers. By contrast,
Laclau and Mouffe, >perhaps because they have never had bosses
>(I don't know), explicitly reject the claim that >there is any such
>Now, this wasn't just a particular opinion held >by Gramsci. It was the
cornerstone of his entire >theoretical and political project and
self->understanding. Moreover, he never -- and could >never have, given his
theoretical/political >commitments -- detached the concept of "hegemony" >from
the fact and the irreducible experience of >class struggle (e.g., from what he
learned in his >role in the wave of factory occupations in >Northern Italy in
>One therefore has to hear the "post" in >Laclau/Mouffe's self-description,
"post-Marxist." >They are starting with a rejection of Marxism, >with a
rejection of the working class perspective >that animates Marxism, and
therefore with a >rejection of the fundamentals of Gramscian >thought.
I do not think that Laclau or Mouffe would be interested in whether or not
they were 'authentic' or 'genuine' Gramscians (or Marxists or anything else),
given the implications of quasi-religious fealty and faith such questions
carry. For, in the final analysis, what does it mean to decide that someone is
a genuine or authentic representative or any tradition, unless one has
decided, a priori, that the tradition is the repository of some fundamental
Truth? (And then, of course, the tradition cannot even change and grow.) It is
not even a very interesting question once one steps outside the faith.
But there are some misunderstandings and misreadings of the position of L&M
being offered here in the guise of that question, and some corrections are in
order. It is not true that L&M reject the concept of class struggle; what they
reject is the grounding of classes in a labor metaphysic, in which labor is
placed, a priori, at the core of human 'nature' and 'history.' Class struggle
is not a given, but a particular and historical phenomenon.
Similarly, what the theory of discourse employed by L&M does is challenge the
very conceptual division between being and consciousness, between base and
superstructure, between materiality and thought. To accuse them, therefore, of
somehow raising consciousness above being, superstructure above base, or
thought above materiality is to fail to grasp, in a very fundamental way, the
nature of the position they take. Indeed, they would argue -- and very
persuasively, I believe -- that it is the division itself which is idealist.
If the matter were so simple as the baseless ad hominem argument stated above
suggests -- that the experience of having a boss somehow leads to an
understanding of class struggle in the Marxist sense -- then we would have a
little problem explaining the actual course of history, n'est pas?
L&M's break with Gramsci focuses on the assumption he inherited from classical
Marxism, with its labor metaphysic, that social classes are the only social
actors which can construct hegemony. Their claim was never that social classes
could not and did not perform that function, but that there was no reason to
think that other social forces were incapable of doing so.