Gramsci and Left Managerialism : Kees van der Pijl

Gramsci and Left Managerialism

Kees van der Pijl
Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy
Vol.8, No.4
December 2005


This essay argues that one way of understanding Gramsci today is as an organic intellectual of a class of managerial cadre which develops in advanced capitalism. With the growth of monopolistic structures and a deepening state role in capitalist society, a separate class of mediating functionaries emerges, entrusted with managerial tasks in running the economy and the state. The problems of conquering power from the perspective of this ‘new middle class’ that concerned Gramsci, were also those of the neo-Machiavellian thinkers, Mosca, Michels, Pareto and Sorel around the turn of the twentieth century. From opposed political angles, they and Gramsci shared the concern with occupying the centre ground and mediate the extremes in a complex society. Today’s Gramscianism appeals to the same set of concerns.

As Gramsci argues in the Prison Notebooks, there is no class without ‘organic’ intellectuals who spell out the challenges facing it and chart its possible directions for development. When that class is historically progressive, these particular intellectuals and their mode of thinking constitute a pole of spontaneous attraction for the intellectual stratum at large (Gramsci 1975: 42, Q1§44).1 With the help of this notion of the organic intellectual, Gramsci sought to discard the illusion of the autonomous, ‘free-floating’ intellectual who supposedly stands above social conflict; without organic intellectuals, a class cannot achieve hegemony, the consent of the broader set of social forces it leads in its quest to become the directive force in social development (Femia 1998: 109). The concept of ‘organic intellectual’ was Gramsci’s attempt to give positive content to Engels’ famous statement that ‘in this day and age, intellectuals only exist on the side of reaction’.

Now what if we ask the question, for which class was Gramsci an organic intellectual himself – and not take for granted that this would have been the working class? Gramsci’s thinking moved through several stages, but the Prison Notebooks are the key reference here. These writings, as few will dispute, revolve around the question how to conquer and retain power in a complex society whilst avoiding adventurism and violence. This task specifically deals with the ‘managerial’ aspect inherent in the vanguard concept of the party relative to the working class. Therefore, Gramsci’s concerns in this area, I would argue, are organically related to the tasks of the managerial-technical cadre of contemporary capitalism. As this stratum grows in size and in terms of the centrality of its interventions, the resonance of Gramsci’s ideas increases as well – that is, if the line of development is towards the Left.

Gramsci stands in the tradition of the organic intellectuals of the modern cadre, the strand of neo-Machiavellian elitism, represented by Pareto, Michels and notably Mosca. These thinkers did speak for the ascendant technocracy of their day, but they were also concerned with the specific role of the new middle class in disseminating ideas that would bend democratic aspirations of the wider population in a particular direction – away from socialism, that is. In that sense they were precursors of what today is called, significantly, ‘Gramscianism of the Right’ (cf. Nederveen Pieterse 1992: 22-32): the Irving Kristols, Francis Fukuyamas, and other ‘neo-cons’ in the United States today. Gramsci on the other hand, whilst concerned with the Machiavellian problematic of political science and with the circulation of ideas within the critical middle layer in the social structure, is of course a thinker of the Left. There is also a second connection to Machiavelli that runs deeper: this concerns the anti-metaphysical philosophical position, Machiavelli’s humanism, which resonates so strongly in Gramsci (Femia 1998: 3, 89).

Today, as a new generation of cadre are being trained in the universities against the background of an unravelling of the neoliberal orthodoxies of the 1980s in the face of ecological crisis, war and inflation, Gramsci’s thinking is developing a new ‘organic’ quality. As testified by the world-wide movement against capitalist globalisation in the 1990s and equally by the terrorist violence perpetrated by discarded US proxies, resistance to global capitalist discipline and its cultural hegemony is on the ascendant. For at least a segment of the cadre, the avoidance of violent excesses whilst trying to inflect the mood of the popular masses acquires a fresh urgency. For those who see themselves as future managers of global society (whether as state managers, teachers or development consultants in multilateral organisations or NGOs), the affinity of the Gramscian approach to their future tasks and present concerns is obvious. It is this affinity that I want to argue in the present contribution.

Class Antecedents of Neo-Machiavellianism

The growth of a capitalist market economy passed through two major phases – one of real market economy (a capitalism of small producers), and one of advanced, corporate capitalism eventually extending its discipline over the whole of society. Under the conditions of the former, market exchange binds producers into a division of labour realised blindly, so that the process of socialisation of labour very much remains confined to the national economy. Socialisation refers to the unification of divided labour into a functional unity; under liberal capitalism, this functional unification is entrusted partly to the actual state, but partly also left to the self-employed professional middle classes, the ‘notables’ of society – the notaries, actuaries, and in the ideological sphere, priests, novelists and others shaping and/or upholding the normative structure. In the type of society we are thinking about, commercialism remains very much fringe phenomenon surrounding a largely landed, agricultural economy, safely embedded in traditional values. France is the typical country here; within its social structure, the broadly speaking ‘bourgeois’ element in which are included the self-employed ‘old notables’, still in the early 1920s was numerically stronger than the wage-earning proletariat (cf. Rosenstock-Huessy 1961: 403; cf. Gramsci 1971: 105, Q17§37).

Now as the processes of concentration and centralisation of capital develop through crises in which small producers are expropriated, a rival context of socialisation to that upheld by the state and the old notables begins to emerge in the context of large corporations and parallel social structures. The market no longer is the only mechanism by which the division of labour is validated and social cohesion assured; capital begins to contain the division of labour within itself. Capital, after all, is a form of socialisation of labour, both at the level of the firm, which brings together a complex structure of labour-at-work in a single private jurisdiction; and at the level of the network of all firms connected by market relations, in competition.

Confining ourselves to the middle stratum between capital and labour, the effect of the changes in the structure of the capitalist economy on society is the parallel rise of a managerial-technical cadre. This cadre differs from the old notables in that they are no longer typically self-employed, and their authority is not an extension of the state in the old sense. They are paid a salary, they are employed by large-scale corporations and by the state and quasi-state organisms which mutate away from the old notables’ state to a technocratic structure of power supporting the private sector. The new cadre tasks include, (a) the management of complex labour processes under the discipline of capital; (b) the provision of qualified workers capable of performing in them; (c) upholding the legitimacy of an order in which collective labour remains subordinate to the direction by others than the producers themselves; and (d) training and reproducing themselves as a class (Bihr 1992; Boltanski 1982).

The need for a special category of people to perform these tasks resides in a further aspect of socialisation, alienation. By this we understand that socialisation in a class society develops as a process divorced from conscious direction by its subjects. It is mediated, dependent on people performing an intermediary role, which includes a moment of mystification. The managerial, planning function assigned to the cadres by capital is made possible by the expropriation of skills and knowledge from the workers, just as capital expropriates the material product of labour in exchange for wages. Therefore the cadre, and the various fractions into which they dissolve and realign, constitute a central force-field within which the struggles over the deepening and widening of capitalist discipline are fought out. In these struggles, the cadre are more sensitive to the pressures emanating from the actual working class because under the veil of alienation that covers over contemporary society, cadre and workers constitute a salaried collective, self-managing a complex economy and society (I have argued this at greater length in van der Pijl 1998: ch.5).

Now since the rise of the cadre is a product of the concentration/centralisation of capital which in turn presupposes the expropriation of small owners, the sociological profile of the cadre tends to be ‘petty bourgeois’ – they are the children of dispossessed small shopkeepers, farm owners or, of course, old notables being replaced by the expanding state/corporate sector. In this sense, paradoxically, the ‘new’ cadre tend to reproduce the mind-set of a bygone age: that of small-scale market economy. Hence we should not be surprised to find among the broadly defined managerial-technical cadre, a weakly developed sense of class solidarity, an adherence to notions of abstract individual judgement, and a sensitivity to individual social status and privilege (cf. Bourdieu 1979: 465).

In the twilight of the crisis of the old notables and the rise of the new cadre, a strand of thinking emerged which articulated the resistance to the combined advance of industrial society and the labour movement, to capital and labour so to speak. Friedrich Nietzsche in this sense expresses, in Deppe’s phrase, ‘the pessimistic mood of young bourgeois intellectuals’ in the Belle Epoque (Deppe 1999: 109). Indeed, Nietzsche’s diatribes against the equalisation tendency of modern society which elevates the dumb masses (‘the herd’) to a position of power, and his heroisation of a supposed superman, the Übermensch, articulate key aspects of this transition. In The Will to Power, Nietzsche specifically rails against the new middle class when he writes that

today, in the era in which the state has acquired an absurdly fat belly, in all fields and disciplines, there are, in addition to the workers proper, also ‘representatives’ … Our modern life is extremely costly because of this mass of intermediaries; in a city of antiquity on the other hand … one acted for oneself and would have given nothing for such a modern representative or intermediary – except then, a kick in the ass! (Nietzsche 1959: 59, aphorism 75)

Nietzsche’s was not the voice of a lone thinker. The idealisation of Antiquity and the early Renaissance as pre-industrial paradises, was a powerful current at the time – in Richard Wagner, Jacob Burkhardt, John Ruskin, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and many others in the arts and the history of art. The re-discovery of the political thinker of the late Renaissance, Machiavelli, was part of the same conjuncture. Facing the concrete challenge posed by the rapidly growing urban working classes, a group of thinkers moved beyond Romanticism to apply Machiavellianism to the changed circumstances, more particularly defining the role of the ascendant cadre as a new elite. The founder of this school of neo-Machiavellian elitists, Gaetano Mosca, speaks, when discussing who will meet the challenge of the masses, of the ‘educated classes’, and more generally, of a political class (Livingston in Mosca 1939: xi, xli).

Like the other elitists, Mosca really focuses on the mediating role of the social class which acts as a bridge between the rulers and the masses. It is ‘the second stratum of the ruling class’, which constitutes the channel through which information about the lower classes is passed on to the ruling class, and which in turn provides the legitimation for the latter’s rule. It also serves as a training and recruiting ground for rejuvenating the ruling class in the longer run (Mosca 1939: 410; Parry 1969: 33). The spiritual despotism of the ruling class, which makes physical despotism superfluous, cannot do without the intellectual role of the cadre (cf. Femia 1998: 102). Indeed as Gramsci notes, the successive editions of Mosca’s book were written at two junctures in Italian history, 1895 and 1923, when the political class disintegrated without being able to find the terrain on which to reconstitute itself (Gramsci 1975: 956, Q8§24; 972, Q8§52; 1978-79 Q19§5).

The cadre, then, in Mosca’s understanding, provide the masses with a world-view, a political formula, constructed around theories and ethical concepts that will make rule acceptable to a much broader part of the population. It rests on a ‘social type’, which may be a nation or any other ‘imagined community’ such as a religion or a civilisation (Anderson 1983); and which serves to coordinate a multiplicity of wills and aims, and to achieve common ends (Livingston in Mosca, 1939: xv, xxix). But as Mosca underlines,

political formulas are [not] mere quackeries aptly invented to trick the masses into obedience … they answer a real need in man’s social nature; and this need, so universally felt, of governing and knowing that one is governed not on the basis of mere material and intellectual force, but on the basis of a moral principle, has beyond any doubt a practical and a real importance. (Mosca 1939: 71)

In a striking anticipation of Gramsci’s notion of the social foundations of hegemony, Mosca proposes to account for the stability of a regime by looking at the ratio between the number and strength of the social forces that it controls or conciliates; and the number and strength of the social forces that it fails to represent and faces as adversaries. Those periods of history are the most benevolent and productive, in which law, habit, custom and morals combine to create a legally entrenched system of balanced social relations (Livingston in Mosca 1939: xix-xx).

Mosca’s work inspired his contemporary, Vilfredo Pareto (there were actually accusations of plagiarism). To Gramsci, Pareto’s ‘elite’ is the equivalent of Mosca’s ‘political class’ (Gramsci 1975: 956, Q8§24). While Mosca was still a traditional conservative, Pareto gravitated towards Fascism and he accepted many honours from it late in life. Pareto was a ‘cadre’ himself: a descendant of a Genoese patrician family, and a mathematician and engineer by training, he was a manager in an iron and steel factory from 1873 to 1890. Writing in self-imposed ‘exile’ from practical work, Pareto like Nietzsche, articulates concerns which are particularly alive among the declining old middle class, the younger descendants of which are groping for a new role in a changed capitalist society – a role which leaves classical liberalism behind and moves into the age of imperialism and mass politics. With respect to this cadre role, Pareto sees the danger of socialism precisely in that it can mobilise an elite of its own by educating a segment of the working class (Deppe 1999: 193, cf. 207).

A further important figure among the neo-Machiavellians, the Frenchman Georges Sorel, has a biography drawn straight from the transformation of old into new middle class. Sorel’s father went bankrupt as a small businessman, and the son became a civil engineer trained at the Ëcole Polytechnique in Paris. Working for the French state in the road and bridge construction department, mostly in the provinces and in Algeria, Sorel resigned in 1892, at 45, to devote himself entirely to writing, just as Pareto had done. In many ways, Sorel remains a petty bourgeois in outlook. Robert Michels, a descendant of one of Germany’s aristocratic banking dynasties, a pupil of Mosca’s and, like Mosca, a professor at the University of Turin when Gramsci studied there (he famously wrote about the oligarchic tendency of party cadre) qualified Sorel as ‘old-fashioned, very bourgeois … irreconcilable, intolerant … [and with] a deep mistrust of the Jews’ (as cited by van Stokkom 1990: 38; note that Jews at the time ‘stood for’ urban life and capitalism). Sorel’s great talent but vengeful personality put his legacy at the disposal of highly varying political currents, all of them violently anti-‘humanistic’ though. Like Nietzsche, Sorel had a magical effect on bourgeois and petty-bourgeois intellectuals because, again, he captures the sense of crisis whilst simultaneously, offering a Manichean vision of liberation (Deppe 1999: 223).

The fact that James Burnham, the author of The Managerial Revolution of 1941, two years later published a study of the elitists under the title The Machiavellians, may remind us of the connection between managerialism and this strand of political science (Burnham 1941, 1943). In Europe the connection was made by Fascism, which Boltanski has analysed in terms of ‘the alliance, within each class, of fractions in decline and ascendant fractions’ (Boltanski 1982: 102), especially in the middle class, the old notables and the new cadre.

Gramsci as a Neo-Machiavellian

Gramsci’s life as an intellectual moved through several stages (Levy 1987: 392). He first was a witness to the workers’ council tradition in Turin. But whilst appreciating the Russian soviet movement optimistically as a revolt ‘against the social hierarchies generated by universal suffrage and bureaucratic careerism’, he noted in 1919 already that in Western Europe, these hierarchies were resistant to a socialist breakthrough precisely because they had a powerful grip also on the working classes – thus prefiguring a central theme in his later work (Gramsci 1977: 79-80).

In the actual Russian revolution, the Bolsheviks approached the existing soviets in the spirit of the ‘elitist’ programme laid down in Lenin’s What Is to Be Done of 1902. Vanguardism typically emerges in the normative vacuum striking people in the aftermath of the process of original expropriation prior to capital accumulation, as they are driven from a landed existence into sprawling industrial cities, sometimes via the trenches. The ‘masses’ at such junctures are truly a mass, a dislocated, disarticulated multitude united only in negative terms, driven by a state/party cadre committed to seizing power. The constructive intellectual moment of their struggles will be minute and abstract, and the Bolshevik version of vanguardism can be displaced by a mullah version as in Iran whilst all the other classical aspects of ‘revolution’ are in place – as happened in 1979 (cf. Hough 1990: 48). Following the Russian revolution, the other limit of Bolshevism was revealed when the new leadership found that ‘bourgeois specialists’ were indispensable to the functioning of modern society, and it will be remembered that one of Stalin’s functions was head of the ‘Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection’ which was set up to control them through repression. In prison, Gramsci noted that the Stalinist revolution from above and its forced industrialisation strategy (which he then still ascribes to Trotsky, its original advocate),

consisted in an ‘over’-resolute (and therefore not rationalised) will to give supremacy in national life to industry and industrial methods, to accelerate, through coercion imposed from the outside, the growth of discipline and order in production, and to adapt customs to the necessities of work.’ He concludes that, ‘given the general way in which all the problems connected with this tendency were conceived, it was destined necessarily to end up in a form of Bonapartism. (Gramsci 1971: 301, Q22§11)

Reformism on the other hand, provided the middle ground on which workers who have become de-radicalised by the dull compulsion of industrial existence, and the growing middle layer of cadre (technical, managerial), can develop a common platform. Bernstein, the organic intellectual of the reformist strand, had a much better grasp of the process of socialisation of labour than most Marxists, and accurately claimed that capitalist development engenders a multiplication of functions performed for capital and a corollary change in the character of the intermediate groups (Bernstein 1981: 60). But his position on colonialism that drew the fire of Rosa Luxemburg, made him a persona non grata for the revolutionaries in the labour movement. Gramsci was scornful of the reformist tendency in the labour movement, and in particular mocked Bernstein’s claim that Marx ‘mistakenly’ relied on Hegel. Yet to the Gramsci of the Prison Notebooks, the awareness that advanced capitalist society is a complex structure with a wide range of class ‘intermediaries’ is likewise the starting point of the analysis. The mere numerical presence of this cadre element and the complexity of its situation in the structures of socialisation that hold society together, rules out any precipitate seizure of power by the working-class party. A revolution in such a society must be preceded instead by the winning over of the many intermediate strata of cadre, or ‘intellectuals’, in a struggle over cultural-political hegemony – just as the Enlightenment preceded the French revolution. Historical change, in Gramsci’s view, has two interrelated sources: ‘a struggle between social classes’ and a struggle between ‘contending world-views created by intellectuals … which are incorporated by classes’ (Levy 1987: 391). Gramsci’s real counterpart as a forward-looking cadre intellectual is Max Weber, who also seeks to understand how in a capitalist society receiving its innovative impulses from America (mass production, Fordism), the configuration of classes can be regrouped around the industrial pole. But whereas Weber’s aim is to incorporate a cadre into a ‘rational’ arrangement under capitalist hegemony, Gramsci’s strategic concern is of course to win over the cadre to the workers’ cause (Rehmann 1998: 14; cf. Rupert 1995).

Now if the rationalised state can be ruled by convincing and deploying the cadre, the question arises: How is the consent of the masses obtained if the rationality of modern rule is conveyed to them not as such, rationally, but by ‘formulas’ premised on alienation and referring to an ideological community that is not (yet) championed on account of its rationality, but as an imagined community such as the nation? Pareto speaks of two strands in collective thought: one is made up of the residues, the basic instincts; the other, the ‘derivations’, rationalisations guided by emotions. In paragraph 1868 of his Trattato, he writes: ‘The feelings which express themselves in derivations that transcend experience and reality, have great effect as motive forces to action. This fact explains’, he continues, ‘the origin of a phenomenon that Georges Sorel has observed and highlighted very well: Social doctrines that have great effectiveness (especially the emotions that are expressed in them) assume the form of myths’ (as cited by Deppe 1999: 197). But Sorel goes beyond the individualistic, mathematised economics on which Pareto’s sociology is premised. His concept of ‘myth’ is not a synthesis of consumer preferences but an autonomous, social-psychological force (Augelli and Murphy 1997: 27; cf. Gramsci on Pareto’s mathematical logic, Gramsci 1975: 1663, Q14§9).

The neo-Machiavellians, then, played their role in devising a theory about how politicians crafted a ‘mythology’ revolving around notions of rebirth and struggle, a romanticised politics based on an aestheticisation of reality. To mobilise the masses, reality is not at all conceived realistically, but rendered in a spirit of pessimistic rejection (even though labelled ‘realism’). The motif of a Spenglerian final demise, and of war as a last stand is prominent in this mythology. It can be used to great effect in an organic crisis, whether Fascism in the 1930s or the ‘war on terror’ today.

Now Gramsci does not simply borrow the concept of myth in its Sorelian sense; he is too much aware of the real complexity of society (civil plus political society) under advanced capitalism to believe that an explosive coming together of collective feeling that is not firmly anchored in the existing structures of socialised labour, internalised by the cadre and intuitively grasped by the masses, would ever be sufficient to establish a new order. Revolutionary myths lacking the internal consistency that can only derive from the real constellation of forces, even if conceived dynamically, leave the ‘collective will in the primitive and elementary phase’ and ‘may at once cease to exist, scattering into an infinity of individual wills which in the positive phase then follow separate and conflicting paths’ (Gramsci 1971: 128, Q13§1). Nevertheless he reveals his parentage as a cadre thinker of his age in his use of the language of politics as war. Politics can take the form of a war of movement (manoeuvre), war of position (‘trench warfare’), and subterranean war (guerrilla). The well-off classes can afford to maintain and deploy ‘shock troops’ (arditi) to break through stalemates, etc. (Gramsci 1975: 121-123, Q1§133-1334). Of course in advanced capitalism, only the protracted war of position is a realistic option. If one wants to define revolutionary politics in war terms, it is best compared to colonial war, which involved conquest and control, and not to war as such, that is, the mere destruction of the enemy’s power (Gramsci 1975: 122, Q134).

The Gramscian Legacy in Contemporary Social Science

When a class is no longer on the ascendant, the spontaneous attraction which the core ideas of its intellectuals exert on the intellectual stratum at large, dissipates. Today, the discipline of capital is mediated in the intellectual sphere by a demand for ideological conformity which reveals its ‘willed’ and artificial hegemony by imposing strictures on academic freedom, as in the early Cold War. Thus the rules of neo-positivist methodology and Weberian value neutrality that we may associate with Cold-War Fordism (cf. the qualification of Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic as the ‘Summa Theologia’ of post-war managerial society; Hewison 1981: 43) were embraced in academia more or less spontaneously in the 1960s. But the demise of national Fordism/Keynesianism and perhaps the implication of behaviourism and positivism in the war in Vietnam (Chomsky 1969), undermined the spontaneous attraction, and philosophy today has to be imposed as a regime (‘costrizione‘) (Gramsci, 1975: 42, Q1§44). In today’s universities, outside funding and the particular conditions imposed on it in the sphere of methodology, bring this out clearly if never in a watertight way. There is no denying that the younger generation of scholars is forced, by the new conditionalities of its employment, to adopt a ‘consultancy’ profile rather than commit itself to any particular strand of thought. Postmodernism, the fluidity of knowledge and its multi-applicability, may be considered the most direct ideological expression of this trend. Knowledge, Lyotard argues in his paradigmatic essay on the topic, changes in nature in the post-industrial stage of society; not truth, but performance becomes the criterion of its effectiveness. Postmodernism according to Lyotard is ‘incredulity towards meta-narratives’ (1984: xxiv), in the place of which he expects the ascent of ‘a pragmatics of language particles’.

Of course this may be a ‘natural’ attitude for the new cadre employed in management consultancies and other relays of neoliberal discipline. They after all have to be acceptable to clients who would not hire somebody committed to a meta-narrative other than the silent ‘grand theory’ governing all contemporary reason, neo-liberal micro-economics; so some care as to where actually the ‘language particles’ percolate is in order. But as the ascent of neoliberalism seems to be levelling off, a perennial problem of the cadre re-emerges as well – its acceptance of capitalist discipline and the subordination of its outlook and interest definition to those of the ruling class. Indeed, ‘expert labour is potentially both panacea and serious problem. Experts can “walk” – join or become the opposition – or quite easily pour the intellectual equivalent of “sand” into the corporate gearbox’, in the course of ‘the long-running battle for control over expert labour in the face of heightened uncertainty and risk’ (Chumer et al. 2000: xxiii).

If we see the academic social sciences as the reproductive apparatus of the contemporary cadre, and the Gramscian legacy as a key component of the cadre mind-set, one would expect that the number and range of applications of Gramsci’s thinking in the social sciences would both increase over time. In my own area, International Relations (IR) and Global Political Economy (GPE), there certainly has developed a strong new interest in the uses of Gramsci’s thinking from the early 1980s (see the contributions by Rupert, Bieler, Cutler, Pasha and William Robinson in this volume). In that sense the neo-Gramscian strand in contemporary IR/GPE may be interpreted as the theoretical condensation of a particular ‘walk’ taken by one segment of the post-war cadre, that is, those involved in one way or another, in the attempt to regulate and mitigate the impact of the transnationalisation of capital and its disruptive effects on society across the globe. The biography of Robert W. Cox, who pioneered the neo-Gramscian strand of thought in IR/GPE, in this light fits the pattern of Pareto, Sorel and others: a career in the ILO in Geneva from 1948 to 1972, ultimately as director of the International Institute of Labour Studies, followed by a return to academia (see Cox 1977: 415; Cox 1987, 2002, and the intellectual autobiography with Tim Sinclair, 1996).

Stephen Gill, in his introductory chapter to a key edited collection on the development of the Gramsci legacy in international studies, explicitly indicates how the research agenda that he identifies, may contribute to ‘the development of transnational counter-hegemonic historic blocs’ (Gill 1993: 17). Whether the intermediary stratum that would contribute to such a process actually relies on Gramsci explicitly is not necessary for this to materialise. But the spread of Gramsci as a key reference (in titles and/or abstracts) can be documented as broadly fitting the ascent and establishment of an IR/GPE neo-Gramscian approach. Johnna Montgomerie has looked at this for the period from 1945 to the present, surveying databases in several languages and comprising some 40,000 social science academic papers (Table 1).

Table 1. Rise and spread of Gramsci’s ideas across the social sciences (academic papers with Gramsci in the title and/or abstract)
1945-1970 1971-1980 1981-1990 1991-2004
Total 19 157 316 386

Source: adapted from Montgomerie (2004).

New areas

Political philosophy

Italian Studies




Peasant studies

International political economy


Other country studies





Urban studies

African culture



Muslim Brotherhood




Library studies

Even if this can be used as an illustration only, one may deduce from it that the application of Gramsci’s ideas is no longer confined to Italian studies and political philosophy, but runs across the social sciences, and increasingly so. If many of today’s students in the social sciences, but also in medicine and engineering, are looking for opportunities to engage in a struggle for survival of the most vulnerable segments of global society, as I think they are, this would suggest that at least a segment of the cadre are taking the Gramscian legacy seriously. The reason for this is, as I have argued, that Gramsci as an organic intellectual speaks for this class first of all. His theoretical position touches on the core modern cadre role; and this role is becoming more important in a context of struggle, actually on both sides (hence, Gramscism of the Left and of the Right). As Bob Deacon claims in a study on the subject, this applies to ongoing struggles in the context of global social policy:

a war of position … IS being fought within and between international organisations; … through the support given to labour movements and their representatives in ministries of labour … a connection to local social forces can be developed; and … international [NGOs] and their complex connections to local civil society are part of this war of position. (Deacon 1997: 218)

Perhaps this is not much in the way of ‘revolution’ in the early-twentieth-century sense of the word. Rather it suggests processes which require a much longer duration across a range of mediating structures, and which cannot be speeded up, at least not in the sense of ‘leaping over phases of history’, to use Marx’s phrase. Even so, one may read this as a pointer to a set of connections, linking ongoing ideological struggles within the global state and quasi-state structures, with academic debates involving the Gramsci legacy, and hence with interest among students being trained for cadre roles. This is never a static, or even fully crystallised state of affairs. It depends on the real balance of forces, a balance that today is characterised by the rise of a world-wide anti-capitalist globalisation movement. It may be, then, that Gramsci’s political-intellectual development (but in a reverse order), can help us to visualise how the protracted process of epochal transformation from a society alienated under capital, to a self-conscious, autonomous society, may be expected to evolve. First, as a war of position largely within a managerial cadre stratum, with each ‘party’ drawing strength from different sides making up the wider balance of forces in the global arena – capital and the property-owning bourgeoisie on the one hand, and the world-wide mass of humanity exploited by it on the other. Next, as struggles in which certain elements on the anti-capitalist side begin to assume ‘vanguard’ roles in rolling back capitalist discipline in a more irreversible way, adopting a war of manoeuvre posture and eliminating excessive forms of private appropriation and speculation. Finally, reaching a stage of conscious self-organisation of humanity, the workers’ councils tradition would finally come into its own, transcending not just the alienation of production relations, but also that of representative politics and inter-national relations. However, by that time, we will be well into the ‘long run’, about which Keynes made his famously grim remark.


The author wishes to thank Johnna Montgomerie, PhD candidate at the University of Sussex, for research assistance. He also gratefully acknowledges the comments and suggestions for improving this article of two anonymous referees.



1. Following the convention established in this volume, reference to both the critical edition and the Gramsci anthologies is accompanied by a citation of the notebook number (Q) and section (§).


  • 1. Anderson, B. (1983) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism Verso, London
  • 2. Augelli, E. and Murphy, C. N. Gill, S. and Mittelman, J. H. (eds) (1997) Consciousness, myth and collective action: Gramsci, Sorel and the ethical state. Innovation and Transformation in International Studies pp. 25-38. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1997)
  • 3. Bernstein, E. (1981 [1899]) De voorwaarden tot het socialisme en de taak der sociaal-democratie Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam intro. B. Tromp, trans. L. Inberg
  • 4. Bihr, A. (1992) Entre bourgeoisie et proletariat. L’encadrement capitaliste L’Harmattan , Paris
  • 5. Boltanski, L. (1982) Les cadres. La formation d’un groupe social Minuit, Paris
  • 6. Bourdieu, P. (1979) La distinction. Critique sociale du jugement Minuit, Paris
  • 7. Burnham, J. (1941) The Managerial Revolution, or, What is Happening in the World Now Putnam, London
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  • About @ndy

    I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
    This entry was posted in History, State / Politics, That's Capitalism! and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

    3 Responses to Gramsci and Left Managerialism : Kees van der Pijl

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    3. Alex White says:

      Good article. Makes me want to go back and re-read the Prison Notebooks and Modern Prince.

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